Monday, September 29, 2008

Fruit preservation adventures

Wild grapes - growing up a tree on one side of the yard...

So, do you want to guess what our weekend was about? Yep - fruit preservation...again! We realized this weekend that we are in fact lucky that our first attempts at gardening in the PNW proved to be only marginally successful. If we had ended up with bumper crops of any veggies, we'd be in deep trouble! We'd probably have to let it go to waste as we just wouldn't have time to put it all up. As it is, we are collecting HUGE bins of fallen fruit to share with our grass-fed beef and pork suppliers down the road. Some how, we are going to have to figure out a way of making this work next year. Canning and cooking on the weekends only is NOT going to cut it when we add veggies to the mix. We are barely keeping up with just the fruit right now!

Anyway, our plan was to keep processing the pears. The apples are still holding steady, so there is no real rush with them, just yet. The pears, on the other hand, are fast becoming too ripe to keep! Luckily, when we returned from our Saturday morning trip to the hardware store, we found a big box at our door. Our food dehydrator arrived!! Yay...a new way to save food!! So we unpacked it and set it up. We did a quick read of the instructions (pretty funny...they need a better editor!) and set to work filling it with pears. I had help this time as I made a point of noting that my H hadn't yet helped with food preservation yet. ;-) He was happy to help uot and he peeled while I cored and sliced. We filled all 10 trays and it took about 35 pears to do so. It actually made the house smell really yummy as the slighty sweet smell spread from the dehydrator.

Slicing pears and arranging them on the trays

Pears on the trays in the dehydrator

Dried pears!

Then we headed outside to clean up more fallen fruit, finish picking the rest of the pears left on the trees, and to let our chickens free range. The fallen fruit we put into bins and boxes to take to the pigs down the road. The pears I picked got separated into groups: pears to can, pears to save for another week (still green), pears to dry and pears to sauce. We took care of the pears to dry with a second dehydrator load on Sunday. The pears to can will be done this week (I should be able to do this in an evening with help from the H). I don't know what I'm going to do about the pear sauce. Maybe I'll make it and then put it directly into the crockpot to make pear butter. We'll see. We have a slight issue in that we are almost out of quart jars. There are no more to be had locally, and most of the online retailers are out as well. I guess this is normal for this time of year as these are a seasonal product - but we didn't think we'd have so much fruit to deal with!!

In order to let the chickens free-range, we decided they'd have to go into the goat field. We didn't feel safe letting them run free with our neighbor's dogs running around. So we went into the coop and grabbed them one by one tossing them over the goat fence as we went! Eventually, all 11 were in there and then we got Seven from her 'hospital' kennel and added her to the group. It was interesting to watch how they all interacted when not confined by the space. Maple was the most fearless of them all. She was unfazed by us, by the goats and by the cat (who was outside the fence). Seven was definitely a loner and while she was clearly happy to be outside and roaming around, she had no interest in hanging out with the other chickens. She did occasionally socialize with Maple when she was away from the flock, but that's about it. Sassy had no real interest in the chickens and Buddy was curious but well-behaved.

This is the RIR that is most agressive - I think we should call her Attilla. She's the only RIR with her full tail feathes!

This is poor Seven. Notice the lack of tail? At least it is healing and isn't a bloody stump anymore.

This is Bonny in the goat pen - they were all having such fun that it was hard to catch any of the chickens not moving!

When it came time to put them back, we pulled the big dog kennel into the pen, set it open between the fence and the goat lean-to and then hearded all the chickens behind the lean-to and directly into the kennel. It was surprisingly easy! Then we carried the kennel back to the coop and let them walk right back into their home.

On Sunday, we decided that between a run to the grocery store and Cosco, we were going to try preserving something other than pears (though we did fill the dehydrator one more time). We went outside and began picking the wild grapes. These grapes are small and dark purpleish-blue. They also have seeds, so we figured that juicing was in order. We picked 2.5 big buckets full and you should have seen us. There are big vines growing up the tree branches on one side of our yard. To reach them, H was using a tall tree trimmer extension. He'd clip the vines and I'd stand underneath and try to catch them to avoid smashing all the grapes on the ground. By the time we were done, I was covered in grape juice! I'm sure we were a sight to see....him with his head cranned all the way back and a big pole waving in the, runing around with my arms wide open trying to catch huge falling vines loaded with grapes! This barely making a dent in the crop, too. We juiced half of it with my food mill and a 'grape spiral', and ended up with a gallon of tart but tasty grape juice. We'll finish up the rest of the ones we harvested this week but we had to stop as we ran out of places to put the juice!

