Thursday, August 29, 2013

Apple sauce and carrot jam

A friend kindly let us pick her apple tree last night and we ended up with about 20 gallons of golden delicious apples. These are beautiful apples--large and clear fleshed. A bit insipid as eating apples but they make a light and cheery sauce.

I started saucing this morning and we managed 7 litres before I gave up in the heat of the afternoon. We'll be back at this tomorrow though. I don't have a goal perhaps another 18 litres or so--some we'll turn into apple butter.

Jess found a recipe for carrot jam and we gave that a go. It is interesting--more like a marmalade than a jam and likely best on crackers with some cream cheese. Jess ran most of the show herself (which I watched nervously while cutting up more apples for sauce).

We also went for a walk and saw some nice acorns on the boulevard trees they have been planting in recent years.

After we came back, I sorted about five gallons of the smaller apples into a separate bin to turn into cider later on. I'm going to see if I can con Jenn into doing some peeling and cutting this weekend. We also have another pick lined up and I hope to host my first Operation Fruit Rescue Pick.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A new garden bed and zucchini relish

As summer comes towards an end, a young man's thoughts turn toward next year's garden. We have a lovely and sunny west-facing front yard, which is mostly grass and flowerbeds. And bird-seeded sunflowers, this one being more than seven feet tall.

Yet vegetables could be grown here too. And that would eliminate the need to mow the front (a thankless task). Then we could grow giant carrots like these from the back (it is nine inches long and three inches thick at the top!).

So this weekend we decided to turn the sod over rather than mow it.

Two days of work later, it was all turned and the neighbours were starting to talk.

This morning I ordered a bunch of compost and it arrived 90 minutes later! Nine yards of dirt doesn't sound like much on the phone, but it was quite a hill when it got here. Jessica's initial excitement was short-lived.

We spent the rest of the day squiring it around the yard with shovel and rake and wheelbarrow. Much was moved off to the right (another bed which is a later in autumn project). The rest was shaped into a series of rows about two-and-a-half feet wide with walkways in between.

The deep row by the city sidewalk will contain 2-3 feet of irises and then a row of veggies. The irises make a pretty border and give some separation between the city and the vegetables. The rest of the rows are for potatoes and onions next spring. Tomorrow (assuming I can lift my arms) we'll start transplanting irises from the (unpictured) iris bed on the right.

And then I made three litres of sweet zucchini relish. I see I forgot to put vinegar in the pressure canner and have hard water stains on the jars. Oh well, the relish itself is good!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Apple season starts

It is apple season in Edmonton. We nipped across the lane to pick a batch of crab apples from our neighbour's yard. These were lovely red ones. After weeding out some hail damage and some minor prep work, I juiced them last night.

Today I cooked them down into jelly. I'd forgotten how little work this was when compared to cooking down strawberry jam.

The rest was 2.5 litres of jelly from 8 litres of berries. The colour is very dark and looks great in the jars. As Jennifer likes crab apple jelly, we'll likely pick some more over the next week or two.

In the basement, I have my first 5 gallon batch of cider cooking away. I added some sugar to raise the specific gravity and then pitched the yeast. This is just starting to cook and I'll likely leave it alone for 10 days and then rack off for a secondary ferment.

The pre-treatment juice was very interesting--much more complex and tart than store-bought apple juice. It might need to blended with something to make it sweeter in the end. I hope to make a second batch, assuming I can get enough apples to do so.

 I'd also like to sauce some apples. Jessica is keen but would rather read than peel apples.

On the window ledge, the first of the paste tomatoes I rescued from last week's hail are starting to ripen. I'd like to can a bunch of these for the winter.

We're continuing to make progressing in re-aligning the back garden as we dig up potatoes for use. The big task will actually be turning down a large amount of sod in the front yard for garden. Maybe when Jessica goes back to school... .

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Onions and Potatoes

We harvested some more vegetables today, including the rest of the onions and about a quarter of the potato crop. It was surprisingly hot out this afternoon!

With the vegetables curing on the deck, I then started more renovations in the back bed, putting dirt in north-south rows for next year. I'd like to have the back yard pretty much finished up by mid-September so I can focus on the major changes out front.

In the basement, my first batch of cider is ready to start tonight. A half day of sweating and swearing in the garage has taught me a lot about what to do (and what not to do) next time. I was too bushed to do any crab apple jellying yesterday but we'll see what kind of energy I have this afternoon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jarring salsa

Is there a happier sound than a lid "pop" signifying a good seal? I have been pressure canning with abandon this week and put up seven jars of zucchini salsa tonight. It would have been eight but I needed to leave half a litre out for eating.

