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Albert Justice

Freezes and Groundhogs and Bears: Oh my! --or--Sackcloth on the Mountain

April 23, 2007 at 4:55 AM

The beautiful mountains of southern West Virginia for one who knows how to work hard is a phenomonal place to learn violin, garden and live. Coming from a family tradition with nearly Paul Bunyon mythical characters in terms of work-ethic, in the midst of the greenest most temperate environment on earth is one of the best kept secrets in America today. I can say this because I've traveled and lived all over the world.

I use to travel 3 hours each way to underwrite my mom and dad's rural traditions and quality of life every single weekend, and finally was needed at home permanently about a year ago. These never ending work missions created some of the most impressive high scale gardens in our area--I'm sure. A little boasting? Nope. A little fishing story? Nope again.

Installing asparagus beds working directly with Scott Walker of Jersey Asparagus Farms, who works directly with Rutgers University I installed awesome asparagus beds over a couple years, aggravating the heck out of him until I 'knew' I had it right(he no longer answers my emails!--just kidding). Working directly with Territorial Seed I installed 10 varieties of garlic from all over the world several years ago which I maintain like a baseball card collector. The same with gold raspberries, strawberry patches, red raspberries, and all that is before the corn, beans and potatoes are in the ground.

I then started thinking, 'well, why can't I grow celeries, and root-cellar carrots; and, find other ways of looking at canning and sustainable maintenance'. The answer: I can and do, and others can too! At least a couple I know of come pretty close.

My violin experience began appropriately on my hundred dollar squeaker in the greenhouse(which I made happen) late night for several hours on weekends (ouch!), before returing home and doing the same practice there during the week. At my parents,I was hoping to scare the groundhogs effectively--it didn't work, but I swear the plants looked healthier. So my life for the past few years has been a blur of phenomonal work, tempered by an equally surreal drama of shake it off and move on.

Violin is like gardens. A moment of awesome beauty (finally got Air on G String smoother than silk) to jeezusss H. Christ quit zoning when you're getting through your elements. Gardens too are a Jobian lesson in persistence and patience. This year surely, has been such a year.

The warm period in March got me going early to finish my latest raised strawberry patch, edging the rose garden, fertilizing the garlic, transplanting fruit trees I'd started, thinking about moving things into the greenhouse (of course too early), even clearing a patch of new ground. The existing strawberry patches looked like little half bushel baskets as black green as ever existed, and those problematic fancy daffodils were teasing the heck out of me with bunches of blooms on each side of the Batik Irises(Iris is both a heirloom, as well as inherited blessing of good luck 'round here because many are passed from generation to generation). And then came the sackcloth.

During a big family event at easter (aka: show-boat time),the freeze hit. The strawberries in the end looked like they could never possibly recover being completely flattened on the frozen ground. All bloomed orchard trees seemed completely destroyed, and there was actually ice an eighth inch thick on many things, and of course I'm suppose to be a good host. Would anyone like to have some fancy daffodil bulbs? So I dig into the very depth of my old-school resolve, and say well, the cabbage made it.

So here I go visiting every single strawberry plant pulling dead blooms--oh yes, it's a lot of strawberries. Cursing a little because I felt I deserved it (God and I get along that way, as Mark Twain is my soul-brother), I pulled my reserve cauliflower, brussel sprouts and other things from the green house and replanted. The damaged asparagus had my insides in knots, and the thought of no cherries had me researching how to make moonshine.

The first few days the strawberries kept opening up damaged blooms (little black spots in the kernels). The first opening I said, 'ah yes'-some strawberries, then realized they were dead blooms.
So yes, I visited every plant again, and pulled 'those' dead blooms. Then finally, a live bloom appeared after much Miracle Grow, various mountainous rituals learned from the mountain granny up in the hollow, who 'knows' God personally I'm sure, more blooms appeared. Then some more damaged blooms--yep, I pulled them all again. Of course this ended up nicely, as today, I noticed the strawberries are heavy with beautifully healthy blooms, and that green I'm use to was starting to show off(The cherries and apples rebounded too). This story though is far, from over.

