Monday, March 11, 2013

When things go bad

I was cleaning out the pantry. It has to be done on occasion. It should probably be done more often than every 5 years, though. This was a goal I set for myself after cleaning out my mother-in-laws kitchen when she was sick before she died. She had stuff in her pantry that was 10 or more years old. And stuff in her refrigerator that was just as old. I swore that when I was done taking care of her I would clean up my own mess.
This is a warning! Don't swear when you are tired and stressed!
Now I am cleaning out my mess. It started with getting rid of stuff I don't use- like kitchen items, clothing items, bathroom items, etc. Just surplus stuff that had gathered through the years. I don't need three broken electric razors, old disposable razors, and old toothbrushes. I am not going to clean with the toothbrushes, either.
After doing a big sort and toss in all the regular rooms, I peeked into the pantry. LO! there were jars of things I had canned that were 5 years old. It was time to do some serious cleaning.
So I pulled them out and set them on the counter. That was 5 months ago. They just sat there taking up space and being a reminder that I am so busy I can't get anything done. Today I emptied 10 quart jars of peaches, tomato sauce and pickled beets. I still have 5 mystery jars on the counter waiting for me to get the nerve to open them. These jars don't have dates or names. I don't know what I made or when and that alone is reason to dump the contents. But there is also a curiosity factor. What exactly is this stuff?
While I was in the panty, I found about 8 jars of various dried beans and peas. I like to make split pea soup and black eyed peas. I like to make soups with beans and vegetables. But mostly I use canned beans because I don't have time to cook for hours and soak over night.
Again, the swearing thing. I swore to use up the beans before the end of the summer. That was last summer, by the way. I had completely forgotten that swear. Stuff in the pantry is behind closed doors so it doesn't really exist. Now it was in my face, telling me to get out the pot and cook. The first batch of black eyed peas went in to soak.
Now when they beans or peas are done, they are delicious. And once I commit to soaking and cooking, I actually stay home and do it. I can say that I have emptied 1/2 of one quart of dried black eyed peas.

This is the recipe and instructions:
2 cups dried black eyed peas
1 gallon water
Soak for two hour or over night. I change the water two or three times after a couple of hours. The little skins start to slip off and float. I like to let the drain off.
If you soak overnight, the beans will start to sprout and cook faster.

Empty the soaking water and refill the pot with about 1 gallon of water. Heat to a boil then turn the temp down to medium/low but slightly higher than simmer. Let them cook with NO SALT for about two hours adding water as necessary. I don't put a lid on the pot. And I skim the foam off periodically because I don't like it. If you put a lid on, you need to turn the temperature down more so that it doesn't over boil. Check liquid level every 1/2 hour and increase as needed with fresh water.
After about two hours, or when beans are soft enough to chew easily but still grainy, add 1 cup of crumbled bacon and 1 or more teaspoons of salt. I like to finely chop about 1/4 of an onion and add that, too. Cook another hour keeping an eye on the water. You can use ham or smoked chicken/turkey instead of bacon. Or you can use some celery and skip the meat altogether.
The beans are done when they are soft and almost mushy- just a little bit of resistance when you chew.

After I make these things, I remember why I buy dried peas and beans. I just need to do this more often than once a year.
And I should probably not buy so much at one time. 1/2 pound dried black eyed peas is enough for 6 or more servings. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pima Cotton

Last time I posted, I said I would do the Pima Cotton part later. I was waiting to see if it made it through the winter. Sometimes, cotton plants will winter over and start up again the the spring- like a head start over the other new seeds. I had decided to let the Pima Cotton go for it. And IT MADE IT THROUGH!
How do I know? Well, there are lots of new leaves and a flower. Already, a flower.
I have been cleaning out another area to start some brown cotton seeds and some green cotton seeds. These will be the shorter plants and will make their bolls in the summer. But the Pima, tall and stately, is going for the tree status. 8 feet tall and going on.
Well, back to the analysis of the cotton adventure.
I managed to gather about 90 grams of Pima cotton after removing the seeds. I have about a 1/2 pound (200 grams) of seeds from the different plants. The Pima seeds are easy to identify because they are naked- no fuzz. The colored cotton seeds can pretty much be identified by the color of the fuzz that sticks to them.
So there we are- my little plot- grew enough cotton to make a thong panty, for a small person. I actually could make a wash cloth, or a thin dish towel. 90 grams is around 3 ounces before spinning. There may be a bit of loss in the carding, but most of it will end up as thread/yarn. Knitting will use more, because it is thicker fabric, but weaving has loom waste. Hmmm. What to do?
I could just spin this up and wait for the next season's crop. Then I could have a full size under pant or possibly a t-shirt of some sort. I could use some other cotton I have to make a few stripes and have some all natural colored item.
I didn't use any chemical insecticides or fertilizers- just  regular nitrogen and compost. The water was about what a person would use on a lawn. In the winter, I didn't water it at all. So, Organic and home grown, and natural colors.  I need to do the math now. How many feet wide is an acre? How many plants could be sustained in this manner on an acre? How many grams of cotton from one acre? How many t-shirts? Is this a reasonable thing for a home spinner to do - grow your own little cotton forest? Is there enough fiber to make it worth while and usable?
Like growing silk worms- what I have learned is that as a spinner, I am terribly spoiled. As a consumer even more so. My 8 week silk worm experiment yielded 260 cocoons which will yield one ounce of silk. My year long garden plot of cotton will yield 3 ounces of cotton. We use much more than that every day in our clothing, household products, and craft fun. I spin several pounds of fiber every year to knit and weave. It would take me several acres of land, a sheep, 4 generations of silk worms just to keep my hobby going. Socks and sweaters would be my reward-  but I would still need to buy ready made clothing, like pants and shirts. And what about those towels? That is an acre in one towel.
It makes me humble when I realize how little my plot can do, and at the same time, I am proud to have done it. I just love knowing how it all happens and being a part of it, no matter how small the part is.