Friday, October 10, 2014


The symbol of our separation.
Yesterday turned out to be a heck of a day for a post on black rage:
In the racially mixed Shaw neighborhood Thursday, the differences about what happened were as sharp as day and night. A day earlier, an off-duty white police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old African American, and whether the dead man had a gun was a hotly disputed question.
Of course, it would seem like that's the only question that matters.  If Vonderrit Myers, under house arrest for a felony weapons charge, really shot at a cop, then it's hard to make the case that his death is unjustified.  If he did not shoot at the cop, then no matter his record it is hard to make the case that this was anything short of murder and conspiracy on the part of police. Whether a person believes one or the other tells little about the facts - which we don't know yet - and a lot about the believer.

However, the reaction of people, and not just the protestors, tells a lot about where I think we are going as a nation. And it's not good. But it's double-plus-ungood for the protestors. So let me back up a bit, because we need a big picture to give context to the little picture on the top right.

There are, in general, two kinds of sovereign political entities in the world: nations and empires.  Nations are generally homogenous racially, geographically, and culturally, while empires tend to be a hodgepodge of peoples and cultures spread over non-contiguous areas.  Obviously, any country need not be all 'nation' or all 'empire' - most are on a sliding scale somewhere between them and may even be perceived differently depending upon where one lives in it.  Obviously an 18th century Englishman and Irishman would perceive the British Empire differently.

America began its life pretty close to the nation side of the scale but has been sliding to the empire side, faster or slower, since its inception.  Obviously, we are no longer contiguous, but just as obviously, we are no longer culturally one people.*

Now, that becomes a problem, because while nations may be democratic,** empires cannot be. And the reason they cannot be is that once you have multiple competing cultures within a political entity, you have groups of voters who have no common ground upon which to vote. They do not agree on what government should do, nor how it should do it, and especially who it should do it to the most. What happens is that one group does it to another, and eventually the other gets sick of it and rebels. The groups have no reason to remain within a single political entity, except that it's to the advantage of the stronger party that they do so.

Disparate peoples are kept in a multicultural empire by political force. But as soon as that force is released, peoples go their separate ways, like Czechs and Slovaks, or Russians and Lithuanians, or Irish and Brits.  As America becomes more empire, it will apply more and more political force to its subject peoples in order to remain one country. Even so, if the pressure from below is too much, there's nothing magical about America that makes us immune to the forces that broke up Bosnia and will break up Spain, Italy, and Canada next.

So what are the forces driving America towards empire? Strangely, they are different than for the Brits or the Soviets or the Mongols or the Assyrians. For the past half century or more America hasn't conquered peoples all over the world and subjected them to American government.*** We have actually done something far more dangerous. We have imported people from all over the world and not made them part of the common culture, but allowed them to establish little cultures, little nations, within the larger nation but owing it no allegiance. This is where the flag-burning symbolism is important.  We are making ourselves into a multicultural empire, a geographical space within which several distinct peoples must vie for superiority.  Because there is only one political entity - one flag - only one culture can win.

One of those cultures**** is made up of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico south to Argentina. We have so many and are adding so many more that there is no need for them to acculturate. As they become a majority in any area you can expect that they will make it their own. After NWA came straight outta Compton, the Mexicans drove out many others who looked like them.  That erstwhile black enclave is now 65% Hispanic and is growing more homogenous, not more diverse, every year.

If Hispanics were the only other significant culture in America we would still be doomed to eventual Czechoslovakian separation. But adding large groups of Somalis, Syrians, Bosnians, Ghanans, and Chinese makes the separation more faceted, more complicated.

But there is another culture, big but not as big as the Hispanics: the oppositional culture of the #ShawShooting protestors.  Call them the Royal Crown Cola of American culture. This culture is not only hostile to the majority culture in America (and treated hostilely by the Hispanics) it is also a culture of dependence.  That is important, because we are entering a period where dependence will become much more of a liability, both for the minority culture and the majority. America is entering an era where there will be less to share and less desire to share it.  If you can't feed yourself, then you will have two choices: take food or starve. And no one wants to starve.

So given that we can expect in America's future
  1. More multiculturalism, leading to
  2. More political pressure intended to hold America together politically, leading to 
  3. More violence used by the state against protest and disorder 
And that we can expect
  1. Less material abundance as the bills for our prior spending come due, leading to 
  2. Less to share with the dependent and less desire to share, leading to 
  3. More frustration and desperation from those who do not produce enough to meet their own needs
The number threes are going to clash. And it will not be tear gas and rubber bullets forever.

The Hispanics, being numerous and contiguous, will probably survive from west Texas to Sacramento. But Royal Crown culture, though numerous, is geographically separated into enclaves. Though frustrated and hostile - burning the majority culture's flag over a death that may or may not have been justified - it is also a culture that cannot support itself without those who hold that flag dear. It is this culture that will suffer most when things get nasty.

This is a reason that I believe, and have long believed, that the only way to thrive as a black person in America is to embrace the majority culture with everything you have. America can no more survive as a multicultural empire than did the Romans or the Huns or the Brits. We can no more stay rich by spending more than we earn than did the Spanish of the 17th century or the French of the 20th.  We cannot do the damnfool things we are doing with our currency and budget and not end up in the poor house. We are on our way to becoming a poor nation.  Check that: an impoverished, bitter, confused, cold, angry, hungry empire.

Tolerance, both of differences and of anti-social actions, is a virtue that only a rich nation can afford. Once we are no longer a rich nation, you do not want to be a member of a hostile, anti-social, and helpless minority culture, no matter the color of your skin.

* we have never been actually one culture - depending upon how tightly you want to draw the definition - but we were functionally one because most people subscribed to it and they had all the political power.
** But need not be. A nation can be a monarchy, republic, democracy, or one-party communist dictatorship.
*** influenced them, yes, warred on them, yes, but we have not made them a part of the United States.
**** or more accurately, groups of allied cultures.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What whites don't understand about black rage

See how these guys are dressed? That's known as win
Pretty much everything:
Alice Singen had always seen her home town as an integrated, harmonious place...But since the death of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a white police officer, some African Americans are calling it segregated and racist. 

“I didn’t have any problems with anybody or any color, and all of a sudden it feels like we are being held responsible for something that’s not our fault,” Singen, 70, said as she left Faraci Pizza, a 46-year-old Ferguson business that has become a focal point of racial tension. “I don’t get it.” 
Neither does  Jim Marshall:
Protestors chanted they were going to shut down Faraci’s [Pizza] because the owner was “racist,” but Marshall said if that was true, he wouldn’t have opened in North St. Louis County in the first place.

Marshall said he’s getting death threats in addition for calls to move his business out of town, but he plans to stay put at the location he’s been for the past 17 years...
Now admittedly, when you see a piece thus provocatively titled, you can usually expect to be dressed down by some white suburbanite in a rant that comes down to two points:
  1. Black rage, whatever form(s) it takes, is justified, because
  2. You're racist
Off to Tumblr with you
Such articles are moral masturbation for Social Justice Warriors, wherein they seek to prove to blacks that they (the white-skinned, white-hatted heroes) are indispensable to the fulfillment of black hopes and dreams, and seek to prove to themselves that they are morally superior to their fellow whites.

This is going to be a rant of a wholly different nature. So if you are expecting the other kind, here is your last chance to go somewhere that provides appropriate trigger warnings for that brand of politically-incorrect thought known as hard truths.

