Well, if I thought July was a load of work, August has near about turned me inside out. And to make matters work Kerry has had one of them lingering summer colds and it is my fault for letting him go stomping through puddles during a rain storm.
Just it had been raining for two and a half days straight and we were all climbing the walls. I had an awful headache because Chester smokes these home-rolled cigarettes with this tobacco that kinda has this strange fruity smell to it – I think he soaks it in something and then dries it out again. He’s taken to doing his smoking on the porch right where the smoke rolls into the kitchen. I hate to complain because these days men have so few pleasures and that’s the only vice that Chester has so far as I know. And he’s a really nice man and brings his young sons to help me every few days. I know Dino explained that Chester’s wife is a witch on wheels and that he regularly tells him that he’s lucky I’m the friendly and biddable sort (which makes Dino chuckle as you can imagine), but them cigarettes are just plain awful and that day in particular he seemed to be smoking them chain fashion one right after another.
“Kerry Pappas if you stomp up or down those stairs one more time …”
“I’m bored,” he whined.
Giving him a warning shot I asked, “What did I tell you about saying that?”
“I don’t care if you do give me chores to do,” he sassed. “It’s better than being stuck inside. I wanna see the puppies. I wanna go feed the chickens. I wanna do something!”
I’d had about all I could take. “Out!”
“Huh?” he said all confused. “It’s raining.”
“Yes and by the looks of things gonna continue raining for a while,” I agreed. “Go puddle jumping. Do something to work them wiggles out before you ‘wanna’ me into an early grave.” I know I was snappish but I really had reached my limit.
Well I didn’t need to tell him twice and he goes flying out of the screen door letting it slam behind him. I stepped onto the porch to make sure he wasn’t getting in the middle of men talk and Dino looked at his son who was already half filthy and then looked at me. Rather sharp I said, “I don’t care if he gets covered in mud from head to toe. I just need him to stop whining for a bit or I’m gonna crack.”
The men gave me a bit of space after that and Chester took his cigarettes with him. It was a blessed relief to only have to deal with the sound of Kerry’s puddle jumping, the rain, and the pots boiling on the stove as I caught up on some of the canning while I also took time to continue organizing the stuff from the basement and attic. I set a bucket of water to heat and then I called the Squirt in after thirty minutes and gave him a hot bath and a thorough scrubbing; he was a mud puppy clean through every layer of clothing he had on. I should have been suspicious when he was so willing to take a nap after that but I just was thankful that he had settled down for a while. By the next day he had started with the sniffles and he’s had them off and on for a couple of weeks now.
I’ve been having him drink child sized portions of purple flower tea, otherwise known by its fancy name of echinacea, and a few other things like garlic broth, but all that is doing is keeping it from getting worse. I feel so bad for the little fella as his nose is red and irritated from being wiped so much. It finally seems like he is getting a little better but I’ll be purely happy (and guilt free) when this cold, or whatever it is, goes away completely.
Dino had the same stuffed head and runny nose for a couple of days and he was a miserable old cuss to be around. When he started feeling better he brought me some wild flowers from the other side of the vineyard as a sorta apology. I smiled and took the bedraggled flowers and put them in a glass of water in the kitchen window so I could look at them … and had to shoo that cat away from them several times too. Nobody had ever given me flowers before – unless you count the stray dandelion blossom the little boys used to present me with – and I pulled some out of the bouquet once they started wilting and looking sad and pressed them between the pages of a fat, old dictionary I found in the attic stuff as I was organizing. Kerry wanted to know why I would do something weird like that when I could go get me some “unmushed flowers” out in the yard any time I wanted. Unfortunately he did his asking in the middle of dinner when all the men were sitting there.
Chester’s son whispered to him, “Don’t ask. Women do strange things like that all the time and don’t like to be called on it.” He near about started a riot with all the hee-hawing that started up ‘cause of that comment. Me, I just about decided they could get their own dinner thank you very much.
