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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Forgotten Skills of Cooking

I have located a gem.  A treasure.

As I have blogged about earlier, I am “upping my game” this year.  I am planning menus in advance, trying new recipes, and adding more cooking skills to my repertoire.  For the most part, I have been trolling food blogs to find inspiration.  I have found plenty.  I have also taken new looks at books I already own–like Canning For A New Generation which I have blogged about here and here.

Here is a new book I invested in:  Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen.  My treasure was on the porch today when I came home.  Wow!

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It covers everything.  Really.  How to make butter, specific recipes for different kinds of kale (!!), different ways to prepare Jerusalem artichokes, making preserves, how to make your own sausages, the differences between cooking young chicken vs. stewing hens, recipes that show off the different qualities of duck and quail eggs, the meat cuts for lamb, how to make elephant ears, a whole chapter on foraging, making compound butters, and on, and on, and on.   A lifetime of information in one beautiful volume.  The writing is clear, the photographs captivating, and the information is limitless.  I will give this to every bride and groom that invites me to their wedding.

Storing Food

A friend is giving a presentation to her church group about storing food.  She asked me to share my thoughts. It might be of interest to others.  Here is what I told her:

I am pretty opinionated on this topic, but use what works for you. Here are my thoughts:

  • my food storage is about being prepared, but more than that its about producing our own food and/or buying bulk amounts of the best quality food available.  I do not take the easiest or cheapest route, but always the best nutritionally
  • as you know, I buy organic and local whenever possible.  if I can grow or produce it myself, even better
  • I don’t think everyone is going to become a farmer like me, but I do feel strongly that local and fresh is better
  • food should be purchased when in season and at its nutritional and flavorful best.  Asparagus is a great example.  We LOVE it, but do not eat it any time other than when it is in season.  It tastes so much better!!  When it is here, enjoy it.  Paco and Lily eat at least a pound a day.  Just when we are getting our fill, the season is over.  It does not freeze or can very well, so we just eat and eat.
  • I do not think commercially canned goods are good food, even though they are so convenient.  I use a few canned goods, but strongly believe that commercially canned goods have high levels of BPA in the lining and are not safe
  • cream of chicken soup is a great example. Here are the ingredients (from their website): Chicken Stock, Water, Wheat, Flour, Modified Food Starch, Cooked Chicken Meat, Cream (Milk), Contains Less Than 2% Of Chicken Fat, Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Dehydrated Cooked Chicken, Yeast Extract, Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt, Flavoring, Autolyzed Yeast Extract,  , Potassium Chloride, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Huanylate, Spice Extract, Beta Carotene For Color, Soy protein Isolate, Sodium Phosphates, Chicken Flavor (Contains Chicken Stock, Chicken Powder Chicken Fat), Chicken Flavor, Butter Milk, Cream Powder Cream Milk Soy Lecithin, Enzyme Modified Butter Milk Nonfat Dry Milk, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And cottonseed Oil, Liplyzed Butter Oil, Oleix Acid Butter Oil, Lactic Acid, Butter Flavor
  • That is a heck of a lot of ingredients and some very unhealthy ones.  particularly hydrogenated oils
  • I don’t think preparedness that consists of processed canned and boxed goods is good at all.
  • buying local, responsibly raised foods also keeps money in our community and supports those who are making a living responsibly
Grass fed meat and local organic produce is a bit pricier than Wal-mart, but worth every cent. grass-fed steaks down at the farmer’s market will run you $15 or more per pound.  A side of beef will last our family for a year and costs me $3 a pound–quite a remarkable deal.  You need to educate yourself about how farms work and the seasons.  Spring is not the time to go looking for a side of beef. The best window of opportunity for meats is late summer-early fall.  Spring is birthing season and fall is slaughter–after all that good grass consumption and farmer’s are looking to pare down their herd before winter feeding costs come on.

An extra freezer is essential to food storage.  It is the one must-have tool.  I have 2 dedicated freezers and 2 fridge/freezers. Changing over to local, grass-fed proteins is the #1 thing, in my opinion, you can do for your family’s health and your carbon footprint.  Much homegrown or local produce can be frozen as well.  I freeze LOTS of fruit, corn, green peppers, and squash.

