Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Fall Blahs

I love fall. The colours, the smell, the cooler nights, and even the rains. But at the same time I always get kind of blah this time of year. It doesn't happen every day but when it does happen it seems to last for several days at a time. I've wondered if it was related to the lower amounts of sunlight or maybe even an allergic reaction to pollen and dust in the air.

Today, at work, someone asked me what my plans for the weekend were but for the life of me I couldn't think of anything to say. I didn't have any plans for this weekend. Usually I have a task list ready by the middle of the week to make sure we get everything done over the weekend. But not this weekend.

All the canning is done until later when the pumpkins are ripe. The garden has slowed down so that I can wait two weeks between harvesting and even then I don't get much. We don't hunt and even if we did we don't have room in the freezer for any more meat. The wood is stacked and the indoor frame has been brought in and filled with wood. It's been raining this week so the outside wood can't be covered yet. And, the holidays are to far away to start baking and getting ready for them.

I thought about it for awhile and suddenly it dawned on me. The reason I get the blahs this time of year is because for the months of August and September I work feverishly to get all the food processed and stored away for winter, then suddenly the work is done. There is no speed up and slow down period. It is full speed ahead and WHAM! all stop just like that.

So for the next two weeks I'll wonder around the house on the weekends trying to figure out something that needs to be done, all the while ignoring the one thing I truly wish I could do. I wish I could relax but I'm not created that way. I always have to be busy and have some purpose in life. I think I'll take up painting and sewing again. It may not help with the fall blahs, but the winter dumps will be here to soon and in the cold nights the dumps can be more frightening than the blahs.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pierogies

My first introduction to pierogies was during my first visit with PeterC in Alberta. Pierogies, pronounced "pe-ro-gezes", are dumplings usually made with a mashed potato filling. A little research online and you will find recipes for meat fillings, sauerkraut fillings, and even fruit fillings. You can find pierogies in almost every Canadian grocery store in the frozen food section but invariable they will be made with mashed potatoes with a mix of bacon, cheese, sour cream, and onions.

The Ukrainian pioneers moved west into Saskatchewan and Alberta bringing with them many of their foods and customs. One of those foods is the pierogi. It has become such an enduring part of Alberta and Saskatchewan culture that everyone from those two provinces, even those not of Ukrainian descent, know what a pierogi is and have more then likely eaten them at least once in their life.

We lived in Alberta for ten years after we were married and pierogies were a staple in our freezer. Any night where we didn't have time to prepare a full meal it was easy to remove a bag of pierogies from the freezer, drop them into boiling water for 5 minutes, drain, salt, and butter. For something really special you boiled them for 5 minutes then sauteed them in salted butter in a skillet and served them with sour cream and crisp bacon pieces.

It was only when we moved to Ontario that we discovered that pierogies are not a Canada wide food but centralized in the Prairies. The frozen pierogies can be found but the variety and quality leave much to be desired. Occasionally we would talk to someone who had eaten a frozen pierogi and even a few who liked them but no one knew how to make them from scratch. So I did an online search and found a huge resource of pierogi recipes. I chose The Pierogi Recipe handed down through generations because it was an authentic recipe and provided some insight into the possible problems we would run into.

So, Saturday afternoon PeterC and I peeled 5 lbs. of Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped 2 large onions, and proceeded to make mashed potatoes. While the potatoes were boiling I made up the dough and allowed it to rest. This was the easy part of this particular adventure.

Rolling the dough out to a thin strip and cutting the 3 inch circles wasn't the hard part either. It was standing for 5 hours while we patiently put a teaspoon on mashed potato into the center of each circle and then folded the circle of dough over and pinched it shut to seal in the filling.
After each pierogi was done we layered them in rows on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When one layer was full another piece of paper was added and the next layer began. Once all the pierogies were completed we placed the cookie sheet into the freezer overnight to allow the dumplings to become completely frozen. They were then placed into freezer bags in small, dinner sized amounts, for future meals.

From the small dough recipe from the above link we made 140 pierogies minus the few that PeterC decided to boil and sample right away. As it turned out, 5 lbs. of potatoes were far to many. We had most of the bowl left after we finished making the pierogies.

In the end we decided to freeze the mashed potatoes too. After spending that much time I couldn't even think about eating mashed potatoes or pierogies for at least two weeks. But, we have learned how to make one of PeterC's favorite foods. And, because we made them ourselves, we know they are fresh and as wholesome as we can make using the ingredients on hand.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Apple Butter

Well, this has turned out to be a very busy weekend at Sparrow Haven. You will recall from the previous post that we bought a bushel of apples from the local orchard so we could make apple pie filling and apple butter. It turned out that we had enough apples left over to do several batches of apple butter.

Apple butter is neither a jam nor a sauce. It is somewhere in between. It is sweeter than apple sauce and almost as thick as jam. The wonderful thing about apple butter is the fact that the apples can be a little bruised and it is really easy to make. A deep pan and a food strainer will let you create a treat for your family to use as a topping for toast or oatmeal for breakfast. You can also use the apple butter as a brush on glaze for pork roasts.


