First time canning, and garden clean up progress

Just a bit of catching up on how things went yesterday.

The short version: Long.

It went long. Very long!

For me, it was working on pickling beets using the water bath canner. Until now, we have only done refrigerator canning, and my only experience with water bath canning was helping my mother, as a child. This is the first time I’ve done it myself, from start to finish.

It took WAY longer than I expected!

I have a Ball cookbook of canning recipes. The pickled beets recipe was for a half dozen 500ml jars. They had the basic pickle recipe, but also variations. After looking over our quantities of beets, I figured I could do two batches, with one batch being a “sweet pickle” using cloves and cinnamon sticks instead of the pickling spice mix of the basic recipe.

One batch called for 10 cups of beets. I decided to use up as much of the little beets as I could. Since they would be blanched and trimmed, and their small size would pack tighter than cubed larger beets, I made sure to grab more than 10 cups. I figured, if there was extra, we could just include them with supper or something.

While the first batch was blanching, which filled the blanching pot I found stored in a barely accessible space in the kitchen, I prepped a second batch to blanch. At the same time, I cooked the liquid with the pickling spice bag, and had everything ready to do the sweet spice version.

I was all ready to can the first batch, when I realized I had a problem.

These are the first batch of fully prepared beets.

I doubt I could have filled three jars with that, never mind six!

So I added the second batch.

I still wasn’t sure there would be enough to fill the six jars I had prepped in the canner!

The next step was to put them into the pickling liquid and bring it to a boil, then start filling the jars. After my first jar, I realized I would likely have another problem. Not enough liquid! So I started the spiced version going and continued. I ended up being able to do only four jars with the basic pickling liquid, and the last two got the sweet spice version.

I started working on this before my daughters headed out to work in the garden. They came back four hours later, and I was JUST reaching the point where I actually start putting beets into jar. Most of that time was spent scrubbing beets, blanching beets, removing the outer skins, trimming the tops and tails, and waiting for water to boil.

I know “a watched pot never boils”, but my goodness, it takes a long time for large amounts of water to come to a boil!

But, if finally got done! Our first time canning AND our first time canning our own produce!

Pulling my first jar out of the water, though, was a bit of a surprise.

I mean, I know our water is hard, but wow! For the jars to come out with a layer of scale like this is crazy! You can see on the jar on the far right, where I wiped some of it with a paper towel. They’re going to need to be washed!

I finally had a chance to remove the rings and check the seals, just a little while ago, and they all came out fine! I made sure to keep track of which ones had the different pickling liquid, for when the scale gets washed off and they can be labelled.

Except the jars we open to taste test! 😀

By the time I was done, it was full dark, so it wasn’t until this morning that I could get a photo of the girls’ hard work outside.

They got three of the four remaining beds in the main garden area done – and most of that time was spent on just one of them! The first two weren’t too bad, but the third one was filled with crab grass, and it took them ages to get as many of the rhizomes out as they could!

I am amused by all the cat footprints in the loose soil! 😀

I’m glad they were able to get these done. Today turned out to be a write-off for outside work, but I will cover that in my next post. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Deliciousness

While I was outside, using the wood chipper, my daughter was busy dealing with our last summer squash!

She made four 750ml jars of refrigerator pickles with most of them.

The rest went into a summer squash and tomato soup. I think she actually used canned soup as a base, with the summer squash and the teeny tomatoes we’d harvested recently, plus our own onions and garlic, added in, then whizzed with the immersion blender when they were cooked.

It was absolutely delicious!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: so many beans!

For the past while, we’ve been harvesting a handful of beans, every couple of days. Just enough for the day’s meal, really. It would mostly be the yellow beans, with a few greens, and maybe three or for purple beans.

This morning, we had our biggest harvest, yet!

It is still mostly yellow beans, but they are on the bottom. It’s remarkable to me how, the plants that are the smallest and having the hardest time in this heat, is producing the most right now! Not for long, though, I think. There are LOTS of immature green and purple beans hiding under the leaves. We should start getting hauls like this more often, soon. 🙂

This is the first time we had enough to make it worthwhile to preserve them. Not enough to make it worth breaking out the canner or doing some quick pickles or something, but enough to fill a bag for the freezer.

