Grunt, Chapter 52: Punch a Bull


With four virile young Smith studs newly on the scene and stirring hormones, several young mothers were pushing hard for a celebration feast during which the genders could mingle a-all night long. A couple of them hadn’t been impressed when it was pointed out that partying right now would be just a wee bit premature, none of the beef animals were going to be converted into steaks at this time as the herd size needed to increase to meet the community’s future needs before the skinning knives came out, or even that a few more preparations for an expected outlaw raid took precedence over social functions. They did, however, settle down some after learning that two more eligible bachelors of the same strong bloodline would be present and interested when we did authorize a hoedown.

Not that they knew what a hoedown might be; their ignorance gave rise to several bawdy jokes.

“Suppose anybody knows how to make music?” I asked the question in passing, not putting much of anything into it. Lauren, Michael, and I were seated on rough-carved log seats in front of our home tent, which was considerably larger than the small travel canvas we used on the trail. There was a bit of crisp snap to the evening air, but the cooking fire radiated enough heat to make the ambience almost balmy despite being nicely burned down to a worthy bed of coals. It was our second night at the Roost; Michael and I would be joining three of the four Smith men on the trail back to Smith Mountain at first light. Hawk Smith would be staying behind, simply because the Smiths weren’t about to leave the cattle herd alone with no one else cow-experienced and several large predators still unaccounted for. Lieutenant Blake had reported the demise of the last, late rising bear–a boar grizzly in his prime, thankfully not a mother with cubs. The kids did not need to see baby bears murdered because humans feared their mother. But there was still at least one mountain lion showing tracks. The big cat could obviously leave at any time–a wooden stockade being no obstacle to a kitty with claws–but Blake was far from certain the cougar had pulled up stakes despite all the human activity in the vicinity.

The younger children were kept under the eagle eyes of wary mothers and the older boys were cautioned to explore at least in pairs, with kid-sized spears in hand. Kitty would definitely eat a five year old, given the opportunity.

Also thankfully, the two young boys who’d first spotted the bear knew enough to break the rule and split up, one running to find the Lieutenant and the other keeping an eye on the ravenous bruin. “I was sure wishing I’d had your .358,” he’d told Michael, “but my carbine managed to get the job done.” Michael hadn’t asked for details.

The hide hadn’t been worth saving, nor the long-denned animal’s meat worth eating. The carcass had simply been dumped over the edge at what was now being called Sendoff Point at the extreme southwest corner of the mesa. Bodies dumped there ended up landing in one of the steaming fissures, getting boiled thoroughly and dissolved in the process. We couldn’t have dreamed up a better natural midden.

Lauren stopped turning the spit and announced, “Time to eat!”

We each cut our own slices from the venison roast, mainly because our appetites varied wildly. Lauren’s inch thick slab looked positively dainty next to my two inch thick serving, but neither of us could compare with the massive chunk our man carved away from the pitiful remainder. Must have been four pounds of solid protein, right there. He hadn’t been eating all that well these past few days, but his need to feed was clearly back in full bloom.

Meat and a little salt, with the deer’s haunch still medium rare in the center. That was it, no vegetables or anything else. We had potatoes on hand, but every one that had survived the winter in the Smith Mountain root cellar would be needed for planting, which would need to be done soon. At least, according to Mace, and he should know. Lauren read my mind, though. “Dandelions will be up shortly,” she said, “and we’ll have some of the finest greens anywhere.”

I hadn’t known dandelion leaves were edible. It turns out the blossoms make a delicate tea, young leaves are awesome salad greens even raw, though often eaten cooked, and the roots are loaded with nutrients, not to mention capable of some pretty impressive detoxing. Who knew?

True, I had an excuse. For whatever reason, we Gundersons had never seen a dandelion in the Fort 24 area. But they were present here, apparently.

I must have been woolgathering. Michael had already inhaled his mountain of meat and needed to talk. “Ladies,” he began soberly, “first of all, I thank you for the fine meal.” It was a rule with him never to insult the cook, or cooks in this case. But there was something else on his mind. “Got a confession to make.”

Lauren just raised one perfectly arched eyebrow. I had to ask. “A confession?”

“Yep.” He belched loudly. Nothing to do with his forthcoming confession, hopefully. “But it’s ugly, tells how I um, arranged for certain people to be murdered. Part of the baggage from my past. If you don’t care to hear it, I’ll understand.”

“Oh no, you don’t. No teaser like that and leave us hanging. Although…Lauren?” Our partner always seemed so slender and delicate to me, and she was certainly not a killer; perhaps she wouldn’t want to hear about this.

“If Michael needs to unburden himself,” she replied quietly, “I can stand it.” I noticed she didn’t say she wanted to hear it.

“Well….” He looked us each in the eye by turns. It cost him, though; the effort was obvious. “Had another nightmare last night…more a dream, really, I guess. It wasn’t anything I’d repressed. Not this time. But I’d done my best not to think about it for a lot of years. Figured it was telling me, hey, your girls need to know about this, and even if they don’t, you need to tell somebody. And since I’m not Catholic, a priest is out of the question…not that we have a priest here….