I’ve learned a new word. Vinification. That’s just a fancy term for making wine. See, while harvesting the grapes is an important part of the whole process – and something that happens nearly every day – it isn’t the only part by a long shot. After the men bring in the harvested grapes they are taken to the winemaking shed. Shed is kinda the wrong word for this building as it is more like a super clean barn to me but they call it a shed so that’s what I call it too. Once the grapes are in there what comes next is determined by the type of wine that is being made.
The first stage is called the primary ferment. If you are making red wine you ferment the “must” or the pulp of the grapes you’ve harvested, including the seeds and skins. If you are making a white wine you only ferment the juice which has to be pressed and then strained. Of course they can’t leave it simple like that. There are Rose’ wines that might be made from red grapes that are treated like white wine grapes so all you’ve got is a kinda pinkish tone to the juice or it’s made by mixing white and red wines. It all has to do with something called tannins … the same sort of chemical that makes an oak leaf leave a brown stain on the porch if it doesn’t get swept off soon enough and the bitterness that you wash out of acorns by soaking to make them sweet.
The primary fermentation is started with some kind of yeast. They make this part complicated too. There are all sorts of yeasts … wine yeast, champagne yeast, and many others too including plain ol’ bread yeast for the more common wines. The juice and yeast or the “must” and yeast are then left to work for a week or two. At the end of the primary fermentation the white wine just goes on to its secondary fermentation but the red wine has to have all the must strained out of it before it goes that direction.
Most red wine goes into oak barrels or “casks” for its secondary fermentation. White wine goes into different containers. The length of this secondary fermentation is up to Alec and Dino’s discretion and has something to do with getting the wine smooth. At whatever point they decide it is smooth enough – whatever that means though I think it means that the less likely it is to make your eyes cross with a sip or two – they clarify it (a fancy way of saying settle it) and then filter and bottle it. Once it is bottled it is left to age which, contrary to what it does to people, helps to develop even more body and flavor.
Now if that was all there was to it that’d be enough but you know doggone good and well that with men involved they gotta take it a few more steps just because they can. For instance, with “sparkling wines,” the kinds with bubbles in it, a third fermentation happens after it’s been bottled. And for dessert wines sometimes you add stuff to the wine before you bottle it; for example, you add brandy to wine before you bottle it to make Port.
There are some good things about winemaking I suppose so I really shouldn’t complain. Besides the fact that it keeps the men busy and out of trouble, and brings in an income for the farm, the process creates a byproduct called pomace. Pomace is all the stuff leftover after the juice has been squeezed out. For instance, with apples you can take the pomace – what is left from juicing the apples or making cider – and can make a reasonable apple beer. Now see here that “beer” is not the alcoholic kind but just an old-fashioned kind of thing that even kids can drink. Its kinda fizzy like soda water but it hasn’t gone far enough to really have any alcohol to it. Chester takes buckets of the grape pomace home with him and he uses it in his distillery and makes pomace brandy with it which is alcoholic. Matter of fact I guess you could call it a kind of moonshine that just uses the grapes rather than cane or corn. But that pomace gets used even more. When Chester is through with the pomace turned into “must” he brings it back and Dino feeds it to the hogs and also uses undistilled grape pomace as fertilizer in the gardens and vineyard, giving back to the ground what the grapes took out.
And along those lines I saw a bizarre thing the other day. It’s almost too silly to write but if I don’t put it down I might start thinking it was just all in my imagination. Well I was taking a jug of fresh switchel out to Dino when I was walking passed the hog lot and noticed the hogs were all acting strange. Seemed they couldn’t walk in a straight line and then some of them were all splayed out and staring at nothing with a peculiarly unpiglike look on their faces. Well I thought something was wrong with them so I go lickety split to get Dino and I start telling him and he runs over to check on them. I’m worried because the hogs provide us most of our tame meat and to lose any is costly. By the time me and my big fat belly catch up he is snickering. He sees me huffing and puffing and the snickering turns to chuckling. Ajax runs up thinking something is wrong and Dino points to the hogs and then Ajax starts chuckling and then starts strangling trying not to laugh. Pert soon I’m starting to get a little peeved not knowing what the joke is. Them hogs were making the oddest noises and just plan tweren’t acting right. Before long all the men are over there laughing their fool heads off.
