Friday, July 27, 2012

Canning: Diced tomatoes and chilies.

Tomatoes were the very first thing I ever canned.  Strawberry jam was second, and then I think a homemade version of Rotel was next.  We use a fair amount of Rotel at our house so this was something I wanted to can for myself.  Here's how I do it.
I start with my peppers. Give them a rinse and pat them dry. 
I usually use green cayenne, but I've used other hot peppers too.  
You could let the peppers get red, but I like the color contrast of the red and green.
I actually used nearly twice as many as are pictured here for the eight pints I canned that day.
Cut off the ends, split lengthwise down the pepper and then, using a very small, metal measuring spoon, scrape out the seeds and membranes.  Unless you like your tomatoes and chilies very hot, then, by all means, leave them in.  We like it on the mild to medium side.
Oh - and be sure to wear gloves during this part.  You don't want all that capsaicin getting into your skin.  It will burn your fingers and doesn't just come off when you wash your hands.
Chop them pretty small.
While I was working on the peppers, Kay, Bree and Beenie were peeling and chopping the tomatoes.  I thought I had a picture somewhere of how we do this, but I couldn't find it.  We cut a small x in the blossom end of each tomato and dip several at a time in boiling water. In just a minute or two, the skin will split and you can pull them out of the pot and quickly place them in ice water to cool them down.  The skin will slide right off and then you can dice them.
Now we need to get the canner and jars ready.
While the canner and jars are heating, set a small pot of water on to boil (for your lids), another for topping off the jars, and get your work area ready.  My kettle of boiling water is off to the side in this shot.  You'll need your tomatoes, peppers, lemon juice, salt, lids, rings, pot of water for the lids, kettle of  water for the jars, funnel, magnetic lid wand, a wash cloth and a few measuring spoons - a tablespoon, teaspoon, and 1/2 teaspoon.  You'll also need something to get out air bubbles, and I like this little tool (right beside the lid wand) that has cuts in it to show headspace allowances.  I assemble everything on a cutting board or towel because my counters tops are granite.  If I put hot jars directly on my counter tops, the cold stone will cause the jars to break.
As soon as the small pot comes to a boil, pull it off to a trivet beside your work area and get your lids put in.
Using a slotted spoon to strain off excess juice, put a few tomatoes in the jar.  Then add a tablespoon of lemon juice (for a pint - use 2Tbls for a quart).  I put a spoon of room temperature tomatoes in first so the lemon juice, which has usually been in the fridge, won't crack the jar.  Then fill the jar halfway with tomatoes, pressing them down, and add 2, very heaping teaspoons of the peppers.  
Finish filling the jar to the neck with tomatoes, pressing them down, then pour in your boiling water, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Finally, add 1/2tsp salt (for a pint - use 1tsp for a quart).
Wipe your rims, checking for any chips, put on your lid, screw the ring on finger tight and put them in the canner.  I like to let them sit above the simmering water for a few minutes before I lower them in.  It helps to keep the jars from breaking once they're in the pot.  I have had jar casualties before, and this helps prevent that. 
You'll process these for 40 minutes (for pints - 45 min. for quarts), once the canner has reached a full boil, with steam escaping from under the lid.
Remove them to a towel to cool overnight.  
The next morning, remove the rings and check the seal.  You may need to wipe the outside of the jar before storing these.

Some of our favorite ways to use these are in chili, and our cheese dip.

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving.  Stop by and check her out.

I've also linked up with the Homestead Bar Hop.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blackwork that's not black

I first came across blackwork several years ago.  I love it.  Simple stitches form an often delicate, repetitive design, that gives an overall appearance of something quite complex.  One of the things that I like the most about it is that once you work a complete section of the design, you don't need to keep the pattern with you.  And since the pieces are often on the small side, and only use one color, they are easy to pack up and take along if you need something to keep you busy while you wait for haircuts, oil changes, guitar lessons, etc.