“Ah, I’m stalling. Jumping right in now.” His hands worked against themselves as he spoke, clutching. Writhing. I was pretty sure he was unaware of their motions. “A lot of faces were blurs when I first came to Fort Steel as a slave, but some stuck. Couldn’t have forgotten them if I tried, and sometimes I did try. Some of those burned into my brain were the butchers who slaughtered my parents right in front of me. There were three of them, and all three of them…it didn’t seem like cutting down unarmed civilians, man or woman, that didn’t bother them even a little bit. To put it nicely. It was obvious they enjoyed what they did. Satanic, if you will.”

The night suddenly seemed colder. I wanted to stoke up the fire, add some wood, but not while Michael was talking; I didn’t dare break the trance that seemed to hold him. I did sneak a quick glance at Lauren; her expression was composed, but sad. I have seldom seen such sadness in another person’s face. Then I realized some of that sadness was probably my own, reflected in my sister wife….

“When we got to Steel, at first I couldn’t function. I was only nine, I was in shock, and I was being brutalized on a regular basis to boot.” His voice was not exactly a monotone, but it wasn’t exactly the Michael we knew, either. The only word I could ascribe to it was eerie. “But by my tenth birthday–I remembered exactly when that was–I had names to put to the three butchers. Ross, Bindle, and Stark. First or last names, who knew, but that’s what the others called them, and that was good enough for me. I celebrated my tenth birthday by getting whipped in the morning for mouthing off to somebody–don’t remember who, I got so many whippings–and then later in the day, finding a way to sneak a free moment. In that moment, I made a solemn, whispered vow of revenge, vowed to see each of these three animals dead. Marked my left wrist by scraping across it with a sharp rock I’d found, three marks, scraped until they bled.”

He lifted his left hand, palm forward, and pulled his buckskin shirt sleeve back a bit so we could see. The three scars were thin, faded, but still visible. My heart was in my throat; controlling the tears that wanted to flow, I didn’t dare look at Lauren. I’d never noticed those marks. Michael’s body was so scarred, they’d simply escaped my notice as a handful of saplings in the midst of a huge forest might go unremarked.

“It took me three years to get the job done,” he continued, the tone of his recital now nothing more than a clerk reciting sales statistics for the day’s marketing. “There are thousands of ways to kill a human, but most of them were off limits to me. I could find poison; there are plenty of toxic substances all around us, and we had the foundry as well. But poison was out, too risky, no guaranteed success anywhere and no way to get the job done without being found out. Blades maybe, but again, stab somebody as a slave kid and see how likely you are to go unnoticed. The list went on. What I finally realized was that I’d have to be sneakier than the sneakiest rat citizen in all of Fort Steel, and that changed my thinking.”

He quit looking at us and stared into the shimmering coals. “Stark died first. Believe it or not, the man was married, but his wife was super jealous. With some reason; Stark was one of those who used the new slave women and girls a lot. But Gracie Stark didn’t seem likely to off her man in a jealous rage over a slave. It would have to be a citizen, someone she saw as above her. And I didn’t want her killing the other woman I was going to use.

“But we were being taught our letters steadily by that time. I became the teacher’s best student, working super hard to master the presentation of the written word. And I did; I got so I could forge a perfect copy of anybody’s handwriting, if only I got a sample to study for a while. Stark didn’t write well, but he wasn’t totally illiterate. His hand was sloppy and included lots of misspelled words, let alone horrible punctuation and questionable grammar, but he did write. In fact, as a militia member, he had to write reports at certain times, and one day I managed to steal a page which included his signature and everything.

“Then I finally spotted the girl I called my catalyst. Olga was–probably still is–one of the prettiest females in all of Fort Steel. Adult but still single, though she had at least half a dozen young bucks begging to marry them. Stark ogled her every time he got the chance, but she was above him socially, some relation to the foundry manager, and he never tried to take it any farther than that.

“Gracie had seen him eyeballing the lass, though–I overheard that much one day–and within the week, I had an unfinished Ode to Olga, which went something like this.”

by Stark
Ya never encurraged me evin wun time
But I jist gotta write ya this desperit rime
I’m jist a pore solejer but if ya will lissen
Teers of luv down yer sweet cheeks gotta glissen
I’d leeve my ole ladey in half uv a hartbeet
Jist tell me sweet Oelgah ya feel the heet
My soon to be X is an uglee ole cow
Compaird ta yer buty o I luv ya now!!!
I need sum mor verses to Finnish this Owed
Lets jist run away an hit the ole rode
Cuz C thers a seecrit that nobody

“I left it like that, unfinished. Crumpled it up good like it’d been in Stark’s uniform pants pocket and he’d forgotten to take it out before sending his stuff to the laundry that week. See, at Fort Steel, one of the perks the militia had, to make up for their poor pay, was free laundry service, and guess who did the laundry? Yep, us little old slaves, you betcha. This was before I was assigned to the foundry, wasn’t big enough yet to be much use there, but they could sure enough work me to the bone in the laundry. We were of course required to check pockets before washing anything, and when the uniforms were returned, all clean and dry, any pocket contents we’d found were sent right along with the uniforms. Stark was out on patrol the day Gracie found that note. When he got back home, tired and probably cranky, ready for supper, she took the butcher knife and cut his throat with one great slashing swing.”

