Monday, September 20, 2010
PHOTO: Rhonda Tracy revives the art of making jelly.
All I know about jelly making came from watching my mom and grandma make it on the farm growing up.
I harbor mixed feelings about the process. Jellymaking for a farmboy meant spending the day bent over in the sun picking strawberries, fighting thorns in the raspberry patch, or peeling piles of apples. Of course the payoff was jars of juicy jelly that tasted like fruit ripped ripe from the tree in the middle of a long Iowa winter.
I tried it once as an adult and ended up with a syrupy mess.
So when Rhonda Tracy offered to teach a class called “Jelly Your Way” I had to find out if there was a secret to making great jelly, or even mediocre jelly.
Her answer surprised me.
“I think it is as simple as following instructions carefully,” she said. That’s not always as easy as it sounds, even for an expert. “I got ahead of myself once, and threw the sugar in the pot at the wrong time and had to start over.”
To avoid the problems, Tracy recommends using the basic Sure-Jell instructions that come on packs of pectin. “You can’t go wrong if you follow those in the right order.”
Tracy (who also happens to hail from the Midwest) had not made jelly in many years. She yearned to try her hand at it again, and has found fellow souls interested in learning the art of canning.
“One thing I found out is that it is exciting,” she said. Exciting? Jelly making is many things - delicious, soothing, thrifty, Zen-like. But exciting? She went on to explain, “It is the ability to be creative as far as combining fruits. I used cranberries and blueberries, and it was the best preserves I had ever made.”
Another reason for making your own jelly is that you end up with an intensity of flavor never found in store brands.
“When you use real fruit, the flavor comes alive,” she said. You can also get creative in using fruits you won’t find on store shelves - agarita, mustang grapes, mesquite beans. “If you are going to eat jelly, it should be more than diluted apple juice or grape juice.”
While savings is not the prime reason people make their own jelly, canning does not have to be expensive. Tracy scrounges her jars from thrift stores. Once you have the equipment and containers, it can all be reused. All you need to add is sugar and juice.
For people such as Tracy’s parents who went through the depression, their goal was to move away from homemade stuff and embrace easier, modern methods. There is an equal and opposite tug now.
“People are going back to natural things,” she explained. “Sure, people are concerned with the economy, but they are also concerned we are losing those old, traditional ways of doing things. That’s our heritage.”
Flavor. Health. Savings. Fun.
“The main thing I tell every class is that this is not hard, it is not dangerous. With one day’s work you can have a cabinet full of homemade stuff. My aunt spends one week’s worth of days canning, and has all she needs for a whole year.”
So why take up jar, lid, and gauze?
“It’s easy,” she said. “If it was that involved, I wouldn’t do it!”
Rhonda Tracy teaches Jelly Your Way on October 2, 2010, Canning for the Beginner on Oct 16, and Cooking Italian starting Nov 1, at the Vanguard Institute in Boerne. For information or to sign up, click www.clubed.net, or call 830-895-4386.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Before a generation found another use for airplane glue, every kid experienced the thrill of building a plastic model from a kit.
But after spending hours hunched over our desks, painting with tiny brushes, carefully placing delicate decals, waiting impatiently for the glue to dry, most of us moved on to other challenges.
Some “kids” never got over that thrill of creating miniature models. One of those is Rob Booth, who has been building scale models since the 1960s.
“It was a rare kid that is really good at it,” Booth admitted. “Most would slap them together then take ‘em out and shove a firecracker into them.”
For those of us who haven’t been inside a hobby shop since the days TV had three channels, the basic kits are pretty much the same, although the quality of the molding has gotten infinitely better with engineering and computers.
Advances in chemistry have banished the old stringy glue. The new liquid cements use capillary action to draw the liquid along the seam, and actually fuse the pieces together. This eliminates seam lines
Grownup model building also has more at stake than bragging rights on the block. Model contests emphasize making the model look as realistic as possible.
”The emphasis is on making miniature real looking replica of what subject you are modeling.” The results of modern model making are so realistic the cars look “like you could drive them right off the table.” Authentic touches include seats with real leather, piping, photo-etched instrument panels, even details such as “heat markings” where the exhausts come off the manifold.
The subject matter has expanded. Today you can build ships, tanks, and a lot more airplane models than were available in the 1960s. Another category is sci-fi, with items from Avatar and Star Wars, as well as a growing variety of figures, from tiny gaming pieces to busts, movie monsters, and historic figures.
