Home made butter

Last night, I finally got around to making some butter, using whipping cream. It’s been ages since I’ve made butter! I decided to try it again when I was picking up butter at the local grocery store, and the cheap, house brand butter had gone up in price so much, it was actually more expensive than whipping cream.

Making butter is easy and relatively fast when using an electric mixer. It can also be made by putting the cream in a well sealed jar and shaking it. Hopefully, with someone that can take turns shaking it with you!

To make butter with an electric mixer, a fairly large bowl is needed, since it will be in the fluffy, whipped cream stage for quite a while. It feels like it’s taking so long, whipping and scraping the sides and whipping and scraping and whipping and scraping some more, when then suddenly it “breaks” and you’ve got butter!

Also, even with a deep bowl, you’ll get cream splattering all over! You are forewarned! 😄

One thing about using a mixer is that the churned butter’s initial texture is very different. You don’t get a lump of butter. Instead, you get this.

The beaters keep the butter from forming larger pieces, so you get lots of very little pieces, instead. This photo was taken after the butter had been drained of buttermilk, then rinsed with cold running water. The smaller pieces made it easier to gently turn it while it drained, being very careful not to push the butter through the sieve.

Once drained through the sieve, there’s still water in the butter than needs to be removed as much as possible. That’s actually the part I find most difficult. It might be easier if we had one of those old style butter presses, but I just had my flat wooden spatula to squeeze and mash the butter in a bowl. I’d press it, drain the liquid, press it again, drain the liquid, and when I thought I was done, I’d press it a bit more and get even more liquid out! Finally, I got to the point where I could mix in a bit of salt to taste. Then, I pressed the butter into a small bowl with a lid, and put it in the fridge to sit until we use it today.

In the end, I estimate I got about 1 3/4 cups of butter, and about the same volume of buttermilk. A pound of butter is 2 cups, so there’s less butter from 1L of whipping cream, but we also got two products out of it. That buttermilk will be very nice in baking!

Whether or not it’s worth making butter with whipping cream is debateable. At least if price is your measurement. Whether it’s the cream or the butter that’s more expensive seems to change rather quickly. About a year ago, I remember whipping cream selling for over $8 for 1L, while butter was still under $4 a pound. The next time I went shopping, the price of whipping cream had gone down again, though still higher than butter was at the time. If you consider being able to control the amount of salt, the flavour, and getting buttermilk as well, the benefits do add up.

If the price of butter keeps going up, while the price of whipping cream remains more stable, it may well become the most cost effective way to get butter!

The Re-Farmer

Rendering lard: comparing 3 batches

While putting the jars of rendered lard into boxes, I remembered to take a picture of jars from each batch, together.

The batches are in order, with the first batch on the left, and the third batch on the right. My younger daughter ended up doing most of the work for the third batch, as I was not feeling well enough. I just got to jar it up the next day.

The third batch turned out smaller than I expected, with only 5 full jars – and I filled them only to the top of the “shoulders” of the regular mouth jars – and a 6th that was not quite fill. The fat was so thoroughly rendered that when I did the cracklings, there was only an extra couple of tablespoons out of them, so that didn’t even make it into a jar.

Also, I much, much prefer the wide mouth jars.

You can see the second batch is noticeably lighter than the other two. The second batch had less time in the slow cooker, and also got the most fat rendered off the cracklings.

Altogether, we got 22 500ml jars of lard, including the crackling lard and partial jars, out of 3 batches.

That should last us a good, long while!

The Re-Farmer

Home made lotion

Now that we’ve got so much lard available, we can do things with it that have nothing to do with cooking.

Yesterday, my daughter looked up some lotion recipes and picked a really, really basic one.

It was too messy an involved a job for her to take process pictures, so here’s the finished product!

She use one pint (500ml) of lard and beeswax.

We just happen to have some cosmetic grade beeswax, left over from when my husband was making his own mustache wax for a while. Expensive stuff, that’s for sure!

The instructions my daughter found were pretty vague, so she didn’t measure how much beeswax to use. She melted the lard on a makeshift double boiler, then added the wax until she felt there was enough. She things the might have used a bit too much. It doesn’t take a lot.

