Outwitted and Incensed

Yesterday, I contemplated the day’s accomplishments. I couldn’t come up with much that was productive. The most energy I expended was chasing that #$%!!! groundhog, that gluttonous rodent who considers the morning glories around the birdfeeders his woodchuck feast. I am not enjoying this particular ravine resident.

I looked to Ask.com for the answers this morning. The questions were there, but let me re-do the answers. Those who follow me in the quest for groundhog truth need my accumulated knowledge.

What does a groundhog eat? Look, he is a ground “HOG”. He eats anything. Everything. He is especially fond of what you don’t want him to eat. I saw “Groundhogs are primarily vegetarians with an occasional bug thrown in.” The “occasional bug” must be rare. I’ve seen no reduction in the horde of mosquitoes this year. I do reject the groundhog’s pure vegetarianism, though, because I’ve seen him eat spaghetti. Bolognese. I didn’t care about the pasta but I was so surprised that I changed his name from Chubs to Gordo. I was trying for Italian but Gordo also loves tacos.

What will a groundhog eat? Twenty times his weight in morning glories, cosmos, cantaloupe, watermelon, green beans, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This animal burrows all winter, only coming out when it’s time to announce the coming of spring on February 2. I’m losing sleep trying to find a way to stop his ravaging and Gordo will curl up and snore all winter. He prepares for this long sleep in the quiet and safe ravine by bulking up at Diana’s Diner.

What does a groundhog do during the day? What??? Have you been listening? He re-landscapes my back yard. Gordo excels at the pruning process. He’s just a little greedy in his choices of prunees. In the lush lower gardens, Gordo ignores the abundance of weeds in favor of the dahlias, rejects out-of-control mint for rudbeckia, and turns up his nose at enough crape myrtle suckers to fill two wheelbarrows to decimate just one blue delphinium.

One of the answers made me laugh out loud. “One way to keep groundhogs away is to spread peppermint oil on whatever you want them to stay away from. You could also plant peppermint plants to keep them away.” Obviously, this person has never been terrorized by mint runners.

Then there was, “Epsom salts placed near or around the runs will keep  the groundhog away.” A white three-quarters of an acre in the winter might be okay, but Punksutawney Gordo doesn’t dine in cold weather. Maybe I could throw up a few striped umbrellas, lay out some Barbie beach towels, and call it a beach.

Here’s another. “Sprinkle cayenne pepper where the groundhog is unwanted” and “You can mix 1 tablespoon of hot sauce with 1 gallon of water and then put it in a sprayer and spray all around your plants”. Another har-de-har echoes around the room. There is not enough cayenne at Kroger to discourage Gordo and until Tabasco signs me for a contract, I bettersave my money for Buffalo wing sauce.

And the last answer in this category began with “Ground hogs have no respect for your garden plants.” This insightful writer wanted me to  “Make sure humans and animals, preferably large ones, frequent the area.” Dave and I are both short but we’re a bit round so I declare that, today, we can be considered “large ones” but when I saw that the large animals we should engage include coyotoes, bobcats, and pit bulls, I promised Murphy we’d pass on this suggestion.

How do you get rid of groundhogs? Until Gordo, Grandpa enjoyed success in live-trapping Gordo’s relatives. Dave is experienced with loading the fur-filled trap into the pickup for a short ride to the State of Tennessee Agricultural Center, home to unwanted critters from miles around. Daughter-in-law Vicky let us in on her destination for two dozen chipmunks and one of Gordo’s distant relatives.One day this week, we cut through the ag center on our way home from downtown.

“There’s where we let the groundhogs loose,” Dave said, pointing to some rolling hills of trees and pasture.

“What if somebody sees you?” I asked.

“Then we just open the door, shove him out, and drive like hell,” he said.

“There’s a ten mile per hour speed limit in here,” I said.

“It’s never happened yet,” he said.

So far, Gordo has avoided the apple-baited snare. Meanwhile, I keep hope alive. I beat on the window, yell, and chase him to the big ditch.

He’s too fast for me. There’s no way I’ll catch him on foot.

