Making Light: How to Make Your Own Beeswax Jar Candles

“You know why I like making candles?” I ask my husband and son.

They both seem to understand this is a rhetorical question and do not respond but turn their attention to me for the answer.

“Because I feel like I’m magic. I’m making light,” I say.

It’s true. I want to be magic. I know several magical people, and, while I adore their magic, I sometimes feel jealous that I have no magic of my own. But when I make candles, I feel a little bit like I have some magical powers. Making candles is an enjoyable process that leads to a beautiful gift for yourself or others.

For me, it all started with the jars. I have found that I have hoarding tendencies for a few things–tote bags, pens and pencils, yarn, and mason jars. I also hate waste, so when I found myself unable to part with the small mason jars my favorite organic pizza sauce for homemade pizza came in, I knew I must find a use for these fantastic jars. I started collecting these jars years ago. I am now able to make my own pizza sauce, but I still buy this sauce because, well, I love these jars. It makes no sense to most people, I know, but if you love jars, it will make perfect sense to you.

After much research, I found recipes for making beeswax candles in jars and figured I would have to try this. After trying several recipes, the one that works best for me is this one from Wellness Mama. I have adapted the instructions to my own words and processes after trying this process more than a few times.

If you want to feel a little magical and to bring some light to your home, read on. These candles are so much better than any candle I have ever purchased, and they last FOREVER.

It’s also fantastic to have organic beeswax candles around the house. I make these fragrance free, and my son says they still smell like “honey smoke.” Beeswax candles are also clean burning and soot free. I read they also help neutralize pollutants in the air around them, but I have not researched this to confirm. I do know they are clean, beautiful, and bring a lovely, warm light to our home any time of year. I especially love them in the winter.

You will need to purchase some supplies to make these candles, but they make great gifts too. And once you have your supplies, you can make candles forever and give good use to all of those beautiful jars that appear in your life that just aren’t the right size for canning.

Supplies

Directions

  • 1 pound beeswax pellets or blocks (I buy local when I can but found these pellets as a back up!)
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut oil
  • medium or #4 natural cotton candle wick
  • small to medium glass jars, clean and dry (I use 14 ounce up-cycled pizza sauce jars)
  • metal pitcher (the wax will make this pitcher your permanent candle pitcher)
  • pot large enough to fit your metal pitcher in
  • bamboo skewers, chopsticks, or some kind of wooden stick for wrapping and holding the wicks
  • tape

Add the beeswax and coconut oil to your metal pitcher. Place your pitcher in the pot and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pitcher. Don’t worry if the water doesn’t reach the level of the top of the wax in the pitcher. The wax will still melt just fine. Melt your wax on medium heat.

Using a wooden spoon you don’t mind losing to the candle cause or one of your sticks, stir the wax and coconut oil mixture as it melts.

While the wax mix melts, prepare the wicks. Cut them a bit longer than your jar, so that you have enough to wrap it around the stick that will hold it in place.

When the mixture is completely melted, pour about 1/2 of an inch of beeswax into the bottom of your jar or jars. The number of jars will depend on the jar size and how much wax you make. One of my 14 ounce jars will hold nearly a pound of the wax.

Before the little bit of wax starts to harden in the jar, use one of the sticks to mush the bottom of a wick down into the small amount of wax. You may need to hold it steady with the stick to make sure it stays put. Let the wax harden a bit and then wrap the top end of your wick around one of the sticks. You want the wick to be straight. I always have to hold mine in place with tape.

When you have the wick centered, fill the remainder of the jar with the hot wax. Fill to just below the lip of the jar.

At this point, you may be finished and can just wait for your wax to harden and trim the wick to about 1/2 inch, but I have found that wax at the top will often reveal cracks after it settles and hardens. To make my candles a little more professional looking, I will wait for this to happen and then reheat the wax in my pitcher and fill in the cracks in my candle. This kind of “tops things off” and gives you a smooth finish for the top of your candle.

Burning Instructions

One of the most fantastic things about this candle is how long it will last. Beeswax is wonderfully efficient because of course it is. I have had one of my candles for three years now, and it has a good 30 hours on it. It’s still going!

The trick to keep a jar candle from tunneling is to give it a good, long burn on the first burn to ensure a good even melting. Ideally, you want to let your candle burn for 4 hours on the first burn. When I do this, I have very few issues with tunneling.

If you do not have 4 hours for the first burn, I learned you can wrap foil around the top to ensure even heat around the top of the jar. This really does work and helps to ensure an even burn.

Support Farmer-ish

If you do not have time to make your own or want to test one before you invest in the materials, you can purchase one at our Farmer-ish Etsy shop. All profits go to our writers and artists.


How to Last-Minute Prepare Your Flock for Extreme Cold Weather

by Crystal Sands

We have been keeping chickens in Maine for 8 years, and over those years, I have learned a lot about keeping our flock safe and warm through some fairly extreme cold. Some of what I learned, I learned through research; some, I learned through experiences. One of the key things I have learned is that there is the “ideal” situation for keeping chickens and then there is the situations many of us find ourselves in.

It is so true (and I have written about this very thing) that chickens generally do not need a heat source of any kind in the winter, even when the temps drop in an extreme way. But a good winter situation means you have a sturdy, dry coop with good ventilation, no drafts, and good, dry bedding. What do you do when this is not the winter situation you find yourself in?

I have given chicken talks for the Common Ground fair and written about chicken keeping for years. I have interviewed several big names in chicken care, and one of my biggest worries is when people offer “blanket” advice without knowing the ins and outs of particular situations.

