Sunday, August 31, 2014

Glorious Heirlooms

My tomatoes are coming in strongly.  I think, in another week, the harvest will be done for this year.  The other morning, with some of the Orange Banana paste tomatoes and Pink Brandywine round tomatoes, I made a batch of Bruschetta in a Jar.  It's a great recipe, found in the Ball Canning Book, and one of my favorite ways to use all kinds of tomatoes.  It calls for plum, but I find any tomato will work, particularly if you opt to scoop out the seeds before you chop them.

Since both these tomatoes did so well, I definitely saved seeds.  This will be the fourth year I've saved my Pink Brandywines, and the first for the Orange Banana.  They were a great find in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, and a definite keeper!  I've got two jars filled with tomato-seed goop, fermenting away.  With any luck, they'll yield a whole lot of viable seed for next year's crop plus some to share.
If you've never saved tomato seeds before, it is very easy.  You simply scoop out the seeds and the "gel" that surrounds them, and pop them into a clean jar.  I add a little amount of water, give them a stir, and then set them aside.  They'll ferment over a week or two, eventually growing moldy scum on top of the jar.  To harvest the seeds, you peel of the moldy bit, and then pull out any remaining debris in the top of the jar.  The seeds will have fallen to the bottom of the jar, so you simply tip them out into a fine sieve and rinse, rinse, rinse and rinse some more.  Once they are clean and free of any pulp, spread them onto a paper plate or a flattened coffee filter.  They should be left to dry for a month or two (they'll shatter when bent, when they are dry enough) and then store them in a jar or paper envelope in a cool dark spot.

A side note about saving tomato seeds:  this works best from heirloom varieties, that breed true.  You can save seeds from hybridized tomatoes, certainly, but the offspring (grown as next year's crop) may be nothing at all like the fruit you grew the summer before.  You never know what you might get: something great, or something horrible. I opt to grow heirloom tomato varieties in my garden, but as gardening is a lifestyle of infinite variety, you could try to save some hybrid seeds and maybe even discover a new favorite!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Loaned Books

I borrowed this book a while back from an excellent friend (thanks, Gretchen!), and I am sorry to say I have yet to return it.  I really should find my own copy.  It's a great little book, full of tidbits and stories and some simple, excellent recipes for homemade wines.  I just followed one for making plum wine, which is happily burping away in the fermentation bucket, and if everything goes right it should be a highly drinkable potion in about a year's time.

There's all kinds of recipes in there: carrot wine, peapod wine, bean that one could have some interesting side effects!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Exciting Developments

Yes, I know.  I have another project on the brew.

I love films.  Any film, really, but I am particularly fond of documentaries.  There's something about a peek into another life, another world, another experience that just appeals to me.  I watch them often, at least two or three a week, and there are so many out there, just waiting...

So I decided, I can't be the only person who likes them.  And then I happened to discover that there are several out there that are available for public showings at no charge...and then it hit me.  Fall is coming.  Winter is coming.  That time of year where we folks in northern climes crawl under the quilts, open a giant box of Cheez-Its, and vanish from society until the spring thaws arrive.  How about scheduling a film showing, once a month, October through March (skipping December, because, really, who has time during the holidays?  So much eggnog, so little time...), on an evening with discussion, friends, coffee/tea, and something to nosh on?

Oh yes please.

And so, I've been busily sending out emails, making some calls, acquiring any needed permissions, making arrangements for a location, et cetera, et cetera.  That is how the HRTI Fall/Winter Film Series was born.  Five months, five films, all fun.  I can hardly wait!   I have to firm up one remaining film, and then all shall be revealed on the Hay River Transition Initiative website (and other local avenues).

I do so love it when something I envision comes to fruition.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer's End

This past weekend, a new sound entered the summer chorus.  Adding to the chirp of crickets and whistles of returning chickadees, the cicadas have announced themselves with their shrill calls.  I can always tell when summer is winding to a close when they arrive.  In addition to tell-tale signs like the blooming of asters, ragweed and goldenrod, these old bugs serve to tell me that fall is nearly upon us.

