Handcrafting Fresh Food~ or Summer 2015!

Just about the time I fell off the blogoshere we moved into a new house. Now, the house is great, and it has everything I need in a home, including a wood stove (finally!) and even my very own bathroom. But the “farm yard” is gone.

My chickens live off-property, and I am not completely thrilled with their accommodations, but overall, they are fine, and are laying well.

A tisket, a tasket...

A tisket, a tasket…

The “garden”, however, is a whole new ballgame.

The "Garden" 2015

The “Garden” 2015

My entire growing, recreating, outdoor space consists of an 8×24 foot wooden deck.

At first, I was heartbroken, thinking there was no way I was going to be able to grow any appreciable food this year.  But, I asked myself, ‘How many times have I said, “You can grow food, anywhere!”‘?  Well, this was my chance to prove it.

I started with the potted herbs we brought from the other house.

rosemary's baby

rosemary’s baby

oregano, sage, thyme, and curly spearmint

oregano, sage, thyme, lemon balm and curly spearmint

Then, we rescued 3 blueberry plants we found on the property, in pots.

blueberry hill

blueberry hill

Also, a couple of bedraggled strawberry plants we found, repotted and began loving:

strawberry fields, forever

strawberry fields, forever

They rounded out our berry patch nicely, with the raspberry canes we brought from the old place.

raspberries

raspberries

Then we got seed potatoes and shallot bulbs:

potato shrub

potato shrub

shallots and cilantro-becoming-coriander

shallots and cilantro-becoming-coriander

Soon, Spring sprung and I went kind of tomato-crazy, given the amazing south-facing exposure of the porch garden

"Sweet Millions" cherry tomatoes

“Sweet Millions” cherry tomatoes

Amish Heirloom "Brandywine"

Amish Heirloom “Brandywine”

the standard, Oregon Coast favorite, "Early Girl"

the standard, Oregon Coast favorite, “Early Girl”

Heirloom "Purple Cherokee"

Heirloom “Purple Cherokee”

All season long we have been eating from the “salad bar”

salad bar

salad bar

I can hardly wait for the lettuce and the tomatoes get ripe at the same time.

So far, we have eaten from all the herbs, and have harvested loads before they bloomed. Here is a bundle of my first lavender blossoms:

first lavender wand

first lavender wand

and here is the second batch of fresh blueberries:

done deal!

done deal!

The watering requirements of a microclimate like mine are somewhat shocking. Most days, we water morning and night. If it isn’t above 60 in the rest of the area (which translates to about 75-80 on my porch) we can get by with only watering in the morning. But we have huge plants in comparatively small pots, so they dry out quickly. If I had it to do over, I would employ the gardening “hack” of burying a 16 oz. water bottle, with it’s bottom cut off, upside down a few inches deep in each pot, so I could fill it with water and leave it to leach in, as needed, during the day. Maybe next year.

I know it may seem like I have been neglecting my handcrafting, as evidenced by my chronic lack of blogging, but please understand… I have been so busy handcrafting fresh food (and working to pay for the millions of gallons of water they require living in pots!), I haven’t had a lot of time to blog about it.

Still I am trying to make time. Things happen so quickly at this time of year. Starting seeds becomes transplanting becomes harvesting in no time. I am trying to keep up through pictures, so I can both blog, and reminisce, at my leisure.

I am so excited about my future projects. There are pumpkins and zucchinis besides, and having never done them in pots before, I can’t wait to see how that turns out. Plus, there will be the preserving of all these tomatoes! I have never had such a perfect place to grow the “hot crops” , here on the coast, so my yield is going to be staggering, compared to any of my other gardens in this climate.

Take that BigFood!!! Also, my very favorite way to #StickItToMonsanto

Also, despite having very little space to work with, I have committed some of my space to a group of “Rescue Roses”, as well. They came to me spindly, and covered in powdery mildew and black spot. A bit of love and care and some time in the sunshine has made all the difference for them. They say “Thank you” every day.

