Monday, August 31, 2009

Putting Up Figs: Homemade Fig Newtons

One thing I am always looking for is ways to use the pickles, relishes and preserves, jams and jellies that we put up when canning.

It's rather late in the season, but if you still have figs (or access to them), here's a good recipe I found. You could use fig preserves instead of fresh or dried figs, because by the time they are cooked, they pretty much are exactly like preserves. I started with fresh ones, and cooked them down, but in the winter I will use my fig preserves.

It is sort of like a Fig Newton, but the dough becomes a bit more like pastry than cake.
I'll just post the link and you can go there to see the recipe:
http://www.cajuncookingrecipes.com/closeclone/fig_newtons.htm

One note about the recipe: the "soak in water" part mentioned in the recipe is only for dried figs. Do not do this with fresh ones. The photo below is figs cooking in sugar - no water added.



Be sure to let the dough chill the full length of time or longer. It is a very tender dough, and it helps to roll it out on a pastry cloth - especially the top crust. I still had to pat it into place gently.


Spread the cooked figs (or fig preserves) onto half the dough, then cover with the over half. Don't worry about getting it tidy. By the time you cut into squares it will be fine.




Never wash your rolling pin if you can help it. Water is very bad for the wood, and also removes the "seasoning" that helps it develop a very smooth finish that dough won't stick to. Just take a clean towel and rub it clean.




Cut into rather small pieces, as they are very rich. These were a big hit with everyone who tried them. They also store nicely and are good the next day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Walking Stick

Paul came in yesterday and said "There's a long green walking stick on the table outside. It's about 4 or 5 inches long. I know you are busy so I took pictures in case you want them for your blog." He was right! Thank you, honey! Check this out:


I have seen large walking sticks down on the coast, but they are shy creatures and I had not seen them here yet. This one is very pretty (as walking sticks go). They move v e r y s l o w l y, sort of like a sloth of the insect world, and will sit in one position, not moving, for the longest time. If you frighten them, they don't run away, but freeze. I suppose when one's defense mechanism is to pretend to be a branch on a tree, it's pretty important to be able to sit still!


What never ending variety there is in the creatures who share our world! Want to learn more about Walking Sticks? Look over on the right hand column, down below the blog list, for "Other Sites of Interest", and click the link to eNature.com.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fall Is In The Air

I am told it was 57 degrees when I left for work this morning. Although that isn't "official", it is probably accurate and is a degree lower than the record low for this date (set in 1917, according to AccuWeather.com). Perhaps we will have an early fall this year?

The "Sweet Autumn Clematis" is blooming with its fragrant white blossoms that will carry us almost to first frost.



And two of our pecan trees are already dropping leaves. We have several pecan trees in the yard, and each of them loses its leaves at a different time, spread over more than a month from the first til the last.



I have heard that each pecan tree that grows from seed is a unique species. The varying calendars for leaf drop and nut fall lend credence to that as much as the difference in size, flavor and quality of the various nuts.

One of our early trees is a Native (Wild) one that bore more than 100 pounds of nuts two years ago. They are so tiny I had to take them to Oklahoma to get them cracked, as the machines around here are set to larger sizes to accomodate the great orchards of cultivated trees (although there are still many native trees too).

Another of our trees is so susceptable to insects that it is a waste of time to try to gather its nuts. Our friend who used to live here told me it was the same way back when they had the house.



There are always dozens of volunteer pecan trees coming up around the yard. I mow most of them down because everyone who wants pecans already has their own trees. But we also make sure that a few are allowed to grow, so we can be sure we've always got pecans. Only once or twice in my life, and then only for very short periods, have I lived in a house that didn't have a pecan tree in the yard.

Friday, August 28, 2009

McCoy Frogs on the Porch


This collection of McCoy Pottery frogs and turtles started when we were in Midland. Paul brought me in a Turtle Waterer and I displayed it in the kitchen on the little A&J stove (that stove was Mema's - it was like the one she and Nandy had in their first place together. It is currently out in the garage). At the beach, I added to the collection and lined them up on the screened porch.


How can I keep them outside in the weather and unprotected? Because... they are all damaged or broken, chipped or cracked! :-) They still look adorable but have so little value that I don't worry about them. I just do "like the English and turn the broken side to the wall". It's perfect really because I can enjoy them so much more outdoors than inside.

