Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter 46

September 18th -- Sure was quiet around here today. Even after Rand got home it was quiet because he was so tired. I actually didn’t mind it but I wouldn’t want to go back to living by myself all the time. Something reminded me today of watching Momma when it was time for Daddy to come home from work. She’d be working away but you could tell she would get a little excited and then we’d hear his car pull up and we’d go, “Daddy’s home!” Gosh we were so “Leave It to Beaver.” My friends didn’t know whether to laugh at us or be jealous.

But Momma … her eyes always looked different when Daddy got home like … oh, I don’t know how to explain it exactly but you could tell it made her happy to see him. After a certain point in the afternoon I caught myself listening for the sound of the wagon coming down the road and when I finally did … it was … it was like something missing had been found. If I had to explain this to anyone else I probably wouldn’t be able to but here in my journal I can say what I feel without worrying that someone else won’t understand or would make fun. It was nice when Rand came home … I like him coming home … it completes the picture in my heart.

As a surprise I had a bath ready for him; the water had time to lose that colder than cold feeling it has when it first comes out of the pump. I had a couple of buckets of warm water to pour in there too. He soaked until he was a prune. I had to hang his clothes outside they were so dirty and stinky. Harvesting the sorghum is hard work.

First you harvest the grain off of the sorghum. Rand said they went down the rows and cut the seed heads off with about a foot of stalk attached. You bundle a bunch of them together, tie them off, and then hang them in the barn to finish drying. That was the hardest work. “Babe, you should see it. Mr. Coffey has twenty acres of sorghum. He’s giving us six for our own leaving him fourteen. He says that each acre should get us around seventy-five bushels of grain. Seventy-five … per … acre. Brendon and I are splitting it equal shares. We’ll keep our three and he’ll split his three amongst the rest of the family. That means that we’ll get 225 bushels of sorghum grain. One bushel equals about nine gallons. That's equal to more barrels than we and Uncle George have combined. Mr. Coffey says that you can stretch wheat flour by using two cups of sorghum flour for every one of wheat flour to get a total of three cups of flour you can use for bread. And that doesn’t include the rest of it.”

The “rest of it” comes with more work. He told me first you have to strip all the leaves off of the stalk. This can be used for silage and Brendon took a whole wagon load home to his dad for the cows and pigs and what they won’t use they have some neighbors that will take it for their goats and rabbits.

“I wish we had some more animals Babe, but it won’t be much longer. Uncle George wants to thin the hogs out a little and Brendon said he’s got his eyes on two gilts for us and JR says he knows where we can get a couple of boars with no problem. I just need to find the time to finish the fencing. And Mr. Henderson will be bringing that heifer and calf around before you know it too.”

After you have the leaves stripped off you cut the stalks off close to the ground. “We’d cut stalks until our arms couldn’t hold any more and then drop them in a bundle. Once we got a section of an acre finished we’d gather up all of the bundles, put them in the wagon and then take them to Mr. Coffey who had Lou harnessed to the sorghum press. It’s like one of those old-fashioned clothes wringers and as Lou walked around in circles he turned the gears that turned the press and squeezed the juice from the stalks.”

Rand said the juice that is squeezed out is a cloudy green color. Sounds disgusting. It goes through a couple of strainers before it gets put into a barrel. From the barrel it goes to a series of evaporator pans. This juice gets boiled and as it boils the non-sugar solids float to the surface and are skimmed off. There is a particular degree that you have to boil the juice to for it to qualify as syrup but I wasn’t paying attention like I should when Rand told me, I’ll ask him again tomorrow. Basically by the time it gets from the first evaporator pan to the last one it is sorghum molasses.

“It takes about ten gallons of juice to make one gallon of syrup. According to Mr. Coffey syrup production varies from year to year. You get anywhere from between 100 gallons and 250 gallons of syrup per acre depending on variety and how the crop did for the season. From what we are seeing we should get about 150 gallons of syrup per acre this year.” Rand laughed at the expression on my face.