I would have made more but the carrot thief has turned his attention to the zucchini (yes, really, someone is filching zucchini). I caught him tonight by chance (well put together older gentleman picking cans... and vegetables) and politely expressed my exasperation (although my shaved head and fu manchu 'stashe may have given a different impression).

We picked a bunch of battleford apples last night and today gave the garburetor apple crusher a go. It worked but the apples need to be softer so I decided to freeze them tonight, thaw them tomorrow and then crush on Wednesday. The extra step is a bit annoying but, based on the few we ran through the crusher today, there won't be any real need to press the apples when we're done (could do that with our hands).

I've had to haul in about half of the tomatoes still green due to the hail and slug onslaught. They make a pretty sight on the window ledge and I'm keen to see them ripen and get canned. I am loving the pressure canner. Tomorrow we'll pick a neighbour's crabs and make jelly.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Oh hail, no!

The eighth (!) big hail storm of the year rolled through this afternoon for about 30 minutes and made a heck of a mess. You can see the accumulation under the tree while the water overloaded the gutters and just rolled across the ground.

The hail did a lot of damage. The autumn lettuce (in the container on the deck) is a complete write off.

More troubling was the beating the tomatoes took. They were literally pounded off their trellis. I'll go out tomorrow and pull off the damage tomatoes. Between the hail and slugs, it is a tough year! The butternut squash plant in the foreground (below) was shredded and likely won't make it,

There was some flooding in the neighbourhood. You can see an intersection that is axle-deep in water in the background (click to get a larger picture).

Lots of other plants were just destroyed. Below was a large swiss chard, which is now just goo.

Other stuff will likely bounce back (root vegetables seemed okay, just a bit flattened). I also got a nice crop of kale off this morning and made chips while the rain came down.

In better news, I canned 16 jars of carrots today using the pressure canner. Wow, that was a snap. I plan to do some salsa on Monday.

Tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins

The past few days have seen lots of stuff come out of the garden and into the house. The paste tomatoes are ripening and I plan to can a batch of salsa this week.

We've been eating the first of the early potatoes (delicious) but the late potatoes continue to bloom (which is a nice late-season flower to have around).

After claiming I've never had any luck with pumpkins, I wander out of the yard and found our vine has at least three growing. This one is bigger than a softball (the wooden offcut is 5.5 inches to give you a sense of scale). I'm excited to have our own pumpkins for once!

We're also seeing some real late summer growth. The sunflowers above the clothes line are more than eight feet tall. The top of the metal trellis is five feet to add some scale.

On the back deck, the autumn lettuce patch is coming up nicely, although the runner beans keep trying to over run it.

I've also harvested a box of carrots from the alley (marauders were picking 3-4 a night and making a mess of the the rest of the foliage). I'm in the process of pressure canning these--should be about 16 500ml jars when I get done. We're also going to try preserving a bunch in moist sand.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

First potatoes and reordering the beds

I've started the potato harvest this week. Some of the early potatoes (blue caribe) are starting to die back and the taste if fresh potatoes is too alluring to wait any longer. I pulled three plants today (in the shady part of the bed and got a modest haul of these purple-skinned, white-fleshed potatoes. No scab so far! The late-season Russian blue are still flowering so I expect we'll have a decent staging of this harvest (rather than a glut).

As crops have been coming out, I've started re-ordering the beds for next year. After a couple of years of using areas, I've decided to move to rows. I'm just getting too old and inflexible to contort myself weeding in order to get a few extra feet of productive space!

That end, I've trimmed back the lilac and replanted some other flowers to open up the south end of the garage bed. I then harvested the south-most potatoes and started pushing soil into north-south rows (you can see this in front of the lilac--north is to the left). I think I can likely get three rows and two walkways in the narrow part of this bed, adding rows as we move north and the garden widens out. As I harvest more (e.g., the onion bed to the right of the bird bath), I will extend the rows northward. The good news so far is that the soil is amazing to work with--soft and loamy.

Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton appears set to gear up in time for the apple season. This is very exciting as apple sauce, pie, butter and rings (not to mention cider) are in the offing. I successfully wired the garburetor so I have an apple crusher to go with my press.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Evans Cherries

It is sour cherry season and a friend hooked me up with his neighbour who had far more Evans cherries than she wanted. Jess and I went over on Thursday and picked the bush clean.

The cherries were lovely and ripe and we managed to get about 20 litres in 45 minutes. I wonder if I can graft some Evans branches onto my ornamental cherry in the back?

The obvious end product for sour cherries is pie filing. Most of the filling recipes online require Cleargel (basically modified cornstarch) which I couldn't lay hands on locally (although my search was not exhaustive). The few recipes without Cleargel are a real mishmash of volumetric and weight measures (sometimes mixing imperial and metric) with oddball input and output quantities.

