From the heART: Hand-Made Gift giving (from 12/2/2019)

In many things, it takes a village. Childcare, a cup of sugar when the larder is empty, the loan of a hay tedder or other equipment, a place to hunt with the kids, or just encouragement…we all need help from time to time. 

We like to let our friends and neighbors know we appreciate them by delivering yummy treats this time of year. It may not seem like much to someone else, but the value within a brown paper sack of handmade goodies far exceeds what can be purchased at the local Cracker Barrel gift shop.

***Bags prepped for packing, peppers pickled for gifts.***

There is thought, love and prayer woven into a handmade gift. 

These are things that can’t be purchased. When you eat a spoonful of homemade jelly on a biscuit, you can taste the joy of harvesting the crop, the contentment the maker felt while processing the jars, the love sprinkled in the mix. It’s all in there. 

I love putting together various bounty from the preceding year and giving it away during the holidays. It’s hardly ever the same thing in consecutive years. Over the years, depending on what grew best that year and what we had on hand that could be turned into something handmade, I have given away Blackberry jam, Elderberry jelly, strawberry jam, lemon cucumber relish, sweet pickles, pickled peppers, pecans, garden salsa, deer jerky, cookies, homemade candy, handmade ornaments…the list goes on, but you get the idea. 

This year, the rain water brought us many lovely things. It limited us as well, but we had good harvests of a few things.

The blackberries came on in good time in 2019. It was wet, so the berries were always ripe and plump, hardly any shriveled from heat. The harvest went on for nearly a month. We just kept on picking as long as the patch produced. It stayed cool, which meant we didn’t have Japanese beetles feasting on the entire patch. They love to eat the leaves on the new growth, and they’ll eat the berries as well. Japanese beetles ‘flush out’ of the ground, morphing from grubs into adults, when the temps get up in the 90s after a good rain. We just didn’t have those conditions like we normally do, and the resulting increase in the yield was noticeable. 

***It was nice having a couple extra hands on deck for berry picking!***

I have gallons of frozen blackberries destined for jelly jars in the next couple of weeks. The beauty of using fruit for preserves is that it works best if you freeze the fruit to kill bacteria and to break the cell walls to release the juice, so we pick the berries, rinse them, drain them, and freeze them right up until we have time to deal with them, like after all the fall junk show madness when we NEED inside time and fellowship.  

I’ll certainly tuck a jar of blackberry jelly into the gift bags this year.

About the time we were finished picking blackberries, the rains subsided enough to get back into our garden (separate from the blackberry patch) to locate the stuff that was actually supposed to be growing amongst all the weeds that had overtaken the area. The tomatoes didn’t do very well in 2019’s waterlogged soil. We ate good on them, and we froze a few gallons to turn into sauce this winter, but there wasn’t any salsa-making. The onions drowned out and rotted; so if we had had enough tomatoes to make a batch of salsa, we would have had to buy onions. 

The thing we had the most of was peppers. The plants were gigantic. I froze gallon after gallon of banana peppers throughout the summer. Pound after pound of bell peppers. 

The hot peppers didn’t set any fruit until very late and were super prolific at the end of the summer up to frost. I staved off the last harvest as long as possible. The first frost came 3 weeks early this year, and was forecast to happen while I was in the middle of a junk show marathon, 3 shows in less than 5 weeks, and I was in Oklahoma when it happened. Mom and Casey used railroad tarp that we have had stored away for 30 years to cover the peppers for me. They had to cover the plants for me twice by the time I had enough free time and a day nice enough to harvest the peppers and clean the plants off the garden. A friend from Oklahoma came and helped me harvest and put all the plant cages away. I have great footage of us picking (and a little goofing off) and Lacey talking about the advantages of pickled and fermented foods.

I had another junk show the following weekend after we picked the peppers, and they sat in the kitchen until I was back from the show. I turned them all into pickled peppers in three varying degrees: sweet pickles, sweet with heat and ALL the heat. There are still plenty of peppers in the freezer, waiting for me to make pepper jelly.

***We put up so many pounds of peppers in the freezer…Like, nearly 10 gallons of peppers.***

A small jar each of jelly and pickles will go into our holiday goodie bags with the blackberry jelly and one more item…

We have a lovely mature pecan tree in the front yard. There are several in the back yard that produce smaller nuts, but this one is a ‘paper hull pecan’ tree. The nuts are huge, sweet and meaty. 

This year, the excessive amount of rain we had here in southwest Missouri brought us huge pecans that came down in large ripe batches and they shell out and clean easily. We haven’t had a better pecan crop in the 6 years we’ve been here. We have been eating them daily for weeks. The kids love them. There’s nothing like the fellowship in standing around the dining table of a late afternoon, cracking pecans together and picking out the meat to share for a snack. We talk and joke and laugh and it’s just a good time that will continue until we run out of pecans. 

We had high winds this week, which brought down the remainder of the nuts. They’re right outside the window here as I type, waiting to be picked up. Farmer walks through there twice a day to go fill the wood stove. He breaks up the pecans as he steps on them, and the birds come up to feast when the dogs are in the house.

So, I sacked up the remainder of the preliminary harvest for our friends and neighbors that we value so much. They’re plenty dry by now, so they won’t mold in the sacks. It’s a worthy recipient of the fruits of our labor, and makes room for the next wave of fresh nuts. I hope they taste the joy and laughs we shared right here in the front yard, on hands and knees with the girls, while picking up the pecans.

***Yummy snacks, shelled pecans go great with sweet holiday treats.***

I’m one of those people who is always thinking toward Christmas. It’s the culmination of my business year, so it’s always on my mind when crafting and procuring materials throughout the year. I am always watching for the perfect gift for someone as well. I found the perfect gift ‘from Santa’ for the girls months ago. It’s stowed away in the camper in the big barn. Shhhhhh…they’re oblivious. And I’m always paying attention to the things that we have been blessed with throughout our year that we can share with our people during the holidays, when there’s time to take those blessings and package them with care to be hand-delivered with a kind word or note to those we appreciate having in our lives.

I’ll always recommend something handmade over store bought. If you’d like to give something handmade, ANY time of year, I’m the gal to see. 

I’ll help you make something from the heART.

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