Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Harry & David Onion & Pepper relish Wannabe substitute adventures

Sometimes I get in WAY over my head. Here's the story:
Some time back (a few years) Liz came home with a couple of little bottles of Harry and David Onion Pepper relish. I tried some and came to really love it mixed with mayo on quesadillas, or with cream cheese as a dip. It is sour and sweet, and tasty. But it is expensive. So, last weekend I got to rumaging around on the internet and found a recipe for a home-canned version. So I started gathering up the ingredients and equipment. I should have just gone to H&D and bought a case of it - it would have been cheaper. OTOH, I now have all the equipment and know=how so next time will be cheaper (I hope - maybe?)
The recipe calls for a pressure cooker to process the bottles. We used to have one, but got rid of it many years ago - probably when we moved to Texas where nobody home cans. The web forum is rife with tales of people processing it in a Boiling Water Bath, and I happen to have a BWB canner that I use for melting beeswax. The forums are also full of debate about whether you will get botulism trying to can this relish without pressure cooking. Lots have done it and nobody reported having died from it, so I press on.
I went to Sam's on Monday to fix an account problem and got 6 beefsteak tomatoes and 6 red bell peppers as the start to the list of ingredients. When I got home, I noticed that the recipe calls for 6 CUPS of peeled, drained, diced tomatoes. And it occurred to me that if they are supposed to be drained, wouldn't it make more sense to use a not-so-juicy tomato? And there are other ingredients I still needed. So off to Kroger where I bought a bunch of roma tomatoes, jalepeno peppers, huge onions, vinegar, red pepper, and so on.
As I diced and drained, I was putting the stuff into our biggest pot. When I was done, the pot was full and there was absolutely no way I was going to add 8 cups of sugar and 3 cups of vinegar and other stuff to it and have it still in that pot. Liz recommended that I use two pots to cook it in as she fled the scene. Besides, I started dicing all the veges at about 7:00 pm and it took until 9:30. I was ready to start cooking, but the first step in bottling this stuff is to cook everything down for 2 1/2 hours. I decided not to start that at 9:30 pm and went upstairs to watch a movie.
This morning I had a flash of inspiration. My good buddy, Keith, has a pot exactly like mine and I could use his for the other half of the brew. So I went over and borrowed it. While I was there he let me look at the bigger pots he had and there was a pressure cooker. A BIG one. Great! So I borrowed it, too.
Instead of cooking in two pots, I put the mix into the water canner and put it on to simmer. I prepared the bottles, boiled lids, and all that stuff, but it occurred to me that we don't have our bottle gripper nor our canning funnel anymore, either. So I made another trip and got new ones. I got sauce in all the bottles and put them in the pressure canner. Keith's pressure cooker didn't have a wire rack, so I put marbles in the bottom to keep the bottles off the bottom of the pot. I hope it doesn't matter that the bottles can touch each other as they process? And I had to do two layers so I smashed a cheap pie plate more or less flat and put that between the layers. I put it all on the stove and started building up steam. All went well until it was time to put the jiggler on and let the pressure build up. It is supposed to take 3-5 minutes to build up pressure and start jiggling the jiggler. After 20 minutes I decided that the places where steam was coming out really were a problem. But there was some kind of pressure in there because if I jiggled the jiggler by hand, steam came shooting out. So I started my processing timer. 15 minutes later I turned off the heat. Whoo! No explosion. That's a good thing. But I don't know how well it all worked.
One last error. You are supposed to let it cool off slowly. I kind of got busy and let it cool off longer than I thought it would take, so I walked in and took off the jiggler. WoW! There was still steam in there. A LOT of steam! By the time I found the jiggler on the floor and got it put back together the steam was almost all gone. I hope it had pressure long enough to properly process the relish. What do you think?
BTW, the stuff tasted great before it went in the canner! I just opened the canner and took out 10 8 oz. jars and 4 12 oz. jars. None broke, so I guess it is OK that they were touching each other. It was nice to hear seals popping down, but only about half of them so far. One bad thing about not having a wire rack is that the marbles readily let the bottles turn over. Three bottles spent a small amount of time on their sides before I could get them out. Will that ruin the seal? Maybe. There is some vege stuff in the water in the canner and that can't be good. I hope it's all from that one jar that I might have kind of over-filled quite a bit. Well, we will see.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Misadventures of a hobbyist beekeeper

