Sunday, October 22, 2017

Move Over Smucker's There's a New Kid in Town

crab apples

Weighing them on the scale

Jen doing the tedious work of cutting them up

After they're cooked

Running them through the seive

The final product
  Several weeks ago, as I had mentioned, my daughter, Jen, and I went out on a rainy afternoon and raided the crab apple tree in front of our church. Last year it had actually fallen over because most of the branches were on one side of the tree, and a wind storm had knocked it over. Fortunately, our pastor is a tree person with the U. S. Forest Service, and there is an arborist out at the farm and with the help of some machinery, they managed to right it and secure it with ropes and stakes. They were so successful that the tree bore a bumper crop of fruit this year. I don't know what got into me, I guess that ancient desire to prepare for the upcoming winter, but in any event, I had a hankering for some crab apple jelly. I'm not even sure I've ever eaten crab apple jelly before, but nonetheless, I wanted some, and since I've never seen it on any of the store shelves, I thought I'd make my own. I discovered that it's quite a labor of love. First of course we had to get the crab apples off the tree, which was a feat in itself. I used a ladder, but the tree is located on a hill, which also happens to be lumpy, so standing on the ladder was a real challenge. I convinced Jen to go up the ladder and I would hold it for her. Foolish girl, she should know better. However, I needed her help after the harvest, so made sure to hang on tight, and no one got hurt. It wasn't until after we had tempted fate that I got the brilliant idea to get a rake and a tarp, and rake the tree and catch the fruit when it fell. Oh well, I'll know next time. Once we got the fruit home, it had to be sorted and washed in the sink. Then it had to be cut up. The stems and blossoms had to be removed and any unsightly bruises needed to be taken out. These things aren't much bigger than a marble, so by the time the parts that needed removed, were, there wasn't much to them. Thank God we didn't need to core or peel them or we'd only be left with a whiff of the original fruit. According to the Certo pectin box, we needed to have 3 1/2 pounds of cut up fruit to make a batch of jelly. We got them cut up, weighed, and dropped into a large pan of water and started cooking them. Eventually they were rendered down to a pink mush and they were soft enough to put through a sieve. You can use cheesecloth  too, but fortunately a friend had a sieve we were able to borrow. Once we extracted all the juice we could, we added a packet of Certo and seven and a half cups of sugar. Not a cheap operation. The jars were $12.00 a case, the Certo was $7.00, the sugar was probably another $3.00 or so. A little spendy, but when I did the math, we still came out cheaper than if we were to buy jelly from the store. The whole operation took about  three hours or so, but it was so worth it. I wish that when the kids were little we had done something like this. It was really fun, and I had the pleasure of spending time with my daughter. I still haven't tried the jelly yet. I wanted to use the store bought stuff that was already opened first, and I kind of want to wait until the winter winds start blowing before I crack open a jar, and even in the unlikely event that it tastes like crap, I'll at least have the memory of making it with my daughter, and you can't buy memories in a store.

