Let The 2014 Garden Begin

Hey, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend and aren’t too hung over/tired/burnt this morning! We stayed home this Memorial Day weekend but have started and done so much. Renovations are back in the swing, and so of course is the garden. Speaking of the garden, I realized I’ve barely written about it this year!

This past growing season confirmed to me that I really wanted to get serious about growing some of my own seeds. In the past I’ve tried winter sowing, but I had decided it wasn’t for me. After lots of research on different methods I decided I wanted to go with soil blocking. It’s literally what it sounds like, creating blocks of soil and starting seeds in those blocks. There’s a lot of great soil blocking material online so I won’t write a ton about the method, but good places to start are to search “Eliot Coleman soil blocking” and to check out Johnny Seeds, which is where I got my soil blocker. Personally I don’t do mini soil blockers, I stuck with 2″ and then moved up to pots for the items (like tomatoes) that needed to be potted up eventually.

DSC_0380-01First was deciding what we wanted to start from seed, what seeds we wanted to direct sow once it got warm enough, and what started seeds we still wanted to buy from our local green house. I knew hands down we were going to start tomato seeds. I really felt I could grow stronger plants by transplant time, but I also wanted more control over the varieties I grew. Beyond tomatoes I wasn’t positive what I would do. In the end I went with tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, celeriac and tomatillo’s. I’ve yet to see how the cabbage, cauliflower and tomatillo’s do and if they’ll be big enough to transplant anytime soon (pictured above). They also got a bit leggy since I forgot to turn my grow light on for two days. Oops. The celery, celeriac, and tomatoes all have done very well. The broccoli I’m not sure what to think of. It looks okay, but it suffered a little after potting it up. I’m not sure if it will do well once it get into the garden so I’m just crossing my fingers.

DSC_0341-01 DSC_0342-01Outside of soil blocking, we have a lot going on in the garden already. So far we have peas, cylindra beets, red ace beets, peas, garlic, onions, and as of yesterday, eighteen of the twenty-eight tomato plants!

DSC_0347-01 DSC_0350-01 DSC_0353-01 DSC_0355-01 DSC_0356-01We also expanded our asparagus patch with the asparagus I bought at the Fedco Tree Sale. Our patch was about 1 ft. by 2 ft. and it’s now about 4×4 which is a pretty good size. To plant  I first air dried the crowns for about twenty-four hours to get any storage mold dried, built the trenches, laid in the crows and covered with soil. We already have a few sprigs showing up from this year, but we won’t pick them. The second and third year asparagus has been delicious, while we’ve let the one year old asparagus go to seed.

DSC_9684 DSC_9697-01 DSC_9714-01 DSC_9731-01DSC_9694-01DSC_0345-01In the other areas of the yard I decided to transplant the strawberries to go in with the blueberries. I figured the acidic soil would be better, it would keep all of our fruit in one area, and it would allow me to build a 2×40 bed behind one of our stone walls to move our squash into as part of a crop rotation plan. At first I was worried the strawberries weren’t going to make it. Turns out though, weeks later, they are thriving in their new home. I really think the change in soil was perfect for them.

DSC_9701-01 DSC_9705-01DSC_0361-01Beyond strawberries the deer got at our blueberry and raspberries this winter since it was so harsh. I really wasn’t sure our new raspberry vine made it but sure enough, it did! Along with the raspberries, the blueberries and rhubarb are also in bloom. I’ve cropped the rhubarb pretty heavily already, but it’s still going.

DSC_0357-01 DSC_0363-01 DSC_0367-01 DSC_0370-01 DSC_0372-01We also expanded our orchard to include two peach trees and two more apple trees. Andy had the great idea of keeping one of the apple trees by the stone wall where the blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are. While all of them are doing good, the one by the stone wall seems to be doing best. There must be something about the soil around that wall, because everything seems to thrive over there.

DSC_0373-01If it seems like a lot has been going on around here, you’d be right! Thankfully I have my new handy broad fork to thank for a lot of the work in the garden. We originally tilled the entire lot, but as I’ve needed beds I’ve been aerating with the broad fork. Unlike tilling it helps keep the nutrients deep in the soil and also doesn’t expose weed seeds—a big issue we’ve been battling for a while now. This no-engine, no mechanics, simple piece of steel equipment is absolutely my favorite gardening tool I own.

DSC_9689-01In the end, that’s what’s been going on so far! Since spring is a bit behind I decided to wait until next weekend to buy the rest of the seedlings and direct sow most of the plants. I might put in the celery and broccoli this week, but I’ll be playing it by mother-natures ear. It’s a ton to do, but so far, so good.

