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

Not a Recipe: loaded pierogi

Ah, what a day! As I sit here, I am watching the garage cam’s live feed, as blowing snow covers my daughter’s footprints, from when she closed the gate just a little while go. At least it’s still getting warmer!

FedEx never did show up with our Starlink system.

*sigh*

Hopefully, we’ll get a call or email tomorrow to tell us what happened.

We did, however finish making the pierogi!

Gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve made these, they are the ugliest pierogi, ever! 😀

We also have a huge amount of potato filling left over, even though I made a double recipe of dough. I keep forgetting just how little stuffing fits inside a pierog. We did make extra deliberately, though, and as I write this, the girls are using some of it to make supper.

No, we’re not having pierogi for supper today. Those are cooling off in containers for the fridge. I had thought I’d have enough for the freezer, but it turns out I would have needed to quadruple the dough, and I won’t be doing that. I was in enough pain by the end of it, with just the double batch!

Anyhow, this is how we make our loaded filling.

The potatoes are basically our usual mashed potatoes, except on the dry side. They can be completely plain, too, or maybe seasoned with just salt, but we to include butter, milk and sour cream, and whatever else we have on hand and strikes our fancy. My daughter added a dash of hot sauce to it this time; just a tiny bit, because she knows I have no tolerance for spicy foods.

While she worked on the potatoes, I cut bacon into very small pieces, then cooked them over medium low heat in a frying pan until crispy and the fat was rendered out. The bacon pieces then got removed with a slotted spoon onto paper towel to drain and cool down.

I then added a bunch of mushrooms, cut into little pieces, to the bacon grease and cooked those on medium heat until almost crispy. That can take a while, as they release quite a bit of moisture as they cook. I used white button mushrooms this time, but usually use crimini. Any fresh mushroom would work, I’m sure.

Once done, the mushrooms were removed with a slotted spoon onto paper towel to drain and cool, just like the bacon.

After that, I poured off some of the bacon grease, until there was only about 1 or 2 tablespoons left in the pan. To that, I added about the same amount of butter, then added onions, chopped fine. The onions can be cooked until translucent, but I decided to caramelize them this time. Near the end of their cooking time, I added a bunch of garlic I’d put through a garlic press.

All of that got mixed in with the mashed potatoes, then the entire pot was put into the old kitchen, which is at freezing temperatures these days, to cool down.

The filling didn’t need to be completely cold before I added the cheese, but I did want it cooled enough that it wouldn’t melt the cheese. Here, I’ve got some old cheddar and goat cheese. I’ve made these using Montery Jack, which worked out very well. Any sharp cheese can be used. A mild cheese would just disappear among the other flavours.

The dough was made using a basic recipe I found online. I like a dough that uses sour cream, but we didn’t have enough for a single recipe, never mind a double, so I used one that was just flour, salt and butter melted into boiled water. The fun part is kneading it. Pierogi dough has such a wonderful texture!

When it was time to start making the pierogi, I just made a mess of things! LOL The first ones I made were massive. I was shooting for three inches square, but I was probably closer to four.

Yes, I do squares folded into triangles, instead of cutting rounds. It’s faster that way, and there’s less dough left over that has to be rolled out again.

The next batch I did went the opposite way, and were far too small. Some of the squares were more rectangles and ended up being folded into smaller rectangles instead of triangles. 😀

My daughter started boiling the first couple of batches while I finished up the last ones. At the very end, when there was just enough dough to make three pierogi, I made three balls and rolled them out individually, so we got a few half-circle ones, along with the triangles and rectangles! LOL

After they were cooked and drained, we tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper, then I split them up into take-out containers to finish cooling down.

I suppose I should have tasted one, but I was so focused on getting them ready to put away in the fridge, I didn’t think of it!

Let me remedy that.

Oh, my goodness! They turned out great!

The main reason I chop everything that goes into the potatoes so small is so that each pierog will have a bit of everything in it, and you can really taste each ingredient in there. Of course, with the onions and mushrooms fried in the bacon grease, the bacon flavour runs through it all, but without being too dominant.