“I hate to ask Honey but I need as many of those big old jars as you can spare with lids. Brendon and Clyde are going to scrounge around and see if they can’t come up with some casks or barrels. We’re going to struggle to find enough containers to put 450 gallons of syrup in. Mr. Coffey has these big barrels that he stores the syrup in but even he doesn’t know what he is going to do with it all. He’s thinking that if we ever get the farmer’s market going again he could trade it by the pint, quart, gallon, or even bucketful if someone had something worth trading for.”

Personally I don’t have a clue what we are going to do with over four hundred gallons of sorghum. I found the following in Momma’s notes so I know you can replace regular sugar for sorghum, but I still don’t know what affect it will have if I use it for canning. And how are we going to keep from attracting ants and other bugs?

Substitution of Sorghum for Honey - Sorghum can be used in place of honey in almost any recipe on a simple one for one basis. The only exceptions are those recipes for cookies and cakes that use baking powder, where the change may prove troublesome (recipes calling for baking soda will not cause any trouble).

Substitution of Sorghum for Molasses - In non-baking applications (such as meat sauces, barbecue sauces, baked beans, etc.) sorghum can be substituted for molasses on a one-for-one basis. In baking recipes (such as cookies and cakes), sorghum should be substituted for molasses one-for-one, but it is necessary to cut the amount of sugar used in the recipe by 1/3 of the amount specified. This is because sorghum is sweeter than molasses.

Substitution of Sorghum for Sugar - In replacing ordinary sugar with sorghum, increase the amount of sorghum by 1/3 over the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. At the same time, decrease the amount of liquid (milk and/or water) by this same amount. This is to keep the amount of total liquids and sugars in balance.

Tomorrow I’m going to experiment with the gallon of sorghum that he brought home today. I also need to figure out a way to hang the seed heads in the barn that he brought home too without losing them all to the birds that fly in and out of the barn when the doors are open. I have a suspicion that this is going to be constant problem.

September 19th – Another quiet day. Up way before daylight and Rand nearly had to take the lantern with him so he could see to get out but he promised he would drive the team very slow until the sun came up more. He met Brendon … and he said that Mick and Tommy came as well … up at CR49 to go to Mr. Coffey’s together.

I felt at loose ends even though I had a ton of work to do. The zucchini started making yesterday so that meant that today I needed to get some of them canned. First I made eight pints of crisp zucchini pickles. I had to use dried veggies for some of the ingredients so I hope it comes out OK. The next thing I made, dilled zucchini sticks, was easier because all I needed was zucchini, seasonings, and onion all of which I got by the barrel full thanks to Mr. Barnes’ niece. I have a feeling that I will continue saying a prayer for this woman I never met for many years to come. I also made zucchini relish, zucchini in tomato sauce (I used commercially canned tomato sauce for this), and zucchini-pineapple which I used some of the last canned pineapple juice I have.

Tomorrow I might make a zucchini chocolate cake but after shredding four quarts of zucchini for the zucchini-pineapple I’d had enough squash for a while. Next came canning the crookneck squash. I pickled four pints of them and it wasn’t much different than pickling zucchini.

Just to make sure I was really sick of looking at squash today I made Zucchini and Yellow Squash Soup for dinner. I sautéed onion, shallots, and garlic that I had rehydrated from my dried supplies in olive oil. Then I added about a quarter cup of flour and stirred that for about three minutes. Then I added one and a half cup of sliced zucchini and a matching amount in yellow crookneck squash and cook all of that until the squash is soft which takes about 5 minutes if your slices are a quarter inch thick. Then I added three cups of chicken stock that I made up from chicken bouillon, three cups of evaporated milk with a little butter mixed in to substitute for the cream the recipe actually called for, and some basil and oregano to taste. I reduced the heat to a simmer which meant pulling it back from the hot spot on the pot belly stove top and simmered it for twenty minutes. I had some for lunch and saved the rest for Rand’s dinner. It needed something and when Rand asked if I minded if he added salt and pepper I realized that is what was missing.

