Not too long ago Dino got irritated by me working like a mule and now he goes and gives me a treat for doing just that. I swun, men are just so strange.
The last few days has been nonstop work but I’m so happy about how it has turned out I could just about cry in public. For three days them boys climbed the trees in the orchard like monkeys I remember seeing in the zoo as a child and all I had to do was stay at the house and wait for them to bring it to me. And when they finished in the orchard they headed out to the garden and helped me to weed and mulch until it actually looked like a real garden should. Not only that, but there were a couple of little boys I knew that came along with the group and they would stay on the porch and pit the cherries for me with the cherry pitters with nary a complaint. They’d play for a little while with Kerry then the four of them would come pit cherries for me, then I’d give ‘em a snack and they’d go back to playing and stay out from under my feet. It was a wonder and make no mistake.
So many of the peaches and nectarines were overripe by the time I got to them that I made a lot of butter and leather since the fruit just fell apart. The soft fruit also had a lot of places that I had to cut out but that went into the bucket for the new compost pile I’ve started. Oh, the hogs and chickens got some but not near as much as they have in the past.
The other thing I did with the softest fruit was to make up bottles of nectar and syrups. Nectar is basically the thick juice of a fruit that don’t strain off like say a grape, apple, or blackberry does. And the syrups will be plumb nice when the weather is cold outside and spring and summer are nothing but memories.
And I’m telling you I survived all them cherries but just barely. We only had the one tree on the Davidson Farm and it didn’t produce regular and even when it did it didn’t give but maybe a bushel … maybe and even then it had to be a doggone good year. These here trees look like they wanna drown you in their fruit and pitting and stemming all of them things was a chore. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do it all by myself or my hands would be just about wore off to the elbow.
I did all sorts of good eatin’ stuff with those cherries and there’s some still coming in on the trees but we’ll just eat them fresh if the birds don’t get ‘em. Let’s see here, I made cherry leather – over dried a couple of sheets not paying attention so the boys got cherry leather chips as a treat, and plain dried cherries (they look like raisins a bit), glace’ cherries, cherry juice, cherry almond jam, cherry pie filling, cherry conserve, cherry preserves (no pectin needed), cherry liqueur and cherry mint liqueur (made with high grade ‘shine rather than vodka), sweet spiced cherries, and pickled cherries.
Also made me a great big ol’ bunch of maraschino cherries as them things are dear in the store but handy during the holidays. First I made a brine of two quarts of water, two tablespoons of salt, and one teaspoon of alum. I used this brine to soak four and half pounds of pitted red cherries overnight. Next day I rinsed the cherries in cold water and set ‘em aside for a sec. In a pot I put four and a half pounds of white sugar, three cups of water, and an ounce of red food coloring. Lucky for me Dino keeps some more of the costly things on hand cause of the family wine making business so I was also able to add the juice of one lemon. I heated what was in the pot to boiling then took it off, put in the cherries, and covered it with a dish towel and let him perk for twenty-four hours. After the twenty-four hours was up I drained the cherries and then re-boiled the liquid. This time when I took it off the heat I added an ounce of almond extract. I put the cherries in different size prepared jars and then covered them with the boiling hot liquid then sealed ‘em the same way I do everything else. I tell you those cherries are just the prettiest things all lined up I could just about use them for decorating.
Found out Dino has his talents like any man and one of them talents is messing around in the kitchen a bit. I didn’t know it but Alec keeps goats – he does it off away from the vineyards in case they get out – and one of ‘em did something tragically stupid as animals are want to do ever so often and broke its leg bad enough that it had to be put down. Well Alec and Ajax brung the dressed carcass over to the big BBQ pit and Dino cooked it up and made up a BBQ sauce with the cherries that smelled good even before it got dobbed on some of the meat. Man alive, that was some kinda good. I managed to can some of the meat too which just tickled me to no end.
I haven’t just been canning and drying the fruit either. I need to get me a baking schedule but haven’t had the chance to find a whole day to set aside to do it so instead of light bread we’ve been eating a lot of quick breaks and such. And into these I’ve been hiding whole or pulped pieces of the fruit that I have left over at the tail end of the canning batches. The men and boys seem to be especially partial to the fruited pone, doughnuts, and muffins that I kept ready for them in case they came by the house and felt all hollow. The way some of them eat you’d think they’d be so big they’d have to roll from job to job but they work it off sure enough. Some of those field hands are as lean as overdried jerky and tough as whang leather.
The noonday meal has become our big one but I don’t mind so much since that is always the way it is when it is harvest time too. It also means less dishes for me at the end of the day though the middle means enough of them. And I need to get some lotion on my hands or they are going to start cracking from spending so much time wet for one reason or another; they already itch like I’ve put my hands into something I shouldn’t have. The tip ends of my fingers are already so rough they catch on the dish rag.