Food is most important, but beauty is also worthy of nurturing.

peaches and cream

peaches and cream

pink and perfect

pink and perfect

And that, friends and neighbors, is Awesome America!

Have a wonderful Summer 2015, and Happy Handcrafting!

 

 

 

Going Bananas

Ok, so here is the finished banana chip project. It went splendidly to plan. But I did make a minor modification in the plan:

done!

done!

I started the project dehydrating the banana slices on 125 degrees, but found, before I went to bed, they were drying out faster than I anticipated. So I turned the temperature back to 115. I had my husband turn the machine off at 7am, when he gets up, to complete a 12 hour cycle.

The chips were perfectly dried. Chewy, flavorful and lovely.

Just a note as to quantity- I expected my 2 large bunches to become a quart mason jar of dried chips, but they ended up being more like 2!

finished product

finished product

I am told that if you spray a fine mist of lemon juice over the slices they will stay truer in color. But I couldn’t be bothered. The color of them doesn’t put me off at all. If it bothers you, lemon juice is an option.

Thinking ahead to fruit leather, I am thinking of using the applesauce I canned in the Fall, and a puree of some fruit I have in the freezer. I have raspberries and blackberries, so I am excited for the future of healthy snacking!!! Take that BigFood!!!!!!

That’s it for today. It’s Day 5 of a 10 day run at my day job, so I will be along when I have time and inspiration.  Be well. Handcraft. Be awesome America! Stick It To Monsanto!

It’s ALIVE!

Greetings, all and sundry!

I am positive, by now, you have decided I died of eating nothing but handcrafted food. Or, worse, fell off the Handcrafted wagon, and was lost in a mire of Monsanto.

But, NO! I just had a lot of other stuff going on in my life.

Still, I am back in the saddle, and am ready to share some of the cool stuff I am doing and learning, lately. But first, the past year… I have still not mastered cheese . This saddens me, but I remain hopeful that one day I will get it.  I am still entirely sold on handcrafted toothpaste, and still use my own every day. It has helped me with a lot of the problems I was beginning to have with my aging teeth. I am not as keen on long-term use of the coconut oil and baking soda deodorant, and have eliminated the baking soda because it caused me to have some pH issues. No big deal, but after a month or so, my skin reacted and I didn’t like it. If I took a break, I could use it for about another month, but, ultimately, it happened again, anyway. So, I use just plain coconut oil most days and regular deodorant for “potentially sweaty” days.

I am still making my own sauces and soups and smoothies and croutons and bread. But not so much diligence on crackers and granola  . I am getting back in the swing of things, again, though, so I expect to have better reports very soon.

So, as to new stuff, I just got a brand new, giant food dehydrator- 10 racks all with mesh liners and the fruit leather trays, for $15!!!  🙂  I have been waiting for ages for this to manifest in my life! I have employed many other preservation methods, but have felt I have been missing a vital aspect of pantry-filling without it.

I wanted to get started immediately (of course!) so I went shopping for one of my favorite dried fruit items, bananas. They are easy, and practically instant, prep-wise. My shop had organic bananas for sale for $0.10 more than the regular, so I splurged for the good ones.

All I did was slice the bananas as consistently as I could, and pop them in a single layer on the tray. I started 4 full trays, from 2 bunches of bananas.

sliced bananas in the dehydrator

sliced bananas in the dehydrator

Then I turned on the machine (125 degrees) and will now wait the 12 hours to check for doneness. I like mine a bit “leathery”.

 

Tomorrow, I will be back with the finished product, which I will store in a mason jar with tight fitting lid.

Fruit snacks are as simple as that. Later, I am going to make fruit leather with apples and raspberries (because red is my favorite flavor!).  Take that, Big Food!!!

Thanks for tuning in, my precious blueberries! I look forward to a busy, prosperous and entirely handcrafted Summer!!!!

Stocking the Pantry: Canned Peaches

Today’s surprise trip to the Farmer’s Market resulted in some gorgeous peaches, and since I have been dying to can some this year, I decided to dedicate these to this purpose.

