Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mounds of Wax Cappings

And ruined comb are draining in two huge dishpans and a mixing bowl in the kitchen. The three foot tall extractor is still waiting for me to disembowel and clean. Honey that dripped from the cappings (The prized fine wax that bees use to seal the honey into the comb) is waiting to be jarred. So, I have barricaded myself in my office in an attempt to feign a life of leisure. Unfortunately, the plan is not working. I cannot seem to forget. Yet I can't seem to find the motivation to tackle the messy business.

The days after harvest are the worst part of beekeeping. Moving the heavy honey supers, turning the extractor handle, sterilizing umpteen million jars, and honey dripping everywhere on the first day is hard and messy work, but the leftovers are always more annoying. Sure we could just toss everything in the garbage, but the waste would worry me more than the mess of extracting the last of the honey and saving the cappings and fresh, but not perfect comb. Time to let gravity pull the last of the honey from the wax means a cluttered kitchen (which is usual for me) and a messy job hanging in the queue. Once the honey is finished draining and jarred, the wax will be cleaned of bee parts and stored until I make candles, which won't be done until I get finished storing all of the precariously close to spoiling tomatoes that are covering all of the other surfaces of my kitchen.

Which leads me to the all important question, "Why have I barricaded myself in my office when there is so much to be done?" Fellow procrastinator to whom I loaned the book about overcoming procrastination that my mother loaned to me, if you could put returning the book on your To Do List, I would appreciate it. I am in dire need of a refresher course.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Did you know that . . .

Bee stings are great for arthritis pain and other joint maladies? Though no doctors are prescribing getting stung by real bees because of the dangers associated with allergic reactions (nor do I recommend it), I feel smug about my joint health as I sit nursing three stings today and knowing that I endured eight stings last week. We harvested honey yesterday. My job was to bring the frames inside, cut the cappings, extract the honey, then jar it. Notice I didn't get anywhere near the hive, yet I still managed to get stung. Mr. W., who harvested the honey, didn't get a single sting. I resent his sting-free harvest.

Not really. Last week we had a hive calamity, which is why we are harvesting this week, and he was stung more times than we could count, so I'm really glad he didn't get stung. Friday, a week ago, we had a thunderstorm with much wind and a good bit of rain in a short period of time. The ground shifted under a hive with two brood chambers and three honey supers and the wind blew the whole hive into a pile. As chance would have it, this was our feisty hive. Some truly mad bees combined with a few careless mistakes trying to get the hive back together resulted in a bonnet full of bees that ended Mr. W's bee keeping night. My brother came in full gear (including a winter coat) to help me finish getting the hive protected from the elements and off the ground.

Working bees at night is not optimal. The next day was no better. I went to retrieve some equipment and frames left in our frenzy (and fear) and the bees were still furious. I left the stuff for a few more days. Sunday the bees were back to their normal mean personalities, so we decided to harvest honey to get some weight off the hive, make sure the hive was stable, and check hive health (see if the queen was still alive).

We harvested about 6 gallons of honey from the one hive. I know most people figure honey harvest by weight, but we don't have a scale. And I know my calculation of jarred honey is flawed because we put up some chunk honey and some extracted honey, but I still think 6 gallons of Spring/Summer honey from one hive is outstanding. We don't mind their feisty demeanor as much when they provide so well for our sweet tooth.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Neshoba County Fair

I thought about not doing a Fair entry since I did one last year and much is the same, but then I thought people return to the Fair over and over counting on that very thing. People want The Fair to remain practically unchanged by time and guess what, The Neshoba County Fair has succeeded. The Neshoba County Fair draws people from several states (not just the county), has been featured in The National Geographic magazine, and is home to enough people during two or three weeks to merit its own post office, yet remains what I remember from 30 plus years ago.