In between canning batches I watered the garden, refilled the water barrels from the pump … Rand is praying rain holds off until they can get the sorghum in although the oats need it … and experimented with the sorghum syrup or molasses or whatever you want to call it.

I made a pretty doggone good gingerbread with that sorghum if I do say so myself. Rand sure did eat a good slab of it with no complaints. I only substituted some of the sugar with the sorghum rather than all of what Momma’s recipe called for and I could tell the difference in flavor. I think with dark, spicy cakes the sorghum will be really good; like pumpkin bread or tavern bread … yum yum. I don’t think it will be a good substitute in a white or yellow cake that I need to taste light but I’ll probably wind up giving it a try at some point. I bet it is good with chewy cookies too. And pies … wow, I imagine that I’ll really be able to make some good pies with sorghum.

Good grief, I’ve got the munchies all the time lately. Good thing I finally got my monthly or I’d be worrying that Rand and I had miscounted and whoopsied. I’m not as worried about that as I once was. It’s kind of … well … it sounds nice to have Rand’s baby. But on the other hand I wouldn’t mind putting it off for a while either.

Rand asked me the other night, before my system straightened out, if I would be really upset if … well if I was to be pregnant and I didn’t know how to answer him exactly. I’d be scared but not upset like he was thinking I’d be. I’m glad though that is a worry I don’t have right now and I think, secretly, Rand is too. He’s under a lot of stress trying to get everything lined up while we still can.

Tomorrow Rand is going to get Clyde or Bill to come with them to Mr. Coffey’s place and ride shotgun back. When they got there this morning Mr. Coffey had already had trouble and if it hadn’t been for the fact that his grandson and his family had shown up overnight the trouble might have gotten out of hand. Some people demanded that Mr. Coffey “share” his crop.

“I wouldn’t a minded hepping ‘em but they jist were bound to take it rather than work for it. I tol ‘em that they could hep bring the grain in and I’d cut ‘em in shares but that weren’t good enough. My grandson and his boy wound up coming out o’ the house with both barrels loaded and the varmints rethought their ways … at least for now. I 'spect they didn't have any idee that I weren't alone. Bad times ... I swun these days are worse than my Pap talked about during the Depression.”

With the extra hands they hope to get most of the rest of grain and canes out of the field before the end of the week. It’ll take longer for the canes to be squeezed and the juice boiled down but if they keep the boiler going around the clock they should be done with it a few days after that. Mr. Coffey wants them to get the rest of their due tomorrow and bring it home and if they can trust him to do their syrup he figures he can count on them to show up the next day and help him get the rest of his portion in. Maybe the days of making agreements on a handshake are coming back.

I’m glad we have the extra work gloves for Rand to take and that my Dad was particular about the gloves he spent his money on. As tough as the gloves are the seam has already ripped out of the pair he was using and it took me a good twenty minutes tonight trying to find a needle and thread strong enough to fix them. I wound up having to use an upholstery needle with denim thread.

September 22nd– Today should be the last day that Rand has to work at Mr. Coffey’s and a good thing too. Mr. Henderson says that Momma O is predicting a late season tropical storm with lots of rain but it won’t be here for another day or two. In a way I’m glad because the garden needs a good deep watering and I can’t really do that with the watering can. I’d still like to know how she can tell but I guess some things in life are just meant to be a mystery.

I wound up having to put mulch down between the vegetable rows and squares to try and keep the weeds down and the moisture in. The only thing that I really had was the cypress saw dust or some type of tree debris. It was a big “no” on the sawdust. Aside from the fact that it would be too acidic for the plants it would also attract carpenter ants which is something I definitely did not want. Besides, I think the sawdust will be better used as animal bedding that we can then compost.

