Category Archives: homemade

It’s Been A Grape Year

In general I can’t say it was a great year for growing food. Some crops like squash failed to produce, and most, including strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, corn and melons yielded only a fraction of what we expected.  Despite the late spring frost that killed off all of the newly unfurling leaves, our grapes were one of the exceptions. So I can say it was a grape year.

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Our grape arbor was started in 2012. We put up the three posts and then transplanted some grape vines, that were growing in our back yard, in between the posts. We had purchased the hardware and the wire that we intended to use to support the vines, but with so many projects on our to-do list finishing the grape arbor did not become top priority until last spring. Each year as the vines grew we would stake them and/or fence them in attempts to keep them growing upward and prevent the deer from annihilating them. (notice the grape vine tied to a stake in the picture below) Each year we have harvested modest crops, some years better than others.

Last spring after purchasing a couple more grape vines to plant in the grape arbor we decided it was time to finish this project. We wanted to give the grapes two wires to climb on. To hold the wire we used eye bolts. The eye bolts were screwed into each of the three posts at the same level. The wire was twisted around the eye bolt on one end, then ran through the eye bolt on the center post for support, then twisted around the eye bolt on the other end post. In theory if the wire starts to sag the eye bolt on either end can be tightened to provide added support.

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As with all of our crops this year the grapes did require watering, but the fact that they escaped the fate of the deer can only be counted as a gift from God. Our first harvest weighed in at about 20 lbs. I decided to turn this into juice.

IMG_3290In the past I have made grape juice according to these instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/grape_juice.html and while the juice has good flavor I always feel guilty about wasting the pulp, skin and seeds. Last year I canned the juice without allowing the sediment to settle out and found that the juice was thick and delicious. This year I decided to have even less waste. Here is what I did.

Wash grapes and remove them from the stem. I make a point to wash and inspect each individual grape because little spiders like to make their homes amongst these grapes and I sometimes find spider nests attached to them. These must go!

Put the grapes in a pan and mash them with a potato masher.

Add enough water to cover the grapes.

Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.

IMG_3267 I then ran the grapes through this food mill. I used the medium blade which filtered out seeds but turned the pulp and skin into juice. Pretty much the only thing that was not turned into juice were the seeds and judging from the crackling sound of grinding grape seed small particles of seed may have ended up as juice as well. I am ok with this. No, actually, I am very happy about this. You see the grape skin and seeds are said to be the healthiest part of the grape. https://www.livescience.com/54581-grapes-nutrition.html  After juicing the grapes in the food mill I proceeded to can the juice according to the NCHFP link above. I did not add any sweetener to the juice as my husband prefers the tartness of the natural juice and to sweeten my juice I add a bit of our raw honey before I drink it. This 20 pounds of grapes yielded 7 3/4 quarts of delicious, thick and healthy grape juice.

After harvesting the first 20 pounds of grapes there were still some grapes left on the vines. I wanted to experiment with making a wine without adding yeast and decided that using grapes was the way to go. I did an internet search and came across this recipe http://www.roughdraftfarmstead.com/2012/05/24/easy-homemade-wine-recipe/ .

I harvested the remaining grapes and while the recipe calls for “preferably unwashed fruit” I had to make sure there were no spiders or spider webs left behind and rinsing them under running water seems the best way to do this. After I rinsed the grapes and removed them from the stems I had about 5 lbs. of grapes. I decided to let them sit for a few hours in hopes of reclaiming some of the yeast that I had rinsed off.

The mashed fruit did not nearly fill up my two gallon crock so I decided to add enough water to just cover the fruit. I also added about 1 1/2 cups of our raw honey. I stirred the mixture and covered it with plastic wrap. I didn’t stir the mixture nearly as often as is recommended in the recipe but at least once a day. In a few days I could tell that fermentation was underway. The bubbling was not as apparent as when I have added yeast to make wine, but when I stirred the mixture the bubbles were there and it had the smell of alcohol. I also tasted the wine as it fermented by sipping whatever drops remained on the spoon after I stirred it. The grapes fermented in the crock for approximately two weeks before I had time to siphon the wine into a one-gallon bottle. I placed a balloon over the top of the bottle but after a couple days of the balloon not rising and no apparent bubbles I decided the fermentation was done. I could have transferred the wine into bottles and corked them but the wine seems to be disappearing (not evaporating) quickly enough that this would be a waste of time.

Personally I am not much of a wine drinker, and when I do imbibe I prefer a sweeter wine, so I am not the best person to judge this wine, but if you want my opinion I would say it is a “good” wine. It’s definitely not a “fine wine”  and in my opinion it is not nearly as delicious as the grape juice. My husband, who likes dry wine, is  enjoying it, and I have been drinking a glass now and then for it’s health benefits.   https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/health-benefits-of-red-wine/slide/9

I consider this experiment a success. I can indeed make wine without added yeast and I plan to experiment more with this process more in the future.