Of course, that makes my urge to "put up" kick into overdrive.  Every day now ends with either picking, preparing or processing garden harvests for storing.  The dehydrator is constantly whirring away, and it's hardly worth putting the canner to bed on its shelf.  I'm constantly washing bowls, pots, shredders and tools like wooden spoons and canning lids.  I love it.

Unfortunately, harvest season falls on the start back to my work life as well.  I'm not sure who decided that was a good plan, but they obviously didn't consult me. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fruit Cages

Every year, something eats my strawberries.  One bite taken out of each beautiful fruit, ruining it for me.  It's so unfair.

I've tried netting (which whatever it is can still poke its beak through) and I've tried diligent picking.  Still, something eats them.  I starting to wonder if it is mice...but I'm suspecting bluebirds.  I don't mind sharing the raspberries, as there are more than enough of those to go around, but my small strawberry patch is MINE dang it.  I'd like to get more than 12 good fruits in a season.

So I have an idea.  I want to make fruit cages like the ones in this video:
 Start watching at 1:47 and you'll see the gloriousness.  I think I can work on these over the winter, and have them ready for spring.  I think I may redo the sides of the beds as well.  Right now, they are rounded landscaping timbers, which work great but I think are perhaps allowing critters to crawl underneath. 

Gardening.  It's warfare, people.  Me against the critters that want to eat all my strawberries.  I'm going to do my best to win next season.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tomatoes Everywhere

Tomato season has finally arrived!  I was starting to think my tomatoes would never change over from persistent green to ripe red (or orange, depending on the variety).  But now, my patience is paying off with a glut of delightful Pink Brandywine (third generation of my own saved seeds), Orange Banana (a gorgeous orange paste heirloom tomato, meaty and full of flavor) and dozens of fat Principe Borghese drying tomatoes, which I slice and pop into the dehydrator.  I wish my solar dehydrator hadn't bit the dust via a large tree branch smashing it to bits as it fell, but luckily my electric dehydrator works good enough to give me a stash of dried tomatoes to squirrel away for winter months.

So far, I've made a couple small batches of salsa.  I think there are more on the way this week--which makes me very happy about my stash of dried hot peppers.  My peppers this year did nothing much, I think it was too cool for their liking, but I have jalapenos, cherry bomb and some crazy super hot pepper I call Kim's Mystery Pepper (after my lovely friend who grows them) in storage.  All I do is rehydrate them in hot water for an hour or so, chop up, and add to the salsa.  They work just as nicely as fresh ones, and when you're canning the lot anyway, what does it really matter if they are fresh from the garden this year, or last?  The salsa comes out lovely regardless.  And when life hands you tomatoes, salsa is where it's at.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Foraging Delights

Yesterday was a full day.  It started with me leaving the house at 5:35 AM, truck loaded with six young buck rabbits, a giant travel cup of coffee, and a wodge of homemade granola bar.  I was off to a local animal swap, in hopes of finding buyers for my surplus boys.  My last litter was 90% boys, and I don't need quite that much testosterone in my rabbitry.  By 7 AM, I had sold two bucks.  By 8 AM, I loaded the truck back up and headed out in search of pastry and hot coffee shared with friends.  Wonderful people, my friends.  They sent me home with two milk crates full of quart size mason jars.

On my drive back home, I took a winding, beautiful back way, past old farms and through lush glens.  I meandered, and spied a most beautiful thing: a lone plum tree, tucked into a sunny nook on the side of the road, with bright pink ripe fruit dropping to the ground.  I turned around and parked--thank heavens for those empty jars!  I filled two to spilling, which was as many plums as I could reach and avoid falling into a rather large and dense thicket of nettles--I was wearing capri tights and a skirt, or I would've waded in regardless.  But it was enough plums to head home with, and start something decadent.

Once home, there were beans to pick, cabbages to rescue from imminent destruction by cabbage loopers, the lawn to mow before tomorrow's horrible temperatures, and four rabbits to process and prep for the freezer.  Whew.  But those plums...oh those beautiful plums!  For them, it was something special.

