We have a Ure pear tree in our front yard. It’s a hardy fruit tree that will survive anything northern prairie weather blows its way. Every spring, it breaks into glorious bloom. Every autumn, it is covered with pears.
That fall off the tree.
Ure pears are small – slightly larger than a golf ball – and hard as rock. We gather them off the ground as they fall (Plop!) and store them in our basement until they ripen. Pear aroma permeates the entire house, from the bottom-most basement to the upper-most bedroom.
And they keep on falling.
Heaven help you if one lands on you while you are bent over, picking them up off the ground. (Bonk! Ow!) They’re hard as rocks, remember?
The tree continues to shed. (Plop! Plop! Plop!) The wind “helps.” The wind always blows in Alberta and even more so in autumn.
We woke up one morning to the yard covered with fallen pears. We filled a 5-gallon pail, a 2-gallon pail (Plop!), a many-gallon aluminum pot once used to feed cattle, a box (Plop! Plop!) and a medium-sized garbage container.
The pears continued to fall.
We make pear juice. It’s quite simple. Wash and quarter pears, fill the largest container you have, cover with boiling water, cover and let stand for 24 hours. Next day, decant the juice into a pot, add sugar, boil for 5 minutes, put in sealers and process for 10 minutes.
Repeat. And again. Ad nauseum.
But why, you ask, don’t you can them? Or make jam? Or other preserves?
They are small, remember? By the time you peel and core them, you are left with pear slivers. It takes a lot of pear slivers to make jam.
I’ve done it. Every five years or so, I get a whim to make something other than juice. By the time I’m finished, I remember why it’s been five years or so since the last time I did that.
And still they keep on falling. (Plop!)
We now have 51 quarts (and one pint) of juice, plus four pints of pear compote from this year’s bounty. We’ve decided, that’s IT! The rest are going into the compost bin.
We had a close encounter of the skunk kind the other day. It had wandered into one of our squirrel traps. Long story short, we managed to release it but not without incident. We didn’t get sprayed, directly, but the odour still stuck to our clothes. They went into the washing machine, we went into the shower, and my husband’s old runners went into the garbage.
It brought to mind the summer of 1977 when I was directing excavations on an island not far from the Village of Duck Bay, just off the western shore of Lake Winnipegosis, Manitoba.
The “Summer of the Skunks” began the day a crew member came running back from the outhouse shouting, “I just saw a skunk!”
We didn’t pay her much mind. After all, she was the one who firmly believed that moths have fangs and suck your blood. Seriously!
Her report was confirmed a couple of days later by a more reputable crew member. Soon we discovered there was not one, but an entire family of skunks co-habiting the island – Mom and Dad, four Teenagers, and the runt whom we named – wait for it – The Squirt! (Da-dum-dump!)
What to do? So far, we hadn’t been bothered. We decided to let well enough alone and see what happened.
We learned that the skunks were as wary of us as we were of them. The first time we met on one of our paths, both turned tail (hmmm, maybe not the best phrase given we are talking about skunks) and ran for the hills, not that there were any hills on the island but you get my drift.
Next, we discovered that, if we clapped our hands really loudly, the skunks would scurry off into the bush. The skunks quickly learned that the sound of clapping hands meant nothing at all so they stood their ground.
So did we.
Eventually, we could pass each other, very cautiously, without incident.
And so life continued. We dug the site. The skunks dug worms and grubs.
Skunks are very interesting creatures. They can’t see well and often blunder into things. We discovered that the morning I opened up the “office tent” to find two of the Teenagers inside. They scrambled back and forth along one wall, coming within inches of the open door, only to turn around and scramble back the way they’d just come. Only by chance, so it seemed, did they stumble into the doorway and run off.
They may not see well but they can smell! The Squirt came wandering through our cook tent one evening as we were eating supper and headed straight for the tub that held our yet-to-be-washed pots and pans. He did a good job of washing, not so good with the drying.
They’re definitely built for digging. Long claws on their forelimbs can rip open almost anything. They’re wedge-shaped – pointy at the nose and widening toward the rear.
When you’re stuck on an island, you learn to devise your own entertainment. One night, that entertainment took the form of Feeding the Family. We had cooked stew for supper and traces were left in the pot. We put the pot out on the ground and, in keeping with our sophisticated reputation, placed a wine bottle (empty, of course; no archaeologist worth his/her salt would waste booze) wrapped in a towel beside the bowl.