Take our situation, for example. We had always done well with preparing our coop for the winter. We kept 15 to 20 birds for the longest time and went along at a good pace. We had no issues of frost bite in the winter. But, two years ago, we increased the size of our flock to 31 birds. When winter hit, we found we were struggling to get the vents opened to the proper amount, and our coop was getting damp from the increase in birds. After all, all that chicken breathing makes moisture. We were trying to adjust, but one night, the temps dropped to -7 degrees Fahrenheit, and our rooster got frostbite. We had an oil-based heater that we had used one winter when the temps were hanging out around -18 degrees for a couple of weeks, but since everyone told us you don’t need a heater, that year, we never brought out the heater. The night of -7 degrees meant frostbite for our rooster.

Thankfully, the frostbite was minor, but I learned a couple of valuable lessons: First, I needed to do better to prepare my coop for winter, and second, I needed to stop listening to “blanket” advice and make my own decisions based on the situations I am in, however not-ideal they may be.

As I write this post, we are looking at a significant temperature drop here in Maine tonight, so I wanted to offer some tips to help you prepare your chickens for a cold night–if you find yourself in one of those less-than-ideal situations.

Assess the Dampness Right Before the Temps Drop

Go out to your coop right now. Is it damp? Does the bedding feel damp? We use straw, and contrary to one of the many myths circulating the internet, no, it does not lead to crop or mite problems. When our straw is dry, I know things are okay in terms of the moisture in the coop. Because moisture leads to bigger issues with frostbite (essentially, the moisture sticks to any surfaces, including your chickens and leads to the cold feeling colder and doing more damage), you want to make sure your coop is good and dry tonight. Last year, when we had the frost bite, we had been struggling with the humidity, and the straw was a bit damp feeling. I should have pulled every bit of that damp straw out of our coop for that sudden drop and made sure, though we were struggling with ventilation, that, at the very least, we were starting the evening in a dry place. If your coop feels damp, get the wet bedding out of there today and put in fresh. Do not hesitate on this!

You should adjust your vents. The trick to a well-ventilated coop is that there should be no drafts, but up high, there should be vents you can open and adjust. If you have been struggling with dampness, open those vents a little more. It may feel counter-intuitive, like you are letting in more cold, but ventilation up high helps release the moisture from all of that chicken breathing.

Assess Your Flock

If you have healthy, cold-hardy birds, you are in good shape as the temperatures drop. If you have any Silkies, please understand these are not cold-hardy birds. We do not keep Silkies here in Maine, but I spoke to someone who lost some Silkies in a cold snap here in Maine. They do not have the same kind of feathers as other breeds and can struggle in the cold. If you have a less-than-ideal situation in your coop and can bring your Silkies into the garage or somewhere milder (you do not want too warm, as then they will get used to the warmth), I would. There’s just a big difference between a Rhode Island Red and a Silkie when it comes to handling the cold.

If you have just one or two birds, I would be hesitant to leave them alone in a coop in sub-zero temps. The snuggling helps everyone handle the cold. Plus, more chicken breath equals more heat in the coop. If you have one or two chickens, as I know some people do, I would make a plan B.

Should you add heat?

If the only heat source you have is a heat lamp, no matter the situation, I just say no. I know I said I don’t like “blanket” advice, but I have seen far too many coop and barn fires from heat lamps. In my opinion, they are simply not worth the risk. Plus, there are other heat sources. If you have just a couple of birds, a Sweeter Heater, which does not get hot to the touch, works great. If you do not have one, ask around. We have one we let a friend borrow, and chicken people are generally really good about helping other chicken people.

We have an oil-based ceramic heater that does not get hot to the touch that we have used. My husband also built a cage to go around the ceramic heater, just in case. This oil heater doesn’t make a huge difference in coop temperatures, but it helps. Our flock is a closed flock due to a respiratory issue several years ago. We have some old birds that are not as tough as they used to be. I wish, last year, I would have gone ahead and put the heater out that night our rooster got a bit of frostbite.

Of course, in an ideal situation, I would never use heat. And, honestly, we have managed to fix our moisture problem in our coop with better ventilation. We may not break out the heater tonight for the -8 degrees, but if we find ourselves at -18 degrees again, I’m probably busting it out. Our flock has a health issue that makes for a special situation. My sweet Lucy is 8 years old and has survived a serious respiratory issue. She needs a little help.

Can Treats Help?

I used to feed our flock corn before bed on cold nights, but I recently learned this may be doing more harm than good. This article, What a Corn-Idea by Dr. Curran Gehring, explains why corn may actually be making things worse. This information is explained in some pretty clear scientific terms, and it’s new to me. However, it’s compelling enough that it is given me some hesitation about giving corn to the chickens tonight. In fact, I think I’m going to pass on it tonight and share it as a treat when it’s not so drastically cold. This article definitely goes against the chicken lore we read on the internet and in the forums, so I understand this may be controversial.

Ultimately, however, I think doing whatever you can to make sure your flock has a super clean, dry coop tonight is the best thing you can do. So if your bedding is damp, head out there before or after dinner and spiffy up the coop. And if you have a little Silkie, I would bring them into the garage.

I hope this information is helpful, and I hope tonight goes smoothly for everyone!

