Frontier General Store
The call had gone out the night before. Sarah had gone up to the neighboring properties: to the Taggart's, to the Spencer's and then up to the Cassadines too. Gram would be canning tomatoes the next day if the weather cooperated. They were loaded and it would be going to waste. Everything after the allotted amount of jars Gram had set aside for tomatoes would be for whoever came to help and brought their own canning kettles and jars.
Flo is happy to get the invitation figuring it sets the tone in the valley for when the hog butchering happened. She'd do the same already knowing that the Spencer's would be in on the butchering but figuring this meant that the Hardy's would be joining in as well.
Since things are still tense at the Spencer property, Laura is quick to volunteer Carly and Lulu to represent the Spencer's.
When Mrs. Lansbury gets the news she takes a deep breath and then goes in to speak to her employer. "Master Stefan, I will be taking tomorrow off from my duties."
"Excuse me?" Stefan raises a brow at that. Mrs. Lansbury had been getting increasingly independent during their months homesteading but this is the first time she'd said something so... inappropriate.
Nikolas looks up from his nightly journal entry. "What's happened, Mrs. Lansbury?"
Mrs. L looks toward Nikolas to give her explanation. "I have been invited to the Hardy's for a... canning party. They have more tomatoes than they need just now. If something isn't done with them then the vines will stop producing."
Nikolas nods. "I'll drive you down in the morning after chores and water the garden for you in your absence."
"Thank you, Master Nikolas. I'll go make a cold supper for tomorrow right now." She goes back into the kitchen not waiting for Stefan to say anything.
"Nikolas, that was scarcely appropriate. I know you are fond of Mrs. Lansbury but her tone was insubordinate and you are encouraging it."
Nikolas shakes his head. "I disagree, Uncle. While Mrs. Lansbury said she was taking the day off from her duties she is not really. Her tomatoes were damaged by the hail storm we had last week. She was quite distressed at the loss. The ripest tomatoes were pulped by the hail and all that remains on the plants she could salvage are green. Rather than taking the chance on another hail storm finishing them off I'm sure she is trying to make sure that there are at least some canned in her stores." Nikolas goes to the other argument to cement his case. "If we were living in the city, Mrs. Lansbury would be given a full day off every week and a half day as well. She hasn't had a day off in over a month."
"If we were living in the city we would have a full staff." Stefan counters.
"Thus we all have to make some sacrifices." Nikolas shrugs. "Mrs. Lansbury isn't shirking her duties but instead working in our interests-- just at the Hardy's tomorrow."
After the milk is put up and the eggs collected, Mrs. Lansbury puts on her bonnet and gloves. Nikolas comes into the kitchen after pulling around the carriage to the kitchen side of the house. "What do you need for me to put in the wagon?" He asks looking around.
Mrs. Lansbury points out the boxes of canning jars that are by the kitchen door. Nikolas grabs those making two trips to take them out to the carriage while Mrs. L grabs her enameled canning pot filled with other supplies: a small paring knife, clean washcloths and hot pads, and specialized tongs for taking the cans from the boiling water. She carries it out to the carriage. Nikolas secures it with the jars and then assists Mrs. Lansbury into the carriage. "I appreciate your assistance last night with Master Stefan, sir."
"I have my own agenda, Mrs. Lansbury."
"I suspected as much." She allows herself a small smile. "You want me to find out what the others are doing."
"Yes." Nikolas yahs the horses to set them on the path down the valley. "I need to know if we are... on target in our provisioning for the winter from a woman's vantage. It is something my Aunt is incapable of gauging. There will only be a couple more trips to the store this year. I will want a detailed report of any additions you feel will be worthy of our attention."
"Of course sir."
At the Spencer place, he sees Carly and Lulu starting down the path to the Hardy's. "Do you need a lift?"
"That would be great." Carly shifts the canning jars and enamel kettle from the small cart she'd been pulling to the carriage with help from Lulu and climbs into the carriage after lifting Lulu in. "Thanks."
"I will be coming to pick up Mrs. Lansbury this evening. I can give you a lift back as well."
"Much appreciated." Carly replies leaning forward to make sure she's heard but then she puts out a hand to settle Lulu into the seat instead of bouncing around.