He stopped for a moment, shifting his gaze from the coals to look at us once again. His eyes were haunted. “Stark bled out right there, kicking and thrashing his life out on their kitchen floor, unable even to protest his innocence.”

When Michael stopped speaking this time, it was for good. Lauren said nothing either, but after an eternity of time had passed, I found I had a question. “What happened to Gracie?”

Our mate laughed, a short, harsh bark. “Oh, they would have hung her, but she’s a good looking woman, the note maybe helped a little, and most of all, she was pregnant. These days, as you know, nobody throws away a new life lightly. We have no choice but to cull the bad actors out of the herd, but untested babies are precious beyond comprehension. Strator Tucker decreed that she could live on three conditions: She had to agree to be impregnated yearly until the age of thirty-five, and she was I think twenty-three at the time. She had to give up every child for adoption the moment it was born, so as not to infect the babe with her taint. And she could never remarry or even live with a man, ever again.”

“So,” Lauren sounded thoughtful. “A slave in all but name.”

“Yeah.” Michael spit into the coals, as if trying to get a bad taste out of his mouth. “But Gracie Stark was way too fiery to take that lying down. So to speak. She agreed to the conditions, there being no other real option. But within a month, she’d outfitted herself with a pretty decent pack of stolen supplies and slipped out of the fort one night. On foot; she’d never ridden and wouldn’t have known how to handle a horse if she’d had one.”

“At least,” I observed, “she never found out you conned her into killing her man. I take it they never found her?”

“They never did.” Michael’s eyes were clearing up some: I was relieved to see that. “But there are stories. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s running with King Arthur’s band of Raiders.”

We stopped to recover, brewing a pot of tea and slowly drinking the herbal concoction before continuing, but our man with the much-scarred body told the stories of the other two murders he’d engineered before we turned in for the night. Each one had made him sick when it was done, but he’d taken his vow seriously, only grieving over the collateral damage to innocents he’d manipulated after the killing was done. By the time we turned in, I was grieving, too–mostly for the young boy who’d engineered three deaths by his thirteenth birthday despite being in the eyes of Fort Steel a helpless, battered, undersized slave kid.

On the good side, it takes one to know one. As our community grew, sneakiness would at some point rear its reptilian head…but it was unlikely to ever steal a march on our fearless leader.


Spring, Year 41 AF

The Jades and our boys rode in just at dusk, all of them amazed at what they found, at the decision I’d had to make, at all the work we’d gotten done in the six days they’d been gone. Grown hogs slaughtered and smoked, weaners penned for crating in the a.m. Implements broken down and ready to load in panniers. Seed potatoes sacked, dried apples boxed. Horse herd brought in from north slope pasture and corralled. So on and so forth. No sentry tonight; odds against getting hit before daylight are in our favor and we all need the sleep; tomorrow will be rough.

For who knows what reason, the Before world intrudes on my thoughts this evening. Billions upon billions of humans, carpeting the world. Fools who worked not at all, opportunists who specialized in living on the backs of others–like today’s Raiders but lazier, often doing nothing but music or art or playing stupid games from “video” to “sports,” or heaven help me tinkering with the minds of others. Genocide, serial killers, rapists, terrorists, parasites, predators and prey of every shape and kind. Did not see it then, caught up like all the rest as God scrubbed the surface of the planet, but this world is better, at least for now.

Too bad my time here is almost up.



Questions crowded my mind, screaming for answers. “How can we possibly move the rest of your outfit in a single trip, Zeb?” It wasn’t making sense. Yes, they had nearly fifty more horses than we’d realized, an entire herd running loose in high mountain meadows, protected by a fierce, brown range stud with iron muscles and a nasty disposition, led by an equally tough black mare. Yes, I could believe we were going to be packing a multi-string group of more than thirty cargo critters, smoked and salted hog meat in some of the panniers, younger piglets crated in others with air holes included. But they were still leaving behind, by my guess, nearly eighty percent of everything they owned. Despite the difficulties that would have been involved in transporting all of that to the Roost, such a huge…abandonment…made no sense to me.

“Got a strong hunch, Michael.” Zeb dug out his short stemmed pipe, tamped it full of some aromatic plant leaves that didn’t interest me at all, and lit up. Two of his sons were setting out supper for the bunch of us. A cold supper, thick ham and cheese sandwiches; mother Sara had left enough bread to keep us going through the week. The old man drew in smoke and let it out through his nose in an obviously satisfying ritual. Whatever he was smoking was almost like incense; the kitchen suddenly smelled better. “Don’t believe we’ve got enough time to haul it all. Going by the original plan, it would have taken us another full month before we were done. I can feel the axe falling, and I’ve learned not to ignore that feeling.”