Wild blue grapes (they looked like blueberries when off the vine) and green grapes that we think are a type of muscodine.

Grapes in the food mill - juice coming out the bottom!

Pouring juice into saved OJ bottles - thank goodness for being a pack rat. Had I not saved a couple of these, we'd have no place to put the juice!

Friday, September 26, 2008

A date for Sasafras

We did it! We found an Alpine buck to breed Sass with...locally. Very local, in fact. They live about 4 miles from us! We decided that we wanted to stick with an Alpine for the buck. That way, if we end up selling any of her offspring, they'll be purebloods and easier to sell. We are expecting that she'll have twins and we are hoping to have girls. Sass has at least a couple more years of kidding in her, so if we don't get girls, we'll try again. We are both excited (and a bit scared) about this whole process. We are tracking her estrus (heat) and when she shows signs again, we'll call the buck's owner and set up a date. If we do this in the next couple of weeks (which we hope to) that means she'll be kidding in March. How fun and terrifying all at once! We figure that even if we have no idea what we are doing, at least Sass does. She's an old hand at this and will hopefully be patient with us.

I checked on our little injured Seven last night. She appears to be healing well and seems no worse for the wear. She's going to remain in the 'hospital' crate in the garage until she's healed up. We are keeping her clean, fed and comfortable, so hopefully she'll heal quickly. While I'm sure she's happy to not be abused, I think she's lonely.

The siding is almost done! When I got home yesterday, I drove up to a house that pretty much looks complete. I'll try to take a few photos tonight. It looks good! The shingles look really nice with the boards and the area over the garage is way nicer than it was before. They also managed to extend the siding a little further down the foundation in the front, so it looks much more finished off. And the front porch area? It looks GREAT. These guys really did a nice job. We are both very impressed. I think we still have a final walk-through...and there are a few little things left to re-attach...but for the most part, it's complete. I think we may get to start painting this weekend!

So, for this weekend we have a few plans:

1) start painting
2) can more pears and make pearbutter
3) buy supplies to make large chicken run
4) buy chest freezer
5) season mild feta and make more
6) try making grape juice

We received notification from the apartment complex that we should see a check for our deposit soon. That's money that we had not budgeted on, so we are going to use it to buy the chest freezer. I also found some drawings/plans to make fence panels that hook together to create a mobile chicken run. I'm going to attempt getting the supplies (and maybe making a few) this weekend. I want to be able to give the chickens more room before we reintroduce Seven to the group.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Poor little chicken

More peaceful days - their first exposure to watermelon. This is Bruno, Maple and the red in the back is Seven.

Once a week we move our chicken coop so that the chicks get fresh grass and so that we don't kill the grass it's sitting on. It used to be that once a week was often enough, but now that they are getting bigger (read: eating more and poo-ing more), we have to start moving it more often. Last night was moving night. I called home as I left work and my H said that he'd already put the chicks into the big dog crate in prep for the coop move. I said that was fine and that I'd be home in half an hour.

I get home, change my clothes and shoes, and we go out to move the coop. While H was looking for the moving strap, I check out the birds in the crate. One of the Rhode Island Reds was bleeding! This is the little red who spends most of her time in the coop while the other birds are out in the run (I named her Seven). I know she's the bottom of the pecking order, but I didn't realize how severe it was. While I was standing there, each of the other three red's took turns pulling out her tail feathers! She had a gross, bloody stump where her tail used to be and they were just making it worse. We immedately got her out of there and let her roam in the grass. Then one of the reds started going after some of the Ameraucans! We pulled her out as well while we got the coop moved.

We found a nice spot for it, set up the feeder and the water and let the chickens go back in. Then we rounded up the free chickens (Bonny had taken the oportunity to get a little freedom too) and put them in the coop. We decided that poor little Seven (the one with the bloody tail) needed space to heal. We set up the smaller dog crate with a waterer and feeder from their brooder days and filled it with wood shavings. H fashioned a perch and we put Seven in there for a few days. I really hope she heals up ok. She doesn't seem too upset by it...but it looks nasty and painful. We also did a little research on the chickens breeds and sure enough, this is an issue with Rhode Island Reds. Lovely. Solutions are to clip their beaks at an early age (too late!) and to give the birds lots of free-range time. We can't let them free range when we aren't home, so that only leaves weekends. We are going to see if there is any way we can give them more space to roam even when we are not home.

