Southern Fried Chicken with Pan Gravy

February 18, 2009 at 9:00 am (Pan gravy, Recipes, Southern Fried Chicken) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Fried Chicken with Pan Gravy

Ask any southern woman the best way to her man’s heart, and she will tell you it’s her crispy Southern Fried Chicken! Today I’m going to walk you through making my version of this all time favorite. We’re going to make Southern Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes with Pan Gravy, and a nice veggie side. Yummy! You’ll get the step-by-step right here, and I’ll include a recipe on our sites “Food and Wine Recipes” section to go along with it.

Mixing a dry rub.

For extra flavor, I like to first make a dry rub that I’ll use to directly coat my raw chicken pieces. It gets flavor directly onto the chicken skin, (or if you are eating healthy, directly onto the chicken meat). Just mix up some sea salt, black cracked pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Apply generously to your fresh chicken pieces.

Mixing a dry rub.

The moisture from your fresh chicken will allow the rub to stay in place with enough remaining moisture to hold onto the first layer of the crispy coating that’s coming up next. Be sure to generously coat both sides of each piece!

The Crispy Coating

Next, we want to prepare the crispy coating that will go onto the chicken. I like to use a combination of flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper (since I always enjoy a touch of heat). You’ll want to mix these ingredients into a bowl large enough to easily dredge your pre-seasoned chicken. I like to double coat my chicken so we’ll use this mixture in two stages. The first stage is done right after applying the dry rub (mentioned above), and the next stage will occur right after soaking your chicken in an egg wash.

Making an Egg Wash.

I like to mix up a simple egg wash to which I add a small amount of hot sauce. But that’s just the way I roll!!! Your chicken will then have a layer of pre-seasoning, and an initial first coating of seasoned flour. With that said, it’s ready to take a dip in the egg wash. Your flour coating should get moistened (become a bit gummy) but should not be allowed to actually wash off the chicken. Do this carefully, and slowly. You’ll need enough moisture to later dredge back through the flour mixture a second time. We (in the cooking trade) call this: “Double Dipping”. It makes for a very crispy/crunchy final product!

Chicken 'Double Dipped' in Flour Mixture.

So, let’s review what we now have. We have a pre-seasoned layer, another layer dredged through our flour mixture, an egg washed layer, and a final layer dredged through our flour mixture one more time. Our pieces are ready to be fried in hot oil. (At this point, you could also deep fry these, which is probably better and faster, but I’m going to want to make pan gravy from the rendered fat and oil).

Chicken Starting To Fry.

As always when working with very hot oil (350°), please be sure to carefully lower your chicken pieces so that you won’t get burned. I use tongs and try to lower each piece by its front, then middle, and then its back. (If any splashing were to occur this way, it would be away from me, not toward me).

Fry Until Golden Brown.

You’re best bet for crispy fried chicken is to let it bask in the hot oil and don’t mess with it!!! I like to fry my chicken in just two passes. Since it takes about 30 to 45 minutes until done, turn your chicken after about half that time. The goal is to have it turn golden brown in the time it takes to be completely cooked (but not overcooked). Practice makes perfect it’s true, but it’s also not that hard to judge if you keep an eye on it from time to time.

Ready To Eat.

When golden brown and crispy lower your heat (medium-low) and carefully remove the chicken pieces from the hot oil. Place pieces onto paper towels to drain off any excess oil, then we’ll let them rest in a warm oven (175°). The pan gravy will happen fairly quickly so our pieces won’t have to rest in the warm oven for long.

The Gritty/Brown/Good Bits.

And now for the pan gravy. This will be a milk based gravy that starts out with all that gritty brown goodness at the bottom and sides of our pan. We need to drain off all but a few tablespoons of oil, (but we need to be very careful not to lose any of the gritty stuff!). Believe me when I tell you, the bits left behind are full of flavor!!! Next we’ll add some flower to make a roux (pronounced “Roo” or “Rue”). A roux is made from equal parts flour and oil. You slowly whisk in your flour until the mixture is thick (think plaster of Paris or cake frosting). It’s important to keep whisking/stirring so that the flour will be evenly cooked by the oil. We want the thickening properties of the flour, but none of that raw flour taste. Eventually the flour will begin to brown. You can stop browning at any point between light golden to mahogany in color but don’t go beyond mahogany. The darker the roux, the more flavor added to the gravy. And don’t have your heat too high! You’ll go from white flour to burnt!

Creamy Pan Gravy.

Once we have our roux paste, we can begin to slowly add cold milk to it. You must always add cold liquid to a heated roux and we’ll do this a little at a time. As we add the milk, we’ll keep whisking/stirring it so it stays creamy and free from lumps. As the roux begins to absorb the milk, it will begin to thin out. At that point you can pour in the rest of your milk but continue to stir! To get best flavor, you should simmer the gravy for about 10 to 20 minutes. That will allow all of the remaining flour to absorb the liquid making it silky smooth.

Creamy Buttery Mashed Potatoes.

And nothing goes better in the world with homemade pan gravy then creamy buttery Mashed Potatoes!!! Now I know that some of you will pour some of the pan gravy onto your crispy southern fried chicken and that’s fine. But me? I’m a purist. I like my southern fried chicken to stay crispy/crunchy on the outside, and tender/moist on the inside. But don’t worry… I always make up for it with extra helpings of mashed potatoes! Yummy! The only thing left to do is to make up a side veggie. I’m partial to french style greenbeans so that’s what I’ll make. And now… it’s eatin’ time!!!

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Books, Movies, and the Christmas Spirit!

December 13, 2008 at 5:15 am (Authors, Beekeeper Dan, Books, Brother John, Christmas tree, decorations, Espresso Yourself, Eydie Wight, Family, holiday, hot chocolate, movies, poetry, Recipes, Terry Pratchett, The Hogfather) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!

By Eydie Wight

Lot's of Ornaments!

Well, Brother John has been wonderfully patient with my absentee blog-ism. The last week has been filled with social events, Sammy’s tooth extraction, un-successful hunting, decorating mayhem, and the advent not of a calendar filled with little doorways and goodies but of our busy season at work. ‘Tis the season to be wheezin’ as we respiratory therapists like to say.

Last Saturday I had the “coming out” party for my poetry book at the open house for our county’s Arts Council. I was pretty nervous that no one would show up and I would sit there at the table with an ever increasing mountain of books and a stack of brand new Sarasa black gel pens listening to the clock tick, tick, tick as I tried not to fidget too much in my black velvet skirt, glittery velvet top, and knee high black polished boots. I figured it would have been stretching the eccentric writer persona a bit far to show up in my everyday apparel. Do they make book signing pajamas? Hmmm. They should.

But, not to worry. When Sammy and I arrived Mom and my “earth sister” Joanne were already there and had broken the ice for me. Mom had brought a big batch of my dad’s chocolate dipped peanut butter candy balls and had introduced herself to everyone. My dad’s name is John Richard (he’s called “Dick”) and I tried not to cringe as Mom asked people if they wanted to try Dick’s chocolate balls. It was sort of like a South Park episode. (Brother John here… OMG! It’s as bad as when Granny used to compliment Dad on his cooking… “This is GOOD DICK”). The Arts Council has a gallery of rooms dedicated to the work of local artists. There were artworks on the walls, framed photography, note cards and pictures, music CD’s, jewelry, knitted scarves, purses, and hats, woven textile clothing, and sculptures done in all sorts of media. They had set up two tables for us “Authors” to sit with our books. They had even made a sign. The sign had my name on it. Spelled right and everything. My friend and mentor Tony arrived, our friend Dave was there to provide some acoustic guitar background, fellow poet Siggy set up at the next table and Jonas was there with his book about a half hour later. Suddenly the gallery was filled with people. They were shopping. laughing, eating cookies, pate, and Dick’s chocolate balls. Sammy and I uncorked bottles of our homemade elderberry and blackberry wine and things had the making of a holiday party.

