Thursday, September 26, 2013

To Squirrel Away

It is a running joke in my family that some of us are part squirrel.  We spend a lot of time and energy putting food by for the coming winter.  It is not uncommon to find jars upon jars of canned goods in pantries and stuffed to the brim chest freezers at my relatives' houses.  I like to think I am carrying on the (somewhat frantic and tiring) tradition.  I have definitely done my part this year!

Tomatoes and peppers from my dad and grapes from my grandma.

Collards and kale from my dad.

A major source of my preserving produce came from my dad, but we have our garden, too!  We planted lots and lots of tomatoes, not having any idea how many of my dad's we would get.

Before that load on the table in the earlier photo arrived, I had whittled the tomatoes down to this one platter full.  And, then the next delivery showed up!

Since then, we have thankfully returned to the point of just eating what we are growing and I am DONE preserving tomatoes.  In order to be excused from further tomato canning, I shared most of those flats of tomatoes with my knitting group friends. Win-win!  In case you missed it, I have preserved a lot of tomatoes this year.

Our gleanings included a mixture of peppers, chilies and jalapenos that had Paul's name all over them (I am a wuss when it comes to hot peppers).

And now, let me share some of the things I did this year to squirrel these veggies away for later...

Sofrito sauce with thyme from Put 'Em Up, frozen into ice cube trays to flavor rice and other dishes later on.

Multiple trays of slow roasted tomatoes with herbs that were later frozen.

Lots of salsa!  I tried 3 recipes this year: Corn Salsa and Heirloom Salsa both from Put 'Em Up and Basic Tomato Salsa from Food in Jars.  I foresee a lot of beans/rice/salsa, burritos and nachos in my future!

Paul has been really excited about fermenting lately.  He made a batch of fermented greens and 3 kinds of fermented hot sauces.  Here I captured our little fermentation station with his goods and a batch of my kombucha.

Speaking of kombucha, it has been determined that grape is Paul's favorite flavor of kombucha, so I made more juice with those grapes from my grandma.  A quart jar of this juice is enough to flavor a gallon batch of kombucha.  It gets darker and more flavorful as it sits.  I followed the same process as last year as it worked really well and is on the lesser side of the the labor scale.  Although, of course, that is not taking into account the cleaning and sorting of the grapes.  Still, this is a treasured item in my pantry and I am very grateful to have had free sources for grapes last year and this year.

I also received dill flowers and cucumbers from my dad, so I made 2 batches of fermented sour pickles.  We LOVE them.  I can't see any reason to make pickles with vinegar ever again.  Fermented pickles are where its at.  And, garlic.  Garlic is where its at, as well.

Glutton for punishment that I am, I also went to the farmers' market and stocked up on a few things that we didn't get from my family or grow ourselves.  My purchases included 2 watermelons for dehydrating (yellow and red, yummy!) as well as a ton of red bell peppers which we fire-roasted, skinned, seeded and then froze.  In case you are keeping track, I have dehydrated 4 watermelons and yet we are almost out of dehydrated watermelon!  That could have something to do with the fact that I adore this treat and Paul is pretty taken with the salted batch I made most recently.

I also tried 2 batches of kale chips with some of those greens.  I flavored one with soy sauce and one with nutritional yeast.  I like the texture, but I over-seasoned them.  I will know better next time.  These batches will be consumed more like a seasoning than an end product.  So far I have crushed them and spread them over popcorn.  I liked it that way!  I think it would also be good sprinkled over a stir fry or pasta.  The greens that I didn't give away or turn into chips were blanched and frozen.

A batch of Carrot Tomato Soup went into the freezer as well.  Can you guess how full my freezer is?

I am not done with my squirreling efforts quite yet as the raspberries are still going strong, we have a small box of apples to process, a ton of dried beans to shell and cure and 4 heads of cabbage that are headed for the kraut cutter sometime really soon.  That said, it has been really wonderful to have most of the preserving behind me and to spend some time and energy enjoying the fall bounty by preparing food to eat right now. Like that cranberry zucchini bread I made last weekend (modified this recipe by subbing in applesauce for half of the oil, whole wheat pastry flour for half of the all purpose flour and sliced almonds instead of walnuts) with the giant zucchini that snuck into our produce delivery.

Cheers to a productive September!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chicken Coop Tour 2013

Every year for the past 8 years Twin Cities chicken-keepers have opened up their yards and coops to curious locals. Last year we visited one of the stops on the Chicken Coop Tour, but this year we visited five!  There was a cluster of sites within an easy bike ride of our house, so we made a morning of it.  After breakfast at a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, we continued on to the tour.

At the places we visited, we got to talk coop design and function, laying patterns, feed requirements and (the most fun part) breeds.

Many of the chickens we encountered were very well socialized and completely comfortable with visitors.  Although, I think many of the chickens were disappointed we didn't have snacks for them.

One place we visited had a very large flock and a rooster.  If you obtain the proper permission and permit, roosters are legal in Minneapolis.  We, however, will not be going that route.  This gentleman was pretty, though.

I have declared that one of our chickens must be of the sort that lays green/blue eggs.  I don't think the novelty of that would ever get old.

This lady waited patiently for her turn in the laying box.

Her friend was busy laying an egg while we were talking to the host about his coop.  She laid this egg right as we stood next to her.  I was expecting them to be more shy!  It was neat to witness and made me really excited for all that I will see and learn as a chicken-keeper.

We got to see examples of chickens and raised bed gardens co-existing.

One place was experimenting with green roofs over the coops.

