Sunday, September 28, 2008

Discoveries

I like learning things. Usually, a thought will strike me as I am falling asleep and I will have to spend several hours the next day investigating it. Sometimes though something will occur around the house that teaches me something, usually about my self, that I had never given thought to before. This has been a good weekend for learning things.

This was the last weekend for the weekly garden basket I mentioned in an earlier post. It's kind of neat opening the basket to see what we will be eating this week for vegetables. It also causes some consternation if you get your hands on a vegetable or herb that you have never eaten before. This time it was Lovage. It is a lovely leafy herb with a strong smell. We read that it was good in soups, as a substitute for celery, so I made a vegetable soup with the lovage, carrots, beets, and beans from the garden basket.

Unfortunately, I have learnt that I am not fond of the taste of lovage. Perhaps I simply added to much to the soup or the other vegetables were to mild but the lovage not only smelled strong but tasted strong as well. Even with extra garlic, pepper, and onion all I can taste or smell is lovage. I don't think this will be an herb I try to grow any time soon.

As I was falling asleep last night I wondered how fancy patterns were woven into fabric. This morning I googled a weaving how-to and came across a very neat site. It is called WonderHowTo and is a collection of videos showing how to do everything from weaving to carving. I love finding sites like this since the videos are made for people by people and are rated by viewers on how useful the information was. I'll have to spend some more time there later today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ear Ache

If you have never had an ear infection let me say I don't wish it on anyone. I've had one in both ears this last two weeks and the left ear was hurting bad enough I decided to make a trip into town to see the family Doctor. He prescribed ear drops and told me to come back if it wasn't better by today.

I wish I had asked what he meant by better. The pain in the left ear is far less than it was but I can't hear well from that ear. It feels like my ear is full of cotton balls. The swelling in my jaw is down so I can eat properly now but there is still quite a bit of swelling behind the ear. Based on the pain alone, it is better but I wonder when I will be able to hear again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beginning of Fall

This week was both good and bad for the vegetables. We got a very light frost on Thursday and the harder frosts can't be terribly far behind. Apparently they did get a hard frost just a few kilometres north and west of here. It was only the factthat we have trees and are near the river that protected us from the harder frost.

I did managed to get four more quarts of Harvard Beets and four pints of mixed shelled beans from the garden. There are six very large pumpkins ripening on the vine and there are enough Scarlet Creepers ripening that I'll be able to put up another few pints of beans later this month. Even with the loss of the majority of the bean plants this year I'm not doing to bad.

We also found, through the local Green Party Candidate's website, a local-ish vegetable co-op. "Love Those Weeds" is a community supported agriculture farm that lets a set number of members purchase weekly baskets of harvest. Due to the nature of the growing season each weekly basket will have different vegetables in it. The owner normally delivers but in our case we're just to far away so we have arranged to pick up on Fridays. Unfortunately, we only have one more weekly basket before her garden is done for the year. However, we will be on her list for next year and we are looking forward to more vegetables than just our small garden can supply.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apple Cider

PeterC is a fan of Apple Cider, soft or hard, and has been looking for a cider press for the last couple of years. We had looked at buying new but the $800.00 price tag and the shipping costs made it a luxury we could not afford. By chance we found this home made one at the local Habitat For Humanity Restore for a song and a dance and snapped it up. All the mechanicals were clean and well taken care of and everything turned smoothly.

We made a trip to the local orchard and bought a bushel of apples to press. I'm sure they must think we are crazy considering we have bought several bushels from them over the last couple of years but I digress. PeterC got up early yesterday and proceeded to make a mess. Yep, cider pressing is a messy job especially if your press plate gets turned cock-eyed and the apple sauce, the only way to described the schmooshed apples, splurts out onto the floor.

Apple cider is also a bit of a time consuming job. You have to shred the apples using the apple shredder at the top. The shredded apples fall into the slotted bucket that was lined with a nylon screen to keep the apple bits from falling into your juice. Once the bucket is full you have to spin the press handle and slowly squeeze the juice from the apple sauce. This takes several hours as you press until the juice flows then you let it sit and drip for a half hour or so then press again.