The Teenagers were the first to arrive. They encircled the pot and began to lick it clean. Along came The Squirt who tried to nose his way into the tight circle. The Teenagers were having none of it. The fight for a bite of tasty stew intensified. The tails began to rise. The Squirt never did manage to get his share of the stew.
But we were well entertained. And not sprayed.
The only incident happened the day some kids came over from Duck Bay with their dog and ran up into the bush before we could warn them about the skunks. Two seconds later, we heard a bark and then a yelp and the dog came ky-ying back with the kids not far behind. “Lady, there’s skunks on the island!” they yelled.
Oh, there was one other incident. The Teenagers broke into our food tent one night. We heard the ruckus but no one was about to go and break it up. In the morning we surveyed the damage. Amongst the shambles, we saw well-munched packages of Baker’s Chocolate and completely untouched packages of egg noodles.
Those egg noodles remained untouched until the day we backfilled the excavated units. We dumped every package into one of the units.
When we returned the following summer, that unit had the tallest, lushest growth of weeds on the entire island!
And the skunks were gone.
(P.S. Three days later, there still remains a faint but distinctive Eau du Pepe Le Peu in our garden.)
My husband’s family has A Family Birthday Cake recipe. It’s a basic white cake (homemade, of course, not out of a box) with lemon custard filling and coloured icing. Each sibling has his/her own colour — my husband’s is green.
As my husband’s birthday approached (the first we had celebrated together after our marriage), he “informed” me that I would have to get the recipe from his mother and make The Family Birthday Cake. None other would do. In due course, she gave me the recipe and I made the cake.
She, along with all the other siblings, attended the birthday celebration. I was a tad anxious as I served up the cake — you know the stereotype about mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, how we never quite measure up. Fortunately for me, this particular mother-in-law is an extremely gracious lady. She gave me the Mother-in-law Seal of Approval! I relaxed, having passed the crucial test with flying colours.
Today, another family birthday approaches so this morning I made the Family Birthday Cake. Separate the eggs — Check! Beat the eggs whites — Check! Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla – Check! Add the milk alternately with the flour and baking powder — Check! Pour into greased and floured cake pans and put in the 350 oven — Check!
Because there are always bits of cake batter left in the bowl, I settled into my post-cake-making reward — licking the spoon and beaters. I mused as I took my first taste how I was flouting the now common perception that you shouldn’t eat raw cake or cookie batter because it contains raw eggs.
I’d forgotten to fold in the beaten egg whites!
Quick! Get the pans out of the oven! Scrape the batter back into the bowl! Carefully fold in the egg whites! Wash and regrease and reflour the pans. Pour batter back into pans and put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
The cake turned out just fine. It’s now iced with red (well, more like hot pink) icing, ready for the celebration. Bon appetit!
I made “Chocolate Squares” the other day. That’s what we called a certain decadent, toothachingly-sweet, calorie-laden, carb-ridden, chocolatey dessert when I was growing up. Only when I was well into my adult years did I learn they had another name: Nanaimo Bars.
“Chocolate Squares” have a special place in my memory bank because one day, when I was maybe 12, I decided to make them. On my own. No help from Mom. I was a “big girl” now.
We had received the recipe from Mrs. Hill, one of my grandmother’s friends. It was hand-written on a 3″x5″ file card. And, as with many recipes from people of that age, details were sometimes a bit sparse – they assumed you knew what to do.
I didn’t know that.
The first layer was no problem. I melted the butter, cocoa and sugar in the double boiler, then added the beaten egg, the crushed graham crackers, chopped nuts and coconut. Once it was well mixed, I spread it in the pan.
So far, so good.
The recipe for the second layer read “Spread on . . .”, so I spread on the icing sugar and sprinkled on the Bird’s Custard powder. Next came ½ cup of butter.
That’s when I realized there might be a problem. How do you spread ½ cup of butter, even when it is soft, into a powdery layer of icing sugar? Not only that, but then I was supposed to add some cream. Things did not look quite right.
Time to call in the expert. “Mo-om!”
Mom was in the living room or maybe in her sewing room doing something, certainly not housework. She was a staunch believer in the “Housework if necessary but not necessarily housework” philosophy. There were so many other things to do that were far more interesting or rewarding than – Ick! – housework.
She also had a warped sense of humour.
Mom walked into the kitchen, took one look at my messy spread-on-as-the-recipe-said layer and burst into peals of laughter.
I was devastated, traumatized. For life. (No, not really but it sounds more dramatic, doesn’t it?)
When she finally stopped laughing and had wiped the tears from her eyes, she said, “You’re supposed to MIX it before you spread it on.”
“But, but, the recipe didn’t say anything about mixing it!”
