Glorious, like Apple Butter

At the beginning of this growing season, our two little apple trees were very promising, covered with blossoms. Since we don’t prune our trees, this was the “on year,” the year we were supposed to get a good crop of apples. Then, a month or two months later, the fruit looked promising as well. The apples started pinking up, and they even began to taste like fall. We had just started commenting on what we would do with this crop of apples…and we got our hail storm, which pummeled those two little trees pretty badly. Needless to say, we were disappointed! But I went out a couple of days later and scavenged under the trees, picking through the fallen apples. My initial idea was to try to pick up the ones that were “just bruised.” When I saw how pathetically few apples there were that were “just bruised,” my standards loosened, and it became something like “the ones without bugs in them.” Even that standard slipped, and as long as the bugs weren’t embedded, the apple went into the bucket. Some of them were damaged and rotting beyond use, but I picked up a large bucketful of apples, and spent a couple of hours cutting off the bad spots.
IMG_3323eIMG_3487eWe cooked the apples this afternoon, and put them through this antique ricer we had in the Miner’s Cabin – a beautiful piece of kitchen equipment! The smell of apples cooking is the smell of fall and plenty, the smell of harvest and celebration and family gatherings. It reminds me of Curtis Orchard, a family orchard we used to visit in Illinois, and the wonderful apple donuts they were known for. IMG_3503eThe tart apples had cooked down into a beautiful golden sauce, steaming hot and fragrant. We now have it in a slow cooker to turn it into the wonderful thing called apple butter, since no one in the family particularly likes applesauce. A recipe to come…IMG_3492eA couple of things come to mind as I think back and write this. One obvious thing is just how fortunate we’ve been this year, as I think of the flooding down south and the fires north and west of us. The drought has been hard on this region, and we’ve had our hail storms, but compared with the destruction of the floods and the fires, we have been amazingly fortunate here and have nothing to complain about.

The second thing that comes to mind is just how good God is. As I was picking up fallen apples, looking at the spoiled spots, the bruises, the damage, resisting the urge to call it a lost cause, and thinking ahead to my plans for those apples, it seemed like a mini parable. On our own, we have nothing to offer – not to God or to anyone else. We are damaged and bruised and broken, completely corrupt at heart. Yet Jesus takes us and washes us, rather than giving up on us, and even in our brokenness He uses us to His glory. This side of Heaven, our bruises and brokenness will never completely go away. By God’s grace, those things will heal and lessen to a certain extent, but we will always struggle in this life. But He takes us anyway and calls us His own. How glorious.

Glorious, like apple butter. But better. Far better.

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Digging Out

When the weather folks began predicting a Christmas Day Blizzard almost a whole week before Christmas, many of us scoffed. The last couple of winter storms were somewhat over-hyped and, while being a little inconvenient, were really not severe. Christmas Eve rolled around and church was cancelled, and we really began betting on there ending up being nothing worth cancelling church over. Christmas morning rolled around and we got a dusting of snow, or a couple of inches, but nothing worth getting too excited about, and we continued to doubt the meteorologists. But then came the wet precipitation, the ice, and Christmas afternoon finally arrived in a whirlwind of snow and wind. Travel was not advised on pretty much all of the highways in and around the Black Hills, I-90 was closed, and the Christmas Day Blizzard arrived as predicted.
IMG_0347eOur mile-long driveway proved to be a hassle, and a lot of work went into shoveling parts of the driveway by hand on Monday, since the only person really familiar with the road grader is out of state for the time being. Trixie was in her element, and spent a good deal of the day tearing around to her little heart’s content. She loves the snow.
IMG_0336eSome of us humans love the snow as well, the rushing cold, the gleaming white. Shortcuts through a pasture turn into comical flounderings in knee-high drifts. Walking up the road to Grandma’s takes extra effort, since every step forward on the slick snow costs you six inches in backsliding. Pant legs freeze solid. But it is winter. It is supposed to be like this. The hassle doesn’t get to us. Granted, we didn’t lose power or need to be anywhere. “Hassle” is almost too big of a word to use.
IMG_0659eYesterday was beautiful and it was no problem getting back and forth between our house and Grandma’s, where Mom and Dad are currently staying, and which is the hub for family festivities. But this morning the wind picked up, and all the work that went into digging out Monday was drifted over. I went up to Grandma’s to get some firewood for the Miner’s Cabin, and on the way down I hit a drift and slid off the road. In the process of trying to get it back on the road, it slid deeper off into knee-deep drifts, so my uncle and I spent the next hour or two digging it out!
IMG_0343Currently no vehicle, including the Jeep, can make it all the way up to Grandma’s, so we get as far as we can and then walk the rest of the way. One of the other four-wheel drive vehicles got a flat on the way up, and the other truck is snowed in over at my uncle’s house. Winds of 20-30 miles per hour are expected tonight. More digging out tomorrow.
IMG_0658But God is good. He gives us trials, such as having one’s day turned topsy-turvy in a snow drift, as a reminder that we do not carry out our plans or order our lives – He does. He also sends reminders of his goodness and grace, such as the beauty of blowing snow in the sunlight, blue skies, fresh, crisp country air, starry nighttime, family fellowship, puppy antics, and kittens purring.
IMG_0630e B+WLife is good. God is wonderful.

