Heart of Glass

Recently, I perused a few sites designed for and by Mason jar collectors. They’re usually places for serious collectors to show off their finds, pick up tips on finding jars, and share stories. Then there’s the occasional forum scattered with questions from excited newbies. These people have usually come across old boxes of Mason jars without really knowing what they have. You can practically hear the breathless anticipation in their typed questions: “How much can I get for this jar?” “What’s the value on this?” “What’s a jar like this worth, anyway?”

The answer is complicated. I’m head over heels for my jars, but I’m not alone. Whether we’re pickling pecks of peppers or blackberry jamming ’til dawn, we rely on the Mason jar to keep everything neat, tidy, safe and beautiful. And the story behind them — well, that’s special, too.

In 1810, Francois (Nicolas) Appert, a Frenchman and expert brewer, chef and food preserver, designed a procedure for storing food in sealed glass using a heated water bath and the principle of air exclusion. Those of us who bottle our food will recognize that familiar process — it’s one we can practically perform in our sleep. But at the time, it was revolutionary. Continue reading

Small hands love gardens in a big way

Take small hands, soil, sun, water and you have big smiles. 89299136

Children are wonderful gardeners. They are observant, intense and their memories are flawless. Unlike myself, who cannot remember where I read that “Gardens grow children.” Children are gifted with the curiosity of youth.

Growing a garden together can be a true reminder of the awesome world we live in. What to grow and how to grow your garden is part of the fun. I have fond memories of growing marigolds from seed to give my Mom on Mother’s Day in school. Oh, what excitement and wonder as we watched it grow.

It doesn’t matter whether you start by growing your plants in a container or a little plot of soil. It is the experience that matters.

I have always had the blessing of living on a small farm and was given a small part of the grownups’ garden to tend – it makes me think of the children’s table at holiday time. Continue reading

Gobblers and Goobers

by Tim Matson

It was not a banner year: The town doubled our taxes and my favorite calico cat got eaten by a red fox. But the gobblers came through with flying colors. It’s amazing how a tender, homegrown bird improves the flavor of tough times.

It takes a lot more than money to raise gobblers as good as these. What it takes is a lot of heart. Peanut hearts, to be precise. That and a daily salad of garden greens, both thinnings and custom- grown. In the spring I plant an extra row of swiss chard and turnips for the turkeys. We keep the roots, they get the greens.

This astounds our neighbors. The local view is that turkeys are stupid and that they like to stand around in the rain and catch blackhead disease. Growers talk about watching healthy birds croak for no clear reason.

Turkey. Say the word and you conjure up a calamity. There is some truth to all this, which doesn’t explain how millions of the birds land dead center on American holiday tables. Perhaps the gobbler is a bird of paradox. The paradox is that a bird resembling a prehistoric Pterodactyl could not only survive in the Space Age, it actually thrives. A bird synonymous with failure is relished by the richest citizens on the planet. A bird notoriously difficult to keep alive sells for less per pound than a hardy hog. “A bird to forget,” as one farming handbook warns. Continue reading

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Return of the Swallows

A male arrives to check out last year's gourd nest.

An exciting event has happened in our front yard! We were alerted to the tree swallows’ appearance after hearing their cheerful twittery song and noticing their bat-like acrobatics as they raced for flying insects. We understand they can eat their own weight in insects every day.


They seem to have arrived back all at once looking for their old nests. We now have up four  plastic gourds, which they seem to like very much. The openings are just right to prevent starlings from entering, and they hang from shepherd’s crooks planted firmly in the ground.

Tree swallows are a very easy bird to attract to your yard. Even with just one gourd house, you will have the enjoyment of following their beautiful life cycle, not to mention a decrease in the population of insects near your patio or porch. Continue reading

Mowing can be a REEL pleasure

Here’s a news flash: unless you have a lawn the size of a football field, you don’t need that power mower. Reel mowers are quiet, pollution-free, and quite simply, a pleasure to use. (Beware: Once you use one, you may be hooked for life!) There’s no earsplitting motor and no messy, expensive fuel is needed. Plus, reel mowers give your lawn a softer, more natural look, rather than the too-immaculate, astro-turf look of highly-manicured lawns. And isn’t soft and natural more attractive in the long run?

Cutting your lawn with a reel mower is an experience in itself, so relish it. You can actually hear the bees buzzing and the birds singing as you mow your grass. Plus, you’ll revel in the pleasant, rhythmic whirring of the mechanical blades. You can even do a little daydreaming. Enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something that’s beneficial to your lawn, the environment and you. Continue reading

5 Reasons To Plant A Little Extra

With planting season in full swing here in Ohio (between rain showers), it is a good time to think about ways to add a little extra to our gardens. With increasing food prices, gas on the rise and other uncertainties in our world, it is a wise time to enlarge our backyard food production.

