Saturday, September 17, 2011

Speaking of Those Paw Paws

Yesterday when Cubby and I had to go up to the pasture to round up some renegade sheep from the neighbors' property (thank God they work all day--most of the time when the sheep get out, the neighbors have no idea), I decided I should check on that paw paw tree I told you about while I was up there. You may recall I had said I've never even tried a paw paw, despite living here with this tree for five years now. So when I discovered they were ripe, I ate one, in the spirit of fruity adventure.

When I had asked the MiL a few weeks ago what paw paws taste like, she said like a cross between a banana and a mango. She was right. According to A., the paw paw is the northernmost fruit in a family of tropical fruits, so I guess it makes sense it would taste kind of like a banana. The texture is also reminiscent of a very ripe banana, except with very large seeds you have to spit out as you eat. I don't really like bananas all that much, so it wasn't my favorite. But it wasn't bad.

Cubby ate half of one, too. Then he asked for a second one, which he handled for a while, took one bite from, and then tossed on the ground where Mia promptly found it and ate it.

So the whole family got to enjoy the paw paws.

There were also about three persimmons that were ripe enough to eat. Cubby liked those, too. I guess I'll be going back up to the pasture in a week or so to collect persimmons for my little fruit junkie to get his fix. I haven't picked the Bosc pears yet, either. Lots of fruity fun to come!

That sounded funny, didn't it?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Our Glorious Orchard


Glorious orchard? No such thing. We have trees here, trees there; trees that bear, trees that fail every year; trees that have grown into real, honest-to-God climbable trees, trees that look like little more than sticks. And not a whole lot of fruit.


A few days ago, Anna asked how many fruit trees and blackberry canes we have. Well! Let's take a little verbal tour of the Blackrock orchard-that-is-not-an-orchard, shall we?

In the paddock by the house, we have one apple tree that produces a few gnarled, nasty-looking apples a year that we don't even eat. I don't know what variety it is, either. So, it's maybe a little neglected. Perhaps if we pruned it or sprayed it or something, we might get some usable fruit from it. Perhaps if I had the time to do that, I would use that time to do something more fun.

But at least that apple tree didn't get murdered by the sheep, like the other one in the paddock did last year. See, if the sheep (and by "sheep" I mean only the Cotswolds--the Merinos aren't destructive at all) are in there when the trees have leaves, they'll plant their Satanic cloven hooves right on the trunk to reach the branches. So what happens when a 200-pound sheep climbs up a spindly tree trunk? Yup. Snap. And so much for that tree.

Horrid sheep.


Also in the paddock is the Seckle pear tree, which is large enough to withstand sheep attacks and also produces some fruit we actually eat. Unlike the OTHER pear tree in the paddock, which fell victim to the climbing sheep this very summer.

God, I hate those wretched ovines sometimes.


The front lawn is home to two pear trees and an apple tree that we planted last summer. There was another apple tree, but it died. Not because of the sheep, though. They don't go on the front lawn. We have yet to get any fruit from these young trees.

Also on the front lawn is a medlar tree. Don't know what medlars are? Yeah, me neither. Apparently, they were quite popular in medieval times, but I have no idea what they taste like. That tree does produce fruits, but we've never figured out when to pick them. I think they're one of those weird fruits that are supposed to be harvested when they're as close to rotten as they can be without being actually putrid. Sounds appetizing, right? Right. Which is why I don't really get too worked up about the medlars.

Okay! Now to the back of the property!

In the ram pasture we have a plum tree that seems to have a few baby plums on it in the spring, but never manages to get those plums to the edible stage. Also there was an apple tree that did produce fruit, except none of us really liked the apples from that tree, so we never really did much with them. It died last winter anyway, so it doesn't matter. The small Anjou pear tree in the ram pasture also kicked it last winter, which leaves the quite large standard Bosc pear tree that produces a lot of pears every few years and can survive having the sheep in there with it.

Oh, and the mulberry tree is also in the ram pasture.

In the main pasture right behind the ram pasture is a paw paw tree that has INSANE numbers of paw paws on it this year. Once again, I have no idea what a paw paw tastes like, as I've never actually eaten any of the fruits from that tree. Maybe I will this year, just to try it. We also have a persimmon tree in the main pasture that bears well for us. We eat some of the persimmons, but you have to get them at JUST the right stage. If they're even the least bit unripe, the taste and dry feeling they produce in your mouth will make you want to rip your tongue out. And once they're soft enough to eat, they get too soft pretty quickly.

Tricky, those persimmons.

