Category Archives: Preserving

Life is Abundant this Week!

We know summer is well on its way when our temperatures are in the 100’s. The spring garden is just passing its peak and I will start to remove lettuces, spinach and cool season crops that are going to seed and start to pop in sweet potato plants, more peppers plants and squash seed in the vacant spots. Our little farm is lively with the arrival of twin Nubians does, baby bunnies,baby quail and the rest of our farm critters that keeps us on our toes. This is when true dedication comes in….or in other words, the work! Weeds are a plenty, watering chores have elevated, milking, feeding, thinning the fruit trees, harvesting and preserving.

This week we harvested over two gallons of Camarosa Strawberries.  They are one of my favorite strawberries.  Although they are not everbearing, they are big,  extremely flavorful and the harvest is very plentiful and they will produce a second crop in the fall, although not as big.  After cleaning them and slightly drying them, I place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet and freeze.  Once frozen they get put into quart bags for winter smoothies.

2 years ago I planted 3 pear trees, one a seckel, one a bosc and the other is a red pear.  I really didn’t have anymore space on the property so I crammed them closely on the south side of the shed to be espaliered.  Beneath them is another bed of strawberries.  So far the are looking great and maintenance has been very minimal.  Besides they are a great addition to farmyard.

This week we have new baby bunnies.  You know the saying “breed like rabbits”, well new bunnies are pretty common here, but none the less, I just love the little guys!

Our chickens are laying in full production.  They are getting all the scrapes from the garden, like lettuce, spinach and other greens that have become bitter or have gone to seed.  Their production always gets a boost when they get a large amount of fresh garden scrapes.  If you haven’t raised chickens, you might want to try.  I love watching them rummage through their treats from the garden, plus the eggs become so rich and bright!

This week the artichokes are abundant.  Artichoke dip, artichoke hearts, and whatever else I can muster up.  Saturday we harvested over 25 artichokes off of three plants and we will probably harvest that again this week.  As they ripen through the month the size of the globe gets smaller and smaller.  After the harvest is over, the plants start to look scraggly so I will cut out old stocks and leaves then toss them into the compost.  My once beautiful, very large plants will become rather ugly and tired looking.  They need a rest from their labor!

I have really become a fan of ‘purple of sicily’ cauliflower.  It’s taste is almost nutty when steamed.  It seems to do very well in our conditions and what’s not to like?  It has color, it’s an heirloom, and it tastes good!

Our tomatoes get covered ever year to prevent the beet leaf hopper from infecting the curly top virus.  This year we have warmed up early and we are very dry.  These conditions are prefect for this awful virus.  Once the tomatoes get it there is nothing you can do, so prevention is essential.  Eight years ago here in Southern Utah it was almost unheard of and now the virus is ramped and can wipe out your entire crop.  Now that’s devastating whether you have hundreds of tomatoes or maybe just a few heirlooms.

If you have the space, I would suggest planting a Bagel Peach.  Oh my goodness!  The flavor can’t be beat (although our white peach is a very close runner-up).  Although the peach is small, it’s not small in flavor.  The bagel peach is not for preserving, but I think you will find a small family can consume them rather quickly before even thinking about preserving.  Caution:  They can be very addicting!  You may also find them with the name of Flat Peach or Saturn.

Our Nubian doe Ivy, had twins does two weeks ago.  Once again I am milking and looking forward to making cheese, yogurt and kefir.   the babies are so much fun at this age, so full of life and playful.  The first doe born has a name of Sassafras, Sassy for short.  The poor little second baby is still nameless….  Perhaps nothing has come to fit her personality yet.

Our lavender looks great this year.  It’s loaded with blooms that we will harvest within the next few weeks.  Did you know the blossoms are great in a balsamic vinegar dressing?  There isn’t too much that will bother lavender and once established, it is a breeze to grow.  Once I have harvested all of the lavender flower stalks I will trim back the bush to a nice mound to keep it uniform and healthy for next years show.