So now that everyone has ever used CISHet* non-ironically has left the building, we can approach the actual question, which is to detail exactly what whites don't understand about black rage. It really comes down to 4 issues:

1. Why Black Rage ignores the reality of significant black responsibility for their own station.  It ought to go without saying that many blacks have fully integrated into American Society, while others have not.  Those who have get along generally well, just about as well as the average white guy. They are bankers and bakers and mechanics and the guys that trim trees on the side of the road. And we all get along pretty well, so long as everyone pulls his weight.

Sorry, we're not hiring
That said, if some poor white trash high school dropout with his hat on backwards, his pants hanging below his ass, and tattoos all over his neck, asks us for a job, white people will generally tell him to get lost. That black guys who dress that way can't find jobs isn't racism: it's that nobody with half a brain expects someone who presents himself in such in infantile manner is likely to be worth anything as an employee.  Whites don't understand why blacks who present in a hostile and anti-social manner act so surprised when they are hostilely and socially rejected.

2. Why blacks pretend that modern racism is equivalent to historical racism.  Look, everyone knows that there are some white people who don't like blacks. The lovely and gracious Rogue gets the Mudshark Glare** all the time. But people not liking you because you are black is so different from the kind of racism that your grandparents and their grandparents faced that it's an affront to language to refer to them with the same word. It is difficult to find a single person in American public life who seriously argues in favor of racism, slavery, involuntary segregation, miscegenation laws, Jim Crow, or forcible expatriation of blacks to Liberia, all of which were mainstream political positions over the past century or two. Voter ID laws are not Southern Literacy tests and it's blatantly dishonest to pretend they are.

Racism is the quintessential and cardinal modern American sin, and being against racism is the default position in this culture.*** The most rich and powerful of whites lie at the mercy of a single accusation, much less a demonstration, of racism. The discrimination that blacks face today, when offset by our culture of rabid equalitarianism and the legalities done in minorities' favor, is in no sense comparable to that faced by Frederick Douglass or even Dr. King. For 50 years blacks have had equivalent civil rights to whites and it has been  a century and a half since slavery. It's long past time to quit pretending otherwise.

I ran across a piece the other day about microaggressions that well illustrated the point. The writer noted that if a person said, my boss forced us to work overtime off the clock and threatened to have us deported if we complained but what really gets me is that some dude told me to smile the other day on the bus, you would automatically assume the first part never happened. No person who was actually oppressed would ever complain about something so trivial.

When blacks, and especially black academics, seriously argue that "Some racism is so subtle that neither victim nor perpetrator may entirely understand what is going on—which may be especially toxic for people of color," that tells us that the author is
  1. looking to be offended, and 
  2. can't find anything real to be offended by. 
When someone who's looking to be offended gets offended, when they elevate some trivial faux pas to justify their rage, normal people are justified in pointing and laughing at that person.

3. Why blacks leaders purposely exacerbate racial tensions.  Blacks constantly complain that whites are targeting them, waging war on them, that it's open season on black men. Here's an unpleasant reality, Mac: if whites as a whole really wanted you dead, you'd already be dead. There are more of us, we are in positions of power, and we have more and better weapons than you. The fact that you are alive is proof that whites don't want you dead and there is no war upon you.  What exists is a class of politicos who gain and hold political power by using your fear to organize you. Fear that instead, for at least it's real.

Open season on black men
The fact is that a black man is 10x more likely to be killed by another black man than a white one.  Most inter-racial crime is black-on-white, not the other way around. There are twice as many black-on-white murders every year as white-on-black. Every day, more than 100 white women are raped or sexually assaulted by black men, while statistically zero black women are raped by white men.**** If you read a story about a random person assaulted in the streets, it's generally a white person being attacked by blacks, and that's not because the press suppresses news of packs of feral whites flash-mobbing convenience stores. Interracial home invasions are nearly always black on white. So if there is a war, it's going the opposite direction than black leaders and their white SJW fellow travelers claim. Whites are currently tolerant of that fact. It will be a very unpleasant day for everyone involved when they at last grow weary of it.

White people do not understand why there is no black rage about 20 dead black kids in Chi-town every week, but there is so much about 1 in Ferguson. We suspect it's manufactured.

4. Why angry blacks give America no credit for past progress.  There has never been, in the history of all people anywhere, a majority culture that has said, You know what? We really have screwed these people over, really bad, for a really long time. So let's make an effort to see if we can rectify that, like American whites have.  Whites in the 50s and 60s didn't have to grant civil rights to blacks, they chose to. Chalk it up to euphoria from winning the war, horror at Hitler's atrocities, whatever: never before has such a majority made such a U-turn in minorities' favor in such a short period.

When it comes down to brass tacks, blacks earned full legal civil rights by demonstrating that they were worthy of them. The Civil Rights Movement was a moral display, and those marchers convinced whites that whites were in the wrong in a very real moral sense.  But there have been lots of such demands in the cold history of the world. Most of them, I would argue, have ended in mass graves. This one was different, not only because of blacks, but because of whites.

The opportunity that blacks both earned and have been granted is pretty unprecedented.  Blacks might take the opportunity to join the majority culture, a right for which prior generations of blacks bled and died at the hands of whites whom we all hold morally culpable. But it seems that the closer blacks get to actual equality, the angrier they grow, because like every other human endeavor, America is not perfect and whites are not perfect.

There is no other place in the world, nor has there ever been, where a man - white or black - could make so much of himself with talent and dedication and hard work. Who knows, he might even become President. That was the dream that still brings millions of immigrants, and it has been experienced by millions of whites, and truth told, millions of blacks as well.

And that's what whites don't understand the most about black rage: in the land of opportunity that America is, is there anything more you could realistically have - legal, material, or otherwise - that would make you happy?

* For those who don't know, a CIS-Heterosexual is a sexually normal person who does not pretend to be abnormal, not even on Tumblr or to get on TV.
** a white woman shopping with up to seven kids of various hues is looked down upon. A white couple with the same does not receive those stares. 
*** which is why I'm always amused that so many whites want moral credit for holding it.
**** One can argue (and should) that the FBI should not conflate rape with "sexual assault," a wholly useless category. And one can also argue that as many as half of all rape allegations are false. One could even argue that blacks are more likely to be falsely accused of rape/sexual assault (as was actually the case in the afore-pictured lynching). But it's very difficult to argue that blacks are under assault when there are not even any accusations of white on black sexual assault.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

If it were that easy

"Dark Apple" just doesn't have the same ring...
everyone would be doing it:
Terrorist groups could get the capability [to launch an EMP] from any one of these countries or from a few other countries either directly or by theft. The weapon could be delivered by a Scud missile hidden under a tarp from a medium sized ship in the shipping lanes off the coast of the United States. Scud missiles are available in the weapons market for about $100,000. If the United States were attacked with this weapon the country may find it very difficult if not impossible to retaliate...
Part of the downside of DoomPr0n is explaining exactly how, if it's so easy to destroy the US, leaving us unable to retaliate, for less than the annual salary of a Midwestern state college CIO, why someone hasn't done exactly that. Seriously, whether we deserve them or not, we have lots and lots and lots of enemies, and surely most of them can scrape together $100k.  If the Russians could have Ukraine as far as Paris for the cost of a single nuclear missile, why are our lights still on? Maybe because it's a fake threat.

