This past month has been a real learning experience for me. I was a little scared going into it, wondering if I would be up for the challenge, but I’ve come out the other side a stronger person I think; certainly I’ve got more confidence that my decisions usually turn out to be pretty good though my patience is only as good as the amount of sleep I get each night.
Haven’t had any major mishaps though no one is perfect of course; like that off day I had that seemed nothing I put in the oven would come out any other way but rurnt and burnt. I finally handed a quart jar of soup to Dino and just walked away where I couldn’t hurt myself or anyone else.
And one laundry day I forgot to check Kerry’s pockets and I boiled a frog in the wash pot along with everything else I had in there. I was jobbing the laundry paddle up and down and stirring briskly until I noticed there were bits of something coming to the surface that didn’t have any business being in there. That was so disgusting I had to get Dino to help me undo the mess. I was gagging and heaving and all he could do was laugh; I nearly tossed him in the wash pot to boil. Now I check pockets like religion; and double and triple check ‘em if I’m feeling nervous. So far I’ve found I can’t tell you how many rocks and old arrow head, flower heads, half eaten snacks and on one very memorable occasion a corn snake that I probably sent into paralytic shock when threw I it across the yard.
Life isn’t that interesting every day thank goodness. I don’t mind the boring days and wouldn’t mind a few more of them as I tend to get more done on days like that. The attic and the basement are both spic and span but that’s only because everything from those two locations is spread out over three of the downstairs rooms and two of the spare rooms upstairs. Poor ol’ Tom the cat isn’t happy at all that his domain is being disturbed. I have to keep my bedroom door shut at all times now or he goes in there and scratches at the wicker chair; he’s already shredded the tail end of one of the shirts I sleep in letting me know he knows that I’m the culprit in all of this disturbance. Opened the door of my room one morning to find a hairball at my feet too. Nope, his highness is definitely not pleased with me; but like my great grandmother always said he can get glad just as fast as he got mad or he can go live outside with the rest of the animals if I don’t bob his tail first. The reason why the attic and basement aren’t finished is because I’m only able to work on ‘em in between everything else, or on rainy days which haven’t come often enough this year. Usually I have no excuse and have to do my best to keep up with my to do list before it runs away on me.
First of July I thinned a bunch of little green apples and made up a bunch of homemade pectin. I’ll make more as the other, later ripening varieties of apples continue to set their fruit. What you do is take small green, immature apples and clean them and cut off any bad spots. Then you slice them real thin. I use my mother’s mandolin slicer but you can do it by hand, it just takes longer. For every pound of apples you put in two cups of water and boil the contents for fifteen minutes. Pour off the “juice” into a bowl (don’t squeeze the pulp at this point) and then do it again … two cups of water per pound of apples. After the second boil you can squeeze the pulp free of all juice after it has cooled. Each pound of apples can be boiled twice. From a batch of four pounds of apples I can fill pert near a baker’s dozen jelly jars after I give the pulp a final squeeze at the very end.
To save this homemade liquid pectin you pour it boiling hot into prepared jelly jars and then seal it just like you would anything else. My rule of thumb is about one cup of homemade pectin to three pounds of low pectin fruit. You don’t really need as much for fruit already high in pectin like plums and gooseberries but I stick with the one cup anyway in case my pectin is a little weak. If I’m using a really low pectin fruit like strawberries, rhubarb, or pears then I might put in a little more just to be on the safe side and then adjust from there if what I’m making still won’t jell. And I sure was glad to have that new pectin to replace what I’d been using. I’ve had to make another big batch since I made the first one and this time rather than going to all of the trouble of sealing it I’ve got it in containers in the ice room. I wouldn’t say it gets much below freezing in there but at least it is cold enough to keep things from spoiling for a while. I got the old ice chest all cleaned up and had Dino and Ajax cart it down into the basement. I may have them cart it back up again – though I ain’t telling them that right now – if I can figure out a way to keep it in the kitchen without it being something that I’m going to wrap my little toe on every time I pass by. Them stairs down to the basement seem to add a riser or two every little bit, especially when I’m tired.
