Monday, September 30, 2013

A Little Bit of Order

Over the summer, things got more than a little disorganized in my cupboards, pantry closet, and freezers.  Bags on top of bags.  Dried fruit and canned beans and sacks of flour piled on top of each other, creating a perilous mess just waiting to fall out on my head.

It's driving me a little insane.

To start tackling this craziness, I picked up some half-gallon Ball mason jars today.  They are simply amazing, enormous jars.  I took all the sloppy plastic bags of my many flour types and filled those lovely jars.  A quick label done in my favorite pink Sharpie marker and now I have a double row of tidy jars where once there was sheer catastrophe.  After that, it was a simple matter to slide things around. Fruit and baking items here, pasta over there.  Canned goods (just chiles, olives, and fish items like kippers, sardines, and anchovies) to one side, just over from the rice and crackers.

No more falling things landing on my head or scattered around the floor.

It's heavenly.

Tomorrow night, I'm going after the upright freezer.  I picked up some plastic tubs from the dollar store and I think it is going to help with my many slippery bags of frozen squash, kale and chicken broth.  Plus, there's a collection of things that have been in there too long and just need to be tossed.

Three year old turnips, I'm looking at you.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pickling a Peck of Peppers

My hoop house produced a bumper crop of peppers: Hinklehatz, Serrano, poblano, jalapeño, paprika, Pick Me Quick sweet pepper.  Such a myriad of shapes and flavors, most of them hot!

After using lots in salsa, and peach jalapeño jam, and diced into various delicious things, I still had a basket full on the kitchen table.  First step: to separate them.  All the teeny ones (mostly Hinkelhatz, an Amish heirloom variety meaning "chicken hearts") into one pile and kept whole, and the others sliced into little rounds.

After boiling a simple pickling solution of cider vinegar, water, and crushed garlic cloves, it was a simple matter for packing jars, covering the peppers with brine, and processing for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.

I think these will make great pantry stash items, as well as gifts for friends who really like hot peppers!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Harvest Day

Today was THE DAY.  The garden needed to come in, because it's getting colder and I had the time to deal with it this weekend.  Thus, Harvest Day!

After rounding up some excellent friends, we headed out into the gardens and started work.

There was so much stuff in there, for all it's sad neglected state.  More pumpkins, squash, red and green cabbage, beets, watermelon, sunflower seeds, was glorious!

Check out those carrots!  I never even got to thin them, let alone water them.  Go, Scarlet Nantes, go!

Possibly the best thing we pulled out was all the dried beans, peas, and seeds.  Not only will I eat some of them (calypso beans, I'm looking at you!), but now I have a stash to replant next year.  Plus, I have plenty of edible goodies to can and dry and add to the pantry.  Right at this moment, I have five trays of kale drying--it's such a satisfying feeling to know I managed to grow all this stuff in such a small amount of space!

Now...what to do with all that cabbage?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Settling In

The weather has slid into fall, and Halloween is just around the corner.  I'm busily filling jars for the pantry (right now, a decadent pear chutney is bubbling away on the stove), and it's nice to have some gifts from the garden that don't need to be bottled up.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Review

My layered chili, featured on a previous post, is delicious.  I am also in love with my LunchBots insulated, stainless steel thermos.  It not only keeps it hot for hours (I preheats the thermos with boiling water and added really hot soup around 7 am), it also cute and pink and is BPA and lead free.

I love a win-win lunch.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beauty Days

Some days, its not so bad having a job requiring 100+ miles of windshield time each day.

Now, when its snowing sideways and the howling wind threatens to drive me off the road, its a whole different story.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gifts from the Garden

This time of year, its not unusual to receive the gift of extra bounty from others' gardens.  Yesterday, I lucked into a couple pounds of sweet, red Italian type peppers.  These little beauties are perfect for roasting and enjoying as roasted red peppers.  Roasted peppers have to be one of my most favorite condiments.  They go well on everything from pizza, to being whizzed into hummus, to layering onto a grilled cheese sandwich.