 

 

Making Tomato Sauce

I have been asked several times by friends how I make tomato sauce and I usually answer “cook it, cook it, cook it, and when you think it is ready, cook it some more.” Making a thick tomato sauce takes lots of time.

There is, however, much to do before you get to the cooking part and that is what I want to address today. To start with there are many, many varieties of tomatoes and although I do like to start with a paste tomato, Amish paste or roma’s, you can use any type of tomatoes for making sauce. Along with Amish paste I use any tomatoes that are ripe and will not be eaten fresh in the next day or two. I will even throw cherry tomatoes into the mix rather than see them go to waste.

In addition to taking a lot of time to make tomato sauce it also takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce. It takes approximately 5 or 6 lbs. of tomatoes to make 1 quart of tomato sauce. So don’t be shocked when that shopping bag full of tomatoes ends up providing only a couple of spaghetti dinners for the family.

Now before you “cook it, cook it, cook it” you must first turn those tomatoes into juice and the are many ways you can accomplish this. I will share some of the methods I have used over the years including the steps involved and equipment required. If you have never made your own tomato juice or sauce keep reading.

When I first started making tomato sauce I did not have some of the equipment that I use now days so I used what I had on hand to juice the tomatoes – a blender. With any of these methods I start by washing the and any tomatoes that have rotten spots are discarded. When using the blender after washing the tomatoes I remove the skins by blanching the tomatoes. This is done by putting the tomato in a pan of boiling water for about a minute then immediately putting the tomato in a bowl of cold water. For this step I placed the tomatoes in a blanching basket or a wire basket that sits inside the pan of boiling water, then to remove the tomatoes from the pan I simply lift the basket by the handle and dump the tomatoes into the cold water. If you don’t have a blanching basket you may be able to use a metal colander or even just put the tomatoes in the boiling water and lift them out with a slotted spoon.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to hold I cut out the core of the tomato with a paring knife and then the peel of the tomato will slip right off. I then cut the tomato in half horizontally and scoop out (some of) the seeds. I don’t worry too much about removing all of the seeds because my family really doesn’t mind having seeds in their tomato sauce.

I then cut what is left of the tomato into small pieces and put it in the blender and blend it into juice. At this point I could of pour the juice through a sieve or fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds that remain. The juice is now ready to be cooked into sauce.

Over the years I have acquired some equipment has made this task easier. The first piece of equipment is this simple and inexpensive food mill. I’m sure I paid less than $20 for it several years ago when I purchased it.

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This food mill will sit on top of various size pans or bowls but must be held in place with one hand while turning the crank with the other hand.

When I use this food mill I wash the tomatoes, cut out the core, cut them in quarters and cook them until they are soft. Once they are soft this food mill will easily remove the skins and seeds and turn the tomatoes into juice.

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I use the medium blade and it does tend to get plugged up quickly. When it gets plugged up I need to scrape the pulp off the bottom of the blade (the pulp is part of the juice) and empty the seeds out of the top part of the food mill. The seeds are fed to the chickens later.

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While this method does not require blanching and removing the skins, it does take time to cook the tomatoes before juicing them. Once the tomatoes are cooked the skins break down easily and are mostly turned into pulp adding to the thickness of the tomato sauce. I tend to use this method when I am working with smaller batches.

When I am working with larger batches – a bushel or a shopping bag or more full of tomatoes, I use another piece of equipment that I have acquired in recent years.

It is another type of food mill or juicer. I actually have two of these, one was given to me by my mother and one was given to me by my father-in-law. Both of the models I have are very old and also very functional. Similar models are still produced today but they are quite pricey.

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My biggest problem with using this food mill is that it is designed to clamp to a counter top. Our home, however, was not designed with this kind of equipment in mind. The clamps will not fit over the lip on our countertops. In order to use this food mill I have to clear off this stand alone shelf that normally houses my food processor, nutri-bullet, and most of my stoneware baking dishes and move it to a location where I can clamp the food mill onto it and be able to crank the handle. I also have to set a chair next to the shelf to hold the pot that the juice runs into. Rearranging all this furniture can be a pain in the you-know-what so I usually only use this food mill if I am making a big batch. Once the food mill is set up the process goes pretty quickly. I just wash the tomatoes, remove the core and cut them up. I put the cut up tomatoes into the hopper and turn the crank and the food mill separates the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds.

I am certain that there are other methods that could achieve the same results and depending on the equipment that you have available you will figure out what works best for you.