As for blackberry canes, I really have no idea how many we have. Not a ton. In a normal year, there are probably only a dozen or so canes that bear fruit. I'm not a huge fan of blackberries anyway. Too many seeds. Good for jelly, though.

We also have about half a dozen mostly neglected Concord grape vines that nevertheless always produce grapes for us. Cubby loves them. Lately he's been entertaining himself while I harvest things in the garden by standing by the grape vines and eating the grapes one by one. That child's love of fruits and vegetables has been my saving grace. From the asparagus to the corn to the grapes, feeding him raw produce from the garden is the only way I get anything done.


So there you have it! Our sad and mostly useless collection of fruit-producing plants. I guess I'd better stick to the tomatoes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Oh wait. Did I promise I would tell you all about our fruit trees? Well, try not to be too disappointed today, duckies, because you know what trumps fruit EVERY TIME?

Chocolate. Specifically, the movie Chocolat.

Have you seen this movie? You should. It's so good. I saw it a long, long time ago, probably shortly after it came out, and remember vaguely liking it, so I got it from the library last time I was there.

I liked it again. And I also really wished I had some chocolate in the house. Other than chocolate chips, that is, which were no help whatsoever. After you watch multiple shots of creamy melted chocolate being swirled around in a big kettle, to say nothing of the many, many beauty shots of chocolate confections featured in the film, Nestle chocolate chips are pretty useless.

If you're going to watch this movie--and you should--first lay in a supply of chocolate. Candy bars, brownies, cakes, whatever. As long as it's cocoa-based. Trust me on this one.

Fruit trees to come tomorrow. If I don't get distracted again.

P.S. I was granted another hour and a half naptime yesterday. Which I squandered on a shower and doing dishes instead of pulling weeds. OH THE INDULGENCE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Yes! There was a nap! A nap of about an hour in which I managed to make some more yogurt, gather the eggs that the chickens have taken to laying all over the damn place so I have to crawl around under bushes and into dog pens to get them all, and even do some cash-money work. WHEE!

With such small mercies is a mother's day officially salvaged.

Anyway. Tomorrow I plan on doing a whole post to answer a question someone asked about our fruit trees. I know. Try to contain your excitement until tomorrow morning, duckies, when there will be much talk about apples and pears and strange medieval fruits and those horrible, no good, very bad sheep that kill EVERYTHING.

Not to spoil the ending or anything.

Tune in tomorrow! And cross your fingers that I get another naptime today. I have big plans involving weeds in the garden.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Boy Who Done Kicked My Ass

Who, me?

Yes, you, Cubby. You, my sweet, precious child, who absolutely and without any doubt refused to take a nap yesterday. There was much screaming at the very idea of being left in your crib, like, "WHAT KIND OF CRUEL MOTHER WOULD LEAVE ME HERE ALOOOONE?"

Except louder than all caps and much higher-pitched. Not unlike a demon had been unleashed in your room, in fact.

And so there was no nap. There was no break. There was no time for your mother to do anything that required even a brief respite from running after you. Things like showering. Or copy editing to make some much-appreciated cash money. Or, perish the thought, going to the bathroom alone. No time for any of that, because there was no nap.

I am going to pretend that this was a one-time thing. An aberration. That today we will resume our regular schedule of at least one nap. Just one. An hour. Please. It helps so much with my productivity. Not to mention my sanity and my patience for playing that game where I pop the pegs out of your hammering bench and make them "fly," which makes you howl with laughter but can get old when I've done it approximately forty times already and have not had even one minute to call my own.

It also helps with your mood. What child can be happy and smiley when they've been awake for twelve hours straight? Okay, actually, you were surprisingly chipper, if a wee bit hysterical. But still, you'll be happier if you take your nap.

Trust your mother. She knows best. Take your naps and the world is a better place.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Roof Done, Moving On

A. finished shingling the porch roof yesterday around 5:30 p.m., just as it was starting to rain. Good timing. I think there's a little bit of trimming to do, the gutters to put back up, and a WHOLE LOT of old shingles to dispose of, but it's pretty much finished.

Three cheers for our new roof! And the roofer!

Okay, now we move on. To potatoes.

When Cubby and I were out in the garden this weekend, I took a look to see how close the potatoes were to dying down. Once the foliage dies, you see, I cut that part off (to prevent any nasties that might be on the foliage from infecting the potatoes themselves and ruining them for storage) and leave them in the ground for a couple of weeks to cure. Then we dig them up and spread them out to dry. And THEN I have my boxes of potatoes at the ready in the cellar.

