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Monday, July 8, 2019

And So the Race Begins . . .

Summer has just barely begun, but I am working doggedly, as I strive to make the best use of our garden and orchard. It is primarily my responsibility to put away as much of our produce as I can to see us through the lean months of winter. However, I have enlisted help from my family members whenever they are free. It's a race to put away as much from our garden as possible before the cold weather returns in fall.

My morning mind is often hazy, so I made my list of chores the evening before. After taking care of other business (side-hustle to earn a little spending money), I charged out to the kitchen with purpose. The small stockpot sits on the top shelf in the pantry, only taken down for occasional jar sterilizing. With space at a premium, the small stockpot is nestled inside of the larger stockpot that I use for making yogurt, tomato salsa, and large batches of applesauce, jam, or preserves. The small stockpot was a bargain piece bought at Fred Meyer 30 years ago. At the time it was my largest pot. I used it for putting up the fruit that grew on the property of our rented duplex. There were 2 apple trees, 2 plum trees, 1 sour cherry tree, and 1 crabapple tree. There was also a pear tree but it never set fruit while we lived in the rental. My guess is it needed a rooster tree and either none had ever been planted or the rooster had died and been removed many years before we moved in. That first summer, there, was a game-changer in my strategy for economizing on groceries. We moved in during the month of April. We had just relocated to the Seattle area, and my husband was looking for work. The fruit trees would prove to be a real blessing that summer and fall. The landlord encouraged us to use whatever we could pick and we did. The neighbors in the other half of the rental were a couple of bachelors. The two of them were more interested in finding dates for the weekend than picking and canning fruit. All of the apples, plums, cherries, and crabapples were ours, all ours. I need to take a step back and tell you that neither my husband nor I had any experience with home-grown fruit or processing it to save. I knew extraordinarily little about canning or making jam. My mother had on occasion made plum jam with farmer's market plums, but I was too little at that time to have made any mental notes about the process. Fortunately, this first summer in the duplex, I had a Joy of Cooking cookbook which had simplified instructions for a wide variety of jams, jellies, and preserves.

When the fruit trees first began to bloom, we had no idea what would grow on any of the trees. The cherry tree was to first to bloom and set fruit. The tiny fruits looked almost like little lemons. For a week or two we imagined that we had a lemon tree in our yard. Of course, being up in the Pacific Northwest, the likelihood of a lemon tree surviving our cold weather and then actually setting fruit is nil. Tell that to us greenhorns who knew nothing about growing fruit! By the middle of June we could see that those tiny fruits would be cherries, but it took a little grilling of the locals to determine if the cherries would be sweet or sour. They turned out to be sour cherries, and there were a lot of them. I quickly learned how to make cherry pie, making two pies at a time to have for breakfasts and desserts. My son was not quite two years old, and was he ever in heaven! Pie for breakfast was a favorite of his. I thought it all through, and logically I couldn't see why pie couldn't be a breakfast food. After all, my homemade pies using fresh-picked fruit were surely healthier than Pop-Tarts. There were so many cherries that summer that I gave away large bagfuls to neighbors and friends. And I still had a lot to freeze for winter pies. I laugh now at the thought of us believing that we might have had a lemon tree. Silly, young me!

The small stockpot was purchased when the crabapples began to show color. I had never made jelly before, but that fact didn't stop me. By mid-summer, my husband had a temporary job, but we knew it would only last another few weeks. With so much financial uncertainty, I was determined to use whatever God put in front of us. The stockpot was nothing fancy. It was on clearance, and it was cheap. I knew I could return its cost to our bank account in just a couple of batches of jelly and some applesauce for the freezer. I told myself that someday I would have more attractive pots and pans. This one was strictly functional. So it's rather ironic that I still use this stockpot every time that I need to sterilize jars, which since I make yogurt a couple of times per month, that's actually kind of often.

Pulling out the small step stool, I prepare to start my day of preserving the rhubarb. What shall it be? Should I make the vanilla-rhubarb curd or the rhubarb and rosemary preserves? The rosemary is still rather puny-looking, so I chose the curd. Today, I would be making as large of a batch of the rosemary curd as I could, so I took down both the small and the large stockpots.

It's difficult to motivate oneself to do the hard work of preserving the garden fruits and vegetables when I know that the grocery stores have an abundance of all manner of produce year-round. So, I summoned up my inner Victorian prairie girl and transported my thoughts to another century. A prairie family would not have the luxury of abundant fresh produce at the market in winter. All family members would pull together to harvest and preserve every last morsel from the soil. To do otherwise would simply be wasteful and foolish.

While I chopped and measured and stirred, I entertained myself with survivalist musings. You know, what could I plant and where on the property, should we ever need to provide the bulk of our food using just what God has provided in land, water, and weather. I would plant more winter squash, pumpkins, and potatoes -- produce items on the higher calorie side. I would also grow even more kale, simply because it is so prolific and dependable here. By sequential plantings, I could be harvesting kale from the middle of March clear through the first of December, if I'm willing to go out and harvest it in the bone-chilling rain. While much of these thoughts were just entertainment, they did make me realize that I could start even more kale than I had originally planned for planting out later this summer to harvest in fall and spring. Right now, I've got my summer kale growing in the garden. I've been able to harvest baby leaves to add to salads already and expect the plants to be mature by the middle of the month. One of the wonderful things about kale is that if it does attract any bugs, the smooth leaves don't offer any place for them to hide, unlike garden broccoli or cauliflower.

I continued to stir and taste, cook and puree, until the rhubarb curd had just the right amount of sweetness and smooth texture. The added vanilla extract makes this fruit butter sublime. I added a small amount of pectin to give the curd some body. While the whole pot bubbled for that last minute, I quickly removed all of the jars and lids from hot water in the smaller stockpot.