PS The stand they are sitting on was also Mema's: it was originally used in the dental office she worked in for Dr Peterson. When he retired and sold his practice to Dr Osborne, she went to work for him. He renovated the office and this was one of the things she kept.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prickly and Purple and Not a Thistle

Roadside Flowers of Texas names it simply Eryngo, and eNature goes a step further with "Leavenworth's Eryngo". It's sooo tempting to call it a thistle but it isn't. It is in the carrot family but you can't eat it. Aren't they beautful? I took these pictures on a lane near my home recently.





They start out a blueish green and then when fully developed, they begin turning purple. Eventually, the entire plant will be purple. These are easily recognized from the road, even when driving past at highway speeds.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Butterflies Ate My Dill & My Passion Flower & My Cantaloupe?

I missed the opportunity to take a photo earlier this year when my lovely dill plant, which I was growing to use in pickles, was entirely and completely consumed by Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars. How on earth did they find my solitary, lonely little plant, in a spot where dill has not grown in many years if ever? It is a mystery, isn't it?

Given the trauma suffered by the dill, I was very worried when my newly-planted Passion Flower was discovered by Gulf Fritillary Butterfly Caterpillars. I took pictures this time, and said a little prayer for the Passion Flower Vine. I figured The Lord could smile on it while He was smiling on the wild grape vine He caused to grow on the other side of this new trellis. What a surprise that was, to find a wild grape coming up there - I thought it was a weed at first! Little blessings and gifts are everywhere we look.




At any rate, the Passion Flower survived and so did the Gulf Fritillaries. One returned for a "fly-by" visit briefly and I was able to get a distant picture of it.



At one point I had too many cantaloupes to bring in all at once, so I left some outside. Something, probably a racoon or possum, but maybe a deer, took a nibble on one - and by the time I saw it, the butterflies had come for miles! These ones are, I think, called "Hackberry Emperor" butterflies. They are very tame and they do love their melon rinds. I remember these butterflies from my childhood at Mama Myrt and Pawpaw's house. They had a burn barrel for their trash, and would throw the melon rinds down next to it to rot or be eaten by the critters. These butterflies would flock there.

A good place to learn more about butterflies, or identify those you see, is Butterfliesandmoths.org You can do a "Map Search" to get to your immediate area, then sort by "Phylogenetic Order" to get them separated enough to make sense of.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Heirloom Gardening: Mr Bird's Big Fat Okra - UPDATED: Make that: Charles Wright's Pot Belly Okra!

Heirlooms are not necessarily all "things". Plants can be heirlooms too, preserved and passed down for future generations to be able to grow, whether by division or through seed.

My mother has always collected flowers and flower seeds - most of the plants in her lovely yard were "starts" from friends and neighbors, or seed she collected from abandoned places.

Part of my gardening this year was done on borrowed ground. My friend, Maxine Carter, who let me use her plot also shared her Okra seed with me. She said that the man they bought the property from back in the mid 1970's, a Mr Bird, gave them this seed at that time and that she has grown it and saved the seed ever since.


It is like no okra I have ever seen. The optimim size for picking is about 4 inches long... and 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" diameter! It is huge! And tender as can be even at that stage.

While it is tender, it will "snap" off the stalk. If it bends when you try to pluck it, it has gotten woody. I just leave those pods attached to make new seed.

After picking, it keeps best at room temp where there is good air flow - turned over daily in a basket or paper sack, or laid out in a single layer. It will keep several days like that.

The ones left on the stalk for seed can stay on the stalk until the completely dry and start to pop open. That it when I cut them off (takes a knife), and lay them out in a single layer to dry completely. There is still a lot of water in them at this stage so it can take a month or so for them to dry.  You can then store the seed right in the dried pods. The alternative would be to shell the seeds out of them and then dry the seeds in your dehydrator at a low temp (120 or lower) before storing in paper bags.  The seed will be viable for many years if stored in a dark, dry location.

My friend said that she has never seen anything like it either, and she has always called it "Big Fat Okra".




Paul says it tastes better than any okra he has had before too.  It also freezes and cans beautifully. I just slice it up and vacuum pack it to freeze, or can it in my pressure canner with tomatoes, onions and, if you like, corn - okra MUST be pressure canned. A water bath is NOT safe for canning okra. Please see the directions at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.


We saved seed again for her to have plenty, and I brought some home to add to my heritage as well. So kids, when you find okra seed in with my stuff in about 50 years, you'll know where it came from! LOL!





