So it Begins

Canning season is off to a great start.  With inspiration from a friend who blogs at Creating Nirvana, I set out to turn the majority of 3 cases of strawberries into Strawberry Lemonade and Strawberry Limeade concentrate.  I love that Crating Nirvana’s recipe is honey sweetened.  One of the keys to canning is to can things you will really use.  My daughter loves strawberries and loves lemonade.  This year round occasional treat will be a big hit and a much healthier version than I could buy.  In the end, I canned about 25 pints.  The concentrate is mixed 1:1 with water, so we will have plenty of summer in jars.  Some of the berries went into the freezer for smoothies as well.

I have already harvested some of my soft neck garlic and some of the garlic grown in the high tunnel.  I decided to pickle this first harvest.  I love the flavor, but wish it had not gotten so soft.  I think I will try a raw pack next time.  No recipe here–just wing it!  Pickling brine is a combo of vinegar, water, salt, (if you want) sweetener, and spices to taste.

 

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Super Juice

It is sick season and my little girl is sick.  She was home sick last Thursday and since has sort of roller-coastered between sick and not sick and last night just plummeted.  No fever (often her M.O.), but rashy (not a real word), nauseous, and generally terrible looking.

Having homemade juice for her makes me feel like I can do something 100% good for her as her little body goes to battle.  I steam juiced our own grapes, blackberries, and raspberries to make this years vintage of juice.  I don’t sweeten or dilute it prior to canning so each quart actually makes a half gallon.  I put half into another quart jar, add water to double each, and then sweeten to taste with liquid stevia.  This vitamin boost has to do her body good.

The Larder

Definition of larder according to Merriam Webster dictionary:
1: a place where food is stored : pantry
2: a supply of food
Larder.  I like this word.  It seems to encompass the idea of a real food supply.  Today, pantry most often means a few shelves of boxed mixes and canned foods.  A larder is food security.  A larder gets you through.  A larder is independence.    A larder is a rebellion against processed food and the industrial food machine.  Heck, a larder is a revolution. Every time a big snow is expected, people run to the store to buy frozen pizza and milk.  We hunker down and eat real food.
The larder is complete here at the farm.  A lot of hard work, planning, sweat, and tired limbs went into this year’s larder, as always.  The payoff is well worth it and the process is even more worth it.  My larder, a back porch taken over for food and equipment storage, with the addition of a chest freezer in the garage, is full to the brim.   Tomatoes, peaches, apples, blueberries, cherries, tomatillos, cider, grape juice, pears, relishes, pickles, beets, peppers, myriad jams, and more line the canning shelves.  More canning jars hold dehydrated food and herbs. Mesh bags are full of onions, garlic, potatoes, apples, flint corn, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Other staples that can be purchased locally like honey and buckwheat flour are in there too. The freezer is full of berries, roasted and peeled poblano chili peppers, lamb, pork, chicken, and beef.  Other staples have been purchased wholesale–like rice, oils, various flours, and nuts.
The majority of our food for the year is here right now.  I certainly will not buy meat until next fall.  We are still harvesting from covered outside beds and the high tunnel.  I am picking broccoli, radishes, lettuces, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, chard, dandelion greens, mizuna, collards, mustard greens, celery, carrots, beets, arugula, parsley, and pansies. I am pretty sure my fingerling potatoes are at a harvestable size, but am letting them keep growing while we enjoy our summer potato crop. We are still eating the last of the cherry and slicing tomatoes as they slowly ripen on the counter.  When they are gone, we won’t have another “fresh” tomato until next summer.
Winter meals are pretty easy when you have an organic supermarket in your house. Today we had roast chicken with home-grown root veggies, home canned peaches, homemade biscuits with chocolate cherry jam, and just picked broccoli.  Home is the unifying word here.  I know what was in everything because I made it all.  With the exception of the biscuits, and some of the jam ingredients, all of it came from our farm.   A meal like that is more than food, it is sustenance.  It is a meditation on self-reliance. It is a celebration of life and honoring of the dead.
The pictures show the farm as it is now, heading into winter.  For the first time ever, we have really cleaned up the outside gardens. They have all been cleared, mulched with a mixture of compost and garden mulch, and seeded with cover crops to reduce erosion and improve tilth.  We planted more fruit in our orchard as well. We added a fig, cherry, and Asian pear trees to our orchard as well as 2 more grapes.  that brings us up to 3 apples, 2 cherries, 2 pears, 1 fig, 2 peaches, 8 grapevines, 4 blueberry bushes, 2 aronia bushes, strawberries, and too many raspberries and blackberries to count.

Officially Fall

It’s fall for sure here at Small Wonder Farm.  I used the steam juicer yesterday to make grape juice.  For the first time ever, the grapes came from our farm.  Very exciting!  I have blogged about this other years if you are interested in the process.  I also made grape syrup with them.  This was a new one for me.  The recipe, a simple one required grapes, sugar (I used agave), and a bit of water.  After boiling the 3 together, I ran the cooled product through my food mill and got a yummy syrup.  We will use it like maple syrup and also add it to carbonated water to make grape sodas.  Yum!

