Friday, December 18, 2015

blackberry jam

This year, we have no honey to give out to teachers and families as we did last year.  I saved all the extra honey frames before I closed up the hives for the winter and will feed them back to the bees in the coming winter and early fall, an experiment in keeping my bees as healthy as possible and helping them grow and build up a bit more quickly than they have in other summers.  This feels right to me.  Any honey they have not eaten come spring, when they are all flying again and bringing in new nectar and pollen, I will likely harvest and we can enjoy it then.

And if you are likely to receive any gifts from us this year, I encourage you to stop reading here. Unless you are someone who likes to have to pretend that you are surprised by the gifts you receive.

Here's a teaser though....some intense things went down in our kitchen this weekend.

I was a bit at a loss as to what I could create that would feel as though we were gifting something of what we have grown here.

That's when I remembered the blackberries in the freezer in the barn.  I know very well, given our harvest of blackberries before we had bees here versus after, that it is due to the pollinating activities of our honeybees that we have such an abundant overflow of blackberries each summer now.  And so, in a way, this is another gift we can give that is a product of our bees. Bee-lated, so to speak.

It turns out there were quite a few berries in the freezer. 64 cups of blackberries, in fact. If you have ever had the pleasure of picking blackberries in an overgrown wild bramble, you know that 64 cups of blackberries is a bumper crop of blackberries, reflecting the need to suit up and protect one's hair and skin, and despite this, still resulting in much blood loss and scratches raised and irritated for days. Not to mention those moments, when trapped by thorns, held slightly off the ground by the canes and their thorns as the wind blows, when you begin to wonder just how long it would be until someone up in the house might come looking for you.

I used Marisa McClellan's recipe for blackberry jam from Food in Jars. The only thing I did differently was that I cooked the berries in a bit of water for a few minutes before I began mashing them to remove the seeds, because they were frozen. You know a Mainer means business when she heads to the basement to retrieve the family lobster pot because it will contain what your kitchen pot supply cannot.

On a trip to the farm store for chcken feed last week, Jonathan came home with these little wonders, of which I was quite skeptical when I first met them.

They looked rather fussy and cute for what I was about to do to them.  I mentioned the lobster pot.

I doubted whether they were going to survive the carnage I was about to inflict upon them, as you will see. Isn't it all so pretty right here?

After a good deal of squishing and dripping and head scratching about sleeves that were holding up beautifully despite all this attention but once filled had become larger than the mouth of my gargantuan sized ball jars that were stuck and also acting like corks when I tried to pour out the strained liquid, Elliott figured it all out for me, and we began to have some rather gorgeous looking blackberry juice.

This is when I was truly won over by the bags. Elliott snapped this picture as I worked. It was a bit, well, gruesome. Nicholas announced that it looked like I was milking a human heart. Which was gross. And rather well described.

A quick trip to the garden with the pulp and seeds, which apparently is a delicacy to chickens.

And a full clothing change, and intense hand scrubbing for me, and we were all off for a few hours to a guitar performance. A whole other kind of jam.

And we were all back in the kitchen, darkness having moved in outside.  I lost a few squishers to homework.  And pots needed to be slid aside for supper preparation.  And then it was time to put the kids to bed.

But then, that's when the fun began.

It was date night in the kitchen with the Ball jars. We are very hip.

And thank you Grammie for the canning tools. But you really aren't supposed to be reading this.

Whew. That's some gorgeous color and a true taste of summer as the world goes dark and cold for a bit. Not so different from honey after all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

quick check in

With all this unseasonal warmth, and please know that with the expression unseasonal warmth comes, in this house at least and I suspect in many homes here in Maine, a good deal of unhappiness and anxious anticipation and longing and discussion of and fantastical conjuring dancing, for snow. I keep finding ice cubes in the toilet, noticing pjs are on inside out, and spoons fall out of the freezer every time I open it. These are all, I am told, foolproof ways to get the snowflakes flying. There are several members of my family who would really like for winter to get on with it.

But one of the advantages of the warmer temperatures has been that I have been able to put off wrapping up our hives for winter against the wind and snow and cold. One of the disadvantages is that the bees are warmer and active and are likely eating through more of their winter honey supply with no available forage for them to replenish. Luckily, I have saved honey frames in the barn freezer for this possibility. I am feeling pretty happy about that right now.

A few days ago, watching the bees fly, and tidy, and do their winter smaller cluster thang, I remembered something else about colder winters: just so miserably cold it can be to do the wrapping and small nail placement and dropping in the snow and hammering in barehands when one waits to do so until the cold is upon us. And so, I decided to take advantage of the relatively pleasant experience it can be to do this work when I am not needing to wear ski gloves and a parka beneath my veil.

I took a quick peek inside and saw both hives have good hearty small clusters. And hefted the hive and decided they had in fact been eating. So I slid out several empty honey frames and replaced them with ones I had saved for them.

I popped on my homasote boards for moisture absorption and upper insulation. And wrapped them in some fancy new sheets of tar paper. Aren't they lovely?

It was warm enough that day that I did need my veil as the bees were active and flying some.

I even matched my winter hive straps to their wrapping. Nicholas calls it my goth wrap. I may need to go with this theme for holiday gifts this year.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


While running amongst the trees during their yearly game of tag at the tree farm, the kids came upon a rather lanky stump. It was thin. And almost four feet tall. We giggled a bit about what the tree cut from this stump must have looked like. It was, after all, as tall as Elliott.

Pretty soon, despite their silly antics of hat stealing and tossing them into the highest branches, and then running and hiding, the stump caught their attention and they stopped to check it out.

And someone had the creative/pesky idea to attempt to get someone atop said stump.

Even if that Lorax-like someone was not necessarily a willing participant. It was not as easily as stealing his hat and tossing it out of reach.

Reinforcements were brought in.

But Elliott made a break for it.

And before we knew it, stump was no more.

I think stump is now log.  Darn that Super Axe Hacker.

Friday, December 11, 2015

the giving tree

It was cold when we headed out to our favorite tree farm this year. Parkas, hats, and mittens cold. Which we have not had very many days of yet, this winter. The trees were covered in a thin frost, the ground was hard and crunchy, and we were breathing mist as we walked around looking for the perfect tree.

Not this year's tree. But oh man, would that be funny.

Tree Envy.

Trees not yet ready.

It didn't take as long as it has in some years to find a tree that we could all agree upon.

Especially since this tree, up at the very top, had been enjoyed, snacked upon, at some point by a creature for its delicious pine cones, now just their centers remaining. But the top of the tree was sprinkled with cone pieces. And for some reason, this was very appealing to us all. A tree with a story, a tree with a moment before us, a little closer to nature. A tree that had given a little bit of itself to a creature.

And so, we got to work. And by we, I mean Jonathan. The rest of us stood around, chatted, critiqued, took pictures, and stabbed.

While the strongest member of our group hauled the tree to the road,

And Jonathan headed to the house to pay and bring the car closer,

I felt as though everyone had it all pretty much under control. Yes, Nicholas has taken to photobombing or doing something strange in most pictures I take of him these days.

So I wandered off to watch that moment when the sun is just beginning to turn the ice to water and fog. Where you can actually see the line of ice following shade.

It was all so lovely down there in the sun amongst the trees we were not taking home with us. The ones who did not require attachment to the roof of our car.

Oh. Wait. Do you need help?

Obviously not. Julia's got this.

Julia: Oooh. What are you eating?

Creature debris.

Mud debris.

Large tree.

And we were off. To get that tree once in a frost to fog to liquid field and munched upon by a creature home.