I store a bushel of potatoes and a bushel of onions as well as a big basket of home-grown garlic. I also store winter squashes and apples.  Butternut, in particular, stores great and is my favorite. This can all be  purchased at the end of farmer’s market season.

Farmers at market do give great price breaks on bulk buys.  For example, when it is blueberry season, I buy 3 cases (my own bushes need about 4 more years of growing) and then have frozen blueberries year round. Talk to farmers and let them know you want produce for canning or freezing. They will let you know the right time to buy as well as gather the culls (the not so pretty ones that are just as good for canning) for you.

A good dehydrator is also worth its weight in gold.  We dehydrate lots of fruit, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, corn, kale, swiss chard, spinach, zucchini, etc.

As far as using the food you stored, I have learned a lot.  Buy, grow, and preserve what your family likes to eat.  Plan with the meals in mind.  Being a locavore is pretty easy in winter if you have meals in mind when you are storing.  I make weekly menus so that I can buy as little as possible at the grocery store and I can wisely use my stores. I am getting better at this as time goes on.  what my focus has been this winter is making menus in advance and it has made a huge difference.  Have a plan.  For instance:
  • meatloaf—I defrost ground beef and ground pork and then add lots of nutrition packed dehydrated veggies–peppers, corn, onions, tomatoes, and dried greens.   Dehydrated kale especially is awesome.  It crumbles down into being nearly invisible and it is one of the most nutrition dense foods on the planet. I use home canned tomatoes as the basis for the sauce
  • cabbage rolls–similar to meatloaf.  ground meat of choice, rice, dehydrated veggies, home canned tomatoes
  • soups and stews–easy and perfect winter fare.  we raise our own pastured chicken, lots of veggies (dehydrated perfect here as well)
  • an easy fast dinner—canned peaches, grass-fed pork chops, frozen corn, green salad (from the high tunnel)
  • we love Mexican food and my equivalent to hamburger helper is enchiladas.  I use home canned tomatoes as a basis for sauce and our own chicken  (I keep shredded chicken meat–our own-in the freezer)
  • crustless quiche–another quick and easy meal, pastured eggs are an easy and healthy protein and we have no shortage of them
  • pot roast—grassfed beef, potatoes (stored), carrots (high tunnel), tomatoes (canned)
  • *****I take stock of what I have and look for recipes to best prepare it.  When you buy a side of beef, or a whole hog, or whole lamb, you will end up with some cuts you may not be used too.  This winter we have braised short ribs and oxtail stew for this reason and they were both great.
Being a locavore is even better in summer
  • The farmer’s market and/or your backyard is better than any grocery store
  • Eat what is in season.  feast on locally and organically grown produce or your own.
  • summer is so busy with farming and preserving that I adore that sliced tomatoes are a side dish and berries are dessert.  it is very easy.
  • but warm weather is when you have to be a “squirrel” and stock for the winter.
  • bulk dry goods are just as important in summer so you have a stock of easy to grab ingredients.

This is what I store:
  • home canned goods including pickles, beets, tomato sauces, salsas, applesauce, fruits, jams, grape juice, apple juice, and our own maple syrup, apple cider molasses) (I do not have a pressure canner.  I am adding that to my arsenal for this year)
  • lots of bulk-bought 100% grass fed meats.  we get a half or whole hog and a side of beef.  We have our own chicken and this year I am going to buy a lamb.
  • dehydrated veggies (grown by me or bought local organic produce)
  • bulk dry goods (this is where The People’s Elbow (wholesale buying club) comes in very handy)—rice, quinoa, beans, olive oil, canola oil, agave nectar, local honey, oats, nuts, etc.
  • some boxed goods and dairy products (TPE again)–butter (I buy by the case when the good pastured butter is available and then have for the year), crackers, cereals, rice milk, tortillas, breads) I bake a lot too
The People’s Elbow is a local natural foods co-op.  The best way to explain it is —It’s a wholesale buying club that offers the types of products you can find at Nature’s Pharm.  There is a VERY broad offering (much more than Nature’s Pharm) and many of the products are natural, organic, etc.  There is a lot available to those who have allergies—gluten free, soy free, etc.  You order online and pick-up is once a month. Members take turns helping receive and sort deliveries and hosting pickup in their home.  The discounts are quite good.  To join, you need to join the online yahoo group:
Once into the yahoo group, there is info for new members.  Contact member Denise Weerts to get a password to the order site as well as be hooked up with a “buddy”  to mentor you.  It is a bit confusing at first, but once you learn the ropes it is very easy.  dkweerts@gmail.com

