Monday, November 3, 2014

Chapter XLVI


Acorn Bread

2 cups acorn flour
2 cups cattail or white flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup maple syrup or sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil

Bake in pan for 30 minutes or until done at 400 degrees.  A far more simple form of acorn bread is to make a thick acorn porridge out of cold processed acorn flour. Take a large tablespoon of the porridge and drop it into cold water. This causes the porridge to contract. Take the lump out of the water and dry.

 

      “Dovie!  What did you go getting yourself into now?”

      “Shut up Clewis,” I told him irritably followed closely by, “Where’s Jude?”

      He just stared at me and pointed in the general direction of the barn.  Rather than leave me alone he followed me which did nothing for my already thin patience.  “Jude?”

      “Yeah … huh?  Wha …?”

      “Did you and Butch forget to tell me something?”

      “Er … uh oh … er … now that you mention it …”

      Butch spotted me and rather than giving a care that I was covered from head to do in muck and wet water weeds he asked, “You didn’t knock our trap over did you?  We were going to try and catch …”

      Since I had already been rudely introduced to what they were trying to catch I growled at him, “You’re going to be lucky if I don’t knock you two over.  Here.  Your stupid traps work; they nearly trapped me.”

      As soon as I handed off the bag I felt something in my galoshes and squealed and kicked it off so that it flew several feet making Jude and Butch duck.  I sat on the step of a tractor and pulled the other one off and upended it but nothing came out of it.  The same couldn’t be true of the one that I had sent flying.  A rusty crayfish waddled out and finally Clewis figured out what had happened.

      He started snickering, then laughing, and then he was braying like a mule and all but rolling on the floor of the barn.  When Uncle Roe came over to see what the noise was about he pointed first at me attempting to pull water weeds out of my hair then at my shoe that had apparently had not one but two crayfish in it and then at Butch and Jude who were looking down inside the poke sack that I had meant to fill with cattail roots but instead was filled with rusty crayfish.

      Uncle Roe tried to look sympathetic but couldn’t quite pull it off.  “Baby Sister, did you get the bad end of a crawdad trap?” 

      Ignoring Jude and Butch I told him, “Someone failed in their duty to tell me that they’d set not one, not two, but three of those things up along the stream, near the cattails … the very cattails that I mentioned that I was going to be digging to get the roots.”  Then a breeze came and I shivered involuntarily. 

      Jude noticed.  “Hey … you’re gonna catch a cold.  Take my jacket.”

      “No,” I told him turning my nose up.  “I’m going home … but if you expect me to fix those vicious things you’ve got another think coming.  They ruined my whole morning of foraging because now I’ve got to go home and clean up before I can get anything else done.  I hope you two are happy.”

      I grabbed my other wader, knocked it against the tractor sending a third crayfish flying out, and then put it on and stomped away.  As I was squishing my way home I heard Jude say, “I better go make sure she gets back ok.”

      Uncle Roe told him, “I’d let her cool off a spell if I were you.  I accidentally sent Malissa head first into that very stream when she were just a little younger than Dovie and … well, you just let her cool off a spell.  They’s gentle type females normally but some things tend to turn ‘em right good at aiming things at a man; and we ain’t just talkin’ words neither son.”

      By the time I got back up to the house I regretted not taking Jude’s jacket even if it did smell.  I was freezing. 

      Paulie wanted to know, “What did Jude say?”

      I snapped, “He better not saying anything to me for a bit or I’m liable to ch-ch-ch a-CHOO chew his head off.”

      It’s not that I hadn’t fallen into the stream before.  It’s not that they didn’t say they were sorry, but of course they didn’t.  It wasn’t even that those stupid crayfish had looked like monsters for a second when my head went down into one of the traps … well, maybe a little bit of that one.  But mostly it was the lost time. 