I signed and sold my first seven books! They were all to Mom! But that was okay! It was exciting!

The afternoon flew by. So many of my friends came out to show their support. Some of them hadn’t even been begged beforehand to casually “stop in.” I signed and sold a few more books, one to a perfect stranger, and then during a lull in the crowd we decided to play the part of “starving artists” and all go across the street to the local coffeehouse, “Espresso Yourself.” There were ten of us including Mom and Joanne, Tony, Siggy, Jonas, Dave, Gary, Beekeeper Dan, Rog, Sammy, and me. Mom and Tony were in rare ribald humor and Dad’s chocolate balls were the source of much raucous hilarity. I smiled so much my face hurt. Of course I hugged everyone and the glitter on my velvet blouse left it’s mark everywhere I went. Tony had glitter in his beard, Mom had a little glitter speck on her cheek, Beekeeper Dan had glitter on his shirt sleeve, Sammy had glitter on one eyebrow, Dave had glitter on his guitar.

That evening Sammy and I “found” our favorite Christmas movie for this holiday season. My friend Carole had said her son had told her she “must see” the movie “The Hogfather,” a TV movie from 2006 based on the Terry Pratchett novel. We sat down to watch it, not knowing what to expect, and it was great. Wonderful music score, twisted characters, fantastic sets, dark humor and witty asides. I had gotten together all my paraphernalia to wrap presents and ended up sitting with the same unwrapped present in my lap for over an hour until I just gave up and moved to the couch. As good as the movie was, it was in two parts and nearly four hours long. A combination of the excitement of the day, the couch, the couch blankey, my pajamas, and elderberry wine soon had me romping in dreamland.

That was Saturday, a good day indeed. Sunday I got up early, did the house chores, and started in on my unfinished wrapping. It was a gray, dismal day and as I rewatched the first part of “WolfieThe Hogfather” I wrapped, and wrapped, and wrapped. The stuff was multiplying, I swear. Now, somewhere in the murky ghosts of Christmas past my mom started the tradition of labeling the packages in cute or sometimes just strange ways. Instead of, “To Eydie, from Mom” a package might read, “To Good Girl Eydie Lynne from Barbie Santa.” Or, “To Johnny from the Wolfie Santa.” (What!!! Mom didn’t call me “Brother John” back then???!!! And I miss my Wolfie!!!) Thanks to me, this year we have, “To little Mary from The King” and “To handsome Sammy from the fashion Santa.”

Sunday evening I decided to put up the tree and decorate the house a little while Sammy put up some outside lights. The plan was, this year, since no one will actually be at home for Christmas, to decorate minimally. Sammy helped me bring down the Christmas storage bins from the attic. There were eleven of them and the 30 gallon tree container. All stuffed full of treasures from my nearly five decades of Christmas. I have one lone surviving angel hair (long since banned) ornament from when our Pop-paw was alive. I have a few pieces of Granny’s holly and ivy dishware. I have an ornament I gave big Roger the first year we were married and a half dozen frog ornaments that Greg had collected. I have Rog’s “Baby’s first Christmas” ornament. I have a ballerina, unicorns, a banana, a Boeing plane, Sherlock Holmes, a Scottish bagpiper, Mr. Potato head, and the Mystery Machine from Scooby Do. My life chronicled in ornaments.

Of course I ended up putting out far more stuff than I’d planned because I like my Christmas stuff and I want to look at it for a few weeks. It’s glittery and shiny and full of memories. Better than a bag of gingersnaps and a half gallon of vanilla ice cream to dip them in. Although I wouldn’t say no to eating the aforementioned while I admired my Christmas decorations while sitting on the couch watching part two of “The Hogfather.”

Sammy did manage to get a little deer hunting in during last week. Our work schedule wasn’t too conducive to prime hunting times so we gave our Amish neighbors permission to hunt up in our deer stand. They got an eight point buck and two doe so far from up on our ridge. Two were from our stand, one from theirs. I hoped Sammy would have some luck, but I didn’t relish the butchering process that follows. The year after my second husband died our unidentified neighbor, knowing we counted on venison as a major meat source, offered to share his deer meat with me if I would process it. I jumped at that idea, and sure enough, he arrived one morning with a gutted, skinned, and quartered deer. The first bit of processing is to cut out the tenderloins, the most tasty and tender back strap of the deer. Around here it’s jokingly called “poison meat” as in “You don’t want that old poison meat, you’d better give it to me.” Then the steaks are cut out, chunks are cut for stew meat, and the bits and pieces are ground for burger or made into jerky. I have my Granddad’s jerky recipe. I may include it on the recipe list, but then again, maybe it will remain a family secret passed down through the generations. But (as usual) I digress. The year my unidentified neighbor brought me the deer three of his brothers showed up through the season with deer for me to process and share in the meat. I suspect their mom, knowing I wouldn’t have time to hunt that year, made sure I was taken care of. One reason why I love living in the country.

Sledding Disaster

The unidentified neighbor has nine brothers and sisters. Their mom lives on the “home place” and throughout the year the whole clan shows up for summer picnics and swimming in their big farm pond, the men all come and bring their sons (and a daughter or two) to hunt deer in the fall, and or course, everyone shows up for Christmas. One Christmas when Rog was young there was a big snowfall just before Christmas vacation started. Then there was a freeze so the snow stayed around. The farm has a perfect sledding hill and that year it had a perfect crust for tobogganing. Some of the teenage boys built a big ramp about halfway down the hill and would ski or snowboard off it. All the neighbors, including me, my second husband, and Rog, showed up for the sledding. There was a bonfire to stand around and thaw out in front of, and some of the dad’s were engaged in building competitive snow forts for later snowball battles. We all took turns going down the hill. Mostly toboggans, but some runner sleds, snow tubes, a big tractor inner tube, and some sheets of paraffin coated cardboard. The hill was fast enough that the runner sleds and toboggans were too fast for me. I like my sledding sedate. So I took one of the snow tubes and happily slid down in lazy spirals and curves along with the toddlers. Unfortunately one of those lazy spirals brought me, now sliding backwards and all unknowing, onto the path of the big ski jump ramp. Next thing I know I had an excellent view of the downward slope of the hill. Unfortunately it was an upside down view as the tube performed complete 360 in the air (with me still hanging on out of desperation and shock.) The tube and I landed to applause from all and sundry and calls of “Do it again, Mrs. Hall. That was soo cool!” I gathered my wits and waved as my heart slowed from it’s trip hammer pace and I (hopefully) nonchalantly ambled off in search of home, pajamas, and hot chocolate.

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Brother John’s ‘Tater Soup

October 14, 2008 at 10:00 am (Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Brother John will show you how to make his delicious 'Tater Soup

Actual pile of dad's potatoes fresh from his personal garden!

