Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paneer and more wine

On my 2013 to-do list was to learn how to make cheese. I kept putting it off this summer as the garden was pressing and then I had a bit of burn out this fall after processing the harvest. But, with the new year at hand, I decided to try making paneer last night. 

Paneer looks to be the easiest of the cheeses to make: mix very warm milk and lemon juice and voila--cheese forms!

A quick drain separates the curds and whey.

Some more draining, pressing and I ended up with 25 cubic includes of paneer from 4 litres of 2% milk. Tastes just like store bought but took less time to make than go buy. I'll be cubing and freezing half this morning. the rest I will chill until I make some veggie-friend butter "chicken" in the crockpot on  Friday. I've reserved some whey to try and make a lemon-whey pie today.

In the basement, we have another batch of wine (Malbec) on the go. We're almost through last year's wine and I'd like to have something to supplement the cider. This kit came with skins (fancy, fancy) so it should have a more complex flavour than last year's entry-level Pinot Noir kit.

Although the snow is deep, Jess and I have started mulling the spring planting. More onions and garlic and beets top the list. We're still eating primarily vegetables from the garden but I wonder if we can grow enough root vegetables to get throughout he whole winter next year. also we need to make more crab apple jelly.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Cold temperatures allowed us to move the left-over apple cider outside to make applejack. We concentrated 8 litres down to about 2 litres. If the apple cider was 8 or 9% to begin with (a guess based on how it affected me), this will be in the 32-36% range.

It tastes fairly good--clearly apple-based and with a bit of a kick. An interesting sipping experience. I'm not sure what to do with 2 litres. I wonder if there are cocktail recipes? The apple cider vinegar continues to ferment. It certainly smells vinegary but I'm not getting much acidity in the taste and very little mother of vinegar has formed on the top. Maybe a shot of cider vinegar might kick things along?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wrapping up cidering

With an extra day this weekend, I decided we'd wrap up the cidering in the basement by transferring the carboy I was bulk aging into bottles. This was also motivated by my wife's query as to what all of these empty bottle were for. 

Jess helped, providing the sharp eyes necessary to fill the bottles without over-filling. We also put 8 litres in pails to make applejack with (the weather "co-operating"--i.e., being -17C). These should freeze up over the next few days and concentrate the booze.

In the meantime, we have apple cider fermenting in the cupboard. While I think I will hold off on another round of wine making (although there all these empty bottle...), I may put some of the spring's pinot noir out to vinegar.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sugar from sugar beets?

One of my projects for this year was to see if I could get some sugar from sugar beets. After sourcing some seeds online and growing a 6x3' bed, I ended up with a good sized pot after I topped, skinned and cubed them (took about an hour). In the picture below, the beets are just barely covered with water (wine bottle for scale--it was a lot of beets!). 

According to the instructions I found, the way to do this at home is to boil them for about an hour, separate the sugar-filled beet water from the beets (which can then be used or composted) and boil the water down. Once you have concentrated the juice (another two hours of simmering), you let it sit and the sugar slowly crystallized out. I ended up with two quarts of concentrate.

The instructions were vague about whether refrigeration is necessary. My guess is yes as otherwise the sugar-water will start to ferment (making a nasty-tasting quasi-rum, I'm told). I did have a taste of the concentrate and it has a distinct beetish taste that I hope will be left behind when the sugar crystals form! All told, a nice project for the first snowy day of fall, but getting sugar from beehives has to be a lot easier!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sugar beets, cider vinegar and tree removal

With snow predicted for tomorrow, it has been a busy day in the yard. I finally pulled the sugar beets from behind the garage. I got a pretty good haul from a 6x3' bed. Maybe 25 pounds?

The beets had quite a range of sizes. This is the largest (for scale, span of my thumb to pinky is 9 inches) and they few I have sampled are nice and sweet. My plan is to cook these down tomorrow while snow falls outside. I think this is the last of the produce, although I saw three stray beets in one of the beds while I was raking leaves.