Farmer-ish Nominees for the 2022 Pushcart Prize

by Crystal Sands, editor

Each issue of Farmer-ish is a collection of carefully-selected pieces that reflect a variety of genres on themes so important to our journal. Published pieces are selected from approximately 100 submission for each online issue and our print annual. Each and every piece published is so important and special, so selecting just six pieces from both our online issues and robust print annual from 2021 proved to be a particular challenge. But The Pushcart Prize allows just six submissions from each literary journal or magazine, so we were forced to make the difficult decision, as it is important, we believe, to nominate our authors for such important opportunities.

Those selected show a range in Farmer-ish content, as well as genre, and are pieces that send important messages about our human experiences and connections with land, humans, and nature. Without further ado, here are the six nominees for the 2022 Pushcart Prize.

2022 Pushcart Nominees

“Eat. Pray. Rain.” by Lauren Kessler, essay, Fall 2021 Issue
“I have come to realize the privilege of rain.”

“Pandemic Pumpkins” by Barbara Quick, poetry, 2021 Print Annual
“Who’s to say a seed won’t wait/three years or even ten?”

“Family Recipes” by Sarah Kilch Gaffney, poetry, Fall 2021 Issue
“and I still only trust/the recipes she’s given me”

“Between a Wreckage and an Eden” by Katharyn Privett-Duren, essay, Spring 2021 Issue
“My grandma has become the wind that brings spring back around, winding through the pines that guarded our home through the winter nights.”

“One Pandemic Spring Garden” by Anuja Ghimire, essay, 2021 Print Annual
One night and then another, my plants visited my dreams.”

“During the Drought” by Emily Franklin, poetry, 2021 Print Annual
“I would like to wake up tomorrow and have it be summer/again the way in memory it is often that hazy bug-strewn time”

The Story of Two Fig Trees

by Eames J. Thai, guest blogger

Many years ago, when my dad worked at a Fred Myer in high school, he bought a small fig sapling on the clearance section there for 25 cents. An immigrant from Vietnam, his family often had things that were given to them or that they managed to acquire cheaply. Wilted and neglected, the poor sapling was brought back home by my father. Once my grandma saw it, she wasn’t at all phased by the look of the depressed fruit tree and immediately planted it in their backyard. 

Thirty years later and the fig tree is tall, healthy, and bears lots of fruit every season.  

My Ba Noi (Grandmother) brings us the figs from the tree in her backyard each year. She carries them from house to house with each fruit lovingly wrapped in paper towels and stacked in a bag with care. From a young age, they were my favorite fruit, so delicious and sweet. Ba Noi knew how much I loved them, so one day many years later, she brought us our own small fig tree sapling. Once again, it was on sale and not in the best condition.  

Fig tree. photo credit Jackie Thai

We planted this one in the corner of our back yard. It was merely a tall stick with a Y at the top. We watered it and put mulch around it. A year later, it had grown a bit but no fruit. The following year, it was bigger still and sprouted its first few fruits. The next year, the Y shape at the top was broadening, so my dad used string to train it and pull the branches closer together. That year, there were more branches and leaves, and about 20 figs had blossomed on its branches. This past year, the fig tree has grown taller and stronger and bore dozens of sweet, delicious figs. 

We spoke to a botanist at our local nursery who told us that most varieties of fig cannot grow here in the Northwest because it’s not hot enough here for them to fully ripen. So, there are only a few species of fig that can grow in Seattle weather. Our fig tree, the Desert King fig, is one of those species.   

In Spring as the fruit appears we begin counting them. Throughout the season, we like to keep a close eye on the figs, so we can pick them at peak ripeness and ensure birds or insects don’t get to them. The birds love our cherries but have not bothered the figs much. Our theory is that that the colossal leaves on the tree camouflage the figs from the birds, which is why they don’t eat them. We watch the figs while they ripen on our tree, gently squeezing them and watching for them to droop down indicating their ripeness. We get a ladder and help our dad pick the figs every year. It’s an exciting time for us. 

My family loves figs, but we don’t get to eat them too often. There’s only a small window of time when they grow in our backyard, and they only appear in grocery stores for a short period as well. But when we do get to eat them, we enjoy them in many ways. I like to bite right into them while my mom gently pulls them apart showing their light pink flesh. My family doesn’t just eat them raw, even though in my opinion that’s the best way to eat them. We also love to have them with brie or on toast with ricotta and a drizzle of honey. That’s my mom’s favorite. 

No matter how we eat them, they are a reminder of life’s sweetness. 

Author in fig tree. photo credit: Jackie Thai

Like these fig trees, my family came from meager beginnings. My Ba Noi came here on a boat with her four children, and my Dad and aunties worked in fields picking fruit alongside other immigrants at a very young age. Ba Noi eventually got a job as a caregiver in a day care. Their family moved around a lot but eventually found stability. Over time, they worked hard, got educations, and went from a family of five to over forty. Through it all, they had hope.

For many years to come, our fig trees and their fruit will serve as a reminder of all we have and all that is yet to come.  

Dedicated to my Ba Noi, my Dad Hoa, and my aunties, Thuy, Thu, Thao, Bi, and Binh. 

What’s Going On?

by James Sands, guest blogger

“… and I scream from the top of my lungs, WHAT’S GOING ON?! “

My wife was casting about for potential guest bloggers, and I reluctantly answered the call—not certain if my current brand of comma-laced (the world gives me pause), cynical incredulity would be deemed appropriate for public consumption—but, if you are reading this, and hopefully not reluctantly, it, apparently, was.

Perhaps some or maybe even most of you will remember the pop tune from the early nineties, “What’s Up,” written and performed by Linda Perry, formerly of 4 Non Blondes, and its unavoidable, inherent question. Linda Perry could belt one out, and that question was aurally etched into the auditory pathways of my brain with the earnest fierceness and underlying frustration of someone who, I imagine, knows the biggest and most important questions are typically the ones that go unanswered. Her question, timely then, is even more so today.