The main gate is the same as it has always been. At one time the ticket house was painted brown, but has been mostly yellow. It still is. I talked last year about how some of the cabins have updated to more comfortable arrangements with glassed windows and air conditioners. More have done so this year, but even with the air conditioning people still prefer to spend most of the day sitting on the porch in the heat so they can see and be seen, greet and be greeted, entertain and be entertained. I hope that social aspect of the fair will never change.

Another thing about The Fair that won't change is the politicking. If you don't make the fair, don't expect to be elected. Presidential candidates even come to garner votes here. Political speaking, hand shaking, and poster hanging runs rampant. Political pamphlets are great, but why stop there. Those in the know, bring fans printed with their names. One candidate even handed out Popsicles to children at the horse races. Every bare, non-cabin surface has a poster stapled to it.

Though the midway is only a quarter of the size of the state fair, the Neshoba County Fair has rides for every age and courage level. This year we got to ride in crowns. I also rode some strawberries and have come to the conclusion that something must happen to you as you age that renders spinning and twirling nauseating. Age aside, the midway is much more fun at night when the sun isn't unmercifully cooking the rides, people, and red clay.

Food is the best part of the midway, not that you should expect to find any haute cuisine. You won't. You can get fresh squeezed lemonade, hand-dipped corn dogs, freshly spun cotton candy, candy apples, chicken on a stick, fried pickles, catfish (definitely not from China), and funnel cakes. And this is just on the midway. At the cabins you will find the real southern food and hospitality donning the picnic tables, but you have to look closer for it than you used to.

Take a side trip through the exhibit halls to see the competition for blue ribbons in arts and crafts, canning, and produce. My children exhibited this year and both won ribbons in the youth division. Next year, they say they will enter more stuff, because in addition to the blue ribbons they won cash prizes. I would guess that the cash prizes are encouragement to participate. The pride involved in winning the blue ribbon in canning or sewing is not what it once was, or there are truly fewer people canning and gardening, or few have time to create entries. Who knows why, but the exhibition hall is not as full as in years past. I suspect my children will solve that problem next year. The exhibition hall is not plush, just a barn structure with a closed and air conditioned room for the craft entries. Both my children were so proud of their blue ribbons that we had to run through the exhibit hall at least a hundred times before they were satisfied enough to leave the fair grounds.

Are you tired yet? We've just gotten started. On Sunday, there is always an antique car show. Once judged, the winners sit in Founder's Square and talk to interested people, then there is a parade around the track at the grandstand. I'm always amazed by the effort and money spent to get these cars in new condition. When I was much younger, many of the cars were driven to the fair. I used to get so excited when they passed our house. Part of it was that I knew where the cars were going, but I was also excited to see the unexpected. Few drive now. Maybe they don't because the other traffic is going so fast that there is fear of being crushed. Maybe they don't because the owners don't like to putt-putt along. Who knows. But tradition still reigns at the fair, so on Sunday morning you can still see antique cars and trucks.

When you are completely exhausted and your feet are aching, get some lemonade and sit in the grandstands while watching the races - mule, trotter, and quarter horse. Recover in time for the nightly shows and pageants, more food, and dancing when the sun hides behind the cabins and temperatures moderate.

I went to the fairgrounds yesterday, so the children could pick up their entries. They are already talking about next year. Next year - almost just the same, only better.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Common Sense Fashion Tips

From the usually fashion unconscious stationed at the Neshoba County Fair.
  1. Think of wearing proper foundation garments if you are voluptuously endowed and are planning to ride fair rides. Doing so will go far in reducing embarrassment to yourself and others when you are shaken, tossed, and revealed. I really didn't need to see all that.
  2. If you weigh over 300 pounds, the tube top is not your best look, especially if you have to do major adjustments every few minutes. Honestly, I didn't know those tops had been sold since the 1980's, so why stop there. If you have reached puberty and need foundation garments, regardless of your weight, stay away from tube tops. They are not sexy, but everyone is looking while you drag, tug, and sag.
  3. Teenagers, if you have to lie down on your bed to zip and button your low rider jeans, don't leave the house. If you leave the house anyway, please don't wear a form fitting belly button revealing tank top. You look like an over stuffed sausage hanging out all over the place.
  4. Men over 18, if you win a silver winged hat with a dollar sign embroidered on the front, resist the urge to wear it. Give it to a child. You look ridiculous.
  5. Men, dress shoes and socks do not go with shorts and scary white legs.
  6. If you're planning to ride rides and eat junk until you vomit, bring an extra tee shirt or buy one of the lovely, but expensive Fair shirts. That splattered, stinky look is not flattering. Truly, do you really think people want to sit next to you on the rides?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Adoptive Mother