With any luck, in a few months, I'll have three quart jars of fruit, sugar and gin transformed into a delightful drink reminiscent of the British classic, Damson Gin.  Yes, the drink made famous by the beloved Miss Marple of Agatha Christie will be making an appearance around Christmas time.  By then, it should be a lovely shade of pink, richly flavored by the sweet-tart wild plums, and just sweet enough to serve as a liqueur after a holiday meal.  (There isn't any science to making this kind of drink: wash the plums, sort out any rotten ones, push a clean straight pin through each plum to encourage saturation, then pop them into a quart jar to 3/4 full, add about 3/4 cup of sugar, and fill to the lid-ridge with your preferred gin {I'm a Gordon's girl} pop on a lid, give it a shake once in a while, and tah dah, you've got homemade booze started)

Lest you think that all I do lately is make booze, you'd be right.  I have more than enough jam, from foraged or domesticated sources, and you can never have enough hedgerow liquor, in my opinion.  I mean, if the Zombie Apocalypse should come to pass, who would YOU rather have on your team? Someone who can only make jam?  Or, someone who can make jam, booze AND assorted other things?  I also can wield a mean pitchfork and aim my air rifle relatively straight.  That is, before I start making in-roads on the hootch...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Time to Age

My Peapod wine has moved on from fermentation (it spent most of a week happily burping away) to needing to settle into a nice mellow state in the bottle.  Hopefully, in a few months, it'll be ready to drink.  Already, it's the most fascinating green color.  It smells a heck of a lot like a riesling, so I'm hoping it will taste a but like one too.

If nothing else, it will at least look interesting in a glass, cut with 7-Up.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Favorite Fibers

Given that it appears to be knitting season, and I am knitting away like mad, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite knitting fibers.  Partially based on luxurious feels and cost, I will warn you in advance that I have a "thing" for merino.

Ah, to someday have my own merino sheep...that would be a glorious, glorious thing.

First off, the spot to find a great selection of yarns at low-ish prices:  Knit Picks
I love their Palette many lovely colors!
Everything from silk, merino, alpaca to blank wool and acrylic, you can find it at Knit Picks.  Plus, they have free shipping on orders over $50 AND a whole line of nice needles/crochet hooks AND fun accessories.  Yeah, I like them pretty well.

Of course, there are plenty of luscious yarns that I find at my local yarn store.  One of my favorites is Malabrigo:
oooh...squooshy color!
And then there's Manos de Uruguay...
I am addicted to the Maxima line...merino...bliss.
Then again, there's always madelinetosh...
so many colors of madelinetosh vintage, so little time...
And Dream in Color yarn...
lordy, how I love smooshy...
Yeah.  I should start a twelve step group. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Slow Ripening

Well, this is not the summer for rapidly ripening tomatoes.  Even the plants in the hoophouse are taking forever to turn red (or orange, depending on the variety).  On the one hand, it's good because its nice to not have to worry about a massive glut of fruit ripening all at once.  However, its tedious to wait on three or four fruits to be joined by a dozen friends, so you finally have enough to do anything with them.  I don't even have enough ripe to start the dehydrator.  It doesn't look like the weather this week will be helpful at all.  It's supposed to be overcast and/or rainy all week long.  Definitely not helpful for tomatoes to ripen. 

Tomatoes.  An exercise in patience, by any name.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Something to Watch

Oh yes, back to the working life.  All the more reason to find a new program to watch in the evenings, to help me forget about the work day...

Recently, I found a new program on YouTube called Restoration Home.  It's based in the UK, and if you are a history buff and fan of home remodeling shows that keep historical character intact, you might like it, too.
Ah, home remodeling.  An endeavor fraught with drama, no matter the house.  Thankfully, it's not my house needing remodeling right now!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Weekend Projects

It was a quiet weekend on the Farmlette: a bit of gardening, a bit of baking, a bit of prepping for a week's worth of packed lunches, and a bit of knitting.  Not bad for the last weekend of my summer break.  It's back to work this morning, which is a bit of a bummer, but I'm glad I was able to wrap up a couple knitting projects.  I made two pairs of baby booties using this pattern.  It's a very quick knit, and all the baby mamas who have received them really like them.  They are difficult (if not impossible) for babies to kick off, so those tender toesies stay covered and warm.

