Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another Day in the Life

Today was a nice puttery type of day. Started off by hanging 3 loads of laundry just in time for Biblical flooding. It will dry faster on the line than scrunched up in the basket but still!

Next we canned up another ten 2-quart jars of dill pickles, nearly to our goal of 50 jars!

Youngest child and I made an addition to the compost bin by adding another bay. Compost bins can be made for free using pallets wired together with old wire coat hangers. Four pallets and you are set! We kept a pile of last year's leaves to one side of the bin, and grass clippings on the other side. Once we had taken out about 4 buckets of materials from the kitchen we forked a layer of leaves over top and then a layer of grass clippings. This kept the smell down and made for a better pile. Over the summer it kept on cooking down, now that is is cooler it is filled and staying that way. Time for a new pile! We'll let that bay 'cook' til spring and focus our efforts on the new bay. I am hoping to build a third bay on the other side to store the leaves we rake this autumn. If we can find enough for layering and even enough to have a leaf mould pile I'll be thrilled.

We then discovered that you cannot hold the grinder in place while you grind up cucumbers and onions for relish. It really must be screwed to a piece of lumber and clamped to your table. A job for tomorrow for hubby I'm afraid.

For supper we had a lovely array of vegetable dishes, potatoes, zucchini pancakes, cucumber salad, plain cucumbers, tomato salad, plain tomatoes, and dilled carrots YUM YUM! Now that dishes are done our daughter is making dessert, in just a few minutes we'll be enjoying 1/2 hour pudding.

A nice puttery day indeed :o)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Oregon Grape Jelly and Elderberry Syrup

Or how the Trowel and Son went foraging and found lots of cool berries.....

Sunday ds was home sick and after a morning hacking out a lung he was feeling chipper enough to take advantage of a brief spell of sun. We grabbed up an ice cream pail, wicker basket and a set of clippers and set off down the railroad tracks to see what we could find. (Should have also taken garden gloves, but I get ahead of myself...)

I had been reading about elderberry syrup and the good it can do with coughs, colds and flu. While driving down the highway Friday I had seen numerous elderberry trees full of fruit, the only question was were there any close to home within walking distance? With ds's cough and the sightings of berries in mind off we went with elderberries being the foraging target.

About 3 'blocks' along we spotted a bank covered with huge Oregon grapes! WOW! MIL makes jelly from these so I knew that we would have to stop on the way home and harvest some of these too.

Ds was having blast finding old railroad spikes and tossing them into the basket. We spotted one elderberry tree with only a few bunches up high, managed to clip a few, not many. Keep on trucking... Then we spotted another bunch of Oregon grapes. Ds had to give up his basket with the idea that we would pick up the pile of spikes on the way back and he could carry them in his sweatshirt. Started picking the fruit only to discover they are REALLY prickly. This could explain MIL's comment about having older ds pick them for her during his visit LOL! Next time we are out foraging must add gloves to equipment.

Finally we spotted an elderberry bush/tree that was just LOADED. Whooo-wee! Foraging heaven. We clipped and clipped until the ice cream pail was full. Now we started back home with the plan to finish filling the basket of Oregon grapes at the first place. Ds took one look at his 'collection' of spikes and decided on bringing home only three instead of the pile he had found. Good choice babe.

While we were busy picking (Okay, I was picking and ds was watching) the Oregon grapes a fellow walking the tracks stopped to see what we were up to. We had an interesting talk about foraging in general and exactly how I was going to prepare the Oregon grape jelly. He headed back to his campsite to get his own pail to give it a try himself.

Once we were home I spent quite a while pulling the Oregon grapes off their stems, then washing them and cooking them down with a little water. Put them in cheese cloth to let them drip and moved onto the elderberries. O.M.G.!!! Talk about an exercise in patience!!! Elderberry bushes are poisonous; leaves, twigs, seeds etc., so I was being careful to remove all stemmy bits, only problem is the berries themselves are the size of the glass pinheads on sewing pins. Now imagine an ice cream bucketful...... Thank heavens for DVDs. They did finally get done, cooked down, and hung to drip too.

One note that Oregon grapes really really really stain. Keep it in mind :o)

Today I cooked up the jelly, 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice. Boiled it 10 minutes to get it to jell, tested it by putting a teaspoonful onto a cold plate I had placed in the fridge to see if it jelled, poured it into sterile jars, added hot lids, and processed it for 10 minutes. Jelled up really well and Granny, who stopped into bring us some garlic for seed, said it tasted like grape jelly. Whew!

