Battening Down the Hatches

Battening Down the Hatches

A bushel of black kale, ready for the freezer

My first post-deadline, post-travel weekend and although I was woefully short on new fiction pages produced, I did get some long-neglected house-and-garden tasks done.

First of all, I’m feeling sanguine about winter because, at long last, we got our whole pig! It took a long time this ¬†year because, well, the small packer/butcher operation we buy from sold more post-fair pig specials than they had pigs. So we had to wait for them to get more local pigs (they promised me it wasn’t a CAFO pig), and then for them to make the delicious hams and bacon. There’s nothing like going into a winter with a freezer full of pork. Also, if you get used to buying meat by the share (or if you have nice friends who give you hunks of elk, or venison, or antelope, or their own homegrown beef), and you are a person who works at home, you get really really used to not having to go to the store. It was just weird not having enough in the freezer that dinner is a choice of what to thaw. I found it unsettling. Now we’re fat on pig, the new chickens are laying, I’ve got a pantry full of pickles and fruit, there’s homemade sauerkraut in the fridge, and as you can see above, kale for the freezer.

Putting up greens is a tiny bit time consuming, but worth it. Again — there’s nothing like being able to “shop the freezer” and I like knowing that I’m really the only one who has been handling my veggies. This is black kale, also known as Dino Kale and Laccinato Kale. It’s the long skinny-leafed kale, and I love it for soups, and in the morning sauteed with onion, garlic and hot pepper with a fried egg on top (a little bacon is also welcome in the mix). This was a bushel of kale. I filled the sink with cool water while my biggest pot was coming to a boil, then used garden scissors to clip the leaves into semi-bite-sized pieces. I swished them around, then put them in the boiling water to blanch. The cookbooks say to boil them for 3 minutes, but I just leave them in the hot water, even if it hasn’t come all the way back to a boil, until they turn a deep, electric green. In the meantime, drain the rinse water and re-fill the sink with cold water and ice. The blanched greens go in the ice water to cool off. A bushel was two sinks and two batches in my biggest stockpot. I drained them in collanders, then used the salad spinner to prep them for the vaccuum sealer. Two serious spins in the salad spinner I found, got enough water out that I didn’t overwhelm the vaccuum sealer. I wound up with nine fairly solid bags of kale. There’s probably just as much curly kale out there, which I’m nursing along as fresh playing chicken with the weather. I’ve found I can keep eating kale out of the garden until we get a multi-day spate of below-zero weather — with any luck, I can get through most of December, but really, one never knows.

I also put up some pears this morning — I stole some pears out of a neighbor’s yard. A neglected tree in a rental house. They were small and hard, but after a couple of weeks in a bowl on the kitchen counter they took on a beautiful rosy hue, and smelled divine. I did them before the kale, using the stockpot of water I was bringing to a boil to sterilize a few jars and lids, and then to process them. I made a simple syrup from equal parts red wine (Bota Box malbec) and sugar. Half a vanilla bean, the zest and juice of a lemon, a piece of cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves also went in. I peeled, cored and sliced the little pears, then poached them and packed them in the simple syrup. Twenty minutes in a hot water bath and either I have an instant-dessert (over ice cream?) or a present for someone’s Christmas box.

My last chore was modifying the chicken house door. The chicken house has a much more beautiful door than a chicken house really deserves — but it came out of the Sweetheart’s immense store of salvaged, recycled, bought on sale contractor supplies, and it was just the right size to lean in, collect eggs, and clean out the bedding. The problem is, that in the winter, it was too big to keep much heat inside, even with a light bulb. So today, I took it off and cut a chicken-sized hole in the door, and put it back on it’s hinges. Now they’ll stay warm, and I can still get in when I need to (knock wood, because I’m in the middle of town, so far I haven’t had varmint problems, but it is a risk. I kept the piece of wood figuring I can put it on a hinge if need be).

I also lucked out and the Sweetheart fixed the broken dog door while I type up a bid for him, so the wind is no longer blowing directly into the kitchen. All in all, a very satisfying weekend of house and backyard farming tasks. Winter is upon us, and I do have to admit, I’m looking forward to holing up and carrying the deadline energy back over into my own work, but there’s also something so pleasant about an afternoon in the kitchen, listening to back podcasts of Fresh Air, and putting up food for the winter.

4 thoughts on “Battening Down the Hatches

  1. I’ve missed your posts very much! Thank you for such a lovely (educational, evocative) post today, a wonderful early-morning treat. Thanks!


  2. I have missed your writing!! I always check everyday and was happy you had a new post up. You are an excellent writer and almost always have something to say I can relate to. I live in Colorado, garden, stock a full pantry (the more messed up the world gets the fuller it gets), have two big freezers full of pork and beef, love my animals and my husband and I also try to live small. We understand the terrible price we are all going to pay eventually with the onset of big business governing every part of our lives (for our own good of course!!). Please keep up the writing – I for one would miss you.

  3. I third that! It warms the cockles just to hear about your preparations for winter. I’m so glad you had the chance to connect with your home again. I am still under multiple deadlines, but love your updates – they’re always homey, intelligent, and restore my faith in the world just a smidge. Thank you for putting a little of your writing energy into this blog (and your others) to share with us!

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