Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter 56

November 2nd – Cleaned the house today top to bottom but it didn’t take much effort, Rand and I don’t make any more mess than we can help and I just finished reorganizing everything. It helped to keep my mind off of things when I wasn’t doing other stuff. Also Rand and I ate watermelon until we were practically sick, juice rolling down our chins. Getting the watermelon and beefsteak tomatoes from the garden were one of the few bright spots in the day.

First off the weather, this has been the coldest day yet. It was overcast and we never saw the sun at all; it got no higher than sixty-five degrees and according to the little weather station that Rand has set up we were getting 10 mph winds out of the N and NNE, though the wind has let up now that the sun is down. It was dark by 5:45 which made serving dinner a challenge. We ate in the summer kitchen with stools pulled up the island. Tomorrow we’ll start eating dinner about five o’clock in the breakfast nook where the bay windows are and hopefully we’ll be finished and I’ll have things cleaned up and in the dish drainer before I have to use the lantern. If we get hungry I can always make warm milk or popcorn.

Rand expects it to drop down into the upper 40s tonight. We debated on whether we should move downstairs but we are trying to wait a while longer simply because we are so comfortable up here in the dormer room. I know the 60s are probably tropical compared to what some people are living with right now in other areas but I’ve lived in Florida so long that the 50s and 60s are just plain cold. The only thing I can say is that the humidity is so low that we don’t sweat much when we work.

Milking is interesting. Rand suggested that for now I just milk in the morning and let the calves feed all day. When the calves wean I’ll have to milk morning and night – he said we’ll both do it since there are two cows so that it will get done faster.

The milk I was trying to save last night separated overnight. It’s nice to know that I can use this way of doing that just in case the refrigerator goes south at some point. I scalded the old gallon jar butter churn that my Dad bought at some flea market or other. I nearly burned myself with the boiling water but I didn’t want any icky stuff in the food I am trying to make. Then I skimmed off the cream from last night’s milk and dumped it in the jar, screwed the lid in place and then got a sore arm turning the crank handle. The butter, once it made, was a big glop in all of this liquid that is buttermilk. I poured that into another dish and stuck it in the frig with the milk from this morning’s milking.

I poured fresh water on the butter glop and rinsed the butter and poured it off several times until the water stayed clear. After draining the last water off I dumped the butter glop onto a plate and then had to squish the remaining water out of it use a couple of clean plastic paddles. When that was done it was still a little squishy so I put it into a plastic storage container and put it in the fridge. For all the work, it didn’t seem like a lot of butter. Rand laughed and told me it takes about two and a half gallons of milk to make one pound of butter. I got about a stick’s worth of butter today and we used it on the honey-buttermilk cornbread I made for dinner. The buttermilk was what I poured off of the churned butter. Cooking from scratch is neat but you sure have to plan ahead. I’m hoping that the cooler will help me not make too many mistakes.

The skim milk that was leftover after I took the cream is what we drank today and what I used to make hot cocoa tonight. This whole milking business is pretty neat … a lot of work, but still kinda neat. Tomorrow I’m going to try making white cheese. I’ve watched it being made by Mrs. Belle but I never got to do it myself, she was that particular. It’s basically just a gallon of milk and a cup of vinegar. How hard could it be? And besides, I’m dying for some fried cheese. And according to some recipes that I’ve found, after you’ve clabbered milk for cheese you can drain off the liquid from the curds – this is the whey – and then make ricotta out of that. I’ll really fatten Rand up if I can make ricotta. Old fashioned cheese cakes were actually made from ricotta rather than cream cheese. I was talking about this stuff to Rand tonight and he got silly and starting chasing me around the house growling, “Yum! Yum!” Gosh, he can be so silly sometimes.

Saw Pastor Ken for the first time in a while and he really didn’t look good at all. Rand and I wouldn’t take no for an answer and we got him to come sit down to eat lunch with us. The watermelon perked him up but it never got rid of the darkness behind his eyes all together. A lot of the old folks are dying. Different reasons … health problems catching up with them, depression, accidents, just plain giving up. Momma O is struggling too. If Paul hadn’t gotten really serious about a girl Momma O practically helped to raise and them talking about marriage so soon she might have just given up by now.