This is not, of course, to minimize the potential damage an EMP could do: I'm actually of the opinion that a Carrington-type EMP event is not a possibility or threat so much as an eventuality.*  But I do suspect that building a working EMP bomb that would fry electronics over 4 million or so square miles takes a little more engineering and testing than does cutting off the heads of reporters.

"Terrorist groups,"** whether they have cool acronyms or not, ought to rank very low on the average American's threat scale.  You are far more likely to be destroyed by Janet Yellen than by Akhbar Akmed al-EMPbomb.  Just sayin'.

* that burning orb in the sky really doesn't care if you live or die, so much. And he can turn your lights off forever with no more than a well-aimed root beer belch.
** by which we usually mean "garlic-smelling men more interested in killing other garlic-smelling men than us"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Potatoes in a barrel - the disappointing finale

Our work here is done.
The year began with high hopes that growing a potato garden in a 55-gallon barrel would result in many more pounds of potatoes per square foot of ground space than planting traditionally.  I am sorry to report that this did not happen.

As you recall, the plants themselves took to the concept like ugly to a feminist.  A full three months ago they had already reached the top of the barrel and by my count had 97 days to do nothing but make tubers for us.

Where have all the taters gone?
It wasn't like there was anything wrong with the plants themselves.  I harvested my control group,* made up of a pair of plants in a raised bed, a few weeks ago. The result, while not impressive by Irish standards, was at least respectable.  I probably got a 10-1 return in that group.

And it wasn't like there was any lack (or surfeit) of water.  When I dumped the barrel I noted that the soil was moist all the way through yet none of the potatoes showed evidence of rot.  The healthy growth and color of the plants themselves is sufficient evidence that they were not lacking sunlight, either. And the plants seemed to suffer little or no bug damage.

That leaves the soil or the barrel itself as the main problem.  As it was nearly the same dirt as the control group, I am tempted to eliminate that as well. And the barrel itself should not have made any difference - we're left to blame the depth of the dirt or perhaps the temperature.

Spud, I am disappoint
So what the real problem is, I'm not sure. But the top foot of dirt contained almost no potatoes whatsoever. The middle third gave up but a half-dozen small ones.  In the whole bottom third waited only the tiniest of spuds.  In all, the 2 pounds of seed potatoes we started with resulted in maybe 4 pounds, not even enough return to cover their cost. Or even hash browns at Thanksgiving.

I'm still sold on the concept,** but next year I'm going to make a couple adjustments.

1.  I'm probably not going to use this barrel again. A couple of people I talked to use wire fencing or even old tires to the same effect, so I may try one of those or perhaps a shorter barrel. More gardens, but none will be as tall - or as heavy.

2.  I'm surely going to change up the soil.  While I was always careful to add it dry, it was still horribly packed by harvest time.  So a bunch more mulch and maybe even some chopped straw may help to lighten it up a bit.

If I were Irish, we'd be facing a long, hungry winter.  This is why I like to make mistakes while they still don't count.

* Because, science
** Like a government climate scientist, I'm not going to let facts get in the way of a good theory.

Monday, August 25, 2014

And I thought jelly season was over

Not blueberries
So anyway, I'm walking thru the back yard on Sunday when I smelled something.  Not in a 'check your shoe' way, but in the way that makes you stop and inhale to make sure it really smells as good as you thought the first time.

It did. 

The 100 degree week* has done amazing things to my Concord grapes. The whole freaking yard smelled like a jelly sandwich.  So I grabbed the scissors and fought the spiders** and a few wasps and managed to get, after sorting, about 8# of almost quarter-sized grapes, while leaving plenty for the birds.  So it looks like a big, fat batch of jelly tomorrow.  Maybe the last of the year for sure this time.

Except that the lovely and gracious Rogue, who has put away 5 cases of applesauce in the past week, just brought in another 10 gallons of fat, juicy apples that are dying to become jelly as well.

* About the only one we've had here this year, I'm happy to report.
** Spiders last about 5 minutes in the deep freeze.  I gave them 24 hours just so they knew I'd won.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Apples and peaches and pears, oh my!

So anyway, by the time I got home from work today, the lovely and gracious Rogue had knocked out about a case of applesauce. Still about three buckets of apples left to go. Maybe by the time we finish those the pears will have ripened up enough to start them as well...

I would say I'm gonna need more jars, but it's absolutely amazing how much fruit a half dozen or more kids can eat.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Making Wild Plum Jelly

Wild things
I made plum honey jam a few years ago after hitting a decent fruit clearance sale.  It wasn't great. In fact, it took a few years to burn thru the case or so that I made.  In all probability, I'll never make it again.

However, with this year's bumper crop of wild/American plums, I figured I would try something different.  Never made jelly with them before, so what the heck?  Let's do this.

For those fuzzy on the difference between jelly and jam, here it is in nutshell: jam uses all the parts of the fruit* whereas jelly is made from just the juice. With jam you just mash everything into a medium like sugar or honey. To make jelly, we need juice and lots of it, which sometimes proves a problem when dealing with wild fruit.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, so let's start with the first things.

The first thing we need is a simple jelly recipe. This one from Taste of Home Magazine demands some 5 pounds of wild plums, 7 1/2 cups of sugar, and a package of powdered pectin.

The recipe in a nutshell:
  1. Simmer 5 lbs of halved and pitted plums for about 30 minutes.  Strain 5 1/2 cups of juice.
  2. Boil the juice and the pectin. Add 7 1/2 cups of sugar. Full boil that for another minute.
  3. Scoop the resulting jelly into half-pint jars and boiling-water process those for 5 minutes.
Pretty easy, but...

To make jelly we need juice.  So the first thing we have to do with our plums is cook them down.  The recipe says to halve and pit them in preparation for cooking.  Given the miniscule size of our prunus americanas, that would take on the order of a month and a half to make 5 pounds. Using the cherry pitter didn't work, either. So to make the job easier, I froze them.  Once they thawed they got kind of mushy, so I could simply squeeze most of them to get the pit out.

One side note, with wild plums you want to use red plums, not purple.  The yellow/orange ones have no juice, the deep purple ones have very dark, soft meat that seems almost rotten. But the reds are firm and juicy with meaty, yellow innards.  Good thing we have lots of those.

The chickens will feast tomorrow.
But perhaps not enough.  I cooked down just over 5# of plums and got a very consistent mush.  The recipe calls for straining that mush thru 4 pieces of cheesecloth.  Instead, I put the mush thru a big sieve, then the strainings thru a finer one.  I put those strainings thru a jelly bag and got some beautiful, clear purple juice.  Unfortunately, I got only about 4 cups of that. What I had mostly was a dry, sloppy mush that resembled stroganoff vomit. It brought back some very bad memories.

So we'll put our juice back in the pan and fire it up, but we'll have to adjust our recipe just a bit.  I actually added all the pectin - liquid instead of powder - because there are few things less useful than 1/2 ounce of leftover liquid pectin.  Once it got to a good boil, I added 5 cups of sugar. That's a little less than the ~80% target based on our juice, but since we're over on the pectin it ought to be alright.  I gave it an extra minute of hard boil just to be sure.

Jelly season is complete.
Now comes the moment of truth, or actually, 5 minutes of truth in the open boiler.  The recipe should have produced 8 half-pints.  Being short juice, I'm not surprised that I ended up with ~7.

