Monday, October 17, 2011

A Taste of Autumn


Several weeks ago, Lance and I drove out to a local orchard.  When we arrived, a pleasant teenage girl, handed us a map with the location of different apple varieties. The September afternoon was warm and bright as we walked through rows of apple trees. Families, including grandparents with grandchildren, were out enjoying the day. As we searched for Jonathan and Johngold trees, I wished all children had the opportunity to see how apples grow. We picked two bag of apples and drove home past farmers harvesting in the fields.

The next weekend, I made apple butter. As I worked, I thought about my great grandmother and how she preserved fruit in her kitchen. Sometime in the 1890's, she planted fruit trees on the central Nebraska prairie. If she made apple butter, she built a fire in a stove, used a paring knife to prepare the fruit, and spent most of the afternoon feeding the stove while stirring a kettle of apples, sugar, and spices to keep the mixture from scorching.  Instead I pushed fruit onto prongs and turned a crank to peel, core, and slice apples. Then I filled a crockpot with sliced apples, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and plugged it into an electrical outlet.

Twice during the day, I used a potato masher to break down the fruit. After the apples and spices simmered to the right consistency, I ladled apple butter into jars, screwed on lids, and tucked it into the freezer for another day. My great grandmother didn't have a freezer. She had a cave dug into the ground beside her home. When she made preserves or fruit butter, she either melted paraffin to pour on top of the preserves or put the jars through a water bath.  Either process required more work over her cook stove.

My great grandmother and I do have a few things in common. Neither of us want anything to go to waste. She fed apple peels and cores to the hogs her husband raised in order to feed their large family. When I finished, I carried the peels and cores to my compost pile.  I'm sure my great grandmother also enjoyed the taste of autumn in warm apple butter spread on wheat toast.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Knitting is Better than TV

My son has a new friend in his life.  This seven year old boy is eager to learn new things. He approaches everything with enthusiasm and confidence as in "I am good at math or I am good at hockey.

During one of his visits to our home, I was knitting and he sat down beside me to watch. Immediately he wanted to learn to knit and asked if I had knitting books.  He picked up a book of sock patterns but decided he'd rather knit a hat and he would like it to be red.  

The next week I put a ball of red yarn and some size 9 knitting needles in a small canvas bag. When I came home Friday afternoon, I found him sitting quietly on the living room love seat.  He looked at me with big brown eyes and said, "Will you teach me to knit now?"  We sat on the couch and I used the children's knitting rhyme: "In through the front door, around the back, peek through the window, and off jumps Jack," to teach the knit stitch. He allowed me to show him exactly three stitches before he wanted the needles in his own hands.  Hand and over hand, I helped him for five or six stitches and he was off.  As with all knitters, his tension was tight, the knitting twisted on the needle, and he dropped a few stitches.  I assured him that knitting can always be fixed. When I told him this swatch could be a practice piece, he informed me he was making a hat.

All the while we were working, he was chattering about how he wanted to make hats for his Mom, my son, and his stuffed animals.  He informed me he was good at knitting and asked to take his knitting home.  Before I sent the bag with him, I made sure he understood knitting needles are not to be used as swords.  My son and I also told him he couldn't take the knitting to school. As a teacher, I don't want to be responsible for sending nuisance items to second grade.  Even after all our precautions this little guy made a very perceptive comment. He discovered "knitting is way better than TV!" Amen.