Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fall Crops, Time To Learn

We basically missed the boat for many plantings for the summer.  We started some tomatoes indoors, as well as basil, zinnias, and a bunch of herbs.  We direct sowed peas, mustard greens, chard, carrots, radishes, endive, kale, leeks, broccoli and cabbage.  Some of these things we sowed into a cold frame that were then to be transplanted.  Much of these things grew, don't get me wrong.  Many of them failed to get transplanted by me, when I was too busy mothering.  We did eat a bunch of lettuce, have pesto from the basil, froze and ate some kale and mustard greens, snacked on carrots, and will actually get a few tomatoes off of the plants that are growing great despite being all crammed together.
The tomatoes here are resting on the center piece of the cold frame above.  Those were our neat little rows of seedlings, all happy-like and filled with promise.  Some grew and were eaten, but as you can see we just let the tomatoes stay in the other side and get messy.  When I finally thought to transplant some of them it was too late and they were a little too big to get moved around in the hot sun and they died, so I left the rest as they were.
I'm not feeling too down on my little family, we did our best, and we're learning.  But, I am determined to get better at this, and that means practice.  I consulted the Oracle of Homesteading and Sustainable Living (that would be Mother Earth News) and found their "what to plant now" page, so I could find out what to pant now.  It turns out I was just about to miss planting a bunch of stuff...again!  I prepared the garden beds, and so far have planted turnips, chard, kale, carrots, dry beans, and lettuce.  I did this about a week a go and couldn't write about it because my husband was away in Oregon learning how to build earthen bread ovens, and it was something of a surprise for his homecoming.  They have already started coming up and they look wonderful! I am really excited, maybe more than I should be, but I feel like I finally did something right with this gardening on time thing.
 Calipso Dry Beans (they look like yin yangs!)
We also built two cold frames so we could do some winter gardening.  According to Elliot Coleman, we can be planting some crops as late as October and get food all the way through December or later!  The idea of having fresh spinach and lettuce all the way until December is so exciting that I can't even think about it lest my little heart burst with hope and longing. 

I'm starting to watch the clock a little as August approaches.  I know a lot of crops ripen in the next two months, but I am looking at my pantry and my freezer, and I find myself feeling like it's not going to work.  What will I do!?  (I should probably start with breathing).  The tomatoes still haven't come in, the peppers are just starting, the potatoes aren't up and the winter squash is still months away...I will be fine, people. Don't worry about me.  I won't starve.
Turnips! I think I'm most excited about these.
But the farm share we have been members of since our oldest daughter started eating (her first foods were from this farm) has stopped, for now, giving out the extras to the shareholders.  This is a reaction to some people being pushy at "extra pick-up times."  Our farm share is only a farm share and so their extras don't get sold at a farmer's market.  They give some to the employees, people take them to food pantries and they do sell a little at the nature camp they run, but there is always more.  Up until this year they have offered extras a couple of days a week.  This results in a bunch of Prius driving vultures standing around the distribution table, reusable bags clenched in their hands waiting for the "go" signal and then snatching up what they can.  It really wasn't all that cut throat, but I guess that last year some people were being rude and greedy.  My husband experienced this and really didn't want to bother picking up the extras.  After that we kind of just hung back and took everything that was left.  Seriously, we took it all.  All those tiny, topless carrots mixed in the the greens at the bottom of the bin, we washed, peeled, shredded and dehydrated them.  Bins and Bins of huge eggplants?  You know I canned them.  Contractor grade bags of tat soi?  We washed and froze the hell out of it and ate it for two years!    Without the ability to get huge quantities of produce for (basically) free, my little homesteading dream kind of falls apart.
Carrots! I know I could have sowed more into this area and thinned them out, but I find it really tricky to think carrots, and I thought if I had small rows it would be easier for me to thin them...we'll see.
We are taking steps to make our yard more hospitable to gardening on a larger scale.  But there could be all the space in the world, and if I still don't know what I'm doing it won't matter.  Is my panic palpable?  Can you feel it oozing thorough your keyboard to grab you by the wrists?  I think the thing I have the hardest time with in all this earth living, is the time frame.  I am a procrastinator, I am a little scatter-brained at times and I am a job jumper (I bounce from one project to the next without actually finishing what I started).  All of these traits have been with me for a long time and we are all very cozy.  I am in the process of freeing myself from these balls and chains, but it's a long, slow, break-up.  In the mean time, when I don't get something done because "I'll do it tomorrow," tomorrow comes full of seedlings that have died because they did actually want to be watered yesterday.  I think it's very good for me and my personal development and all that, but it's like nails on a chalkboard to slowly reform the well-grooved ridges of my brain. 