Right off the bat, I want to say that this is possible because I have finally embraced the notion of “No such thing as too small a batch” to bother with. I know women who won’t even heat a kettle of water unless they are working with 20 pounds or more of produce, but if I waited to can until I had 20 pounds of something I would have a pretty sparsely populated pantry. I am employing some water-saving tactics here, though, and I will include these instructions as I go.

Start, of course, with ripe, unblemished fresh fruit. A bump or 2 is ok, but watch for overripe fruit with lots of soft spots. The flavor just isn’t there, and the will go to mush in the canner, even with a cold pack.

fresh peaches

fresh peaches

Before you begin, make a sugar syrup (approximately 2 cups of sugar in 4 or so cups of water). Boil the syrup for at least 10 minutes. Longer if you like a heavy syrup (the water cooks away and leaves a thicker, more concentrated, sugary syrup. I like mine a bit lighter).

Put all the jars you may need to contain the fruit in a canning kettle and boil them off to sterilize. Once the water is boiling, this same kettle can be used to blanch the peaches to make them easier to peel. Always peel your peaches (or tomatoes) before canning. The skin just gets weird and rather undesirable.

see that peach in there?

see that peach in there?

Drop the peaches into the boiling water and let them bob around (or sink) for about 3-5 minutes. Fish one out and test for peelablility. The skin should come away easily as the immediate flesh begins to cook from being in the boiling water and allows the skin to release. Now, some varieties of peaches peel more readily than others, and I am not going to lie; some are an absolute pain in the arse. Those just have to be peeled more like a raw potato, removing a bit of the flesh at the same time. I pray you find the easiest peeling varieties at a Farmer’s Market near you. I had some of each to work with, today. Always ask when you buy them to avoid varieties whose skin clings.

skin coming away easily after blanching

skin coming away easily after blanching

Once blanched, peel them. Then, either halve or slice the fruit for packing. Wide mouth jars work the best for peaches, but if they are slices, regular mouth ones will work,too.

quartered peaches

quartered peaches

Then cold pack the fruit into the sterilized jars. You can allow them to settle down, but don’t “cram” as much in as will fit. You will need to leave plenty of head space at the top of the jars to allow for expansion.

cold pack

cold pack

Pour syrup over fruit, leaving the appropriate head space, and wipe the edges of the jars. Firmly tighten lids and rings and place in the still boiling water. For this mission, we have used only 1 kettle of water for sterilizing jars, blanching fruit and water bath canning the jars. From a rolling boil, begin timing for 20 minutes.

back into the same kettle

back into the same kettle

When your timer goes off, remove the jars from the water bath and place them on a towel on the counter, where they can rest overnight or until cool.

done!

done!

You will want to think about how you will use them, later, to determine what size jars to use. If you have a small family, you may want to use pints, rather than quarts. This batch, I did one quart, to use for peach cobbler, and 2 pints to use for crepes with peaches (which is my husband’s favorite), during the winter. If you have a large family, you may want to strictly can quarts.

These beautiful jars of late-Summery goodness will be waiting for you in Winter, when it feels like Summer may never come again. There are no preservatives or chemicals and yet they are perfectly safe to use within one year of canning them.

There is no better way to stick it to Monsanto than choosing healthy organic produce in season and canning it for later. Take that BigFood!

Now that’s Awesome America at work!!!

Stocking the Pantry: Blackberries in Winter

berries on the vine

berries on the vine

This has been a banner year for blackberries in my climate. I have been picking a pint a day from the vines in my own yard, and more from random patches I have found on walks with my dog. I have made loads of jam, frozen some and given them away, but I have been searching for a new way to preserve them, and have remembered a trick from my childhood.

fresh harvest

fresh harvest

Fruit can be canned whole or sliced in a sugar syrup. I have tried this with the blackberries, and they are just lovely this way!

First, the syrup: I like a light syrup in mine. It doesn’t detract from the natural fruit flavor, and keeps their original color, beautifully.  My syrup is as follows: 1 cup of sugar to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and continue a full rolling boil for 10 minutes.

