Sunday, February 22, 2009

Giant Vegetable Man

Howard Trivelpiece (97), grower of giant vegetables

My family is descended from an old Pennsylvania Dutch family on my mother's side, the Drebelbis (dry-bell-BIS) family. There is big fat book that traces our roots to the 1732 arrival of John Jacob Drebelbis as a colonial settler from the German Palatine region. There is a reunion on an ancient family farm every summer. There is an old photo of my mother as a little girl at the 200th anniversary in 1932, and she appears again, with my kids an I, in the 275th anniversary photo.

Anyway, my mom has always been on the lookout for the Drebelibis name in the news. The name has been spelled many ways as people moved to other parts of the country. Many years ago, my mom spotted a man named Howard Trivelpiece in a magazine article about gardening. My mom wrote to him in California, to tell him about the Drebelibis Cousins of America reunions, should he wish to attend.

Howard has never come East for a reunion, but my mom has been exchanging letters and holiday cards with him ever since. At 97, he is still raising giant vegetables in his northern California backyard. He has a radish, a beet, and a 3.25-pound head of garlic in the Guinness Book of World Records. This past year, the Siskiyou Golden Fair gave him an award for 80 (!) years of competing at the fair, and they named a building for him: the Howard Trivelpiece Ag-Hort Building. He first entered rabbits, in 1928, as a 4-H member. In his best year at the fair, he won 67 ribbons!

His wife Velva is 94. Isn't her name cool? Velva. You don't often hear of a couple where both live into their 90s. They must eat their vegetables.

Howard raises a lot of vegetables and gives them away - except for the best of the crop, which he saves to enter in the fair. Every year, he says he has to save his best veg for what might be his last fair. He credits his success to careful soil building, using lots of rabbit manure, although he is also a Miracle-Gro fan.

I think it's fun that my mom has been writing to him all these years. I'm going to send him a card and a photo of Mom in the garden this summer. I want to know if Velva was a canner. Maybe he'll want to swap seeds!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Winter Comforts

Fresh applesauce, Sunshine Jam, and a Faschnacht with molasses to dip it. What's a Faschnacht? It's a Pennsylvania Dutch potato donut, made for Shrove Tuesday. They call it Donut Day in some places, and local fire company Ladies Auxiliaries make huge batches that the volunteer firemen hawk at stop lights as fundraisers. My mother brought us a dozen today, apparently so we can pratice for Tuesday.
Y'know, even 'tho things are a little crappy lately, I am finding comfort in our new food routines. I wondered if we would want to stray back to packaged convenience when stressed, but it looks like the new patterns are really becoming set.

I indulged in a carrot muffin at a Wawa convenience store the other day when I filled the gas tank. I didn't like it. It was too sweet, too oily, and didn't have raisins or nuts or good spices. The fake cream cheese icing was heart-burn sweet. Bland. I've done nothing but think about good carrot cake muffins ever since. Today I peeled and grated the last of the fall carrots, and I'll make muffins tomorrow. I also made pear butter, applesauce, and Sunshine Jam today.

I can't wait for spring, but I really have been enjoying the winter food.

We are now good at making yogurt, stock, pizza and pasta sauce. We make a weekly pot of bean soup, and we are eating more cabbage and potatoes. I've added a weekly batch of applesauce, and a batch of sweet potato puree to have on hand for biscuits. I keep meaning to try other biscuit recipes, but the sweet potato biscuits are so good, and we get extra beta-carotene, too.

I find I am finally getting into the swing of putting together routine meals that come mostly from staples in our pantry. We make a weekly trip to the farmer's market for milk, pasture-fed eggs, cheese, apples, and greens. We hit a grocery store to stock up on a few loss-leaders every other week or so. I have a good idea of what I need to can/plant/store more of for next winter.

The supply of squash and sweet potatoes (all local) have held up well in the cellar this winter, and we still have a few left. The carrots, parsnips, and cabbage did well in the fridge (also local, but now gone). The white potatoes did not do well. There are a few sprouting ones I will plant. I ended up buying 10# bags of taters every few weeks. I didn't grow even a fraction of our onions, and none of the garlic, nor did I find local sources for those.

I have been making 2 quarts of applesauce almost every week. We've used massive amounts of eating and cooking apples this year. I guess that means I would have to make 100 quarts for a year for my pantry, if I went strictly with local apples in the fall, in addition to eating apples. The local ones I bought got eaten before we could test their cellar storage longevity.