That said, I'd better get into the kitchen to process the 30 pounds of zucchini into things that I will eat in the winter before tomorrow comes correct with rotten produce.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Simple Summer Squash Sauce

My family has quit eating dairy for a number of reasons.  It gives my oldest daughter and myself a stuffy nose, makes us cranky, and is one of the very few foods we had to actually go to the grocery store for at this point.  We figured by cutting it out we might enjoy better health and have one less thing to rely on The Man for.  We are in the midst of a 30-day clean out, and I have seen real changes in my oldest daughter's behavior.  It's really amazing.  I had realized I was sensitive to dairy after Christmas when the cheese was free flowing and I finally couldn't breath at all.  I thought I'd give quitting dairy a shot and cleaned out my body for 30 days and felt a world of difference.  When I asked my husband if he noticed any difference in me, he avoided eye contact and said "Yes..."
"What is it?"  I prodded, assuming he was just having trouble putting into words the amazing change in my now glowing complexion.
"You're,'re nicer."
"What do you mean by that!" I asked (very nicely).

So that's how I learned that dairy gives me a stuffy nose, and possibly makes me cranky. 

This has changed our menu quite a bit.  We don't eat a lot of meat and relied pretty heavily on the creamy, protein-filled goodness of cheese, whole milk and butter.   It's proving to be a bit of a learning curve in the kitchen.  One thing I have noticed recently is that my older girl especially is always hungry. I think she's suffering from a lack of fat in her diet.  I'm trying to step up the fat content of our dinners.  This dish is not an example of that, but I did manage to make a fairly "creamy" sauce for our homemade whole wheat egg noodles. 

Summer Squash sauce

3 Summer Squash  (I used the deep golden summer squash, not zucchini or crookneck.  Either of these could be substituted, but they just won't give the same color.)
1 medium onion
olive oil
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cool water
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste.

Slice up the squash and steam until tender.  While that's steaming, dice the onion and saute in the oil until tender. Puree the squash and add to the skillet with the onions. (You could puree the onions with the squash if you have picky eaters who will let their dinner get ice cold while they carefully pick out all the onion pieces).  Dissolve the cornstarch in cool water and add to the pan.  Cook over med/low heat while stirring until it thickens up.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Mix in some pasta and enjoy!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blueberries: The Continuing Saga

While I waited patiently for the wild blueberries to get a move on and ripen up, the cultivated bushes are gong nuts all over the place around here.  Peak season can often mean discounts for bulk.  We don't want to miss out on things like that, so thanks to my lovely aunt and cousins who watched my children all day while I drove to Tougas Family Farm and picked blueberries for three hours.  I just made the 25 pound discount.  Only just!  It takes s a long time to pick tiny fruit off a bush.

After about 45 minutes or so, the field I was in started to clear out until I was the only person left in that area.  I stood in front of the same 4-6 bushes for the entire time (they were laden with ripe fruit), with no sound but the wind in the pines and the birds over head.  Silence.  Those of you with children may have a hard time understanding me here.  What I mean to say is: there was no sound.  For two full hours.  I'm not sure I've had that experience in a couple of years at best.  It was magnificent.  So much so, that a couple of times I got kind of choked up.  I didn't full on cry, but I came close. 