Once your tomatoes are turned into juice it is time to cook the juice into sauce. You will be cooking the water out of it. I bring the juice to a boil then let it cook uncovered over a medium or medium-high heat until it is reduced by approximately 2/3rds to 3/4ths as the sauce gets thinker it may be necessary to reduce the heat even more to prevent scorching. Depending on how much juice you are reducing this cooking will take anywhere from several hours to a whole day. Since smaller amounts take less time to cook it may be wise to split a large batch into smaller pots to reduce the cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking I stir it occasionally, as it gets thicker I stir it more often to make sure it does not scorch. When it gets to the point where about 1/3 of the amount I started with remains in the pan I reduce the heat and I start watching it more closely. When the sauce is cooking for a while without being stirred the water will rise to the top, if the layer of water covers the entire top of the sauce I keep cooking. If less than 50% of the sauce has a thin layer of water on it the sauce is probably thick enough for me.

How thick the sauce should be is really about personal preference and how the sauce will be used. For instance if the sauce will be used in a pasta or rice dish where it is mixed in and the water can be absorbed into the rice or pasta a thinner sauce might be appropriate, but if the sauce will be put on top of pasta the remaining water will drain through the pasta and run off the plate, so a thicker sauce is what you want.

I hope that you find this post useful if you intend on making your own tomato sauce. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave them in the comments section on this page, and if you like what you have read please feel free to share it.

 

 

Our First Apple Crop

This has truly been a wacky year for food production at the farm. Some things that normally grow in abundance have floundered and some things that have never produced before have done well. Apples were among the crops that did relatively well this year.

We have seven young apple trees of various varieties that we have planted in the past six years, three of which we planted in April of 2011 before we even closed on the property. Each year the apple trees have had had at least some blossoms in the spring but they never developed into more than a few apples. Last fall, as an experiment, I put a small amount of wood ash around the base of three of the trees. This spring nearly all of the trees blossomed heavily so I am not certain how much effect the wood ash had.

In May, when the apple trees were in full bloom, we had several mornings of heavy frost. Since the frost damaged asparagus, rhubarb and grape leaves, I am still stumped that our apple trees were unaffected.

Our honey bees were more that happy to do their part in our apple production, flying from blossom to blossom and tree to tree collecting pollen from one blossom and redistributing a portion of it on the next blossom while they collected their pollen from that one.

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Honey bee – too busy to pose for a picture

Being our first apple crop we didn’t know what to expect and it seems that our apples fell victim to bugs, worms and disease.  Then to add insult to injury the crows  decided to make our apples part of their diet.

A couple weeks ago when my husband was tired of watching our apples being destroyed he decided to pick what might still be good before the crows got anymore. He first brought home a bag of red apples and since I was busy that day, probably cleaning garlic, I put them in the refrigerator and half forgot about them. A couple days later he brought home these golden delicious.

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He had been talking about dehydrating apples or making apple chips for a few weeks so I decided to use the useable part of these apple to make chips.

When I peeled the apples I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blemishes, which I have not positively identified but might be apple scab, were only skin deep. Once I removed the peel there was no evidence of disease.

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I peeled, cored and sliced the apples. I placed the slices in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. Each tray held about four apples.

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I filled up all nine trays and realized I had peeled way too many apples. So I needed to come up with a semi-quick or easy way to use the other half of those apples. Since fruit pies are a favorite dessert here and pie filling freezes well I decided to make apple pie filling.

I know that golden delicious apples are not necessarily a cooking apple so I was happy to find a recipe for pie filling that just called for apples instead of “cooking apples” or a specific variety of apples. Not that it would have mattered because I often change up recipes, substituting what I have on hand for what is called for in the recipe. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes not so good. The apple pie filling is in the freezer for now but I am certain that we will enjoy the apple pie that it makes.

The apple chips on the other hand are disappearing quickly. They make a nice snack.

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When I took them out of the dehydrator, after about 18 hours, I packaged each tray of apple chips in a sealable plastic sandwich bag. This way I know that the package contains about four apples or four servings. Then I put the bags in jars for storage. It is important to know an approximate serving size because these apple chips are so good that it could be easy to get carried away and eat way too many. I warned my husband that eating a whole bag at one time was not a good idea, and that you need to make sure you drink enough water when eating dried fruit. He told me that this was a lesson he learned as a kid – the hard way.

A few days ago when I was looking for a side dish to go with the stuffed green peppers I made for dinner, I came across the “half forgotten” bag of apples in the refrigerator.

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Stuffed Peppers

I decided to cook up some apple sauce. I didn’t need a recipe for this because I have cooked and canned apple sauce many times in the past. Although many of these apples had bites taken out of them (crows) and a few had worms in them, I was able to cut away enough of the bad parts and cook up a wonderful dish of apple sauce. To make apple sauce, after I peeled, cored and cut away any bad parts, I put the apples in a pan with a small amount of water. I brought it to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer until the apples were very soft. I then mashed the apples with a potato masher. I then continue to let is simmer and thicken up a little. There was no need to add sweetener. I put it in a bowl and chilled it before dinner and it made the perfect side dish.