One last thing, I’ve already been canning! This is our first year with rhubarb growing on our property and I realized it was a use it or lose it moment. Sunday I scoured my Ball Company canning recipe book and found one for Victorian Barbecue Sauce using rhubarb. Over all it’s a really unique sauce and pretty darn tasty. I ended up with four small jars and enough left over to use on the pork tenderloin we had last night for dinner.

10401791_310803725740660_785031501_nBesides all of this, the first week of graduate school is done! Only seven more weeks of this class to go and then an eight-week break until the next session! Thank goodness too, because that will be prime gardening time!

xo,
Heather

 

My Method For Freezing Chicken Stock

Whenever I roast a chicken, about once every couple months, I like to toss the carcass into a pot with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, bay leaves and thyme. In other words, homemade chicken stock is my jam. It’s my comfort food, and frankly if I’m going to eat an animal I feel like I should at least use every part of it that I have if possible.

My recipe is always changing, but if you want a solid go to I’d guess this one from Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) is pretty awesome. She has some killer recipes and I have yet to make a bad one. My only tip is that I always use roasted chicken bones. I roast the chicken, let it cool and pick it, and then put the bones into the stock instead of the whole chicken. I have tried both ways and I not only prefer the flavor of the roasted bones, but I do not like boiling a chicken. Roasted chicken is just too delicious. That’s just my preference though, do what you love most.

In order to freeze the stock in larger quantities, here’s my go to method:

  1. Let your stock cool to room temp and then put it in the fridge for a few hours. This coagulates the fat on the top.
  2. Once the fat coagulates, skim it off the top.
  3. Now that you have cooled stock fill your zip-lock bags (I use the ones that are thicker and a bit bigger than the sandwich bags) about 3/4 full. This is really important as liquids expand when they freeze. Once you have them each filled 3/4 full triple check that the bags are 100% sealed (no leaks wanted)! Next, lay them flat in the freezer and shut the door.

That’s it. If you’re really concerned about the stock potentially leaking, place the bags in a large deep cake pan before you put them in the freezer. If a bag is overfilled and bursts, or the bag wasn’t sealed properly to begin with, it will at least leak into the pan. In this case you can simply thaw the pan out and re-liquify the chicken stock and use it up. I don’t recommend thawing and re-freezing chicken stock (or meat in general).

Here is a photo of the stock as it first went into the freezer:

DSC_8296And here is a photo of the stock after it was frozen:

DSC_8301You can see the expansion pretty significantly in the top bag.

All in all I really like this method of freezing stock, and once it’s frozen you can stand it up to save room, etc. It’s so easy to grab one of these out, throw it in a pan in the fridge to thaw for use at night, or just to take it out of the back totally frozen and simply throw it in a pot with about a cup or two of water to melt. I tend to make my chicken stock a bit concentrated so I often thin it with water regardless. 

So there you have it, a simple way to store larger quantities of chicken stock. 

Enjoy!

xo,
Heather

Limeade, Lemonade, First-Aid

Raise your hand if you tripped in the hall at work on literally nothing and stumbled and then soon after turned to walk into your office and turned to soon body checked the wall.

*Raises Hand*

Thankfully the only hurt thing was my pride, which can be easily fixed because I don’t have much to begin with. Well no, not true. I have confidence, but I don’t have much dignity left to lose. I’m humbled. I have, afterall, walked face first into a closed door before. Lime-aid however is something I will always take that can heal many an embarrassing wound as you laugh with a friend over the perpetual lack of awareness of your body in space.

DSC_6710-01I hope you all love this end of summer recipe as much as I do. Andy picked up 6 bags of limes for free so let’s just say things are a little limey around here lately. There are plenty of limeade recipes out there but we go for the super traditional, though I can’t say I don’t love a lavender infused limeade. To make something like that, I would infuse the lavender in the simple syrup below, and then throw a sprig right into the jar at the end.