When I got home it quickly became clear to me that my children could easily eat 25 pounds of blueberries in one sitting. so I took them away. I filled a couple of pints and put them in the fridge for snaking.  I have frozen 12 pounds.  To freeze them I just laid them on a baking sheet lined with parchment  paper in one pound batches (about three cups) and froze them.  After that I put them into mason jars.  I would have probably vacuum sealed them but I was out and it seems a little easier to get at this way, I can take as little or as much as I need.  They do, however take up more space in the freezer this way, so I may have to vacuum seal them later anyway.

I also took 3 pounds and made 4 pints of blueberry juice concentrate (instructions here).  With this I will be able to make refreshing blueberry juice and berry sumacade during the winter.  I am planning to make 12 jars of jam tonight (if I don't choose to go to bed instead) and will dehydrate about four pounds into fruit leathers, which I hope come out better than my strawberry fruit leathers
These 25 pounds will most likely take care of my yearly blueberry needs.  I went back with the kids the next day and we picked for pleasure an even got some peaches.

 We took home about three pounds, which are being turned into pancakes, snack, and dinner. 
Athena Made this lunch herself!
While I was out in the blazing heat picking the cultivated berries, the precious wild berries were ripening.  I made plans with my friend Kerry, fellow mother and earth lady, to meet in the woods behind Target.  She would bring her two boys and I would bring my big girl.  We got up early, grabbed our buckets and our cups on strings (these are to hang around your neck to free up both hands for picking) and tromped into the woods.  The bushes were covered! It was a much better show than the week before.  Athena got right to picking, just as I thought she might.  We hadn't been in the woods 10 minutes before Kerry's little one, James, let out an ear piercing scream.  He had been stung by a bee.  His momma managed to calm him down and he was game to keep picking (and eating) the tiny wild berries.   We got back into our groove and there was another ear piercing scream.  This time from Athena.  It kind of started as a whine and so at first I didn't think she was hurt.  She's four-and-a-half and whining happens a lot around here.  But within seconds, I realized she too had been stung by a bee.  I could see the little guy on her pants.  I pulled the pants away from her leg, but there was still screaming.   I picked her up to carry her to the path and over her shoulder I could see Kerry's horrified look, "She's covered in bees," she said.  Sure enough Athena had a bunch of bees on her pants.  We stripped them off and her poor little legs were covered in at least ten stings.  Luckily I had made toothpaste the night before and had brought some for Kerry to try out.  She ran to the car to get it and I put the baking soda mixture on all the bites. I guess it neutralizes the sting. It seemed to make a difference.  But the bees wouldn't leave her pants alone.  I think she probably got more peach juice on her pants than I had realized before leaving the house.  To make matters worse, they were inside out, so there were bees all up in her pants.  Kerry got a stick and tried to get the bees out, because, you know, she had no pants on, but while the attempt was being made, James got stung again.  Off came his pants.

"Just leave the pants here, I'll get them another time!"  And out we ran, about a third of a cup of blueberries between us and two kids with no pants on. 

Back at the van, while we waited to see if our kids were going to go into anaphylactic shock, I ran into Target to get Athena something to wear.  When I got back and gave her a dress, she was very pleased, and not suffocating.  So all was good.  We relaxed a bit.  The kids ate some pretzels.  I spent my time feeling horrible.  I had led my new friend, her children and my own first born into a bee hive.  Traumatizing children is not part of my wild edibles MO. My revelry of self-loathing was interrupted by yet another ear-piercing scream.  Apparently the bee that had been hanging out on James for the past 20 minutes had decided to sting him. Poor kid! So we made everyone take their clothes off and reinspected them for bees. 

We all calmed down again.  The kids listened to music and the mothers discussed the resilience of children.  We eventually decided to run our errands at Target so we could at least say we got something done.  We walked along the edge of the parking lot, the ripe, plentiful blueberries teasing us all along the way.

"Ain't nothin' in this world is free, baby," they said, "take the bad with the good and come on over."

