Oct 202017
 

Not sure what to do with an excess of apples?  Here are a few ideas, as well as links to recipes and instructions.

Applesauce – NCHFP and PYO

Sliced Apples – NCHFP

Apple Cider Vinegar – PickYourOwn

Apple Cider – PYO

 

I tried making Apple Cider Vinegar a few years ago.  While it was not hard, I will try it again only if I also have someone near me who knows how to do it.  Let’s just say I think it ended up being a bit too fermented. 😉

Oct 302016
 

Swagbucks is the web’s most popular rewards program that gives you free gift cards and cash for the everyday things you already do online. Whenever you shop, watch videos or search the web, Swagbucks gives you points called SB. You can use your SB to redeem gift cards to hundreds of your favorite stores.
With the Swagbucks Mobile and SBTV apps I can use my spare minutes to earn free gift cards on my phone! Like the Swagbucks website, I can rack up SB by shopping, answering surveys and watching videos.
During the hours of canning or chopping peppers for the freezer, I like to have videos running nearby.  The short videos mean my mind is always thinking on something new, rather than the fact that I still have way too many (fill in the blank with fresh produce of your choice) to prepare to be preserved.  Without having to follow a story line for 30 minutes, I can pause the video and turn off the heat on the stove to stop a canner from boiling, or to grab another box of freezer bags.
It also means that if I suddenly remember that one item I have been meaning to order online but never seem to have time for, I can put down my knife/peeler/etc. to order it while also earning points (called SBs) toward a gift card.
If you have time to do more than just watch videos while canning, here is a way to earn $10 a week on your smartphone:
While you wait for the coffee to brew, download free games and other apps through the Discover tab: 20 SB
During commercial breaks, take a featured survey or fill out your survey profile: 60 SB
While standing in line at the grocery store, answer the daily poll: 1 SB
When you’ve finally made it to the gym, watch style, tech and celeb news through the SBTV app: 2 SB for every 10 videos
Just as you’ve put dinner in the oven, your Swagbucks app tells you there’s a new Swag Code!: 3 SB
Before you go to sleep, use the Swagbucks app to shop from your favorite stores. You deserve it!: 100 SB
By downloading the Swagbucks mobile app, I can earn a free $10 gift card by the end of my week. Who knew playing on my phone could be so productive!
Invite your friends to download the Swagbucks Mobile app so they can start earning their way to free gift cards. It’s 100% free to download and 100% easy to use. Its available for both iPhone and Android devices.
This post contains affiliate links.
Sep 012016
 

processing tomatoesHave you noticed a lack of canning posts this year?  If not, I sure have.  I have also noticed the lack of variety in our home canned items in the pantry, the abundance of empty jars sitting around, and the amount of other items left over from past canning seasons.

The jam and jelly making marathon 3 years ago meant we are still eating blackberry jam, tomato marmalade, and apple jelly syrup (the jelly did not set).  Thanks to the Farm Market Swap last year, we do have some variety in the house.

Due to the demands of life we right now, spending hours canning produce and taking care of a large garden were things I had to admit I could not do this year.  What I did do were the basics, things we would really have missed if they were not present.  These are also things that happen to make my life easier.  Namely – cherry tomatoes, a few regular tomato plants, pearl onions for stews this winter, pizza sauce, and crushed tomatoes.  If there is anything else we really need, like spaghetti sauce, I can easily order a few jars online if I really did not want to go to the store.  At this point, it is worth if for me to accept that option.

The blackberry bushes and strawberry beds are at a point where not a lot of attention is needed.  This is a nice stage, as I can reap the fruits of my labor without spending a lot of labor doing so.  What I was not going to do with these fruits, was to make jams. (see paragraph above)  Instead we ate them fresh as they came on and I did not feel guilty about it one bit.

In mid summer, I was presented with the opportunity to can tomatoes.  My garden had not started to produce enough, but a local farmer/gardener had grown some in a greenhouse and theirs were ready.  As it turns out, they were a bit green still, but I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  I knew that if I did not take advantage of this opportunity at this moment, there would be no canning done during the normal growing season.

tomato canning goals 2016

I sat down, making a list of my pantry desires.  As it turns out, we really do not eat a quart of beets a week.  At this rate I can safely say it is more like a quart every 3 weeks.  Not looking to make that mistake again, I added in the desired, realistic amount.