Blackwork gets it's name from the fact that it was traditionally worked with black, silk thread, but the first time I ever saw one of the patterns I thought, "Oh wow - wouldn't that look great in blue, or red, or..."  Don't get me wrong, the black is pretty, and often very striking, but to date, I've always used some other color for the pieces I've done.

Back in November, when we held our Mad Hatter Tea Party, some of the gifts we made to give as prizes were bookmarks made using blackwork designs.  My mother happened to receive one of these and was thrilled with it.  In fact, she was so happy with it that she brought it back.  It seems she thought it was too pretty to use as a bookmark, so she wanted two more made.  She then wanted all three of them mounted and framed so she could hang them on wall at her house.  And so it began.  The big problem was that all the bookmarks had been made from scraps of cross-stitch material and lace that I had lying around.  I couldn't find material in quite the same shade as the bookmark she had, and my slightly OCD tendencies prevented me from using completely different colors.  I ended up hunting some down on the internet that was close to what I had used.
The blue is the bookmark Mom won.  It was stitched by several of us.  When one person had to put it down to do something else, another person would pick it up and work on it for awhile.  I think Ri, Lys, and I all worked on it.  Bree may have had a hand in it too. When we went to make the others, I did the red and Ri the green.  We picked other patterns that we thought had the same feel to them.  Since I had the original, I was able to make it almost exactly the same size, and though we tried to give Ri the proper count for the green one, it turns out the count of the fabric must have been different.  She was able to correct the width, but by the time I thought about the length also needing to be changed, she had worked a small border and it would have been impossible to change the length without ripping out all her work.  That's okay.  A wider lace trim brought the measurement close enough.

The blackwork looks great done up in other colors.  I'd love to work it up as a trim on an apron, or maybe a tote or something one day.  And who knows; maybe I'll actually work it up in black sometime.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Canning: Blueberry Syrup

We've picked a lot of blueberries this year.  A total of about 6 gallons.  Most of them have been frozen so we'll have them on hand for blueberry muffins, smoothies, or mixing them, still frozen, into our applesauce.  But, this weekend I gave a try to making blueberry syrup.  Since blueberries are higher in pectin than other berries, you don't cook it very long or you end up with jelly.  And I speak from experience - I have several jars of blueberry jelly in my cabinet right now to prove it.  :D  After the jelly making episode, I looked around for other recipes.  I ended up making some changes to one of  the recipes I found that didn't use at least a cup of sugar for each cup of juice. This is what I ultimately used.

Blueberry Syrup
10c. blueberries
2c. water for cooking the berries
4c. water for the sugar solution
3c. sugar
1 lemon

Mix the blueberries and 2c. of water in a large pot and cook for 10 -15 min.  Most recipes tell you to mash the berries, one layer at a time as you add them to the pot, but blueberries are a little tough to try and mash.  I let them cook a bit first because it breaks them down some, then I mash them while they cook.  It just seems much easier that way for me. Once they have cooked awhile, I run them through my food mill to get all the juice.  Blueberry syrup is so dark it's okay to get the very fine pulp in with it.  You could press them through a sieve if you don't have a food mill, or you could drain them through cheesecloth or a jelly bag.  Whatever way you do it, press as much juice as possible out of the berries. I ran them through my Roma food mill three times. 
Next, clean out your large pot and thinly slice the peel off the lemon, making sure not to get the white part of the rind.  Put the 4c. water, sugar, and lemon peel in the pot and bring the solution to a boil.  Boil for approx. 15min. or until the syrup reads 225 degrees on a thermometer.  While this cooks, juice the lemon.  Once the syrup is ready, fish out the lemon peel and add the blueberry and lemon juice to the pot. Boil for 2 minutes once it returns to a boil. If the solutions starts to form a lump in the pan while your pouring in the juice, just keep cooking it.  The mass will dissolve. This may have only happened to me because my juice was made on Saturday and held in the fridge until Sunday afternoon when I had the time to make the syrup, so it was cold.  I don't know, but it didn't really hurt the final product.
Ladle the syrup into sterilized, half-pint jars, leaving 1/4" headspace, wipe rims, add lids and rings and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes once the water reaches a full boil and steam is escaping from under the lid.
There's not a huge amount of sugar in this, so it's not overly sweet, which I like.
I should also add that it is absolutely delicious over vanilla ice cream.

