I spend time in the garden in the early mornings, before the heat of the sun makes for steamy conditions. There is surprisingly little weeding to be done in my raised beds, and I have no trouble at all keeping ahead of unwelcome weeds.
Life is full of small pleasures at the moment.
Canning, and the Garden
Part of this year’s canning activities are intertwined with garden activities. Attila brings in produce from the garden every evening. There is never a lot, all at once, but after a few days there is usually enough to warrant a day of canning. Yesterday I canned 3 500-ml jars of No-Sodium Zucchini Relish, and 3 500-ml jars of Hot Cherry Bomb Tomatoes. The steam canner has been a game changer in my canning life. It sits on the stove almost all the time, at the ready. It will can 7 1-litre jars (quarts) or 7 500-ml jars (pints) at one go, or just one jar. My Steam Canner is the lighter, smaller aluminum model, the stainless steel model cans even more jars at one go. My little steam canner uses just two liters of water, easy enough to carry over, from the sink to the stove, in a large measuring cup.
Hot water bath canners are cheap and effective equipment for home food preservation of high-acid foods. But to fill the pot with water to 2 inches above the jar lids, well, that takes a lot of water! All of my life the quantity of water needed has been a deterrent to canning in small batches. Up until a few years ago, I did not know there were any alternative and equivalent methods. But then I watched a video on YouTube, in which a woman of Amish descent was using an old steam canner, and I was intrigued. It was disappointing to find out it was not a USDA approved method of canning at that time. But then it was officially tested, and approved by the USDA, and as soon as I knew that, I bought the Victorio Steam Canner. My hot water bath canner went to my youngest sister, and it is a great setup for first time canners. Now I can high-acid foods in small batches, every few days, as the produce from the garden accumulates.
The tomatoes are starting to ripen! I am making Tomato Sauce from the Romas, Hot Cherry Bombs from the Cherry Tomatoes, and eating the Beefsteak tomatoes. We have a few other varieties that Attila started from seed, and I look forward to tasting them too.
The pepper plants I planted in my raised bed are finally starting to bear fruit! So far one Red Shepherd pepper has grown to maturity and ripened. We had it in a garden salad last night for dinner, it was the best pepper I have ever tasted in my life! I have my fingers crossed that there will be more, but it doesn’t look to hopeful on the score.
My big garden surprise this year though, is Ground Cherries. I hadn’t even heard of them until I received a gift from Joannie B, a jar of Ginger Ground Cherry Jam. Yum! So we decided to plant them this year and see what they were all about. The plant is pretty, and there are plenty of ground cherries on it. I love them raw, they taste a little like a sweet rhubarb, at least to my palate. We don’t grow much in the way of fruit here, so the Ground Cherry will be a welcome addition to our garden. I’d like to see the whole front yard covered with these plants!
So nothing exciting really here at Mist Cottage, or even new, except the Ground Cherries, and fresh produce every day, and jars stacking up on the shelf. Ho hum, yum!
Date: 8:00 AM EDT Tuesday 20 August 2019
Condition: Mainly Sunny
Pressure: 102.0 kPa
Dew point: 13.1°C
Wind: NW 5 km/h
Visibility: 24 km
“Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight; a home, a teacher, a companion.” Lorraine Anderson
Have you ever had someone knock on your door and run away?
Apparently the Conservative party of Canada considers this technique a great way to make friends and influence people. When the candidate knocked on my door, I was in the kitchen. I walked ten feet from the kitchen to the front door, 4 seconds tops, opened it, and there was his back, as he headed off at speed, half way to the road. Obviously our little house was not someplace he wanted to make actual eye contact.
But I caught him, and he smiled, and he suffered through the routine question, “do you have any questions?” Of course I did, and he answered every one of them with a pat statement that didn’t address my question. I let him do that, because really, I knew, and he knew, that he didn’t give one %$#^ what I thought about anything. He ended by asking me who I was going to vote for. Undecided, I said. Then he asked me who Attila would vote for. Undecided, I said. He typed that into his cell phone. If we are lucky, that will mean that there will be no more knocks on my front door from the Conservative party representatives. What a total waste of everyone’s time. If we are not lucky, it could mean that we will be treated with even less consideration if this party comes into power.