After some experimentation (five batches!), here is a rough and ready recipe using cup measures (250ml) and quantities your average home canner will have and can process at one time. Start with 16 cups (basically a 4-litre ice cream pail). Fill the pail about half full of water and add in a squirt of lemon juice. Pit the cherries and drop the flesh in the pail (lemon juice will prevent browning). Refrigerate until ready to can but use within a few days.

Drain three cups of the liquid from the pall and combine with 1/3 cup of lemon juice and 5 cups of sugar. Heat this combination (in a pan able to accommodate 16 cups of liquid) until the sugar/juice/water begins to thicken after boiling (maybe 15 minutes). While heating, drain the cherries.

When the liquid has thickened, add the cherries and boil between 60 and 90 minutes (stirring occasionally--now is a good time for a glass of wine or to pit the next batch of cherries). The cherry mixture will eventually turn dark and start to gel (although it will never gel quite as nicely as jam). When ready, can and waterbath for about 30 minutes (we're at 2300 feet, adjust to your own elevation). This recipe makes 8 cups of pie filling.

The filling is a bit tart but has good body. If things are too liquid, then add cornstarch or tapioca pearls prior to baking (425 for 15 minutes then 350 for 25-30 minutes).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pickled beets

After a lovely morning bike ride, the skies darkened so I decided to can some more. The beets needed thinning and I didn't make any pickled beets last year so out I went into the yard and started yanking.

This year I planted a mixture of heirloom beets (golden, red and variegated) and I pulled those that were up out of the ground. Great colours! I also thinned out the sugar beets (the white ones). They taste just like beets, but sweeter.

A quick boil and peel and were were ready to pack. I found one of the variegated beets but cut it the wrong way to get the rings, but the colours are still interesting.. I planted a bunch more of these for a fall picking.

The result was a very lively set of beets (five jars) that are pickling in the cupboard. I'm also excited to see how much the sugar beets have grown (and, now that they are thinned, have more space to grow).

Then the weather completely turned around again and we went for a hike in the valley. It was fun to listen to Jess identify berries and pick wild Saskatoons for me. We also ran into a porcupine!

On the way back we passed by one of our neighbors who turned his front yard into a garden. This is quite impressive (the 10 boxes are about 6x3 feet), although I'm not sure pressure-treated wood was the best choice.

Tonight I'll start in the custard layer for Jessica's birthday cake. I'm going to give this lemon cake another whirl now that I have (I think) figured out the trick to folding in beaten egg whites. I'm also hopeful to get the pressure canner up and running and put away some carrots for the winter. I also see that the shell peas are putting out a second set of blossoms (which is encouraging!).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More jam and some tomatoes

It has been busy leading up to the long weekend. On Friday we made some raspberry-saskatoon jam and then I tried cranberry-raspberry. Below you can see the cooked cranberries (I picked some up after Xmas and froze them) and lemon; raspberries get added in the next step.

The result was a bit runny (maybe should have cooked it longer) but has a fabulous colour and very tart taste (about the same as stewed rhubarb). I've managed to fill one of the top shelves in the kitchen in the past few weeks (36 jars) and have spilled over into another. If I see a some peaches at the farmer's market I might do some more but we're approaching applesauce season, which tends to crowd out the jamming.

Our hedge is an alpine currant. Over the years I have seen a few (seedy) berries but never anything to be bothered with. Oddly, this year one bit has a bunch of currants. These are pretty small and likely best left for the birds. How I wish this hedge was actually saskatoons!

The tomato plants are starting to show some promise. I planted mostly Roma in the back for canning and the plants are heavy with fruit. They get some shelter from the house and deck so the hail (six good storms so far this summer) hasn't damaged them too much.

Around front the Early Girl plants have a few tomatoes about ready to harvest. The cherry tomato bushes have grown really well but have virtually now tomatoes. I wonder if the soil is inhibiting fruiting.

On the other hand, the sunflowers are doing very well in the soil. This one is about seven feet tall and maybe 12 inches across (measuring from tip of petals). If you to get a larger image, you can see a bee diligently pollinating this one for me. The larger Himalayan Giant sunflowers out back are over seven feet and no sign of a flower head yet. The packaged hinted at 12-14 feet.

Around back, the Mexican bush beans we dried and saved have sprouted, grown and are starting to form pods. These are delicious in soups--akin to small kidney beans.

The shell peas we left to dry on the vine for seed are starting to come in. Must find an envelope to help me keep these all together and straight. Some of the beets are also looking like they might be ready to pickling.