Saturday, July 21, 2012

Regal Gooseberry Jam

Today I picked 4 pounds of dead ripe gooseberries from my bush: not rosy red, but the deeper red colour of venous blood from a cyanosed patient! Picking gooseberries is hard work; avoiding the heavy thorns with a glove on the left hand to control the branch; picking selectively since the berries ripen to sweetness intermittantly over a month. Even the dead ripe need a tug since the berries rarely drop.I interim prune with the secateur as I pick, since the bush is huge and to get to its center without tearing your shirt is the aim. The goose berry bush is next to a patch of red currants which I now leave on the bushes as a stalking horse for the birds, as currants act as a magnet. Since the skin of the gooseberry is tough and the armed branches are formidable, the birds leave them alone for an easier target.I spent an hour or so after the pick today removing the occasional stem and the constant frass,( the remains of the flower). This is a tedious task. The next step was to freeze them in a Ziplock bag for preparation for jam. The freezing allows the juices to run more freely with cooking and it requires less water to be added. At jamming time the berries are softened in the microwave with enough water to minimally cover and then mashed. Sugar is added, equal parts, and cooked with the berry mash until the jelpoint. Do not puree since the sweetened and cooked berry skin is an essential feature of the jam. If anyone thinks it is madness to go to all this work for a little jam it is not. It is a rare essence, not easily obtained and a high style of product, certainly ego satisfying. As is with people of a regal nature, their presence, tough skinned and prickly as gooseberry, makes the work of those who choose to bring their sweetness and excellence to the fore, much more satisfying since we labour in order to please. I love white bread and gooseberry jam, but sweet accompaniments to meat have also been tested and toasted over the centuries. Crabapple and chicken: apple sauce and pork: cranberry and turkey: mint and lamb: Montmorency cherries and game: but lapin and gooseberry: they rock!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scatological Investigations

The varied and colourful droppings of the ubiquitous North Western Crow are a source of information for the eclectic nature of their dietary habits. For those of us of a coprophitic bent, the seasonal changes and omnivorous habits of this species, Corvus caurinus,is worthy of study since they are one of the most adaptable of birds, their success based on diet and teamwork. The pianist and I, living as we do in the country on Lotus Island, have the fortune, or misfortune, of having a large painted deck under three mature Western Red Cedar trees that serve as a table-toilet for crows. The volume and character of the droppings change remarkably through the season and as I clear the tree droppings on the deck and its furniture daily with my gas powered blower I observe; dry small cones, and lichen and moss fragments from the crow disturbance and the little red squirrel scratchings,and the spontaneous needle decidua. In the spring, small dead cedar branches are ripped from the tree by crows for nest repair and are often dropped, or dismissed for being unsuitable for repair. When I have rid the deck of tree detritus, I have the opportunity to investigate the associated scat and leftovers, clam shells, half eaten cherries and red plums that have slipped through their toes after initially being successfully pinioned on the branch. Naked cherry and plum stones, flesh successfully eaten in full. The scat from clams and tube worms, small birds or baby quail,sweet cherries and wild plums, pear and apple fragments, all leave a digested colourful deposit of brown crunchy, smooth or particulate, black and punctate, white and thin and watery; all with an interesting textural variety and compelling graphic intricacies within the scat splat, Rorschach like in nature: all scat pockmarking the deck with remarkable tenacity,resistant to the hose sprayer and requiring a stiff brush, elbow grease and spray to remove. Even the glass topped table and patio chairs are a scat target and all varieties are equally adherent on the glass and metal. If you are willing to pay the price for clean eating on a deck, under spreading cedar trees, in crow and berry territory, you will never resent the blow and spray and brush activity. Between the scat and the copious water spray, the cedars are secondary beneficiaries for the role they serve as a table-toilet. Live and let live with Mother Nature in all her glory.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The middle aged males in my paternal line have slid into this physiognomy without the benefit of beer or exercise indolence. It's DNA all the way! That's not to admit that strong drink was always avoided, or that Shank's mare was never a form of transport,but the anatomy of our middle age, from all the photos, was a bond handed down from our distant Irish family Patrones. Some years ago I was walking from the preanaesthetic room as a patient to the operating room in one of those skimpy little gowns that demonstrate all of what you want no one to see. The nurses were all my intimate friends and therefore were licenced to be rude, as are all who love or care for you! They had all assisted me in the Orthopedic OR for years and were delighted to see me horizontal rather than vertical. Kathy, one of the nurse assistants said, "You know,when you are walking, especially in shorts, you look like a fat man being carried by a chicken!" It rolled off my back since I have always given as good as I got, and if it gave them all pleasure I didn't want to deny them. In middle age I was never a flat bellied, six pack man, with legs like tree trunks. I carried rather the family's signal physiognomy! I belonged and so did most of my brothers! When you have good friends or family that love you or love to be with you, there is a joyous opportunity to engage the licence to be rude. We would like to be long-lived,but only as long as the price is, that it doesn't seem to be long. It's too late to correct the spindleshanks, but probably is within one's grasp to modify the beerbelly without denial of one's allegiance to one's own breed features!