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!

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