During my Thursday garden demos at Lehman’s store in Kidron, I recently talked with a delightful couple from Michigan. He was originally from Germany and remembered living on a farm during WWII and the blessing of having enough to share with others during hard times. This couple in their 70s is planning to add two new garden beds to their backyard so they will have extras to share with their neighbors this summer. I think they can be a good example to the rest of us around the country.

Here are five reasons to stretch your garden this season:

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Finding True North

I know that I am officially middle-aged now because I look at ‘the younger generation’ and shake my head in woe.

You see, it seems as if they are all surgically attached to electronic gadgets. They fone, txt and FB (phone, text and Facebook). I cringe to think what it is doing to spelling, grammar, syntax and the health and wealth of the written word.

I’m sounding like my mother (in her middle age)!

I tell myself that as long as they read – widely- fiction, poetry, anything not reported in a celebrity magazine -  then the language may survive even though future generations may view books as quaint.  But will these young’uns literally survive if they are utterly dependent on electronic media and other gadgets?  That does make me ponder. Continue reading

Of Bees and Clover Rolling

I may be one of those rare individuals who feels very calm with wasps and bees buzzing around me. Both have only stung me just once. I was a child when this happened, stepping upon a unsuspecting bee while walking barefoot on grass. It upset me that the bee would die once it stung me even as my foot ballooned in reaction. The wasp, which had stung me as an adult smack between the eyes, I treated as some sort of cosmic wake up call. It would live to sting another day; if it had met its mortal end I would not have mourned.

Having attended a course on beekeeping, I was reminding myself this morning to get local honey soon.  Beekeepers swear by taking a spoon of local honey – with its pollen local to where you live  – each day to fend off hay fever later in the summer. Start from February or March – depending on your local weather and see how it helps. I’ve certainly noted that a timely dollop of local honey with its natural antiseptic quality seems to stop sore throats in their tracks.

It’s pricey, but often commercial brands are diluted with syrup so you don’t have the benefit of the pollen count. Also it needs to be from pollen to where you will be breathing it and sneezing from it.

There is another odd bit of anecdotal evidence among Irish Beekeepers. Continue reading

Easy, Fresh, Italian! 3 great recipes for spring…

When Americans envision Italian cooking, it is heavy with the tomato sauce we have all grown to love. But this is not a truly accurate picture, for the tomato is a relatively new addition to Italian cuisine. In fact, the tomato didn’t come on the Italian scene until the late 1500’s and up until the late 1600’s was thought to be poisonous and not used in food. This diversity gives us some wonderful dishes of Italy to use in our warm weather, spring and summer meal planning.

The first thing you will notice in these recipes is the emphasis on fresh produce. In Italy, the majority of the cooking is done by the women of the household. What turns up on the menu is commonly influenced by what is available and freshest at the local daily market. This is influenced by the region of the country the shopper is located in – much like the regional differences we see in American cooking.

Classic Minestrone
Many of the foods we enjoy today come from old recipes that were made by the working class to poor people. One commonly loved recipe is  for Minestrone soup. It is a very humble dish and was intended for everyday consumption, being filling and cheap. A few “American shortcuts” are included for your convenience.

4 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium zucchini, sliced
¼ c chopped onion Continue reading

Fruits of Frugality

“Frugality is such an ugly word,” reads a change purse being sold in the Brooklyn Museum shop. I couldn’t resist being amused. It’s hip and wry and urban and chic. I had to buy it because it is contrary to my life in the country.

The word sent me scurrying to my Chambers Etymological dictionary. The word so associated with avoiding waste and saving has its roots deep in what we find antithetical to its current usage. Tracing it through various Latin cases it ultimately rests in words originally meaning fruit, profit, and value.

Now frugal doesn’t seem an ugly word at all! It’s lost some of its repressive Puritanical tarnish. When we’ve polished it off it is deeply rooted in abundance. This makes me smile.

For me frugality – in both its saving and abundant forms – is rooted with arboriculture. Trees take a certain amount of nurture and patience but they give back so much. They last long after us.

So when I think of frugal acts to incorporate into our lives I like to think – root, trunk, branch. This suggests to me that various items need ‘double up’ or multitask for us so that they have a second life beyond their initial purpose. Continue reading