Today began clear and a bit cooler than the past few weeks. You know it has been hot when eighty-five degrees feels like a cold front. There was a light breeze and the air lacked the sticky quality we have been swimming through lately. Not a bad day for early August.
August is the beginning of harvest. Already several of the crops have been producing prodigious amounts of vegetables – squash and eggplants, so far, and peppers are on their way. Our meals are dictated by what has come in from the garden, and what we don’t eat is preserved in some way for the winter. Much of the food goes in the food dryer, and once dried, is stored in glass jars. There are jars of dried beets, dried squash, dried peppers, dried okra and dried eggplant. The food can be eaten in its dried state or reconstituted, though I hear that much of it ends up in soup in the wintertime. Of the choices so far, dried okra is my favorite. Once dried it becomes quite crispy – similar in some ways to a potato chip. There is a slight okra flavor that blends well with different foods or is pleasant all by itself.
So, with a significant amount of work accomplished on the house this week, today’s focus was processing food. We washed the okra, ran it through the slicer, and placed it on the screens for the drying closet. The drying closet is outfitted with supports for about twenty pairs of screens. Hot air is forced through the closet by a fan that runs on direct current solar power. Translation: the fan runs when the sun shines. Last summer we started to call the closet the “Jumanji closet” – every morning the fan would start slowly with a rather tribal thump
that reminded us of scenes from the movie, “Jumani.” Anyway, it takes a couple of days for things to dry, depending on the thickness of the cut. The completely manual slicer is a beautifully efficient machine that ensures everything is cut evenly. It is gratifying to just turn the handle and watch the food steadily fall out into the bowl.
Squash came next, although we have huge amounts of dried squash already. For whatever reason, there has been a bumper crop of squash this summer. Yellow squash has been featured at every meal – usually just sautéed with onions, but occasionally showing up in muffins, soups, salads, veggie burgers, pasta dishes and even breakfast. Today I tried to make fruit leather with the squash – I guess that makes it veggie leather, really! The squash was sliced and then cooked down (yes-over a fire that I actually built) with an apple, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and some raisins. Once softened, it still needed to be pureed. For that task, I had a choice between a manual wheat-grass juicer, a hand-crank grain mill or a potato masher. Well- the potato masher was the lowest tech item and it produced the chunkiest puree, which was not what I was looking for. The wheat grass juicer mashed everything nicely, but took a long time as the feeder chute is pretty small- I guess no one wants to drink huge amounts of wheat grass at once. The grain mill, however, was the machine of choice. The puree was smooth and the process was fast. The time saved using the grain mill, though, was spent cleaning it out, so it may not have been any more efficient than the juicer.
Once pureed, I added a little honey to the squash mixture (which I admit smelled and tasted pretty good- rather like apple pie filling) and poured it out onto a parchment lined screen and placed it in the closet. As if on cue, the sky darkened, cutting off our DC power to the blower. It was already late in the day, so there would not have been a significant amount of drying anyway, but a couple of hours of sunshine would have been nice! Instead, we got at least a half hour of nearly torrential rain… good for the garden, true, but bad for anything solar.
The rain did usher in lovely cool evening, however, and as we left the farm for the day we encountered a beautiful black swallowtail caterpillar (don’t be impressed that I knew the name- I looked it up through Google) crossing a stem of Queen Anne’s Lace. The caterpillar had a neat trick: as Sunnelin reached to touch its back, it reared up and sprouted a little red “V” from its head. For a moment I was afraid it would blind us with venom or mount some other such attack, but despite this we could not resist touching it again to see if it would repeat the same action. The caterpillar obliged us with another display, though by the third time he was much less enthusiastic. Poor caterpillar- I hope we didn’t give him a heart attack!