Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bottling Up The Conconut Oil

    Well, ever since moving to our farm five or six years ago we have tried to take our health up a notch and that meant finding a substitute for oil butter. Now we churn our own cultured butter, (which I still need to post about hu?) and use coconut oil, both of which we use as substitutes in all our recipes -- as you have probably seen if you've been through any of my recipes.

    We get out coconut oil in large six gallon buckets from a local Amish seller who orders it in HUGE amounts. The oil that we get from them isn't of the best quality so we use this oil in our baking while we use a tub of good coconut oil from the store for frying and sauteing vegetables in.

    We put the buckets out onto the sidewalk in the sun to warm up because it is much easier to bottle the oil when it's a liquid. Then we carry the buckets into the laundry room and spend a couple hours trying to bottle as much as we can and spill as little as we can. The floor always needs a good mopping after a production like this.
    Again, just like when we bottle our honey, we try to use odd-ball jars that won't hold up in the pressure caner. We keep the jars that our peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, mandarin oranges, and other things come in even though they're not pressure caner material they can store things like coconut oil and honey.

    And there it is. The bottles go downstairs into the food storage room where the oil turns solid and waits for us until we need them. The fatty acids that are in coconut oil are more easily digested than the ones found in vegetable oils and it contains lauric acid which aids the immune system. It's better for you and is a fine substitute for oil in just about anything. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Canning Veggie Juice & Tomato Sause

    Tomatoes! Tomatoes! That is what is in season and that is what we are canning! As we were canning bean & bacon soup the other day we realized that we had no leftover veggie juice, so that quickly made it to our to-can list and that is what we did today. Veggie juice and tomato/spaghetti sauce are made in the same day at our house because of the process we take it through.

    First we cut the bad spots and stems out of our tomatoes and toss them whole and unpeeled in a large pot. Because the whole mixture goes through a Victoria Strainer, the peelings and seeds just go along with the tomatoes and aren't separated from the juice and pulp until the very end. I really like this part because it's pretty low maintenance. 

    Same with the peppers -- get rid of the stems but not the seeds or the peelings. The pepper to tomato ratio is about a 1/7 so there are a lot more tomatoes that go into this than peppers.

Add it to the pot with the tomatoes ...

Then add the onions. 
Just like the peppers, the onion to tomato ratio is about 1/7 so, not too many.

   Then cook it down until the onions are soft -- not sloppy or falling apart -- just soft. It will probably look like the photo above. It's best to put it through the strainer while it's still hot rather than cold. We've tried refrigerating this mixture and straining it the next day, but the straining to twice as long because the vegetables were cold.

    Now the real work begins -- this is an intense operation complete with a lots of splatters and dripping thus a floor to mop and dozens of dishes to wash. We keep our set up in the greenhouse because it's easier to clean the floors and tables out there becuase we just use the hose. 
    At this point we take the vegetables through 5 steps and they become both juice and sauce.

Step 1: Use a strainer to get most of the juice.
    This ginormous strainer was really a mistake. Mom thought she was ordering a small strainer and when it came it wasn't small at all. But it has sure been useful. We dump cupfuls of the mixture into the strainer and stir and smash it around until most of the juice has leaked out into the bowl. 

The strainer has two layers so it's hard to clean but really efficient when it comes to straining.

Step 2: Bottle the Juice
Simple, just ladle the juice into jars and prepare it for the pressure canner

Step 3: Put the Veggies Through the Victoria Strainer
    Here's a picture of it before its messy. This machine is very useful for not only tomatoes, but also pear and apple sauce too. The veggies go into the top funnel-ish part and then the handle is turned to force the veggies through the strainer making the sauce drip into the baking dish and the compost to slide into the bowl.

Here's the strainer in action!

    This is the messy job since the sauce often spurts and spits all over the place so an apron is absolutely necessary, and a strong arm because there is lots and lots of turning involved. My sister was such a trouper.

    There's a closer look at the end product. We know going into this that we won't get a while lot of sauce. The juice to sauce ration has got to be about 5/1 and it feels like the number of dirty dishes is double the number of jars -- juice and sause-- but of course it only eels like that.

    After adding 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp lemon juice to all of the jars they go into the pressure caner. And after that, they get washed, labeled,  put into boxes and taken to the basement for future days. This process is long and messy, but it sure us fun to do with family and it's easy to forget the slippery floor and dirty dishes when I'm eating the sauce on my spaghetti of drinking the hot juice in the wintertime.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bottling Up the Honey


    We have honeybees, as you know, but this is only our first year with them so we haven't begun to harvest honey from them yet. But we hope to next year. Until then, however, we still buy our honey from someone in the neighborhood. We take them our buckets and they fill them at a price. Then we bring the buckets home and ladle it out into jars.

    This honey is good clover honey. We've learned not to buy honey late in the year because most of it is goldenrod honey and not half as good. The bees don't care though, so the trick is to harvest the good honey before the goldenrod blooms and then let the bees make up their winter supply from the golden rod.