Wash and dry fruit. Pour berries into a sterile jar to within 1 inch of top. Pour syrup over berries to same level (1 inch from top). Tightly fit lid and ring, and place in canning kettle. Cover jars with water to 2 inches above tops of jars. Bring water to a boil and begin timing. 10 minutes processing is all that is needed for this type of canned fruit.

Remove from water bath, and cool on a towel on the counter overnight.

That’s it! The fruit will last up to a year unopened on the shelf.

canned berries, ready for the pantry

canned berries, ready for the pantry

Later, when you are hankering for blackberries when it is cold outside, and Summer is a distant memory, your perfectly ripe berries will be ready for you!

One possible use for them is to stir a teaspoon of corn starch into the cool syrup and berries and heat them in a saucepan. When the syrup returns to clear (from being opaque) and the syrup is thick enough for your taste, it’s ready to be a delicious, nutritious pancake syrup, ice cream topping, or filling for a layer cake. The possibilities are endless. Summer can go on and on this way, no matter what the calender says!

Now that’s Awesome America!

Stocking the Pantry: Apple Pie Filling

pie filling!

pie filling!

One of my many projects, this Summer, has been preparing the pantry for the Autumn and Winter months. Without these preparations,  in order to enjoy fruits and veggies, I would have to choose a commercially prepared product of dubious origin and treatment. This way, I have my very own treasures, prepared from “scratch” awaiting my need for them all Season long!

Today’s project description is for Apple Pie Filling.

I began with the yellow transparent tree in my back garden. Known for their soft texture and tendency toward graininess, once these apples are ripe their only real function is applesauce and apple butter, which I have made and enjoyed many times. But this year, I decided to pick them a day or 2 before being entirely ripe. The texture remained firm and the flavor, amazing!

apple tree

apple tree

The only safe apple seems to be grown organically, or as they are in my neck of the woods, “grown by Nature”- never watered, sprayed, fertilized by humans at all. If you can find an apple tree then, by all means, use those apples. If not, buy the good stuff and use those.

yellow transparent apple

yellow transparent apple

Pick only the number of apples you plan to use immediately. Peel, core and slice apples into a bowl of water with added lemon juice, to prevent a certain amount of browning (some is obviously inevitable, but no worries. Cinnamon and nutmeg are brown, too).

apple prep

apple prep

Place apple slices into a large saucepan or stock pot, and coat with a liberal dusting of corn starch. I am not going to give amounts, because that all depends on the amount of apples you begin with. Add sugar (the amount also depends on number and sweetness of apples), ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger, and/or whatever spices you like in your apple pie. Hand blend these ingredients well, until apples are uniformly coated with the mixture.

apple, spice, starch mixture

apple, spice, starch mixture

Then, on medium heat, begin to cook the apples down. The length of time this will take is entirely dependent on the type and ripeness of apples. With my yellow transparents, it took about 10 minutes or so. Firmer apple varieties will take longer. The goal is to cook them until they are about halfway as cooked as you would like them when the pie is finished baking. Taste the mixture throughout the process. Nothing in it will hurt you, “raw”, so don’t be afraid to taste all along the way. To ensure enough sugar (if you accidentally add to much, give it a squeeze of lemon juice to balance), to create optimal spice balance, to detect doneness, all can be done with tasting. Be sure you like it before you go further!!!

pie filling!

pie filling!

Then, pack the mixture into sterilized glass jars. To sterilize, you can run them through a dishwasher and heat dry them, you can boil them seperately, in a canning pot, or you can fill them with boiling water from a kettle and leave them full until the apples are ready.

Then, place the jars, tightly lidded, into a water batch canner, and adjust water level to 2 inches or so above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to boiling and begin timing 25 minutes from rolling boil.

When they have been processed, remove them to a towel on the counter and allow to sit overnight, undisturbed. Their seals should begin “popping” almost immediately.

Next morning, the ones whose lids are sealed can be removed to the pantry. If the seal isn’t right, place it in the fridge and use it within one week.