As for what I’ve been harvesting, I’ve got apples coming out of my ears and will continue to have apples of one variety or another until October when the last of the Granny Smith come in. Right now it is all early season apples like Gold Rush and Yellow Delicious. For canning I’ve pickled a fair share, dried a bunch more, and made enough apple leather that not even Kerry could eat it all. I made a batch of glace’ apples though I don’t like how these softer, early apples turned out. I’ll probably wait for the later, firmer apples to ripen before I try that again. I’ve canned apple rings, apple pie filling, apple maple jam, apple syrup (plain and spiced), apple-blueberry conserve, apple preserves, apple and raising marmalade, and apple jelly. I’m working on a year’s supply of applesauce and apple butter which will help with my baking when I get around to having more time to do some. I’ve canned batches of apple chutney, apple-green tomato chutney, apple-ginger chutney and apple catsup. I made apple cordial that I lined up with the other cordials and liqueurs inventory down in the basement. And Dino and Alec have made so many variations and combinations of apple wine I can’t keep up with them all.
As for what else I do with apples, if it looks like apple might go with it I’ve been adding it. It’s amazing what you can hide shredded apple in … including meatloaf. Cheryl taught me that trick but I didn’t tell Dino or Kerry as they were getting suspicious that they’d find vegetables in things you wouldn’t normally find vegetables in and fruit in dishes you wouldn’t normally find fruit; unfortunately it’s a hard habit to break and one Mrs. Bly started because Mr. Bly was strictly a meat and potatoes kind of guy … which would have been ok if they could have actually afforded the meat and potatoes he preferred.
According to Aunt Adona – who as I predicted did finally make it over to check up on me – the Apricots that have come in aren’t as nice as the ones last year were. I’ll have to take her word for it. I’d never had anything to do with apricots except dried ones so I had to dig for canning recipes to put them up with. I pickled them, canned them plain, turned them into chutneys and butters, preserves, jam, and conserves. I dried them whole, as leathers, and glace’. I’ve got bottles of apricot nectar since Kerry seems to think it is the drink of kings and sometimes doesn’t want anything else. And just like with everything else on this farm it seems, we made liqueurs, cordials, and wine out of the fruit.
I tell you I’m just about fruited out already and the season has only just begun in earnest. In addition to the apples and apricots I’ve preserved blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, plums, and raspberries. I finished off the last of the cherries, nectarines, and peaches though a stray few here and there are still hanging on the trees trying to ripen. Anyway something can be canned I’ve done it. If it can be dried I’ve done that too. And if it can be made into something that can make you tipsy you can bet somebody in the Pappas family is gonna put some back to try and sell for a profit to some crazy fool. Now technically Alec and his family’s surname is Nichols but just like with the Davidson/Keehn thing I grew up with, they all answer to Pappas too out of habit.
Been having a pile of beans and peas come in too; so many in fact that I wondered at the logic of planting so many until Dino told me that the boys he hired to help him plant this year just planted until they were out of seed rather than by the row count he had given them to use. My head feels like it is going to fall off when I wonder what I’m going to do with all them beans that are eventually going to be ready. As it is, if I catch anyone sitting in one spot for more than a few seconds I put a bowl of beans in their lap to either shell or snap. I was doing it myself but the tip ends of my fingers finally dried out so bad they started splitting open and bleeding. When Dino found out he was so upset he wouldn’t talk to me from dinner to supper that day. When he came in from the fields he sat me down, cleaned my hands and put this stuff he called bag balm on them himself.
“Damaris,” he began. I could see he was caught between being mad and upset so I tried to tell him thank you and not to take on so but that only set him off more.
“Dang it woman! If I ever see you hurting like that again … and … and … well, you won’t like what I’m thinking about. I mean it Damaris.”
He only ever calls me Damaris when he is trying to make a point and I guess I got his this time. My fingers being split open did get in the way and slow me down and though that isn’t what he meant precisely I still understand that there is no sense in letting something get away from you when a little care beforehand will make life a whole lot easier in the long run. Besides, my heart ached from thinking he was mad at me and it wasn’t until he come down the stairs for our nightly talk that it stopped hurting. He apologized for yelling and said that he shouldn’t have but I’m still gonna go out of my way to try and not make him do it again. I didn’t like it at all.