I also finished making a Little House Shawl for one of my young nieces, who is fan of Laura Ingalls.  I'm plotting a Little House themed holiday for her and her little brother, and this sweet little shawl is just like one little Laura might have worn.  It's a simple lace pattern, called Old Shale, and works into a lovely light curved shawl just right for tucking over chilly wee shoulders.
I just love the colors in this yarn.  It went from so dark a blue as to be nearly black, graduating to a lighter royal rich blue to a lavendery purpley blue.  Rather rich colors, but the intended recipient should like it.  She's not solely in love with pink and sparkles, so a bit of deeper color should appeal to her sensibilities.

It's the time of year where I work away on various knitting projects, wrapping one up and putting another on the needles as quickly as I can.  With luck, I'll be able to finish all the projects on my list before the holidays.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cold Storage...and an Announcement

My new-to-me fridge is plugged in and chilling.  I am rather excited about this, as it extends my storage abilities for seeds and fermented things.  (Thanks, Trudy!) For all that I have a giant kitchen fridge, it really doesn't have very good storage abilities.  The layout is wrong, or its just a bulky boxy thing...I don't know.  But I am happy to have an older fridge to store stuff in.  With luck, it'll run for a long time!

Now, for the exciting announcement:  The winner of the "125!! Likes Giveaway" is Bekkie L.  Congratulations!  I'll be in touch directly to get your mailing address information, and then your lovely prize package will be whisking off to you early next week.  Thank you to all who entered!  And don't worry, there will be more fun giveaways coming up in the next few months...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Something's Brewing...

I finally got this started: a batch of homemade wine!  It's my first attempt at wine making.  I'm rather excited about it.

What is it?

Well, in the brewing kettle before you, there is a combination of water, lemon and orange zest, and a most humble ingredient...pea pods.

Yes, that's right.  I'm attempting a batch of Pea Pod Wine.  With luck, it'll turn out tasting something like a decent reisling and I'll be able to serve it up at my birthday party in January.  I've been inspired by one of my favorite shows, The Good Life, to throw myself a self-sufficiency themed birthday party (also known as a hoe down) and invite all my friends.  It's going to be great, hopefully with some decent under-the-table wine.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's a Wrap!

It's been a great season for growing kale.  I tried a new heirloom variety this year, Couve Tronchuda, which I first heard about/saw on an episode of The Victorian Kitchen Garden (now there's a great YouTube find...)  This kale I actually like, a lot.  It tastes much more like cabbage (love) and it has beautiful, spade-shaped leaves.  Anyway, finding myself in possession of a dozen or so perfect second crop leaves, I decided I'd invent something that would make use of a bunch of other vegetables I had ready in the garden and add to my freezer stash at the same time.

Introducing:  Asian-Kale Wraps!

They are kind of like cabbage rolls, but are filled with stuff you might find in a delicious spring roll.  Best of both worlds, I think.

You could use a mixture of vegetables that you prefer, but I rummaged and poked and found this assortment: carrots, zuchinni, patty pan squash, rat tail radishes, chives, minced fresh ginger, minced garlic.  Last night, I pulled a small pork roast out of the freezer and roasted it in the crockpot overnight, after rubbing it with Chinese Five Spice powder.  After letting it cool completely in the fridge, I sliced it up and added it to the vegetables.  A hearty slosh of Thai Sweet Red Chile sauce and a good mix with my hands, and the filling was complete.
While prepping the filling, I cut the thick stalks off each leaf, and placed them in a bowl with really hot water.  This helps to soften them, so they are easier to roll around the filling.  (Yet one more reason why I love my electric kettle!)
It's pretty simple to make a wrap.  You take a leaf, lay it out, and plonk a little handful of filling onto it. 
Then, you fold up the top and bottom, then side to side, and make a pretty little packet. Repeat a dozen times or so, and you wind up with this:
A whole tray of pretty wraps, ready to be baked for 30 minutes or so at 400 degrees (I think a simple brown sauce made of soy sauce, cornstarch, and water would be lovely sloshed over it), or to be parked in the freezer and frozen for later.  I opted to freeze this batch, and after they are all frozen I'll package them up for individual meals.  They'll be great as a quick, delicious and garden fresh meal after a busy work day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Blue Corn Update

Well, my Blue Jade corn is coming into its own!  When ripe and ready to pick, all the kernels turn a dark, dark blue--which lightens up to a cheery royal blue when cooked.  So far, I've picked three ripe ears, each of them about the length of my hand.  They make a wonderful snack to munch on.