I haven’t liked to use all of Dino’s store-bought goods so I’ve been mixing them with stuff out of the garden and wild foragibles that I’ve gathered to piece things out. Had cattail pie as part of the meal one day (there are some growing on one end of the fish pond). The men don’t seem to notice when there are wild greens mixed up with the tame ones whether it is in a salad or cooked – they are too busy shoveling it into their mouths I guess. Had some burdock growing near the chicken lot that was already big enough to do something with so for another meal I fixed glazed burdock root slices.
Burdock root sorta reminds you of a carrot but it is uglier than the ugliest carrot you’ve ever seen; the leaves are different too. The edible roots are tough and fibrous too so unlike the carrot – some sort of cousin in the plant kingdom I reckon – you can’t eat ‘em raw. But cooked up they have a kinda nutty sweetness to them that some of the winter squash does.
One morning Chris and Steven – the two seem to be inseparable, almost like twins – brought a couple of ducks when they came over to help their daddy who had arrived round about first light. They also brought a small crock that Cheryl sent with a note. “Our trees are going crazy this year too. Put this on the table with the duck and next time you get a chance to come over I’ll give you the recipe for it if you want it.”
“It”was a Black Bean Cherry Relish. I love black beans but Mr. Bly didn’t cotton to them at all – he was colored challenged in the food department – so I only grew a few bushes each year for my own pleasure and to keep some seed stock. I had to have a spoonful right there before the men got to it and oh my lands I will most definitely be getting that recipe. That relish is certainly worth eating more than once. Good thing I have willpower or I would have secreted that whole crock for my personal consumption.
The man named Chester also did me the kindness of showing me how to make cherry-flavored and peach-flavored vinegars and I’ve got some jars steeping waiting to be strained and sealed in a little over a week. You wouldn’t think with all the work I’d have time to learn something new but it has been a pleasure to almost every day.
Seems grape aren’t the only things that Dino and Alec turn into wine. The men were talking too fast for me to keep up but basically you start out with all the ingredients in one container where it ferments and then you decant it into another container. Sometimes you leave certain types of wines in barrels to age before you bottle it and some of the wines you bottle and let it age from there. It is some confusing but Dino told me not to worry about it because I’d likely hear more about it than I want to once the grapes start coming in about mid-July which ain’t that far off.
Let’s see, what got put down in the wine cellar … cherry wine, black cherry wine (when the boys reported that the wild cherries were going just as crazy as the tame cherries were), nectarine wine, peach and raisin wine, strawberry wine and then they got just plain silly in my opinion. They made up small batches of things I’ve never even heard of and can’t imagine too many people wanting to drink but Alec told me not to be fooled, certain people will still pay good money for items they don’t think anyone else has. Get this, they set up batches of wine out of flower petals – like honeysuckle, clover, and sunflower wines. They got into the herb patch and got silly there too – mint, wintergreen, and ginger wines. They got into the pantry where all the spices are kept – cinnamon, ginger, and all spice wines. I mean to tell you those men told me that come next month as more of the garden comes in they’ll even be making wine out of the vegetables. If that don’t beat all I don’t know what does.
I also finished up the last of the strawberries. I was a little upset to see how many had been missed or were gotten by the birds before I came along but sometimes you’ve gotta live with missed timing. I still managed to make some things … and happy I got any at all since quite a few of the berries went into Dino and Alec’s wine making business. There are bottles and jars of strawberry syrup, strawberry jam, strawberry-grape jam, and strawberry jelly on the shelves in the basement. Next year – and I guess I am thinking about next year sure enough – I want to do more with the strawberries but I think we did enough this one to at least have a taste in the middle of winter if that is what we want. I do hope the wild strawberries make because I didn’t get to have many fresh tame ones and wouldn’t you know it, the one thing I can’t have is the one thing I’m craving all of a sudden. Might wind up having to make a strawberry jam cake just to shut the craving off so I can think about something else.
It went on like that for about a week – working from before sunrise and then until after nightfall – but a day finally came that I knew would have to whether I wanted it to or not. The night after the last field hand had left until the grape harvest we were sitting down to a late supper of leftovers when Harry said, “I gotta go Riss.”
I was wondering why he was telling me he had to go when one look at his face told me that he wasn’t talking about the outhouse. “I’ve already put it off and I’m cutting it pretty close. I’ll be eighteen in less than a week and I gotta get or get in trouble.”
I sighed. “I know. I guess …” I stopped cause my eyes were watering up and none of us needed that.
“Don’t worry Miss Riss,” he teased. “Dino has given me lots of pointers about how to not make enemies or make a fool of myself in basic.”
I shook my head. “I’m not worried about either one of those things Harry Bly. You always show your Daddy proud when you put your mind to it. I’m just gonna miss you.”
And I was. By turn Harry has acted as both a younger and older brother and a best friend. It felt there for a time that he was my only friend in this life and he certainly was the only one that tried to see to my future when his own brother all but tossed me and my baby out into the cruel world. I, better than many, know just how uncertain life can be and the idea of fun loving care free Harry facing the ravages of war on some foreign soil dried all the spit in my mouth every time I thought of it. But if he was a man then he had the right to make a man’s decision and the military was what he picked for his future. It is hard for me to bear but I don’t have any choice but to support him.