Well I’d about had it and was getting my feelings hurt too. I turned to stomp on back to the house and Chester comes up and said, “Aw now Miss Riss, no one means any harm.”
“Humph,” I replied and kept walking.
“Now, don’t get mad at the boys. Them hawgs … they’re just drunk,” he said with a sheepish grin on his face.
I stopped dead in my tracks then turned to look at the hogs, at him, and then back at the hogs and said, “They’re what?”
“Drunk,” he said with a snicker that he tried to wipe off real quick with his bandana. “My brother had to dismantle his still last night when he heard some revenuers were looking for it. The must had just been set and he didn’t want to pollute the creek he uses by dumping it in there … nor lead the guv’mint men to anyone else that might use that creek for the same purposes. So we bucketed it up and brought it over here real quick before first light and give it to them hogs. They like it real fine, especially first thing in the morning.”
I have to admit even I had to laugh a bit at the sight those hogs made now that I wasn’t worried they were taken sick but all I told them was, “Just make sure them hogs stay pinned up where they’re supposed to. Last thing I need is to try and chase a drunken porker out of my pea patch.”
And speaking of my garden I guess the month of August could be titled the month of “More Of …”and “The Last Of …”. The things I harvested “more of” were apples, beans, beets, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cucumbers, greens, peaches, peppers, potatoes, summer squash, corn, and tomatoes. The things I harvested “the last of” were apricots, blackberries, blueberries, celery, gooseberries, nectarines, peas, and raspberries. But just because I’ve seen the last of something from the orchard or the garden doesn’t mean it is gone from the menu; all them jars down in the basement will keep us in that stuff until the fresh season rolls back around … or at least that is the plan.
The first of the pears – both Asian and dessert – came in this month. I love pears more than I do peaches. The Asian pears have a crisp bite to them like apples do and the dessert pears are so soft and sweet once they’ve been allowed to ripen a bit in the root cellar that you’ll dribble spit down your chin after only a bite or two. I dried pears plain and candied. I made glace’ pears with the Asian pears because the dessert pears wouldn’t have held up in the process. I canned slices by the quart jar – plain, cinnamon, and mint. I made pear relish, pear honey, pear preserves, pear butter. I made pickled pears, brandied pears, pear chutney, gingered pears, and pear mincemeat. I made sheet after sheet of pear leather. And I suppose it goes without saying that we made liqueur, cordial, and wine out of some of them.
The tomatoes and corn took up a lot of my time too. There hasn’t been a day go by that I haven’t done at least one batch of each in the canners. The acid from the tomatoes gets into the crack in my fingers and just burns like fire but not as bad as the pepper juice does. With the tomatoes I’ve pureed them, juiced them, made tomato sauce and tomato paste. I made tomato conserve, spicy and regular tomato butter, and untold varieties of tomato relish. Add to that tomato jam, tomato preserves, and a couple of special batches I made with yellow pear tomatoes from a recipe that Cheryl sent over, I always have a plate of fresh, sliced tomatoes at dinner and supper for any that want some. From a recipe Chester gave me I made red hot sauce and Dino had his own recipes for a couple of BBQ sauces he asked me to can for him. And of course I must have made what seemed like five gallons of salsa when I found out the men liked my mother’s old recipe so well.
Corn I mostly did whole kernel or cream style but I also put by some corn relish to take to church potlucks when I was asked to bring something for the relish trays. And when I found out that Dino liked hominy I took the time to do up some from the dried field corn he has put back in feed sacks and then canned it in pint jars.
Despite the dry winter and spring we had a decent crop of elderberries and currants but nothing I would brag about to anyone. Aunt Adona needed most of the elderberries for her “world famous” elderberry cordial and there was no way I was telling that particular lady no, but even after Chris and Steven pretty well scalped the harvest for her I was able to make a batch of jam, one of jelly, and a small batch of elderberry juice. Dino and Alec claimed most of the currants but I still dried about five pounds worth that I had to hide for my holiday baking, assuming I had the wherewithal after the baby was born.