Canning Pear, Clementine, and Pecan Conserve

These turned out amazing!  I’ll blame the double ear infection on the not-so-great sideshow, but I did want to give high marks to the book I got this recipe from:

Canning for a New Generation by Lianna Krissoff

It’s a glorious book with marvelous recipes and clear instructions.  It’s about 2/3 canning recipes and 1/3 recipes that use those preserves. If you are interested in something beyond strawberry jam and bread & butter pickles, I think this is a winner.  It’s organized in seasons so you can take advantage of what is fresh.  Here are some items to tempt you:

  • Whole Jalapeños with Honey and Allspice
  • Blueberry and Meyer Lemon Marmalade (this is on my to-do list for the weekend in celebration of the Meyer lemons I got my hands on-and I still have plenty of local blueberries in the freezer)
  • Champagne Jelly
  • North Indian Carrot Pickles
  • Candied-Pickled Apples with Star Anise

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It’s Orange!

Talking to my mother the other day, she said she had made some nasturtium vinegar.  I purchased a little booklet earlier in the year about flavored vinegars and then promptly forgot about it.  Thanks for the inspiration mom.    I sterilized the jar, carefully eased 5 nasturtium blossoms through the top and filled with white vinegar.  I have not tried it yet, but mom said hers is slightly peppery–which makes sense since that is what nasturtiums taste like.  But, the COLOR!  So lovely.  I am going to get some great vinaigrette recipes going to use on the abundance of fresh greens I am picking now from the high tunnel.

Apple Cider Syrup

  I came across the idea of boiling apple cider into syrup and had to try it.  I boiled 2 1/4 gallons syrup for about 3 hours into 3 pints of heavenly syrup.  I added a few mulling spices as well and strained the hot syrup directly into canning jars.  So wonderful and very easy. Don’t let cider season go by without trying this.  No recipe.  Just boil until you get a syrup you are happy with.  Watch closely near the end.  My own experiences in maple syrup production taught me how quickly syrup can become burnt, smelly, sugar that cannot be removed with all the elbow grease in the world.

Zucchino Rampicante

 Here is the process of turning Zucchino Rampicante http://rareseeds.com/cart/products/Zucchino_Rampicante_Squash_Zucca_D_Albenga-1140-16.html into dehydrated “noodles” for use in soups or as pasta.  I love this variety of squash.  It is superb as a summer squash or winter squash.  It is highly resistant to squash bugs and vine borers and it has a nice firm flesh and tastes better than common zucchinis.  We have battered and fried it as an appetizer.  used it to make zucchini Parmigiano, and cooked it on the grill.  Because of the firmer flesh, it can be quickly cut into noodle with a spiralizer, dehydrated and stocked away for winter.  These rehydrate well in hot water and are a great nutritious gluten-free alternative to pasta.

BUT

It is a monster plant.  It needs a lot of space and will vine itself into every nook and cranny.  Give it lots of space and provide a trellis to help control the beast.  I love the fact that as time and squash bugs call an end to other summer squashes, this one goes strong into fall.

Boy Trouble

 

Elvis and Blackie

Here we go again.  Our latest batch of chickens are maturing now and we are starting to get some new layers coming on.  We also have at least a dozen adolescent roosters.  This is boy trouble, plain and simple.    Our flock of 25 came through the winter with just 2 rooster and the ratio was right on.  Jethro is king, but a noble one.  He protects them and makes sure all the ladies get their fair share of food.  All the hens  seem to have a crush on him.  Enough said.  Elvis, the other rooster, is a little guy who has no problem playing second fiddle to Jethro and has his own following. 

