Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stocking Up, Country Style

Ree Drummond, better known as Pioneer Woman, recently posted about stocking up her frig and pantry. Her family had been away for several days and came home to some old fruit, some eggs, a little cheese and butter, mayo, and not much else. True to her blogging style, Ree posted gorgeous photos of all the yummy things she brought home from her grocery shopping trip to the big city. I'm still trying to figure out how she got everything put away before midnight, what with taking all those photos!

Ree's post got me to thinking about how we manage food here in the wilds of Virginia. We live in a sparsely-populated region of the Appalachian mountains, and in most ways, I love the isolation. But that same isolation that is normally a balm to my soul means stores like Food Lion, Kroger, Walmart, and Costco are at least an hour away, with several mountains between here and there. There's a nice little hometown grocery about 25 miles to the north (no mountains), but I have no other reason to go there, so I don't. Locally, you can buy pricey essentials five miles up the road, and 14 miles away there's a Dollar General that will get you by on a lot of things. But real grocery shopping is an intentional thing around here, complete with a long list and in warm weather, coolers to keep cold things cold on the long drive home. No matter why we travel to the valley, our trip always includes a final stop at the grocery store and gas station. We Highlanders never waste a trip across the mountains!

Both Robin and I grew up with family vegetable gardens. Our parents were children during the Depression, and since neither family was overly wealthy, a garden was necessary to ease the burden of high grocery bills that go along with growing families. Therefore, when we got married, planting a garden was a given. Every year since, we've raised a lot of our own food. Nowadays that's all the rage, you know: buy local, eat locally grown, raise your own. There's an entire movement toward things like community gardens, gardening in pots and beds, and eating fresh. Along with the garden comes canning and freezing all those delicious fresh vegetables. Unlike most of Pioneer Woman's blog followers, what came to my mind when I read her post was not big and flashy grocery stores, but our cellar and freezer. Oh, I buy a lot at the store, but we stock up a little differently around here.

Welcome to our cellar! It has all the classic characteristics of a cellar: rough shelving, ample spider webs, layers of dust and dirt, and dim light.

The latch is a little tricky, but once you get the hang of it, getting the door open is a cinch.

Once inside, you'll find enough food to last us through several winters. There are potatoes,

and more potatoes,

even purple potatoes! We like potatoes.

There are rows of jars of tomatoes, tomato juice,

and green beans.

Then there are the foods that take a little more preparation - recipes for canned goodness that you just can't get from the store. Things like my mother's yummy sweet pickles. I make a lot of these!

Robin made a lot of dill pickles this year. As you can see, he didn't get overly concerned about uniformity when he was cutting and slicing. 

He's also not afraid to experiment, as evidenced by these canned green tomatoes. We're told they fry up real nice...guess we'll find out!

We love homemade salsa!

This spaghetti sauce recipe is a country fast food: brown a pound of hamburger, dump in the sauce, cook some spaghetti and supper is on the table in a jiffy.

New to our cellar this year is pepper jelly. I think I made five batches!! Each batch came out a different color, depending on the combination of peppers I used. Needless to say, I love the stuff, and I'm finding out cream cheese isn't the only thing it's good on.

I'd show you our freezers (yes, we have more than one) but they're too much of a jumble right now, not at all a pretty sight. As thankful as I am for all they contain, digging around in a freezer is not on my list of fun things to do! Suffice it to say they are full of various meats, vegetables (like corn and lima beans), applesauce, and fruits (especially strawberries and peaches).

We also have to stock up on firewood. Robin has been hard at work on that these last few weeks.

And so we are stocked up for the winter. My mother always said she never had to worry about me going hungry or being cold as long as I was married to Robin! When Y2K was looming, just before the turn of the century, many of our friends and neighbors said they were coming to live with us if all the dire predictions of computer failure came to pass. Sometimes I wonder just how long we could go without buying any food. We would run out of things like flour and sugar, but I bet we wouldn't go hungry for a long, long, time. Consequently, we're always a little puzzled by folks who don't have a store of food and fuel on hand. For us, stocking up is necessary and natural. Our cellar, freezers, and wood pile are sweet reminders of God's unfailing provision. He really does meet our every need, and for that we're always grateful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elbow Grease

When I was a kid, I couldn't figure out for the life of me what elbow grease was. I couldn't imagine why anyone would need to grease their elbows, nor could I ever find a can, bottle, or box labeled as such. And if you did need or want to grease your elbows, just how did you go about it? Did it involve a trip to the doctor and needles??? I remember hearing the term used most when my parents and my aunt talked about restoring old furniture, which only confused me further. What did greasing your elbows have to do with old tables and chairs? Yes indeed, elbow grease was definitely one of the great conundrums of my childhood.