Turnip Greens

Last Tuesday, I put up turnip greens, mainly to save Mom from doing it. Mom has been an expert canner and freezer in her time, but her time for that sort of homemaking is over. Unfortunately—no, wait—Fortunately, Dad’s time for gardening is not over. So from the end of May through the first part of November, he announces at cocktail hour: “I’m going to have a mess of green beans tomorrow” or “Did you see the sweet potatoes I dug?” or “Looks like there are more butternut squash”.
On Sunday, it was “I’m going to have a big load of turnip greens tomorrow.” And he did.

The station/assembly line.

I love me some turnip greens, but I don’t want turnip greens that have stems in them and I don’t want to grit my teeth on sand, ever, when I chomp down on their bitter goodness. Those picky preferences of mine make my turnip green preservation experience a bona fide chore and since the details of the event are so recent, I thought I would share my foolproof method with you. Don’t stop reading because you hate greens. You may have to take on this project some day; it’s amazing what we’ll do for our kids—or our parents.
My Aunt Ogile said you ought to cook your turnip greens with fatback before freezing but not to add salt because that will make them tough. I just wilt mine, plain, trusting the advice of several reliable websites. It makes me happy to offer you my easy, shortened process. Please read through the entire set of instructions prior to embarkation.

1. Set up your turnip green station. You will need a big mess of turnip greens, paring knife, clean sink with stopper, container for stems and other non-turnip green items, in-sink clean dish drain (forget the colander, you can’t get enough in one of those), and a pan for trimmed greens. Running water helps. Setting up for this official, assembly-line-type operation sort of cements your commitment to the project.

The work-in-process.

2. Dump your greens on the counter (maybe on a big paper bag); you’re going to work off the stack. Be sure to get out your largest kettle so that you can marvel appropriately at how that huge pile of greenery, when wilted down, barely covers the bottom of the big pan.

3. Cut out all the big stems. Since you’re going to be lifting leaf by leaf (oh, yes, you are), toss out all the grass and dogwood leaves you find nestled between these turnip tops. (Note: It is possible you won’t have any dogwood leaves. Our turnip patch is just a couple of feet away from an old white dogwood whose leaves turn brown and fall just about time for the first picking of greens.)

What I threw away.

After you have been trimming for, oh, twenty minutes, you’ll want music. I heartily recommend rotating twenty-minute shifts of classic country and R & B soul. You really don’t need anything too dance-worthy as that makes you get too frisky with the paring knife. I suppose you’re wondering why I didn’t tell you to put the music on before you get started trimming. Well, I have found that I need a few minutes of quiet to get my routine, and my rhythm, established. It’s a bit like trying to find a driving destination while the radio is on. Got to turn that thing down!
4. As you strip the leaves, throw them in the sink. Go ahead and start the cold water. You’re going to need a lot of water. You can turn off the water when it gets about, um, four to six inches from the counter top. If you don’t have a ruler handy, four to six inches would be the approximate width of the very largest turnip plant leaf in your stack—if you have a good crop this year.

5. When the sink looks full enough of greens and water, stick your hands in and swish, swish, swish. Do not splash, splash, splash or you and the kitchen will look like you and your bathroom after a happy toddler’s bath.

6. In the middle of one of the latter swishes, lift a layer of greens out with two hands and lay them in the clean dish drain. Repeat until the sink is empty of greens.

7. Now—look in the sink! See all that dirt and sand? Amazing! So, pull the plug and wash the sink.

8. (a) Put the plug back in the sink and start the cold water. (b) Start layering all the just-washed greens into the sink (yes, again). [Somewhere in this step is a good time to rotate your music selection!]

9. Go to #3 and continue through #8. (Yes, we are going to wash these wretched pieces of greenery again.)

10. When you have washed the trimmed leaves—and the sink—three times, go to #8 and complete (a) but don’t do (b). Let the sink fill with water. Now, this is tricky because you don’t want to put too much in nor too little. Check out the next step so that you have some idea of how much you need. (Woman up! There are some decisions that I cannot make for you.)