Today I had 4 pounds of zucchini from the garden to preserve. They were collected over the last four days, so just as fresh as anything I could purchase from a retail establishment. I decided to make another batch of Organic Low-Sodium Zucchini Relish. I had canned this recipe twice already, but only half batches, because both times I only had 2 pounds of zucchini.
This time I could can a full recipe of the Relish. I made a mistake that cost me some time. When making a half batch, 2 pounds of the zucchini were chopped to perfection in the food processor. I knew better, but took the lazy route and attempted to process 4 pounds of zucchini in the food processor. I should have chopped it in two batches. The result was that some of the zucchini was chopped to mush, and some of the zucchini was almost whole slices. I had to fish the large pieces of zucchini out of the cooking pot, and chop them up by hand. The other change I made to my recipe was to add two tablespoons of Clearjel, which should make the relish less runny. I made 5 1/2 500-ml jars of Relish. I processed them in the Steam Canner, all the jars sealed. , There is a little story to tell before I describe my second canning project for the day. Attila and I took a little jaunt to a bulk food supply company, to purchase our wheat berries at a more reasonable price (half price for the same product). While we were there we found other interesting things to buy. We purchased dried beans, popping corn, spices, dried fruit, and a 1-litre bottle of Black Creek Cherry Juice. It was a great little outing for us.
The Cherry Juice was a particularly wonderful find, as it is not available near where we live, at such a reasonable price. So this afternoon I canned 7 250-ml jars of Chocolate Cherry Jelly, but really it is Topping. I deliberately did not cook the “jelly” as long as was needed to reach the gel stage, which left the mixture somewhat runny, a topping. When I used the Sweet Cherries we purchased just a little while ago, I made Chocolate Cherry Jam, and it has become my favourite way to eat chocolate. It is wonderful on vanilla ice cream, and sinfully good on chocolate ice cream.
I’ve been canning in dribs and drabs this spring and summer, a few jars of this and a few jars of that. It adds up, fast. So far I’ve canned over 70 jars of food, and my original 500 ml jars are all full. I’ve had to buy another few boxes of jars! The canning season hasn’t even begun in earnest in my part of the world.
Tonight Attila brought in about 4 quarts of Roma tomatoes, which went directly into the freezer for canning later. When I think I have enough to can 7 1-litre jars, then I’ll process them.
From mid-June until into October our little house is all bustle. Canners, canning pots, jars, canning equipment, juice making equipment, dehydrating equipment, it all takes up lots of space. I think in the past I might have regarded the space here as extremely cluttered. Now it looks resplendent with promise to me, symbols of prosperity everywhere I look.
Attila is taking vacation days from time to time. We have decided that since Tank is in no condition to pull Iris the trailer, trips away are not feasible. So vacation days are used for things like our excursion for wheat berries, visiting the Camp, and gardening, mostly gardening. We haven’t had very good luck when it comes to taking a week vacation, the few we’ve had have been spectacular failures, with unpleasant circumstances that were beyond our control. So the occasional day off is what we will be doing, staycation, gardencation, renocation, shopcation… variety is the spice of life.
I have to say that the flowers in the garden here at Mist Cottage, are a source of joy. From my chair on the porch I see Dianthus, Gladiola, Chamomile, Tomato Blossoms, Echinacea, Nasturtium, Scarlet Runner Beans, and Cosmos, all in full bloom. A riot of colour, haphazardly placed and beautiful.
The garden just keeps on giving us a little of this, and a little of that. Today a rogue zucchini will provide a lovely stir fry for our lunch. It was ready to be picked days ago, but was missed and just discovered, and is larger than would be ideal. It was delicious.
