"Gather ye rose-buds while ye may." Robert Herrick

"Gather ye rose-buds while ye may." Robert Herrick

Hello Friends!

Friends, Romans, countrymen...y'all. Foodies, gardeners, artists and collectors - let's gather together to share and possibly learn a thing or two in the mix.

Donna Baker

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Canning 101

I have been growing and preserving fruits and vegetables for most of my adult life. It tastes wonderful, is easy to do and fun? Anyway, I hear more and more people are getting into it. Left to right are my Amish paste tomatoes (like Roma), pinto green beans (these, picked at the green stage, are incomparable), dill pickles, strawberry jam, bread and butter pickles, wild plum jam and green peppers. So, listen up foodies and gardeners too.

This recipe is for my famous dill pickles. Yes, I say famous because they were chosen for Smith and Hawken's the GARDENERS' COMMUNITY COOKBOOK that benefited Second Harvest (Alice Waters, Thomas Keller and Emelie Tolley among others have recipes in it too). They took creative license with my recipe so here's the real deal.
1 quart white vinegar (5% acidity)
3 qts. water
1 cup canning salt
Bring to a boil.
To pint or quart canning jars (wide-mouthed are easiest), add sprig of fresh dill, 1 dried red chili pepper and 1 clove of garlic and 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. of alum added to each jar. Use a mandolin to slice pickling cucumbers (not the kind in the store for salads) and arrange in the jar. If you are a fellow perfectionist, layer or arrange them carefully and your jar will be beautiful. Pour the boiling brine over the cukes and seal the jar. Now here's the decision you'll have to make for yourself. This is an old farm recipe and the farm wives used to invert the jar after sealing until cool, then set upright and stored away. Nowadays, the extension folks don't like this method. They want you to give the pickles a waterbath which to me ruins my product. I simply put the finished product in my fridge and they keep for at least a year till I begin the process anew each spring...I can't tell you how many fans I have that tell me they've never had a better dill pickle. Guaranteed.

I need to add here that if you've never canned before you will need equipment and a general knowledge of the process. Don't let this scare you away. Get a Ball (as in Ball jar) canning guide. It is thorough, has pictures, many recipes and will give you step by step instructions. Also, the equipment is inexpensive and can even be bought at garage sales for next to nothing.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I used to break roly polys in half. They were fairly large and inside of them were tiny white crawly things. Babies, perhaps, or parasites of some sort. Ick. I can take most anything except parasites. Now, I don't kill anything. Karma you know. Oh, I do pinch fiddleback spiders, and the yearly cottonmouth water moccasins that take up residence in my gold fish pond... It's not that they eat my goldfish. There are generations from the calico goldfish my young son won at the carnival years ago. But, I do mind the snakes killing two of my ducks that wondered up to the house and don't want them to bite us or my pets. Supposedly, this venomous snake is aggressive though I have never seen that. All the snakes around here seem to want to get away asap. Be that as it may, if I see the watermocs out sunning on my lily pads...
Notice this year's fawn and my male goose running after it. The rest of the geese are his babies from the spring hatch. Also, my female Bourbon Red turkey peeking out from behind a hosta on the back porch. Which reminds me, did anyone go to the annual turkey drop in Yellville,
AR last weekend? This is a town of about 1500 and they have a celebration every year on the town square and the highlight is a plane flying overhead dropping turkeys. When the turkeys land, (some land dead but don't tell anyone I told ya), the celebrants scramble for the fleeing turkeys. I heard one little boy carried his around the entire day like it was an Oscar. No kidding! I'll see if I can get a still photograph or two.

This is my Emmy; the sweetest, most wonderful dog in the world.

This is Sister; Emmy's ornery little sis; field rat killer extraordinaire.


Whether gathering dust in an attic (or barn in my case) or lovingly placed front and center over the mantle, collectibles and antiques have been just as volatile as the stock market in recent years. The true worth of an antique/collectible is basically whatever you can get someone to pay for it. It's true. Many small dealers have been priced out of the market (moi included). They lament Antiques Roadshow as the major cause - made everyone think that their Mona Lisa print was worth as much as the original - the consensus was because it's old it must be valuable. Tip - remember age isn't the number one criteria in pricing. Condition and rarity are usually paramount and sometimes a red hot market for an item. I bought and sold antiques for about fifteen years before finally getting priced out of the market. Antique malls, flea markets (my personal fav) and even garage sale prices kept creeping up until finally it was no longer profitable to buy and sell. Even the large venues like Round Top and Marburger Farm (where I used to set up) became so pricey I could no longer haul a truck and trailer load down to Texas and still make it worth the cost of inventory, overhead and profit margin. Nevertheless, it is still a huge kick to go to the fleas and shows. I could literally do it every day. So remember, another tip, buy what you love cause you may still be holding onto it many moon's down the
road. And really, it's just stuff.

Part of the many chocolate and ice cream molds I have.

Notice my columnar bottle posts at the front of my barn aka my art studio. Also known as poor man's stained glass.

This is an old stepback hutch I painted in trompe l'oeil.

Arts and Crafts

I'm pretty prolific in the arts and crafts department - all over the place really. I draw, paint , sculpt, make jewelry, do gourd art using turquoise inlay, burn images on them and also do oil painting on them. They have been at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Ok and sold at retail outlets. I've done a few art and retail shows. Currently, I'm working on life-sized mixed-media paper art sculpture. Would you believe I have a life-sized horse sculpture in my dining room? I don't know why I like doing life-sized pieces as they take up a lot of space and even longer to make. Craft wise, I've just about done it all - at least it seems that way, but I have been doing it for many years now. If I ever get this blogging stuff down, maybe I can share some demonstrations/techniques.
In the pics are some of my paper art. The red dog is titled Picasso Can't Have A Dog. You'd have to read the text on the dog to understand the meaning. His tail wiggles. A couple of months after I finished it, a book about Picasso came out and on the cover was Picasso and his beloved dachshund. Who knew? The spotted dog on the ground pointing is titled Good Dog. I wish you could see his expression; his top lip curled back slightly. It's too funny. The basset hound on the bench is a work in progress. Some naughty boy tied the goose on its back with a rope and I still have to fashion a working pinwheel onto its tail. I am interested in automatons, but after researching them I couldn't get past the physics (pulleys, levers, etc.) You have to be an engineer to figure it out and I'm too old, er young to start a new career. Anyway, will the twosome be able to become airborne and fly away?

This is a pencil drawing of mine.

Back to the garden

My Meyer lemon. It is about three years old and four foot by four foot. I make limoncello from it and it's my pride and joy. I've propagated many cuttings from it and even shared a few with friends. Incredible recipes from my lemons coming in the future. (Just as soon as I figure all this technical stuff out. ) I began gardening with annuals, then vegetables. Perennials became more of a favorite and now I'm really into tropicals. Logee's Tropical Plants (on-line or catalogue) has a wonderful assortment and I've made purchases from them many times. I now have a passion fruit vine, Meyer lemons, Ponderosa lemons, an etrog lemon, Key limes, Persian limes, Naval oranges, Valencia oranges, and an arabica coffee plant. And two Arbequina olives. Also, an 8' tall bay laurel tree I've had for several years and a ruby red grapefruit plant I started from a seed. In zone 7 they can't withstand the winters, so I'll be hauling them up to the barn this weekend. Gardening is a big part of my life and in the future I'll be sharing tips and begging for tips (especially on pests/deer/squirrels etc.)