Photo Friday: A Smoky Retreat

My wife and I just got back from a trip to the Smoky Mountains. It’s been over ten years since we were last there, though we weren’t too far away a couple of years ago when we visited Asheville, NC. This time around we rented a cabin near Pigeon Forge, TN, which let us cook many of our meals there and also gave us a great view of the sunset over the mountains every evening. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have both become even bigger tourist trap type destinations than they used to be, but our cabin was just far enough from the hustle and bustle to seem like we almost had the mountains to ourselves – at least most of the time. A couple of rocking chairs on a covered porch were a great place to start the day, and to watch the sun go down.

his and her rocking chairs

his and her rocking chairs

sunset in the Smokies

sunset in the Smokies

The fall is a great time to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, since it is considerably less crowded than it is in summer when bumper to bumper traffic is the norm. We did a couple of short hikes while we were there, including the popular 2.6 mile round-trip hike to see Laurel Falls. The falls were not as big and loud as they were the last time we saw them, since it has been dry in the area lately, but there was still plenty of water coming down.

us at Laurel Falls

us at Laurel Falls

But my favorite hike on this trip was the less popular Middle Prong Trail. It’s near Townsend, TN, and at the end of a three mile gravel road that leads to the trailhead. The trail itself is a converted railroad bed, and is wide with easy footing and a moderate climb. We did not hike the whole trail, but walked along it for a little over an hour. The NPS Day Hikes guide we picked up says it “follows a rollicking mountain stream with several cascades”, and I can’t improve much on that description. The water was never far from the trail, and it was pleasing to hear as well as see.

start of Middle Prong trail

start of Middle Prong trail

We also enjoyed visiting the Old Mill at Pigeon Forge. They were having their annual Heritage Day there on Saturday, with craft vendors and demonstrations to see. The water-powered gristmill there was built on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in the early 19th century, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The river was low on water while we were there, with barely enough flowing to turn the waterwheel, and not supplying enough power to actually grind any grains. They had ample supplies already ground up however, and I picked up both corn meal and a bag of grits to bring back home with me. The corn meal is coarsely ground by the two-ton stone burrs, and only lightly sifted to remove any larger pieces of corn that didn’t get ground up. The yellow grits I bought are coarse enough to use for polenta, which is likely how I will use most of them.

Old Mill at Pigeon Forge

Old Mill at Pigeon Forge

One demonstration showed how they make sorghum molasses the old fashioned way, using mule power. Sweet Sorghum is an annual plant related to sugar cane, and looks to me a lot like corn when it is growing, though a bit taller. It is a popular sweetener in much of the southern parts of the U.S. It has a distinctive flavor that I find quite tasty, at least when it is well made. The mule (or horse) is hitched to a pole that powers the sorghum mill, which grinds the sorghum cane stalks to extract the juice.  I was struck by the irony of the old-fashioned mule power being used just a few feet away from an automobile!

sorghum mill in operation

sorghum mill in operation

The mule walks in circles, round and round, while someone sits at the mill to feed in the long stalks of sorghum cane. The greenish juice is then collected in a bucket as it runs out of the mill. What’s left of the cane after extracting the juice is usually spread back on the fields to compost and help nourish next year’s crop.

feeding the cane and extracting the juice

feeding the cane and extracting the juice

From the bucket, the juice is hauled off to an evaporator that is traditionally heated by a wood fire, though propane is sometimes used. That part of the operation is similar to boiling down the sap to make maple syrup. The setup for the demo was a smaller scale than ones used for production runs, but the process is still the same. Boil, skim off the foam and scum, and keep stirring often until it’s thick and ready to ladle out.

cooking down the sorghum

cooking down the sorghum

After cooking down, the sorghum syrup is thick and brown in color. It makes for fine eating when spread on a homemade biscuit, especially if there is some country ham or bacon involved! I also use it in rye bread, in place of the usual molasses. I find the taste of sorghum to be a bit less strong than molasses made from sugarcane, but not everyone agrees. I supposed it is a matter of what you are used to using.

sorghum syrup

sorghum syrup

There was one artist setup at the Hertitage Day who had fashioned various creations out of old tools and scrap metal for selling to Flatland Touristers like us. He had one he called his Wrench-O-Saurus, and I fell in love with it immediately! It’s made from what looks to be a large pipe wrench, with other tools and tool parts welded on strategically.