“What’s going on?”

There is much I do not understand. We are in the midst of what is possibly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. And, in addition to climate change, we are also in a pandemic that has sickened almost 250,000,000 people and caused the deaths of over 5,000,000 people world wide. This seems like a time when humans should come together, should unite in common purpose against global crises that detrimentally impact us all.

Yet what do we do? We divide; we attack; we fracture—swayed by forces that seemingly are out to confuse, profit, segregate and control. Why?

It is apparent many of us live in two separate realities, polar realities supported and fueled, in part, by major media organizations that, seemingly, no longer view themselves as purveyors of the news, keepers of the sacred truth. Instead, they have become “social influencers.” My spell-check does not like the word “influencers; “neither do I. I am disgusted by it. The truth is sacred—but not to some.

Social media for example. What promise. What possibility. What potential to educate and unite. But no. Social media has become a powerful wedge for the dividers—and a money machine for those who have the power to check and eradicate the lies that live and thrive there. Tragically, it is also, for some, the only source of “news.”

Why is it easier for some people to believe prominent democrats run child prostitution rings out of pizza shops or JFK junior is not deceased but has been in hiding the past twenty-two years and will return to become president or Covid vaccines contain satanic markers than it is for them to believe the burning of fossil fuels has altered our climate to the point where we now are on the cusp of irreversible, planet-wide disaster?

The internet, via social media, now runs the biggest tabloid press on the planet. 

I can see with my own eyes the climate is warming. Ten years ago, my young son and I built a snowman on the day after Halloween. This year, on November 2, I harvested the last of my peppers from plants that were still producing blossoms, yielding almost a half bushel basket the day before our first major frost. This in Bangor, Maine. I have never had pepper plants survive, let alone thrive, outdoors past mid October.  

I have been to Los Angles; I have been to Boston; I have been to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo. I have witnessed the traffic; I have seen the sick gray skylines, the billowing clouds of smoke. I have watched the documentaries, seen the pictures of smog-shrouded cities in India, Pakistan, China, Kuwait, Uganda, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico, Peru, Egypt, and Iran to list a few.

Where does all of that pollution come from and where does it all go? I have read the literature. I understand how CO2 emissions affect the upper atmosphere. Climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels is accepted as fact by a majority of scientists world-wide. Do they have an agenda? Are they making money by promoting this. Is there an international corporation of scientists whose board of directors dictates this truth be told in order to keep their stock holders cash-fat and happy?

I do not own a gigantic mushroom-shaped projectile filled with enough liquid rocket Viagra to penetrate and inseminate the mesosphere nor do I have a cowboy hat. I grow a garden; I raise chickens, and I refuse to be divided. Many of my neighbors do not agree with my political views. I refuse to hate them for it. Granted, I do not agree with or understand why they are where they are regarding issues like climate change and Covid-19, but I do understand how they were led there. Still, I refuse to be divided.

We are all human; we are all one; this planet is one—our only one. I cannot escape it nor would I want to. I love the earth and all the creatures on it. This is my home. Agree with them or not, all humans are my people.

And this is where I really get cynical. Do I think we will come together to save ourselves? Right now, I do not. There are powerful forces aligned against us, powerful people hell-bent on dividing us–hell-bent on turning this planet into a hell. Too many seem unwilling to change; too many seem profit-driven rather than socially motivated. Too many seem selfish, mired in ego and greed. As a whole, we humans just might be fatally flawed. We continue to repeat the same terrible mistakes, revel in the same ridiculous arguments, fall along the same unwholesome divisions.

Will we survive? Will we find the common ground that exists all around us, under us? If we are going to find a way out of this, we had better. And that, now, is the ultimate truth.  

And maybe next year, I’ll plant watermelons.

photo credit: Rachel Jarboe, Unsplash

Sammi Chicken, Ambassador

by Crystal Sands

She likes bananas and blueberries, traveling, and long walks on the beach. She has beautiful red feathers and has visited more landmarks than most humans. She is also full of personality—and is quite famous. Her name is Sammi Chicken, and she’s a little Rhode Island Red hen who travels the country with her good friend, Dave Cox, educating humans about the awesomeness of chickens.

Sammi Chicken has her own Facebook page, Instagram account (she has more than 57,000 followers!), and is a bit of a TikTok star. She has been featured in her own Dodo video and has even made an appearance at Today.com. Sammi and Dave travel the country, visiting all of the famous landmarks they can, and sharing pictures of their travels on social media. Along the way, they are working to do good for chicken kind–and human kind as well.

I found the Sammi Chicken Facebook page a few months ago by accident and fell in love with Dave’s fantastic pictures of Sammi in all of her beautiful Rhode Island Red glory. I have the biggest soft spot for Rhode Island Red hens. My first baby chicks were Rhode Island Reds, and I fell in love with the breed, as they are both intelligent and hardy. Dave and Sammi’s adventures always make me smile. When I reached out to Dave to see if he might sit down for a chat with me for Farmer-ish readers, I was so happy that he agreed!

Dave Cox is a former high school Agriculture teacher who is now teaching in a different way—with a really cool sidekick, Sammi (though I have to say that I am guessing Dave considers himself Sammi’s sidekick). He was looking for a pet after his dog soulmate of 17 years passed away. He was heartbroken after the loss and found himself at a feed store in his home state of Florida.