Of all the tree debris I have to use it looks like pine needles are going to make the best sense but only if I use the completely brown and dried ones. I know Uncle Charlie used to pay an arm and a leg … willingly and happily … to use pine straw in his landscaping. I’ve got a bunch for free just laying around in the underbrush and I’ve been laying it down a couple of wheelbarrow loads at a time. Rand said he’ll get me a whole wagon full tomorrow or the day after.

The other thing that I’ve been doing is tying the bundles of sorghum to some metal fence posts … the kind you use to put up rabbit fencing … and then laying the fence posts between two exposed steel beams in the barn so that the sorghum bundles hang down from them like I remember tobacco leaves hanging in my grandfather’s barn.

Rand had a fit when he found out I was up on the tall fiberglass ladder doing that but then we talked it out and the reality is Rand can’t do everything himself. We can’t afford a hired hand … Rand wouldn’t be comfortable with that at this stage anyway. He wouldn’t trust them enough to leave me alone with them. Maybe if it was a kid but that could turn into more of a responsibility than a benefit.

So, he has to accept my help and I try and make sure he doesn’t feel guilty about it, like he is doing me a favor by letting me help because it makes me feel good. It does, but you have to be careful how far you take that or you can get your relationship all out of whack. If I didn't have to climb that ladder I sure wouldn’t be doing it, I hate being up that high and trying to balance everything, but reality is it has to be done.

I experimented with another sorghum recipe. This one was for apple sorghum bread. First you cream a stick of soft butter (I had to use the powdered stuff since we don’t have a cow yet) with a half cup of white sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add three eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine two cups of flour, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg and set it aside. Mix one cup of applesauce and a quarter cup of sorghum syrup. Add dry ingredients alternately with applesauce mixture to egg mixture. Next fold in one cup of raisins and a half cup of chopped nuts if you have them. Pour this batter into a greased loaf pan a bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes somewhere the flies can’t get at it and then remove from the pan and continue cooling it the rest of the way on a wire rack.

Gosh it was so good. I slathered a slice with apple butter and just about made me a meal out of that alone. I guess I’m at the bottom of losing weight that doesn’t hurt me just like Rand now. It seems I’m hungry a lot now that I’m working hard outside every day. I can’t wait for Rand to get home to try a slice of this.

September 23rd – Rand didn’t have to leave today!!! We even let Pretty Boy crow to wake us up instead of getting up before the chickens. That was nice. Rand said he was awake, just glad to be able to lay in bed a few minutes rathern than flying up and out.

I can tell he is very tired but he isn’t letting that stop him from getting work done. As soon as the grain is finished drying we are going to thresh about half of it and put it in some metal barrels. The other half we are going to try and leave on the stalks until we need it and use most of that for the animals.

And I couldn’t believe it but Rand brought home two nanny goats and a billie yesterday too. The people over on Uncle George’s road that kept goats have left. They just threw what they could into backpacks and set out on bikes. They’ve got family out in Texas and that is where they are heading. They are in their thirties with no children so they figure they’ll just keep moving as quick as they can to get there. I feel like calling them crazy but at the same time I basically did the same thing. Which of us is crazier?

As far as the goats go well, that billie isn’t going to be on this Earth much longer if he doesn’t stop being such a rat finking stinker! I can’t turn my back on him without him taking aim. The first time I put it down to an accident but the second time I know … I know … that goat was laughing at me. And Rand did too which added insult to injury. He wasn’t laughing after that goat tried doing the same thing to him … only it wasn’t his rear bumper that was the middle of the bull’s eye. Try the other side, and Rand turned an interesting shade of green.

The nanny goats are just really sweet but nosy. And my goodness those three can eat. I thought Rand was being a little mean to put them over in a corner of the home site that was full of oak sprouts and sawbrier vines but they’ve mowed just about the whole area down already. It’s amazing. As soon as they are finished with the patches inside the homesite that Rand wants mowed he said he is going to put them in an area on the other side of the garden and let them clean up around several of the big oaks over in that direction.

