Strawberry Festival

Today was the annual strawberry festival in these parts. The exact date changes from year to year, though always in late May or early June, whenever strawberries are at the peak of ripeness– much like the actual viewing of cherry blossoms in DC a month or two earlier. Usually, signs go up near the beginning of May, along roads and by churches and banks, announcing the impending festival, which always takes place in the parking lots and fields of a local Montessori school. One field has a collection of moonbounces for the kids, while another nearby field is managed by a Boy Scout troop that directs parking.

The upper parking lot gets filled with booths and tables of local craftspeople, businesses, and other organizations. One lady this year was selling tatted jewelery, including a nice collection with bat charms which I, naturally, had to spend money on. Likewise Tastefully Simple and Pampered Chef people, of which Okassan took advantage. There was a nearby Episcopalian church represented and there, down at the end, a group of young men with a table of pamphlets proclaiming that “Islam is Loyalty” or some such thing.

We didn’t really wander down that way because, quite frankly, Snape and I have a bit of an allergy to Islam– I tend to sneeze alot, and she breaks out in hives, the poor dear. And, to be honest, they stuck out because there were no females among them– and lets face it, a strawberry festival is a rather feminine place, where one expects to see hordes of grannies, moms, and little girls, husbands and sons pulled along with patient (or not so patient) faces. Not really the place for a pack of young fellas (at least, a pack not dressed up in Scout uniforms)– not without even a single Mom or Sister among them.

The backwards American Flag on one of their displays may also have something to do with our reluctance to drift much closer.  Maybe. Either way, both of us are quite happy with our current relationship with The Lord (though we’ll admit, it’s often the two of us being whiney brats that He, in His Mercy, has thus far refrained from smiting out of sheer irritation). They could have been from the local group of Muslims who got kicked out of Pakistan for being to pacifist. Or, they could have been from another, sorta (as far as we can tell) moderate-ish mosque or, they could have been representatives from the Islamic Society of Washington, D.C. Don’t know and, with them lacking any ladies, not really interested.

And before you get all PC, one word: Taqqiya.

After browsing the stalls, down we went to the lower parking lot, where the truck of strawberries had pulled in and a line was forming to purchase strawberries by the full or half flat. While waiting, Snape got into a conversation with a lady behind us on pie dough– and how to change the recipie to account for the recent change in how they make shortening. Really, so typical. We ended up with two flats, which was 16 pounds of strawberries at the peak of ripeness and freshness. 16 of these:

strawberries

16 of these-- yummy!

Then it was time to head home, routed through residential streets filled with yard sales– I found a rather nice oil lamp, and one jar to add to my canning collection. When we came home, we got right to work, hulling and slicing strawberries, and the rhubarb we’d gotten recently from the CSA, and made two Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies and one Strawberry-Rhubarb tart, of which one pie was baked, one frozen for later, and the tart baked and eaten for lunch. The crust was a Snape family recipie, made by her last night. Sooo good!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry-Rhubarb pie is not the most photogenic of pies.

We then froze most of the rest of the rhubarb and strawberries (save for what we used the the Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler currently in the oven), though we did set aside one pound of strawberries to make these:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Of course we'd have some chocolate dipped strawberries. . .

Which are, as most wizarding folk know, a perfect antidote to Dementor or Lethifold exposure (well, after your Patronus has chased the beasties off, of course). No, no Dementors or Lethifolds around here, just a couple of decadent Slytherins.

Weekend after next, we’ll likely be using some of the frozen berries and rhubarb to make Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam. Can’t wait!

Canning season is starting again!

The rhubarb and strawberries are coming in quickly, and as much as we’d like, we can’t possibly eat enough strawberry-rhubarb pie. So it’s time to fire up the canner and make a strawberry-rhubarb preserve.

Drooling at the mere thought– a way to get the strawberry-rhubarb awesomeness outsside of rhubarb season. Haven’t decided on a recipie yet, but when I pick one, I’ll post and let you know how it worked.

Mmmm, yummy!

In the Garden: Aster and Avacado

Aster Amellus (Michaelmas Daisy)

Aster is a genus of plants, names for the shape of the flowers they bear (Aster comes from the Ancient Greek word for Star). There are a slew of varieties found throughout the world, and they grow in all hardiness zones. Their usefullness in the garden is that they are food for caterpillars of moths. In this way, they can attract some pollinators to your garden, and can also serve as trap plants for caterpillars that might otherwise terrorise the rest of your garden. Finally, by attracting moths, you could conceivably attract bats to your area– bats which eat all manner of pests, whose droppings are incredibly rich fertilizer, and are considered good luck by the Chinese. Yes, I’m fond of bats.