Over the next few months we will be researching natural options for controlling disease and insects on the apple trees with hopes of growing even better crops in the future, and who knows we might even build a scarecrow or two. https://www.todayshomeowner.com/scarecrows-in-the-garden/

Coming Soon…

This is a busy time of year for us. We are wrapping up our garlic season https://donteatitsoap.com/a-year-in-growing-garlic/ and I will be putting up the final post in that series soon. I have created this page that links to all the posts in that series and added it to the menu at the top of my home page so you can read through them at your leisure.

It is also harvest season and along with harvesting food comes preserving it, so I will be writing several pieces on what we are harvesting and how we are preserving it. Check out the pictures below for a sneak peak at what’s coming up.

I will share how we will enjoy this years apple crop.

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Some different methods for making tomato sauce,

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VS

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What I am doing with our beautiful grapes this year,

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And a write about wildlife on the farm – friend or foe.

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To make sure you don’t miss out on these or any future posts you can sign up at the bottom of this page to follow along via email and if you like what you read don’t forget to share it with your friends.

Making Pickles

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In the past my attempts to make dill pickles by canning, using vinegar recipes, have resulted in pickles with that have a decent flavor but are too mushy to really enjoy. I really haven’t even attempted to make pickles in a several years because we have had horrible cucumber crops. We had pretty much decided not to grow cucumbers as it seemed that no sooner would the cucumber start growing well then the cucumber beetles would arrive, the cucumber plants would then begin turning brown, apparently from bacterial wilt, and dying before we could harvest more that a couple of cukes.

When starting plants this spring my husband came across a packet of pickling cucumber seeds and decided to give it one more try. We aren’t really sure what has made the difference this year but the cucumber plants are flourishing. It could be that this variety of cucumbers is disease resistance, or that the cucumbers were planted later and the cucumber beetles missed out, or possibly a combination of the two. No matter the reason, we are grateful for the productive crop.

It was about three weeks ago when my husband brought me a bag with more than a half dozen nice size cukes from our garden. With more cucumbers than we would eat in a couple of days I knew I needed to make pickles. There were not enough to can a batch of the vinegar pickles, and as I said I was never happy with my past results, so I decided to try fermented pickles.  I use this recipe. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/lacto-fermentation-recipes/lacto-fermented-kosher-dill-pickles/  I didn’t have enough to warrant the use of my 2 gallon crock so I decided to use a 1/2 gallon canning jar. I picked a horseradish leaf to use to add tannins, my husband picked me some dill and I peeled a couple bulbs of garlic to add. I didn’t add any other spices because in my opinion garlic and dill is all that is needed to make a great pickle.

Since I didn’t have a fermenting weight that would fit inside a jar to hold the vegetables down under the brine, I read about using a smaller jar to nest inside the wide mouth jar and decided that would work. It would have worked perfectly well except I discovered that all of my smaller canning jars were in use. I needed to improvise.  I used an ice tea glass and although it sat quite above the rim of the canning jar, it was heavy enough to hold the pickles under the brine. I then covered the jar, glass and all, with a dish towel.

I left them on the kitchen counter where I could keep an eye on things. By the next day I could see bubbles in the liquid and on the following day the liquid began turning cloudy. This is what should be happening. I wasn’t sure when they would be done, but since the temperature in my kitchen these days is higher then the recommended 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, I decided that two more days on the counter was enough. My goal was nice crispy pickles. I removed the towel and the glass, put a canning lid on the jar and put them in the refrigerator.  Meanwhile I read a few more article about fermenting cucumbers and when my husband brought home another batch of cukes I immediately washed them, trimmed the flower end and put them in a bowl of ice water, until I was ready for them.

For the second batch I used the same recipe and the same process except I didn’t have any more 1/2 gallon jars so they were split between two wide mouth quart jars. The second batch was basically the same as the first – they began bubbling on day two, turned cloudy on day three and on day five I refrigerated them.

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The third batch of cucumbers that my husband brought home had gotten quite large so I decided to experiment with cucumber spears and slices. I used the same recipe and the same method. At this point they are cloudy and bubbling on my kitchen counter. I will refrigerate them tomorrow.

As for the taste test, last weekend we decided just to have cold turkey and swiss sandwiches for dinner and my husband decided that we had to have a pickle with our sandwich. I cut one in half and placed a half on each of our plates. I waited for him to try it first. “You nailed it!” he exclaimed after taking the first bite of his pickle. These pickle turned out just as I hoped, crisp with the garlic and dill flavor.