Friday, January 08, 2010

Cherry Pie


We had a delicious cherry pie for our New Years Eve meal. I like to have a nice meal on New Years Eve. I'm getting better at pie crusts. DO use store bought flour, DON'T use home ground wheat flour -- it's too heavy. DO use butter, DON'T use margarine or shortening. This one still had some problems. The filling stayed juicy and never set. I mean, it was juicy like juice you drink. Like water. But good! We just put it in bowls and ate it with spoons.

The cherries are from summer of 2008. We didn't get a cherry crop in 2009 for some reason. Gotta love that deep chest freezer (and that kid that climbed up in the loader to pick cherries!).

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Popcorn!


This summer I grew some bantam popcorn, just for fun. The ears are tiny, about 3" or 4" long. Many of mine were even shorter due to incomplete pollination or maybe lack of water. But I still got lots and they're beautiful! They're colored like "Indian Corn" and some of them have purple husks.


The kernels are teensy tiny.


And when they're popped they're still teensy tiny! This popcorn has a great flavor. I put some salt on it and no butter. It's delicious. One nice surprise is that the kernels, being so small, have very thin hulls so even the old maids are easy to chomp on and eat. They don't hurt my teeth at all.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Soup Fixin's

When I butcher a rabbit, usually most of it goes into the freezer. But some of it goes toward making stock or soup fixin's.

I simmer the ribcage in a stock pot with something to make good broth. This time I used some tops from walking onions, some lovage (an herb that tastes like celery), and some parsley. I simmer it slowly until the meat falls off the bone.

Then I pick the meat off the ribcage and put it into jars. I add onion, celery, and carrots. Usually I use dehydrated veggies. They keep forever, and I don't end up running to the store all the time (20 miles one way) or throwing out veggies that have gone bad.

Then I fill the jars with the broth that the ribcage and seasonings simmered in. I use a gadget that lets me pour from the bottom while the fat floats on top. I pour the broth through a strainer to make sure little bits of bone don't go in the jar.

I process quarts 90 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure.

When I want some delicious home-made soup, I just open a jar and put the contents in a sauce pan with rice or noodles and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the rice or noodles are done. Add salt and pepper to taste. I use quite a bit of salt and a little crushed red pepper. It is DELISH.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Salad

I had a major craving for a salad the other day. I wandered through the garden and came up with:

turnip greens
a little lettuce
nasturtium leaves (yum!)
borage flowers
cherry tomatoes
cabbage leaves
radishes
onion tops
italian pepper

It was YUM. I'm going to miss fresh salads. Cold weather is just around the corner.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Making Grape Jam

Last year I made jam for the first time. The instructions in the Ball Blue Book of Canning said to use Concord, Muscadine, or Scuppernong grapes and to slip the peels from them, chop up the peels, then put the peels into the jam later. I don't know what kind of grapes grow here - they are on a trellis and were here when we bought the place. So I called my Grandmama to see how you peel grapes.

Apparently those three types just jump right out of their peels. I thought all was lost, as I have "regular" grapes, but Grandmama told me how to make jam with the grapes I have.

Pick the grapes - pick the super ripe ones and the not so ripe ones. The ones that aren't quite ripe have more pectin in them, and pectin is what makes the jam jell.

I used the ingredients and proportions in the Ball Blue Book. It calls for two quarts of grapes. I've learned, after several batches, that I need to be generous with what I consider "a quart". Above is a four cup measuring cup and as you can see I fill it quite a bit more than four cups.

After the grapes are washed I put them in a saucepan. Some of them have fallen out of their peels during the washing process. I don't add water (there is a bit on them from having been washed), I just start at low heat. They will juice a lot as they cook.

At this point I also put three pint jars into my canner, submerse them in water, and put the heat on high. Jam is canned with a boiling water bath, and it takes a long time to heat up all that water. So start early.

I simmer the grapes until they're mostly slipped out of their skins.

Once they're cooked and pretty much soft, put them through a ricer or a Foley mill. This will separate the skins and seeds from the juice and pulp.

Use a big pot - 8 or 12 quarts. When you cook the jam it boils up amazingly, impressively, and just a little big frighteningly.