After trimming the ends, then cutting them to more equally sized pieces, I was able to use the blanching pot I’d found in the storage area of the kitchen, while trying to cat proof it (it’s right up by the ceiling and hard to get to!). This is the first time we’ve been able to use it. 🙂

All those ice packs we have to help keep our food cold or frozen when we do our city trips are coming in handy. I used a bunch of them to make an ice bath to chill the blanched beans in. We don’t typically make ice with our well water, and the ice we do have is purchased, so I didn’t want to use any of that!

This variety of purple beans turn green when cooked or blanched. They are a somewhat less bright green; you can tell them apart in the foreground.

The blanched beans were laid out on a couple of trays and are now in the chest freezer, to be bagged later.

One thing about freezing produce. It’s very fast! I still hope to have enough to pickle or pressure can, so we have shelf-stable beans, too. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

2021 garden: into the root cellar

With the blessed rain we’ve had, our garlic and onions hanging in the canopy tent did not get rained on, but when I checked them this morning, I was concerned about the effect the humidity might have on them. They need cool and dry to cure, but our options were hot and dry, or cool and damp. Suddenly hot and humid changes things. 🙂

We did not get more rain today, and by the end of the afternoon the bulbs felt dry again, so I prepped them to bring into the root cellar.

The garlic got their tops trimmed, and everything got their roots trimmed off as well. The job was very quick and easy to do, with them all hanging in the tent!

It seems like so little, when they’re in the grocery bag I used to bring them inside!

I left them as they were on their twine, so they could be hung in the root cellar.

The root cellar is under the entryway, which is two steps lower than the rest of the new part of the house. I’m about 5’4″, and I had to make sure not to hit my head on the floor joists for the floor above! It’s definitely cramped in here!

There are quite a few large nails hammered into the floor joists. I used those to hang the strings up again, so they can continue to cure. You can’t see it in the photo, but there is a duct running between a pair of floor joists to outside, for air circulation. The duct is covered with mesh on the outside, to keep the critters and insects out.

We had been thinking of converting this room into a cheese cave and monitored the temperature and humidity in here for about a year, taking once a week readings. We missed a few weeks here and there, but still spanned a year.

The average temperature in here was 12C/54F, and the average humidity was 62%. The highest temperature was 18C/64F, which is what it was at while I was hanging the garlic. The lowest temperature was 6C/43F. The highest humidity reading was 88%, and the lowest was 28%. While I was hanging the garlic, it was just under 80% humidity.

The ideal average temperature for a root cellar should be between 0C – 4C (32F – 40F) with the humidity ranging from 85%-95%

So the conditions we should be getting, for a good root cellar, are winter temperatures and summer humidity levels.

:-/

One of the things I noticed while ducking around the ceiling to hang the garlic, is that the light bulb in there is putting off a lot of heat.

I was thinking of setting a fan up in here, but there is no outlet.

After scrounging and digging around, I found a low lumen “chandelier” LED bulb, and an outlet adapter for the fixture. My husband isn’t using his box fan right now, so I set that up in the root cellar, plugged into the outlet adapter. The adapter has a pull cord so that the light can be turned off while the outlet still gets power, but because of the type of light bulb in there now, it didn’t want to shut off, and just blinked on and off. So I left it on. It won’t add to the heat, and won’t use much power. We’ll just have to check the garlic and onions regularly, until they are cured.

Once the garlic is finally cured, they will be taken off their twine and packed into cardboard boxes or paper bags, depending on what we have available at the time, for storage. The onion braid will probably just stay hanging. I expect, before those are ready, we’ll have harvested the rest of the onions and will have them hanging in the canopy tent for a while, before moving them into the root cellar, too.

Hopefully, by winter, we will have more food stored in here, such as melons, winter squash and potatoes. We had high hopes of being able to store canned goods here, too, but between the critters and the drought, we’ll be lucky to be able to do some refrigerator pickles. 😦 Anything else we have will be in quantities that will be more practical to freeze or dehydrate, rather than can. Even if we won’t be able to can much from the garden, I am planning on pressure canning heat and eat meals, at least, like chili or stew. Things like that are just really handy.

We shall see how things go over the next couple of months!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: first garlic done

Yesterday evening was so lovely out, I spent as much time outside as I could! I took advantage of this to finished up the garlic we harvested some time ago. They have been hanging from the rafters under our gazebo tent to cure. It was not ideal conditions. They should be somewhere cool and dry. What we had available was outside, where it was hot and dry, or in the basement, where it was cool and humid.

I figured hot and dry was better than cool and moist!

The stalks and roots were trimmed, the soil brushed off, then they were tied up in twine.

