Jan 082013
 

We are working our way through a series called “Creating a Garden Calendar“.  If this is your first time joining us, welcome.  You are not too late to join us.  Grab a calendar, pen, and beverage of choice.  You will be right wehre we are in no time.

Today we are not going to be adding to the garden calendar.  Instead I want to mention something that may want to do as the gardening season progresses.  That is, make notes of dates, times or quantities on your garden calendar.

Things you can take note of as time goes on:

  • how much you spent on seeds
  • when you ordered seeds or purchased transplants
  • when “first” harvest of a specific plant happened
  • when you tilled
  • when applied fertilizer
  • when and/or how long you weeded
  • how many new canning jars or freezer bags/jars you bought and for how much
  • how many jar of something canned, quarts frozen, etc.

The purpose of this is so you will have a better understanding of your garden or preservation.  Next year you will be able to reference these dates, times or quantities to get a better sense of when things happen or how long they take.

What are items you want to take note of?  Are there things from last year that you wish you remembered this year?

Oct 242012
 

Last week, I was able to can 10 pints of jalapeno and freeze several more cups.  At first, it seemed like a tedious task.  Every step took so long. Then I learned some tricks or short cuts along the way.  These saved me quite a bit of time.

Form an assembly line. Instead of washing, cutting the tops off, slicing then putting the pepper into a bowl do each step with all the peppers.  Or at least as many as you can.  Doing the same step with all of them saves you actions.  For example, I would have to turn on the water each time I wanted to wash a pepper, then turn it off.  I picked up the knife to cut.  Put it down to place the top in the compost bucket.  Pick it up again to slice. Put it down to place the peppers in the bowl.  (I actually roasted them first, but this is assuming I didn’t.)  Now if I were to use the assembly line method, the water would only be turned on and off once, instead of about 100 times.  I would pick up and put down the knife to cut off tops once for 20 peppers (less if my cutting board had been larger).  See where I’m going?

When doing anything, do it with more than one pepper. Are you washing them off?  Have two or three in your hand.  Are you cutting the tops off?  Line them up and cut the tops off several at once.  I found that four was the optimum number for me.

Is skinning them really required for what you are doing?  This was the first time I have ever put up jalapeno peppers.  That being the case, I tend to follow the steps right down to the letter.  However, after roasting the peppers I found they did not “boil” like they were supposed to.  I tried with two different peppers to take the skins off.  It was useless, so I just proceeded with them still on.  Anyone ever really have an issue with their peppers because they did this?

Wear gloves.  For most of the time I wore gloves (the kind your doctor or nurse wear).  However, toward the end I kept having to take off the gloves and put them back on as I dealt with other obligations.  That got old quickly, so I started to just leave them off. I did not think that washing and cutting the tops off would be the source of warm (burning) hands. My thoughts were that it came from the cooked peppers. I was wrong.  Either that or I dried my wet hands on a towel that had pepper juice on it.  Wear the gloves.

And just for the record, my peppers turned out really hot.  I think it is because I decided not to remove the seeds from them, thinking it wouldn’t really matter.  I ate some on my pizza for lunch.  The first bite with just a bit of pepper in it made me down my glass of water and go get the milk jug.  I think picked off the rest of the peppers and enjoyed my pizza … with lips still burning.

These are just a few of the things I learned.  Anyone else have ways they shortened their prep time?

Oct 202012
 

This has been a busy week, preserving wise, compared to others recently.  It wasn’t as productive, but I’m just happy to have made some progress at this point.

Total = 6 cups frozen zucchini, dehydrated zucchini (awaiting being made into flour), 10 pints jalapeno peppers, 8 pints salsa, unknow cups of jalapeno peppers frozen

I started the week with some zucchini that really needed to be used up.  This meant they were first on the list to deal with.  I found a muffin recipe and proceeded to shred up 6 cups of zucchini.  These were placed in the freezer in 2 cup quantities.  At a later time, this coming week maybe, I’ll take out one of those bags and double the muffin recipe.  These make fast and tasty breakfasts.

Next I pulled out the dehydrators to dry the rest of the zucchini.  What I quickly found out was that only one of my dehydrators actually works currently.  Hmmm.  Oh, and buy quickly I meant after it was already loaded with zucchini rather than a few hours later.  Well, having one that works was better than none so I put that one to work.

The rest of the zucchini got sliced with the thought that if it started to go bad in the refrigerator that I would just puree it.   Day 3 saw a second batch put into the dehydrator.  The (rather large) bowl of sliced zucchini is still in the refrigerator awaiting their turn to be dried out.  Once they are all dehydrated I will place them in the food processor and make zucchini flour.  A third batch is going in there shortly.

