I remember AJ limping up out of the basement and me handing him a warm mug of chicory. The flavor had grown on him … and so had the fact that it was a whole lot cheaper than real coffee.
“Did you add any …”
“Yaupon? You don’t need it, you’re plumb wired enough. And if you are so tired that you think you need it in the middle of the day then what you need to do is go lay down and rest that leg.”
He gave me a pathetically hopeful look and asked, “But did you add any?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh for pity sake, you are as bad as Kerry and way too old for it. Yes. I added some. But don’t come complaining to me later when it kicks in and you need something to help you get to sleep.”
He started to laugh but it turned into a groan as he eased into a chair by the fire and propped his foot up on a stool we kept there for Kerry to sit on. “Coffee is expensive but this isn’t bad. Am I … er … I mean you must be going through a lot more supplies than you expected between me living here and providing something for the men to drink, and eat, when they come by.”
“Nope,” I said as I shook my head.
“No?” he asked surprised.
“Nope. Because I never figured on the supplies period. Dino did and he says not to worry at it so I trying not to. I’ve got enough to worry at as it is so don’t get me started. I’ll likely run out of yaupon before it is time to pick it again but I’m being sparing with it. Too much and you’ll get the jitters anyway.”
Dino came in and instead of chicory I handed him a rich, thick, and warm broth of garlic and dried greens. On smelling it he laughed said, “Whooeee, no one is going to want to get near me.”
I smiled and told him, “I better be the only one getting that close anyway Mr. Pappas. Now drink that and get warm.”
I stepped out onto the porch and dealt with some laundry. I was gone a while but came back to find that Dino was still there. I should have known by the grins on their faces that something was up but I was too busy to fool with it. Flash forward to the week after Thanksgiving. AJ had spent about three days at the Big House and then decided to come back here for another couple of nights and then head back to his place in the city. That time I did catch ‘em at their plans.
“All right you two. What’s going on?” Both men turned too innocent faces my way. “Forget it. Them faces confirmed that you are up to something.”
Dino turned to AJ and said, “Told you.”
AJ, who should have known me better by then looked grumpy. “Don’t let her talk you out of it.”
“Oh ho me buck-o. Now I know you better let me in on what you two have been dickering over.”
I stood there with hands on my hips and my grandmother’s best better-just-go-ahead-and-spit-it-out look. Dino came up and turned on the charm. “It’s nothing Riss.”
“You can just stop fluttering them dark eyelashes at me right now Dino Pappas. Your son does it quite enough thank you very much. Now come on, give. I ain’t falling for it. What are you two planning?”
Well, it wasn’t world peace that was for sure. Basically AJ had thought of a way to turn a profit without having to do a whole lot of the work to create it. He planned on playing middle man and I could have thumped him.
“Do I look like I need any more work to do?!” I asked him.
“Damaris, even I’m aware that all you need to do is set it up and it creates itself,” AJ grumbled.
“Uh huh. Says you. Dino? Is that really all there is to it?”
“Eh … not quite but it is easier than wine and doesn’t take as long. You can pasteurize it with a bit of heat instead of using campden tablets. Then once you have your must and your added flavors you have fermentation and then racking and bottling. Really it’s about like those beers you like to brew or a good, hard cider.”
Humph. Mead is what they were talking about. I reminded them they were Greek-American farms not Vikings from the Middle Ages. They just laughed it off but I swear to goodness those two would make good Vikings if they had different coloring for all the shenanigans they get up to. Mead and the making of it has been around for centuries, maybe even longer than making wine. And wouldn’t you know it, Dino couldn’t leave it a nice simple thing he had to go and complicate it by giving me so much information I wound up learning more than I had intended to.
For instance there is more than one kind of mead. Regular mead is basically honey and water. Metheglin is a mead that you’ve added spices and herbs to. Melomel is mead that has had fruit juice added to it. Cyser is basically a Melomel made from apple juice. Rhodomel is a mead with rose petals. Pyment is what you call a melomel if the juice is from the grape. Pyment is a spiced grape mead. And the last one is called sack of all things; it is a stronger mead made with lots more honey than usual that gives it more of an alcoholic kick.
