Monthly Archives: December 2018

Delicate Beauty of the Paper Wasp.

Bringing the outdoors in”, is often a decorator term that means using natural materials for home decorating and design. It is not uncommon for people in West Virginia to collect all kinds of natural wonders, often it is the delicate paper wasp nest.

Over the years I have been fascinated with the beauty of the things in nature here in the hardwood forest. I often take photos of mushrooms,flowers, and plants that grow on the forest floor. I collect birds nests and nuts that fall from oak and walnut trees. Yet, the most intricate of all the natural finds is the summer home of the paper wasp. I have often had friends and family members who have displayed them with pride in their homes and businesses.

Carrie Shupp’s Paper Wasp nest collection, Elkins,W.V.
Image of a traditional shaped paper wasp nest via e-bay

The nests are made up of chewed up wood pulp and wasp saliva. The pulp is placed in repeated thin layers around a central core of cells that are the home to all of the wasps larva. It is their home for only one summer season. A good fall frost will kill off not only the larva but also the mature wasps living inside. Fall rain and winter snow are deadly to a wasp nest. Water of any kind will slowly deteriorate the nest before spring. So the challenge of capturing a nest before winter is tough.The goal of the collector is to keep the delicate paper and cells in tact and preserve the nest for the future. It is possible to bag (cover with a trash bag and tie it off) a live nest to try to collect it, but the risk of being stung multiple times makes this way of collection dangerous. Wasps are territorial and will defend their home with hundreds of swarming stinging insects if you threaten their home.

Over the years I have heard several stories of why people collect the nests. Some used them in homeopathic medications, some collect them for display, while others use them to ward off other wasps from building near their homes. I have never tried the fallowing remedy or used a nest to ward off other wasps but I will share these unique stories anyway and let you be the judge of if they are worth the effort.

It was my friend and horse trainer, Red who was the first person who explained to me that he used the paper wasp nest in his treatments for horses and other farm animals. If an animal got a injury that needed to have medication applied to the wound he would make a poultice with a wasp nest as part of the mixture. The paper was torn way from the nest placed into a bowl and crushed with a mortar and pestle.Other items for the poultice was added like leaves, oils and liquids, then mixed with the paper until it became thick and pasty. Then the mixture was applied to the wound. I don’t think the paper had any medicinal qualities other than as a suspension for other ingredients. With the mixture formed into a paper paste I think it would be easier to handle and be applied like a compress. I have never attempted to use a nest this way but it sounds like it would have been easy to make for our forefathers .

The logic of using an old paper wasp nest to ward off other nest building wasps is based on the territorial nature of wasps and hornets. It is rare to observe two nests close together because of in-fighting between swarms of wasps. It is believed that if a dead nest is kept in place, or a artificial nest is placed on a porch, it will prevent more nest building just by being seen by other wasps. The information found online says an artificial nest will keep other wasps from building about 200 feet from where it is hung. So if you can keep an old nest dry, it would be possible to reuse the nest as a natural chemical free wasp repellent.

Fake wasp nest found on line at Garden Supply.

Finally, The most common of all the uses for the delicate paper wasp nest is for decoration. I have found that the owners of the nests love the outdoors and the wildlife of West Virginia. They often have wild stories about how the nest was collected and who got the nest down from some far fetched branch. Often the nests are treated like a trophy, a physical reminder of a courageous adventure up a tree, where a person is face to face with what could be a live nest full of bees.

A friend of mine, Carrie Shupp, shared with me a the story of her cousin climbing a tree, 20 feet in the air, to cut a nest free one fall day. Without ropes or safety equipment her female cousin shimmied up a tree to cut a basket ball size nest free in the canopy of a hardwood tree. With nothing but a hand saw she slowly cut the branch that the nest was attached to and brought the nest back down in her mouth. I am sure I would have passed out from just the thought of getting stung in the face, but this young woman was not worried at all. Not all of the stories I have heard are quite as dramatic as this one, some are just about fallen trees that have huge nests hidden in them. Other friends have told of having nests in bushes behind barns where they are a danger to animals and people.The farmer shared with me that he sprayed the nest with chemicals and left it to dry for a few weeks. Then cut it free from the brush and brought it into the barn to show it off as a prize of the war between man and bees.

Every story is different, but each is about our relationship to nature. Some tails show man triumphant over the simple danger of a stinging bug. Others are about the challenge to gather the delicate paper as if it was a treasure worth risking our lives for. Some are about how they are needed for keeping animals and people healthy and how they are coveted as a tool for healing. Other stories are about the danger and the thrill of the capture. I don’t think any other items collected in the forest causes such a strong emotional reaction. These simple homes are loved and hated in equal measure, making a paper wasp nest a unique and fascinating conversation piece in a home, barn or office.

close up of leaf embedded in the side of a paper wasp nest.

damage shown to the bottom of a paper wasp nest where the cell structure inside the nest is visible.

I suggest that if you ever have the chance to own or collect a paper wasp nest that you take a little time to preserve the nest. Most people will suggest varnishing the nest but I don’t like to change the color of the nest with varnish so instead I use clear flat spray paint. Making sure not to saturate the outside of the nest to much. Let the nest dry and mount in a high dry corner of a room. Then share the wonderful story of how the nest came to be in your home and let people share their feelings about wasps and their nest with you. The nest will keep for many years if they are kept dry and away from curious pets and children.

