Monday, September 29, 2014

Just a Little Heat

The other day, I made a batch of chutney that was turning out to be rather ho-hum.  Oh, it had lovely fruity flavors, since it involved apples, rhubarb, dried cranberries, and fresh lemon zest.  But, it was lacking heat...the only spice it had was a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. 

Chutney needs a little oomph to it, a little fire on the tounge and a hint of clear out those sinuses, for it to be really, really good.  Plus, I think that the heat helps set off the sweetness, which can get a bit insipid after it sits in the jar for a while. 

Here comes the humble jalepeno to the rescue!

By finely chopping a single jalepeno pepper, it completely transformed the chutney.  Instead of being full of fall flavors, it packed a little kick that knocked it out of the park.  I've made a note in the pages of my cookbook, and I think I'll be making it this way from now on.

Slightly Hotter Apple Rhubarb Chutney
(taken from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

You'll need: four cups peeled, cored & diced apples; 4 cups granulated sugar; 2 cups diced rhubarb; 1/2 cup water; zest and juice of one lemon; 1/2 cup dried cranberries; 1 jalepeno pepper, finely diced*; 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg.

* this is my personal modification, and I think makes all the difference between ho-hum and oh-wow

Combine the apples, sugar, rhubarb, water, lemon juice and zest in a large stainless steel pot.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce and allow to simmer 15 minutes.

Add the pepper, dried cranberries and spices, stir to combine.  Simmer another 15 minutes until the chutney is thick enough to mound on a spoon.  Ladle chutney into half-pint jars (I got about six) leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Pop on a hot lid, tighten bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

I'm planning on serving up this chutney with a nice cheese, or smearing it onto bread to make a decadent roast turkey (or chicken) sandwich.  Either way, it's going to have the perfect amount of sweet-hot decadence.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

First Class

Yesterday was the first of many Master Gardener Level 1 classes.  I set out in LuLa early in the morning to reach the Spooner Agricultural Research Station by 9 AM.  It was a diverse group that came along to class: a good half-dozen retirees looking for a new project or volunteer opportunity, a couple of middle aged folks looking to add a bit of gardening knowledge to their repertoire of skills; and a couple of younger twenty-somethings who are looking to gather skills for small farming (or joining a commune, as one proudly reported to the group).  Based on what people had to share, I think I may have the edge on actual gardening experience, in that I grow a lot to eat.  There were a lot of people there who prefer beautification projects (flowers in formation, apparently) or working with youth to encourage them to plant school garden plots.  I'm looking forward to getting to know them all...and perhaps encourage them to look beyond pretty flowers in gardening!

I think the best part of class was heading out to the demonstration gardens, and having some hands on discussion of classification of plants.  If it wasn't for the crabby Asian beetles, it would've been a perfect afternoon: sunny, warm, a light playful breeze.  The instructors were very nice, too.  I got some good advice on my persistent strawberry problems, and will be moving them to a better location in the garden.
The next class gathering is in October, and before then, I have to do a bit of homework.  Mostly, it's brushing up on my Botany knowledge, which I actually rather enjoy.  It's like a whole other language, with syntax and semantics and flowing syllables tripping off the tounge...well, at least I hope it will be after I study a bit!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Put It Up!

I have no idea what I would do if I didn't have my canner.  Both my pressure canner and water-bath canner see constant action this time of year.  Between tomatoes, pumpkins, apples, various meats, and other fruits of the season, there's always something to put away for future meals.

This weekend, I've got one more pie pumpkin to process.  The most challenge part of dealing with pumpkins is removing the thick peel and chopping them into cubes.  It doesn't take too long to do this, generally, but it takes a lot of oomph to break the squashes apart.  I have some Cool Old Squash to deal with as well, but that can wait for another weekend or two.  They are enormous squashes...I can hardly wait to try them and see how they taste!

I need to make some room in the fruit & veg freezer, so I plan to take out the last of last season's cranberries and make a batch of homemade cranberry sauce.  If you've never made your own whole berry cranberry sauce, you haven't lived.  Well, that's a little dramatic, but its true.  Homemade cranberry sauce is a million times better than any store-bought gloop in a can.  It's worth taking a little time to make a batch, whether you decide to can it or freeze it.

There's other stuff that needs to be put up for the season, but I'll tackle that as I can.  I think the potatoes and beets can hang out for a little while longer, thankfully, so I'll just deal with the plentiful produce gazing at me from the kitchen table.  It's going to be a weekend full of preparing for the colder months, in any case!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Safety PSA

Well, apparently, my back has revolted.  I did a bunch of stuff this past weekend: moving straw, moving feed bags, heaving a heavy canner across the kitchen from sink to stove, a bit of cleaning and shoving around of furniture...and then, I mowed the lawn yesterday.  After that, my back was complaining a bit, and then yesterday, I bent over to pick up a pencil and POP, there she went.  Luckily, it's nothing more than a badly pulled muscle that is now spasming, complaining, and generally carrying on like a primadona.

I guess my plans for moving easily this week are going to have to be rethought.

Sigh.  Isn't it amazing how much stuff is all influenced by the state of your spine?

Anyhoo...let's take this moment to remind ourselves how we are supposed to be moving heavy things:

Oh wait.  Not that way.  Bend at the knees, people.  Bend. At. The. Knees.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On My Table

It seems like my kitchen table is always covered with some harvest or another these days.  Between grapes (for jelly and juice), tomatoes, peppers, jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, citrus (for adding to various recipes) and the last of the greens, its an impressive assortment of food.  Bit by bit, I can, freeze or dehydrate it into submission and store it away for later use.  I'm also eating a fair bit of delicious fresh stuff, picked just outside the door. 

I've got one last pie pumpkin to process, and some bison to can up for quick ready meals.  And then there's cranberry sauce to make, and green tomatoes to evaluate and use up.  Between batches of salsa and assorted jams, the canner is in constant use in the evening.  It's good thing I picked up those new lids and have a collection of spare jars, because they are getting filled steadily.  I've started contemplating freezing some of the many eggs the generous Ladies are providing every day, so I have  a stash of those, too.  Although, the freezer is getting fairly filled, so maybe I'll attempt the mineral oil coating trick instead...the worst thing that can happen is that they go bad, right?  That would be sad and unpleasant, but could make for a cool experiment.  Hmmm...why don't they still have science fairs for grown ups?

Oh wait.  They do...the Nobel Prize.  Well, I won't win that for storing eggs, but it could be entertaining at the very least!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Fall!

It's here, the First Day of Autumn!

Bring on the pumpkin lattes.  Oh wait, they showed up in early August...'s fall!  Wheee!  Around here, that means cascading orange pine needles, hordes of ill-tempered Asian beetles, and an influx of persistent field mice who want to take up residence in my kitchen walls.  Luckily, I can use the pine needles as mulch, my bug man will spray for the beetles, and the cats (and a few traps) will take care of the mice.  I was hoping to have more of a fall garden, but I suppose as I'm still waiting on carrots and beets and a few slow-to-mature second crops of herbs, I've got enough going on.  I do love to watch what folks in other climate zones are getting up to in their fall gardens, though:

Or here:
Ahh.  It's always nice to take a little break to catch up in the garden.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Whew--what a full weekend!  I got lots done, and of course, there's more yet to BE done. 

Saturday was spent doing some chores in the morning, then going with a friend to pick up some fresh bales of straw for chicken bedding.  Then, of course, came the putting away of the straw before a round of thunderstorms rolled through.  What hot prickly work.  It's great to have it, though, and I devised a way to stack it in bale form in the chicken coop so that, until it's needed for bedding, it can act as a bit of an insulation layer to combat the cold that is coming.  The girls were so happy they laid a whole bunch of fresh eggs.  I was so happy to get the coop cleaned and stocked with fresh straw, before it rained again.

Sunday, I spent the morning doing a bit of tidying up, cake baking, and re-sealing a few quarts of grape juice before my lovely friends came for an afternoon of knitting.  That was so much fun!  A bit more about the canning issue:  If you happen to be shopping Wal-Mart, and see that they carry a 'house brand' of canning jar lids (under the Mainstay produce line), don't even give them a second glance.  I tried them, and out of the box of 12 lids, four completely failed--it looked like they had melted and twisted during processing--and the remaining ones are holding but are very odd looking.  They are very thin and tinny, not at all solid and hearty like the tried-and-true Ball or Kerr canning jar lids.  I brought the remaining case back to the store (yes, I buy my canning lids in bulk!) and promptly bought a case of Ball lids from a local hardware store to add to my stash.  Incidentally, we have entered the time of year when canning supplies go on clearance, so look at your local hardware store (Ace, Lowes, Home Depot, etc.) and scope out the clearance deals.  I always buy them out of canning lids, if I can afford it.  I tend to go through a case or so per year, so I love those clearance sales!

And here we are, back at the start of another week.  It's going to be a great one, I think!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Practical or Preposterous?

Well, I've discovered another Netflix binge addiction to watch while knitting in the evenings.

Doomsday Preppers.

I'm not sure what I think of it yet.  My initial reaction: it's like a slow motion trainwreck.  You just can't tear your eyeballs away.  My second reaction: Huh, you know, some of these folks have good ideas.

My third reaction: Is there something wrong with me, that I'm finding advice hidden in this hyped up model of the end of the world?

I'm not sure if I'm going to watch this show long term.  But for now, it's entertaining in small doses.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Basil Preservation

After discovering several bags of ancient pesto in the freezer, I decided that this year, I'd do something different with my basil. So I opted for this:
Chopped up finely, popped into my vintage Westinghouse ice cube trays, filled up with good quality olive oil, and placed into the freezer until solid.
A quick twist of the release arm, and I'm left with cubes of basil-in-olive oil.  Perfect for tossing into soup, stir fry, pasta, tomato name it, and I'll put it in there.  Whether I want one cube or four, I've got a stash in the freezer just waiting to be used.
They keep great in a freezer bag.  Just be sure to label and date--or you might discover them years later (eek).  This method works great for other herbs, too.  I've done it with sage, and parsley.  Just figure, whatever herbs you cook with that you also would be cooking with olive oil, it will work.  The olive oil melts very quickly at room temperature, so if you wanted liquid oil to cook with, simply place a couple cubes into a bowl or spare teacup, and let them sit for a couple of minutes.  Tah-dah, fresh herbs plus your oil!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Leeky Success!

My summer of leek experimentation was a success!  I grew eight leeks to varying sizes (half were at least three inches in diameter) and without infestation by any allium predators.  I decided to harvest them this past weekend, simply because they weren't likely to get any bigger before the heavier frosts hit.

As I didn't really have time or inclination to make soup over the weekend, I decided to prep them for storage.  I simply sliced them into rounds, popped them into a big bowl with clean water, and spent a few moments popping rings out and swishing.  I let them settle for about 20 minutes, and was rewarded with a pile of silt at the bottom of the bowl.  Then it was simply a matter of spreading the leeks out on a wax paper-covered cookie sheet and leaving them to freeze overnight.  The next day I separated them into roughly one cup portions into freezer bags, gave them a label, and put them back into the deep freeze.  Now I have them waiting for when I want to make a delicious potato-and-leek soup, or maybe even Cock-a-Leekie soup.  Delicious!  I plan to grow more leeks next summer, hopefully to even greater success.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Roo Bling?

In yesterday's post, I mentioned my plans to acquire some Swedish Flower Hens, and to keep a rooster so I could have a small breeding flock.  And I also mentioned I have a crabby neighbor who fusses and fumes about rooster noises.  How am I going to have my roo and keep the peace between warring nations?

With this:
Yes folks, there's a patented velcro collar out there to keep your rooster quiet.

I wish this had been around before.  I've had a couple very nice roosters that I would've kept if they'd been muzzled...

Anyway, I have plans to order one from the folks over at No Crow Rooster Collars when I settle on which rooster I will keep (and measure his neck circumference).  I'm kind of excited about all these chicken plans I've got on the simmer!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Flock Plans

Isn't this a gorgeous chicken?  This, friends, is a Blommenhon, or as we say here in the States, a Swedish Flower Hen.  Beautiful, simply beautiful.

They are also incredibly hard to find.

There are very few breeders of this rare chicken here in the US.  Those that DO breed them understandably want top dollar for their birds (one breeder advertises unsexed day-old chicks for $19 each..NINETEEN DOLLARS!).  There is also some serious issues with people advertising Swedish Flower Hen fertile eggs for sale who are selling eggs from poorly managed flocks, who aren't breeding true.  It all makes for a bit of a challenge in tracking down these lovely birds.  I've been lusting after them for years now...

Imagine my delight when I learned that there was a woman in northern Wisconsin who had a nice breeding flock.  Next, imagine my despair when I discovered that she had sold said flock to an unknown buyer due to a divorce.  I've spent the last year trying to find those elusive Hens. 

And I found them.  Huzzah!  I found a breeder a little southeast of me (about two hours away) who has a small certified Swedish Flower Hen flock, who will be selling fertile hatching eggs for $2 per egg.  Yes, it's steep, but so much better both distance-wise and dollar-wise than the $19 option.  I've been in contact with the flock owner, and have a handshake agreement to pick up two dozen fertile eggs in February or March.  And then, I'll hatch out my beauties and start my own little flock of Blommenhons.

Here's some details on the Swedish Flower Hen:
* They are a landrace breed that originated in Sweden, from chickens of unknown origin brought into the country by settlers and conquerors.
* Males can weigh up to 8 pounds, with females weighing in around 6-7 pounds.
* Their name literally means "bloom hens" in Swedish, as their coloring and the scattering of white 'petals' suggests wildflowers in the fields.
* They are very cold hardy, good foragers, and have nice temperaments.  They make for very healthy small flocks of birds.
* Hens are prolific layers of large eggs, often laying well into cold, dark months of winter.
* They may be crested (with poofs of feathers on their crowns) or uncrested, and come in all colors of red, gray, black and brown.  They are classically covered with scatter spangles of white feathers--like little flower petals sprinkled on them!

I have plans to keep a rooster with my flock, so I'm investigating something called No Crow! collar.  If it works, I will be so happy...and so will my grumpy old lady neighbor who hates the sound a rooster makes.  I love it, but she is such a crab about it that I don't mind attempting to use a silencer.

What shall I do with my current ladies?  Well, the older girls will head to the Freezer for Soup Making, and the younger birds I will likely sell to new homes.  People love Buff Orpingtons, and the young pullets will only be about a year old next spring.  They'll make for lovely hens burbling around someone's backyard or farm, laying the occasional egg or hatching out broods of chicks.

I can hardly wait for next spring's hatching season.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Wheel Turns

Fiesta of Birches, by Leonid Afremov
I love this time of year.  Summer is slowly sliding into fall, every day new changes show themselves: the hint of red on a once-green leaf, ripe orange berries of mountain ash winking into life, and the constant sound of distant geese, moving south to warmer climes.  Two days ago, I was treated to the sight of a dozen large sandhill cranes milling about in a field, taking a break from their long flight to their winter's rest.  Yesterday, I drove past a small pond that was serving as temporary food & lodging for six white trumpeter swans as the evening settled in.

I've been working on stripping the garden of the last of the tender crops.  We're in an early cold spell here, with evening temperatures dropping rapidly into the lower 30's overnight.  My tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, and chard have all been collected.  I figure the root vegetables can handle a top frost, and I can harvest the potatoes when I have more time this weekend.  My kitchen table is covered in green tomatoes working toward ripeness.  If I get nothing else done this weekend, I'm hoping to make some more Bruchetta in a Jar or salsa (I can't really decide which I need more).  The green beans and borlotti beans have been left to dry down for seed, and the pea seed is about ready to harvest and thresh.  I should have a good supply for next year's garden, as well as to share.  I measured one of the vines, and it was nearly 12 feet long!  I love this variety, it is perfect for a small garden where vertical space is more available than horizontal. (It's called Champion of England, and I originally got it from Seed Savers Exchange.  I've grown my own seed crop for the past four years now, and it is a great producer!)

This time of year, I don't mind too much that I am driving hundreds of miles a day for work.  I get to see all the changes in the world, which last for only a moment before they are gone, lost to winter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Change in the Weather

Well, we barely had summer heat and now, it's switched to fall.  Last night, my house got so chilly that I decided to light the first fire of the season--it was very welcome, very warm, and very appreciated by the dogs and Miss Vida the house cat.  It gave me, along with a cup of hot tea, the incentive to glance back at the summer to-do list and see what I managed to accomplish over the Summer That Wasn't Quite.

Summer 2014 To-Do List
1. Finish digging out all the garden beds.
2. Redo the front garden, and rescue any viable plants from the weeds.
3.  Trim and tie up all the rambling roses.
4. Finish planting the Perennial Veg Corner in the back garden. This is mostly done...
5.  Plant the blackberries and train them on wires.
6. Start training the new apple tree to wires so it will be espalier. Actually, I moved the apple & planted a pear, instead--it was very short dwarfing root stock, and will be happier, I think.
7.  Clean out the Bunny Barn.
8.  Clear out the Car Hut and purge--so much stuff in there! The whole thing is GONE!  Whee!
9. Figure out goat housing. Never did get goats...well, maybe next year?
10. Create and plant backyard herb bed.
11. Get in at least three cords of wood before October.  Well, I've got a face cord and a half...I better get stacking!
12. Create space for a summer kitchen on the porch.
13. Revamp and reclaim the herb bed. I decided to move a couple things and let the mint take over.  It already had, so this was easy to accomplish.
14. Figure out what strawberries need replanting.
15. Don't forget to spray apples in late June! I did this, and still, my Macintosh is dying...I think it's time to replant it.

Well, mostly everything done except for Bunny Barn cleaning and getting firewood.  I call that a summer well spent!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gardener in Training

I know it seems a little silly to consider myself a gardener in training, given all the gardening I do and have done for years and years, but I've finally decided to sign up and get my Master Gardener Certification.  Run through the University of Wisconsin Extension programming, the course will take most of a year to complete.  I'm kind of excited about it--there's online course work to complete, and monthly-ish meetings on a Saturday for hands-on classes and field trips.  After that's all done, it's annual volunteering on various projects and some course clock hours to maintain.  I figure that should be easy enough to do, given the garden-seedy stuff I already help to manage and organize.   But in any case, I think it will be interesting...and it's always nice to meet other mad gardeners!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What To Do With Green Tomatoes?

My pile of tomatoes is staying stubbornly green.  I've had one or two start to ripen, but still, there's lots of green ones there.  I don't want to waste them, so I've been hunting down recipes to use them up.

I found this one, which sounds rather delicious: fried green tomatoes topped by shrimp remoulade.  I do find cajun style cooking heavenly, so if I can round up some Cajun Mustard and good shrimp, I may just make this...and devour it immediately.

And there is this one, which combines my love of everything Eggs Benedict with my love of tomatoes.  Really, how can you go wrong with hollandaise sauce?  I also have a lot of eggs currently, so that combines well with my surplus of green tomatoes.  All I need is to round up some english muffins and Canadian bacon.

Finally, THIS ONE has me very very excited.  Yes, I have jam in the cupboard, but I don't yet have a vanilla-gingery green tomato jam one.  In fact, I've started the process for this particular jam--and it is very nice to have a bit more space available on my kitchen table. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

What a Long, Strange Week It's Been.

Once, my south garden looked something like this:
Lush, green, with ample shade from a large box elder tree in the corner. 

