Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Harvesting Frugally

A few days ago, Homestead Survival (one of my favorite bloggers!) posted a story about a woman who 'repurposed' questionable produce from her local markets.Now, I like the general concept, but I have to admit, I'm not too keen on the whole lying aspect.  I mean, you have to tell the store that you will be using it to feed livestock. (yes, some will be used to feed them, but that's not the point.)  For myself, locally, the stores still sell this produce at a significant cost break. (the article is here, if you're curious:

But it DID get me to thinking.  What do I do, personally, to reduce food waste.  I'm a gleaner, a harvester, a forager of the worst sort.  New neighbors moved in next door, and I've already hit them up to harvest the fantastic crop of crab apples they have in their front yard.

But today's score was a bit more...strenuous. As I've said before, I grew up on a family farm.  My great grandfather had an orchard, and the trees for the most part are pretty well dormant.  There were 2 pear trees left at one end, and in my lifetime, I think I've seen all of maybe 6 pears on one of the trees.

Until this year.  My mother called me down to see it...and the upper story was utterly LOADED with winter pears. (Winter pears are a very hard fruit, meant to last into the winter, and soften as they age and/or are canned. They are supposed to have a firmer bite to them when canned, and don't fall apart, like a really well ripened eating pear.)

Well, I couldn't just let them go to waste, could I?   But as you can see from this picture, it wasn't that easy.
If you're a spatially challenged person, that there is about 35-40 feet up.  Couldn't reach with a bucket loader, or a ladder. So, I posted this picture to my facebook, asking my friends for ideas.

a 20 ft. branch trimmer WHILE in the bucketloader was the most reasonable answer. (The silliest? A really well-trained Giraffe.)

So, today we tried it.

I should state that this would work much better if I was more than 4' 11".

BUT. I managed to get all but 7 of the VERY highest pears.  Yes, it probably would've worked better if I had a basket on the pole, but it was already rather unwieldy, and I had my mother and uncle underneath catching. Only a few of them got mildly bruised in the fall. (Thanks Mom and Dad; who by the way, thought I was utterly crazy.)

So I ended up with nearly a whole bucket of old-fashioned (I suppose I could consider it an heirloom variety, since the trees are ancient!) that have been totally left alone, so they are also organic.
Took them home, and began the process of peeling, and coring and cutting up.

I HATE coring.   I think its a dismal task, and to cut them out is just miserable. When I do apples, I use an old fashioned peeler/corer/slicer.  But as pears aren't exactly round, that doesn't work so well. So here is my fantastic helpful hint.....
A melon baller. The one I have has two sizes to it, which is great because some of these pears were quite small.

First i peeled the pear, and cut it in half.

 Dig down with the edge. If you look at a pear closely, you'll see a slight change in color where the core is. Twist your hand as you scoop, keeping pressure on it (you need to consider if your pears are hard like mine, or soft like a ripe Bartlett pear.)

 The core pops out easily.

I continued to slice them up (halves or sixths, depending on the size of the pear.)

I made an extra light syrup;

5 1/2 c. water
1 1/4 c. sugar

To this I added:
 1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice

 (last time I used fresh lemons, I used my microplane and zested all the lemons, then dried the zest.) and  I put one (small) cinnamon stick in each pint jar with the pears.

This is how they came out:
I have 9 pints so far, and I'm only about half done.  Not bad for foraged fruit, wouldn't you say?

In a few weeks, Chestnuts at my parents' house will be falling...I've never done anything with them, but I would love ideas! I'm starting to look around now!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

All natural Cosmetics

Today, I had the opportunity to play with some ideas I've had floating around.  My husband had gotten a nasty rash (sun poisoning. Ew.) on his legs.  He had been doing the hydrocortisone things, but he really needed more moisture.  In my continuing efforts to limit the amount of chemical garbage we use, I decided to make him some cream to use.

First, I found a website that described how to make home made non-petroleum jelly.

It is a great (and simple!) recipe, using only beeswax and olive oil.
(her recipe? 1/2 c. olive oil and 1/8 c. (or 3 tbs) shredded beeswax, melted on low heat (or double boiler).

When she made it she could fill a half cup jelly jar.

Well, I didn't think I needed that much of it to start with, and my daughter had been curious about lip balm, so I thought, I should be able to do this.

So, after the beeswax was melted, I poured half into a 1/4 c. jelly jar. I added about 10 drops of tea tree oil. (It has great antiseptic properties, as well as moisture absorption. This being said, I want to make it clear the tea tree oil bottle specifically stated 'Do not apply to broken or irritated skin.')