In his class, Booth plans to show examples of all these.
“This class will appeal to somebody in their 20s to retired folks looking for a serious hobby to spend time on in the evening,” he said. “It’s a good teaching tool for patience, and shows how to follow directions.”
However, if you were one of those kids who couldn’t wait for the glue to dry, you may not enjoy the experience.
“If you have no patience, you are going to be miserable,” Booth laughed. “If you are ADD this is not a good thing to do. But it is relaxing, and you can’t take it too seriously. If I improve each time I do it, I’m happy with that.”
One of Booth’s interests is to formalize a modeling club in the hill country. “I would like to see this for the kids at some point. I think there is value in this - teaching kids the ability to sit down and follow a plan, to keep their attention on something.”
According to Booth, half the fun is doing the research on what you trying to build. “With the Internet, the sky is the limit. You can do a lot of research, and can use pictures to help you be accurate.”
But like those children of the 60s, the main point of modeling is the same. “The whole thing is to have fun,” he said. “If you want to get serious, we can help you. But the main thing is don’t want you to come and be judgmental or to be judged. Whether you have done this before or not, the point is getting back into the hobby and having fun with it.”
What about the kid who turned his 79-cent kit into a molten mass of plastic?
“It will even appeal to them,” Booth said. “They will learn how to do it right.”
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
When Lee Adams slices open a rock, he never knows what he will find. For the retired engineer, that mystery is the allure of the stone.
“Some are solid, some are not,” said the Bandera resident. “I can’t tell before I cut whether it’s white crystal, or agate or amethyst. It could be a 2.5 million year old nautilus fossil.”
Adams has spent 40 year pursuing his hobby in rocks. He is sharing his passion with Club Ed students for the first time this fall, teaching courses in Lapidary Arts and Wire Wrapping for Jewelry.
“I first started collecting rocks, then wondered what do I do with all of them?” He began with a used rock tumbler, and from there he couldn’t stop. Adams bought all the equipment from a retired rock collector, and soon was cutting and polishing gemstones. The fact he lived in Idaho and had unlimited supply of raw material within 50 miles of his home made his hobby more addicting.
Adams and wife, Judy, now make all types of jewelry, brooches, earrings, bracelets, and even bookends. They sell at shows and give their work away as gifts (“We give away more than we sell,” he admitted).
Adams, who is president of the Fredericksburg Rock & Mineral Club, loves to not only share his jewelry, butalso likes to help others build an appreciation for the hobby. He especially enjoys showing the secret wonders of lapidary with youngsters.
“I have thousands of pounds of polished gems that I’ve given to kids,” he said. “A kid will pick up a rock and be fascinated with it. They are fascinated with petrified wood and I’ve got lots of it. They can see that wood and understand what they are holding.”
This is Adams’ first time teaching for Club Ed. The class will meet at his shop in Bandera - “the finest rock shop in the area.”
“In the Club Ed class we are going to cut and polish two stones, plus look at the overall hobby, the equipment, and other forms of cutting and faceting.”
Adams warns students that working with rock is not without its challenges. “You can’t cut inside corners - it’s not like a piece of wood where you have saws to do that. Any cut has to be a straight line.” He also keeps a piece of carpet in front of his rock saw. “That’s because if you drop a stone on concrete it doesn’t do it much good. It’s frustrating to be almost done and have it break.”
He will also teach how to make jewelry with a technique known as wire wrapping. “We saw some wire wrapped stuff, and said, we can do that!” He and his wife came up with original patterns and designs, and are eager to help students learn the art. “Anyone can do it, you just get real creative with it. No two of my pieces are ever the same.”
For Adams, the timeless appeal of working with stone never leaves. When he holds another rock in his hand, the sense of wonder always returns.
“When I crack open a rock, I am the very first human to see the inside,” he said. “And I am surprised every time.”
Lapidary Arts begins Monday, Sept 13. Wire Wrapping starts Oct 13. For information or to sign up, click www.clubed.net, or call 830-895-4386.
Club Ed is the Community Education program of the Kerrville Independent School District. Each session, we offer hundreds of enrichment classes and individual training throughout the Texas Hill Country and online. Follow us at ClubEdComments.blogspot.com, on Twitter @clubedtx, and on Facebook at Club Ed!