Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mayree's Unprecedented Second Post in a WEEK! **whispering** But it's chocolate...

Two recipe posts?  In one week?  What can I say?  I was excited this morning thinking about how to kick up the chocolate butter cream icing a notch or two and even more excited to come up with a way to do it..  I know someone else has probably already done something very similar but they didn't tell me about it so it doesn't count, riiight?  I'd like to think I've come up with something original so y'all don't bust my bubble if it's not, okay?  I need to be in the kitchen cleaning up this mess but it'll wait the thirty minutes while I get this out of my head, off of the data card, and onto your screens.

I've made an incredibly dark and smooth and rich dark chocolate fudge icing today.  It's for a groom's cake:  a fellow chocoholic that kind of got the bad end of the stick with the prior significant other.  He's to be wed Saturday to the softest-spoken and intelligent Alabama sweetie I think I've ever met.  I'm happy for them.  He's a chocoholic, says he doesn't care about the intensity, as long as it's chocolate.  I've changed my mind three times about the filling (that'd be chocolate mousse, chocolate Bavarian cream, or chocolate custard) before opting with the custard filling.  He doesn't care.  Chocolate.

See that big cake on top?  That's his, six chocolate layers of cake with chocolate custard and crumb coated with chocolate butter cream.

Annnyways, this morning I had already made the butter cream icing for the bride's cake and two batches of chocolate butter cream.  I didn't need more chocolate butter cream, having approximately that same amount left over from last week -- refrigerated, of course.  Even butter cream icings won't keep from one week to the  next in this kind of Deep South heat and humidity, regardless of whether you have air conditioning or not.  That's 24 pounds of butter cream...

Meghan was visiting and I remembered the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder.  There is almost always Hershey's syrup in the house.  Hmmmmmm... Voila!  Eureka!  SHAZZAM!  I knew how to pimp out the chocolate butter cream... I'd use the Special Dark cocoa powder and chocolate syrup to thin the icing.  I was so excited 'bout it, a decent photo couldn't be taken of all the ingredients.

Nuh unh.  Can't see the ingredients in this one either.  I blame Meghan (which is not to say it's her fault - just that I blame her).  She had come in the back door from running, training for the half marathon later on in the fall.  The heat and humidity had almost gotten the best of her - even though she IS from Louisiana.  She's down for a day or two visiting her sweetie.  I cooked her breakfast:  pan-braised bananas with a sprinkling of coarse salt served atop spiced banana nut bread.  We were chatting the whole time I was taking photos and making this.
The ingredients you don't see are:
Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa powder
Hershey's chocolate syrup
2 pounds confectioner's sugar
1 cup of butter
1 cup of shortening 
2 teaspoons of vanilla

I had the butternal icing twins, Kitch and Aid busy making the butter cream and then the chocolate butter cream.  They work hard for their money.  

You know the procedure:  Start by creaming butter and shortening thoroughly and adding vanilla 'til incorporated well.  Add the cocoa powder.  OHhh nom!  This smell.... And believe it or not, this is the way I love chocolate!  Chocolate-y and buttery without any complications from milk or too much sugar.  It coats the tongue and leaves an impression -- a taste memory, if you will.   
Stop and scrape the sides at least once, making sure you go all the way down to the hump in the bottom of the bowl.  Stuff gets stuck there if you're not diligent about the scraping.  After the cocoa powder is mixed in well add 2 pounds of confectioner's sugar.

Can you guess what's going in next?  Yep.  A whole cup of chocolate syrup!  A cup full!

Pour the cup of syrup into the thick special dark cocoa icing that's so stiff the arm of the mixer will hardly lift up and mix well, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl down a time or two.  I've had help in the kitchen that would crank the mixer up almost wide open making icing.  Yikes.  It results in a really light textured icing -- with more air holes than an hour of smooth work can get out.  I start the mixer out on the lowest setting, only turning it a notch or two.  The faster and the more it's mixed, the more air bubbles are incorporated in it to be contended with.  Save the air for yourself, you're going to need it after tasting this.

