Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Black Raspberry Rhapsody

I started picking black raspberries on July 6th. I put a cup of them into a jar with apple cider vinegar. I filled the jar with the next picking and then began a jar of black raspberry liquor.

Every day or so I pick more black raspberries. Sometimes I eat them out of hand or over granola or in a shortcake (my husband loves them in a shortcake). I asked my neighbors if I could pick theirs and they said yes. Their patch is the progenitor of mine. Canes leaned over the fence between us. When they struck earth on my side, they started a new plant. Up in the kitchen garden last year I had ten tomato plants and at the end of the summer I had ten black raspberry plants started in amongst them. I moved them to the main garden to keep company with the others that had come over the fence.

A cup or two of black raspberries can enhance many things besides vinegar and vodka. I made some mango black raspberry sauce for winter waffles. I added some to my rumtopf. I made a fruit cocktail with mangoes, white nectarines, black raspberries and a navel orange. I kept one picking in the fridge and with the next picking I had enough to make 4 jars of black raspberry jam.

When I was a child, my favorite ice cream was black raspberry. Crystal Springs Dairy's soft ice cream stand had it on alternate Thursdays in the summer and I ate it all summer long.

I don't have the same love affair with red raspberries. They don't have the depth of flavor, the depth of colour, that black raspberries impart to things. I did have access to a wonderful red raspberry patch in Nova Scotia. They would start to produce the week before my son's birthday at the end of July and loved having red raspberry shortcake as his birthday cake. I even got enough raspberries for a gallon or two of wine.

I started a red raspberry patch here in southern Ontario. My neighbor gave me some canes. But they're not the best. They heartily put energy into propagating by root extensions, but produce few seeds (and the berries that surround them). This summer they showed hearty blossoms, but most produced fruit of maybe three seeds or less. I cut them all down, bundled them up as green waste. Soon I'll have all the roots dug up. I left the red raspberries that are producing fruit. They can spread if they want -- but they'll have to compete with the black raspberries I'll be putting in.

The harvest is noticeably diminishing in the black raspberry patch. But today I noticed a few new canes had blossoms on them. They did that last year too. And in another month I'll have another black raspberry harvest...

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great Cellar Refurb, Part 1

The cellar is small in width, depth, and height (even I at 5' 1" can bang my head on duct work). Strictly speaking it is a tall crawl space. But we have our laundry, freezer, water heater, furnace and storage down there.

In the spring we put in a hanging grow light over a fold-up camping table. Later I built a much shorter table so that we could use a gravity-fed waterer for the plants on it. I got longer chains for the grow light. When we're not growing things on it, it will be a platform for winter storage of vegetables that I built stackable bins for. Now we just needed a unit to put the water on.

Just a week or so ago, a neighbor put out a disassembled shelving unit on the boulevard. It was actually sawed off a hutch unit, but it was all wood. I reassembled it with an additional shelf, all spaced to hold canning jars. I painted the whole thing blue with acrylic enamel we had on hand. My husband found another shelf unit while sorting through our main floor storage room. I put two more shelves in it with everything spaced to hold canning jars. I painted that blue too.

Then we had to rearrange what storage we did have for home preserves to fit the units in. The metal shelf unit by the stairs came out. In its place went the unit from the neighbor. I commenced to moved all of the older preserves into it and put the two kettles I use for water bath processing on the top shelf; they're very handy to get at from the stairs. That freed up space on the bigger shelves along another wall for things that had been on the metal shelf unit, though an old enamel processor went to Freecyle.

We moved the top shelf of the metal unit down and put the unit between the stairs and the grow light table. The gravity fed waterer went on the moved top shelf. Other planting things will go on the other shelves.

The main unit I had built two years ago for home preserves had a decided lean to it. I took everything off, placing it either on top of the washer and dryer or in our wheeled laundry bin. I determined that the lean was due to the lay of the floor (it is rough cement). Rather than having it against the wall, I turned it 90 degrees and found a spot where it was horizontally level. If I put in a board brace to move its top away from the wall (which was not vertically level), then it would be vertically level as well as more stable. My husband found a piece of old paneling in our storage room that just fit the back of the unit. Jars won't fall out and that stabilizes the unit more too. The second new unit went across the end of the older unit to form a T. Everything is accessible.

I sorted the remaining preserves into older and this season's . The older preserves and empty jars went into the second new unit. This season's preserves went into the older unit. Now I don't have to search for the older stuff and I have plenty of empty space for new preserves.

Part 2 will be the wall shelves and the double bank of shelves on the other side of the stairs!

An Afternoon in Marmora

This is a week late, but possibly better on reflection.

I saw an ad on-line for well-rotted horse manure in Marmora, so I contacted the advertiser and arranged to go there on a Monday afternoon to pick some up.

I cleared out the back of the CRV, flipped up the back seats, and laid in a double tarp (reuse from a lumberyard -- it had covered lumber) with the sides up in a box. I tossed in a shovel and my gloves and was ready to go.

