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Party Time!

We have a place in the vegetable garden that has been evolving since before we moved here, almost two and a half years ago.  It started many years ago when I decided I would like to grow blueberries in the back yard.  Bruce said, well, they don’t grow here.  I said, well, we could give it a try.  So we did give it a try and we were very successful!  We had 4 high bush plants to start with and then Bruce started some trials with the Master Gardener group.  He wanted to find out if people living in spaces with very little light, as in an apartment, could grow the berries in a planter.  He planted 70 bushes at the MG garden and we had several bushes placed around the house, in the ground and in planters.  We always had blueberries, either fresh or frozen.  When we moved here to Oregon, Bruce trucked up all the blueberries plants that  were in the planters and placed them out near the vegetables.

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Growing blueberries in California is a bit different than growing them in Oregon.  Firstly, I suppose it’s because we had blue jays in California and none here, but in California the birds never ate the blueberries.  Here, they eat them like candy.  I read somewhere that blue jays don’t like blueberries, or apparently, other birds.  We ended up having to cover the berries in bird netting which was mostly successful.  Secondly, in California, when the berries get ripe you need to get out and pick them or in a few days they will be soft and not good for eating.  Here, they last quite a long time on the bush, so if you get busy (or sick) they will wait for you.  At least, they did the first year.  We’ll see about that as we go along.  The first year here, I was sick and didn’t pick them for a month and figured the crop was a total waste.  But no, they were there waiting for me, just as delicious as always.

Our first year here we went on the hunt for strawberries and found a few places with so-so fields.  The people are very honest here in Oregon.  The field can be miles away from the vendor, but there will be a sign at the field telling you to pick as much as you want and then drive to the farm stand and pay for them.  I can tell you that they would never get paid in California.  At any rate, we found a very nice place, The Berry Patch, which puts their strawberry plants in large PVC pipes about 4 feet off the ground.  All you have to do is stand there and pick the strawberries–no more stooping in the dirt!  We thought that this was genius and set about implementing this in our garden.  Bruce figured out how to do it and put it in last year.  The crop was small last year, but this year we are harvesting a large crop.

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Well, we would if we could keep those birds away.  They love strawberries too!  So, the next plan was to put netting around the strawberries, which was more of an undertaking than the blueberries, because of the size.  And why put up netting for just one kind of berry?  Bruce decided to map out an area to the south of the vegetable patch where the strawberries are and set up the blueberry planters in addition to planting a row of blueberries, a row of raspberries, and a row of blackberries.

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Blackberries

As you can imagine, this is not a small berry patch.  The problem was how to cover it all with netting.  Of course, Bruce had a plan, but there were numerous problems, which were all overcome for the most part.  He hammered metal poles into the ground in a big square shape around the berries and then attached small PVC pipes to the corners and in a square around the top, as a type of scaffolding.  He, with help from his niece’s husband, put the netting over the top and sides of the pipes.  The netting is not very wide so it needed to be attached at various points to keep from gaping open and letting the birds in.  It looked great when they finished!

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Berry patch enclosed with netting

The next week, when the strawberries were finally ripening, we found birds inside the netting every day.  Bruce bought a fishing net to scoop them out–no photos of that, but it was like a comedy routine.  He bought more clips and finally got all of the gaps closed.  We don’t get birds in the berries any more, a fact they insist on telling us about every morning!

The next problem with the berry patch was the weeds!  We have killer weeds here in Oregon, and I am convinced that we live on a giant mound of weeds.  The weeds will grow higher than the plants and if you don’t go after them, you will never see the flowers blooming.  I went out one day this week when it was cool and a bit rainy and once and for all (maybe) tackled those weeds.  It took me seven hours with help from Bruce to get rid of all the weeds just around the berry rows.  Oh boy, it looks so nice now, and it’s fun to go out and pick the berries without having to look at weeds!

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1. Before weeding    2.  Same place, after weeding  

3.  The tools of destruction–notice the very important “bionic” gloves”.  

I’ve had these gloves about two weeks

I have considered doing a separate post about the weeds here.  There are so many varieties and they all seem to have a different method of survival and propagation.  We have one in the flower garden that holds onto its seeds until you touch it and then seeds fly ALL over the place.  The weeds are interesting from a botany point of view, but I would rather not have to deal with them on such a personal basis.  The best thing that I can say about them is that they provide me with a great form of exercise!

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1. Doesn’t this plant look lovely?  2 & 3. This is what it does–starts in one place, travels around and wraps itself around everything!

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1. I colored this weed pink to show that it is as tall as the raspberry bushes.

2. This weed is bigger than my foot

3. Look at that taproot!

4. This weed clumps together with its friends, making it very difficult to pull out

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Some critters who came out to keep me company–a very tiny, about 1-inch long, frog, and I’m guessing a centipede

As you can see from the photos we will have massive amounts of berries in the coming years.  What to do with them all?  First, you just eat them raw…until you are tired of them.  Then you can lay them out on cookie sheets, freeze them, and then bag them up in ziplock bags.  These will last throughout the year to be used as a topping for yogurt and cereal or baked into muffins or other desserts.  Third, you can make them into jam.  So far, we have made strawberry jam with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, and strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary.