Adolescent roosters are all you can imagine and more.  The goal, of course, is to let these guys get big enough to harvest and then tuck them in the freezer for winter meals.  And it works great.   The last from the past summer is defrosted in the fridge right now.  The problem is the gap of time between the rooster’s being too obnoxious to the hens (and sometimes us) and when they are of enough size to process.  We have had to shut one of the stalls and turn it into the “time out” room for bad boys.  We don’t generally name the chickens except for a few who have distinguished themselves—Jethro, Elvis, Trouble, Little Blackie and White Pants.  The first one who went in the time out room however will forever in my mind be called Brute.  He is a sex-crazed little devil without any sense of decorum.  People are generally surprised to find out that not all roosters are created equal.  A good rooster will win the hens’ affections, not be a serial rapist. 

We need to build a chicken tractor for these guys ASAP.  For their quality of life and for the the best meat possible, our trouble-making roosters need to be outside in the fresh air and grass–not in a “time out” barn stall.  Our goal all along has been producing the best quality protein while providing the best and most natural life for the birds.

The new guys are not all a bad lot.  Some of them seem to have some real potential.  The hard part will be deciding who to keep.

Garlic and Epazote!!!

I finished harvesting garlic this morning.  Thanks to the fact that the hoophouses were constructed over top of last fall’s garlic bed, my harvest is about 3 weeks early.  Now I have a nice empty space where I can plant another crop.  A few days ago, I dug out about 10 bulbs with my small hand spade.  Yesterday, at Tractor Supply, I purchased a small “Razorback” shovel.  It comes to my knee. My husband chuckled at  my little shovel.  Using that this morning, I easily harvested the remaining 20 or so bulbs in about 10 minutes.  EASY!  I think it will also be great for harvesting all of my root crops–carrots, beets (if I ever get any!), potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  Tools make a tremendous difference.   Also, took the handheld wire weeder and the stirrup hoe to all the beds this morning.  So easy and satisfying.

WEED OFTEN AND EARLY IN THE SEASON SO WHEN THE HARVEST COMES ON HOT AND HEAVY YOU HAVE ALREADY WON THE BATTLE!

Once garlic is harvested (leaving the entire plant intact), it needs to be cured. 

This is done by storing it in a dry area with good air circulation.  I put it in my garage on my seed starting mini-greenhouse.  I use this because it has shelves that are wire grates and allow for plenty of circulation.  It takes about 3 weeks.  The curing process is what hardens up the outer covering of the bulb and the layers around each clove.  After curing you can trim the tops and roots and it can be stored in a dry, cool location in mesh bags or in shallow pans.  Some of the best ones can be planted this fall for next year.  One clove is planted and that becomes a full bulb.

Epazote is a very fragrant and tasty herb used in Mexican cooking. It is a weed to most but a culinary delight to us.  I can still taste the fresh masa quesadillas at Rick Bayless’ s Frontera Grill in Chicago with fresh cheese and epazote.  Yum!  Wiki page:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysphania_ambrosioides  It can be hard to come by fresh around here–even in Mexican stores.  I tracked down seeds and planted some last year.  This morning I discovered a patch of it growing on the garden path. What a welcome weed!  I will harvest heavily and use fresh and dry.  if you are local and would like to try some, let me know.  It may very well be in your backyard too.

I harvested a mountain of kale this morning and will be dehydrating it.  It’s a good idea to preserve as much as you can early on for 2 reasons–the July-September harvesting and preserving workload is intense and it’s great to have as much of the work done early as possible.  Secondly, the bug pressure will build as summer continues, and your greens will likely be a lot less “damaged” now than later.  As the bug pressure becomes more than I want to deal with, I pull lettuce, kale, and other items out of the ground and let the chickens feast.

Note:  the zuchinni, basil, and tomatoes are all fresh and local.  The basil is ours and the tomatoes and zuchinni are from the market and available due to the amazing season extending help of high tunnels and greenhouses.