Add six cups of sugar. That's a lot of sugar! I bought my sugar in 25 pound bags at Sam's or Costco, and it was under $12. The bag says 25 lbs. is just over 56 cups.

Pop a small bowl or saucer into the freezer. You'll need it later.

video
Cook the grape/sugar mixture until it reaches the jelling point. Stir frequently to keep it from getting thick and sludgy on the bottom. Don't let it boil too high because it will want to splash onto your hands when you stir it. Boiling sugar/fruit juice is VERY hot and doesn't like to come off.

The jelling point will vary depending on ambient temperature, humidity, pot used... it's a bit of a black art and, frankly, I'm never sure if I've made jam that will be too thick or too runny. I tend to make it thicker than I think I'm making it.

You can get it approximately to the jelling point by bringing some water to a boil and checking your boiling point on that day with a candy thermometer. The jelling point will be about eight degrees higher than the boiling point of water. Don't assume water really boils at 212F where you live.

I find that it takes about 20 minutes for my grapes to reach the jelling point, but I usually start testing after 15 minutes, just in case.

video
To test, remove the jam from the heat so it doesn't cook while you're testing. Put a bit on your cold saucer or bowl and pop it back into the freezer for a minute or two.

You should test it when the jam is "room temperature." It's hard for me to tell what "room temperature" is after hovering around stirring boiling jam. I know it's cooler than my wrist (and cooler than my tongue).

The jam above is still too runny. I was rocking out to a Journey CD... sorry for the racket.

video
This jam is about right.
I think.
It may be too thick.
What do I know?

This shows how the jam looks in the bowl after testing and tasting ;)

Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes (pints). Adjust for altitude.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

FoodSaver and Bulk Meat

Since we've moved out into the country and have a large pantry, I've really gotten into the whole "food storage" thing. For one thing, I don't have to worry about getting snowed in. That doesn't happen often, but my neighbor tells me they were snowed in for over a week once, unable to even get out of the driveway (which we share with them).

But mostly, it's a heck of a lot more economical if I buy in bulk or when things are on sale. I also save trips to the store by always having something on hand for dinner.


Here's a lovely pork loin that was on sale this week. I snagged it.


$2.99 a pound is a good price by any standards. Meats here go on sale for ridiculously low prices (compared to Atlanta) but the produce selection is poor, frequently wilted, and expensive. That's okay, I have a garden. I'll happily take the cheap meat.


We like boneless pork chops so instead of buying boneless pork loin chops like I used to do, I get the whole loin and slice it up into thick chops myself. I could probably ask the guy at the meat department to do that for me, but I just never have bothered. Boneless is easy to slice!


I put three chops in each bag and seal it up. Then I label it and put it in the freezer. This loin yielded 5 packs of three chops each, plus a leftover end that I'll use for soup or fried rice. $3 for a pack of three thick boneless loins. You can't beat it.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Hot Pepper Jam/Relish


This summer I tried making jam for the first time. I've canned lots of stuff, even meat, but jams and jellies have always seemed daunting to me. I think it's due to a traumatic childhood experience when I made "fudge" at my Aunt's house. I was in high school, I think, or early college. I'd bragged and bragged to her about my great fudge, and one time when I was visiting, I made some.

It didn't set.

It was raining outside, and I blamed the weather. I still do. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. We ate sticky tarry chocolaty goodness with spoons and almost lost our teeth in the process. So I'm understandably wary of things that should jell or set.

We had an extra long growing season this past summer and the peppers produced at the last minute, in great quantities. Had it not been for the extra two frost-free weeks, we'd have had a meager harvest from our dozen or so plants, but as it was we had an abundance of peppers. So, I set out to find things to do with all those peppers. One thing I tried was hot pepper jam (or relish). I got the recipe from the little paper fold-out in the Sure-Jell box. They call it relish, but I call it jam.

Hot Pepper Relish (or Jam)

*4 cups stemmed, seeded, and chopped peppers
1 cup cider vinegar
5 cups sugar

*Approx 2 medium green peppers, 3 medium red peppers, and 10 large jalapeno peppers. I used a mixture of bell, Italian, and jalapeno.