I have beehives scattered around the Texas countryside these days, which I now see is a mistake - especially the ones in places too muddy to get to when it's rainy like it ALWAYS is during the springtime. But on to my story. In January I ordered some queen bees and then I couldn't get out to put them in hives for a while. I was going to put some in the hives at my house, but those don't need new queens, it turns out, so I went out to my old friends, the Hubers, where I have 3 hives. The first hive had a failed queen and laying worker bees. If I'd only re-queened them a month or more ago they would have done great, but laying-worker bees is a fatal condition. When worker bees lay eggs the new bees are all drones because the workers never mated. So as the workers die off, there are only worthless drones left. And once a worker bee starts laying her drone eggs, she will never stop. She doesn't produce sufficient queen pheromone to stop other workers from laying drone eggs, so you soon have a lot of them in the hive and they won't stop. And since they weren't raised to be queens, they are the same size and shape as the other worker bees, so you can't find them, and there are lots of them, and they won't stop. So I pulled their comb, shook all the bees into the grass and took the woodenware away. That hive is a total loss.
Next I went a few yards away to where I have two old hives sitting side-by-side. A nearby cedar tree had grown enough to hinder me working around the hives so I gave the bees a few puffs of smoke to keep them calm and started cutting branches back. Suddenly a bee stung me on the finger and as I looked down, 2 more were hitting me on that same hand. I abandoned the smoker and moved away. Dratted overly protective bees! I washed my hand with alcohol to try to mask the alarm pheromone from the stingers and went back for the smoker. More bees attacked but were beaten off with smoke. I opened up the next hive and doggone if it also had a failing queen. This one, though was still laying a few female eggs and there were queen cells in place. So maybe they will get a good queen out of the deal and all be well with them. Maybe. I closed that hive up.
On to hive number 3, which I soon discovered was the one with all the mad bees. I smoked the tar out of them and still got stung almost every time I lifted a frame to check it. This queen was a fantastic layer! The brood was solid workers (which is perfect), and there were frame after frame of them. This would be the ideal hive if they weren't so darned angry. When I found the queen, I picked her up and put her in a cage to be killed later on and away from the hive, then I put one of the new queens into the hive and closed it up. It will take about 10 weeks for all the old, hostile worker bees to die off and be replaced by nice gentle bees from my new, commercial queen. I also took a couple of frames of brood from that hive and put them in the first hive's box, along with some of their comb and then I put another new queen in there. They will build up this year and be good for next year, thus replacing the hive that had laying workerbees.
I was going to go to the next farm where I have two more hives and check on them, but I was so very sore from all the stings after working those three hives that I decided to call it a day. I still have one new queen, but she can't last too much longer in her cage and has to go into a hive somewhere pretty soon.
I still love keeping bees, but I've got to get them so they're closer together and close to where I live. I currently have bees in 4 locations, 3 of which are 45 minutes or more away from home so that a quick inspection involves an hour and a half on the road, and more like 3 hours to visit all the locations. If I spend 12-20 minutes on each hive, it takes all day to do them all, and that is just too much.
On the plus side, I have honey in jars again, which is nice.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ashbys and Ashursts

Nancy was concerned whether it was a problem that Richard's Mom was an Ashby. It is not - Haddie was too distant a relation to be a concern. But there is another interesting connection.
Haddie Ashby Stringham moved to Holden, Utah after her husband died to live next door to her daughter, but when she got older she moved to Pomona, California and lived there until she died. She was my Grandma Stevens's mother. Meanwhile, my Grandpa Ashurst's parents moved from Texas to Pomona, Ca. to retire and grow oranges. They lost the orange grove after a killing frost wiped them out, but they stayed in Pomona until they died and they are buried there. So they might have known Haddie Ashby. Who knew their descendants would marry?