Every year around late September or early October I get hungry for some homemade potato soup. As the weather cools down and the leaves begin to display their beautiful fall colors, a nice hot bowl of rich creamy potato soup really goes down well. It’s also around this time of year that my dad brings Kathy and me a fresh sack of (various) potatoes he’s grown from his personal garden. The potatoes are so fresh they still have some dirt and mud on them from when he dug them up. Evidently, my sister Eydie and brother-in-law Sammy also get this same gift from dad. And like me, it appears they also enjoy a hearty bowl of potato soup! They’ve even posted their own recipe! Check it out in their Wine and Food Recipes section or click right here if you can’t wait. Either way, be sure to come on back when you’re done!

Items to be Sautéed

Fresh Carrots

Fresh Celery

Fresh Onions

Finely Diced Carrots

Finely Diced Celery

Finely Diced Onions

Fresh ingredients and lightly salted butter go into the sauté pan to be cooked down.

Before I get started I want to point out one thing. If you are going to cook anything, always use the freshest ingredients you can find! Here I’ll be using fresh sweet orange carrots finely diced; crisp, tender celery (including the bright green leaves), also finely diced; and beautiful sweet onions (from my dad’s own garden) which we’ll finely chop as well. (The onions are so delicious in soup that I often double the amount)! I sauté all these ingredients in an entire stick of high quality, lightly salted butter. (Sorry, I’m just not a big fan of margarine). Don’t worry if that seems like a lot, it’s very easy to remove excess butter once the soup is prepared. I’ll tell you how to do that later.

Veggies Come Together... right now...
Now Simmer Down!

All of the vegetables to be sautéed go into the sauté pot along with the stick of butter. This should be cooked over a medium heat and stirred to keep the veggies from sticking to the bottom. Now… you might very well ask me why I bother to sauté these vegetables? Many of you might simply add them to your liquid and boil away. I’ve found that sweating my vegetables in rich liquid butter imparts a flavor that can’t be beat. And it will slightly speed up the cooking time. Because I make a buttery milk based broth for my potato soup, it doesn’t hurt to give the veggies a head start and this becomes the perfect time to add a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. It also smells heavenly! Talking about cheering up your kitchen on a dreary Autumn day. This will do it for you!

Let the cooking begin!

Now we start making soup!

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t included measurements. And there is a reason for that. I knew I wanted to make a rather large batch of potato soup, perhaps as much as six quarts and that meant I had to use the largest pan I own. So I put some fresh spring water into it and then diced enough of dad’s potatoes to fill it half way with an inch of water on top of that. Good starting point. I then added the sautéed veggies and that told me what else I needed to do. Sometimes that would be to add more water, but this time it needed four additional potatoes.

Adding Evaporated Milk and Fresh Cream makes this rich!
Bring this up to a gentle boil.

A soup stock made of fresh spring water would not really be much to write home about. But I like to let the potatoes cook a while in water until they are just starting to soften up. Then I add a mixture of evaporated milk, and fresh cream. This actually turns my pan of water into a pan of creamy milk and causes the soup to start looking like potato soup. (You know… I didn’t have anyone to take these pictures so I tried the old “Hold the camera in one hand while pouring with the other” trick. And it actually worked! I had expected I’d either end up with liquid running all over my stove top, or that I would totally miss the shot. But I managed to get both right the first time!).

My potato soup will still needs three more ingredients before its done, but one of them is very interesting. We’ll talk about that one next.

An Egg Divided.

Potato soup can really benefit from a few hard boiled eggs! The trick is to first hard boil them, and then separate the yolk from the egg white. The bright yellow yolk can be broken down into the texture of course sand, which can then be added to the potato soup to give it a very rich flavor.

The added protein will really pick you up on those cold Autumn days. (I know of others who also do this and they use both the egg yolk and the egg white. Kathy doesn’t care much for the egg whites so I save them in a bowl wrapped in cellophane. I’ll show you how I use them later on. Remember… nothing shall be wasted!).

Freshly grated sharp

I then like to get my soup up to a mild boil and add freshly grated sharp cheese to my potato soup! Melted cheese tastes great and will also give you some added protein. I also like the orange color it adds to an otherwise very white soup. It’s also a good time to add some fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any in the house. I did have dried parsley, so I added a generous portion of that to give a little green color here and there to my soup. We eat with the eyes, so color is an important factor!

And it all comes together to make a lovely soup!

Which brings us to the final product. A big pan of Brother John’s homemade potato soup! During this final stage, excess butter will simply float to the top where it can easily be skimmed away for those who want to restrict their butter intake. You should really try to make this soup for yourself because it’s hearty, it will fill you up, and will bring a bit of sunshine to any dreary day!

SIX QUARTS OF GOOD EATING!

Good eating for a while

Kathy and I won’t go hungry for a while with six quarts of potato soup. I’ve even been known to get up at 2:30am and make a bowl as a “midnight” snack! There are two points I want to leave you with:

  1. Never waste anything! (Example #1: Breakfast)
  2. Never waste anything! (Example #2: Compost)

Hope you enjoy making and eating Brother John’s ‘Tater Soup!

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Cutting Firewood To Make Nut Brittle

October 7, 2008 at 12:32 am (Andrew Davidson, Arrowheads, Artifacts, Asplundh, Authors, bee hive, Bees, Books, Brother John, Butterflies, Companies, Dogs, Fair Paladin, Family, Fossils, Friends, German Shepherd, GOD, Hiking, Hobbies, honey, Insects, Jasper, mandolin, Monarch, music, Nut Brittle, Pets, Places, poetry, Recipes, Religious, Ricketts Glen State Park, Sylvia, The Gargoyle, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

When you chop a walnut tree, sometimes you harvest walnuts!

Sammy and I had had great aspirations of filling our wood shed to overflowing when we were off on our “working vacation” a few weeks ago. And we did bring in several loads. Then, the rains came. Not for 40 days and 40 nights, although the people of Texas probably felt that way, but enough to make our access into the fields a mucky nightmare. So, this past Thursday we sallied forth (well, Sally didn’t go, only room for two in the truck plus Jasper) to our unidentified neighbor’s farm to cut a load of firewood. It was actually chilly, intermittently overcast and with a stiff breeze blowing. Enough so that I had an old gray sweat jacket on and came home with pink ears and a somewhat windburned face. Our neighbor had cut several trees down that grew along the access drive to his 100 acre property. He had done this so that in the winter the sun would be able to reach the road surface and melt some of the ice. I’d been on that road a few years ago when it was possible to skate (or in my case slide on my backside) down the length of it to where the truck was parked at the bottom, unable to make it any further up the drive.

The first tree Sammy began cutting was a nice sized walnut. It was big enough to provide that day’s truckload of wood. And, it was covered with walnuts. I’ve already mentioned that I have this quirky survivalist mentality. To me, a tree full of easily accessible walnuts means a source of protein for the winter should society fail completely and Sammy and I be unable to keep us in squirrel and deer meat in the style to which we are accustomed. The walnuts also mean my favorite nuts for Dad’s Microwave Nut Brittle. The first year he made this stuff (two or three years ago) I thought it couldn’t possibly be any good. Wrong. I put that first piece in my mouth and it had just the right crunch of nutty goodness. Let it stay in your mouth a bit and the whole mess melts into a sweet sticky glue that renders you incapable of separating your jaws for several minutes. (Great for kids if you know what I mean!) Dad has since doctored the recipe to include coconut, confectioners sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter. I’m going to experiment with (of course) honey this year. I have to laugh at this mental image I have of Dad bringing out the container of nut brittle at Christmas time. It’s like the pied piper if you can picture a gaggle of (mostly) overweight middle aged adults all trying to get their sticky hands into the smallish plastic container at the same time and fighting over the “big” pieces.

