Friday, July 3, 2020

Sour Cherry Pie

There is nothing finer in the world mid-June than fresh sour cherry pie. The tartness of the cherries with the sweetness of a dallop of ice cream just hit my senses for a loop. I've been trying to recreate that loop now for 20 years and though I'm not there, I'm getting closer.

Growing up on the old farm, we had a sour cherry tree in our yard that we used to battle the birds for the fruits. I remember one year mom bought a net that we put over the tree and then my brother and I spent a couple weeks picking dead and living birds out of the net as they tried to rob the cherries. I think my mom must have accepted losses of cherries and not birds because we only used the net that one year. There was another larger sour cherry tree at my grandfather's farm (where my dad sometimes still lives) that produced lots of fruit. Between the two, we used to be able to freeze pie filling for a couple dozen pies every year as well as make cherry jam for our breakfast toast.

Life moves on, so did the trees and so did I. I'm not sure why my parents never replanted them after the trees died. So I went through college and nearly fifteen years of my life without a decent sour cherry pie and as a newly wed, I set to rectify that problem. At our wedding which we did on the cheap, the most expensive thing we did was the party favors. We invited everyone at our wedding to help us plant an orchard in the memory of our marriage and we had a few takers. Among the trees we planted were two sour cherry trees.

The same time as the orchard planting also roughly coincided with the loss of our last dog and so we lost the ability to deter deer. Of all the trees we planted, four made it to some form of "maturity". One sour tree did survive but is nothing but trunk with a few sparse leaves that has never produced much fruit. So too was the peach tree that survived. We did get two apple trees that lived and produced lots of great fruit but one died a few years ago due to some insect that essentially girdled the trunk at the base near the ground and the remaining one has the same infestation now.

Seeing the deer destroy our orchard, we decided to plant a sour cherry in our backyard in town but we moved before it every produced anything but a handful of cherries. I often wonder if it is still there in that backyard and if the current owners even harvest any of the cherries. At our current place we planted another one soon after we moved in and planted a second a few years later. The above bounty is from the oldest tree which after pitting produced only a couple cups of sour cherry. The newest tree should start producing fruit soon, perhaps as early as next year.

Every year I keep hoping that this is the year we will have enough sour cherries to make a pie and it hasn't happened yet. I think my wife sensed my desperation and though she told me she was going to make a small tart out of them, I was surprised on Father's Day with three sour cherry pies. They weren't regulation sized pies but they were pies just the same. Since she doesn't like the tartness, they were all mine. I gave one to my father and ate the two other ones myself. She also made some mini blueberry pies for the girls so they were happy too. I can't think of a better Father's Day gift that I have ever received.

Later while celebrating Father's Day on the farm, we got to talking about our sorry looking orchard and maybe starting another one, this time with permanent deer protection. My father seemed enthused with the idea. We need to do some fencing first and source more fruit trees from someplace cheaper than our local citified nursery. But perhaps by the time I'm getting more than one (regulation sized) sour cherry pie a year, we will have more starting to produce.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Not Finished With the Finish

[My blog will be continuing to post things this week but we're gone on vacation to our cabin in the woods to maybe set up the now completed bunk beds. More on that in posts to come.]

I'm getting closer to being done with the finishing process but man is there a lot of surface to cover on two queen sized bunk beds. I have all the rails, extra bracing, legs assemblies and signs finished and stacked up in the background. With the outside temperatures and cure times, I can get one side finished in a day and then the next day I flip it over and repeat. So for the above mattress frame and the three others like it, it will take me eight days to complete. Not so bad if I can do other things but the one thing I would like to do but can't is make dust in my workshop/garage. So I have been making do by doing some of the design work for future projects and oddball stuff that never ends.

The worst part about all this is the timing. As I write this, my wife has a week off coming up in two weeks. The mattresses arrive in a week. It would be nice to load all this up and take a road trip down to the cabin to do so finish painting and assemble the beds. To my knowledge, they are hopefully working on putting up sheet metal this week on the outside of the cabin. The inside still needs to be electrified, insulated and sheetrocked plus the flooring installed. I'm not sure all that will get done before our week off arrives. I'm not sure what plan B is if it doesn't but I really would like to park my garage inside during the day when it is so hot outside so it isn't so scorching when I go to drive it.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Road Back

The road work behind our house continues along. Above I am standing at the bottom of the hill looking back up towards the top. The telephone pole at the top and barely visible on the left side of the road is where the road our house faces enters into this road. We own the timber and land on the left side of the road from about halfway up the hill to the distant telephone pole on the left.

Since our road in front of the house was closed off to allow them to lower the top of the hill five feet and improve sight lines, I thought we would be on a quite, now dead end street, all summer long. It hasn't worked out to be the case. Behind my back in the picture above is one of only four entrances to the four lane highway that goes around town so people are keen to find a shortcut. So they take two miles of back roads and end up at our house only to realize they can't get by and drive the two miles back out. One would think that people would quickly learn and perhaps they have but not everyone because it has been a constant thing all summer long. We probably get two or three cars a day that make it to our driveway only to turn around and head back the way they came. They don't even wave hello.

Most of the concrete is now in place though they still have more to do to connect it up with our street and also to connect up to a dozen or so driveways that enter onto this section of street. Part way down the hill, the new concrete was hacked up before it could set on the day of the poor. I wasn't sure what they were doing as I was watching them. Now I think I know the answer. Below is a picture of the road looking back at my house up on top of the hill with the ditch between. Where you see the large rocks going down into the ditch, they put a concrete culvert. But it isn't visible on the other side. I think the sections of roughed up concrete on this and the other side of the road are where they are going to install storm drains that you see in curbed roadways throughout town and both the other side and the side in this picture will drain across those rocks, down into the ditch and down the hill.