They are also rather expensive to purchase at the grocery store, particularly if you are seeking out an organic variety.

So early this morning, I put the peppers under the broiler and let them blacken.  A quick steam in a sealed plastic bag and a little more time spent in peeling the loosened skin, and they were ready to fill a sterilized pint jar.

That's right:  a jar.  After feeling a little bit disappointed, I decided I was being really greedy and I realized that one jar was more than what I had in my pantry before.  So yay, I'm going to have roasted peppers in the pantry!

A lot of recipes talk about marinated or pickled roasted peppers, but I just like plain, ordinary peppers without any flavors added to it.  This meant cranking up the pressurer canner, and canning at 11 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes.

Its a lot of work for one little jar, but trust me:  It's worth it!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tomato Invasion

The horde of unripe tomatoes are no longer unripe.

That's good news...but twenty pounds of ripe tomatoes to deal with all at once is more than a little daunting.  The options are endless, really: do I make salsa?  More crushed tomatoes?  Dry them?  Freeze them and deal with them later (like, in January)?

After popping onto the internet, and rummaging around in the fridge and remains of the garden, I discovered a wonderful thing:  I had all the stuff to make a monster batch of tomato soup.  I love tomato soup.  I like to make it fresh, from scratch, but that takes quite a lot of time.  So the idea of having a raft of canned tomato soup tucked into my pantry seems like an excellent indulgence (not to mention a great way to use up all the now-ripe tomatoes leering at me from their wire shelves).

Tomato soup is really easy to make, but you do have to keep in mind a couple of things.

1.  Don't thickener like flour, and don't add dairy to it (I love milk or cream in my soup) when you are canning it.  You can add a rouge of flour and butter to it when you reheat it, and you can add that milk to it at that time to.  Just, don't add them when you are canning.

2.  Watch your salt.  You will need to add seasoning to this (like salt and pepper) when you serve it, but if you go nuts with the salt when at the canning stage, you could wind up with insanely salty soup when you want to eat it.  Be cautious with sugar, too.  Oversweet tomato soup is just...nasty.

So here's the basic method:  core and quarter your tomatoes, and toss them into a big pot.  Bring them to a boil and simmer until soft, then run them through your food mill and reserve the juices in another big pot.  In another pot, combine about five pounds of chopped onion, three cups of chopped celery (I used some of my lovage from the garden), a nice big handful of flat leaf parsley and another one of fresh basil, and three large cloves of garlic.  Add water to cover, bring to a boil and simmer until soft, and then run through the food mill putting the juices into the pot with your sieved tomatoes.  Pop the big pot of juice onto the stove, heat to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Ladle your hot soup into hot jars, top with lids and bands, and process in your pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes for pints (or 30 minutes for quarts).

When you want to serve this, you can add some milk or cream to it.  I like mine thick, so I make a little rouge of butter and flour and stir it into the hot soup, simmering until it thickens.  Served with a grilled cheese sandwich, this may be the best thing to come out of your garden all season.

Friday, September 20, 2013

New England Days

In the mornings and late evenings, you can tell that summer has ended and the world is sliding into fall.  Its a rather delicious feeling, redolent of dry leaves, roasting squash, and deep twilight evenings under a blanket contemplating a bonfire.

It reminds me so much of my childhood in New England, when a walk to the bus stop meant crunching through drifts of fallen orange leaves, and the walk home from visiting friends meant coming in from a gathering darkness filled with the smell of smoke from fire-lit chimneys.  Its the season of homecoming, of frost in the morning and mist rising from the lake.

This means, too, that it is the time of year for warm, filling casseroles and hearty dishes laced with rich meats.  Taking a little break from all things tomato, I decided to make a batch of homemade baked beans to add to the pantry.  Baked beans are a classic New Englander dish, usually served with hot dogs and warm brown bread from a can.  Its no wonder that as the weather drifts toward winter that I start to pine for the smell of rich molasses sauce and savory beans in the oven.

