Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sweet Potato Time in Utley

The two weeks before Thanksgiving is Sweet Potato harvest time in Utley and Elgin, Bastrop County,Texas. The deeps sands found in numerous locations make this one of the few vegetables that can thrive through the summer. The other commercial crops being Okra, Watermelons,Cucumbers (some years) and Cantaloupe, But Sweet Potato is King here, Once this was big peanut country, but only a few people grow them anymore. They drain the soil of nutrients leaving the sandy soil "dead" if those nutrients are not replaced. There are a variety of winter greens that grow excellently with normal winter and rain.  Those include, kale, mustard, turnip, collard, cilantro and green onions but these are usually found in the farmers markets vs. the big chains....Some citrus also makes it through to local markets but most of that comes from further south due to the frost potential.  Pears and the very few peaches grown here are long gone with the pears done by early Sept. And of course there are the Figs and Pecans...This is a bumper year for pecans that are falling in abundance now.  Black walnuts grow wild but there is little demand for those or the hog nut hickory here.  A real October treat is fragile and very sweet native Texas Black Persimmon which is found no where else in the world and defies cultivation...I will do a special blog on that soon.  They do not last long as once they ripen and turn black every creature in the woods is after them.  Pepper, tomatoes and blackberries also are easily grown but usually are found in the kitchen or at farmer's markets...While not a edible vegetable, some folks are successful with growing a wide range of gourds including bird house gourds....My soil is not up to snuff for these.

Like the local sausage no better sweet potato can be found in the state it is said. The sugar content is high and these yams lack the stringiness of those frequently brought in from elsewhere.

It is hard locally to even give them away during the holiday season here as the tubers will be harvested until Christmas, I was recently at a local grocery store and they were 9 cents a pound but typically the HEB chains sells them for .17 during the short harvest season. Yellow onions are affordable again as well. However folks from all over come to buy them by the case and it is not uncommon to see highway vendors set up on highway intersections with their stacks of boxes. What I am curious about is whether feral hogs pose a problem to the potato farmers here. I have heard no complaints but I have no spoken much with the farmers about that.

There are a lot of recipes for sweet potatoes online...I recently found one for fried sweet potato cakes that will just knock your socks off...Experiment and get while they still smell of earth.   And check out this article from "Nutrition" magazine

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Utley Nov. 19, Owling and enjoying a good smoke.

  Well, so it went.  I had what I hoped would be a nice camp fire lined up outside but after lighting it up tonight, discovered that drought kilt Cedar Elm is not the best choice of fuel for that purpose…I remembered that then, almost as bad as willow on the old fishing trips to Granger and Lake Sommerville…….…As everyone  knows, no matter where you sit around a campfire, the smoke will follow you and Cedar Elm makes a ton of smoke and seems to be especially fond of people……We shortly were literally “cured”.  But it burnt well and a lot of those little brown stink bugs left the ship so to speak as things got hot.

  The results for our Long-eared Owl efforts were mixed.  Nothing replied to  recordings close by, that we heard or saw, but at 9:07 there were four  “Who” notes from well down the hill, fairly distant,  spaced about 3 seconds apart…And then no more…We were to busy chatting at the time as well……No total agreement was reached on the culprit and none of  us know the calls well other than via the online recordings provided by the folks  on Texbirds .…I lean toward LEOW however…….Anyway we left the smoke and walked down to the road hoping for more calls…Walking down the road under a bright moon we attracted the attention of a few dogs.   The road is only about a mile and a third long but I swear there must be 12-15 dogs on it because once we got  greetings from  two we soon had dogs as far as we could hear  along the road wishing to make our acquaintance as well…It was aggravating but the dogs here are just not used to people walking this dead end road at night…Doing their jobs well I guess….We heard no owls before returning to the property….. just the dogs and a loud diesel pickup which slowed  enough to only coat us lightly with caliche dust as it passed..

  We heard the whistling wings of a Woodcock as we walked up the road to the cabin.

  Had moderately good looks at a Screech Owl  I whistled in, heard 2 Barred Owls down on Wilbarger Creek and bless it’s soul, a Barn Owl called twice despite the bright moon though it was not seen…Strangely no Great  Horneds were heard.

Raccoons quarreled in the woods, an Armadillo shuffled thru the leaves,  a rooster crowed and a donkey brayed (I reckon fired up by the dogs).  A possum was on the porch when we returned eating sweet potato skins and some stuff the cat did not want and clattering about with an oily sardine can, blissfully and completely ignorant of our presence…..

    Had a black light out for bugs, but it only drew in a handful of moths of the dull sort.

   I was stingy and did not want to burn good seasoned oak for a campfire on the return and since we already smelled like walking ash trays and cigar butts , I threw some more old Cedar Elm on the coals which I needed to be rid of anyway, plus some large chunks of bamboo , some 2+ inches in dia, for  the “fireworks”  which surprised all, even me on such a quiet night….I was worried it might alarm the neighbors, it was so loud…… …….Laundry tomorrow for sure.