Jam, I Am

Strawberry season is finishing up here at Small Wonder Farm.  Most of mine went in to the freezer to be used for smoothies or to the restaurant for cocktails, but I did get 2 batches of jam done. 

I am not going to walk through the jam making process here.  It’s quite easy and the how-to is in every box of pectin, but I do want to point out how easy it is to add your own touches.  I am not a huge recipe person and like to change things up.  At the restaurant we serve a great cocktail called the Strawberry Basil Mojito.  Like any mojito the base is rum and club soda, but instead of mint use basil.  We muddle the strawberries and basil and add a bit of strawberry liqueur and Rose’s Lime.  I decided to make a strawberry basil mojito jam. 

Here’s what I did:

While crushing the strawberries, I added fresh lime juice, basil leaves, and very thinly sliced limes–rind and all.  I cooked that all together.  Right before putting it in jars I added rum.  It is great!!!

Berry Avalanche and a Better Berry Basket

Strawberry picking time is finally here. I got 2 gallons yesterday and 1 today.  I am so thankful that the strawberry harvest comes in early summer.  If the blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries all came at the same time there would be no way I could keep up.  Last year, I canned all the berries–turning them into jam or into strawberry sauce for pancakes.  I still have sauce left so most of these will go into the freezer to be used for smoothies throughout the year.  I will make a batch or 2 of jam. 

first strawberry

Lily invented her own “yogurt” this evening using frozen strawberries and frozen mango.  We added just enough water to be able to blend it and she ate it with a spoon. 

Strawberry plants need to be reigned in. They spread by runner prolifically.  I was giving away plants this spring as I was tearing them out by the handful where they had escaped from the raised beds.  A friend reported that 2 of her children picked berries from this gifted plant they had planted in their yard.  They declared them to be delicious–the best they ever had.  Exactly!  They grew it, they saw it ripen in the sun, and were paid for their efforts with an amazing strawberry.  Top that Kroger!  I  think we have forgotten to appreciate our food.  Growing some or most of your food gives you a real sense of their value.  There is no way I would let my hard-earned strawberries go bad. 

Last fall as I picked and picked and picked and picked and picked raspberries, I dreamed of a berry picking basket that I could hang around my neck.  I finally found someone thinking like me.  I  going  to need this. the blackberry harvestis going to be amazing.  Now, to get my McGuyver-esque hubby to perfect this:  http://tallcloverfarm.com/?p=93

berry back porch still life

Sap to Syrup??…..Sap to Syrup!!

I am not going to give a how-to of tapping trees and making maple syrup.  There are lots of places that can tell you that.  I am going to recap our adventures.  Last year at this time, friends who have a farm podcast called Geek, Farm, Life  recounted their adventures in  making maple syrup and I decided that was something we could try too.

Soooooo…I, of course, procrastinated.  I ordered the taps, called spiles, last Wednesday from a company called Leader Evaporator. I immediately realized that we might miss about half the season waiting for the order to arrive. When I have a plan, I have no patience.  I wanted to tap trees NOW.  So, I explained my plight to hubby and said there must be a way to make your own spiles.  So, we found some online instructions and, with the help of our local Ace Hardware, used 3 inch segments of copper pipe, flexible vinyl tubing, hose clamps, and 5 gallon buckets to tap our trees.  AND, IT WORKED.  But, it also leaked pretty badly on a few.  We did 7 taps before running out of hose.  we waited for the real spiles to come int the mail which they did on Tuesday.  Putting those spiles in was easy and they do not leak at all.  The ones we ordered :

Getting the taps in and the sap out was only the first hurdle.  We had decided to purchase a large commercial outdoor burner from one of the Mexican markets around here.  They sell them for making tamales, quesadillas, etc.  We will use it for syrup, processing chickens, canning, tamales, parties, etc.   After about an hour of me cursing and not getting it working Paco came home, cursed a bit, and then figured out that we needed a  different connection.  So, batch one started to boil.  We had 5 gallons from the first day and a half.  I checked it regularly.  It took about 3 hours to cook down.  Inside, it would have taken twice that time.  I was monitoring temperature.  It needs to get to 219 degrees.  At 212 degrees, I went to take Lily to bed, came back downstairs and had a scorched mess.  I was almost in tears.   So I turned off the burner and went to bed.