But now that my fingers tips are all cracked and nasty looking there isn’t anything I can do about it except to keep treating them to keep them from splitting open again. Not only are they cracked but they are stained red which makes them look worse. The red staining is from beets and I’m getting to be just about as tired of beets as I was of peaches last month. I asked Dino if there was any way that Alec’s family wanted them and he laughed and said no, that the boys that had planted the garden at this farm had made the same fool mistakes at Alec’s place which is where they’d already gotten the beets they used to make beet wine with. I finally started piecing bundles of them out to Chester and the other field hands that started coming to work the middle of the month and they were grateful for them. I also sent bundles of the things with the tops still on to market with Ajax and told him I didn’t care how much they brung so much as there weren’t any left over at the end of the day. Ajax, now that the baby is doing much better, has turned out to be a laugher like Dino and Alec. He nearly busted a gut when I told him that if he come home with any of them beets I was going to have a serious turn in health.
Cabbage flies got to some of the cabbage heads so the harvest weren’t so great on those but Dino put a floating cover on the late season cabbages so hopefully those won’t get so damaged. I did manage to can a healthy amount of canned chopped slaw which is nice but I’ll have to wait to make kraut with the other.
I told Dino if he ever had those planters back they weren’t setting foot in the garden without supervision ‘cause round about the time I thought I had a handle on the beets the cucumbers started being ready to pick … and pick … and pick … and pick. I’ve made enough pickles to put a pucker on the whole dat burn state. Ice water, relish, sweet chunk, bread and butter, mustard, sour, kosher dill, cucumber catsup … doggone I even started frying the things and serving them to the men as snacks to keep from having any spoil on the vine.
And as luck would have it they hardly planted any celery so I’m going to have to be sparing, especially after I let enough go to seed for next year. Carrots on the other hand were just about as bad as the cucumbers except the kuckleheads planted them on the side of the garden that is heavy clay with rocks mixed in. I swun I’ve never seen such deformed roots as what I’ve been pulling out of them rows. Some of ‘em look like they might be the offspring of some inbred family of space aliens. I accidentally said that last out loud in front of Kerry and when he asked his daddy that day at dinner what I meant the whole flaming table of men was laughing so hard they spit food across the table like they had no manners at all. Men, the least thing will get turned into something so funny they can’t breathe for laughing but when you actually try to make a joke it’ll fall flat as a flitter.
Cantaloupes are coming in nice but a little late. The shortage of precipitation early in the season looks like it’s gonna keep ‘em undersized despite getting normal rain the last couple of weeks. They aren’t as sweet as they’ve been in years past either but you can’t have everything perfect at the same time. They still made good cantaloupe preserve and cantaloupe pickles.
The summer and winter squash are coming in real good and that is something to be thankful for because Alec said the ones in their garden never even made it out of the ground for some reason. I split whatever I harvest each day and have it ready for him, Ajax, or one of the younger boys to take with them on their way home.
Corn and tomatoes are starting to come in too but mostly I’m using them all fresh. The only ones I’ve canned thus far are things made from green tomatoes. The latch on the kennel gate broke – Kerry wasn’t anywhere near it at the time – and the puppies got out and started wrestling and running around in the garden. You can imagine I near about had me a puppy fur coat for winter when I went out there and found three of the big tomato plants laid over with their main stalks cracked in half. Lucky for them though that I had planned on pulling some green tomatoes that very day and that they just chose which bushes for me.
Made some nice green tomato pickle, green tomato preserves, green tomato marmalade, and green tomato jam; it isn’t something I make a lot of but it is good as a change of pace when I want one. And wouldn’t you know it, Alec comes along and says, “Save me some of them green tomatoes Riss. Last wine making convention I went to someone made a green tomato wine and I’ve had the recipe squirreled away until I had time to try it. That day has come.”