When it is time to make pie, the jar can be emptied into an unbaked pie crust, and baked at 350 degrees. Lattice designs and other cut-outs are popular in 2-crust pies. But my favorite apple pie is crumb-y! (this can also be dumped directly into greased pan and topped to make apple crisp)

Apple Pie Crumbs:

1 stick of butter, softened a little (not squishy)

1/2 to 3/4 cup of  packed brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves, ginger, cardamom, allspice (each)

Using your hands, squish it all together until the mixture will stick together when you make a fist around it, but also breaks up easily into course crumbs when you break it apart.

Pour this crumb-y mixture over the pie filling and bake as usual for pie or crisp.

The convenience of having apple pie filling already made when I am ready to throw a quick pie or crumble together is going to be amazing! The same process can be achieved with many other types of fruit, so don’t hesitate to experiment! Holiday baking can be quick and easy if you are prepared!!!

Handcrafted Holiday Desserts, quick and delicious! Take that BigFood. Stick it to Monsanto with America’s most fond symbol of Home; Apple Pie!!!

 

We Be Jamman’!

‘Tis the Season for beautiful, jewel-shade, berry jellies, jams and preserves of all kinds.

jam supplies

jam supplies

I’ve been making cooked jam since I was a teenager, and it has always the same method, the same tools, the same ingredients. I like the fact I can spend a few uncomfortably hot Summer days cooking, and be rewarded with a year-supply of sweet, delicious condiment for my toast, peanut butter sandwiches and yogurt.

But this year, all that has changed.

I have made the most glorious change, and it has resulted in a jam with less sugar (and by less I mean 3/4 of a cup of sugar vs. 8 cups of sugar per 4-5 cups crushed fruit) that is a sure set, no need for lemon juice (in the basic berry recipe), a recipe that can be doubled or tripled (or more, if you have a large enough kettle) with no loss of gelling, and that results in perfect fruit distribution through the whole jar. That change was Pomona’s Universal Pectin.

best pectin EVAH!

best pectin EVAH!

The instructions I am going to give are for my experience with a triple batch~ which begins with 12 cups of topped, squashed strawberries. These instructions are taken directly from the information leaflet included in the Pomona’s Universal Pectin packet. One 1 oz packet will complete 1 flat of fresh berries.

for best product, always buy organic berries

for best product, always buy organic berries

washed, topped berries

washed, topped berries

Before beginning the process, I boiled all the jars needed for the batch I was making, for sterilization. The lids and rings were also placed in a separate pan and brought to a boil at this time. While this was happening, I topped berries and made up a jar of the Calcium water (monocalcium phosphate, which activates the pectin, included in the packet) as directed by the instructions ~ 1/2 tsp calcium powder per 1/2 cup water, shaken well to mix. There will be a lot of this left over after your recipe, and it can be kept for several months in the fridge, for future batches).

calcium water

calcium water

The squashed berries and 6 tsp of the calcium water go in the cooking pot, to be brought to a boil.

bring berries to boil

bring berries to boil

The sugar is measured separately (can be also be made with honey, using this recipe) and placed into a bowl. The pectin powder is added to the sugar or honey and blended. (I was making this recipe for family, and they are accustomed to a very sweet jam, so I used 2 cups of sugar per batch- in this instance, 6 cups total. The recipe calls for between 3/4 a cup to 2 cups per batch).

As soon as the fruit comes to a boil, the sugar or honey/pectin mixture is added to the pot, stirred thoroughly to incorporate and dissolve sugar and pectin, and brought back to a boil for 4 minutes.

Then, the finished jam is placed into the sterile, still-hot  jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in each. The rims need to be wiped to remove any jam which would compromise the seals. Then lids added and rings tightened.

filled jam jars

filled jam jars

All the filled jars go back into the boiling pot to be water-bathed for 15 minutes past boiling. This is to kill any remaining germs, to allow it to remain fresh for many months on the shelf.