I put this in the fridge for about a half hour, and this is what it looked like:
(this had been stirred.  It really does feel like petroleum jelly.) (My husband didn't have any problems with it, and it really seemed to help with the moisture in his skin!) Possible future experiments might include chamomile, lavender, or aloe... (or some of that powdered cucumber I have!)

The second half of the batch was still in the pan, and I added an extra teaspoon (ish) of shredded beeswax.  I poured this in a second 1/4 c. jelly jar, and added about 6 drops of peppermint oil. (oil, not extract...not sure what extract would do, but don't think it would be a good thing.)

After a half hour in the fridge, this is what came  out:
You can see it is much more solid, and it feels wonderful on your lips!  The girls are already wondering what would happen if they added some cocoa powder to the mix. (I'm thinking I might be better off adding cocoa butter, but that's an experiment for another day!)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fun with Flowering Quince

First let me make sure everyone understands...this was all done with the fruit from FLOWERING quince.  Its a pretty flowering bush (with thorns). a LARGE fruit is slightly bigger than a golf ball.

Last year when i made this, i seeded and peeled them all...a really (REALLY) tedious process.

So this year, after washing them thoroughly, I covered them with water and just boiled them whole.
The smell (and taste) is something like a very floral pear or apple. It is excessively tart, and the floral flavor is very delicate.

As I boiled them, I mashed them into a paste, skins and seeds and all.
Once this was pretty well mashed (I'd say about 20 minutes or so--they are quite hard, and it depends on how ripe your fruits are.) It's time to sieve.

Drained the juice off to make jelly.

I put the liquid aside. Now, can you see all that saucy goodness? I couldn't just waste it all! Texturally, it's very similar to apple sauce. Took the mash and ran it through a food mill. I used the extra fine screen on it.

(apologies for the color; it really looks brighter green, rather than pea-soup)

This was 5 cups. To this I added 2 1/2 c. of sugar.  Boiled until sugar was disolved then into canning jars. Hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Now, remember I saved the juice? Quince is VERY high in natural pectin, so you don't need any surejell or any other pectin to make it into jelly. (I have considered saving the juice to use as pectin, rather than buying my own, but that's an experiment for another time!)

For 4 cups of juice, I added 3 c. sugar. Boil until it passes the jell test. (Drop on a cold plate, if it jells, its ready.) put in jars, (making sure jar lips are clean of any jelly!) seal and hot water bath for 10 minutes.
 For the 8 or so cups of fruit I had, it made 9 jars of sauce and 5 jars of jelly (half pints).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Today's hint of the day:

When straining juices, do NOT use the same cloth as you strain cheese in. It doesn't matter if you put it through the washer, or if you wash it by'll still end up with seemingly microscopic specs of dairy in your otherwise pristine juice.

Lesson learned:)

(I COULD throw it out...but I am currently straining it through coffee filters to continue using it.  Boiling it will take care of the rest of it.)

Will be posting directions and pictures for making flowering quince jelly and sauce shortly:)!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Party Food!

Had a small shindig last night, and had some excellent food. Wanted to share some of the recipes with you!

Garlic Lime Chicken Wings

Family size pack of wings
oil for frying
3/4 c. flour
1 tbs. smoked paprika
1 tsp seasoned salt

1/4 c. cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 c.)
zest of 1 lime
1 large tbs of honey
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 shots tabasco (this does not add heat; it simply makes the limes taste lime-ier:) )

trim up family pack of wings, cutting off tips and separating the 2 pieces.  Dredge in a mix of flour and paprika. Put about an inch of oil in a heavy duty frying pan.  Fry at medium heat, turning after about 4 minutes (or when lightly brown; they will continue browning as you cook the other side). Fry other side for about 3 minutes, and set in oven to keep warm.

The sauce is simple, simply mix the above ingredients.  It will be rather watery, but that's okay, the wings will soak in the sauce.

To coat the wings, drop them in the bowl of sauce then take back out. (I like to scoop a bit, because then there's more garlic on the wing.)

I got the yen for some wings because recently, I'd had some amazing vinegar and salt wings.  I've wandered through online recipes, and I haven't found one yet that really tickles me, or makes me think its what I had.  Be really curious to find a good one!

I also made spinach artichoke dip, and some spinach artichoke wontons. I've never seen the recipe anywhere, but if you like spinach artichoke dip, these are killer.