He reached into a giant bin that was truly a sea of fluffy chicks and pulled out one chicken, a very fortunate Rhode Island Red, who Dave would name Sammi. Together, Sammi and Dave have many adventures and get to change people’s perceptions about chickens along the way.

When I spoke to Dave, one of the first things I noticed was just how much fun it was to speak to a chicken person who has a deep understanding of the personality of a chicken. Though chicken personalities vary, just like human personalities, there are some traits they all seem to have in common: They are social creatures who are far more intelligent than most people give them credit for being, and they can be really good companions. Just as people become friends with other types of birds they keep as pets, chickens and humans can form a powerful bond. Dave and Sammi are certainly evidence of this bond on a grand scale.

I asked Dave what were some of the most surprising things he has learned from being friends with Sammi, and he said “Just how much she is able to express herself and her needs,” though Dave emphasized that he had a learning curve when it came to figuring out her methods of expression.

This is something I deeply connected with. I researched for years before we got chickens and started our little farm. After we started our flock, I spent the first years in shock that nothing I had read fully prepared me for the complexities and intelligence of chickens. Learning curve indeed!

But, in addition to educating people about the intelligence of chickens, Dave spends his time educating people about general chicken facts. For an animal that feeds so many of us, many Americans know very little about chickens.

For example, Dave said that he was recently on a trip to New York City with Sammi, and, in Times Square, he was approached by a police officer. Dave said, “I expected the officer to tell me that Sammi couldn’t be here; instead, the officer started asking me questions about chickens.” Dave continued, “He asked me things like, ‘How do you get chickens to lay eggs?’ and ‘Do you have to have a rooster?’”

I chuckled, but Dave reminded me of how little some people know about chickens. “They’ve just never had a chance to be around them,” Dave said. But Sammi gives them a chance.

By the end of my interview with Dave, we just ended up telling chicken stories, and I had the best time. It was great to be able to tell stories about some of my experiences with chickens to someone who understood them. It was a lovely experience to chat with someone who is so connected to a chicken, and I have to admit that I felt more than a little jealous of Dave and his connection to Sammi. I have 30 chickens in a flock and not nearly enough time to observe them as I would wish. Dave gets to know Sammi on a much deeper level, and because of this, he has so much knowledge to share with the world.

When I was growing up, I was always told that chickens were “dumb animals,” along with cows and pigs. Of course, none of this is true, but the misconceptions persist. And I argue that it is the misconceptions about the social and emotional intelligence of chickens that make it far too easy for them to be abused within our food system. I am thankful for the work of Dave and Sammi.

I am also just really thankful, when I have had a tough day, that I can head to social media and see beautiful pictures of a lovely red hen living a unique and special life with her good friend.

photos courtesy of Dave Cox

Another Harvest

by Stephanie Gross, guest blogger

It’s October in the Texas Hill Country, and the husband has just planted his new seeds for the fall garden. We have had several inches of rain in the past few weeks, the rivers are full, the “lawn”—mostly clover and Horseherb— is green and still full of bees, and I just this second watched a Monarch stop to feed on the Blue Mistflower planted around the fountain. The Lipstick Sage is in full glory, as is the Texas purple sage (Cenizo) which covers the east fence, and the various other sages are pink and dark red against the purple asters, which have just exploded after hunkering down all summer.

We know it’s fall because the light is different, the days shorter, nights much cooler, the pecans are falling, and the squirrels are, well, nuts. With any luck though, we’ll be eating Swiss Chard, beets, and other fall greens in a few weeks and most of the winter. The Mesclun mix we planted about two weeks ago is ready any second now, even though the Cypress and Sycamore leaves are turning and falling.

This is a whole new thing for us, having just moved from Maine, with its beautiful but interminable winters, a couple of years ago. Just before Covid, we had met some new friends and were settling in nicely when suddenly we found ourselves stranded and locked down in a new place. Our near half-acre in the middle of town has felt heaven sent. The back fence keeps out the white-tail and Axis deer, who live on the front lawns here, and keeps the cats in, mostly. This was once part of a pecan farm, and the first year we harvested over seventy pounds of nuts. They are due again this year (every second fall), and we have found the soil to be unexpectedly rich from years of leaf and nut mulch and neglect.

This new beginning has been both auspicious and inauspicious; like so much these days, it’s hard to tell. Is this darkness, or light? Birthing pains, or the death of something? Autumn can’t really help that it brings these thoughts front and center.

We watch the dying of the light, and we watch the glorious unveiling of what’s really underneath all that green at the same time. Nature strips away the pretenses, the chlorophyll of day to day busy survival work, and we have to face the cold that’s coming. With it comes the understanding that, yes, the veil between the worlds is indeed thinner, and we are closer to some kind of fundamental rawness. While our northern friends harvest and put up, close down, cover, and draw in, here in the south, we plant again, invigorated by the freshening and cooling air. But we emerge into a dimmer light, a certain slant, one might even say, that illuminates the hard fact that we’ve prepared but can’t really know for what. What we can overlook in the lushness of summer and ripening of okra and beans swirls around us in the chillier autumn winds. A lot remains unknown, and really just slightly out of reach, a whisper, a foreboding.

The veil shimmers, and we can sense it. We can practically see it shiver under the giant harvest moon. When I teach students about the Sublime, that mixture of fear and awe, this is what I imagine. There’s nothing spooky to me about plastic ghosts or spiders that hang on people’s trees and houses in the neighborhood; what’s spooky to me is the in-my-face-undeniable-fact of the dying of the year and its implications for all of us.