What I am surprised about is how good it tastes.  The chicken slop is dry and sour, but adding lots of sugar to this juice** balanced it out quite nicely.  It jelled easily but not into a little half-pint brick like my jalapeno jelly did.  As of 10:00, one of the jars hasn't sealed, so one might end up in the fridge tomorrow.

Which is awesome, because the jelly is much, much better than the plum honey jam ever was. I'm pretty sure I'll have no problem making enough bread to get rid of all of it this winter.

* Excluding pits generally, but including small seeds like those in strawberries.
** Usually with jelly one runs about 50/50 juice and sugar.  This one is closer to 60/40 sugar.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Earn your preps

Treasures from my home town
It's difficult to stay motivated when it comes to prepping.  I've noticed this tendency most frequently among those who buy their preparations in one big shot - they spend a bunch of money "getting ready" and once they are done, they either forget about the whole thing,* or worse, interpret every headline as The Big One to try to stay focused. Not only is the boy-who-cried-wolf approach tiresome, it can actually distract you from deepening your preparations.

So how does one remain motivated to keep preparing other than watching disaster pr0n and living off fear's adrenaline?  One way that I have found is to deny yourself the satisfaction of prepping without truly earning it.  And by that I don't mean spending your hard-earned wages on preps. I mean earning that prep by doing something prep-related to get it.

Let me give you an example.  The adjustable wrenches pictured above were made by the Diamond Calk Horseshoe Company (later Diamond Tools) of Duluth, Minnesota.  That happens to be my home town.  Having grown up around Diamond Tools** my whole life, I can testify that tools like these would likely be inherited by my children.  I am not going to wear out a Diamond adjustable wrench, much less 4 of them.  And the price on Ebay, including shipping, was a mere $30 for all of them. Wrenches for life.  How easy could this be?

Yes, I could have just put them on a plastic card.  I'd have solid wrenches to add to the workbench and I'd be that much more tooled up for whatever comes.  But a few years ago I promised myself that I would not spend just any old dollars on preps, but only dollars I earned from prep-related activities.***  So to get these masterful wrenches, I needed to restore and sell 3 reloading dies or sell 15 copies of The SHTF Stockpile, or maybe sell 5 boxes of horseradish crowns.  I was not going to use wages, but I was going to use the motivation of need - well, of desire anyway -  to advance my prepping on 2 fronts at once.

In the end I sold the dies. The money from the first went into replacement dies, while the money from the other two brought me four adjustable wrenches that are now part of my SHTF Stockpile.  I got my preps, I restored a few tools, I provided prep items to three other people. What's most valuable prep-wise is that I didn't rely on my current job to do it, I used my preps to increase my preps.

Preparation is much more than having stuff. It's having the tools and the skills to get the stuff you need.  Find a prep-related way to get that and not only will you stay motivated, you'll advance your other preps at the same time. 

* Subconsciously expecting, I guess, that those freeze-dried green beans will taste even better in 2034 than they don't today.
** as many liberated by employees as purchased on the open market. 
*** After the absolute basics, which I already had.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rogue's turn at the canner

The lovely and gracious Rogue puts Sunday's apples to good use

Anyway, posting has been a little weird because the roofers knocked the satellite dishes out of whack, so no internet at home.  I'm pretty surprised at how much I don't miss it.  Except to check the SHTF Map when I wake up. It seems to have replaced as the go to place for realtime weather...

Monday, August 4, 2014

That didn't take long

Apple Day

Plus some peaches and a cantaloupe
I feel less bad about the fledgling Granny Smith that got eaten by bunnies now that one in the orchard is really producing. So it looks like apple pies and canned apple pie filling this week. Plus, from the reds, lots and lots of applesauce, cider, and maybe some apple wine (which I have never made before) if I can round up a couple of glass gallon jugs.*

But it was quite instructive to note the difference that a few codling moth traps made. The Granny didn't have any traps in it and I would guess that about half of the apples had some damage. Minor damage to be sure, but still enough to notice.  On the other hand, the tree with those reds was right next to it and holds two quart-size traps that are literally filled to the top with dozens and maybe even hundreds of dead moths.  And I would guess that maybe one apple in five from that tree had damage.  The difference - not just between the trees but between last year and this year - is astonishing.

Next year, codling moth traps go in even before the blooms come out.  I just hope I can still get bananas for the traps.

* OTOH after looking at a couple recipes, good grief.  15 lbs of apples needs 8 lbs of sugar.  Maybe I'll just stick with cider.

Friday, August 1, 2014


It's OK to not follow the recipe
So I have to admit, I'm pretty happy with my salsa.  It's a deep red, it's thick, it's spicy.  And it's all those things because I cheated on the recipe.

I mentioned in The SHTF Stockpile that while I'm not a fan of storing freeze-dried foods generally, I'm a big fan of dried canning mixes.  This is not only because I'm lazy, but because when learning a new skill, like canning, you need to have some success.  While storing a bunch of bottles of salsa is a prep, making a bunch of them is a prep and an experience.  Using a canning mix can go a long way toward making that experience a good one.

That said, my home-grown tomatoes are not such a deep red, nor does the canning mix I used have big chunks of bell peppers, onions, and jalapenos like this salsa.

So here's how I cheated:  Yeah, I followed the instructions on the back of the package.  Except that instead of using 6 lbs of fresh tomatoes or 3 14-oz cans of canned ones, I went 2/3 fresh* and 1/3 canned - that way I got the texture of the fresh tomatoes and the color of the canned ones.  In addition to the mix, I chopped in a dozen fresh jalapenos and a couple of bell peppers from the garden and added a handful of freeze-dried onions.**

The result?  A hot(ter) salsa with deep color, fresh-tomato texture, chunks of peppers and onions, but which was still balanced and (most importantly) safe to open-boil can because it followed an established recipe. Eventually, probably, we'll have to get along without mixes and perhaps even store-bought vinegars.  But experimenting and practicing today will make that eventuality much easier, and one would hope, much safer.

* including a couple under-ripe ones. Not green, though, just sort of orange.
** See, I even cheat on the stuff I say I don't like. Actually, freeze-dried onions are one of the most useful freeze-dried foods you'll find.  Especially if you want to save your garden onions for topping burgers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You've come a long way, baby

Is there a pepper in the house?
The pic above is the raised bed I first photographed in The Lazy Man's Raised Beds.  If you look carefully, you can see evidence of that bed under the nasturtiums, mustard, dill, cilantro, garlic, chives, marigolds, basil, radishes, and, oh yeah, peppers in the pic.  The raised beds have done their jobs, as have the companion herbs - my pepper harvest is off the charts. No so much the radishes, which is fine, as I dislike them anyway. I only added them because they cover the ground quickly and I don't like to weed. Tossing them all on the mulch pile was no loss.

But the thing I'm not sure about is the flowers.  As you can see, the nasturtiums on the left and the marigolds on the right (both in front and back) look good. They seem to be thriving in this cramped and mixed environment.*  But I'm not sure I'm sold on their companion-plant, insect-repelling ability.

The last couple weeks have been pretty dry.**  And I have noted a pretty good invasion of the neighboring horseradish, both by cabbage moths and grasshoppers. The former I've taken to using for tennis practice, while my chickens are enjoying the tasty crunch of lots of the other. Still, I have both good and bad bugs in this bed and especially in my tomatoes. Bugs are not eating the fruits, but every tomato I pick is covered with black bug poop.

