Category Archives: Preserving

Plants & Marmalade

Marmalade

This weekend was marmalade weekend (a view of last year’s marmalade weekend)! My favorite kind of weekend, as marmalade is one of my favorite things. We had a fantastic bounty of oranges from our little tree this year. It was about one paper grocery bag full of oranges. We ate quite a few, but most were saved for marmalade.
Marmalade

It amazes me that we are able to grow oranges. They just seem like such tropical little gems. Have you read The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow? It is one of our favorites. As the story goes, a little boy named Danny drops an orange out of his lunch box in a Swedish forest. The creatures of the forest think that the sun laid an egg until a bird corrects them that it is an orange. When winter comes and the birds migrate south, they take the little wood fairy with them to see the oranges grow and she gets a little straw and sucks the juice out of the oranges. So if ever you get a dry orange it is because the fairy had a drink of it’s juice, and really, you don’t mind sharing, do you? It seems the fairy skipped our yard this year, because all were juicy and delicious.

Carrots

We did more work clearing out and harvesting what was in the ground in order to make room for new things.

New Plants

We had a few hours without boys on Saturday and were able to take the baby girl with us to the nursery to casually walk and browse. It was so luxurious and reminded us of our pre-child days when those slow visits to the nursery were commonplace. We indulged and bought a whole slew of new plants, kale, half-priced onions, romanesco broccoli, blueberries(!) and a handful of flowers for my flowerbeds which are getting a major redo this year. Two hydrangeas for in front of the cottage, a new rudbeckia, a tea tree for a sunny hot spot and a few penstemon to make my bed more water wise.

Oh, I’ve been experimenting around a bit, both in the kitchen & with body care things that I can’t wait to share! To come soon.

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Filed under Our Weekends, Preserving

Catching up on the Harvest

My apologies for the lack of posting, especially when it is prime growing/harvesting/preserving season. There is so much to share and I think of blog posts often, but as those of you who have been 36 weeks pregnant before will know, a lot of ideas get left undone. The couch and knitting always seem to be a better alternative to any activity these days. But we (and by we, I mean Scott) have been doing a lot these days. Mind if I share quickly with photos?
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We’ve been slooowly picking tomatoes. We didn’t pick our first until after the first of August, which is about a month later than usual due to this cool summer we’ve had (thank you weather gods!). Surprisingly the first two tomatoes were the biggest we’ve grown, this varietal is called Italian Heirloom which we’ve grown for a few years and really enjoy. Very meaty and great for both BLT’s and tomato sauce. Scott canned our first round of tomato sauce, five jars. We’ve gone from doing huge all day canning sessions to small batches done early, early in the morning. It all seems much more manageable that way.
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We still believe that Ali Baba is the best watermelon we can grow.
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Although these Orangeglo melons are pretty darn good. Sweet as can be although the boys won’t eat it because they can’t get over the fact that it looks like pumpkin.
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Have you had padron peppers before? We are growing two plants this year that we bought at the Sonoma Garden Park plant sale. These sauteed in a hot pan with olive oil and then sprinkled with maldon sea salt make an incredible side dish. Some are hot and some are mild enough for little kids to eat.
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Our golden delicious apples are ready for the picking so we’ve started on apple sauce and of course an apple pie.
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What’s been going on in your neck of the woods?

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Filed under In the Kitchen, just picked, Preserving

Another weekend of preserving

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The peaches have ripened and this has been our biggest crop yet! Besides giving bags and bags away to our friends, we’ve put up 11 jars of peaches (with more to do tomorrow), made cobbler, pie and frozen countless ziplock bags full of quartered slices to use for future pies and smoothies.

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For the first time this year we’ve had to put up makeshift support beams to keep the branches from breaking off. Slowly, yet surely these branches are straightening up as we pick them off.

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The last of the nectarines and two giant ‘forgotten about’ zucchinis lay cut up in the sunshine for drying.

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Preserving food for the future months is something I never thought would fill me with such satisfaction. Seeing our cupboards and freezer fill up with neat, colorful, edible packages is like money in the bank to me.

Tell me, are you doing any preserving this weekend?