This recipe made almost 9 half-pints.  The ninth jar was nearly full, but since I wanted to taste it, I didn't bother putting it in the canner.  You could easily halve this recipe if you wanted.

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving.  Check her site out some time.  There are some great links. 

I've also linked with the Homestead Barn Hop.  They also have a lot of great links.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some more wedding photos.

Wow - it's been almost a month since Ri got married.  Time does skip ahead at an ever increasing rate.  We've had access to some of these photos for a couple of weeks, but I couldn't post them because I needed Ri to show me how to download them from where they were at, to my computer, so I could put them here.  So here goes.
Bias has nothing to do with it - she's beautiful.
The flowers at the waist were the only decoration on her chiffon dress.
Simple, elegant, very Ri.
T.Lynn was helping Ri on with her necklace.
The florist did an excellent job on the bouquets.
Just above Ri's fingers, you can see the pendant that we wrapped around her bouquet.  
This was a necklace that was given to my great-grandmother when she was a baby - roughly 118 years ago.  My great-grandmother said the marks on the back were from her teething on it.  She passed away when I was 18, so I remember her very well.  We took it off the necklace and threaded it on green ribbon; I figured it would be safer that way.  It fit the bill for something blue, and most definitely for something old.
They decided to use a unity sand ceremony in place of the unity candle.  I liked the symbolism of the mingling sand even better than the lighted candle and we were able to put white sand in the bottom to symbolize Jesus as the foundation upon which they intend to base their marriage.  It was beautiful.
Horsing around during picture taking.
This was my favorite picture of their rings.
This willow tree was a gift from him.
The reception hall we used was lovely.
Each table had a bit of nubby weave linen fabric that closely resembled burlap (but without the smell), piled in the center with a basket full of favors, and a bud vase with a yellow flower in it.  Simple, but pretty.
Lots of food.  Thank you girls for all your hard work!
There was a separate table for the punch and cake.
They also wanted a remembrance table with pictures of all the grandparents they knew and loved, but that have passed on.  Her bouquet was placed in the vase on the back when she arrived at the reception.  Part of the words on the plaque at the top are a Shakespeare quote:  "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember."  And of course, the plant on the table is rosemary.  The willow tree figurine is the "Angel of Remembrance."
Cutting the cake.
Feeding each other was definitely more civil here than I've seen at other weddings.
Next step - life!
Congratulations again to my gorgeous daughter and her sweetheart of a husband.

As I type this, my baby, T.Lynn, is spending the next couple of nights with them at his suggestion.  He knows how much she loves her big sister, and he knows how lonely his lovely wife gets now that she doesn't have all four of her siblings around her constantly.  

I am blessed to be able to entrust my precious daughter to such a wonderful man.
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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Preserving the Harvest

