Waste Not …-9/21/2019

I am certain that my Great Grandmother who grew up in eastern rural North Carolina in a large family was raised with a huge garden, yard chickens, and the knowledge to can and otherwise preserve what could not be eaten right away to have for the non productive winter months. They probably could grow collards or kale well into the winter, likely made kraut and pickles in large crocks to be dipped into all winter, cold stored apples and pumpkins.

My Grandmother was born in the same environment, but moved to the city as a young woman and I am unaware whether she canned, but I know she didn’t after I was born, she was working outside the home at a bank by then. My mother made a few attempts when I was a young teen, but I remember jars of foods she had prepared, bursting on the shelves in the room off the garage.

Though I had a garden of some size through most of my adult life in nearly every home and making Pomegranate jelly with my Dad most autumns, I really didn’t get into canning until we retired and bought our farm. I keep a decent sized garden, have a small orchard, and many wild berries. This area has a strong ethic of buy local and eat local and the environmental impact of doing so spoke loudly to me. I knew that I wanted to raise chickens for eggs and grow much of our food. That which I can’t or don’t grow, I try to purchase from the Farmers’ Market, both meat and produce. Though I don’t buy produce to can, I do try to save as much of what we grow as I possible by freezing, fermenting, or canning.

The Asian Pear trees produce much more than fruit than we can consume. Last year, we gathered the apples and pears and took them to Wilderness Road Regional Museum and pressed them into a delicious fruit cider. Some of the pears were made into marmalade and jam. This year I was away from about the time the fruit was ripening until the middle of last week. The deer got a lot of it, but enough remained to make 7 pints of applesauce, 3 pints of pear sauce, more than 5 half pints of Pear Marmalade. And a enough of the undamaged ones to enjoy fresh and to barter for some hot peppers in two varieties that I don’t grow.

After a decade of trying to water bath can in an 8 quart stock pot, constantly looking for a shallow “rack” to put under the jars, I purchased a real water bath canner, a 21.5 quart one with a real rack.

Though the tomatoes didn’t do well this year, there are jars of tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and salsa. The cucumbers thrived and many jars of pickles were canned, other varieties fermented and stored in the refrigerator. The hot peppers are still producing and 5 quarts are pickled in the refrigerator, the rest to be shelf stable canned, or being turned into fermented hot sauces in the style of Sriracha or dried.

There are just the two of us with occasional visits from grown children, some of the pickles and sauces will be shared, but we should eat well. The garden is still producing green beans to be enjoyed and frozen, hot peppers to be canned, and pumpkins that won’t be revealed until the leaves die back or we get a frost.

Each year I look at the shelves and wonder if we will eat it all, each spring I anxiously await fresh foods from the Farmers’ Market and early garden as the shelves empty of preserved garden goodness and fill with empty jars awaiting a new season of canning. The canner won’t be put away until the last pepper is picked and the excess pumpkin canned for holiday pies, then the canning tools and food mill will be packed in the big pot and stored away for another year. Waste not, want not.

Signs of Fall – 8/16/2019

The vivid emerald green of spring is fading to a drab green with highlights of yellow and red leaves mostly on the weedy shrub and weed trees, but the Sycamores are yellowing, several trees are shedding leaves already. Putting by is also a sign of impending Autumn season and that has been a task multiple days a week for the past several weeks. Some days it takes many hours and produces quantities of goodies to be enjoyed over the cold, non productive months. Some days a small batch or two of a sauce or jam are made. This morning, the Tomatillos gathered over a couple of days were made into 5 half pints of simmer sauce with the recipe from Canning by the Pint, one of Mellisa McClellan’s books. Some of those recipes are followed to the letter, others are a jumping off point for me as was today when I added several ground Jalapenos to the recipe to kick up the spice level of the sauce.

After lunch, more grapes were picked, giving me enough for another batch of grape jelly from our grapes. That recipe is from Food in Jars, another of her books. It is a low sugar recipe compared to the one on the pectin box, using 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of juice and requiring about 20 minutes to cook, rather than the 7 cups of sugar to 5 cups of juice and the couple of minutes of cook time. I would rather spend the time and have jelly that tastes like grape, not sugar. The remaining grapes will be left for the resident critters that roam our farm at night.

It is very satisfying to hear the lids pop to seal after they are set on the towel to cool.

The pollinators are busy today, a very hot, uncomfortable day to be out. Native bees on the sunflowers and bumblebees on the Autumn Joy.

The sunflowers are Hopi Dye Seed and I hope to harvest a flower or two to try dying some wool with them. Behind them and on the edge of the Tomatillo bed are mixed sunflowers, some Mammoth, some Bronze, and one smaller flowered variety that produces masses of 6″ flowers per stalk. They are great for cut flowers for the table. Most are the typical golden yellow but one yellow variety produced lemon yellow blooms.

Most of the sunflower heads will be cut off when mature and some given to the chickens to peck the seed, others hung from the wild bird feeder pole for them to enjoy this winter. This year was a good year for sunflowers.

Unless I purchase a box of tomatoes, canning season is drawing to a close for me. I will make a couple of small batches of Asian Pear Orange Marmalade and will can the remaining Tomatillos whole as they mature. The apples are too small to make applesauce but will be pressed for cider and maybe a batch of cider vinegar made. Maybe when apples start appearing fresh at the Farmers’ Market, I will make one canning of applesauce.

More and More Jars -8/7/2019

It is that time of year when part of every day is spent harvesting, prepping for the freezer, or canning. I don’t like to use plastic, so even most frozen stuff goes in jars, then neatly stacked in wire baskets or canvas bags in the chest freezer. Mostly now is canning. The morning harvest wasn’t huge, but since there was 1/3 of yesterday’s tomato purchase plus a couple pounds from the garden, I’m ok with that. The tomatillos are prolific, the cucumbers that I thought were done just provided half a dozen more and more growing.

The product that takes the longest prep are the spicy Bread and Butter pickles, so the cucumbers, peppers, and onions were sliced and salted and stowed away in the refrigerator until time to heat them in the sugar brine and can them. One daughter in law loves them and I usually only make a single batch of 4 or 5 pints as the past few years the cucumbers haven’t produced much. This year there will be 3 batches done by the end of today, a total of 14 pints. One pint was delivered to her when grandson was returned home last weekend.

Once they were salted, the tomatoes that were harvested this morning were blanched and peeled, the frozen ones dumped in a sink of water to thaw enough to peel and chop, dumped in the big pot with herbs, salt, and citric acid and cooked down for canning.

Also from this morning was the start of the pepper harvest and some of them were cut and seeded to dehydrate, 2 were added to the pickles, and 3 were used with the tomatillos to make another batch of Tomatillo Jalapeno jam.

There are still several quarts of pickled Jalapenos from last year, so some of this year’s will be dehydrated and some sliced and frozen to use in chili and casseroles this winter.

The final result today from the remaining tomatoes, and the bucket of produce from this morning’s harvest was 8.5 pints of tomato sauce, 5 half pints of Tomatillo Jalapeno Jam, and 4 pints of spicy Bread and Butter pickles.

I started at 8:30 this morning, took a lunch break and trip to the local village store for more lids, and I ended at 2:50 p.m. with jars and more jars cooling on the counter to be added to the shelves tomorrow. Now time to rest.

The garden had me intimidated earlier this summer, but now that it is producing, the putting by being done, I look forward to enjoying and sharing the labors when the cold winds blow and the snow flurries this winter.