Attila picked 4 cups of Basil for Pesto, which is already made, spooned into a muffin tin, and is in the freezer. Later today there will be the last of green string beans, the bugs are decimating the plants, so this will be the last harvest from these plants. Two of the Cabbages are ready, so hopefully one of them will be made into Sauerkraut, which I’ve not attempted before, and can’t eat anyway because of the high sodium content, but Attila loves it, and if it turns out, then yay!
The big canning jobs at Mist Cottage are tomatoes and apples. Their season is yet to come. A few of the tomatoes in the garden are light red, not quite there yet, but there are many more to come, barring disaster, weather, rodents, insects, birds, or humans.
It is hot and humid today. I enjoyed the open windows so much yesterday, that I have left them open again today. It is warm in Mist Cottage, but I am staying comfortable by sitting in the breeze of a fan, and wearing my neck scarf cooler. It is a thin cotton bandana type scarf, which is a tube with silica gel in it. It swells with soaking and once adorned, the water in the silica gel slowly evaporates, creating a circle of coolness around my neck. This works very well in keeping my core temperature down, which is really important during a heat wave.
The open windows are allowing the bird song and breeze in, but they also allow in the rat-a-tat-tat of the roofer’s hammers, they are just at the end of the street. Three young men in shorts, work boots, shirtless, are working hard in this heat, and under the relentless sun. I could do things like that in my youth, and did, I have worked to shingle several roofs. Not now though, those days are long gone. Roofers work hard! And I am busy these days doing my fine wine thing… aging.
“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” Mark Twain 1835 – 1910
This quote leads me to wonder, do animals have a sense of humour? Some say yes, some say know. I could find no scientific studies on the subject, so it is all anecdotal. And how would we humans know, if an animal had a sense of humour?
I’ve had a pretty good week. Little things, of course, little things, and no drama.
Today it is hot outside, but not too humid. I opened the windows this morning, no regrets there, even though it is much warmer in the house than is comfortable. The birds sound amazing.
Attila has been working on Tank off and on for weeks. He has removed some substandard superfluous wiring that had been installed by a previous owner. He has researched, and identified a faulty part, which he dismantled and cleaned, and which fixed a small problem. And I’ve kept the process going by joining an online forum, submitting questions, and assisting Attila in discussing the issues in the forum. The very last suggestion given to us on the forum, after weeks and weeks of trying all sorts, was to add an octane booster, to see what would happen. While at Canadian Tire it was discovered that octane booster needs to be added when the gas tank is low, so although the product was purchased, using it had to be delayed. But Attila spotted another product that could be tried immediately, injector cleaner. After using that, there was improvement. When I drove Tank a few days later, it was as if there had never been any issues! The heady feeling that the issue is resolved may not last, but it sure was encouraging. Tank is a 2007 model vehicle, and in very good shape, except that she doesn’t run properly. Two reputable garages have utterly failed to diagnose and resolve her issues. If we get this issue resolved ourselves, it will feel like a miracle. Fingers crossed.
On the last day of July I found a retail outlet, about an hour drive from Mist Cottage, that had pitted sweet and sour cherries for sale, in decent size buckets. The drive turned out to be worthwhile, but we had to visit several retail outlets to get what we wanted. At the first grocery store, there was one 7 pound bucket of sweet pitted cherries left. The label said, “Freeze by August 1st”, and it was marked down from $29.00 to $5.00 to sell it before it expired. We purchased that bucket and put in on ice in the cooler we brought with us. But that store had no pitted sour cherries. The next store had the sour cherries we were looking for, 11 pound buckets for $29.99. One bucket was purchased, and into the cooler it went.
Yesterday I had my work cut out for me. The sweet cherries had to be either frozen or canned. The freezer is full, so canning it was. While all the equipment was setup, the sour cherries were also canned. All in all, 18 pounds of pitted cherries were canned yesterday. That felt pretty good, and they all sealed.
8 jars of sour cherries 3 jars of sweet cherries 5 jars of Chocolate Cherry Jam 4 jars of Sour Cherry Jam.
Our Zucchini plant has been thriving. The fresh zucchini is a bit more than I can comfortably eat fresh, so it was time to come up with a way to preserve the extra. This morning three 500 ml jars of Organic Sodium-Free Zucchini Relish came out of the steam canner, and the seals pinged right away.