1. Fill boiling water canner half full and bring to simmer.
2. Wash jars and bands in hot soapy water, rinse well. Bring lids just to a simmer then cut off the heat.
3. Measure exact amount of peppers, 1 box Sure-Jell, and apple cider vinegar into 6 or 8 quart sauce pot (yes it needs to be this big!). Add 1/2 tsp. butter or margarine to prevent foaming, if desired (I did).
4. Measure exact amount of sugar into separate bowl.
5. Bring pepper mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
6. Stir in sugar quickly and return to full rolling boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
7. Ladle quickly into prepared jars, leaving 1/8 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and threads, cover with lids. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes (you may need to add water to the canner to ensure the jars are covered by 1 to 2 inches).
8. Put jars upright on a towel and allow to cool for 24 hours to ensure a seal. If one doesn't seal, reprocess or eat it first.

You see why jams and jellies make me a nervous wreck? Just look at step 6. Return to a full rolling boil for exactly 1 minute. Well I spent a good 20 seconds just wondering if I was looking at a full rolling boil or if it needed to bubble just a little more strongly and consistently. My timing could have been off by half (or more), and timing is critical to a proper jell.

And another thing! How do you measure *exactly* 4 cups of chopped peppers? How finely do you chop them? What about air space in there? Do you pack it down? Do you make it so the tops of the peppers reach the four cup mark, or do you let it go up over the mark a bit, to compensate for the places where the peppers don't quite reach the mark?

Things like this keep me awake at night.

As it turns out, the relish/jam was a grand success. It tastes FABULOUS with cream cheese on bagels or crackers. I think it would be fantastic on a turkey sandwich, too, but haven't yet tried it. I give this recipe A+++. Will prepare again.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pizza! Pizza!

We made pizza the other night. We've made pizza before, but we always bought the pre-made crusts. I've been afraid of pizza dough for some reason. Maybe it's all that tossing. Didn't Lucille Ball get into trouble trying to make pizza? She probably did, and I probably saw it, and I'm probably subconsciously scarred for life.


My cookbook says if I want dough for two twelve inch pizzas I mix
1 package yeast dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water
4 cups flour
2 Tbsp oil
2 tsp salt

Let it rise for a couple of hours, punch down, let rest 5 minutes, then spread with hands or roll out.

The dough looked really small, and we had company. I figured the company (young men) could eat a 12" pizza each, so I made a triple batch. It was HUGE after it rose. It rose again during cooking after being spread out into the cookie sheet pans. Next time I'll make the sides much thinner.


I used home canned marinara for the sauce (one pint per cookie-sheet sized pizza) but you can use 2 cups tomato sauce plus 2 tsp oregano.

The first one was pepperoni and bacon with a bag of mozarella cheese.
The second was pepperoni and frozen italian peppers from the garden with a bag of mozarella cheese.

I had enough dough left over to make a ton of breadsticks and I still fed a little dough to the dogs. And now I'm not afraid of pizza dough any more.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Caribbean One-Pot Stew



So, I've got these sweet potatoes that aren't storing well. I canned some, and I went to allrecipes.com to find good ways to use sweet potatoes. Tried this Caribbean stew this weekend and WOW, I loved it!! My husband liked it, said it was interesting, very good. It knocked my socks off. Here's how the recipe looked on allrecipes.com:


INGREDIENTS

* 1 pound sweet potatoes
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 2 tablespoons minced ginger
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/4 jalapeno, minced
* 2 stalks celery, diced
* 1 green bell pepper, diced
* 1 small onion, diced
* 1 pound pork loin, trimmed and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 3 (16 ounce) cans BUSH'S® BEST Dark Red Kidney Beans, rinsed and drained
* 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
* 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth

DIRECTIONS

1. Prick sweet potatoes with fork and microwave on high for 6-8 minutes until tender. Set aside. When cool, peel and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat olive oil in large stockpot. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeno and saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add celery, green pepper and onion, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Season pork with cumin, salt and pepper. Push vegetables to one side of stockpot and add pork, browning on all sides. Add BUSH'S BEST Dark Red Kidney Beans, tomatoes, broth and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until pork is tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with a spoonful of relish made from 1 cup chopped pineapple, 2 sliced scallions, and 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Here's how it went when I prepared it. I don't have lots of fresh produce on hand. Round trip to the nearest grocery store is 44 miles, 80 minutes, and about $7 in gas. I don't go very often and consequently I rarely have fresh stuff on hand unless it's gardening season.

