trying to find my voice

dsc_6915I started this blog to motivate me to write. A logical strategy, but before I knew it I was reduced to photo posts that let images speak for me. Just look and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve always been this way about writing anything down to be read by anyone. When I think I have an idea, I let it fester. Yes, fester. To the point that by the time I sit down to write, I’ve convinced myself that it’s been experienced and said. Why bother?

Ruth passed away in 2005, leaving me searching for my purpose, while contemplating hers. She shared so much of our family history while alive, but there were random pieces salvaged in the remnants after her death; items like her first and second semester report cards and text books from Green Mountain Junior College the first year it opened. I knew my grandmother had gone to college but had to return because she was needed at home; she never mentioned that she was 16. The $1,000 she willed me was seed money for my first part-time semester at SUNY Adirondack; this decision changed my life. I had to finish what she started.

Being a student gave me a reason to write. Assignments were given, my audience was clear, and the ‘A’ was well worth the effort. Writing became a distraction from my full-time job. I was successful writing in the comfort of academic papers and research projects. Without a topic, project, or reason, my fingers became idle before beginning.

Academic essays were WD-40 for my self-conscious fingers. I left my job of 20 years and continued full-time as an undergrad. I studied, researched, and wrote about Bradstreet, Fern, Sedgwick, Emerson and his eccentric Aunt Mary, Fuller, Thoreau, Hawthorne and so many other reputable contributors the American literary canon. Impossible shoes to fill. Their lives, and the historicism of their writing filled me with admiration and reverence. My fascination with them motivated me through my masters degree, but unfortunately the assignments ended.

Now that I teach English part-time, I’ve been told we never simply teach. The trick is to have a side-project or two for a creative release. My project started with a gift salvaged from my uncle’s garage and packaged in a Dremel hardcover tool case; 72 letters from Grace (my great-grandmother) to Ruth at Green Mountain Junior College, handwritten and post-marked 1931-2.

I spent the past year transcribing letters written by a woman I never met-a matriarch in every sense of the word. I felt her words transcend time while learning the nuances of her handwriting from one letter to the next. A certain connectedness happens, like a window between decades. The almost indecent opportunity to be a voyeur between mother and daughter kept me spellbound.

Now here I am. Trying to find my voice.

Before graduating with my masters degree, my brother asked, “What are you going to produce for society with that degree?” I wasn’t sure how to respond at the time, but now?

I am a poet, teacher, historian and writer. I have a responsibility to study and preserve the writings of the day-to-day hopes and fears of a mother from the small town of Thurman, New York only 11 years after the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the voluminous letters I found a reason to write and I found a voice.

What am I producing for society? I’m giving life to, and preserving, a voice from 86 years ago, long silenced under a workshop bench in a garage in the middle of Georgia. It’s the voice of influence that spans more years than originally intended, and witnessed by an audience never planned. Time to preserve the voices of Grace and Ruth so I can finally find my own.

 

Advertisements

Woodland Barbecue

This is the sort of sauce that you keep stocked up on for use any time of the year, and now you can. I use my 8 oz. jelly jars, and I seal them with a boiling water bath. This sauce will store nicely on the shelf for up to a year, but mine is gone way before that.

Extreme care should always be used in the kitchen, but this can’t be stressed enough when canning since so much hot water is involved.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the recipe.

I started with a recipe for Barbecue Sauce from the “Towns, Trails & Special Times: The Marlboro Country Cookbook”, and modified it to my family’s taste and my desire to can it. Here is my special version:

Woodland Barbecue Sauce

1 cup strong black coffee                             2 tsp. salt

1 cup Worcestershire sauce                     1 medium onion chopped

1 cup catsup                                       5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup cider vinegar                                   3 Tbsp. chili powder

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While that simmers, sterilize 5 jelly jars, lids and rims using hot water (I use an electric tea kettle). Meanwhile, fill your water bath canner halfway with water and bring to a full boil.

When the sauce is done simmering, carefully ladle it into each jar leaving roughly an inch of space at the top. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth, then place a lid on each jar. Screw on the metal band, tightening as much as you can by hand. Place all the jars in the canner rack, then lower into the boiling water. Make sure the jars are covered in water throughout the boiling process. Set the timer for 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the jars from canner and set somewhere to cool naturally. The lids will be bulging a bit when you first remove them from the water. As the jars cool you will hear a beautiful “pop” that lets you know that your jar has sealed, and you will see a little dip in the lid. All this means success!

My favorite way to use this aromatic sauce is in a cast iron kettle with just about any kind of meat. Braise the meat in the cast iron first. Pour a jar of Woodland Barbecue Sauce on top of your meat of choice. Fill the jar the sauce was in with cold water and pour into the cast iron kettle and lower the stove to a mild simmer. Put a lid on it and let it simmer for 4-5 hours; turning the meat intermittently. During the last hour of cooking, I add peeled and cubed potatoes and sliced carrots. The long cook in the sauce makes the meat incredibly tender, and gives anything else you add  an irresistible flavor.

Apple Cake in a Jar? Success!

It has been a week since I posted my attempt at canning apple cake. I thought I would let it set for a bit before cracking my first jar open and as my family started looking for snacks to settle in for the evening I remembered my precious cakes. In a whirl of ambition a few days ago I cooked up a batch of home made carmel sauce that I’ve kept in the fridge. This cake seemed the perfect accompaniment for my special topping. I am pleased to report that I will most definitely be incorporating this apple cake into my canning routine. The cake was moist without being soggy and because I hand greased each widemouth canning jar, it just slid right out. Depending on your appetite, I found that each pint jar is enough for roughly 2-3 people to share. Definitely worth the effort all the way around to have a healthy snack handy in the pantry.