 

Next came peppers.  Jalapeno peppers to be precise.  12 quarts of them.  “No problem,” I thought.  “I’ll have these ready to can by early afternoon.”  Well, 5 p.m. rolled around before I was done with the chopping.  What happened to the time?  I’m not exactly sure.  After all my regular morning stuff, it was 9 am before I was ready to start.  Oh, I did put lunch into a crock pot, too.  Also, I did have to run to the store for some gloves before cutting, but the store was only 4 blocks away.  I did walk there, and run into a neighbor while there, chatted for a bit, then took up the offer of a ride back.  Actually I ran there as I had a little helper who wanted to literally run.  So we did.  That meant it was about 10 a.m. before we got back.  Then at 11:30 I had to stop to set out lunch and finish preparing it.  I wasn’t able to get back to the peppers again til 1 o’clock.  Well, that seems to clarify for me where the time went.  The time between 3 and 5 p.m. was the most productive.  Why?  Because I finally had gotten a system into place.

Eventually it got done.  After the house was quiet, I began the process of getting the peppers into jars and into the pressure canner. So much for doing it right after lunch. This is the first time this year I have used that canner.  So of course I perused the instruction manual to freshen up on how to use it.  In the end I had 10 jars of sliced jalapenos.  I think that will last me 2 years.  We’ll see.

While cutting the peppers I began to think about the fact that I still had tomatoes I wanted to put up.  Then I began to think about how my neighbor makes great salsa.  I hadn’t been able to do hot salsa this year due to lack of hot peppers … then I realized that I was cutting exactly that … “Salsa takes tomatoes.  And peppers. … I have red bell peppers frozen in the freezer.  Hmm. I think I’ll make some salsa too.”  So salsa got added to the list.  I made ___ pints of it.

I had peppers that were too soft to can, but which I wanted to keep from throwing away.  These went into the freezer.  Some were sliced, some diced.  They will be used in omlets and perhaps soups and other baked items.  Cornbread, perhaps?  Do this allowed me to save at least 5 or 6 cups of jalapeno peppers.

While the jalapeno peppers were in the pressure canner I started to do the salsa.  This will be my second batch, though the first contained only sweet peppers.

As for spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce or tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, well, those will have to wait for this upcoming week.  My plan is to do 50 lbs a day.  I currently have about 175 lbs sitting in my garage.  (I was able to get tomatoes from someone who went through their garden and picked all of their half ripe tomatoes.  This was a good thing as it meant I was not in a super hurry to have to do something with them.)

Just typing this out makes me tired all over again.  Howerver, the day is young.  Who know, I might get in the mood to start the tomatoes tonight.  =)

What have you put up this week?  Is your garden finished or still hanging on?

Oct 162012
 

I am making headway on my goals for this week.  Perhaps this will be the week to get them all done?

This morning while searching the internet for something completely unrelated, I came across a recipe for Zucchini and Apple Bread.  It immediatly caught my attention as I have both extra zucchini and more than 20 lbs of apples.  Breads like this also are easy to convert into muffins.  Frozen muffins make for easy breakfasts.

However, it wasn’t really in my plan to make muffins today.  Instead, I am going to grate the zucchini (without peeling it) and freeze it in appropriate quantities.  Then later in the week, or at some point in the future I can pull it out to make muffins.  I plan on making several batches of this and freezing them.

Not only do we have holidays coming up, but there is also an aquaintance who is expecting another child soon.  I know most people take food for lunches or suppers, and I will be doing that too, but wouldn’t it be nice to also have some easy breakfast options at times like that?

If I can get to this recipe this week, which I hope to do, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Oct 142012
 

Last week I did not post my goals, though I did write them on a paper.  Here is how I did with them:

Wash, dry, and put away all our laundry – I got all of it washed and dried, but I’m still working on the putting away thing.  This is the reason I don’t have a laundry day and instead do one load a day.  And here I thought I was being so smart trying to get it all done before we had our water line worked on.

Preserve jalapenos – still sitting on the counter … yeah, we’ll leave it at that

Make pesto

Preserve basil in salt

List 4 things for sale on Craigslist (declutter) – I posted two things.  The other two I think I’ll post elsewhere

Get out winter clothes

Clear off Kitchen shelfDONE

Daily Zone work

This week’s goals:

Order gift cards from points earned

Find a lawyer to help us make a will

Request information about opening an account

Call to inquire about getting a credit/adjustment due to water line leak (we had to wait till it was finished)

Place an online grocery purchase

Look into a new camera

Make pesto

Preserve jalapenos

Dry zucchini (and make flour?)