11. Do not go to #9. NOTE-ALARM-ATTENTION: If you get lost here, you could be washing turnip greens until the Lord comes to take us Home.

12. Take the thrice-washed greens and gently layer them into the sink of water. Barely—barely, I say—move the greens around with your hands. You can’t call this a swish. It’s more like the wake of a toy aircraft carrier.

13. Dry your hands. You’re going to let the greens soak for twenty minutes. The idea here is to let whatever grit might still be present to drift to the bottom of the sink. [There is ample time to change from George Jones to Aretha here. I hope you can find “Pink Cadillac” because it would not hurt to get your dancing done at this point. Oh, wait, the real name of the song is “Freeway of Love”. I bet you could find it by “Pink Cadillac”, though.]

14. Look at your counter. Are there more unattended greens lying there? Okay, then don’t think you have time for a nap. You could, however, down three PBR’s or a half-magnum of Chardonnay. Only your own experience will tell you if you need refreshment and what kind.

15. After the twenty-minute respite, gently lift (but do not swish) the greens from the water and place them in your big old pot (hereinafter referred to as your “BOP”). Go ahead and set it on the stove. Do not turn on the flame. Just let the BOP rest there.

My BOP of greens.

16. Now, without whining, go to #2 and repeat through #6 for the remaining pile. You only have to do the repeat until all the greens are washed and in the BOP.

17. You may wonder what to do since the BOP is already full, even overflowing. Just keep stuffing. Push ‘em down, push ‘em down, wayyyyyyy down.

18. Add four or five inches of water to the pan. No, I do not know how you are expected to measure since the BOP is not see-through. Just put some water in, force the lid on, and put your project on the burner—on High.

19. When you hear the water boiling in those greens (“glug, blop, s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-b-b-b-b-b”), give it five minutes and take a big metal spoon and poke the greens down. They’re going to start getting smaller…

20. Repeat the poke-down into the boiling water until all the turnip greens are dark and limp. NOTE: If, at any time, you hear only a s-s-s-s-s-s-s, that means your BOP is out of water and your greens are s-s-s-s-sticking, as in “pre-burning”. Add some water! If you are so numb from your refreshing adult beverage (allowed and even encouraged in #13) that you fail to note the first signs of sticking and start to smell burning greens, you’re s-s-s-s-screwed. Throw out the whole thing. This prophetic warning should scare you into paying attention because you will feel poorly when your labor just to get to this point is declared vain.

Take your big spoon and root around in there to make sure they all got the message. Hopefully, there will be enough of the wilted turnip tops to cover the bottom of the pan and, unless you’re working with a non-stick pan, the bottom you do see will not be black. Yes, they really do shrink down that much. No, they’re not exactly dissolving before your very eyes. They’re just getting smaller.

21. Turn the stove off. Clean up the kitchen. You’ll have plenty of time because the greens have to be cool before you put them into bags. Don’t, however, leave this cleaning task until tomorrow. You need a week to appreciate the reminder of this achievement.

22. When the greens are cool, drain them. Oh yeah, this is where a colander comes in handy. You might even be able to use a large tea-strainer for what remains of that huge pile on the counter that you started with.

23. Stuff them into freezer bags, press the air out, and lay them flat to freeze.

I got two quarts out of that. Two quarts. Two meals. Two flat, frozen one-quart squares of turnip greens.

What I got.

Don’t think you’re being original if you started hunting Southern home-cooking restaurants after just reading the directions for freezing your greens, but don’t think you can compost the big pile of turnip greens on the counter and no one will know. You’ll know—and you’ll remember that I told you every homemaker wannabe needs this experience at least one time.
Now that I’m an expert, I’ve settled on Cracker Barrel and it’s possible there is a Cracker Barrel near you. I could drive 120 miles, eat country cooking for an hour, and come back home in the time it took me to put up two quarts of turnip greens and clean the kitchen. In fact, I’d still have twenty minutes to spare for a quick nap.
There’s just one little problem with abandoning home-freezing. I could never convince Dad not to grow those turnip greens—or squash—or eggplant—or peppers—or corn—or green beans…
Maybe I would never even try.

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