I don't know that I ever expected the mix of plants to keep the bugs out completely - I know enough about online 'expertise' to reduce my expectations of promised results considerably.  Nor do I know the answer to the critical question of how bad the bugs would have been without this companion planting.  And while I have been tempted a couple times this week to break out the Sevin Dust and nuke the bastards, I have not done so yet. If only because, if I don't figure out pest control now, it's not going to be any easier in future years.***

So we'll be watching carefully to see if the bugs chewing my leaves actually do any damage to the harvest. Given that I'm already harvesting apples, pumpkins, and other things I had not expected to touch until September, those bugs just might be too late to the party anyway. What a shame.

* Diversity, FTW!
** Not Huck dry, but pretty dry compared to the wonderful spring where it rained seemingly every other day.
*** Plus I have a mother lode of dragonflies out there that I don't want to kill.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Prunus Americana

This is not the hand of a giant.
I bought a bundle of American plum trees from the state extension service a decade ago or so.  While they were mostly intended to make a hedge row, I figured at the time that any fruit would be a bonus.* While not a huge fan of plums, I had hit a clearance sale on them at Wally's the prior year and had made some at best marginal jam from them. So I looked forward to redeeming myself 7-10 years hence.

As you can tell from the picture, American plums are not the same plums you'll find on your grocer's shelves.  Prunus Americanas are little bitty things, the biggest about the size of a quarter. It takes a whole bunch of them to make a batch of anything.  But the good news is that they taste even better than the fat, juicy plums you get elsewhere. You just have to pick a lot more of them. Luckily for me I have a bumper crop this year, possibly because I prunused the crap out of them this spring in an attempt to keep them from hedging in my driveway.

That they are not as juicy as other fruits might limit their utility.  It's hard to make jelly without juice, but that's what we're going to try first - once I finally manage to pick enough to cook up a batch.**  Should that fail, we'll have to go back to the old standby: plum honey jam.

Even if it turns out that jam is their only use, they are still a worthwhile tree to add. I think the price I paid when I bought a bundle was on the order of a buck a tree if I bought 25.  They grow like crazy, though not always where you'd like.  They make a great hedge. They're hardy.   And even if I decide not to make anything out of them for myself, I suspect they will provide enough of a distraction to my bird population to keep them out of the grapes.

* You might be surprised at how effectively the first purpose defeats implementing the second.
** In the meantime, I have a cookie sheet in the deep freezer.  Anything that I'm going to cook but do not have enough of presently (tomatoes, grapes, blackberries) goes on the cookie sheet until frozen and then is added to freezer bags.  Grapes I put in there because I'm tired of being jumped by spiders while separating them.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where to Live XIII - Green Living in Tan Country

One thing odd you might notice about the above map from Visualizing Economics is the extent to which it corresponds to the map of US population density. The DC to NY corridor, one of the most heavily populated areas in the nation, is also among the highest in income, as is San Fran, Chicago, and Denver. So one might be tempted to think that if one wants to live well, then high population density areas are the places to move. After all, one can live 50% better on $90k than $60k, right? It's just simple math.

Except that it's not.  I remember as teeny little programmer flying to NYC to do some software installation and to train users on how to use a dialup modem. 2400 baud, baby.  The thing that stuck with me from that trip was not that NYC smelled just like the first diaper of the morning,* but that a software guy with whom I was talking told me his one bedroom apartment cost $1500 a month. At the time I lived in a newer 5-br house on acreage that never came close to $1500 a month, even with interest rates twice what they are today.  Yes, he made twice the money I did.  And I lived better by just about any objective measurement.** He paid more taxes, far more rent, more for food and transportation - I thought at the time that I could have lived just as poorly as him on half of what I made.  It's probably not true, but it's not wholly false, either.

What has that to do with SHTF? Plenty, actually.  While it's great to have a high income, if you live in an area where ordinary costs eat that income up, all you have at the end of the day is bragging rights over your redneck competitors. And when income disappears, those costs remain, dragging hordes of indebted, high-maintenance people underwater very quickly.  While prices will (because they must) eventually adjust to reality, it is harder for costs to fall than rise: every government program is geared toward making your life more costly.*** 

But where income is already low, it has less room to fall, so to speak.  People are used to getting along with less cash, but they have more real assets they can fall back on and fewer people competing for them. As food prices continue to rise, backyard gardens in tan areas expand, but they still needn't be guarded.

Our current income structure is wholly supported by cheap energy and financial shenanigans, and when those end, income will become less important than access to real assets. Those assets are not only better in tan areas, they are generally cheaper as well. If you can manage a green income while living in a tan area, you can gain control of plenty of worthwhile assets in short order. Besides, if you want to live twice as well as everyone around you, that's easier to pull off among wrestling fans than among fans of Cats anyway. 

* There are plenty of better reasons to hate NYC, and the same thing could be said of New Orleans. Which had better food, too.
** I didn't have Broadway next door and he did.  For some reason, both of us counted that as a win.
*** For example, the government creates 'affordable housing' not by allowing house prices to fall, but by propping them up while subsidizing loans on those houses for people who cannot afford them at the new, higher prices.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Guess what's ready already?

These are Frontenac grapes, a cold-weather variety I picked up some years ago at a Fleet & Farm in central Minnesota.  I'm not sure why they are already turning from Packers to Vikings; I mean, 2014 training camps aren't even open yet. Maybe it's just that they are used to a shorter growing season - things really got kicked off here in April while my dad still had snow at the cabin in northern Packerland.

But I'm pretty sure I know why they're so small: I neglected both of these vines while I was pruning everything else back in January.  I intended to get to them, really I did.  But sometimes things don't work out.  As a result, both vines are crawling with grapes, but you need about three of them to make up one of those awesome California grapes you see at Walmart. Each bunch is about 6" from top to bottom.

I haven't decided what I'm going to do with the yet.  I still have bit of grape jelly from last year and the Concords, which are better for jelly anyway, look to be producing a bumper crop.* So if I need to make more jelly, I'll probably use those.  Wine is a possibility, and I ordered some appropriate yeast tonight and may try a gallon or so.  But for now, I separated them and put the purple grapes in the freezer.  A few more nights of picking and I'll have close to 10 pounds, I suspect. That's enough to make pretty much anything.


* I just hope I get to them before the birds do.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Making Jalapeno Jelly

I used the smallest jars I had.
It must be a Southern thing.  Several people in the past week, upon hearing that I already had a bumper crop of jalapenos on hand, asked if I had made any jalapeno jelly from it.  I had never heard of such a thing.  Cherry jelly, apple jelly, grape jelly, sure.  But jelly made of hot peppers?  Of what use could such a concoction possibly be?

Apparently it does have some utility: people pour it over warmed cream cheese and dip Wheat Thins in it.  Then they eat it.  No, really.

So with that in mind, let's make some.