NOM!  I'll be using this on the groom's cake for the borders and Cornelli lace.  The darkness and flavor will be a nice contrast against the chocolate butter cream.  Photo of the cake will come Saturday, after delivery and the chocolate curls are on.

If you love chocolate cake and chocolate icing or yellow cake and chocolate icing or heaven forbid strawberry cake with chocolate icing, do a very nice thing for yourself and make this Special Dark Fudge icing.  Not for the faint of heart, the complex flavor and thick smoothness will take you to another dimension of experiencing chocolate.

Those ingredients again for Special Dark Fudge Icing are:
1 cup butter
1 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup Special Dark Cocoa powder
2 pounds confectioner's sugar
1 cup chocolate syrup

You sort of kind of saw it getting put together but I'll remind you, just in case you don't remember.  Cream butter and shortening.  Add vanilla (yep - you saw right - I use Mexican).  When incorporated add cocoa powder until smooth and creamy.  Add confectioner's sugar 'til mixed and chocolate syrup.  Mix until spreading consistency.

I know there are more premium cocoa powders and syrups on the market;  given enough warning I'll order Cadbury's but I'll remind you this is a one grocery store town - and the Pig just doesn't carry anything more premium than Hershey's...and when you taste this, it'll be good enough!

Y'all enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The time has come, the Southerner said, to talk of many things: of figs and jello and jars and lids, of making mock strawberry jam...

Lewis Carroll I'm not but I sure did borrow his phrase from The Walrus and the Carpenter.  The last couple of weeks, every time I thought a post was all but done (before actually starting on it) something happened and then nothing happened.  Last week I thought surely (and don't call me Shirley) the tomato gravy tutorial would get done for all the poor poor souls that don't know what it is or how to make it.  Youngest Fellow went back to StarkPatch entirely too quickly for us ever to have a decent sit-down breakfast together, the background and reason for the post consequently driving north with him.

I've been fig picking with Mama twice this week out to Mrs. Sue's house.  Bless her heart and mine too;  she's slower this year getting around the same tree the snake ran me out of.  She carried her wooden cane to pull the limbs down to reach the figs easier.

We picked enough for six pints of preserves for her.  I don't care a bunch for fig preserves, having eaten my fair share of them before Frederick came along and took out our own big fig tree.  Mama was tickled with her preserves.  All the rain lately has added a high water content to the flesh of the figs;  the sugar draws a lot of juice that cooks down into a wonderful amber syrup.  Don't get me wrong - I like fig preserves just fine, I just don't care to eat them much any more.  Well.  There's the small limiting factor of not having a milk cow for a ready source of clotted cream too.  And Mama doesn't make cornbread in the little triangle pan any more either.  I suppose if Mama had a milk cow to skim the thickened cream off the top of the bowl the second day after milking and made crunchy cornbread to split and put fig preserves on, lumped high and topped with cream I might still eat a bunch of them.  I don't.  I love figs straight off the tree and into my mouth and cooked into strawberry figs.

I was going to get up this morning and make it, having picked figs again yesterday specifically for a batch.  Mama had a doctor's appointment down in Pascagoula right after lunch so I put the figs in the refrigerator to keep.  They soured.  I wasn't going to make strawberry figs and do a tutorial.   Then I remembered the ones Lindsey brought last week off Libby's tree in the freezer!!!  YAY!  They worked great so without any further ado, I present strawberry figs also known as mock strawberry jam.

This is Mrs. Edna Brewer's recipe for Mock Strawberry Jam.  It's written in the front of the Unity Baptist Church cookbook.  Mrs. Edna's a member there.  When I call these incredible Southern cooks for a specific recipe they make I always write it in the front of the church cookbook where they attend church.  I've lots of recipes written in handfuls of cookbooks in the county.