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Strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary

 We used the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook as a guide and the jam tastes just like the very best fresh strawberries-the best we’ve ever had.  I’m not a fan of fresh raspberries, but I’m looking forward to making raspberry jam and if we get a large enough crop I’ll freeze some for desserts.  We have a friend who freezes her raspberries and makes Raspberry Chocolate Jam all year to sell at the local farmer’s market.

There is nothing better than having a strawberry patch in your own back yard for chasing away the winter doldrums and heralding the beginning of spring.  Strawberries seem to be nature’s way of saying, Let the party begin!

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 Let’s Party!


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Oregon Cherry Season

 

 

I’ll obey them in the winter when the doctors say to me
I must give up steak and chocolate, and obedient I’ll be.
To improve my health and figure in December they can try.
But there’s none of them can stop me when it’s time for cherry pie.

–Based on the poem, Cherry Pie, by Edgar A. Guest, 1935

Last summer, during cherry season, we went to one of our local farm stands and found that they had bags of sour cherries for sale.  For a long time I’ve wanted to make a cherry pie with sour cherries, but didn’t have a source for them in California.  They may be sold there, but I never found them.  I did make a pie with sweet cherries, and that day is best forgotten.  That was my only experience with cherry pies.  So…sour cherries. In Oregon.  We bought a bag, and I found a recipe, and oh. my. goodness.  It was the best pie I have ever eaten.  I told Bruce that we had to get a sour cherry tree.   Off we went to the nursery and bought one Montmorency (sour), a Rainier and a Stella (both sweet).  The Montmorency and Stella are self-pollinators, but the Rainier is not.  The Rainier is a yellowish cherry and probably the sweetest of all the cherries.  The Stella is a large, deep red cherry.  They were sad little trees compared to our other fruit trees, but I had high hopes.  Of course, I’m always surprised when anything ever grows, but I still had high hopes…because, there are cherry pies to be made!

Sometime in the spring, our little tree looked like this–

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Oh, wow!  Blossoms on the Montmorency tree!  Keep your fingers crossed!  Then there was this–

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Fantastic!  Fruit on the Montmorency tree!

I didn’t think there would be enough fruit for a cherry pie this year, so in June, we again drove over to our local farm stand, Brosi’s, early in the morning, and spent a very lovely morning picking cherries.  We may have gotten out of control.  We picked a total of about 55 pounds of cherries–sweet and sour.  The sweet cherries were Lapin, and you never saw such a deep red color as on those cherries.  They were gorgeous, and juicy, and sweet and so delicious!  The sour cherries were half red and half yellow, and had a bit of sweetness to them.  I don’t know the variety, but they were not Montmorency.  Here we are having fun in the orchard–

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daughter Sara; Bruce on the ladder; Sara on the ladder

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Lapin cherries

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Brosi’s sour cherries

We took our haul home, and proceeded to wash and pit them.  We bought a cherry pitter that only does one cherry at a time and it is labor intensive.  I think I’ll be looking for a better one before next year.  We canned all of the sweet cherries and some of the sour.  The bulk of the sour cherries went into the freezer and the rest went into…what else?  A cherry pie!  With all those cherries in the freezer, I can have a cherry pie whenever I want to…or better yet, a cherry crisp.  It tastes the same and is much easier.

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washing the cherries; pitting-the pits go to the bottom chamber; the cherry sits in a depression and the plunger forces the pit out

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we canned sweet cherries in bourbon (supposed to be brandy, oops!), sour cherries in bourbon, and sweet cherry jam with amaretto

So, what happened to our little Montmorency tree?  It ended up having quite a lot of fruit on it, so much so that we had to put a net around it to keep the birds from eating the entire crop.  Now, unlike Brosi’s sour cherries, these Montmorency cherries actually are sour, so I don’t know why the birds like them.  They also had a bright red color.  We picked enough to make half a batch of sour cherry jam and I have no idea why we have any left or why I wasn’t eating it straight out of the jar.  It has the same cherry flavor as the sweet jam with amaretto, but it’s more of a sweet/tart flavor.  This is now officially my favorite jam.  Maybe next year I’ll be willing to part with some jars.

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Montmorency jam


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Saussiche!

We have been wanting to make our own sausages for a very long time, and even bought a book by Bruce Aidells.  The problem was that we could never find sausage casings, and so that project fell to the wayside.  Fast forward to our move to Oregon and becoming Master Food Preservers.  Our daughter recently gave Bruce a book on sausage making and as in all things serendipitous we found sausage casings while wandering around the Cabela’s store in Eugene.  So now, we have the MFP training, the book AND the casings!  What else could we do but to make sausages?

Sausage making is a traditional food preservation technique and originated as a way to preserve animal trimmings.  Sausages may be preserved by curing, drying or smoking, and apparently, fermenting.