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Let the Summer of Canning Begin!

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I mentioned a while back that instead of canning our cherry plums right away, we stuck them in the freezer to wait until canning inspiration hit. Well, we decided that inspiration could wait no longer and it was time to get on it, so 11 jars of cherry plum jam were made last week. Which was just in time, because the nectarines were right behind and 11 jars of nectarine jam were canned. This year, we don’t know why, but our fruit trees are producing like gangbusters. We *almost* feel overwhelmed, almost. Okay, we are overwhelmed with what to do with all this fruit, because just as we finished canning the nectarine jam, ripe peaches started falling off our peach tree.
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On Sunday we put on our walking shoes and filled bags with fruit and headed out to all our friends houses within walking distance for a fruit delivery.
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Back to the nectarine jam. I don’t think we’ve made it before and I’m not really sure why, because it is so delicious! We pitted a whole bunch of nectarines, added sugar, a little honey and let it simmer and reduce down. We don’t add pectin to our jams, we just let the natural pectins and sugar mix together with ample simmering until they work their magic.
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Once the jam gets to this stage above, where not only does it leave a trace behind when you stir it, but that it falls off the spoon just like this: in clumps, then it is ready to can. And can we did.
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I’m thinking that this year, we need a new set of canning label designs, don’t we? I should get started on that.

Meanwhile I hear Scott in the kitchen canning the first of the peaches, I should go help him.

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Filed under In the Kitchen, Preserving, Recipes

Warming up to Summer Preserving

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We haven’t yet gotten into canning this year. Our cherry plums all ripened on one of the hottest weekends so far, so we gathered them and put them into gallon sized ziplocks to wait for a cooler time to can. But we have been playing around with pickling. We got our first successful cauliflower harvest this year! We’ve tried in the past and either they went straight to bloom or were covered in bugs – yuck! But this year for some reason, Lady Luck was with us in the cauliflower department.

We tend to like everything pickled so we thought we’d give pickled cauliflower a try. We had a few ripe zucchinis too so we threw those in for good measure. It worked out incredibly and now our two boys declare cauliflower their favorite! Any method of preparing veggies that makes them the favorite of a 3 & 5 year old set of boys is welcome in my book. Here is how we did it.

Pickled Cauliflower

For the brine:
4 c. white vinegar
2 c. water
3 T. salt

Into each jar: a heaping Tablespoon of pickling spices (we get ours from Penzeys) & 3 garlic cloves sliced
Blanch the cauliflower by blanching in hot water briefly, lift it out and place it into ice water. Zucchini only needs a 30 second blanch. Place cooled veggies into jars and cover with brine. Refrigerate and enjoy!

The other recipe we tried was for zucchini from a new book called La Cucinathat has become Scott’s new bible. The book is an exhaustive collection of recipes gathered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina. They traveled all over Italy talking to every nona they could and gathered over 2,000 recipes to create this archive. It is a huge book! Anyway, this recipe for zucchini asks you to slice them and lay them in the sun until dry. We didn’t know exactly how long or how dry they meant so we just left them out until the outside skins were dry – a few hours. Saute them in olive oil. And layer them with chopped mint, raw garlic and a healthy sprinkle of vinegar (they suggest white wine vinegar, we used just plain white vinegar). The immediate results are fairly unimpressive. We had it right afterwards for dinner and weren’t that excited about it. However, the next couple of days I pulled them out of the fridge and had them for lunch and they were incredible. This recipes really does need to sit at least for 24 hours. I look forward to making this again.

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Have you done any summer preserving yet?