Oh. Well. Smith had survived the Fall, had lived this long when almost no one else had matched his record. Refusing to acknowledge what his sixth sense was telling him would be tantamount to suicide.

“Going to take a lot of rebuilding,” I observed, donning my Captain Obvious persona.

“True.” He nodded, accepting a sandwich and dipping himself a mug of water from the crock on the table. “But we’re taking every single tool. Enough to make half a dozen pack horses cranky,” he chuckled, contemplating the drink in his hand, “but we’ve got six strong men and no excuses.” He deposited the mug on the table, then lifted the sandwich to his mouth and took a bite worthy of a hippopotamus. Not that I’d ever seen a hippopotamus; it just sounded like a fun word to say, even in my head. Hippopotamus. Hippopotamus.

I’d gotten halfway through my own meal, Julia munching companionably by my side on the bench, our thighs touching, before it hit me. “Six strong men?” I asked between bites. “You don’t count as a seventh?”

He grinned at me, flashing a barricade of yellowed, rather snaggly teeth. I was a little surprised to realize he still had them. “I used to, but my grip isn’t what it used to be. Back in the day, all alone for those years after the Fall prior to Sara, I was in such physical condition. Michael, I could swing an axe literally from dawn to dusk. Or a hammer, or work a saw. Grab a bite here and there, but mostly work, work, work. I had to work if I wanted to survive the memories of the world as it had been, the pain of its death. I’d grown up fascinated with music, even apprenticed myself to a luthier for a few years in my late teens, making guitars, and learned I had a bit of talent with a fiddle. Then got interested in diseases of the mind, and threw myself into the study. The mind, mind you, but what you thought didn’t make a hill of beans worth of difference when Capriosi vilify came to call. So I had to shut down mentally and focus on physical survival, first and foremost, and that changed me. I was a stud, boy. I was a stud.”

I didn’t take offense and Zeb calling me boy. Frankly, I didn’t even realize he’d done it until much later; I was utterly caught up in his recital. What was left of my sandwich sat forgotten in my hand.

“How strong was I, back then? You don’t have to believe it, but my first bull was an ornery sort at times, and one day when he charged me in the corral, he irritated me a bit and I punched him right between the eyes. Hairline broke a couple of knuckles, probably, from the way it felt and the flattened look of those knuckles ever since, but I knocked that seventeen hundred pound sucker out. There was an antique movie, long before my time, but it had a cult following that kept it alive till the end. Blazing Saddles. In it, this brute of a character, played by a former professional athlete as I recall, this simple minded but burly Mongo, he knocks out a horse. Except that was not real, a horse is likely easier to thump than a thick headed bull, and I really did that.”

“Wow.” I could feel Julia trembling slightly, trying to keep from laughing. She clearly figured the old fellow was telling a tall tale. But was he? Either way, wow seemed the appropriate response.

“Yeah.” He didn’t grin this time, but his eyes did twinkle. “Wow. And ow. I had to nurse that hand for a good two weeks after that. Bull never charged me again, though, so maybe it was worth it. Thing is, those days are behind me. This afternoon, I straightened up from shoeing one of the horses, walked off about ten steps, and all of a sudden my legs gave out from under me. Ended up on the ground. Only good thing about it was, my stalwart sons were working elsewhere and didn’t see that happen. Didn’t see me on the ground like a feeble old far–fellow. Took me several minutes to get back up. The spell passed, but sooner or later it’ll come back. Won’t be working livestock on the ground any more; my sons are going to have to take over. You know, I can stand my body failing. What I can’t stand is embarrassment.”

It was hard not to look around to check, but my peripheral vision was enough to confirm that his sons were hearing this for the first time, as I was. And they liked it even less than I did.

24 thoughts on “Grunt, Chapter 52: Punch a Bull

  1. Wowsers! what a buildup! And I’m only surprised that Gracie didn’t help King Arthur attack Fort Steel…
    Well I hope the second trip from Smith Mountain goes well! πŸ˜€

  2. Good to see this on here tonight. I really enjoyed it and I know Zeb’s feelings about getting out while the getting’s good. I was ready to get out for several months before we got out of TN, when we moved here. Things have been much calmer and quieter here. I also understand leaving some things that are just not as important. We did that also, although we did get the most important things. I am kinda surprised that they did not know about dandelions being good for so much. I have known about that for years. I tried them a couple of times, but I guess they are an acquired taste. Salad was just a little too bitter for my taste. The tea isn’t bad though.

  3. My grandma used to pick baby dandelion leaves and make a salad with hot bacon dressing. Yum! The dandelion leaves are only good when they’re new after a few weeks they get bitter.
    Every once in a while dandelions come up in my life. They were brought here from europe with early settlers if I was told correctly. They are considered weeds here but not over there. I don’t recall if they’re considered a crop or herb or what over there.