We'll need:
  • 15 medium-sized jalapenos. That hardly made a dent in my crisper stock.
  • 2 cups of apple cider vinegar.  This is not regular vinegar, so choose wisely.
  • 6(!) cups of sugar.  Good grief! I got Type 2 diabetes just reading this recipe.
  • 2 3-oz bags of liquid pectin. I have plenty of regular (i.e. powdered) pectin on hand, but since every recipe I saw demanded liquid pectin, I coughed up a few bucks and bought some.
I  The good news is that making this jelly is easy. Really easy. 
  1. Cut the tops off the peppers and toss them. Blend up the remaining pepper parts with 1 cup of vinegar until all the chunks are gone.
  2. Add your pepper smoothie and the other cup of vinegar in a big pot.  A really big pot.  You need a BIG pot. B-I-G. Did I mention you need a big pot?  Add in the 6(!) cups of sugar and bring it to a boil.*
  3. Boil it for pretty hard for 10 minutes.  At the same time, get your hot jars ready.
  4. Drop in your 6 oz. of liquid pectin and boil it for another minute.  Now it's done, and it's gonna gel fast, so ladle it as fast as you can into your jars.  This recipe promises to yield 2.5 pints - I used 10 4 oz. jars because, not knowing if I would ever actually eat jalapeno jelly, I figured small jars are easier to give away. It fit perfectly.
  5. Open-boil them for 10 minutes.  Poof! You're done.
Thoughts on the final product:

I've never seen a recipe gel as fast and thoroughly as this one.  I swear, by jar three I was trying to ladle around huge translucent chunks that had already gelled. I wish my cherry jelly gelled like that.

Using 4 ounce jars might have been a mistake.  Three of the ten did not seal properly.  You have to get the headspace perfect on such small jars, and with the gel coagulating as fast as it did, that was tough. Too tough for me.

Then I tasted it.  Hmmm... you might think that a recipe made up of nothing but jalapeno peppers, cider vinegar, and a buttload of sugar might look like the first, smell like the second, and taste like the third.  But brother I'm here to tell you that you would be exactly correct.

Maybe jalapeno jelly is an acquired taste. That just means that if this Minnesota boy has to eat it all himself, in 2020 7 4oz jars will suffer the same fate as 2008's pear butter.**  It's not that it tastes bad, it's just that it doesn't taste like something I'd eat voluntarily. 

To be fair - both to the recipe and to Southern culture - I have a box of Wheat Thins and a block of cream cheese on hand, so I'm going to try it as I guess it ought to be eaten.  Unless I am really pleasantly surprised, I suspect 7 Southron friends are going to get nice little green-flecked jars in their Christmas baskets this fall.   

Just sayin'.

* As soon as it comes to a boil you will understand the capital letters.
** I wonder if chickens get heartburn.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where to Live XII - Virus and Vector Edition

A couple articles this week reminded me that location is good for more than just keeping zombies at bay:
UNITED NATIONS – Health ministers from 11 West African countries began a two-day Emergency Ministerial meeting in Accra, Ghana, Wednesday amid concern the outbreak of the Ebola virus that began in Ghana could spread across their region as an uncontrolled pandemic...
[The Telegraph] The world could be "cast back into the dark ages of medicine" where people die from treatable infections because deadly bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, David Cameron has warned... Overuse of antibiotics for minor infections has resulted in bacteria becoming resistant to medicines.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time and evolution before those diseases we conquered so effortlessly during the past century developed an end-around to modern medicine. "For every action..." and all that.

But it's not even really flus and infections that ought to concern us, at least not on an SHTF scale.  Sure, the Spanish Lady flu* of the 1920s killed 50 million people as it burned its way around the world, but that was a world of nearly 2 billion people.  It was nothing like the great plagues of Europe, that killed sometimes half the people over very large geographic areas.

And they say Ebola ought to concern us, though only 500 people have died from it in its current outbreak, 1/100th of 1% of those killed by Spanish Lady. While Ebola is a headline disease, it's not really a story, I don't think. At least not yet.

No, after meandering through the disease stories of the week, it was this one that I expect to see cause real trouble sometime in the perhaps near future:
A controversial scientist who carried out provocative research on making influenza viruses more infectious has completed his most dangerous experiment to date by deliberately creating a pandemic strain of flu that can evade the human immune system.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu in order for it to “escape” the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies, effectively making the human population defenceless against its reemergence...
This is not a rant against science any more than it is a rant against the Japanese or Wisconsin, it's just a recognition of the fact that if something is possible, someone** is going to do it. And they are not terribly careful with their creations. That means that eventually a manipulated disease is going to get out of a lab, perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose. It might even be a sexy cross of influenza and Ebola. And it's going to rip through the world's population.  This flubola will be designed to spread quickly and perhaps even to do the most possible damage to humans that you can imagine. It might be released by the Russians in a bid to depopulate Ukraine, it might be created by the Klan to finish off Africa, who knows? And who cares, for the results will be the same...

So when it does happen, where should you be? Where should you live?  Before he was reined in by his handlers, Vice President Extraordinaire*** Joe Biden let the truth out of the bag: don't be anywhere where lots of other people are in close quarters. Not subways, not planes.  I would add, not in a city with a million people sniffling and sneezing all over water fountains, buffets, and restroom door handles, either. 

When a perfect virus-and-vector is released into the world, there are no guarantees it won't come your way, no matter where you live, no matter what you do.  But there are reduced odds.  And as with any number of other threats, the best place to avoid a pandemic is to be where lots of infected people aren't sneezing all over the egg rolls.

* apparently it kicked off right here in good old Kansas.  You're welcome.
** probably someone in a lab coat, in all fairness. That is why I expect that, once the world finally recovers, the mere wearing of a lab coat will be a capital offense.
*** The thing about Biden is that he always tells the truth.  At least when he knows it, which is seldom.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Making Jalapeno Hot Sauce

That's not a frying pan.
Jalapeno Week continues with a new concoction. This one is a recipe from the Barefoot Kitchen Witch* with minor modifications and a hat tip to the Nerdy Survivalist.

So now that we've eliminated the impression that there is any originality to be found on this blog, let's make some hot sauce.

We'll need:
  • Jalapenos, sliced into 1/4" rings. I used 36 or so.
  • 1 TBSP of olive oil, maybe more.
  • 1.5 TSP of salt.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced. I used fresh.
  • .5 cup of  onions, minced. I used freeze-dried onions, reconstituted.  Yes, I have lots of freeze-dried food around. Shut up.
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
Step 1. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan, then drop in the peppers, salt, garlic, and onions. You'll need enough oil to get a good fry going, so if you have to add more, feel free. 

Step 2.  Saute those suckers so they are nice and brown on the sides. This is going to give our sauce a fried flavor to go with the pepper flavor.  After 5 minutes, cut the heat. If most of the peppers aren't browned, turn the flame on high and hit them again until they are.

Step 3.  Now, transfer the whole shebang to a sauce pan, add the water, and boil it hard for about 20 minutes. Remember what I said about jalapenos getting mushy from cooking? Here's where you get to see if I was lying.  

Step 4.  Now that everything is soft and mushy, put it in the fridge until it's cooled.  I left mine overnight because I hate waiting for stuff like this. Besides, wrestling was on.

Step 5.  Break out the blender.**  Pour everything in but the vinegar in and hit the lowest blend setting.  Now, ratchet it up one button at a time until the mix is nice and smooth.

Step 6. We're going to add a little bit of vinegar, both for acidity and to take a little of the edge off.***  So while it's grinding, pour in a little bit of the vinegar. You'll notice that every time you do, the mixer will speed up and might splash a little. If you're not careful here, you'll get jalapeno juice in your eyes.  That's bad. Keep pouring until the vinegar is all in and the mix is smooth.  You should not see any seeds at all if you are blending fast enough.

To the freezer with ye little ones!
Step 7.  Jar it up.  I put a couple small jars in the freezer and the rest in the fridge.  Since it's so easy to make, there didn't seem to be any reason to can it for long-term storage.  And I'm not big on canning sauces anyway.