Just as I got the other types of plants stablized and lookin good--my gardens have to look good too--I noticed something eating on a cabbage plant. Over the next couple days, all of the replanted cabbage except one, and all the cauliflower were nubbs!. Now, I know people who use to eat groundhog, but I don't. Then I thought, 'ya know, my uncle threatened to bring a tarapin over hear last year he found in his garden'. But the good Lord knows me too well,and retribution always bights me in the tail. What the storybook didn't tell you is that Paul Bunyon is sometimes a little competitively honary, molded by a wonderful real conscience formed I think, by mountains--a sensibility that makes philosophy seem trite. The groundhog though, no longer lives under the out-building, and my final wave of cole-crops are ready to roll--and of course lookin good. No Ms. Anne, I'm not tired. ;).

And --in the.........''mean time''......, up above the house where I saw a bear pass through last year(another real blog), a coal truck turns over, dumping about 30 tons of excellent excellent coal. Having permission to get what we wanted before the cleanup Monday, here I go again. Load after load after load, I moved twenty tons of coal the past couple days--oh what the heck, I can mow the upper 40 in between loads. But this one I sort of won. My uncle who would drop off a tarapin on our side of the mountain, because I swear I think he was dropped on his head as a baby, didn't find out about the coal until I was about 15 tons in.

Now he is 82, and hasn't missed a lick working since he was about 10. He stops on the highway as we are loading with the predictable questions, saying of course he'll be right back after the baseball game, and I look at him with the biggest blackened faced grin I could manage and out of nowwhere said, 'you're gonna have to beat me to it'! ;). Oh God--wrong thing to say.

Now mountain folk are sensitive by nature, and do remember that retribution thing. Yes, I loaded his truck several times too. He'd never seen two tons of coal on a small truck...Let's see that'll make 26 loaded, 20 unloaded. I am not, I am not, I am not, going to say what's next!. But be assured, a mountain boy will survive!. No Ms. Anne, I'm not tired. ;).

And some think Flesch is hard? (honary half-cynical: huh)...

The Sarabande I'm working on is an original interpretation I think, because I'm certain it was written for lute or guitar or something. There are about two measures in the last theme that is still thinking it's a groundhog because I'm transposing it for violin live and real time rather than to piano first. I've played it for years on guitar, and God forbid when I finish it on violin--it will and I do mean it will, receive a dedication of all the angst of just another day on the mountain this year. And I love it--every minute of it...

I actually do love the Sarabande--it's hauntingly beautiful on violin(BWV997). I think I'll wear sackcloth when it's ready for consumption. You see good reader (Oh God, I'm sounding like Henry Fielding), in the mountains, the music really does lead the way.

From Robert Berentz
Posted on April 23, 2007 at 10:59 AM
Your asparagus beds sound great. In Idaho we have them growing wild on our irrigation ditch banks, so we don't have to plant them.

I have a spot by the road that all the "road hunter's" know about, but I'm weeding them out. I no longer burn in the fall and they come up in thick grass and you have to be on foot to see them first.

I also take the heads in the fall with the red seeds and scatter them to a back ditch and have them started back there now.

I discovered "greasy beans" at a Jackpot NV Missionary Church supper and they have become my bean of choice. The minister is from North Carolina. I live only ten miles from Blue Lakes Blvd. in Twin Falls Idaho where that variety started and the sugar snap pea came from a single plant that wasn't rogued by teenage girls and the seed companies researcher came over and tagged it and developed it into our favorite stir fry.

I raise Clivia in the Living Room and practice there. I was dousing them with Neem oil last night as powdery mildew has set in. I hope I win that battle for seven of my baby Clivia starts three years ago cost me the price of a beginner violin.

I buy my Neem oil by the gallon off the Net being careful because in India they can put it into a throw away harsh chemical barrels and ruin it and make it toxic. Neem stops trunk borers in fruit trees and can be rubbed into the sap pockets and still kill them, is great for gum disease, stops nats in horses ears and will stop sugar dibities.

I have a Dell computer and talk to the Indian techs while stuff is down loading and learn a lot about Neem oil and its uses. Thanks Dell.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 23, 2007 at 4:18 PM
My Moonvines froze two weeks ago, but I got new seeds and will start some more this week. I lead such a tough life!