They are not as cured as well as they should – some of the stems are still showing a bit of green – so these will need to be eaten fairly quickly. Which is sssuuuccchhh a hardship… Ha! I look forward to using them. They are currently hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen.

I think garlic soup would go over very well! It’s usually made at the end of winter, as a sort of spring tonic, but I think it’s good, at any time! I use an entire bulb of garlic to make it, but these are so small, I might just use up a whole bunch of the littlest bulbs. 🙂

While these were dying back way too early and had to be harvested, the rest of the garlic is now looking ready to harvest, too. It’s still early, and I don’t expect very large bulbs, but that’s okay. We’ll be buying more to plant for next year, rather than try and save bulbs from this year’s garden.

The Re-Farmer

Making things

Today has been another day of rain and high winds.

After today, we’re going to be back to high temperatures and sun. My Weather Network is forecasting 37C/99F on Wednesday! I think that must be some kind of typo, because I’m not seeing that anywhere else. The highest I’m finding is on my phone’s app, which is forecasting 27C/81F on the same day. Even so, it’s going to get hot again, and I am really, really glad we’re getting this rain right now!

In between rainfalls, we managed a trip into town, and I even got a bit of weeding done in the garden. We’re going to need to do a LOT of weeding once this rain passes. The weeds are loving the rain as much as the things we actually planted.

Speaking of which, while weeding among the corn earlier, I did find some radish sprouts. They are recent sprouts, not the ones that came up before the corn did, then disappeared. So we will have at least a couple of radishes. Unless these sprouts disappear, too!

Gosh, I’m just watching the trees outside my window as I write this. If a section of that big maple came down right now, it wouldn’t surprise me at all!

With this weather, our internet is seriously cutting out. It’s taken me more than an hour just to be able to start this post, and I still can’t get images to load. So this will be a quick one!

I wanted to share some of the new things we’re trying this year. The chives are blooming, and we decided to try making chive blossom vinegar.

I got a small bottle of white wine vinegar, and we’re simply putting clean, dry chive blossoms into it (after removing a bit of vinegar to make space. Some of the blossoms are left whole, while others had the bit at the bottom taken off, so all the individual flowerettes are loose. We’ve been adding to the bottle as more blossoms open up, then we’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks, in a cool, dark place, giving it a few turns every now and then. After that, the vinegar will be strained and re-bottled. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out!

I’ve also started to dehydrate spinach leaves.

I use our oven to dehydrate things, using the “warm” setting, reduced to it’s lowest temperature of 145F (default is 170F). For something as light and thin as spinach leaves, I shut it off and let the oven light on to stay warm. We can only fit two trays in the oven at a time, but after I went to turn the leaves and found they’d shrunk enough, I combined them into one pan and left it for the night. In the morning, I just crushed them lightly, and put them in an air tight canister. There’s maybe 1/3rd of a cup of dried, crushed leaves from the 2 trays. We’ll keep doing small batches like this and, eventually, we’ll reduce them to a powder instead of flakes. It kind of reminds me of dehydrating celery. You start off with what looks like so much, but by the time it’s completely dehydrated, it looks like there’s nothing there! 😀

Now it’s time to see if I have enough connection to publish this!

The Re-Farmer

A bit of a pickle!

While I took my husband to the city for his appointment with the pain clinic, I asked my daughters if they could maybe freeze the sunburst squash for me.

They did that.

With the squash left over after doing a quick pickle!

They did a bit of research and found a quick pickling recipe to try. These will sit in the fridge and be ready for eating in 2 days.

They filled 4 500ml wide mouth jars and still had enough to fill a few size medium freezer bags of blanched squash.

I really look forward to trying these!

If we’re happy with how they turn out, there will be plenty more squash to do it again, and maybe try some other recipes and flavours.

My girls are awesome!

The Re-Farmer

Small Batch Grape Jelly

During the summer, as my mother’s grapes ripened, I gathered them and froze them.  I didn’t even bag them; just put them in bowls and stuck them in the freezer.

We’ve been nibbling on them, little by little, ever since. 😉

I had originally planned to put them through the juicer, but for the amount we had, it just didn’t seem worth the effort.  So I went back to something I wanted to try, earlier.

Making jelly.

20181019.grape.jelly.spoon This is a new thing for me – we made jam, when I was growing up, never jelly.  I got the recipes and instructions from my copy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (affiliate link).  It’s a great book for small batch canning, with recipes that are easily modified for quantity. I’m rather pleased with how it turned out!