We (the moms) decided we would find something in Target to occupy our children, and after our errands were run, we would come back out and pick some more.  And so we did, Kerry pulled up her van, parked it sideways and opened the door.  We sandwiched the kids in between the van and the edge of the parking lot.  Armed with a new box of sidewalk chalk we told them to "stay in between these white lines" and went into the woods to pick blueberries.  Really, we were right there, just up a two foot slope.
 Athena and James sitting on the curb, the blueberry forest in the background.  Athena is admiring her "sorry-you-got-stung-by-ten-bees-and-we-had-to-leave-your-pants-in-the-woods" dress
Eventually, they heard the saucy call of the blueberries and came up to join us, picking and eating to their heart's content.  They were not even scarred for life a little bit.  In under an hour we both picked about two cups.  This is really not so bad for wild bushes.  We didn't travel far and could have gotten a lot more with a little more time and a little less kids.  We are working out a way to go back without the little angels. 

I feel like I have passed some sort of initiation.  This is my first utterly ridiculous time collecting wild edibles.

Blueberry Juice Concentrate

I found this great idea here at mother Earth News.  I did it last year with my blackberries, and will be making a lot more this year.  I started with blueberries this year.  The juice concentrate can be turned into a drink any strength you like, from a really sweet juice to something more like fruit water.

It's super easy too!

1.  Thoroughly rinse berries, and place them in a heavy pot with just enough water to make them bob. (I used 3 pounds of blueberries and 4 cups of water) Bring to a slow boil, mash with a potato masher or spoon, bring back to a boil, and remove from the heat. Cool slightly.
 2.  Pour the mashed berries into a jelly bag or a colander lined with several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Collect the juice in a bowl.
3.  Return juice to the pot and sweeten to taste with sugar, honey, or other fruit juices (such as pineapple). I warmed the juice back up a bit to help the sugar melt. Under-sweeten, because you can always add more sugar later, but you can't restore lost tartness. (I used about 1/2 cup of raw sugar) At this point you have a concentrate, which can be diluted with 3 to 4 parts water.
4. Pour it into clean hot jars, leaving half an inch headspace and seal. Or  freeze your concentrate in ice cube trays or small freezer containers.
 5. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Most berries are naturally acidic, but when canning concentrates from softer fruits like plums, add a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice per cup, just to be safe.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zucchini Bread, Two Recipes

The Zucchini has landed.  There is a lot of it, and it is taking over my kitchen.  I have made some zucchini pickles (which are really good, by the way), purchased a really neat vegetable peeler that peels veggies into noodles, and made fried zucchini (Joy of Cooking's recipe).  All of that is well and good, but I've also made some zucchini bread!
I found a recipe here, and changed it a bit halving the sugar and using all white whole wheat flour instead of some white and some whole wheat.  I made both recipes side by side to see the difference and mine was better.  Well, it was less sweet and rose higher.
Isn't the difference in quality startling!? (Mine is on the left)  That was a joke, I know it's not easy to tell.  If you squint and tilt your head you can see that the one on the left is a little lighter in color, it also had a nicer formed top. 
Then I changed the recipe even more! I replaced the sugar with honey, used some whole oats, and added nuts and fruit.  This bread is suitable for breakfast. I am always trying to make treats that can be eaten any time, like my breakfast cookies

First the traditional:


1 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (If you can't find this flour, use 2 1/5 cups white and 1 cup whole wheat)
1/2 t. salt
2 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
2 cups grated zucchini
*1-2 cups raisins, nuts, or dairy-free chocolate chips, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 2 loaf pans. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl beat together oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla until light in color. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture one cup at a time.  The batter will seem like it's not wet enough, this is because the zucchini is giving the bread most of its moisture. Stir in zucchini and optional ingredients. Spread into two loaf pans. Bake one hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

I've made 8 loaves of this (so far) to freeze.  Yum.

The top is the breakfast bread, the bottom, lighter bread is the recipe above. You can see how much darker the honey makes the bread. This loaf was also a little over cooked.  After I made this I tried the recipe in a 9x13 glass pan, and that was way better. 