First up, diced tomatoes.  I had not canned these before, only crushed, but hoped diced would be just as easy and a nicer texture in some of our meals this winter.  After all, the diced tomatoes at the grocery store came out looking so nice this past winter. diced tomatoes collage

Um, yeah, I am not the grocery store.  🙂 They will taste the same, but not exactly like I hoped they would look.  Perhaps if the tomatoes had been more mature it would have worked out better.

We like the taste of roasted tomatoes in the new tomato soup recipe we have been using.  Made it the other day with candy onions and the taste was even better.  Thought it was so good I would try it with pizza sauce.  It changes the first steps a bit, though that is not too hard of a change.

Using pickyourown.org‘s recipe I adjusted the steps to incorporate roasting the tomatoes.  Before placing the tomatoes on the pans to roast (make sure you line it well with foil or else you will be getting new pans out of this process), I squeezed out all the extra juice I could.  This was collected in bowls and pans for use later if needed.

roasted tomatoes collage

Since roasting takes at least an hour, after many batches the house was smelling very yummy.

Using the roasted tomatoes, I proceeded with the recipe, adding back in any extra liquid needed.  As it turned out, I added back in most of what I had squeezed out.  The roasting process had removed a fair amount from the tomatoes themselves, so there really was less liquid than when I started the whole process.

Without the need to cook down the recipe, I was able to greatly reduce the amount of stop top cooking time.  It sort of made up for the late night I had finishing up the last batch roasting in the oven.

pizza sauce collage

In the images above, I got a bit zealous filling the jars.  The jar in the top right corner is too full.  If I tried to place this in the pressure canner, it would never seal.  Removing a table spoon or two (lower left photo above) put it exactly where it needed to be.  A quick wiping of the jar lid and it was ready to go.

What I have not shown you is the canning of crushed tomatoes.  I was tempted to can up more pizza sauce.  However, at the end of the light night of roasting, I nixed that idea and moved on to crushed tomatoes.

Right now though, I think I will go use some of the above pizza sauce and make lunch.  That sounds really good today.

 

This post contains affiliate links.

Apr 132016
 

1460544989575-749573063

Breakfast today is to be muffins. My fall back has been chocolate zucchini muffins, but I am ready for a change.

Several jars of Green Tomato Pie Filling sit on the shelves of the pantry needing to be used. My initial thought was to use the bread recipe, making muffins instead.  However, I do not have plain yogurt and it seemed a bit to complicated for me this morning.

A search online search resulted in a zucchini recipe I think would work well with a substitution … and I have all the ingredients.

IMG_20160413_061955117

A Few Changes:

1. I left out the extra spices as the canned filling already had them included.

2 I blended up the 2 cups of pie filling before stirring it into the batter.

1460549238271-490402767

Results:

After adding the filling I realized I did not cut down on the sugar in the recipe. This did not turn out to be an issue, though in the future I would adjust the sugar to help them be a bit healthier.

The batter was very thick, making me concerned about sticking to the wrappers. It clung a bit, but the papers came off easily.

In all, I am very happy with the results (2.5 dozen muffins) and will repeat this recipe in the future.

Next time, though, I could do without 3 boys trying to be up at 5:30 a.m.  This would help cut down on the prep time for me.

Mar 032016
 

jars of crushed tomatoes 4

Canning during the spring season is not what usually comes to mind when I think of filling the pantry with beautiful results of gardening labor. However, that is where I am starting this year.

Goal #1 Use up all my current canned goods. After taking a canning hiatus last year, I find myself still with an abundance of filled jars.  Some I have no worries about them being used up soon (beets), others I know are going to take more deliberate planning (green tomato pie filling).

Why not plan to use them throughout the year? Some, like beets, I will. Others, though, have a 2013 date on them. While still good, their quality is in decline; they need to be used soon.

