Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gramma's Mollasses Cookies

Since garden season is pretty much over, I thought I'd branch out into other home keeping type subjects. Today I'm cooking. I've made ham and bean soup off the bone from last Sunday's dinner. I have spices steeping for Swedish Glogg, and cookie dough chilling in the fridge. I'm making my grandmother's molasses cookies. I wrote this story last Christmas, but I thought it would be a good time to share it...this time I only made half the recipe!

So my mission, is like so many women before me... to keep the traditions alive. I've been longing for some of Gramma's ginger cookies, so I thought for Christmas, it would be nice to make some and share with the family. Actually, I did not consider sharing until I read the recipe. Now I realise it will not simply be an act of family tradition, but a necessity.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my Mom to find the recipe. She promised she would. She also said she had a tub of Lard I could have. Lard? I don't really plan on using Lard. "Well, they won't be the same without the Lard".
I gave it a couple of days, contemplating the thought of baking cookies with Lard in the year 2008. After much thought, I relent. "Alright fine, give me the Lard." Mom smiles knowingly "Good thing you have the Kitchenaid.”

Today, I am happily off work and snowed in. 5 days 'til Christmas. It’s a perfect day for baking. I had already read the recipe and bought supplies accordingly. In addition to the Lard, I bought a second bottle of Dark Molasses, in case one wasn't enough, 5 pounds of unbleached flour, and an extra jar of Cinnamon.

I wrestle the Kitchenaid out of it's cupboard. WHY do I keep this monstrosity over the refrigerator? Oh, I remember, it's the only cupboard large enough. I jockey it over my head narrowly missing the blades of the ceiling fan thinking...”why don't I remember to turn that thing off? Remember what happened to the toaster?”

I start with the lard. 2 cups. My kitchen now smells faintly of bacon. Suspiciously, I scrutinize the ingredients on the pail of lard, but it does not reveal what I already know to be true. Lard is pig fat. Granted, it has less bad fat than butter, while it also has more than twice as much good fat than butter. Still, this does not look (or smell) like the beginnings of a cookie recipe. I glance over my shoulder to make sure my husband is still out plowing. I would hate to have to explain putting bacon grease in the cookies. 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 eggs, cream... now the Lard at least looks better even if it doesn't smell better. 2 cups of dark molasses. I was right, 1 bottle only has 1 2/3 cup in it. Should this stuff come in gallons? Open the second bottle. The smell of Lard is soon overcome by the molasses. My kitchen no longer smells like bacon, it smells like the feed mill.

1 ½ cup of unbleached flour mixed with 2 tbsp soda, 2 tbs cinnamon (am I reading that right? Tablespoons?) open the second jar of cinnamon. 1 1/2 tbsp ginger, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1 1/2 tsp salt. I mix that in and warily eye the mixing bowl. It is now dangerously full of batter. Yes, Batter. And the next step is 2/3 cup boiling water. This ought to be good. Although I pour slowly, the Kitchenaid, in it's usual display of bad temper, splashes boiling brown batter on the wall and floor. THAT looks yucky. I leap for the paper towels before my husband comes in to see what looks like...well you know... all over the floor.

Now comes the rest of the flour. I am supposed to add 7 to 9 cups to texture. I dump most of the 5 pound bag of flour into a large bowl, and I can't see how 9 cups of anything are going to go into the already full mixing bowl. I get a scrap of paper and a pencil and start making hash marks to keep track of how much I've put in. Amazingly, through some phenomenon of science, the flour does not increase the volume of the batter. It disappears willingly into the brown soup . The viscosity changes from batter to something more closely resembling dough.

The Kitchenaid groans. It's been through this drill before. It knows what's coming. I keep my hand on the top, testing the temperature of it's motor as I add flour. At 7 cups (8 1/2 total, because we already put some in earlier) the dough reaches a familiar consistency. It has been over 25 years since I stood on a stool in the farm kitchen and watched this dough being made, but I remember it well.

Finally satisfied, I scrape the sides and the beater and set the bowl outside on the porch to chill. I turn my attention to my exhausted mixer and the counter. Not bad. Besides the batter-spatter incident, all went well. There isn't even much flour to clean up. It actually ALL went in there. The Kitchenaid stands on the counter panting from its exertions. I consider bathing it with Vetrolin and throwing a cooler over it for an hour. A thorough sponging with plain hot water does the trick. It will survive and be ready for the peanut butter balls later.