Get out winter clothes

List 4 things online for sale (declutter)

Daily Zone work

As you can see, I added a few items to the goals list.  Usually I do not post items like the first 6, since I tend to talk more about gardening.  However, these are things (boring everyday life stuff) that usually are included on my to-do list for the week.  I feel like I have only been sharing half my list with you all, so thought I would try something different this week.  We’ll see how many spam comments I get from this.  =)

Oct 142012
 

 

This week was a bit odd in the preserving area: corn and buckeyes.

I posted about putting up the corn a few days ago, here. We ate the first batch, the worst looking ones, already.  It really does help if you actually cook them long enough to be cooked.  We’ll have it again this week.  This time I am going to put it in the crock pot.

I have been in the freezer several times since I put the corn in there.  Being as it wasn’t planned, I just tossed it in where it could fit, which means it is in the way.  However, every time I have had to move it I have been glad that I did do something with it.

If you didn’t read my first post, this meant 4.5 dozen ears of corn were put up.

 

The Ohio buckeye trees (Aesculus glabra) finally started dropping their seeds a few weeks ago.  It has helped that we had several windy days.  If you have never seen these, they are both beautiful and annoying.  The seeds themselves are not really the issue.  It is the surrounding part that is spiky and make walking barefoot or mowing difficult.  The nuts themselves are a smooth dark brown color, except for the ‘eye’ which is a lighter brown. When they are fresh off the tree, they are shiny; almost as if they were already coated with something.  As you dry them, they turn a darker color and harden.  You do not want to keep buckeyes if you have not dried them.  They mold due to the moisture in their meat.

They are supposed to bring good luck.  The squirrels also like them.  They can be used in jewelry, decorations, or just kept solo for a good luck piece in your pocket (after it is dried).

I’ve also been told you can eat them, though I have never tried it.

The job of picking up buckeyes, and tossing the shells next to the tree, was the perfect job for some toddlers.  They thought it was fun to find nuts, run them over to the pan, then come back and throw the shells against the tree.  Work is always better if it can be made into a game.  (It also helps that I told them they could sell them on the stand if they collected and dried them.)

Only one of our two trees produced buckeyes this year.  Well, technically I found a total of two from the other tree.  Compared to what it should be, that is nothing.  A neighbor’s tree also did not produce.  I’m not sure if it had to do with the weather or lack of rain.

Update: turns out our neighbor’s tree did produce a handful of them; just not the normal over abundance that we usually see.

We have been able to send some to the local school for “fall items”.  The rest are being dried for some future yet-to-be-determined use.

So, how do we dry them?  I place them either in a pan or on the top of a plastic storage container, as the pan became full very quickly this year, and sit them out for a few weeks.  Once they turn darker and dull in appearance, they are dry.  Once a day or so I stir them up to make sure air is getting to all sides.  The pan has a few layers of news paper in it, the container top doesn’t.  I think the newspaper is meant to help absorb and disapate moisture.

 

Have you ever used buckeyes in a recipe?  If so, leave a comment. I would love to hear about it.

Sep 292012
 

This week I really needed to get to about 50 lbs of tomatoes that had been sitting around for a bit.  So I buckled down, told myself to do it over two days … it finally got done!  Additionally I’m very happy with the results.  The recipe I used is here.

These tomatoes were very meaty and had little liquid.  Not a good choice if you want juice, but great if you want to make sauce.  I did squeeze all the juice out of them that I could, but ended up with less than two quarts.

While processing them, I immediately saw that the end result of this sauce making session was going to be what I have been hoping for the past couple of years.  Instead of getting watery results when putting them through the food mill I got something that looked closer to the consistency of apple sauce.  Again, very little juice and a lot of ‘meat’.  This all had to do with the type of tomato.

Once it cooked down it was exactly the thickness I have been trying to get.  No additional tomato paste needed.

I’m sold.  I will never again try to make sauce from slicing/sandwich tomatoes.  I guess it is like most things in life.  We call all be great at something, but never great at everything.

On top of this, I had no issues with my food mill and the time to cook it down was reduced from hours (2 or 3 or 4) to 1 hour.  Everything went smoothly and quickly.  Once the sauce was made I placed it into freezer bags and froze it.  Saved time by not canning it.  Also I think it was cheaper than canning as I didn’t need to buy the lids.  It does take up freezer space.  Since this was such a small batch, I didn’t mind.  However, if I do more in the future I will probably can them up.