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Fallen Apple Applesauce

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It’s hard to believe that it is actually applesauce making season again but it is! Last weekend we put up a bunch of jars and I thought I’d share with you our process. I’m sure there are as many applesauce recipes as there are people who make it, but if you haven’t tried making your own applesauce before, you really should try. It’s so easy! We have a golden delicious apple tree in our yard and typically we make applesauce out of the ugly apples that have fallen off the tree and leave the nice looking still-on-the-tree apples for eating and for pies. So the first order of business is to send out a troop of little boys to collect the fallen apples.
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See, ugly, aren’t they? It takes extra time to cut them up, peel them and cut out the bad parts, about an hour to do an entire pot full, but it’s worth it in the end for not having to waste them.
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We put the cut up apples into a pot with about a cup of water and a cup of sugar and set the heat on medium-hot. As I was cleaning the kitchen I would occasionally use a potato masher to press the apples down and smoosh them up. Then we started adding more water, probably about 3 or 4 more cups of it until it reached a nice ‘saucy’ consistency. As the applesauce was getting close to where we wanted it to go (about 45 minutes of simmering) we added a tablespoon of cinnamon and more sugar to taste and started on the canning jars.
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First put the jars you want to use in a large pot, then carry that over to the sink and fill up each jar with water and then add water to the pot until that water reaches to the shoulders of the shortest jar. Set these to boil on high to sterilize for a few minutes.
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When the applesauce is ready to go and the jars are sterilized then we throw everything into the canning jar water to quickly sterilize, the lids, the screwtops, the funnel, the tongs, everything that is going to touch the jars, we give a quick sterilization.
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Then very, very carefully, we pick the hot-water-filled jars out of the boiling water and empty them. Be prepared that chances are that you are going to get some hot water on you, so have a choice curse word on hand and Don’t Drop the Jar! Maybe it would be best to have a bowl of ice water on hand to dunk your burned hand into, that would be smart. After emptying out all the jars, place them on a heat safe surface, like your cutting board. Insert the canning funnel and fill up leaving 1/2 inch of room at the top.
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After filling all the jars full, dip a clean towel into the still boiling water and gently wipe off the top of all the jars, just to make sure that everything is nice and clean. Then you’ll carefully pick up the lids out of the boiling water with tongs and place them on the lids. Then put all the screw tops on. You don’t need to screw them on super tight at this point, just securely.
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Then place all the filled applesauce jars back into the boiling water and set your timer for 5 minutes. After letting them process in the hot water for five minutes, take them out, screw on the tops even tighter and wait for the tops to pop sealed.
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And there you have it! Ugly Apple Applesauce! I hope you enjoy it, I know we will!

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The Days of Canning Begin

our biggest tomatoes
It’s been quiet around these here parts, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. We’ve been fully wrapped up in this last part of summer…can you feel slight hints of autumn where you live too? The tomatoes have finally started kicking them out with regularity so we’ve been making sauce when we can.
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These shown tomatoes are the largest that we’ve ever grown! Granted this peach is tiny for comparison, but these mysterious Italian Heirloom (that’s all the seed packet says) tomatoes are all weighing in well over a pound each. These combined with the funky ones, a few Better Boys and a handful of Sweet 100’s are filling the copper pot these days.
first season tomato sauce
How about you? We all were struggling with tomatoes earlier this season, are they catching up for you?

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Practice Your Jam Skills, Making Cherry Plum Jam (Day 14 to 30 DTABG)

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Today’s task is to give jam making a try. If you haven’t done it before, I highly recommend starting with plums, specifically cherry plums. I don’t know if it’s just a California Bay Area thing, but they grow all over the place as landscape trees and the fruit usually falls to the ground and just makes a big smushy mess on the sidewalk. I won’t lie to you, the fruit itself isn’t all that spectacular. It’s not to say that I don’t usually eat a handful each spring, but I definitely wouldn’t pay for them. However since they grow so prolifically we can get them for free. In fact one grows just on the other side of our fence and the cherry plums fall right onto our lawn. It has become the task of our little boys over the years to pick them all up.