Nikolas pauses briefly at the Taggart place but doesn't see any activity in the front and continues on to the Hardy's. Once there he realizes why. Gia and Elizabeth are already out by Mrs. Hardy's tomato plants each carrying a bushel basket and plucking ripe tomatoes from the vines. Mrs. Lansbury shakes her head. "How did she manage to not lose tomatoes to the hail storm?
"Elizabeth told me Mrs. Hardy tented them with the tarp from their wagon." Carly answers the question. "Mrs. Hardy took one look at those clouds heading their way and freaked. It ended up shredding the tarp before the storm was over but it protected the plants for the most part. You can see the way she uses the stays from the wagon for her trellis, I think she hooked it off of that." Carly explains. "Stop here will ya?" Carly asks Nikolas. Nikolas pulls the team to a halt. Carly lifts Lulu down. "Go help Liz; just the really ripe ones, baby. I'll be down to help as soon as I get everything else situated up at the cabin."
"I know." Lulu rolls her eyes and goes running off to Elizabeth.
Audrey gives a small sigh of relief when she sees Mrs. Lansbury. She'd been hoping to have Flo or Laura but instead they'd sent the younger women. Although she is confident that the younger women have been canning for a decade or more she feels they have probably always worked in the company of a... more experienced canner. "Carly, Mrs. Lansbury. I'm so glad you could come."
Nikolas off loads the boxes of jars putting them neatly on the porch where Audrey indicates. Carly and Mrs. L grab their canning kettles and set them on the porch too. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Mrs. Hardy?"
"I believe we have it from here, Mr. Cassadine."
Nikolas nods. "I'll pick you up this afternoon then, Mrs. Lansbury." Nikolas heads back up the valley.
Carly sees an empty bushel basket. "I'll go help with the picking." She departs.
Mrs. Lansbury takes off her hat and gloves and pulls her apron out of her bag and puts it on. "How do you want to do this?"
"It would be too crowded in the cabin I think. So whatever we can do out here where it is cooler..." Audrey refers to the porch. "And then just use the cabin for the actual processing and letting the jars that are finished rest." They walk into the cabin. Mrs. Lansbury notes the cloth covering the long plank table and Audrey's canning kettle set by the stove. She brings hers over by it. Then they walk back outside. "Here I thought staging areas: washing the tomatoes, blanching them, skinning them, filling the jars, filling the wire baskets with the filled quarts, then processing."
"Well I think we have enough hands to get it done." Mrs. Lansbury nods seeing the sense of it. "With one of us supervising out here and one in the kitchen we'll be working as fast as the number of kettles we have. Lets get the jars clean and hot. Nothing messier than a cold jar hitting boiling water."
Audrey shudders at the thought. She has both of her wash tubs and one Gia had brought over set up on the porch. She starts to fill two of them with the boiling water from the cast iron kettle she has over the outside cooking fire. One tub would be for cleaning the tomatoes, one for blanching and one for keeping the jars hot. Together they clean the jars examining them for cracks or for any other kind of flaw. The jars that weren't perfect would be used for storing dried goods rather than canning. It was too risky.
Soon the only thing they are waiting on is tomatoes from the garden. Elizabeth who'd had Lulu's help brings up the first bushel of tomatoes. She empties the bushel basket into the waiting wash tub that is filled with cold water to rinse the tomatoes. And then goes back down to the garden. Mrs. Lansbury transfers the tomatoes from the rinse to the hot water to blanch them which causes the skin to split for easy peeling. As soon as the skin breaks she pulls them out of the hot water and starts peeling them.
Gia shows up with the next bushel basket. She sets it on the end and standing next to Mrs. Lansbury starts stuffing the tomatoes into quart jars whole if they'd fit or cut in half if they don't as she nears the head room at the top she packs the tomatoes down firmly and juices one between her fingers to add juice and bring it up to less than an inch to the top. She works to fill the basket with seven quart jars and then when that is done wipes off the tops making sure that not a single seed would interfere with the seal and takes them into Mrs. Hardy inside the cabin. Mrs. Hardy puts them into the boiling water bath and covers the kettle making a note of the time on her watch. Gia goes back out to fill another wire basket with jars. With everyone's contribution there are three baskets to go with the three canning kettles. There would be no waiting for the tomatoes to process to have the basket back. By the time the first kettle is done processing, the third kettle would be loaded.