I also did some calcuations and realized that my original guess that we'll start seeing eggs by Thanksgiving was wrong. It looks like 20 weeks puts us at the 2nd week in December. So, if we see any eggs by Christmas, I'll be pleased. That is also the time of year with the least daylight, so laying naturally slows anyway. Hopefully by next January, we should be getting a good flow of eggs. That is, of course, assuming that all the chickens survive until then!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Siding progress and growing chicks

I finally took more siding pictures last night. The front of the house (and the front porch) is not complete, but you can definitely see progress.

Here you can see the section we chose to do in 'shingles' as opposed to boards.

The big wood beam just above the post was replaced and it's now straight out from the house as it should be. You can also see where the ceiling was removed.

This is from the other side of the door. The big brick planter is gone - and that post will be covered to make it more attractive (when the ceiling goes back in).

The north side of the house - don't you just love the yellow 'accessories'?

The back of the house - we are thinking we need to replace that stoop which now looks terrible!

The back side of the house showing the deck (and the screwed up fencing we need to fix). Again, more yellow accessories including doors!!

And just for good measure, here are a few of the chicks. They are now 9 weeks old. We have at least 2 roosters (both White Leghorns) and they are just learning to crow. We also question the sex of a couple of our Ameraucanas. I could have sworn that one of them was making crowing sounds when I was taking these photos.

Roosters and chickens - the black/brown one in the far back was the one I could have sworn was starting to crow...

This is Bruno - he's the rooster with the reddest comb - he's also the best at crowing (so far).

And this is Maple. She's the smallest bird and easily the most friendly and least skittish of the group. Isn't she pretty?

Lastly, my applesauce and applebutter (which I had on toast for breakfast today!):

Applesauce made with three types of apples - one of which I know is Red Delicious. I love how it's got a slightly pink tint to it. It's quite tasty, too!

Applebutter - basically boiled down applesauce with sugar and spices added. It's amazing how much more flavorful this stuff is over the store-bought varieties!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Canning, canning and then more canning!

Pears are ready - we have three trees all of which are ripening at the same time. Pear overload! It's a mad dash to get them all preserved in one form or another before they go bad!

When Saturday dawned grey and chilly, I was secretly delighted. Perfect weather for spending the weekend in the kitchen without feeling like I was missing out on something better. ;-) Our first order of business (after the chores) was to pick up our share of grass-fed beef and pork from the local CSA. We met the couple who owns the ranch and their six (SIX!) sons! They couldn't have been much older than us but they had six sons ranging in age from about 17 to about 2. AND they run a ranch? Yeah, remind me of that the next time I'm complaining about not having enough time on my hands! They were a cool couple and we are glad to be supporting them. We offered to bring them fallen apples and pears for their pigs - so we hope to do that this coming weekend. Anyway, after we stopped at the local discount store to pick up some more wide-mouth canning jars, we headed home.

While my H was keeping himself busy fixing a plethora of items around the homestead, this weekend was all about food preservation for me. First off, I started with making cajeta. This is a mexican caramel candy made from milk. It basically makes a creamy caramel sauce that can be used over ice cream, with apple slices, eaten by itself to squash a sweet craving...etc. I liked that it used up 3 quarts of milk! The directions sounded deceptively simple and we've long ago learned that when it sounds too good to be true - it is. Anyway, I started with a big pot of milk, sugar and cornstarch.

I boiled it until it started forming a caramel-type mixture.

What the directions failed to point out was that this process would take HOURS. Ugh. Anyway, once it was the right consistancy, I pour it into pint jars and processed it in my waterbath canner. I now have two jars in the pantry and one in the fridge for immediate consumption. I've only tried tasting it (creamy, milky, caramel flavor) and have yet to use it on sliced apples (maybe tonight?). It's good!

Then I went out and picked the last of the blackberries. While I was out there, I met up with our neighbors (and their dogs) and we got to chatting a bit. They gave us a few of their apples (delicious variety that we don't have) and we offered up all the pears they could eat! They also mentioned that if we needed their help, they'd be happy to watch our animals for us some time. That was good news! That and the fact that they are going to get chickens, too. :-) Anyway, I used up the blackberries by making the jam, freezing two more quarts, and then baking my mom's awesome blueberry muffins but with blackberries.

Our freezer packed with milk (the ivory colored bags - it's white when it's defrosted), grass fed pork and beef (the white paper packages) and frozen berries (blackberries and blueberries).

Blackberry jam - seedless variety. We have now 12 pints of this which should last us through the year, no problem!

Blackberry muffins! Jordan Marsh style!