Breakfast Bread


1 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 cup honey
3 cups white whole wheat flour (If you can't find this flour, use 2 1/5 cups white and 1 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup whole oats
1/4 cup flax meal (you could leave this out if you don't have any)
1/2 t. salt
2 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used blueberries)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
 whole oats and shredded coconut to sprinkle on top (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9x13 baking pan. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine nuts and fruit in a small bowl, set aside. In a large bowl beat together oil, eggs, honey, and vanilla until light in color. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture one cup at a time.  The batter will seem like it's not wet enough, this is because the zucchini is giving the bread most of its moisture. Stir in zucchini and fruit and nut mixture. Spread into pan. Sprinkle with whole oats and some coconut, if desired. Bake 45 min- one hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Honey browns faster than sugar, so the loaf will be a bit darker, but keep and eye on it at the 45 minute mark. If a toothpick comes out mostly clean at 45 minutes, I'd take it out.  The edges may get over cooked and dry if you leave it in.  If you're married to the loaf shape versus the cake shape, try baking it for only 35-40 minutes in the loaf pan instead.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I pulled our onions the other day.  They're not super huge, they're the size I would use if a recipe called for a medium onion.  A few are pretty small, but on the whole I think they're a good size.  We got about 45 or so; I figure if I can keep my onion use to say...3.75 per week I'll have enough for the year.  That doesn't really seem like enough. However, I have a large bundle of smaller onions from our farm shares, so if that lasts me through the summer, then 45 onions for the year seems a little bit more possible.  But only a little bit.  I'm pretty sure I use more than one onion a week, it's probably closer to one a day.  There's a big gap between 45 onions and 365.  If I do use one onion a day, then I'm 320 onions short. That's a lot!

These onions were started from sets.  They (the Gardening Gurus of Lore) say that onions started from sets do not store as well, so I'll have to see if these onions are even capable of getting me through the year.    We have tried to grow onions from seed twice and have failed both times.  We actually have bad luck with seeds started indoors.  But I'll go into that in more detail in a post entitled something like, "I Hate Starting Seeds Indoors; Why Can't We Just Buy Our Plants From A Nursery And Plant Them On Memorial Day Like Everyone Else,"  or something.

All in all, I'm happy with these onions.  They look like real onions, which is exciting.  More than likely they taste like real onions because they smell like real onions. They might be a little to few and a little small, but they're my onions and I love them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wax Beans

I had an over load of beans recently.  I eat them, and one of my girls will eat them happily (the other eats them unhappily).   But there were too many for us, so, I decided to freeze them for later. I blanched them according to their proper timing (3 minutes) and vacuum sealed them.  Two pounds all set!  Last year I noticed a complete lack of whole veggies.  I didn't have anything that could just be eaten on the side of the plate.  It all had to be put into a soup or casserole, so I'm trying to be a little more mindful of preserving things that are in their entirety and hold up well to the freeze. 

Viola! All ready for the freezer!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

(Almost) Blueberries

 I have been stalking the woods behind Target for about a month now.  By stalking I don't mean walking through them and  discovering the land; I mean watching, spying, creeping up on, etc.  I noticed last fall that the pine forest behind our local Target has an understory of blueberry bushes.  Like, the whole forest floor is blueberry bushes.  So I have been mostly patiently waiting to see if they would fruit, (they did!) and now I am waiting for them to ripen.  I have missed quite a few seasons of wild edibles since I started learning.  Many plants have a really short season, so it doesn't take much to just miss it completely.  During the winter, when you're curled up with a field guide, cross referencing that with your recipe books on wild edibles (anyone?), you start to get exited about this new thing you will try in about nine months.  You see your plant emerge in the spring, maybe flower, or start to get berries, and then someone gets sick, or you go away for a long weekend, and--poof--just like that it's over and you have to wait an entire year to try out cattail pickles. 
I will not be making this mistake with the blueberries, believe you me.  So, I have been stalking them like a jealous lover.  No, wait. Let me think of something less creepy...I have been watching them like a careful mother.  That's better.  I have been tenderly keeping an eye on them, watching their buds turn to flowers, the flowers turn to round, green fruit, watching the green fade away to a deep blue, and the blue turn dusty and delicious.  When I was there yesterday I climbed up the embankment and, huzzah!, they were ready.  I emailed my blueberry picking posse (that's right, I have a blueberry picking posse) and told them to meet me at the Target at 7am if they're ready.  It's just as well no one was, because when the little one and I got there with two buckets, some water, peanut butter sandwiches and a wagon, it turns out that only about twenty or so berries were actually ready.  And we ate them. 
It is a little early for blueberries.

