Monday, August 15, 2022

Time flies

Older Daughter just observed how all the stores are already being stocked with Halloween items. That's why this meme made me laugh.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Some things are NOT worth saving

Last post, I described some things that are worth saving. In this post, I'll describe something that's not.

You might remember a post I put up last September titled "A tree in a million." I described a rare and magnificent American elm towering over an old farmhouse not far away.

For the longest time, I wanted to gather seeds from this magnificent tree, but the property was unoccupied (pending a sale) and I'm not the type to trespass, so I never got any seeds.

Well, the sale of the property went through, and the new owners (who hail from south of Portland) began moving their possessions to the property. Like us, they were moving a small farm as well as a construction business, so there was a lot of trekking back and forth throughout the summer. We met them in passing once or twice and they seemed like delightful folks, but that was about it.

I knew the century-old farmhouse over which the elm tree towered was uninhabitable and needed to be torn down (the new owners were temporarily living in a nearby town). But how uninhabitable was the house, really? I'd heard rumors, but that was it. From one spot on our property, we have an elevated view, and I could see the roof was trashed. This certainly didn't bode well for the inside.

In one of our passing stop-and-chat moments with the wife, I gave her our phone number and asked to see the interior of the house before they tore it down.

Meanwhile, these new owners (and remember, the husband's business is construction) started moving in and stacking up the components necessary to build a "pole barn"-style home. Their plan was to construct the new home on the footprint of the old.

On Saturday, the wife called and invited us over to see the place before they began tearing it down. It was also a pleasant opportunity to get better acquainted with these new neighbors (who are about our age and very nice folks).

Well, the interior of the house was every bit as uninhabitable as the rumors had indicated. There were many places the floor was not safe to walk on. There are two front entrances to the house, and this was the interior view from one of them. The "pit" visible in the center-left is a huge wood cookstove that has crashed through the floorboards below, which had become rotten from the leaking roof above.

I have no idea if the stove itself is salvageable.

Since the kitchen floor was so unsafe, we didn't dare venture into the back rooms behind the stove. I don't know if the new owners had even ventured into them.

Everywhere, the ceiling was in imminent danger of coming down.

We exited the first door and went into the second entryway, with a view of the living room next to the kitchen.

The inside of the home was surprisingly spacious. A hallway led to several back bedrooms. But I'm sure you're seeing the obvious.

Yes, black mold. Chest-high thick black mold throughout the entire bedroom and hallway area. Ewww.

Most of the black mold was lower, but in a few places it was creeping down from the top of the room.

The back rooms were in bad shape too, with chunks of the ceiling coming down and the floors rotting.

A hall closet had been fitted out as a pantry, with some jars of home-canned food still on the shelves. One was dated to the year 2000; a couple others I picked up had no dates.

The new owners had laid some boards across the threshold between the hallway and living room so as not to fall through the floorboards.

This is the back of the house. From this viewpoint, it doesn't look too bad, right? Nothing a little coat of paint couldn't handle.

But the inside of the house tells a far more tragic tale. The new owners have no idea how or why this venerable farmhouse was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair, but there you go.

At the very least, the new owners got fourteen beautiful acres and a few smaller outbuildings for far less cost than if the house has been habitable. However they have a huge number of complicated tasks ahead of them: knocking down the house, installing a new septic system (the current one is trashed too, apparently), drilling a well (the house ran for a hundred years from a spring), and of course building a home.

As for that American elm tree? Now that I had a chance to see it up close, I was in awe. The truck is at least two feet in diameter and it's absolutely, positively one of the most majestic trees I've ever seen.

Fortunately the new owners agree, and intend to care-take the tree during the development of the property.

So there you go. Sadly, some things are not worth saving. This old farmhouse is one of them.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Some things are worth saving

Many years ago, I spotted an antique clothes-drying rack in one of those "Ye Olde Junke Shoppe"-type places. It was solid and sturdy, far more sturdy than most modern versions. I snapped it up.

I've used it ever since. It's been a wonderful clothes rack. It folds down very compactly when not in use.

But the other day, when it was loaded with drying clothes, I went out on the porch and saw the wind had knocked it over. Worse, an arm had broken at a crucial pivot, rendering it unusable. (No photo, sorry. I was too distressed.)

Thankfully I'm married to a woodworker, and he pronounced it an easy fix. Some things are worth saving, and this was one of them.

This is what broke.