They turned out tasty, but fell apart when I tried to get them out of the pan. I didn't grease it well enough. Ooops.

Then I moved on to pear sauce. First I picked out enough pears to fill the same pot that made me 7 quarts of applesauce.

Washed pears - awaiting the knife...

Then I sliced them leaving the skins on since my food mill will separate them for me.

Then I boiled them, sauced them, and put it back into the pot to season it. It just didn't go as well as the apple sauce did. The sauce came out kind of watery. I tried to boil off some of the juice, but it's still pretty wet. Eh. I canned it anyway (7 quarts).

I need to make labels - the pearsauce looks deceptively like applesauce!

On Sunday I canned the pear slices, made more applesauce (which turned out way better than the first batch because I used 3 varieties), and started making applebutter in the crock pot. I'll be canning the applebutter this evening after work.

Pears - canned and ready for the pantry!

All in all - it was a weekend of successful pantry stuffing!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Before photos

Can you believe it? Two posts in one day!!

Anyway, here are some before photos of the work we are having done by the siding company.

The front entrance: before.

The garage: before.

The north side: before.

The south side: before.

These are some photos of the sagging front entryway. We are paying extra to have this fixed correctly - and it appears to be a challenge!

The corner on the left is sagging due to water damage over time. The white posts were put in by the previous owners at our request because the old one had some serious dry rot going on.

Here you can kind of see it - the big thick beam holding up the roof is slanted down away from the house - it should be straight across!

You can see how this overhang is sagging away from the house a little better in this shot.

And the work begins! This is the south side of the house after they removed all the old siding. You can see how there was no vapor barier on the attic part. You can also clearly see the thick, solid cedar boars that our house was built with...

The first delivery of supplies - more was dropped off pretty much every day this week. And the HUGE dumpster now pretty much blocks this pile from view from this angle (it hadn't been delivered yet).

I'll take some photos tomorrow of what's done so far. Basically, there is siding up on all sides of the house except the front. They also started work on raising that sagging corner - it's propped up temporarily right now - but it already looks better!


Wow, nice blogging, huh? I can't believe that it's already Friday and that I haven't written at all since last Saturday! Let's see...what's been going on...

Saturday night we went out with friends and had some food from my husband's heritage. It was a crawfish place and he was in hog-heaven! Boiled crawfish, seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, fried oysters and pecan pie... And in the car on the way home, he had a big ole grin on his face. Who knew that a culinary trip down memory lane would have such a positive affect on him. It was really cute!

On Sunday, we did some work around the house. We reversed roles from the previous weekend. I was outside mowing the lawn, trimming the fruit trees, picking up rotten apples, setting up a second compost pile, etc... and H was in the kitchen making mozzarella. He worked on it ALL day and unfortunately, it didn't turn out. I guess mozzarella is to my H what yogurt is to me? He'll get it eventually! At least we still have plenty of milk to work with! ;-)

This coming weekend, I'm going to make more milk stuff. Fudge, pudding and a Mexican caramel candy....I guess it's going to be a 'sweet' weekend! I will also try my hand at apple butter and pearsauce. We'll be picking more pears, finishing up the chicken coop and cleaning out the goat's lean-to. Oh, and admiring our house...

The siding company started work on the house on Tuesday. So far, they've finished the south side and the entire back side of the house. It looks like a totally different place! The siding is pre-primed, so it's kind of a washed out beige color...and it's an improvement over the yellow. I took a few before photos and one of a wall after the old siding was removed, so I'll post those this weekend. Luckily, the main walls of the house were built with big solid cedar boards (not pressboard like today's homes) and it is in good shape. We are very, very thankful for that! Everyday we come home to more of the house being done and we are both very excited to get started on painting. That'll have to wait until they are totally done because sawing the siding generates a lot of dust. We *may* start this weekend on painting the garage doors and the back doors - but that will depend on how the weather shapes up.

It's also been a busy week at work for both of us. My responsibilities are really picking up (about right - 6 months into the job now) and I've had to cut my lunch breaks short all week! H has had travel to complete and has been kept very busy during the day. All in all though, things are good. We managed only one commute by bicycle this week, but my plan is to increase that to two commutes for the next two weeks. I hope to be up to three times a week by the second week in October. I would be a lot more motivated to ride if the stupid Prius would sell. And what is with the gas prices lately? They just dropped again! We are now well below $3.50/gal. Now, of course, that's not cheap...but this trend is not conducive to the sale of a hybrid car! And I've heard that the trend is in the other direction on the east coast. I guess I shouldn't be complaining, should I?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Applesauce success!