Total: 4 and 1/4 quart freezer bag of sauce, 1 quart of juice – frozen in bags.

Tip: While working on my first batch of tomatoes I commented to a friend about how it takes so long because I do not have a very large pot.  She commented that these are the times she like to use her pressure canner as a pot.  Not only is it large but it also has a thicker bottom that keeps things from burning.  She was right.  Last night I even fell asleep and didn’t wake up till 3 hours later.  There was very little juice left in the pot, but nothing was scolded.  As an added benefit, it cleans up easier than my pots.  Nothing I dislike more than cooking down tomatoes and it staining our pots.

Sep 272012
 

 

This is my first year try to preserve basil.  I have several plants in the garden and wish to keep some for use over winter.  The more new recipes I try, the more I find myself using herbs.  Basil is a common one that is called for and I don’t want to actually have to buy it this winter.

In an effort to find ways to preserve it I turned to the internet.  I did a search and came up with several different sites with ideas.  There were other sites I also came across, but which often repeated one or several of the ideas below.

Just for clarification, preserving does not necessarily mean the came thing to all people.  I first thought of drying and freezing, but now have several different methods to dry on if needed.

As always, I am not endorsing any method.  Check with your local extension office if you want to make sure a particular method is safe.

Kalyn at Kalyn’s Kitchen presented a way to keep fresh basil fresh for over a week.  I think this would be a very useful way to keep it if you picked too much, bought a bunch from the store, wanted to share some with a friend, or any other way in which you needed it fresh within a relatively soon time frame.

Fern at Life on the Balcony gives three different ways to keep basil.  I thought the idea of salting to be a unique one.  You also are not really wasting anything as both the basil and salt can then be used.

Sandra at A Pinch Of wrote a post in  doing the exact same thing I had thought of doing.  She tried several different methods and compared the results.  I am going to take her at her word and believe her resultes.  This quick search saved me time, in that I do not feel the need to repeat the same trials.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5R9MZsM8d4

Here is a YouTube video showing you how to preserve basil by freezing it in ice cube trays.  If you are more of a visual learner, then this might be up your alley.

Organic Gardening has a list of tips for drying and freezing.  If you need something quick to look at, versus reading a long post, then check this out.

http://www.herbcompanion.com/herbs-in-the-kitchen/how-to-preserve-basil-5-ways.aspx

Patsy at The Herb Companion shares 5 ways to preserve basil.  Two of the methods were ones I had not seen in other places.  Actually, I thought about Christmas gifts when I read about the vinegar.  You could put together a basket of the vinegar with some honey and maple syrup you either produced on your property or got locally.  You now have the start to a great ‘gourmet’ basket.

I think I will try a few of the methods found above.  I happen to have a gallon of vinegar, so will try that method.  Not with the whole gallon, of course.  As well as freezing a pesto and drying it.  If I have enough salt I think I will also try that method.  So, in the end I am going to do a bit of everything, though not drying.  At least, not at this time.  Who knows what the next few weeks will hold.  I may end up drying it also.

How do you preserve herbs?  Any other ways to keep basil good through till next year?

Sep 112012
 

 

I wrote this post a few months ago, got distracted, and never actually posted it.  Now that the weather is turning cooler, I am thinking ahead to pumpkins.  It seemed like the appropriate time to post this and reminisce about last year. 

Also, before I forget to mention it, not all pumpkins are created equal.  The regular pumpkins you see at the store may be great for jack-o-lanterns but are too watery and bland for baking with.  That is for another day, but I did want to mention it.

At the produce auction this past fall, I was able to get a large bin of pumpkins (usually about 60 pumpkins, of the size I got, per bin) for $.25 per pumpkin.  It was the end of the auction, there had been a large supply of pumpkins that day and everyone else had either already reached their quota or had no room to take them.  No one was bidding on these pumpkins; they weren’t even paying attention to the auctioneer.  Out of a last ditch effort, the auctioneer looked at me across the room and said, “$.25”.  I hadn’t looked at them, but knew what the rest of the pumpkins had looked like and so I said, “Yes.”  That worked out well as some other people had wanted them but not that many.  I sold a few to others there, gave a few away, and brought the rest home.  I actually had to go back as I couldn’t fit them all in my car.  Some were placed out at the stand, a few were given away on the way home, and the rest were cooked down and frozen.  I didn’t think I could use 50 cups of pumpkin puree, as we had never eaten pumpkin in all our years of being married.  However, after I had sold a few at the auction (for the price I paid) and a few on the stand, the rest were free for me.  Free is my favorite price.