Along the way I got gas (prices had nicely dipped that day), some cash, and made a stop at Almost Perfect (bargain frozen food and shelf stuff -- stock continually varies) on the outskirts of town, where I picked up some Jones soda for fluid replenishment as well as some de-alcoholized beer. Always make multiple stops on a trip. Marmora is about 60 km away, so I made note of places I might want to stop on my way back -- if I had the time and energy.

The place was on the other side of Marmora, but not as far as the directions had led me to believe. A teenager was in the yard waiting for me and opened gates so I could take the CRV through.

Well, the manure was not "well-rotted". Somewhat aged, yes, but mixed with clay soil. It was an improvised compost pile that was much too high to really break down. The stuff was heavy, but I did manage to get it a foot deep into the CRV. After forty-five minutes, the back end of the vehicle was noticeably down. Darker clouds had moved in and I had felt a few drops. Time to go. Gates were opened for me to get out but no one collected the $5 from me that I was supposed to pay, though I delayed in the yard a bit. Oh well, they had really advertised to get the pile down, which I had indeed made a dent in.

There was a bit of horsely smell about the car, but not bad. I opened a bottle of Jones soda.

Driving through Marmora, I noticed they did indeed have a little downtown. So I found a nearby parking lot and stopped. It wasn't even 2:30 yet, so I could "sight see" a bit.

The downtown was two blocks long. It had a bank, two dollar stores, an internet cafe, an ice cream and fudge shop with outdoor decor stuff, a sports shop, a couple of restaurants, a convenience store, a Sears catalog place, insurance agency, and a few other offices. Not bad for a village of under 3000 in population. The big grocery store, hardware store, building supply and gas stations were on the highway that ran perpendicular to the downtown street. The place was a center for farmers and cottagers in the area.

The older dollar store advertised itself as a local dollar store. After I visited the other one (which had just opened), I think they were advertising themselves as that because the newer one was part of a small chain (which I'd never encountered before -- but it did have a more diversified stock and a franchise look about it). I made purchases at both. I'd been wanting to go from heavily adhesived labels on my home preserves to things I printed off on plain paper and then glued on myself, which would be easier to remove the next season. I found glue sticks and mucilage to make that happen. I also got some parsnip and rutabaga seeds for late planting (fall crop) as well as nasturtium. We've put in a new door and were planning to paint the panel bevels a different colour than the main door and I found acrylic paint for that. Some aluminum oxide sandpaper, coloured wire and scissors completed my purchases.

The internet cafe had home-made lemon spritzers, so I had one while perusing an issue of Canadian Gardening in one of their comfy chairs. I and two lads on the computers were the only ones there. The shop next door was a computer business, run by the same folk who ran the cafe. I imagine on the weekends the place is busy, but I enjoyed the quiet of a Monday afternoon.

Then I explored the other side of the street. Normally I don't eat ice cream because of my casein intolerance, but a small cone of Kawartha Dairy ice cream (made with real cream) I could handle with a couple of enzyme pills. It was Bordeaux Cherry in a sugar cone and it was delicious!

By the time I finished the cone it was nearly 3:30. Time to go home. I went from the parking lot to the visitor center in the park next door to use the washroom preparatory to the drive back.

When I got home, it took nearly an hour to unload the manure: three garbage cans, a garden cart, two large bins and a recycle box and trug in a garden wagon. Nothing got in the car. I put the tarp over the garden wagon and pulled down to the main garden. Then I went in for some supper and ibuprofen for my left wrist.

Over the following week, I set up a wire compost bin to hold the manure so it will break down between now and next spring. I turfed out two non-productive strawberry beds and mixed in some of the manure in them. Watering and mixing daily has gotten them to a near-plantable state. I still have to move two and half garbage cans of manure (along with sand to temper the clay mixed with it).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Delightful Orange Flowers

I got these from a Quaker friend in Hastings. She was renovating her bed of them and of course had extras. I may have to do the same with them in the next year or so.

I got this plant from my son and his girlfriend for Mother's Day. I planted in the groundcover to fill the pot.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The first preserving marathon of July

Saturday I went to a local U-pick farm for strawberries with my neighbor. Before I went, I loaded up my solar dehydrator with yarrow, yellow oregano, and peppermint. I also bought a stack of interlocking brick, promising to bring the cash for them by 2 pm, from a neighbor across the street.

The picking went well. I got 8 liters of strawberries for $13. After I got them home, I walked to the nearest ATM for cash and found it was still out of order from earlier in the morning. I walked on into downtown and got the cash. The neighbor's yard sale was still set up, so I told her I'd bring my Honda CRV over to load the bricks up once they cleared the driveway. She said to wait until her husband got home and they'd help load.