She also added a bit of Jasmine, from the Demeter Scent Library, that she had. Once it was all melted, she beat it with an electric blender until it was cool, the poured it into sanitized 250ml jars. Of course, with 500ml of lard, there was extra, but not enough to use another jar, so that’s just in a bowl to be used first.

The lotion seems to work well. It doesn’t absorb very well, but then, I find the commercial lotions don’t absorb well, either. The Jasmine scent is very light. I like it! I look forward to other such experiments.

The Re-Farmer

Rendering lard: first batch finished

Well, this is certainly a long process!

Here is what the slow cooker looked like this morning.

I stirred it, breaking up the clumps of fat, several times, adding a bit of time to make up for the heat lost while the lid was off, each time. In total, this picture was taken after about 10 or 11 hours.

I added more time.

By the time I was ready for the next step, it was at about 13 hours on low, plus whatever length of time it ended up being on warm, because I couldn’t get back to it right away, and needed time to sanitize the canning supplies.

It’s hard to tell in the photos, but those extra hours did render out and clarify the liquid fat more.

The next step was to scoop out the solids.

Those went straight into a wok-style frying pan.

Not all of the solid bits can be scooped out, with some being small enough to go through the holes. Various sites I’d looked up suggested straining the fat through a coffee filter while pouring it into the jars.

Tip: if you use a coffee filter over your canning funnel, make sure there is a small sieve under it, or the weight of the fat will pull it right into the jar.

Ask me how I know that? Go ahead! 😂

Seriously, though, don’t use a coffee filter. It takes forever for the fat to drain through. Things would start cooling down too much, and the fat needs to still be hot or it’ll all clog up.

Use a small sieve with a very fine mesh. That will work much better!

I had sanitized a full dozen 500ml/pint jars, just in case. Once all the solids were filtered out, though, I filled almost 7 jars.

While these will not be processed in a canner, I still did all the things I normally would if I were going to process them, including wiping the edges with vinegar, and finger tightening the rings.

Once those were done and set aside to cool, it was time to work on the cracklings. These were cooked at medium low heat for several hours.

As more fat was rendered out, it would start to foam up like this.

This picture was taken about about half way through the cooking process. I set up a chair in the kitchen while doing this, since it needed to be watched over and stirred so often.

I cooked it down until it looked like this. Deciding when to stop was pretty much based on scent. Once things started to smell like things were starting to char a bit (the tiniest pieces could potentially start burning), I figured it was good enough!

The cracklings were then scooped out, as much as possible, onto a baking tray lined with paper towels. Then the last of it was strained into another 500ml jar.

Look at that difference in colour!

The last jar was filled more than I normally would, but I didn’t want to leave such a small amount in the pan. It didn’t need as much of a head space, as it got a twist lid, instead of a canning lid and ring. While it’s cooling down, the lid is simply resting on top, to keep the dust (and cat hair!) out. As the other jars cooled, I even heard some of them pinging, but I didn’t want that with the plastic twist off lid.

The jar from the cracklings will be used first, and then the one that has the least in it – which you can see in the photo is cooling down quite a bit faster than the others! Lard is a neutral flavoured fat, but that last jar will likely have more of a flavour to it. It should be interesting to try it out and compare.

Here are the cracklings – after being flipped. It was too messy to try and take photos of the process. I have several of these 9×13 baking trays, so to flip it, I covered the top of the cracklings with more paper towel, put another baking tray on top, upside down, then carefully flipped the whole thing. Once flipped, the grease soaked paper towel was removed, scraping off as much of the stuck cracklings as I could, and thrown away.

More paper towel was added over the top.

Then, because we have cats, I added another layer of paper towel, set a clean baking tray on top, then weighted that down with the slow cooker (cleaned and washed, of course, ready for the next batch!).

Tomorrow, I’ll salt the cracklings and put it in a jar, to be added to as the other batches are finished.

I will stick to doing just one slow cooker batch at a time. It’ll just be easier that way, even though it’ll take longer. Each batch is a 2 day process! I’m pretty sure I can do the rest of the fat in two more batches. We might start running out of pint jars that aren’t still sealed in their packages. I want to save those for when we’re actually processing things in a canner. We can move up to the 750ml jars if we have to, though.