The elderberries were only to be a syrup so no need to make it jell, again 1 cup of sugar per one cup of juice, just brought it to a boil and then canned it. If we had had honey I would have used that instead as local honey is good for illness too. (we don't have any toddlers or babies who need to avoid honey to worry about either)

Next up is making elderberry tincture which sounds very good for you and easy to do, I just need to buy brandy, which I am completely stumped about. Any hints? Maybe Granny has some she could part with, hmmmmm....

Notes to self: 1 bucket elderberries = 2 cups juice, + 2 cups sugar= 4 half-pints of syrup: 1 basket Oregon grapes, about 1 bucketful = 3 cups juice + 3 cups sugar = 4 half-pints of jelly

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dieing Bean Plants

The bean plants were dieing. Must be some dreaded plague infesting my garden which would spread to all 28 varieties, wiping them out and ruining my business. Not to mention all my friends would shun me and never share bean seed with me again. Life was over.

Turns out the beans in question were simply done. As in finished growing. Like, bean seeds were mature and dry so pick us already would ya! I feel like such an idiot.

So they are now picked and the pods are drying on the racks, the old plants have been composted, their area seeded with fall rye and life is good. Silly Trowel. You should have remembered that that variety was planted 2 weeks before the rest and would naturally be ahead. Wasn't rust, wasn't blight, wasn't anything, silly Trowel.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Making the Sauerkraut

My mom can grow cabbage, man, can she ever. Me, not so much. Which is weird. I mean how hard can it be? You put in the transplants, water when dry, and they should grow, right? Anyways, mom is only one person and she has this habit of growing way too much cabbage for herself so we get blessed with it regularly, which is great, as I can't seem to get the stuff to grow at all.

I thought it time, with all this cabbage at hand, to branch out and learn how to make sauerkraut. Fortunately for me both my mom and my aunt make this regularly so the equipment and mentoring are readily available. I'll be contributing the sweat equity ;-)

The Tools:
[please pardon the lousy pictures, dd broke my camera and I'm stuck with her POC]

-cabbage mandolin, which I wrote about previously.
-kraut pounder, and, no son, it isn't for bludgeoning innocent German bystanders, yesh
-big bowl
-pickling salt and cabbage
-cheese cloth
-small plate
-caning jar full of water with a lid

The Method:

First mandolin up all of your cabbage, I did one head which weighed 5 1/2 lbs. A solid head cuts up way easier than a loose head so if you have a choice choose the heavier solid head. You can do this step with a really nice knife, you are going for a very thin shred not little bits.

Next put about 2 1/2 lbs, (half of the cabbage) into your largest bowl and toss with 1 Tbsp. pickling salt. Let sit 10 minutes. The ratio of salt to cabbage is 2 Tbsp. of salt per 5 lbs. of cabbage. So about 2 Tbsp. per head. Mom says if your sauerkraut turns out too salty you can rinse it in a sieve under running water just before you cook it. And, son, I apologise for leaving the salted cabbage on the counter making you think it was a salad, really I do. I hope the taste goes away soon, truly.

Then put 1/2 the salted cabbage into the crock and get to pounding. This makes the juice. You can just use your fist instead of an official kraut pounder, I got lucky at a garage sale and found mine. Mom and her mother before her just punched the stuff. Who needs a punching bag to release aggression? Just make kraut!!

Once this layer is juicy add the rest of the salted cabbage and pound it too. Then salt the rest of the cabbage, let it sit, pound some, add and pound the rest. I pounded the last bit in the bowl as pounding it in the crock was sending up a shower of juice.

The one head gave me 2 1/2 inches of sauerkraut in the crock.

Once all of the cabbage has been added lay a double layer of cheese cloth over it and put a plate that fits down inside the crock in. Put in your weight, in my case a canning jar full of water, which will hold down the plate and keep all of the cabbage under the brine.

Then once a day remove the cheesecloth and any scum, wash out the cloth with plain water and return it to the crock with the plate and weight. Repeat.

The sauerkraut is ready to eat and be canned when it stops bubbling. Process your jars 20 minutes for pints (500mL) or 25 minutes for quarts (1L). Information from the Bernardin site.

Now important note from Granny!
DON'T use all of your cabbage in your first batch. Think of it as your beta batch and only do one head. You can do this and still have time later to make a big batch if it turns out well and you like it. DON'T risk wasting all your cabbage!!!

