Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chapter XLII

Granny Cherry’s Persimmon Butter

3 cups of persimmon pulp
¾ cup apple cider
1 ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Put everything in a heavy bottom cooking pot that has a lid.  Cook it on medium to medium-low, stirring often to keep the mess from scorching or burning.  Continue cooking until mixture darkens and gets thick.  Take lid off to cook it down to butter consistency.  Spoon into hot, sterilized jars, seal, and then process in a boiling water bath.

      My first batch of persimmon butter never even made it into jars but covered the corn dodgers that I had made to go with the fried ham slices and beans that I had cooked for supper.  I had to switch to sorghum molasses (courtesy of Boo’s bring home pay being shared around) after that batch otherwise I would have to use up all the brown sugar in the house and that just wouldn’t do.

      I was up late into Sunday night cooking down the kudzu and getting it canned up.  I didn’t mind though because as Jude had predicted the front brought a little rain and then a damp cold that if you stood still long enough wanted to seep into your bones.  I had opted to use the old woodstove to cook with and the heat from the kitchen would rise and go up into the bedroom the kids were using right above me.  Eventually however I did give out and go to bed.

      Monday morning was not just cool but cold, even in the house.  There was frost on the ground as well though not a really heavy frost and it melted as soon as the sun was up a couple of hours. 

      “Jude, where is your coat?!”

      “Relax Granny, on the porch airing out.  It smells like a cross between tobacco smoke and moth balls.”

      “Ew.  You don’t even smoke.”

      He laughed.  “Old pack of cigs in the inside pocket – probably someone stuck them in there to hide them at the house but then forgot about ‘em when I brought my stuff up here; it’s Rochelle’s ex’s brand, Lorne don’t smoke.  Mothballs in the front pockets were likely put there by the girls before it was packed away last winter.  Ew don’t even start to describe it … try wearing the thing.  When it warms back up you think you can wash it?”

      “Sure.  But until then I’ll spritz it with some stuff that …”

      “No … no perfume … that’s all I need.  Besides it will mess up going hunting and Butch and I are going in the morning if the creek don’t rise.  I hope by then the mothball smell is gone.”

      Tiff had walked into the kitchen right on the tail end of Jude’s sentence and she asked with huge eyes, “It’s gonna flood?”

      I grinned and gave her a hug.  “No Tiff, that’s just an old timey saying.  If the creek don’t rise means that if nothing else gets in the way of what was originally planned.”

      “Oh.  You sure have a lot of funny sayings that don’t mean what they sound like they mean.”

      “You’ll get used to it.”  I spotted her feet which were bare inside the house slippers that I had found for her to wear.  “Girl go get some socks on!  You want to get a cold?  You haven’t been over the sniffles all that long.”

      After she’d left – hopefully to share the wisdom of wearing socks with the rest of the kids – I turned to Jude and told him, “No perfume … water and baking soda.”

      It took him a minute to backtrack and then he said, “Oh … ok.  Just no perfume.  The coat stinks bad enough as it is.”

      After breakfast Jude took off to help cut wood down at the main house and I got back to making preserves and going through boxes … this time with the help of the kids which got some of it done quicker.

      In a voice loud enough to rattle crockery Paulie called from the basement, “Dovie!  We got the boxes emptied that were in front of the pantry!”

      Stepping over to the stairs and looking down I told him, “Geez, you don’t need to bellow at the top of your lungs like that.”

      I could see him shrug from the bottom of the stairwell.  “I wanted to make sure you heard me all the way up the stairs.”

      “Ever thought of walking up the stairs?”

      Another careless shrug was followed by, “Yeah, but I’d just have to walk back down again when you gave me something else to do.”

      Well, it was the truth but I was beginning to understand why Mom sometimes looked cross eyed at us and warned us not to sass even though we hadn’t really meant it the way she took it.  I took the last jar of pickled apples out of the canner and then replaced them all with more persimmon butter, put the lid on so that it would come back up to a boil and could process the jars, and then went down the basement stairs to see what, if anything, was in the cabinets.

      A few cobwebs and a lot of dust was all I noticed at first.  All I could do was sneeze and cough when I opened the cabinet door and a stack of vinyl placemats fell from the top. 

      “Here … (sneeze) … Tiff.  Take these … (cough) … up stairs and put them in the … (sneeze, sneeze, hack) … sink so I can wash them.  I was wondering where they had all gone.  Using them will keep the tablecloth and table beneath it cleaner and we won’t have to keep changing the linens out.”