Out in the garden, Lulu is a big help. Rather than having to bend over to get the tomatoes, Lulu takes the bottom of the plants for Elizabeth and Carly. "Your Gram went plum wild on these tomatoes and I can't believe how big they are already. Ours are nothing like this." Carly tells Elizabeth.
"We had a few weeks head start on you because you had to build your cabins." Elizabeth reminds her. "And Gram always believed in putting in plenty cause she'd rather have more than not enough... you know cause of the birds or the other critters."
"You had any problem with deer getting in the garden?" Carly asks curiously. As the weather had gotten warmer, the lushest forage is in the community's gardens as they were watered daily.
"Not since I brought Riley from town." Liz refers to her dog. "He's pure evil on any critter that doesn't belong. Once he'd been introduced to all of our livestock... anything that isn't ours he runs off."
Gia brings back down an empty bushel basket. "I can vouch for that." She laughs. "I still remember when he brought our cow back to our place for us. I'd taken the cow up to the upper pasture but it wandered on down to the Hardy's. Never seen anything so funny looking as that big ole Holstein and her calf heading back to our place with that little dog nipping at their heels."
Carly's basket is full so she heads up to the cabin. Gia takes her spot and keeps picking. Liz glances over to Gia. "I'm sorry about that." She says hesitantly.
"I'm not." Gia shrugs. "It's good to know and it saved me a lot of time looking for that stupid cow. She probably would have stayed, expecting me to come over here to milk her."
"That's just silly." Lulu giggles.
"Exactly." Gia agrees.
Carly comes back with her empty bushel basket. She eyes Lulu carefully. The little one was a big help but had a short attention span. You had to keep her occupied with different things to keep her on task. "Baby, Mrs. Lansbury needs your help filling jars. She needs someone with little hands that can fit in the jars and not get stuck." But knowing that Lulu probably didn't remember much about canning from the year before she takes one of Lulu's hands. "You need to make sure your hands are super clean, cause Mrs. Lansbury has already gotten all the dirt off the tomatoes and you don't want to put any on." She picks a point on Lulu's index finger about half an inch in. "You see this spot right here." Carly waits until Lulu nods. "You fill the jars until your finger can touch the tomatoes and this spot is right at the top of the jar."
"Okay I'll go help her." Lulu goes running off to the cabin.
As soon as Lulu is out of hearing. "Anyone got anything to tell that the little one couldn't hear?" Carly suggests slyly.
Mrs. Lansbury doesn't quite know what to think when the little Spencer girl comes running up to the nice orderly assembly style line she is working. The first thing Lulu does is plunge her hands in the cold water where the tomatoes are rinsing and rubs them together briskly. Then she holds them up to Mrs. Lansbury. "Good enough?"
Mrs. Lansbury sighs shaking her head. "One more time and get the backs this time." It had been many years since Master Nikolas had been this age. And back then her contact with him had been limited by Nikolas' grandmother. As soon as she is satisfied with Lulu's hands she watches as the little girl rather than standing by the porch instead goes to sit indian style by the wash tub with the jars in it. Lulu goes to put her hand in that water but is quickly warned. "That's hot."
"Okay." Lulu flattens her hand over the water to get the temperature and then using just two fingers lifts a jar out of the water and puts it in front of her. She starts stuffing tomatoes in the jar. Mrs. Lansbury watches her carefully until she sees Lulu take the final step measuring the headroom and then she relaxes a bit. Lulu is soon bored doing one at a time and so she grabs the wire basket and puts the empty jars in it. She starts stuffing all the jars at the same time.
Mrs. Lansbury raises a brow at that but she checks the jars and sees that they are still warm enough when Lulu gets done. She wipes down the edges of the jars making sure they are clean and then carries the basket into the cabin. She brings out an empty wire basket. "You're very good at this. I never would have thought to do all seven at once." She compliments the little girl. "And you got the amount of empty space exactly right."
"Daddy says I'm his smart child." Lulu brags.