The dough is nice and toothsome. I like a good, thick dough. Not too thick, of course, but I remember that even as a kid, eating my mother’s pierogi, my favourite part was the outer edge of dough. I would have liked a sour cream dough better, but the plain dough is still excellent. When we eat these later, they will be pan fried in butter, and that will make them even better!

Who cares if they are all weird sizes and shapes? They taste great!

The Re-Farmer

Spice Cake for St. Nicholas Day

December 6 is St. Nicholas Day, and one of the Polish customs is to make spice cookies or cake on this day.

I didn’t feel like fussing with cookies, so I went hunting for a spice cake recipe with ingredients I already had.

More or less.

The recipe I settled on is here; Piernik – Polish Spice Cake.

The link should open in a new tab, so you won’t lose your place here. 🙂 Also, the photo at the link is completely different from what the recipe results in!

Of course, I had to do some modifications, so here, I will talk about what I changed.

In the ingredients:

It called for 1 cup of dark honey. I didn’t have dark honey. In fact, I didn’t even have a cup of liquid honey. What I had was some of my cousin’s creamed honey. I have no doubt using it will change a few things, from the colour to the moisture to the flavour, but I don’t expect them to be a big deal, and considering how my cousin makes his creamed honey, with a hint of maple syrup, I expect tasty results.

The next change was the 8oz, or 2 sticks, of unsalted butter.

I honestly don’t get the “sticks” of butter thing. I mean, yeah, I do see them in the stores, but my goodness, it costs more to buy butter in sticks than in pounds.

One stick equals a quarter pound of butter, or half a cup, so the recipe is calling for a cup of unsalted butter.

I don’t have unsalted butter. Just salted butter.

Usually, when I see a recipe that calls for unsalted butter, and I use salted butter, I would reduce the amount of salt elsewhere in the recipe.

This recipe doesn’t call for salt at all.

I’m not concerned. A touch of salt can wake up sweet things, and for the amount of salt in the batter, with no other salt in the recipe, we’re not going to have a salty cake or anything.

We were pretty much out of ground cloves, so for the 1 tsp in the recipe, about 3/4 of it was from whole cloves I ground in a coffee grinder.

The recipe also called for dark brown sugar. We have just plain brown sugar, or “golden” sugar.

The instructions mentioned beating mixtures at low speed, so it assumed an electric mixer would be used, but I didn’t want to fuss with it and did it by hand.

The instructions said to pour the batter into prepared loaf pans and bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out pretty much clean. All ovens are different, so I set the timer to 50 minutes, then checked it with a steel chopstick. Because of course, I don’t have toothpicks.

It came out with batter stuck to it, so I added 10 minutes, then tested again.

Then I added another 10 minutes and tested again.

Then I added another 5 minutes and tested again!

Finally, the chopstick came out clean!

I don’t know why this took so much longer to bake than the recipe stated. Going from 45-50 minutes to 75 minutes can’t be completely put to differences in ovens. Whatever the reason, if you try this recipe, make sure to do the toothpick test (or chopstick, as the case may be) to ensure it’s done!

Doesn’t that look pretty? And the smell while baking was wonderful.

After letting it cool, I just had to taste test it for this post. 😀

As far as texture goes, it’s more “banana bread” than “cake”. It has a slightly crisp crust outside, with a lightly dense, spongey inside. The combination did make it a bit harder to cut! 😀

While sweet, is it nowhere near as sweet as I expected it to be! Not with so much sugar and honey in it. Using the salted butter was fine; there was no noticeable salty taste. I also don’t really notice a coffee taste, either, even though there was quite a bit of strong coffee in there. All the flavours blended together quite nicely, and no one flavour stands out more than the others. I found spreading a little bit of butter on my slice brought out the flavours, more.

It’s also drier than I would expect either a cake or most quick breads to be, though it is definitely moist.

From what I’ve read in other recipes, they can become moister with time.

I don’t expect these to last long enough for us to find out. 😀

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese: the taste test

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Well, here it is! The final product in trying to make my mother’s baking soda cheese.

Did it work?

Well… sort of.

First of all, this is not at all like what I remember my mother’s cheese looked like. That was a semi-hard cheese that could be sliced. This… is not. It’s more like a cream cheese in texture, but it wants to crumble more than spread. It can, however, be spread.