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Other signs of fall are everywhere–including the kitchen where I have 1.5 bushels of apples staring at me waiting to be sauced.  The tomatoes are only coming at a trickle now, but the cucumbers, peppers, and zucchino rampicante are still producing heavily. I harvested a few ears of each of the flint corns to get a good look at them.  Beautiful does not do it justice.  Most people know, I am a huge fan of color and the Red Floriani Flint Corn and the Oaxacan Green Dent corn are exquisite. In addition, potatoes, onions, and garlic are getting cleaned and bagged for long term storage.

Got lots more seeds in the ground today and the things planted a week and a half ago are coming up nicely.  Today I planted chard, lettuce, more spinach, more scallions, and more carrots. I am excited about the new garden season and so happy to leave the worst of the heat behind.  Today I needed long sleeves to have my coffee and granola on the porch.

Cherry Pitting 101

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The earliest of the cherries are ready.  We planted 2 cherry trees last spring and only one leafed out this spring.  For pollination, we will plant a new one this fall.  Regardless, our cherry trees would not have born fruit this season.  The first of the cherries were available this past week at the farmer’s market and I purchased about 10 pounds of sour pie cherries. In the past, I have pit cherries by hand (ugh) and used a handheld one at a time pitter.  I decided this was the year to get a real pitter.  I am very happy with the one I got.  It pits one at a time, but moves quickly.  I pitted them all in about 45 minutes.  About half of the pits come out neatly and half have to be pulled away from the cherry, but I think I got a great pitter at a great price.  I give it 4 stars! Here is the one I got:

Leifheit Cherrymat Cherry Stoner

I worked at the dining table after dinner.  Sunlight streamed in filtered by mulberry leaves and danced over the cherries.  They looked like glowing embers in the bowl.  A lovely small wonder.  The next day I combined them with sugar and rum and canned them into a nice “drunk cherry” syrup.  Great for waffles, ice cream, etc.

Strawberry Freezer Jam with Lily

Lily wanted to help make strawberry freezer jam and got very excited about being on the blog, so here she is.  I have always made regular cooked jam, but a friend said that strawberry freezer jam tastes more like fresh strawberries and it’s true.  The flavor is as close as you can get.  It somehow suspends that just picked flavor–way better than a traditional cooked jam or even frozen strawberries that always defrost into a watery strawberry soup.  We used the super-easy recipe for strawberry freezer jam that can be made with Ball’s Instant Pectin.  
2 TBSP instant pectin
2/3 c sugar
1 2/3 c smashed strawberries
Mix pectin and sugar, add berries, stir and put into freezer containers.

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It really cannot get any easier than that.  Too easy.  Sort of feels like cheating. After we finished our jam making, we went out to the barn to give the chickens the strawberry tops–a favorite food for them.  As you can see, Lily had a lot of fun.
The strawberry season around here this year was very short and the harvest meager.  The crazy cold and wet spring alternating with periods of jungle heat was a bad one for strawberries.  My high tunnel bed did ok, but the outdoor ones were lackluster.  In order to have enough to do jam, I purchased berries from farmer friends at market.
As of yesterday, it is officially raspberry season here at Small Wonder Farm.  A season that will go on and on and on and on and on.  Raspberries produce here no matter what and the only thing that really stops them is killing frosts.  They are so numerous and tedious to harvest, I am always happy to see them freeze!

Violet Jelly

Violets are edible and that got me thinking about ways to preserve them. Lucky for me, my unsprayed lawn is full of them. They seem to be especially enamored of the soil near the pines, so I’ll bet they are acid loving plants. I looked up the options for using them in canning and found both violet jelly and violet syrups. Violet cordials can be made also. At the restaurant, we use Parfait Amour in a few cocktails. The best fit for us is the violet jelly and I think it will make a lovely gift also.

So, yesterday, I spent 45 min in my pajamas “harvesting” violets from our front lawn. I needed 2 packed cups and that takes a while. I cleaned them and then poured 3.5 cups of boiling water over them. Almost immediately, they started to release their violet hue. Once the water was room temperature (I let it sit on the counter for most of the day), I strained the flowers out and stashed it in the fridge.  The next day, I added 1/4 c. lemon juice which instantly turned the blue-violet liquid a beautiful rosy lavender.  Bring to a full boil, add one package of pectin, boil again for a full minute, and add 4.5 cups of sugar.  Bring to a full rolling boil again for a minute or two.   Process in water bath canner.  Yielded me around 6 cups of jelly.  The big question is how does it taste?  I used some of the sugar that I had flavored with Meyer Lemon zest from my lemon curd making and the product is a lovely lemony floral jelly of impossibly gorgeous color.  

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