Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Did My Garden Grow?

In The Garden:  Well, it's that time of year, the days are getting cooler (High of 92, anyone?), the nights are getting longer, the garden is shutting down.  So how'd we do?

Overall, it was a good year.  A great year for some veggies (okra!), a bad year for others (tomatoes & peppers).

As always, zucchini and squash were great producers.  The peppers were a disappointment. I finally harvested our first bell peppers a week or two ago. That hail storm we got the end of May really hit them hard - it was difficult for them to bounce back. The heirloom tomatoes and tomatillos were a big disappointment - no harvestable tomatillos. The only great tomato producer was the yellow pear (those tiny, yummy tomatoes).  Baby Girl LOVES any tomatoes - but especially ones she can pick right off the vine and eat!

We only got about 4 Cherokee purple tomatoes.  So sad.  We even tried a hormone spray that is supposed to help set fruit.  No luck. I guess next year it's back to the ol' faithful "Celebrity."  Yes, it's a hybrid, but it produces.  My aunt gets tomatos by the dozens. She brought me a 5-gallon bucket full (1 day's pick from her 24 plants).  It inspired me to learn how to can.

My aunt has been canning for years and brought over her tools and we got to work. I'm not going to give specifics here because canning is something that needs to be done according to specific direction - I don't want to be responsible for giving you or your family botulism!

The fruit of our efforts:

Canned tomatoes for soups and homemade Rotel!
After she left, I attempted to can by myself (talk about scary!).  Total count:  7 pint jars of Rotel and 18 pint jars of tomatoes.  Success!  Without her 5-gallon bucket, we'd be tomato-less and I'd be stuck buying them from Sam's.

The okra was prolific!  This was our first year to plant okra.  My grandma loves it, so I thought I'd plant some for her.  Well, little did I know, okra will put on like CRAZY!  I don't see Granny much - about once every 3 weeks, so the majority of okra I had to put up.  My Love doesn't really care for okra unless it's fried.  So what did I do?  I made up 3 gallon bags FULL of pre-breaded okra.  Now, that's a LOT of okra!  When I got tired of putting up breaded okra, I decided to try my hand at canning. 

I love pickled okra, so thought I'd give that a try. I used the recipe in the Ball Canning book and so far, so good!  You have to wait 6 weeks before trying them to make sure the pickling has had time to work...I'll let you know how it goes!
As for sweet corn - we didn't try it this year.  It takes up a lot of room for a one-time crop.  We were able to harvest several tote bags full from a friend - the best way to "grow" it!  We spent days on end shucking, cutting and freezing sweet corn. But it's so worth it to have sweet corn in December!
We also have the opportunity to harvest peaches free from another friend - my mother-in-law harvested about 5 bushels of peaches this year.  The next week or so was spent putting up peaches before they ruined.  My Love and I also hit the road-side stands outside Fredricksburg each year on our way home from a Farm Bureau conference in San Marcos. We usually bring home about 1/2 bushel to put up.  We save these peaches for special occasion cobbler!
It was a busy year, but oh-so-worth it!  If you've never gardened - give it a try!  You don't need much room - try container gardening or even window boxes!
Total grocery count from our summer harvest: (not counting food already consumed!) 
15 quart bags of steamed squash & zucchini
3 loaves frozen zucchini bread
2 dozen frozen zucchini bread muffins (and rapidly dwindling!)
100 onions
6 pint jars pickled okra
3 gallon bags of frozen breaded okra
18 pint jars of tomatoes
7 pint jars of Rotel
36 pint bags of frozen sweet corn
15 quart bags of frozen peaches
1 (measley) quart bag of frozen sliced bell peppers
There's still a little life left in the garden - the tomatoes are putting on again (now that it's cooled down) and the zucchini and squash and okra are still producing. Last year our garden froze the first week in October, but I'm hoping for continued harvest until at least November. We're also considering some fall veggies like butternut squash and lettuce - some things we've never planted.  Maybe we'll give them a try!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Flour - Made the Old-Fashioned Way

In the Field:  My Love and I got the opportunity to go on a tour of San Antonio last weekend.  We saw some of the sights (backstage at Sea World!) and ate a LOT of Mexican food.  I also found out that my hubby has never been to the do you live in Texas for 33 years and have never been to the Alamo??? 

One of tours we did was at the Mission San Jose. It is one of the missions built along the San Antonio River. See here for more info:

It was originally built in the early 1700s - about 300 years ago.  It was destroyed in war and what was left fell into disrepair.  The WPA  rebuilt the mission in the 1930s. 

The mission wasn't just the church - it was the community.  The Indians lived in what were essentially apartments built into the protective walls. The Indians were originally hunters and gatherers, but the Fransiscans (monks) taught the Indians how to farm.  They built miles of irrigation ditches (called acequias) to bring water from the San Antonio River to their farms.

But these irrigation ditches were used for something else as well.  When the WPA was rebuilding the Mission San Jose, they uncovered brick-lined pits and channels.  What they had found was the foundation of a grist-mill for grinding wheat!  They then rebuilt the grist-mill and it works today!

This is the exterior of the mill - water wheel below, mill above.

It was so interesting to see how a grist-mill worked - no electricity, no engines, no machines.  It doesn't get much more "green" than how it was done in the 1700s.

The water wheel at work.
The water from the irrigation ditches flows into a channel and then into a 9' deep pit.  This pit creates water pressure.  A gate is opened and the water flows down and into the water wheel.  (Yes, that is a horizontal water wheel!).  This turns the wheel which turns the shaft that is attached to the mill above.
The mill.
The mill wasn't very big - I was expecting something much larger.  The handle on the far left side is essentially the "on-off switch."  This lever opens and closes the gate that allows the water flow to operate the water wheel. The funnel on top of the mill holds the whole wheat kernels.  The round disc you see is a granite millstone.  Two stones are stacked on top of each other, with space between them.  The bottom stone is stationary and the top stone is turned by the shaft from the water wheel.  Wheat falls through the hole in the funnel to the hole in the millstone.  The wheat is then ground between the two stones.

A millstone (not from this grist-mill)
For more info on millstones - check out this site:
As the top stone turns, the wheat is ground into a fine flour. The texture of the flour can be changed by altering the space between the two stones.
The flour is then pushed to the outside and down into a waiting bucket.
Wheat being milled into flour.
After explaining how the mill worked, the park ranger passed around a bowl of the flour for us to touch.  An older man, obviously from the city, commented "Can you eat this?"  My Love, with the bowl in his hand, took a pinch of the flour and put it in his mouth.  "Yep!" he said.  The man then said "I would be afraid it would have glass or something in it." (There was no glass anywhere...)
It has become more and more obvious that most people don't understand where their food comes from.  Yes, we saw that wheat actually being ground - but since it wasn't white, bleached, enriched, and in a paper bag on the grocery shelf, it must not be flour!
It's amazing how far removed we are from the source of our food.  As each generation depends more and more on others to produce the food they eat, that knowledge gets lost.  It is my job, and the job of every other farmer and rancher out there, to educate the nation about what we do and how we do it.