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Raised in a Barn…

Day-to-Day Life of a Country Mama

Canning Salsa

In addition to Mama and Papa’s apples, I also finished picking their tomato patch. I made a clean sweep, dividing green and ripe tomatoes as I picked. I left the green and a number of the slightly ripe ones for Mama because I knew their timing would work out good for her getting back to use them. The rest of the kind-of-ripe and the ripe ones I took home for use.

After I waited for the kind-of-ripe tomatoes to finish ripening (closing them in a brown paper bag helps speed this along), I had a dishpan full of tomatoes ready for making salsa. I blanched, pealed, and chopped them, placing them in my big pot. I added chopped onions, seeded jalapeños, and cilantro. Next went in some apple cider vinegar and salt. I simmered and tasted it, added a little salt and decided it was ready to can.

I used my funnel and measuring cup to fill up the already prepared jars. I cleared air bubbles, wiped the rims clean, and fastened the lids before adding each to the hot water bath. I processed them for 20 minutes as instructed by the Ball Blue Book.

It yielded a nice round of salsa. I labeled and added them to the pantry. Definitely great payment for the picking work!

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Homemade Couch Cover

We are still using my grandparents couch that we inherited with the house. They got it in the ’80s and I love it. It’s a pull-out and is in great shape other than a little wear that has just showed up.

Grandma always kept a quilt over it as long as I could remember. That is probably why it held up so well. The quilt Grandma always kept over it was a large block homemade one of hers. In honor of this, I am designing my own couch cover out of 9-inch blocks and tailoring it to our couch. Before the girls make any more wear marks on it, I hope to have it done.

I began it last winter. I got a general idea of how I wanted to make it and tailor it. Then I cut out the blocks I needed. I have a bundle of plaid that I liked and decided to pair it with denim like some quilts Mama made for us kids when we were younger. When I told Mama what I was doing, she gave me a stack of denim blocks she had saved from jeans intending to make a quilt. They were just the size I needed. Then she loaned me her rotary cutter set to make quick work of the plaid blocks too.

Cutting material for a project can be half the work on something like this. Getting all that work done last winter has meant that as this winter sets in I’ve been able to start sewing and turning my design into reality.

I am taking the sewing slow since I’m still getting back into the groove and getting used to a machine that’s new to me. I am carefully lining up blocks and panels to make sure my corners all meet. I’ve only got the back and a couple of panels on the front done.

Now, I’m growing closer to the more tedious work. I can sew panels for the seat and down front, but then I’ll be working around the arms. I hope to post an update in a few weeks on how I accomplish this. Depending on how it turns out, it may be on how not to sew something together!

I’m really enjoying working on this and it’s a good project for winter. It’s bitter cold out this morning so I’ll hopefully have another panel done soon. I’m not sure I’ll get it completely finished before the end of the year, but I’m hoping and will keep pecking away at it.

Comfrey Oil

I think I may have a new product base for my natural health and beauty supplies I sell. I made an herbal oil with a cup of my dried comfrey and I really like it.

I had to use a stovetop method so it wasn’t quite as potent as it probably could be. I heated grapeseed oil (the proper ratio is one cup herbs to two cups oil) to about 100 degrees and turned it off, immediately stirring in the dried comfrey. Dried works best because water in oil can cause it to grow mold. With the stovetop method, it sets 2 to 4 hours with occasional stirring. I let mine set for a little longer.

I strained the oil twice for leaf debris and stored it in a glass jar. (I save store-bought jars with their metal lids for just this purpose.) I aggravated my wrist/hyperextended thumb again and have been treating it with my comfrey oil. I made a roller bottle with a little of it and a couple essential oils mixed in. It has been helping quite a bit. I think this oil will be a great addition to our medicine cabinet. Maybe by next spring, I’ll have a couple products ready for the market.

Garage Storage

With all of the produce I harvested, I couldn’t fit it in the fridge. Luckily, our garage was staying cool even with the couple warmer days. It made the perfect place to set it while I waited to get time to process it. At one point or another, I had two buckets of beans, a mixed bucket of squash and some green tomatoes, two vases of beet greens, a basin of tomatoes and a vase of cilantro.

I still have the extra potatoes and winter squash I bought before the market shut down for the season stored out there along with a small box of apples. The garage works really good as a root cellar through most of the winter.