This week has been pretty busy.  I did want to spend part of the summer reorganizing things in the house, and I have done a little of that, but cleaning the closet will wait, ripe fruit and vegetables will not.  With that in mind, I've spent a good part of the week preserving food and keeping on top of the garden.  The last of the onions have come out, so limas were planted.  We're getting plenty of cukes, and some of the tomatoes are ripening.  We've also been able to pick radishes, zucchini, and green beans.  We anxiously await all the watermelon that look so adorable right now, are happy that the okra is finally blooming, and can't wait to see how the corn and potatoes turn out. 
This is the largest of the watermelon. The pic was taken more than a week ago, so it's bigger now.
We choose to plant Sugar Baby this year.
Some of the zucchini has already made it through the food processor and into the freezer.
I love using the processor for this.  The grating blade makes very short work of the zucchini.
It's great to keep this on hand for zucchini bread, cake and muffins, but I also like to put shredded zucchini in soups, stews, and meatloaf.  You could probably slip it into spaghetti too, and no-one would be the wiser. Zucchini is so easy to grow, and you usually end up with a lot of it, so shredding and freezing it is an excellent way to preserve it. And keeping shredded zucchini on hand in the freezer is a perfect way to up the nutritional ante of some of your favorite dishes.
Though I didn't mention it before, we are also getting in some of the herbs.
Here we are drying sage in the dehydrator. It was finished by Saturday.
In the house we lived before, I would hang herbs to dry.  There were cut outs between the kitchen and dining room that had cross pieces to make them look like windows.  They were cute, but also useful.  That's where I used to hang my herbs.  I don't have anything like that here, and the drying rack takes up too much space to leave it out long enough for herbs to dry, so hubby got me the dehydrator.  I put it out in the garage to run so it doesn't add any heat inside the house.
We also visited a U-Pick blueberry field. 
After spreading the blueberries on cookie pans to freeze in a single layer, we bagged them up to store in the big freezer.
Well, we did that to some of them.  Others found their way into some pretty delicious jelly.
A few more pints of green beans were picked and processed earlier that day and stand in the back.  They've been added in with what was canned earlier in the week.

Learning to preserve the harvest is invaluable.  I would encourage everyone to do it.

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving,

and with the Homestead Barn Hop.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lilla Rose giveaway

Amy, at Homestead Revival, is hosting a Lilla Rose giveaway.  If you've never seen these hair accessories, you should check them out.  They are beautiful.
The clock is ticking.  She is only hosting this giveaway today, but from what I understand, she'll be having some other giveaways in the next few days.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Canning Chicken Stock

I'm so excited; I finally got around to using my pressure canner.  I know, this doesn't exactly seem like earth shattering news, but I've been a little hesitant because we have a glass top stove, and you're not supposed to can on them.  I have a friend that pressure cans on her glass top, but her canner is smaller than the one Mom gave me for Christmas, so I was still a little freaked out.  However, I argued logically with myself that I already water bath can on it, and it always does fine, so I pulled out the pressure canner and tried to see if it would be heavier than the water bath canner.  It wasn't.  Even though the pressure canner is quite a bit heavier than the water bath canner while they are empty, once you've had to fill the water bath with enough water to cover full, quart sized jars, it's heavier than the pressure canner filled with the requisite 1 &1/2" of water (measured before putting the jars in), and filled, quart jars.  And since the pressure canner isn't quiet as big around as the water bath either, I figured that eliminated the argument of the canner overhanging the eye.  So I forged ahead and canned the last batch of chicken stock I made.  Since we use chicken stock for a lot of things, I don't like making it in small batches.  It doesn't take any longer to make it in a large batch, and you've got a nice supply for the future.  Here is a link to a previous post on how I like to make it.  Gotta love big roaster ovens.  *I should probably add a disclaimer in here that I can't officially endorse canning on a glass top stove, so, there you go; I said it.*
Once the stock was done, I refrigerated it overnight to solidify the fat on the top so it could be removed, then I put it all in my biggest stock pot and brought it back up to a boil before ladling it in the jars.
Then, into the canner.
I have to admit that I was still a little nervous during that first batch,
but everything turned out fine.
We got 14 quarts of chicken stock, and the best part is, I don't have to make room for them in the freezer.
I know - it's dark for chicken stock, but my earlier post explains why. The stuff floating around in the jars (it settled to the bottom by the next morning) was because I had run out of cheesecloth, so the stock could only be strained through my finest mesh strainers.  They did a fairly good job, but there were some tiny bits left. 

Now I can't wait to make up a batch of beef stock, but I may wait until I've bought some cheesecloth.