This one batch, which started with enough cubed fat to fill the slow cooker, gave us 7 pint jars of white lard, plus one pint of golden crackling lard. If the other two batches end up similar in size, we could have the equivalent of 21 pints of white lard, and 3 of the crackling lard.

We don’t normally buy lard. It really came down to the budget. Now that we’ve got it, it should be interesting to see how much we actually use it. That will help us decide if it’s worth doing this again, in the future!

The Re-Farmer

Rendering lard, first batch

I started working on the pork fat well before it was thawed out, as it’s much easier to cut it while it’s partially frozen. I have two large slow cookers, and I was planning to use both of them to render the fat out. It should be done over low heat for a long time, and I wasn’t about to monitor a pot on the stove all night.

Thinking back, my mother never rendered lard on low heat. She didn’t have the time for that. I remember it being quite hot by the time she scooped the crispy cracklings out. I’m pretty sure I’m remembering burned bits, too! 😄

Having a large slow cooker or two would have made the job much easier for her!

Part way through cutting the fat up, I changed my mind.

I wasn’t going to do two slow cooker’s worth!

To fill this bowl, I finished off all the smaller pieces I could find. All three of them. 😄 I started cutting into the larger pieces, but they were still too frozen. Plus, I didn’t want to push my hands too far. They’ve been relatively pain free of late, and I would rather they stayed that way!

The small bowl on the side is the janky bits, with blood vessels or meat and the sliver skin. That was saved as a treat for the outside cats, which they were very happy to get!

There was enough pork fat left in the giant bowl that the lid still didn’t quite fit all the way closed, and I had to use the foil to cover it completely again. It’s now sitting on top of the freezer in the old kitchen. It’s going to be a very slow thaw in there! Which is okay. While I was cutting, the outside of the fat would be getting too soft to cut easily, while the inside of the bigger pieces were still too hard. A slow thaw won’t have the two extremes, and it should be easier to continue cutting up tomorrow.

They kinda look like cheese curds in there! 😄🧀

For a moment, while filling the slow cooker, I thought I’d have to dig out the second one, after all! I squished it just flat enough to make sure nothing would touch the underside of the lid. As it renders, it’ll get lower.

The slow cooker is now set on low for 8 hours, and then it’ll automatically switch to warm. It might need more time, so I’ll be checking it off an on throughout the night. I did add a small amount of water to get it going, and make sure it the bits don’t start burning before the fat starts rendering out.

Once it’s getting close to done, we’ll sterilize some jars – probably in 500ml sizes (pints) – to store the lard in. If we do decide to go with a larger size, I’d go with the 750ml jars, rather than the 1L/quart jars. I don’t see us using it fast enough to warrant that large of a jar.

Based on how much is left that needs to be cut up, we might actually be doing two more batches! It’s a shame the meat grinder I found while cleaning out the old kitchen has parts missing. A grinder would make the job much easier, and more fat would render out of the smaller pieces, too.

No matter! The job is getting done, and we’ll have a good supply of shelf stable, high smoke point, flavour neutral fat for our pantry.

The Re-Farmer

Making and canning tomato paste

What a long, long day!

I knew making the tomato paste would take a long time, but my goodness, it did drag on!

The girls and I had a sort of assembly line set up. At one end of the kitchen counter we had the electric kettle going, then space for the container used to bring batches of frozen tomatoes. Then there was the giant bowl we used to blanch them, a bowl with a colander for the skins, a cutting board and compost bag for final prep, a kettle on the stove to boil more water, and finally my giant stock pot.

I even remembered to check what size that thing is.

This thing was an excellent investment. We originally got it for when we were making tourtierre regularly, and would be browning more than 30 pounds of ground meat at a time – then adding the rest of the filling ingredients. That was once a year, though. We’ve used it more often just this summer than we have since we bought it!

We did the tomatoes in fairly small batches. The electric kettle and the stove top kettle took very different lengths of time to boil, which worked out.

One kettle was enough to cover one batch of tomatoes. After they had time to blanch, they’d be transferred to a colander over a bowl, where I would remove the skins, then cut them up (and remove the rest of the stem ends, if needed), and pop them into the stock pot. A daughter would get another batch of tomatoes from the freezer, and by the time we were ready to blanch those, the second kettle would be boiling and ready to go.

