Sunday, 25 September 2011

A little sugar goes a long way....

Corinne and Sean, with our impressive haul for a half hour's work.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have had crab apple trees in the front yard of their home in 103 Mile, a quiet neighbourhood rimming the tiny lake just north of 100 Mile House. (Yes, the creativity of the pioneers who named these places is staggering. I guess they had other things on their minds.)
One year Dad was under his truck, working away on one of those mysterious things that men and women who like to work on trucks do under there, when he heard growling "and carrying on," a few feet away, near the apple trees. He barked at the dog to be quiet, and kept working away. The noise continued, which is not uncommon for the dog, so Dad ignored and went about his business. When that was done, he slid out from under the truck and began to clean up, and found that his noisy companion was not the dog at all, but a bear who was happily snacking on the little red apples littering the ground beneath the tree.

So, now we pick the apples when they ripen and quickly clean up the windfalls, and this year Mom and I have gleaned about seven gallons so far from the yard trees and my sister-in-law and I have thinned out one orphaned tree at my aunt's neighbour's home and have our sights on some of the ornamental trees planted downtown. While it can be a lot of work getting much off the tiny, tart fruit, it's very worthwhile, just don't forget to add sugar. Lots of sugar.
If you get your hands on some crab apples, try this recipe: You'll be glad you did. As for me, crab apple wine maybe?

Monday, 19 September 2011

The New War in the Woods

I wrote a news story many years ago about a phenomenon called "guerilla gardening," which involved well-meaning and undoubtedly well-equipped gardeners who would apply their talents to public spaces that had been overlooked by the city's limited landscaping staff and budget.

As I hack my way through a tangly jungle that some owner at some time must have thought would make a nice garden, it dawns on me that "guerilla" is quite a misnomer when talking about dropping a few sunflowers in a traffic circle. As a gang of raspberry bushes and thistles claw at me and jeer at the pathetic skiff of berries barely covering the bottom of my bowl, I realize that this is a war and I'm not the United States. I'm not even France.

For example, I don't have garden gloves, a layer of delicately flowered cotton to protect my manicured hands from the soil. In my defence, I don't think they would last long out here in the trenches of the dandelion farm, where the plant life must have long ago given up on human intervention and has since developed its own defences against the deer. By defences I mean long, spiky thorns akin to pirhana teeth or prison shanks. Gardening gloves! Please. Hockey gloves, now that would be more like it.

I also don't have pruning shears and, apparently, neither did the people who owned this place before me. Or the ones before that.

And although they're not common stock in a garden shop, I could use a hard hat and chain saw as I battle my way through the raspberry forest.

An hour, about a thousands scratches and puncture wounds, and a couple pints of blood later, I have a quart of raspberries and emerge from the garden leaning slightly toward the hate side in my love-hate relationship with Nature.

As tempting as it is to collapse into the hammock and reward my hard work by downing a quart of fresh raspberries, I stick to the plan to can the berries so I'll have them to enjoy as the snow flies this winter.

My mother, despite decades of dedicated refusal to relive her childhood with these kind of tedious farm chores, is a fount of knowledge on canning. Forgive me, Mom, if I'm wrong but I'm pretty certain that in the 38 years of our acquaintance I have NEVER seen you sterilizing canning jars or processing berries, vegetables or food products of any kind for canning. But I follow her instructions, and voila! Several very tiny jars of raspberry coulis that I hope don't mould by January.

Pearl's Next-to-Fresh Raspberries:

Bring one cup sugar and one cup water to a boil to make a light syrup. Add raspberries and cook until raspberries break down and liquid reduces to a syrup consistency. Sugar to taste.

Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water. Fill jars, leaving room at the top, and tighten lids to hand tight.

Immerse sealed jars in boiling water, making sure they are totally emersed, and boil for at least 20 minutes. Do not set the jars on the bottom of the boiling pot - if you don't have a canning pot then line the bottom of the pot with spare jar lids and set the jars on those.

Remove from heat and let cool. You'll hear a "pop" if the jars seal properly.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Drunken Ungulates and Other Hazards

A friend sent me a story this week about a drunk moose that staggered its way into a tree in some innocent Swedish family's back yard. It would seem the moose got blotto on fermented apples, and had to sleep off his hangover in the garden.

Drunk moose on the loose

I'm not home this week, but rather enjoying the old haunts in Vancouver and the hospitality of the incredible staff at Vancouver General Hospital as the lead contractor (yes, also known as my dad) undergoes a lung biopsy. I was quite worried about the procedure and the contractor until I read this.

Now I'm terrified of the chaos that might await me back home.

I think we've established that the ample deer population that calls my home their home tend toward criminality at the best of times. Stone-cold sober these beasts have behaved as wanton vandals, fearlessly foraging in my wildly unkempt garden and helping themselves to my potted plants. I can only imagine the havoc they could wreak half-cut on the reserve of wild raspberry wine that my wildly unkempt raspberry patch has become!

The contractor is feeling a little under the weather still, although he was moved to a private room yesterday after suggesting to the young man in the bed beside him should "grow some" and give the nurses a break - they're busy, don't you know. He is still leaking a substantial and stomach-churning amount of reddish liquid from the tube protruding from his chest, however, he's going to have to suck it up and the nurses will have to find themselves another bouncer. I need to get back and save the homestead from drunken, marauding ungulates.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Deer Me!

It is an inevitable reality of city life that eventually, your idea of a wildlife experience will be reduced to feeding squirrels in the local park or crossing paths with a skunk on your way home from yoga. I have to admit that despite my rural upbringing, I was starting to feel pangs of delight when I spotted those cute, furry little marmots on the hillsides beside the highway on the drive home. Yes. Marmots - it was THAT bad.
So when I moved into the house I was beyond thrilled to wake up the second morning and find a doe and her fawn eating breakfast RIGHT OUTSIDE MY KITCHEN WINDOW! I sat and watched them for a half hour, trying not to make any noise or sudden movements that would scare them away.

I was just as thrilled a few days later when another young deer sauntered through the yard, stopping to snack on the unruly weeds sprouting in what was once, many, many years ago, a garden.
The scene of the crime
A few days and a couple more sightings later, I wondered to myself as I plunged my hands into the potting soil in my new planters whether the deer would eat the plants. Nah! There's TONS of wild plants for them to eat, not to mention a few rather succulent-looking gardens around the neighbourhood. My meagre little pots will be fine.

Well, it turns out that in the deer world flower pot pansies are to twigs and wild grass what gelato is to ice cubes in mine.

One night. That's how long the pretty little planter lasted before it was nibbled down to a nub. What was a beautiful (and expensive) arrangment of bright flowers spilling down over the pot is now a small mound of chewed-up foliage with two pathetic blooms the sole survivors of the ungulate attack. Bambi is a bit of a little piggy.

Suspect #1
Now I understand why the family down the street has a 10-foot wire deer fence surrounding their property and the woman up the street has her beautiful planters covered in chicken wire.

But I still love ya, Bambi. You and snow.

Suspect #2

Suspect #3