Last year Scott made about 14 jars worth of jam from them ( you can read all about it here) and we still have some left, but being that we had bowls upon bowls full on the counter, I decided to give my own jam making skills a run for it’s money and make a few jars myself. Making plum jam is easy, fail proof really. So if you are new to jam making, this is the one to start with. We have an entire season full of fruit to get ready for, so starting out the year with this easy jam will boost your jam making confidence.
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I started by rinsing off a pot full of cherry plums and putting it over medium-high heat. I pressed down on them with our mash potato press to squish each cherry plum. Over the corse of 10 minutes or so, I pretty much had a smooshed liquid on my hands. I set the timer for 20 minutes and let it bubble away.
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After 20 minutes, I strained the cherry plum mixture through a strainer into a new pot to get out the skins and seeds. I had to stir and press the mixture, with a heat proof spatula, through the seive to get liquid through. Copious amounts of liquid can come out of those cherry plums skins, so keep smooshing and stirring either until it all comes out or until you get tired.
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Then I put this new pot onto the stove and let it come up to a boil. After it started boiling I turned the heat down to a healthy simmer and added 2 cups of sugar. If I were you, I’d start with 1 cup and taste it before adding any more. Cherry plums can range in sweetness as do your taste buds, so how much sugar (or honey) you add is variable.
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Next, let it simmer away for about, 1.5 to 2 hours until it reaches a good jam like consistency. The beauty of plums is that they contain a natural pectin so you don’t have to add any extra. All you need to do is let it reduce down and it will automatically jell. Keep in mind that when you cool the jam down it will become firmer, so I recommend taking a little bit in a bowl and cooling it down in the fridge to check the consistancy if you think you are getting close.
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When you have reached the perfect jamming point, pour into clean canning jars, cover and let cool. I’ll be keeping these in the fridge instead of canning them.

I hope you try this, it is easy, frugal, fun and a confidence booster!

P.S. I made it into the June issue of Woman’s Day, check it out next time you are at the grocery store!
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Winter Harvest & Early Spring Planting

Cabbage
It’s that time of year between winter and spring, here in Sonoma. We have been getting ‘in like a lion’ rain/hail storms (thankfully) and yet the cherry plum trees are in bloom and daffodils are beginning to make there appearance throughout town.
Kale
Last Saturday was a sunny day, a rare day for us lately, so we decided to harvest most of the cabbage, the bolting kale and a few of the brussel sprouts which have been growing all winter. Because we’ve had more than our fair share of kale lately, I decided to break out the ol’ FoodSavervacuum and use it to vacuum seal blanched portions of kale to freeze for a later date. Have you used a FoodSaver before? We received one when we got married 6.5 years ago and we really like it. It keeps things fresher for much longer in the freezer. We originally used it for vaccum sealing the salmon that Scott used to catch. But we also use it for freezing large Costco sizes of meat and now for veggies too. A worthy investment if you freeze a lot of food.
Potato Growing
Into the garden went the potatoes: Red Gold, Russet Norkotah, Rose Finn Apples (Potato Garden is where we get our seed potatoes). Old German shallots and Red Wethersfield onions (for green onions), our newly aquired spinach, daikon, and carrot seeds, and lastly peas.

We took out our favorite How to Grow More Vegetables book for some spring planting inspiration this past weekend because they lay it all out for you of exactly how many seeds you should be planting of what vegetables for this time of year for a family of four, isn’t that convenient? Anyway, they listed a rather reasonable amount of seeds for each item, but when it came to peas? It suggests you plant 1800 pea seeds! One thousand and eight hundred! We looked at our measly one packet of seeds and laughed. So I suppose we’ll be about 1775 seeds short of what we should be planting this year. Since I’m not a fan of cooked peas anyway, I’m not too worried. How many pea seeds do you usually plant?

Oh, I also wanted to point out that I added a bookstore link up above, do you see it? I’ve added only books that either we own or that we have read and have liked, I’d never suggest something to you that we haven’t tried ourselves.

I hope your last week of winter is going smoothly! Oh and go here to find out when your last frost date is.

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Filed under books, Preserving, Seeds

An Intro into Fermentation : How to Make Kimchi

Making Kimchi
When we were in Kauai, we stopped for breakfast at the Ono Family Restaurant one morning in Kapa’a. In some sort of weak attempt to look like a local, I ordered the Local Girl Omelet. The Local Girl Omelet is not your ordinary omlet, for one it was filled with brown fried rice, but to top it off it was also filled with kimchi. I had never tasted kimchi but I’d heard a lot about it, so of course I had to try it. Kimchi, in case you haven’t heard of it is basically a type of Korean Sauerkraut. But as I found out kimchi is oh, so much more than sauerkraut. The omlet combination was fantastic. I’m not a huge omlet fan. They always are greasy and leave me feeling too full and icky feeling afterwards. But this omlet didn’t leave me feeling that way at all. Maybe we can attribute that to the kimchi. I don’t know. But I do know that that taste of the kimchi…that sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy taste haunted me for weeks afterwards. I wanted more!