Put dehydrated celery, onion, and ancho peppers in boiling water to rehydrate. I could have used bell pepper but wanted some mild heat from the anchos. Toss in a whole serrano pepper because I don't have any dried jalapeno peppers and please, one quarter of a jalapeno just sounds TOO wimpy!

Put "some" dried kidney beans in a sauce pan (a third of the one pound bag? maybe more?), cover generously with water, bring to a boil for two minutes, and leave to soak for an hour.

Microwave some sweet potatoes, cut into chunks. Later on when adding to the pot decide you need more and add them uncooked. Works just as well and will leave them all raw next time.

Pull some boneless pork loin chops out of the deep freezer (we buy whole pork loins when they're on sale and slice them into chops). Cut into cubes, toss with cumin, powdered ginger (use 1/3 as much as you would fresh grated), salt, and pepper, and brown in stock pot along with the garlic. Add rehydrated veggies and saute with meat and garlic for a little while.

Dump in a can of diced tomatoes, the kidney beans, the sweet potatoes, and a pint of rabbit broth because I'm out of chicken broth but have plenty of rabbit. Let simmer for a while.

Open a can of chunk pineapple and put a scant half of it in the blender. Add a bunch of chopped up chives out of the garden because we have no scallions, and some dried cilantro. Whir together.



It was exploding with flavor. I absolutely could not get enough of it. My mouth danced.

I think it is way cool that I can have an exotic gourmet tasting dish like this without even having to run to the store.

A+++. Will definitely cook again.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Vacuum Sealing Jars

We have a vacuum sealer. We use it to vacuum seal our chicken and rabbit into bags before freezing them. We also buy boneless pork loins on sale, cut them into thick boneless chops, vacuum seal in meal-sized portions, and freeze for later. It's real nice having stuff in the freezer and not having to worry about going to the store (40 minute drive one way), especially in bad weather.


Another thing I like to use the vacuum sealer for is bulk purchased dry goods like chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruit. Vacuum sealing is NOT a substitute for canning. It doesn't kill any germs. Vacuum sealing in a mason jar is only a substitute for vacuum sealing in a bag. Mason jars fit on a shelf better, though, so for non-frozen items I use jars.

In the photo, the jar on the left was sealed in December 2006, almost a year ago. The jar on the right was sealed November 5 2007, the same day the photo was taken. The older chips have whitened ever so slightly, but you'd never notice it once you put them into some cookies.

I bought two huge bags of chocolate chips at Sam's wholesale this weekend, so I'm set for another year. Cookies, anyone?

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Canning Beans, Step by Step

KathyJo asked me recently about canning. I think everyone who undertakes canning initially worries about two things:

Will I poison my family?
Will the canner blow up?

If you follow tested and proven canning techniques and timing, canning is a source of healthy delicious food. It feels so good looking at your jars of home canned food sitting on the shelf; I can't explain why, really. It feels much better than looking at store-bought metal cans with attractive paper wrappers.

I canned some green beans this weekend, and here's how I did it.

1. Wash the jars. This is just to make sure they're clean. You want to get the dust off, you don't need to sterilize them.

2. Get your food ready to put in the jars. This usually means washing, trimming off bad spots, maybe heating it up if the directions say to. For beans, you just wash, string, and snap. Trim out any bad spots.

3. About 30 minutes before you think you'll be done getting the beans ready to go into the jars, put water in your canner (see your owner's manual for the amount to put in). I also put jars in at this time, with some water in them to keep them from trying to float. Turn the burner on high to get everything hot. You're not trying to sterilize anything here, just getting everything hot. When canning, you want to avoid going from hot to cold or vice versa. Rapid temperature changes cause the jars to break. We're after getting everything hot, not sterile.