But, there is this thing at the market. I've been going on Saturdays and asking one of the produce vendors if there are apple seconds. He usually gives me a box of bruised apples and pears for a few dollars. This week, I got about 10# of apples and 5# of Bosc pears for only ONE dollar! I have discovered that I need to go right home and make applesauce and pear butter, or the fruit flies go nuts. I brought fruit flies home on a pineapple, and they found the worm composting bin, and we have had trouble keeping them down ever since. I've been freezing the peels in a bucket out back instead of composting them, until we get the flies under control. When the ground thaws, I will trench-compost the thawed peelings.
(I found a recipe for apple jelly that boils the peels to
make a pretty rose-colored jelly. I also want to try
making my own vinegar. Then I would *really* be
getting all I can out of an apple.
These apples and pears are mostly not local, a mix of whatever gets culled each week, many from Washington State, a mere 2500 miles away. But they would be discarded if I didn't use them, I think. So, on one hand, I am not buying local, but on the other, I am reducing waste while saving loads of money.

I think the middle ground might be to make some local applesauce in the fall, and supplement it with the weekly throw-away apples. At least until that time in the future when shipping becomes so expensive that Washington apples don't come here anymore.

Anyone have arguments for a different solution? I do buy local produce regularly, and devote part of my grocery budget to doing so every week, directly from producers whenever I can. Should I be turning down produce from afar, as a point of principle? The dollar-stretcher in me would have trouble walking away from this apple deal.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hiatus Update

Ring bologna, with heart-shaped
mustard, from Super Bowl Sunday.

It's been a few weeks since I posted. It has been hard not to give in to the blogging urge. But I have so many things to do, that I am sticking (mostly) to my plan not to blog in February. I have been reading other people's blogs - I couldn't stand not knowing how everyone is doing. I really miss blogging! It keeps me feeling like I am making forward progress.

My mom is back in her home for the moment, and we've gone round-and-round about what the next step should be. My first urge was to move us all into a bigger house, and just make her come live with us. But after looking at a lot of rentals, we can't find anything we can afford that is big enough. We pay $600 to rent a 3BR house, and it's hard to find even the same thing at the same price. Anything we can afford is in a noticeably worse neighborhood, anything in a decent neighborhood jumps right up to $1000 for 4BR. We live in a city, and urban landlords know they can get good money from larger families with public housing vouchers. There is a decent house with 3BR/1.5BA plus a finished basement that could be a bedroom for the girls, with a big yard and a garden shed - but it's $950. As DH heads toward grad school, this is not the time to sign up for higher rent. I could buy a house for that (as if we could get credit).

So, we are back to the fact that Mom already lives in a 4 bedroom house now. We need to figure out how to make it shareable. It will be harder, but it's what we can all afford. If you've been reading here, you might recall that my mother is a compulsive hoarder. There are no cats or garbage bags, but her house is filled to the brim with stuff that will be hard for her to let go. I'm talking every room up to 5-6' high, with little paths. She sleeps curled up on a love seat. Isn't that sad? Changing it will be a physically and emotionally wrenching process for everyone.

My current plan is to find a large storage space. DH has been renting one for $200/month. He sold a house to move in with us, and has a whole house worth of stuff stored closer to Philly, where the storage prices are higher. He has resisted moving it up here, because he hoped we would move back to Philly when he finished his bachelor's degree. That just didn't happen in this economy, and now he has the opportunity of a year-long paid graduate fellowship. So, it's time to get a truck and a bunch of friends to move that stuff up here. It will save him $1200 a year! I am looking for a large enough space that I can also start emptying part of my Mom's house.

I hope that once we get some momentum with storing and donating things, Mom will find it easier, and we will be able to get some repair work and painting done in her house. It's a terrible thing to know that your mom lives in a house full of non-working appliances. We look like we are neglecting her, but she insists on staying - it's part of her compulsive disorder. Now that her decision-making skills are eroding, she will have to be forced. I just keep thinking that a year from now, she might be living in a functional house, doing fun things with family, without the burden of utility bills or unmanageable chores. If she doesn't have a nervous breakdown in the process. (Or maybe I will!)

There is one big fly in the ointment. My thyroid medication isn't working as well as it did when I started it 3 years ago. I am constantly exhausted, falling asleep in my car in front of the house or in a chair every afternoon. My joints ache and I'm often cold, and when I get a chill I feel immobilized by it - not good in February! I need my medication dosage increased - but my doctor is a clinic practitioner that doesn't know how to read thyroid tests. I've gotten a copy of my test results and am trying to get into a different clinic. The stupid medication is only $4 a month - it's not like I am asking for narcotics, dammit. I need all my energy right now! I have another call in to the doctor tomorrow.

I know that I owe emails to a dozen supportive friends and fellow bloggers. My desk is overflowing with things that demand my attention - if I could just stay awake. I will catch up as soon as I can. I am hoping to have rented a storage space and planned the storage move by the end of the month, and then set up a work schedule with Mom.

I did get some good stuff done: freezer inventory, a 3-month stock-up of the bath closet, and we have been doing well at cooking from our pantry. I even cleaned the oven, after a quiche bubbled over and left the kitchen smelling like brimstone.

I just wanted to let everyone know I am still chugging along, and I hope to be back soon.