Sausage is ground meat mixed with fat, salt and other seasonings, preservatives and fillings, often packed into an artificial protein or genuine animal intestine casing. Most sausages are made with pork or pork with another meat, but today you can also find beef, lamb, veal, chicken, turkey, etc.  Some also use fillers like oatmeal and rice to stretch the meat a bit.

Traditionally, sausage casings were made of cleaned intestines, feet, skins or stomachs in the case of haggis and other traditional puddings. Today, however, natural casings are often replaced by collagen, cellulose or even plastic casings, especially in the case of  industrially manufactured sausages.

Sausage synonyms:  snags; bangers; salsiccia; wurst; sausissons

Wikipedia

http://www.food.com/library/sausage-295

http://www.foodsubs.com/MeatcureSausage.html

 

The book we used is called, Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages,  Stanley and Adam Marianski

http://www.amazon.com/Home-Production-Quality-Meats-Sausages/dp/0982426739/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1422576659&sr=8-1

This is a book that attempts to bridge the gap between “meat science and a typical hobbyist”.  The goal is to have the reader “understand the sausage making process” and “to create his own recipes”, thereby becoming independent of the recipes.  A full one-third or more of the book is concerned with the science of making sausage–just the kind of book that Bruce wanted!

We made three varieties of sausage: Italian Sweet, Italian Hot and Longanisa.

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Longanisa is a Philippine version of a Spanish Longaniza sausage.  It is also popular in Argentina, Chili, Mexico and all other Spanish speaking countries.  In 1565,  Spanish Conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, arrived in Cebu, Philippines from Mexico and established a Spanish settlement that lasted over three hundred years .  Along with everything else they brought with them  they also brought Spanish sausages, which had to be modified somewhat due to differing climates, but the names remained the same.  This sausage can be dried or smoked and can be kept fresh or frozen and cooked.  (Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages, Pg. 245.)

Bruce did most of the work–figuring out how long it would take to defrost the pork, grinding the meat and mixing all the ingredients together.  I helped by pushing the meat into the stuffer so that Bruce could feed it into the casings.  I think in the future we will use a proper sausage stuffer, instead of the Kitchen Aid attachment.  It worked fine, except that it is too high above the counter-top and makes it difficult to control the casings.

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We bought collagen casings, because Bruce didn’t want to use intestines.   Collagen casings are mainly produced from the collagen in beef or pig hides, and the bones and tendons. They have been made for more than 50 years. The latest generation of collagen casings are usually more tender than natural casings but do not exhibit the “snap” or “bite” of natural casing sausages. The biggest volume of collagen casings are edible, but a special form of thicker collagen casings is used for salamis and large caliber sausages where the casing is usually peeled off the sausage by the consumer. Collagen casings are permeable to smoke and moisture, are less expensive to use, give better weight and size control, and are easier to run when compared to natural casings. (Wikipedia)

That being said, they are not easy to work with.  We found that if we overstuffed them they would break.  Also, you can’t finish them off like you can with natural casings.  With natural casings the edges stick together, but not so with collagen.  They don’t twist and stay twisted so we had to tie the ends with cotton string, which had a tendency to slip off.  So we had to be inventive to make sure the string stayed on the sausages.

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We finally got all the meat made into sausages, but we had some that had broken.  I suggested that we mix all that meat together and make more sausages.  Oh, boy, they were the best!  We had them for breakfast for several mornings.

All in all, making fresh sausages is very easy and you get the benefit of putting in the ingredients that you want and leaving out the ones you don’t, such as too much salt.  All three of these sausages are delicious and we are looking forward to making some lamb Merquez sausage next.


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Apple Cider Pressing Party

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What:  Apple Cider Pressing

Where:  Our house

When: October 21, 2014

Why:  Because we like apple cider

Who:  Bruce and me, our oldest daughter, various friends we’ve met in Oregon

After much anticipation and preparation the day finally arrived for our 2nd annual cider pressing party!  Last year was the first, but the previous owners actually did all the work and we just showed up for the fun.  This year there was a long list of things to do to prepare for the party:

1.  We had to decide when to press the apples, according to when we thought they would be ripe

2.  Pick all the apples and store them in the garage

3.  Find enough boxes to hold all the apples

4.  Invite people to come and help

5.  Get out the press and make sure it is clean

6.  Clean many, many plastic, gallon jugs

7.  Figure out how to get the juice from the press into the jugs

8.  Make a nice meal for everyone to enjoy afterwards

We were a bit worried that the apples wouldn’t be any good or wouldn’t ripen, but they all came through for us.  The apples actually looked much, much better than we had hoped for.  There was some scabbing on the outside of some, but we didn’t see any coddling moth.  The Golden Delicious and Melrose ripened about 2 weeks earlier than the Granny Smiths and Winesaps.  We thought for awhile that we would only have a two variety cider, but with 4 types of apples the juice was delicious. 