I don't know when the light dawned. Perhaps it was just a slow realization that elbow grease was a fun way to describe hard work. At some point, though, I came to understand that elbow grease is a necessary element of many aspects of life. Sometimes it's necessary and sometimes it's a choice, but using a goodly amount of elbow grease most always results in some form of accomplishment.

Yesterday I applied some of this wonder-working elbow grease to an old cabinet from the farmhouse. It was mounted on the pantry wall for decades and collected numerous layers of grime and dirt. I scrubbed it with soap and water some time ago, which helped a little, but it obviously needed something more.

Devonne, who is helping me with paint removal in the farmhouse dining room, willingly shared the wonders of paste wax, superfine steel wool, and elbow grease.

The pungent aroma of paste wax awakened vague memories of restoration projects in my parents' garage. I remember listening with big ears to the grownup's conversations as they used that mysterious elbow grease, paste wax, and steel wool to bring an old piece of furniture back to life. As for our old cabinet, it only took a little bit of scrubbing to make visible progress, and within minutes I was peeling back layers of time as the grime disappeared.

Unfortunately, my obligation to attend a board meeting necessitated stopping after cleaning only half of the narrow top. Even that little bit, though, revealed dovetail construction that we had not been able to see before. The wood is rich and smooth and bears the marks of daily use and the passage of time.

When I get the entire cabinet cleaned and polished and back in the farmhouse, I'll show it to you. It's a wonderful testament to the sweet rewards of elbow grease, which is a mystery no more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tiny Surprises, Part 2

This tiny egg has been sitting in our refrigerator for almost two weeks.

Once we got over the novelty of how small it is, we didn't know what to do with it. Here it is with my wedding ring for comparison:

And with an ordinary spoon, like you eat your cereal with:

Finally, this morning, we cracked it. Friends are here for a few days, and it seemed the time had come.

Alas, no yolk! That's a quarter-cup measure, by the way, holding the shell.

And so, the tiny egg is no more. But what a sweet little bit of amusement it brought us while it lasted.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tiny Surprises

Robin usually gathers the eggs in the evenings. I like the idea of gathering them into a pretty basket, like I envision folks doing in the "old days," but he puts them in an egg carton. They are much safer that way since they must survive the two-mile journey to our house in a worn-out pickup truck with two farm dogs who sometimes vie for the front seat. When I open the carton, I never know what I'll find. There could be only two eggs, or six or eight. There's almost always a bantie egg or two, and they are always clean and white. The other eggs come in a variety of sizes and colors; small, medium, large, or whopper, and white, beige, brown, or sometimes light green or blue. (The colored ones come from the Araucana chickens, which are bred to lay such eggs). Every day there's just a bit of anticipation as I open the carton to see what the hens came up with. This was yesterday's crop:

There's the two white bantie eggs, as usual. The two beige ones are probably bantie eggs as well, but their hens are a bit bigger, I guess. The two brown eggs would probably come in as large according to store sizing. The biggest one is actually light blue, from one of those Araucana chickens. And then there's that tiny one. Do you see it? It's smaller than the already small bantie eggs, and it's green!

This is the greatest egg find yet! I was working at our county fair yesterday evening and didn't get home til late. I was tired and almost forgot about cleaning eggs. When I opened the carton I was thinking about getting a bath and a good night's sleep more than the day's egg crop. Imagine my surprise when I saw that tiny green egg! I turned on more lights to make sure my eyes weren't fooling me. I put the eggs away in the frig, and pulled them out this afternoon to take some pictures. Because the eggs were cold, and the weather so hot and humid (thanks to the final throes of Hurricane Issac), they began to sweat almost immediately. That's why they look wet in these photos - they were!

Here's the tiny treasure, compared to a quarter, a nickel, and a dime.

And here it is compared to what I used to think was a tiny white bantie egg:

Compared to the brown egg, it's getting smaller!

And it makes that big blue egg look rather like an ostrich egg.

We're thinking this little prize must have come from one of the little chicks we raised last spring - perhaps her first egg. Maybe she is a cross between a bantie and an Araucana. If so, that means we'll be getting miniature colored eggs! Won't that be fun!

I suppose there are folks who think me silly, taking so much pleasure from an egg. There certainly are bigger and flashier things to get excited about these days. I like to think, though, that finding a little joy in something so mildly out of the ordinary is a sweet little leftover from my childhood, a tiny remnant of child-like wonder fighting to survive inside this middle-aged grownup.