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Pressing Apples

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Apples are somewhat romantic to me.  From the blossoms in the spring, to the harvest in the fall.  We have 10 apple trees here on our little farm.  Some for cooking and some for fresh eating right off the tree.  Our trees are still in small production, but we cherish every last one.  About five years ago we purchased a fruit press for making apple cider.  Not only does it look neat on the porch, but it’s functional.   I read up on making great cider.  We cut up our apples into small pieces and put them in the press and ta-dah!  We had apple cider!  ?  We wish…. We cut up each apple into about 8-10 pieces, put into the press and pressed and pressed and pressed.  Drip, drip…  hum…  Out of a bushel of apple we ended up with not even a quart of hard-earned juice.   Since then we purchased a fruit crusher.  This made our job much easier.  We cut the apples into quarters for the smaller ones and eighths for the bigger apples.  We ran them through the crusher.  The crusher just simply mashes up the apples into a smaller, juicer, softer form.  Once crushed they go into the press.  Stems, seeds, skins and all.  When the apples have been through a crusher they produce so much more cider and the crank turns so much easier.  Once you see that liquid gold come out of the spout from the press, your work has become pleasure.  You can line your apple press with cheese cloth, but I don’t.  It does help hold in all the pulp better.  We get about 3 1/2 gallons to two bushel doing it this way.  Of course this will depend on the type of apples used and if we let them sweat or not. Once we have pressed all the apples, I  strain the cider and pour it into half-gallon Ball jars.  I freeze most of it so we will have apple cider all year.  Leave a space for expansion.  Fresh apple cider will only last about a week in the refrigerator so don’t forget to use it up.  Well, how could you?

What should you do with all that leftover mess?  The leftovers, skins, cores, seeds, stems and pulp is called “Pomace”.  Fern my cow and Ivy my goat are delighted to see this rare treat.  Stock relishes pomace, but if you have large amounts you shouldn’t feed it all to them at once because it can cause diarrhea.  It can be kept in a cool place for a day or just toss the rest into the compost pile and mix it in. 

Apple Types for Making Cider

 A sweet and tart mix of apples seem to always turn out the best tasting.  There are thousand of apple varieties and just to grab a mix will sometimes give you an overpowering taste.  It really seems to have some science to getting just the right blend.  I asked an old-time apple farmers and cider maker what his mix is and he so kindly shared his knowledge.  2 parts Winesap, 1 part Johnathan and 1 part Red delicious.  This is a great combo, but me being me, I always add a few different types of odd ball apples in the batch.  This year I added 6-8 apple of these varieties;  Pink Airlee, Banana and Fuji.  With just these few additions, our cider seemed to have a little more mellow flavor.   Always use mature, ripe, sound apples.  Do not use unripe or windfalls.  Immature apple make inferior cider and windfalls are loaded with undesirable bacteria which will contribute unpleasant off-flavored juice.  One trick I have learned to get the most out of your apples is to let them sit, or “sweat” for a week or so.  This will mellow and improve the flavor of the cider as well as increase the yield.  Make sure you clean your apple well and get organic if possible. 

Hot Cider, or also Known as Wassail

On cold nights I love make up a batch of hot sipping cider.  I love the taste from our homemade cider so much better than the store grade.  Besides, it’s so much better for you, but if you don’t make your own, look for cider and not the juice.  I never measure, so you don’t have to be exact with this and all of the spices are whole.  2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves, 2 star anise, 10 allspice,  1-2 T dried orange peel.   If you don’t have dried orange peel you can use clean fresh orange peels or even add fresh orange juice.  About a 1/2 cup should do it.  Put all the spices into a piece of 6×6″ cheese cloth, tie off and toss in 1/2 gallon of cider.  Add 2-3 T brown sugar or honey can be used, depending on your taste and simmer for about 10 minutes.  I don’t think I have ever timed it.  I just wait until it smells good!

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Growing & Preserving Currants

Have you thought about growing currants?  Currants are prized for their distinctive flavor in juice, jam, jelly, pies  and desserts.  They are rich in Vitamin C.  The smell of the blossoms in the spring have a heavenly sweet fruity scent that make you want to park yourself with a good book and a chair right next to them.  If you don’t grow them for the fruit, you should just for the smell!  You can pick from black, red or white currants.  Try a few of each!

Currants are cold hardy and they will grow in most areas.  If you live in area like I do here in Southern Utah, picking your spot where they receive dappled light and afternoon shade is best.  Our temperatures can reach in the triple digits for three months straight, and the direct sun isn’t the best growing conditions for currants with high temperatures like that.  Cooler temps, full sun is fine.  Soil is important for your currants.  They don’t like to  live in clay soil and sandy soil drains to quickly, so amending the soil is a must.  Add compost and peat moss to the planting spot to give your currants a nice home.  Currants can live to 10-15 years.  So pick your spot wisely.

I fertilize with an organic food called Acid Mix.  It not only feeds the plants, but also helps lower the pH.  If your pH is already low I would just use an All Purpose fertilizer.  Currants like a pH in a range of 5.5 to 7.o. I like to apply fertilizer in March when buds are swelling and again in mid-May to give the fruit a boost. I just sprinkle a cup around each base and cover with a layer of compost and water in.  Side dressing with compost through the year will improve growth and plant vigor.