Today I set about to make applesauce. I'd picked two big fabric bags of apples off the tree that is now basically done with apples a little over a week ago and I needed to use them up. I've got two mesh bags of the most perfect looking ones down in the basement. I've also got a big 'green bag' of good ones in the fridge for eating now. I figured that the rest of them would make good applesauce.

Basically, I followed directions that I found online. First I washed all the apples. I picked over them and set the ones with big bruises to one side. Then I began slicing them. I used one of those slicers that you center over the core and press down. I left the skin on, and it went quicker than I thought it would. I kept a box at my feet for the cores, and I threw all of the slices into a big pot that had about an inch of water in it. I cut off the biggest bruises prior to slicing those, and it kept me from having to throw out too many apples.

Once all the apples were sliced, I boiled them in the water (the ones on top were only steamed) until they started getting pretty soft.

Then I started ladeling them into the food mill. I debated using the screen designed for salsa so that I could get a chunky applesauce, but decided that since this was my first attempt, I'd keep it simple and not screw around with the directions too much. It was really easy. I just kept dumping in the slices, turning the crank, and periodically emptying my bowl into a big pot.

Eventually, I had all the apples sauced. I then moved the pot to the stove to keep the sauce hot for canning. I added cinnamon, nutmeg and a little succant to sweeten it a bit.

As all this was going on, all my jars were in the dishwasher finishing up the 'sani rinse' so that they were nice and clean and hot for the next step.

I pulled one jar at a time out, filled it with applesauce, put the lid on and set it on the waterbath canner rack. I repeated this until I had 7 quarts filled (the max my waterbath canner will hold). It worked out perfectly. If I fill my big stainless pot to the top with apple slices, I get exactly 7 quarts of applesauce! Once they were all filled, I submerged them, added some more boiling water to cover the tops by 1 -2 inces...and then boiled them for 20 minutes.

I set them out to cool and was concerned that they wouldn't all seal (I'd forgotten to wipe the rims of two jars). Turns out, they all sealed beautifully and they are now sitting quietly in my pantry. As soon as I have enough ripe pears (or enough ripe apples of a different type), I'm going to make more. I was impressed with how smoothly the whole process went. Start to finish, I'd guess that it was about 2 hours. I feel so domestic!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Growing things

Grapes - white variety. These are sweet and will probably be excellent table grapes in a week or two.

Unknown plum variety - this is a HUGE tree in the way back of the property. We think it's likely older than the house. These plums are tiny little things - but taste pretty good (they aren't quite ripe yet).

One of our two first watermelons! We planted 3 varieties and so far, this is the only one producing.

Our first full sized tomatoes - about to turn red! (we've already had some grape and plum tomatoes to harvest)

Grapes - this is the red variety - we have way more of these than the white ones. I forsee grape juice in our future.

Pears - the pear harvest will be HUGE this year. I picked the first 4 ripe ones today. The cold wet spring that affected the apple harvest apparently did not bother the pears!

Plums - these are prune plums. We need to harvest them and dry them as they taste weird in their current state - should be interesting!

These are one of 4 or 5 apple varieties we have. This one is very small. Small trees, small apples...but they taste a little like Cortlands (if I remember correctly).

We also have identified two red delicious trees, three tress of a variety that looks like fuji and one tree of a totally unknown variety that is tart and makes a good baking apple. That particular tree ripened well ahead of the rest of the apple trees. Lastly, we have a tree on the other side of the property that is well behind the other apples. The variety is yet to be determined as the apples are still small green things with only a slight blush on a few...

I also harvested our first potatoes last night. I've never grown potatoes, so I wasn't sure what I was doing when we started. We basically just took a regular potato that had sprouted in a few places and cut it into smaller pieces. Then I planted these pieces in the garden in a row. H said that his father used to cover the potato sprouts with dirt, so we did that for awhile. They bushed up nicely:

Potatoes on the right, corn on the left.

Eventually though, the potato plants started looking sickly. I'm not sure if it was lack of water, lack of sun (the corn kind of shadows them now), or some bug issue. They never flowered (I thought they were going to) and now they look sort of dead. Last night, I picked the worst looking one and pulled it up. I then dug into the mound. There were no potatoes in the mound at all, but there were 5 or 6 under the ground (below where I first planted the spud). How easy was that? I'm definitely going to leave the rest of them where they are for awhile yet. And we also have two types of sweet potatoes planted that don't look sickly or dying at all so we should be harvesting potatoes this fall. We definitely have plans to expand next year - both corn and potatoes.