Fall Days

This time of year, the shortening days fill up swiftly with a never ending list of tasks to be done. They’re the pleasant, busy sort of tasks that can easily occupy a full day, and make a chilly, blustery, foggy day not seem quite so dreary! Much of yesterday and today was spent in a fog bank, making those inside tasks extra appealing. I actually thoroughly enjoy an honest-to-goodness fall day, whether that be sunny and blue skies, or drizzly and foggy, but I have to say I don’t enjoy freezing myself without due cause. So as the outdoor tasks slowly wrap up, the indoor tasks really take off.

The garden has mostly finished producing, so over the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly clearing it out, putting away the sprinklers and garden hoses, saving and stacking the pots from our trees to grow tomatoes and/or peppers in next year, and sorting through my seed collection. It is a little sad to see the season wrapping up, but it is also exciting, because inevitably I’m already thinking about my garden for next year!

As I’ve cleaned the garden out, I’ve picked winter squashes and pumpkins, a little early, perhaps, after a terrible case of powdery mildew infested the vines. If it isn’t grasshoppers, hail, or an early frost, it’s powdery mildew. Oh, well. It didn’t really affect my squash harvest anyway, so what does it matter? Next year, the squash will get planted with better breathing room, which will help with the mildew issure. My kind husband helped me haul them all inside yesterday, since it sure felt like it could have frosted last night, and the whole corner of our dining room is now covered with Hubbard squash and pumpkins, and a couple of random others, a meat squash and two Lakota squashes. The meat squash seeds were ancient and only gave me one squash, and the Lakota squash just didn’t really do much. The Hubbards, however, did amazingly well, and will definitely be in the garden plans for next year! The largest of my Hubbard squashes weighed in at a wonderful 25 pounds, and I can’t wait to bake it later this fall or in the winter! Each vine isn’t particularly prolific, in general only producing one large squash, but each will produce a few smaller ones that can be picked young, during the summer, and sauteed like zucchini, only better than zucchini.

I’ve baked and pureed a number of the pumpkins to freeze for pies, roasted the seeds, and baked up some delicious chocolate chip pumpkin muffins (here’s the recipe if you’re so inclined). I put up a bunch of zucchini salsa and green tomato zucchini salsa, a great way to use zucchinis (I actually intentionally grow them big just for such a recipe), and have also dehydrated zucchini chips for snacking and shredded a bunch to freeze for zucchini bread and other recipies. We will eat really well this fall and winter!

There are some kale and chard plants that are still producing, and are doing better now that the grasshoppers aren’t destroying them, and I have beets yet to harvest, and turnips and carrots still growing. The zucchini plants have mostly petered out, what the mildew didn’t kill off, but there are still a good half dozen baby zucchini left to harvest, and hopefully we have enough warmth this next week for them to grow a little more. Maybe I’ll do another dehydrator full of zucchini chips!

I picked just about all of the green tomatoes out of the garden and spent today making green tomato salsa verde. Yes, yes, I know green tomatoes can be picked and will ripen over time, but I honestly just wanted to put a wrap on the tomato project for the year and didn’t want a million green tomatoes looking at me every time I opened the door to the spare bedroom, which serves as our pantry and freezer room. And the salsa is delicious. Every single jar pinged the first time, too, so that was extra satisfying. Sixteen pints of salsa verde added to the pantry!

The plum project (finally!) wrapped up last week, as well as the apple project, with pureed plums and chopped apples in the freezer for crisps, cobblers, and pies. Over the last month, I put up several quarts of plum pie filling, several of apple pie filling, several pints of plum jam, and many half pints of plum butter and spicy plum sauce (amazing on crackers with cream cheese…tangy sweet with a spicy kick!), as well as quart bags of dehydrated apples, which Brad and I really enjoy snacking on. With all of that fresh fruit waiting to be processed over the last few weeks, I had gotten spoiled, chopping a couple of the small plums and putting them on my homemade yogurt for breakfast in the mornings. I will miss that, but I tried some of the leftover plum pie filling on my yogurt this morning and, boy, oh, boy, it was delicious. Mm. Wow.

And with all of this harvesting, the chickens have been eating really well. Really really well. Spoiled little things. Pretty much nothing goes to waste! It is fun to watch them pick a pumpkin shell, what’s left after I bake it and scrape it out, down to the very last bit of rind, or devour overly-ripe plums and leave clean-picked plum pits in their feed pans.