4. Finish getting your food ready while the jars heat up.

5. Fill a tea kettle or sauce pan with water and put it on high heat; we want this water boiling hot.

6. Put your lids in a small sauce pan. Just cover them with water, and put the heat on low. You want the lids very warm but NOT boiling. This softens the sticky ring where the lid will come into contact with the jar, making a better seal.

Although some people re-use flats, I NEVER do. They only cost about ten cents apiece and it's just not worth the risk of a failed seal. I've put too much work in to risk a failed seal by trying to save ten cents.

7. Take the jars out of the canner and empty them. I wear Playtex gloves for this part, to keep from burning my hands. Put your food into the hot jars; a canning funnel is an immense help at this point. If you don't have one, GET ONE. I usually do between one and three jars at a time, so they stay hot.

You want to get the jars good and full, so the food doesn't float in the jar with a lot of liquid at the bottom after you're done. I fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full, then bang on the side of it with the heel of my hand, like I would a stubborn ketchup bottle. I turn it and bang on it several times on all sides of the jar. Then I add more beans and bang on it again. This settles the beans so I can cram more in there. Finally, I add a few at the very top and press them down into the jar with my fingers.

Fill the jar to the bottom of the threads.

8. Pour boiling water from your tea kettle or sauce pan over the beans. I use the funnel to help avoid water spills. Fill the jar to the bottom of the threads. The funnel is cleverly designed so that the bottom of the funnel is right where you want the beans and water to reach.

8. Use a non-metal spatula to get rid of any air bubbles. I never do this step because my spatula always seems to introduce as much air as it frees. The reason for this step is because you want the contents of the jar to heat uniformly. You don't want a mixture of liquid and air bubbles because the air and the liquid will heat at different rates.

9. Wipe the rims of the jars with a wet, clean cloth. ALWAYS do this step. Just a little bean skin or tiny bit of potato can cause a seal to fail. You've done too much work to get lazy and skip this step.

10. Put the lids on (if you're wearing Playtex gloves you can just reach into the little sauce pan and grab them with your hands). Put the rings on and tighten "finger tight". About as tight as you'd tighten a mayonnaise lid before you put it in a cooler and go on a picnic.

The ring is there to hold the flat lid in place during the canning process. It is NOT there to make the jar seal. In fact, a little bit of air needs to be able to vent out of the jar during the canning process, so don't crank it down as tight as you are able. Rings can be re-used.

10. Put the jars into your canner.

11. My canner is ancient and ugly. I'm embarrassed to put its picture on my blog, but there you have it.

The lid locks in place quite securely, and one way only, due to the slots and tabs on the lid and canner. Put it on and twist to lock.

In the bottom left of the picture you can see a metal circle; that's a metal cylinder and it will raise up to indicate that pressure is building inside the canner.

In the middle of the lid is a metal tube where steam escapes. This is where the weights go, to control the pressure at which you are canning.

On the far side of the lid is a black rubber stopper. If pressure builds up too high in the canner, this stopper will blow out and keep the pressure from becoming dangerously high inside the canner.

Put the lid on and turn the heat up to high.

12. After a while the metal cylinder will raise up. After it raises, set a timer for ten minutes and let steam vent through the pipe in the middle of the lid. Follow your canner's instructions for this part. Mine says 7 to 10 minutes if canning at 10 pounds pressure, but do what your manual says to do.


This is the weight. It is in three pieces and you add or remove pieces so it measures 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure. Using the middle piece by itself would allow you to can at 5 pounds pressure. Add one ring to can at ten pounds pressure, and both rings (as shown below) to can at fifteen pounds of pressure.


13. I'm canning at ten pounds of pressure, so I put the center piece and one ring onto the metal stem in the center of my canner lid. It balances there like a top or a see-saw.

14. After a little while, the pressure will build up inside the canner so that the weight starts rocking back and forth. Set your timer for however long you want to process the food. For quarts of green beans, my manual says to process 40 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. Lower the heat so that the pressure doesn't keep on building. You want to maintain a gentle rocking of the weight.