He started by wrapping the peg (which acts as a pivot) in foil so the wood glue wouldn't adhere to it.

Then he wrapped more foil around the unbroken arm, again so the glue wouldn't adhere.

Then he smeared glue on the broken arm.

Both sides.

Then he fitted the broken halves of the arm around the peg/pivot, and wrapped everything with a length of surgical hose (of which we have an abundant supply, since we use them to make tankards).

We let it dry overnight. The result? Good as new.

So now my clothes rack is back in operation, and I couldn't be happier. Yes, some things are worth saving.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

My canning bible

"Recently a reader asked the following question: "Hi Patrice. In regards to your canning 'bible,' Putting Food By, do you still recommend it? I'm primarily interested in learning high pressure canning for meats, stews, etc. Some of the most recent reviews on Amazon for this book are very negative, saying there are printing issues, and/or it's too old (2010 I think is the latest edition) to have current safety information. I don't plan on buying it through Amazon but was wondering if the book was current enough for a beginner to pressure can safely. A lot of other more recent canning books seem to have mostly recipes and instructions for water bath canning. I'm not interested in that at this point. Thank you!"

I've used "Putting Food By" as my canning bible for decades, but there's nothing "sacred" about it. Guidelines change; and if the book hasn't been updated since 2010, then it would be better to find a more up-to-date reference guide.

The Ball Blue Book is a popular source. It's beautifully illustrated and more concentrated, and covers water-bath canning, pressure canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

Beyond these two books, I don't have any particular recommendation for another canning bible. Online, however, I found the "USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning" which says: "The free, 196-page publication can be downloaded from the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. The publication is also available in a spiral, bound book format from Purdue University’s Education Store. Single copies are available for $18 per copy, and bulk discounted prices are available." (Please note the print version now costs $25.50, not $18. With shipping, it comes to $33.85. Inflation, I guess.)

The USDA is the most authoritative guide available, so my suggestion would be to download or order this book. I just ordered it myself. It's always a good idea to have the best canning guidance available, and my preference is always to have print version of anything.

Happy canning!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The season for baby velociraptors

'Tis the season for baby velociraptors. Everywhere we look, we're seeing awkward half-grown birds in that leggy adolescent stage in which they simply look like little dinosaurs.

Where turkeys are concerned, of course, even the adults look primitive.

But the babies even more so. Some passed through our yard the other day, under the watchful eyes of their mamas.

There's something endearing about the gangling awkwardness of the kids.

In the same family but less prehistoric-looking are the ring-necked pheasants. The other day I heard a commotion in our pasture, just over a slight swale and therefore out of sight. When I looked out the window, I saw a young female pheasant perched upon a rail, agitated by something.

On the ground below her was (presumably) her mama, also agitated. My guess is a coyote dashed into the family group, trying to grab a bite and scattering everyone in the process.

I grabbed my camera and walked quietly toward the pasture. Silently, a bird sank down to the ground, watching me warily. I zoomed in and saw a juvenile male pheasant.

We eyed each other for a few seconds while I snapped a couple more nearly identical shots. Then I made an incautious move, and four siblings I hadn't noticed (even though they were closer to me) all exploded into flight at the same time. (This is a survival strategy, by the way. Startle the predator so they have a chance to get away.) Pheasants are cagey birds, and it pleased me to grab the photo of this handsome young boy before he got away.

Not to be outdone by other ground birds, we also have quail. They're kind of hard to see in the photo below (which is the whole idea, I suppose), but there's a mama, papa, and baby.

Sadly, this baby is all that remains of a previously large hatch of at least 10, perhaps 12, chicks we've seen running around.

The babies aren't much more than walking Chicken McNuggets at this age, so it's not surprising so many went missing.

So there you go. The season for baby velociraptors.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Product review: "Superb" canning lids

In June, I asked my contact at Lehman's (Glenda Lehman Ervin, Director of Marketing) for a supply-chain update, which she provided.

I was especially interested in one thing she mentioned: their bulk canning lids are back.

Among canners, Lehman's is famous for their bulk canning lids – hundreds of lids for a fraction of the price of conventional boxes of a dozen lids you find at the grocery store. Many years ago I bypassed the need for disposable lids by purchasing a lifetime supply of Tattlers, but there are still times I like using disposable lids. Yet I had never ordered a bulk supply from Lehman's (something I regretted), and for a while it seemed I had missed that window of opportunity.