“I hate to say this but Paulie getting married and possibly starting a family would likely give Momma O a reason to live. She’s getting to the stage in life that setbacks like she’s had can be life threatening.”

“What kind of setbacks?”

“I don’t suppose you’ve ever met Paulie’s brother? No? Well, he is confined to a wheelchair and his health always has been precarious even under the best of circumstances. Well, he had a seizure or stroke, I can only guess at this point, and he’s going downhill rapidly. His parents are resigned, have been since he was born the way he was, but Momma O just isn’t dealing with it well at all. And they’ve had some setbacks with their friends … people that think they are leading a privileged life protected by Henderson and his men. Momma O was already lonely, now she feels intentionally cut off.”

“Would it help if Kiri and I were to go visiting more often?”

“Maybe. Couldn’t hurt. Kiri, I hate to ask you … and I can understand if you … How do I put this? Momma O really enjoyed you asking her about the gardening and looking for hints on how to do things. It made her feel … useful … important. I’m not asking you to lie but if you could … “

“Stroke her ego a little? It’s not a problem Pastor. I actually like talking to Momma O. She stood by us and did for us when no one else would. And besides, she probably has forgotten more than a lot of people know right now.”

I feel bad for Momma O, and bad for Mrs. DeLois too who has to try and manage everything when her mother is depressed or sick. This Sunday is a scheduled church service. Rand and I are going to see about maybe arranging another work day like we did for the Harbingers and then we’ll see about other visiting days too.

That wasn’t the only bad news that the Pastor had to share. There is still a lot of thieving and raiding going on. Not so much around here or over on the road where Rand’s family lives but River Road is getting hit pretty regularly – it used to be the “rich” side of town and people think it still is I guess – in the outlying areas like Mayo, Lee, Dowling Park, McAlpin, Luraville, and Wellborne.

And we’ve got a couple of cases of some kind of diarrheal illness … possibly norovirus or shigella. It hits hard and fast so the Pastor has warned us to be very careful of anything (or any one) we come in contact with.

All of that was just lovely news on top of the stuff we’ve been hearing on the radio. Same stuff as before, just more of it. The incident down in Port Charlotte is really being played up, or maybe it really is as serious as some people are making it out to be. It is so hard to know. Rand said that the mainstream media was pretty stupid by the time the last president took office but they did serve a purpose, at least with their cameras and talking heads you got some view of what was going on.

It’s been dark so long it feels like I’ve been up forever but not really. But I am tired and Rand is nodding off over his book too so I’ll stop here and get us both to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a full day … as always.

November 3rd – Today was supposed to be baking day but mostly I was canning and making cheese. The beefsteak tomatoes are coming in and what we don’t eat fresh I’m canning tomato juice with. Next week I want to can some soups that I can just open and heat up on those nights when I don’t feel like cooking and the tomato juice will really come in handy.

I’ve got a half dozen watermelons sitting on the kitchen counter that I haven’t done anything with. They are really ripe so within the next day or so I need to get going. The rinds from the watermelon we ate yesterday I split between the chickens and pigs. I made sure and give the chickens enough so that they wouldn’t start fighting over it. There is one cranky hen that is always batting at the chicks if they get in her way. Methinks she is going to be the first fryer if she keeps this up. The goats lipped at one of the rinds I gave them but they were much more interested in the beet tops that I tossed in from the last batch of beets that I pulled.

Of course I didn’t throw all of that watermelon rind to the animals, I pickled quite a bit of it. I also fried some of it just to see if Rand would eat it. I like it but it takes some people a little bit of a push to even try it. First you mix together some cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper. Then get your oil heated to 350 degrees. Then dredge your cubed watermelon rind (minus the outer skin) in the flour mixture. Drop it in the oil and fry it until it is golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir gently and then fry it a little more, about four minutes. Drain well and then you can season with salt and pepper if you want to. It’s meant to be eaten while still warm.

