Daily Archives: July 25, 2011

The Spirit Stove

My girlfriend has a camp stove.  It’s an antique (about 50 ninty years old, although it could easily be twice that, going by the design [EDIT: we recently found out it was made in the 1920s /EDIT]) brass stove that burns kerosene but which could also burn just about anything (biodiesel, rubbing alcohol, methane…) and keep working.  It packs up into a 4”x6”x8” red metal box and, up until now, I hadn’t met it.  In fact, it lived in a marvelous, white-water-canoeing-proof camping barrel and I’d never even seen it until now.


Readers, I am something of a bunker when it comes to Magic Stuff and sensing the spirits of places and so on.  I have to be Wide Open just to pick up inklings, most of the time.  So, on those occasions when I find myself picking up on someone without going through a lot of riggamarole about it, it’s eye-opening.


My girlfriends stove – her tiny, brass Pet Optimus – is very much alive, to the point where I can actually pick up on it.


Maybe it’s because I just read Deathless – which is a WW2-era retelling of the Russian folk-story of Koschei the Deathless with all the gloriousness that Cathrynne M. Valente’s fabulous enchanted-world writing has to offer (I loves it!) – but the little stove made me think of the Domovoi, the little house-spirits who live behind/under the stove.


And I thought:  This isn’t a feeling I get from the stove in my kitchen.  And part of that, of course, is that it’s a different entity.  But also…  The little brass stove is light and warmth and food under conditions that don’t include electricity or central heating.  It’s a Hearth cut down to its most basic state – a tamed, or at least contained, flame and means of supporting a pot over it.  It’s all the safety and security of a kitchen, packed up tight in a box you can carry in your back-pack – or even your purse, if you had to.


This compact little brass person reminded me that the hearth is the metaphorical (and frequently literal) centre of the home for a reason.  Food, warmth, light, safety.  What else is a home?

Choke Cherries – Part One (Plotting)

So, in addition to linking to this post at Seasonal Ontario, which documents what is typically available all through the Ontario Food Year, I also wanted to talk a bit about Choke cherries.


I’ve only just started cluing into them.  I wasn’t entirely sure if they were edible.  Half of me thought they were, and half of me thought they weren’t.  (Where is the line between tannins-a-go-go and this-bitterness-is-poison, again?)  But, yes, they are.  The key, I gather, is to pick then when they’re slightly over-ripe (very, very black, not even a hint of red or wine colour anywhere), at which point they’ll be acerbic, definitely, but they won’t make your mouth go numb.


Choke cherries, being an indigenous wild cherry, are all over the place.  In weedy lots, sure, but also planted in front yards and parks by city officials and home-owners who wanted easy-to-care-for trees that looked kind of cool (purple leaves, long frilly flowers, and subtle yet still eye-catching fruit).  And the fruit is generally just left to rot off the tree, like so much other front yard fruit around here.


There’s a tree in one of my local parks (YAY!) and tonnes of others within easy reaching distance along sidewalks around town, so I’ve got no shortage of availability.  My plan is try making (a) choke cherry jelly, and (b) choke cherry syrup[1].  Since my sweetie and I have Big Plans to try brewing apple-pear cider (using wild apples and cultivated pear-scrumps, plus Whatever) this year, we may also throw in some cherries or other berries to add some extra zing of flavor.  Some pitted choke cherries or sour cherries may find their way into the mix, as well as a scoop or two of honey.


I’m also kind of curious about doing a fruit-leather – take mashed apple pulp and mashed pick-a-fruit pulp and mix them together, then spread the mixture on a lightly-oiled baking sheet and dry it out in an oven on super-low heat for many, many hours, flipping it over part way through.  It makes for a good dried fruit snack and, duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude… there are SO MANY apples around town, you have no idea…


Anyway.  This is my plan.


Chokecherries!  Who knew?


– Cheers,

– Meliad, the Birch Maiden


[1] The kind of thing you could mix up with sparkling water for a lemonade-like drink, y’know?  Basically, I’m always on the look-out for lemon-substitutes.  What can I use instead of lemon juice for this dressing or those cupcakes, or that chicken dish.  Right now, cranberries are kind of in the lead, but I’d like to try my hand at using rosehip/hawthorn/chokecherry juice (or syrup) as a stand-in as well.  Thoughts?  Suggestions?

The Perils and Pitfalls of Balcony Gardening

So.  After a weekend of glorious sunshine and massively high temperatures, it has cooled down a bunch and is now raining.  It’s lovely.  I’m really enjoying sitting in the apartment, looking out the (screen) door at the fine drizzle that’s going on.  I’m hoping that my wee, container-based garden finds it as refreshing as I do (hint: it’s a covered balcony, so they aren’t getting any of the water-benefit).


It’s late July, and – this being my first (semi-)successful foray into balcony gardening (the actual first time being three years ago when I managed to kill peppermint.  PEPPERMINT!) – I’m beginning to get a sense of what’s working and what isn’t.


Radishes:  Are fantastic.  They have no problem and, as long as they’re in 8” of soil, will radish themselves to all-get-out with no apparent problems.  (Granted, I haven’t harvested any of them, but they look like they’re ready to come in, so…)  Looking forward to trying my hand at pickled radishes[1] in the near future.


Garlic:  No idea.  They have leaves.  They don’t have scapes yet.  So they may not be doing so well.  We’ll see what happens after the radishes come out (they’re in the same bin, y’see).