Like I said, some of those old recipes are a bit shy on details.
Anyway, Mom helped me scrape the mess into a bowl where I mixed it up, as I should have, and then continued with the rest of the recipe. The Chocolate Squares turned out just fine. Only Mom and I knew how they had almost been made.
Since COVID put a damper on our normal summer travel plans, we decided to plant a garden. A proper garden. Normally, we throw some seed potatoes in the ground and head off with our little travel trailer because potatoes pretty much grow themselves with only a minimal amount of tending.
No, this summer we were going to plant a variety of vegetables: lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots, swiss chard (why is it “Swiss?”), onions, squash, beans and peas.
“Not peas,” said my husband. “Sparrows eat them.”
“The pods?” I had never heard of this. In all my years growing up on the farm and planting what seemed like mile-long rows of peas and other vegetables – rows seem a mile long when you have to weed them – I had never heard of sparrows eating peas.
“No, they eat the tender little leaves after the peas germinate.”
He was joking, right? I was having none of it. We planted a row of peas.
One morning after the peas – and everything else – had germinated, I went out for my routine garden visit. Yep, everything’s up. But wait, where were the peas? I bent closer. Good heavens! My husband was right! Something was eating the peas!
After a brief consultation, we threw a net over them. That will keep the sparrows out. Nasty sparrows!
A few days later, another routine garden inspection. Good heavens! Something has eaten the beans! Right down to the stalk! Sparrows eat beans, too?
But wait! The spinach is eaten down, too!
I called over my husband. He was mystified. He hadn’t heard of sparrows eating beans, but well, if peas were off the menu, then perhaps they were willing to diversity their diet.
Just then, the culprit hopped by.
The zoologists among you will know this beast as a species of Hare, Lepus townsendii, also called White-Tailed Jackrabbit. Prairie people know it as “varmit.”
According to A.W.F. Banfield’s The Mammals of Canada, Jackrabbits prefer “a variety of green foliage . . . [and] vegetable greens such as lettuce and cabbage.” Add beans to the list. And spinach.
We looked at Jackrabbit. He sat there, chewing his cud, looking back at us with a “What? Me?” look on his face.
“Git!” we yelled. Jackrabbit “gitted.”
We covered all the rows of beans and peas with a garden net. We put plastic fencing over the spinach and lettuce. We covered everything that we thought nasty Jackrabbit might eat.
Weeding is a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, nothing’s been eating our now-thriving vegies.
Until the cutworms arrive.
(P.S. The zoologists among you will be going “Tsk! Tsk!” about the title because “Bunnies” are not Lepus sp., they’re Sylvilagus sp. To which I reply: Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.
(Last week, I offered the challenge of writing COVID’s obituary. My obit turned into a newspaper report.)
Police are continuing to investigate the disappearance and possible death of SARS-CoV-2, also known as COVID-19.
No body has yet been found, but COVID has not been seen anywhere for at least 14 days now.
Police are questioning a relative, Aunty Body, and her accomplice Vax Scene, as “persons of interest” in COVID’s disappearance. Two other individuals, Hi Dochs C. O’Quin and Rem D. Sever, have claimed responsibility but authorities have yet to find any evidence supporting those claims.
COVID’s origins are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Most agree he was born in China but his parentage is debated. One source claims he was the son of a laboratory worker, although this has been derided as a manufactured story. Other sources suggest he was the son of a vendor in a meat market, a story many find “batty.”
Debate still rages as to the veracity of either assertion.
Whatever the place and circumstances of his birth, COVID first appeared in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province of China. Within the space of three months, he was wrecking devastation around the world. No country was safe from his terror.
When asked to explain COVID’s murderous rampage, noted expert Dr. Epi DiMiologi said, “the most plausible hypothesis to date is sibling rivalry.” He pointed to the 2003 damage inflicted in places such as Toronto by an equally insidious terrorist known as SARS.
“As you can see, COVID and SARS share the same surname. If he really were the offspring of a lowly butcher, it is reasonable to assume he had an inferiority complex and decided to over-compensate by become even more insidious than his older brother.”
SARS attacked only about two dozen countries whereas COVID has afflicted countries on every continent except Antarctica.
Investigators point out that SARS and COVID would be, at best, half-brothers. SARS was born in Guangdong province in southern China whereas COVID was reportedly born in Hubei province in central China.
A terrorist investigator who spoke off the record stated that if SARS and COVID are indeed half-brothers, then “that father certainly got around!”