Overall, I am pretty happy with everything. They didn't take out any trees and only minimal undergrowth. The spot below is actually the only part of the new road we can see from our house during the summer time and we could mostly see it before anyway. Three years ago, I stopped letting some of the lower and steepest parts of the hill get mowed in hopes that trees will sprout up and fill this back in. The trees have sprouted but it will be some more years before this view gets filled in again. Even with the amount of work left, I think they should get done well within their estimate and perhaps by late summer, our road will be back open and I won't live on a dead end street where everyone turns around anymore.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Payback Can Be A ... Well Lets Just Say Difficult

Eight Feet Long Osage Orange Log and smaller straight branch

Last fall, a friend of mine got a 3D router mill and was making things left and right. He made a Chinese checker board and I asked him how much he wanted for it as I might give something like that to my girls for Christmas. He quoted me $80 if I supplied the blank of wood. This was extremely high priced and more than I wanted to pay so I just didn't respond. I think he must have felt a built guilty of the price for he later gave me a board for my kids for no charge. With my cabin addition and furniture project, I got to thinking it might be fun to make a sign for each of the bedrooms out of some scrap. I thought it would be a way to give back to my friend for the free Chinese checker boards. So I grabbed some scrap boards and headed over to his place. In short order he had carved two signs (each one has the name of a natural feature from the park near the cabin) and they turned out great. He wouldn't let me pay him for them.

As we were talking, he showed me a couple projects made from osage orange trees and said he was looking for a source to get some more of the wood. I told him I have access to three miles of osage orange trees which were used as live fence rows in many places on the border between our state and the one to the south. How much would he like? So the following week I started up my chainsaw, grabbed a spare chain, bar oil and fuel can and drove down to the farm. Since none of our three miles is near a road, I transferred my gear over to my dad's Polaris Ranger and headed out. In short order I had fired up my chainsaw and cut the above limb from a tree along with one chunk seen below. Then my saw quit and refused to start again.

I had a similar problem the year before where the oiler port that lubricates the chain had plugged causing the saw to overheat and shut down and I could feel that the saw was extremely hot and thought it might have done the same. Osage orange wood if very sappy and tends to cake up so it was a very realistic possibility. But I wasn't going to wait around in the heat waiting for it to cook the saw down nor did I have any tools for unclogging the oiler port. But I also didn't want to make the 2 hour round trip home and back to finish this task. The log probably weighed in close to 200 pounds and I was just barely strong enough to lift one end and push it over. I tried dragging it but wasn't strong enough to pull the weight and overcome ground friction. So I ended up flipping the log end for end about six or seven times from the fence row, out of the brush and into the back end of the ranger.

Back at the farm in the welcoming shade of a silver maple tree, I got my dad's chainsaw and filled it up from my fuel can and tried starting it but after twenty minutes gave up. I tried starting my now cooled chainsaw but I couldn't get it to start either. So I backed the Ranger up to my minivan and slid the log from one vehicle to the next and was just barely able to get all eight feet inside and the door closed. Back home, I went to slide the log out onto the concrete and found that the minivan was now infested with hundreds of ants that had evidently called the log home so I had to spend another hour sweeping them out of the van with a vacuum cleaner.

I ended up cleaning my chainsaw and then as I was getting ready to see if it would start I went to top off the fuel and realized something. I had grabbed my snowblower fuel can which is straight gas and not my chainsaw fuel can which has oil mixed in to lubricate the cylinders and keep the saw cool and working. I realized now what had happened and was worried that I had just destroyed my chainsaw and just about destroyed my dad's chainsaw had I gotten it started. So I mixed up some new fuel with oil in it and fueled up my chainsaw. It fortunately started right up and showed no signs of damage or oil burning smoke. I may have lucked out. I quickly sawed up the log and took the pieces over to my friends house for future project, this time without the ants.

I have paid him back for his generosity.  I also told him next time he needed anymore, it will be in the cooler months. I have also learned that I need to keep my mouth shut about three miles of osage orange trees.

Osage Orange like its name implies, has a real orange color to the wood. I suspect the above cavity is where the ants came from.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Cabin and Furniture

Above you can see the progress on the cabin addition that we are doing on the family cabin down in Arkansas. It will contain two addition bedrooms (to the one we have right now) so that my family and my brother's family can come and visit in comfort. I haven't spent a lot of time down there these last few years mainly due to my mother's death, my father's running away and the fact that there really isn't a great place to sleep aside from the floor and it is very crowded in such a small cabin.

Originally, I told my father I would help with the addition but Covid-19 got in the way and prevented either my brother and I from making the frequent trips there to help. Fortunately he found a contractor willing to do the work for a reasonable rate and so I was relieved of building the addition though I might get involved in redoing the deck sometime later this year. To absolve me of some of the guilt of missing out, I volunteered to do something I can do and that is build two custom queen sized bunk beds for an additional eight sleeping spots. Here you can see them coming along with the leg assemblies. (Note they are just pushed together but there will be one bunk in each of the new bedrooms.)  Since I took this picture, I have built two ladders for upper bunk access, railings for the upper bunks so kids don't fall out in the middle of the night and I'm starting the finishing process.

I kind of liked the natural look of the wood with all the knots and imperfections so I decided to just put a clear coat of polyurethane on the wood to protect it from humidity but not turn it colors. As a result, the finishing process is pretty unexciting picture wise and I may not get another picture of it before I take it down to the cabin. But I hope to take a picture of everything once it is set up and post it on here for anyone to enjoy.

I'm pretty committed to this project now. We recently went to a furniture store in the urban jungle and bought four queen sized mattresses to be delivered in a couple weeks. We plan to rent a U-Haul for a one way trip down to the cabin to haul everything down when we have a few days of vacation coming up later this month.