Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Biggest Eating Treat of Summer

Is there any vegetable that is more delicious than fresh corn on the cob?  We’ve never grown  our own on Locust Hill.  We get the sweetest corn grown in the Northwest Corner from the Fords in exchange for letting them use our pastures for their heifers each summer and.cut, bale and take away our hay. 

Not many people grow enough corn to freeze a batch for winter eating.  It takes up too much space in a backyard vegetable garden.  Most farm stands, however, will give you an extremely reasonable price when you ask for a bushel for freezing, especially if you offer to pick it yourself.  And I’m about to describe to you the fastest, easiest way to freeze it. If we get a killer frost before you get around to getting your corn, just tuck this column away for next year. 

Speed is the secret  to producing sweet, melt-in-your-mouth winter corn – from plot to pot to freezer.  For this job a corn scraper is essential.  I recommend Burpee’s Corn Cutter and Creamer.

It first slits the kernels and then scrapes them off the cob.  But even this stainless steel beauty is useless without something to support it.   Below is the simple box that Hank made for the job.  It has a lip at the  bottom to overhang the kitchen counter, and a top that holds the cutter in place.  The box is high enough so that a bowl can be slipped in the open side to catch the cut corn. 

This may  look a little complicated,  but believe me, if you’re about to freeze 20 or more pints of cut corn without spending all day in a steamy kitchen, it’s worth it.  Which reminds me - make sure you get a large fan to help keep you cool while you're working.

Next you need a large pot and cover with a rack in the bottom and filled with an inch of boiling water in which to steam the corn.  Below are pictured two cob holders made of hardware cloth that  take 5 ears, 3 on the bottom, two on top. Improvise with coat hangers if you don’t have hardware cloth.

Fill the sink with cold water and ice cubes. Steam the first 5 ears for about 5 minutes, then dump them in the cold water and put the next 5 ears in the pot to steam.   When the cooked corn is cool, dry it on folded dish towels, then cut the kernels  - CAREFULLY!  as the cutter is sharp.  Fill the freezer bags and replace the bowl beneath the cutter (Very easy to forget!)

I know this all sounds pretty complicated, but once you’re into the rhythm, you’ll find that all these steps take about the same five minutes as the steaming process.  And believe me, the corn you’ve frozen for winter eating will be melt in your mouth delicious!

A word of warning.  Don’t put off the job of cleaning up no matter how tired you are.  Corn turns to glue if left to its own devices.  Washing tools, counters and floor right away will save lots of agony.     

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Terrible Tree Troubles

Arbor Day is celebrated in Connecticut on the last Friday in April, but to me it makes more sense to plant trees in the fall, not the spring.  Asking a new tender sapling to produce new leaves and possibly flowers when its most delicate roots, the ones that take in water, are often damaged in transplanting, must be tough. .  I think tree planting makes a lot more sense when done in September when all it  needs to do is establish itself and then settle down to sleep through the winter.

Locust Hill has lost all too many good trees in the past few years.  The first one to die was the weeping hemlock that Hank planted out beside  the sauna.  He chose it just for the kids as it made a perfect hiding place.  When the girls got too old to play in it, we found a beautiful flat rock  to put  in front of the hemlock so  we could sit on.  So could the dogs.  

Two years ago the weeping shrub  began looking sick, and there were funny looking white places on its branches.  The tree expert who came to take a look claimed it was doomed.  The Wooly Adelgid was the culprit that killed it.

The next tree to perish on Locust Hill was an even sadder catastrophe, the huge sugar maple that provided shade for the front terrace. When we moved here in 1963 the maple’s trunk had a diameter the size of a gallon jug, but it grew faster than today’s national debt.  We soon learned why -  our family of 5 was feeding the tree  daily because the primitive septic system  was directly below its roots.

Fortunately Hank’s grandmother, knowing we hadn’t a penny to spare, offered to pay to have a new septic system put in.  From then on the maple grew normally until five years ago, 2009, when it suddenly began to look sick.  Neither of the two excellent tree experts who came to check out the poor tree’s problem had no idea what it could be.  

Three years later I bought a silver maple to take its place.  Silver maples grow a lot faster than sugar maples and this one was no exception.   When I finally faced cutting down the poor dead sugar last fall,  the new little sapling had grown amazingly tall, thanks to my squirting “Spray and Grow” on it every year.  Hopefully  by next summer we will sit in the shade while we eat and admire the view.   

Our Carpathian Walnut, which gave us a bushel of delicious walnuts for almost 40 years was also sick, but we knew why – every limb had been drilled with holes by sapsuckers, so the tree no longer could produce nuts, Last fall  I had it cut down along with the sugar maple.  What a  lot of firewood  John and I stacked in the long shed with both those huge trees gone!

The apple tree  beside the pond will be the next to go.  It must be at least 100 years old.  Last spring when the limb supporting grandfather’s handsome swing broke off what was revealed was a trunk as empty as my memory when I try to remember a good friend’s name nowadays.   

Fortunately its apples were always dry and tasteless and had never been worth harvesting.  Each fall they fell onto the lawn  where I had to gather them up so I could mow. This spring its leaves looked as sick as a puppy that's eaten a pile of rotten fish.  

That ancient tree, however, had given us the perfect limb on which to hang Grandfather’s swing. With both the sugar maple and the walnut gone, there wasn’t a single tree near the house with an appropriate limb on which to put the swing, and I ended up hanging  it  from a beam in the long shed.

Now it’s time to figure out what new sapling I should plant in place of the apple tree.  I'd love a dogwood, but I don't think it would produce a sturdy enough limb.  Since I’ll be long gone by the time whatever I plant has a limb sturdy enough to support grandfather’s swing,  I think I must consult daughter Bridget who will inherit Locust Hill and get her thoughts on what to get. 

I hope the trees on your property are all thriving.  If so, be thankful!