  4. Manny: For all we know, Gracie could have advised King Arthur NOT to attack Fort Steel. Not directly, anyway. Michael and Julia did a number on it from the inside, but it’s clearly proven itself a fairly tough to crack from without. Then again, maybe she doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, period. Who knows? We don’t even know for sure (yet) that she IS with Arthur–though if she is, being so attractive and all, she’s undoubtedly his main squeeze.
    Becky: Glad you enjoyed it. I’d been having a tough time getting it done, simply due to my focus on “house fixing.” But yesterday I got the kitchen finished (“Luminous Cloud” light blue painted walls, interior window trim done, and plastic Walmart blinds replaced with some of the basswood blinds that had been sitting in the garage since last summer). Living room comes next; when the window trim is done, the walls will be painted in a peach color–though the chip I chose calls it “Saucy CrΓ¨me.” Today it was lawn mowing time, and even though the nearly brand new mower broke down (I suspect the automatic choke mechanism) and the mower’s in the shop, my friend Chris came by and finished the job. When that was done–hey, why not write a little? And voila, #52 published.

    Zeb Smith choosing to cut his losses and get moving…yeah, I can certainly relate to that, too. Even for just the move from the Border Fort to Montana a year ago, I completely filled a 40 cubic yard roll off dumpster with discards and still barely had enough room in the U-Haul truck.
    Becky and Mary: Growing up on the ranch, we never did use dandelion leaves for salad and knew nothing about the tea. But my mom did educate us on the baby leaves (avoiding the bitter, as Mary specified). She boiled them and served them that way, not unlike boiled spinach. I’ve always thought they were better than spinach, if picked early enough.

    Mary, my online research, which I did for backup before writing about dandelions in this chapter, confirms that they were brought here by early settlers. Not once did I find mention of the key fact that they’re best if picked early, though, which is an interesting omission. I was in my thirties when I impulsively tried the blossoms for tea one day. Hadn’t read or heard about that at the time; it just suddenly seemed like a great idea.

  5. I was reading about the medicinal uses of dandelions, and they are VERY good for you. I am going to have to see if I can find some. None in my lawn though. LOL. I don’t think I have seen a single dandelion since I have been here. I think that is about the only weed I have not seen on my acreage. If I can find some, I may just grow some. I have an extra pot or two , that I can put some in.

  6. My great grand parents came from europe austria i think it was called then(emperor franz joseph). They knew dandelion salad with hot bacon dressing from slovenia (as its now called) . my grandmother made us this every spring , i tried to make it and the leaves were very bitter so grandma told the leaves had to be young to be tender and not bitter. I sure wish i could remember how to make that hot bacon dressing. You just poured.
    it over the leaves in the pan after making the dressing then pour into a serving bowl and toss. The leves wilted a little but it sure was a treat.
    My friends mom made dandelion wine.
    I also met a girl from new zealand who likes dandelion tea.

  7. Becky, I just love the idea of growing dandelions in pots. I’m sitting here chuckling, thinking how my neighbors would be scratching their heads if they saw me doing that. I don’t remember ever seeing a dandelion growing in Cochise County, though; it’s not really a desert rat by inclination.
    Mary, I’m guessing you could bottle that hot bacon dressing and sell it if you could remember the recipe; it sounds awesome.

  8. That recipe does look good! I’m extremely impressed with her step-by-step photos, the fact that she uses cast iron skillets, her occasional witticism, and a couple of sneaky tricks I hadn’t known before–especially the way she just turns off the heat under the eggs after they’re brought to a boil. Never once occurred to me to try it that way.

  9. Yeah, I like her site and recipes, and she has some really nice dishes, pots, pans, and other kitchen stuff at Walmart. Pretty, practical and not too pricey. Katy and I have gotten a few pieces. I made her broccoli cheddar soup and it was great.

  10. Thanks for the lead on the hot bacon dressing. It would work on spinach too. I haven’t checked it out yet, I hope its similar to grandma’s that would be wonderful. This is actually funny because we had 1 cast iron skillet just for that dressing and whatever grandma said had to be done in cast iron or it wasn’t done right. Makes me laugh thinking about it. It was also true some stuff is just better with the right tools.

  11. Becky: Didn’t know she had stuff at Walmart. Will have to keep an eye out, next trip to Butte.
    Mary: I’ve noticed there’s a huge different between cast iron products, too. My main Lodge skillet is kind of rough inside on the bottom and eggs will stick some, no matter how the pan has been seasoned…yet the smaller 8″ pan (made in Taiwan, no brand name on it, but definitely cast iron) is really smooth and eggs slide right out, no sticking. Found that pan at a local second hand store last year.

    And yeah, LOTS of stuff is “just better with the right tools.”