Because I hadn't actually gone into the the woods yet, I could only see the berries on the edge that get a little more sun. They obviously ripen faster, and the bushes under the cover of the trees are behind about a week or so.  That's cool, I don't mind waking up at 6am on a Sunday morning. 
It wasn't a total loss, though.  We got to explore the woods, finally.  The land used to be a farm, so there is an old cart path down the middle of the area.  It ends abruptly at a fenced in water run-off for the Target.  Probably, when they built the building they had to provide for all the water that would no longer be able to seep into the ground because their parking lot was on top of it now.  There seems to be a way to go around it and presumably the path starts up again.

I couldn't explore that this time with the little one in tow. The area we were in was about 400 feet by 200 feet, but the other side of the run-off pool is much bigger.  It's really cool to be in woods that aren't a state forest, conservation land or a park.  It is someone's property and will most likely be a Panera Bread some day, but for now it's just "the woods" and that feels pretty old-timey. 
 Can you see the Target Red?  
I wish I could tell you that my little one was in glory for being in the woods, surrounded by blueberry bushes, the warm morning sun filtering through the trees.  I mean, I guess I could tell you that anyway, but it would be a lie.  The whole time she was saying things like, "I tired of walking, Mama."  Or, "We go home now?"  And even, "I tired of standing and sitting and walking, Mama." To which I replied that those are the only things she'll ever do excepting lying down, so she'd better get over it now.
 Can you see her?  She's that tiny orange speck with the mane of curly hair in the sea of blueberry bushes.  Doesn't she look like such a little nature child?  Well what you can't hear her saying is, "CAN WE GO HOME NOW, MAMA?!"

She did stop occasionally to eat a blueberry or watch an ant, but on the whole she was pretty cranky.  I think next time I will just bring the big girl and see how that goes.  We eventually made our way back to the wagon and headed out into the parking lot again. 

Looking at the parking lot and shopping center through the woods while I try to get food to eat kind of makes me feel like a little animal who's environment has been encroached upon.  I think about the fact that this property (which is for sale) will someday realize the financial dreams of its owner and become something worth while.  The blueberries, wintergreen, sassafras, and whatever animals live there, will be churned under or driven out.  After that, when it becomes something "useful" people will notice it, and forget what was there before.  Maybe it will take long enough to sell that chunk of land in this economy for my kids to have memories of trespassing on private land to gather the blueberries for their summer and, hopefully, winter enjoyment.  Maybe my kids can have the more and more forgotten experience of saying, "I remember before that was a Lowes, my mother used to take us blueberry picking there."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Zucchinni Pickles and a Lesson in Reading the Directions.

 I just erased a nice chipper paragraph I wrote before I typed in the directions.  The paragraph wondered what the pickles would taste like, and told you how sweet they were. It may have even said something about how pretty they look in the jar, or pointed out the cool vintage labels my aunt found for me.  I erased it because after typing in the directions, I realized I didn't follow them properly and will more than likely have to make them over again.  Bummer.  What I didn't do was get the air bubbles out, which, now that they have risen out, means that there isn't enough liquid to cover the pickles.  I also didn't leave the jars in the hot water for 5 minutes after I took the lid off the canner.  I threw some of the jars in the fridge, If we're lucky we'll be able to eat a few of them before they go bad.  I'm not really even sure what would happen.  I don't think you can get botulism form pickled things, please correct me if I'm wrong about this.  Either way, I'll be too wigged-out come December to actually eat them. They'll get opened and poked at, set on the door of the fridge like we're going to eat them, when people come over we'll say, "Oh yes, those are our zucchini pickles." And eventually, they'll find their way into the compost.  So, I figure they are fine now if they are refrigerated, and we'll just find it in our hearts to eat 10 pints of zucchini pickles before they "go bad" (whatever that means).  So take my lesson and really read through the directions thoroughly before you start.  In fact take another lesson and don't start a a 4-hour canning adventure at 8:30 at night.  Go to sleep if you're too tired to read the directions. 