This is when the food gets sterilized, so make sure you process for the full amount of time, and that the weights gently rock the entire time.

15. When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave the canner alone until the metal cylinder drops back down, indicating pressure has returned to normal. DON'T run cold water over the canner to cool it off (drop pressure) faster. DON'T jiggle the weights to let steam out and drop pressure faster. Be patient. If you cool the contents too quickly, you can break jars. If I have a batch going late in the evening, I frequently turn off the heat and go to bed, leaving the canner on the stove until the next morning.

16. As the jars cool, the now-sterile contents contract and a vacuum is formed. You will hear the lids pop or ping, indicating the seal has been made. If you look closely at the new unused lids, you will see a little "bubble" on them. This "bubble" gets sucked down when the vacuum forms, and makes a pop or ping sound.

After a few hours you can poke the lids with your finger. They should remain stationary and inflexible. If any of them have a "bubble" in the middle that flexes up and down, it means the seal was broken and there is no vacuum. Either re-process these jars or put them in the fridge and eat the food promptly.

17. After 24 hours, you can remove the rings. Wash the rings and put them away.

Wash the jars, too. You might have sticky threads where some of the contents leaked out, or you might have mineral deposits if your water has lots of minerals.

Getting your jars good and clean is not only attractive, but it ensures that if you have any spoilage and leaking during storage you are alerted to it immediately. You won't wonder "Is that leakage due to spoilage, or did it maybe leak a little bit during canning?"

Label the jars and shelve them. I don't use stick on labels because the glue can be impossible to get off. I write on the lids with a laundry marker. I try to put at least the date. If I've grown several varieties of something, I will put the variety. For example, on my beans I put "Bush Blue Lake" and the date.

If you're making ketchup or marinara or some other recipe, good labeling is very important. You might think there's no way you could look at a jar and wonder what's inside but you WILL forget. You'll be disappointed putting BBQ sauce on your toast instead of apple butter.

One final note about canning. My canner has weights, but some have a dial and some have both. I prefer the weights for canning below 1000 feet because they are self-regulating to an extent. They rock and release steam, keeping the pressure at 5, 10, or 15 pounds pressure. You do have to toy with the heat a bit but once you're in the ballpark the weights automatically take care of the fine tuning.

For canning above 1000 feet, I'd prefer a dial. You have to babysit them more closely and fiddle with the heat level more to keep them at the correct pressure, but you have the ability to can at 11, 12, or 13 pounds of pressure. This is important if you're adding "one pound for every 100 feet above 1000 feet" or whatever that rule is. I've never lived above 1000 feet so don't remember the rule exactly but it will be in your manual. With weights you can't increment the pressure by one or two pounds. Your only choices are five, ten, and fifteen pounds.

Okay, one more final note. Get the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It is the mother of all canning guides and has some kick-butt recipes in it. It covers pressure canning (like I described in this post), water bath canning (for high-acid foods), and freezing.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Bean There, Done That


This is what I did yesterday afternoon. I picked a bunch of bush beans, washed them, snapped them, and canned them. While one batch was in the canner I'd be washing and snapping the next batch. While the last batch was in the canner, I did Sudoku. I was tired.

I prefer pole beans but the deer ate my pole beans this year and when I replanted there wasn't enough time for pole beans to produce before the average first frost. So I planted bush beans. These are Blue Lake and I am pleased with them. They are prolific, taste good, and are stringless.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Peppers


I made salsa the other day with a batch of tomatoes I picked from the garden. The recipe calls for lots of sweet bell peppers, and some hot peppers. My bell peppers are producing very slowly, so my salsa has a mix of peppers. I picked a little bit of everything in order to get enough for the salsa.

Clockwise, from left: Tolli's Italian Pepper. As sweet as a bell pepper and quite prolific. The peppers get larger than this, but I'd picked recently for something else so had to settle for smaller ones.

Ancho Gigantea. This dark green pepper has a mild heat. I really like it! It's pretty prolific, too. Needs a support frame like a tomato cage.

Bell Pepper.

Habanero. An extremely hot pepper; our variety turns yellowish orange when ripe. I used 3/4 of a pepper (well seeded and white membranes removed) in my 7 pint batch of salsa. They are HOT HOT HOT.