Also, does groundhog taste like chicken?

From Patricia Baser
Posted on April 23, 2007 at 11:49 PM
I played in the West Virginia Symphony when it was still called the Charleston Symphony (about 1986). We would drive down from Athens, OH and we had to make sure we left before 4 o'clock or we would be tailing the coal trucks. I also remember playing the opera in April and beginning the week in shorts, only to have a surprise knee high snow hit the area.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 2:59 AM
I'd imagine it's like pork.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 3:38 AM
You are one helluva hard worker. You have faith, too, or you wouldn't try against such odds. I admire you.
From Albert Justice
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 3:07 PM
Never had it, I have fried a couple turtles.

Thanks Pauline, but it's not that unusual to find folks who love the mountains and live it, like we do--even far beyond here--avocation 5:"Alpine Studies"--our version of the Southern Living magazine--now there's an ideal.

The straweberries not only rebounded the past 3 days, but have come like back (I'm telling myself) equal to what was coming on before the freeze. Time to mulch.

The wild asparagus I've heard of. I started another hundred plants by seed in the greenhouse, and may next year find a place to just broadcast some to see what happens. These plants were part of Rutgers research in conjunction with Jersey farms, and wondeful. I fixed a homemade chicken and fresh asparagus pot pie last night that was amazing. (anyone want the original recipe email me--it's a little involved if truly from scratch--'chicken asparagus stock for the homemade sauce').

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 1:28 AM
Please, Please, PLEASE post your chicken and asparagus pot pie recipe.


(Well, it sounds really good).

From Albert Justice
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 3:01 AM
sheesh--the things I do for you Anne! ;).

Fresh Asparagus Chicken Pot Pie ala fresh mashed potaotes.

Stage 1 (it sounds involved and is, but done leisurely no big deal).
1-clean the fresh asparagus in cold water, and take off the ground tips normally discarded (since I use alot of asparagus, I have plenty of ground ends to use--I used about 2 pounds for example in my last one, so had about a cup and half ground ends). Retain these ends, and put in a two quart pot.

2-Add 3 chicken bullion and 4.5 cups water along with a chopped medium size onion, salt, pepper, and a tsp sugar.

3-Simmer this absolutely as long as you can making sure you have at least 3.75 cups stock for your sauce, adding a little water throughout the day if you have to. (or--you can speed things up and boil vigourously of course, but I was gardening and cooking most recently so put it on low etc...)

4-There's a couple ways to fix your boneless chicken breasts--those left over from buying chicken, I have oven roasted them with fresh garlic, or whatever--you need about 2.5 cups cubed to your preference.

5-Cut your fresh asparagus (I use about 2 pounds) in 2 inch pieces and steam it vigorously at least 20 minutes in a steamer boiler--or it can be roasted in the oven with a little butter--until tender.

6-Either make your crust from scratch or use Bisquick--I do both. Bisquick--I use 2.5 cups with milk to make a pancake batter consistency mixture (about 3.25 cups with milk added) Set aside while you make the sauce.

7-The Sauce. 1/2 stick real butter melted--I use a black iron skillet because of tradition. Add enough flour (about 3/4 cup) to make a saucy--not thick rue--I sift the flour (don't over brown the rue). Turn up the heat and slowly add the 'strained' chicken/asparagus stock stirring constantly, and cook about 10 minutes.

Mix the sauce, chicken, and asparagus and toss lightly, pouring the entire mixture into a large glass preferably baking dish, pouring (sort of drizziling the crust mixture) to cover the top. It will sink below the sauce, so just make sure you cover it--it will rise.

Bake for about 45 minutes in the oven (375-400). When it first starts browning, brush the top with melted butter and finish browining. I put mine on an oversize cookie sheet in case it runs over.

Serve on top of fresh made and whipped mashed potatoes. Simple fresh salad complements nicely.

I don't do left-overs often, but tonight I did, because this was amazing....

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 2:22 PM
Thank you, Mr. Al (Insert big smiley face here).

You don't do leftovers? Leftovers are the best!

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