About the Ashby's

Many years ago, we spent a day in Nauvoo. If I remember correctly, we were in Illinois for a family reunion? I think we already lived in Texas, but it had to have been soon after we moved here, if so. Anyway, we asked a missionary couple if they knew where the Ashby's home had been and it turned out the missionary couple were living in it. It is a two story house that is one room deep and two rooms plus a hallway wide - very plain and simple.

-I tried to draw it, but the BLOG compressed it and it didn't work. Picture two squares, with a small rectangle between them and connecting them.

They were very nice to us and gave us a tour of the house, even though it is not open to the public, being used as a residence. The overwhelming impression I got was that it was tiny. It is on a nice, big lot, however. Of course, at the time the Ashby's were there a good home had a stable for horse and tack, a garden area and fruit orchard, a well, and an out-house away from the well (hopefully). My mother used to tell us the story of how horrible it was that the Ashby girls were forced out of their home in the dead of winter and forced to cross the Mississippi on the ice to live in their wagon, out in the open in Ohio. She also told us about the girls remembering looking back over the ice and seeing the temple burn. Trouble is, the temple wasn't burned until quite some time later - maybe a year later. They may have seen it burn, but not on the night they crossed over the ice. That's the trouble with family stories - they tend to drift around as details blur and get reinvented, unless they are written down.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My talk on Mother's Day

Given in Sacrament Meeting:

Women of strength

My topic today is the Strength of Womanhood. Strength can be measured in many ways. Being a man, I am most familiar with those that involve challenges such as (flex my arm) or seeing who can climb to the top of a 40 foot rope and be the first to ring the bell. And yes, there was a day… But if we examine the essence, the true core of strength, we find that it is often expressed in other ways than brute force.
A week ago, Saturday, Bro. White called me. His cell phone connection was so bad I could barely make out what he was saying, which distracted me a lot and by the time I figured out he was calling to ask me to speak today it was too late to dream up a good excuse. However, he made up for it during Fast Meeting by sharing with us his adventures in beekeeping. I, too, worked for a beekeeper as a teenager. I remember it as being hot, dirty, sticky, often painful work. There is something about it, though, which is why I still meddle with honeybees. It is a fascinating hobby which is made even better by the fact that most people are not willing to accept the heat, dirt, stickiness and occasional painful sting. There are many examples of people who are presented with difficult tasks, but having triumphed, find that they are most proud of having met their challenge. In many ways, Mormon people are like that. I have heard non-LDS folks say how unfair it is that a religion should ask its people to pay tithing, fast offerings, building funds, education funds, missionary funds, and so on. Or to abstain from the simple pleasures of hot or strong drinks. Or to give so much of their time. And yet we find that having done these things, we feel a great sense of accomplishment. We feel tighter bonds with our fellows. We feel the veil getting thinner as we receive affirmations of being on the correct path. We feel joy in the strength we’ve found alongside the spirit.
I’d like to share some examples of women in my family who found great strength through their trials. It is not that we are likely to face those same trials or meet similar challenges, but we can sometimes find inspiration to build our own strength when we contemplate the strength of others.
My grandmother’s grandmother was one of these inspirations. “Haddy” Ashby (her full name was Harriet Maria Ashby) was born shortly after the church was organized and was a member of it all her life. Her family moved to Nauvoo in 1843 when she was 10 years old. When she was 13 they were forced to leave Nauvoo, crossing the Mississippi River when it was frozen over, and as they crossed the prairie and with her parents of failing health, she assumed the duty of caring for her brother who was 6 months old. She later said that by assuming care for her infant brother she was a mother starting when she was 13 years old. During those difficult years when church members were moving slowly towards Utah, her father died and a young man was assigned to help care for her family, a responsibility he took very seriously. His name was Briant Stringham and he married Haddy’s older sister, Susan, shortly after they arrived in Salt Lake.
When Haddy was 16, her mother died. Her mother entrusted her young children to Briant to raise as his own, but Haddie was given care for her sister Louisa, who was 18 months old. Briant suggested that she come live with them so she could attend school, and that’s why she came to live with her married sister.
Imagine the kind of life she led, having spent many of her teenage years caring for her siblings, not just babysitting, but as the primary caregiver. What kind of a social life could she have had, saddled with children? Did she ever think to rebel? Did she try to find somebody else to take over? Did she ever think about just running away? I am sure she had those kinds of thoughts, but she did not act on them It takes a particular strength to shoulder that kind of load and carry on with living. Haddie accepted her lot in life and made the most of it. People who knew her describe her long life of service for her siblings, her children and their posterity. She was an inspiration and a guide for righteousness as she sacrificed Worldly pleasures for the principles of her espoused faith – she always held fast to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and her influence was still evident in my own grandmother who had many of these same qualities. Love, patience, unflagging support for her family and dedication to her faith.
Now for the fun part of her life. During the 1849 California Gold Rush, Haddy and her sister, Susan made straw hats which they sold to the miners for $1.00 each, and she continued to live in Susan and Briant’s house during this time. The sisters were very close, although their friendship was about to be strained. I am going to read her own account of what happened next.
“When I was eighteen years old Briant began paying attention to me. One night when we had been out walking, as I came into the house, Susan said, “Had! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” I said, “Yes, I am, and I will never do it again.” I felt so sorry for Susan that I took Louisa and went to sew for Sister Gray. There I stayed three weeks, I was determined I would not have Briant talking to me any more, but every night I would look over the fence to see if he was coming. He finally did come and after a time and arranging matters satisfactorily with Susan, we were married.
My first child and Susan’s second, Briant Jr., were nursing babies at the same time. Little Briant became very ill so that his life was despaired of, seemingly from lack of nourishment. His father would bring him to me to share the nourishment I was able to supply my baby, and with what I could give and his mother could furnish, baby Briant soon got fat.”