      I hadn’t slept very well and woke up stressed out.  I kept dreaming that I’d put something into the pantry only to go get it and realize I’d already used it and the kids were going to have to go hungry because no matter how hard I searched, every shelf and cabinet was empty of everything but dust and cobwebs.  I knew that I had food in the pantry but I also knew that there wasn’t enough to get us through until another garden would make.  Heck, it wouldn’t last long enough to get us through until the wild spring greens were ready.  It felt like, between the two home sites, we were going to wind up eating lard and vinegar before spring got here and that was if we didn’t use all the vinegar up beforehand.  And I didn’t even want to think on the fact that winter hadn’t even really arrived yet.

      If all I had to do between now and the first snow was work on food preparations for the winter I might have been ok, but that’s not the way real life is.  There’s cooking for every day meals that has to be done.  There’s clothes that have to be washed.  There are clothes that need to be sewn or repaired.  There’s housework to do.  There’s taking care of the kids.  There is sharing work with the family when there are big projects that need doing like the chicken killing.  It’s not that I resent any of it … like Mom used to say, I resent there not being enough hours in the day to ever finish.

      Since my forest and stream foraging time was gone I decided to forage in the herb garden and near the house for as long as I could.  The easiest to start with were the sumac berries.  Well, they aren’t really berries and Mom would wring my tail for calling them that.  The red fruit of the sumac is actually considered a “drupe.”  I collected all of them from around the house that I could see; there were areas that needed mowing that I absolutely was not wading through until the cold put all the snakes to sleep.  They make a really good drink that is tart – like lemonade – or they can be ground into powder and used to flavor some dishes calling for lemon.

      Next came harvesting the seed heads off of the amaranth that ran wild out of Mom’s garden.  They are pretty and colorful plants but if you don’t pay attention they will escape from the part of the garden you put them in and start to crowd out other things.  They aren’t as bad as horseradish but in the right environment they can give them a run for their money.  I could take the amaranth seeds, which remind you of millet or birdseed, and grind them into a type of flour that I can use to piece out the wheat flour.

      That’s actually what I had gone after the cattail roots for.  I’m really worried that the wheat and cornmeal isn’t going to last.  I’ve been trying to be careful but a cup of flour here and three over there to just make biscuits and bread uses the wheat berries up a whole lot faster than I expected.

      My next task was to gather beautyberries.  OK, I know people think it is a disgusting, insipid wild fruit … that’s assuming they don’t think it is poisonous … but I have to say it makes one of the absolute best wild jellies.  I only have a few boxes of sure-jell that I found when I opened the buckets of jar lids but I’ll spend one of them on this.  You take one a half quarts of berries and cover them with two quarts of water in a pot and then boiling them for twenty minutes. 

      You take this infusion and strain it to get the gunk out and the resulting liquid is your “juice.”  Take three cups of the “juice,” bring it to a boil, add a box of sure-jell, and four and a half cups of sugar.  Yeah, that’s a lot of sugar but since I had the honey and sorghum I decided that just this once I would splurge.  You bring everything back to a boil and then continue boiling for two minutes.  Skim off any foam and then pour in jars and process like you would apple jelly.  It is so pretty in the jars.

      I noticed while I was out in the yard that Paulie was teaching the kids how to snack on the sly.  I don’t mean that in a bad way because Mom taught us how to do it.  In our home snacks were rarities.  Mom just didn’t believe in it thinking that we’d get spoiled, fat, or both or get bad teeth.  Today Paulie was teaching them how to snack on beechnuts.  Those things are too small to be worth gathering unless you are real hard up … you would use way more calories finding them than you could possibly take in eating them.  But for snacking while on the trail or just out in the yard playing beech nuts are pretty good.

      And speaking of nuts I had the boys shake the last of the almonds, hazlenuts, and chestnuts loose from their respective trees and onto vinyl tablecloths.  While the beautyberry jelly was making I also decided to preserve some chestnuts to fill the rest of the canner with.  The only adjustment to the recipe that I made was for Jude’s benefit; rather than using real brandy I made fake brandy with brandy-flavored extract and water.