  12. Lodge is no good, a neighbor bought and sold cast iron pans. You need to check the surface of the cooking area make sure its smooth. New stuff made by lodge was not Jay’s idea of something to buy. He said the ones with numbers stamped on them and told me some brand names that I don’t recall. He used to sand down the inside and then season them a few times and got a fortune for the really good popular ones.
    Your lodge pan has a rough surface, I’m not sure if you can sand that down. I was told look for old cast iron at thrift stores, yard sales etc. Check the cooking surface. Good cast iron is not always cheap even 2nd hand.

    I also grew up with an antique business. I know all kinds of odd things. Right now I’m checking out how to can meat and soups. I found I’ll need a pressure canner. To do pickles you just need a regular canner.
    I was looking at a food freeze drier for the home… Not for 2000 plus shipping from Utah. I’ll stick with canning and since I like jerky I may look into a dehydrator.

    I’m going to experiment with the hot bacon dressing because none of the recipes I looked at seem to be quite right.. A little flour was used and probably garlic and mustard powder and maybe a tiny bit of sugar oh yeah green onion not round onion.. But I could use all kinds of onion and be happy. No cast iron pan right now. Might taste funny to me no matter what without one.

  13. Mary, I had a good friend in TN, that used to freeze soups in canning jars. She said you had to have good canning jars to freeze in, and leave freezing space at the top of the jar. I have frozen them in good freezer bags. Those you need to leave freezing room too. Then you go through and empty all the excess air out of them when they are frozen. Let the soup cool well before you put it in the bags. They also make Seal-a-meals that work well freezing soups in. You would need a good sized freezer, but the soup keeps well that way. Keep a good marker handy to mark what they are and what date you put them up.
    I have frozen ground zucchini in bags, measured out in the right measurement to make zucchini bread with. My recipe uses 2 cups of ground zucchini and the juices. I put it in 2 cup measurement in the bags and froze it. When I was ready to make the bread, I just defrosted a bag or 2 and made fresh bread. The bread froze good, but we all loved the smell of it baking, and it did have a better texture when made fresh. My whole family would be out in the kitchen grinding the zucchini and waiting for the right time to bake it. They all love it. I made a lot of it during the holidays.

  14. As for cast iron, Griswold, Wagner, Century are good brands. Expensive stuff though. The old Lodge is usually good stuff, but the newer stuff isn’t very good. I never buy any that is pitted, grooved, or gouged. Anything else is usually fixable. Pitted usually is caused by someone not taking care of it, not cleaning it properly or soon enough after cooking. Gouging and grooved is usually caused by people scraping it wrong and scratching it. I have found some really grungy, rusty stuff that I have cleaned well and then reseasoned and sold it for a pretty penny.
    I used to own an antique shop also. I have bought furniture that people swore needed refinished or were going to burn, put a little work into, and sold it. I rarely totally refinish a piece of furniture. Usually just oiling it well, using wood glue to tighten it up and using scratch cover will fix it. I am not into painting a piece and rubbing the paint off either. I think painting an old piece of wood furniture is an abomination, except for a very few pieces. Those are the pieces that have been painted before.

  15. Is that Becky?
    Thanks for the freeazing soup info.
    That should help out once I’m housed. I’m a victim of the harvey hurricane. Still waiting for housing and a little crippled right now too.

    Once again having to start over and overcome multiple problems.

    Texas made a state women veterans day. This is the first official women veterans day I’m paticipating in some of the events here in Houston while waiting for housing. Really tiring for an old crippled vet. But it needs a great kick off!! We were asked to promote texas women veterans day. I’m participating in a fashion show fri night and a block party saturday. Texas loves veterans!!

    Fred I hope you don’t have any issues with the women vet plug if so just delete.

    I’m glad someone knew the names of the good cast iron pans. That will help me identify the ones to buy. Thanks for posting the names. I agree painting old furniture disagrees with me, too.

  16. First of all, Mary, why would I have any “issues” with a plug for ANY vets, regardless of gender? Hooray for Texas! I’m a vet myself, in case you weren’t aware of that. (Vietnam Era but NOT Vietnam vet, having been stationed in Germany when Defense Secretary McNamara announced the U.S. would be (openly) sending troops to SE Asia in the summer of 1965. In fact, I’d just returned from marrying my first wife and spending our honeymoon on the rodeo circuit. A whole lot of us were clustered around this little radio in the switchboard room, listening to that announcement, hoping like crazy this didn’t mean our draftee term of service was going to be extended due to the war. (About a dozen of us were due to get out in 6 or 7 months; thankfully, we were not extended. But others from my local Granite County, Montana, draft allotment, were then stationed in Kentucky and WERE promptly shipped out to ‘Nam.)

    Yep, that’s Becky; her voice is unmistakable. And yes, Becky, I also appreciate the names of the better cast iron suppliers.

    We had a pressure cooker (what you call a pressure canner) when I was growing up and I recall a time in my thirties when I had one of my own–must have found it second hand somewhere, don’t recall, but certainly didn’t have the cash to score a new one. Spotted a great cluster of choke cherry trees growing near where I was living at the time, right near the access road, between the pavement and the nearest ranch fence. Nobody else paid those cherries any attention, but when they were ripe, I went down one weekend day and picked nearly a full five gallon bucket of them. Canned a bunch of choke cherry jam and also choke cherry syrup (the syrup being the jam that refused to jell). Ate every bit of it, too, all by myself (was between ladies at the time).