So first the foliage has to die.

I thought it was taking an awfully long time for that to happen this year. It still looked pretty green out there in that enormous potato patch. But when I actually started looking closely for the plants I realized that the green I was seeing was actually mostly, um, weeds.

Well. That's kind of embarrassing, now isn't it?

After I pulled the horrifying amount of weeds that had grown up around the actual potatoes, I found that most of the varieties of potato were actually done and ready to be cut down. Our long-season storage variety wasn't quite done growing, but all the rest had given it up. So I spent some time with Cubby yesterday cutting off the tops of the potato plants and chucking them in the gully. Then, since I was digging some potatoes up for dinner anyway, I dug up all of a random small patch of a variety called Lehigh I had planted sort of late and as an afterthought near the blackberries.

I wasn't sure what to expect as far as yield or size in that area of the garden, since it can actually be a little wet and shady.

I guess potatoes like it a little wet and shady. Those potatoes were HUGE. Behold, the enormous potatoes. With a pen for scale:

What's that? You can't see the pen? Maybe that's because it's overshadowed by the GIGANTIC POTATOES.

So I guess there will be no shortage of french fries this winter, then.

Know what else there will be shortage of this winter? Pears. After five straight nights of pear canning, the MiL and I have some incredibly sore hands and 35 quarts of pears to show for our efforts.

That's right. I said 35. Perhaps you think that is an excessive amount of pears?


Those aren't even the pears from our pear tree. Those are just the pears from the MiL's sister's Bartlett pear trees. Our Bosc pears are a later variety. Not much later, though. In fact, this year, they're almost simultaneous, as the MiL and I discovered yesterday that our pears are ready to be picked.

Unlike other fruits, pears are actually picked when hard and fully ripened off the tree. So once I actually pick those pears, it will be another week or so before they're soft and ready for canning. But that time will come, oh yes, and then it's back to the paring knife and the sugar syrup and canning until 9 p.m. every night.

I think I may be sick in the head.

But at least we'll have lots of fruit for the winter.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Team Blackrock

It's an unfortunate fact of A.'s life that he has many projects to do and only two willing but essentially unskilled workers. The MiL and I are not exactly handywomen. I mean, we're not totally useless, but our role is generally confined to fetching supplies, holding boards steady, and supplying lots and lots of food and water.

But we do help. Because there is too much for one man to do alone at Blackrock, no matter how strong and skilled he may be.

Yesterday's day of roofing was one such occasion. The front porch roof has been leaking for years now, so it was on A.'s list after he learned how to roof last summer by assisting a more knowledgeable friend on the back part of the house.

Roofing is incredibly hard work. All the materials--plywood, tar paper, shingles--are extremely heavy, and of course they all must be conveyed up. Up a ladder or, for some of the supplies in the case of this roof, up the inside stairs and then out the hall window. Do you know how much a full eight-foot sheet of plywood weighs? Me neither, but I know it's enough that I wouldn't want to lift it over my head and slide it up a ladder to a roof above. As A. did. Ten times.

Before he did that, though, he first stripped all the old shingles, plus all their nails, off the roof. And shoved them over the side, to rest attractively on the front patio.

This may be why most people hire someone else to do this sort of thing.

The smaller bits of shingles were bagged up. The larger sheets of shingles were just stacked. We're going to have to go through the hassle of getting special tags and taking all this in A.'s truck to the dump in the Small City. It's just too much to put in bags and take to our town dump ourselves.

I did most of the shingle pick-up, some with Cubby's dubious assistance, most while he was napping. Meanwhile, the MiL climbed onto the roof with A. to help him pull out all the many, many old nails that had to come out before he could put on the plywood.

Nothing like mother and son bonding time.

The MiL requested I take this photo, as evidence that she is a Good Sport. Duly recorded.

Despite our willingness to help, however, there is only so much the MiL and I can do. A. worked on the roof from seven in the morning until 7:30 that night, with a couple of hours for a break in the middle of the day to attend a birthday party. He pulled off whole areas of rot and replaced them with boards, covered everything in plywood, nailed down a plastic membrane, and finally got the tar paper on. Once the tar paper is on, it doesn't matter if it rains. That's why he kept going until that was done, at least.

Then he dragged himself inside and got in the shower. I'm not sure how he managed to stand upright to take a shower. Maybe he didn't.

Today he has to put on the shingles. And the MiL and I have some more clean-up to do.

Weekends at Blackrock are not about relaxation, obviously.