Easy Apple Butter
Whole Apples - Tart such as Granny Smith or Joyce are best
1/2 cp sugar per pound of apples
3/4 tsp lemon juice per pound of apples
Cinnamon to taste

Cut the apples into chunks, skins and all. Cover these with the required amount of sugar, the lemon juice, and cinnamon. Let it set for a few minutes then slowly bring to a boil. Boil uncovered until the apples are soft. Run the whole mess through a food strainer to create apple sauce.

Now you cook that sauce down until it thickens up enough to hold its shape on a spoon. Make sure you stir it every few minutes to keep it from burning or you can place it into a crock pot a cook on high, uncovered, for a couple of hours. Keep an eye on it and stir in occasionally.

After this weekend, we now have several 250 ml jars of apple butter stored away in our cellar. At last count we had 30 jars plus a few left over from last years batch. I think we are set for the winter for apple butter but once PeterC and I start opening jars they tend to go fast. While, right this moment, I don't want to see another apple for a long time, we may just find ourselves wishing for just one more jar of sweet butter in the long dark this winter.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Apple Harvest

Nothing says "The Holidays" better than the smell of a fresh baked apple pie just out of the oven. The hot cinnamon and tart apple scent as it washes through out of the kitchen and through the house will bring a smile to my face every time. Nothing is better, except maybe hot apple turnovers made with flaky crusts served with butter pecan ice cream. Yummy!

But, I'm getting ahead of my self. To make an apple pie, or even turnovers, you have to have a good apple pie filling. I know many a cook who use the canned apple pie filling and made a great pie, but I've always preferred fresh filling. Firm, slightly tart apples cut into either slices or chunks then mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and a thickening agent such as arrowroot powder and you have the perfect filling. Throw in some raisins and maybe a handful of walnuts and you have something truly special.

We are lucky enough to live near an operating apple orchard that sells many varieties of apples starting in early September. It is great when you want apples just to stop by on the way home from work and buy what you need. At least it is great when the apples are in harvest. Otherwise we have to buy apples that have little or no taste from the grocery stores. It is doubly upsetting that these apples are imported from other countries rather than the product of our own country.

Last year we found out that the orchard sells "C" grade, or cooking apples for only $8.00 per half bushel. C grade apples are those apples that are slightly bruised, odd shaped, or otherwise to blemished to sell to the more picky apple aficionados. Since I planned to made Apple Jam, Apple Butter, and an apple pie or two we were more than willing to save money and get a large quantity of apples. We quickly discovered that a half bushel of apples is a very large amount of apples. At the end of my stint in the kitchen we still had a rather large number of apples left and PeterC had eaten so many apples that he smelled like apple juice.

While flipping through the pages of my various cookbooks looking for ideas, I saw a recipe in the Company's Coming Preserves cookbook for apple pie filling. Since I was at a loss for what to do with the extra apples and the recipe made only one quart at a time I gave it a try. I admit I was hooked on the first taste. The fresh filling tasted great but the filling that sat sealed in the jar until Christmas was wonderful. The cinnamon had infused the apples in a subtle way and the tapioca starch thickening agent didn't break down like so many others. Best of all, the recipe is easy enough to alter for a lower sugar version for those trying to trim extra calories.


This year I decided to make several quarts of home made apple pie filling and put it in our root cellar. We bought a half bushel of Joyce and a half bushel of Ida Red apples from the orchard. We made 7 quarts of apple pie filling plus enough extra to make apple cinnamon bread today. We still have quite a few apples left so we plan on making a couple batches of apple butter and maybe some apple sauce. Any apples left over will be made into filling and given to friends as gifts.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hurricane Ernesto

This week, hurricane Ernesto side swiped the Atlantic Coast States of the United States. It then headed inland where it made a bee line for southern Ontario. The weather forecasters went into frantic drama mode and spent hours of every day telling us to be ready for high wind and heavy rainfall.

Friday evening the wind was gusting but no rain and even fewer clouds were seen. Saturday it was cloudy all day and the wind was more on than off but still it classified as gusting. Finally, last night we heard the wind start and never stop but still no rain. The news last night showed Toronto and Ottawa being deluged but here, in peaceful Sparrow Haven, we had some strong gusts of wind but nothing dangerous or worrisome.

Today, it is still cloudy and the wind is still gusting. One of my lawn chairs is laying on its back, a solar lantern sits on the ground blown from its hanger and broken, and one of my summer squash is laying on its side its mass of sail like leaves catching the wind. Leaves litter the ground like lost fledglings and the birds are all quiet and presumably sleeping somewhere cozy.

With the first hurricane of the season to make it's way north to Canada, it can be said that fall is officially here. We may get an Indian Summer later in September but for now it is cool and damp. The fall season has arrived with less of a trumpet and more of faltering toot of a tired old horn. But, this is only the first blow of fall. As the winter creeps ever closer we're bound to see more rain and lots more wind.