Z asked what would happen to this bitty if no hen would claim it. What happens is that it will find another mother. Truly, this is a remarkable chick. We had a bunch of hens hatch bitties around the same day and hens are super aggressive when they have new chicks. There was much bickering, claiming, and reclaiming among the hens and the result was that this little chick got separated and none of the hens would claim him later. When she was not claimed at sundown we placed her under a hen with bitties. Rejected. The next night we put her under a different hen. Rejected, again. After a few days of this we decided the chick would be traumatized by all the pecking and rejecting, so decided to keep it separate.

The chick escaped the bitty box at every opportunity and rejected all of our pampering. She began to roam with the kittens who were almost the same size. We have seven kittens - three from a feral cat who dropped her babies and subsequently vanished (Do you think stealing her babies had anything to do with it?) and four from our cat who was obviously an early bloomer or older than we thought. When we took her to the vet to be spayed and she was already hugely pregnant. Anyway, the chick thinks she is a kitten. When the kittens nurse, she sits on the mamma's haunch. When the kittens go into the shed for the night the chick follows.

We have been constantly amazed at this chick's quirky survival methods. Whatever works. I wonder if she will one day realize she isn't a cat?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tidbit from Sunday

As my husband so cleverly quipped, "Well, that was worth at least one trip to the emergency room. I wonder whether it will be you or one of the children."

I vowed to keep my feet on the floor just to prove I have some self control, but I have been sorely tempted to try a round off or flying lay-out so that when I land perfectly I can throw my hands up and yell, "Heh!" I suppose a home trapeze and tight rope are out of the question.

We went to the circus on Sunday for a fun, old-fashioned show. The Ringling Gold Show, An Upside Down World, is a small one ring only circus. The idea is to get the audience closer and have more interaction with them. Of course there were bad seats (not ours), but the show seemed warm and personal.

Personal is great, but I wanted the tents and animal smells. I wanted three rings and dust flying. But the modern circus show wasn't completely disappointing and I left ready to cartwheel across the parking lot.

Monday, July 16, 2007


How many figs is it possible to eat without making yourself sick? We'll get back to you when we reach that point. Pink Panther and I picked Saturday morning. When we got ready to leave his basket was still empty - not one single fig. I ate my share, but I did bring home a few to preserve.

For my favorite preserves, whole figs with stems, you must choose your figs wisely. The figs need to be perfectly ripe with no blemishes. Feel free to pop any fig not meeting standards into your mouth. Rinse your figs, remembering that ripe figs are delicate. Then layer figs and sugar in a bowl or if you want to save dish washing, the stainless steel pot you will use to cook them. The standard is one cup of sugar for one cup of fruit, but if you are doing whole figs which can't be measured accurately because they are so loosely packed use less. I use 3/4 cups or less. My mother and I agree on this because the idea is to highlight and preserve the fruit, not just eat sugar. This time I used 2/3 cup. It just looked right. Finish your layering with sugar, then cover with a dishcloth and let sit for 24 hours to let the sugar draw juice from the figs. If the weather is steamy hot, the process may not take as long. Check on them often so your figs don't spoil.

