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Country Cousin

Rhubarb...

Hi Folks!

Unbelievable. It always is. One minute Spring will never get here, and the next minute the lilacs are done blooming! However, the global warming thing seems to have deserted us. We’ve had some fine, fine days, but weather is still more than a mite chilly. Furnace kicked in several times just the other night. Must remember to turn it down way below 60, because it warms up very well indoors once the sun shines.

NO BLACK CATS?

Friday the 13th is coming up at the end of this week, and it falls on the day of the beauteous June full moon! Surely that must be some kind of portent!

Hope there are no ladders to walk under or black cats to cross our paths. Haven’t found any four leaf clovers lately. Think searching would be a good idea?

ON THE SOAP BOX

COUNTY GOVERNANCE


Marinette County currently is without a County Administrator. Duties of that office have been temporarily assigned to a three member team consisting of the corporation counsel, finance director, and human resources director, but indications are that advertising for a new County Administrator will soon get underway. Maybe that shouldn’t happen.

Since 1987, state law has required counties to have at minimum a single contact person to handle communications with the state and its agencies. The law allows counties to decide whether they will have a county executive, who is elected and has considerable power including the right to veto county board actions; a county administrator, who also has considerable statutory authority, although in theory under the direction of county board, or an administrative coordinator, with whatever powers county board decides to allocate.

Marinette County decided a quarter century ago - certainly doesn’t seem that long - to have a county administrator. That hasn’t always worked out so well, and now, with the position vacant, is the perfect time to look at the alternatives.

County Board needs to bring in an unbiased speaker to give the board a short course on just how the county can operate under each form of administration.

As a close observer of Marinette County Board for nearly 40 years - 16 of them as a member - have seen some changes that are not for the best.

In recent years it seems roles have become reversed, and County Board, the elected representatives of the people who pay the bills, have turned over their responsibilities to an administrator who tells them what to do. The situation should be the opposite - County Board should decide what it wants done, and the administrator should help them accomplish it.

Actually saw at least one instance in which County Board was scolded for allowing a member of public to present his arguments so convincingly at a County Board meeting that the majority of supervisors dared to vote against the recommendation of the administrator!

That was not wrong. That was as it should be, our Republic form of government in action.

Was shocked to realize just this week that somewhere along the line a policy was either formally or informally adopted that department heads need permission from the administrator before they can bring requests for new positions to their parent committee.

This is totally wrong!

Communications between the elected County Board and the people they hire to carry out their wishes should never be restricted! We who elect them should insist on that!

County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder has said they will simply seek a new administrator without looking at the other two alternatives because none of the supervisors contacted him with a formal request for more information on the other two (or more) versions of county government. (There were informal requests at two meetings, however.)

What if we all were to call the supervisors who represent us and ask them to formally request more information at the next County Board meeting?

A brief written summary is informative, but leaves many of the possible variances out of the picture, and Supervisors have a responsibility to know what choices they have before they make a decision.

Let us keep in mind, if things don’t go as we, the public, would like, we can legally petition for a change to a County Executive. There are drawbacks, and we might or might not be lucky enough to get an exceptionally good candidate, but the bright side is that if things don’t work out, we could always vote in a new one at the end of his or her term. No severance pay, no lawsuits. Just the power of the polls! And restoration of power to either the people or the person we elect to work for us.

GROWIN’ THINGS

Every year at this time I get busy kicking myself for not planting or transplanting rhubarb sooner. Generally, rhubarb should be planted in early, early spring, before the stalks get any size to them, or in fall. But with this weird year, and another bitterly cold winter being predicted by Yours Truly, it might be worth planting or transplanting some now. Provide tender shoots when they come up with some extra shade if things get too hot. (Doesn’t seem likely this year, but who knows?)

Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but it’s difficult and takes too long. So buy some crowns, or find someone whose patch needs attention. Rhubarb should be divided every five to eight years, although some has thrived for decades without interference.