Its a simple enough dish to make: I started with soaking two pounds of pea beans (also known as navy beans), and then layered them with thin strips of salt pork found at the local butcher shop into my cast iron Dutch oven.  Its a wonderful pot, found at a yard sale and likely once owned by a hardworking grandmother--I think she'd appreciate it being used still!  A simple sauce of hot water, molasses, apple cider vinegar, and dry mustard was poured over the beans, and into a hot oven it went for four hours.  Every 30 to 45 minutes I topped it off with more molasses-laced water, until the beans were soft, brown and glazed with a rich sweet sauce.

Because I wanted these to store in my pantry, I ladled them into hot Ball jars--nine pints in all--and pressure canned them at 11 pounds of pressure for 65 minutes.  After letting them cool overnight, and drifting to sleep hearing the ping ping pong of sealing jars, I now have a little bit of my fall childhood in my pantry.

Now, to make brown bread in a can!  That would really bring it all home for me.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's Got Layers

Hi!  Did you miss me?

Life has been slightly too busy of late.  In fact, a much needed day off had to be cancelled due to work commitments...but I snuck in a free afternoon to make up for it.  My garden still has offerings, and it is nearly impossible to get all the preserving done before it goes the way of compost.

My latest canning adventure took three days to get done.  The first night, I cut up about ten pounds of tomatoes fresh from the garden, stewed them for a bit and ran them through my trusty Foley food mill into the crockpot.  That handy appliance then ran all night with the lid cracked, and turned into a rich, thick sauce.  After admiring its great and wonderous beauty ("ahh, red sauce!"), it was stuffed into the fridge and a pot of five more pounds tomatoes took its place.  This batch became thick and luscious tomato paste, by way of a larger gap of the crock pot lid.

And then came the Great Assembly Day.  I found a recipe for Layered Chili on the Internet, and tweaked it to what I had on hand and what I like to have in my chili.  After sterilizing my jars, I started my layers, one by one:
1/4 cup rinsed, dry pinto beans
2/3 cup browned ground beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon minced dried garlic
2 tablespoon green chiles from a can
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin & coriander

Tah dah.  After filling to the one-inch head space mark with hot water, it was on with the lids and bands and 90 minutes in the pressure canner.  Seven lovely pints of chili to squirrel away in the pantry until a cold, late evening meal is needed.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Experimental Outcome

As you can see, they are highly pink and look a little frightening.  They dried down slightly darker than this, and have a more crispy-chewy texture than gummy.\

All in all, it was a worthy experiment.


As to the taste, all I can say is:  Ack.

I won't be making these again, but if you like faux fruit flavored chewy-crispy pieces of squash, perhaps they will be more to your liking.

No word yet on if the chickens will eat them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gummy Addiction

I must confess.

I love gummy candies.

I love this picture from wikipedia.
Chewy, sugary, fake fruit flavored...oh, how I love them.  Sour, sweet, shaped like a fish, a bear, a chicken foot, a worm.  They are all delicious and I can devour them by the pound when the mood strikes me.

Of course, then I am sick for days and swear to never again eat one.

Until I remember how strangely wonderful a frozen gummy worm is, straight from the freezer and stuffed between your lip and your gum...


In any case, they are simply terrible  for you and should not be eaten in vast quantities.  But what is one to do when the longing for a gummy treat is simply irrestistable?

One should go harvest some zuchinni.

No really, hear me out.  Apparently, you can make gummy fruit snacks using those giant monster zucchinis.  You peel them, and chop them into little cubes.  Then, you put them in a pot with water and either unsweetened koolaid and sugar or sugared flavored jello.  After you cook them until softened, you drain them and put them in the food dehydrator on trays and dry them for 14-16 hours at 125 degrees.

With any luck, you should wind up with fruit flavored snacks from a vegetable otherwise destined for the Ladies in the Coop.

I'm giving this a whirl, using some raspberry jello I had stashed in the bowels of a cupboard--don't ask me what it was doing there, as I loathe jello and don't eat it--and right now, it is draining and getting ready for the dehydrator.  I had about ten cups of diced zucchini, so I used about four cups of water and two packages worth of jello mixture.  It will be very pink, if nothing else.  More pictures will come of the final product, and my taste test reviews.