Once juice is drawn, add some lemon slices. You do this to raise the acidity so you don't have to use a pressure canner, because it is pretty, and it tastes good. I squeeze the lemon ends into the mix, but don't cook them. Start cooking your figs over low heat until all the sugar melts, then raise the temperature and boil without stirring (the figs will break and you lower the temperature) until approximately 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust accordingly if you are in the mountains.

Remove from heat and carefully jar the figs in sterilized warm jars. I spoon in the figs first, then add the lemons. Finally, I strain the syrup into the jars. With truly ripe figs, some will not endure the processing so will explode and leave their seeds in the syrup. Though there is nothing wrong with the seeds, I don't like to see them floating around in the jars. I also eat the exploded figs, so they don't have to go into the jars either. Just call me obsessive.

Once you have the lids fitted, let your jars enjoy a hot water bath. These jars are beautiful and delicious gifts.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Canning Wisdom

I've been putting up fruits and vegetables for a long time. I started toying with making pickles around 15 years ago and when I moved back South reacquainted myself with my mother's techniques, talked to the ladies in the community, and added the wisdom of my husband's grandmother. The first few years I was a maniac. The standing joke in the house was, "Don't put anything on the kitchen counter because she'll seal it in a jar."

The joke was a valid assessment. I canned anything and everything I could get my hands on. I canned things we didn't even like fresh. I canned enough that it would be impossible to use the jars in eight or nine years. I know, because I just tossed some Red Tomato Pickle (red chow-chow) that I canned nine years ago so I could reuse the jars. Nine year old Chow-Chow - Blech!

During these nine years of serious canning, I have learned a great deal - mostly through mistakes. Remember these things when you start the pressure pot.
  • If your family doesn't like it fresh, don't waste your time putting it into jars. They won't like it any better jarred and stored. Sure, it's alright to experiment, but do so in small quantities.
  • Don't make enough for an army unless you have an army. Let my Red Tomato Pickle be an example to you. If there are two adults in your family and two children under four, you don't need 20 to 30 gallons of chow-chow type product because let's face it, children under four don't usually eat foods that are vinegary and mixed. Remember that relishes are just relishes and not the main course, so plan accordingly.
  • Just because the fruit or vegetable is on the vine, doesn't mean you have to use it. Give it to your neighbors or perfect strangers. Yes, people will start avoiding you in high garden season if you dump too much, but if you ask around you will always find someone whose cucumbers didn't do well or someone who doesn't garden at all but would love fresh produce. If all else fails, give yourself a break and let it hang on the vine. "What difference does it make if you throw it out now or a couple of years from now," my husband's grandmother sagely asked.
  • Decide ahead of time which items you want to give as gifts and jar them accordingly.
  • Plan your garden to take into consideration how much your family needs and how much you already have. Do you need quarts of creamed corn, or would pints suffice? Does your family like green beans, peas or butterbeans better? How many times will you want to eat corn each week? How much do you have left from last year? Some people around here only plant corn every other year. They would rather endure the cramped hands and corn pelted kitchen every other year. The point is to plan your pantry and freezer input, so that you don't waste your energy and time over producing. Trust me, no one really wants to eat those beans that have been in the freezer three years.
  • By all means, don't fool yourself into believing that you will want to learn to make artisanal smoked tofu during the middle of canning season if you are the only one in your family who likes tofu. You won't need that entire row of soybeans that you have nurtured and weeded. Plan realistically, not idealistically.
If I had listened to my husband's grandmother the first time she asked me, "Why are you making so much of that?" I could have had more time to spend doing other things, though canning seems to be cheap therapy. Perhaps over-canning made more time.

Friday, July 13, 2007


We had Ratatouille with Linguine last night for supper. 'Tis the season of eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and tomatoes. Actually, I almost killed my eggplant early in the season so do not yet have even one eggplant of my own, but my sister has more than she wants and shared, and the bell pepper came from my mother's garden. Though the ingredients are fresh and local now and that should be reason enough to savor Ratatouille, we had Ratatouille because of the movie.

