* Pumpkins and Ristras and Wreaths, Oh My! *
by Lisa McAfee
This came out of my "stuffs" but as usual, I searched for a linkback to it and found one !
Back East, you always know when autumn has arrived. The tree leaves turn into a myriad of crimson and gold colors and the air is crisper and cleaner smelling. The Southwest region of the United States also has it’s own unique characteristics that reveal Fall is indeed here. September and October offer up a bounty of pumpkins, Chile peppers, and gourds from the desert landscape. There are many projects you can do using these materials to make your home ready for the upcoming holidays. So pour yourself a glass of hot apple cider and get started with these few ideas.
1. Make an autumnal table setting. Gather any colorful leaves you can find. Admittedly, these may be hard to find if you are in the lower desert. Take a day trip to the mountains and go on a nature walk. However, you may just want to go to Hobby Lobby and buy some. Using a long, pretty basket, arrange the leaves inside and then place two or three pine cones in also. Take several mini pumpkins, cut off the top and scoop out the insides with a melon ball scooper. Place tea candle in each pumpkin. Or you could just make hole in pumpkin big enough to place white or colored taper candles in them. You can also do this with apples, acorn squashes and various sizes of gourds. Place a pretty table cloth or table runner underneath the basket.
2. You can choose to put these decorations in a hanging basket and hang on your porch. The candles will look pretty while hanging. Mold long branches of leaves to drape down for an extra visual touch.
3. Using the same materials as above, you can make an autumnal wreath. Just hot glue leaves, ribbons, etc. to a wreath from your favorite craft store.
4. Place sunflowers in a pretty jar or vase and add oak and aspen leaves for a pretty flower bouquet.
5. Chile ristra’s are pretty and easy to make. Buy long green chiles and let ripen in a dark place until they turn rich red, or buy them already red. There are many places on the Internet where you can buy them. One place in New Mexico, you can go to Hatch and pick your own from the fields. Sun dry on vented wooden racks where air can circulate. Be sure to do this outside to avoid the skins turning black inside the pods. Also, I would not use metal for drying. You can also dry chiles in the oven by stretching cheesecloth over the rack and secure with toothpicks. Keep oven on low temperature. 150 degrees is ideal. Do not close the oven door all the way if your stove is electric. However, if your stove is gas, then make sure it is closed tightly to avoid moisture escaping from the chiles.
To string the chiles wrap cotton thread around the stems of the pods in bunches of three or four and then loop underneath a chile and pull tightly.
Continue doing this, then tie each bunch to twine spacing each group about five inches apart if possible. Tie raffia straw at the top of the ristra for a more decorative look, and spray shellac on the ristra to preserve it (unless you plan to use the dried chiles to make enchilada sauce.)
You can make wreaths by tying the pods to a round hoop, and tying long strands of raffia into a bow at the top. Experiment with smaller chile peppers if you want smaller wreaths or ristras.
Making your own enchilada sauce is a fun project and is easy to make. Place dried chile pods in hot water after removing all seeds and stems and let soak for an hour. Peel the skin and place pulp in a sieve and mash. Next, simmer the pulp of the chiles with water, salt and fresh honey to taste. Freeze in plastic freezer bags until needed or can the sauce in pretty canning jars and put a label on the front, along with a square of bright material (just enough to cover the lid) cut with pinking shears and tie on with raffia or ribbon. Makes a great gift.
6. Lastly, go out into a field or the desert and find different shapes of gourds. Arrange them together for a table setting or for mantle / counter decorations.
These are just a few fun projects you can make for the fall holiday season no matter what part of the country you live.
Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.