Bobbie rolls up her sleeves and reaches to the bottom of the five gallon barrel filled with a salty brine bringing soon to be pickles from the bottom to the top. She did this every three days first skimming off any scum from the top of the barrel and then rotating the pickles thru the brine. After nine days they would be ready to be processed into quart jars. She straightens and wipes the brine back down her arms and into the barrel and grabs a plate to weight the pickles below the liquid. After that is all done she wipes her hands and arms on a towel. Laura comes by her and sniffs. "You smell delicious."
"I smell like a pickle." Bobbie laughs. "I do love them though."
"You're so much better at it than I am." Laura laments. "Yours always turn out perfect... crisp... just the right amount of salt. And you pickle things I would never would have thought of before I married Luke. But he seems to crave them too."
"Comes from hanging out in saloons and such when we were young: pickled eggs, pickled pigs feet, pickled peppers, pickled onions. All that salt sells more beer." Bobbie says wryly. "So you might call it the benefit of my misspent youth. Along with learning the recipe for Aunt Ruby's chili. Another dish designed to encourage the consumption of mass quantities of cold beverages."
"Luke shocked the locals down in Texas the way he could eat the hottest of peppers and not breathe fire."
"Cast iron stomachs." Bobbie grins. Then she gets serious a little frown developing between her eyes. "I wonder how the girls are doing."
"Probably having a great time. I know canning is tedious, hot work. But at least they are with the other girls in the valley." Laura puts on the finishing touches of the noon meal she is making for the guys. "I'll take this out to Luke and Lucky."
"I'm going to get back in the garden. I think we're having green beans tonight."
"Sounds good to me." Laura waves as she leaves. Foster who'd been missing Lulu all morning falls in at Laura's heel.
Stefan walks the property with Nikolas until he finds the spot that Nikolas had discovered earlier. Stefan squats down resting his weight on his heels with his elbows on his thighs. His eyes are narrowed as he considers the spot that is on the very corner of the Cassadine property. "It is an interesting proposition."
"I think it would work. The slope is right and an asset of the property." Nikolas suggests.
"It would be worrisome in the spring thaw. There would need to be a stable barrier around the house. You are talking about creating a weakness in the natural protection of the river's bank."
"Yes. And on the plus side it would eliminate the need for barrels in Mrs. Lansbury's garden if the ditch were cut right here."
"And how were you planning on cutting this ditch?"
"Borrow the plow that Zander used to cut the brick for his soddie. It would tear up strips two inches deep in an eighteen inch swath. If the process were repeated a number of times it would not only create the channel but also the banks. Mrs. Lansbury has already ditched her actual garden to facilitate using the barrels."
"And next year, emphasize it more by making a more pronounced terrace system." Stefan nods. "Go talk to Mr. Smith."
Marcus takes a hankie from his back pocket and wipes it over the top of his head and then across the back of his neck. Conducting his own experiment he wrings the hankie and isn't surprised when he can wring liquid from it. It was drier here than back in Alabama, where the air was as wet as the sweat on your body. Wouldn't need the root cellar until late September but couldn't work on it in the heat of the afternoon. It was better done bout the same time as the chickens woke until the noon meal.
Flo had marked the spot the day after he'd finished the smokehouse. Not that he'd been able to do much about it what with haying and all. Haying had to come first. Digging a hole in the earth didn't go bad but the hay surely would if he left it in the fields. But now it was stacked and covered ready for the season's change. Damn root cellar though felt like digging his own grave, abet a roomy one.
"Supper is ready." Flo calls from the house.
Marcus sets aside his tools and climbs the steps he'd carved as he went. Marcus goes up onto the porch not wanting to go into the house he sluices water over the top of his head and neck from the water barrels and just lets it air dry.
Florence hands him a plate before sitting down on a rocking chair on the porch. By her side is a basket that is filled with okra from the garden. Pulling out a needle and thread from her apron, She starts stringing the pods spacing them with a knot. The basket already has some finished strands. She'd do the same with the chilies from the garden. Hang them to dry between the rafters of the cabin and then grind them to spice stews or sausage. The interior of the house is warm enough to dry the produce and had the benefit of not having birds snacking.
"You know what this valley needs?"
"What's that?" Flo doesn't look up from what she is doing.
