My daughter is growing up fast – ten going on sixteen, which means we are in an age of difficult conversations. It also means, though, that she can be a lot more help with the chores; today she picked nettles while I watered in the greenhouse.
Picking nettles is a tricky business – cooked they are tasty and nutritious, and great for tea, soup, and many other dishes. Raw, however, they sting to the touch, and require gloves or a swift hand to pick. Since she was two years old The Girl knew the traditional remedy for nettle stings – to chew dock-leaf and rub it on the skin. Now she’s come up with what she says works as a sort of vaccine, to stuff dock-leaves inside the fingers of her gloves, covering them on the inside. The nettles will make tea for me in the evenings this week, and the flesh will make part of my lunches.
She also cleaned out the chicken coop while I mowed some of the grass, and helped carry some straw bales behind the house to make into an archery target. The target we’ve been meaning to set up since her birthday, when I gave her a bow and arrow set. I didn’t want to lose any arrows, though, or see any strays sail onto a neighbour’s property, so we wanted to set up our own targets. The bales were donated by our neighbour, who raises cows and drives the local school bus.
Her new maturity means that our reading material is gradually graduating from childhood to young adult. Every Friday night I show her a film, usually something in black-and-white from the classic era. In the past that meant things like Going My Way or Boys’ Town, but recently I’ve allowed her to see darker and more serious fare – film noir like The Big Clock, or dramas like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I also introduced her to her first opera, The Mikado – she was sceptical at first, but I sold her on the fact that it was in English, and it was very funny.
As she returns to school and the days get shorter and wetter again, we are saying goodbye to the swallows that take up residence in our shed every summer. The Girl and I stand on chairs and peek into the nest here and there, watching the eggs appear, turn to blind chicks, then little birds and finally to adolescent swallows fluttering around the place. While they are busy growing up, however, it means that we have to tiptoe and stoop to get into our shed, as we might get smacked in the face by Mr. or Mrs. Swallow coming in the opposite direction.
Finally, I used these last weeks of summer to try some new experiments, continue some successful ones and to conclude one from last year. Last year’s experiment was beets in sand, and I’m seeing how long they will keep and still be nutritious and edible. I’ve fished out some after a year in the sand, and they seem fine so far.
The new projects are to pickle some more apples, which are my new favourite thing to make; last year’s batch turned out fantastic, marinating in the parsnip vinegar with cloves, chiles, ginger and cardamom, and this season’s new batch of apples gives me a chance to tinker with the recipe.
Same thing goes for the eggs I kept in limewater, preserving their valuable protein through the lean winter months without the need for refrigeration. Old books show a surprising diversity of recipes – just lime and water, some adding salt, some requiring the mixture be boiled first. I tried the simplest one of equal parts lime and water last year, and the eggs lasted eight months. This year I’ll be trying some of the other recipes, and seeing how long they last.
Finally, I spent Saturday morning making kim chee for the first time – I’ll let you know how that goes.