Will it be disgusting?  Or will it be suitably gummy-like?  Time will tell.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Back Up and Running!

It took a little while, but after the new-and-improved Little Free Library was put up on its post, it's finally been refilled with some excellent books.  My library's theme is still "sustainable living", so all the books inside are filled with good ideas on beekeeping, gardening, preserving foods, and homesteading.  The great thing is that there is still plenty of room for more books and videos to be put in there.  I have some additions, somewhere in my book piles, and eventually I'll truck them out there and tuck them inside.

I love this little colorful library--it makes such a delightful addition to the front garden!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fruit Leather Fail

In case you've started to think that everything I attempt goes swimmingly perfect, let me reassure you that no, I am quite good at screwing things up.

Yesterday's attempt at making pumpkin fruit leather went seriously awry.  Either it was too wet with non-joined fibers or I left it dry a tick too long, but it is hard and crumbly and Sahara Desert dry.  Not quite the texture I was going for....

Looks like I will have yet more pumpkin powder to add to the pantry shelves.  On a positive note, this batch is lightly sweetened and seasoned with delicious spices like ginger, cinnamon, and allspice.

I am really hoping I don't mess up the roast chicken I am planning to make today!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Planning Ahead

I have plans for my hoop house this fall.

After I pull out the pepper plants currently winding down in there (which may happen this evening, with luck and a bit of a cooling off of the current sweaty day), I am going to plant some cold season crops.  Swiss chard, peas, lettuces, maybe some spinach; all of them should fairly jump out of the ground and get growing immediately.  And then, when it does get cold and frosty, I can drop the sides of the hoop house, add some interior hoops & secondary plastic, and perhaps keep fresh vegetables growing until the bitterest cold months.  I've never tried this, but I think it might just work!

Friday, September 6, 2013


I am so excited about my onion harvest this year.  This is the first year I've had significant success growing my own onions, beginning with the seed.

Waaaaaay back in January, I sowed three teeny onion seeds each into peat plugs.  After making sure they were kept moist and warm atop heated seedling mats, they sprouted--with 92% success!  That was thrilling in and of itself, as 1/3 of my seed was from 2011.

After they started growing fine little green leaves, I kept them trimmed to about one inch long.  Each time I cut the little leaves, they grew another layer, which served to make thick stemmed green leaves that eventually looked like fat chives.  Water was critical to their growth, but after a week or so I removed them from on top of the seedling trays as onions are more happy with slightly cooler soil temperatures.  They were parked under bright lights, though, and continued to grow like mad.

When the ground finally warmed up enough to work the soil, I planted the little pods of plant in the garden, and mulched thickly with composted rabbit manure.  I swear, rabbit manure is like rocket fuel:  plant something in it and it takes off like it wants to head for the moon!  It was too long after putting them out in the garden that I had to thin them--I pulled two of the small green onions out of the pods, leaving the remaining one to mature throughout the summer.  As it was a pretty dry summer here, I put a hose on a timer to water the garden every other night, hoping that it would help the onions to bulb up to nice, fat roots.

As you can see from my picture, my plan was a success!  I haven't weighed them, but judging from how many are lining my shelves, I have over fifty pounds of lovely yellow Copra storage onions and about five pounds of smaller Red Baron onions.  The smell is spicy and delicious!  I plan to leave them to dry thoroughly, which will take about a week give or take, and then I'll bundle them away in a basket or two to store in a dark, cool spot (also known as the lonely closet in my house) for the winter.  With any luck, I'll have fabulous home grown onions well into the winter.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tomatoes galore


Finally, my tomatoes are coming in!  
Bushels and bushels of them.

It is glorious!

I can't wait to restock my pantry to jars and jars of crushed tomatoes, spicy salsas, and delicious sauces. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pumpkin Powder

My sadly neglected garden may be full of head-high weeds and tangled vines, but it is managing to produce quite the harvest.  Plants are amazing, aren't they?