I called Mrs. Edna for her recipe a few years ago when she told me about the difference in hers and the one I was using at the time.  I had entered a jar of strawberry figs in the local Two Rivers Festival canning contest.  It was summarily dismissed by Mrs. Edna (retired Extension office secretary) as being too thick for jam.  She didn't even judge it!   It didn't hurt my feelings 'cause the vanilla bean-pear jelly I make won a blue ribbon and you really can't win them all, now can you?  I did call Mrs. Edna up the next week for her recipe and have been using it ever since.  Figs, sugar, and jello are all the ingredients necessary.  You can use fruit pectin;  I threw a box in the photo just for good measure but it isn't necessary.

Eight cups of figs, mashed; six cups of granulated sugar; and two LARGE boxes of strawberry jello are all put in a non-reactive pan.

I put the figs, unmashed, into the pan with everything else and smash through them with Grandma's old potato masher.  I'm a sensate sort of person:  I can feel the grains of sugar smashing fig seeds all against the bottom of the pan; the sludge-y sound of working the masher through the mixture is peculiar to my ears; the smell has got to be heavenly -- I can't imagine anything smelling better.

Mine looks like this when I get through playing in it
The sugar needs to work its magic and draw juice from the fruit for a few moments. This is a good stopping point to round up everything else necessary to making jam:  jars, lids, bands, and the jar-filler thingy.

The jars are washed in hot soapy water, rinsed well, and put into the microwave.
Yep.  You see it.  I put hot water in the jars and put them in the microwave on a lower power setting.  It keeps the jars hot and sanitized.  I don't have to worry about the stray Beaudeux hair making its way into one or a jar exploding as hot liquid comes in contact with the glass.

Put the figs/strawberry jello/sugar mixture on to cook, bringing it to a slow boil.  You'll want to stir constantly. This stuff sticks quickly if the heat is too high.  Ewwwwwwww... and there is NOTHING worse than scorched figs in any way shape fashion or form.  Unless it's scorched tomatoes.  I promise...

I have a very large pot on a very large burner.  It will only take these eight minutes or so to become nice and clear and thick.   Adjust the cooking time accordingly to your stove and container.  See the little pot the lids are in?  It's the lid pot.  I don't think I've ever cooked anything in it.

When the syrup is thickened slightly and all the fruit has cooked clear the strawberry figs are ready to be jarred.  Skim the foam from the top and RESERVE for the cook's treat:  white bread with fob!  Mama's always called the foam fob.  I do too.  We love fob with fresh white bread.  When I was young, my brother Joe and I always fought over who was going to help Mama with the lids and bands 'cause THAT person always got to eat the fob.


This was the batch:  four pints and a cup.  I could've grabbed a half-pint jar but then I wouldn't have had anything to share with Mama when she comes to town tomorrow to vendor her eggs.

I always cover cooling jars.  Years ago Mama and I had canned pink-eye purple hull peas.  Coming out of the water bath a jar exploded just from contact with the cooler air.  I've never forgotten the loudness of the event, how far the glass shattered in the kitchen, or the mess we had to clean up.  Y'all be careful when you're canning.  It's enjoyable and gratifying but respect the heat and glass, please.

Mrs. Edna's Mock Strawberry Jam
8 cups mashed figs
6 cups granulated sugar
2 large boxes strawberry jello

Mix all ingredients and let sit until figs begin to draw juice.  Cook on medium heat 8 to 15 minutes or until all fruit is cooked clear and syrup has begun to thicken.  Jar as any other jam or jelly.  Pectin is optional.

Y'all enjoy!  I know I'm tickled just knowing it'll be waiting for me tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Of Catfish and Catalpas: Trotlining Debacle with Daddy

I love remembering and writing.  Sometimes one of the other gets a bit disjointed, slightly off the truth of the matter.  I’m never sure which is it that’s in error though, the remembering or the writing.  Mama tells me I’m not remembering this correctly;  that she was having a bout with elevated blood pressure and Daddy was a bit peeved with me ‘cause SHE wasn’t going fishing.   Go figure…

In our family sport fishing was a waste of time while hours spent rigging, rebaiting, and running trotlines was a true test of agility and prowess. In the golden days of late summer when the bullisses are falling in the water all the local fishermen know the catfish will be biting and it’s time to set out lines. 