Last week my hubby and I took the children to see Ratatouille. We had both seen good reviews and were interested so we drove the 20 miles to the nearest theater for a rare family movie night. The movie was certainly entertaining - a rat with special talents seeking more than the colony could provide and making a liaison with the dreaded enemy. I do have one caveat. You must be thoroughly able to separate your reality and enter the world of Remy and Linguine. Even with the completely beautiful animation, I found it difficult to stomach scenes with the full colony of rats moving and of any rat touching the food in a restaurant. Call me squeamish, but my willingness to suspend disbelief was stretched as far as it could go. Rats and food don't mix. Yet, I really liked the idea of a most unlikely candidate for chef rising from the gutter to stardom. My opinions and hangups aside, my children loved the movie and have been asking for Ratatouille daily. They were ecstatic when I served their requested Ratatouille atop Linguine (one of the characters from the movie) garnished with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a piece of crostini.

Here is the recipe I used that came (I think) from a 2004 Martha Stewart Living, which my mother gave every household in the family as a show of support of Martha during her ignominy because she felt Martha was singled out because she was a strong woman while men in a similar position would have been applauded for a job well done, yet it really sounds like an Ina Garten recipe since the zucchini and eggplant are roasted. Perhaps there was a feature on Ina Garten in Martha Stewart Living in 2004, yet I checked the Barefoot Contessa website's index of books and didn't find the recipe. I salute and bow to whomever created this version of Ratatouille.
1 eggplant -- cut into 1" cubes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
4 zucchini -- medium, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 cup olive oil -- plus 2 TBLS
2 TBLS thyme -- coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
6 lbs tomatoes -- about 10, peeled and seeded and quartered
2 bell pepper -- roasted and skinned
4 garlic cloves -- finely chopped
2 onions -- halved and cut into half moons
1/2 cup basil -- coarsely chopped
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley -- coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400. Toss together the eggplant, zucchini, 1/2 cup oil, 1 TBLS thyme, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are golden, about 1 hour.
Cut peppers lengthwise in 1/2" strips. When eggplant and zucchini are done roasting, heat remaining 2 TBLS oil in a large deep skillet over medium high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and onions and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and peppers. Cook until tomatoes are soft, about 7 minutes. Add eggplant and zucchini, 1/4 cup basil, and remaining Tablespoon of thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft, about 30 minutes. Stir in parsley and remaining 1/4 cup basil. Cook until heated through, about 1 minute more.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Pink Lady

You saw my pink lady last year, but I can't resist the profusion of ample blooms sagging after a shower. Though her trunk is gnarled with age, she seems to relish outdoing the young, lithe crepe myrtles I planted a few years ago with a nearly vulgar display of abundance that draws legions of birds, bees, children, and me to revel in the liberation age brings.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I was horrified

To find out that many of you who visit here have not seen my blog the way I intended. I looked at my sitemeter to see how abysmal my numbers had sunk since I haven't been writing. To my surprise they were not lower, but higher. Maybe I should quit writing permanently. Anyway, Miz Robyn had linked my bean recipe. I was curious so I popped over to see if she had said anything complimentary, because I'm not completely immune to ego boosting activities. When I arrived at her site I saw no writing whatsoever except the sidebar items. Odd, I thought. Then, I had the bright idea to try using Firefox rather than Safari. I was able to see her blog. This made me question my own blog, so I went to one of my work computers and . . .

There I saw it. Or didn't see it. My front porch and my lime green chair were not to be seen and my text was improperly formatted with the images. Windows with IE apparently does not work with my blog formatting. Windows with Firefox appears to be fine and all Mac based browsers work. I'm embarrassed because I never thought to check my own site, though I meticulously check my work for others.

I'm sorry so many of you have looked at a white screen for a year and a half. I'll get to work and change my look or repair the finicky code as soon as I get the chance.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Amen Section

Rain has found us and the weeds have responded by raising their hands(fronds) to the sky and shouting hallelujah! This morning I waded through a waist high congregation to get to the chosen plants who are rejoicing in their own way by giving generously. Standing tall over the whole assembly is the multi-ethnic Amen section in sunflower varieties so stunningly colorful that it is impossible not to smile.