These fall days fill up so quickly, and are over in a blur. But it really is just the best time of year.

Bittersweet, But Wonderful

As summer fades into autumn, I ponder springtime. Autumn and spring are so similar, but with a mood and a flavor and a savor completely alien to one another. Both are an anticipated change from the previous seasons and both are transitions of one thing to another. Spring doesn’t come to bring spring. Spring comes to bring summer. Autumn doesn’t come to bring autumn, it comes to bring winter. And that right there, I think, is why their flavor is so different.

Spring means a warming up, and a bursting forth of new life, growing things, greening up, and the hope of what is coming. Hopeful optimism is spring’s emotion.

Fall’s coolness and moisture are a welcome relief, but with the bittersweetness of bracing for winter. Fall is a coming to fruition of summer, a completion, a finishing. Wistful contentment is fall’s emotion.

And there is wistfulness. The beautiful colors don’t last very long, the warm days will be short lived, and refreshingly cool will become bitingly cold. All the work anticipated in the spring and taking place in the summer is competed in the fall.

As rewarding as it is to be putting up my garden harvest, there’s a wistful regret to see ripen the last of the pumpkins and the last of the tomatoes, and it is a little sad to be clearing everything out of the garden, little by little. My flower garden is still beautiful but all it will take is one frost for that to be done for the year.

My little bum calf, Charlie, finally flew the coop and stopped coming in every morning for her feed, and joined two cow-calf pairs down in the hayfield. It is delightful to see her playing with the other calves, rough-housing and no longer lonely, but I miss her silly little calf personality every morning down at the barn.

The calves born in the spring are big and fat and sleek, a producer’s pride, but there’s a puzzling regret when they are sold.

The antelope family we watched all summer along our driveway seems to have joined up with another small herd, so we don’t see them anymore, but now we hear elk bugling on the ridgetop behind our house. I wish I could describe the haunting, chilling, beautiful song that those elk make.

The fall cow work with the best of neighbors from all along Spring Creek is just winding up, and is possibly the best part of the fall. It really doesn’t get much better than getting to spend long days doing hard work and then fellowshipping over a meal when the work is done. But as that burst of activity winds up and then winds down over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look ahead to a long and sometimes lonely winter season. But after winter comes spring, and those same neighbors will be gathering folks for work days and coming to ours.

The days are shortening from both ends, the shadows are long and getting longer. The madcap, productive days spent outdoors, trying to beat the heat with a sunrise start, sweating and getting sunburnt and filthy and finally tumbling inside tireder than tired will be a thing of the past and a thing of the future, and attentions will be turned to other kinds of work. It will be a quieter sort of work, as the outside world starts to slumber. Projects that get sidelined during summer’s busyness will be brought out, and planning for the next year will really begin.

Autumn is indeed bittersweet. Bittersweet, but wonderful.

Last of Summer, First of Fall

Fall creeps in softly, with that month of little hints, teasing us with the cool evenings, refreshingly chilly nights, and the freshness of throwing open the windows. Then – finally! – the turn of the seasons is unmistakable, as the cool days are followed by cold nights, blankets are added to the bed, a mug of hot tea doubles as a handwarmer, sweaters and flannels replace lighter summer wear, and fall is absolutely here with a flavor all its own.

Summer’s flowers fade and autumn’s fruits ripen. Everything is shades of yellow and red and orange and gold, on a canvas of warm browns. The last of the sunflowers reach heavenward, not yet nipped by frost, resolutely clinging to the last of the warmth in the shortening evenings. Rosehips, the fruit of love’s flower, deepen in color, gold to crimson, glittering like little glorious jewels in the underbrush. If the flower goes unnoticed in the chaos of summer color, the fruit refuses to be missed in the fading grasses. They’re rather captivating, and I find myself stumbling across them on my walks and feeling compelled to photograph them again and again.

Leadplant, a subtle summer beauty of grey-green and grey-lavender, flames out in the fall, and brown hillsides erupt in splendor as previously drab shrubby things, unknown and unnoticed in the summer’s green, take on incredible autumn hues.

Western South Dakota isn’t known for its fall colors, not like places out east which are tourist destinations in the fall. But I love our autumns. I love those little stands of aspen and other hardwoods in the low places or burn areas that suddenly make their presence known. What we lack in quantity we make up for in the delight of coming up over a hill or around a bend and finding a wonderful display of color in the draw below or flaming on the hillside above.