Turns out, I have been able to use more of the pureed pumpkin than I though.  We have used it in shakes, to make muffins and to make bread.  There is still some in the freezer, but I will definantly put up more this year if I can get a good price on it.  With the drought, and it being the beginning of pumpkin season here, I’m not sure what the harvest and prices will look like at this time.  As this is not something that we all ‘love and can’t live without’, I am not worried about whether we will get it this year or not.

One thing I was glad to learn last year, is that it is not hard to process pumpkins. (This link has been causing me some issues. If you have the same issue, check out The Prairie Homestead and follow her directions; they are basically the same.) It was a sort of slow activity, though.  The length of time was due to the fact that my oven can only hold so many pumpkins at once.

I wish I had pictures to show you the process.  If given the opportunity this year, I will do so.  Until then, you will just have to take my word, and those of other commenters at the link, that it is super, super easy.

A baking sheet under it is a must for me, as it otherwise gets too soft and goes through the grates.  That was Lesson #1 that I learned the hard way.

As to the ‘too soft’ part, that is what makes it so great and so easy.  You do not have to fight a knife and gain huge arm muscles while cutting into the pumpkin.  It literally slices easier than butter.

One thing that I have not had good luck with is saving the seeds.  It just seems like more effort than it is worth to get them out of the strings.  Perhaps you have had a different experience.  If so, please tell me how you did it.

Aug 222012
 

 

Thought #1 – Cutting Tomatoes

Is there a right way and a wrong way to cut tomatoes?  Seems like a silly question.  When you are faced with over 25 lbs of them, though, it is a very important question.

As I was in the middle of cutting up tomatoes to begin the spaghetti sauce making process, I realized that I was making more of a mess than was needed.  It all had to do with how I was cutting my tomatoes.

That right there may be the answer to the question.  The right or wrong way will depend on what you are planning to use the tomatoes for.  If you ever cut a tomato vertically in hopes of using it for a sandwich you will quickly know that particular way is wrong.  However, if you are slicing them into wedges for a salad, cutting vertically is the correct way.

In my case, I was cutting them to squeeze out excess juice and seeds in order to decrease cooking time.  It also results in tomato juice to can or freeze, rather than cooking off.

The first way I was doing it included coring then slicing in half vertically.  That resulted in a lot of juice and seed bursting forth when I squeezed them, but usually outside the bowl and onto my backsplash.  After a few tomatoes (yes, I was a little slow) I realized my error and corrected it.  This time I cored them and cut them horizontally in half.  Problem solved.

Now, the coring had nothing to do with removing the juice and all to do with saving me time and frustration putting it though my Sauce Master.  It will take all the tomato, with no need to core, but the core tends to be tough to get going at first.  Personally, I don’t want to fight it any more than I have to.

Thought #2 – Is it worth the time and effort to core the tomatoes?

So, in the end I did over 30 lbs of tomatoes.  That is just a bit of coring I did, with a knife.  Along the way I began to wonder if it was worth it … do I timed it. It took me about 3 seconds to core a tomato.  It takes about a minute and lots more effort to sometimes get a core to go through my Sauce Master.  If it took just 1 minute one time of trying to get a core to go through the food mill, that would equate coring 20 tomatoes.  Knowing that it happens more than once with the food mill, I think it is a time saver to core them.

Thought #3 – Is it worth squeezing the juice out of the tomatoes before cooking them down?

This question was a harder one.  For over 30 lbs of tomatoes … are you tired of hearing that yet? …. for just over 30 lbs, it took me about an hour to core, slice and squeeze the tomatoes.  This did result in juice which means time saved having to cook it off.  That also means gas saved.  Although this one is harder to quantify, I do feel it is worth the effort.  Anyone feel like doing the math?

Thought #4 – Is it worth adding tomato paste to the sauce to help thicken it up faster?

This one is also a bit harder to show, though I’m pretty sure I could if I took more time on it.  I found that by adding a jar or two of paste, I was able to make an extra pint or so of sauce.  It also saved me about an hour of cooking.  So for just at 40 cents I was able to save an hour and gain a pint.  Seems worth it to me.  Now, if I had to pay $1 or $1.50, then the answer may have been different.  I just know that one of the local stores always has paste for about 40 cents, so I can usually count on getting it that cheap.