As for the taste… I have a really hard time describing it. It’s a young cheese so, of course, the flavour is very mild. Which means it would lend itself very well to the addition of herbs and spices and other flavours. As it is now, with just salt, there is a sort of tanginess to it that I can’t put my finger on. It somehow manages to be both mild and bold tasting, at the same time!

Oh!! I just realized what it reminds me of. It’s very similar to a Boursin.

All four of us have had a taste, and we do have a consensus.

It’s very good. Delicious, even.

In fact, as I write this, I’m enjoying it on a slice of oatmeal bread, with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea.

What I should probably do is take some to my mother, so she can try it and tell me how it compares to what she made. After all, I only ever saw the finished product once, and that was many years ago. Based on my memory of it, I did not succeed in recreating it. However, the finished product is very good.

With the cost of milk these days, compared to a container of Boursin cheese at the grocery store, we’re not really saving any money by making it ourselves. If I were to compare to the cost of a block of plain cream cheese, we’d be losing money by making it ourselves.

Is it worth making again?

Absolutely. And we will, probably in larger quantities.

It may not be as I remember my mother’s soda cheese looked like (I can’t compare the taste too much, since hers had been flavoured with caraway seeds), but that’s just more reason to keep trying!

The Overview

Okay, so let’s look at why it might not have turned out like my mothers. What differences were there?

First up, quantity of milk. I’m now convinced that my original notes, which said “about 5 gallons” of milk was accurate. My parents still had a few cows at the time I visited and saw this cheese, and it was just the two of them, so they would have had a LOT of excess milk.

Second, she used raw, skim milk. My parents always ran the milk through the separator. While I’m sure they must have done it once in a while, I don’t remember my parents ever setting aside whole milk. Until it finally closed, my parents sold their cream to a local creamery for a bit of extra cash (though they sometimes took payment in butter!). Skim milk was for home use. Cream was for selling. I used the type of milk we usually buy; homo milk (3%). We never, ever buy skim, because we all find it incredibly disgusting. So what I made has a higher fat content than hers would have, plus our milk was pasteurized and homogenized. Hers would not have been.

Other differences include my hanging the cheese to drain, when my mother had just set it aside; my curds may have been drier than hers. She melted her curds in a frying pan before pouring it into a mold. Chances are, the frying pan she used was cast iron. If so, that too would have made a difference. She would have made hers in the summer, when the milk would have soured much more quickly. Even the natural yeasts in the air might have made a difference, and while my mother would have ensured everything was clean, she could not have sanitized things to the extent that home cheese makers can, now. The salt I used also would have been different. She would have used ordinary table salt, which would be iodized. I used non-iodized coarse salt that had been run through a coffee grinder to powder it.

There’s also the fact that she may not even remember some details, or had not thought to mention some because, to her, they were just so obvious she couldn’t imagine them not being done.

There are so many little things that could have made a difference, but until I actually take some to my mother to try, I don’t even know just how different ours is from hers! For all I know, I could be remembering her cheese completely wrong, or the cheese I remember is not the one she remembered and gave me her instructions for. We could have been talking about two different cheeses completely, and not known it.

I guess that’s just how it can be. I’ve had an interest in recreating ancient recipes for many, many years, and this sort of reminds me of that. When the ancient recipes were written down, they weren’t at all like modern recipes. Often, they were little more than a list of ingredients, with no or few quantities. The writer assumed the reader would already know the details. My mother just used what she had, in the quantities she had, done in the ways she knew.

I’m just fortunate I can still actually ask her for details, even if she can’t always remember them.

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese; final steps

Part One
Part Two

After sitting overnight, tucked away in the oven, it was time to take out the cheese and do the final steps.

This is what it looks like this morning, after stirring.

It… looks like dry cottage cheese.

The next instructions were:

Add salt to taste, if desired. Add colour if desired. Add herbs/spices, if desired.

For this first attempt, I am only adding salt.