Humph. I’m beginning to think that if something don’t move fast enough Alec and Dino will try and make wine out of it. I’ve never seen such a pair for experimenting. You think I’m kidding but I’m not. I’m almost sorry I cleared out the basement like I did ‘cause it has only given them more room to spread their experiments out in. Where I’m supposed to find the room to put everything back without jiggling their ever loving “fermentation vessels” and “air locks” I don’t know. And all of this here work doesn’t even begin to cover the fact that the grape harvest is in full swing.
Alec, being more experienced than Dino, is the one that takes the lead on picking the precise plants and rows that are to be harvested. He does it by taste and by using this gizmo called a refractometer. Oh my lands, Dino was right when he said that I’d get so full of information come the grape harvest that I’d be craving to turn it off. I get so much “education” thrown at me every day about making wine that if I get any more educated my head’s gonna explode. And from what I understand it is going to continue on this way through to the end of September. My poor brain cells are just plumb aching.
There isn’t any place to turn to get away from it. They’re talking about it at breakfast. As they cart the day’s chosen grape clusters back to the house they talk about it. Dinner is more of a gab fest on the grape. They continue all through the afternoon too. And even after the field hands have gone home Dino, Alec, and Ajax talk about it some more. Then after our supper is fixed I’ve got to listen to Dino recap the whole day all over again and tell me what they plan for the next day. Lord love ‘em but I wonder how they would feel if I talked to them like that about the potatoes I’m harvesting?
And could they make it any more complicated? They even pick grapes in certain order by the kind of wine they’re gonna make from it. Now you tell me why they’ll make all them other silly wines any ol’ time they want to yet have a special order for wine made from grapes. I’m telling you it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.
Dino tries to lesson me but I find I’m asking the same questions over so often he’s got to wonder if I’m listening at all in the first place. “It’s not that hard Riss. You can recall the recipe for something you tasted once five years ago and never since yet you can’t seem to keep the grapes in order?”
“I told you, I do better with pictures … or in this case ingredients I taste. All you and Alec keep giving me are words and they just kinda flow in one of my ears and out the other.”
“Well here,” he said tossing me a notepad. “Why don’t you write it down this time and it might help. First comes the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the sparkling wines. Next comes the grapes for the white wines which we’ll do the beginning of next month, then the grapes for the red wines since they needs to hang on the vine longer and those are usually picked mid August to mid September. The last grapes we pick are nearly raisins because of all the concentrated sugar in them and that’s what we make the sweet dessert wines out of which won’t happen until late September and the close of the harvest.”
“And Ajax said that the vineyard is best known for its red wines,” I said trying to show him that I was listening, at least some of the time.
“True as far as it goes but of those it is the cabernets and the merlot that we’ve won the most awards for.”
All of this spinning around in my head just isn’t natural for the daughter of a family of teetotalers. What do I know about all of the liquor stuff? And oh … my … word. I did accidentally called wine “liquor” a couple of weeks ago and you would have thought I’d said something sacrilegious. I’ll never make that mistake again I can tell you that much. For a fact I’m not even sure I like wine. I took a sip just to please Dino and I got the worst case of acid indigestion, never mind that everything gives me indigestion these days it seems. I’ve been using the excuse that I’m pregnant to avoid having to taste any more.
Now, Aunt Adona did show me how to make beef burgundy and I liked that pretty well – it was a little rich but I reckon the alcohol all cooked out and only the sugars were left – but I never thought much of the fact that Dino had a small glass of wine every evening until recently. I wonder if he is going to expect me to join him after the baby is born? Think I’ll nurse as long as I can to avoid the subject until I make up my own mind.
And speaking of spending time with Dino in the evenings, he’s been as good as his word. We’ve been getting to know each other and getting comfortable. I can sit beside him on the settee on the porch without my skin feeling like it is going to crawl off now. I know that doesn’t sound very nice but I guess maybe Sol spoiled my trust so much that even sitting in Dino’s company was hard to do. We had been going for walks with Kerry just about every evening but that stopped when the grape harvest started, we’re both just too tired for it not to mention the mosquitoes are about as big as lightning bugs this time of year.
