Monday, August 29, 2011

On Nature's Wrath and Windfalls

It's been quite a week; earthquake and hurricane alike in a region not known for either phenomenon.  The earthquake was at least as palpable as any I experienced in 14 years of living in California.  I was staggered to learn how far we were from the epicenter.  In the moment it felt to me like a very local event.  We took the hurricane seriously and prepared by clearing the yard of potential projectiles, storing water, getting all the laundry and dishes done, filling the empty space in the chest freezer with bottles of water, keeping the oil lamps and matches handy, and taking showers a few hours before the storm was due.  We came through unscathed, with only a brief loss of power.  We're near a major hospital and I suspect our grid is somehow "privileged" because of that.  Our power loss may have been only a second or two; it happened while we slept.  We got about as much rain as predicted, roughly seven inches (18 cm).  The chickens weren't at all happy about the extremely waterlogged backyard, but the sun shone beautifully today and chickens have very short memories.  All signs point to the ground drying out fairly quickly.

Hurricane Irene gave us a jumpstart on the apple thinning that our old apple tree usually commences in late summer.  These apples are still undersized and have developed nothing of the sweetness they will hold in a couple of months.  (We don't know the variety, but it harvests exceptionally late.)  For the past couple of years I've collected the early drops and donated them to my farming friend for her hogs.  We typically can give her as many as ten or twelve buckets-full over the course of a six weeks or so.  The pigs don't mind the incredible tartness of the apples apparently, and my friend is happy to accept free food which she knows has not been sprayed with anything.  Though her farm is not certified organic, she has a good relationship with her customers which is based on trust and integrity.  She'll accept any sort of excess garden produce she has confidence in, as well as acorns or hickory nuts for her pigs.

I am happy to provide the unripe windfalls to her.  At the cost of very little effort to myself, these sour fruits can provide value as food, if slightly indirectly.  I don't even have to take them to her since her husband passes our home on his way to work.  He picks up the buckets on his way home and returns the empties later in the week.  I see this as another instance of something from nothing.  This is a prominent aspect of my homesteading mentality - making an effort to prevent waste and finding a way to get value out of what would otherwise be useless.

Of course, it doesn't hurt at all that farming friend often donates to me the hog jowls that her customers disdain.  We have no formal agreement on this, and I always offer her half the jowls back after I've turned them into guanciale.  I definitely feel that I get the better end of the bargain.  But the reality is that both of us are making an effort to reduce waste, and we both benefit.  I cannot recommend it highly enough to aspiring homesteaders: make friends with small-scale local farmers!  It's good to know other gardeners too, but farmers and homesteaders can benefit each other in many ways.

I'll mention also the other use of unripe apples that fall from the tree, even though I have only theoretical knowledge of it.  Apples are very high in pectin, and the more so the less ripe they are.  Before powdered or liquid pectin was commercially available in stores, underripe apples were used to thicken jams and jellies.  Just as with most old domestic arts, this one is still viable today.  If you have your own apple tree and were so inclined you could use early windfalls and drops as a free substitute for store bought pectin.  I've no doubt google would furnish you with the details.  If I ever become so ambitious, I promise a blog post will be forthcoming.


Laurel H. said...

Those apples look like the Stayman Winesap apples I buy every September/October.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Glad to hear you made it through ok. Although I didn't feel the earthquake, I did feel Irene and we made it through with only a loss of power, loss of sweet corn and loss of sunflowers. :-) We are feeling lucky!!

Anonymous said...

Glad you came through the storm ok. We had some tree damage, sad, but compared to the damage in VT, nothing.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I love relationships that work like that. I just got several pounds of green beans from my neighbor, which I pickled. Half will go back to him. He's grateful, because he didn't have the time to deal with it. I'm grateful, because I have pickled green beans. We're both grateful they didn't go to waste.

Glad you weathered the storm. We did, too.

queen of string said...

Apple cores can also be used to make pectin, another way of using up a "waste" product.

Hazel said...

Glad to hear everything is ok after the hurricane.

I made some pectin late last year from apple cores and peel. It's in the freezer as I then didn't need it, but I should use it this autumn; it will be interesting to see how it works.

Kate said...

Laurel, Stayman Winesap is indeed our best guess as to the variety, based on appearance and the exceptionally late harvest.

Staci, yes, we lost sunflowers and corn, and the piracicaba and chilis will probably never be upright again. Glad to hear you had no more damage than that either.

Ali, yes, the wreckage in VT is very chastening. It's strange to me that Vermont of all places should be so badly hit.

Tamar, yep, those relationships are the best. We should all be blessed with neighbors with such attitudes, and cultivate that attitude ourselves. Glad to hear Irene left you mostly alone.

Queen of string, good point. I've used trimmings to make apple "cider" vinegar too.

Hazel, thanks. I would be very interested to see how it works. Probably the main selling point of commercial pectin is that the standard strength and quality. Homemade pectin would require more judgment and flexibility. Don't suppose you could be persuaded to write about your experience using homemade pectin?

Hazel said...

I'll let you know how I get on!

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

I too am glad to hear you made it through Irene without any damage - I had been worried.

The apples-for-jowls deal sounds great - mutually beneficial as you say. I presume the apples are too numerous for your chickens...? Our girls have had most of our windfall this year - but since most of our trees are newly planted this year, we don't have a lot of fruit yet, either windfall or for us to eat. I can count the apples still on our trees on my fingers!

I would very much like to find some unwanted apples though as I've got some jam/jelly plans that need apples -- I'm hoping my grandMIL still has some we can pilfer - it seems silly to actually *buy* them at this time of year! ;)

timfromohio said...

I expect that necessity will drive more of these synergistic relationships in the future. Better to begin forming them now! Great example of making full use of what most folks would think of as waste.

We engage in a bit of this type of thing as well - I get spent grain from a homebrewing friend for compost (and now my chickens), I work with a tree service and pick up wood they don't want to deal with to heat our home, cooperatively rent equipment with other folks to work on common large-scale projects, etc.

Kate said...

Hazel, please do!

Louisa, the early apples that drop are of no interest to our chickens. As we get closer to harvest and some sweetness develops, they do peck at them. But yes, it's a large tree and we have only a few chickens. I usually save them some of the pomace too, after pressing. But they can only eat a tiny portion of what we produce. Most of it goes around our blueberries, to acidify the soil there. I agree that unwanted apples are quite the desirable commodity. I'm trying to find time to go collect from the neighbors of some relatives. It's just such a busy time right now.

Tim, I expect you're right about that. Breweries and farms are another pair that can be very complimentary to one another. I think it's awesome that you have cooperative rental relationships too. Good for you!

Alison said...

Last year I made and used apple pectin for the first time. It worked very well, and was not too difficult to do, or to use. I did have a bit of difficulty the very first time I tried it, but that was due to the very late hour of the night rather than to the process:

However, subsequent attempts worked very well, and I think that the texture is nicer too...
I include directions in this blog post, and a link to a test that can be done to determine if the pectin is strong enough to use:

Frugal Queen said...

hi - we can and do buy: pig cheeks, hocks, trotters, the entire head, all the offal in our supermarkets. i make pate from the liver, faggots from the heart and liver, use the trotters to make gelatine and pick off the meat to make a terrine, use the entire head to make brawn. i use windfall apples to make chutney, and thicken jam - glad to hear you made it through extreme weather unharmed - love froogs

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Hurray for windfalls!