Apple Harvest

My parents were on vacation when the freeze was about to hit so I had some harvesting to do at their house too. One was their Arkansas black apple tree. The red delicious didn’t have any apples, but the Arkansas black was loaded down. Just a light touch would loose them. I had to be careful when moving the ladder to keep from knocking a bunch off.

I picked two big boxes from the small tree. I even kept a small box for us. Some of the apples were softball sized. This variety keeps really good wrapped in newspaper and in cool storage like winter squash. Travis and I are thinking of putting in a couple apple trees of our own. I think at least one will have to be an Arkansas black.

Finishing the Garden

Before the freezing temperatures moved in, we had a couple of nice days and I made the most of them harvesting the garden.

The tomato plants had green tomatoes. The plants never had warm days long enough to get very far and had their blooms nipped a couple of times. I was happy to get any green tomatoes at all. The two in the photo above were the biggest.

The corn was a similar story. It turned cool right as the ears were developing. We had nice ears, but they never finished filling out the kernels before the freeze. I’d been reading about the benefits of corn silk tea so, as I checked the most promising ears for kernels, I harvested their silk. We ended up with one partially developed ear and and good batch of silk.

We had a couple carrots (enough to add to our supper that night) and a nice little patch of beets. It yielded more greens than beets. I kept the best of the greens and put them in a couple of vases to keep.

I harvested the squash and zucchini too including the small ones. I forgot to get a a picture, but the plants yielded half a bucket of 4-inch to 10-inch squash. It was more than I had guessed. Overall the garden wasn’t as good as it would have been if the weather held out like usual. We will hope for better next year and start working towards it now.

Final Herb Harvest

The week of the big freeze was a busy one. I harvested all the herbs I had. The cilantro and parsley had grown well and I wanted to make the most of them.

I took string and scissors with me to harvest them. I cut the plants off about an inch from the dirt in one-inch thick bundles. Then I put the stem ends in a slip knot loop on the string and tightened it to secure the bundle. This kept the herbs organized and easy to retrieve from my collection pan. I was able to put all the bundles of each variety on one string.

In addition to the cilantro and parsley, I also have a few chives and basil to gather. I dried these in the oven along with some extra comfrey I brought in too. I divided up the cilantro. I dried a small amount, froze some fresh in olive oil for sautéing, and saved the rest for making salsa.

I rinsed the parsley bundles and hung the string from a cabinet handle over the sink to allow it to drip dry. Later I hung it down near our wood stove downstairs. After they were dry enough to crumble, I separated the leaves and stored them in a container. Now the herbs are all put away and ready for use.

Green Beans

I picked all our green beans before the hard freeze hit in our area. I’m not sure I’ll ever try planting beans amongst corn again. It was like a jungle. I had to pick a stretch of area wade in picking bean pods and pushing foliage over to make room as I went through it. The yield was good though.

The beans I planted with the corn were supposed to be for their dried beans. Since I was picking before the pods all reached maturity and dried, I decided to pick with two buckets. The bucket on the left are pods mature enough to dry for the beans. The one on the right has pods tender enough for preserving as green beans.

The tender bean pods provided a nice yield for canning. I snapped, stringed, and rinsed them and blanched them in two batches. Then I canned them following the Ball Blue Book instructions. It was good practice getting the pressure canner out. I still haven’t used it very much and need to get more familiar with it.

The amount surprised me. I didn’t expect to have a full canner. I even had a little over a cup left to add to our shepherds pie for supper. The other pods are waiting to dry, which I hope all goes well. I’ve never dried them inside before so we shall see!

Water Lesson

I recently read an article from a preppers’ site I follow about winter planning. One point involved water and how to figure the proper water amount for storage though winter. It was a bit higher than summer, which was surprising to me. Our bodies’ need for water increases in the winter. The water fuels fat burning to keep us warm. Even if we aren’t working as extensively though the winter, the need for a good amount of water is still there.

Now every winter, I go through a lot of lotion to keep my hands from being painfully dry. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the connection before now. My hands drying out is merely a sign that I’m not drinking enough water. It’s so obvious I’m a little embarrassed I never thought of it before now. Needless to say, I’ll be trying to hydrate better through the winter.

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