Jalapeno. Used a lot in Tex-Mex foods. We love the flavor of these. I grew four or five plants this year and it's not going to be nearly enough.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Melon!


I've never grown melons before. This year I planted some watermelon, some green muskmelon, and some orange muskmelon.

This one is Edisto 47 and it is YUM good.

Fresh picked melons are lots juicier than store bought. You have to get ready and slice near the sink. Have a dish cloth handy.

We ate half of this one and cut the other half into bite sized chunks and froze them on a cookie sheet, then put them in a ZipLock freezer bag for later. They are okay frozen if you eat them while they're still icy cold and not completely thawed.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Sink of Tomatoes


Last year, the tomatoes succumbed to late blight before we got much of a harvest. This year has been very dry, so we've had other challenges, but the harvest has been quite satisfactory as far as I'm concerned.

We grew paste tomatoes this year. When I get ready to process tomatoes, I place them into one sink, and wash them and put the clean tomatoes into the other sink. From there I blanch, skin, core, and process.

My sink has happily had a lot of tomatoes go through it this summer.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Canning Squash


I haven't blogged in ages. It's canning season and my days are FILLED with washing, peeling, trimming, slicing, cooking, stirring, and canning.

Most people don't can summer squash. It's not recommended because the squash turns so soft and mushy. I can it, though, because I use it in my Grandmama's Delicious Squash Casserole (TM). I'm going to mash it for the casserole, so it doesn't matter that it's soft and mushy. In fact, that makes casserole making easier! The recipe calls for 2 cups mashed, but I just drain and mash what's in the quart jar and call it good.

To can summer squash, pick it young and trim the ends. Slice it into 1/2" slices (I sliced mine a lot thicker, but did a hot pack so it was well heated before canning).

Raw pack (1" head space) or hot pack (1/2" head space).
Add 1/2 tsp. salt (pints) or 1 tsp. salt (quarts) if desired.
Process pints for 30 minutes, or quarts for 40 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure.

Squash Casserole
2 cups cooked, drained, and mashed squash
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. minced dried onion or 1/4 cup chopped fresh
1/4 cup (1 stick) melted margarine

Mix and put in greased 2 quart casserole.
Bake at 350F about 40 minutes until lightly browned.

***

This recipe freezes well, too. I've made a few double and triple recipes this summer and frozen them in quart ziplock freezer bags. If you do this, measure four cups of casserole "mix" per bag.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Making a Garlic Braid

I grew garlic for the first time this year. I grew four different types and now I can't find the markers saying what I planted where. From what I read, hardneck garlics form scapes but softnecks do not. One of my garlic types did not produce scapes and the neck is indeed pliable. I decided to braid this garlic after curing the plants and setting aside the three best heads for planting in the fall.


Braiding garlic is pretty much like braiding anything else, except you add in garlic plants as you go. I begin by placing a garlic plant in the center, bulb away from me. Then I place a plant to the right and cross its stem over the first plant. Then I take a third plant and put it on the left. I'll cross its stem into the center of the other two, and my braid is begun.


Just like braiding anything else, the right hand bit (the rightmost stem) now crosses to the center.


I add in a garlic plant by placing the new plant's stem alongside a stem that is already a part of the braid, and that is being crossed over into the center.


I continue adding in plants as I go, first on one side and then on the other. I add a plant from each side, then do a couple of "cross over to the center"s without adding in a new garlic plant. This results in a loose braid that is not as pretty as a tight braid, but will allow for better air circulation. I'm concerned about the garlic going bad if it isn't well ventilated, because I live in a very humid area.


After all the garlic has been braided in, I continue braiding the stems. I tie these off with a bit of bailing twine but you can also just tie the stems in a simple knot.

To use the garlic, just get some scissors and snip off the bulb that you want. Easy peasy.