3 jars Organic Sodium-Free Zucchini Relish
For the time being I have given up on using the Tattler reusable lids and rings. Almost every jar failed, either immediately, which was easy to deal with, or after weeks of sitting on the shelf, which was a serious issue. I’ll get back to playing with them, canning water, at some point. But for now all the work that goes into canning is worth the cost of the reliable one-use metal lids.
The spinach was beginning to bolt, so all but two plants were picked the day before yesterday, roots and all, and are sitting in the refrigerator waiting for me to do something with them. They will probably be frozen for winter enjoyment, they cannot be safely canned. Tonight, it is a job for tonight.
Attila has just let me know that the basil is ready to be picked again, so another batch of pesto is also on the roster for tonight’s activities. I don’t mind really, Attila helps out with the evening food preservation projects, so even though I am tired, it all goes rather smoothly.
As I was sitting in the living room yesterday, the sun was shining brightly on the front porch, I could see it through the edge of the front door. Wait a minute, the front door was closed “tight”! Oh dear, it might be getting to around that time when the front door just has to be replaced. It was in very bad condition when we bought Mist Cottage, just over ten years ago, and it has not improved with age. Every winter duct tape is used to try to seal around the edges of the door, to keep the winter wind out. The sun shining through is a new issue. Up until now replacing the door has not been a priority, but since there are no other renovation projects on the table for this summer, it just might be something that gets tackled before the cold weather sets in. I’d like that, it would be less drafty in the living room if the front door were replaced, and it would reduce heating bills as well.
Date: 12:00 PM EDT Friday 2 August 2019
Condition: Mainly Sunny
Pressure: 102.1 kPa
Dew point: 16.4°C
Wind: S 17 km/h
Visibility: 24 km
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” Martha Graham 1894 – 1991
Wow, it has been a while since I last wrote an entry!
I’ve been busy, playing in the kitchen, or is it a lab, not much difference when you come right down to it.
New technology is always fun. Over the last year or so I’ve added a steam canner, a steam juicer, and Tattler reusable canning lids to my kitchen equipment.
I love the Victorio steam canner. Purchased last year, it is a game changer, no mistake about it. I gave my water bath canning equipment to my sister! The steam canner is lightweight aluminum, so I can easily grab it out of storage in the basement, and get it up and down the stairs without straining myself. It requires comparatively little water to operate, so I can easily carry it to the sink, add the water and carry it back to the stove. It is easy to lift the jars in and out of the canner, making it a breeze to use. And after making my usual first attempt boo boos, it works perfectly every time.
The newly acquired Victorio steam juicer has added a whole new dimension to my home food preservation activities. I have only tried Rhubarb Juice, as it is the only ripened produce coming out of our garden so far this spring, and it is a big hit here. The fruit pulp that remains in the juicer makes a lovely fruit leather, so nothing goes to waste. And of course, there are my learning curve bloopers, I always make them. I was using the oven to dry my fruit leather. I share the kitchen with Attila, I should have thought it through. I left the fruit leather in the oven after I turned off the oven early in the day when the price of hydro doubled, meaning to turn it on again when the hydro price dropped again, later in the day. Attila decided to roast potatoes, and I forgot to warn him about the fruit leather. It didn’t go well, the fruit leather is toasted rather than dried. I will be doing the fruit leather in the dehydrator from now on.
The Salton dehydrator was purchased at a discounted price, an entry level unit. Since we had not tried using such an appliance before, it didn’t make sense to purchase top of the line equipment. If we decide it is going to be a technique of food preservation that we come to rely on, a high quality unit will be purchased. So far the little unit we have, a birthday present for Attila years ago, is meeting our needs.
The Tattler lids are exciting, they are reusable. All of my canning career, which spans around five decades, I’ve used metal lids and rings. I’ve never had a seal fail on me, not even once. I was surprised to learn it could even happen. But throwing out all those lids just seemed so wasteful and expensive. So when I came across reusable Tattler lids I decided to buy a few and see how they work. Well, it seems my blooperness has gone into overdrive with these lids.