This is why I was delighted to note their bulk lids are back in stock, though this time from a different producer.

"We have a new canning lid supplier (Superb – made locally just a few miles from the store), which is helping with the canning lid back orders," Glenda wrote. "Customers tell us they really like the lids, which are thicker and work well for high pressure canning."

I asked if I could test-drive a few of the lids for purposes of writing a review, and within a few days a dozen arrived in the mail.

The very first thing that's noticeable about these lids is the bright-blue gasket. The second thing is they are indeed thicker and feel heftier. The quality seems excellent. I mean seriously excellent – better than Ball lids.

Here's a lid edge-on.

And here's a "Superb" lid compared to a Ball lid. The gasket is noticeable thicker.

I tackled a double canning project early this morning, before the day got too hot. I wanted to test the lids with a water-bath project as well as a pressure-canning project. I decided on applesauce for the former, and green beans for the latter (splitting the 12 lids between the two projects). Because it's too early in the season for either of these available from the garden, I purchased apples from the store...

...and frozen cut green beans.

I started by dumping the beans in hot water to defrost them.

My canning book recommends hot-packing beans... I brought them to a boil.

While the pot was heating, I started processing the apples.

I tossed the chunks in a pot of cold water with a bit of lemon juice, to keep them from browning while I finished peeling and cutting everything.

Once everything was peeled and cut, I drained most (but not all) of the water, and put the pot on the stove. For applesauce, the apple chunks need to be "steamed" into softness. (I covered the pot with a lid.)

While the apples were steaming, I went back to the green beans, which by this point were hot. I filled six jars with beans and added a half-teaspoon of salt to each.

Then I topped the jars with hot cookwater.

Then, because I had more beans than test lids, I filled five more jars and just used regular Ball lids.

Soon everything was ready for the canner. 

(I paused to add a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the rim of the canner lid. This is recommended every few uses.)

I capped the canner and brought the pressure up to 15 lbs. and let it process for 20 minutes.

While the canner was coming up to pressure, I turned my attention back to the apples, which by this point were fully steamed and soft.

Using a slotted spoon, I scooped the soft apple chunks into a blender, a bit at a time.

A few seconds whizzing the apple chunks around, and the result was a silky-smooth applesauce I could pour directly into the jars for processing.

At this point some people like to add stuff to the applesauce – sweeteners or cinnamon or even red-hots (candy). I prefer my applesauce to be plain and unsweetened, so it was a simple matter to just pour the sauce into the jars and cap them. I only had enough applesauce to fill four jars, which meant I had two lids left over.

Into the pot of water (notice the rack at the bottom – never can anything without a rack!).

I covered the pot and turned up the heat. I couldn't start timing until the water was at a rolling boil.

At this point the stove was full – pressure canner on the left, water bath on the right.

When the water bath was at a rolling boil, I started the timer.

After all that prep work, both the beans and the applesauce finished up almost exactly at the same time. I turned off the heat on both. I let the jars of applesauce sit for a few minutes in the hot water before pulling them out (this helps keep the contents from bubbling up and overflowing the jars). The pressure canner, of course, had to come down to "zero" pressure before I could open it.

I pulled the jars of applesauce out and was mildly distressed to see the lids had not yet sealed. Oh great. I put the jars on a towel and waited. And waited. And waited.

Then...THUNK. One after the other, they all "popped" and sealed. Interestingly, the "pop" was in a base tone, not a treble tone – a much deeper sound than a standard lid. As Don joked, "They have manly pops, not girly pops." I expect the short delay in sealing was due to the thicker nature of the lids.

When the pressure came down on the beans, I pulled them from the canner and the same thing happened – a short delay, then one by one they all popped in and sealed.

I'm extremely pleased with the quality of these lids, and can recommend them without hesitation. What I can recommend even more is the price.

I picked up a couple boxes of regular-mouth Kerr lids at our local grocery store last February. They cost $4.69/box of 12 lids, or $0.39/lid.

However Superb (regular-mouth) lids from Lehman's are much more economical: $19.99 for a pack of 60 ($0.33 each), or $84.99 for a back of 360 lids ($0.23 each). (The wide-mouth lids are $84.99 for a pack of 300, or $0.28/each.)

If anyone is in the market for bulk quantities of high-quality canning lids, this is the deal for you.

In fact, both the price and the quality are hard to resist. I think I'll place an order myself. After all, I don't want to miss that window of opportunity again.