I went back home to address strawberries. First I had to hull and halve them. I was making Strawberry Margarita Preserves and Spreadable Strawberries. Both required peeled, cored and chopped apples. I did the preserves first: a batch of six half-pints. It was a good half-hour of prep, a half-hour of cooking down, and then another twenty minutes to process them. During the cooking, I got the strawberries and apples ready for the spread. During the processing, I began cooking the spread. That took nearly an hour to get down to the thickness I wanted. I had plenty of time to prepare a dozen half-pint jars (in two pots). It turned out I had only enough to fill 8 half-pint jars and I could fit them all into my larger water processor. While those were processing, I checked on my solar dryer. Most of the yarrow was dry (this in a day with some cloud, but under 60% humidity and steady breeze, which helps with the dryer's air circulation) so I brought it in to strip from the stalks and put into a quart jar.

The processing finished (I use a wind-up timer for all my canning -- so handy!) shortly after I started stripping yarrow. I got the jars out and did some general clean-up, then it was back to the yarrow. During it the bricks came...

The neighbors loaded half the bricks in their pickup truck and brought them over to our house. There were 5 of us unloading so it went fast. My husband went with them to load the rest of them while I went back to the yarrow. I helped them unload the second half of the stack. We got 160 regular sized brick and 60 plus half bricks. I might convert the heavy traffic area of my main garden from gravel to brick just to make it easier to move various carts around.

I decided not do my asparagus pickles after supper that night. I was fast asleep by 10 pm.

The next morning,I added more yarrow to what still had to dry and picked some calendula flowers as well. I cut up my asparagus and set up its brine soak. I also mixed up a batch of no-knead artisan oatmeal bread. I opened a couple of pints of poultry stock, added short asparagus ends, carrots, a garlic scape and mushrooms and got soup stock going in my thermal cooker, I set aside longer asparagus ends (which weren't woody) for vegetable kabobs. Somewhere in this I cooked my husband and I egg sandwiches on the last of our homemade English muffins and had some coffee. I also labelled and put away the strawberry preserves and spread.

I got the 6 half-pint jars heating for the dilled asparagus and readied the pickle liquor. I rinsed the asparagus and decided I had to use the larger pot for the initial heating of it after all. While it was doing that, I picked my dill weed and garlic chives. A sixth of dried cayenne pepper went into the bottom each jar, then I packed in the asparagus spears along with dill fronds and chive lengths. It turned out that you can fit more heated asparagus than raw asparagus in a jar. I had two jars left over. I also had a surplus of snow peas, so I took enough of those that had little peas inside them and packed them into one jar. I had just enough pickle liquor to fill that jar. I processed them all together since they both had the same processing time.

While that was going on, I formed up two loaves and a half dozen buns from the oatmeal dough. They would need about an hour to rise.

I drained the stock. I cut up the carrots and threw them back in to the soup pot. Then I added more tender asparagus ends done in 1/8" slices, a can of creamed corn, a can of corn, a can of white meat chicken and a half cup of wild rice. After bringing it to a boil, I set it in the thermal cooker. By then my son had come over to help my husband install a new door on the room he's converting to a music studio. I told him there'd be a lunch of soup and homemade bread shortly after one.

I'd promised my neighbor I'd help her install two brackets to hold her upside-down tomatoes. I went over to her place to find out when we could do. She told me she had to go out on an errand but would come over in a half hour to get me for the job.

I did some kitchen cleanup. The sink was now overflowing with drying bowls and pots. I made an oatmeal cake to bake while the bread was baking. I made depressions in the buns and filled them with Black Forest Preserves. Once everything was in the oven, I set the timer for 35 minutes for the cake and sat down on my deck outside the kitchen with some rhubarb ade and crossword book,

My neighbor's errand took her an hour and when she came over, I still had ten minutes on the cake. She said to come over when my baking was done. After the cake and buns came out, there was still another ten minutes on the bread. It was shortly after one when the bread was done, but the beauty of soup in the thermal cooker is that it can be left on its own. Besides the guys were in the middle of hinging the door. I got my 18v cordless screw gun and some screws and went over to my neighbor's.

When I got back, I cut up the last of the artisan boule and dished out soup. I did clean up then cut up the oatmeal cake into serving size pieces. Some went into the freezer and some I put in a container for dinner's dessert (strawberry shortcake!). I bagged up the oatmeal loaves and put them in the freezer too. The buns went into the refrigerator's freezer.

I decided to relax until it was time to bring in stuff from the solar dryer and make dinner. After my son left, I went to a nearby store for chicken and cherries that were on special. I'll be making meloml with those -- but that will wait until Monday.

I stripped down the rest of the yarrow and now have a quart jar of yarrow leaves and flower for tea and poultices. In a couple of weeks I'll dry another quart. That should suffice for the winter. You shouldn't drink yarrow tea every day, but it works much like echinacea if you drink tea of it during the first stages of a cold or flu. I started a jar of calendula flowers. I was really pleased my solar dryer preserved the colour of the petals-- they'll look fantastic on salads in the winter and they also make a good tea. I'll pick those as they come and dry them (when I'm not putting them fresh into salads).

The day is over and it had started to rain (again!). But it was a beautiful low-humidity weekend with moderate temperatures -- perfect for a preserving marathon.