I am teaching myself to use the Tattler lids by canning water. The first time I tried them in the steam canner I had 50% failure to seal. The second time I had 100% success. But the story doesn’t end there. I then used them to preserve food. Two jars of Dandelion Jelly, to start with. They sealed, and after 24 hours I took them down to store in the basement. I checked on things yesterday, and the lids came right off! Oh dear, false seals! I reprocessed the jelly with metal lids, they sealed and are now stored away.
Tattler lids were also used for another seven jars of steam canned jelly, and juice, and three pressure canned jars of Taco Soup. I am watching these jars very carefully, checking the seals several times a day for failures. The sealed soup jars are in the refrigerator, so if the seals fail, the soup will be preserved and can be frozen instead. One of the jars of soup did not seal, I think I know what I did wrong with it, it is in the freezer.
So Tattler lids are putting me through my paces, for sure. Are they worth the trouble? Well, I haven’t decided on that yet, it is early days. Usually, after working with things, I get a feel for them, and get better and better at doing them successfully. I am hoping that will be the case with the Tattler lids. So far I haven’t lost any food items, so I am not discouraged.
On the homemade bread front progress has been made.
I am now milling all of our flour. We buy the wheat berries, which are extremely difficult to source at a reasonable price, to mill the flour. The grain mill, a Wondermill, is easy to use. Of course I have my bloopers with it too. I discovered that if you add too many wheat berries at once to the feeder, the flour container will clog, and it makes quite a mess, and requires quite a clean up. Whoops. I’ll only make that mistake once. It didn’t damage the machine because I always hit the off switch or pull the plug at the first sign that anything is amiss with an appliance.
I have a Black & Decker bread machine, purchased at a considerable markdown. I don’t like it, but so long as it does the job it won’t be replaced. I have made enough so-so bread in it, trying new things, until now the bread I make in it is lovely. But, that is one loaf at a time, not enough, with Attila taking lunches to work. He is using a lot more bread than he otherwise would, because it is homemade and delicious. I need four or five small loaves a week.
So I decided to try making five loaves at once. This is where the Bosch Universal Mixer comes into play. Again, this has not been an instant success. My first attempts yielded acceptable but not lovely results. I continued to research and read what other people were doing, and tweaked and tweaked my technique. The last batch was lovely, and thankfully I took the time to write down the process I used, and the ingredients.
Just a note about the links to amazon that I have included for the equipment I use. I didn’t buy any of it at those prices. I didn’t buy all of it at once, or even recently. I have purchased my equipment over a period of many years, and expect it to last a lifetime. I often buy equipment directly from the manufacturer (e.g. Tattler), or when I find it on sale for an excellent price, sometimes watching prices for years.
My policy on spending money has changed little over the years. For instance, I have a Cuisinart food processor that I purchased for myself in the 70s, when I was a Home Economics teacher, and it has been in constant use since then, and I expect it to be in constant use until Attila and I no longer have the need or wherewithal to use it.
I am the same with clothes, my parka was purchased in the early 90s and is the only coat I’ve worn since, and it is still going strong. I have a pair of pants that I am considering throwing out, purchased about 30 years ago, they are badly worn now. Items that wear out after only a few years are regrettable failures .
Another example is my sewing machine. When I was studying Couturier clothing design and construction I purchased an inexpensive Singer sewing machine. It was a disaster, and was negatively impacting my studies. So I returned it, went into debt, and purchased an Elna sewing machine. I have used my little Elna since 1969, and it is still humming along the same as it always has. I think that was my first experience with the difference quality can make, it was a lesson well learned.
I guess all of this illustrates why the Tattler lids hold such appeal for me!
Date: 9:00 AM EDT Thursday 6 June 2019
Condition: Partly Cloudy
Pressure: 101.0 kPa
Dew point: 13.2°C
Wind: N 11 km/h
Visibility: 24 km
“Once the game is over, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.””