Where the goats are currently mowing things down Rand is going to build a … pig pen is I guess what you’d call it. It is going to have a little house and a sturdy fence so nothing can get at them. They’ll get some sun but they’ll have plenty of shade from the spreading oaks and will enjoy the acorns that fall into their pen. I didn’t know it but apparently pigs and hogs can get sunburned pretty bad just like people do. You learn something new every day.

The only major problem I had today is that my clothes line snapped and two whole loads of wet laundry went down in the sand. I had to rewash them but it only took a rinse, thank goodness, to get the sand out. All but the blue jeans were completely dry before night started falling and they’ll dry overnight in the summer kitchen.

There was a dampness to the wind last time I was outside before we locked down for the night. I guess we’ll see how right Momma O is in her prediction.

September 24th – Rain, rain, and more rain. It hasn’t been bad but it has been steady all day long. We’ve re-filled all the water barrels and I’m glad we managed to make room for all the animals in the barn, it’s not a day just to leave them out in the weather. We’ve had a bit of lightning and thunder off and on too.

And something is wrong with the plumbing. We had to set up a sawdust bucket out on the lanai and tomorrow Rand said he’ll try and figure out what it is. It isn’t a clog inside the house. Rand went outside and checked the main line at the clean out which is just outside my parents’ bedroom between the house and the septic tank and it was full. He pulled the concrete plug on the septic tank and it was full too. He says that means that either the filter is clogged, the leach pipe is plugged, or the leach field is bad. When he told me that if it was the filter or the leach pipe he could more than likely fix it but if it was the leach field that was a different problem and that it would wind up just being easier to build an outhouse.

I’m sorry but the first thing I thought of when I thought of an outhouse was that dead woman I found. I’m praying really hard that it is something that Rand can fix. If I don’t have any choice I’ll use an outhouse but it will be a blow to have to give up my comfortable indoor toilet.

Other than that we’ve had a fairly quiet day going over where we are at as far as projects and food inventory and where we are going to start putting things. I’ve still got room in the summer kitchen for cans and jars but I would like to keep as much as I can hidden in the pantry closet. Rand said that Daddy “mouse-proofed” the cubby holes as much as possible but we are still going to need to keep an eye on things. The cubbyholes are actually aluminum boxes. The side of the box that faces the attic … the outside … is insulated with pressed board insulation. The inside of the boxes is lined with more pressed board with a vapor barrier and then built out a little bit with drywall, tape, and spackle to make it look like a plain ol’ closet. That will be a good location for some grain storage because it should stay dry. We’ll just rotate the inventory in that hidden space once a month or so until we test how long things will last.

I broke down and made cornbread with beans and rice in the princess because it was just too wet to try and cook outside even with the patio cover that Rand had built but glory was it hot. Mitch came by in time for lunch today. Things are deteriorating around the community. There are a lot of “haves” and about as five times as many “have nots.” Pastor Ken is being pressured by some community members to get him to make those that have stuff give it to those that don’t. In fact a man landed a punch on the pastor when he tried to explain that if they would offer to work for some food they’d likely find several people willing to help them. There’s that entitlement thinking again.

Ram sent me a message via Mr. Henderson. He wanted to know if Rand would be interested in bringing his wagon to a certain location on a certain date and time and help haul off “trash” for his commander. A verbal message came along with the written note, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

The cryptic games sound just like something that Ram would get a kick out of. But I told Rand he probably was serious and had something that he thought we might be interested in. With no hint of what that could be Rand asked Mitch what he thought. Mr. Henderson had also been asked to come and he was inclined to satisfy his curiosity. The meet up is tomorrow really early in the day. Brendon is coming even earlier and Rand is going to ask him to ride shot gun. I’m glad. It’s not that I don’t trust Ram exactly; it’s just a matter of Rand’s safety. Traveling alone anywhere for any reason just isn’t a good idea these days.

And with that I’m off to bed. Rand and Brendon have a long day tomorrow and so do I. I’ve got cucumbers and snap beans to pick and can tomorrow.

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