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Golden Delicious apples in the garage;  Melrose, Winesap and Granny Smiths on the porch

There were 10 people altogether at the pressing, and everyone found a job to do–cleaning and mixing the apples, carrying them to the press, grinding them up, pressing them to get the juice, dumping the leftover pressed apples into the wheelbarrow, carrying the juice bucket over to the jugs, putting the juice into the jugs,  dumping  the wheelbarrow full of pressed apples out in the backyard for the deer to eat, and taking photos–Thank you Barbara for the great photos!

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        Washing and mixing the apple varieties;  The cider press;  The lined bucket under the grinder

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              Ground up apples ready for pressing;  Closing the top of the bag;  Bruce pressing the apples (2013)

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Cider flowing into the bucket;  Pouring the cider into the juicer;  From the juicer into the jugs

We came up with a neat plan for filling the jugs.  We got out our steam juicer and lined the top with cheesecloth, poured the juice into the juicer and used the tube to fill the jugs.  It worked great!

We ended up with about 35 gallon jugs of cider, and everyone took home as much as they wanted.  We had a nice lunch afterwards, with a lovely cider-raisin bread from Ed, delicious Kimchi, sauerkraut, and  fermented pickles  from Dave and Paulette, and yummy cheesecake bars from Barbara!  Thanks everyone for all your help and the great food!

For dessert, I brought out the caramelized cider sauce I made from last year’s cider.  I had boiled 2 gallons of cider until it was thick and dark amber colored.  It developed an intense sweet/sour apple flavor that is great on ice cream.

Bruce and I ended up with many gallons of cider.  I boiled three gallons and ended up with a very dark, caramelized sauce that will be good as a component in meat sauces.  I boiled up another 1 1/2 gallons and got a lighter colored sauce that didn’t thicken but is great on ice cream.  We also canned an apple cider glaze, apple cider marmalade with thyme (it’s like a grown-up version of applesauce)  and many quarts of  juice.  And after all that, I went downstairs to the basement and found many more boxes of apples.  Maybe I should make some apple pie fillings.

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Apple cider and caramelized cider sauce

As an extra bonus and because we have so much cider I decided to try a new recipe because it looked good and it was something I hadn’t ever tried before–caramels.  Only this recipe was for Apple Cider caramels!  It called for 4 cups of cider boiled down to 1/2 cup and since we already had that the recipe was easy to make.  I used the darker caramelized sauce that I thought was only good for meat dishes.  Boy, was I ever wrong!  We ended up making two batches.  The recipe called for 2 teaspoons of salt, which turned out to be too much for me.  The second time around we didn’t add any salt, but sprinkled some on top of the semi-hardened caramel.  That was much better.  And oh boy, they taste divine!  I put most of them in the freezer in hopes that they will last longer, but I think it won’t slow us down much.  I found the recipe here, http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/10/apple-cider-caramels-the-book-is-here/ ,on the Smitten Kitchen website.

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All in all, I’d say the Apple Cider Pressing Party was a success!


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Fall Fruit Harvest

It is autumn and the leaves are turning beautiful colors of yellow, orange and red.  We know winter and the rains are coming, but first we have the task of gathering all the beautiful fruits of the season and preserving them into something equally beautiful to last until next autumn.   The autumn fruit is ripening and so far we’ve been successful in reaping the harvest before the birds and raccoons got to them.   Surprisingly, the  raccoons only ate the fruit from one tree, early in the summer, and I think they ate all the grapes that we left on the vines that we didn’t like.

The first fruit to ripen was the Asian Pears.  Oh my, they tasted lovely, fresh and ripe from the tree.  I never really liked them before, because in the stores and farmer’s markets they are not ripe, and not delicious, and they don’t ripen on your counter.  They are the one type of pear that ripens on the tree.  They are also one of the few fruits with a low acid content, so we had to be very careful in choosing recipes for canning.

So, instead, we decided to dry the Asian Pears even after the dried grape, AKA raisin, debacle.  The grapes took forever to dry and did not look at all appetizing, and they had an odd flavor.  One of the things we should have done was to dip them in fruit fresh to give them a more pleasing color.  We also had them in the dehydrator too long and it was just not good.  I didn’t even take any photos–too scary.

So we cut up the pears in exact 1/2-inch pieces and dipped them in a fruit fresh solution and dried them until they were pliable.  Oh my….they are like candy.  What a treat! This fruit is wonderful fresh and dried!

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Asian pears in the front of the basket; dried Asian pears in the jars

At the same time we had a large amount of Italian plums so we dried them also.  They are very good; a lot more tart than the pears, but chewier.  The two complement each other very well.

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Next up were the Bartlett pears, and we had so, so many of them, and even after picking bushels of them, we still had some left on the tree.