Leaders of some countries are suspected of being complicit in COVID’s reign of terror. Rather than attacking him with a forthright campaign, they characterized him as a petty thief of no consequence who would soon disappear. Unfortunately, this dismissal lead to confusion and mayhem which only facilitated COVID’s reign of terror.
Police are asking anyone with information about COVID’s whereabouts to contact them at 946-268-4319. If no further attacks occur within the next 14 days, then they will close the case file.
Did you hear the one about the guy who thinks the 5G network is the source of coronavirus?
I’m not making this up! Dr. Thomas Cowan (a “holistic” doctor who, by the way, is on disciplinary probation) posted a video claiming that viruses are merely the waste from cells that have been poisoned. Are you surprised to learn he lives in California? Continue reading “Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 3”→
Grandpa Hanna (and later my Dad, Garnet) did what prairie farmers can no longer do – operate a mixed farm. In addition to growing grain (wheat, oats, barley, and flax, and later rapeseed now called canola), they raised a few head of milk and beef cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys – some to eat and some to sell for quick cash when the price of wheat was low or the grain cheque had yet to arrive. However, from time to time, livestock provided more than income.
The four words that farmers dread the most? – Your cows are out! While out, they wandered everywhere, including into town. The village of Meyronne passed a bylaw in 1921 stating that horses and cattle were not allowed to run at large between May 1 and November 15, otherwise there’d be fines to pay. Council forgot to tell the livestock about the bylaw. The Meyronne Independent printed jabs such as “Do you, reader, own any of the livestock that parades up and down, in and out of Meyronne’s streets every week?” The editor obviously forgot that livestock can’t read.
Abe had to pay those fines several times, and sometimes even compensate neighbouring farmers. He paid Mr. Barber $20.00 for damages done by cattle while he, Addie and the family were visiting in Alberta. One Sunday morning, Abe had to retrieve the bull that had wandered into town. That incident inspired me to write my grandparents’ story, “Our Bull’s Loose In Town!” Tales from the Homestead. Escapades did not always end well. Cherry, the cow, got stuck in the mud in the pasture on the Flat. Abe hauled her back to the farm on the stone boat but the next day she caught pneumonia and died.
Abe’s cattle weren’t the only ones to go astray. One morning, Abe found six strange cattle wandering about the farm yard; a few phone calls soon determined whose they were and the red-faced owners quickly retrieved them. Another time, he found a yearling Holstein bull in the yard; Abe took it to the pound for the owner to liberate.
Abe references a few cows by name – Lily, Cherry, Emma, Davidson, Blue, Whiteface and Broncho. The female names lead me to suspect those were mostly Holsteins, large rangy milk cows that, every morning, lumbered up from the pasture to the barn and stood there, bellowing, “Mo-o-o-ilk me! Mo-o-o-ilk me!” Those bellows have a particularly urgent timber to them – there’s no sleeping in when a cow’s needing milked.
Cows, like horses (see last week’s post) needed doctoring, and the diaries contain many references to sick cattle. Dr. Houze was called in only if a dose of aloes and Miracle Wonder (whatever that was) didn’t cure the ailing beast. Not every cow survived. Broncho got very ill after being fed a small amount of feed sorghum one afternoon. Two hours later, Broncho died. Abe suspected the sorghum had been treated with something that poisoned the cow.
Abe didn’t give names to his pigs but I’m willing to bet he called them choice names whenever they escaped. Pigs, being canny, often escaped. Seventeen hogs got out one day and wandered into the village – were they wanting to have words with the butcher, we wonder? Abe had to pay to get them out of the pound. Another pig went on a cross-country adventure on its own; Abe found it two days later at a farm about three miles away. Several piglets once scampered into the school yard just south of the farm — at recess time! — and engendered no end of mayhem. Perhaps they thought the big bad wolf was after them and they would be safe in the red brick school house.
And then there was the Pigs-in-the-Garden incident in the first year of my parents’ marriage. The fence around the pig pen was in need of repair. “Fix the fence,” Mom said on several occasions. “Yes, dear,” my father replied, on as many occasions.
Mom was particularly proud of her garden that summer. She had managed to grow cantaloups and watermelons, no small feat in southwestern Saskatchewan; the gladiolas and dahlias were in full glorious bloom. So imagine her fury when she came home from town to find the pigs wrecking havoc in her garden.
“It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had eaten only one watermelon,” she’d say every time she told the story. But no, the pigs had gone down the row and taken a bite out of each and every watermelon, each and every cantaloup. They had uprooted and munched on every dahlia and gladiola corm.
Mom hit the roof. Dad fixed the fence. The pigs never got out again.