I pause to collect my thoughts. The dough will need to chill at least an hour, then I will roll it into balls and press it with the sugared bottom of a glass to press each cookie down, and place a raisin in the center of each. The recipe doesn't reveal how many dozen it makes. We'll have to wait and see. I'm sure it will be enough to share with the rest of the family. Those old farm wives didn't mess around. They made enough for a whole farm crew all at once.

I turn my attentions from mixing to baking. I preheat the oven. The recipe says 350 degrees 8-10 minutes and DON'T burn them. Burnt ginger cookies are no good. The recipe actually says this. A little trial and error and I settle on 9 minutes. I roll and press, remembering to double strike them to get extra sugar on them. Soon my hands begin to resemble Gramma’s. The fingers are red and overall, that familiar sheen of… Lard. They are soft cookies, and not burning the bottom means they will still be soft when you take them off the sheet.

After 4 dozen I perfect the technique of getting them off the sheet without smooshing the sides and only have to eat four rejects. After 5 dozen I am considering putting the rest of the dough back outside and saving it for another day. After 6 dozen I lose count and begin to run out of room on the dining room table. Out of necessity, I stop eating the rejects. After 7 dozen I decide I’ve been on my feet all day and the peanut butter balls can wait until another day as well. The Kitchenaid goes back in the cupboard clearing more space for cooling cookies.

My memories don’t include acres of cooling cookies. How was this accomplished in that tiny kitchen? After 8 dozen I am looking at the rest of the dough and figuring maybe I should just throw it out. I scrape the last from the bowl and do a final count. Including the ones I broke and had to eat, 106 cookies. That's 8.8 dozen. Whewww! Most recipes make 3 to 4 dozen. They are sort of pretty all laid out on the table. Their sugary tops glimmer in a Christmasey sort of way. I think back over my childhood. Gramma almost always had these cookies in the jar. I would guess she made a batch like that once or twice a month. If she didn't make these, it was peanut butter cookies. What a lot of work. But completely worth it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Potting Benches

I have been wanting a potting bench for a very very long time. I always end up potting something, divided perennials, rescued perennials, stuff that won't fit in my garden... and I always do it on the ground, bent over or on my knees, trying to keep spillage to a minimum. At least this year I used my collection of galvanised washtubs to dump the bags of potting mix in. This was a huge help. I put the pots in the wheel barrow, put my vintage grain sifter on the top of the pot, and filled with large scoops of soil. The grain sifter is great if you get a bag that has a high percentage of bark and you are trying to fill small pots, or when mixing in some half used dirt. Now, finally, I have a good place to put a bench, months of winter ahead, and a properly motivated husband. The possibilities are endless! With Tim's exacting attention to detail, I may even end up with something resembling fine cabinetry.

I've collected pictures from magazines and catalogs, and flipped through pages and pages of web images. Of course, I'd be quite happy with a simple greenhouse bench at the proper height.

But the decorator in me wants something "cute" that I can accessorise.

I would be happy to buy one premade, but when I showed my husband the costs of the benches and additional shipping, he volunteered to help me out. Which means, I am in the enviable position of being to combine the best features into just the right bench for me.

For starters, we have a heavy old maple top to a shop bench to work with. My husband is convinced I need a hole cut to sweep dirt back down into a container, and I agree.

Probably with some sort of grid over it so I don't lose counterspace.

I think I need one shelf below not only to hold the dirt container, but to keep things up off the floor so I can sweep under. I like the dirt stopper on this bench and think we need to have at least a 4-6 inch curb not only across the back but also wrapping around the back corners.

I also need at least one shelf above and I really like the cubby idea. I think we are going to center the bench on a window, so we would have to modify this to have a row of cubbies on each side.

In browsing for ideas, I've found some great gardening blogs and sites. Here are a few of the most notable...

This guy even hooked running water up to his....

Monday, October 12, 2009


All the perennials have been cut and the mulch is raked clean and piled around tender roots leaving a clean slate for next spring.