It took many batches. I figure there were maybe a couple hundred tomatoes, in a variety of sizes.

The cooking was started as soon as the first batch went in, which cut the time down quite a bit, I’m sure. By the time all the tomatoes were blanched and added, the stock pot was about half full – roughly 11 quarts or about 10L.

It took about 2 hours of cooking before I felt it was ready for straining through a sieve.

Our giant sieve has a very fine mesh. Great for straining out the seeds and any bits of skin that got left. Some of the tomatoes turned out to still be a bit green, so there were pieces that never got soft enough to be pushed through the mesh.

If we end up doing this regularly, it’ll be worth the investment to get a food mill.

The tomato sauce was strained a bit at a time, while the cooking continued. By the time I got to the bottom of the pot, it was getting pretty thick, and there was a lot less pulp left behind in the strainer.

This is all the seeds, cores, green bits and fibrous pulp that was strained out.

The strained puree was very thin. Can you imagine if we were not using a paste tomato for this! It would have been more like tomato juice, than tomato puree!

The stock pot I strained into has a very handy feature.

Measurements on the inside!

We went from roughly 11 quarts of blanched tomatoes, to just under 5 quarts of strained tomato puree. This was what I used to calculate how much lemon juice to use, later on. I had wanted to use citric acid, but couldn’t find any. Lemon juice will work, but does affect the flavour, too. If I were just canning the puree at this point, I could have added the lemon juice (and salt, if I wanted) directly to the jars, but that can’t work with tomato paste.

At this point, I took a break for a while.

For the rest of the cooking time, we set up the hot plate at the dining room table, to free up the kitchen, because I knew it would take hours to reduce this to a paste.

I could have cooked down the puree on its own, with just the lemon juice to increase the acidity. After looking at many different instructions for making and canning tomato paste, I decided to include a couple of large, crushed garlic cloves, a big bay leaf, and some canning salt.

The hot plate worked out really well. Once the puree was up to temperature, however, it stayed very hot and quick to splatter all over, even with the hot plate set quite low.

Another benefit to having a pot with measurements on the inside. I could see progress, even when it didn’t feel like any was being made!

As it reduced in volume, I also had to keep reducing the temperature. I only needed to stir it enough to keep it from bubbling and spattering. The more it reduced, the more often it needed to be stirred, and the lower the temperature needed to be turned. At first, I could just sit on a chair to stir every once in a while. After several hours, I was having to stand at the table, holding the pot to keep it from being knocked about as I stirred vigorously. Once it started getting quite thick, I removed the bay leaf. The garlic cloves were completely disintegrated by then.

I must say, towards the end, it was SO tempting to stop earlier because… it’s thick enough now, right? Right?

Not quite.

In the end, it took somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to get the puree into a good, thick paste.

When the spoon could scrape along the bottom, and the paste wouldn’t fill the gap right away, it was finally ready.

At this point, one of my daughters had taken over the stirring while I got the giant stock pot, which they had washed out for me while I stirred for hours, and sterilized the jars.

But how many jars would I need?

The measurement in the pot starts at 2 quarts and, at this point, the paste was well below that. I estimated around 1 quart, perhaps.

Because the paste is so thick, it has to be canned in small jars. The instructions I’d been reading were from the US and talked about “half pint” jars. I didn’t stop to convert that and was thinking the jars I had were probably half pints. Usually I get 750ml or 500ml wide mouth jars. Though the measurements don’t match, what sells as quart jars in the US are 1L jars here. A pint is 500ml so a half pint would be 250ml – or about 1 cup.

The jars I have are 125ml. So, a quarter pint, not a half pint! 😁

Which meant that if there was about a quart of paste in the pot, I would need 8 jars. I had two cases of twelve, so I sterilized one case. With the jars being to tiny, I could use both canning racks and stack them.

It still takes long time for the water to boil! I almost forgot to add vinegar to the water, to prevent the jars from clouding on the outside from our very hard well water.

Much to my surprise, I was able to fill every jar! Granted, for the last one, I was scraping the sides quite a bit, but I still got my half inch head space!

By the time I finished canning the tomato paste, it was well past 1am. I gotta say, I was quite happy to be able to finally leave them to cool for the night!