In my childhood no one had heard of jugging or yo-yoing or at least not associated with the river:  a time when Marlin and Evinrude ruled the current and you knew who was coming by the sound of their outboard.  Several times I can remember rumors of someone “phoning” but those people were unsavory characters incapable of catching fish the honorable way.  We always ran trotlines when a fish fry was on the calendar, it being the quickest way to fill a freezer slap full of fish.

Trotlines had at least fifty large-enough-to-snag-a-‘gator shiny hooks on them.  The odds of catching a big one (great grandparent catfish) depended on how many hooks were set out. On one end of the trotline was a length of cord long enough to tie-off to a tree limb chest high over the water, usually full of spiders.  On the other end was a weight of some sort, heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the river through the current where it was dropped.  Daddy preferred the long cast iron sash weights out of the old-fashioned windows to insure the trotlines would stay put and not roll along the bottom with the river current.

There is still great contention over the best bait to be used on trotlines.  Many self-acclaimed men of fishing lore swear that minnows are the only bait for trotlining.  Well, my daddy always wondered why a river catfish would try to bite something it shared the water with and to prove his point, one time he actually put a shiner on a hook and the flopped it off, dropping the line in the water where it feebly tried to swim away for a moment and then flipped belly-up, undisturbed by any fish (much less a catfish).

We used those big yellowish-green and black catalpa worms.  If they were picked a few days prior to being used and stored in the bottom of the refrigerator in a paper sack the skin would toughen slightly and the worm would stay on the hook better especially if you pinched off the head and threaded it hind-end first.  The worms could be turned inside out this way, getting thread-like goopy catalpa worm entrails all over your fingers but almost assuring the trotliner of a certain catch.

To actually set the trotlines out in the river took at least two people, all the trotline accoutrements, and a very necessary boat, motor, and paddle.  There are a few unspoken  rules to setting out trotlines:  You cannot bait them on land;  the person that forgets the net will not be remembered kindly; and the person keeping the boat still in the river current must possess Herculean strength and the patience of Job.  Thus the story.

Daddy had decided he wanted to run trotlines.  The river had been up and was falling out, meaning the water was abating quickly.  The bullises and fox grapes were ripe all in the swamps and Rex and his bunch had just come from the river with a cooler full of catfish caught on trotlines.  My little brother, five years older than myself, was away at college.  Mama was down in something although I think this was a convenient excuse to get out of having to handle the boat.  She seemed to feel peevish often when the boat in the river and her in the boat were imminent.  Mama still doesn’t swim and is almost deathly afraid of water.   I alone was left to help Daddy in his endeavor to out-trotline his cousin.
Daddy didn’t ever want to start setting out trotlines and work his way up the river from the boat ramp in Leakesville.  Someone may steal the fish before he could get back down the river to check the lines..  Nope.  Nothing doing but to put in at Gant’s Bluff and set lines up and down the river from Chat High bluff to Coaker’s Bend. 

There’s not a proper boat ramp at Gant’s bluff.  Instead there is a top of the river bluff, a four foot vertical drop down soapstone and then a sandbar to maneuver the boat down and across.  Daddy didn’t believe in making more trips than necessary up and down that bluff either.  He made the trip once with the boat fully loaded with motor, gas, tackle, and bait.  He liked to be at the top of the bluff, easing the boat down with someone else trying to alternately pull and wobble the heavy thing.  Or stop its progress if it got underway too quickly.  Daddy and I had done this many times before but on this day, with all those sash weights, the boat was especially heavy.  After much huffing and puffing and I’m sure what were under-the-breath curses, the boat was in the water and we were off to set out trotlines.