Categories: bees, Home Decor, home remedies, natural remedies, wasps | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chili Sauce from the Garden

Sauce with tomato peppers onions and spices 

  The weather in West Virginia this fall and early winter has been a soggy mess.  So to keep the family warm and fed until the cold of  winter freezes up the mud and turns the world to a lovely white. I have been cooking comfort food in the rain. Home made Chili is a easy quick dinner when you make and can the sauce at the peak of tomato season. 

 Chili sauce from the garden is a family favorite. We have been making this sauce for generations and it can be made fresh from the garden or canned and stored for the long winter. We usually use ground venison as the meat adding a mixture of kidney beans to the sauce when ready to serve.

 If you raise tomatoes and sweet bell peppers you can make home made chili sauce with just a little effort. This recipe usually makes 7 to 8 quarts of sauce but you can easily cut the recipe down or double it for a larger family. Each quart of sauce added to one pound of ground meat and two cans of beans makes around 6 to 7 servings of Chili. 

For this recipe you need 25 pounds of ripe tomatoes. I usually have about half that ripe at one time in the garden and end up adding some to mine from the farmers market. You can also buy a half bushel of tomatoes at once and make one turn of sauce. 

IMG_20180825_092840864

cored tomatoes ready for boiling water bath.

The first step is to wash, core and scald all 25 pounds of tomatoes. I do the best I can coring the tomatoes and leave them whole to scald to remove their skin. The more ripe the tomato the faster and easier it is to remove the skin. I boil about a gallon of water in a large stock pot adding tomatoes until they reach the top of the pot. Boil the tomatoes 3 minutes until skins come lose. Dump hot tomatoes into a cold water bath in a sink and allow to cool. I add a couple of trays of ice to the bath. Refill the cold water bath as it gets warm after adding 5 or 6 pounds of tomatoes at a time.  The skins will pull lose easily leaving a nice pealed tomato for chopping.  

Next dice up tomatoes with a ruff chop and place in large stock pot to begin to cook down. At this point you will have enough juice to cook the tomatoes with out scorching if you use a Med/High heat.

 Next add onion, peppers, garlic, sugar, spices and allowed to cook until everything is soft. Simmering the sauce for about 30 minutes. At this point add tomato paste, 2 cans will help to reduced the amount of water in the sauce. The sauce could be canned at this point if you like a chunky sauce or  I put ours through a food mill to remove any seeds, skins and lumps.

(I make small packets of spices to drop in the simmering sauce to make it easier to remove the large seeds and leaves.)

 After pressing the sauce through a food mill,  heat sauce to boiling and ladle into clean prepared quart jars. I always wash and sterilized at least 9 jars just in case I end up with more then 7 quarts of sauce. Add clean sterilized lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath 20 minutes. No pressure needed with high acid foods like tomato sauce( 20 minutes for quarts and 15 minutes for pints). Each jar will last at least one year after being canned. I rarely make less than 14 quarts at a time.

 

Garden Chili Sauce 

1/2 bushel ripe tomatoes or 25 pounds

1 cup chopped fine hot peppers we use a med hot pepper. 

1 cup chopped sweet peppers

1 cup red onion

2 heads of garlic chopped fine this equals about 10 cloves

1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt 

1 teaspoon black pepper

1  2.0 oz  can ground chili powder, more or less to taste

2 small cans tomato paste

1 tablespoon pickling spices, placed in a cheese cloth,

We use Mrs Woods Mixed Pickling Spices but if you do not have Pickling spice, mustard seed, Bay leaves, whole allspice, cinnamon and coriander seeds can be used.  

When ready to use add one pound cooked ground meat and two cans of kidney beans simmer and serve. 

for more information on canning in a boiling water bath please refer to the Ball Jar Website. 

 

Categories: canning, country cooking, gardening, peppers, Preserving, regional food, Venison | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Fresh New Start for 2018

I am starting off my Holiday Season with at fresh new blog address and a updated About Page. It all seem fitting as I just recently turned 50 and the New Year is just around the corner. So I am giving the blog a fresh new start. 

In the five years that I have been sharing stories with the world I have learned so many new things about writing, blogging and myself. So you may see that some of the topics that I write about are little different from 5 years ago but the themes are the same. I love my home in the mountains of West Virginia and I love the outdoors more today then ever before, so that is not changing. But I want to feature interesting people from West Virginia in my blog more often. This kind of thing takes much more time and work to produce. I am willing to put in the work if you are willing to read a story every few months about maybe a local musician, artist, child, or just a old farmer. I have wanted for years to start taking portraits of the unique and beautiful people that I meet and I think this is a way I can explore both sides of what interests me about blogging. I also think that after the resent Presidential Election and  Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations  portrayal of West Virginia’s people, I need to balance what is put out into the world about who we are, not everyone hunts, not everyone works in a coal mine and not everyone is living in a cabin in the woods. I want to talk to the artist that moved here because they could create in peace, I want to talk to a farmer who cares for a herd of animals in the snow at 7 below zero and I want to talk to a African American Southern Baptist Minister who feeds the hungry, and I want to share photos of people who make my home a better place. Just like these two guys who are making my holiday so much brighter. 

Christopher Powers visits Father Christmas at the Beverly Heritage Center in Beverly West Virginia 2018. 

I hope this first post at the new site finds all of you well and preparing to enjoy a wonderful holiday season. I am excited for the New Year and what will inspire me in the next 12 months and I hope to hear about what you enjoy about the blog and what inspires you. Welcome to the official site of West Virginia Mountain Mama. 

Categories: About me, Beverly West Virginia, blogging, Changes to blog, Christmas | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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