When I checked them this morning, I found 2 jars had not sealed properly. Which I’m just fine with! They went straight into the fridge to use right away.

I just love those adorable little jars.

We’ve been out of tomato paste for a while. I typically buy cases of them at Costco. The problem is that we usually only use a small amount at a time. Just adding a spoonful into a dish for extra flavour, for example, leaving us with aluminum cans partly filled with paste, that can’t be resealed well. Then we’d be rushing to use the rest up before it went bad. It will be much handier to have it in sealable jars!

I’ve already had some today, adding a spoonful to some leftover pasta I had for lunch, adding a bit of cream to make a bit of a sauce. As my daughter had mentioned when taste testing the fresh tomatoes for me, the Cup of Moldova tomatoes are very mild in flavour, so the resulting paste is not as strongly flavoured as the tinned paste we would buy. Which I don’t mind at all.

The question will be, is all the time end effort that goes into making and canning the paste worthwhile? There are lots of other ways to can tomatoes that take a lot less time. It’s the time that’s the kicker. I have seen some instructions that use the oven to make the paste – basically, dehydrating the puree – but while that might require less supervision, it means not being able to use the oven for anything else for a very long time.

That’s something we’ll have to talk about and decide after we’ve used this batch up, I think.

The Re-Farmer

Large batch crab apple cider vinegar

One more thing off the to-do list!

This afternoon, I got the fermentation bucket from our wine making kit sanitized and set up to make more crab apple cider vinegar. I brought two of the three bins of crab apples in from the old kitchen. The apples got cut in half, de-stemmed and any damage I found was cut off. Since I picked the apples by shaking the tree, then picking them up off the ground, there was bound to be bruising to get rid of. All the pieces went into the giant enameled bowl that was ready with water and lemon juice, to keep them from browning.

Each bin held the equivalent of a 5 gallon bucket, full to overflowing. Once the apples were cut and trimmed, however, they took a lot less space. The line that you can see in the bucket is the 5 gallon mark, which is what I was shooting for. The basic instructions for making ACV in jars was to fill them 3/4 full with apple pieces, so that’s what I what I did with the bucket. After finishing off a bin and transfering the pieces from the water to the bucket, so I could see how much more I needed to cut up, I added sugar and commercial ACV with “mother” as a starter, using the same ratios that were used when we did them in 1 gallon jars. Then I cut more apples from the second bin until I reached about 3/4 full.

We buy filtered drinking water in refillable 5 gallon jugs, as our well water has developed a taste to it. I used one of those to fill the bucket to the 5 gallon line, which used up about 3 gallons from the water jug. It all got a gentle stir to dissolve the sugar and mix in the ACV mother.

The apple pieces now needed to be weighted down.

I just happen to have a large serving dish I found in a Goodwill store, years before we moved out here. It was the perfect size, and heavy enough that no other weight was need once the air pocket under the (sanitized) dish was removed.

Finally, the whole thing was covered with cheese cloth that was snuggly tied in place. Then, because we have cats, the lid was put loosely on top. It now sits next to the carboy of fermenting hard apple cider.

This now needs to ferment for 3 weeks before it gets strained off, then left to ferment another 3 weeks.

The down side of fermenting crab apples is, it attracts fruit flies. It turns out they love apple cider vinegar! So I made a couple of fruit fly traps using some of the commercial ACV in small jars topped with plastic wrap with holes pokes in them. One went into the big aquarium, where the three 1 gallon jars of ACV are fermenting. The other is now in between the fermentation bucket and the carboy.

Even after removing a small bucket of apples for my mother, we still have about a bin and a half of apples! We need to do something with them quickly, before they really start bruising.

I’m considering cooking them up and straining them for their juice. I think we’ll get a lot more juice of them that way, compared to using the juicing machine! Or maybe make some jelly? We’ve made apple jelly before, but the jars had to be kept in the fridge because we didn’t have everything we needed to water bath can them.

There are SO many apples, though, we couple probably make a few different things!

The Re-Farmer

Preserving the harvest: minted

Yesterday, I weeded mint out of the beet bed – one entire end was completely stunted because they were shaded out – then kept on going, harvesting mint from the path as well. The sump pump drains into here, and the growth is absolutely lush! By the time I was done, I had a huge arm full! This is all mint that was here before we moved in, so we have no idea what variety it is. I know it’s not spearmint. I don’t think it’s peppermint, either, but I really can’t say for sure.

