Letter from Birdland: Summer bounty makes for quite an ap-peeling life

Letter from Birdland: Summer bounty makes for quite an ap-peeling life

In Birdland we could use some rain. This summer we haven't had the devastating heat, and the big load of rain we got earlier carried us far into the season.

The grass is still green, but that doesn't mean a little shower wouldn't be welcome.

This time of year, we get smaller storm cells, so maybe you've had rain in your yard, but that same rain didn't get to mine. Yesterday it rained just above my kitchen door for a minute or two, but not in the yard where the garden is. Michael has been watering some in the evenings, but my husband seems to favor the flowers over my vegetable patch, and I can see that the ground there is a little dusty, the arugula a little thirsty.

This week I graduated from a walking boot to a surgical shoe. I am just beginning to feel a bit more myself after my foot surgery, and I try to balance naps with projects that keep me busy while sitting.

Michael brought me a basket of cucumbers and summer squash from my own garden. I always get a late start planting, but I've had plenty of cucumbers to peel and float with tomatoes and thick, crispy onion slices in a bowl of yogurt, vinegar, olive oil and various herbs from my herb spiral.

The tomatoes are from Pam and David's garden. My tomatoes are coming — but still stony and green.

I've put the yellow squash into a chicken potpie, soups, and the other day, a zucchini bread (I guess, technically, it was a yellow squash bread). But I still had more, so I sliced them thin and dipped them in a brine of vinegar, salt and olive oil, then crisped them in the oven. Healthier, I think, than corn chips.

Pam and David have sent over more apples, and I can't think of a better way to spend my day than sitting in the backyard in the Adirondack chair cutting up apples and singing all my childhood songs at the top of my voice.

The chickens don't mind. I am throwing them the scraps. I had set up the peeler and watched the ribbon of red skin come flying off the blade to pile up in the grass next to my chair. The chickens pick at the pile, and it looks like entrails.

I was freezing chunks of peeled apples for winter pies, but then I ran out of Tupperware, so switched back to apple butter. I have always peeled and cored them to cook them down in the crock-pot, which works just fine — but the peeling is time-consuming.

Then a reader wrote to me and told me how she just quarters them, cooks them and runs them through a food mill — much easier! No peeling. I put out the call to borrow or buy a food mill, and have the use of a "Victorio Strainer" until my friend, Sheryl, does her apple run in the fall. I have fallen in love with this thing, so I'll keep my eyes out for one at yard sales.

Next comes pears. I have one pear tree that makes small, hard green pears. They're not pretty to look at but taste OK. They taste even better when I make them into pear butter. But Pam and David have a couple of pear trees with the best, most juicy pears you can imagine.

I've been sending broad hints about those pears, which they shared so generously last summer, and Pam said she would pick some today.

I sit here in the sun, peeling the last of the apples for one more pie before I turn to pear butter production, and I'm trying to remember exactly what it is that we eat in the winter. I can't think of a meal lately that wasn't almost entirely grown in my garden or in a neighbor's.

And I'm thinking I was made for this life. I remember when I was a kid, helping my aunt can tomatoes or bake gooseberry pies or snap beans or pit cherries — I don't remember exactly what, but I told her that I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grow up but this was what I wanted to do, and she told me I wanted to be a farmer's wife.

I remember thinking that what I really wanted was to be a farmer, not a wife, only the gardening kind, not the tractor driving kind. In the 1970s on a grain farm in Illinois I'm not sure I understood there could be any other way to farm, and now I'm thinking that driving a tractor could be pretty cool, too.

Peel in beauty; preserve peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in peaceful food production in the world and in her own backyard. You can read more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.com. Hays can be reached at letterfrombird land@gmail.com.

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