Next day, we get about 8 gallons of sap.  After an hour of scrubbing the pot (no exaggeration), we started again.  This time the plan was to transfer it inside when it starts to get close for more careful monitoring.  I was checking frequently, but it STILL went too far.  This batch was not scorched, but it is closer to maple sugar than syrup. 

Yesterday, we have 12 gallons of sap! Our large pot holds 5 gallons so a lot of adding was down to ge the whole batch evaporated down. Started boiling at 2 and by 9 PM we have about 1/2 a gallon of something close to syrup.  We transfer to a smaller pot in order to decrease the surface area and slow down the process a bit (thanks for the tip Andrew!).  I cover the pot with a cloth and go to bed.  I easily finished the syrup this morning by not leaving it’s side and taking the temp constantly.  It took about 40 minutes. 

Strained it, put into canning jars and sealed them.  1 full quart and 1 cup!!

I expect to repeat the process this afternoon.  WE DID IT!!!!

drilling with 1/2 inch drill bit--about 2 feet up the tree
inserting pipe and attaching hose
watching the wood expand and fall of the bit
our homemade system
boil, baby, boil

Year in Review: Fruits

Since so much of the installation was in 2008, 2009 was our first big fruit harvest and it kept me busy.  Here is the run-down in chronological order:

Strawberries:  I spent three weeks in May doing literally nothing but picking and processing strawberries!  The harvest was huge and picking of them quite labor intensive.  I had to pick every other day in order to keep up.  They got turned into strawberry syrup (agave, not sugar sweetened) and canned or got turned into jam.  We were making strawberry basil mojitos at La Scala and so they went there too.  I turned that idea into strawberry basil jam–yum.  This coming year I would like to turn some into pie filling.  Planting all the strawberries in 2 of the raised beds was a serendipitous choice.  Strawberries spread like wildfire.

Rhubarb:  this was the first harvest year so the yield was light.   Turned into a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam, a couple of rhubarb cakes, and a pie or two.

Ground Cherries:  The plants are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos (nightshade family).  These plants stay low to the ground and trail a bit.  VERY prolific.  It produces a small golden-colored “berry” in a paper husk (think tiny tomatillo).  They have a great vanilla citrus flavor.  Very easy to grow, tedious to pick.  Made several pies and froze quite a bit and still left most of them sit there.  Still have lots.  Will not plant this year.

Raspberries:  we had a small spring crop and then they came on heavy late summer all the way to frost.  I picked and picked and picked and picked……..  I froze lots, made jam, and we ate plenty fresh.  So delicious!

Blackberries–picked a handful only since they were planted fall 2008, but the canes went crazy and I am expecting this year will be a great crop.

Blueberries–planted this spring.  Takes 6 years to get a real crop. 

Apples–4 trees planted in 2008.  All doing fine, but we will need to move them this spring.  Much too close together and too close to the garden.  Live and learn.

Peaches–2 planted in 2009

Pear—1 planted in 2009.

Our grapes–6 planted in 2008.  Only 2 survive.  Likely will plant more this year.

Kale!!

We are lucky here im Tippecanoe to have some winter “bonus” farmer’s markets.  Today was one of them, so I went down and saw some of my favorite local food producers.  My number 1 item on the list–kale.  I even e-mailed Ginny Markle and asked her to bring extra for me.  I have been quickly going  through my dehydrated stash and knew we could use a lot more.  It is the perfect “stealth” ingredient to add to most anything–just this week I added it to meatloaf and soup and last week to eggplant parmesan. 

Here are some photos of the mountain of kale I am dehydrating this weekend along with some honeycrisp apples and some baby carrots I got this morning. Kale is off the charts nutritious- a true superfood.  check it out for yourself:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kale