Once inside, I took the best leaves off the stems and gave them a wash. Then I cleaned up and dragged in the old window screens we used last year for curing onions, drying spinach, etc. I covered the mesh with paper towels, then set out as many leaves as I could fit onto them to dry.

I didn’t even use half of what I’d gathered!

Yes, this is the drying mint!

I used small glasses and jars as spacers so we could stack the screens on top of each other, but the cats were incredibly interested in what was going on. So we put more little jars as spacers on the top and covered the whole thing with a cloth. We still caught them on top of the stack, but at least the cloth kept the leaves clean.

Then, some time later, my daughter got Cheddar out from under the cloth at one end. *sigh* We tucked the ends under the bottom screen as best we could.

When I lifted the cloth on one side this morning, however, I found the cats had still managed to get under it!

I salvaged what I could and set it up again on the old dishwasher that’s still waiting to be taken out to the junk pile. Since the leaves have shrunk, I was able to fit them closer together on the screens that needed to be redone. For now, we’re keeping the sheet off, so they can get more air circulation.

Drying things on screens like this can work quite well, but protecting it from the cats is a problem!

Meanwhile, I used fresh mint to make a big pot of strong mint tea this morning, and there is still lots left in the fridge. There is much more to harvest in the garden, as we want, too.

The chives are blooming right now and ready to harvest if we want to make infused chive blossom oil or vinegar again. We have the olive oil to do that now, but I won’t be picking up more of the white wine vinegar I like to use until we do our next city trip. I might just harvest the chives, anyway, and freeze the extra until we are ready to make the infusion.

I love that we can already start harvesting things and preserving them!

The Re-Farmer

Making seed pots from toilet paper tubes, two ways

While I have purchased pots that can be planted directly into the soil when it’s time to transplant seedlings, the sheer number of such pots we will need makes buying enough for all of them bad for the budget. In particular, I want to start the kulli corn in biodegradable pots, for as little root disturbance as possible.

After last year’s attempt to use toilet paper tubes failed dramatically, largely due to using peat as a growing medium (it simply would not absorb moisture all the way through!), we’re going to try things a bit different this time.

There are a lot of web pages and videos on how to make pots from toilet paper tubes. This one is the best one I’ve seen so far. There’s the added bonus of it showing the pots made into squares, which was what I was thinking of doing already.

It’s pretty basic, really.

We knew we’d need a lot of tubes, so we’ve been saving them for many months. Last year, I had a fairly large box that we would drop the tubes in, and when we ran out of room I’d transfer them to a storage bin, to make more space.

Which was really silly, now that I think about it. It only matters if you want to keep the tubes round, and there is no need for that at all.

This little box has two layers of tubes in it. After flattening a tube, I’d drag it across the edge of the bathroom counter, to crease the fold even more.

It’s amazing how many tubes can be fit into such a small box this way!

Today, I snagged some of them to make pots for the tree seeds. I don’t know if there are any roots starting to show in the little baggies of soil. I am thinking it would be much less disruptive on the roots to “transplant” them now – when there may not even be any roots yet – into little pots, compared to trying to move them out of the baggies when the roots are actually visible.

So I grabbed a dozen tubes for the paw paw seeds, first. The different brands all have different tubes. The ones I grabbed were the tallest, with the thickest carboard.

This first batch was done like in the video.

The first thing that needed to be done was give them all a second crease for the square, keeping the sides even by lining up the first creases with each other. The carboard was way too thick to fold them like he does in the video.

Then, just because I prefer sharp creases, I ran the tubes over the edge of the desk I was working on. You can tell the difference it made in the photo above. The tube I am holding is not being squeezed in any way. For the other one, I’d laid the tube flat on the desk and pulled my metal ruler over it to sharpen the crease. Which it did, but not as much as using the edge of the desk.

The creases were about 1 1/2 inches apart, so that is the distance than needed to be marked from the edge.

Since I had the cutting mat and a metal ruler, I only needed to mark one tube out of six. After lining them up along the bottom edge of the cutting mat, I could line the end of the ruler up to the side edge and the long edge with the mark on the first tube, across all the tubes.