As far as their taste, they are sweet.  Not as sweet as the ubiquitous Peaches & Cream sold at every roadside stand, but they are sweet enough to savor.  The sad thing is that I only managed one ear per stalk, so my feasting is limited.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fairy Fruits

Hidden under delicate vines, my cucamelons (also known as mouse melons or Mexican Sour Gherkins) are happily setting fruit.  Their yellow flowers are the size of dust motes.  Their fruit, smaller than the tiny stones in the garden soil.

They taste something like cucumbers touched with lime juice.  Probably not a flavor for everyone, but oh! They are refreshing, popped in your mouth while rummaging around for a larger feast in the garden shrubbery.
This year, I only planted five plants.  Next year, I must have at least ten.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Capturing the Sweet

It's the height of sweet corn season here in northwestern Wisconsin.  Every where you go, there's folks sitting on the side of the road, selling from the back of the old pick-up truck.  Roadside stands are filled to tumbling with fresh pulled ears, "14 ears for $5!" signs are staked out with arrows pointing the way to fresh sweet corn, just ahead.

I am not a huge fan of eating corn off the cob (I know, its mildly antipatriotic or something), but I love canned corn.  I especially love corn and bean salsa.  Each year, I tweak my personal recipe just a tad, in hopes of finding the elusive blend of sweet, hot, and beany that will make my tastebuds sing and taste just as good, canned and stored carefully away until the depths of winter are upon us.

I think I cracked it this year.

Corn and Bean Salsa, a la The Chicken Lady.
(Makes 6 delicious pints plus a little left over for sampling fresh--cook's perks!)

You'll need: 14 ears of corn, shucked and kernels cut from the cob;  1 large sweet onion, finely diced; 3 sweet peppers (red, orange, yellow), finely diced; 3 cups of beans, cooked to "just" tender and drained (this year, I used Anazai beans--they are wonderful!); 2 tablespoons each rice vinegar (unsweetened), cider vinegar, and balsamic vinegar; a couple hot peppers of your choice, finely diced (I opted for a favorite of mine, Cherry Bomb); 3 tablespoons canning salt; 2 tablespoons ground coriander.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stirring gently to mix well but not smash beans or corn kernels. Spoon into sterilized, hot pint jars, leaving one inch headspace.  Don't pack the jars tightly, just loosely fill them to the one-inch-headspace mark. Wipe rims, and place hot lid & band on the jar.  Tighten to finger tight, and place jars into waiting pressure canner.  Bring pressure up to 11 pounds, and process for 75 minutes.  When canner is back to zero, open lid, take out jars, and allow to cool overnight.  Check seals, label them and store in a cool, dark area.

I've made this using black beans, and it's pretty good.  The combination of vegetables and three vinegars is wonderful--I'm definitely going to stick with this recipe!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


The Chicken Lady's Farmlette Facebook page reached 125 Likes the other day, and I decided to celebrate with a giveaway.  And I thought, hey! I'll have the blog readers join in, too!

So here it is, the 125 Likes Giveaway!  Here's what you could win:
  • A copy of The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.
  • Two boxes of Kerr canning jar lids (regular mouth size)
  • A box of delicious and refreshing Lemon Ginger tea by Bigelow Teas.
To enter, leave a comment on this post no later than 11:59 PM CST on Friday, August 15, 2014.

 For a second entry, leave a comment on 125 Likes Giveaway! post on The Chicken Lady's Farmlette page.

And, for a third entry, share that post on you own Facebook page (follow the directions in the post as to how to let me know you did that bit...)

