Friday, February 28, 2014

Sowing & Reaping

Last spring we invested $152.00 of seed and other supplies into our vegetable garden.  This initial investment yielded more than 7 times in harvested produce (1,087 pounds).  Although our garden did us well last year, we are planning to increase its size this season; specifically the onion, potato, and corn patches.  We are especially excited about the addition of a fruit and nut orchard.  Although our climate is too cold for my favorite peaches, plums and pecans, there is a plethora of other fruits, berries and nuts that will grow well in our region.
I have been working on our orders for 4 varieties of apple trees (honey crisp, sweet sixteen, red Jonathan, early harvest), 2 Keifer pear trees, 2 cherry trees (Montmorency, early Richmond), 2 apricot trees (Moorpark, Manchurian), 6 blueberry bushes (blue crop, duke, Jersey), 6 raspberry bushes (Latham, brandywine), 6 blackberry bushes, (Darrow, prime ark), 2 English walnut trees.  We will also receive a few free gifts with our orders such as 10 blue spruce, 2 lilac bushes, and 1 red maple.  I realize that 43 trees and bushes would be significant overkill for most property owners. But, we live on the Montana prairie where the only trees one will find are those specifically planted by property owners.  We also have a very spacious 25 acre yard providing plenty of room for as many trees as we'd like.  Our property does have a 1 1/2 acre wood lot consisting of mostly old growth cottonwood and Russian olive trees that Mr.B has been working on thinning the past 2 summers.  It is definitely time to bring in some new growth and other species.  I  LOVE the concept of edible landscaping thus, we have mapped out where we will plant each tree/bush.
Looking forward to the day when our trees and bushes are producing fruits, berries and nuts makes me consider the Biblical concept of sowing and reaping with increase.  Luke 6:37-39 tell us, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.  For the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."  Many folks understand the principal of sowing and reaping with increase  but lack the persistence and patience to see this wondrous blessing fully cycle in their lives. 
Sowing and reaping with increase is not only a Biblical principal, it is also a universal law.  For instance, one tomato seed can produce a tomato vine that in turn produces up to 50 pounds of tomatoes with each one of those new growth tomatoes containing more than 100 seeds for even more production!  Because this principal is not only Biblical but universal, it works for every single person regardless of his/her belief system.  If, I as a Christian plant tomato seeds, I will reap a harvest of tomatoes.  If my neighbor is an atheist and he also plants tomato seeds, he too will reap a harvest of tomatoes. 
Within the same principal, what we sow will also be what we reap.  It is foolish to expect a harvest of bell peppers or squash from tomato seeds.   Tomato seeds produce tomatoes, pepper seeds produce peppers, and squash seeds produce squash.  This realization should make us, mankind, aware of our words and actions.  If we are sowing seeds of encouragement, generosity, forgiveness, peace, kindness, etc. then, in time, we will reap a harvest of the same.  However, if we sow seeds of greed, criticism, strife, etc., then we should fully expect to reap an abundant harvest of the same.
 As mentioned above, I believe that most folks understand and grasp the sowing and reaping with increase principal but they lack persistence and patience.  Many will give time and money to causes they deem worthy only to loose the commitment and return to selfish ways because the harvest doesn't seem to come soon enough.  Harvests do not sprout, grow and produce overnight.  In my vegetable garden, depending on the plant, I must wait 45 to 120 days before I will see any harvest.  With our fruit, berry and nut orchard we will have to wait an average of 5 years before we begin to see any significant return on our "investment".  But, with patience and the continued investment of maintenance, we will eventually reap more fruits than our singular family will be able to consume.  That is when we, out of abundance, will be blessed and honored to share our bounty with others.
Because I've been gardening for a long time the principal of sowing and reaping is often at the forefront of my thinking .   I pray, you, my dear readers, will keep in mind that as you sow seeds throughout your life, harvests will not only come in due season, but continue for generations to come.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Yellow Squash Muffins

When you have an abundance of squash and don't know what to do with it, try these tender, moist and lightly sweet muffins.

Yellow Squash Muffins

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

1 lb. yellow squash, shredded (I use my food processor)
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1.  Mix shredded squash, butter, egg, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl until combined well.
2.  Stir in flour, being careful not to over mix.
3.  Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full.
4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
5.  Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Makes 1 dozen.