The garden shed add on is complete, and we will spend the winter on details such as a potting bench and hanging some of my garden collectibles where I can enjoy them. Next year we will put a "deck" from the door on the left around the front and landscape around it. I also have plans for a cold frame on the south wall.

My pots, planters and seedling flats have been scrubbed with bleach water and stacked away.

The fencing and grow through grids and seasonal yard decorations have found a home in the "outhouse" which used to house my gardening equipment. This building was free and sports our old bathroom door. My husband once started to shingle it, but decided it didn't improve it's looks any. It has been moved 4 times since we got it, and is now stuck back in the woods where we can't see it. If there is enough scrap left over after we side the garage next year it might get a refinish. It is a nice out of the way place to store things we don't need often because it is just small enough to be a real hassle to get in and out of. Which is why it failed as a garden shed. If there's no room to step up in, you have a tendency to set things just inside the door. Yes, that is one clutter trap I will not miss!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

10 things I love about Autumn

Autumn has always been my favorite season. As a child, autumn began when my grandfather put away the garden and brought in the pumpkins, and ended when we brought the youngstock (heifers) into the barn at the first snowfall. PaPa would place the pumpkins and squash in the dairy barn, in front of the cow stalls on sections of straw. I remember scrutinizing this "array" of pumpkins for just the right one.

I was allowed to choose one pie pumpkin as a "pet". It had to be small, and perfect with a neat green stem. I would bring it home and wash it. I assure you I slept with it. Then, of course, I had to choose a jack o'lantern pumpkin, because I wouldn't have the heart to put a knife to my pet. If it survived without bruising, it would be made into pie.

We also had leaf piles. Country farm sized leaf piles that were sometimes so big that we had to bring our horses and jump from the saddles. This ritual ended when the farm got geese. Geese made all the leaves in the yard....shall we say.... unjumpable. Apples were gathered from the orchard by spreading tarps under the trees for the apples to fall on, then hauled to be made into cider. The last of the corn would be eaten, and the corn stalks cut to feed to the horses.

For a gardener, there is a lot to be done in the fall. I call it "ungardening". Plants are pulled or cut, the ground is tilled under for spring. Supports and cages have to be pulled and stored, and pots washed and stacked. What tomatoes and squash that can be saved are put away, and the last of each vegetable becomes a precious commodity.

Usually, but not this year, I have an abundance of green tomatoes that have given up ripening due to the cool temperatures. Each Sunday through September, as the football game comes on TV, I fry myself a plate of green tomatoes. I like them rock hard to keep a sour tang to them. I dust them with corn meal for a crunch coating, put some coarse black pepper on and fry them in olive oil, or, if I've planned ahead, bacon grease. If you spend the summer eating BLTs, save the bacon grease for an autumn of fried green tomatoes!

So, here, in no particular order, are the 10 things I love about autumn...

Scarecrows, and Mums.... Mums are the perfect way to brighten up a tired landscape. After they pass their prime for decorating purposes, I plant them in my perennial beds.

Maple leaves... leaves are my husband's LEAST favorite thing about fall.

Crisp, tart, fried green tomatoes...

Pears... Mom has a wonderful Bosc pear tree in her yard which produces bushels of pears each year. I think this is my husband's favorite thing about autumn... and my horse's....

Corn Shocks... my husband was kind enough to bring these home after Mom's corn field was harvested. They always miss a few....

Hot Mulled Apple Cider (with a shot of spiced rum Mmmm...)

Horse Chestnuts.... we have a large horse chestnut tree in our front yard. I cannot resist picking them up. And my sister will agree with me, it becomes an obsession. I always have pockets full of them, and each year I collect a bucket and spread them in the woods where they'll have a chance to grow. I drop them, then push them into the soil with my heel. My husband hates them almost as much as leaves. Both interfere with his lawn mowing. He hates it worse when he finds one clunking around in the dryer.

The Weather... the colors, and the cooler weather make autumn my favorite season for horse back riding. There is nothing better than a high autumn sky, and a firm, newly harvested cornfield to gallop through...