By the end of the weekend I had made 20 jars of vanilla-rhubarb curd. As I am not buying very much fruit this summer, I have decided that we shall eat the berries, apples, plums, and pears as fresh fruit and make sweet spreads from the over-abundance of rhubarb in my garden and the wild blackberries that we will forage later in summer. The vanilla-rhubarb curd can be used on toast, with biscuits or scones, or as filling between cake layers for a simple Victoria sandwich tea cake. I think my inner-prairie girl did a fine job this past weekend. I'll have to summon her again and again this summer, as I endeavor to put away as much as I can from what we've been given.


  1. This post read like a short story. It was interesting to have you go back in time, reviewing how you got your start with preserving produce. I, too, tend to summon my "inner pioneer girl" when I am doing something frugal for my family or my home. When we camp, we use our cast iron Dutch oven for cooking a lot, which is definitely a pioneer style of cooking. Your rhubarb curd sounds so tasty--wouldn't it be fun to sample each other's homemade jams/jellies/curds?

  2. I loved your true story! It is so true because I lived like that also. We also had very little so everything was homegrown, canned or frozen and then created into meals. Those lean years I've always had a garden but not now due to no place for one. I only have pots full of goodies.

    We spent a week in Ohio where we married off our daughter to a fine young man. I hope this frugal lifestyle we live(d) will rub off on them as well. With a small little house and a modest salary I hope they will scrimp and save and meal prep together. I'll keep putting out hints and suggestions to them.


  3. I love that story as well. I always thought I'd have been comfortable being a pioneer - utilizing as much as possible and being self reliant. Even though I can afford to purchase pretty much what I want to - I hate waste and love utilizing the resources I have without going to the store. I think that characteristic is part of my personality. My family will sometimes roll their eyes and wonder why I don't just go to the store. Maybe it's the challenge of using what I have - but that is why I love following your blog. It taps into that part of me that loves to create a nice lifestyle using what I have. And - I'm intrigued by your rhubarb curd. My rhubarb plant is just barely surviving so hopefully next year I'll have enough to actually do something with it.

  4. Really enjoyed reading your story and thoughts behind your canning sessions. Interesting to hear. And great job!

  5. It's interesting that so many of us here have a pioneer girl that accompanies us on many of our hard tasks. That is also an image I use. You have mentioned the fruit trees you had earlier in your marriage. It was interesting to read more details about that time. I'm curious, why did you relocate to Seattle if you didn't have jobs there?

  6. Great story. I always say I must have been a farmer in a past life. I have been shucking peas every night while we watch TV. We will enjoy them this winter. Lots of kale has been frozen for smoothies. The raspberries are almost ready. They are starting to open. I know that they will be eaten as fresh fruit. This is our first year with them so I don't expect that many.

  7. Just curious - what is your side hustle?

  8. Hi, Lili, my great grandparents and their four young girls were in the 1889 Land Run into Oklahoma. Great grandpa was a Methodist minister and built the first church in our area. He also served 12 other churches on horseback. He was not a youngster and near retirement age so this must of been quite a chore. I grew up hearing the settlers stories, and some of it was quite grim. My great uncle was adopted as his birth mother was murdered by some drunken horse back riders. The sheriff placed my uncle, an infant, in a jail cell as there was no one to take him. Great Grandmother learned of this, and adopted him immediately as she no sons. I knew him as a very funny, nice man. My grandmother raised my dad and uncle by herself as my grandpa was "a bad un" as she used to say. This was during the Great Depression. I often thought of her as living on air. She was so frugal and ingenious. There were always chickens and as large a garden as she could manage. Her cooking was incredible and plentiful. Wonderful memories.. I now live in an area where people, in general, have more than plenty, and I can't stand the wastefulness and ungenerous natures that I encounter. John Wesley taught us to live otherwise so my fellow church members are a joy to me. I know that many other people follow the same ideology in the world so I'm not trying to be a recruiter here. In fact we chose to live in a very diverse neighborhood with wonderful, loving people.
    Our kids attended one of the finest high schools in the nation, but they picked up some very snobbish ideas from kids on the rich side of the tracks! They have since been reformed as adults, but they were almost unbearable as teens when they were begging to go to Aruba on break, etc.
    What a long winded way to tell you that I so appreciate your blog and your frugal ideas. This post was so well written and from the heart. Blessings on your head, as the Kenyans say!

  9. isn't this something that so many of us can identify with the pioneer, can-do, make-do spirit! I am so glad that my "story" resonated with you all.
    Kris -- I would love to have a cast-iron Dutch oven. to use in a live fire. Your camping trips sounds like such wonderful times for your family.
    Alice -- congratulations to your daughter and her new husband! You just gained another son. Are they living in Ohio? I hope you have opportunities to see them both often.
    Marybeth -- the image of you shucking peas in front of the TV in the evenings is heartwarming to me. Such a lovely, peaceful way to spend an evening.
    Ruthie -- I answer surveys and do tasks online. I earn about $100 per month. It's not much, but until I find a job in my field, this adds to our income.
    Bonnie, I see the same thing with wastefulness, here. It just seems wrong on so many levels. It's helpful to hear about how others before our time had to live with intention and care due to necessity. When I think about others' hardships, I feel a bit silly when I whine to myself about how hard life is.
    Live and learn, to answer your question (cuz I wonder too at the reasoning behind moving to a new state with no job lined up), my husband had lost his job in the state where we were living and couldn't find another one. He had a brother who lived near Seattle, so we took a chance on there being a better economy here. Unfortunately, so did about half of the western US at that time.


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