Rhubarb grows well in almost any garden soil, but, like most plants, it does not like its feet wet. Ideally, the area where you plant rhubarb should have well-draining soil with compost or well-decayed manure worked into the soil. Needs four to six hours of sun daily, and appreciates a bit of shade, especially in the hot afternoon. If you’re scientific, the ideal pH level is about 5.5 to 6.5. Along the east side of a building, but not too close, is good.

Ours grew beautifully on the south edge of the woods, and it died when we moved it to sandy soil and full sun all day long. On the other hand, it doesn’t like Black Walnut trees, exposure to one that grew too close to its new location may have killed it off.

Anyway, once you’ve picked your spot, cultivated it and add manure or compost if needed. Dig a small hole for each crown. The crowns should be put in about 30 inches apart if you’re planting several. Add water to the hole. Carefully remove the plant from the pot in which you have purchased it or take the crowns you are transplanting and set inside the hole. Plant with the top bud about 2 inches below soil level, and be sure to put it with the bud end up and the root end down. Carefully and firmly fill in the area under and around the plant base to be sure the plant is firmly set. You want no air pockets. Cover the surrounding area with a somewhat heavy mulch (leaves are good), but leave the area where the shoots will come through uncovered. Keep well watered.

To divide rhubarb, cut the clumps into sections with a spade. Don’t cut enough to kill the stand you’re thinning, though. Each section to be transplanted needs a part of both the root and crown of the original plant, and should contain two or three buds or eyes. The larger the section of root, the better.

RHUBARB PESTICIDE

It’s amazing that the stalks of the rhubarb plant are so delicious and edible, and the leaves are totally poisonous, but that is the case.

To make a very effective bug killer, boil about a pound of rhubarb leaves in a few pints of water for about 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool, then strain the liquid into a child proof container, or at least one that will be kept far away from the little ones. Add a tiny bit of dish detergent or soap flakes, but not laundry detergent. Put part of it into a spray bottle and store the rest safely away from little hands. Spray on leaves of anything you do not plan on eating to kill off bugs such as aphids and spider mites, June bugs, and fungus diseases. Do not put on anything edible. Rhubarb leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid, and are poisonous, and could cause death.

Know this works on other pests, but it occurred to me recently that it may work on wood ticks and deer ticks. Hardly anything else does, and we have a bumper crop of them this year. Will pour it along the edge of the yard where they seem worst and see what happens.

GARLIC AND SOAP INSECTICIDE

Here’s a homemade insecticide said to kill chewing/sucking insects, mildew, leaf spot, rust spot, and spore disease.

Wonder if sucking insects include mosquitoes and wood ticks?

This one can be used on fruits and vegetables.

In a blender or a food processor, chop finely two whole cayenne peppers, one large onion and one bulb of garlic with a little bit of water. Transfer mixture to a large container, and cover with one gallon of water. Allow to stand for 24 hours, then strain mixture. Bury the leftover “mash” among the plants where the infestations occur. To the liquid part add a tiny bit of dish detergent or soap flakes, again not laundry detergent, and transfer to a safe container. Also keep this mixture away from youngsters, because we certainly don’t want to get rid of them!

KEEP IT CLEAN

With warm summer weather, we need to be more careful than usual to keep cooking surfaces and utensils sanitary. That’s especially true of things we use when making salads.

Wash your can opener and cutting boards with hot, soapy water every time use them. After cutting up raw poultry, fish or meat, disinfect your cutting board and countertops with a diluted bleach solution.

Mix one tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of hot water. Use this to rinse dishes, counters, cutting boards, and your refrigerator handle after washing them. Put some in a spray bottle, clearly labeled, for easy use. Keep this where kids can’t get at it.

Dish towels and dish cloths and reusable scouring pads should be washed in hot - not warm - soapy water, preferably with some bleach. If you use them to dry your hands, wipe children’s faces, or mop up spills on the floor, be sure to wash and disinfect them before using them again for dishes.

Incidentally, if your dish washing soap contains ammonia, do not ever mix it with any bleach solution! The fumes are toxic. Almost did myself in that way once.