UPDATE 09/04/14  I finally discovered where this came from. It was not Mr Bird, but Charles Wright who developed this interesting variety of okra at Blanket, Brown County, Texas. Mr Wright was a high school Science  teacher in Blanket. Among other things, he and his wife grew a large garden each year for the benefit of the community - a local lady said everyone was invited to go pick what they could use, and expected to leave enough for others. It was he who developed this okra. Most local people had forgotten his connection with it, and his grandchildren didn't have any information about it, or even any of the seed.   I've printed some seed packets to share around town and help preserve this little portion of Mr Charles Wright's legacy.

My neighbor Mike Caldwell told me that Charles Wright developed this, and that they had also called it "Pot Belly Okra".  Mike reminisced about the massive height of the stalks and the root system. The plants branch out like trees, so that one plant will produce, at the height of the season when it has matured, several pods a day.

The stalks will grow to 8 or 9 feet tall. I just pull them over to pick then let go and they pop back up.  You might could prune them, because of their natural branching habit, but I have not tried that yet.
They will continue producing here in North Central Texas until the plants are killed by frost.

UPDATE 09/2015 I've since been sharing the seed for this okra around the country.  I am eager to hear how it grows in other parts of the country. At this point, I feel comfortable that at least the seed is no longer in quite the danger of being lost as it was when I became the unlikely recipient of some of the last remaining seed. It makes me happy that I got interested enough to keep asking people until I ran into someone who knew its history!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Maple Furniture and Llama Fur


Picking up on the post below about the Little White House, here is one of our beds. This one is quite similar to the beds in FDR's getaway home, and it dates from the same era: my grandparents bought the suite for my mother when she was a young child.

Actually it is Nick's bed - he has the dresser and chest of drawers that go with it, but uses a different bed. The dresser you see here was Thelma's (my mother in law).


The quilt was a mark-down somewhere (tip: always buy "all cotton" when it comes to quilts - cost is a bit more but it is so worth it) several years ago, and the shams I bought last year at Walmart. That cute little bolster I found at a yard sale. Check out the detail on the ends:



That is just printed fabric on the ends but it looks embroidered. Isn't it pretty?

And the Llama pillow... well there is nothing softer than llama fur, so that is a sneaky way of getting a stuffed animal on the bed in a home that is between cats! :-)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pantry Plant Food



My grandmother (Mema) had beautiful house plants, especially after she retired (she was a dental assistant). She bustled about with them, moving them to the porch on sunny days and rotating them in front of windows in cooler weather.

She fertilized them all with a homemade concoction that she would mix up when she needed it each month. The photo above is the recipe, in her own handwriting. Nandy made notes on it and copied and laminated it after she passed away so that it wouldn't be lost - so the other handwriting on it is his.

Pantry Plant Food

1 tsp Salt Petre
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Epsom Salts
1/2 tsp Household Ammonia

Mix into 1 gallon of warm water and water plants thoroughly one time per month.

Skip November, December, and January for plants to rest (water but do not feed during those months).

All these ingredients are so inexpensive that all together they will probably not cost as much as one box of commercial plant food.

You can get Salt Petre at a full-service pharmacy (a locally-owned one would be best, or try a CVS). Baking Powder is probably in your cabinet already, and Epsom salts and Household Ammonia are also available at the grocery store, probably either on the cleaning aisle or the bar soap aisle. There are many other uses for Epsom Salts, you can learn more at the Epsom Salt Council website.

An IMPORTANT Note about Ammonia. NEVER MIX IT with bleach. Ammonia is a natural product but if mixed with Chlorine there is a chemical reaction that releases chlorine gas. Bad Bad stuff. If this should ever happen, hold your breath, get everyone out of the room/house immediately and get help to air it out before anyone returns. I store ammonia in a separate location from bleach, just to be safe. Other than not mixing it with bleach, I'm not aware of any other special handling required with ammonia (it is actually the bleach that is more the issue in the combination). Please leave a comment if you have more to add!

Ammonia stinks to high heaven so despite the fact that it is wonderful for cleaning and disinfecting, it is doubtful you will want to use it for anything other than your plant food, so get only a small bottle!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Putting Up Pear Preserves


The pear crop is coming on, and my friends let me come pick some from their heavily laden tree. I love picking fruit! Pears on a tree are all ready at the same time, this is not a progressive crop.
I made them all into preserves. My grandfather (Pawpaw) used to make these. I don't have his recipe but I think these are close.



