Well, now that it’s over, I’ll complain – 110 SUCKS! All we did for a week was run around the yard trying to keep stuff alive, including some of our big trees. We had to watch the drip lines constantly – I went into the house to use the terlit while running the garden drip one evening and came out to find a joint had blown and there was two inches of water all over my garden paths. The next day, you would hardly have known it happened, the pathways were hard as a rock again within 48 hours.
The upside is, 100 feels GOOD! I’ve had a nice few days, done some clean-up that was onerous in the real heat, and enjoyed hanging around the yard with my dogs. They stayed inside during the heat, and that isn’t good for dogs, they get stiff from laying around. It’s good to be back to regular summer.
And, silly me – here I thought that heat was a hardship for my garden. Get the hell out.
People ask me what I do all day. Boy, would I like to show them, but I don’t have time for lolly-gaggers. Right now, I am waiting for 9:00, because I don’t like to show up in my tenants’ yards too early, encroach on their morning space. I have a good hour of work pulling out dead poppies and junk from my spring flower gardens, and then it will be too hot to work in the direct sun. That stuff looks so pretty in Spring, and those late rains made it all blossom again. But now, it’s dead, ugly, and a fire hazard. So, I glove up and yank it out, toting my old wheelbarrow, overloading it with dead stuff. It’s a reward in itself, enjoying the fruits of a morning’s labor.
Then I got to go inside and enjoy the fruits of my husbands’ labors – I’ve got to sauce all these tomatoes that are ripening in this heat. I can look at it like work, but I prefer to look at it like my lifestyle. At this time of year, my gramma’s kitchen was bubbling with peach and plum preserves. Sometimes her sisters would come and spend a few days to help, so they could have canned peaches. They both had cherry and apple trees, and they’d bring that fruit when it was in season. My Aunt Ella was the pie maker, all the while, telling stories, while her hands went along as if in their own mind, kneading and rolling and cutting the dough, peeling and slicing the apples as if she didn’t even have to think about it.
My grandparents grew tomatoes – my gramma’s brother gave my grandfather plants he’d raised from seed. We also had squash out the ass. We kids ate so much produce – squash of all kinds, sliced tomatoes and peaches at every meal, and then we fed like animals off the orchard trees. The truck garden and the orchard were right out the kitchen door, and then the corn patch was over the ditch near the slough, over past the nut orchard. My gramma was always busy in the house. We helped her as long as any of us could stand it, including her. We’d try to watch TV, but she’d come in and turn it off. So we’d go outside, with the usual admonitions to stay inside the yard, away from Road 61, and away from the irrigation ditch. When we got tired of throwing rocks at stuff and talking about sneaking out of the yard, we’d go looking for my gramps. He did odd jobs, had a couple of trucks he used to haul stuff for neighbors, a gravel truck he used to haul gravel for driveways, etc. But, he was well into his 70’s, and pretty beat up, so he only worked for a few hours in the morning, and then he’d come home and “putter around”. He had got rid of his animals before we were born, leased out his rice fields to my many relatives, but still had the orchards and the garden, the pump house, the trucks, and life in general to look after.
We trailed behind him, eating what he ate, listening to his old stories and his lectures about life, imitating his behavior. By the time I was six, I could cuss like a sea captain. My grandfather was a popular and respected old farmer, known to take a nip now and then over at the Butte City 4 Corners, also known to help anybody who needed it, any time of the day or night. But you knew if you messed with him, you better give my grandmother a wide berth – no matter where or when she caught you, maybe at the grocery store in Willows or Chico, she’d light up your tail. She had this smile that made a person think she was going to fold back their ears and swallow them whole. She was a school teacher and principal for years, when Corporal Punishment was still in vogue. People actually bragged about having been paddled by Erma Dillard. She was The Armadillo.
My grandmother loved to eat tomatoes, slice fresh, and sprinkled with white sugar – but she didn’t have any use for cooked tomatoes. She turned her nose up at stuff like pasta and pizza, preferring more “traditionally American” fare like deep fried chicken, boiled beef tongue, and LOTS of giblets and gravy, my grandfather having a particular hankering for chicken necks. Yessiree – red neck, white trash, blue collar.
My husband won’t touch gizzards and gravy, or for gawdsake, breaded chicken livers and potatoes and gravy, which is one of my faves. I can cook that stuff, but I never do. Sometimes I crave bread and gravy so bad, but I’ve had to learn to eat healthier in my adult life, Dammit. And because my husband has green fingers, I’ve had to learn to make tomato sauce and store it. I started out with nothing but a pot and a sieve, trial and error. Now I have a regular routine – cut ’em up, heat them in a heavy pot, run them through my tomato sieve ( a little hand crank job I got from Amazon.com for about $16), and then cook down the pulp until it’s nice and thick. Then I put them in re-usable pint containers I bought at Cash and Carry and stack them in my freezer. We got so good at it, we even bought one of those tiny chest freezers to keep in the garage.
It’s a good warm-up for peach season.
This year, I don’t know why, we have got more peaches than ever. And, I think the Christmas streamers we put out there have actually worked – hardly any trouble from our blue jay friends, who usually wake us up early in the morning having a peach party out in our orchard. This year we have many, many beautiful yellow and white peaches, and I’m going to have to work fast. I like peach cobbler, already made one of those. Unfortunately, I’m not the pie maker my Aunt Ella was, and I’ve never felt confident with canning – my mom’s canning blew up all over our garage a couple of times.
So, I make peach fruit leathers. I use the same process as with the tomatoes, and when I’ve boiled the pulp down thick, I put it in baking pans lined with plastic film wrap, and I set them in my oven. This is a pretty touch-and-go process, gotta watch it closely or it will get ruined. I turn the oven on really low (200) for a few hours, until the pulp gets sticky. Then I leave them in the oven, with the door slightly ajar to let the moisture out. I’ve also used a little tiny fan, that really helps. If you don’t dry them fast enough, they will mold, but be careful – if you heat them too much, they turn to sugar glass. You just have to do it, and figure it out yourself – it’s worth it.
When they’re dry to the touch, and don’t stick to your finger, they’re ready to roll up. I put the rolls in a zip lock bag. The kids eat them pretty fast, but I’ve actually kept a couple of stragglers in the fridge for the better part of a year.
Well, I better get outside, I’m burning daylight.