      I sniffed some more and then rubbed the dust out of my eyes and took a good look and started smiling.  “Yay Mom,” I said quietly.

      There were several different homemade condiments in there just like I had remembered … grape catsup, mushroom catsup, green tomato catsup, apple catsup, blueberry catsup, peach catsup, walnut catsup, cherry catsup, banana catsup, blueberries pickled in molasses.  Then there were other things like her homemade cordials and liqueurs which gave me a small pause for Jude’s sake, and some “exotic” jams and jellies from the fruits so easy to obtain when we lived in Florida, but nothing that really added a whole lot of meat and potatoes to our food supplies.  Don’t get me wrong, something was certainly better than nothing, but a girl can hope.  And then I realized on the bottom were glass gallon jugs of dried beans and several jugs of vinegar.


      “What?” the kids wanted to know.

      “Beans, dried beans.  They might take forever and a day to cook soft but they’re still good to eat.  And the vinegar has a mother in it.”

      When the kids asked Paulie what I meant he said, “You don’t want to know; it’s gross looking.”  I closed the cabinet up and then had the kids start carting stuff from the boxes upstairs and putting it away where it made the best sense to.  Most of it was sewing and craft stuff and some more books.  After that the only unpacked things down in the basement was all of Mom’s gazillion empty canning jars that she had been collecting over the years from yard and estate sales.  Dad had surprised her a couple of years ago with a large bulk order of tattler reusable rings and lids and spare rubber rings since he’d had to miss her birthday for the third year in a row but Mom hadn’t gotten a chance to use many of them.  I also knew for a fact there were slightly under a freakton of traditional rings and lids in some sealed up five gallon buckets over in the corner because I had carried them down myself after we left Florida.  Having something to store food in is not the problem, having food to store is.

      I knew the frost, mild though it was, pretty much heralded the end of harvest season for field crops.  It gave me the shakes to think about it.  There would still be a few things in the “forest grocery store” but the colder it got the less there would be and I needed to be careful not to over harvest the wild stuff or there wouldn’t be anything come spring time.  I looked around and the piles of things that I still needed to do something with.  It was comforting but at the same time I knew that the cooked and canned up results wouldn’t take up nearly the room that the uncooked, unpreserved originals did and as such wouldn’t look like near as much food.

      I hauled up another basket of persimmons and then went down for a basket of small green Granny Smith apples and had Paulie and Bobby bring up the other speckleware water bath canner from where it hung on a nail.  If I was going to use the wood stove to cook on then I might as well make use all the burners and not waste the wood.


Apple Pickles Made With Honey

10 cups of quartered firm apples with the skins still on
1 cup of mint vinegar (or plain vinegar, mint just adds another layer of flavor)
2 inches of stick cinnamon
2 cups of honey
6 whole cloves

Combine honey, vinegar, and spices and heat to boiling.  Cook two to three cups of apple at a time, handling them gently.  When they are transparent lift them out and put them in a bowl.  Continue until all apples are cooked.  Remove spices but keep liquid hot.  Place cooked apples in prepared jars and then cover with the boiling vinegar and honey mixture.  Seal and process like you would for apples at your elevation.

      After the noon meal I told the kids to get out of the house while the getting was good or I would put them back to work.  An hour later when I was beginning to wonder what they were up to because it had gotten too quiet I hear a bunch of screaming and hollering.  I nearly broke my neck on the stoop trying to run outside thinking that the bear had come back but then stopped and wondered why on earth Paulie was running around with a fishing net laughing like a loon.

      “Dang it! Give me a heart attack why don’t you Paulson Doherty!  What are you all doing out here?!”

      Tiff, much calmer than the rest of them walked over to me and said, “They’ve been hunting squirrels.”

      Momentarily speechless I finally realized that there was indeed something caught in the net.  “Are you telling me they actually caught one with that old fishing net?”

      “They caught three in one swoop.  Only they don’t know what to do with them now.”

      I looked to the heavens for guidance because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them either but Jude and Clewis picked that moment to drive up in the wagon.  I took one look at them and being purely inspired I called, “You deal with it!” before walking in the house.
      It was a few moments before I heard both Clewis and Jude laughing as hard as the kids had been if not worse.  A few minutes after that I heard, “Gross!”  “Ew!”  And Bobby’s, “How fast can we cook ‘em?  I’m hungry.”

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