October 19th, 2005

I can’t seem to remember what I did two days ago, a sure sign of being busy. In the evenings I’ve been trying hard to work on food processing. Many, many pounds of fresh tomatoes go on the dehydrator in order to emerge as crispy little frisbees. Dehydrating allows us to store something like 8 huge beefsteak tomatoes in a gallon ziploc bag. We’re using the new dehydrator and expansion set that I found on eBay. The seller was right–this thing sucks the water out like an Arizona summer. In less than a day a tomato is reduced to dry slices. This is chestnut time, too. Last night I was up until 11pm shelling out about 3 pounds of nuts. Admittedly this was rather too much to try at once, but I have improved drastically at the job. For anyone who hasn’t experienced a chestnut, I’ll describe. The nut on the tree is encased in an outer husk that nature modelled after an angry porcupine. Usually the nuts drop out of the split husk, and are picked up daily off the ground. If not, a hammer or a well-booted heel is used to mash off the husk. It is not possible to handle the husk in any way without the spines going right through fingers. Gloves don’t help, the spines are like hypodermic needles. The shiny, lustrous nut now needs to be stored cold and at high humidity. To process further, the shell and pellicle must be removed. Each nut must be slit up the side. This requires a lot of concentration, since the nut can slip with poor consequences for fingers. A special chestnut knife exists that I will be purchasing soon! In the meantime a medium-large pot of water is brought to boil. All the slit nuts are dropped in to boil for 10 minutes. About a pound and a half is all that can be done at one time. After the boiling, a slotted spoon is used to retrieve each nut, one at a time. While piping hot, each nut is torn open with a dish towel buffering fingers from the heat. The shell is peeled/torn off. Next the pellicle needs to come off. As long as the nut is still hot and moist, a few well-aimed flicks of a knifepoint will do this. The pellicle’s reluctance to come off is why each nut has to stay in the hot water until the moment of peeling–let them dry or cool down and fuggeddaboutit. With any luck, a nut can be done every minute or so. Three hours of mostly uninterrupted work yields a full medium-large bowl of chestnuts. I want to learn to make the best approximation I can of marron glaces (candied chestnuts), which are an expensive European delicacy. It takes  My first batch was a partial success. Some of the pieces turned out so that I understand the translucent, melt-in-your-mouth chestnut sugar bomb they should be. But I’m a long way from consistently turning out perfectly candied whole nuts. I am also going to make sweet chestnut puree. This is the first year the trees have had any significant yield and it’s really great to be trying these recipes at last, after five years of waiting!

The Delaware chicks have grown like weeds. They need transplanting, and soon. The next few days will see them moved into the lighthouse for two weeks, at which time they should be big enough to let loose into their new chicken yard. It’s important to make sure they are big enough to not walk through the fence, since it’s a shame to raise them for 6 weeks and then make a snack for the hawks.

The maples are changing color, very pretty flaming red and orange. We’ve been mowing back some of the weedy areas now that the small mower works again. The big mower still needs fixing, and we are going to pick up the parts in Willows this weekend. I trimmed some in the outer orchard last weekend, it’s beginning to look "kept" again. I want to go out with my propane torch and ignite the dry star thistles, but best to wait until it’s not so dry for that particular fun. Ken tilled a garden for winter where the potatoes grew this spring. We put in a TON of composted horse manure in this area. I laid down used plastic from our evaporation ponds at Burning Man, and straw, so that only a thin strip of growing area per row is exposed. I have lost too many winter gardens to weeds, and this should help a lot. We are watering the ground now, and by the weekend it should be ready for seed planting. I have had very mixed success with winter gardens. What always seems to happen is that one crop will have wild success, and all the others miserable failure. Some years the peas go well, or the lettuce, but seemingly never the same one from year to year. We’ll see….right now I’m just happy we are actually planting a winter garden. It’s the first year since 2002 we’ve been organized enough to even try. Sow those seeds…….

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