Suburban Homesteading in Southwestern PA

By Stacy Artis

July 22, 2003

My goodness, but the past week was a trial!  One of our nieces from Delaware is visiting family all this month and last week she came to stay with us.  We were excited as we are not close to her parents and have only seen her a handful of times before this.  We were looking forward to spending time with her and getting to know her.  To our dismay she turned out to be a most unpleasant child much in need of being taught some manners.  On top of that, the weather was nice and Matt and Megan's friends and cousins all were underfoot because of the swimming pool.  I don't think I had five minutes to myself all week and keeping all of them in drinks and snacks was an expense we really didn't need.  Because of the way the pay periods fall, Tim hasn't yet had a paycheck from the new job he started June 30.  This Friday will be the first.  It pays very well, but after a month with no income things are very tight.  I got very little done in the garden or house all week as I spent most of my time supervising them in the pool and keeping them fed.  The house was a disaster by the time our niece left Friday evening and things began returning to normal.  I forbid any of the kids friends in the house Saturday and took back control.  This week Megan has gone with her cousin to another aunt's home.  I am loving the peace and quiet.

Yesterday's trip to the library yielded a great surprise.  I found the whole PBS Frontier House series on DVD.  I had wanted to see it when it was aired, but wasn't able to.  I put disc one in yesterday afternoon and was hooked.  Tim and Matt even ended up watching some of it with me.  I finished watching it this morning.  It was fascinating to watch 21st century families deal with 19th century homesteading.  Two of the families had the right mindset, I thought.  The third, a wealthy family from Southern California, had some major mental hurdles to deal with.  They never did quite seem to get it.  They always wanted more.  They had to have the best and they were willing to compromise the historical accuracy and the law in some cases to get what they wanted.  The children showed more growth and change than the adults in the family.  What was interesting, too, was that they all felt they learned valuable lessons about what is really important but when they returned to real life it didn't seem like it made any difference.  They all seemed to drop back into their old patterns.  The wealthy man thought it was great that he had mowed his own grass for the first time in 15 years.....he also moved into a new mansion and said he's rarely home because of work so you can guess what's important to him.  Anyway, fascinating show.  Check your library for the DVD's if you haven't seen it.  I think you'll enjoy it.

I found my McMurray Hatchery catalog over the weekend.  It must have gotten mixed up in some magazines quite a while ago.  I didn't even know it had come and finding it was nearly as good as Christmas!  Tim and I spent Saturday evening pouring over the discriptions and making our wish list.  We are still hoping to get a few more chooks this summer.  What we also decided was that if we are, we are going to have to enlarge the coop and run somehow.  We were thinking maybe of just building a second small coop and run to house the younger birds until they can hold their own with the others and then use it for the meat birds.  We are also going to let the kids choose one chick of any kind for their own in hopes of sparking some interest.  It seems to be working.  Matt wants a Golden Polish, simply because he thinks it's the most ridiculous bird he's ever seen and Megan wants a Blue Silkie Bantam and she has expressed interest in maybe raising a chicken or two for the fair next year.  That would be wonderful!

My mom and her husband invited us for dinner after church on Sunday.  What a meal.  We got John a smoker for Christmas a couple of years ago and he did a turkey.  Delicious!  So moist and tender and the flavor was out of this world.  We also had some yellow beans and fried zucchini donated by a neighbor.  Our zucchini didn't make it this year, so it looks like I'm going to be looking for a good deal on it at one of the farm markets so I can freeze it to make our favorite zucchini dish, Zucchini Dumpling Stew.  I'm also on the lookout for pickling cukes so I can make Crystal Pickles.  Our tomatoes are doing great and the plants are loaded with good sized green fruits.  We've picked a few peppers, both green and hot.  I was supposed to have sweet red and yellow peppers as well, but it looks like there was some mislabeling at the nursery because we have an over abundance of hot peppers.  We also picked a lot of our onions this week because they'd gotten so big they were sticking up out of the ground.  Tim put vinyl shelving up in the rafters of his workshop and we are drying them there.

It rained again today, the first rain in a week or so, but we got another inch and there are puddles everywhere.  Since I couldn't get outside, I've been working on a latch hook rug.  I have several large kits that I never seem to get around to.  I'm going to try to stick with it and work on them whenever I can.  They are really beautiful kits and I'd like to give them as Christmas gifts this year.  I also baked about 10 dozen chocolate chip cookies.  We haven't had sweets in the house for a while so it is a treat for Tim and Matt who love my chocolate chip cookies and will probably devour them all in a couple of days!

Here are the recipes for Zucchini Dumpling Stew and Crystal Pickles.  Hope you enjoy them.

Zucchini Dumpling Stew
6 slices bacon
1 med. onion, diced
1 med. green pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
8 cups stewed tomatoes
4 cups diced, unpeeled zucchini
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 cups biscuit mix
milk (according to directions on biscuit mix)

Cook zucchini until tender in salted water.  Drain.
Cut bacon into small pieces and brown in a 4-qt pan until crisp.  Add onion, celery and green pepper.  Cook 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes, zucchini, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.
Mix biscuit mix and milk together according to package directions for dumplings.  Drop dough by Tbsps. into boiling stew.  Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.  Cover and simmer another 10 minutes or until dumplings are done.  Serve over dumplings.

Crystal Pickles
5 quarts sliced cucumber.  Stand in salt water strong enough to carry an egg for 4 days (3/4cup salt).
Next stand overnight in cold water with 3 Tbsp. powdered alum.  Rinse well with cold water.

Syrup:  1qt. vinegar, 5lbs sugar, 1tsp whole cloves, 1 stick whole cinnamon and 1tsp. celery seed. 

Bring syrup to a boil and pour over pickles.  Reheat everyday (just syrup).  On the fourth day heat syrup and pickles till hot.  Put in jars and seal.

**Add green food coloring on the last day.