Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pumpkin Butter

My folks' neighbors have a pear tree that produced more than it ever has this year. I took advantage of the unusual season and shook about 5 gallons of pairs from the tree and made a batch of pair butter over Thanksgiving weekend. When I gave a jar of the pair butter to some farmer friends of mine in Sugar Grove, NC, they took me down to their cellar where they gave me two heirloom variety pumpkins.

The older of the two farmers, Hoyt Combs, told me I "better not carve no face into those or make a jack-0'-lantern; those are for eatin!" And so, I decided to make pumpkin butter today.

As usual, I didn't really follow any exact recipe. I looked at a few basic pumpkin butter ingredient lists, and pretty much added how much I, particularly my tongue, felt was right.

Here are general amounts, trying hard not to use words like "pinch" or "dash".

  • 10 cups of puréed pumpkin
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  1. Assemble it

I used the larger heirloom pumpkin, some really nice Vietnamese cinnamon. I didn't use the arrowhead pictured, but I did find it yesterday! (I'll shamelessly show 'em off any chance I get)

2. Cut 'em open, save the seeds

Next, I cut the pumpkin in half, and pulled out the seeds. The seeds can be roasted in the oven as you cook the pumpkin, and make a good cooking-snack if you bake them with a little brown sugar and salt. Then, take a spoon and scrape the excess "seed debris" from the inside.

3. Cut & Bake

Next, cut the pumpkin into manageable peices and place on whatever you've got. I baked mine at 375 until soft enough to easily puncture with a knife or fork (or about 20 minutes). Notice I just put the seeds on the same baking sheet as the pumpkin. They will be done in about the same amount of time.

4. Sterilize Jars

Ok, a lot going on. While baking the pumpkin, I started the canning operation. To insure you don't kill yourself or those who recieve this stuff as gifts, you need to boil the jars and lids for 10 minutes. The above photo shows jars/lids boilin', with the baked pumpkin and seeds to the left, ready for the next step.
5. Purée, add ingredients, and boil
I took the baked pumkin, cut off the skin (this should be very easy if it has baked long enough), put the peices in the blinder and puréed until it turns into baby food. Once of baby food consistancy, add all spices, sugars, whatever you like, and bring to a boil.
I strongly reccomend stirring constantly while boiling. This stuff can be pretty thick, so boiling bubbles have the tendency to burst, launching bits of flaming goo onto your extremeties and face. So, stir constantly, unless you wish to pay a visit to the aloe plant as I did.

The result: about 8 1/2 8oz jars of pumpkin butter
Once you've boiled the goo for about 10 minutes (or longer, depending on your hand muscle strength index), you're ready to can. This process is fairly easy with two people, but when you are single and .... ok that's enough. Take one jar out of the boiling water at a time with tongs, and place it on a dish towel. Ladel the pumpkin butter into the jar and fill to within 1/8" of the rim. Wipe off any excess butter and place the lid on the jar with tongs. Now use your hands and screw on the lid fully.
This stuff turned out pretty good, and I'll be curious to know how it will age and, as always, if any family members mysteriously catch a case of botulism.
Some things to keep in mind and tips:
I've heard that the conventional pumpkins you buy for halloween can be a bit bland and wattery, as well as the pre-canned purée from the store. This pumpkin was really sweet and needed a fraction of the sugar that most recipes called for. Try finding a local farmer who grows pumpkins and ask about different varieties for baking.

Minimize waste by: composting what you don't use and washing the dishes with the water that was used for boiling the jars/lids. You can also just reuse old jars and lids instead of buying a new set.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm one day and about 7 pages away from being done with this semester. My exams have gone pretty poorly so far, despite studying well over 20 hours. Some things just don't register with me--they're called statistics. Agroecology was insane, Agrarian Studies worse, and one more Community Development paper for it's over. I've got about 3 hours of sleep in me and am sick.

I'm getting better though.

I couldn't fall asleep last night until about 4:30am, and probably should have just studied more. Instead I laid in bed, way more stressed then I should ever allow myself to be. I turned over onto my right side and the pillow smelled like the room I slept in at my farm in Wales. Although strange, this really calmed me down. I feel like I haven't had a good scent-association in a while.

I get to take Sammy home for the winter break again this year, which I am very ready for.

I'm competing on a local game show called Scrambled Squares tonight. My brain is totally scrambled. I think I will meditate for the first time in maybe 6 months.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mountain Top Removal?

I went to Whitesville, West Virginia two weeks ago to visit Kayford Mountain, one of more than 470 mountains destroyed by mountain top removal. Mountain top removal is a mining process that literally removes the top 800 - 1,000 feet of mountains to reach the seams of coal within. The trees and rocks are stripped and excess debris, called overburdin, is dumped into the surrounding valleys on top of streams and rivers (called valley fill). Over 1400 miles of rivers and streams have been completely burried. Then slurry, the toxic sludge created during processing the coal, is placed behind a dam. These are basically lakes that contain thousands of tons of toxic sludge.

In year 2000 one of these dams breached in KY, flooding the community of Buffalo Creek with more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge. 150 people died, 1,100 were injured, and over 4,000 left homeless. This is more than 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, yet did you ever hear about this? EPA called it the worst environmental disaster in the southeast ever.

Economically devastating for communities, as it is a job that only needs 9 people to accomplish.