We’ve also been out in public a few times since we went to town. One of those times was Independence Day when the church had a big dinner on the grounds type thing. Some of the school children recited the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a few other things. A couple of the older men gave speeches. We sang songs and in general had a good ol’ day. Kerry loved being able to run loose with the other little boys but my belly is getting in the way of me being able to keep up when they really get going. Not to mention the heat. It was either Steven or Chris that volunteered the two of them to act as babysitters so that I could sit down and cool off for a spell but whichever one it was the other went along with it without complaint.
The heat really was some kind of intense and I just could not get cooled off. That’s when Dino grabbed my hand and pulled me back up. “Dino, it’s too hot …”
“I can see that. Let’s go put our feet in the creek. They’ve rounded the kids up to feed them lemonade and watermelon so we’ll have it to ourselves for a bit.”
I laughed, “No wonder Chris and Steven didn’t mind watching Kerry.”
“They aren’t stupid boys,” he agreed with a laugh of his own. Then he got sweet serious. “Have I told you that you look pretty in that dress Miss Riss?”
I rolled my eyes and told him, “Only three times or more since we left the farm.” I don’t know how but I’d found the time to make a sleeveless summer dress that had room for me to grow in. I used the lightweight cotton and after I was finished I dyed it using goldenrod flowers. It was a nice shade of rich yellow and I’d also sewn on some buttons that were shaped like little sunflowers. The shoes I was wearing were just some simple deer hide sandals whose soles were made out of old tire treads. Before I could bend down Dino was untying the laces for me.
“You don’t have to do that,” I told him embarrassed to feel him touching my legs.
He waggled his eyebrows and said, “I know.” I could have thumped him but he was in the middle of shucking out of his boots, socks and rolling up his pants legs – and no I didn’t offer to help him – and when we stepped into that creek we just about melted. The water only came half way up the back of my calves at that point but it felt soooo good. It wasn’t too cold and it wasn’t bathwater warm, it was just right.
But the bottom of that creek was covered in about a million small pieces of granite that had probably washed there from the old rock quarry where the spring started from and I took a step and forgot I wasn’t wearing anything on the bottom of my feet.
“Ouch!” I’d stepped on a sharp piece of rose granite and if Dino hadn’t grabbed me I would have fallen into the creek.
“Careful,” he told me.
“Thanks. Uh … you can turn loose now. I won’t make that mistake again.”
He only grinned, “Don’t you think this might be a good time to move slow?”
I could feel my face go red. “We’re at the church! Anyone could see.”
“So, at least they’d know my intentions were honest. Besides, all I’m doing is holding you up.”
“That is not all you’re doing Dino Pappas and well you know it. I’m no fool and you keep them hands still.”
Well, church grounds or not that was a plumb wicked chuckle he gave in response to my demands … but he did settle down. He didn’t turn loose but he did settle down.
We stood that way, just letting the water rush around us, and gradually I relaxed and just kinda leaned back into his embrace. I figured it wasn’t like he was gonna do nothing anyway.
“Feel better?” he asked.
“Uh huh,” I answered slowly, just on this side of drowsy.
“Mind me holding you?”
“Uh uh,” I said just as slowly.
Of course if there is a fly buzzing around it’s gonna find my soup to fall into. “Well, isn’t this just perfect?” a nasty voice said. “Everyone is wondering where you two hid yourselves and I guess now we know.”
Well that put a period to me being relaxed but Dino wasn’t turning loose. “You know Cindy,” he said slow and lazily. “A smart person would have learned her lesson last time. And as you must not be smart you’d think that you’d at least have some feelings for your father when he has to take on the consequences for you running your mouth. Besides, I see you’ve got two boys following your scent around. Guess maybe you’re a pot trying to find a kettle to call black.”
Oh she stiffened up at that all right and so did the two young bucks with her. But as soon as they tried to bow up Dino told them, “That is not a good idea boys. I’m relaxed right now but if you make me get out of this water before I’m ready to then I’m not gonna be relaxed. Not only am I not going to be relaxed I’m gonna be feeling mean and hostile.”