We've been smelling the surplus apple cider turn to vinegar this week and we finally have some mother of vinegar forming on the top of both jars. I'm quite keen for this to work and perhaps sacrifice some of my surplus home-made wine to a similar process.

This morning the tree cutters arrived to take out the diseased mountain ash that used to reside to the left of the sidewalk. I was sad to see the tree go and it really changes the complexion of the front yard. We'll be growing corn and pumpkins on the left and potatoes on the right. I may also drop a cherry bush or two into the hedge (which is cotoneaster and suffers from rust).

While the tree guys were chopping, I was electrifying the Xmas lights and I think we're basically good to go. I still have some lime and bone meal to spread on the beds before dark so back out I go after a cup of coffee.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

More cidering

Both of the carboys of cider had finished their secondary ferment this week and I decided to shift some stuff around. Racking them off had opened up a fair bit of air space in each carboy (as some of the cider was left behind each time) and I was worried about air contamination. So I combined both carboys into one that I will bulk age for a few months and then bottle (and try my hand at apple jack) in January.

That left me with about 9 litres of cider, so this afternoon we bottled a bunch. I recruited some willing hands to help with the booze ("best playdate ever!"). I got to try out my new capper and we have about 7 litres carbonating in the basement.

The remainder came upstairs. Jenn and I sampled some at lunch (it is surprisingly strong!). The taste was good, especially cut with a tiny bit of pop to sweeten it a bit (it cidered dry).

We then put nearly two litres away in the cupboard to see if we could make apple vinegar. After that it was back out to the garden to dig in some of the leaves in the front and generally putter. Apparently I forgot to freeze rhubarb this summer so I had to rescue a bunch from the plants to make pie this evening.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pumpkin pie for dinner

We're having my in-laws over for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow so I made a pie from scratch tis morning. After several years of unsatisfactory spicing, I think I have finally hit upon the proportions I like and this tastes delicious! The glass pie plate also seems to help the crust brown evenly.

The leaves are finally starting to fall so we'll be raking and putting up Xmas lights tomorrow. I have a few more garden beds to dig but I have finished most of the work in the front yard.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Last of the preserves and garden renovations

Jess and I spent a chilly half hour Friday night after dinner gathering the last of the crab apples on a tree I spotted while riding my bike. We then processed them and put up some jelly--likely the last of the preserves unless I get a donation of something late in the season. These gelled nicely and taste fantastic! I also bought some bags of cranberries and froze them for muffins during the winter.

Then we went to work in the yard. We've got 75-odd feet of rows done and ready for the spring next to the garage. In the foreground in out nascent asparagus patch I put in this spring.

So we put our efforts this weekend into duplicating the rows in the gardebn on the north side of the lot. We're close to finished, with three 25-foot rows that just some amending and a few late-season beets to pull at some point.

The strawberry patch is also still producing. But beyond some lettuce and a small bed of sugar beets, we're basically done harvesting for the season.

The next step is to refurbish a few more beds before the snow flies and have a tree removed (hopefully this week) in the front.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Rose-hip jelly

Monday night we turned some of the rose hips we gathered into jelly. I used an internet recipe requiring pectin. The taste is fine (citrus-y) and the colour is lovely but the jelly did not set up at all. My sense is that this was a bad recipe (such is the internet!). It is a nice syrup to add to oatmeal, though.

With the weather turning autumnal (mostly rain, which is welcomed), I think we'll focus on pulling in the rest of the root crops (beets and carrots, mostly) and readying the beds for next year. I've called an arborist to quote on cutting down a diseased mountain ash our front and topping an ornamental cherry in the back.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rose hips, cider and pumpkins

We've had a couple of really hard frosts this week that have finished off a number of plants in the back yard. The good news is that autumns brings with it new things to forage.

Jess and I went out after some rose hips this week. In the past, we've gathered high-bush cranberries and chokecherries, but she was keen to try rose-hip jelly and dried rose hips for tea this year.