My New England Pie Pumpkin vines have made a bumper crop of small, bright orange squash.  I love this particular kind of pumpkin--it is thick walled, meaning lots of meat for pies and soups and such.  

Unfortunately, my vines were smacked by some kind of rampant blight, which caused the fruit on some of the vines to start rotting.  This is a small problem, as the harvested fruit that had to be pulled off the vines aren't cured.  "Curing" means that the skins are hard and tough, which is what you need to have in order for winter squash to actually "winter" over in storage.

So I had eight of these beauties to deal with.

Ever tried peeling multiple squash in one afternoon?  It's rather hard on the fingers, even with plenty of useful tools to use.

After making a batch of Pumpkin Curry soup, canning that plus seven quarts of chunked up flesh, I still had four more pumpkins to deal with.  So, I took the lazy way out:  I roasted two of the halved pumpkins in a 350 degree oven for a little over an hour, and then let them cool off.  Once they were cooled, I scooped out the flesh and pureed it, and then spread it over the fruit leather trays in my dehydrator.

I set the dehydrator at 145 degrees, and left it to work away overnight.  In the morning, I found incredibly crispy, dried sheets of pumpkin.  I crunched it up to a powder (more or less) in my food processor, and wound up with this:

To reconstitute it, simply add 1/3 cup powder to 2 cups of hot water.  I'm not entirely sure of the texture once it comes back to life, but I got some damp when I was cleaning things up and it immediately became sticky--just like ordinary pumpkin.  At any rate, one mostly filled pint jar which was once two whole pumpkins sure will fit into my pantry a lot more easily than jars and jars of flesh!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Recycling Fruit

A few years ago, I canned a whole lot of peaches and apples.  Quarts and quarts of was a little excessive.  I did eat lots of them, but I discovered some languishing in the pantry this summer.  The sad thing is, after three years, they were still fine but had lost their texture.  To my taste, it is all about texture.  If it becomes too slushy, or gooey, it grosses me out and I can't stomach it.

So what to do?  Well, there is always the option to feed it to the Ladies.  They would love it if I tossed fruit to them every day.  But to throw four quarts' worth into their ravenous beaks...well, it just seems wasteful to me.  After pondering my dilemma for a bit, I thought: fruit leather.


Nothing could be easier.  I drained some of the liquid out of the jars, and then puréed the fruit using my immersion stick blender.  Then, it was simply a matter of pouring the fruit onto the fruit leather inserts that came with my dehydrator (I made a couple extras by tracing the form onto parchment paper and cutting it out--it worked great!)

After about 12 hours at 135 degrees, here's what I wound up with:
Beautiful!  A couple trays were still tacky after an overnight drying, so they dried for a couple more hours in the morning.  I was able to peel off one tray (it smelled incredible, like concentrated peaches).  To wrap them, I simply ripped the sheet of leather in half, laid each half on a strip of waxed paper, and then rolled it up so that the leather didn't stick to itself.
A quick fold of the ends over to tighten the wrap, and they'll live happily in a mason jar until I need them for a quick snack.

I don't know why it has taken me so long to make fruit leather.  I love it, and the process is so easy!  I think I will be making much more of this in the future.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day!

May your day be restful, cheerful, and perhaps a little musical. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Colorful Carrots

I was gifted a whole bunch of gorgeous, heirloom carrots.  Yellow, white, pale orange, purple: oh, they are so pretty!  To show off their fabulousness, I decided to try a refrigerator pickling technique I snagged off Pinterest.

It is super simple and will make the sweetness of the carrots shine, I hope, after at least 24 hours in the chilly depth of the fridge.  The recipe called for sugar, vinegar, salt, pickling spices, and a teeny bit of water.  After bringing the brine to a boil, I poured it generously over the peeled and trimmed carrots standing at attention in their jars.  I had enough carrots for two pints full, and plenty of brine left over.

I can hardly stand the wait before I try them!