Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chapter Forty-Seven

For the next two days Sissy has her family working feverishly to put away the goods that Scott brought home from the road trip. Scott spends a lot of time with Barry and Tom making plans for being gone for another week. He says that if they will continue watching things he will bring back what he can for their families from the north Florida run. Barry looks at Scott and asks, "You aren’t really expecting me to turn down that offer are you?" With a handshake Scott promises the men to do the best he can.

On the third day, Sissy’s father and brother arrive. This is a few days ahead of schedule so Scott has to scramble to get going. Again Sissy watches Scott take off in a truck to be gone for a week and she finds that it is no easier the second time around than it was the first. There is also the knowledge that they are still trying to outrun another wave of pandemic infections.

This third wave, due to a slow down in human traffic and the institution of nationwide mitigation procedures, is moving considerably slower than the first two waves did. Even so, there has already been cases that suggest the wave has reached the El Paso area of Texas.

As before, Sissy uses manual labor to keep herself from worrying to the point of getting nothing constructive accomplished. First she decides to cheer up the kids with a special treat. She makes some fresh apple sauce from a couple of the apples that Scott brought home. Then she makes Applesauce Cookies.

It is a great treat and goes well with the powdered milk drink that Sissy makes. Everyone eventually got used to drinking powdered milk in the absence of anything fresh and Sissy doubts the kids even remember the difference anymore.

It has been a bit since she has made cookies. Sissy realizes she needs to make more time to do things like this. It is easy and really doesn’t use too much of her stockpile of supplies. And the kids really get a kick out of it. She wishes she had thought to make something like this for Scott to take. Why does hindsight always have to be so much clearer than foresight?

Now that it is November, Sissy’s list of chores changes. They do plant a few things, mostly just to replace what they have used fresh. Most of her time is now spent preserving what is coming out of the garden. Not that she is complaining, having a full pantry and a full garden is certainly more comforting than a full pantry and no new items coming in.

She is tickled by the success of their potatoes. She hadn’t been too sure that the plants would produce, but they have and quite prolifically too. They have the traditional varieties like Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold, but they also have heirloom fingerlings. The funniest of all is the All-Blue potato. The potato really is a bluish-purple color and makes up into a pale violet colored mashed potato. The kids think it is neat. Scott was a little iffy the first time she plated him up a batch, but he got over his doubts really quickly.

And the tomatoes! Sissy hesitates to say she has over-planted but she has lost count of the number of fruits she has picked. The varieties that are coming in are Lightning, Tomande, Druzba, Big Rainbow, and Brandywine. There are others as well. There are the purplish tomatoes called Cherokee and Black Krim, and they are so strange looking that it took some convincing to get Scott and James to try them. Johnnie won’t touch them at all because he has it in his head they are "rotten." There are also all sorts of cherry tomatoes still coming in plus one called Brown that is nearly chocolate colored. That is one that Bekah steers clear of. Sissy’s favorite of the unusual varieties is the tomato that looks like a yellow bell pepper; you stuff like one too. It is great filled with a tuna salad mix or a TVP and rice mix that is kin to what you would stuff bell peppers with.

The other things that the are being harvested are pumpkins, acorn squash, hubbard squash, Yardlong snap beans and Kentucky wonder pole beans, and lemon ball cucumbers that looked like yellow eggs. They had to drape the fence with some old screening to keep the varmints from taking all the beans. It seems the more raccoons Sissy turns over to Mr. Jones and Mrs. Cleary the more that try and get into her garden. She long ago stopped feeling bad about "racoonicide." The garden is just too important, and a lot of people have begun to count on ‘coon stew for a solid meal.

One of Rose’s favorites from the garden is the Chiogga beet whose leaves are a good substitute for spinach. Other greens that are coming in include broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and Bibb lettuce. There are peas and Armenian cucumbers that are so odd looking that you could almost mistake them for gords, and husk tomatoes (aka ground cherries). The harvest also includes several varieties of carrots like Thumbelina, Danvers, Little Finger, and a purple colored heirloom carrot called Purple Dragon. After those started coming in, Scott wanted to know if Sissy had been trading with some immigrants from Mars behind his back. "Blue potatoes and purple tomatoes, now purple carrots. Too weird!" Scott said with a comical expression on his face. Sissy just laughed and told him to get over it. "If I can learn to eat raccoon, you can learn to eat funny colored vegetables."

They cut sunflower heads and hang them to dry where the squirrels can’t get to them. And there is an odd fruit called a Canistel that is also known as Egg Fruit which isn’t half bad once you get passed the funny texture.

Looking at the family’s food storage areas, Sissy realizes something. Where as before the shelves held mostly store-bought items, they now hold mostly home-preserved items. That is one of the truest indicators of how their life has changed. Would it ever go back to the way it was before the pandemic? "Some things maybe’" Sissy thinks. "We will probably be as affected as people were that survived the Great Depression. We’ll never be totally dependent on the just-in-time economy again." At least she hopes not.

With all the preserving Sissy has used a chunk of the extra rings and seals that she bought prepandemic. She picked up about 1000 lids for about fifty dollars on Ebay and thought that would last her years and years. She now realizes that canning everything that a family of seven needs means that 1000 lids may only last until the end of next year. She is trying to piece some things out by drying them – like turning green beans into leather britches, drying carrots and peas, etc. – but after next year they are going to have to get even more creative if things don’t start looking up.

On a positive note, Sissy did make contact with a local county official who put her in contact with the email of a volunteer group operating the former LDS cannery in Plant City. Sissy and one of the volunteers conversed via ICQ about the possibility of making a cannery available that is closer to the northern part of the county.

"Mrs. Chapman, I wish we could say that I had better news for you, but it looks like it will be at least another month before we can public access to any of the other cannery sites. Right now the State is using them as a means to distribute supplies to local food banks and the mobile ration stores."

"Mr. Henderson, just hearing that it is a possibility is good news to me. The fact that you are talking at most a couple of months is even better. I can certainly hold out for a few more months with what I have now."

"I do have a thought, if you are interested."

"If it involves leaving my home Mr. Henderson, I’m sorry but I won’t be able to. My husband and I have very strict rules to prevent exposing our kids to the flu. I’d love to do on-site volunteer work, but we still have young children at home."

"Actually it doesn’t require you to leave your house at all. We are starting a website that has a discussion board attached to it. We need local people to work the forum and to submit information for the web pages."

"That I can do. What exactly are you looking for?"

"Well besides food preservation recipes we need suggestions on how grow things in our local micro environments, how to save seeds, commentaries on what varieties have grown best for you, ways to grow native species for food and home preservation of native food varieties. If you think you would be interested anything you could submit would be work that we wouldn’t have to do. That would leave us more work hours to complete the renovations and repairs so that we can get more canneries up and running sooner."

"Now that is a task I am up for. Do I ICQ the information for submission?"

"No, if you could put it into a text document and attach it to an email to the Cannery Volunteer Board, the CVB will format it for the website."

For Sissy this will be a relatively painless activity as she has been keeping notes all along. She’ll simply copy and paste her dry information and put it in a more entertaining format to make it more user-friendly for other people to read.

This isn’t all altruism on Sissy’s part either. She is hoping that if the canneries are first-come-first-serve that she will be on someone’s list to contact. She figures that if she helps them then eventually the favor will be returned. A few more community contacts for things begin to improve will certainly be worth any time she puts in for the VCB.

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