Using the ruler to hold the tubes in place, I could mark them all at once, then repeat for the next batch. This way, it only took two lines to mark all 12 tubes.

The next step was to cut slits at the creases, up to the marked line, to create flaps.

Then the flaps were all folded inwards to create a bottom.

Once they were all folded under, I set up the storage container I got for them, and some water.

All the bottoms got dipped in water, then tucked into the storage box.

With these tubes, four of them fit snugly across a short side, so they’re not going to flop around. This was an important consideration when I went looking for bins to use for this. When we used the toilet paper tubes last year, the tubes came apart completely once they got wet, even as the peat in the middles remained bone dry. I wanted straight sided bins that were fairly small, to hold them all tightly. If the tubes were still round, they would have taken up more space, but there would be gaps between them, and I didn’t want those gaps, either.

These now will be left to dry, and we’ll fill them tomorrow.

For the next batch, more tubes were needed. We have 26 tulip tree seeds to transfer.

After grabbing a bunch of tubes, I found a couple of shorter ones. There is a surprising amount of variance between brands! I switched out the shorter ones for taller ones.

Height is why I wanted to change how the bottoms were done for this batch. With how the first ones were done, each flap completely covers the bottom, making a 4 layer thick base. There’s no need for that.

So for these ones, instead of cutting flaps that were half the width of each side, I went for a quarter of the width.

That worked out to be 3/4s of an inch. Each square in the grid on the cutting mat is 1/4 inch, so the tubes were all lined up to the base line of the grid…

…then the ruler was lined up with the 3/4 inch line, on each side of the row of tubes.

Which was a bit of a pain, when it came to using the ruler to hold the tubes in place while marking the line, since there was a space under the ruler.

It was much easier to do it from the middle instead of the ends. 😀

Then the tubes all got slits cut along the creases, up to the line.

When folded in, this allowed for them to overlap and be locked into position.

These tubes were slightly shorter than the ones used in the previous batch, but by doing it this way, the pots ended up taller, as you can see in the comparison above.

Since the flaps could hold themselves in place, I could have skipped the water part if I wanted to, but I chose not to. They got dipped.

This brand’s tubes were not only a different length, but also a slightly different width. Just enough that they did not fit snugly across the short side. However, 8 tubes did fit snugly along the long side.

Tomorrow, these two sets of pots will be filled and planted with tree seeds. The tree seedlings will remain in pots for 2 years before being transplanted to their permanent locations outdoors. Starting them in these will allow us to “pot up” the seedlings into large pots as they get bigger, without disturbing the long tap roots they are expected to develop.

After these are done, we’ll start prepping tubes for the kulli corn. As with the tree seeds, it will be one seed per tube, so we will need 100 of these. I was able to find slightly larger versions of these bins, and one should be able to fit all 100 of these pots. The bins also have lids of the same transparency as the bins, which will allow us to use them as cat-proof greenhouses, if necessary.

I think I might have to pick up more of them. They’ll make moving seedlings outside to harden off much easier, too! They also happen to be pretty inexpensive, too. After much searching when doing shopping trips in the city, I found them at a local Red Apple store, which was just an added bonus. I’d actually found some at the local dollar store I was going to settle for, but the sides weren’t quite as straight, and the lids were opaque. I’m glad I decided at the last minute, to try another store.

The dollar store bins will instead be used to hold the little odd balls of yarn and small crochet projects on the go by my desktop, that the cats keep managing to steal away, so matter how diligently I bag them up!

The Re-Farmer

Hearty Winter Potato Soup (not quite a recipe)

With all the heavy stuff going on around, I wanted to bring things back to what this blog is supposed to be about for a while. So here is a food post for you to enjoy!

There’s nothing quite like a hearty bowl of thicksome soup on a cold winter’s day! Most of our cooking falls half way between “this is how you make a thing” and, “let’s use whatever’s in the fridge or cupboards at right now and wing it.” So here is the approximate recipe for this soup. Quantities are pretty flexible. This is one of those soups that taste better the next day, so I made a huge pot of it this time.