"A bull. We have five producing dairy cows in the valley and no bull."
That gives Flo pause. It's just a matter of time before the bossies dried up; it was the nature of things. "Oh dear."
"Totally useless pains in the as... rear cept for one time a year. Eventually we're going to be in a world of hurt if we don't have access to one. I don't want one... just access."
"One of the Quartermaine's range bulls?" Florence suggests.
Marcus' eyes narrow and he chews as he thinks. Then swallows before he speaks. "Have to put a gate on the rear of the property. It's kinda risky considering they don't want us here to start. And it would be very risky for the Hardy's jersey cow cause they are so much smaller. Calf off of one of those angus could very well.... Course it would have the benefit of giving a steer that would be good for eating."
"And the draw back of a heifer that is poor for milking. We really need a Holstein or jersey bull. A jersey bull could get the job done on a Holstein... it would just have to work a little harder."
"How many of them are there?" Carly asks with amazement as she stares at the crowded surfaces of the Hardy cabin.
Audrey wipes the sweat off of her brow. "A hundred quarts of whole tomatoes. Three dozen pints of catsup."
"I didn't know we had that many jars!" Elizabeth crowds in behind Carly.
Mrs. Lansbury pulls out the last wire basket of pints from the hot water bath on the woodstove and looks around for someplace to set them. Audrey clears a spot. "Between all of us it doesn't seem that unlikely. I didn't believe that we could have filled them all out of one garden. My compliments, Mrs. Hardy."
"They'll need to rest over night and then they'll be ready to go home with everyone." Audrey sighs. "I don't know about anyone else but I'm ready for a pot of tea."
"I'll go get the cider from the coldbox." Elizabeth informs heading down to the creek.
Carly and Lulu go back out onto the porch sitting down and hanging their feet over the edge. Lulu sags against Carly. "You tired, Baby? You worked really hard today." Carly rubs Lulu's back and starts a soft hum not surprised when Lulu's eyelids start drooping. Carefully Carly shifts the little girl so that her head is pillowed in her lap.
Gia comes back from dumping the washtubs of water and is about to say something when she sees that Lulu is out. "That was fast."
"It won't last long. She takes after her Daddy in that regard. Likes a siesta in the afternoon but then is ready to go all over again." Carly says softly. "I was out in the woods yesterday with Lulu. We climbed a tree by the um... hunting camp after putting down some grain."
"How many did you see?"
"Only stayed for an hour; Lulu won't stay put longer than that unless she's fishing. Six not including the mama. They're getting big."
Gia frowns. "I wish Marcus had marked each pig individually rather than just put his mark on their ear. That way we'd know if we're seeing the same six over and over again or if it's all ten."
"Well I'm sure he figured he'd know." Carly shrugs. "Next year."
Gia nods and sits down next to Carly and says softly. "I don't think there will be much ... salvage until next spring. Everyone who is left is probably thinking that they are going to stick. Or they'll bug out at the last minute before winter."
Carly nods. "Figure that everyone is doing fine right now with crops in and the weather being decent."
"Um..." Audrey really doesn't want to ask but then decides to anyway. "If you should come across some windows... I know they are likely to have been sold back to the store but they would be really handy for making cold frames... get a head start on the planting season in the spring."
"A cold frame? What's a cold frame?" Gia asks looking from Carly to Audrey.
"It is like a miniature green house." Mrs. Lansbury answers. "The suns warmth is intensified under glass... so even if there is snow on the ground or it is freezing overnight it allows seeds to germinate. By the time the spring frost date has past..."
"May..." Gia nods. "It was March back home."
"Then the seedlings are transplanted into the garden and you've saved yourself two or three weeks at least. The seedlings are less tempting to the birds than the actual seed itself."
The first thing that occurs to Gia are Marcus' tobacco plants. She looks at Carly and raises a brow. "We'll be on the lookout."
Nikolas arrives down at the Hardy's around five pm. There would still be another four hours or so of daylight. Mrs. Lansbury sees him coming up the path and puts on her bonnet and gloves. Carly calls to Lulu who is playing with the cats. The women pick up their canning kettles and bring them over to the carriage. "I thought there were going to be quarts of tomatoes." Nikolas wonders. "You didn't actually put up any produce did you, but rather drank tea and ate crumpets." His smile lets Mrs. Lansbury know he is teasing.