My job, when we are cutting wood, is all the ancillary duties. Sammy cuts, I load the truck. I also pull aside and stack the ends of branches too small to cut, hold pieces still as Sammy cuts them, pull out fallen (and usually brier covered) limbs and dead fall, and play with Jasper in between. (Brother John here… I once worked for the tree trimming company Asplundh and, except for Jasper…, these were also my daily duties. The person doing this type of duty was called a “Brushy” back in the day). Well, to add to my list, there were walnuts to collect because, (chant with me Brother John, and Sylvia, you’ve been around enough to join in too) “NOTHING MUST BE WASTED!” I had no idea how many walnuts a tree has when the entire tree has been cut and all the nuts can be harvested. And, not knowing the nuts would be there, I hadn’t brought a bag along. Imagine. I was unprepared! After a minute or so of abject humiliation, and after shortly abandoning the thought of filling my jacket pockets 20 or so nuts at a time, I graciously volunteered Sammy’s jacket (which he wasn’t wearing) and started loading it up with nuts. Each jacket load I would then dump in the front foot well of the passenger’s seat of the truck. Why I didn’t just throw them in the back I don’t know. Maybe nuts and wood, like oil and water, don’t mix in my head. Anyway, by the time the truck was loaded with wood I had enough walnuts to reach up to the seat. I sat in the seat, my feet resting on a mountain of walnuts, and realized that with the back full, Jasper had to ride up front. On my lap. Seventy-five pounds and I hadn’t peed before we took off for home (on some of the finest washboard dirt roads ever traveled).

When we pulled up the driveway I had Sammy stop at the top and let me offload first Jasper (who had enjoyed the trip home immensely, with “Mom” serving as a captive petting machine) and then the walnuts. Drive around the county this time of year and you’ll see many a driveway full of walnuts. The walnut comes off the tree with a thick green hull. This turns brown as it dries. This hull has long been a natural source of brown dye. The first time I hulled walnuts I used my bare hands. I had dyed brown hands for nearly a week. Now I do what everyone else does and throw them in the drive way to be driven over until all the soft hull has been worn off. These hard walnut shells are so tough that even driving over them doesn’t crack them. They scoff at traditional nutcrackers. (Brother John here… I always wondered why people did that! I always figured the nuts would get smashed into little bits, making that a very stupid thing to do. Now I get it Sis!). I place a few nuts in a rag and then take the hammer to them. Dad uses a vise, I think. I’m open to a better suggestion. But, it is one of the late autumn/winter pastimes when the weather is nasty. Sit around the wood stove, crack some walnuts while Sammy cleans a rifle or plays a little sweet guitar. A truly rustic picture. Completed by the image that I am, of course, in my pajamas.

Tomorrow we are going to get a few more loads of wood and meet up with our unidentified neighbor who will be cutting down a couple of the larger trees that still shade the drive. I’m hoping that after the work is done he’ll suggest a walk. He has lived in the area all his life and has shared some amazing discoveries with us. I have been along when a wild honeybee tree was harvested (the bees had swarmed and were given a new hive to populate). I’ve seen heavily fossilized shale covered with the imprints of shells and algae. I went along arrowhead hunting and collected blanks and pieces of arrowheads along with one that was complete. One day we walked into a field of wildflowers. He clapped his hands and suddenly the air was full of fluttering Monarch butterflies that landed on our arms, head, and clothes.

I always keep my “other” eyes open when I am out in the woods and fields. My imagination fills them with fairy worlds that live just beside the one we know. I often feel something else, an energy, or presence, or spirit. These days I call it God. I call it all God. It could be called many things. But I know, on those fall days when I lie in a cut field and feel the earth cool beneath my shoulder blades and the sun is warm on my face and a red tailed hawk soars searching in the blue sky above me, I know that there IS more. It gathers beneath me, goes through me, and connects with things unseen. One of my poems, “Fair Paladin” came from the magic the special places hold, or at least that I imagine they hold.

I have a bucket list. For those that didn’t see the movie, it’s stuff you want to do or accomplish before you kick the bucket. I have three things on my list so far. I plan to live to be a hundred and three so I’m hoping to add a few more.

  1. I want to get my book of poetry published. It’s so close. I want to see it on the Arts Council shelf and on the local artist shelf at Borders. I want my mom to be there when I do my first book signing, hopefully at the Arts Council where I’ll provide homemade blackberry, elderberry, and mead wines for my friends (and maybe a stranger or two) to drink. I want someone to pay real money for a copy of my book.
  2. I want to walk through an airport carrying my fiddle or mandolin to take it on a plane to somewhere and know that I actually play the darn thing well enough to deserve to carry it through an airport.
  3. Goblins Under Tree Stumps #1 Goblins Under Tree Stumps #2
    Fairy Houses Alligator Jawed Dragons
    Hunting for Ice Eggs Ice Egg in the Sky
    Walking Tree Ents #1 Walking Tree Ents #2

    I want to take a hike on the falls trails at Ricketts Glen State Park on a perfect day in the company of someone who sees and feels and loves the magic I talked about earlier as much as I do (Sammy and Brother John would do nicely.) We’ll find goblins under tree stumps, fairy houses, alligator jawed dragons, ice eggs, and walking tree Ents.

  4. Eydie, Brother John here. I have no imagination it would seem. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out which “other eye” vision each of these represent. Hover the mouse and you’ll see one idea, and click on the item to see that and other ideas. It would help greatly if you would define which is which. And maybe throw in a bit of real description as well. Ricketts Glen State Park looks very nice!
The Gargoyle - By Andrew Davidson - An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time.

But for now, Sammy is out sharpening the chainsaw on the living room coffee table and me (in my pajamas), a novel (The Gargoyle), and the big brown chair have developed this undeniable attraction for each other. Throw the blue gingham angel quilt into the mix and I won’t be long for this world… Zzzzz.

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Spiders, Snakes, Aphids, and Bees!

September 21, 2008 at 11:30 am (bee hive, Bees, Brother John, Jasper, Plants, Recipes, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Snakes And Bugs And Bees... Oh My!

Today was another of those days when the place for morning coffee was on the deck. I opened the door, let Emy cat out and fended off the boisterous good morning activity of the dogs. I wasn’t out for more than a minute before I went inside to grab a jacket to throw over my pajamas, and slide my new moccasin birthday slippers on my feet. The temperature had dipped down into the 40’s over night. I am surprised that the home hummingbirds are still present, active, and seemingly in no hurry to leave. They continue to dive bomb each other, hover in front of my face, and perch on top of my wind chimes. Emy discovered a few days ago that she can jump on top of the deck rail and walk along it, tantalizingly out of reach of the dogs. They whine, they entreat me to get her down so they can chase her, they finally pretend indifference until she casually strolls over to where I am now leaning against the rail and rubs her face against mine. That does it, the dogs explode in a frenzy of jealous barking, making so much noise I have to trick them away from the house with a stick I throw far out into the yard so that Sammy has a slight chance of continuing his sleep.

Today is the last day of vacation! I love the changing of the guard of the seasonal flowers. Right now there are asters of all kinds in the un-mown areas of the yard. New England Asters willingly cluster around the mailbox, their light blue flowers seeming to glow in the morning light. Small white asters (I’ll have to look those up in the flower book) grow in abundance, creating bushy clumps. Fortunately none of us are allergic to goldenrod, because it is everywhere. My thoughts this morning, besides a song that is stuck in my head, are on wine. (The song, by the way, is “By the light of the silvery moon.” I don’t where all these obscure tunes come from, but this one must be one of my mother’s old barbershop quartet tunes, because it’s not only in my head, it’s in my head in four part harmony.)