**Please see my Apple Cake in a Jar post for the recipe, and if you tried it let me know what you think!

Patience in the Garden

To quote a little Emerson, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” This rings most true to anyone who has ever tried to do a little gardening of their own. My husband and I have had a vegetable garden for several years now, but this year our knowledge and experience really came together to produce our most productive garden yet, with some vital adjustments. This was our first of many more years of using heirloom seeds in an effort to avoid the widely sold, genetically modified ones. This has enabled us to harvest our seeds, as well as our fruits and vegetables, to propagate future crops. We also went fully organic, which added a great deal more manual diligence agains garden pests. Both adjustments were successful only because of the dedicated efforts of my husband, and I must give credit where credit is due. This made me all the more determined to let as little of our garden go to waste as possible. His efforts growing were balanced by my efforts canning and dehydrating. I’m sure you’ll agree, the results certainly paid off. I should point out that we live in heartiness zone 4 here in the Adirondacks.

We added herbs to the garden this year. These we bought organic, and kept them as such. Some of the herbs I froze, such as mint, thyme, and cilantro. The rest I dehydrated for cooking or teas. Oregano, cilantro, thyme, sage, mint, apple-mint, dill, sweet marjoram and lemon balm were among our herb selection.

This year I kept a log of my canning. My hope is that this will aid us in the planning of the garden next year. Probably the best way to share with you what our garden consisted of, is to share my canning log. This log does not include fruits and vegetables that we’ve already eaten, or that I’ve frozen. Of the 21 blueberry bushes in my yard, I was able to freeze roughly 2 quarts of blueberries this year and we will enjoy them well into the winter months. We also harvested some winter squash, but have made use of that already. I suspect we will be growing even more of it next year as a result. We used our peaches and apples as they were ready as well.

My 2012 Canning Log (*Please note that the canning was done throughout the summer and not all at once)

Because of the size of my family, I chose to primarily use pint canning jars and regular jelly jars for the jelly. The numbers in the picture correspond with the list below:

1) Blackberry syrup= 2 1/2 pints

2) Blueberry syrup= 2 1/2 pints

3) Blackberry jelly= 26 1/2 pint jars

4) Sweet garlic pickles= 6 pints

5) Bread and butter pickles= 15 pints

6) Dill pickles= 12 pints

7) Baby dill pickles= 3 pints

8) Sweet zucchini relish= 14 pints

9 & 10) Green and wax beans= 62 pints

11) Salsa (tomatoes, herbs, onions, peppers from the garden)= 5 pints

12) Pickled beets= 6 pints

13) Beets= 6 pints

14) Garden Vegetable, Smoked pork-loin soup= 13 pints

15) Garden Vegetable, cage-free/organic chicken soup= 13 pints

16) Pumpkin= 5 pints (so far… I still have 6 large ones ripening!)

17) Carrots= 29 pints

My pantry is full this fall and, as you can see, my beans did incredibly well. We live during a time when food doesn’t require proper labeling in our grocery stores even where “fresh” produce is sold and the processing of canned food is sketchy at best. This is what prompted the additional effort put into our garden and harvest this year. The bonus was that we found a bit of peacefulness in both our roles, and we experienced a great deal of pride as we watched our seeds turn to food. Feel inspired? Now is a great time to start planning for the next growing season, but don’t forget to use heirloom seeds. The initial cost is more, but you’ll be able to use them for years to come.

Perfect Pumpkin Tradition

Our organic garden pumpkins really flourished this year. I’ve canned five pints from those that ripened extra early this summer. When my sons were young we painted our jack-o-lanterns so I could cut the pumpkins up afterward just like my mother and grandmothers did.

For those not familiar with the process, you start by cutting the pumpkin in half, then smaller slices. (I’ve found it helpful to use a small mallet to aid in making the first few cuts- but do so very carefully.) Before cutting the “guts” out, I like to separate the seeds into a bowl to roast later, then just cut the remaining innards away. I use a paring knife to carefully cut the hard outer shell next, like peeling a really tough potato. What’s left is the meat of the pumpkin. Cut this into roughly one inch cubes and place in a large pot, add water and boil until the pumpkin no longer stays on the fork when you stick it. Drain the water out and transfer the pumpkin to the blender; blend until babyfood consistency. You now have fresh pumpkin to bake with. If you have more than you can use there are many ways to preserve it. Pureed pumpkin freezes well, but is best if used within three months to avoid freezer burn. This is my first year canning it, and I can store it this way for up to a year.

I had no problem using all the pumpkin from these four smaller guys from my garden. With autumn in the air, and the first week of wood heat, this batch seemed perfect to usher in the season. I made pumpkin/apple soup, pumpkin cookies, two pumpkin pies, and a snack batch of roasted pumpkin seeds. Not a bit went to waste.

I still have four large pumpkins that are still turning orange. I feel a batch of pumpkin bread in our future, and I plan to can the rest.

I’ve spoken with individuals from other states who have used store bought, canned pumpkin and had no idea they could do it themselves. It doesn’t feel like an Adirondack fall until the pumpkins get cut up and the baking begins. Pumpkins are so much more than just decorative; they’re good for you too. The effort is definitely worth it.