Wrench-o-saurus

Wrench-o-saurus

I knew it had to come home with us, where it joined a metal ‘stegosaurus’ I bought from one of the craftsman who worked with me at the aluminum plant in Kentucky. He donated it to our Relay for Life fundraising silent auction, and I managed to bid enough to win it without having to break the bank. I suspect I got it fairly cheap because not many of my co-workers truly appreciated this rustic (and rusty) art!

Wrench-o-saurus meets Stegosaurus

Wrench-o-saurus meets Stegosaurus

While we were there at the park one day, we had to get a photo at one of the park entrance signs. I normally set the camera on a rock, but park personnel had conveniently provided a wooden post to set your camera on, which made it easy!

entrance sign to park

entrance sign to park

It all made for a nice getaway. But as much as we enjoy getting away for a bit, it’s always nice to return to Happy Acres. And after being boarded at the vet, our two cats are happy to be back home too!

Puddin and Ace back home

Puddin and Ace back home

I hope you have enjoyed a few vacation photos, and I’ll be back soon with more adventures from Happy Acres.

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Posted in Photo Friday, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Harvest Monday September 26, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. I thought about calling this my Dehydrator Edition, since I have been keeping it busy lately. We picked up some Jonathan apples at the farmer’s market, and I dried quite a few of those. Apples are so easy to dry, you just slice them and put them right on the dehydrator trays.

sliced Jonathan apples for dehydrating

sliced Jonathan apples for dehydrating

The end result is 100% apple, and great for snacking. We use a lot of ours in hot and cold cereals too. We will no doubt pick up more local apples as the harvest season progresses. After drying I seal them up using the FoodSaver and then stick them in the freezer. They don’t need to be frozen of course, but I do find they keep longer that way.

dehydrated apples

dehydrated apples

I’ve also been drying a lot of peppers. I began with the jalapenos I smoked to turn into chipotles. I leave the peppers whole for the chipotles, and with the thick walls of the jalapeno peppers it means they take longer to dry. Last year I turned some into Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, so it’s nice to have them whole for that use. I will grind some of them up into powder too.

chipotles drying

chipotles drying

Many of the paprika peppers are ripening about now, and I’ve been drying them too. I’m growing several new ones this year, including Leutschauer, PCR and Boldog. All have some degree of heat, with Leutschauer being medium hot and the other two having just a bit of heat.

Leutschauer Paprika peppers

Leutschauer Paprika peppers

The Leutschauer peppers have thin walls, and my one plant is vigorous and loaded with peppers.

Leutschauer pepper

Leutschauer pepper

PCR Paprika looks a bit like the Feher Ozon pepper, though perhaps a bit bigger. The plants are definitely bigger, though not as big as the Leutschauer pepper. These peppers have thick walls, and should make a lot of paprika for that reason alone.

PCR Paprika peppers

PCR Paprika peppers

The Boldog pepper reminds me of the Dulce Rojo paprika peppers I’ve been growing for several years now. They are thin-walled and dry quickly.

Boldog Paprika pepper

Boldog Paprika pepper

I cut the paprika peppers in half and remove the seeds before drying. They all dried up nicely, and it looks like I should have plenty of them to make paprika with this year! The plants still have peppers on them, and more should ripen before our first frost. That’s the dried Leutschauer peppers in the below photo. I tasted one of the dried ones and they are spicy hot for sure.

dried Leutschauer Paprika peppers

dried Leutschauer Paprika peppers

And I was excited to cut the first of the fall broccoli last week. Actually it’s a brockali called Artwork, and though the main heads are small they are a sign of things to come since the side shoots will start developing now. The other fall broccoli plants are getting big, but there’s no sign of any more heads just yet.

broccoli Artwork

broccoli Artwork

My last harvest today is not for eating, at least not this year. I saved seeds from the Champagne Cherry tomatoes, letting them ferment for a few days. After that I rinse them off and put them on a paper coffee filter to dry. They don’t stick to the filter paper, and are easy to scrape off and package up. These are a tasty little tomato, and I will try and remember to share some of these seeds and any other interesting ones I have saved later on this year.

tomato seeds drying on filter paper

tomato seeds drying on filter paper

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!

 

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Posted in Harvest Monday | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments