Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Late August

Around here, late August means the beginning of the fog.  Nearly every morning starts with a thick blanket of fuzzy white greeting us as we open blinds and eyes to the new day.  Sometimes, it's so thick, we can't even see the driveway.

We had another lovely rain through the night which gave the garden a nice long drink to push through the last of the growing season.  My barrels are nice and full now, which means that I can water the greenhouse over the next few weeks of tomato ripening.  Our local wheat farmers probably aren't too pleased with rain this close to harvest time ~ they are counting on hot dry weather to ripen their crops.  

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Look at this luscious bounty!

The apples are in FINE form this year!  Yesterday, I processed a laundry basket full of them and there's another basket waiting (just picked last night).  I cook them down whole in my pressure cooker (skins, stems and all), which takes just a few minutes (really!).  Here's what results from that: 

After cooling just a bit, I run it through the grinder attachment on my (sideways turned) Bosch mixer with the "berry press" attachment added.  The berry press is essentially a food mill - it separates out the seeds and skins from things like tomatoes, apples and berries.  I know that all sounds very high tech, but I don't regret those purchases ONE bit.  It means that I can quickly process large quantities of homegrown produce and get back out into the garden (which is worth a lot to me at harvest time).  Prepping apples takes a good amount of time even with a hand crank crank peeler/corer.  This method is WAY faster, plus, I like the extra nutrition and colour from the skins when they are cooked down with the flesh.

The bowl (back left in picture below) is full of cooked down apples which I ladle into the hopper.  I use the "pusher" to guide the apples down the chute.  The grinder does all the work, auguring the apples toward the berry press (the grey plastic shroud is covering the business end of it) where the separating/pureeing takes place.  The oval glass dish under the berry press collects the pureed apple flesh and the yellow and white dish collects the skins, stems and cores.  The black screw handle on the end allows me to adjust the outlet so that I can get the right amount of juice/pulp extraction from the "apple waste".  None of it goes to waste, though ~ it gets fed to the chickens who gobble it up tout suite!

After all the separating is done (mere minutes), the sauce is poured all together into a large pot where I sweeten and season it to taste.  I added cinnamon, cloves, local honey and some nutmeg, but every batch is different depending on the variety of apples, the growing conditions, and the sweetness of the apple itself.   

I water bath canned this batch and am not sure why I ended up with separation...  Anyone know?  It tastes divine, and will be lovely on winter oatmeal, over vanilla ice cream and in our favourite applesauce muffins ( I halve the sugar, though and use freshly ground whole wheat flour in lieu of white).

Another comforting sight alongside the applesauce is seeing these juicy tomatoes ripening on the windowsill.  Their presence confirms that all is right in my late August world ~ aren't they gorgeous?    

Let us not forget the other late August ritual of seeing school supplies spread on nearly every horizontal surface.  Labelling and organizing is taking place in anticipation of next week.  Let the learning begin!

Monday, 26 August 2013

This day

The day dawned pink and hopeful.  By 8, the sun was nowhere to be seen, and in her place, around 9, came rain. 

As a result, the house has a dreary cast to it today, but I'm cheerful anyways.  How could I not be with these beauties on the table!  They are my new favourite flower ~ Heirloom Crego Asters (seed purchased here).  The bees positively LOVE them so we are fighting over the blooms right now.  I head out to cut flowers for the house but this proves difficult because the bees are feasting in each and every bloom!  I have to wait until the bee is finished before I can cut any one bloom.  That's ok ~ I can wait ~ we need our bees!

The cat took the day off from mousing and decided to spend it in the most luxurious of ways (nestled in the down quilt among clean line dried clothes and books).  Excuse the mess but Miss Paige has since cleaned her room and made her bed.  *Ahem*

The dog took one look out the window, saw the rain and declared a public holiday.  He's "on vacation" today, too.  OH MY GOODNESS, what a character!

Meanwhile, I checked on my first ever batch of fermented pickles.  Homegrown cucumbers, dill and garlic (when combined with a salt water brine) make incredible pickles with just a hint of tangy *something* (is it a fizz?).  Such is the way of fermented foods...  I am a total beginner with lots to learn but as the cucumbers are coming in from the garden in droves right now, I've got lots of opportunity to climb that learning ladder :)

Although they look less vibrant in colour on day 7 (below), they are quite tasty now that they've chilled in the fridge.  I do believe I'll keep trying to make more.

Today was the perfect day to put linens away.  I ran the mangle for an hour last week and this long neglected chore netted me a huge stack of crisply ironed napkins and other linens to put away (which I promptly neglected to do).   I'm a sucker for vintage linens and I snap them up when I find them.   We use them because I love them - no saving for "best" here.  Every day is "best", right?

I'm also making a (literal) cauldron of applesauce today.   Our neighbours gave us a massive bin full of apples last week and those darn things have been taunting me for days...  I just didn't have the time to get to them until today.  We've been busy all week with our new front verandah build ~ it's coming along.  Here's a few pictures of the installed cedar deck boards, all sanded and ready to be stained.  I still am pinching myself - we have STAIRS!  Four years is a long time to not have front steps :)

As you can see, we still have a post to cap in cedar, but some of the delivered wood was rotten and the lumberyard is replacing those boards... until then, we wait.

This weekend, we managed to get 2 coast of stain on the boards (whew!).  So glad that's done.   

I like how the stained cedar brings out the colour in the rock wall.

There's still a railing to install and a few other finishing details to take care of, but soon, this massive project will be done!

I'll leave you with this darling shot of our Grand-daughter, Penny.  She was thrilled after supper here last night ~ Grandma gave her the beaters which were loaded with whipped cream!   Mmmmmnnnnn..... YUMMY baby & YUMMY whipped cream!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Late Summer

Tomato time is nigh!  I harvested the first 4 (small) tomatoes over the weekend and they are languishing on the windowsill to finish ripening.  All over the garden, in and out of the greenhouse, green globes of future sauce are ripening in the late summer sun.

This morning I saw my breath, white and frosty when I took the dog out.  My blood ran just as cold... A hard night time frost would obliterate my tomatoes and leave me with nothing.  It happened 3 years ago and I don't want a repeat, so I'll be paying extra attention to the forecast over the coming weeks and will remember to factor in the "rural disadvantage" (-8 degrees C) .  Gulp - it's  race against the thermometer!

The calendula is doing well!  I let all of this self seed from last year and I'm enjoying having so much of it to dry for winter soap and salve, etc.

The apples are positively blushing and I can't wait to sink my teeth into their crisp and juicy sweetness.  Having the chickens regularly range in the orchard has naturally met many needs (insect control, fertilizing, cleaning up dropped fruit, weeding and providing needed shade and healthy forage for the chickens).  Stacking all of those functions together makes perfect sense, reducing our workload and increasing productivity all around.

I've been experimenting with permaculture guild planting and decided to see if it would help my poor struggling pear tree.  Lo and behold, with the right plantings in place, my pear has a flush of new red growth!  

I was buoyed by this success and forged ahead with planting a guild under my Honeycrisp apple tree (which netted the same success).  

The picture below is one that I've been waiting for for 4 years.  It's the view of the half finished stairs down from the new front verandah.  We opted to deck the verandah in Western Red Cedar which smells LOVELY and looks beautiful.   Soon, the stairs will be complete and then we can establish our water harvesting plan, put in a pathway, and plant a new food forest right out our front door. YIPPEE!

Last, but NOT least, I wish to introduce you to Odie!  Isn't he darling?  
No, we didn't adopt a pup :)

Our very best friends from "home" made a quick trip to Alberta to pick up their new puppy from a breeder not too far from us.  Sadly, their cherished dog of 12 years died recently.  This unexpected (but VERY welcome) visit was such fun... a great meal and a good catch up over raucous laughter was such a treat for all.

So wonderful to hug my friend ~ we raised our first children "together" (before our family moved out to Alberta 15 years ago) and we both have fond and cherished memories of those early years in our parenting "career".  We stayed in touch and remained close for all of those 15 years. With a good friend, distance doesn't matter, does it?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce

After over a year of procrastinating, I finally made worcestershire sauce.  I know.  I don't blame you for thinking it.  Why on earth would I want to make something that isn't expensive to buy and is easily available.  My reason is simple.  Generally speaking, homemade anything tastes better than store bought, so I wanted to give it a whirl for my Dad.  He LOVES worcestershire sauce and I can think of no greater gift for him (a November birthday), so that alone is reason enough for me to go to the trouble.  This sauce needs to age, so that means I needed to get my game on NOW!

I first discovered a recipe for worcestershire sauce on a blog that I stumbled upon a long time ago, but I can't find the link.  I'm sorry.  I printed the recipe off and never bookmarked the site.  My bad.  After a bit of googling, I did find a few other recipes and ultimately decided to make this one (as well as the original one that I printed off from that unknown blog) so that I could compare the taste and decide which one was better. After they age, I'll be doing a little taste testing and will report my findings for you.

The original recipe that I printed off from that unknown blog is as follows:

Worcestershire Sauce

2 litres brown vinegar
600ml malt vinegar
(I used all malt vinegar as that's what I had on hand) 
220 grams caster sugar
6 green apples peeled and chopped
60 grams minced fresh garlic
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
25 grams ground ginger
25 grams salt
500 grams treacle
(I bought treacle at the import shop, but suspect you could use fancy molasses in lieu)

1.  Place all ingredients (except the treacle) into a large pot and boil for 2 hours, then strain through a fine sieve.  

2.  Return mixture to the pot, add treacle and return to boil.  Stir for 10 minutes.  

3.  Pour into sterilized jars/bottles and seal.
* I've put mine in freshly washed jars and have placed them in the basement fridge to age. I want to taste test them before I bottle them and seal them for gift giving.

Allow minimum of 3 weeks to age and be sure to shake before use!

Apples taking on the color of the ingredients...

Cooling in preparation to sieve

Look at that rich color!

The leavings of both recipes...  very different in quantity and composition.

The resulting sauce (the recipe posted here by me made considerably more and was much darker in colour than the one I linked to above).

My initial taste test confirms that the sauce on the right is much saltier than the one on the left.  I'm really eager to taste them again after they age...  stay tuned!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Making and Noticing...

I'm experimenting (for the first time) with culturing food and drink.  It's addictive!  Water kefir is made bright and fizzy with the addition of fresh raspberries (a few weeks ago, it was strawberries).  So refreshing and delicious!

Trying a few worcestershire sauce recipes (one's made with green apple!).   It would make a great Christmas gift, don't you think?  I'm aging them now and will try them well in advance of gift giving season so I know which recipe is the "one".  Stay tuned for the verdict.

Raspberries are rolling in in record quantities!  I can fill these 2 large sheets with juicy goodness almost every day.  Gotta love raspberries for their ease in picking, freezing and using ~ no hulling or chopping ~ just pick and flash freeze on cookie sheets, then bag 'em.  So easy!  I can jam them or use them in smoothies or baking in the winter...  love that.

I've also been busy potting up raspberry runners to expand our production (in another area) and give some canes to our oldest son and his wife this Fall.  They've moved into their first home and want to plant food!  These are third generation raspberries - my Mom brought me the canes 4 years ago (from her place).  Cool, right? 

They look sad and sorry in the above picture (immediately post potting up), but even just a few days later, they are looking better.  I rescued a delphinium (blue pot up front) that was accidentally dug up by me in a robust weeding session, but I don't think it's going to make it.  Sad face.  

The flowers are blooming in all their glorious colours... so incredibly satisfying to see after starting from nothing here.  Some, I started from seed and the rest were donated via perennial splits.  Many are native plants that are hearty and easy to care for, perfectly suited this harsh clime.  

The calendula is prolific this year and I'm thrilled about that.  I'm drying as much as I can for soap making and other uses this winter...

In spite of the heat of summer, the greens have been faring well...  I've planted them in cool, shady nooks and crannies here and there which makes for an interesting treasure hunt when we pick for our supper salad :)  See the light dusting on the red leaf lettuce?  That's flour.

I've experimented with a new trick to attempt to thwart the cabbage moth.   A sprinkling of flour apparently damages the larvae (insert sinister laugh here) so you can actually harvest some broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower.  Humph.  I'm not overly optimistic, but I have seen less of the moths flying around since I sprinkled flour...  maybe they don't like the look of the plants with their dusty coats?  Time will tell.  Also, I've not planted any of these plants in rows like previous years...  I've scattered the brassicas in with all sorts of aromatic moth thwarting plants (mints, celery, dill, fleabane, etc). The celery seems to be the most effective so far...    Again, stay tuned!

Speaking of moths, we discovered this gorgeous one waiting for us at the back door the other day.  It looks like a giraffe!  We all ooohed and aaahhhed and a few minutes later when we checked on it again, we discovered that it was holding out on us!

Apparently, it's a Giraffe coloured wing moth.  Well, I'll be.  We've never seen the likes of one before.  We are working to create a diverse ecosystem here (which was previously a grassy monoculture) and the rewarding benefit is that we are seeing much greater biodiversity.  Sometimes it feels like we aren't making progress, but moments like this, confirm that we are. We hear and see abundant species of birds, reptiles, and insects all of which are helping us to improve this little piece of prairie :)