I learned years ago to eye more watchfully this time of year: on or around the end of October we lose people, pets, loved ones. It’s just easier to pass through. And if we listen, it’s easier to hear what’s just on the other side.

Here, my neighbors mostly have Mexican roots. The cemetery behind us on the hill is beginning to light up with marigolds and other bright decorations on the gravel topped graves of the old families. The live oaks over them are hung with wind chimes. Jar candles are sprouting up. I never see this happen; it just does.

The graveyard sits just a couple of blocks away and overlooks a small river and the hills beyond and is so dusty quiet you would have no idea it’s near the center of town. The breezes blow through the trees, the stars light up the night, and it’s as if time stands still, awaiting the return of the Ancestors. Dia de los Muertos is coming. The reality of death, and the celebration of the return.

We harvest, and we plant again. The gods die, and they rise. The butterflies migrate, and they go back, as the Ancestors, and arrive just at the day, and the place, where they have forever. And, right now, we stand at the intersection of a holy and terrifying time, and we know what’s coming.

In the meantime, we’ll hand out candy to the hordes of blissfully innocent kids who show up every year here on the eve of Dia de los Muertos. The little princesses and comic book creatures, the pirates and the monsters come, and we give away everything we can. They shyly take one little candy bar (there’s hope for the world after all). No, take more! The neighbors sit on the lawn in the dark with their creepy lights and fires and everyone waves and yells to each other until the rush dwindles and we go back inside, a little chilled. And also warmed.

The rituals of fall ward off the anxiety of what’s to come, keep it from overpowering us, and they keep us protected. After the celebration of the harvest—the pesto, the tomato sauces, the jams, the putting up, the turning over— we celebrate the Other World, those who have gone before, who come back in the form of the Monarchs to bring us tidings from the universe, who will tell us, if we will hear them: it’s okay, we are all just wind and the chiming of the bells in it.

It’s all ephemeral, we are all headed home, and don’t think you are any different. Why get all melancholy as if you matter more than the bugs and birds and squirrels? Just get your nest ready for winter, and, if you’re lucky, go plant a fall garden and hope for yet another harvest.

photo credit: Nikola Johnny Mirkovic, Unsplash

Orange Is the New Dinner Color (+ a recipe)

by Nicole Walker (guest blogger)

It was one of the battles my sisters and I usually hold. When my sisters and I get together, we choose a theme and have a contest to see who wins or who kills the guests by over stuffing them with too much food.

In June, we played Battle Yellow. I should have written down what we made because I forget the details of most battles. I think I made Elote. Valerie (my sister) painted a cake with gold flakes. Paige (my sister) made popcorn which, of course, won because popcorn is everyone’s favorite food group.

But this October visit, we planned Battle Orange. Paige stayed home in Salt Lake with the dogs since she had to work. We were all supposed to have driven to Mexico but Erik’s (my husband) passport didn’t show up in time for us to get our money back on the house we rented. Good thing we canceled. His passport arrived on Saturday–what would have been the last full day of our trip. Still, we made do here in Flagstaff, visiting Page Springs winery and eating dinner at Shift.

On Saturday, I wanted to host my friend Beya and her family, so my dear friend could meet my dear sister. Beya is mostly vegetarian, but she’ll eat fish sometimes. I saw the Arctic Char at Whole Foods. It’s a little pinker than orange but close enough. I had egg whites at home. We had mangoes. Butternut squash. Frank’s hot sauce. Oranges. Orange cheddar cheese.

Besides the Arctic char, we bought nothing besides carrots, cream, and chicken wings, which we sent our now-driving daughters to the store to pick up. My point? I didn’t leave the house except to watch Max’s football game all day Saturday, and yet Val and I made an pretty fine dinner for 11 for $32 plus whatever stuff we had in the house.

It turns out orange is the easiest color of food to imagine a menu. We’ve done Battle Green–which was also pretty easy. Battle White was great fun but trickier. I made hamachi crudo (again, remembering nothing else). Battle Blue was the hardest one because, as I shucked Blue Point oysters, I also shucked my own hand. Valerie took me to the ER even though she tells all of us she doesn’t do Emergency Rooms on the weekend, so you had best be careful. Battle Citrus was probably the winner. Paige made an excellent citrusy Cosmo, and Val made lemon capellini with caviar. I made duck with an orange sauce.

But the Battle Orange required very little effort of imagination. Butternut squash–what can we make? Ravioli with butter sage sauce. Mangoes and oranges? Add some jalapeno, onions, avocado, and strawberries and make a salsa topping for the Arctic Char. Of course, Valerie won with the Buffalo wings She cooked them in the oven for almost two hours, then she tossed them in a bucket of butter and Frank’s hot sauce. Beya, as a vegetarian, didn’t eat the wings, but they were the first to go. She has two teenage boys.

For vegetarians, I almost always make a souffle, so why not make a souffle? I already had separated egg whites in the fridge. The girls brought home the carrots–which are orange. Cheese is orange. Eggs are yellow and white, but we can work with that. I made a souffle from mostly memory.