Spinach Artichoke dip

1 box creamed spinach
1 can artichokes in water
1/2 c. mayonnaise (you really shouldn't substitute miracle whip in this recipe)
1/2 c. parmesan cheese

Defrost the spinach. You can cook this according to directions, and the result would be the same. Roughly chop the artichokes (I find in quarters worked just fine.) and mix all the ingredients together. Bake at 375* for 20 minutes.

This is really good with chips, or in a bread bowl.

Now, to make the wontons:

Spinach Artichoke Wontons

wonton skins
spinach artichoke dip (above...and yes, its best if it has been baked first.  It can get a bit watery if you use the dip uncooked for this.)
oil for frying

(if you have a deep fryer, by all means, use it! 375* for no more than 4 minutes...I'd do more like 3 minutes, myself...)

Heat up an inch of oil to medium heat.  Take a teaspoon of the dip and place in the middle of a wonton skin.  Wet 2 sides of your wonton, before folding the wonton skin diagonally over the dip. Press out the air as you do so and seal as completely as possible. You can make the corners meet for fancier wontons, but I usually leave them in flat triangles (they cook more evenly this way too.)
Fry on first side 2-3 minutes, and only one on the second.  pull out and drain.

I promise, you can't make enough of these. They are crunchy and creamy and the parmesan adds just enough saltiness.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Do you have an overabundance of cucumbers in your garden, and can't possibly can another jar of pickles or relish? (no matter how good or delish?)

Try this.

Dehydrate cucumbers.  Not for eating,(ew-trust me, I tried) but there have myriad other uses. To dehydrate, cut into slices no less than 1/4 in. thick (thinner will make them brittle, and you won't even be able to get them out of the dehydrator.)

Once cukes are completely dried out (not leather stage but the is-this-a-cuke-or-a-rock stage) and in either a very good blender, or a coffee mill (or coffee mill used as a spice mill) grind them up until they are cucumber dust.  you can do a number of things from here.

Cucumber facial:

tbs. cucumber
tbs. oatmeal flour (you can grind this yourself too)
couple drops of honey

Mix with hot water to make a paste, apply and leave on skin for 10 minutes, then wash off.

Cucumber facial scrub:

1 tbs. cucumber
2 tbs salt (pickling, fine kosher, fine sea...just not morton's table salt, okay?)
(if you have dry skin, you can add a few drops of oil. It will be pastier, but that's okay. A few drops of vinegar helps if you have oily skin)

dip a damp facecloth into the mixture, and gently rub your face clean.  

You can also add it to dips or salad dressings.

I haven't tried adding it to my soaps, but I'd be curious how it would work!
I was visiting with a friend this past weekend, and we were talking about 'real' food.  And we realized that  we had very different views on what that could be. Curious to see, what do you consider 'real' food?

Today's quick tip (and a completely stolen one, btw) instead of using the pitcher from your blender, you can attach the blade assembly to a regular mouth mason jar.  Making homemade mayo? do it right in the jar and no mess! 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Just a quick note today. Helpful hint #1:

When you pick your tomatoes, drop them in a freezer bag and freeze.  When you want to use them, run under hot water, and the skin will just fall off.  Throw them in stews, or do them all up to can.  I do this so I can do one huge batch of tomato sauce, rather than wait for the few tomatoes here, few there.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Going to a friend's house today to give a cheese lesson.  We'll be making mozarella (because its quick and easy) and ricotta, because it shows all the steps to a harder cheese (like chevre) but in a much shorter time.

Spent some time in the garden yesterday, and picked a huge amount of  cukes, yellow squash, and tomatoes.  I can't do anymore pressure canning until I get a new gauge for my pressure canner (its on its way).but the cukes will become my garlic dill pickles, and the tomatoes will go in the freezer until I have enough to make a big batch of tomato sauce.  I love this, because all you have to do is rinse them under water, and the skins fall away.  It makes them much easier to mill after if I want to get the seeds out!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Went for a bike ride on the shore the other day with some friends.  Passed by some absolutely gorgeous looking rose hips that I simply couldn't pass by.
We needed a break anyway, so I talked them into helping me pick the ripe ones.  Brought them home (about a quart worth), cut the ragged tops off, and put them in a pot with enough water to cover them. Set them to boil, and then mashed them.  In the meantime, I'm looking at a number of different recipes for jelly, and didn't really like any of them.  All called for lemon juice though, and I thought, I have a whole batch of lemongrass growing in the garden, I better that would taste really good together, so I popped 2-3 stalks into the water with the rosehips.