The corn has found a home in a cornbread recipe. The plan is to make muffins and freeze them.

The crushed tomatoes will be used in chili.  I was surprised to find howcmanybof these we actually used.  If they are still hanging around I will puree them to use while cooking rice.

The tomato sauce, my earliest try at spaghetti sauce, is runny and unflavored.  It is currently being used when I cook rice, and will continue to be used as such.

The pickled beets will be eaten as sides. After not having beets for years, I went a bit overboard while canning. Turns out that we do not eat a quart twice a week all tear long.  I may start using these to make Harvard beets some meals.

The pearbutter will be dumped unless there is a redeeming recipe somewhere. It would have turned out okay except it needed more sugar. Lots more sugar.

The other jams I will continue to open and use. The only store bought jam we have is apricot jam, which my husband likes but of which I have none.

With our maple syrup supply running low, placing a jar of fruit syrup in the fridge next to the maple syrup would go a long way toward helping me remember we have them. These were failed jelly and jam attempts.

I also have a few loners hanging out in the pantry -a jar of relish, some peppers, a tomato soup combination – these will be moved next to similar items and added to the meal preparations.  Our next pizza meal will have banana peppers on it. Yum!

Farm Market Swap 2015 collage

Goal #2 Try some no garden related canning recipes. Last fall, my friend shared a jar of Thai Dipping Sauce she had canned. It was delicious and required no fresh garden products. It is one example of a canning recipe that can be done any time of the year.

Tubs and crate of canning jars

Goal #3 Gather and sort all empty canning jars. When filled it is easy to keep similar sized jars together. As jars get emptied, though, I find there is a glitch in my method. Most are in bins and boxes, but enough are in bags, on my work bench and next to toys on shelves in the basement to get the feeling of being surrounded by wayward jars.

How do you approach the start of the next canning season if you still have jars of goods left over from past years?  Any particular recipes you use?

Feb 112016
 

produce auction collage

This post is part of a series about produce auctions across the USA.  While this is not a comprehensive list, I have tried to include auctions about which I can find information.  If you know of any others, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

New Jersey is called The Garden State for a reason, though it originally had little to do with gardening.  Coming in as one of the smaller states in the Union, there are still 5 different climates found within its borders.

There are currently 2 produce auctions found within New Jersey’s borders:

Vineland Produce Auction

1088 N Main Road

Vineland, New Jersey 08360
Phone: 856-691-0721
Fax: 856-794-2301

Email: info@vinelandproduce.com

Website: www.vinelandproduce.com

Open mid-April through late November. Auction are held Monday – Saturday at 10:45 a.m.

Tri-County Cooperative Auction Market
619 Route 33 West
Hightstown, NJ 08520
Phone: 609-448-0193

Email: Bill@tricountycoop.net

Website:

Auctions held Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays starting at 5:30 p.m.  Call to check for the opening of the auction season

There used to be a third auction, Swedesboro Auction, though I was having trouble finding detailed information. When I could not find any more information than the basics, I called the phone number listed.  Unfortunantly it had been disconnected.  So the searching continued.

The results?  The Swedesboro Auction is no longer in existence.  Instead the Former Swedesboro Auction property to be preserved as open space.

The acquisition of the Swedesboro Auction property completes an eight-year effort to save not only the last significant piece of open space in Swedesboro, but also an important part of our history that will be preserved to remind people of the important role agriculture played in Swedesboro’s past.”  -County Freeholder Robert Damminger

Having spent time on the East Coast, I know that open space can be very limited.  While I am glad to see that this will not become another developed area, I am sad at the loss of a market for both sellers and buyers.

The Landisville Produce Auction was another name I came across.  This one was a bit harder to find, as I believe the name officially is the Landisville Produce CoOp and there are no live auctions held.  An article on the Press Of Atlantic City website from 2013 gave more information.  It turns out that the Landisville Produce Auction may be the oldest in the country.  The combination of history and gardening always catches my attention.