Chinese Kale and Chinese Broccoli:  Small.  Baby-leaf-lettuce sized leaves rather than the big, thick stalks that I’m used to seeing at the market up the street.  They would probably do better in a deeper soil, me-thinks.


Nasturtiums:  Fantastic.  No flowers, but I was growing them for their spicy, spicy leaves, so I judge this to be a success.  I’m hoping that they dry well and keep their heat, as this will mean I have a spiffy, local herb to use in lieu of things like cayenne pepper.  (Anyone tried doing this?)


Other Herbs:  Basil and peppermint = great gangbusters.  Coriander = taken off quite nicely, but not massive.  Dill = Uhm… Not doing so well.  (Maybe it needs a bigger pot?  Deeper soil?  Maybe it’s just Very Temperamental?)


Baby Leaf Lettuce:  I don’t think I’m going to bother with this next year.  If I were a leaf-lettuce fiend, and we ate a tonne of lettuce-based salads, then yeah, totally, and I’d grow about six times as much of it.  But, as it stands, I think I’d be better off growing ruby (or rainbow) chard and snipping a few of the baby leaves for salads every now and then.  As it stands, the lettuce has really only given us one (tasty, granted) salad, and has otherwise been a tad more trouble than it’s worth.  Deeper soil (better water-retention) might help here, but as we aren’t huge lettuce-eaters (I’d rather make salads out of more substantial veggies, I have to admit), and since Greens are a fairly abundant wild food around here[2], I think I will just not grow this next year.


Ground Cherries:  Have sprouted! 😀  Which, given that these are a start-early plant as in: sow them in late April, or earlier, indoors), is currently a success.  I’m hoping that we’ll get some fruit off of them, but it may mean bringing them indoors.  Since I utterly LOVE ground cherries – they’re like citrus fruit that grows in temperate climates – I will definitely be growing these next year, but I’ll probably be following the sowing directions and starting them (along with, perhaps, some sweet bell peppers) indoors, well before outdoor-planting time.


Beans: We are getting tones of scarlet-runner flowers.  Which is glorious.  I’m not seeing any white flowers, though, so I don’t think I’m going to get any Kentucky wonder OR romano beans this year.  Which isn’t massively surprising, given that some of those seeds are at least three years old, maybe more.  However, since I’m not yet seeing any scarlet runner beans showing up, I can’t actually judge the bean bin as a success or not.  I’m wondering if there’s an excess of nitrogen happening.  I’ll need to check out which of the potassium-nitrogen-phosphorus element is the one that governs fruit productions, and then add some protein or mashed bananas or diluted dish soap to the mix, to see if I can’t help things along.


Tomatoes: Fabulous.  We’ve only had three come to full ripeness, so far, but the rest of them are getting in on the act and we should be pulling in half a dozen baby tomatoes per day for a little (very little) while in short order.  The beefsteak tomatoes are still growing and haven’t yet begun to ripen, but they look like they’re doing well and (a) October is a long way off, and (b) I want an excuse to make green-tomato-relish (or similar) anyway, so this might get me my chance.


Banana Pepper:  Actually has two peppers on it! 😀  This is another one of those plants that I picked up just to see if it would work while assuming that I was basically chucking $4 into the compost bin.  So the fact that it’s not only flowered but appears to be actually fruiting?  Fantastic! 😀


Cucumber:  Well, you all know about my mishap with the sheers.  I think my little cucumber plant was sufficiently traumatized by that that it couldn’t recover.  It has produced one single cucumber further (that was already well along on its road to full development).  Right now, the majority of my (marginally premature, but not really) cucumber crop (six 4” cucumbers, all told) is sitting in my fridge, waiting to see how those pickles turned out before either (a) being made into more pickles, or (b) being made into a delicious, delicious salad involving baby tomatoes (once they ripen).  I think the cucumbers would have also done better if they hadn’t been sharing the bin with butternut squash.


Butternut Squash:  Oh, Butternut Squash.  You are beloved to my heart, so it saddens me to see you fare so ill.  Reader, I think they need their own bucket.  I foolishly (very, very foolishly) planted three squash seeds in with the (already sprouted) cucumber plant.  In future, I think it would be better for me to use tall, narrow barrels (or similar – like a 2.5’-high waist-paper pail with a hole drilled into the bottom) and plant each of my squash with a couple of beans (and a tin of tuna mixed in with the soil, um) and give each plant its own space.  As it stands, I think they are competing for soil nutrients (every one of them is a heavy feeder, see?), and that’s not helping any of them.  Part of me is considering transplanting one of them to the bean bin and seeing what happens.  Another part of me just doesn’t want to make things any worse… :-\  Next year, I think I will be trying either (a) bush delicata, or (b) only one heavy-feeding-vine-plant per bucket, or (c) both.


Anyway.  That’s where the garden is at right now.  Thank goodness we live in a grocery-store-enabled place.  Otherwise, we’d be seriously screwed.



– Cheers,

– Meliad the Birch Maiden



[1] This is my dilemma:  When I bring food in from the garden, my first instinct, with a lot of it, isn’t to eat it fresh but to can the hell out of it.  Same with the fruit I pull in off local trees.  On the one hand, Go Me for making the preserves.  On the other hand… isn’t fresh produce awesome?  Shouldn’t I be putting it freshly into meals while it’s available fresh??

[2] Dandelions, garlic mustard, sorrel, purslane, grape leaves, etc… plus stinging nettles and even the occasional fiddlehead in the earliest spring for soups and so-on.