So at last fall is here.

Recipes | Pumpkin Chip Muffins

Fall is officially here. There is that unmistakeable something in the air, especially in the cool of the evening, that spicy sweetness unlike at any other time of the year. The shadows get longer as the days get shorter and shorter, which actually gets me excited for long, cozy fall and winter evenings, working on projects, reading, doing those sorts of things that are just about done away with during the long days of summer.

Baking isn’t what I generally gravitate towards in the kitchen, but with fall in air and fresh pumpkins being harvested out of the garden, what better thing to bake than these delicious pumpkin chip muffins! I don’t go for pumpkin spice, but this just tastes like fall to me.

Ingredients

2 c. pumpkin, mashed or pureed (or a 15 oz. can of solid pack pumpkin)

4 eggs

2 c. sugar

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 c. coconut oil, melted

3 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

2 t. soda

2 T. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

2 T. vanilla

1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions

Beat together the first five ingredients, until smooth. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and gradually add to the pumpkin mixture – Mix well. Add vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Scoop roughly a quarter cup of batter to each cup in your muffin tin, either greased or lined with muffin papers.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 15-18 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes and then place individually on cooling racks. Recipe yields roughly 2 dozen muffins.

Notes

This recipe can be made with or without muffin papers, obviously. I much prefer using the papers, since these are pretty crumbly and moist when they’re warm, so it is a lot easier to handle them in a muffin paper. You can use just about as many chocolate chips as you want…I’ve done anywhere from 2 to 3 cups. It just depends on how chocolately you want them! I have also put a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in the batter, if I’m feeling the need for something extra chocolately. They no longer look like pumpkin if you do that, but they’re delicious all the same. If you want an extra kick of pumpkiny goodness, add a little more pureed pumpkin. Play with the amount of cinnamon and vanilla. I think my original recipe called for something silly like 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. I like to actually taste the cinnamon, thank you very much! You can also use white whole wheat flour for this, and I’m sure you could use regular whole wheat, although I imagine the texture and density would change.

These keep pretty well in the fridge and are delicious warmed up in the microwave for 10 seconds, with a little dab of butter.

Enjoy this taste of fall!

Tough Love

This is Amelia.

She really does have as much personality as it looks like in this picture. As a chick, even just a week old, she was feisty and would frequently attack my hand when I reached into the brooder. A chick can’t really do any damage, but fast forward a couple of months and I had started wondering if Amelia was actually a rooster. Once she flew at me and to my surprise made it about to eye level, which was a little startling.

Well, Amelia has since started laying eggs – the most beautiful blue eggs, as a matter of fact – so clearly she isn’t a rooster, but prior to that she was really just a pain. Literally a pain. She’d run up and peck at my hands and fingers or anywhere else she could find to peck, and I got sick of it pretty quick. And by “peck,” I really mean that she’d run over and grab me by the finger and just hang on. It was annoying. Finally one day she ran up and bit me pretty hard, so I grabbed her by the legs and held her upside down and spoke sternly to the little wretch. She didn’t like that. But she tried the same stunt again and received another round of being held upside down by the legs.

It took one or two more of these little confrontations and she eventually got the picture. She settled down. One might think she’d behave herself sullenly and sort of keep to herself and away from the mean lady who grabs her and hangs her upside down, but that would be incorrect. Amelia is now the first one to greet me whenever I come into the chicken coop, and basically begs for attention. She loves to be scratched on the head. And hugged. Yes, hugged.

A little tough love goes a long way.

Trees

I read in an L.M. Montgomery book about a family that planted a tree for every member of the family, memorializing marriages and births, so that after a few decades there was a beautiful family orchard with a tree for every person. That seemed like such a nice idea when I read it and apparently it stuck with me. Sometime after Brad and I got engaged, when we were starting to build some dreams together, I mentioned that to him, and asked if we could plant a few trees when we got married.

And we did.

So many people were very generous to us for our wedding, and we decided to use some of what we were gifted to plant two plum trees, a dolgo crabapple (the kind with crabapples big enough to eat), and a beautiful little spruce tree. The start to our family orchard. It made for a fun date on Saturday to go to the greenhouse and pick out our trees, and I’ve loved our afternoon projects of getting them planted.

I can’t wait to see them grow over the next few years, or next ten or twenty years, and be reminded of that so-important day and God’s faithfulness to us. And that first plum cobbler or jar of crabapple jelly is going to be delightful.