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We seem to have a bumper crop of pears, or maybe it just seems like it because we don’t like canned pears.  So what to do with them all?  I looked through all the canning books and came up with a list of what seemed to be the most interesting and unusual recipes.  We started with Pear and Rosemary Preserves which have a beautiful color and a delicious flavor.  Second was Ginger Pear Chutney.  Third up was Pear and Chocolate Jam, then Pear and Port Compote and lastly Pear Caramel.  Okay, I like sweet foods, but this was ridiculous.  Everything tasted so good and I tasted too much of them all.

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from left to right:  Ginger Pear Chutney, Rosemary Pear Jam, Chocolate Pear Jam, Pear Compote, Pear Caramel

In between all the pears and plums we also processed huge amounts of grapes–the fore-mentioned raisins and also grape juice.  We used the same red flame grapes at two different times but the two batches of juice turned out to have different colors.  We had to buy a steam juicer at Bi-Mart for this operation.  The grapes go in the top third, the boiling water is in the bottom and when the steam hits the grapes they release their juice and it goes into the middle chamber and out through a tube.

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We ended up with many quarts (I forgot to count them).  We keep meaning to buy some sparkling water to mix with it, and I think it will be a nice refreshing drink…if we ever remember to buy it.

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Red Flame grapes; we think the green grape is used for making wine.  It is not good for eating or making raisins

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We now have a big basket of plums cooling down in the basement and I am determined to make Plum Sauce.  A friend gave us a jar last spring and it is fabulous!  So I want to make as much of that as possible.  It’s just that we are also busy preparing for the Master Food Preserver Salsa and Tomato class,  working at the class, then working at the Sauerkraut class.  I hope we can get to those plums before they go bad…

 

Several weeks later:    The Salsa and Tomato class went well as did the Sauerkraut class.  We brought home 3 big jars of sauerkraut-to-be.  It takes quite awhile for the cabbage to turn into kraut.  We also made the wonderful Plum Sauce.  It is a savory sauce, used on meats.

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In October, the apples finally got ripe enough to pick and we have boatloads of them!  Good thing too, because we wanted to continue to tradition here of having an Apple Cider Pressing Party.  Our friend, Dave, volunteered to come over and help us pick the apples and we had a great time.  Thank you, Dave!  We picked the Melrose and Golden Delicious, but decided the Granny Smiths and Winesaps were not quite ready yet.  They did get ripe about a week and a half later, just in time for the party.  There will be a separate post on the party.  I have to say though, that the Melrose apple is just about the most perfect apple I’ve ever tasted–crisp, not too sweet, not tart, and juicy.  I haven’t tried baking with it, but I did read that it is good for that also.

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Golden Delicious and Melrose apples

 

We had one last crop; kind of a surprise, but a good one.  We have an old hazelnut tree and a new one that we planted this year.  I had gone out to see if there were any nuts on the old tree, but didn’t find any.  Bruce came in a few days later with a handful of them.  Oh boy!  We put them in the dehydrator and dried them for a couple of days and with much anticipation cracked them open.  Cracked every last one of them open.  They sure looked good on the outside, but there was no meat on the inside.  What a colossal disappointment, especially when we went to a local U-Pick farm and they had TONS of them.  So, we are hoping for a good crop next year.  We know we can grow hazelnut shells, now our goal is to grow some nuts!

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“Bittersweet October.  The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause
between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”
–   Carol Bishop Hipps


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Tuna

It’s tuna season and we were determined to take full advantage of it.  We had been told for months from various people that if you can your own tuna it can’t be beat for flavor and it’s extremely easy.  Well, it’s also intimidating–where to buy it, how much to buy, how much is a fair price…and the list goes on.

We were over at the coast in July and saw the signs for fresh tuna–straight off the boats.  We went over to the docks and found some fishermen selling the tuna, but really, we had no idea of how any of it worked.

Not to worry though! Our friendly neighbor and veteran Master Food Preserver (MFP), Rusdee, came to our rescue.  She volunteers each year to help the new MFP’s (that’s us) learn how to can tuna.  She told us who to call and we put in an order for how much fish we wanted.  This was amazingly confusing.  In the end we found out that you have to tell him how much fileted fish you want.  You actually pay for twice this amount because you are paying for whole fish, and the filets are half the amount of the whole fish.  Since there was a lot of fish ordered we got a break on the price, but the actual price came out to about $2.5o a pound for the whole fish, or $5 a pound for the filets.

Next, Rusdee went over to the coast and picked up the fish and paid for it.  She picked up 400 pounds of fish at a price tag of about $2000.  That’s a lot of fish!

We went to her house for the canning.  Our fish was very nicely fileted and put into bags.  The fish had no odor which was a pleasant surprise.

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The tables were set up outside with trays, cutting boards and knives for putting the tuna in the jars and the stoves were there for pressure canning the tuna.

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There were six of us learning to can tuna–Bruce and me, our friends from California, Jeff and Nancy, plus Barbara (another new MFP) and Leslie ( a former MFP).  There were two veteran MFPs, Rusdee and Maureen.

The first step was to measure the tuna against the size of the jar and cut the tuna into those sizes, then stuff as much of it as you can into each jar.  Jeff, Nancy and I did that part.