Homemade Limeade
A delicious homemade limeade with tips on how to use a vitamix to make the juice, and ratios for tarter versus sweeter limeade.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup white sugar (or equivalent in other non-sugar sweetener)
  2. 1 cup water
  3. 2-3 cups fresh lime juice
  4. 4-12 cups cold water
  5. Nut milk bag (if juicing with vitamix)
  6. Half gallon mason jar or other container
Simple Syrup
  1. Combine 1 cup sugar (or equivalent of non-sugar sweetener) and 1 cup water in a pan
  2. Heat until sugar is completely dissolved
  3. Stir continually to ensure sugar doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan
To Juice Limes
  1. Let's be honest, it's not rocket science to juice limes. Here are a few tips: If juicing by hand or with a juicer roll the limes on the counter/cutting board before you cut in half, it will help release the juices.You'll need 2 cups of fresh lime juice or about a dozen limes.
To Juice Limes in a Vitamix
  1. Peel the limes so no skin remains
  2. Throw in the vitamix, start slow and put on high for just a few seconds
  3. Pour the blended juice into the nut milk bag, over your container. It is recommended to do this in batches
  4. Slowly press the juice out of the bag
  5. Pour pulp into compost, pour next batch, and repeat until you reach two cups of juice
To make limeade concentrate
  1. Combine simple syrup and lime juice
To make limeade
  1. Combine 1-3 cups of water per 1 cup of concentrate, dependent on how sweet you like your limeade
  2. 1:1 will be very sweet
  3. 1:2 will be moderate
  4. 1:3 will be more tart
Like A Cup of Tea http://www.likeacupoftea.com/
While we might like limeade it has a lot of sugar in it. My other idea is to juice the limes by themselves and then freeze it in cubes. Take a few cubes and thaw them out mid-winter for a perfect summery pick me up whether you’re making limeade, throwing it in a sauce or stir-fry, or putting it in a delicious french-yogurt cake (one of the simplest cakes ever despite the name). Then again, you could just make a ton of popsicles by freezing the juice with some honey and berries…mmm. Sounds so good. Someone make them and then report back to me.

Enjoy!

xo,

Heather

Wild Ideas: Autumn Olive

A few weeks ago the dogs and I were out at the apple trees in the back field when I noticed Primrose eating tiny red berries that had spots on them.

I was concerned because normally small round red berries = bad. At least, that’s how I was raised. So I came in the house (oddly calmly, I think at this point I just expect things like this from her sweet little face) and tried to figure out if little miss trouble maker had just poisoned herself. After a bunch of googling around I found out the berries were called Autumn Olives.

Not only are the berries not poisonous to either dogs or humans (or cats and horses apparently), they are actually a superfood secret and they make very good juice, jam and fruit leather. Excuse me?! Say what?! I’ve had a zero effort harvest in my backyard for five years and I never knew about it? Let me clarify that these, despite the name, are not olives. Rather, they are a tart berry filled with lycopene (cancer fighting) and antioxidants. They have pits but I haven’t had a problem just eating them. It turns out Autumn Olives are an invasive species in North America, but as I figure it invasive can simply mean opportunistic. I’m into permaculture and if it’s growing wild, and I can harvest it, why not? It’s the same reason I made dandelion syrup this spring, wild stuffed grape leaves this summer and harvested wild blackberries and raspberries.

According to multiple sources on the internet the berries get ripe best in cool weather, and even when they seem ready they normally aren’t until the end of September to mid-October. I found them around the beginning of September and let me tell you with how much anticipation I’ve been waiting for them to be ready to harvest: a ton. Thursday was the day. I went out, tasted a berry and it was still tart but not painfully so. It was, dare I say, tasty. I knew the birds would be out to get these soon so I got my big tin pail and walked out to gather about 5lbs of berries per a jam recipe I found.

Here’s a few tips on harvesting the berries:

  • Put the pail below each stem and then gently roll the berries off of their stems with your fingers. If they don’t come off easily don’t force them. Ripe berries will easily roll off.  The juice of these comes out easily as well, gentle gentle gentle.
  • You will get spiders and other creatures from the plant in your berries. That’s harvesting for you. I try and pick them out with care because I know they are beneficial to the plant life.
  • About a 1/4 of a five gallon bucket hit about 5lbs for me.
  • Share your harvest. In other words: these are wild. Other animals besides you eat them too. Don’t take them all. I took a very small portion of what was there and left a good amount in each area I did harvest from. I didn’t do the work to grow them, and I don’t think it’s really my right to wipe everything clean and leave the birds and other animals with nothing. Responsible harvesting high fives all around.

On Thursday I came in, rinsed the berries, and plucked all the little stems out of them. My water was pretty dirty only because my bucket had some dried dirt it in before I started. Next time I will definitely use a clean bucket. It will significantly cut the rinsing steps down.

On Friday I knew it was time to turn it into jam, or at least that was my intention. After boiling the berries down for about 20 minutes, in order to make them easier to pit through a food mill, I realized this stuff would be great as a fruit butter.