 

Whole Chestnuts in Vanilla Syrup

3 pounds fresh unshelled chestnuts
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup brandy

Cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. In a jelly-roll pan roast the chestnuts in a preheated 375 oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the shells have cracked and the chestnuts are tender when
pierced with a knife. Let the chestnuts cool slightly and remove the shell and the papery inner skin.  In a large saucepan combine the brown sugar and 4 cups water and heat the mixture over low heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture back to a boil and add the peeled chestnuts and the vanilla bean. Bring the mixture back to a boil and let it cool. Let the chestnuts soak, covered, overnight.  Return the mixture to a boil and with slotted spoon transfer the chestnuts to warm jars. Divide the brandy evenly among the jars, add enough syrup to cover the chestnuts, and seal the jars. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 50 minutes. Let the jars cool completely before checking the seals and storing.  Makes 2 quarts

 

I also made chestnut jam which was usually a holiday treat for our family.

 

Chestnut Jam

4 pounds fresh unshelled chestnuts
3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup mild-flavored honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut and roast the nuts on a baking sheet in a preheated 350 oven for 45 minutes, or until the shells have pulled back from the incisions and the flesh can be easily pierced with a skewer. Let the chestnuts cool until they can be handled. Remove the shell and the papery inner skin, trying to keep the nuts whole.  In a preserving pan combine the brown sugar and 1/2 cup water and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring, until the sugar is melted. Add the honey and the vanilla bean and bring the mixture just to a boil. Add the chestnuts and simmer them for 15 minutes, or until they start to break up.  Remove the vanilla bean and with a slotted spoon transfer 1 cup of the chestnuts to a bowl. process the remaning mixture in a food
processor until smooth and combine the puree with the whole chestnuts.  Spoon the jam into jars and seal the jars. Process the jars in a boiling water bath: 10 minutes for 1-pint jars, 15 minutes for 1-quart jars. Let cool completely before checking the seals and storing.  Makes 1 quart.

 
      I made breakfast for supper.  I had to think of some way to use up all of the eggs before any of them spoiled and while it may seem a little silly to some it was a tradition in my home that every so often we’d just flip the meals around in the house and have breakfast for supper and supper for breakfast.  I made big cat head biscuits, busted down gravy with some sausage out of the smokehouse, a big pile of scrambled eggs and I even splurged and made home fries.  I would have liked to have had some cheese to grate over the eggs but the cheese wheels from Mrs. Schnell were still green.

      To be honest I was feeling kinda blue.  I knew that I hadn’t acted my best and had laid into Jude and Butch more than I should have.  It was my own fault for not watching where I was going and giving myself a scare.  Once I’d come down off my high horse I could see it. 

      I heard the screen door open and rushed over before he could get half way in.  “I’m sorry.  My mouth got away from me.”

      His eyebrows shot up.  He looked behind him, almost looking like he was making sure it was him I was talking to.  When he realized I really was sorry and nodded.  “You were right, I shoulda said something because we both did hear that you were going over there.”

      “Don’t make me feel worse by being nice about it Jude.  I should know better.  I just got out of the habit of minding my tongue.  You’re so easy to talk to, and you play but you aren’t mean … I don’t know … I just didn’t think and I’m sorry.  I … I don’t …”

      “Don’t what?” he asked cautiously.

      “I don’t want you to think I’m as mean to you as the rest of them can be.  We’re supposed to be friends … even better than friends because we supporting each other and everything.  I was a jerk and I shouldn’t have been.”

      “Oh hey now … that’s going a bit too far.  I made a mistake.  You feel like you made one too.  We’re both sorry.  ‘Nuff said, right?”

      I was relieved and gave him a smile but when it came to supper all I did was pick.  After clean up, after Jude had given the kids their story that had become a nightly routine, after they had gone to bed and the house was quiet I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t feeling good.

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