Laura Elizabeth

Black Hills Gothic

Our cousin William from Ohio was staying with us for the last 10 days, and one of the projects he tackled, with Sarah’s help, was building a stone wall around our garden. We have a tall fence that keeps the deer out, but there is a 10-inch gap along the bottom that lets rabbits in. Of course, we could have just closed the gap with chicken wire, but a stone wall is so much lovelier! More pictures to come! He and Sarah got the rocks from rock slides along our driveway and from one of the several pit mines on our property. He also fixed the garden gate so it now closes properly, and put in flagstones at the garden entry. He and Sarah did beautiful work!

IMG_1122small IMG_1123smallSo we have the Black Hills Gothic.

Laura Elizabeth

 

Great-Grandma Sarah’s 24-Hour Dills

Due to late planting, we don’t really have much in the way of garden produce just yet – We’ve gotten a few zucchinis, a couple of cherry tomatoes, and a tiny handful of strawberries. And lots and lots of dill. The dill volunteered this year, so we left it as a pest deterrent. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have any usable cucumbers. So the girls and I drove in to Rapid to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up a few bags of pickling cucumbers and fresh garlic, and picked the dill fresh from our garden!

Twenty-four-hour dills are a generational favorite –  Guaranteed to be ready in 24 hours, although Great-Aunt Margene says they can be ready in 12 hours. Make them in the morning and serve them at dinner! This is my great-grandmother Sarah Adrian’s dill pickle recipe.IMG_9609Grandma Sarah’s 24-Hour Dills

About 20 small-medium sized cucumbers

1/2 c. vinegar

1/2 c. pickling salt

6 1/2 c. water

dill, garlic gloves, and hot pepper, crushed red pepper, onions, or any other ingredients to tasteIMG_9615Combine the vinegar, salt, and water – According to Great-Aunt Margene, the solution doesn’t need to be boiled. However, I remember boiling it in the past, so I deviated from the recipe and boiled the brine. Wash cucumbers. Slice in spears, but leave attached at ends. Slicing them allows them to be properly steeped in the brine after 12-24 hours.IMG_9617Pack cucumbers in pint or quart-sized jars, with garlic and dill (and whatever other ingredients you are using) layered with them.  Pour the brine over the cucumbers, and seal jars. Let sit for 24 hours, or to taste.IMG_9626I made one jar with the standard recipe, just garlic and dill, but the other two jars I dressed up a bit – One with crushed red pepper, the other with crushed red pepper and a few slices of hot banana pepper. It will be fun to see how those turn out. I made a little extra brine for a tiny jar for Grandma.

Enjoy!

Laura Elizabeth

 

 

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Another Use for Duct Tape

My highschool years were during the duct tape craze – Well, at least among homeschoolers there was a duct tape craze. I know about creative uses for duct tape, although I was never cool enough to do anything unconventional with the stuff. But this was one use I had definitely never seen before.
IMG_9552Dad brought this little guy home yesterday evening. He found him on our long driveway, nowhere near water, and with a pretty sizeable chunk of his shell broken. We don’t know where he came from or how he got there, or how his shell was broken, but some kind person had duct taped him up, and it looked like he was subsequently taped another time or two. Given how warped the chipped piece was, it looked like he’s grown some since the injury.  Overall he seemed like a pretty healthy dude.
IMG_9556IMG_9558Trixie didn’t know what to make of Mr. Turtle – She growled and put her ears back and looked all funny at him, but went along happily with Dad to dump him in what little water is left in the stock pond. He’ll be happy there.
IMG_9567Oh, the creative uses for duct tape.

Laura Elizabeth

 

Recipes | Grandma’s Chokecherry Jelly

Canning is a skill that has nearly faded out of reckoning, but it is a useful and satisfying skill to have. And nothing beats homemade jams and jellies! Chokecherries have produced abundantly and early this year, and can be found growing all over the Black Hills. We picked and processed pounds and pounds of berries from our bountiful chokecherry harvest, and turned them into jelly, using Grandma’s recipe (slightly modified), which made it even more fun!IMG_8648_small

Grandma’s Chokecherry Jelly

1 pound of ripe fruit or 4-5 cups of berries (should yield 3 cups juice)

1/2 c. lemon juice

1 package powdered pectin

4 1/2 c. white sugarIMG_8644_small

Juice extraction: Put 1 pound of ripe fruit (4-5 cups of berries) in a large pot and cover with water. Simmer for 15 minutes, crushing the berries as they soften. Don’t crush the pits, since they are toxic. Strain fruit and water through a colander, jelly bag, or cheesecloth, saving the juice and setting the pulp aside. Put pulp in a pot and again add water to cover. Simmer again and strain again. Discard pulp. (For every 4-5 cups of berries, you should get at least 3 cups of juice. If necessary, use fruit pulp and water once more to get to the necessary 3 cups of juice. )IMG_8654_small

Jelly: Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to 3 cups chokecherry juice. Stir in 1 package of powdered pectin. Stir well. Let the juice mixture come to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once it boils, stir in the 4 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring constantly. Bring to a rolling boil. Be careful, particularly if you have an electric stove! The juice and sugar can boil over fast! For this part of the process, an extra pair of hands is helpful – One pair to add sugar and stir, and another pair with hot pads, ready to take the pot off the stove if it begins to boil up. Let boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching.IMG_8664_small

Skim the foam off the top. The skimmings are edible, though not can-able! Put jelly in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. IMG_8672_smallChokecherry jelly has become my favorite – I’ll be saving a jar back to enter in the county fair in a few weeks!

Laura Elizabeth