If you live in a low rain fall area make sure your currants get adequate water supply from bloom time until the end of harvest.  Add enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, then let the soil dry out somewhat before you water again.  Excessive water may suffocate the roots.

Prune when the plants are dormant in late winter.  Don’t over prune!  Black currants produce best on 1-year-old wood whereas red currants produce most of their fruit on 2 – and 3-year old wood.  Currants can be grown as a fan-shaped bush on a trellis.  Plants trained this way look attractive and produce a good crop of well-colored fruit.

Currants will start to produce a light crop the year after planting.  I like to purchase 2-year-old bushes to get a head start. The berries will ripen over a 2-week period.  By the time they reach 3-4 years  plants can bear full crops.  A yield of 4 to 6 quarts per mature bush.

Make More!  You can propagate currants from 1-year-old wood during the dormant season.  Make cuttings from 6 to 8 inch long pieces.  Make a flat bottom cut just below a bud, and slanted top cut about 1/2 inch about a bud.  Dip each bottom end into a rooting compound and set them into well-drained soil in a greenhouse.  keep moist and out of direct light.  I cover mine with a shade cloth.  Come spring time you will have roots forming and you can transplant carefully into a larger pot or outside when the weather warms.

Currants are generally self-fertile, and you only need one cultivar for fruit production.  However, both black and red  will produce larger fruit if you plant more than one cultivar and have cross-pollination.  So this is your excuse to have more than more variety!

Dried currants are as easy as picking the fruit and letting it dry.  They are like raisins, only better!  I like to use the black currants for drying.  Just simply pick the ripe fruit, wash and set in a food dryer.  If the weather is warm and dry I like to use my outside hanging rack.  Otherwise if it’s  humid I will use my electric dehydrator.

Red Currant Jelly

4 pounds red currants, 4 3/4 cups granulated sugar, 7 oz water, juice of 1 small lemon.  Rinse the currant in cold water, stem them.  Put them into a preserving pan and bring to a boil with the water.  Cover th pan and let the berries soften over low heat for 5 min.  Collect the juice by pouring this preparation into a fine chinois sieve, pressing the fruit lightly with the back of a skimmer.  Now filter the juice again by pouring through a cheesecloth that you have wet and wrung out.  Pour the juice into a preserving pan with the lemon juice and sugar.  Boil for 5 min.  Skim carefully. Check the set.  Put the jelly into jars immediately and seal.  makes about 4 1/2 cups of the most beautiful jelly ever!

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Preserving Peas

Think back to the time when you were a kid and you and your mom would sit on the porch on an early summer evening, shelling peas for winter storage.  Okay, this never really happen in my life because the peas never made as far as the kitchen, but this is something that I think of as a past time from generations before.  Simple life, simple pleasures bring me happiness just by the thought of it.  I have, at times with my own children experienced something of the sort.  Of course most of the time peas were consumed by my kids and their cousins sitting in the pea patch for hours making simple talk, enjoying each other and the sunshine during early summer months.  When I could preserve peas I would never “can” them.  If all you have ever had is canned peas and you despise them, I can understand.  Truthfully I think canned peas don’t have any place on this planet!  Fresh is alway best, but come winter months and you just want a couple handfuls for your soup or pot pie, freezing them is the next best option.

A couple of steps will help you have success in preserving your bountiful harvest of shelling peas.

Pick peas early in the morning hours.  This is when they are  at their best and sweetest.  Rinse if they are dirty.  Shell simply by pressing your thumb into the seam and popping it open.  Get some water boiling for blanching. Peas (and other veggies) contain enzymes and bacteria that break down over time destroying nutrients and change the color, flavor, and texture of food during frozen storage. peas requires a brief heat treatment, called  blanching, which is done in boiling water to destroy the enzymes before freezing. Get another bowl with ice water ready for cooling the peas off quickly.   This stops the cooking process.  Pour peas into boiling water and blanch for no more than 90 seconds.  Quickly drain (they smell so good)  into a colander and then immediately into the ice bath.  Let them stay in there for another 90 second.  Drain well.  I then put them on a baking sheet covered with wax paper or parchment.  Spread them out so they don’t touch each other for the most part.  Freeze for 15 to 30 min.  This will make them easy to use so they aren’t in a big clump in a bag.  I use this method of freezing for most things that come from the garden.  I seal mine with a vacuum sealer.  Date and once again freeze.  Peas should be used within a year for freshest taste.  Enjoy!

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