And of course, pumkins...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Barlow Jap makes it's Debut

I no longer have to be concerned that I have the sole responsibility for maintaining the Barlow Jap variety. It has hit the mainstream tomato scene to a rave review. Last year someone from the IDigMyGarden forum asked me for some of PaPaw's seeds. He, in turn shared them with a couple of friends, one of whom collects specifically Kentucky Heirlooms. The other person he shared them with is my friend the tomato fanatic known as "camochef". Camo grows nearly 200 plants of more than 70 different varieties. This year the Jap was the last variety on his list, being a new gift and something interesting to try. It is variety #72 for 2009. Camo lives for tomato season. He has more varieties of sea salt and dressing for tasting tomatoes than I knew existed. Then, he taste tests and reviews each variety and rates them in order of preference for the year. Here is what Camo has to say about the Japs...

Barlow Jap-72
Ok, here we go again with another great tomato that few are going to know. It's the first of three new to me varieties that I tasted today. Its a pink Oblate. I picked two. One was 13 5/8 oz. or 386 grams, the second was 9 5/8 oz. 0r 274 grams. As you can see from the pictures this was a very meaty tomato. Really solid with a great taste, initially tart but adding a touch of Pink sea salt, brought out the sweet overtone which it's full flavor contained. A little zatarain's creole seasoning takes it to a whole 'nother world! It had a very thin skin, Which is something I look for, and almost no core at all! Another quality I favor! It was a very tasty tomato! Right now I'm thinking it falls next to the Cowlick Brandywine with taste, but I'm gonna hold off until I taste a second one before deciding if it goes before or after the Cowlick! Either way 4th or 6th... its a really good tasting tomato.


Thanks for the seeds for this one. It's a keeper! Really great tomato with the weather we've been having, its kept its tomato taste, not the least bit watery, not sure how it will do under drier conditions. I wanted to tell the story of its history, but was afraid I'd mess it up. Perhaps you or TooManyTomatoes could share it with us. As far as seeds go, I'll have enough to send some back if yours fail. I only have the one plant, but its got a few more ripening! Thanks again for a great tomato, and for sharing it with me!


So now the Japs are out there and will be traded and grown by tomato fanciers and I'm sure their popularity will grow over time. Now that I have encouragement and a good review, I plant to send some seeds to Gary at Tomatofest.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Garden Shed and YTD Report

Looky Looky what I've got! This is the addition to my chicken coop. It's 8x12 with 2 windows and a 9 lite door. This will replace the sorry hand-me-down "outhouse" that I have piled my garden equipment in for the past 5 years. Hooray! My husband keeps his yard tools in the coop, so those will be moved to the garden shed part, leaving the chicken coop for strictly chickens and chicken supplies.

This is the view from the front of the coop. Those double doors will probably be replaced with an insulated 9 lite door, since the coop is insulated, and those doors are saggy and heavy (yet quaint). The door to the garden shed will be to the left behind where I now have my pots of tomatoes and eggplants.

I think we'll replace the horizontal window in the coop with a regular double hung to match the garden shed.
This is the back view of the "chicken porch" where the chicken run will be. My chickens used to sit along the rail on their little porch. There were always more chickens wanting to be on the rail than there was room. One would fall off one end, then run back around to the other, bumping the next hen off, and so on and so forth.

I haven't blogged much this growing season, because... well, not much has happened. The artichokes were a success, and fascinating as a perennial, and I have some started for next year.

I made a pesto dip for the artichokes. I didn't like it much. I preferred it as still life.

This was my best year for onions ever! These are Walla Wall, a gift from my neighbor, which were planted at Mom's house. Thanks Mom! And some elephant garlic which was also a gift from a friend and lived in a whiskey barrel in the perennial bed. They were a disappointment, but still much better than my last attempt. I don't use much anyway, so this will be replanted.

Sweet Pickle Pepper plant that I grew strictly as an ornamental... doing it's job.

This was a banner year for eggplants. Last year I got 2 off of four plants. This year each plant has upwards of 6 each. They're so pretty. These are Prosperosa. I'm still sad my Round Mauves didn't germinate. Next year I will buy fresh seed. I got a lot of tomatoes, but the plants look so ratty, I haven't taken photos. I will take some pictures of the actual tomatoes (although that delays the actual eating of them, and I still haven't had my fill!)

It was also an excellent year for blackberries. I've had so many, I've even decided to share a few. Look at his little left hand reaching up!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You know you're a desperate gardner when...