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's Harvest Time in Hoonah





  I'm not sure what's happening in the rest of the country, but here in Hoonah a harvest of some of the fruits of the land have been taking place lately. Actually, all year long is harvest time here if you consider the different seasons each offers. In the spring, fishing for King Salmon and halibut are on a lot of people's minds. I believe that's when folks go out to get their seaweed from select spots as well. During a large ebb tide, when the water falls below the mean low water mark, or minus tide, certain rocks provide an anchor for a particular kind of seaweed that the natives have harvested for years. I understand that it's high in Iodine which I believe prevents goiters. "Look Ma, no goiters! I've been eating my seaweed." They dry it out and put it in freezer bags and put it in the freezer. I think they like to cook with it in soups and it's popular to have with herring eggs, another spring time favorite. The herring spawn on kelp and rocks and it's a tradition to put spruce branches in the water for the fish to spawn on. One of the local boats makes a trip to Sitka every year to lay branches in the water and harvest the eggs. When he comes back to town, the word spreads and cars line up all over downtown to meet the boat at the city dock. People walk down with garbage bags and plastic totes and whatever else they can find to fill with the eggs. As spring turns to summer, dog salmon and sockeyes start to run. Dog salmon have the biggest eggs of all the salmon and for some folks they are a delicacy. I've tried them cooked in scrambled eggs once out at the farm. We managed to ruin a whole case of eggs  doing that. The fellow whose brilliant idea it was, loved to experiment. He thought that it would provide us with extra protein. That only works if you can eat it. Anyway, water under the bridge. The sockeyes are coveted for their oily flesh, which makes for some excellent smoked fish. A number of people go out and cut down Alder trees to put in their smoke houses.Alder provides a lovely smoke that flavors the salmon with the most delightful taste. I've got a partial case of smoked sockeye in the pantry right now that will be tapped sparingly throughout the winter to try and make it last. Coho salmon run from mid-June until September, and a number of people, especially those without boats, wait until the fish start to run up the rivers where they can catch them from the banks. With the beginning of September, it's the official start of the "R" months, when it's supposed to be safe to eat the clams and cockles that are prolific on the beaches around here. Shellfish are filter feeders and sift out what they need to survive from the water. If the water has something like red tide, the folks that eat the shellfish can contact Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. I guess there's less chance of that happening during the months that have R in them, because the water is colder and the algae is less able to survive.Of course,year round, folks that have boats and pots harvest Dungeness crabs and shrimp, if they can find them. The crabs are fairly easy to catch, the shrimp require a little more skill or luck. Unfortunately, what happens on occasion is that a fellow goes out to check his crab pot and someone else has already been there before him. That always starts off a round of suspicion about various folks who have a reputation of showing up with an uncommon number of crabs. King crabs live in the bay as well, but to the best of my knowledge they aren't allowed to be harvested. I've caught them on a number of occasions when I was halibut fishing, but I'm not allowed to keep them. Sitka Blacktail deer are abundant on the island, and the season opens for bucks only on August 1. Personally I've never hunted them then. They are almost always on top of the mountains during that time and I'm neither young enough, strong enough or ambitious enough to pursue them then. Actually that describes me now as well. Hunting is a lot of work, and I've found that I can go to Costco and get the meat I need for less than the cost of bullets, gasoline, and wear and tear on my body. Of course it's not near as much fun walking through the isles at Costco as it is rambling through the woods, but so far I haven't had to worry about bears when I was shopping. When most folks think of harvest time, they think about pumpkins or Indian corn. We don't grow either here. There is not enough darkness in the summer to grow corn, but if it grew in the winter, we would have bumper crops. I'm not sure why we don't grow pumpkins, I suspect it's too cold and not enough sun. We do grow cherries, apples, plums and lots of berries. Blueberries, salmon berries, raspberries, huckleberries and nagoon berries. The neighbor behind me has a plum tree that produced so many plums the branches were threatening to break from the weight. I've never seen so much fruit on one tree in my life. The cherries didn't fair too well this year, but I think I have some from last year in the freezer still, and a few weeks ago I made a delightful apple crisp out of some apples I picked from Jen's trees a year ago. This year I don't know if there will be enough to make even a pie. Jen and I went up to the church last week and harvested a couple grocery bags full of crab apples from the tree out front. We're going to try to make some crab apple jelly. Of course by the time we figure in the pectin, the sugar, the jars and the work that goes in to harvesting them, each pint will probably be worth about ten dollars, but it's awfully hard to put a price on something you harvest yourself. Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October Delight






  This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous. Sunday was the kind of fall day that you want to imprint on your memory and drag out in the middle of January when yet another winter storm is raging and the landscape is covered in snow. I grabbed up Jan and Jen and we took a ride out to False Bay, a delightful little spot down Chatham Strait. We passed over the Spasski River and saw a number of Humpies  enjoying their last hurrah. They were looking pretty washed up, with large splotches of rotting flesh on their bodies and tails all tattered. We were hoping to see some bears or deer, but the only other wildlife that showed themselves were a number of daring squirrels that dashed across the road in front of the truck. It wasn't too much of a feat actually; the truck was unable to pick up speed from the bridge all the way out to False Bay. We couldn't travel twenty feet without running in to a pot hole, and usually not just one, but a whole succession of them. It was like the engineers had used a slice of swiss cheese for a template and applied it to the road. Twenty eight miles of bliss. It took almost two hours to get out there. I think I could have traveled faster if I'd been stuck in a traffic jam in L A. When we were most of the way to our destination we came upon an old Geo or dilapidated Suburu or some such thing parked right in the middle of the road. The owner is a fellow who has been accused a number of times of stealing fuel from various fuel tanks around town. However, he was loading up some firewood into the back of his car, so maybe he's changed fuel sources. I'm fairly sure he isn't the one who felled the tree. It certainly wouldn't make sense to run twenty miles out of town across a pot hole laden road to pick up enough firewood to heat your house for half a day. I'll say this for him, he's an opportunist. In any event, we had to wait until he had finished loading a round into the back seat and pulled over. When we finally arrived at our destination, two local teachers were eating a snack at the picnic tables. They had driven their car part way out and then decided to bike the rest of the way. They finished up and headed on down the road toward the area known locally as meals on wheels because of the large bear population. They didn't have any guns but they seemed confident that the bear spray and  noise makers they had would be adequate.  I guess they were right because I saw their car in town yesterday. The day was bright and sunny but cool so Jan stayed in the truck while Jennifer and I walked along the beach looking for interesting drift. She found a grocery bag and put it to work collecting oyster shells and a few barnacles and a nice piece of driftwood. If she could have, she would have walked half way back to Hoonah on the beach. I know the feeling. I wish my body would allow me to walk further and faster, but my days of long walks have passed, sadly. It's not all bad though. As you age you learn to compensate, and when the chance to go on  a drive on a nice fall day arrives, you take it and thank God for the opportunity. Anyway, it was a day to remember and I was pleased to be able to enjoy it.