The ravioli was the big project. I had to climb up and over the fridge to summon the pasta machine. I don’t make pasta nearly enough. Why don’t I? A holdover from Keto days? Flour all over the kitchen? Probably time, but with this recipe, it’s so easy. I stole the whole kit and kaboodle (I originally wrote cat and caboodle) from the Internet, as one does. I didn’t read until just now that the lady who makes this freezes half of the ravioli and the sauce is only enough for 4. But actually, I didn’t read how much sage-butter sauce to make. I just put a stick of butter in a pan, as I did for the souffle. I had planned to make an orange beurre blanc for the Arctic Char but sometimes, a stick of butter in every other portion of the dinner is enough.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Ingredients

PASTA

  • 1 ½ cups Semolina Pasta Flour
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose Flour
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

FILLING

  • 2 ½ lbs butternut squash (peeled and roughly chopped)
  • 8 whole garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon dried sage
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

SAUCE & GARNISH (SEE NOTES BELOW)

  • 4 tablespoons butter ((½ stick))
  • 10 whole fresh sage leaves
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

TO MAKE THE PASTA DOUGH:

  • Combine all pasta ingredients and mix together to make a stiff dough. Knead by hand or in a stand mixer with the dough hook on medium low speed for 10 minutes or until dough is elastic. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 20 minutes. On a lightly floured surface roll out to desired thickness and cut as desired.

TO MAKE THE FILLING:

  • Toss the squash with the garlic in a bowl with just enough olive oil to evenly coat everything. Roast on a baking sheet at 400oF for about 45 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and mix in a food processor to combine – slowly pouring additional olive oil into the mixture until the consistency is smooth. Add parmesan, dried sage, and salt and pepper, to taste. Use this filling to make the ravioli.

TO MAKE THE SAUCE:

  • Combine butter and fresh sage leaves in small sauce pan. Heat over low heat for at least 15 minutes to infuse the butter. Then, increase the heat just a bit (take care not to burn) and stir continuously until the butter browns slightly and the sage leaves crisp. 

TO PREPARE:

  • Use a ravioli press to add and seal one teaspoon of filling in between each pasta sheet. Dip finger in water and wet edges of pasta before adding second sheet to allow for a nicely sealed ravioli. Use a roller, gently pressing down, to seal them up. Be sure to heavily flour the outside of your pasta to enable easy release.
  • Boil the ravioli in plenty of salted water until just done. This will only take a short time! The ravioli will float on the surface of the water when they are finished. Carefully remove and drain. Serve with sage butter, a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, and a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese.

NOTES:

 recipe makes 6 dozen ravioli

  • To cook: toss the ravioli in salted boiling water for just a few minutes until they float.
  • To freeze: line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add a single layer of the homemade ravioli. Set in freezer and once completely frozen, they can be added to a resealable plastic bag. Be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.
  • Making the pasta: I prefer an even mix of semolina flour to all-purpose flour. It gives the pasta great texture and chew, plus it’s insanely easy to work with. The addition of olive oil to the dough can be tasted in the final pasta – YUM! You must kneed your pasta dough for a solid ten minutes. If you want to do this by hand, more power to you, but pasta dough is not a soft dough like bread dough, so you’re in for a workout. I highly recommend using your Kitchenaid mixer. You have to be sure to cover the dough and allow it to rest. This process allows the gluten to do whatever gluten does to make pasta wonderful.
  • To roll out the sheets of pasta dough to make your homemade ravioli, you can roll it on the counter by hand, but I highly recommend using a pasta roller. I’ve used the KitchenAid pasta attachments before, and while they certainly are easy to use, there is something so satisfying about rolling pasta dough in a quality made in Italy pasta roller. Just be sure you use enough flour to avoid any sticking in your pasta machine.
  • When forming the ravioli, be sure to have floured all of your dough generously so that it releases easily from the mold.
  • Sauce amount – Since I typically don’t cook all of these ravioli (I cook some and freeze the rest), the amount of sauce in this recipe is perfect for my family of four. If you’re planning on cooking ALL of the ravioli at the same time, you may want to double or triple the sauce amount.

If you made it to the end of the recipe, fine reading work, friends. You have been indoctrinated in the 14-page essay before the recipe. Also, because I’m not a pure plagiarist, I linked to the original ravioli recipe. But one of the goals of this blog post is to get you to Valerie’s mustard-selling website, The Curvy Spoon, because Battle Mustard is coming, and we want you to be prepared.

The Exhausted Parents’ Guide to Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

by Heidi Skurat Harris, guest blogger

Every year, I take my son to pick a pumpkin at a local church fundraiser. He uses two criteria for selection:

  1. The pumpkin must be perfectly round and unblemished.
  2. The pumpkin must be perfectly clean.

As anyone familiar with pumpkins knows, those criteria make the perfect pumpkin as common as the Great Pumpkin.

This October 16th, 2021, we found the perfect pumpkin in about 20 minutes. In truth, we found it in the first 5 minutes, but we had to look at all of the rest of the pumpkins (and some twice) before my son could, with confidence, select said pumpkin. I tried to convince him to pick a lumpy, gnarly pumpkin that looked really cool, but apparently because I’m in my mid-40s, I don’t actually know what “cool” means.

(I mention the date because I would like credit for taking the boy pumpkin hunting a full two-weeks before Halloween while there were still a lot of pumpkins to choose from, which almost never happens.)

For the remainder of this blog, I will call the perfect pumpkin Phyllis and my son Darby.

Darby clocks in right at the 25th percentile for height and weight on the pediatrician chart. He can still fit into some 4T clothes and has trouble meeting the height requirements on fair rides.

He’s a little guy.

Phyllis, on the other hand, would clock in at 75th percentile for weight and height at the gourd doctor. If she were a cat, she’d be a chonk. If she were a Starbucks drink, she’d be a trenta–a full 31 oz. of pumpkin spice love. 

She’s a hefty girl.

