Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pickled Peppers, Visitors, Autumn and Winter............all in the same week!

The house siding project is finished, and just in the nick of time apparently, as Winter is riding hard on the heels of Fall in these parts! Many busy days have passed here in the recent weeks since we visited the beach in Cape May, NJ, now almost a month ago. We returned to find our contractors had finished our outdoor siding project. The added insulation is already paying off in a MUCH warmer and cozier home.

The weather has turned sharply colder and the leaves have quickly changed into their brilliant autumn colors here in our mountains this year, the Pennsylvania range of the Appalachians, which are locally called 'The Laurel Highlands'. The highest point in Pennsylvania, Mt. Davis, is located here in Somerset County and is over 3,500 feet above sea level. The weather fronts moved through very rapidly over the last couple of weeks. We went from temperatures in the 60's with sunny skies one day to over 3 inches of rain the next. The day after that we had plunging temps into the 30's at night with 60mph winds that prematurely blew a good many of the gorgeous leaves off the trees. However, warnings to the contrary, we were quite unprepared for the weather changes that blew in this past weekend. Two Nor'easters rolled up the east coast and some areas in our region got over a foot of snow that felled still heavily leafed tree limbs, causing power outages and some very messy driving conditions.

Around here when it's nasty outside, there is always something to do indoors. With the cold weather catching us off guard, we hurriedly snatched up the remaining peppers from the garden, roasted them on the grill, peeled them and turned them into pickled peppers, a favorite family recipe from my grandmother and my mother. We had a bumper crop of peppers this year and we quickly harvested more than I expected, but they won't last very long. Here's the recipe for the best roasted pickled peppers you've ever eaten!

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Freda's Pickled Peppers:

1) Roast whole, ripe bell peppers over a charcoal or gas grill fire until their skins are blackened and the peppers are soft.

2) Place the roasted peppers into a heavy brown paper bag and close the top of the bag tightly so that the peppers will steam in the bag.

3) When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skins, remove the stems and seeds and discard.

4) Cut the flesh of the peppers into strips and place into clean pint or quart canning jars.

5) Over a medium high flame, mix together equal parts of sugar, white vinegar and water. Then add more water (double or triple what you have already added) to taste until you have a mildly sweet and not too sour brine. Bring this mixture to a rapid boil, then fill the waiting jars of peppers almost to the brim, leaving a small space to top off each jar with a small amount (1/4") of olive oil.

6) Wipe the rims of each jar clean, then add the lids and bands, leaving them turned upside down until they are cool. The lids should be sealed down at this point. However, store them in the refrigerator as you would with refrigerator pickles. They may be enjoyed immediately, but be sure to use any unsealed jars first and plan to eat them all by Christmas, as they do not have a long shelf life.

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We heat our home with wood, a sustainable resource with a very low carbon footprint, and our woodshed is filled to the brim at this time of year. We heat with an HS Tarm wood-fired boiler made in Denmark. It burns wood so efficiently that Tarm advertises that their furnaces create the amount of ash per hour equivalent to that of a burned cigarette.

Each of us can choose to live more sustainably when we understand how our choices impact the environment, other people and other species. In its broadest sense, ‘sustainable’ refers to the capacity of something to be maintained or kept in existence indefinitely. It therefore also refers to balance. A carbon footprint also has to take into consideration how a fuel source was produced. Firewood is usually prepared with the use of log cutting machines and chain saws, and in that, firewood has a tiny footprint compared to natural gas, electric, or heating oil. We also have an oil fueled boiler, which we use to supplement our wood heat, so our alternative fuel is heating oil. There is no natural gas available in our rural area, and propane gas is usually more expensive than heating oil. We gather wood on our property when we are able, but we mainly buy our cordwood from our neighbors, the Beckners, who own a lumbering company. The hardwood we burn comes from the smaller discarded limbs of felled trees that are harvested locally.

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In early October we were pleased to again host what has become an annual gathering of Art's colleagues and their families. This year because of many schedule conflicts, we could not find a commonly acceptable date until well after summer had passed and autumn was already upon us. However, we managed to get the event in under the wire and a great time was had by all. Here are some pictures of a most enjoyable food fest!

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This past weekend we had the pleasure of a visit from our dear friends Sally from Florida and her sister Merrily from Chicago, Ginny from 7-Springs, Laurie from right here in Somerset, and my brother Hank and his dog (my 4-legged nephew!) Maximus from Pittsburgh. The occasion was Sally and Merrily's yearly fall family visit, which we celebrated with a small happy hour here at Jolico and then a nice dinner at the Pine Grill in town. Hank and Maximus spent the night with us and left the next afternoon laden with quarts of chicken stew and ginger carrot soup from our freezer, having really enjoyed resting, eating and playing at the farm.

Life is good. Family and friends are precious. "If you have love in your life it can make up for a great many things you lack. If you don't have it, no matter what else there is, it's not enough......Ann Landers"

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