New note from Granny! You can't make sauerkraut when it is this hot. It goes bad, really bad, wait til fall :o) Batch one - went b.a.d. - ick. Will try again when it is cooler, like next month.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Radical Homemakers????

sourdough starter and jelly juice in front of our flour mill

Am I a Radical Homemaker? I'm really not too sure. Dh and I were farmers, I was a farmer's wife. This is just what we did. Moving into town didn't change who we were.

I have been reading Shannon Hayes' book Radical Homemakers and while I'm thinking that the historical part was interesting it just wasn't applicable to my female ancestors. There were no bored 50's housewives swanning about with their electrical appliances in my family tree. They were all farm wives too busy canning the heck out of anything that didn't move to feel bored, undervalued, and superfluous. They were empowered strong women with a true sense of their value and their place. It takes two to farm, there needs to be a division of labour simply because there is too much of the darn stuff to do on one's own. [Just ask my uncle's divorced friend who farms on his own and lives on Mac'n'Cheese]

My maternal grandmother, and both maternal great-grandmothers were married to farmers. Their families cleared the land my uncles now farm. We are on the second generation on one farm, the third on another, and the fourth on yet another. Best part is these farms are all side by side. I spent summers on my grandparent's farm walking over to my uncle's playing with my cousins, and wandering over to my grandfather's aunt's farm for that rare treat - koolaid!

Best memory ever? A whole bunch of aunts and cousins gathered around a big galvanized tub full of pea pods in the kitchen. We all were sitting there with enameled bowls in our laps shelling like crazy as grandpa bought in bucket after bucket of peas. Gabbing like mad, every once in a while someone would shout, "Ooops! I pea'ed on the floor!" and we would all burst out laughing. Grandma blanching the peas and shushing us all when the farm report came on the radio. Man did we ever have to be quiet then! The price of beef was the really important news.

Even though my mom and I lived in the city I knew from my summers with my grandparents, uncles and aunts that that was real living, not the working 40 hours at an office like my mom did. She had to as a single mom to make ends meet, but even she knew that wasn't where her life was. She hung laundry, gardened, baked whole wheat bread, canned, and was an inspiration. Radical Homemaker skills aren't new to me, I've seen them modeled my whole life! And while I am kicking myself for not asking my grandma more, "How did you used do THIS?" questions before she passed I'm thankful I still have my mom and aunt to pester :o) So, mom, I want to make sauerkraut......

ETA: Rhonda Jean over at Down--to--earth wrote about Radical Homemaking as 'Homemaking, the power career', well worth the read.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bucket Pickles - The Dill Version

[With apologies for the lousy pictures, must get my camera fixed!]

One of the most popular posts here at The Urban Trowel is the bucket pickle recipe. It is for a sweet pickle though and I'm thinking that people may actually be looking for a quick and easy dill pickle in a bucket. Nothing ventured nothing gained!

I do know that Margaret's dill pickle recipe was originally not processed but stored in the fridge once sealed. The two of us started processing them as we have pickle crazy families and not enough fridge space for 100 quarts! Sooooo it should be easy to make bucket dills from our favourite recipe with a little tweaking.

The first cucumber picks are usually too small to bother with the whole dragging out the canner thingy. Bucket pickles to the rescue!

Wash them well to remove dirt, spiny bumps, and the blossom bits.

Trim the ends off and poke them with a fork a few times.

In an well washed ice-cream bucket put 4 large cloves of garlic, and 2-3 big heads of dill. If you don't have access to fresh dill just use a Tbsp. of dill seed from the spice aisle.

Add the cucumbers.

In a large pot mix the brine:
-8 cups water
-2 cups PICKLING vinegar
-1/3 cup white sugar
-1/2 cup PICKLING salt

Heat till bubbling and pour over cucumbers. You may have more brine than you need, it can be stored in the fridge for the next batch or it makes Jim-dandy weed killer.

Put the lid on and mark it with the words BEST BEFORE (the date 6 months hence)

Pop it into the very back of the fridge, let sit at least 2 weeks then enjoy!

Too easy.


If you aren't thrilled with the idea your food soaking in a bath of acid in a plastic container you can do this in a large glass jar. I find 1 gallon glass jars at second hand shops and garage sales for about $1-5 each. Even if they don't have lids I snatch them up. Peanut butter and mayonnaise jar lids will often work on these.

Just put the ingredients in the jar and wait for it to cool a bit before adding the lid. I didn't wait once and had a truly hellish time trying to get the well sealed lid off.