I paid by circumference, so by my estimates, Phyllis was approximately $10 more expensive than a grocery store pumpkin with similar qualities. But I shop local.

Phyllis and her favorite reading material–photo courtesy Heidi Skurat Harris

Pumpkin carving is an activity that  parents both cherish and dread. It’s the fall version of egg dyeing at Easter–fun in theory but the clean up makes you thankful that you don’t have to do it again for another year. My kids pester me to do it for about two weeks leading up to the event and then lose interest about 2 minutes into the work because “This is hard!” and “I HAVE PUMPKIN ON MY HANDS! GET IT OFF RIGHT NOW BEFORE IT DESTROYS ME!!!”

The first step in our pumpkin transformation is scooping out the guts. Unlike human guts, Phyllis’s guts are delicious (unless you’re a zombie, and then the former are more satisfying).

While Darby is slashing at Phyllis (supervised, of course), I bake Phyllis’s delicious innards, in particular, her little pumpkin children. My favorite part of Halloween is not dressing up or handing out candy. My favorite part is roasting pumpkin seeds. I have often thought about buying 12 pumpkins just to get the seeds, but the carving…

Here’s how I roast pumpkin seeds. It’s not an old family recipe that reminds me of my grandma Hattie’s house and her checkered apron. You’d probably get about a dozen better recipes just by Googling “roasting pumpkin seeds.” But it works for me and probably will for you as well.

Recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1. Rinse all the pumpkin intestines off of the seeds in cold water. Like dealing with your Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner while he tells the same story he told last year, seed rinsing takes time and patience. And just as you won’t be able to stop Bob before he gets to the dicey part of his story, you won’t get the seeds fully clean, and, in either case, it really doesn’t matter.

(At this point, you can brine them with salt and water at a boil for 10 minutes, or you can just be lazy like me and skip this step.)

2. Dry the seeds.

3. Season the seeds. Because I am, according to my children “basic,” I use olive oil and salt. You can get fancy, though, and use paprika, black pepper, cumin, garam masala, rosemary, thyme, pumpkin spice, or cinnamon.

For a lower sodium version, you can season them with the tears of your children when their Phyllis-o-lantern doesn’t turn out exactly like the photo on the pumpkin carving instructions.

4. Bake the seeds. I always forget what temperature and what time to bake them for, and every year I promise to write it down and don’t. I have a gas oven, and I bake them slowly at low heat (300 until they’re crispy, flipping once). You know your oven better than I do. So set some heat and watch them until they are done, which will be at least 20 minutes.

5. Let the seeds cool.

6. Store the roasted seeds in a bowl with a tight lid on a high shelf so your kids won’t sniff them out and eat them all in 10 minutes.

My roasted pumpkin seeds are best served with pumpkin ale or spiced cider or a glass of white wine or red wine or, let’s face it, pretty much any beverage that makes you feel better about scraping pumpkin innards off your ceiling fan.

Enjoy!

Change of Season

by Jj Starwalker, guest blogger

Hearing the Canada geese overhead, through closed windows as they circle to settle on a nearby pond for a night’s rest, has reset in my mind the desire to recapture yesterday’s autumn ramble. It was a ramble by old farm truck as I ventured far and wide to visit friends and deliver little loaves of a family recipe cake. My flour mill, Maine Grains, which has been instrumental in bringing together and growing a larger community of local organic grain farmers and supplying us with the most wonderful whole grain flours, had been promoting “Community Bake Day.”

This event could be celebrated with group baking, classes, sharing knowledge or, as I did, just by myself as I happily mixed up a simple old family cake recipe and baked it in multiple small loaf pans with the intention of having one to eat and several to share. And share I did, with two friends who were both within driving but not walking distance.

I headed to the first home with the previous day’s monthly grocery shopping trip to the “big city” fresh in my mind. Neither day was what one might call optimal for a “leaf peeping” drive; the weather of late has been damp, even rainy, with overcast skies. But as I headed to my first grocery stop the previous day, I was struck by the abundance of brightly colored trees. I had been waiting for “peak color” in the slow fall season here in Maine, and that day, I found it.

Brightly colored trees in full leaf lined streets and roads in town and country. The riverbanks, wetlands, and manicured yards were all ablaze. Some leaves had begun to fall, confetti sprinkled on lawns and nearby hay fields. The earth felt giddy with the declaration of autumn, and I think sunshine would actually have been too much.

However, these same streets and country lanes had a much different feel the next day as I carried my shared loaves out into the world. There were still lots of colored trees, but they reached up into the skyline with bare branches that were not there the day before. And as I drove a favorite dirt road to my first stop, the brown path ahead of me was striped with broad stripes of color–yellow, then brown again, and orange and brown. The overnight rain and wind had made wide brush strokes in solid colors that this artist envied. It reminded me of rays of the setting sun, shining onto the road through clearings in the woods, but it was early afternoon; the sun was nowhere to be seen.

Yards in the little towns I visited no longer had green lawns. They had been replaced by carpets and area rugs in hues from light brown through orange and yellow even reaching into the red… that “area rug” near a maple tree that gave away her secret with a few leaves still clinging to her branches.

Overnight, the season had turned. No longer the extended early autumn of the growing season, winter had shown his hand. Oh, it will be a while until the old man moves in to stay, but Jack Frost will be coming soon to put his stamp on the end of the growing season and encourage us to bank mulch up around root veg that we plan to try over-wintering in the ground–and to remind us that garlic planting season will not last forever.

photo credit: Andrea Swank, Unsplash