When we discover those hidden very large squash that are too tough for our preference, I shred and freeze them in one pound increments.  Thawing the frozen portions allows us to enjoy these tasty muffins throughout the year.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

They Had Turned Mealy

Back in January an apple truck ran off the road in our neighboring town.  For some reason, USDA regulations prohibit the supplier from delivering to the grocer after an accident.  Because of these regulations, the supplier instructed the driver to give ALL the cases of apples away to the community.  On Monday, Mrs.D arrived at our house with one of these cases of apples.  She blessed us with 1/2 the case.  Unfortunately, the apples had been sitting for several weeks and had lost most of their crispness, also known in my family as "mealy".  
 What does one do with apples that have lost their crispness?  In our home, if a food is salvageable we find a way to use it.  Although "mealy" apples are not the best for munching on, they are great for baking and cooking.  After making an apple crumble, I used the remaining apples to make ...

... 13 half pints of apple butter.  It was a pleasure to thank Mrs.D for the 1/2 case of apples with a jar of apple butter.  The addition of the apple butter brings our supply of sweet spreads up to a year and half's worth.

So, if you are ever blessed with slightly overripe fruit, don't toss it in the trash.  Use it to make fruit fillings for pies, crumbles, cobblers,  or sweet spreads for homemade breads and rolls.

Here's my apple butter recipe:

Mrs. B's Apple Butter

8 lb.  apples (about 32 medium)
5 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
juice from 1/2 orange

Step 1:  Wash, core, peel and quarter apples. 

Step 2:  In a large stockpot combine apples with 2 cups water.  Simmer until apples are soft.  Drain.

Step 3:  Puree softened apples with a food processor or food mill, being careful not to liquefy.

Step 4:  Return apple puree to stockpot.  Stir in sugar, cinnamon, cloves, salt and orange juice.  Cook over low heat until thick enough to round up on a spoon.  As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.  You may also want to place a screened splatter guard over the top of the pot.

Step 5:  Ladle hot apple butter into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/2 in. head space.  Removed air bubbles.  Adjust lids and bands.

Step 6:  Process 1/2 pints 10 minutes, pints 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

What a surprise!  Since I prefer to stay home, my precious OG drove EJ to the library today.  When they returned home, they brought me this BEAUTIFUL bouquet for Valentine's Day. 
 I am definitely the most blessed mom in the world!

Did Ya Miss Me?

The past couple weeks have been a fun, busy and exciting time in the B household.  Our JP took a two week leave to spend time with the family and help Mr.B install TWO sump pumps in our basement.
When we purchased our home the previous owner had just finished installing a sump pump in the center of the basement.  This considerably helped reduce the spring time basement moisture.  However, last spring was exceptionally wet and we found water entering the northeast and the southwest corners of our basement.  The sump pump located in the center of the basement is simply too far away from these other two areas.  Thanks to JP's help and hard work we now have two additional sump pumps and are expecting a dryer basement this spring.  This "do-it-yourself" project really is a two person job and JP's help saved us nearly $2,000.

northeast sump pump.
JP after a long day's work in the basement.  He'll need a shave and haircut prior to reporting for duty.
During his visit JP spent most of his spare time playing cribbage, checkers, and monopoly with EJ and OG.  One afternoon I walked into the front room and found our little babysitting charge, ET, sitting on EJ's lap during a game of cribbage.  Boy OH Boy did I reminisce!  You see, EJ is 11 yr. 9 mo. older than ET.  Our JP is 11 yr. 8 mo. older than his little brother EJ and when EJ was little, I'd constantly find him in JP's lap ... just like this photo, below, of EJ & ET.
"Memories, light the corners of my mind ... Silly water colored memories ... of the way we were ".
Every since JP left home for service in the U.S. Navy, we have not had the joy of celebrating his birthday with him.  During this visit, I decided an early birthday celebration was necessary.  I thought I would LOVE baking him a German chocolate b-day cake and preparing a special b-day supper of baked ziti, salad and garlic bread sticks.  Actually, I was enjoying myself until he said, "Mmm, that smells good, mom.  I haven't had baked ziti since last summer when I was in Rome."  I'm Irish / German, need I say more?
Didn't have 24 candles but JP didn't seem to mind.
My favorite quotes from JP's visit:

"... No, I actually like my family."  Was said to a friend via the telephone when asked if he was yet bored with installing sump pumps and hanging out around the house with only his family.


"... I've attended pubic school and I've been home schooled.  Trust me, there is nothing normal about public education."  Was JP's response to EJ commenting on how he sometimes wishes he was normal and attended public school.  (JP's primary education = public school: grades K - 7 / home school: grades 8 - 12).

 JP is always kind and generous with his family.  As usual, he left a smile upon my heart and I began missing him before he left.