September 26, 2005

I just finished putting up five jars of quince butter. This seemingly odd statement illustrates a running thread in my life–I go off on tangents. My life to date results from a series of tangents. Four years ago at Halloween, there was a dessert party at my workplace. One of the staff made a culinary masterpiece. I inquired, and learned that I was eating a quince and almond tart. I asked for, and was given, the recipe. The memory of this tart stayed on in the back of my mind. Three years ago, autumn plant shopping commenced. I bought a pineapple quince tree. I couldn’t tell you a thing about them, except that they made quinces and I needed quinces to make quince and almond tart. I considered myself lucky, since I already have 50 or more almond trees and thus the other half of the main ingredients were already at hand. It never really occurred to me to find and purchase the item. Why buy a jar of jam when you can spend $15 extra and get the tree? This last spring, the tree flowered for the first time, and quinces grew. Green, apple-like things. It took two hours online to decide when they might be ripe. There is much disagreement whether to make preserves from ripe versus slightly underripe quinces. They were yellow-green as of last week, so I picked some. I used 8 to make this quince butter. I learned the difference between jam, butter, preserves, sauce, jelly, chutney, and conserves. (Far be it from me to deny the reader the pleasures of discovery). First one had to peel and chop. And boil and then peel and chop some more. And strain and mash. And learn that a strainer is a poor substitute for a food mill (next tangent: go on eBay and bid on antique food mill). And puree and add sugar and boil and stir. It turns out that eight quinces make rather a lot of butter. I have eight more quinces from the still very small tree. In coming years I forsee disturbing amounts of quince butter going into mason jars. I have my almonds, and perhaps tomorrow or the day after I will begin on the tart itself, right after I purchase some superfine sugar at the store. I may hand out a jar or two of extra quince butter. But don’t expect a slice of tart this year. I’m going to eat it. After all, I did wait four years for this.

September 23, 2005

We picked up the chicks at the feed store last night, 25 little yellow fuzzballs with a fleck of black here and there on top of their heads. They looked very robust and healthy. This was my first experience with mail-order chicks, and having them go to the feed store like this was the best of all worlds; they are picked up and cared for first thing in the morning. While we were there the store owner noted that one of the Silkie chicks from another order had a bad leg (spraddle leg), and said she’d give it to us if we wanted to take it. This bird isn’t sexed, so it could be a hen or a rooster. It is a black, smaller fuzzball, but definitely a Silkie. Lots of extra toes, and little fuzz all over the legs and feet. We took them home and got everyone in the brooder. I think the setup (which we have fussed over for days) will work well. We have 2 inches of sawdust over an inch or so of newspaper, with black 6 mil plastic around the exposed sides of the 4’x4’x4′ cage to keep out drafts. One permanent lamp for heat, and a second flood lamp on a timer to add extra heat at night. Food in a feeder tray elevated on two paving stones, and a suspended waterer hung so that it just touches the ground (can’t spill or get as much sawdust in the water). We added a cup of Gatorade to the water just for a boost (sugar, electrolytes). After everyone had something to eat and drink, we went to work on the Silkie. We took about 2 inches of Scotch tape and carefully split it lengthwise. We folded it over on itself and then wrapped that around the lower leg of the chick; same thing for the other leg. We gauged what was tight enough to keep the bad leg from sprawling, but loose enough so it could walk. We taped the tape into one piece, and trimmed everything carefully with some nail scissors. If all goes well, this can come off tonight. Chicks with simple problems like this can almost always be saved by some little intervention done right away. It immediately lets them stand and walk correctly, and in a day or so their little muscles take over and all is well. I guess many people just don’t know how easy of a fix it is, or they don’t have the time.

September 12, 2005

Unseasonably cool weather, it’s about time! After about two months of heat-mandated idleness, finally some long-neglected jobs have been started. Not that summer was entirely a bust. Our grape crop this year was sad–the heat resulted in uneven ripening and other problems on three out of our four vines. We at least got to try a Black Monukka (very good), but whole bunches to eat were right out. The Flame variety was a disaster, and Muscat of Alexandria wasn’t far behind. But the one grape we don’t like to eat, Golden Muscat, had itself a little bumper crop. This is a slipskin grape that assaults the mouth with a pineapple/sugar cane sort of flavor. Based on the taste alone, it really doesn’t taste like a grape. But the skin sort of gloms up in the mouth, making for unpleasant chewiness. So we learned last year, this is the one out of which to make grape juice. This year’s proceedings, aside from reminding me that I would like to own a grape/apple press, yielded about 6 quarts of juice. Very respectable. And the bottles which were left neglected in the refrigerator  fermented nicely, leaving me in turn with some fizzy sweet stuff which seems to be  mildly alcoholic. Either way, it’s good and I’m drinking the last of it as I type this. The whole process proved to be another path of discovery. It’s one thing to know that wine comes from grapes. It is another to discover by watching and learn by googling the internet that the fizz comes from yeasts which exist naturally on growing grapes, and that if you mash the whole thing up and leave it, chemistry takes over and guess what, you have accomplished what people have done for thousands of years. Hm, didn’t I read something about corn, rye and juniper berries…..?