Thoughts on the results: had it on tacos tonight, and I'm glad to report that it packs quite a punch. Plus it pours easily. When added to the pickled jalapenos we made earlier, they made for a spicy taco to be sure. But even though the sauce and pickled jalapenos have almost the same ingredients, the sauteing of the peppers here adds a depth to the flavor that pickled jalapenos alone lack. So I definitely recommend making both if you can.

If I had to pick just one, I would take the sauce. It's that good.

* Cool name, Bro Sis.
** You can use a food processor if you wish. Barefoot Kitchen Witch did and then she had to strain it because she had seeds left in the mix.  I will leave no seed behind.
*** Remember what we said about horseradish. It works the same way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Making Cherry Jelly

This is what Rogue does to cherries.
I know I promised it was Jalapeno Week, and we'll get back to that, but I figured that I'd take tonight in a wholly different direction, just in case Five Boys' Mom started her diet again while we weren't looking.  So tonight's concoction is cherry jelly, using a scalable recipe from that looked promising.

The first thing I noticed was the madness of its measurement system.  It's rather odd, because most people will say, "I have x lbs of cherries. How much jelly can I make?" This recipe begins at the end, by asking how much jelly you wish to make.  That would not be so bad, except that the amount you will make is proportional to the amount of juice you have, which is dependent upon the amount of water you add to it, which is inversely proportional to the unknown amount of juice your unmeasured cherries will make, and you can't discover how much water you need until you cook your cherries, which demands the water up front.  I just threw in half a cup to start and figured I'd add more if I needed to round up.  That seemed to work well.

These are the cherries she didn't get.
Jelly is different from jam. Whereas jam is essentially the whole fruit, seeds and all, mashed up with a medium like sugar or honey, jelly will have none of that. Jelly is more like a science experiment: fruit juice, pectin, and sugar heated to such a state that the ingredients will form a gel at room temperature.  That makes it more complicated than jam and a little more fussy, but it's not all that hard to make if you follow the steps. It's just science. So let's make some.

The first thing we need is juice, so I took about a half gallon of cherries - all the ones that Rogue had not already cooked into my fat ass delicious pie, and plopped them whole into a pot, along with the aforementioned half a cup of water. Basically, I wanted enough water that I was not sauteing the cherries, but not enough to make cherry-flavored gruel.  Cook them all for 10 minutes or so and then mash them with a plastic potato masher.  The idea here is to separate the meat from the skins and pits, so be careful using a metal masher, which might cut open a few pits if you hit them right.  Once everything is separated into a good mash, then it's time to introduce it to the jelly strainer.

Fracking operation, commence
The jelly strainer is just a hanging bag with holes in it. Juice goes through the holes, pits and skin don't.  Except it's never that easy, so once the juice stops flowing I generally take a plastic spatula and perform a little fracking operation on the leftovers.  Slowly push the spatula down through different spots to the bag and you'll release more juice, probably increasing your take by 20%.  The amount of juice is going to determine how much jelly you make, so you'll want as much as possible.  Besides, everything left in the bag goes to the chickens, and mine already eat plenty good without depriving myself of jelly.

That operation is essentially the same with any jelly you want to make. In fact, if you really want to make jelly, you can skip the entire preceding paragraphs and just open a big bottle of Welch's grape juice.  What follows will work with that or just about any juice.  So anyway, we have juice; let's make jelly.

I fracked about 3 1/4 cups of cherry juice, so we're going to add 1/4 cup of water and pretend that we had 3 1/2. That will let us follow this recipe without scaling.

1. Put the juice in the big pan, along with a cup of water and a whole box (1.75 oz) of pectin.  I actually have a 10# jar of pectin I bought on ebay for the cost of 10 1.75 oz boxes, so bust out the scale and let's pretend I overpaid for a box of pectin.  Bring that sucker to a boil. A real boil, not one of those sad sack bubblers that disappear when you stir them.

2.  While you're bringing it to a boil, get your canner boiling as well.  You can use the small 8qt one if you'd like, because you'll be using half-pints and smaller jars.  I used the big one just because it was not put away from last time. I'm lazy like that. Sue me.

3.  Once you have a good rolling boil going in the juice, add 4 1/2 cups of sugar. That's a lot of sugar, I know, but most jellies are about equal parts sugar and juice, so if that bothers you, stick to jam where you can reduce the sugar or substitute honey or something else.  I actually prefer jam, but this recipe is what it is so let's get on with it.

4.  Bring it to a boil again.  Now this will be a different kind of boil.  The last boil was a tame if playful boil.  This one will use the second you're not looking to jump out of the pot and gel your entire stovetop for you.  So keep an eye on it. As soon as it bubbles up to the top of the pot, stir it like mad and set your timer.  One minute is all you need. Stir, baby, stir.  Then cut the heat.

I hope one of the lids doesn't seal
5.  Ladle it into hot jars leaving 1/4" of headspace. That's not much, but on small jars it's all you'll need.  Wipe the rims, screw the lids down, and drop them into a rolling boil for 5 minutes.  Pull them out, and you're done.  

It's a pretty fast operation, all told.  I made the juice last night and left it in the fridge overnight, so from juice to jelly tonight took less than an hour.  I ended up with about 40 oz of jelly, as you can see, plus a little bit extra that I shared with Molly because she was #3 in "three's a crowd" tonight. Sometimes a kid needs warm jelly on french bread with Dad.

It was possibly the best jelly I've ever made.  I was a little worried about the high sugar, as I'm not a fan of overly-sweet concoctions, but because my cherries tend to the sour side the balance was magnificent.  I'll need to hide these jars in the pantry to ensure that last year's apply jelly gets eaten first.  And there is no danger, none, that they will suffer the same fate as 2008's pear butter.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Pickle Jalapenos

The Replacements
It's time to start looking for an easy way to fill up the empty rack space we created on Friday.  Perhaps a few jars of peppers could do the trick...

Though I loved the old peppers, I was never really happy with their consistency. Because I had gone with a canning recipe rather than a pickling one, the taste was great, but they were a bit mushy.  The short reason is that, when you can something you're relying on heat to kill the bacteria. But heat also breaks down veggies like peppers pretty quickly.  They don't turn to mush, but they don't retain any kind of crunch, either.

When you pickle something, you're relying on acidity to do the same job.  So I picked out a pickling recipe from The Food Network.  Let's see how that turned out.

Look, Ma, no gloves.
The first thing we need to do with this recipe is to utterly ignore the total preparation time. 25 hours? Ain't nobody got time for that.  We're going to do it all in about half an hour.

Here's what we need:

Jalapenos.  That might be important.  The recipe calls for one pound, sliced.  That's going to make a pretty small batch - about a quart - but we'll do it by the book this time and modify it in the future.  I usually don't like to break out the canner for anything less than 6 pints. Anyway, slice 'em up.

Salt. 2 tbsp of pickling salt or 4 tbsp of kosher salt.  I know nothing about kosher, so pickling salt it is.

Garlic, 2 cloves.  I've got some left over from my earlier attempts to plant garlic.*  The Wal Mart 'planting' garlic looks like crap, so I threw most of it in the trash into the mulch bucket and just used some of the leftover 'organic' garlic.  The recipe didn't say to slice or dice, so I threw them in whole.

Whole black peppercorns, 1 tbsp, optional. I used them.

