Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day!
Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the autumn tree…
With five days left in Autumn, and bare branches and Christmas carols evoking winter, life has settled into a slowed pace here at Good Gifts Farm. The vegetable garden is completely finished and cleaned up. Apples and pears are all harvested or fallen. The chickens put themselves to bed at 4:30, as daylight wanes. In the past month I have read a thick book and knitted a hat, two of my favorite activities that I had not done in months. Before I settle in for my long winter’s nap (I have four kids, so you know I am speaking metaphorically), I wanted to reflect on some of the Autumn happenings around here that bridged the gap between Summer Harvest and Winter Rest.
Goodbye Doctor-Scrubs-Green, Forever!
The previous owner had an affinity for green. The house shutters and front door were sea-foam green, and all outbuildings (two barns, 2 animal shelters, a shed, and the enormous shop) were a green my mom aptly dubbed “doctor-scrubs-green”. It was a “not-found-in-nature” green and competed with the lovely God-ordained greens of grass and tree. We quickly painted the front door and shutters black. Next, the shop was painted the same color as our house: Benjamin Moore’s “Straw”. But the outbuildings remained. I bought several samples of red in the hopes of finding just the right, rusty, old-fashioned barn red. I agonized but finally selected what I thought was the best option. When I went to purchase it at Home Depot, I mentioned to the paint clerk that it was for a barn. He said, “Oh, I know just what you want.” He led me over to Behr 5 gallon buckets called “Barn Red”. They are the classic, rusty barn red, mixed just for outbuildings, and are half the price of their other paints. I am SO pleased with how it turned out, and I can now check “Have a red barn” off my Dream List.
|My Red Barn
|This early riser likes to help feed the cows.
|We had a family picture shoot on our property and the new barn made a splendid backdrop.
The lower barn received a red face-lift as well, and the two animal shelters were painted a pleasant, unobtrusive chocolate brown. The last remaining vestige of green was the chicken coop. While we hired a (terrific, hard-working, reasonably priced – let me know if you want his number) man to paint everything else, Caleb and I thought it would be fun to let the kids help us paint the chicken coop. (And by “fun”, I mean “extremely stressful”. With four kids wielding paint brushes, there were many drips and messes and spills, but I kept reminding myself that it is only a chicken coop. And I also mandated that only adults could paint the white trim.)
|I love how cheerful and bright our yellow chicken coop is.
|It just seems to be smiling at me through the apple trees.
|My favorite canning recipe books
We have six apple trees but only four have fruited the past two years: two Red Delicious and two Golden Delicious. We have managed to use nearly all of the fruit they have offered, with the exception of giving some away, and letting some hit the ground at the end of the season when I was just DONE with apples. The ways we used them:
* apple butter
* apple leather
* dehydrated apples
I ended up with 75 quarts of applesauce and 40 pints of apple butter. I know that sounds like a lot, but considering there are 52 weeks in a year and my family uses a quart of applesauce in one sitting, it really only works out to about a jar and a half every week. My favorite tried and true method for making applesauce and apple butter was shared with me by my friend Kristina, and it is brilliant. (I know good bloggers would have step-by-step pictures at this point, but honestly, the last thing that crosses my mind when I am elbow-deep in sticky sweetness is getting the camera out.)
For applesauce: Fill a huge stockpot (I usually have at least two going at once) with quartered apples. Do not core. Do not peel. Cover apples with water and boil about 20 minutes or until they begin to be very soft. Run apples through a food mill. I have this one for my Kitchenaid mixer and it amazes me every time I use it. It spits out all the peels and cores and produces the most perfectly textured applesauce I’ve ever tasted. I usually add a cup of sugar to the huge pot of applesauce but it is not necessary. I repeat this process a few time throughout the day until I have tons of applesauce that I can at once.
For apple butter: Fill a crockpot (or two) with peeled, sliced apples and add two cups sugar and 1 Tbs cinnamon. Let simmer on low all day, stirring occasionally. Sometimes I turn it up to high for a couple hours to speed it up, and sometimes I will let it simmer with the lid off to thicken it up. I puree the apple butter in a blender before canning it because that is the texture I prefer, but you can leave it chunky too. I always have apple butter going at the same time I am making applesauce because I throw all the cores and peels into the pot I’m boiling apples in. There is a lot of flesh on the cores and peels that the food mill will pull off. I don’t want to waste any of that apple goodness. We use apple butter in apple butter pancakes, apple butter muffins, and by heaping scoops into our oatmeal.