Since this is a moderately shocking tale, I should add that Briant Stringham built a house for each of his wives and was a devoted father to all his children. Sadly, he died at the age of 47, leaving his widows with young children. Personally I am very glad those days when polygamy was legal and accepted are long gone. As I said before, Haddy’s life was devoted to children and church. When I think of her, I think of her as a Woman of Great Strength, and of her sister as a woman of Extraordinary strength.

It is an interesting historical fact that in those days, and really until the mid 20th Century, the #1 cause of death for women was childbirth. For men, it was infection, often from small wounds as simple as wood slivers in hands or feet. We enjoy some immunity from those things, now, but they lurk in the very near background. We recently had a scare of a pandemic (a World-wide infestation) with the H1N1 influenza. The last serious pandemic of flu was in 1918, during WW1. In fact, more soldiers died of influenza in 1918 than died in battle. In late 1918, when the flu pandemic reached the little town of Fillmore, Utah where my grandparents lived, my grandmother Hattie, was pregnant. So she was facing the double peril of both infection and childbirth. The decision she made was only reached after much prayer and soul searching.
Imagine how we would have felt if the recent flu had been as bad as was initially feared. In 1918 people were dying in droves. People would feel fine in the morning - by evening they would be so sick they would be helpless - and by morning they would be gone. It was a terrible time and Grandma was terrified, both of the flu itself, and at the thought of loosing her unborn baby.
When grandma heard about the first influenza cases in Fillmore, she resolved to lock herself in her house until her baby was born and healthy, and she did just that. It was not an easy thing to do. She had two unusually rambunctious boys, 2 and 4 years old, who were nearly impossible to contain and even more impossible to live with in a small house (It was two stories, but only about 1700 sq. ft.). She had to miss church meetings, which were her primary social outlet. She couldn’t fulfill her church callings and accepted her visiting teachers by inviting them to pull chairs up to the closed door on the front porch and talk to her through the glass. Grandpa tended to his farm and livestock, but he, too, tried to minimize contact with other people. He was able to give Grandma some relief by taking the boys with him to the farm, but as winter came he too had to stay at the house. Fortunately, their little house had that new-fangled luxury of piped in water. Food, however, was another story. To isolate themselves, they had to rely mostly on what they had in the house and garden, forgoing trips to the grocery store. As you might expect, their neighbors, all members of their ward, pitched in with meals as they could, passing them through a briefly opened door. That was a blessing, but not a total solution as the resources of all the people were stretched very thin. Fortunately, my grandparents were keen gardeners and their pantry was stocked with home-canned fruits and vegetables. Their experience that winter served to reinforce their dedication to home storage and they continued to grow and bottle their produce long past the time when they could easily afford factory-canned goods.
All this time, there was intense social pressure to leave the house. I think the hardest thing for my Grandmother was staying there protecting her babies, while other people needed help. She had to focus on her own children at the expense of fulfilling other duties, including tending for and otherwise supporting the many sick people in town. That was a hard choice, and she never afterwards stinted when providing help to other people. She served many years as the Relief Society President and fulfilled innumerable service projects.
My grandmother was successful in avoiding the 1918 flu, and I am very happy to report that her baby was born in the spring, a healthy, happy little girl – my mother. My Grandparents’ family was one of the very few in Fillmore who did not loose anybody to the dread disease. You can walk through the cemetery there and find many, many gravestones with a death date in the dread winter of 1918-1919.
There is a common thread to the strength of the people whose stories I’ve shared. I wish to finish by quoting the 14th Chapter of John.