Daddy was the only person who could bait the hooks properly so I was the person that had to keep the boat steady from the bank and back paddle to the middle of the river.  Let me stress, I am female.  Perhaps, if Daddy had ever taught me how to run the outboard and I had paddled from the back of the boat the task could have been much easier but Daddy didn’t do that.  And since I was always a full-figured lass, he wouldn’t let me sit at the absolute front of the boat because then it wouldn’t “plane out” like it was supposed to.  I had to paddle that frazzling fourteen foot aluminum boat from the middle seat with a homemade paddle derived from 1” X 6” standard fir stock.

I was not up to the task.  The first trotline was set out with relative ease, being in an eddy the locals call the Cutover.  The next and consequently last, trotline was to be set out in the fastest of water on the Lower Chickasawhay at Chat High Bluff.  At first Daddy was only miffed because he was getting splashed by my efforts to keep the boat going straight out from the bluff.  I could not maintain the effort however and he hooked himself through the thumb and index finger trying to bait the hooks faster and reacting to that he forgot to tie the catalpa worm bag up and they were crawling all over the boat.

 Sometimes things are just too funny not to laugh.  On this day, this is the point that I remembered he was in the service indeed and it is made very clear to me that this is the last time he ever lets ME run trotlines with HIM.  What a relief!

The trotline was left, half-baited, in the river to await the afternoon and my brother’s arrival.  I don’t know why we didn’t just fish.  We had everything required.  I guess Daddy had his heart all set on running trotlines the whole day.  He didn’t seem too happy about leaving the boat up at Gant’s Bluff but after all the back stroking there was no way I could haul or push the thing back up to the truck, much less pick it up to put IN the truck.

I was taught by Daddy how to do just about everything my big brothers can., from running a line of shingles to painting houses to replacing a washer on the sink.  There are a few things though,  to which I will gladly and readily concede my brothers’ superiority:  changing the oil in a car, cutting and splitting firewood for Mama, bush-hogging the field, and running trotlines with Daddy.
I wish there were photos...  The image in my mind of those sluggish slow old and cold catalpa worms crawling all over the boat and Daddy is indelibly etched in memory, even if Mama does say it's in error!  Y'all have a GREAT rest of the week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Koolaid Dill Pickles or Dilled Koolaid Pickles or maybe Pickled Kool Dills??

I have the Stumbleupon tool bar on my computer's browser and I must confess, when there's work to be done around the house, left-clicking it is my favorite thing to do.  The time can quickly erode from a state of industry to sloth once the Stumbleupon button has been engaged.  I've found lots of great website on it, though, not to mention a half dozen incredible recipes from Oreo cookie mini-cheesecakes to these pickles.

Supposedly, the Koolaid Dill Pickle originated in the Mississippi Delta??  I'm not sure and am tired of depending upon Wiki for answers that may or may not be absolutely substantiated.  I'd never heard of them but of course, I'm from (almost) Coastal Mississippi, caddy-corner and all the way across the state.  They're good!  More like a dilled sweet pickle with a flavor.  Here you go:

The eHow recipe called for one pound of sugar but, uhmmmmm, it's the Deep South so I had to double it.  This is off off brand (so off it can't even be called generic) of whole dill pickles.  I figured for the first time out and because I'm checking out each item in this off-brand one at a time that I'd use it.  I won't again.  The pickles looked as if the cucumbers might have been frozen before processing, the outter 1/8 of an inch of each one was clear.  They were mostly soggy and  inconsistent in size. You don't have to take my word for it.  There's a photo coming up so you can see the size issue for yourself.
You'll need a colander, something to hold the pickle juice temporarily, and a spoon for stirring, in addition.  This is a cheap colander purchased at one of the local dollar stores.  I don't have the need for an expensive colander.  Save your money for a Cuisinart or a KitchenAid or a half dozen good knives like I have.  This colander and the other three just like it are perfect for processing sweet pickles, dill pickles, or washing shelled field peas.  They're more than adequate for the tasks appointed and have performed admirably the five or six years I've had them.  I'd counsel you to spend money on the good stuff where it's necessary - and this isn't one of them.