The frozen grapes made for 5 cups.  The first thing I had to do was extract the juice. For this you need a large, stainless steel saucepan (you need room for the boiling liquid to expand), a jelly bag or a colander or sieve lined with layers of cheese cloth, a deep bowl, and a way to hang the bag over it.

Grape Juice for jelly

  1. Wash and drain the stem-less grapes.  Place into saucepan with just enough water to prevent scorching – about 1/4-1/2 cup for every 4 cups of grapes.  (For my 5 cups of frozen grapes, they were already washed, so I gave them a rinse, left them to thaw in my saucepan, then used about 1/2 cup of water.)
  2. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat, cover loosely and boil gently.  Stir often, crushing the grapes if needed (my frozen grapes split in the freezer, so it wasn’t really needed), until just softened – about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Transfer into a dampened jelly bag or cheesecloth lined colander, over a deep bowl.  Hang and allow to drip for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

 

That’s it! I used a large measuring cup as my bowl, and let it hang overnight.  The 5 cups of frozen grapes yielded just under 2 cups of juice.  I then put the pulp outside for the birds. 🙂 To make the jelly, you’ll need a stainless steel saucepan – this will bubble up a lot, so have one big enough to give it plenty of room – sterilized jars, rings and lids, a spoon to stir with, plus a cold spoon to do the gel test*, and a canning funnel. 20181019.grape.jelly.jars

Grape Jelly (based on Old-Fashioned Jellies, pg. 120, in the cookbook)

2 cups juice
1 1/2 cups sugar

(ratio of 3 cups sugar to 4 cups juice)

  1. Combine juice and sugar in a large, stainless steel saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Keep at a hard boil, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to sheet from a metal spoon*, about 25 minutes.  Remove from heat and test gel*.  If gel stage has been reached, skim off foam.
  2. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar and screw on ring until finger-tip tight.

After this, you could can them, as per your canner’s instructions.  I don’t have a canner, but the 2 cups of juice made barely 1 1/2 pints of jelly, which were left to cool overnight.  They will be kept refrigerated, instead.

* Sheet test for gel

Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling soft spread.  Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally, edge down, and watch how the mixture drops.  When the mixture reaches the gel stage, it will begin to “sheet”, with the jelly breaking off the spoon in a sheet or flake, rather than pouring or dripping.

20181019.grape.jelly.leaf.bowl

We taste tested the jelly this morning.

Now, this is where I admit, I don’t actually like jams or jellies.  I find them too sweet, and the texture off-putting.

I love this jelly!  Using our own grapes, this jelly has a sweet-tart flavor that is just awesome.  It also gelled really well.

Obviously, the flavor will always depend on the type of grapes used, but using grapes that had been frozen first would have changed the flavor was well.

I am hoping that, next year, I’ll be able to free up our grape vine from the spirea it’s surrounded by, and be able to trellis it, for increased productivity.

Over the years, I plan to get more, and different varieties, that can grow in our climate.

Next year, I invest in canning equipment. 😀

The Re-Farmer

Gathering Chokecherries

This evening, I headed over to pick some chokecherries.

When I got there, I found far fewer than I expected to!

The birds are well fed. 😀

Which works out.  They eat the stuff I can’t reach, and I pick the stuff they have a harder time getting to.

The chokecherry trees along the north fence line are in between lilacs.  As I came closer, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of white powder all over their leaves.

20180802.dusty.lilac

It’s dust from cars going by on the gravel road!  This is what falls on the leaves on the south side of the bushes – the north side much be just covered!

It made for some rather dusty berries, too.

20180802.bucket.of.chokecherries

This is all I got from the two trees along the north fence line, and even a bit from the one tree by my mother’s raspberry bushes, on the south side of the garden area.

After giving them a couple of rinses in the bucket, I cleaned out the leaves, twigs and stems, then gave them a couple more washes.

20180802.washing.chokecherries

As I write this, they are soaking in our ice cold well water to get the last of the floaty bits off.

Tomorrow, I will go over the recipes I found and decide what to do with them.  After I measure how much I have.  Definitely small batch preserving on this one.

I found this link with several recipes for different methods of chokecherry preserves.  It calls for 10 cups of chokecherries to make a juice, which is then used in most of the other recipes.  I definitely don’t have 10 cups.   I do have enough for the chokecherry vinegar recipe, though.  In fact, I could start that tonight and finish it tomorrow night.

I think that’s what I will do. 😀

The Re-Farmer