... it's 7:30 am, you're squatted under an umbrella wearing office clothes and duck boots, in a torrential downpour, attempting to hand pollinate the single (tattered) female zucchini flower. Then you briefly consider leaving the umbrella there for the squash. I'm skeptical that it will work because that poor flower was torn to shreds, and it was still pouring. Really, what possessed her to open up today of all days?

Which brings me to my point. Eating locally and growing your own food can put you in a very precarious position. What if the weather doesn't cooperate? First we had a major killing frost on May 18th. This didn't affect my gardening, but it sure affected our local fruit crops, the vineyards in particular. Then, we had the second wettest June on record, and are nearing the end of the coolest July on record.

A recent study showed that eating locally will have little affect on global warming. But, I can guarantee that global warming will have a big effect on eating locally. That study actually suggests we should eat less beef, because cow manure releases too much methane. Heck, apparently even a cow burp is a methane risk. The Argentinians actually strapped gas bags on the backs of cows to measure how much methane a cow releases before the manure starts to compost. Anyone else afraid this poor cow is going to float away?!?

Many gardeners are losing their gardens to too much rain, too cool temps, hail storms and the like. And if it isn't the weather, then it's the darn bugs. It makes you wonder how our ancestors managed to survive at all doesn't it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Planning the Raised Bed Garden

A couple of years ago it became clear to me that there had to be a raised bed garden in my future. For one thing, I hate weeding between the rows. Secondly, I have been using the intensive planting/square foot method anyway. It really doesn't make much sense to spend all the time to rototill a huge area (have to take the fence down to do this because we use the tractor), then locate the planting squares in the middle of the wide open area, put the fence back, then spend the entire summer weeding wide open walkways. Weeding around the plants takes very little time at all.

And the final compelling argument is that it will be so much easier to warm and prepare the soil early in the spring. I will no longer have to wait for the garden to dry out. The raised beds will drain so much quicker.

So, I have casually mentioned all these reasons to my husband over the past couple of years. The other day, he asked what I planned to do with huge pile of composted horse manure he has been mowing around. He decided it is done cooking, and ought to be spread. Of course, this year the big garden has gone back to lawn. So, I told him I was saving it for my raised beds. With an exasperated sigh he told me to count how many Rail Road ties and 4x4s I would need to edge and fence the permanent garden and promised to work it into our summer plans. Jackpot!

So, the plan is to edge a 24x32 area with RR ties, permanently fence it with the woven "no climb" fence, build a decent gate and install raised beds with gravel or cedar mulch walkways. With good stabalization mat under that, there will be very very little path weeding. Hooray! Mission accomplished.

So, on this cool rainy day, I have been paging through scads of internet pictures. This is my model garden.

I really plan on a very basic layout with just 6 4x12 beds. But, I can't help checking out some of the fancier options I've seen. I think the idea of a rim you can sit on is brilliant, but these finials are pretty facy.

The ever popular pergola

Of course, I have every intention of incorporating the area immediately outside the fence in my purposes. The chicken coop will be nearby, as well as my garden shed. It will be a great location for a compost bin so I can throw trimmings right over the fence. I've never seen one with a lid...

Leah has built a stylish litle raised bed garden...

Here are a couple of other neat sites I found in my wanderings...

And Mom (I know you're reading this) check out this guy.... That's our idea!!! Great example to follow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Spring Progress

My perennial edibles bed is doing well, and the strawberries are ripening. They are pictured below on the left under the wire cage which keeps out both the rabbits and the deer.
Horseradish down the middle, and asparagus and rhubarb down the right side.

I even put some onions in window boxes, and the back left corner has a hill of summer squash.

All my tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are doing well, and have been moved to the south side of the chicken coop where they get 12 hours a day of sun.

We have had a couple of days of hot and humid with occasional showers, and each day I can see growth and improvement.

And here is my perennial nursery. The plants in the back are Windflower and Black Eyed Susan that were 'weeded" out of the perennial bed. The 6 pots in the front contain seeds for biannual artichokes for next year. And the two flats underneath are reserved for the Siberian Irises I ordered with no plan in mind.

My bearded irises continue to impress me. I have a couple of new colors blooming this week, but these two toned blues are still my favorite.