    Which reminds me. Our remarkably wet spring really benefitted local rhubarb gardeners and I noticed the other day that our local Safeway now has rhubarb stalks in stock. They look good. Can’t stand the latter day wimps who ruin great rhubarb pie with strawberries, so I may have to do some baking of my own and quit whining about it…. πŸ™‚

  17. I’ve never looked into cast iron brands, since my grandmother (RIP) and mom would pass them down to new families, and would buy new ones. I’ve bought some, but allways touch the skillet to make sure it is smooth, except for the broiling pans that have clearly defined grooves for the fat (and which are really hard to “cure” properly when your spouse insists on cleaning off all the fat down to the raw metal).
    Of course, we are great believers in good old “Brillo Pads” for cleanup, and these gradually sand down the irregularities in the cast iron, too.
    But since our family cures the cast iron with oil, these skillets are not really for show… we keep them inside the oven and not out with the “fancy non stick” pans. πŸ™‚
    Take care all, and have a great Women Vets Day! As far as I am concerned, we should honor veterans every day, men and women.

  18. Manny, DO NOT use Brillo Pads on cast iron. Those will take all of the grease out of the pores of the pan, which is what the curing process adds into the pan. You are cutting off your nose in the name of cleanliness. Cast iron is supposed to have grease deep down in the pores of it. Don’t use detergent soap either. If you must use a scrubber, steel wool is fine, but not if it has soap in it. Shortening is the preferred grease to cure them with. Oil is purely for after they have been cured properly. I wipe some on with a paper towel, before storing them. My dad would have banned you and your wife from touching his cast iron and so would my grandparents. I have a hub on HubPages about how to clean your cast iron. Please also read the comments, many people have included cleaning tips in them.

  19. Manny, you are still finding Brillo pads to buy? I’m going to have to look more closely when next I visit the “scrubber” aisle! Though not for use on the cast iron, as Becky points out. Some time back, I read her Hub about caring for cast iron; it’s a great reference article.

    Switching gears a hair: Pam told me today (on the phone, of course), that her son Zach arranged for a pest exterminator friend of his to come debug her Arizona rental home for a quite reasonable price. She was getting bitten a lot but couldn’t see the perpetrators. The guy did a great job and showed her, under his magnifying glass, that she had tiny but aggressive versions of both (a) mosquitoes and (b) flying ants. She showed him her arms, which were speckled with bites, and he said those were from the ants.

    What I don’t quite know is where the mosquitoes would be breeding in her neighborhood. It’s a desert foothills area, in drought mode, too early for the monsoon rains. Somebody, a neighbor, or Mother Nature herself, has to be maintaining some sort of small body of unmoving water, which mosquitoes need to reproduce–although it only takes them a week to be up and flying. Once established in the house, I suppose they could easily enough be breeding in the toilet that absolutely does not work; she hasn’t yet convinced the landlady that one needs replacing. (And it may not need replacing at that, but it’s hardcore clogged–likely due to abuse by a roommate who is no longer there.)

    Also made a fantastic supper this evening that would make an excellent post, but I’d realized I’d been pushing myself too hard (again) and had “forced” myself to take the rest of the day off, except for necessary activity–like eating. May write it up at some point. Did take a pic of the meal on a paper plate, prior to eating it (the meal, not the plate). Brief summary of the dish:

    –Hamburger steak (1/2 lb.) (range fed Angus) on a bed of spring greens, open face on top of two slices of multigrain, no GMO toast. Topped with melted Swiss cheese and surrounded with fried baby bella mushrooms. Generous amounts of mayo and spicy brown mustard on top of the toast, before adding the rest. Cooked in the 8″ Taiwan cast iron skillet. Prepared the whole thing in something like 15 minutes from the time I turned on the stove, which is some sort of record for me.

  20. I am happy to hear she got rid of her insect problem. I hate having bug problems in my house. I didn’t see anything when I went to visit her last week, that should be a mosquito breeding ground either. I know there is a seasonal creek right around there, but it is dry at David’s end of it, right now anyway. He is just down the hill a little bit from Pam.
    I went camping with my sons and grandson at Patagonia Lake last night. Just got back around 5:00, and 2 year old Daniel got bitten by a fire ant on his shoulder. It had a big raised blister on it this morning. We had a ball, swimming and fishing. I got a tiny sunburn, but after a shower, it turned tan. They took the back seats out of the van for me, and put a twin sized air mattress in it for me.
    I am still looking for another vehicle that will be reliable for me, and I need to get front brakes for the van now. Rodger said he would put new ones on it this weekend. Won’t be too bad for the parts. David is getting his school check back in another week, and he said he was giving me the whole thing, to add to the kitty for one. He owes me the money, so it isn’t that generous. That should give me enough to get a better one. Rodger, Daniel, David, and David’s girlfriend Arianna, slept in David’s large tent. I find it easier to get out of the back of the van than a tent. The campsite they had reserved was full of fire ants and had a bunch of mosquitoes too. David and Arianna are great cooks together. She cooks a lot of Mexican style, since she is. And David loves to grill. Together, they have come up with some great dishes. I had steak and egg burritos for breakfast this morning, with homemade Pico de Gallo on it. Delicious. I love her Pico de Gallo. She showed me how to make it, but I don’t quite have it down yet. I think I didn’t use enough peppers or cilantro last time. It is better than any I have found in town. I need to get my cilantro and pepper production geared up a notch. My tomato plants are not producing enough yet either.
    Looks like I finally fixed my Anonymous problem. I kept trying, but it wasn’t working for me. I guess my program removed one too many cookies.