We put away a lot of honey today. 
It feels good to see the pantry shelves filling with good yummy stuff for winter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Picking & Canning Carrots

   What a carrot harvest! This is probably our best year yet. We've enriched and softened the soil in the garden every year ever since moving here six or seven years ago and not it is paying off. Of course, they don't look like the carrots you find at Costco, but they are sweet and large and not split so we are excited.

Harvesting is the best part of gardening and everyone likes to take part

    I don't know how many we got, but we got quite a few. Enough for a day or two of fresh eating, to make a batch of bean and bacon soup and to can up a few quarts for future chicken noddle soup or other dishes that call for sliced carrots.

We try to get most of the dirt off before taking them inside.

We have three hoses hooked up to our house and they all get well used.

    Then they're pulled inside to do the fine cleaning and to have their bad spots cut out. This is where most of the fresh eating happens too. as we all bustle about doing our own jobs and things we grab a carrot here and another carrot there and crunch on them as we work. I don't think there's a single member of our family who doesn't like carrots -- cooked or raw.

Then we use our Bosch Cutter/Slicer to chuck up all of the carrots that the munchers left.

    Canning carrots by themselves is really simple. We just heat the slices up in a pot of water and then ladle it out into jars once it is hot along with a bit of salt. They have to be pressure canned, but not for very long. Mom usually leaves the pre-canner stuff to me and I live the canner to her -- since I do not feel too comfortable around those sputtering bombs.

    And you're finished! Just label rise and stack the jars of the shelf for later use. Really, canning carrots is one of the easiest things to can -- besides green beans or potatoes.  I like quick, easy canning sprees that don't take a full day or two days like soup does.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Freeezing Corn In Five Stations

    Corn freezing day is a busy, busy day. When corn season arrives we set aside a day to pick up our corn from the growers (we haven't mastered the art of growing our own yet) and freeze it all in one day. It's rough becuase there are a lot of steps and a lot of dishes get dirty -- so that's why we hit it all in one day.
    This year we did about 30 dozen ears, but not all of it was for us. Some friends of ours bought half of it and came to help us process it. We also did a few dozen for another family. So in the end, we froze about 30 quarts for ourselves. 

    We have this process down to a science. It is done in five stations: (1.) Shucking, (2.) Washing, (3.) Blanching / Cooling, (4.) Cutting, (5.) Freezing. This five-station process really makes things efficient and it helps everyone to stay busy because once they get tired of one station they can switch with someone else. I'll explain each station as we go along ...

Station 1: Shucking 
    We lay a tarp on the ground under our climbing tree in the shade and set up out camp chairs on it in a circle. We then drag the bags of corn from the car to the chairs so everyone has one. The ears get put into bowls or piled on empty chairs while the husks go into the center on the tarp. Keeping the shucks on the tarp makes clean up easy because all we have to do is drag the tarp up to the compost pile and dump it in. 

Station 2: Washing
    This is the least favorite job because your hands get so cold, but it's an important one. The shuckers get a lot of the silk off, but it is the washer's job to get it all off. We run the garden hose up to our climbing tree where our large galvanized tub sits surrounded by little stools. Once the corn it shucked it is transferred to the tub where it is scrubbed.

    Here's a piece of $1,000,000 advice: Use kitchen drawer liners to get the corn silk off. Don't bother with the expensive corn brushes or anything like that. Just cut up a couple drawer liners (the ones that are pictured above are the best kind) into squares and use it to rub the corn clean.

Station 3: Blanching / Cooling
    This year we put the gas stove outside which loved because it didn't make the greenhouse so hot and unbearable for the cutters. This is where the corn gets cooked and ready to be cut off the cob. We have a large strainer which we pile the corn into and then lower into the boiling water. Make sure the water is boiling because if the corn isn't cooed enough it will go bad, even in the freezer. Leave the corn in the water for 3 minutes before taking it out and dumping it into frigid water to cool. After the corn isn't warm anymore it can be transferred to the cutters.

    My brother and the little boys manned this station. It was my brother's first time (hes usually on the cutting or shucking team) and he did a fantastic job, not only cooking the corn, but helping the boys feel involved. They were in charge of watching the timers and making sure they always got tuned on.

The waterfall that my brother invented to help the corn cool faster

Here, my sister is acting as a go-between as she takes the corn from the blanching / cooling station to the cutting station.

Station 4: Cutting
    This is the messiest station, but it is also the most coveted in our family for some reason. We have cutting boards inside cookie sheets or baking dishes in order to catch all the corn and keep it contained. We cut as close to the cob as we can and then after we've cut off as much as we can we scrape out knife down the cob to catch all the creme and juice we can.

    This is pretty messy, but after the corn is all preserved we get out the hose and spray everything down. I can't believe that we used to do this in the kitchen. Because corn really does stick to everything because its so starchy. 

Station 5: Freezing
    Last station! Here we just scoop the corn out of the cutter's bowls with our hands or with measuring cups into plastic containers, Ziploc bags, seal-a-meal bags, or glass jars. We try to freeze a meal's worth in one container so that's all we're thawing at a time. We tried all kids of different containers, but we eventually began to avoid freezing things in plastic so we turned to jars.

    Wew, corn day really is a long exhausting day, with clean up that lasts a couple more days -- but the corn is so good especially when it's locally grown and preserved with our own hands. What could be better?