Felix Donato owner of Landisville Produce Cooperative, the oldest agricultural coop in the nation
Feb 042016
 

produce auction collage

This post is part of a series about produce auctions across the USA.  While this is not a comprehensive list, I have tried to include auctions about which I can find information.  If you know of any others, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

New York State currently has 6 produce auction sites across the state.  Most are held on Tuesdays and Fridays, though some also are held on Mondays.  You will want to check their times and days before heading out, especially early and late in the season.

Finger Lake Times wrote an article in 2013 about the Seneca Produce Auction.  It was nice to hear from those who bought and sold at this auction, as well as those who help run it.

Often we hear from the buyers at an auction, about worries concerning available produce.  Here is a look from A Farmer’s Perspective: The Talk at the Produce Auction.

Cornell University’s Extension Office has a pdf available showing the locations of produce auctions in the state of New York.  Their map may give you a better idea where the closest produce auction would be for you.

Chautauqua Produce Auction
7844 Rt. 474, Clymer, New York 14724
Phone: (716) 355-6500 or (716) 355-6391
Time: Tues. & Fri. at 10:00 am
Email: nwesterberg@stny.rr.com
Website: www.chautauquaproduceauction.com

Finger Lakes Produce Auction
3691 Route 14A, Penn Yan, New York 14527
Phone: (315) 531-8446
Time: Mon. at 10:00 am, Wed. & Fri. at 9:00 am
Website: www.fingerlakesproduceauction.com

Finger Lakes Produce Auction’s Facebook page

Genesee Valley Produce Auction
8855 Country Road 3, P.O. Box 163, Centerville, NY 14029
Phone: (585) 567-8640 (auction days from 8:30 am)
Phone: (585) 567-4312 (8-8:30 am all other days)
Time: Tues. & Fri. at 10:00 am

Mohawk Valley Produce Auction
840 Fordsbush Road
Fort Plain, New York 13339
Phone: (518) 568-3579
Time: Tues. and Fri. at 10:00 am

Orleans Produce Auction
12590 Ridge Rd., Albion, NY 14411
Phone: (585) 798-5466
Time: Mon. at 11:00 am, Tues. & Fri. at 10:00 am

Website: www.bontragerauction.com/orleans-produce-auction

Seneca Produce Auction
2033 Yerkes Road, Romulus, NY 14541
Phone: (607) 869-5470
Time: Tues. at 10:00 am, Fri. at 10:00 am

Seneca Produce Auction’s Facebook page

Apr 072015
 

produce auction collage

You can not do it all.

Maybe that is not exactly accurate.  Perhaps it should say that “Usually every gardener can not grow everything all the time”, or even “Most gardeners do not want to grow everything all the time.”  For various reasons, most gardens contain a few key things or a variety of things along a theme.

Growing up, my mom had a fairly large garden.  Even there, she did not grow everything.  Melons did not do well in their soil, so those were never grown.  Berries, while room for them, were not found in the garden or anywhere in our yard.  I am not sure if this is because it was not something we ate a lot of or due to lack of time.  Blackberries could be found wild and were always a nice treat.

One of my first gardens was found in a community garden, about 20 minutes from my work, in the opposite direction from my house, on a large plot that had not been planted for a few years.  (Read, “weeds”.)  To help make use of space on the back half, and to cut down on weeding, I planted watermelons among the corn.  I also tried an heirloom variety of tomato … {gasp} it was not red.  🙂

I learned that this was not only way too large of a plot for me, but also there was a lot of sun and lack of water.  It did not help that the area was entering a drought.  None of my beets or onions grew.  The tomatoes turned out a very low harvest, the cucumbers were eaten by something, and the corn did not produce anything.  I was surprised by some watermelons that were hidden away.  What did abound were weeds, weeds, and more weeds.  At one point I gave up on weeding half the plot and focused on being able to get to the tomato plants.

Then we moved.

After having put so much work into a garden plot that really did not return much for all the effort, I was not ready to do a large garden again.  It was about this time that I first heard of raised beds and was learning more about them.  If this method did not turn out, I was ready to give up on gardening.  Yup.  You read that right.  Not only had the community garden been a trial, but my very first garden had been literally eaten by a dog.  Not kidding.  I was starting to feel like it just was not meant to be.