Lulu runs up to Nikolas craning her neck to look up at him. "We made a hundred quarts of tomatoes. And we would have made more but we ran out of jars!"
"My word!" Nikolas exclaims. "Are you sure there were one hundred quarts of tomatoes?! Where did you put them all? Are they in your pocket?" He teases.
Lulu frowns at the young man. he sure is stupid. "They wouldn't fit in my pocket. They are all over Mrs. Hardy's cabin." Lulu nods. "But we can't take them home until they cool all the way. That means tomorrow. And then we'll take ours home and Carly will hide them under her bed."
"More information than he needs, Baby. And Mr. Cassadine is just funning ya' he knows you can't fit even one quart jar in your pocket-- maybe a pint but that's about it." Carly swings Lulu up into the carriage and then climbs in beside her with a hand up from Nikolas. Nik assists Mrs. Lansbury into the front seat and then coming around climbs up next to her.
The trip to the Spencer's is a short one. Nikolas drops them off by the push cart so they can return it to the cabin. Lulu races ahead to get the gate. Nikolas waits until they are inside the fence and the gate closed before going up the path. "Hide the jars under her bed?"
"Jars need to be kept in a dark, dry place, preferably cool."
"Like under a bed."
"Like under a bed, sir."
"What did you find out?" Nik prompts.
The rest of the trip Mrs. Lansbury fills Nikolas in on the doings in the valley and the priorities of each of the families.
Walking home across the field between the cabins, Gia cuts by Marcus' tobacco plants. Even with all of his babying, they were about half the size of what they would have had back home. Course they didn't have all the bugs on them that they would have had at home either but still. She remembers what Mrs. Lansbury had said about cold frames. If they had gotten a couple of weeks head start before Marcus put the plugs out.... There will be enough for Marcus and Mr. Spencer too come harvest... but there wouldn't be a lot to trade.
That would put an increasing pressure on selling the hams and sausage from the pigs. Actually both of them would be too late. There was maybe one more trip to the store. They needed something that was going to give them cash money now... and working for Miz Hannah for the one day doesn't cut it. "Mama, I'm home."
"Well you aren't bringing home any empty jars... I take it that's a good sign."
"I have to go get 18 quarts of tomatoes tomorrow and six pints of catsup." Gia sets the canning kettle on her mother's kitchen counter.
Flo frowns. "I would have thought that Audrey would have had more jars... how is that we get so many?"
"Mama, we put up a hundred quarts of tomatoes. We had plenty of jars there was just plenty of garden to go along with." Gia looks to the rafters. "And it looks like you've put up plenty of okra too." Gia leans up against the counter and looks at her mother. "Mama, we need money."
Flo shakes her head. "What is it with my children today? Can't I just have a nice day? First Marcus says we need a bull and now you're telling me we need money."
Mrs. Lansbury has yet to realize the latest irrigation project to her garden. I'm sure she'll notice it tomorrow. Using the actual river rather than relying on barrels we should be able to double production next year. Each property of the valley has a specialty. Zander with his variety of root vegetables and good pasture but also running the trap line to capture small animals. The Spencer's are clearly capable of ... putting their backs to whatever task is at hand and are planning to distill liquor. But they rely largely on luck. And Luck is a fickle mistress. The Taggart's smokehouse will surely be put to good use once the fall hunting season begins. Mrs. Hardy is raising sheep, goats and appears to have an ability to grow just about anything. If this homesteading project proves a success then more people will be moving into the valley, probably on the other side of the river.
And while the rest of the families have found their niche we have yet to really find ours. Although uncle tells me that he has made a number of investments... the steel and coal industry in Pennsylvania, the fishing industry in Washington and various shipping ventures along both seaboards. News of these ventures come via telegraph to the store much delayed to us in the valley. This is distressing to Uncle who prefers to be much atop of his investments especially under the constant threat of Grandmother. It would be entirely in her nature to cut off Uncle's funds from the estate in order to force us back to Russia. For all the difficulties, cultural and otherwise, I like it here better.
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