  21. Thank you, Becky, for your comments: I agree that Brillo Pads or the new modern substitutes take out (and ruin) good cured cast iron, and in the case of the fried egg skillet, that one rarely got washed down. But in the case of the big pots and skillets… πŸ™ And guess who was often designated the “leave it spotless” washer? LOL… of course my younger siste would say she was the only one who did any chores in the house, but I remember it differently.
    I will read your blog and share it with my wife, since we just moved and brough out cast iron skillets with us.
    Ghost, I don’t know if brillo pads are still available, basically because after destroying a few non-stick/teflon pots and pans and skillets I banned them from our kitchen (mom still uses them, though, and I think she has a huge stash hidden somewhere, too!) LOL

    Now for a different curing process that you guys might help me with: charcoal baked pottery dishes, the light brown ones that have no glaze nor finish. I have a whole set and have been reticent to cure them as recommended, covering and rubbing them with flour paste, letting it dry and then gently washing the dried flour off. My wife thinks the process sounds messy, and I don’t like the idea of dishes that might be feeding bugs.

    Which brings me to the bug issue you mentioned, Ed. In NYC we have bed bug problems that have even affected hotels, since these critters are very, very resistant to normal removal methods. But mosquitos and ants are not that common any more. Too much concrete and pest control, I guess. I would suggest a small amount of creoline in the bad toilet to “seal” the water surface and kill any eggs that are there. Sure, creoline stinks, but so does a stopped up toilet! πŸ˜‰

  22. Fred, Brillo pads are sold at Walmart. I got some a couple of years ago, but I just googled and it says they are still sold there. I have some left from last time I got them there.
    Manny, I have absolutely NO experience with that type of dishes. I have never used it or owned any, without a glaze on it. I googled it to see and found a few sites that mention it, Mainly terracotta. They said to soak it in water for 15 minutes before using it. If you google them, it is amazing what you will find. The flour paste does sound messy, but shouldn’t last long, because you wash it off. I would not want to feed roaches either.
    Bed bugs are a nightmare, we ended up with some after a friend of our daughters came to spend the night. We threw out mattresses, and all upholstered furniture. Had the people come in and spray twice. Went for a month without a bed, because we couldn’t afford a new bed at the time, and didn’t want to spend that much on one, if we were going to have to throw it out again. When we had been without one for a month, we got a new one, but left it wrapped in the tightly sealed plastic for a couple of more months. When I had not seen one for several months, I finally took the plastic off of it. Went without a couch for several months too. Very uncomfortable for my husband and I.

  23. Becky and Manny:

    Good to know about Brillo pads at Walmart. I don’t have anything that needs their attention at the moment, but that could always change.

    Camping in the van will be the only way to do it if I decide to do that at Holy Waters Ranch (the Ovando, MT, property, I hope to pay off sometime in the next decade). Read up on the conservation efforts in the area, and there are in excess of 1,000 grizzly bears (yes, that a thousand, not a hundred, not ten) roaming the valley as we speak. I remember my sisters and their husbands telling me about a camping trip they once took in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They heard enough bear-type sounds outside at night (they were in a tent) that their nerves were strung pretty tight.

    Thanks in significant part to my immediate Ovando ranching neighbor to the north, however, it’s not only the grizzlies who have rebounded. That ranch now hosts EVERY species found by Lewis and Clark more than 200 years ago, even including the long-absent trumpeter swan. There are now more than ten breeding pairs nesting on the more than 21,000 acres the ranch controls. It turns out (no, I didn’t know this until today) the property is part of what is known as the “Crown of the Continent” ecosystem.

    Manny, I don’t know anything about that type of cookware, either.

    The exterminator assured Pam she at least did NOT have bedbugs. Which made sense, since she’s sleeping on a brand new airbed–and liking it, amazingly enough. Got the tallest one I could find for her on Amazon.

    Thursday bonus for me: On the way home from the ranch, I stopped at the Wagon Wheel CafΓ© in Drummond and got a pleasant surprise: They had real rhubarb pie, no strawberries! Had a slice and bought a frozen whole pie in a box. All I have to do is bake it. Yum and yay!

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