Picking was easy as the valley is lousy with various rose plants. We haven't done much with the berries so far but I promised to jelly this afternoon. I also cut a few to give the tea a try.

In the basement, the cidering continues. On the left we have a batch that just finished the first ferment. The carboy is picking up some colour from the walls, but it is fairly pulpy after racking it off from the primary.

The carboy on the right has finished the second ferment, been racked off (leaving behind much of the pulp and yeast) and is bulk aging. You can (sort of) see the more jewel-like quality of its colour after six weeks of fermenting and clarifying.

I learned a lot this year about cidering, including the need for slightly more apples to get full carboys. The bunch on the left is also much nicer, being a blend of apples (better bouquet). A bit of mixing is likely in order once the fermenting finishes. We may try to make vinegar out of some after bottling the rest.

The frost melted the squash patch on Friday morning so we hauled the one big (20lbs) pumpkin we got in to harden up some for a jack-o-lantern. We bought a couple of smaller pumpkins and processed them for muffins during the winter. I've also gotten my bread pans out. If the rain stops today, I plan to harvest the rest of the beets and work on the last remaining big bed. I'm also going to call for a tree removal estimate this week out front so we can finish the landscaping out there before the snow flies.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Potato harvest

The potato patch has pretty much died back and I'm keen to get the beds reorganized for next year so we went out last night to dig Russian blues.

Jess was excited as we got a good haul. The potatoes were, on average, smaller than the blue caribe and they grew in a more diffuse manner. I'm not sure we'd grow these again next year--I might like to try something a bit more traditional.

In any event, these are on the back deck hardening up a bit along prior to storage. Alongside are a bunch of sunflower heads I cut off last night. These are Himalayan giants and the stalks and heads live up to their name. I'm reaching up about seven feet in the photo below and we'll be saving some seed for next year.

Poking around out back I see some of the garlic we planted a few weeks ago is up. And the photo also suggests the bed needs a bit of weeding!

As we were hauling in the last of the tomatoes and goodly amount of beans, I noticed the butternut squash plant finally produced some fruit! This plant got hailed into oblivion this summer so I'm surprised it survive, let along fruited. I expect we're too late in the season to get anything other than a couple of novelty gourds from it.

I've spent the day over-roasting tomatoes and I'm hopeful we'll get a chance to go rosehip and crab apple picking this week. It also looks like the second batch for apple cider is finishing the first ferment so I will likely rack it off to a carboy this weekend.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jasper community garden

I love community gardens and I got a chance to wander through the Jasper community garden this weekend. The Jasper garden is the work of the Jasper Local Food Society.

It is amazing to see such a diverse set of gardens in a location with such a short growing season. There are about 50 beds here and many folks have expanded beyond their bed by colonizing grassy areas between their bed and the fence. Some stuff struggled (corn, for example) but all of the usual suspects seemed to be doing quite well.

The fence is also impressive, keeping out the local elk population. An elf fence puts my own woes with slugs in context, doesn't it? :)

Even with snow dusting the peaks on Sunday morning, there were gardens full of frost hardy plants (as well as lots of tomatoes). Now back to my own potato digging!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Roasted roots with Russian blue

I pulled the first Russian blue potatoes out of the ground this afternoon (plats are dying off) and threw them into some roasted roots for dinner tonight. They are the mauve-ish chunks with the black skin, not the reddish beets. All told, a colourful dish all from the garden.

There is a tiny bit of scab on these so no luck using them as seed for next year. But the haul looks good so we'll eat well for the autumn. I've also canned some more salsa and brought the tomatoes on the window sill down to manageable numbers. Today was the first day it felt like fall and I'm now motivated to get moving on finishing up a few more beds.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cider, tomatoes, pumpkin and soil

It has been a busy week, capped off by a morning of cidering in the garage. I managed to press another four gallons and it is in the basement fermenting. Different apples yielded a much sweeter cider, with a higher specific gravity. I decided against killing the natural yeast but I did hit it with some store-bought yeast as well. Fingers crossed. Of course, apple cider vinegar is also nice... .