AAAAaaaaargh!  I couldn't get the lid off and had to break out one of the most necessary odd tools in the kitchen:  the jar opener.  It came from one of those tool sales at the National Guard Armory.  I think it might have been $5.00 and there's one with a smaller rubber strap also.  Money well spent ten years ago.  These normal affects due to aging are making me lose my grip (on jars) so I use it quite often.
Tadadaaaaaa, came right off.  There's my little batch of 14 day sweet pickle sticks in the background - turned upside down so the sugar can be mixed back in to the syrup.  And there's the colander in the sink over the ice cream bucket.  :0)  Nothing like an ice cream bucket for putting under the colander to hold almost a gallon of pickle juice!
See all the odd sized dill pickles?  MMMmmmmmhmmmmm... I'm not naming names but you ALL know there's only one grocery store in Leakesville and it's THEIR off off brand.
Mix the two pounds sugar (or one pound if you absolutely want to follow the original recipe but who does that??), Koolaid and pickle juice.  Put pickles back in jug.  I split and quartered some of them.  Pour juice mixture in.

I used a small custard cup to push the pickles on down in the juice.  I don't know if it's necessary or not but I'd think you'd want all of the pickles well-submerged.  The directions say to let them sit for a week.  Well.  Favorite Child (and I'm not it today so it's got to be the original Favorite Child) and I just tried one out after THREE days and the flavor of the koolaid is already seeping into the pickle.  And they're already sweet, too!

So if you want something a little different for your next cook out or just to have something fun in the house for the young'uns to snack on, make these.  I think you'll enjoy them.

KoolAid Dill Pickles
1 gallon whole dill pickles (NOT an off off brand, please)
1 package unsweetened koolaid
2 pounds (4 cups) sugar

Pour juice off pickles, reserving.  Put pickles back in jar and add sugar and koolaid to reserved juice.  Pour juice back on the pickles and let sit for a week.

Y'all stay cool and hydrated!  The heat and humidity are really kicking it up a notch in the Deep South.  I've not complained quite yet 'cause that January and February are still fresh enough in my mind that I remember the misery of feet so cold I couldn't sleep.  Lots of folks will get out working in the pea patch and forget to take a jug of ice water along -- don't do that, please.  If you're working in the heat, use that good mind the Almighty gave you and take care of yourself.  Don't forget to drink plenty...

I'm off to WORK work for a few days.  Be sweet!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Picking Figs with Mama

The figs are getting ripe. Mama knows where ALL the large fig trees in Leakesville and surrounding communities are. She has a mental fig picking event calendar in that sweet and rambunctious head of hers and remembers from one year to the next where she's been invited to pick. Mama's one of those little old stooped over white haired shrunken apple doll faced ladies you all know at least one of. Even if a friend said last year to come on and just pick without asking, she never would. It would be rude. I think there's even a rule written down in one of those magazines in the kindergarten building amongst all Mama's stuff, saying it's rude to invite yourself anywhere, even with prior permission, and REAL Southerners simply do not do this.

Mama's been invited to Mrs. Sue's house to pick figs this week. She had already been down to the barn to check the chickens and let Sheba off her chain. Sheba is Mama's dog. The dog's mama is Queenie. Queenie is a huge black mouthed cur and Sheba is just huge. The brothers and I worry that Sheba might knock Mama down, causing severe injury to her, but Mama's to the point where she'll pick up anything throwable and lob it at the four-legged critter if it gets too rowdy. Mama was going to give Sheba away until last summer when the dutiful and loyal dog alerted the matron to a copperhead snake in the back yard. The canine has been the best dog to have around ever since then. Sheba guards the chickens at night, but that's another story for another day. Today was miserably hazy hot by 7:30 in the morning when Mama went to let the chickens out, feed them, and bring Sheba back up to the house.

