Archive for August, 2012

Love and Cucumbers

I have recently wondered if I wasn’t thinking clearly when I planted an entire row of cucumber plants this past spring.  Last year, my harvest wasn’t all that great, so I thought a few more plants certainly wouldn’t hurt.I know you are thinking that you’ve heard this before.  One would think that I have learned a few lessons by now. I was so excited when the first few new cukes arrived.  Picked small and tender, they hardly needed peeling and we savored each bite. As I got a few more, I proudly shared the wealth of my little harvest, and at one point early in the season, picked enough for a batch of delicious refrigerator pickles. Then the real cucumber season started, and I was picking a bucket each day,  making more pickles and giving more away. As they usually do, things got out of hand in the cucumber patch. They grew. They multiplied. I picked and I picked, but it seemed the more that I picked, the faster they grew.  I made five gallons of refrigerator pickles. Five. Gallons. Those lovely green curcubits, lovingly picked and almost caressed early in July are now grabbed off the vine and if only a few inches too big or slightly blemished get unceremoniously tossed into the chicken bucket, which in non-chicken homes is known as a compost bin. If a friend asks for one they get a dozen. I bring sackfuls of them to work.  We have eaten cucumbers in one way or another every day, and not to complain, but I think we both are getting a little tired of them.  I estimate that I have had about 100 pounds of cucumbers so far, and they’re still coming.  A cucumber can grow faster than a zucchini, I think. Sweet, tender little cukes can become huge, white and bloated if it rains overnight and a Farm Woman can’t get into her patch until after her day job . Lucky for me, chickens love cucumbers, especially the big bloated ones. I slice them into thick rings and they all eat them just the same way:  Seedy middle part first and then the white part, but never the green skin. They leave the skins as wrinkled little green rings around their run.  If I toss the whole cuke in without cutting it, they will eat the whole thing, skin and all.  Chickens are strange birds sometimes.

“To see cucumbers in a dream denotes that you will speedily fall in love. Or, if you are in love, then you will marry the object of your affection.”
Richard Folkard in ‘Plant Lore’ (1884)

I must have dreamed of cucumbers in early September 1977 because that is when I married my best friend.  Happy 35th wedding anniversary to my husband, who is known to my readers as HIM or HE.   Thanks for taking it with good humor, Honey.  I wouldn’t change a thing about our life together except for one thing:  You have a rather strange lack of enthusiasm for my beloved zucchini.  Couldn’t you at least PRETEND to like it?

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Sssssss is for Snake

Although I was born and raised in northern Minnesota, I  lived in the south more years than I have lived in the north.  I heard many of my husband’s boyhood tales of rattlesnakes at his grandfather’s farm in Kentucky, the same land that we visited often for fishing trips or camping.  I have seen with my own eyes a rattler over six feet long, killed by a groundskeeper on the same fitness trail I walked every day after work until THAT particular day.  I once uncovered  a brightly colored coral snake while gardening in my own back yard, which is why I would stomp my feet and swish the hoe in front of me if I was in the garden, and sometimes when I wasn’t in the garden.  The neighbors probably thought I was doing some sort of odd ritualistic dance in my yard, but a lot of strange things happen in Florida and nobody ever gives you a hard time unless you have 13 items in the “12 items or less” express lane at the local grocery store.  The marsh behind the hospital where I used to work was a haven for water moccasins, and  the vibrations of your footsteps (if you were brave enough to walk back there) would  send them slithering from their sunning-spots back into the murky water. That’s why I laughed when my friend told me she was afraid of garter snakes.  “A little old garter snake?”  I scoffed. “Why, that little thing won’t hurt you one bit.”  I could say that with such confidence until I ran into one myself, right there in the chicken coop. He was HUGE! OK,  I’ll admit he wasn’t as huge as the six-foot rattlesnake I saw with my own eyes. Now that I think about it, he maybe wasn’t even two feet long, but if he was in my chicken coop, he was up to no good.  Perhaps he was sniffing out the new baby chick that Old Mum finally hatched, if snakes can sniff as well as they slither. Yes, three dozen eggs later, and she got ONE chick out of the deal, but it is a cute little thing and I’ll be DARNED if he/she will be that snake’s supper. I bravely grabbed the closest weapon, a chicken poop scraper, and wielded it menacingly at Mr. Snake, who slithered out of the coop.  Now I am seeing snakes in the garden, too. They could be frogs, but it is hard to tell the difference between a hop and a slither at first, especially among all the squash plants that are growing like weeds, not to mention all the weeds that are growing like weeds.  Just to be on the safe side, I stomp my feet and swish the hoe in front of me when I’m in the garden. A little ritualistic snake-scaring dance here and there can’t hurt.

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A Really Corny Story

Last February, my friendly local farmer sent me a notice asking me if I wanted to preorder my corn so they could have an idea of how much to plant for their customers.   Corn is a hit-or-miss crop in my own garden, and I like to have enough to can or freeze for our meals. In February, I was paging through seed catalogs and dreaming of things like summer and gardening and corn, so I blithely and rather carelessly ordered ten dozen ears. Yes, I know there are just two of us, but we really like corn, plus, all the family dinners and holiday meals are at our house, and I wouldn’t want to run out like I did last year. I thought ten dozen ears should be just about enough.  I got a call late last week that my corn was ready, as well as the ten chickens that I ordered. I like to eat locally, but not quite as local as my own chicken coop. When I got there, they had green beans, too. I have my own green beans, but it would be nice to save those to eat fresh and get a big bag of them so I can get them canned all at once. I pride myself on my organizational skills, and thought I could get this taken care of pronto, even without help from HIM, who was holding an ice pack to his wrist while watching a baseball game.  (I knew this had to be a legitimate complaint since he missed his usual Sunday morning tee time.) The shucking of the first two dozen ears was no problem, I took care of that quickly, zipped the kernels off with a well-sharpened knife, blanched and seasoned them in the oven, chilled them quickly, and into the freezer they went.   Simple enough and delicious,  but I don’t think I realized just how many  ears of corn are in ten dozen. By the time I hit the five dozen mark, my arms were aching from all the shucking, and did you know that when you cut the kernels off an ear of corn that at least 20% of them fly off in all directions?  By the time I had taken care of eight dozen, I realized that “flying off in all directions” meant that most of them ended up on my kitchen floor and when I wasn’t slipping, I was sticking. During my breaks from the corn, I trimmed and canned the green beans and made pesto,  wondering just what in the world I could have been thinking to decide to do all of this at once. By the time I got to the last dozen hours later, I think I began to hallucinate and no longer cared if the empty ears of corn hit the compost bucket or the floor. I had corn kernels in my hair and between my toes, and the smell of fresh corn was almost sickening.  Worst of all, I was out of freezer space. I mean REALLY out of freezer space, so I pulled out my trusty pressure canner and canned a few pints.  I still have a large bowl of corn in the fridge and am planning to make a pot of potato corn chowder this week. A really, really big pot.  Oh, and remember that “hit and miss” corn from my own garden?  This year, it’s a “hit”. It should be ready to pick next week.

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