It wasn’t just the honey they intended on using but my canned juices, dried fruits and my seasonings too. I swear just thinking about it gives me the flutter-byes in my stomach. Mead is basically a wine and while we can make it because of our commercial license there is a lot of regulation that is supposed to go into it. They go after people all the time for moonshining without a license; they go for them worse for selling without a license. AJ is running it through the black market. The home label is a luxury item and yes, in high demand; too high for the average guy on the street. Mead on the other hand can be made cheaply enough that it can compete with the moonshine and bathtub gin that is getting to be so popular.
I worry that I might be corrupting someone. I mean it is wine and alcohol that we are brewing and then selling. Dino thinks I’m daft. He says that we’re making it and it is up to the buy to be the responsible party. I can see both sides but what I’m really worried for is the kids. You hear tales on the radio of people turning to drink because they are so depressed, young soldiers that can’t get their pain medicine so they turn to something to dull their senses. Where does our responsibility lay? Do we have any? All I can do is pray that no one is wasting money on buying our product that is better spent taking care of their family.
We’ve made a bunch of different meads; light, medium, dark. We made metheglins using some of my juices, dried fruit, and even one of my last pumpkins that I hadn’t processed yet. We’ve made so much that I had to tell Dino not to make any more until I could set aside enough honey to get us through to next season and believe me that was more than a five gallon bucket. In fact, I’ve hidden quite a bit because it would be just like a man to think more of the money he could get for his family while forgetting how much of that money will have to be spent to replace what he used to make the money. Dino isn’t irresponsible or anything like that, he just gets it into his head and takes off.
Just yesterday the first batch of sack was ready to be racked and bottled. I am so glad they didn’t get to sampling it until after they got most of it bottled up. I went down in the basement and just about had to fumigate the area nearest the wine cellar. Talk about strong … near brought tears to my eyes. And Dino’s and Chester’s breath most surely did. I had to make sure that Chester’s sons got him home and tucked in bed or he would have sat out in the cold and been the worse for it.
I wound up dunking Dino’s head in a bucket of water to get him to wake up enough so I could get him cleaned up and up the stairs to bed. Ask me if I had any sympathy for him this morning? He sure was stepping light I can tell you that. I couldn’t rib him too much though, it’s been the only time I’ve ever seen him in that condition. That must be some strong stuff. I hope they put some kind of warning label on it.
As for what I’ve been doing with myself during this cold time, it’s basically a lot of this and that. Pita keeps me busy of course. I’ve been giving Kerry an hour or two of lessons in the morning. I know Cindy and a few others would have something to say about a hillbilly talking creature like me trying to instill an education in a child but honestly I had to think of something to keep him busy until it warmed up enough for him to go outside without risking sickness. I figure if nothing else he’ll know his letters and numbers and a little basic math and some simple words. He can already measure some with me in the kitchen and that’s fractions which is more than what most city kids get at this age. He knows his directions and I teach him botany with the herbs and vegetables and Dino teaches him animal husbandry and biology during chore time in the barn.
When my time isn’t taken up with the kids or Dino I’m sewing and mending and washing, cooking and cleaning, and planning the garden for the spring. City folks probably don’t realize how much thought you need to put into a garden before anything actually gets put into the ground. The truth is you have to know what you are going to do before you do it or you might wind up with a whole lot of nothing as a result.
And there is nothing like trying to guess to give you a headache the size of the old gray mare’s backside. Used to be guessing wasn’t no big deal. If something didn’t make, or didn’t make enough, then you could run to the grocery store to make up the difference. Not no more you cain’t. Uh uh. What you grow is all you’ve got so you not only need to grow more than you think you’ll ever be able to use but you better pray over it every day too.
