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I am in no way expert but I am an enthusiastic backyard beekeeper. I know I am supposed to rob the hive. The whole point is to collect honey but I often think of them like a pasture of cows or goats. I just want them to have a happy home and range to make a healthy hive. I worry that robbing the hive stresses them and causes them to be at risk of pests and disease. Maybe that is why, in some Freudian way, I am ill prepared to rob the hive. I do not have any standard frames in my freezer to replace the honey packed frames I found in the hive this morning.

 

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All’s Pear in Love

Yesterday morning it was cool by July standards and foggy. A good time to attend to the pear trees. This is their second fruit season and I am blessed with an abundance of fruit on such small trees. Calling them trees exaggerates, embellishes. The Biscamp pear, a self-pollinating variety bore the most fruit; its reed thin branches heavy laden with large man-fist sized fruits.

Biscamp pear

The Pineapple and the Sug variety, more old-fashioned sand pears are meant to cross pollinate. It is unclear if these two trees even like each other. They had some kind of tree-sex because they each had one pear. One. Their fecundity is yet to be determined.

Sug pear Pineapple pear

I had hoped that planting the pears close to the Carolina Redbuds, the bees would work the five trees indiscriminately. I will have to consider better protecting these trees and their early spring buds from late freezes.

The pear trees needed a spa day. I shoveled a ring around each base, hand troweled the grass runners crisscrossing the ground and stealing the trees’ vital nutrients. I added six double hand-scoops of Black Kow manure to the base and worked it all in.

Weedy pear Neat pear

I then re-attached biodegradable twine and staked the branches wide to open up the inside of the trees. It is not meant to be a true espalier.

Biscamp staked Sug staked Pineapple staked

Then it was time to make my Granny’s conserve. By my Granny’s definition, a conserve was two (or more) fresh fruits cooked with sugar. The traditional culinary definition is cooking dried fruits and nuts which I think of more as a chutney. A conserve is slow cooked, chunky, sweet and has no added pectin. The literature on the Biscamp, the majority of the fruit I have to make my conserve, is said to be a “soft eating pear” supposedly like a Bartlett. After peeling and slicing…that is a liberal assertion. And thank God for it. I didn’t want a soft, fine grained eating pear. I wanted SAND pears.The Biscamp is as gritty as coarse sand paper but it is very juicy, even with still-green skins.

I have an Apple-Mate 3 that attaches to my kitchen counter and peels the pear skins. These pear skins have a tannin in them and hand peeling turns your fingers and nails brown for days. Plus the skins are TOUGH and attached to the flesh of the fruit. The Apple-Mate scratches the peels off perfectly. Final touches are made with a very sharp paring knife before chopping off the core and mincing in a Cuisinart. I am all about the gadgetry.

Peels20150719_091212In the pot

I embellish my Granny’s recipe which used canned pineapple, sand pears and sugar. Instead, I use fresh pineapple, sand pears, sugar, a split vanilla bean and a stick of cinnamon. The outcome is a conserve perfect on English muffin, bagel, sour dough toast, warmed and poured over ice cream, served over warm gingerbread cake or bread pudding or in a spoon: plain and simply perfect.

Eight jars

Jeweled pearfection

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Leeks

My approach to gardening is benign neglect. The outcome of such loving disregard is that sometimes things behave in an unexpected and undocumented manner. Leeks, apparently, are not supposed to self-propagate.
Leeks
I bought perennial leeks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in November 2012. Those original leeks self-propagated and I replanted those pups. This past fall, I planted the now THIRD generation of those original bulbs. Yesterday, I harvested the remainder of the leeks and pulled away many of the pups.
Leek pupsI replanted some for myself. I had such an abundance, I shared with two people in the Grow Gainseville! Facebook group. The leek lives on. I spent a fair amount of yesterday harvesting, trimming, cleaning and cutting leeks in preparation for freezing.
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I love my Seal-a-Meal contraption.
Leeks for the freezer
I also took the chopped off root structure and suspended them in mason jars to see if I could regrow leeks from those roots in the way we all regrew carrots from cut off carrot greens.
Leek roots

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Fire starters

With sixteen long leaf pines, I usually have an abundance of pine cones. Somehow I missed the major dropping and didn’t get any cones collected before the holidays but today, while out watering all the fruit trees, pecans and olives, I discovered three late droppers. I collected a bucket full of opened pine cones.

Bucket of cones

I melt paraffin wax on the stove and coat the pine cones. They make excellent fire starters, especially since I don’t get the local daily paper. I put wadded up newspaper or the shredded paper from my home office shredder, a couple of pine cones, a small sliver of fat wood and then my oak logs. The fire always starts right up and pine cones generate a sustained heat to allow the logs to catch.

Waxed cones

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Thanksgiving table

Back in the heat of the summer, I arranged to foster a turkey at Laughing Chicken Farms. Robin Popp is at the Alachua County farmers’ market on Saturdays with chickens and eggs. I made my down payment for my Thanksgiving feast. Two nights before Thanksgiving, I drove out to Trenton. The Laughing Chicken Farms is straight west about 13 miles. On Tuesday night it was storming and a squall was coming off the Gulf into Cedar Key. There were tornado warnings. I drove in my little sports cars down limerock roads in pitch darkness to get our turkey.