At the end of this process I have two huge bowls of compressed stems, seeds, cores and peels. We feed them to the cows who go crazy for them. So truly, NOTHING is wasted.
For apple leather: I make applesauce and then Caleb, who is in charge of all dehydrating procedures, spreads it on trays and pops it in the dehydrator for 8 hours. He wraps it in saran wrap and cuts it into strips and rolls them up. They keep for a couple of months.
Dried apples: Caleb cores and thinly slices apples and dehydrates them for 8 hours. We ended up with two huge glass jars full of apple slices that the kids delight to dip into for snacks. I’d estimate we dried around 50-60 apples.
A note about dehydrators: We own this 5 tray Excalibur dehydrator and it’s fantastic. But we have a lot of fruit and vegetables to process, so a friend mentioned that her Grandma was moving into a retirement home and was ready to part with the dehydrator that her son (my friend’s dad) had made her 30+ years ago. She said, “It’s pretty big, definitely not a countertop operation, but it works great.” We jumped at the chance to own something so functional and so completely awesome. It looks exactly like something Mother Earth News would give instructions on how to make. We love the history, the fact that it’s homemade, and that it does work great. (It definitely is NOT a counter-top operation. We keep this beast in the garage.) Between the two of them, we accomplish some serious dehydrating.
We have two pear trees that, though small, produce quite well. Call me greedy, but I also approached my neighbor about getting some of her unused pears. I wanted to make sure I had enough. They were very glad to give us some, so the kids and I walked down to pick. These neighbors are so kind to us. You may remember they called to tell us our cows were too skinny last winter, which we were very thankful to know. They helped us castrate our bulls. They have given countless recommendations and pieces of advice from their decades of experience with animals. They never make us feel stupid or laugh at us. (At least not to our faces and I would certainly not fault them for chuckling at us in private. I would chuckle at us in private.) And they let us pick their pears and then gave us a ride home in their Ranger.
The ways we used pears:
* pear sauce – ended up with 15 quarts. It is SO good.
* pear butter – 15 pints. This is my favorite thing I can. I’m not sure I can describe how good it is, but here goes… It is velvety, rich, and tastes more like a pear than a pear, if that makes sense. Pear skins are soft enough that they need not be peeled, making it easier to make and more nutritious. I use the recipe from Food in Jars.
* pear leather – same process as apple
* dried pears – Rosie calls these candy. They are so incredibly sweet and I eat a couple of handfuls everyday from our huge glass jar. Sadly, the jar is depleting rather fast.
* pear vanilla bean jam – recipe from the Food in Jars blog. This is the most amazing jam I’ve ever tasted
Cows and Calves
Our pasture stopped growing, turned brown, and died in July. Rather than us buying hay, those kind neighbors I mentioned earlier offered to have our two mamas, Stripe and Splotch, and their two babies, Mask and Goggles, come graze (and live) on their 30 acres. They did not have any cows and their pasture needed to be mowed. It totally made sense for us to do this, but we missed watching the calves grow. The way our properties are situated, we could not see them at all. Our pastures seemed so empty and it depressed me a little. Everything began to green up in September after some Autumn rains and then we purchased our supply of winter hay, so we were able to get them back. We were all happy to see their simple little faces back on this side of the fence. My neighbor blames us, saying that she had to go and purchase two calves of her own because she missed ours so much. They are beautiful boys – the mahogany of their hides is stunning.
We are ready. Our barns are full of hay. My pantry is full of canned and dry goods (after my first trip to Bob’s Redmill Store in Oregon City – I was in heaven). My cellar is full of butternut squash. My freezer is full of marionberries, raspberries, peaches, blueberries, beef, and many other provisions. We are thankful to God for all of it, for we do not forget the Hand that feeds us. All of these are His good gifts to us.
Merry Christmas, Friends.
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