By the end of it all PeterC had only a gallon of juice to try to ferment to make cider. Now we are trying to decide whether to see how this batch goes or go buy a couple more bushels of apples to add the new juice with the old. Definitely a learning experience but if it works PeterC will be a very happy fellow.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Corned Beef

As mentioned in my last post we caught some lovely roasts on sale and decided to purchase several to make corned beef. The hardest part about making corned beef is the amount of time it takes for the meat to cure which is one week per inch of thickness. With an average sized roast that can take anywhere from3 to 6 weeks in the refrigerator to cure completely.

From my readings, the taste is more like the salted beef so popular along the Atlantic Coast than it is the stuff you buy in the store, which appears to be a liquid cured beef brisket. We've enjoyed our version with potatoes, cabbage, and even smoked to make a nice lunch meat. The beef does have to be rinsed well before using in your favourite recipe other wise it is very high in the sodium content.

Corned Beef Curing Powder
1 4-6 lb beef roast
5 Tbsp Morton's Tender Quick or similar curing salt
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Allspice
3 Tbsp pickling spice mix (optional)

Coat beef roast with powder and place in a sealed container, along with any leftover powder you may have, in the refrigerator. Leave to cure for one week per inch of thickness. A 6" round roast will take 6 weeks to cure. Once it is cured you can rinse and cook right away or freeze for later use.

We always prepare more more than one roast at a time so we coat the meat, place it individually into a Food Saver vacuum bag, and seal it being careful not to get any powder or juice in the heat seal. This allows us to place the roasts tightly in the refrigerator while letting them cure. As soon as they are cured they go right into the freezer as is. During the curing process the meat juices will blend with any dry powder left in the corners of the bag which will then leach into the meat.

Preserving Season is Here, again

Every year about this time I go into what I can only describe as hoarding behavior. As the weather begins to get cool and the Sun dips a little lower in its path across the sky I begin to feel almost frantic to put food away into long term storage. When, like this year, we don't get enough vegetables from our own garden I begin taking advantage of the produce of other's. I start looking for good deals at the local Farmer's Markets, grocers, and orchards. Occasionally, I have even been graced with free produce and fruits. This year we have obtained a large quantity of carrots, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, and red bell peppers. I was also incredibly lucky to find cheap beef roasts on sale.

The mushrooms are in the dehydrating process right now. We use a small American Harvest dehydrator that we bought from Walmart several years ago. The sliced mushrooms are placed on the drying trays in single layers, but as close together as we can get them, and allowed the dry until they are crisp. Once crisp they are allowed to cool to room temperature and then vacuum packed until we need them. They make a great addition to any sauce or stew that needs to simmer for a while.

The red peppers and onions will be cut into 1/2" pieces and dried in the dehydrator just like the mushrooms. The carrots will be peeled and sliced before drying until crisp. If it turns out I have more than I need for drying then I can always can them in salt water or blanch and freeze. The cabbage is being made into sauerkraut and the beef roasts will become corned beef, both a form of pickling.

I actually started the sauerkraut yesterday. I used the hand cabbage shredder that we purchased last year and I must say it made shredding the cabbage a breeze. I was able to shred five large heads of cabbage in the same amount of time it took me to slice one head the last time I made sauerkraut.

I quartered and cored each head and sliced each quarter into a large bowl. I sprinkled a tablespoon of salt on top of each quarter amount of sliced cabbage until I completed each head. Any pieces that were not small enough for kraut ended up as fried cabbage for supper last night, or were eaten raw while I worked.

After each head of cabbage was shredded and salted it was put into the pickling crock and allowed to wilt before it was packed down very tight. After all five heads were shredded and wilted we added enough brine to cover the cabbage by a couple of inches. Then a plate was inverted over the and weighted down to keep it all submerged.

Now we wait for a few weeks as the cabbage begins to ferment and pickle itself. I'll have to keep an eye on everything and scrape out any scum or mold that forms but the first year we made sauerkraut went without a hitch so I am crossing my fingers that this year is the same.