[can you tell I've had to memorize this for presentations to classes?]

Check this out:

Here are the photos from my visit to the Coal River Valley:

The gang and our accommodations -- Coal River Mountain Watch headquarters in Whitesville

Larry Gibson, life-time resident and activist, is the last person who lives in his hollow on Kayford Mnt. Larry explains to us what we are about to see. Notice the sign and clearing behind him--this is a 800 foot drop off in his back yard (only stopped there because of his family cemetary).

Where your energy comes from

I'll close with this photo. The grave is of a mining boy who died at age 14 in the mine. It reads:
"Death Has No Sorrow That Heavan Cannot Heal"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Oh, Boone....

Last night was wonderful. I finished my last class, walked home, and got a call from a couch surfer traveling through town. His name was Jake and he had been hitching around the east, starting in Portland, Maine. I picked him up at a main intersection in town and dropped his stuff off at the apartment before heading out to Sugar Grove where I posed for a few pictures for a project Matt Lawson is working on. My farming friends out there, Hoyt and Scott Combs, offered me a home-cooked meal that I had to decline due to time.

After Matt got his photos, we came back, cooked some dinner, and went to Art Walk, a monthly event where stores downtown become art galleries and serve wine and cheese. We saw some great exhibits before heading over to the Jones House (community center) for the annual solar Christmas tree lighting. Lots of good friends were there and after the lighting we went to two more galleries.

At about 10 we headed to a contra dance close by. I have such an amazing time at these dances, and I believe my couch surfer did too.

It makes me happy when someone chooses to stay at my apartment and I feel that I've guided them towards having a great time. He told me that he loves this town, and was very appreciative and glad that he chose to stay with me. It also makes me realize how much I love Boone and all of my friends here. I will miss this town greatly.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cider Pressin

We had an amazing apple (and most fruit) season this fall. I was invited by my good friend Henry Blackford to go press a bunch of apple cider in Sugar Grove, about 15 minutes from Boone. Earlier in the season Henry and I went to his folks' place in Todd to pick several hundred apples. I've still got those apples cooked down and in the freezer until I make a batch of apple butter.

Here are a few pics from our day pressing over 25 gallons of cider:

First apples are halved to make sure they are not rotten and to ease the grinding process.

Then they're loaded into the grinder, where they become coarsely-chopped apple bits.

Then the chopped bits are pressed by turning the wheel, compacting the bits and causing all the juice to rush out the bottom.

Here's what it looks like. Freshest apple juice I have ever tasted.

The juice is then poured through a strainer and into glass jugs.

Here's about 4 hours of work. The majority of this is now hard cider.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Long day

Woke up at 7:30, threw on some clothes and made the snowy climb to the LLC. Marc Williams did a really inspiring presentation of methods of food preservation. We're planning to do some jam-swapping. I learned a ton and am pretty motivated to try my hand at this stuff.

I came home after class at 2:00 and took a quick nap, went to anthro. department and made calls to voters for a survey Harvard Ayers is doing. Made 20 bucks.

Came home and made some great dinner with a gal. Coconut curry vegetables, naan bread, and basmati rice. It was really, really good. A good night overall.

I also got back in touch with my host parents from a farm in southern Wales. Hearing from them made me think of the amazing view of the coast from a giant rock (small mountain) that jutted up behind their farm.

Here is a link to this album with a few pictures from my trip. What an amazing time and place.


Maybe I can use this thing as my planner too...

Human Ecology Exam
Pay rent
Release fish/clean tank
Boyer paper
Carp paper
Ayers paper

Monday, December 1, 2008

Arctic: Alaska, Yukon

Peter Josie and yours truly. Old Crow, Yukon

Nathan Barnes fishing upstream of Old Crow, Yukon.

Caribou rack on climb to Crow Mountain. Yukon Territories. These were just laying around all over. I really wish I could have taken a full rack home.

Looking out to the Porcupine River from Crow Mountain. Vuntut Gwitchin Village of Old Crow, Yukon.

My camp for a week in the Wind River Valley, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at 2 a.m. This is about as dark as it got...

I hiked up a mountain behind camp to this beautiful, but fishless, lake. ANWR, AK.

One of several dozen rainbows in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It rained off and on every single day, and these rainbows would just pop up all over the place multiple times a day.

This is the view from a mountain I hiked up in the Refuge. The Wind River Valley pictured is where I camped. You can see one of the daily rain-walls moving in towards me. Awesome.

The most incredible rainbow I've ever seen. This was after a hail storm upstream of Arctic Village, AK.

Docking boat to check fish net upstream of Arctic Village, AK. East Chandalar River (Anita Kinney pictured). You can see a hailstorm moving in in the background. The net (set by Daniel Tritt) had two large whitefish in it. We cooked and ate them upstream.

Here is an album with a few more pictures:

Learn more about the caribou people and why I visited them:

First post... ever.

I tend to stray away from these things in hopes that I will spend more time with my physical journal. So I'll try to keep up with this guy, but if I don't, I don't. I'll also type with correct punctuation, but if I don't, I don't.

I've also become a little skeptical of how long the internet will actually exist. Will "blogspot" be around in 50 years for my grandchildren to read? Of course I would rather have a physical journal, but how else will I share pictures and the like? Ok.