In the space of one evening (last Sunday, to be precise), it suddenly looked like this:
Yep.  It looks rather like the tree decided to eat my house.  We've had so much rain, and the ground is so wet, that it just took one rather strong gust of wind from the south and whammo, down came the tree.  It was rather unexpected.  Sure, we were getting a storm rolling in, but there was hardly any wind in it, aside from that one gust.  About four inches of rain, of course, but that seems to be the normal for this summer's weather.  I had just finished a shower, and was standing there, dripping into my towel, when suddenly the house shuddered, a cannon boom happened, and there was a brilliant explosion of green-blue fire outside the bathroom window.

Nothing like feeling all naked and exposed during imminent peril.  There I am, in the dark, fumbling for a shirt and my phone to call 911.  My lazy weekend ended with...well...a bang.

Roots are now pointed to the sky.  And all those shading branches were suddenly smothering everything underneath them.  They also managed to yank the power lines completely off the house, yank down the lines running up the easement, snap TWO power poles cleanly, and smashed up my currant bushes and raspberry canes and dislodged the coop run fencing and generally made a terrible mess.

It smushed the soffet and made quite a lovely dent in the roof.  Hard to see in the above picture, but once a crew of friends came armed with chainsaws and we moved a whole LOT of tree, it's a bit easier to see:
Bang.  Whallop.

With any luck, it'll have caused enough mayhem and destruction that the insurance will help out with a new roof.  I'm glad it wasn't worse, but really, the whole series of unfortunate events has given me a bunch more gray hairs.

So now, my south garden looks more like this:
Sheesh.  Talk about naked and exposed.  My yard feels so open.  All my privacy is gone, for goodness sake.  I'm really feeling odd about it, but as there's nothing I can do about it, I suppose it will grow on me.  Of course, now I have all kinds of south-facing full sun exposure to play around with.  I'm thinking more small fruit (perhaps I shall rename it "Small Fruit City"?), maybe some improved veggie beds or super-sized cold frames...or another smaller hoophouse?  Hmm.  Well, having a tree fall down certainly has opened up some new options in the garden department.

Now, about that roof...

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Marriage of Good Taste

It seems like my windowsill is always full of tomatoes in various states of ripeness these days.  I have a table filled with green tomatoes, too, so it'll be a while before I'm done with my tomatoes.  One of my favorite things is to have a slice of homemade bread slathered with mayonaise, topped with a slice of thick rich Pink Brandywine tomato, with locally pastured bacon on top of that. 

A simple dinner for sure, but ridiculously good.  I have to make a serious effort to not eat this every day.

Well, I suppose since I can alternate with beans (of various kinds) and other things still coming out of the garden, I can at least do every-other-dinner bacon tomato sandwiches.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Don't Be a Crab...Unless You're an Apple.

It's crabapple season here, and thanks to a friend I have lots of them.   So far, I've made a batch of jelly and a batch of butter--there's nothing quite like the smell of spices and warm apples to make your house redolent of fall.

I've also started an experimental elixir, Crabapple Liqueur.  So far it's a quart jar 2/3 full of chopped crabapples, and topped off with rich brandy.  I'm going to let it sit for a month, then strain it and combine with simple syrup.  I'm thinking it will sweet-tart refreshing, perfect for sloshing into a mug of tea come a winter evening.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Green Salsa

My tomatillos, much like the tomatoes, have been doing great this season.  The peppers, not so much, so it's good that I dehydrated a lot from last year's bumper crop.  I've been able to combine them with the fresh tomatillos, shallots, and flat leaf parsley to make a batch of Salsa Verde.

Salsa Verde is fantastic, a very green salsa made simply from combining the aforementioned ingredients with a pinch of salt, white vinegar and a little water, and then allowing it all to simmer for an hour.  After that, a quick whizz with the immersion blender turns soft chunks into a smooth puree.  You can then can this mixture or put it into freezer-safe jars and store it in the freezer until needed.  I love adding this to my Green Rabbit Chili, or using it in posole-inspired Mexican Layered Lasagna. 

If you wind up with a lot of tomatillos, and too little time, you can always freeze the tomatillos whole (after removing their papery husks and giving them a rinse) and process them later.  I've made a great Salsa Verde in the middle of winter, using the crockpot set to warm overnight.