Hatch battening

Hurricane warnings divide the world into two kinds of people: the prepared, and us.

The prepared have a generator, purchased well before Home Depot ran out of them. They have batteries and bottled water, canned food and first aid kits, flashlights and radios. They’ve filled all their gas tanks, boarded up all their windows, secured all their outdoor items.

And then there’s us.

Hurricane Earl is supposed to pummel Cape Cod later today, so we’ve taken in anything edible from the garden, gotten the skiff we keep in the pond up on dry land, and made sure we have a few extra bananas.

I thought we were doing just fine until yesterday, when one of my friends sent me a list of all the things you’re supposed to do to prepare for a big storm. It was called a “Hurricane Preparedness Checklist,” but it might as well have been called “Things Tamar and Kevin Aren’t Doing.”

We don’t have an evacuation plan that’s more specific than ‘let’s get the hell out of here.’ Our non-perishable food supply consists of coffee and licorice Scottie dogs. Our only battery-powered radio is the one from the boat.

Some of the items on the list are simply out of the question. “Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control.” Perhaps we should put the turkeys and chickens in the bathtub. And then there’s the one about making sure you have an ample supply of “sanitation and personal hygiene items.” We don’t pay much attention to personal hygiene even in good weather, and have a hard time believing that washing behind your ears is a priority in an emergency.

I’ll admit that we are doing a few of the things on the list. Our truck has a full tank of gas, we’ve turned our freezer to its lowest setting, and we’ll charge our cell phones. We’ll take in anything that might blow away, and put at least one vehicle in the garage.

My most time-consuming hurricane preparedness activity, though, does not appear on the official list: I’m making grape jelly.

It’s like this. My friend Melissa, the charming and talented proprietress of a little shop called Yummy Goods (and an eponymous blog), has a lovely, well-established grape arbor. While she appreciates the smell and look of the grapes, she doesn’t eat them (“It’s a texture thing,” she says). Nor does she can. When I first saw her arbor, a few weeks back, she told me she’d be happy to let me have the grapes when they ripened.

Everyone should have a friend with a beautiful grape arbor and a generous nature.

The grapes chose this week to ripen, and my top pre-storm priority was harvesting enough of them to make a batch of grape jelly. If Earl blew them all away, it would be a tragic waste.

Yesterday, Kevin and I raided the arbor. We took almost ten pounds of grapes, but there were so many still on the vine that it looked like we hadn’t even been there. They’re a beautiful, dark purple, slip-skin variety – I’m tempted to say Concord, but my grape identification skills aren’t such that I can be sure.

Last night, I washed, stemmed, and crushed them, and simmered them with a little water until they gave up their juice. I drained them and let the juice sit in the refrigerator overnight. I’ve been told that grape juice has a tendency to form tartrate crystals – something I’m familiar with from wine corks – and the juice should chill for at least 12 hours before you turn it into jelly, in the hopes that the crystals will form and you can filter them out.

Today, as the storm closes in, I’ll be making jelly. (And I won’t be using a water bath!)

The two storm-related bad things most likely to happen to us are an extended power outage and a strategically placed fallen tree. In case of the former, we’ll lose some food. That would be unfortunate, but not disastrous. In case of the latter, we could have damage to our house, our boat, our chicken coop, or our truck. Assuming no damage to either of us, that would also be unfortunate, but not disastrous.

As long as Kevin and I have each other, and grape jelly, we’ll be fine.

12 people are having a conversation about “Hatch battening

  1. I remember the hurricane that hit the south coast of England in 1987. We don’t get hurricanes normally – so no-one has checklists or the remotest idea what to do. It wasn’t pleasant, but we didn’t even know it was coming our way, so we didn’t have time to do anything about it anyway. So you guys sound far more prepared than we were.

    Fingers crossed you don’t get too much damage.

    Good luck and enjoy the grape jelly!

  2. martha in mobile says:

    My best hurricane supply advice: wine, battery-operated lantern, and a deck of cards.

    Once Earl passes and cleanup starts, your grape jam will come in mighty handy! We usually put our chickens in the garage during hurricanes, and then have to power-wash it out. But I have seen a hummingbird outside my window survive a ‘cane by clinging to a string, so I’m betting your chickens and turkeys will be fine (if a little disarrayed).

    Good luck and God Speed.