I got this recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Zany Zucchini Pickles
14 cups diagonally sliced zucchini
1/2 cup pickling or canning salt
cool water
6 cups white vinegar
4 cups granulated sugar
4 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
2 tsp ground turmeric

1.  In a glass or stainless steel bowl layer zucchini slices with pickling salt. Cover with cool water and let stand for 2 hours.  Transfer to a colander in a sink and let drain.  Rinse with cool running water and drain thoroughly.

2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and spices.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.  Stir in zucchini. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile get your jars and canner ready.

4.  Return saucepan to medium-high heat and bring zucchini mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, until zucchini is heated through.

5. Pack zucchini into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar.  Ladle hot liquid into jar to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary by adding hot pickling liquid.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.

6. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store. 

*Also I have added another tag: "Mistakes." We harvest as many of those around here as anything else.  Better me than you!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Granola Cereal

We don't have any cereal in our house.  I don't buy anything like cereal, mostly because I'm too cheap--I mean thrifty. A little because I find it hard to buy food that has a long list of ingredients.  Less for my own health, and more because I unwillingly imagine a little Mac truck next to each ingredient.  The little truck totes the ingredient to a factory where it is fixed up with a bunch of other ingredients that got brought in by their own little truck and then is shipped out again in a new truck, all of them belching smog into the atmosphere.  I know, real downer, right?

The kids eat oatmeal instead.  They love oatmeal.  They never even thought about cereal.  Then they were introduced to fruity pebbles.  We were at a church breakfast and there was a huge bowl of fruity pebbles, all colorful and sweet.  They were really magical looking, and it didn't take long for my husband and two children to set themselves in front their little bowls of rainbows. 

Shortly afterward I started hearing a lot of, "Why don't we have cereal?" 
"Do you want the kid answer or the grownup answer?" I ask her.
Short pause to ponder, "Both."
"Well, the grown-up answer is that there are too many ingredients in that kind of cereal.  All those ingredients have to get moved around the world to factories and that uses a lot of oil, and there isn't a lot of that left.  The kid answer is that a lot of those ingredients aren't so good for you and are more of a treat food to eat every once an a while, and not for breakfast."
Silence.  "But I like it."
"I know.  But, hey! We can make our own cereal!"
Brightening, "Will it be colorful like the cereal at church!"

Oh man, no it won't little girl.

I have so many feelings when I am in the process of explaining things like this to my bright 4 year old.  There is a large part of me that feels like I'm being really snobby, and I am self-conscious about that.  I grew up on the foods I now tell my kids are "poisonous."  We didn't have a lot of money and cheap food is just that.  We ate mac n' cheese, ramen noodles, hot dos (in mac n' cheese), canned veggies, sugary cereal, processed American Cheese food, the whole deal.  We didn't eat these things because my mother didn't love us, we ate them because they were a financial necessity. An alternative approach to diet was either unknown or unfeasible.  I don't want my kids to be with other kids, see them eating something that I have made off-limits and have them tell the kids or a parent, "That food is poisonous and is killing the earth."  At the same time, my kid demands answers that are real, and those are the real reasons we don't eat that sort of thing on the regular.  I want them to have a sense of their responsibility to the earth and their bodies, and that means no fun cereal.  Sorry. 