Honey, 1 tbsp, optional.  I used it.

Water (2 cups) and vinegar (2 cups).  Combined with the salt, this is going to make a challenging environment for our friendly neighborhood bacteria.  So let's combine them.  In fact, throw everything into the brine except the peppers and bring it to a good boil. Then back the heat off to a simmer.

The small one goes into the fridge.
Make sure you have your jars, lids, and canner ready, because this next part is going to happen fast.

Drop the peppers into the brine, stir it up, and bring it back to a boil.

As soon as it boils, ladle it into hot jars, fasten the lids, and drop them into the canner for a nice 5-minute bubble bath rolling boil. Pull them out and you're done.

So what about it?  Well, despite the fact that this was deemed an 'intermediate' recipe, the hardest thing about it was making sure to get one clove of garlic in each jar.  In other words, it's simple.

Secondly, since I had a little left over, I got a chance to check the taste and consistency right away - both are very good compared to the old peppers.  While not 'pickle' crunchy, the peppers have some body.**  The peppercorns and garlic add a lot to the flavor.  I can't taste the honey at all.  

So I'd have to say that overall this recipe looks like a success. There also appears to be nothing in it that would keep you from doubling or quadrupling it for larger batches. And larger batches are what's on the way by the looks of the pepper bed.

* which are now a rousing success, I might add.
** The ones actually canned may have less, however, as they were cooked longer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The pepper bed

And the radishes underneath are coming along fine, thank you.
And man do I have peppers. Picked about a quart this week, gave lots more away, and am just about ready to start canning a few.  The only problem is that I still have a couple cases left over from a prior year's bumper crop.

I'm not sure that it's a problem so much, but I really don't like the idea of dumping 8 or 9 quarts and a dozen pints of peppers on the mulch pile.  The chickens might not like that very much.  But they're* not getting any younger, and despite my best efforts,** I will not be able to eat all of these this year. And pantry space looks like it's going to be at a premium.

So in the meantime I'm giving them away to coworkers and bagging them in the crisper. Since I've got cherry jelly on the schedule for tomorrow, the first batch of pickled canned peppers might have to wait until Friday. 

Hopefully by that time I can acquire a pair of unpowdered surgical gloves to wear while I slice them all up.  Cutting them with bare hands last time made me afraid to go to the bathroom for something like 12 hours. My fingers didn't smell like I'd smothered them in Ben Gay and then set them on fire, but they sure felt like it.

* either the peppers or the chickens. Or me, for that matter.
** The only way I have not tried peppers is in a cereal bowl with milk on top.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Build a codling moth trap

(l) after one week; (r) after one minute. Not the same.
Despite the overblown claims that vinegar is just as good as Round-Up at killing weeds, there is one thing that vinegar is good at killing: codling moths.

Codling moths are nasty.  If you find a 'worm' or a 'worm hole' in an apple, it's probably neither.  Odds are it's the result of a codling moth laying eggs on your trees, which eggs then hatch larva that burrow into your fruit (leaving a small hole), eat for three weeks, then burrow out (leaving a large hole).  The fattened larva then crawl to the ground or hide under the tree's bark, emerging the next spring as moths. These moths then lay eggs, beginning the cycle again.

Other than blasting your tree with alar or other things you really don't want to eat any more than worms, there are a couple of approaches that hold promise for controlling your codling moths.

The first is to create a concoction of one cup vinegar, one cup sugar, and a bit of banana peel. Put it in a milk jug, fill the jug with water, then hang the whole shebang from a high branch of your apple tree.  Unlike the worthless,* vinegar-based Weed-Be-Gone, this recipe showed promise immediately: the jug on the left is not simply discolored for the benefit of those with flash photography, it's full of dead moths, flies, and mosquitoes.

The second, which we shall be trying this fall, is to catch the codling moths caterpillars as they descend the tree by wrapping a six-inch-wide strip of cardboard about the trunk in August. You wrap the cardboard flat side in with the holes facing up-and-down, and the larva, upon encountering it, decide that this corrugated paradise is a convenient place to spend the winter.  One chilly December morning, you provide your guests some much-needed warmth by tossing all the cardboard into a pile and setting it on fire.

The first part of the strategy seems to work fine: after barely a week, I have lots of dead moths.**  The second? Well, we'll see how well the second does. I have this brush pile that will be just about ready to burn once the snow starts falling...

* ok, so it's not entirely worthless.  After 5 days, my weeds have a few leaves that have turned brown around the edges. 
** I have also agreed to pay TK and Molly a nickel for each moth they kill with a badminton racket.  That's not as successful.  Thus far I have paid out about 45 cents and need two new badminton rackets.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Making Wild Blackberry Jam

Leave the red ones for tomorrow.
One of the things I'm trying to do more of this year is take advantage of the wild fruit that grows around here. Sure, I've occasionally produced a batch of wine or jam from this bounty, but I've never made a habit of it.  Which means I've never collected my recipes nor gathered notes on them.

Also, I've seen very few reviews of stuff (like a certain vinegar-based weed killer) that simply doesn't work.  I find both types of commentary to be valuable. 

So lucky you. At least until I create a proper recipe system, I'm just going to chronicle recipes and notes here.  Unlucky for Five Boys' Mom's diet, today we made wild blackberry jam.

I chose this specific recipe (a new one for me) because you don't always get a nice round volume of berries when you pick your own fruit - I wanted one that could be easily adjusted for odd sizes.  Plus, since these blackberries are pretty tart, I wanted to go with sugar rather than honey as a sweetener.  This one fits the bill, so let's see what comes of it.

The recipe is simple:
  1. Combine x cups of wild blackberries with x cups of sugar.
  2. Boil it up to 220 degrees.
  3. Ladle the jam into hot jars.
  4. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Mission accomplished?
It really couldn't be simpler.  Lots of other recipes call for added pectin and/or a cooking time based on batch size.* For this one, I dropped 12 cups of ripe blackberries in 12 cups of sugar, mashed it up, and started boiling.  Half an hour later - *plink* *plink* - I hear the comforting sounds of lids snapping down.  Mission accomplished.

Or is it?  The first thing I noticed while cooking is that this jam is thin.  Gruel thin.  Getting the temp up to 220 doesn't take long, and most recipes want you to cook it down a bit to give the liquid some body.  The second thing I noticed is that when I pulled the jars from the canner, all the seeds were suspended in the top halves of the jars.  That's a hint that 10 minutes in boiling water did not change the consistency all that much.

But since I had a little left over, I poured it in a half-pint jar and popped it in the fridge to see if this concoction might thicken up a bit on cooling. It does, but not enough. The jam will stick to a cold spoon like crazy. But it's also pourable, like a thick syrup.  I mentioned in my post on strawberry honey jam that I like my jam thin.  But not this thin. All that complaining aside, I must note that it tastes freaking amazing.

So we have three options:
  1. Live with excessively thin jam**
  2. Re-cook it to a proper thickness, add some pectin, and re-can it
  3. Pretend it was supposed to be syrup all along.
Either of the last 2 is probably a winner, and I suspect that I'll ultimately split the difference, keeping the larger jars as syrup and re-canning the smaller ones as jam.  Good thing there are lots of berries left to pick, because we'll probably have the chance to try this again next weekend. With a new recipe, of course.

I'll let you know how it goes.

* 4 cups of berries seems to be the norm.
** And never give any of it away.