Oh, wait, the first step was to put on some gloves!  No one wants to actually touch raw fish (not me, at least) or smell like tuna the rest of the day.

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Jeff and Nancy–Nancy makes it look like fun, and it was.

 

 Bruce kept us supplied in jars, wiped the rims and put on the lids and rings.

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It all went very smoothly and efficiently; we were done in less than 2 hours.

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Since we had dragged our friends along for this canning session and we didn’t know if they would enjoy it, we had decided earlier to do the pressure canning at home.  This entailed a new batch of problems.  We didn’t want to can indoors because of the potential smell, but we didn’t have a way to do it outside.  The week before canning we went over to our local, friendly Bi-Mart and bought a single burner stove that hooks up to a propane tank.  We took the empty tank over to the U-Haul place and got that filled.  Now we were set, or were we?  Bruce and Jeff checked it out the day before the canning and found that the wind played havoc with the flame and it was very difficult to control the pressure on the canner.  They ended up piling large cement blocks around the burner as a wind break and that worked great!

So we were finished with putting the tuna in the jars, but we weren’t done yet.  Rusdee took us all on a tour of her walnut farm.  They have quite a few walnut trees and it gets to be a huge operation picking, hulling, drying and shelling the nuts.  She showed us all the necessary equipment and the drying rooms.  The equipment is all hand-made from many years ago.  We thought it was so interesting that we volunteered to come out and help with the harvest in October.

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1) The walnuts with husks are put in here where the husks are broken open; 2) the walnuts with shells drop down into the center box and the fan to the right blows away the stems and broken husks, they go up the conveyor belt, then 3) the walnuts go into the white round chamber for sizing-the small pieces are sifted out; 4) the nuts go up the conveyor belt and fall into  a box; 5) nut cracker-takes the shell off the nut; 6) drying room 7) walnuts in the husk

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Back at home we set up the pressure canner outside and loaded it with half the jars of tuna.  We used half pints and the total was 64 jars.  You have to bring the water to a boil in the canner, wait for the steam to come out of the vent in a steady stream, vent for 10 minutes, then start the time for canning which is 100 minutes, or one hour and forty minutes.  If you let the pressure fall below 11 psi at any time in the process, you then have to start all over.  Bruce was in charge of this part of the operation and it involved constant monitoring of the pressure and constant moving of the gas dial to increase or decrease the amount of heat.  After the 100 minutes are up, the canner needs to cool until the pressure is zero.  That took about an hour.  Then you take off the petcock and wait another 10 minutes.

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Finally, the jars of cooked tuna came out and the rest of the jars of raw tuna went in for another round.

Now, for the smell.  Yes, it was well worth it to do it outside.  The tuna inside the jars does not smell at all, but there was residue on the outside which had a very strong fishy smell and they all got a good cleaning.

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All in all, this was a very interesting canning project, we all enjoyed taking part in it, and best of all,

the tuna looks and tastes wonderful!

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Summertime

It’s been hot this summer, too hot for me to work outside and almost too hot for Bruce.  But he’s been out digging in the garden getting ready to plant the fall vegetables.  We’ve been canning and freezing lots and lots of vegetables with no end in sight.  Right now we are getting loads of tomatoes, so we’re canning spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes and slow-roasting San Marzano tomatoes.

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Sauce reducing on the stove; Jeff grinding up the tomatoes; finished sauce in quart jars; San Marzano tomatoes ready for roasting

In-between all the canning we’ve been somewhat busy with volunteer work with the Master Food Preservers and lots of visits from friends and family.  Bruce’s parents were here in June through July.  His dad helped him to finish his barn, which still needs to be painted.  Our daughters, Sara and Laura,  were here in July.   Our former neighbor, Anita, and her friend Dorothy came to visit in late July and our friends from CA, Jeff and Nancy, came to visit us a few weeks ago.  They were very helpful with a few of the canning projects.  We enjoyed all the visitors and it gave us an excuse to go out and see more of Oregon, instead of slaving working out in the garden.  Ahhh…Bruce does love to dig, but I think he may have met his match in this new garden.

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Dorothy and Anita up above the valley on Coos Bay Wagon Road.

The weather is starting to be very cool in the mornings, but we’re in for another very hot week.  Summer isn’t over yet, but fall is surely coming.  I went out to the garden yesterday morning and picked a few fruits to see if any were ripe.  The Italian plum is almost ready for harvest, the Red Gravensteins are ready to go and the grapes are getting sweet and turning red.

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from top: Granny Smith apple, Red Gravenstein apple, Asian pear, Melrose apple, Winesap apple, Italian plum, Crabapples, grapes, hazelnuts


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Puttin’ Up

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Bruce worked long and hard hours putting in the garden this last spring, so much so that he’s lost about 20 pounds.  The garden was already huge and he added on to it.  After all that labor we are beginning to see some results. Actually, we are hauling in the produce as fast as we can!

