Monday, September 19, 2016

September is for Preserving

We chose to go without a vegetable garden this year, so all of the crops that usually keep me busy in Summer were blessedly not around to occupy my time. A relief, in hindsight, because my injured back would have made much of those chores impossible.

But now, September, and the ripening of plums and apples in abundance. Our orchard is still young enough that the other fruit trees only produce enough for fresh eating.

But this year, for the first time, the Italian Prunes and all of the apples were enough that we decided to dust off and refurbish our old hand-me-down fruit dryer. It's the same dryer that young me used to have to check on every few hours in the Summer.

I can't remember where my parents got it, but it was constantly running in late August into September, full of prunes and apples and pears and sometimes bananas. Back in our early years of marriage, my parents were downsizing and we adopted it into our family. A little scrubbing and re-wiring, a new fan and bulbs, and that baby was humming again, so happy to be once again serving a hard-working family of wannabe homesteaders.
A little later in the month, together with my cider-pressing expert of a Mother-in-Law, we joined her abundance with ours and put our new/old press to the test.

This cider press has an even longer and perhaps more special history than the fruit dryer, having traveled the Pacific Northwest with some dear friends of ours for decades. Back before kids came along, we had a chance to make cider for the first time with a group from church on this very press, and the stories unfolded of all of the people that had borrowed it; some we knew, most we didn't; of the time it sat for years under a tree in someone's orchard that had borrowed it and neglected to return it and our kind mentor had opted to not nag. And yet it survived. These friend/mentors of ours lived well into their 80's, but recently both passed away. When I was helping at their estate sale, I made sure this priceless antique came home with me. Not to be put on a shelf and admired, but to continue using it and hopefully passing it along to our kiddos in turn.
When all was said and done, we made a total of 8 gallons of cider that day, and had a tractor bucket full of scraps that we split between the chickens and our local forest-dwelling wildlife.
And that isn't all the cider press was used for this year. Oh no; we fully intend on getting our money's worth out of that beautiful machine. So, when the time came to clean off the grape arbor, we piled all of our bounty together into one bucket and pressed those grapes for jelly. I know I broke a million rules by pressing grapes for jelly rather steaming them then letting them slowly drip through cheesecloth. But you know what? My jelly turned out pretty darn good anyway.
Once we were in full harvesting steam, we just couldn't seem to stop, so we picked apples at our neighbor's house (he claims he doesn't like them, silly man) and made a zillion more batches of dried apples and two beautiful pies. One for the neighbor and one for us.
With the pies comes one last story.

You see, the day we harvested the apples and I made the pies, I was in a bit of a grumpy mood. I'm usually pretty even-keeled, but this day, for whatever reason, I just wanted to relax with a book or some stitching and spent most of the pie-making time having a mental dialogue that wasn't very happy.

If you did a rewind to that morning, you would have seen me sitting in the church pew listening to a sermon about being compassionate. It was a good sermon, but I was going through the motions of making an extra pie, thus doubling the labor, as a way of saying thank you to the neighbor for letting us pick his apples, but I wasn't going to be excited about it.

I knew he would enjoy the pie, but what I didn't know was that his adult son's pregnant girlfriend, who also lives next door and that I had yet to meet, had just posted that very day on facebook, just how much she was craving apple pie. If you've been pregnant you know how strong and controlling those food cravings can be. So this wasn't just "apple pie sounds good right now" it was "IF I DON'T GET AN APPLE PIE SOON I MIGHT DIE".

I kid you not. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

The expression on her face when I walked up with a steaming pie straight from the oven was unforgettable. And I looked like a total hero even though I certainly didn't deserve it. God has a way of bringing us up short sometimes. I like it when He does so in such a gentle and humorous way.

The sermon the next week was on Humility, by the way. I learned my lesson in advance.

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