Sunday, September 19, 2010

September Can Jam at The Bancroft Ranch, Carmel Valley

I had a last minute opportunity to lead a canning workshop at The Bancroft Ranch yesterday. After setting up several work stations and welcoming a dozen or so eager participants we got to work in the shady shelter of a canopy of oak trees. A bonus crate of plums and homegrown! Fuji apples arrived (which turned into very excellent lightly sweetened tart and gorgeous jam) which added to our cache of tomatoes and strawberries donated by Jamie of Serendipity Farm.

We filled all these jars and then some! with roasted tomato sauce, sweet dilly pickles, strawberry jam, plum apple jam, and orange tomato chutney.
Julie of Bell Tree Farm provided appetizers and lunch. She made goat milk feta and let me tell you, it was insane. It paired quite nicely with some oven roasted balsamic strawberry preserves.

Thanks to Mark Basse for these next 4 images, I did crop the first 3 (hope that's ok!) to respect the privacy of some of the participants of whose permission I did not ask to post photos of.
Everyone was so enthusiastic and I was really stoked to see how everyone just jumped in and went at it. An impressive group of people and a truly great time.
::Me filling jars with a hot brine solution for pickles::
Everyone went home with a bag filled with the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. What a FABULOUS time!
I came home to a beautiful evening and my little family happy and excited to see me. Life is good! No, life is GREAT!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sunset in the Garden

Yesterday I got a wild hair and decided to rip out some of the tomato plants that were pretty much done anyway. I surveyed what was left on these 10 or so plants and couldn't think of any reason I should keep them around. We're out of green tomato chutney anyway! So the kids and I (ahem) pulled them out together and just set them aside. We planted some abandoned fava bean seeds which were found sprouting in an abandoned pot (the kids had been "cooking" them in mud recently). I also planted a round of Kentucky Wonder pole beans which I hope to eat a few fresh but mostly they will be for drying. We'll see how the weather holds out.

Speaking of the tomato plants, the most odd thing is happening. I'm not sure if this is typical of wilt or if I misdiagnosed the issue all along, but several of the plants have fresh, healthy growth on them. And flowers. Completely stumped. I figure I'll let some of them go just out of plain curiosity! I have buckwheat to go in as a cover before it gets too cold so we'll see how long I do let them go ---
This photo is so over exposed, however this is the youngest corn patch, or shall we call it an amaranth patch? haha. The newest sunflowers and a few young melon plants are in the foreground. Summer was so dreary and awful I figured I throw a few things in really late just to see. I had extra seeds anyway. I noticed at The Farm had a whole strip of corn that was only perhaps 5" tall the other day, I'm guessing they're banking on a warm fall as well.
Eggplants and pepper just now starting to bloom. Craziness! They have been waiting all this time.

Hens and roosters starting to roost for the night.
A very dry, September native lawn.
An egg hiding in wood shavings in the coop!
Our juvenile Pumpkin Hulsey rooster, a recalcitrant fellow who refuses to roost with the others. He always chooses this tree instead. He's making his way up to his favorite branch in this photo.

A variety of winter squash:


Good night!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tomato Canning... with kids

I managed another tomato harvest yesterday afternoon. I'm really surprised at the quantity of tomatoes coming from the plants. Surprised and, of course, thrilled.
Mid-week canning can be a bit torturous and difficult since it's just me and the kids. I generally try my best to involve them in most of what I do, when my sanity allows (haha). Yesterday the kids were strangely agreeable so we got all the tomatoes cleaned and cut and roasted. I decided to do this batch something like this sauce recipe from Collecting The Moments. It really does make a great sauce to either can or freeze. I prefer to can my tomatoes so they're at the ready without having to think ahead to defrost them. There is a measure of comfort, too, knowing that if we lose electricity I won't lose all my hard work.

We made time for silly crafts with the oddball tomatoes too. Both kids were laughing at these two little surprises I set out for them SO HARD that they made me laugh so hard I cried. It was really hilarious.

There is plenty of taste testing for quality control as well.
And a few Hot Wheels and various other vehicles add to the adventure of the day.
This is a mix of Green Grape and a volunteer type. We all thought they were so pretty mixed together.
Roasted tomatoes cooling.

As a side note, one of the many things I love about preserving my own tomatoes is that I have full control of what goes into it. These go the chickens... I wonder what a factory would do with them? Yuck.
Here are our pots of sauce all blended and ready for canning. Gorgeous!