Bacon, cut into small pieces – I used half a package of sliced bacon
Onions, 2 medium, finely diced
Garlic, several cloves, chopped fine. I like to use lots of garlic, but use however much you fancy
carrots, peeled and finely diced. Three largish carrots was what was used this time. Feel free to include other vegetables, like celery, broccoli, etc. For a large quantity of soup like this one, shoot for a total of 2 – 2 1/2 cups of finely chopped or diced vegetables.
(In this soup, I also added about half a cup of our frozen tiny tomatoes. It is not something we normally use in this soup, because tomatoes and I don’t get along. 😀 )
potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 – 1/2 inch cubes. For this soup, I like to include different sizes of potato cubes, because I want the smaller cubes to overcook and basically dissolve into the soup, to make it thicker. For this batch, I used about 6 large-ish yellow potatoes.
egg noodles, or other pasta in shapes of a similar size
cooked chicken; we used canned chicken, drained, but this would be a good way to use any leftover roasted chicken or turkey.
cream, about 2 cups. We use whipping cream, because that’s pretty much the only cream we buy, but a lighter cream would work, too
shredded cheese – sharp cheddar is always good, but any strong flavoured, shred-able cheese will be wonderful
bay leaf
dry mustard powder, about half a teaspoon, or to taste. A prepared Dijon type mustard can be used, too.
herbs of choice, to taste (we almost always use a combination of ground thyme, sage, paprika and parsley. If we aren’t using fresh garlic, we’ll use garlic granules with the herbs)
salt and pepper to taste
chicken stock, water, or water with bouillon cubes/powder. I usually use bouillon cubes, and less than recommended for the amount of water used, because herbs, salt and pepper are also used. You can always add more seasoning, but you can’t take it out!
optional garnish: sour cream and shredded cheese

Start by cooking the bacon pieces in a large stock pot. If they seemed to be cooking unevenly, add a bit of water, which will help render out the fat more evenly, and deglaze the bottom so it doesn’t burn. Cook to desired doneness. I like it on the crispier side.

Next, add the chopped onions and cook until the onions are softening and starting to become translucent.

Add the carrots and garlic. Stir and cook until the carrots are about half done. If using other vegetables as well, add the longer cooking vegetables in first.

Next, add the potatoes, bay leaf, herbs, salt and pepper.

Add enough water or stock to cover everything. Since I was using bouillon cubes, I added them at this point, too. I like to chop them up a bit, so that they dissolve faster.

Stir well, then bring to a boil.

Once the liquid has been brought to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for the time needed to cook the potatoes, minus the time needed to cook the egg noodles or pasta. So if the size of potato cubes you cut need 20 minutes, and you’re using pasta that needs 8 minutes to cook, simmer for 12 minutes.

Because I wanted to deliberately overcook the potatoes, I simmered mine for 15 minutes.

Stir in the egg noodles. This was an entire small package of egg noodles. I don’t remember the weight on it.

Add more water as needed. To keep it from cooling down too much, boil some water in advance and use that while it’s still hot.

Stir in the canned or cooked chicken.

The tiny frozen tomatoes were added at this point, then the soup was brought to a boil again.

These are the super tiny Spoon tomatoes, and some cherry tomatoes, we grew last year. Their tiny size allowed them to be added at this stage, but if we were to use regular sized tomatoes, they would have been added with the carrots, much earlier on.

Bring to a boil, then simmer until the noodles are done. Remove the bay leaf.

Stir in the cream and mustard powder. Bring the heat back up and simmer just long enough to heat the cream through, stirring continually. Turn off the heat.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

This is the soup after the cream and mustard powder has been incorporated. You could skip the next step, if you like a thinner, chunkier soup.

Or, you can partially blend it. I have an immersion blender, which makes easy work of it, but if you have a countertop blender or food processor, use it to blend about half of the soup, then return the blended soup to the rest in the pot. Stir and, if necessary, reheat until it’s hot enough to melt cheese, then remove from heat.

Add in a good handful or two of shredded cheese and stir until thoroughly melted and incorporated.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of shredded cheese, if desired.

This soup always goes over really well, even with my lactose intolerant family! It’s thick and hearty enough to be the main course, with maybe some buttered bread to go with it. If you like an even thicker soup, use more potatoes, and blend it more at the end.

Good stuff!

I think I’ll go for seconds, now…

The Re-Farmer