If you look closely, you can see the salt on the curds in front of the spoon. My mother would have just plain table salt, since that’s what she would have had. I stole some of the powdered salt my daughters use in the popcorn pot. It’s just coarse salt that has been run through a coffee grinder, so it can be added to the oil that popcorn is popped in, and actually stick to the popcorn as it pops. That got very thoroughly mixed in while I started the next step.

Put to frying pan on low heat, in batches, and heat. Mix while heating.

The more the curd got mixed, the more dough-like it got in consistency.

Then, it actually started to melt!

I know that’s what my mother said, but I still felt surprised by it!

I even had to change spoons. By this stage, the texture was a bit like cake batter.

When melted completely, pour into form.

I didn’t know how long it needed to be stirred, but my mom said to pour it, so I just kept going.

Just look at this! It really did get to a pour-able consistency, unlike any other cheese I’ve ever worked with! At this stage, it was like well stirred sour cream in consistency.

I then poured it into a loaf pan I’d scalded and had ready. This level if what 1 gallon of milk was reduced to.

Leave to rest until cool.
When cool, ready to slice.

This is the stage we are at now. I covered the loaf pan with a narrow wooden cutting board I have. I considered covering it with plastic wrap, but I wasn’t sure I wanted the condensation build up, and the board would keep the dust off while also allowing a bit of air.

I’m hoping that, as it cools, it shrinks a bit, so it’ll be easier to remove from the loaf pan.

I did taste it after pouring it into the mold (I admit it. I licked the spoon!). The salt definitely improves the otherwise bland flavour. There is another flavour in there that I just can’t identify or describe. I’m hoping after we do a taste test, later, someone in the household will be able to describe it!

I am really looking forward to trying this!

The Re-Farmer

Recreating Mom’s soda cheese; the next steps

Okay, so the curds have been hanging for about 5 1/2 hours, and I’ve moved on to the next steps in trying to recreate my mom’s cheese.

Now, my Mom had said to just set it aside for a few hours, or overnight, so hanging it may have changed things a bit. I don’t know. But this is what it looks like after hanging for most of the day.

Also, it’s a good thing I covered the whole set up with another cheesecloth, because the cats REALLY wanted to get at this!

The next instructions are:

Put solids into large pot.
Add about 1 tsp baking soda and mix thoroughly.
Leave overnight.
Will rise like bread.

Hmmm.

Looking at how little there is in here, I’m starting to think that my original notes, saying about 5 gallons of milk, was accurate. There is not a lot in here, and when I saw my mother’s cheese, it filled an ice cream bucket, so there’s no way it was only 1 gallon.

Which means I’ve been using the quantities for vinegar and baking soda for 5 gallons, not 1 gallon. Yet, 1 tsp of vinegar to sour 5 gallons seems like way too little. Mind you, she would have been making this in the summer, and the milk probably would have soured quickly, with no vinegar at all. Knowing she was pretty loosey-goosey on the quantities to begin with, it’s really hard to know. Considering how long it took to sour using 1 tsp of vinegar to 1 gallon of milk, I suspect it’s actually the correct amount, and that I would have needed more, if I were using more milk.

This is after very thoroughly mixing in the baking soda. Yes, I used 1 tsp for this amount.

The curds feel like a cross between cream cheese and cottage cheese. I spent quite a bit of time mixing it, because I wanted that baking soda to be worked in as much as possible.

My mom said to leave it overnight, which means she would have just left it on a counter, but I have put the covered pot into a warm oven, because of how chilly that part of the house gets.

She commented that it will “rise like bread.” That makes sense, since we should be seeing a chemical reaction between the acidic milk soured with vinegar, and the alkaline baking soda. It’s something I’m used to when working with sourdough, but with cheese? I did get the sense that the curds were starting to feel “fluffier” by the time I finished stirring in the soda, but that could be just my imagination because I am expecting something like that.

I did taste the curds before and after adding the soda. As I mentioned before, it has very little flavour right now, but I did feel that the baking soda … softened… the flavour, if that makes sense.

After it has sat for the night, salt, colours and herbs and spices can be added. For this first attempt, I will be adding some salt, but that’s it. If we make it again, we’ll experiment with adding herbs and spices or whatever.

I am incredibly curious to see what it looks like by morning!

The Re-Farmer