That's as far as we got yesterday. This morning the sun cleared to beautiful skies so the canning pot went out on the bbq side burner. I used to be such a bbq snob and would ONLY eat food that had been cooked over hardwood charcoal (no packed briquettes for me still unless I'm being a gracious guest). Once the kids came along and I realized how hard it was to get and keep those coals just so while juggling everything else we caved and bought a big dumb gas grill. I'm disgusted by how much I love that thing. It's just so darn... usefull. ha! And really, how great is canning OUTSIDE while the kids run around and play in the mud?!
And by noon the cans had made their way to a shelf in the pantry. I'm hoping to fill that shelf with more preserves as the tomatoes ripen. My shelves are looking much more sparse than usual this time of year!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Some sun, some flowers, and lots of lacto-fermenting.

It has been busy around these parts. I know the blog has been very quiet and that is for a few reasons. One, my camera is in for repair. Sometimes I borrow one, but I really miss MY camera. Also, we've been making lots of food and putting a variety of foods up for winter. The kitchen sink is always busy lately. Oh and the third reason it has been quiet here? You may guess it... yup 2 small kids ;)
Speaking of those small kids, they went on a green tomato picking spree one afternoon while I was pulling down the sweet pea flowers (at the end of August? They don't usually last past June!). What do do with all these green tomatoes? Green tomato chutney! Delicious. We've had it on salmon tacos, burgers, omelets. My 4 year old big boy will eat anything if it has green tomato chutney slathered on it. I'd post a photo of it but we've eaten it all...Oh! Look! We have a new layer. One of the homegrown babies has started to lay. They're a mix of Cuckoo Marans and something else... hard to say what with our unseparated flock. A teeny little perfect egg was found this week in the nesting boxes. The rhubarb harvest has been in full swing. At the end of August. Weird. I know I keep saying this, but this has been the most odd summer ever. My 4 year old took this photo of me holding a rhubarb bouquet.
The melons and pumpkin vines continue to grow and I see some of the pumpkins are growing quite large.
I was beyond excited last week when I found a preying mantis on the yarrow! I've never seen one here in my garden! It was only perhaps an inch and a half long and it's coloring perfectly matched the yarrow. Of course I was without camera so I have no photo of it, but what a dreamy abode the yarrow makes.
I even spent an afternoon with the seeds in the garden. I brought them out to remind them of where they will be growing. No, really, I brought them out to plant some but the day got away (ahem) and I haven't had a chance to even think of them since. I do need to get some fall seeds started.
And now for the lacto-fermentation chatter. If you aren't already familiar with fermenting foods, this is a great summation by Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation. Food Renegade and Lost Arts Kitchen have great posts to read if you want to acquaint yourself with why and how . It is so very simple indeed. No need to be intimidated! I promise. A simple, healthful, natural way to preserve food AND make it even more nutritious.

Much of the vegetable ferments I've done use a simple sea salt brine solution with some garlic and herbs thrown in for flavor. The only down side of fermenting vegetables that I have found so far is I do tend to go through so much salt!
Look at these sad tomato plants! My my... it seems as if they wouldn't hold a single tomato in there.
But we've been eating a few of them! This was the real first harvest I suppose, although it was just a quickie-mini from the first few plants. Just a grab-and-go-cuz-the-kids-are-alone-inside-likely-wreaking-havoc type of mini harvest.
We've also been eating lots of carrots. This harvest of this crop of Amarillo carrots is coming to a close. They have been a great producer for us this cool summer. Our favorites, Purple Haze, didn't fare as well in the coolness.
Some of the tomatoes and carrots quickly became lacto-fermented salsa and some lacto dilly carrot sticks.
We've been making a bunch of salsa in fact. One afternoon my big boy and I had a hankering for some salsa but we quickly realized we were out of lemons and limes and since the baby was napping, there was no chance of a quick jaunt to the store.
Which led to a GREAT discovery! My son has been eating lots of Sheep Sorrel, a common weed in our garden. His eyes got big and he said "I know! Let's use the sheep greens! They taste lemony!" You know what? He was so right! In addition to the lemon flavor, it also imparts a nice tang.
My big boy and his harvest of the goods for our afternoon of salsa :)
We've also been picking and fermenting lots of dilly beans, which I made just like the carrots.
This big glass jar has been filled with cucumbers for true salt- brined pickles. We're all really excited for them, especially my little guy.

Also in the lacto mix went several jars of Escabeche. We've begun enjoying this lot already and let me tell you it is really fantastic! I plan on making a few more batches of this, one of which I'll leave the jalapenos out of so the boys can enjoy the onions and carrots and mild peppers.
Canning too! I made all sorts of boysenberry preserves this spring and as it turns out our favorite by far is the batch I made with orange juice and zest in it. So I tried my hand at adding it to the strawberry as well and it's quite nice. Then I got all fancy and followed this recipe for a batch as well... and well.... it didn't gel. It's great added to our homemade yogurt so I'll keep it for that, but would love to do another batch using my standard go-to pectin to ensure it gels properly. I'm still not sure what I did wrong. I'm wondering it it's time for a new thermometer. The ginger in the recipe is awesome.