Before we had left on our trip I received a copy of Nourishing Traditions from the library, so when we got home I started browsing through it. You can only imagine how happy I was to see a recipe for kimchi in the book and it was so easy to make! And lucky for us, Napa Cabbage everywhere in the Farmers Market right now, so we grabbed head and set home to give this kimchi recipe a go.

If you are used to canning, making kimchi is really going to throw you. Kimchi is made by a process of fermentation. A process that goes so against the process of sterilized canning that it will make you wince a little bit, as did we. You don’t sterilize the jar at all. You don’t boil anything, you don’t use a virgin can lid, you don’t wait for the top to pop. You just put a bunch of cabbage and other vegetables in a jar with some salt and some whey*, pound it down with a spoon handle and let it sit….at room temperature…for days. Are you scared yet? And it may bubble, but that’s okay. And some white film may form at the top (ours didn’t however) and that too is okay. After three days of sitting on your shelf you are ready to eat it and put it in the fridge. I won’t be ashamed to admit that we were a bit scared for our safety to try it. But try it we did and we’ve been adding it to everything now.

Lucky for us we came upon this recipe first because when you really start to research about how kimchi is actually made by the Koreans, the process becomes a lot more involved. So involved that we probably wouldn’t even have attempted it.  But since we haven’t had much kimchi in its pure form, we are happy with our simplified method. What we did learn though that kimchi is one of the most healthy foods in the world! No really, many different people claim that.

The reason it is so good for you is because of all of the good bacteria (lactobacilli) that proliferate when it is fermented. These lactobacilli are found on the surface of all living things but they are especially prolific on the leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. The by product of these lactobacilli is lactic acid which not only preserves vegetables and fruit perfectly, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestines. Kind of like yogurt.

Back through history most cultures used some sort of fermentation to preserve their food. In fact anything that you hear of today as being pickled used to actually be a fermented item before mass production. Once industrialization took place and fermentation started to happen on a grand scale, they found that the results often varied. So they went in and used vinegar instead of letting the fermentation happen naturally and they also had to pasturize it, which like milk, kills all of the beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria.

Luckily fermentation is really easy and fun to do at home. Basically you just put a bunch of vegetables or fruit in a jar, pound them for a few minutes, add in any herbs or spices you like and salt. Salt will preserve the produce until the lactic acid starts to get produced. If you add whey it will just guarantee your results.
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So here is the recipe we used, again from Nourishing Traditions. It calls for Napa Cabbage, but I think on this next go around we might use regular cabbage since we have it growing. I’ll let you know how it goes. And I’m excited to learn about this fermentation method. In fact I might try more fermented or pickled veggies to preserve the summer harvest this year. In fact I might have to add this book to our bookshelf: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

Easy Kimchi
(makes 2 quarts)

1 head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, grated
1/2 cup daidon radish, grated
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 tablespoons whey* (or use additional 1 T salt instead)

Place vegetables, ginger, red chili flakes, salt and whey in a bowl and pound it with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer to release juices. Place them in two quart sized glass jars and press down firmly until all the juices come up to the top and cover the vegetables. The top of the vegetables should be at least an inch from the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days at which time you can put it in the fridge or cold storage.

*You can get whey by draining a quart of yogurt (make sure it contains the good bacteria-we use Pavels) through a clean dishtowel for a few hours. If you do this overnight you’ll end up with more than 4 tablespoons, but it will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. And you’ll also end up with yogurt cheese as a by product, which is delicious and makes a great alternative to cream cheese.

Are you a kimchi fan? Have you ever fermented anything? Do you have any tips for me and my new obsession?

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Filed under books, Leafy Greens, Preserving, Recipes