The autumn season will be officially here in just a few days, but her coming has already been announced by several signs. We are now sweltering under hot September sunshine every day, and awaiting some needed rain. The creek has dried up to a few small puddles, as heat waves vibrate upon the earth. Nights are blessedly cooler, and soon a soft blanket will feel good.
I remember one year when water got scarce, and about the only water available for the animals was a small hole in the ditch across from the chicken house. Son Andy went to the hole to scoop up some water for his dogs, but the hole happened to be inhabited by a very irritable water snake that challenged his right to the puddle. Andy poured the snake out of his bucket more quickly than he had acquired it, and it ran at him, striking furiously. Water snakes are harmless, but who wants to be challenged by a snake? I think the snake established ownership.
Many of our neighbors with private wells and springs are suffering from a shortage of water. We had an abundance of rain in the spring, which affected our gardens somewhat, but now we are suffering for rain. Fall, with its cooler temperatures and more abundant rainfall, will soon be here and this summer will be only a memory. Already the dogwood is showing her crimson petticoats, and the spicewood bushes follow suit. There is a definite tinge of yellow among the forest trees, and gardens are mostly gone.
There may be a few corn nubbins that can be pickled now, when the signs are right. It is important to go by the signs, believe it or not. I made sauerkraut once when the signs were in the secrets, and it turned black and slimy. My mother said it was no secret what it smelled like! The best recipe for pickled corn came from my sister, Mary Ellen. After the corn is shucked and silked, cook it for about five minutes (have the water boiling when you put the corn in the kettle.) Cool it in ice water, and drain it on bath towels. (Mary Ellen says that when fixing it to freeze on the cob, the secret is to make sure it is cold and drained completely.)
Put the corn in a stone churn or other container (I have used a five-gallon bucket) and prepare brine to cover it completely. Most recipes call for a cup of canning salt to a gallon of water, but she says that two-thirds of a cup of salt to a gallon of cold water is perfect. Place a plate over the corn, and then weigh it down with something — a quart jar filled with water will work. I have a smooth stone that I have used for years, saved for just that purpose. Cover the jar with a clean cloth and tie a cord around it. It may form a mold on top that can be taken off. It can be kept in the cellar all winter.
This must be an Appalachian delicacy, as many people have not heard of it. I remember years ago when a cousin of mine brought her new husband home to meet the family. He had been raised in one of those faraway states that is foreign to our way of life. Her mother got out a dish of pickled corn, and my cousin fell on it with glad cries. Her husband tried an ear, and whispered to his wife, “Don’t tell your Mum, but this corn is spoiled!”
What I think is funny is to offer an ear of picked corn to one of the great-grand kids who have been eating hot, buttered corn on the cob all summer. They bite into an ear of this corn, expecting the same. They sure can pull some wry faces! I can’t remember who it was, but one of them once took a bite, and then threw the whole ear across the table! I reckon they thought it was a joke!
When our daughter Patty was pregnant with the first child, she craved pickled corn. I had a churn of it in the cellar, and she lived just above us. On her way to the post office, she stopped and delved into the churn. I can’t remember how many ears that she ate, but it was several. I warned her that it was going to make her sick, but she just hooted at me.
The next morning, she stopped again. Eagerly, she got out an ear of corn, and took one bite. You can guess the rest. She was finished with pickled corn for that season. It’s a wonder that she wasn’t permanently turned off, but she still loves pickled corn. In fact, she is making some now. When I was pregnant with her, I was nauseated the whole time I carried her. In fact, I vomited the day before she was born.
My Dad and Mom brought me a bucket of huckleberries that summer when I was so sick. I sat in the yard and cleaned them in the hot sun, and the more I worked on them, the sicker I got. I finally stretched out on the grass and just suffered. To this day, I still don’t like huckleberries or blueberries. Some things just stick with a person!
It will soon be time to harvest some more of the wild foods that our hills offer. As soon as black walnuts fall, they can be gathered and piled in a corner of the yard somewhere until their hulls soften. The hulls can be removed by pounding, or some other means. I remember that we used to use the car’s tire to remove the hulls. After jacking up the car, leaving just enough space to touch the walnuts, the motor ran and spun the wheel. It removed the hulls in a hurry.
I guess you can remember how the black walnut hulls stained our hands, and the stain remained for days. It was no secret what we had been doing. Don’t forget the hickory nuts that will be ready to gather soon. If you have access to the ones with thin shells, then you are richly blessed. We once lived where a hickory tree supplied us with large, thin-shelled nuts — they were almost like pecans. Candy and cookies made from our native nuts are the very best! Thank the good Lord who provides our hills with such good things.
Enjoy our autumn season!