KEEP BERRIES FRESH

Strawberries are ready, blueberries and raspberries won’t be far behind. To keep these wonderful treats fresh, prepare a mixture of one part vinegar (white or apple cider preferably) and 10 parts water. Dump the berries into the mixture and swirl around. Don’t let them sit. Drain, rinse if you want (though the mixture is so diluted you can’t taste the vinegar,) and drain again. Then pop into the fridge, but not in an air tight container, unless it’s one of those “green” bags. The vinegar kills any mold spores and other bacteria that might be on the surface of the fruit. Raspberries will last a week or more, and strawberries go almost two weeks without getting moldy and soft. Blueberries should do as well, but they might dry out, so don’t leave them too long.

RHUBARB WISDOM

Rhubarb season is here, in fact harvest for it might soon be over, but how wonderful it is while it lasts. Rhubarb is a wonderful northern vegetable - although we generally use it like a fruit. The reverse is true of tomatoes, which are a fruit that is eaten like a vegetable.

Incidentally, have mentioned this before, but education is knowing a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad. Vice versa, education maybe knowing rhubarb is a vegetable, but wisdom is not putting it raw into a vegetable salad.

Anyway, when you’re cooking with rhubarb, you might find it handy to know that one pound of rhubarb equals three cups chopped rhubarb, and three cups chopped rhubarb equals two cups cooked rhubarb.

COOKIN’ TIME

It’s that time of year again - So many good things to eat that we can’t get them all in!

GARLICKY ASPARAGUS

1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Clean asparagus, then steam it for four minutes or until crisp-tender. While asparagus steams, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring frequently. Add steamed asparagus, salt, and pepper; toss to combine. Serve hot or chilled. Serve with steak and they won’t know which to eat first!

RHUBARB RELISH

Great with chicken, turkey or pork. And this after saying we shouldn’t use rhubarb in a vegetable salad! On the other hand, cranberries are certainly a fruit and cranberry sauce is perfect with poultry.

3 cups diced rhubarb

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated orange rind (zest)

1/2 cup orange juice

1 small or medium red pepper, diced

2 green onions, minced, white and green parts

1 very small clove garlic, finely minced

Place the rhubarb, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, red pepper, green onions and finely minced garlic in a pan. Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to low, and allow mixture to simmer, stirring often to avoid sticking and burning. Simmer rhubarb mixture for about 12 minutes, or until rhubarb is tender, and mixture thickens. Serve rhubarb relish warm or chilled. It’s really good over grilled or oven baked chicken breasts.

MAGIC STRAWBERRY RHUBARB JAM

Makes about five and a half cups. Great served over vanilla ice cream with sliced bananas around it, for a sort of banana split. Also great on toast, pancakes, or French toast.

1 1/2 cups fresh or *frozen chopped rhubarb

2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, crushed

1 cup canned, crushed pineapple, about 8 ounces

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 package. (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin (like “Jello”)

In a large pan, combine the chopped rhubarb, crushed strawberries, crushed pineapple, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent sticking and burning. Then reduce heat and allow to simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Be sure to continue to stir often to avoid sticking and burning. Remove mixture from the heat, and gradually stir in the strawberry gelatin until dissolved. Pour jam into refrigerator containers or glass canning jars, leaving about a half inch to an inch of head space. Allow jam to stand on the counter until cooled. Top with lids and store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks. You should also be able to freeze this, but haven’t tried it.

SWEET CHERRY DUMPLINGS

Quick and easy. Serves 4

3 cups frozen dark sweet cherries (14 ounces; not thawed)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

1/3 cup well-shaken low-fat buttermilk

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425F. Cook cherries, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and extract with a pinch of salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar begins to dissolve, about 3 minutes. Spoon filling into a 9-inch ceramic or glass pie plate (1 inch deep). Whisk together flour, 2 teaspoons of the remaining sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in buttermilk with a fork until just combined (do not over mix). Drop dough in 4 mounds over filling, leaving space between mounds. Sprinkle topping with remaining teaspoon sugar. Bake until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Thought for the Week: Lord, let us be properly grateful for Your bounty. Forgive our nation for the travesties into which it has fallen, and grant us the wisdom to help guide it back to Your ways. Amen.

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo. com.)

COUNTRY COUSIN


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