I very much appreciated the willingness of the hosts to share their knowledge and open their spaces to us.  It was a really motivating morning for Paul and I.  In fact, we drew up some of our own coop plans over lunch.  Who knows if our ideas are something we can execute and of course, there is that matter of a permit.  I will certainly work to get that in place before we start building the coop.  Chickens, here we come (in just under a year)!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Rooster on Her Shoulder

So, about those dad has some.  Part of his flock is meant for butchering (sad for me, tasty for him) and part will become a laying flock.  He got them as chicks this spring, so they aren't laying yet.

Tchazo got to meet chickens for the first time.  He was enamored/curious at first.  They were neither.

His expression was hilarious.  "What the heck are these things? Why are they flailing and squawking?"  After he met them, he moved on to other things pretty quickly, which was exactly what we were hoping for.  He even got to meet a rooster outside of the pen when my cousin Kendra came over to spend time with her feathered friend Nugget.

Nugget is very well socialized so he stayed rather calm yet weary around Tchazo.  Tchazo treated him in kind, keeping a good 2-3 foot perimeter away from Nugget.

We especially enjoyed feeding the chickens scraps from our dinner.  Here was the sequence of events:

Paul and I are getting really excited about the prospect of our own small flock so it was great to spend more time around chickens.  Plus, the weekend after our visit to my Dad's house, we went on the Twin Cities Chicken Coop Tour.  I'll tell you about that next!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Up North for Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes

As planting season approached this year, my dad, Paul and I collaborated on who would plant what and what we would do with it.  We had a plan.  I thought it was a good one.  I now know that our plan included way, way, way too many tomato plants.  Perhaps that is because I expected him to use some of the tomatoes he planted.  As it turns out, he has no interest in tomatoes this year and so Paul and I have been rallying to get as many of them preserved as we can.  Two weekends ago, we spent the weekend at my dad's house in Wisconsin where we canned crushed, peeled tomatoes and tomato sauce.

In one day Paul and I processed this many tomatoes (with dishwashing and logistical help from my dad).

My dad set us up with 6 propane burners outside. It was great to have that many burners to keep things going and to have all of the steam be released into the great outdoors instead of into a kitchen!

We blanched, peeled and cored all of the tomatoes we processed that day.

The sauce got pureed in the vitamix before getting seasoned and cooked down.

During breaks in our hands-on tasks, we visited my dad's chickens. I'll share more about them in a later post, including Tchazo's reaction to meeting chickens for the first time.

Speaking of Tchazo, he wore himself out and took a long nap under our processing station.  He has always been good at finding a shady spot on a hot day.

At the end of the day, we had put up many jars of both tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes.

Many, many jars!

We felt pretty badass about our accomplishment.

After we had dinner, I plucked a few apples off the trees and made up a small batch of applesauce with cinnamon and a tiny bit of sugar.

It was a test to see how the unknown variety my dad is growing does as a sauce.  Selfless tester that I am, I tried it out with vanilla ice cream to really put the sauce through its paces.  It passed!  That mystery variety makes delicious sauce.  I especially liked this batch because I staggered when I put the apples pieces into the pot so some of them were broken down while some were still intact.  I think that is the way I will do it from now on.  For the record, the sauce was also good on our oatmeal the next morning.

After a bit of time outside stargazing, we all headed to bed for a good night's rest.  We would need it because we weren't done with our to-do list yet!

I woke up bright and early to catch this beautiful sky show.

We were out in the garden before the dew had evaporated, strategizing about how we would get everything done before our mid-day departure.

We had a lot to harvest before we left, including a few rows of beans.  My dad has been experimenting with growing legumes.  This year he planted a bunch of varieties including kidney, pinto and black beans.  We harvested enough to fill 3 paper grocery bags.  Since the plants are done with their work, we just yanked them up and picked the beans off of each plant.  The remaining plant then went to the chickens.  Thanks to my aunt Audrey and cousin Kendra for helping pick the beans for us.  They made a surprise visit to help us out.

A few times over the weekend, I wandered away to pick a handful or two of wild blackberries.  They were at the end of their season, so I didn't bother bringing a container out picking.  I just stuck with filling my "belly bucket."

After we harvested everything that could possibly fit into our car, we shared a lunch and then hit the road.  Loaded into our car along with all of those jars of tomatoes, us, our stuff and Tchazo, we had a ton of tomatoes, 4 heads of cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, corn, kale, collard greens, peppers, and potatoes.  Since then, my life has continued to be ruled by tomatoes.  So. Many. Tomatoes.

Later tonight, I am going to knit with my Tuesday night knitting group.  I am bringing flats of tomatoes and hope to leave with empty flats. I've been spreading the wealth around to my neighbors, family and friends, but it time to start getting serious about paying it forward with this produce. I have done so much preserving it will take me a few weeks to post about what I've made!

For the/my record, here is what we did with the tomatoes up north:

Tomato Sauce - adapted from Canning for a New Generation
32 cups puree (from roma tomatoes that have been blanched, peeled and cored)
5 T olive oil
5 chopped onions (30 oz)
5 lg cloves garlic minced
5 teaspoons salt
lots of bottle lemon juice

heat oil
saute onions until translucent
add garlic and saute for a minute
add puree
bring to a boil over high heat
lower heat to a simmer
simmer and reduce, stirring occasionally, until it has reached your desired consistency (most likely when it has been reduced by 1/3 or more, depending on the moisture content of your tomatoes)
add salt to taste

add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to each hot, sanitized 1/2 pint jar, fill with sauce leaving 1/2" head space
wipe rims and screw on rings and lids
process in hot water bath for 35 minutes

Crushed Peeled Tomatoes
blanch, peel, core and quarter tomatoes
boil in preserving pan for about 5 minutes
add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt into each hot, sterilized quart jar
add tomatoes into jars, leaving 1/2" head space
wipe, seal and process for 45 minutes in a hot water bath

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