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We had a huge crop of asparagus in April.  We ate a lot of it, pickled some and  froze about 12 pounds.

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In June we had a nice crop of beautiful heads of lettuce and also some rhubarb.  I’m not a fan of rhubarb but we did find a great place to pick strawberries, so we made some strawberry-rhubarb jam, and that’s good!  The rhubarb is ready to be harvested again, so I think this time we’ll freeze it.  We may need to get another freezer!

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It looked like we would get a good crop of early plums and we did eat a few of them, but the raccoons got the rest when we went away on a short trip.  That was disappointing.  The blueberries plants we brought with us from California had a beautiful crop.  They ripen differently here; they get blue quickly, but take a long time to ripen and they’ll stay on the stems for a longer time.  We had to put netting on them because the birds love them, ripe or not.

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In early July we started getting some snow peas and then they just took off and we couldn’t pick them fast enough, but we were able to freeze a large portion of them.  Of course the zucchini and summer squash are doing well…they’ve been producing since June with no let up in sight.  Bruce and our daughter put up some zucchini dill and bread and butter pickles.  They are squeaky when first made, but soften up and become just as delicious as cucumber pickles.  I also made some zucchini bread but it takes a disappointingly small amount of zucchini to make the cakes.  The food pantry likes to get the giant ones.  The grate them and then freeze them and use them as hash browns–frying them up in a pan.  Sounds interesting but we haven’t tried it yet.

We’ve also had some kohlrabi, and fennel, which we pickled.

Next up–cucumbers!  LOTS of cucumbers!  Now we have many, many jars of pickles, with only two of us to eat them.

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A couple of mornings ago it was cool so Bruce and I went out and picked several pounds of green beans and yellow wax beans and we canned all of them.  We’ve never done that before so it was fun and interesting and also a good review of how to can low-acid vegetables and the use of the pressure canner.

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That’s about all we have in the garden so far.  The tomatoes are just starting to ripen and the few we had to eat were delicious.  The peppers are coming along and I cooked some up for dinner.  The melons are small but looking good and the winter squash look very pretty amongst the green leaves.

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Oh, also Bruce dug up a few pounds of potatoes and they look just like the ones you get in the store.  That’s a first time crop for Bruce and I’d say it’s a success!

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We don’t have any ripe fruit yet, but the grapes, apples, plums and pears all look good and we are impatiently waiting for them to ripen.

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We just couldn’t resist the peaches being sold at Brosi’s Sugartree Farm, one of the local fruit stands.  We started out with part of a 20 pound box and made two jams, Peach Brandy and Peach Basil, one batch of pickled peaches and the filling for one pie.  We kind of goofed up the jam recipes, but it was fun, so today we went out and got another 20 pound box.  I made one more pie filling today and tomorrow we’ll can the rest and perhaps freeze some of them.

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The pickled peaches are in a sugar/vinegar syrup with vanilla beans, whole allspice and cinnamon sticks.

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Pie filling ready for freezing in a pie dish, and peach slices ready for freezing.

Here’s a rare scene on the farm–the Gravens Garden farmer taking some well-deserved time off.

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Funny Things Are Everywhere

Weatherwise, May has been very nice–not too hot, or cold and not too rainy.  Bruce is getting lots of gardening done and I’ve been puttering around–definitely not gardening.

Despite the nice weather, it has been an oddball kind of month, starting with a sudden influx of these—

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Bruce saw this snake out in the garden.  I’m thinking it is a gopher snake which is non-poisonous.  But they sure are long.  They can get to be 7 feet in length, but most are 4.5 to 5 feet.

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I found this snake on the east sidewalk of our house on my way to take the garbage out.  After seeing him, I let Bruce take care of the garbage.

 

We don’t know how this snake got into this predicament.  I was watching a bird out in the yard and he was flipping around something large.  Bruce went out to see what it was and came back with this poor guy.

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One evening I looked out the window–looking for the elk–and saw this guy waddling through the brush–

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Sometimes I think we are living on the animal superhighway.

Speaking of brush, we finally decided the grass was tall enough and probably should be mowed–at least around the house.  Well, I used to mow the grass in California so I volunteered for the job, using the brush mower.  The first problem was that I didn’t want to have it go in reverse–the mower is so big that it has gears!  Then I thought it was way too slow in first gear, so I cranked it up.  It’s quite a ride when the edge catches on a small tree.  Wheeeee….

In the end, I did about half of the space and Bruce did the other half–then he spent the next 2 days raking and mowing some more.  But it sure does look nice now.

 

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Some guy came out to look at our well and told Bruce that we could water day and night and never run out of water.  I guess Bruce decided to test that theory and watered the grass for days…and then the water ran out.  Oh dear.

It’s kind of strange to have no water.  Bruce called the people who fix wells and she said no one could come out at 9 o’clock at night and that Bruce would just have to “get his pioneer spirit on”.  Ha, Ha Ha!

We went to the store and bought some water for drinking and it was all okay until I realized we had a field full of crops and no water and no one scheduled to come out and fix the problem.  Welcome to farming!