Let’s take the simple ol’ pole bean for example. It would be nice if all I had to say was grow enough for a family of four. Nope. Not how it is these days. Not only do I need to grow enough not just for fresh eating but for preserving too. I gotta add even more because I’m feeding the field hands off and on throughout the year. For fresh for a family of four I’ve got a cheat sheet that recommends eighty pole bean plants but if that is only fresh then I need to at least double it to make it last the whole year and then I need to at least double that again if I’m going to have enough to make it through a bad harvest, feed the field hands, and have any left to take to the produce market. That’s at least a hundred and sixty pole bean plants alone. Do the same for bush beans. That’s not just a lot of plants, that’s a lot of room, hoeing, watering, fertilizing, and walking at least onct a day looking for varmints that want to eat the beans before I can get to ‘em.
Not everything is so bad. Broccoli don’t require near the number of plants, neither do pumpkins and other winter squash but then again they run all over the place and take up a lot of room. And speaking of room, once you figure out how many of each thing you need to plant you have to decide where to plant them and what you can and cannot plant them next to ‘cause some plants don’t get on together very well at all. For instance, don’t put your potatoes near your tomatoes or squash; don’t plant beans next to your onions; don’t plant broccoli next to tomatoes either; and don’t plant carrots and dill close by each other. On the other hand marigolds help just about everything so I will plant a bunch of them this spring.
And you need to have a minimum of four different vegetable garden plans too ‘cause if you plant the same plant on the same plot over and over you’ll kill the dirt. You want to rotate different things through a piece of land and then give it a year to rest and recuperate. My granddaddy had a four year cycle he went through but how big or how small always the garden was ultimately depended on how many he was trying to feed; and that was on top of whatever the cash crop was that year.
Growing a garden is a lot of work. I’m going to have a big one but put together better than last year’s. I’m also gonna try and incorporate more wild forage this year to take some burden off the garden. My big worry is that all of the extry that I was able to put back last year isn’t going to cover all the mouths we are feeding and then still be enough left over if the year coming up is bad. We almost lost some of the garden last year, first to a dry spell and then to a wet one. Same thing or worse could happen this year. You just never know. The last frost is supposed to be in April but it’s just as possible that with the way the cold is it lasts into May which will cut down on the growing time. See what I mean about giving your heart burn?
That doesn’t even begin to include the cash crops you have to plan, the boughten feed for the animals and the pastureland and forage for the animals you have to keep up with, and the matin’ and debatin’ of the animals themselves to make sure you get enough to replace those that you butchered in the fall. I want to double, maybe triple the chicken flock, double the number of ducks and geese, and try and double the number of turkeys. I’m getting just that sick of only being able to put pork on the table. I mean I like it and all, like it real well, but a nice fried chicken dinner on Sundays is just something I’ve missed for a long time. And Dino is bound and determined that he’s gonna have some goats over here and some sheep too – apparently lamb is a big thing in Greek food – and we need to enlarge get at least another cow to freshen, want two of ‘em, so that we can have fresh with enough left over to make cheese with. Dino wouldn’t mind some beef to eat either.
He says we also need to see if we can restock the fish pond now that the water level as gone back up and I wouldn’t mind raising some bunnies or quail or guinea to add a different flavor to the table. But the more you’ve got the more work it is to keep it. More stuff, more responsibility, more time, and more commitment.
It’s enough work to drive a body insane but seems a farm is always looking for more. AJ has another idea that Dino and Alec are going to give a try. Store bought sugar is real high right now and likely to stay that way because of damaged fields and processing plants in south Florida. That’s one of the reasons why I hid that pile of honey from their mead making business. We didn’t buy as much sorghum as I was thinking of all that we had without thinking about it getting used up. Now sorghum is going for a pretty penny too and I hate to buy it at the higher price when I could have had it for a lot lower. Well, this idea of AJ’s is that we make our own. Not sorghum but syrup all the same. Next month they are going to start tapping maple trees. They’ll collect the syrup and boiling it up through April and then hopefully we’ll have our own supply of maple syrup and maybe even some to pass off to AJ who says he can get a good price for whatever we can send his way.
I worry about AJ. He seems to know all the wrong people. But at the same time I’m not his keeper and since we benefit from it the only thing I can do is pray for his safety. And for him personally. The man can be a right royal stinker and I’ve got more than one story to prove it. Thank you Lord for leading me to a man like Dino and not one like AJ. Although Hannah seems taken with the “yummy Mr. Nichols” and that’s one of them stories right there.