The heat slows her down a good bit now. It took her a long hour after getting back from the barn to get her coffee drank, a bite for breakfast, her medicine taken, hat located, and another thirty minutes to drive the three miles into town. It was 9:00 before I got in the car, driving Mama to Mrs. Sue's to pick figs. It is hot. Very hot. I do not wish to pick figs this late in the day. The leaves are fuzzy and the bees will be out en mass and it'll be a hot itchy sweaty job. The thing I dread even worse is to have Mama hone her passive-aggressive skills on me.

The ice cream buckets and dish pans are on the back seat with Mama's rolling walker thingy. She has high expectations today. It didn't take nearly long enough to reach Mrs. Sue's house. Resigned with a martyrdom rivaling Saint Stephen, I get Mama's walker from the back seat along with the buckets, pans, cell phone, AND camera. I've learned doing anything for Mama requires documentation; she is noted for her daily imminent crisis moments and unscheduled dire events.

The sun isn't in the back yard on the fig trees yet. Aside from the humidity it's not too awful. The consumption of a half dozen ripe figs straight off the tree puts me in a better mood, must be all the natural sugar in them. Have you ever eaten a fig, warm from the heat of the morning, so perfectly ripe that it falls into your hand as you go to pick it? MMMmmmmmm...Perfect enough to merit being mentioned as growing in the Garden of Eden, they are.  Picking figs isn't so bad this day. I pick all the way around one of the three trees. Mama asks "Are you going to get the ladder?" This is her way of saying "Get your hind end up in the top of that tree and pick those figs before the mockingbirds get them." I managed three different excuses before she finally wore me down. The ladder is brought to the area of the highest concentration of ripe figs readily available.

Readily available means NOT folding the ladder, putting it on the ground, crawling into the middle of the tree, dragging the ladder in, setting it up, and climbing up it, with every wild honey bee from three counties swarming to the one limb I'll hold for stability as I stand on the top rung to reach the very choicest ripe figs. Nope. I'm going to make life a little simpler today and just pick around the tree. The ladder is stood in a nice clear area with figs overhead. I ascend the ladder, pleased that I can stand on the next to the top rung, for once, to reach the tantalizing fruit. Looking at Mama I see her belly shake, indicating mirth with something. I figure I'm a pretty amusing sight with my jeans shorts, stained sleeveless shirt, old tennis shoes, hair falling out of the clippy, up the ladder with an ice cream bucket hanging on my elbow. Mama's forever giggling about something I say or do. 

I didn't pay that jiggly belly any attention at all. Perhaps I should have. Reaching out to grab the most promising-laden limb several things happened simultaneously: I noticed a pattern of coloration that did NOT match the fig tree bark, it moved, I squealed, descended two rungs of the ladder, and Mama broke out in laughter. A RAT snake!!!!! In the FIG tree! It must be ten feet off the ground! We were both lucky I didn't call forth some of those words I remember Daddy using that he must've learned in the Army during WWII.

Ohhh...for a moment all I could do was look at it, laying up there on that limb like the Serpent himself! More subtle than any creature my left hind leg! I managed to back down the ladder, keeping an ever watchful eye on the snake, hearing Mama laughing and saying what a little old snake that is, "Probably up there after the birds. Where's the rake, I can knock the snake out..." As if, Mama! At least I know where the no-shouldered critter is right now. "Well, Sugar, I'll take care of that little old snake for you..."

Nooo Mama. Let me just move the ladder and we'll leave the snake alone. And since SHE can hardly do anything for laughing, I go to the other side of the tree with the ladder, finding another area as equally yielding of the perfect fruit, leaving the snake and the Mama to their amused selves. When I pick all the way around to the limb the snake was on, it had already slithered somewhere unknown.  It's a good time to leave.

The morning's harvest yields eight pints of fig preserves and a batch of strawberry figs. Mama is happy and all of Greene County knows I've been bested by a rat snake. You know, I MAY just be favorite child one more  time....