  3. “Last night, I washed, stemmed, and crushed them”

    It’s a lot of work, isn’t it? If you’ve let it settle overnight and strained it (for a second time) through cheesecloth, take a good look at the stuff left in the cheesecloth. It’s really wild looking stuff. Kinda sparkly, like some weird cosmetic or something. I just canned the juice with plenty of sugar. I figure we’ll have grape juice as a treat sometime, in our largely juiceless existence.

  4. LOL!! You have a great sense of humour- even in the midst of what could be a stressful event! Best of luck, hope all fairs well!

  5. Fiona — Well, now it’s the next morning, and the storm wasn’t more than a brisk breeze and some rain. I haven’t been out to survey yet, but it looks like we sailed through just fine.

    Martha — I thought about putting the turkeys in the shed, and if it had looked like a full-bore hurricane we might have done just that. The chicken coop is very secure, and the chickens seem to have the good sense to take shelter in it, so I don’t worry about them. Or I only worry a litte … In any case, we were spared the brunt of the storm.

    Kate — I don’t think I got any crystals, and I didn’t re-strain the juice (since I can barely restrain myself, I figure that was par for the course). I hope I don’t have crystals in my jelly. I used a ton of sugar, and I’m not entirely pleased with the results — more on that later.

    Tracy — Anyone who laughs as easily as you is welcome here any time!

    Sara — We did fine down here. I expect you got a harder hit up in Wellfleet. I hope you got through OK. Sending good vibes from down Cape!

  6. If a weather-related armageddon hits, coffee and licorice scottie dogs will be currency in the new society, I’m sure of it. You’re totally prepared.

    I just checked in to see if you and Kevin and the critters made it through Earl. I’m so glad to read in your comments that it was more of a storm in a teacup than the storm of the century.

    Thanks for the tip re. crystals forming in grape jelly. I never knew that (not that I’m inundated with grapes here).

  7. Hi, I found you via Kate at living the frugal life, and don’t think I’ve posted yet.

    I had to laugh after reading your post on not water bath canning. I’m English, and therefore apparently by definition going to fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to jam making. Or I suppose that should be by the seat of my briefs. Anyway.

    I don’t waterbath jams, chutneys or pickles, and don’t know anyone else that does. Even the WI who are a women’s organisation famous for jam making don’t suggest it. I use sterilised reused jars and lids, (ie commercial food jars) and have used the cellophane sheets in the past, but don’t like the waste/expense.
    I’m new to canning, and have only canned fruit so far, and do use proper kilner(mason-type) jars for that.

    However, on the European sites there is general scoffing at the fact Americans have to have the full kit for every activity, whereas continental Europeans (bottling is much rarer in the UK than say France, Germany, Bulgaria) make do the way they have for generations.
    I have to say US canning sites scared the living daylights out of me, and put me off attempting canning for several years.
    I have heard sceptical types suggesting the level of paranoia in the US is consumer economy driven; don’t do it yourself if you can buy it, and if you do DIY, buy lots of stuff to do it and replace it frequently.

    Me? I don’t know, and I think Kate has a good point about creating instructions for the worst case scenario, so I follow USDA guidelines for fruit/veg/meat canning and make jam and chutney the way I always have, cause I’m happy the sugar and acid are going to stop the growth of the dreaded botulism.

    Incidentally, why do you have to put the fruit into sterilised jars, when you’re going to sterilise the contents anyway? Don’t get that.

    • Hazel — Thanks for finding me! The more I read, the less inclined I am to be persnickety about jams and jellies. (As you point out, meats and vegetables, and even unprocessed fruits, are different.) As for sterilizing the jars — that, I understand. Even though the contents are sterile, an organism on the jar could colonize the contents, so everything needs to be sterile before you cover it.

      More on canning soon …

      • Tamar, I thought I was being particularly dim when I read your reply, and then realised that usual I’d waffled and not explained myself very well.
        I meant when you hot water bath, rather than in jam making. I have been sterilising the jars as instructed (in US sites, don’t think my good ole’ Good Housekeeping book tells me to) before hot water bathing my jars of syrup-covered fruit…but I’m still not sure why? Surely any bacteria on the jar would get zapped along with any in the fruit?
        Sorry, didn’t mean to offload my canning paranoia on you!

        I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, thanks!

        • Hazel — I’m the dim one! I should have figured out what you were talking about. I don’t do syrup-covered fruit — only jams and jellies, for now. Those, I don’t water bath.

          And, rest assured, you can offload your canning paranoia on me any time!

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