Good luck to all who enter.  Who knows, you may win!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bring it Over, Give it a Friend.

The other evening, I was contemplating various odd and end tasks that needed doing.  And I remembered, in addition to a couple other small things, that I needed to check my garlic harvest.  It turned out that they had mostly dried down over the course of a week and a half, and I had to decide what to do with them for a bit longer (and more tidy) storage.  So I turned to the oracle that is YouTube, and watched the above video by one of the most charming characters in YouTube Land, the lovely Vivi.

Here's how mine turned out:
It's back to hanging to cure for a bit longer, and then some will be replanted in the cool of the autumn to grow into next year's crop.  I do so love garlic!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Oh, Deer.

This summer, the Community Garden has received an onslaught of deer-related destruction.  From eating the tops off of sunflowers to browsing tomato tips to munching my beans, the deer have decided that the happy organic vegetables are much better tasting than the GMO wonders available across the street.

On one hand, I'm flattered.

On the other, it's really really irritating.

It seemed only fitting that I get a touch of humble revenge by canning up some venison I had lurking in the freezer.  Don't get me wrong, I like the deer.  But there are far, far too many of them around here and eating delicious bits of a humanely harvested one makes me a little gleefully happy.  Plus, I like having canned meat and such on the pantry shelves.  They are great for quick dinners on busy days.

The downside of eating wild game is that it tastes, well, gamey.  My solution?  Soak the raw meat in a solution of salt and water, 1 Tablespoon of salt per quart of water, for at least an hour before cooking.  Not only does the brine help tenderize tougher meat cuts, but it really helps to cut the gamey flavor.  (Remember: venison is hunted during the fall mating season.  If you get a buck, phew.  A doe is slightly less pungent.)

When canning meat, it is vitally important to have a pressure canner.  You can't do this in a water bath, and you really, really need to pay attention to the manufacturer directions.  Have your dial gauge tested annually, as well, to make sure you are really canning at the correct pressure.  Meat can spoil pretty quickly, so be careful, check your seals, and you'll be just fine.  Don't fart around though.  Go from the raw stage to the canned stage as quick as you can, to help minimize spoilage.

If I haven't terrified you with my above safety talk, let's chat about what I do with my venison beyond soaking it in some brine.  I prefer to do a hot pack method, where you partially cook the meat to the rare stage after cutting it into small chunks or thin strips.  I also really like to chop up some sweet peppers and onions, mix it with the meat, fill the jars with boiling beef broth, and then can it according to the guidelines for canning venison (11 pounds of pressure, 75 minutes for pints) that I found in my beloved copy of So Easy to Preserve.  That way, my final product is tender and flavorful, just needing a quick warm up in a pan where I've made a simple roux.  Such a lovely gravy to pour over mashed potatoes...yum.  Talk about a welcome weeknight supper!

Start to finish, we're talking about an hour of prep and then an hour and a bit for canning.  After that, here's what you get:
Jar upon jar of wonderful venison with homegrown veggies.  It's well worth the work, and a great way to use some locally obtained wild meat.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tatties in a Barrel

All summer, my potatoes have been quietly growing in their recycled barrels.  This week, one of them was looking suspiciously blighty, so I decided it was time to harvest before I lost any of the crop.  It's really simple to grow harvest from the barrel.  Just tip it over onto a handy tarp...
Dump out the compost, and start sifting.
All in all, it was a fair harvest.  I planted two small seed potatoes in each barrel, and got a fair return on my minimal investment.
Now, who wants roasted potatoes with fresh garlic and young onions for lunch?  I do!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tackling the Jungle

