Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Snakes and Jam

Harvesting is the word.  How I love to walk in the door with a basket, full of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, or overflowing with freshly picked lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard.  I use a green pitcher for berry picking, which is becoming a compulsive behavior:  there is no such thing as a fast walk now, only stop-and-pick-and-sidle to the side to get the next juicy wine berry or blackberry.

When I realized I was sitting on over seven cups of mixed berries and had just used four cups two days prior to make an amazing gluten-free fruit crumble, I thought maybe I ought to explore some preservation options.  I went to my favorite book: The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food, and then looked at the Joy of Cooking canning book.  I thought about freezing at first and then cooking it.  I discovered that I was afraid of trying to can jam.  

So, I took the bull by the horns and prepared to can jam. I found a simple recipe for Berry Jam, and even learned what the terms "gelling" and "sheeting" mean.  (And I am not gonna share, since I am now part of an exclusive club of people who know what that means...can you tell I am proud of myself?)  Aside from several splatters of boiling hot pre-jam, there was no fuss or drama, and I managed to successfully preserve five jars of Berry Jam.  It was a lot easier than I had anticipated.

Less easy?  Figuring out how to capture the snake that was preparing to eat two eggs in the chicken coop.

We've started free-ranging again, and the chickens seem to love that, but I don't want them wandering come evening.  So, we shake the old cottage cheese container we are using to collect kitchen scraps for the chickens. The chickens appear out of nowhere, desperate to make certain they don't miss a single kale stem or toast crust.  They follow us into the pen and we shut the gate.  Later in the evening, I go and close the chicken door for the night.

So, the night of the 16th, the Boy and I had gotten them back in the chicken pen for the evening.  I went into the coop to get the eggs.  As I came to the favored nesting box, I saw that there was a black nylon strap in there.  I find all sorts of weird stuff in their boxes:  container lids, clots of dirt, bits of plastic or wood, and once, an apple core.  So, I saw the nylon strap, and was reaching for it, wondering where the hell they found that...and it moved.
a black rat snake, I think.

I was inches from a big snake curled around the two eggs.  I screamed.  And then I screamed for the Boy to get my phone so I could take a picture.  Priorities, right?  He rushed back, begging to see the snake.  I showed him, and snapped several photos before it occurred to me that we have a snake handler in a cupboard in the kitchen.  I sent the Boy for it.

And then it got silly.  The snake had already decided that maybe it was time to move to quieter premises, but he was stupid or something, because he kept trying to shove into a crack between two boards.  Yes, there was daylight to be seen...but he wasn't going to fit, no matter how determined he was.  Meanwhile I hadn't used the snake handler before, and I was worried I was going to hurt the snake.  I managed to get him, but in the middle, and I thought I was supposed to get him near his head.  In trying to change the grip, I lost him.

And then caught him again.

And lost him again.

As he was slithering into the corner, I caught him in the last foot before his tail.  But he was strong... and I couldn't drag him out.  So, I tried to let him go.  Oops.  I had accidentally stabbed him with the snake handler, so he was stuck, and I was stuck, and I had seen his head, and it was kind of hooded, and he looked pissed off.

The end result is that I managed to free the poor thing, he left the chicken coop somehow, and I got my eggs.  But I wonder how many of my chicken eggs he's gotten before.  Kinda makes me grumpy...er.  I have ten chickens (7 of which are less than six months old, and one might be a rooster, I'm afraid) and am getting only two eggs a day most of the time.

I'm buying three more layers tomorrow.  Lucky thirteen...

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