In this jar I'll be adding cucumbers as they are picked. As you can see this picking was really small.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Drying Gleaned Cherries

Our town has a wonderful program called Harvest Share. Basically anyone who has any type of fruit or vegetable that they don't want or can't pick can call in and have volunteers come and pick for them. One third of the produce goes to the owner, one third to the volunteer picker, and one third to the food bank, the seniors' program, or some other feeding the needy agency.

Last week we got the call that a commercial cherry orchard had sustained so much wasp damage that it wasn't going to be picked and we were called in to glean it. Lots of volunteers came and lots of cherries were able to be saved. The picking was rough though. It took our group of 3 adults and 3 children 3 1/2 hours to pick 140 lbs. The bonus was that the owner didn't want any cherries so we took home 80 lbs. for us, and 2 ice-cream pails each for our friend and for granny. [Our friend's family is quite sick of cherries and granny didn't want many, we weren't being greedy they were being generous]

And did I mention the wasps? They weren't too pleased to have their food being bothered. Luckily I was the only one stung in our group, I'm not allergic and I'm a big girl so I sucked it up and kept on picking, a little more warily though!

Once we got home we fired up the production line. One child washed the cherries, removed stems, and tossed any with rot or mold.

I ran them through the cherry pitter. It doesn't work all that well on these huge cherries, next batch we skipped this and did the pitting manually.

The next child cut the cherries in half, removed any remaining pits, and put them cut side up on the dehydrator's trays. Have you met our dryer before? It is huge. Amazing what you can find on Kijiji!

Once a tray was full my 16 yo son carried it out to the drier and slid them into place.

When we finally got all six trays full it was time to fire it up and dry those puppies!

About 24 hours later those 20 lbs of cherries were reduced to 10 cups of dried cherries. YUM YUM YUM. We ran another batch through and then I bagged them up 4 cups to a freezer grade Ziploc baggie and tossed them into the box in the freezer marked FRUIT.

We also made 4 batches of cherry jam and there are still about 20 lbs. waiting to be dealt with. Pie? Syrup? Juice? fruit leather? Just freeze them???

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Made every one's commute to work a little more surreal this morning.

We live on a main road in town that a lot of people take to work each day. Combine that with deciding to scythe the chicory in the lawn as well as edging the weeds around the front yard garden. Not a sight you see on way to work very often, someone scything their lawn!

One of the walkers thought scything was how we kept our lawn cut. LOL! I told her that I was just cutting the thick weeds that the mower missed, I didn't want her misinformed. [not to mention telling inaccurate stories around the water cooler]

But truly what would you rather have your neighbour do? Lawn mowing and weed-whacking at 6 am? Or reel mowing and scything??

The later are so quite in comparison, not to mention eliminating the whole smell of gas and oil. I know which one the birds prefer!

Monday, July 19, 2010

When Raspberries Begin Turning Pink - Go Pick Saskatoons!

That is the way to remember when to search out these gems.

Last year it was too dry for a good picking of saskatoons, this year with all of the rain they are huge, like blueberries.

DS and I stopped along the side of a rural road and picked an ice-cream pailful today, we plan to pick more tomorrow. I'm trading driving lessons with him for his help picking. Dual purpose for our gas usage!

After a quick picking through and a wash they were popped into the freezer to await their future as muffins and pancake sauce.

One funny ... I was trying to find out if drying saskatoons is viable. Are they too seedy or are they just right for a late winter addition to my morning granola?

Googling this lead to wonderful gems such as, "Drying Characteristics of Saskatoon Berries under Microwave and Combined Microwave-Convection Heating" not to mention, "Chemical Composition of Saskatoon Berries (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt.)" and let's not forget , "it is clear that the saskatoon berry exhibits antioxidant activity based on its anthrocyanin and phenolic composition..."

Whoa People!!! All I wanted was a simple answer to a basic question. Is it worthwhile to dry saskatoons????

The best answer? ... Well the 'O Gourmet' website tells us, "The Saskatoon berry was of significant economic importance to the Plains Indians who would sun-dry the fruit. The berry was an important ingredient in pemmican" and we all know what a hot seller pemmican is down at 7-11!

I even phoned a saskatoon loving local locavore to ask the now nagging question in search of the elusive answer and her reply... never tried it! A.R.G. is all I can say.

