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From the Mouth of the River

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The hardest part of harvest season is waiting 'til everything is ripe

Do you know how to put a paper towel diaper on a vine ripe tomato sandwich? I bet if you’re from the Midwest you do. Before paper towels were invented you had to eat tomato sandwiches over the sink, or go outside. You had to roll up your sleeves if you had a long-sleeved shirt on because the juice would run down your arm and off your elbow.

Aw, the good old days. In fact, they happened again at our house last week. That’s right, Lovie planted eight tomato plants this spring; four were cherry tomatoes and four were large tomatos. She nurtured them like they were her own children. I helped her build a plastic house for them this fall when it started raining, so they wouldn’t split from the rain. And guess what? Those plants are loaded down with tomatoes—not just any tomatoes, but with large, juicy red ripe ones the size of grapefruit. I haven’t been this excited sense the hogs ate my little brother.

The tough part was waiting until they actually ripened before picking one; however, the cherry tomatoes ripened first, the sun golds and the reds. We ate as many as we could but they finally overtook us and started to gain in volume. That’s when Lovie and our neighbor lady, Barb, started making salsa. I didn’t even know Barb was Mexican! But those two gals are staying up with the tomatoes. In fact, I had to threaten them with bodily harm to keep them out of the big tomatoes, and our house smells like a Mexican salsa factory, but let me tell ya, Man, this is some good stuff. We even had fried green tomatoes and now the Salsa Queens are thinking about Chow-Chow, canned stewed tomatoes and tomato catsup. I haven’t had homemade tomato catsup since I was a big old ugly kid. I don’t know how much more of this good stuff I can take!

The only thing they haven’t tried is, Heaven forbid, tomato juice wine. All this canning is a lot of work and it’s like having a yard full of puppies; there’s a lot of cleaning up to do. But it’s worth it. This winter, when the snow is deep and the game is on, all of this will be worthwhile. Salsa and chips followed up with a bowl of Elk stew made with potatoes, carrots and onions from the garden topped off by a big bowl of peach cobbler made from fresh, frozen Green Bluff peaches we put up. Warmed for the third time by the firewood we cut, split and stacked, one might just doze off into slumber on the couch. Someone will tell you later how the game came out.

All this canning by the Salsa Queens brings back childhood memories of when my Grandma would can everything in the garden and I would have to carry it all down to the cellar for her. But she didn’t just can what was in the garden; no sir, we went down on the creek bottom and it was my job to climb up the wild grape vines that grew up the cottonwood trees and cut loose bunches of possum grapes until we had enough to make grape jelly for the year. A possum grape is about the size of a sweet pea and strong as all get out; it takes a lot of sugar to sweeten the juice but it’s the best jelly you ever ate. It takes a wagon box full of grapes to make enough jelly to last a nine-year-old boy a year if he lets his Dad have a bite once in a while. For those of you who don’t know how much a wagon box holds, it’s about what you could pile up in a pickup truck bed.

I always liked to harvest Possum grapes because that’s the only time the folks would let me swing on the vines. "Now you be careful up there and stop showing off you little idjit, if you fall outta that tree and break your neck I’ll whip your butt! Besides, who would I get that was dumb enough to crawl up there and get my grapes?"

One other thing about those grape vines; when they were dead in the fall or winter you could break off short pieces and smoke them just like a cigarette because they were hollow. Some times you would suck fire down your throat but what the heck, you were acting like a grown-up anyway what with all that hackin’ and coughin’ and they made your lips red and swollen. We were going through the early stages of idiocy!

The last of our fall harvest was the pecans. Again, it would be the boys who would crawl up the pecan trees and, using a long cane pole, we would thrash the pecans off the outer branches of the trees on to a wagon sheet where they would be easy to collect.

Then there were the black walnuts; Dad would hang them from the rafters of the barn in a gunny sack to dry and take down the ones he had hung there last year. On cold winter days us kids would break the hulls using a hammer and a brick and pick out the goodies with a eight penny nail. Granny would then make divinity if it was a clear day or fudge if it was cloudy.

Ah, the good old days.

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Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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