Wine, we plan to bottle the blackberry wine today if all goes well. The wine has “cleared” and is a gorgeous color. I keep telling myself what the wine book says, that the wine must “mature” but the little voice inside my head (I think it’s the same voice that’s singing baritone) says, “Drink it. Drink it. Drinkitdrinkitdrinkitallnow.” But don’t worry, the last time I listened to that voice it was telling me that “no, of course not, bell bottoms will NEVER go out of style.” As I wandered around the yard I took notice of several fat rose hips on the Jacob’s Coat of Color Rose. My old wine book mentions that one of the truly exceptional elites of the homemade wines is rose hip wine. The author of the book only made a few bottles a year and prized them above all other. I don’t have nearly enough rose hips of my own, but I know a place where the multi flora rose (wild rose) grows thick. I went there a few years ago to pick some hips for rose hip tea. Like the blackberry session, each fat rose hip pulled me further into the brier warren until I suddenly found myself surrounded on all sides by impenetrable thorns. Thorns grabbing my shirt, pants, gloves, hair, holding me fast until some handsome prince came to magically free me and kiss my waiting lips…Right in the middle of THAT pleasant daydream a deer leaped out of the briers, not more than three feet from me. Well, by the time I tore my way out of the warren, yelping all the way,with the deer gracefully leaping unscathed in the other direction, I was pretty sure I would need plastic surgery and a pint or two of blood.

It’s not unheard of to have September frost, and I’d been planning all week to take the house plants inside for the cold season, so we decided to make that one of our last vacation projects. We really only have one southern exposure window downstairs in the spare bedroom, and each year all of the “big” plants get crowded around this one window until the room looks like something out of Jumanji. When I met Sammy and we began our courtship, he had one fairly big avocado tree that he had grown from a seed. At the time we met this tree was decorated with colored lights and red bows and was Sammy’s Christmas tree. I promptly named her “Iris” and would blow big Co2 laden kisses on her whenever I saw her. (Plants like that, you know. They don’t even care if you’ve had garlic, or Kosher pickles, or never brush your teeth-not that I know about that one, but I know someone who does!!!) Anyway, now, some four years later, Iris brushes her head on the ceiling and throws her arms out in a six foot span. Her “little sisters” (also grown from seed) number four, and we’ve even given some away to loving homes! We also have a beautiful “walking” iris we got as a start from my dad, a robust calla lily, some elderly Dieffenbachia, and a Mimosa pudica (“sensitive” plant). This plant curls it’s leaves up whenever they are touched, then slowly unfolds them again. All in all there were nine plants to bring in. Before they left the great outdoors each plant was trimmed of wind tattered or bug eaten leaves, re-potted if needed, had a scoop or two of potting soil added to “top off” the pots, and was sprayed with a soap solution to kill off aphids.

While I was re-potting and puttering and rearranging, our cats were having an adventure. Sammy called me downstairs from the kitchen where I had been stuffing a pickled egg into my mouth (and yes, Brother John, you DO have to chew them at least once!)

NOTE: Brother John here… you may be interested in knowing that I do NOT like pickled eggs! Probably comes as a surprise to my family. See? You learn something new every day!

Sammy had that mildly interested, not distressed at all, manly tone to his voice so I suspected immediately that the kittens had “found” a new toy in the basement, one that Sammy wasn’t real comfortable with. The toy turned out to be a little ring necked snake. These little guys are hardly bigger than a good sized earthworm and are pretty laid back. Not, of course, when they’re being batted across a concrete floor like an air hockey puck while being chewed on from the backside up by two brave kittens honing their hunting skills. (I guess snakes have a backside…) Sammy wondered aloud two or nineteen times if there were probably more snakes in the basement. We did have a nice sized garter snake in the basement beside the soda tub on our wedding day. Sammy’s not overly fond of snakes. Or the multiple ladybug infestations we get inside the house each winter after the stove is fired up, or the rather large (actually very, very large) hairy wolf spiders that take up residence also in the basement come winter. I actually had a spider one year, before I met Sammy, named Tawanda. She was very curious and liked noise and vibration. Often she would “come out” to check out company. My sister-in-law and her husband were visiting one late fall and we were sitting around downstairs enjoying the wood stove and drinking beer. Enough beer that when all of a sudden my brother-in-law’s eyes bugged out of his head and he said, “Ohmygod, what IS that?”, Tawanda looked much bigger to him than she really was. Tawanda had come over to investigate and was nearly on his foot. Tawanda’s body was about the size of a somewhat flattened walnut. I had difficulty preventing George from flattening her more. Finally, they took pictures and went home claiming I had a pet tarantula.

Today was the kind of day that called for a woods walk and hot soup. I’ve been hungry for a thick, full bodied, stick to your ribs soup or stew. I bought the ingredients to make potato soup but then as the vacation days went by the ingredients disappeared. The milk went into cereal, the sausage went into pizza, the onion went into spaghetti sauce. The potatoes are still there, waiting patiently as potatoes do. I’m like my Scottish friend who, when I asked him what his favorite food was, said “Stovies”. I said, “What’s that?” He replied, “Any thing that’s made from potatoes and cooked on the stove.”

I did get a little bit of a walk in. Just as I was finishing re-potting my plants, Sammy came down the ridge with the camera in hand and said, “You have to come see this. This is incredible.” I said, “What’s that Sweetie?” He said, “Bees.” Well, I was pretty sweaty despite the cool day so I broke off some of the lemon balm that grows by the basement door and rubbed it on my arms. I walked up the hill toward the “orchard” where we have our six fruit trees. To the right of the orchard is the ‘upper pond”. This is an eight by eight round pond, about five feet deep, that is fed by a spring that runs all year long. Sounds lovely but two years ago some tree roots in combination with winter burrowing bull frogs resulted in a series of leaks. Now there is only about two feet of water in the pond, but it is nice, clear water. Between the orchard and the pond is a large patch of yard we decided to let fallow this year. It is covered at the moment with the bushy asters I need to identify. It was also covered with Italian honeybees. Not covered by a swarm, these little girls were busy gathering nectar and pollen from the asters. It was so covered I heard the busy hum of hundreds of bees before I even got close. I watched them for the longest time. I wonder, who has hives near here? I know all the neighbors, in fact, should we take to this beekeeping life, I plan to ask them to let us hive the protected niches of their fields. Could these fine little Italians be a wild hive? If so, will they be okay for the winter? They had such delicate little flights from tiny flower to tiny flower. They were happy bees that day and I wished them a safe trip home and safe winter.

Jasper had, of course, followed me up the hill. He patiently waited for me to interview the bees, and then, when I started back down toward the house, ran a little way up the hill and gave me a look that said, :”Come on. Up this way.” So I followed him up. Jasper is my hiking buddy. He loves the winter, and likes nothing better than the woods in snow. One year he and I set out after a storm had given us several inches of white powdery snow. It was so cold and dry the snow kicked up in plumes as we made our way up the ridge. I lost sight of Jasper, not difficult since he’s white, so I called him. All of a sudden he was there above me, on an outcropping just exposed enough to catch eddies of wind that swirled the snow around me. I had a sudden image of myself in buckskin and furs, my long black hair plaited as I searched beneath the snow for wintergreen berries to take back to add to venison jerky for trail mix to feed the tribe. Jasper and I shared one of those moments when the world is is suffused with joy and all of heaven stops to approve. Today we just walked up to the top of the ridge and then raced back down. Actually, Jasper was the only one racing, but I let him think he won.

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How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

September 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm (Authors, Books, Dogs, Jasper, Recipes, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Life is but a dream...

Sammy and I had come home from our long weekend of night shifts and slept the sleep of the deep and dreamless. Well, not dreamless. September is always a strange month for me. It is the month when I feel the change of the seasons pull me most strongly. When I was younger and first out on my own I used to change apartments every September. In these later years I roam far afield, collecting flower seeds and odd pods, watching leaves turn and grasses brown. I write more, create more, and dream more in September. So, the dream I had was typical for the month. I always dream in color, and usually in great detail. In the dream I was on top of a ridge admiring the long grasses that moved with the breeze and sloped down to the woods line. An old woman was standing with me, her white hair down to her waist. I asked her, “What must I do?” She told me that I must build a fence of green branches and she swept her arm across what seemed an impossible expanse of space. I started the work, taking only a branch or two from each tree, knowing I could strip the tree and take all its branches as some would do to shorten and ease the task, but choosing instead to roam further and further to find my branches. As I went, I would collect plants and seeds to plant along the fence as it took shape. When I stripped the branches I would fashion bird houses, and baskets that I filled with earth and seeds until the fence became a living thing. Sometimes as I returned I would see the old woman. She became younger as the time passed. And so did I. All the middle age weight came off as I walked and worked and my arms and legs grew muscular again and my own hair grew out long and beautiful. I woke up when I realized in the dream that I really had to pee. I kept looking for a place to pee but kept thinking, “Not here, I can’t pee here.” It’s good I didn’t find a place or Sammy might have had a rude awakening!

Warm hands, warm heart!

A few days ago I had called one of neighbor Dot’s sons who has a hundred acre farm about a mile from us. For the past umpteen years he has allowed us to cut firewood from this, his mom’s, or other properties he owns. He explained a long time ago that a good land steward will judiciously cut standing dead trees, fallen trees, and encroaching trees from field borders. This encourages straight growing timber and lets in more sunlight to field edges. What is culled is firewood. We heat primarily with a wood stove in the winter, using our heat pump only when we are going to be away for more than 24 hours. Our wood stove is a handmade affair my dad had made. The body will accommodate a sixteen inch chunk of wood. Let me just say that I’ve had all kinds of heating systems in my life (gas, oil, coal, electric, hot water baseboard) and wood beats them all in my opinion. With the wood stove going in the basement the floors are warm to the feet and the heat finds every nook of the house. I can stay barefoot inside in the winter and be comfortable.

Pickup that needs a 'Pick-me-up!'

Well, this was the day we had designated as our first day of woodcutting. It was late afternoon by the time we got up and we wanted to get one truck load cut and brought home before dark. We have an old Nissan truck that we use as a farm truck. It has a crunched in front end, more rust than paint, an acrylic driver’s side window and back window that are caulked in place (Sammy is so proud of THAT fix) and a tailgate that will fall off on your foot if you aren’t careful opening it. The gas gauge hasn’t worked in years so we pour a few gallons from the gas can in it each time we use it.

Best to be prepared...

Sammy and I “dressed for the occasion”. Long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes. Cutting wood this early in the season has a few considerations. Primarily, until the first hard frost, the poison ivy is still full of juice and vengeful. Until I wised up I used to miss a day or two of work every fall due to oozing, blistered, itchy, raw poison ivy on my forearms from carrying wood chunks to throw in the truck. Secondly, there are still copperheads around while the days are warm and the rocks offer heat and shelter. I’ve never (knock on the woodpile) come across one but it is very much a possibility. A copperhead bite is rarely fatal or even all that serious for an adult but it is frightening, unpleasant, and something I don’t want to have to tell a story about! As the day’s temperature was in the 80’s, humid, and breezeless (not the ideal day to run a chainsaw and heft chunks of wood) we also donned headbands so the sweat wouldn’t drip into our eyes. I know what you’re thinking and yes, of course, we ARE old hippies and we sure do look the part. Sammy has long hair past his shoulders and his headband was a rolled handkerchief. It was also pink and had dancing unicorns and rainbows on it. Mine was a rugged red bandanna. What can I say, real men wear whatever the hell they want and my man likes dancing unicorns and pretty rainbows. Have a problem with that and I’ll beat you up… 🙂

We loaded up the truck with the chainsaw, 2 cycle oil, gas can, chainsaw tool, bottles of water, bug spray, toilet paper, our dog Jasper, and we headed out. Our friend had called us to say he had trimmed and cut down trees that had grown along the fields on his property and we were welcome to the wood. We headed out. The property isn’t too far from home and the short drive led us on a dirt road through Frog Hollow. This is a still wild area where I’ve seen deer, fox, a huge blacksnake hanging from a tree, skunk, raccoon, groundhog, red-tailed hawks, mink, and sometimes fairies and other enchanted folk. One of my favorite poems, “Verbena” (written by my alter ego September Butterfly) came from my wanderings in this area.

Fear the Chiggers!

We drove up the dirt drive and across the fields up to the top of the ridge to park the truck. Despite the high humidity the view here was still breathtaking. We could just see the tip of Buffalo Mountain, seven miles away! And, if we had remembered the binoculars, we could have just made out the clearing that is our own modest homestead two ridges over. Before we got started we sprayed each other down with enough bug spray to have the pesticide environmentalists paying us a visit. This is a fairly recent anointing following our experience when we harvested elderberries for our elderberry wine. We had, on that occasion, neglected to wear suitable clothing or any bug spray and suffered the ravages of chiggers. Chiggers, for those who have never experienced them, are microscopic insects that burrow under your skin and emit an enzyme to liquefy the surrounding tissue which they then feed on. The area becomes red and unbearably itchy. The little bastards are self limiting in about three days but it is a miserable three days. Along with my elderberries I got about a dozen or so bites but Sammy became a metropolis of chiggers. They had condos and apartments and went jogging in the park. He must have had 40 or 50 bites. We now have a borderline irrational fear and hatred of them.

Eydie and Sammy stock up on firewood for the winter.

Anyway, Sammy fired up the chainsaw and I began loading up the truck. The small brush that remained I stacked into piles that our friend will later use his backhoe to push into a huge mound in the field. Come this winter and a good snowfall he will have a magnificent bonfire. The pieces we cut this first load were all small enough that they would not have to be split. Pieces that have too big a circumference have to have the axe taken to them. Our sons are good at splitting wood. One mighty well aimed blow and a chunk is split. Me, I have to use a wedge. And use a wimpy little thunk for fear of missing and chopping into my leg. It isn’t pretty and I generate more heat getting a piece split than I do burning it! We got a truck load of wood cut and we were done in for the day. Cutting wood when the fall air is crisp and clod and the leaves are falling in little dances as you work and the sweat cools as it forms is delightful. Cutting wood when there is no air moving and the sweat soaks into every crevice of your body and the wood chips as they fly stick and itch and make you look like you have a fired chicken coating is a CHORE. And all the poison ivy sits there with a smirk on its leaves and waits to ambush any exposed skin.

We filled up the back of the truck and packed all our gear and started for home. Jasper had to sit half on my feet and half on my lap but with his head hanging out the window he was content. As we drove home with the last of the day’s light we agreed that we would NOT unload the truck that night. I was ready for a shower. We striped off our poison ivy contaminated clothes and hung them outside until wash time. As I padded upstairs to the shower in the clothes God gave me I was glad I live in an area where I have no visible neighbors. And the neighbors would be glad I wasn’t visible just then either!

After we got cleaned up I was “whupped”. Hungry. Cranky. I knew before Sammy even opened his mouth that he would suggest we snap the huge bag of green beans we had picked a few days ago and cook them with some potatoes and ham. And make some of Granny’s homemade cornbread. I was whining, opting for some cheese and pretzels and a beer. But, and chant along with us, Brother John, NO PRODUCE MUST BE WASTED! So, for the next 45 minutes, Sammy sat in the big brown chair and I sat on the floor and we companionably snapped beans and watched politics on TV. Sammy watched politics. I kibitzed until Sammy told me to be quiet so he could hear. I cooked up the ham, green beans, and potatoes in a little chicken broth and made up a pan of cornbread in the big black iron skillet. (Granny’s Cornbread Recipe is in our Food and Wine Recipes section). We put on some corn to boil and Sammy cut up a few ripe tomatoes. I felt much better after we ate. I felt so much better that since I was already in my pajamas I climbed into bed and read an hour or so of Into the Wilderness.

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Beekeeper Dan Comes For A Visit (Part 1)

September 6, 2008 at 10:03 am (Bees, Carboy, honey, New friends, Recipes, Visit, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

A visit from Beekeeper Dan

We had been anticipating a visit from Beekeeper Dan for a couple of weeks and just couldn’t seem to get schedules to mesh, so when he let us know that yesterday would work out, we were tickled pink. The day before we had racked our wines from carboy to carboy to get rid of the first lot of “settlement” (dead yeasties and fruit pulp and such) and had been delighted to find that our mead was not in “stuck fermentation” as we had feared and agonized over for better than a week, but was still working, just working at it’s own slow pace. Sammy had worried so much that he had driven after work (night shift) to our local wine making supplier and slept in the car (again) until they opened. He was advised to go home, have a home brew and relax and let the mead ferment at its own pace. That was okay with us, even though our yeasties ride the little yellow school bus, we still love them!

I had been having a shamefully laid back day off. I had slept the long sleep of one who was avoiding watching the the republican convention (or any other convention) and woke up early. It was promising to be a scorcher of a day, hot and humid, but the morning offered a coolish breeze as I fed the shed cats and house kittens, cleaned litter boxes, rinsed and refilled water bowls, rescued Guido’s tank mates from his cannibalistic hunger, and fed the dogs. Sammy has decided that we should try to limit our power usage to off grid hours so he had done a load of laundry near midnight. As I hung the clothes out on the line the hummingbirds seemed to be fascinated either by my pajamas or Sammy’s socks and underwear because they hovered for seconds at a time in front of me in a rather quizzical fashion.. Best not to speculate the ADHD mind of the hummingbird. House chores done, I poured my second cup of coffee and wandered out back to check out my fine bed of Stonecrop sedum that was in full bloom. It was covered with honeybees and I couldn’t wait to show Beekeeper Dan. They were beauties, amber abdomens with black stripes against the pink sedum flowers. I watched to see where they went as they flew off. Somewhere into the sun…

Next thing I knew it was time to take a nap. Night shifters as we are, day time functioning requires a mid afternoon nappy. I melted into the bed even before Sammy had finished checking his E-mail. 45 minutes later I sat bolt upright, gasped, and said, “Granny!” Sammy said, “Wzzzt wzzmm?” I said, ” I don’t have any food made to offer Dan!” My grandmother (Granny to us, God rest her soul) would have been appalled that I had company and didn’t offer to feed them something. It’s the code of the country that as soon as someone crosses your doorway you start trying to stuff food into them. I can remember coming home from college to visit my Granny and Granddad and no sooner had I hugged and kissed hello than Granny was pulling out platters of sliced ham or turkey and Granddad was taking a pan of cornbread out of the oven and soon the table was groaning under the weight of “a little snack to tide you until supper”. Sammy was, by this time snoring again so I laid there and quietly tossed and turned and fidgeted and wracked my brains for an idea. We had been putting off going to the grocery store for several days to maybe over a week or so and Old Mother Hubbard ruled the pantry. I had racks of canned stuff I was going to share, but few people other than me can really sit down an enjoy an entire meal of pickled beets.

Blueberry Cobbler

So I lay there, mentally going over every offering of cupboards, pantry, fridge, and freezer. Freezer! I had it! The frozen blueberries from neighbor Dot! The day was saved and Granny’s spirit could rest easy. I got up and in short time had made a blueberry cobbler. Easy, and soooo tasty. Dot had frozen her blueberries in one cup baggies so I took four of these and ran cool water over them in a colander until they had thawed. In a medium saucepan I mixed a half cup of sugar and two tablespoons of cornstarch. To this I added the blueberries and heated the mixture, stirring constantly, until it boiled. This was allowed to boil for one minute (stirring) and then poured into an ungreased 2 qt. casserole. The oven had been preheated to 325 and the blueberries were placed into the oven while the topping was prepared. The topping consisted of a half cup of exceedingly lumpy brown sugar, a half cup of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a half cup of some multi grain high fiber cereal with oats and bran flakes, honey “clusters”, and rocks and twigs. A third cup of margarine was “cut” into this and this topping was crumbled on top of the blueberries. This was heated through until the topping was browned and crunchy. Since the topping was already crunchy this was a little hard to assess. I winged it and hoped for the best. If you don’t have any “twigs and rocks” cereal a half cup of oatmeal will do. And it really is better if the brown sugar isn’t lumpy. I had to beat mine with the side of the meat tenderizer until it submitted to my demand. (A recipe for Eydie’s Blueberry Cobbler)

Then I put together a care package for Dan of some of my recent canned goods, some flower seeds I’d been collecting (lunaria, hollyhock, poppy, zinnia, and marigold), and his empty honey jars and wine bottle. Next I did a quick poop scoop of the area around the house. Nothing kills the mood of a nice visit more than a shoe full of dog poop. The evening was shaping up nicely so I sat out on the deck with the mandolin and worked on the waltz “After the ball was over…”

Dan arrived on his Italian motorcycle. The purpose of his visit (other than a visit) was to asses our property for “bee worthiness” and discuss the best site for a hive. We also wanted to “talk chicken.” Sammy and I had been meeting such happy, friendly free range chickens over the past week that we wondered if a few might like to join our household. (And not be terrorized by the other animals. I, for one, have heard Guido express a fondness for chicken, should one ever pass near his tank.) More about our visit later.

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Olde recipes for Mead and Metheglyn

August 26, 2008 at 7:32 am (Books, Mead Making, Recipes) (, , , , , , )


By Sammy Wight

Here is a link to a free Project Gutenberg book that reveals recipes and stories about Mead and Metheglyn. An educational and fun read!

One of the best sources of old recipes for Mead and Metheglyn (which is a type of spiced Mead) comes from a free downloadable 17th century book called “FROM THE CLOSET OF SIR KENELM DIGBY KNIGHT OPENED”. In this book Sir Digby outlines a lot of great recipes and just reading the book is a lot of fun just to see some of the processes that he used to make his mead.

There have to be more stories that have been found with info like this. I would love to read more recipes and “In my search for the Holy Grail of Meads” to find the “best” recipe.