“Dino,” I hissed at him.
“Hush Riss. We aren’t doing anything wrong and Brother Calvert’s been watching us from the belfry the whole time. If Cindy wants to pitch a fit I guess maybe Brother Calvert might be able to say something about what she’s been up to before she came this way.”
I noticed Cindy got pale right before stomping off. I looked at Dino over my shoulder the best he would let me since he still wasn’t turning me loose and asked, “What did you mean? About Brother Calvert being able to see us and being able to see what she’s been up to too?”
“I told you I wasn’t going to let people talk and that includes making a spectacle of you that would cause them to talk. I picked this spot in the creek because it is as good as having a half dozen chaperones keeping an eye on us. Brother Calvert is up in the belfry. Your friend Mrs. Heflin has been peeking at us from the back of the sanctuary every few minutes. Ol’ Red Marley is parked under that sassafras tree with his hat pulled down … but not pulled down so far that he can’t people watch. There’s others that have been going back and forth as well.”
Pleased but kinda scandalized at the same time, “And you’re hugging me like this?!”
“Stop squawking,” he chuffed down towards my ear. “A man’s got to get the pleasures he can where he can when he is trying to prove something to the lady he is after.”
Well cool water or not it felt like I was blushing clear from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. Ignoring his last statement I asked, “And exactly what did you mean by implying that Cindy had been up to something she ought not have been?”
Finally convinced he wasn’t going to get any more peace he helped me out of the water and up the creek bank where we could sit and dry out legs off. “Haven’t you ever noticed that the people that protest the most tend to have the most to hide?”
“I … I suppose so. But Cindy isn’t like that.”
“Cindy isn’t like that that you know. She isn’t an angel apparently as she turned awful guilty when I just went after her with a guess.”
I turned and put my hands on my hips. “Dino, and what if you’re wrong? What an awful thing to have said to her.”
“Not as bad as all the things she’s been saying about you.”
I shook my head suddenly depressed, “The problem with your logic is there is reason to think I deserve what she’s been saying.”
I felt a sharp yank on one of my errant curls which was a tactic he was too fond of using when he wanted my attention. “And I’ve got reason to think that she isn’t as sweet and innocent as she likes to pretend she is.”
Two seconds later I was untangling my curl from his fingers and demanding, “Exactly what do you mean that you’ve got reason to think?”
“Jealous?” he asked interested.
“Should I be?” I asked suddenly unsure.
He bent down and taped me on the tip of my nose playfully and said, “Nope, not on my part. Just because she tried to apply for the position I was advertising doesn’t mean I was buying her wares.”
Thoroughly outraged at the way he put it pushed his hands away that were trying to help me with my sandals. He only laughed and fixed them right anyway and then led me back to where we’d spread the picnic blanket. I didn’t have much time to think about what he’d said the rest of the day as Kerry gradually got overexcited – so did every other kid there so it isn’t like he stood out – and it took more and more of my attention to steer him clear of trouble. And even when I did have time to think on it I decided it wasn’t any of my business what happened between Dino and some female or other before I came along except as it pertained to being able to care for Kerry now. I had no intention of turning into a jealous cat especially as I was still trying to figure out which way I was going to jump.
On the other hand spending time in close contact with Dino has become a regular occurrence and I have to admit, I don’t find it disturbing at all. I also don’t worry about being fickle because I’m thinking that maybe Sol had more to do with the trouble I got into than I was giving him credit for. If he did have enough experience to lead me on – not that I should have been as easy to lead as I was – maybe what I felt wasn’t nothing but an illusion that he encouraged me to create. It doesn’t take away my responsibility any for the choices I made but I don’t think I have to feel so guilty about the fact that the feelings I thought I had for Sol evaporated almost overnight.
I think I very well just might be able to give Dino that answer he’s looking for by the time the grape harvest is over with. My worry is that I’m gonna be so far along by that time that maybe he won’t be drawn to me in that way. I’m already starting to look like a bouncy ball with legs, can’t imagine what I’m going to look like in two months.