Even their demure, slightly bowed heads cannot hide their rowdy demeanor. So as I commune with my joyful plants while passing the collection basket, I cast my eyes towards the amen section for encouragement and a BIG SMILE.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tiny Tomatoes

I plant three varieties of tiny tomatoes - Sungold, Matt's Wild, and Yellow Pear. In a practical sense, they don't really fit into our lifestyle. They aren't really a canning candidate because their size makes them difficult to peel, though I thought I might try this year. They take more time to pick and cut because they are small so you need more of them to make whatever you are making. Sometimes, usually as I am halving or quartering the thousandth tomato of the day, I ask myself why I go to the trouble when I could take a bigger tomato and dice it with similar results. Yet, I have planted these three varieties for five years and will not be able to resist planting them in years to come. Why?

Taste. Each of these tasty morsels has a enormous burst of flavor that when combined with the other two is almost life changing - maybe not life changing, but certainly memorable. Perhaps taste should rule (and it does), but I don't just grow these jewels for their taste. I grow them for . . .

Beauty. Yes, I am a slave to appearance in the kitchen. I love the way the tomatoes look when tossed together in a bowl. The orange, yellow, and red combined make a statement visually. Add the subtle size differences and the pear shape of the Yellow Pear, throw in a little green and white, and WOW! The first picture shows just tomatoes. The second is of a tomato salad we make often. The third picture is the salsa I make nearly every day for my . . .

Husband. Honestly, I don't pamper my husband. In fact, he is a low maintenance part of our household, but in the summer he needs refueling with tons of fresh salsa. When the first of the tiny tomatoes arrives he starts asking, no begging, for salsa. The salsa is technically pico de gallo with my combination of tiny tomatoes cut into bite size pieces, chopped onion, finely chopped jalapeno peppers, fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and a dash of coarse salt. The proportions are personal preference and I don't measure. I eye it, then taste it. If you are proportionally challenged, email and I will measure for you tonight.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I've been busy eating - Watermelon

And peaches . . . And blueberries . . . And corn . . . And zucchini . . .And . . . Mississippi summer has kept me busy eating and preserving. Since I last wrote, which I realize was a while ago, my family has eaten 8 fabulously sweet local watermelons, scads of blueberries from my neighbor, and peaches picked from our own backyard. I'm at a point that I don't want to look at another cucumber or squash and corn has lost its early season luster. We harvested five or six hundred ears of corn, which I cut from the cob and froze. My hands were like claws for days, but we have enough corn to eat corn once a week until next corn season. We are still eating corn, reluctantly, from the garden, but I'm finished freezing.

In addition to the corn, we are picking peas in 5 gallon increments. Once picked, we shell, blanch, and freeze them. Of course, we eat our share. Butterbeans started this morning. I picked an enormous basket. We'll eat as many as we can, but will freeze most of these, too. About the time the butterbeans finish, the canning tomatoes will be ready.

I know that in some places the canning, pickling, and freezing is drawn out over a few months, but here harvest seems to be fast and furious. There is not much time for anything else, if the garden is doing well. Though the work is grueling and hot, the rewards are great. The satisfaction of seeing all those bags of peas, corn, beans, peaches, and berries lined up in the freezer and seeing those beautiful jars standing as sentinels in my pie safe is extraordinary. Knowing that the food I will serve my family during the year is safe, delicious, and didn't travel to my table from points unknown is priceless.

I'll be scarce for a few more weeks, then will try to find time to write. I've taken pictures of the various canning projects and will post when time permits. Until then, think of me cooking and eating the best, freshest foods available. I'll be down the road in a few minutes looking for another melon. I traded eggs last time. I wonder if they've eaten them. Would a jar of honey be an equal trade?