The following is what I came up with, as I knew I needed a sliding scale recipe.

1c. rosehip-lemongrass water
1c. sugar
2 tbs. pectin (surejell, not liquid)
2tbs. lemon juice

I used this recipe as its base:  Her directions are excellent and include pictures. (Didn't have my camera with me that day!)

With 4 cups of juice, I was able to make 7 jelly jars (quilted cup size).

Cheese Making

I had the opportunity to get some extra raw goat's milk recently. I don't like wasting anything, so I decided, I learned how to make mozarella, I can learn how to make Chevre.  I ordered the culture here:

While Mozarella is a relatively quick process, Chevre takes some time, and I found the timing of it can be a bit of a nuisance.

First, you need to pasteurize the milk.When you buy most cows milk, they pasteurize it at a high temperature, making it hard for the protiens to connect (ie: make cheese).  Pasteurization for a longer time at a lower temperature is just as affective, and doesn't harm the protiens.
(yes, that's a milk thermometer in there.  Milk has to be done in something stainless steel, or glass, or enamel.  you REALLY don't want to try aluminum). Bring your gallon of milk up to 145* for 1/2 an hour.  If you go a bit over, that's okay, but you really don't want to go over 172*.

After the half hour, you will need to drop the temperature down to 86*. (If you wonder about the uneven temperature, I do too.  I just know that's what it needs to be.) Add in the packet of culture, cover it, and LEAVE IT ALONE.  Set it on the back of the counter for 12 hours.

Remember I said the timing was sort of a nuisance? Well, if you were to do this at 4 in the afternoon, would you want to be up at 4 am to do the next stage?   Really think this out when you plan on making it.

When  12 hours are up, you will see a seperation in the curds and whey. The curd will look like a creamy jello texture under the whey, and will pull away from the sides of the pan if you shimmy it.
Carefully scoop this into a strainer lined with butter muslin.  I know, I thought cheesecloth would do it too, but the weave is too open.  I haven't tried 4-6 layers, but it might do in a pinch.  Butter muslin I usually use 2 layers, but when I did a double batch I used only one and it did fine.  You want to get all the curds out into the muslin.
Now you're going to pull all the muslin together into a bag. I found using a rubber band worked fine, and I made a hanger with other elastics to hang from my cabinets over my sink.  You will want to let this hang for 4-8 hours. The longer it hands, the drier (and therefore more crumbly) it will be.

It also depends on how humid the weather is (I found that out the hard way.)  I have had batches be more 'goatier' than others. I haven't found an official reason, but I believe when it was setting, it was a bit warmer that day. Might be an additional reason to let the culture set over will be cooler.

When you take this down, you can put it in a glass bowl and add a bit of pickling or cheese salt. (fine ground, no iodine.  Sea or kosher salt might work if it was fine enough.)  This part is really a matter of taste.  I started with a tablespoon...and sometimes its good, sometimes it needs a bit more.

Put the cheese on a piece of wax paper. I found the best size is about a third the cheese.  If you want to know the easy way to 'roll' your cheese, check out where I learned it.  Alton Brown explained how to do this with butter.
Start at the 8 minute mark.  He used a cookie sheet, but I'll use anything that's long enough with a flat edge (butter knife, for example)  This is what it would look like.

Now, you can see colors. You can roll your cheese in various herbs. This one was rolled in dill and the other side was rolled in lemon zest.  Other popular flavors are french herbes or cracked black pepper. (I like mine plain usually).

This will make approximately a pound and a half and will stay good for 7 days.  I usually have to freeze some of it. It will freeze well, but won't be so good for munching, but still good for use in recipes and dips.


Introducing me

My Premier post!  There are lots of things going on that I would love to share with you.  I am a canner, real-fooder, beader and teacher. I'm a gardener, and sometime herbalist with a craving for good books.  I'm a crafter from way back, and believe homemade gifts are always better than bought.  I'm still learning lots, and still trying things out, so occassionally, you will see mention of my failures as well as my sucesses. As I stated in my 'about me'...I have always believed that you never know what you can do until you try.  It's why I say I'm a Jill of all trades. I can do a bit of everything (need to install tile? floating floor? Sew your own curtains?) But I readily admit very little of what I do is master's level. I am not a master gardener; I am not a plumber or a jeweler.  That all being said, I hope this is a place where people can get ideas  and become  empowered to TRY.  It's really amazing what you can do!  To begin, I will be adding a number of postings about some of my summer projects that you can try...and please! Always feel free to comment or ask questions!