I boiled berries on the front burner so I could mill them, and then added the puree to the back burner to cook down.

On the other side of the stove I had the jars sterilizing and the tops and lids slightly simmering.

The entire time I was doing this and experimenting with sugar/pectin/lemon, I was video chatting with Lauren over at Filing Jointly. Let me tell you something about Lauren—she’s great. She also thinks she awkward and she’s not. I feel like a lot of people who blog feel like they are awkward in person and more dynamic online. I even feel like this. I know I’m awkward, but I embrace it. Have you seen the video of me making spaghetti sauce? Lauren can probably testify to my a.) talkative nature and b.) awkward movements. I can testify to her awesomeness. Also, you all should encourage her to write about the pig farm story. It’s great.

That said, she pretty much just watched this process live. There really isn’t much of recipe but I’ll give a general breakdown. It’s a pretty typical fruit butter recipe I’d say. When it sets up it will look like a jam from the outside, but once you open it give it a quick stir and it quickly becomes butter consistency and nothing like jam.

Autumn Olive Butter Recipe

Remember, this is a “more or less” recipe. I’ve made jam before so I just sort of winged this and knew it would either be butter or jam, with my hope being for a soft butter/spread. Mine became butter because I was stingy on the pectin, and the mash is already very butter like on it’s own. You can easily make a small batch of this by just milling your berries, adding a little sweetner and moving on. The recipe below is for canning it, which requires more sugar and some citrus to be safe. I also realized it takes a TON of sugar to make it sweet once you add more than a tablespoon of lemon juice, I had added two and it was harshly tart. Next time I may just stick with less lemon juice, and plain sugar.

  • 8 to 9 or so cups berry mash (food mill to remove pits)
  • Few teaspoons of lemon juice. Be careful and add slow, the berries are very tart. The more lemon you add, the more sugar you need to add to offset it. You need a certain amount of citrus though, especially if you’re water bathing. A professional will have more advice than me on this, but I always do it as a precaution.
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Few tablespoons powder pectin. I used ball and some new kind. I really recommend sure jell if you want this to be more like a jam. Follow the directions on your own pectin for best results.

Follow proper procedures to making fruit butter and for canning per the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Butter recipes for canning can be found lots of places like Balls Complete Book of Home Preservation. Process according to your altitude. I boiled the fruit until it coated my spoon and came off in a sheet and processed once it reached a rolling boil for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not a professional canner and I don’t want to give you information that may be considered inaccurate because of botulism and other goodies that can grow if not preserved appropriately and will make you very sick, so please please please consult with the National Center if you don’t know how to can, or need more accurate instructions. 

Saving Autumn Olives For Fruit Smoothies

When you mill autumn olives to remove the pits, the mash will look an awful lot like a smoothie in consistency. The next day when it sets it will feel like a firm pudding, or as my childhood memories remind me – Nickelodeons Gak. Given how good these berries are for you, and the natural consistency of their mash, I am going to process more of these and freeze them into ice cube trays. I’ll then vacuum seal the frozen berry mash cubes into bags with about 4-5 in each bag. I’ll use these in place of ice cubes when I make smoothies.

Autumn Olive Frozen Fruit Butter

Given the natural smoothie butter consistency of the mash, it makes perfectly good sense to me that if the mash freezes and thaws well, I could easily thaw one or two cubes of mash and mix it with a little maple syrup to make a really nice spread for toast. I’m interested in testing this method with the cubes vacuum sealed to protect against freezer burn, but I’m glad I preserved a batch too.

Autumn Olive Cake Topping

This sounds ridiculous but it is *so darn good*. I recently made a banana molasses spice cake and man oh man, the butter I made and preserved is ridiculous with it. Not only is it super tasty, it sits and holds really well. This would make a great spread in between layers because it will soak into the cake without totally soaking in. I wouldn’t use it on the sides because it would slip off. I’m sure the fresh mash could be doctored into a stiff frosting, but lets face it that is way out of my jurisdiction as I’m a pantry baker at best.

My final opinion…

Make it. Eat it. Love it. I think I love the mash best on it’s own with just a little sweetner, if I’m being entirely honest. I just don’t like taking something so healthy for you and ruining it with so much sugar. I bet I could make it with a lot less sugar if I upped the pectin. That might be the next trial. That doesn’t mean I won’t lick clean every jar I preserved already though. I will. Oh, I will.

xo,

Heather

P.S. Winnie was eating rearing off the ground and jumping for the berries her nose deemed best. Good God, I love these dogs.