It has been an aggravating sort of week. The rabbits have eaten my basil plants down to the dirt for the fourth time; by upending the protective barrier around the herb, which was almost ready to be harvested, those pesky critters consumed the entire crop in a single night. Not to be petty, but I hope they have a fine case of digestive issues for this pilfering.
I then found an obese mouse in the scratch grain for the chickens just as our 140-pound dog plowed over me in his quest to catch an 8-ounce squirrel.
One of our almost grown pullets and a rooster has disappeared, considering the number of feathers I found in our yard; I think it may have been snatched up by one of the eagles nesting nearby. On top of that, a weasel was spotted scampering across the backyard.
I did get to harvest my pea crop — a paltry quarter cup, no thanks to even more rabbits and squirrels who had snipped off the tender young plants. I was eagerly looking forward to a good crop of fresh peas and have been thwarted at every turn. I was mad, frustrated and needed a break. So, I did what every self-respecting masochistic gardener and home canner does, I went to the produce auction.
Our preferred auction is organized by the Amish in rural Ohio. You will see some of the older adults at the auctions, watching how their produce sells and to socialize. Sometimes, there are children, barefoot, wide-eyed and solemn as they watch all the “English” who have come to bid on produce and livestock.
I like going there. Everyone is polite and there is even a group of old timers who come just for the people watching entertainment value and to study the community message board, which is fascinating to read. We also like seeing the wagons arriving, driven by young boys and pulled by massive workhorses. For some odd reason, I find it very peaceful, even while trying to outbid a dozen people for a bushel of peaches destined to being pies.
I was hopeful of being able to obtain some peas to freeze and possibly some half-runner beans for canning. Berries were a possibility, as well as cucumbers. I have attended numerous times, picking up two or three grosses of sweet corn for freezing, a bushel of cucumbers for pickling, blackberries for jam and bushels and bushels of Roma tomatoes for canning and making pasta sauce.
There were times when I seriously thought an intervention might be needed because I had brought home enough produce to supply a small store. I don’t know why I abuse myself this way; it’s exhausting processing everything within a single weekend since fresh produce cannot sit.
Even though preserving your own food is labor intensive, the rewards of having a full pantry and freezer cannot be denied. Ask any home canner and they will tell you nothing beats the sweet sound of hearing a “ping” as the jars seal when they are cooling down from processing. It sure as heck beats the “kaboom” of a pressure cooker blowing off its lid due to a faulty seal. Picking green beans and glass off the ceiling tiles in your kitchen lacks a large degree of charm as well.
One thing is for sure; you have to be careful with what you are doing at an auction. Once, we nearly came home with a lot of 50 watermelons. Make a mistake like that and you either plan to eat a lot of watermelon, or you sell it per fruit to interested bystanders because that is not going to fit into the trunk of your Saturn.
I went to the “smaller lot” auction, I bid on and won some beets and cucumbers, backing off on the Green Lake green beans way before the priced topped out at $79 a bushel. I thought of the five-gallon buckets of green beans we had picked as kids, every three days, we had at least seven gallons to pick, wash, snap and can during peak season.
We unknowingly had a fortune based on today’s auction prices. When we ran out of jars or freezer bags, we ate them, simmered with new potatoes and chunks of ham or bacon. They were on the menu almost as much as tomato slices, fresh cucumbers and sourdough bread.
Complaining about the menu did no good, convenience food in our house meant food that was already on the table. If you didn’t like what was prepared, you were out of luck and might as well eat it while it was hot, because if there were any leftovers, you got to stare at the same dish the next day.
We came home with a mostly empty trunk this time. I made a small batch of dill pickles for this winter and will return in a few weeks looking for produce. Meanwhile, we have a pan on the stove with fresh beans, baby redskin potatoes and some chunks of ham, tomatoes and cucumbers are sliced and chilling in the fridge; it just wouldn’t seem like summer without them.
Written and submitted by Sarah Roush for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.