View of raised garden bed boxes before redo

So, I set out to build a two 4.5 feet square raised garden beds.  I was not going to try and grow everything, mainly the things we loved.  Tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce and beets.  While the beets did not turn out, and I would later go on to figure out growing onions, the result was enough to encourage me to keep trying.

Additionally, I began to look for other sources of produce that would not break the bank.  A few things appeared, one of which was a local produce auction.  At first, I was not sure I had understood the person correctly, as I was actually eavesdropping on a conversation.  Was there really such a thing as an auction where they sold produce?  Turns out, there was and I have never looked back, though at times I have questioned my sanity.  🙂

I no longer have to worry about having a large garden to grow all the beets we need for a year.  I can usually get it at a very reasonable price, if I am willing to wait.  The same goes for tomatoes.  Toward the height of tomato season, I can usually find 25 lb boxes for under $5 each. That is $.20 per lb if you were not sure of the math.  At that price it is almost cheaper not to grow them.

A produce auction is exactly what it sounds like – selling of produce (and plants) in the method of an auction, where the price is set by the consumer through a system of bidding.  The set up is usually aimed at wholesalers, but the public is welcome to participate.  Be aware, though, that this means you will end up buying in bulk.  If you are looking for 5 lbs of tomatoes and 2 lbs of green beans, this is NOT your place.  Plan on getting more along the lines of 60-75 lbs of tomatoes, 2-3 bushels of beans/peppers, and 36 pints of berries.  Or you might come home with 5-10 hanging baskets of flowers.

The good thing is that you can go in with a group of others so that you do not have to handle all the produce yourself, unless you need or want that much.  Alternatively, you could buy what you want an ‘gift’ the rest to others as you drive home.  Who wouldn’t love to arrive home to a bag of excess garden produce that contains more than zucchini?

Over time you may also get to know some of the other buyers and may ask if they will add a box to their purchase, then you pay them back for that box.  There have been times where I bought a lot (perhaps a bin of pumpkins or 3-4 boxes of something) for a good price, knowing that I really did not need all of it.  Afterwards others would come up and ask if I would be willing to sell x amount to them.  Usually I am, so it never hurts to ask.  Just know, there are certain buyers who never are willing to sell what they bought.  They really do need all that they bid on.  So, pay attention to those who are there and get a feel for who may be more approachable.  If I am not willing to sell, I try to direct them to someone else who might be.

tomato transplants from auction

Depending on the source you find, there are between 43 and 47 produce auctions across the USA.  According to the “What is a Produce Auction” slide show on the University of Missori’s AGEBB , there are about 45 produce auctions across the United States. Most of the ones I have found are located in the Midwest and a few neighboring states to the East.  These run on various days, usually during harvest season, but not always.  Some charge a fee for the buyer number, while others do not.  Make sure you go a few minutes early, 10-15 at least, your first time so you can ask question.

The majority of items at the auctions are local, meaning grown or from a source within 100 miles.  If they are brought in from further, it is noted either on the tag, the box, or by the auctioneer.

Many of the auction will be starting in the upcoming weeks.  I thought this would be a good time to gather together a list of as many of them as I could find.  If you live near one, you may be interested in checking it out.  A friend of mine even visited one while on vacation in a different state.  You never know what you will find.

 

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Dec 022014
 

applesauce

Earlier this year we used up the last of our pearsauce from 2012.  It was an alternative I made when we were blessed with being able to pick pears for free, but had no apples.

Applesauce is not something that is a necessity at our house.  Instead, it is something the kids like and I find an easy snack.  It is also fairly healthy, if there is no sugar added.  When I can find apple to pick it is very cost effective, though does take time to go pick them.

This year, a lot of the apples trees around us did not produce.  Mainly I am thinking of those that homeowners have one or two of for personal use. I did hear about some orchards’ having lower than normal production, but do no know as many orchard owners as home owners.