We did make granola, though.  She got to put all the ingredients in herself.  She was mighty proud, and the the pride she took in seeing "her cereal" on the shelf seemed to make up for it's less flamboyant show in the bowl.  When the supply gets low she looks to me and says with duty, "Almost time for me to make some more cereal," and this is the recipe she uses:

Athena's Granola

5 cups Regular rolled oats (not quick oats)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup melted butter or oil
1 t vanilla
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 T ground flax seeds
2 t cinnamon (or to taste, she likes a lot of cinnamon)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/ cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Place oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, and flax in a large crockpot.  Add the vanilla to the oil or butter.  Pour oil or butter and honey over the oat mixture and stir until is it mixed through.

Cook on medium for 3 hours with the lid vented with BBQ skewers or set of kilter.  Stir every 1/2 hour or when you can smell it cooking. 

When the three hours are up, turn off the crockpot and add the rest of the ingredients. 

I have found that the coconut over toasts and the fruit dries up too much if it is cooked along with the oats and nuts.  You may want to experiment with the coconut, though.  It is nice to have it toasted.  It could probably be added after 2 hours and be fine. 

Let the cereal cool and store in an airtight container. 


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Raspberries! -or- A Demo of all the Juicers I Own.

Strawberry season is gone. The next fruit around here is raspberries.  Onward we have moved!  I have to go elsewhere for our raspberry-lovin' needs, we don't grow raspberries (yet).  There is a local farm around here called Gerry's, and the people there are so helpful.  They have given me countless tips on gardening and preserving.  They never seem too busy to stop and say hello and catch up a little bit.    AND they are the kind of farm that has canning and sauce produce available when you ask.  This is great because you can often yourself with a lot of berries for less money and with a little bit more work of picking though them, a lot of jam!  I ended up getting 10 jars of beautiful raspberry jelly. 
I decided to go with jelly this year and not just mush of the berries because the seeds drive me a bit bonkers. We use a lot of our jelly to flavor oatmeal in the winter and the seeds are really noticeable.  I like jam with big chunks of fruit, I love how extra homemade it seems, but the seeds!  I also happen to have an amazing, wonderful, incredible Squeezo!
 This monster of homesteading bliss was given to me by my grandmother who found it at a yard sale.  I didn't even know what it was! There are so many projects I wouldn't even consider doing without it (we'll talk about that during tomato and apple season).  They come with (or you can purchase) different screens depending on your job.  So I clamped it to the counter and we got to work!
You simply place your raspberries in the hopper and crank out juice! It's that simple! 
 Berries in top (don't you love this heath-code nightmare?  don't' worry, the jelly is hair-free)
Juice comes out this way,
Seeds go out that way! Notice how clean the seeds are of juice.
Well, it's usually that simple.  I found that after a while the scroll, which is like a drill that is inside the screen,was getting full of seeds and it was then mushing the seeds up and pushing them out into the juice.  Ew. So I took it apart, cleaned it out and put it back together. It worked for a while, but the same things started to happen again.  I began to suspect that we had the wrong sized screen.  This is what it say here: The parts for today's Squeezo will fit most older Squeezo models; however, if your Squeezo is over 20 years old, we recommend you call us to check proper sizing. 
So, I thought I'd  take out the juicer I used last year.  I'm not even sure what it's called.  
You put your berries in the cone and use a cone-shaped pestle to push the juice out the sides.  It doesn't get the seeds quite as clean as the Squeezo does, but it works well enough.  
Well, maybe not so well enough.  I knew how much juice I was loosing after using the Squeezo.  I happen to have another knock-off Squeezo that I got last year from the same grandmother who found me the real deal.  I thought I'd get that out and see if it would get the last bit of juice off the seeds. 
 As you can see, many of the parts are plastic, and the screen is covered, so you can't watch he magic happen! But we gave it a shot.  
FAIL! As you can also see, the fake Squeezo (let's call it a "Feezo") didn't get the seeds nearly as clean as the Squeezo.  I ended up getting about another 1/2 cup of juice from the Feezo. 
Look at all that potential jelly!  It all went to the chickens.
 Later that night, when it wasn't 4 million degrees and only a balmy 2 million I boiled up the juice and made jelly.  I also brought a gigantic canning pot to a boil and processed the jars this time
All in all, a successful day.