As time permits we will attempt to reformat some of Sir Digby’s Mead recipes and will place them into our Wine Recipes section. Feel free to copy and use. Let us know how they turn out for you!

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Our First Batch Of Homemade Mead!

August 7, 2008 at 8:00 am (Airlock, Bees, Fermentation Lock, honey, Mead Making, Nutrient, Recipes, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Having been up late the night before picking over blackberries and starting our blackberry wine, we slept late and spent a goodly part of the day doing house chores, buying groceries, refilling the hummingbird feeders, and checking the garden for any produce. Right now the garden is producing just enough squash and tomatoes to eat. In fact, we’re still at the stage in the growing season where we lovingly say to each other, “No, you take that tomato Sweetie, it has your name on it.” And then the other replies, “No, I had the last one last time, you get this one.” Later, as the garden becomes more prolific, it will be, “Sweetie, you have to start eating up some of those tomatoes, I don’t have time to can right now and they’ll go to waste.” As Brother John will agree, and it is a point I’ve addressed in earlier blogs, NO PRODUCE MUST GO TO WASTE! Better to eat it all until you burst and die, than waste it! (Brother John actually wrote his first, and only poem about the pressures involved when a garden produces a too abundant bounty. You can read his poem in our Poetry Section).

I also felt compelled to cook some food to tide us over the next few days of our work week. So, I thawed some of Dad’s fish that he had caught. My dad and his “crew” of friends go fishing at Quimby, Morely, and Oyster, VA on my Uncle Dave’s 19 ft. Carolina skiff, the “Binnie May” or on his friend Jerry’s catamaran. They go bay fishing for croakers, flounder, king fish, and shark. Actually my dad is famous in the family for being shark bit last year. Seems he had pulled in a small (five foot) shark. He intended to get his fishing line ready and back in the water, and then deal with getting the shark back in the water. His fishing buddy (name withheld) decided to help dad out and throw the shark back in. He picked it up by the tail and swung it and just that quick the shark twisted around and latched onto dad’s calf. They had to leave the shark there in full bite and cut it’s jaw with fishing scissors down both sides to work the inward slanting teeth out. And then they took dad off to the hospital, right? Of course not. They wrapped a dirty fish scaled rag around his leg and kept on fishing. The fish (and the sharks) were biting good. No fisherman leaves when there’s fish to be caught.

But I digress. So, I had thawed out some of dad’s fish, croakers they were, and decided to bread them with a little crushed saltines, cornmeal, and Old Bay seasoning. I dipped the fillets in a mixture of beaten egg and milk, and then in the breading, and then fried them in hot oil. Since we had a few zucchini that had to be eaten I decided to make a pancake batter, slice the zucchini, and then cook them in the batter. It is delicious that way.

Well, all of this took until about nine o’clock in the evening. It was then time to start making our mead, an event we had planned for and anticipated for weeks! We were excited, anxious, and tired. In honor of the occasion we had bought a bottle of “Mead” at the local liquor store, along with my favorite hard liquor (Laird’s Apple Jack). We poured two little shot glasses full, toasted each other, took a sip, and said simultaneously, “Blech”. Looking at the bottle we saw that the store bought mead was mixed with white wine. Not to our taste at all. Oh well, on to OUR mead.

The first thing we did was make up a couple gallons of sterilization solution. And boiled a big pot of water and then allowed that sterile water to cool for rinsing. Everything we used, buckets, spoons, measuring containers, utensils, HANDS, were sterilized and rinsed each time they were used. Step one was to pasteurize the honey. Now, my apologies to beekeeper Dan, about pasteurizing the honey, because many people believe this is an unnecessary step, but this was our first time, and the honey was raw, so we did. We first skimmed off any particles of wax and propolis that were on top of the honey. Then I had to make Sammy stop eating big spoonfuls of honey long enough to help me measure out 5 quarts of honey (about 15 lbs). I put one and a half gallons of spring water into a big pot, brought this to a boil, added the honey, stirred it, put the thermometer in the stuff and raised the temperature back to 160 degrees. This we let simmer at about 160 degrees for fifteen minutes to pasteurize the honey. All that sounds so easy and uncomplicated and it really is. But, you have to add to the equation my obsessive compulsive neat freak habits and the worry factor. Minsi Mountain honey is beautiful, tasty, wonderful stuff. But it’s sticky stuff. Sammy and I were ladling the honey into a two quart container to measure it and, of course, some dripped on the floor, and the counter, and the stove top, and my shirt, and my arms, and my face, and my hair. We stirred the honey for the entire time it was pasteurizing and kept playing with the heat to try to keep it EXACTLY at 160 degrees. Worried it near to death. Then, Sammy suddenly said, “I forgot!” and ran out of the room, leaving me stirring. I was hot, sticky, cranky, and none too pleased to see him come back with the camera. “I almost forgot to take pictures for Brother John!”, he said. Now, I’m in my pajamas (again), I’m honeyed but not too sweet if you know what I mean, and Sammy’s taking pictures. Fine. Couldn’t look anymore like a hillbilly then at that very moment. Yee-ha.

Well, after the honey was pasteurized we poured the honey mixture (called must) into the sterile bucket. We added two more gallons of the spring water (of the original four gallons there was now 1/2 gallon left) and stirred it up. It was at this time that we realized that the mixture was still way too hot and was going to take a very long time to cool down. One of our guru sites on the Internet suggested the two gallons of spring water could be frozen before being added. Or at least refrigerated. Next time we’ll do that. So we waited. We were waiting for for the honey mixture to cool to 80 degrees. We mixed up two packets of yeast in a half cup of warm (not hot) sterile water and let that sit for 15 minutes. After that time the yeasties were bubbling nicely. We added yeast nutrient, and yeast energizer to the must (per package directions) and added the yeast and stirred the mixture in the bucket actively for five minutes. I did dance around the bucket chanting, “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, cauldron boil and cauldron bubble.” but Sammy was back E-mailing Brother John with the pictures we had taken so far and he missed it. Gee. Too Bad.

We promised our mead that we would see it soon, (told it to be good and ferment “like a nice wine”), and then we put the lid onto the bucket. We added a fermentation lock out of curiosity (you don’t really need one at this point) and Sammy hauled the bucket down to the basement. Our basement is dry, stays about 70 degrees, is quiet, and mostly dark. We put the mead in the back bedroom/storage room. Here it would sit thinking secret thoughts for about two weeks.

I did have an image, as Sammy was going down stairs, of him tripping, falling, and splattering gallons upon gallons of sticky goo all over the basement where it would flow into corners and mix with dust bunnies and possibly grow into an evil monster that would kill us all while we slept. If that happened, I would just get beekeeper Dan to bring in some honeybees and they could just live in the house until the spill was all cleaned up. Speaking of honeybees, we put all of the propolis and comb that we had skimmed from the raw honey, out for the wild honeybees. They cleaned up the bowl in a few days, as beekeeper Dan said they would. The mead did demand a small blood sacrifice. I scraped my knuckle getting the lid on the bucket. No blood went in the mead, just a spatter on the floor.

Well, I scrubbed the floor, counters, sink, dishes, myself, and sat on the couch at last. Sammy and I “high-fived” each other a few times, I ate a half a celebratory box of Wheat Thins and drank a few shots of Apple Jack and Sammy, my loving soul mate, brought out the cocoa butter lotion and gave me a long, thorough foot rub. Life is good at the Wight House!

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