Pear Preserves

Be sure to read up on specific canning methods and up-to-date instructions before doing this if you have never canned fruits before. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (linked from my sidebar) is a good start. Also be sure to call your mom or aunt or friend who cans and ask their advice/help/love/etc. :-)

Use unripe pears that have reached their size but are still very hard and green. Peel, core and slice the pears into water with salt or fruit fresh added so they won't turn brown. Drain the sliced pears completely in a colander - you don't want any liquid remaining.

Put the pears into a large cooking pot (a spaghetti pot is good) and cover with sugar - do not stir, leave the sugar piled on top.

For 20 cups of sliced pears, I used 10 cups of sugar: half as much sugar as you have pears. If you like a heavier syrup, you can increase the sugar to equal amounts as you have pears. But do NOT decrease the sugar amount, and do not use sugar substitutes.

Set aside in the refrigerator overnight. The sugar will draw out the juice during that time so that you don't have to add any liquid when cooking them.
The next day, set on the stove and slowly bring to a boil. Remove lid and continue boiling on low heat, stirring occasionally, for several hours until pears are translucent and golden. This could range from 3 to 5 hours, depending on how thick you want your syrup.

When done, put immediately into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Set aside, away from drafts, on a cup towel to cool slowly. The lids will "pop" as they seal. There is no nicer sound from a kitchen than the popping of sealing lids!

Write the date on the lids.

Store in the refrigerator, or you can process for 12 minutes in boiling water bath in order to make them safe to store in a cupboard for up to 2 years. See above link for the NCHFP for instructions on Water Bath Canning. You can use your spaghetti pot for processing if using half-pint or pint jars (they need to be covered with at least an inch of boiling water). But you will need a canning tongs for safely putting them in and removing them from the pot.

The syrup from these is heavenly on pancakes, and can be substituted for honey. The preserves are so good on a biscuit, and can be used to make tarts and such in the winter.

Tina

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

FDR's Little White House: A Simple American Home

Last summer, we went to the Little White House, in Warm Springs, Georgia. This is where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent much time during his presidency, and where he passed away in April 1945.

The thing that most struck me about this house is how very ordinary it is. Anyone's grandmother could have lived here. There was no ostentation, no luxury. It is a simple home with maple furniture, twin beds, well-read books near the fireplace, and the comfort of homeliness.


The kitchen had no cabinets, only open shelves along the walls. The things we would put into cabinets were stored in the pantry/closet - it was lined with shelves and is shown in the first picture, above.

They told us the living room is exactly as it looked the day he passed away. The nautical decor was a favorite of his, as he was a Navy man.
President Roosevelt's bed, on which he was lying when he passed away suddenly from a stroke. The room is very small, with a single bed, and the furniture you see is pretty much the whole of the room. It is located right off of the living room.
This was Eleanor's room, with a pair of twin beds. The guide told us that their children especially enjoyed coming to The Little White House, and would stay here in Mrs. Roosevelt's room when they came.
The Dining Room is not separate, the table is simply across the room from the living area, with the hutch sitting opposite the fireplace shown in the living room photo. Even so, the whole room is rather small. The proportions of the furniture help keep it from feeling crowded.


This unfinished photo is the one for which President Roosevelt was sitting when he passed away.


There is a small garage apartment over the garage that is labeled "servants quarters", but these were a cook/housekeeper, and a driver/butler whose assistance was necessary to our paralyzed president.

The live-in housekeeper was not unusual even for middle class families who didn't have a grandmother living with them in those days when labor was cheap and goods expensive. Without the labor-saving devices that became common after WWII, help of some kind - whether family or hired - was essential. Notice in the kitchen photos how bare of "things" the kitchen was. Yet nearly all food was made from scratch or preserved at home, so much more time was involved in the preparation.

Oh, he and Mrs Roosevelt had luxury in their lives - both were from wealthy families and they did live in the White house, after all. But this little place where he escaped for treatments at the natural hot spring spa up the road in Warm Springs, and where his children came to spend time with him after they were grown, is by far the best example of an American Home of the era.

Although I am not decorating my little cottage in this same style, I do find much inspiration, and comfort, in these rooms.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bees on the Sumac




In a couple of months, I'll be posting pictures of the beautiful Sumac leaves when they turn red in the fall. But right now, they are blooming and boy the bees sure are happy about that! I stopped by a roadside the other day and watched these bees for a few minutes. Check out their saddlebags, full of pollen!

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