This meant no free apples to pick.  I had resigned myself to not canning any up for this season.  Then at one of the final produce auctions, there were apples that went for a reasonable price.  It was not that the amount of apples had changed from weeks prior, but there happened to be fewer people that week who were interested in apples.  After all, a bushel of apples weighs 42 lbs or more.  No everyone is set up to handle that many apples, or have the desire to do so.

washed apples on counter

I came away with … well, 10 bushels of various varieties.  My plan was not to use all of them, though that is what I was thinking if no one else wanted them.  Instead, I realized that at about 20¢ a pound, this was a good price.  (They were just over $1 per pound in Small Town.)  George’s and Jack’s appetites had also been increasing, and these would make quick and easy snacks whenever they wanted something to eat.  No worries about extra sugar or having to stop to put something together.

After getting home with all the apples, 3 bushels went to a friend who also cans and 1 bushel went to a friend ‘just because I thought they would like some’.  This left me with 6 bushels of apples to slice, peel and make into apple sauce.

When faced with a task this size, I find it best to not think about the end goal (processing 6 bushels).  Instead I focus on the smaller tasks – processing enough apples to fill each of my crock pots once.  This worked well till I was down to about the last 1.5 bushels.  At that point my motivation ran out and there were other things calling my attention.  They sat in my kitchen awaiting me, all the while being used for after school snacks and “I’m still hungry after that large meal we just ate, Mom” times.

to be continued …

 

Nov 222014
 

This week has been fairly quiet in the garden, if you look at just what I, personally, was up to.

The strawberry beds finally were covered for the winter.  I removed the bird netting and broke up a bale of straw to cover them.  (After looking it up, I now understand that hay is what animals eat and straw is what you use for bedding.  Seems I’ve been getting it backwards.)  I may cover this with old fencing.  Well, it will be ‘old’ once I pull up the broken stakes and remove them.  Next year I need to find fencing with smaller  holes and am going to invest in metal stakes.

I had bought two bales of straw for this, not realizing just how big the bales were.  The other bale will be used to cover the ground for next year’s potato patch, once I am able to turn over the soil and cover it with mulched leaves.  We are having a weekend of non-freezing temps that will hopefully aid in this activity.

Strawberry bed covered in straw

I also strained the apples peels from the jars sitting on the counter.  This was a first for me this year, making apple cider vinegar.  Once I get to the end result I will tell you all more about it.  It has been a learning experience and may be one I try again, after implementing the lessons learned.  🙂

Apple Peels In A JarSo that is what I, personally, have been up to.  Now begins the not so quiet part, and that would be the cue for the construction workers to enter.

digging for garage foundation collage

It began with the arrival of the jackhammer, used to break up the concrete in front of the garage.  This will be the first winter, since we were married, that my husband will have to park outside and potentially deal with snow.  It should not last long though, as they are moving along fairly quickly. Maybe a month, or less, and the garage will be usable for vehicles again.

After the jackhammer came the bobcat.  This was the Day Of Little Boys.  Olaf was first to watch them work.  Then he left, to be replaced by George and Jack after school.  The kids were so excited they wanted to share the thrill, so invited some neighbor boys to come watch. Four boys, grade K – 3, running around asking questions and just over all excited to have a bobcat digging up the yard was fun. The one neighbor boy stood by a tree and watched.  And watched.  And watched.  I am pretty sure he was in love.  🙂

Then came the COLD spell and all work stopped.  A broken hydrolic hose may have also helped with the break.  They covered the trench with tarps and let it sit for a few days.

Once work started again, the trench was dug all the way in front of the garage.  Now for sure we were not going to be parking in there.

Thursday rebars and other supports were added to the trench, followed by concrete on Friday.  Not sure how I thought concrete would be added, but a big yellow truck was NOT what I was thinking.

I contemplated bringing Jack home for lunch to watch the action, went so far as to call the school, but then realized I would never get him to go back to school afterwards.  Instead I took videos and a few pictures, which they watched on the way home from school.  Their greeting after school is no long, “Hi, Mom.  How was your day?”  It is now, “So, Mom, what did you do with the house today?”  Just a bit telling isn’t it?

Hope your week has been a good one.  ~Rosie