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Urban Gardening

I will admit to being very blessed when it comes to the size of my yard.  We may not live in the country anymore, with acres for the children to run around in, but if we have to live just outside a fairly large city, at least we do have decent sized yards.  None of the properties in our development have lots smaller than one acre, and many are larger.  While there are some restrictions within the homeowners association with regard to what you can do on your property (ugh - they are highly restrictive of clotheslines), it doesn't restrict gardens, and several families in the neighborhood enjoy that as much as I do.  In fact, I read the restriction list through twice before we agreed to buy the house, just to make sure I could plant a garden.
The key to urban gardening though, is to make the best use of limited space.  While I certainly have more space than many urban gardeners, I can't just tear up the entire backyard and turn it into a garden.  For one, my hubby wouldn't like that - he wants to make sure the kids have plenty of room to play.  And, though the HOA doesn't restrict gardens, they do have a provision that says you have to keep your lawn attractive, and I'm not sure they would deem a plot of corn in the front yard attractive (beauty is in the eye of the beholder).  Also, while corn is a member of the grass family, it exceeds the maximum height they'll allow the grass to get by just a little. Thankfully, these restrictions don't really apply to the backyards - things just have to look "good from the road." (I'll just have to live with the shallowness of that.)
We've tried to make the most of our space by choosing a spot in the yard that didn't impede foot traffic, and was relatively out of the way for when the girls play in the back.  They are getting older now and don't do that as much anyway, but they've moved some of those games to the front yard as the garden grew in size.  Gotta love those girls.  We have also utilized the area around our deck, using the deck itself as a support system for vining plants, as an additional area to plant veggies and flowers.  I've found out that the small bed along one side of the back of the house is great for growing herbs, and the north side of the deck is perfect for shading mints.  I've also planted a few things among the flowers in the front beds and gotten away with it.
The newest picture of the main garden. I'll have to get pics of the other beds soon.
  We do try to keep it nice looking (oops - gotta fix that weed mat by the strawberry bed).  We don't want any complaints from the neighbors, and all our backyards open up on one another, so there would be no hiding it if we were negligent.
The mow line, you can see it between our garden and the neighbor's tree, roughly marks the edge of our property.  As you can tell (though the pic doesn't do justice to the true length), there's still room to put in more beds without moving the beds further into the backyard.

Future plans include planting blueberry bushes in the beds along the front of the house.  We pulled all the regular shrubs out this spring, and laid weed mat and pine needles in preparation for putting the blueberries in this fall if we can manage it.  We also want to plant several fruit trees in the back corners of our yard.  We love the little wooded area for the shade it offers the back, but there is some room to each side of that where we could put the new trees.  We might be able to put some on the north side of the house too, but we need utility workers to come mark where any lines have been buried before we can really plan that out.  Same for the front yard.  I'd like to plant blackberries in a line from the back corner of the house to the property line (on the north side, opposite the side with the driveway), effectively delineating the side yard from the back yard.  I think I could use this living fence as a way to help hide compost bins from view by most of the neighbors.  I would also love to have a small greenhouse, but that is something that would definitely have to be approved by the HOA.

I may have a large yard, and I am truly thankful for that, but all of these plans try to balance my desire to produce as much of my own food as possible, with the desire not to alienate any of the neighbors by turning the yard into what others could see as an eyesore.  We have some really good neighbors, and we knew the HOA rules before we bought the house, so we need to be respectful of the regulations and our neighbors by creatively using our space; keeping the area that can look like a garden neat, and finding ways to grow food in an attractive way that mimics standard plantings - like using the blueberries instead of regular shrubs for the foundation plantings.  
I'm not the only one in my family to have to find room for a garden.  Both my brothers and one of my cousins all have to fit gardens in restricted areas.  My younger brother utilizes the only area available to him by growing what veggies he can in pots on his deck.  You can see some of what he's done here, and here.  In the second link, the photos of his space saving ideas are near the bottom of the post.

Earlier this year I shared some of my favorite quotes on gardening.  Included was this one by Spencer W. Kimball: "Where you have a plot of land, however small, plant a garden.  Staying close to the soil is good for the soul."  I agree with this 100%.  There's immense satisfaction in producing your own food, or even your own flowers.  And that early morning watering time is a great time to pray.

I've linked this post with the Homestead Barn Hop.  As usual, there are some great links.

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