This is the first time I've done garlic like this, but I experimented with some onions last year and they kept all winter long. I hung them in a terrible location, too - the south facing window above the sink in my kitchen. I hung this garlic braid on a nail in my pantry. I think it should keep pretty well in there with no sunlight and fairly regular temperatures.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Making Applesauce

I can't believe it's been over a week since I updated my blog. I feel like I've been busy yet I don't recall anything blogworthy happening recently. I did make some applesauce a couple of weeks ago, when I took pictures of the apple peeler slicer corer gizmo. Applesauce is embarrassingly easy to make and tastes lots better than store-bought if you make it yourself.First, get all set up. I have a great big monster 12 quart stock pot that I put the apples in. I don't bother treating them to preserve the color because I don't care if my applesauce is pristine white or not. I do treat apples I'm going to dehydrate or use in pies. I put a towel down because this is sticky work. I have an empty ice cream bucket for scraps. Usually I have two: one for cores and one for peels. The cores go to the chickens and the peels to the rabbits. I have a paring knife for trimming errant skin, bad spots, and off-center cores. I have the peeler slicer corer gizmo. And I have optimistically prepared myself a cup of coffee. I know that my hands will be all juicy slimy yet I persist in the naive optimistic notion that I could enjoy a hot sip of coffee from time to time. The cup is cold by my third sip, if I manage to take that many, and it's covered in sticky drying juice goo. Yet next time I sit down to do something with apples, I'll make myself another cup. Go figure.

Cut the apples up and dump them in the pot. You don't have to peel and core them if you're going to put them though a food mill later, because the food mill will remove the seeds and skins. I peel and core anyway, because it makes the food mill work go so much faster. Plus the gizmo is fun to use.

Put enough water in the pot to keep the apples from sticking. For me, that's about 1/4" on the bottom of the pot. The apples will make lots of juice as they get hot so you only need a little bit to get things started. Cook until soft.
Put them through a foley mill or food processor. The foley mill will make it nice and smooth and remove stray bits of skin and seeds that managed to escape your scrutiny earlier. You can also whir them in a food processor but that won't remove the unwanted bits, and it's harder to control the consistency. I tried it once before I had my foley mill and I had lumpy sauce or baby food.
Cook the applesauce a bit if it's too runny. Add sugar to taste. You might add as much as 1/4 cup per pound of apples if they're tart. I used golden delicious and didn't add ANY sugar. We did so many test tastes that we weren't hungry for dinner.

If you want to can the applesauce, process pints and quarts 20 minutes in a boiling water bath; canning under pressure is not necessary.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Apple Peeler Slicer Corer Gizmo

This cool little gadget set us back about $12. It has a turning handle on the right, which turns the long screw shaft with three prongs on it, pushing the apple through the peeler, corer, and slicer blades. It clamps to the table with a screw clamp which does hold it firmly in place. I put a towel on the table because this is drippy, sticky work.

To use the gizmo, you'd move the prong-screw-handle piece all the way to the right, press an apple onto the three prongs, and turn the handle. This spins the apple and feeds it through the peeler, corer, and slicer. It's fun to use. C'mon, I'll show you.

First of all the apple bumps up against the little peeler doohicky. It's curve shaped so it can peel the ends of the apple as well as the middle. It's mounted on a spring so it rides with a little bit of pressure along the contours of the apple. It works best on a firm apple. Soft spots and bruises make the peeler blade quit cutting and it starts to ride on the surface of the peel rather than cutting into it. After going past the peeler blade, the apple moves to that metal circle.The metal circle cores the apple and the blade beneath the circle slices the apple into a long corkscrew.Here's the peeled apple after it's gone through the corer and slicer thingamabob. Sometimes you need to use a paring knife to cut out bruises or to cut bits of peel that didn't get cut off. It's way easier to cut bits of peel with a paring knife than to try to peel the entire apple uniformly.Here I've slid the peeled, cored, and sliced apple off of the core. I save apple cores for the chickens and apple peels for the rabbits. It works out nicely that they prefer different parts of the scraps.Isn't this just about the coolest thing you've ever seen? No? Then you must get out a lot more than I do.

I usually cut the apple in half at this point (vertically) so that I have lots of semicircular slices. They make great sliced apples for apple pies, and if I'm making applesauce or apple butter I can fit more apples into the pot if I cut them in half.

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