Ajax came back from one of the market days with news that a big order had come in for Dino so the next day he took the wagon and went into town to pick it up and I was thrilled to find that he’d also stopped at the depot post office and there’d been a letter from Harry waiting for me.
Can’t say much about anything or they’ll do what they call redacting since letters have to be cleared before they go into the mail. Basically that is where they take a big black marker and cross out anything they don’t think is the business of the general public. I don’t like them making my decisions for me but I can understand it. I swear some of the city boys around here are as dumb as stumps and don’t know the first thing about keeping their mouth shut.
Tell Dino that his advice has been worth its weight in gold and then some. The only spot of trouble I’ve gotten into up to this point is when I accidentally showed up one of our lieutenants. We were having target practice and then they put them on swings and such to turn them in to moving targets. Well, my score was the highest in the squad and the lieutenant was some bent about it because he is used to having that honor. He came over to me and said I must have had some kind of special training, asked who my instructor had been, and blah blah blah. Of course I didn’t think and opened my trap and said, “Naw sir, my adopted sister started whipping me into shape when I was just a boy fresh from the city and she still shoots some better than me though she is a short scrawny little thing.” Well the laughter that caused chaffed him in his manly parts and my fingers are still all pruned up from scrubbing the latrines for a week. It would have been two but our Sergeant let me off early for good behavior … and ‘cause people have been buying him rounds to tell that story ever since. That particular LT isn’t exactly everyone’s favorite as you might have guessed.
Had a letter from Mom, won’t repeat most of what she said ‘cause it just irks me to think on it but she is concerned that you’ve been “left adrift with no one to fend for you.” Wanted to tell her the only one that did that was Sol but didn’t cause it would have meant explaining things and you asked me not to. I wish you would write to Mom and Hannah and tell them that you are well if just for my sake. I get tired of all the drama even though it’s just in a letter I can fold up and put away.
Only have a little space left on this card but just to let you know we’re supposed to ship out directly though I ain’t no where near important enough to know the exact date and destination. I will write again when I can but it may be some time. If my niece or nephew arrives before I have a chance to, tell ‘em hello from their Uncle and that I intend to see them before they’re all grown up.
Miss your cooking and good sense. Could use both more often these days.
I didn’t know whether to laugh at his antics or cry at how bad I missed him. I understood what he couldn’t say in a letter and I was sorry that I wouldn’t get a chance to write him back before he had to take off. I’d wondered why I hadn’t heard from him before now but Dino had warned me that during wartime communication, even with family, could be sparse to none. I don’t know how Mrs. Bly found out where he was at but suspect his Uncle Bill had something to do with it. I’m still undecided about whether to write that letter Harry asked me to or not; honestly don’t know if I want to waste the price of postage I’m still that irked with them.
Harry’s letter wasn’t the only news that Dino brought from town. There was a couple of broadsheets telling folks that the last election had finally been confirmed by Congress and that the Republican/Independent ticket won after all. I know it should matter to me but those people seem so far off, like silly tin gods on Mt. Olympus directing the lives of us mere humans whether it was good for us or not. And never having voted I just can’t seem to get excited about what is likely to be just more of the same under a different name.
Dino says you never know for sure until they start acting one way or another … or not at all … and that he’s willing to give this new crew a chance to get in and prove themselves. I don’t suppose we have much choice either way since they’ve already been inducted or whatever the heck it is when they take the oath of office. The outgoing president and his people are none too happy and tried to put the whole voting process on hold until they said otherwise but they couldn’t make that trick stick. Rioters got into the White House and only came out after they found out that no one was there, they were all hiding in some bunker someplace in case the world comes to an end.
The one thing that Dino is concerned about is that during the transition period the economy is going to wobble even more. It’s already weak on its pins so a wobble could very well topple it. Just to be on the safe side we’ve been building a list of supplies to order and he’s taking it to town first thing in the morning and he’s also gonna go to Cherry Gap and see if they’ve got anything in stock that Newton doesn’t.
“I don’t like to put so many miles on the horses when it is so hot but if I split the order between the two towns and only half comes in that is still better than putting the whole order in one place and have none of it come in.”
Now see there? That’s what I call planning ahead.