The next day we did get a guy to come out and the problem was that a part of the pump motor power breaker had shorted out because a frog jumped onto it and got fried.  So it was an easy fix and we now have water.

On the “pioneer spirit” side of this event, we learned that the float at the bottom of the criterion, which detects that the criterion is empty and protects the pump at the top from trying to run when there is no water, works as it should. This float almost never gets used so it can go bad and we would never know it until something like this happens. Also, as it took less than 2 hours to fill the criterion, I can estimate that the well is still producing at least 12 gpm (gallons per minute) as it did when it was first drilled.  We now know that all of the components of our water system are operational.  One less thing to wonder (read: worry) about!  (This paragraph is Bruce’s contribution as I have no clue how the well works).

What else?  Oh, Bruce and I have been taking a class every Tuesday since April to become Master Food Preservers.  We are almost done with the class–we just need to do a 5 minute demonstration and do the take-home test.  We’ve learned all about safely preserving food in all sorts of ways–canning, pressure canning, freezing, drying…We also learned how to make sauerkraut.  We then had to make something at home using sauerkraut and bring it in for a potluck.  Can you guess what I made?

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Hard to believe, but it’s Sauerkraut Spice Cake.  And it was actually very good.

 

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So, it’s been quite a strange month here, but I have to say–it’s never boring!

 

P.S.  I am posting this a week after the original write-up–due to a visit from Bruce’s folks, adverse effects of medication and preparing for that demo…but we passed the Master Food Preserver’s Final Exam with flying colors and we both survived the required demo.  Mine was about the kitchen scale and Bruce’s was about how to make Habanero Gold Jelly.  We each got a spiffy name badge made in the shape of Oregon and a cool black apron and of course, the certificate.  Now we need to fulfill 60 hours of volunteer work.  PLEASE don’t call the hotline this year!!  🙂  Thank you, Maureen, for pointing us in the direction of this class–we loved it!

 

 


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Chives

April Flowers-Chives

 

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

They are the smallest species of the edible onions.  A perennial plant, native to Europe, Asia and North America  A. schoenoprasum is the only species of Allium native to both the New and Old Worlds.

We have this beautiful plant growing in our garden, thanks to the previous owner, but we didn’t know what it was.  We finally settled on chives.  Another friend told us that we can eat the purple bulbs, preferably sauteed in olive oil, but only before the bulbs flower.  But, according to a book I found in our library, The Complete Book of Herbs, by Lesley Bremness, you can sprinkle the florets on salads for a mild onion flavor.

We have eaten them several times now, and they are delicious, with a nice, mellow onion flavor.  They are a lovely, interesting garnish for sauces, vegetables and meat.

Chives can be frozen successfully, but are not suitable for drying.  Wash the freshly picked chives, cut off or remove any undesirable parts, carefully pat dry, and freeze in small plastic freezer bags in amounts you would use at one time.  The thaw quickly so add them directly from the freezer to the food you are cooking.  (Canning, Freezing and Drying, Sunset)

 

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Chives are a commonly used herb with many uses.  They are a bulb-forming herbaceous, perennial plant.  The bulbs are slender, conical, 2-3 cm long and 1 cm broad, and grow in dense clusters from the roots.  The scapes are hollow and tubular, up to 50 cm long and 2-3 cm in diameter, with a soft texture.  The leaves, which are shorter than the scapes, are also hollow and tubular and slightly tapering.  Both the bulbs and the scapes are edible.  The flowers are pale purple and star-shaped with six petals, 1-2 cm wide, and produced in a dense inflorescence  of 10-30 together; before opening the inflorescence is surrounded by a papery bract.  The seeds are produced in a small three-valved capsule, maturing in summer.  The herb flowers from April to June.

Useful definitions:

Herbaceous-a plant that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to soil level

Perennial- a plant that lives more than two years

Scapes-stems

Inflorescence- a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem

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The growing plant has insect-repelling properties that can be used to control pests, and the juice of the leaves can be used for the same purpose, as well as fighting fungal infections, mildew and scab.

Its flowers are attractive to bees, which are important for gardens with an abundance of plants in need of pollination.

Chives are rich in vitamins A, C and K, calcium,iron and folate, contain trace amounts of sulfur, and are  reported to have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system and mild stimulant, diuretic and antiseptic properties.

They are also cultivated for their ornamental value; the violet flowers are often used in ornamental dry bouquets.

The Romans believed chives could relieve the pain from sunburn or a sore throat. They believed eating chives could increase blood pressure and act as a diuretic.  Romanian Gypsies have used chives in fortune telling.  It was believed that bunches of dried chives hung around a house would ward off disease and evil.

When harvesting, the needed number of stalks should be cut to the base. During the growing season, the plant will continually regrow leaves, allowing for a continuous harvest.

Sources:

Wikipedia

The Complete Book of Herbs, Lesley Bremness

Canning, Freezing and Drying, Sunset

 

 

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