I now have a cup of saskatoons in my fruit dryer, I will be posting the answer to the question.... maybe Google can get a life then ;o) [or at least let people know yea or nay without having to read doctoral theses!]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Edited to add:

I think I dried them too long. Little pebbles. And they are seedy. Hmmmm. I'll have to try again next year and see if this can be done well.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Strawberry!


And it was delicious. Don't tell the children they are ripening ;-)

As we replanted the bed this spring I'll be purchasing strawberries, yet again, for our jams. [I NEVER buy strawberries from the supermarket, only local growers.] Hopefully our new patch will eventually meet production requirements. If not we'll just have to plant another!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pickled Asparagus

Our oldest dd picked for Sutcliffe Farms this year. She was able to bring home some yummy asparagus!!! The favourite way of preparing them here is by stir-frying them in butter with plenty of minced fresh garlic. Double yum.

On the last day of picking she brought home about 30 lbs of asparagus. Time to do something more with them, even our horde of veggie lovers couldn't eat through that much before it went off.

We use our regular dill pickle recipe for this, the same one we also use to pickle beans.

Step one is washing your jars, preparing the brine, getting the canner started, and preparing your lids, garlic and dill. The link to the dill pickle recipe provides fairly good details for this.

Step two is washing the asparagus and trimming it to fit into the jars. Snap off the woody bits on the butt ends. Asparagus that was picked properly won't have any white or purply bits, those bits are just compost. The asparagus from Sutcliffe's is picked by snapping off cleanly and has no composty bits. The ends that I did snap off I set aside to blanche and freeze for soups. They are just fine for soup!

We did full length for the pints and sliced for the quarts. If you are canning for the Fall Fair competition use full length and really pay attention to the uniformity of the thickness of the spears. When you are canning for home use... just whack them up and pack them in :o)

I put one garlic clove for a pint and two for a quart. Our dill out in the garden doesn't have heads yet so I substituted dill seed from the bulk spice aisle at the store, 1 tsp. per jar. (Yes, yes, I know, I will save dill seed for next year. What WAS I thinking!)

Step three is adding the brine, lids and then processing. I put the jars into the boiling canner, put the lid on, and set the timer for 10 minutes.

The final product:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Today's planting....

Dabbling in the garden, still afraid of a frost so I'm taking it slowly.

Today I set out the seedlings for 4 different lettuces, 9 plants of each. I started these seeds in our greenhouse ~ yeah us ~ more from seed, less from commercial greenhouses. These are the start of the hopefully 10 lettuces I'm growing out for seed. So far we have:

.:blushing butter oakleaf:.
.:tom thumb mini-butterhead:.
.:great lakes 659:.
.:black-seeded simpson:.

They aren't ready for a photo shoot yet, so no pictures :o) I'm having a bit of a panic trying to figure out a garden layout that respects isolation distances and the reality of our urban lot. I think the herb patch is going to have to go as it makes rototilling very difficult, we'll see...

Meanwhile dh is very busy out in the market garden, I hear tell of beets, radishes, and watering systems for the soon to be planted tomatoes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What a busy fall....

I just plain got too busy to post (and at times lazy, and other times too sick, can we say WOW wasn't that flu a DOOZY!). Canning, canning, canning, and drying and freezing, not to mention homeschooling and finishing my Community Library Training Program courses. I'm glad I found the photo daughter#2 took of the canning room, she wanted a visual to explain to her new big city school friends how strange her family/parents were. SCORE! Seems our Hummerless lifestyle is just plain odd, add our gardening, baking bread etc. and, 'wow, poor Jane, her folks are nuts.' is the verdict.

I had a few projects I should post about and I should direct your attention over to the blog about my new venture. All in good time ;o)

So for a visual of what's new here at the Urban Trowel is the addition of the Urban TRACTOR!!! Not a sight seen in many suburbs LOL! Dh's market garden has just gotten to the point where it is nuts trying to borrow a tractor every time he needs to use one. This is a big step on our way back to official farming.

I think he shouldn't store it at the garden, I think we need to build a carport for it here at the house. I think I need to starting humming 'She thinks my tractor's sexy' again ;-) Cause I forgot how much I love being married to a farmer. (I like the song, it's soooo cheezy; HATE the video though) Excuse me ... I need to go wash my eyeballs with bleach ~ YECH!

Note to any husbands out there DO NOT tell your wife you bought a tractor without talking to her; especially when she is PMSing. It doesn't go over well at all, trust me on this one. Luckily I get over things quickly. YMMV.