Rand ate it. I dared him and he did and then I had to fight for my share, especially after Mr. Henderson came by with Mitch. Of course Rand had to dare them to try it and then it was a race to see who could eat their share the fastest. After they left Rand told me Mitch said that Mr. Henderson has really had Cassie on a tight leash. She threw a fit when he said she couldn’t come out on patrol with them and he said it looked like Mr. Henderson had come close to slapping her. He’s told everyone that Cassie isn’t to have a horse until further notice and she has also been assigned to all the work details that she didn’t have to do before which is causing her to pitch fits. All I could think is that you reap what you sow but I managed to keep my mouth shut for once.

While everyone was having fun with the watermelon rinds I was making a mess with the watermelon flesh. I made watermelon jelly, watermelon preserves, watermelon jam, and I have some slices of watermelon drying. The last has me a little leery but Momma’s recipe card says that after it is dry it is a bit like candy. We’ll have to wait and see.

The other thing that started coming in today were the persimmons. I canned a bunch of pints of persimmon pulp. I also made some persimmon jelly and persimmon butter. The persimmon butter seemed to take forever but that is probably because I was watching it and wanting it to go faster since it was the last thing I was making before I started dinner.

For dinner I fixed an arugula and watermelon salad, and followed that up with a stroganoff I made with egg noodles, canned cream of mushroom soup (not much of that left), and powdered sour cream from the food storage stuff. And then some fried cheese!

Good thing I re-read the recipe for White Cheese; it only requires a quarter cup of vinegar and not a whole cup like I thought. That’s even better. I still don’t know what I’m going to do to replace my white vinegar when it is all used up because it is distilled. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

First you take a gallon of milk and heat it to 185 degrees. Take it off the heat and add the vinegar, stir for just a moment to incorporate it, and then leave it alone for ten minutes. After that you pour the resulting mess into a cheesecloth line colander to let the liquid drain off. I saved the liquid and gave it to the chickens who had a hay day with it but next time I think I’m going to try and make the ricotta with it.

I lifted the corners of the cheesecloth and pinched them together and then used a heavy duty clip to hang the goo-filled cheesecloth bag on a hook above a bowl for a little over two hours to catch the remaining drips. And at the end of that time … vavooom! … Houston we have cheese. I stuck the cheese in the cooler to firm up a little bit and when I was ready I sliced it thick, breaded it, and fried it. Rand said it was a good as going to the fair. There is still some cheese left so tomorrow I’m going to try using the broiler in the princess for the first time. I’ll slice the tomatoes thick, top them with a slice of cheese, and then broil them until the cheese is melted and brown. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

November 4th – Getting up early bites. I know it is necessary but I’m so tired. Right after I put my journal away last night … I had to make more ink today … reports of a battle in the Gulf of Mexico came over the radio. It was close enough to land that it could be seen at night and there were several different operators verifying what they saw. No news from the government admitting that the incident occurred and the operators from last night have been silent today, perhaps keeping their heads down … I hope it is nothing more sinister than that.

Paul came by today and said that he and Sadie – this is the name of the girl he has been attracted to – will be getting married this Sunday. Her mother died during the third wave of the pandemic and her father just up and disappeared day before yesterday. He’s done it before but never under the circumstances that Sadie and her little sister were in. Paul has asked if he could trade for some milk every few days somehow until they can work out a trade with Mr. Henderson … they are trading a large field of hay for a cow. I’ll leave that up to Rand, there are projects around here that he could use a couple of extra hands to finish up, setting the poles for the pole barn comes to mind.

Brought in a bunch of dried beans today. The shoe peg corn also started coming in today. I canned a bunch of it. I like it now that I’ve tasted it. I better like it after all that work we put into it. For dinner I made a corn casserole, buttermilk cornbread, and broiled tomatoes. I wish Momma and Daddy could see me now. I wish any of my friends from school could see me now, boy would they be surprised.

Church tomorrow and there is going to be a full dinner. I talked to Rand and we’re going to bring cheese and corn casserole, a big pot of greens, a couple pans of cornbread and some homemade butter all of which is sitting down in the kitchen all wrapped up and ready to go first thing in the morning. I won’t ever forget the gift of seeds that Momma O and Mrs. DeLois gave us for a wedding present so I made pillow cases for Paul and Sadie and we are also going to give them a large bag full of different dried fruits. We want to cultivate friendships as much as we cultivate Sparkleberry Ranch. After all, you never know what could be coming down the road these days.

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