It was a very good turkey. Freshly slaughtered the night before. 22 lbs. We put it in a brine with apple cider vinegar, garlic, onions, fresh sage, clementine orange rinds, pepper and a stick of cinnamon. I wanted to set a table with as much fresh, local or nearby foods. I bought my yams at the farmers’ market along with peppers. I pulled my own carrots from my garden about an hour before we sat down for dinner. Garlic honey carrots

We made sweet potato biscuits with the yams and flour freshly milled from grains I bought from Breadbeckers in Woodstock, GA. I use honey collected last spring from my own hives. I use pure Vermont maple syrup I recanned from a gallon I was gifted by a patient last year. I ordered cheeses from Nature’s Harmony Farms in Georgia and their Georgia Gold (cheddar) was excellent. The Fortsonia was also yummy, like a hard Swiss. I will order from them again. My niece brought a fresh bottle of Richland Rum, distilled from sorghum grown in Richland, Georgia.

Richland RumEverything set upon the table was made from scratch (except the pie crusts…we cheated on the crusts). I believe in slow food, scratch made food, simplified and real. Real butter. Real cheese. Wheat flour. Farm eggs. Hand made. Home made. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it cost more money. But….it’s real. It’s fresh. It’s live (or very recently was alive). I believe that these things matter.

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Tuesday’s fare

Beans picked fresh from the garden, rinsed and chopped, cooked but still crunchy. I served them with a vinaigrette dressing of avocado oil, peach balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and crushed garlic. I grated a boiled egg and added cracked pepper and that was the salad course.

Beans with egg

The dinner was a large Vidalia onion sauteed in olive oil and butter until translucent and then caramelized with a teaspoon of sugar. Add four cups of beef broth and four cloves of crushed garlic. I served it with a thick slice of sourdough bread and Emmenthaler Swiss cheese melted under the broiler.

French onion soupI scored some chocolate rugalah at Fresh Market for a perfect meal.

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Returning home

Being away from home is hard because home is so truly awesome and amazing. I planned it that way. I planned it to be my little castle; a place I can retreat to, pull up the drawbridge and unwind, relax and be at ease. But, sometimes one must leave town and last week I truly felt the need to bolt like a jack rabbit. I wanted to run away. I NEEDED to run away. I had a “boutique” runaway planned: hotel reservations, giant home decor and antique festival, a populated Google map with foodie sites bookmarked and cash to spend. This was a no credit weekend. All prepaid.

But, after a couple of days and two no so comfortable nights in a hotel with mediocre pillows and no late night access to chocolate and peanut butter, I elected to go home. Home is awesome. Home is my refuge and my happy place.

I came home with a rented Chevy Suburban chock-a-block full of stuff I bought, plus a new coat and “market bag”. I came home to a garden abundant with beans and lettuces. I had purchased locavore vinegars and oils and killer Ikea salad bowls. After a run to The Fresh Market and the aquisition of shallots, an aged cheese and ciabatta rolls…..(along with Hollandaise sauce, sweet sausage and puff pastry intended for breakfast tomorrow) I spent less money than had I eaten the next 2 meals in Atlanta. Dinner was two hours out of the soil, uber fresh, very healthy and all cleaned up. Plus I ate it in my comfy clothes while watching a DVR episode of Elementary.

Garden picks for today

Cold bean saladThe beans were blanched and then chilled. A shallot was thin sliced and sauteed with walnut oil, capers and fresh cracked pepper. The salad was finished with fig balsamic.

Bibb saladThe salad was one head of butter cos bibb lettuce with a slice boiled egg and shaved aged cheese with a simple dressing of avocado oil, peach balsamic, dijon, mashed garlic and fresh cracked pepper.

Rum CocktailAdd a cocktail (or two): 1 3/4 oz rum, 3/4 oz lemon juice, 1/4 oz grenadine in a shaker filled with ice cubes. Serve in a cocktail glass.

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Sunday dinner

There is a steep learning curve to growing your own food when you don’t come a gardening or farming family. I wanted to grow some of my own food. I’ve grown herbs for years; they are some of the most expensive per ounce groceries except for maybe saffron and too often they go to waste. The store packages of herds are more than can be used in a single dish. They usually get slimy and get exiled to the compost pile. So, I grow my own. I designed a special walkway for the growing of herbs. I wanted that path between my car and entry to be inspiration for dinner.

Herb garden walkway

I made a wonderful dinner. I usually start with an ingredient and build out from there. Tonight it was a butternut squash bought for $1 at the farmers’ market. I roasted and then cubed it, setting it aside for when needed. I browned some bacon and once crisp, removed it and sauteed a purple onion in the bacon drippings, adding fresh cracked pepper. Then I added julienned yellow peppers I grew in the garden. I had seeded and chopped and froze the peppers, storing them in a quart sized mason jar for easy use.

Peppers in a jar

I added crushed garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped sage picked from the herb garden, black walnuts and the cubed butternut squash.

100_8948I put it over pasta, sprinkled with the crispy bacon and added finely grated Romano cheese. A nice glass of Riesling and a slice of sourdough toast and I am in heaven.

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