Ahh, the annual summertime jungle-fest in the hoophouse.  Even though I trim and tie up and have shade cloth and water every other day, it eventually turns out like this:
Vines everywhere, fruit hidden beneath layers of jubilant leaves, and signs of imminent blight due to poor airflow around the plants.  I was gifted with a day of clouds and threatening rains, which was great because working in the hoophouse on a sunny day in summer is just plain unpleasant.  After about an hour of snipping and pruning and ruthless thinning, I was left with this:
Wow.  Just look at all that airflow now.
Yeah, it can look pretty denuded when I'm done, but I find this trick of removing 80% of the foliage really gets the fruit to ripen.  Plus, given the conditions in the hoophouse, the plants tend to grow and grow and GROW forever, creating more vine and leaves than fruit.  Once I see that they've set a good harvest, which usually happens at the beginning of August, I prune like a mad woman and then, miraculously, the fruit ripens and I don't have an acre of plant to battle when picking.  It also helps for fall plantings, as I can pull the plants when they are done ripening fruit and then plant in my spinach, chard, kale and other delicious fall crops that can have an extended harvest in the hoophouse.
Speaking of extended harvest, I have a planned experiment coming up in the hoophouse for late fall into winter.  I can't wait to see if it works!

Monday, August 4, 2014

First Harvest!

Let the tomato season begin!  These three beauties are Principe Borghese, an Italian heirloom used for drying.  There are masses more in the jungle that has evolved in the hoophouse, along with sweet Pink Brandywine and Orange Banana paste tomatoes.  I really need to get in there with my clippers and trim back a lot of the foliage (it helps to speed up the ripening process for the delicious fruits).  That might be a great project for what is looking like a rainy afternoon...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ode to the Pickle

After finding two little buckets of perfect pickling cucumbers at the market this week, I decided that it was time to make some pickles.  Here, are the three quarts of Old South Limed Pickles I decided to try.  They were joined a little while later by two quarts of Sweet Gherkin Pickles, made from teeny tiny baby cucumbers.  My kitchen is filled by the scent of hot, sweet vinegar brine...
I think the fumes have gone to my head.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


That's right, it's CANNING TIME!

Since doing my major pantry purge, I've been adding back to the emptied shelves over the past few days.  On Thursday, I picked up some extremely fresh and sweet corn, bought a Hmong farmer out of his stash of broccoli, and found teeny pickling cucumbers from another favorite farmer.  I also bought a bucket of three-inch cukes to make into more pickles.  Combine that with a harvest of spinach and swiss chard from the home gardens, and you've got yourself some serious food processing to get on with.

Yesterday, I spent the day blanching veggies for the freezer: broccoli florets, chard and spinach were all boiled briefly and then then plonked into an ice bath to cool down, before being tucked into freezer bags and parked in the upright freezer for storage.  After all that was done, I cut the kernels off two dozen ears of fresh sweet corn.  I picked up a corn cutter, but it had terrible directions and I lost my patience with it, so I went back to my method of using a sharp knife to cut the kernels off.  If I had watched this video, my corn cutting experience would have gone so much better:
Yeah....the directions on the box sucked.  But now I know how it works, so yay for using the cutter when I pick up more corn, to make a batch of corn & bean salsa.  Now that is good stuff...

After my corn cutting fiasco, I spent the afternoon processing the corn in the pressure canner.  I could have frozen it, I suppose, but I prefer canned corn (like I prefer canned beans and canned peas) so pressure canning it was.  I also can in half-pints, which works for my household of one.  Its enough veg for a side dish for me, and if I have guests, I just open up a couple of cans.  Tah dah.

Today, I'm working on pickles.  I started a batch of Sweet Gherkins, which are a fermented pickle taking three to four days to make.  It's pretty simple, but you do need to pay attention to when to change out the brine and add various ingredients.  Other than that, they sit in a jar in the cool spot of the kitchen and do their fermentalicious thing.  (I got the recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning.)  And, I have a second batch of pickles that should be ready to process this afternoon.  I'm trying limed pickles, following the recipe on the back of the Mrs. Wage's Pickling Lime package.  I've heard that lime keeps the pickles very crisp, and I've never tried this technique so I figured what the heck and decided to give it a whirl.  I actually picked up the lime as part of a homemade tortilla making process (more on that later), but since I had gotten some pickling cukes at the market, I decided to give it a chance.  I've got another hours until the pickles, which soaked for 24 hours in the lime bath, are ready for processing.  Don't worry, I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed, so I don't think I'll poison myself with the final product.

I'm glad this weekend has been fairly cool.  Canning is hot and humid work!