All the jars are removed from the pot, and placed on a towel on the counter to seal and cool. Once the tops “pop” which indicates a complete seal, I flip them over and over as they cool (every 15-20 minutes) so the fruit distributes evenly throughout the jar. The bigger the jar, the longer this takes. Fruit floats in the jam jar, so if this step is skipped, there will be a fruit layer on top and a syrup/jelly layer on bottom. This is a natural occurrence, as sugar is heavier than fruit.

In roughly an hour (for smaller jars, or 2 for quarts- I know, crazy large for a jam jar, but my Dad eats jam at every meal, every day. His open jars never go bad before he empties them!) the jam is finished, the gel process complete and the fruit completely and evenly distributed throughout the jars.

finished jam, fruit well-distributed through jar

finished jam, fruit well-distributed through jar

This recipe is simple, a ton of time is saved by the ability to double and triple the recipe, so much cheaper and healthier because there is between 3- and 16-times less sugar in the jam as conventional pectin recipes, and the result is positively foolproof! You may never buy jam again. Take that BigFood!

Jars of jam make amazingly welcome gifts for all occasions, and are appreciated by everyone who receives them!

No treat so decadent as a mouthful of sweet Summer when the frost is on the pumpkin, or the snowdrifts pile up against the house.

Enjoy!!!!

Raw Strawberry Jam

I have become completely addicted to jam in my homemade yogurt, but I am also not happy with all the sugar in the jam I have been eating.

So, this Spring, I have decided to try some experimental jams that use little or no sugar, whatever. This batch is made of nothing but strawberries, chia seeds and water. My berries were so sweet and good I didn’t even add the honey I had planned to use to sweeten it.

The recipe comes from naturesnurture.com:

  • 1 cup fresh, washed berries
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp water
  • sweetener to taste

 

fresh, raw ingredients

fresh, raw ingredients

First, I washed and topped the berries and squished them into the measuring cup

1 cup berries, 1 tbsp chia seeds

1 cup berries, 1 tbsp chia seeds

Then, I added 1 tbsp of whole black chia seeds, which become very gel-ly when they get wet. They also have no flavor, whatever to interfere with the recipe’s taste.

adding the chia seeds

adding the chia seeds

My berries weren’t really super-juicy, so I added 1 tbsp of water.

adding water

adding water

Wait one hour, and boom. Jam!

jam!

jam!

I made one batch for now, which I will keep in the fridge, and one batch to try to freeze. I have no information on how this will affect the texture, so I am giving it a shot. Berry season is waaaayyyy too short to only be able to enjoy this when they are in season.

one for now, one for later!

one for now, one for later!

I will provide an quality control update, when I thaw the freezer batch.

Happy Berry Season!!!!

…and Finally, on Frugal Friday, cottage cheese

finished cottage cheese

finished cottage cheese

Simplest handcrafted cottage cheese ever. Also fast. This recipe comes from Poppy’s Money Tree, many thanks to them!

1/2 gallon of milk, 1/2 cup of vinegar

1/2 gallon of milk, 1/2 cup of vinegar

As with all dairy projects, they all seem to start with milk in a pan, on the stove

pan of milk

pan of milk

Bring the milk to 120 degrees, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and add vinegar

curdling begins, immediately. Stir gently, but thoroughly.

curdle on

curdle on

put the lid on and allow to rest for 30 minutes

30 minutes rest

30 minutes rest

Drain into sieve lined with cheesecloth, and gently rinse the curds in cold water

gently rinse to cool and remove vinegar

gently rinse to cool and remove vinegar

then completely drain, starting by lifting the sides of the cloth off the edges of the sieve, eventually drawing the cloth together and wringing out the liquid

wringing the curd

wringing the curd

allow the bundle to drain a few minutes more

drain

drain

then empty the curd into a bowl

drained curd

drained curd

add a tsp. of salt and fluff with fork. Then add milk or half and half to desired texture. The curd is very small, a mild flavor and very rich.

finished cottage cheese

finished cottage cheese

It is glorious plain, with fruit, or blended as a “farm cheese” spread, with either fruit  and honey or jam or as a savory, with garlic and chives, or basil and sundried tomato.

Eat immediately, or refrigerate for up to 7 days.

And that concludes Frugal Friday!