This year, I’ll be growing Michaelmas Daisies in my garden.

Avocados are a commercially valuable fruit and are cultivated in tropical climates throughout the world–and some temperate ones, such as California.

The avacado matures on the tree but ripens off the tree. Once picked, avocados ripen in a few days at room temperature . In some cases, avocados can be left on the tree for several months, which is good if one doesn’t wish to rush through a harvest. One can simply pick the fruit a few days before your party to have it ripe in time for guacamole. If the fruit remains unpicked for too long, however, it will fall to the ground, and start ripening on its own.

An avocado propagated by seed can bear fruit, but takes roughly 4–6 years to do so, and the offspring is unlikely to resemble the parent cultivar in fruit quality. Thus, commercial orchards are planted using grafted trees and rootstocks. Buying grafted stock from a reputable dealer is recommended—but stories abound of people who have grown their own trees from store-bought fruit, and now enjoy their own home-grown avocados.

Avocados are good for regulating cholesterol levels, and often used as a substitute for meat by vegetarians due to its high fat content. Mind you, it’s the “good fats”.

While not particularly popular, the avocado tree can be grown domestically and be used as a houseplant. Typically the pit will germinate in either normal soil conditions or, alternatively, partially submerged in a container of water. If the latter method is chosen by the grower, the pit will sprout in 4–6 weeks upon which time it is planted in fertile soil such as potting soil. The plant will generally grow and become large enough to be prunable, however it will not bear fruit unless it has both ample sunlight and a second plant with which it can cross-pollinate.

The problem is, there is documented evidence that animals such as cats, dogs, cattle, goats, rabbits, rats, birds, fish, and horses can be severely harmed or even killed when they consume the avocado leaves, bark, skin, or pit.  So anyone with house pets will want to avoid growing indoor avocado plants, unless they have a sunny room that they can keep the pets out of successfully. A greenhouse might work, so long as pets can’t get in.

Hasler lists both Aster and Avocado as Venus plants.

Info mostly from Wikipedia.

In the Garden: Apple and Apricot

In the garden today, we have two fruit trees: Apple and Apricot.

Apples are so popular as to need little introduction. They are used for eating raw, pressing into juice, cider and wine, baking, cooking, and canning in butters, chutneys and jams. The acids in the apple makes them one of the easiest foods to digest, thus the popularity of apple sauce for babies, the sick, infirm, and undernourished. These acids also help in digesting other heavier foods such as pork and goose.

The saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is being found to have some truth, as the fiber in the flesh, and the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found in and just under the skin of the apple have been found to prevent colon cancer, among other cancers, heart disease, weight loss, and controlling cholesterol. Apples are also good for the teeth, as biting into the flesh pushes back the gums of the teeth and the juices clean them as you eat.

Apples are usually propagated by grafting, as seeds are unpredictable in growth. Dwarfing rootstocks are thought to be descended from those discovered in Asia Minor by Alexander the Great. These are often used by commercial and home growers, as they increase yield while decreasing size of the tree (less worry about pickers atop tall ladders) and the space used (more trees for orchard).

As apple trees must cross-pollinate to make fruit, at least two trees are needed for production, as are bees to do the work.

(Info from Wikipedia, botanical.com)

Apricots:

Apricots came to Europe from China by way of Armenia, introduced to Greece by (again!) Alexander the Great. Despite their fame in California and the Mediterranean, Apricots are hardy in USDA zones 5-8, or anywhere where temps do not drop below  -30C. That said, Apricots flower early, around the time of the vernal equinox, and post-equinox frosts can kill the blossoms—thus being a troublesome problem in many parts of North America, where weather vacillates greatly in the winter. Hybridizing with Siberian Apricot is suggested to boost the hardiness of trees in these areas. Apricots do not need companions, as they are self-compatible when pollinating.

The flesh can be eaten raw, dried for a tasty snack (excellent dipped in semi-sweet or dark chocolate!), or used in jams, chutneys, or baking and cooking. The kernels are pressed for an oil used in much the same way as sweet almond oil, but less expensively.

(info from Wikipedia, botanical.com)

Hasler has both Apple and Apricot associated with Venus and Jupiter.

In the Cauldron: Chocolate Covered Apricots

Struck with a craving, and with ingredients that needed using, I made chocolate covered apricots this afternoon. Half a bag of semi-sweet chips, melted with a little cream added to soften. Some apricots. Melt chocolate, dip, let cool. Semi-sweet or dark chocolate is best, since it stands up to the delightful tartness of dried apricots. Likewise, the apricots stand up to the strong flavor of the darker chocolate, where a milk chocolate would be far too sweet.