26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you,
my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rain, rain, go away. Come again some distant day.

Joe blogged a photo of the floods remaining after last week's rains. He can post about his adventure driving to early Sunday meetings. As for me, Sunday afternoon it fell to me to drive out to Joe's place to spend the night and get the kids off to school and Grandma's house on Monday morning. On the ride out I passed several flooding streams, including one near Melissa, TX where the half-mile wide floodplain was a solid sheet of flowing water. The freeway is elevated above that floodplain, but the frontage roads disappear into the muddy water. As it got dark, Joe and I set out to clear the land of those pesky rabbits, but finding none decided to walk up the road a ways to view the destruction. There is a spot on the road where it washed away in the rains, leaving a 5-6 foot wide gash in the road, about 4 feet deep. There was still a fair amount of water flowing through the gash, but since the rain stopped some 12-15 hours earlier, it wasn't such an impressive amount of water. What was impressive was how abrupt the sides of the washout were, how much compacted, gravel roadbed was washed away, and how many crawfish were crawling around in the muddy water. You would guess that thousands had already washed past by then, but that racing water was alive with crawdads! A few were good size, but the bulk of them were smallish, perhaps 2 inches long. It was a contrast between destruction vs. overflowing, abundant, burgeoning life.

Friday, May 1, 2009

GPS Stories

A year ago Christmas Jessica gave us a GPS roadmap unit for Christmas. Prior to that I had considered them a luxury/toy. As we played with it, it became apparent that it is a luxury/toy that you quickly learn you can’t live without. When I started my handyman business, it became even more important. It is marvelous to simply enter an address into the GPS unit and drive there. However, Liz wanted to have it at times, too, so I would have to do without during those times, and/or Liz would be frustrated to do without. So last Christmas Clear Sky Handy Men gave me a new (cheap) GPS for Christmas so Liz could have the older one in her car at all times. Life was good.

A few weeks ago, Liz went to a fancy production in Dallas with her brother and when they used valet parking at the restaurant, the GPS in her car went bye, bye. That was sad. Even sadder, my new GPS (the cheap one) just quit working last week. I was actually entering an address and the touch-screen stopped responding to touches. It refused to respond to any input after that. It is under warranty, so I will get it back eventually, but meanwhile I NEED a working GPS. So Clear Sky Handy Men got a new GPS, another cheap one. I was spoiled by the first one, which was an older model Garmin, and my cheap imitation of a Garmin. This new cheap GPS is also a music player and photo viewer, and the menus were designed by someone who already knew where all the hip hop music clubs and concert venues are. At least, it is clear they’d never been lost and needing directions. It was impossible. On top of that, I tried to enter Joe’s address in the Favorites and it refused to accept his road. “Nope! No such road can be out there,” it said. So I took it back and bought a somewhat more expensive Garmin Nuvi 255.

What a delight! First thing it did when I plugged it in to my PC was let me download the very latest U.S. highway map (June 2010). Then I downloaded a Jeep icon to show where I am. It will even let me build my own Point of Interest lists if I want to. (I wonder if I could sell a list of all the Home Depot and Lowes stores as a POI file?) I am very happy to be back in the GPS game. Liz is not so happy, but we WILL get my GPS back after warranty repairs.