I did a small fruit pick this weekfor Operation Fruit Rescue and also turned 60 medium-sized paste tomatoes into five 500ml jars of tomatoes for the winter. Each time I make preserves I reminded how convenient it is to go to the store and but a flat of 26oz cans of whatever I want.

We dried a bunch of mint for tea and some chard and beet greens for smoothies this morning. I also brought myself to pick the final (and only) bell pepper of the summer (hail and slugs getting the rest). I see there are a few hot papers out there still.

The pumpkin patch will yield one pumpkin this year. But it is a big one (beach-ball sized) and bears the scars of eight hail storms. But no signs of rot and it is hardening up nicely.

The strawberry patch is also putting on a late-season push. The berries are not numerous but they are delicious.

And, as we harvest the veggies and open up the canopy, the marigolds are flowering again. These are brilliantly, almost impossibly orange amid the green, yellow and grays of the garden.

I know a picture of dirt is dorky, but I was putting three raised beds behind the garage down for the winter. They need a bit of bone meal and lime still, but the till of the soil is crazy good. You can stick you hand in up to your wrist before it starts to get difficult. This bed will have sugar beets next year.

I see we have another batch of tomatoes ripening on the window sill and the last of the zucchini (euthanized the plants--enough already!) so maybe I'll make salsa. Jenn made the entire dinner from our garden (roasted roots, salad) excepting some leftover biscuits I made Thursday night.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sunflowers, muffins and potatoes

I've started to cut down some of the larger sunflower heads to dry for seed next year (and to fill the feeders this winter). The birds are already pulling the seeds out which nicely shows how the flowers die off and the seeds drop out.

Jenn and Jess baked this weekend, with the back raspberries giving these muffins a dark colour. A friend has kindly donated a second chest freezer, thereby alleviating the fall freezer space crunch. I'm thinking about putting this one in the garage. If we only run it from September to March, it shouldn't add to much to the electrical bill (the unheated and insulation-free garage is cold!). It is just starting to spin up so I'll move some apples out there shortly.

It is hard to convey the size of some of Jess' potatoes. I decided to can the bigger ones and here they are against a quart (1 litre) jar for scale.

Pressure canning went well but I did have a couple of lid failures (unusual). I was careful about the jars and not over filling them. Perhaps the lids were duds. Or it was just a freak accident. Anyhow, we'll be having potatoes the next few nights to use the failed jars up.

Now off to suss out some more apples.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Garlic in, potatoes out

Before the rain drove us inside for the afternoon, Jess and I puttered for a couple of hours. She put in four heads of garlic for next year. There were two white (regular and German) and two red (Maxican and Russian?) and, since they will likely poop out in mid-July, we tried to plan ahead and put them in a spot where we could get a late crop of beets off. 

You can see the last of the potato patch behind her--these fellows still need a couple of weeks of growth and then we'll yank them out and extend the rows the full length of the bed for next year. I did quite a lot of digging last night in a different bed and can certainly feel it this morning!

We also harvested the last of the blue caribe potatoes this afternoon as well as some feral russets. The ones that overwintered in the garden produced some big ass potatoes. The one Jessica is hold is about the size of a commercial sweet potato and, even quartered, would likely be more than you'd want on your plate. 

I was thinking of canning these big ones (since they will tricky to fit into my storage space). The tiny ones I'm going to plunk in the front yard and see what happens over the winter.

We also picked some more beans, which we need to shell tonight, right after we figure out how to get the beet seeds off the stems (these have been drying in my office for a week). While we turned potatoes into salad for dinner, I hauled out the food dryer to replicate Sherri's idea for winter smoothies.

I was surprised how quickly these dried out and also how little space they took up once I crushed them. I also pulled half the celery. The slugs made a mess of the stalks (hopefully the other half is in better shape) but the leaves (leafs?) I blanched and frozen for soup stock later on. I think I'll cider next weekend so I will have some room open up in the freezer.