Even though the garden is nowhere near what it should be right now I have spent the majority of the day putting up what has been taken out of it.  I had a large basket of tomatoes ripen on the counter that I wanted taken care of before the fruit flies were out of control.  I picked more to ripen this morning but have a feeling piccalilli is in my future (not that I mind, I haven’t made it in a few years).

I canned what few green beans I have harvested this year.  The yellows should be coming in mid-week.  They’re a month behind – mind you I had to plant them 3 times this year due to cold weather.  You can’t always go by the calendar when it comes to gardening.

I also dug some potatoes and it would appear that this will be one of my best years ever for those.

With the spoils of the garden waiting on the counter I decided to make a five mile meal.  Shepherd’s Pie made with fresh dug potatoes, newly pulled onions, fresh corn, newly cured garlic and beef grown in Heath by our good friend Russell. Now I know Shepherd’s Pie is sometimes considered a lowly meal but is a favorite of some of my family members and making it with ingredients this fresh takes it to heights never achieved with corn coming out of a can.  It’s five miles to the corn stand, hence the name.

I also made backyard sauce and canned that as well.  Everything grown here – even the herbs.  Heaven.

There’s something about the feeling you get knowing you have grown everything you are eating.  There’s a sense of pride and a feeling of security that grows a little each year.  I can also send food home with family and friends and know they’ll eat and enjoy not only something good, healthy and local but also made with love.





Garden Dreaming

The Weeds Are WinningThis is the time of year when the grand garden dreams begin.  It has been bitter cold out and I’m sad to say the only outdoor adventures I have had in the past month is taking the dogs out twice a day. The snowshoes are waiting in the shed for another good snowstorm.

Like every project I have I start with truly unrealistic plans and then pare them down as the time grows shorter.  The list of seeds is pretty long this year with the hope that the spring weather will be decent and my plants will get a better start.  I plan to start everything at home rather than buying starts anywhere, including my onions.  In years past I just bought onion sets but last year I was unable to get Walla Wallas and was disappointed, this year I won’t leave it to chance.

There has been so much in the news lately about GMOs that I’ve decided this is the only way to go for me.  I can’t source anything anymore, you just have no idea where anything comes from and can’t trust what you’re told for the most part.  I never thought I would have to work so hard at knowing where my food came from.

I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that always had a large vegetable garden. We canned, froze or otherwise put by most of the food we ate.  We always grew our own beef, had chickens for a spell and raised a couple of pigs one time.  Having my food source close to me is nothing new but now there seems to be more of an urgency to it.  I thought it was just me being a little paranoid but having talked to a couple of medical professionals who are seeing more cancers in much younger people I’m thinking I’m not being over cautious.  When someone tells me they know of a 26 year old with breast cancer my first thought is their diet.  We have had decades now where our protein sources are laced with hormones and antibiotics all in the name of increasing production.  The same goes for our GMO crops.  Corn is in everything – every thing.  Even if you are trying to do right by your family if you are not reading labels (and reading into them) you simply don’t know what you are getting anymore.

So the grand plan is to plant a large variety in quantities that will get me through to the next harvest. Things that will keep in a root cellar, are good canned or dehydrated. In reading over the long seed list it would seem that my experiment for this growing season will be Dinosaur Kale and a savoyed cabbage.  Spinach will be in the mix as well.  I’ve grown it before but haven’t in a few years so it made the list.  The garlic and asparagus are in the ground both of them are experiments in themselves albeit really long term ones.

This weekend I will spend some time sitting by the wood stove, drinking coffee,  plotting out my garden space and ticking off the seed list to see what stays and what goes.  I will also do a viability test on some of the seed I have just to see what I really need.  I’ll try to sprout some of my popcorn as well because that was one experiment that worked particularly well.

Waste Not, Want Not

131102 StockI’ve been buying or roasting a chicken a week for the past 3 weeks.  What started out as an easy meal actually turned into 3 plus meals, each meal probably costing about $1.00 per person or less.

The first meal is roast chicken with sides, I usually eat squash, carrots or green beans with it.  Maybe a mashed potato as well.  The second meal might be black beans and rice with chicken added.  The third meal this week was a lunch of chicken salad.  The fourth iteration is my favorite- I make and can stock.  All of these meals are for two, not a family of 5 but the reality is if you know how to cook you can stretch your food dollar quite a ways.

At this point in time I throw very little food away and chicken stock has the potential to be any number of wonderful meals.  My Saturday morning routine of late has been to throw the bird carcass in a pot with an onion, a couple of carrots and a few stalks of celery.  I cover it with 3 to 4 quarts of water, add some salt, pepper and thyme (or poultry seasoning) and let is simmer for a few hours.  I strain the broth through a colander and can it in my pressure canner – 35 minutes at 10 lbs.  It amounts to 5 or 6 pint jars when all is said and done.

Have a friend or relative with a cold or flu?  Pull out a jar and make a little soup – a delicious soup.

With the weather getting downright frigid what could be more comforting?

Waste not Want not


End of Year Garden Assessment

130915 (1)I took this photograph yesterday morning overlooking the best garden of weeds I have ever had.  I have had a vegetable garden for a good ten years now and this has to be the worst one yet. Fortunately the rest of the view is pretty nice.

For some reason in my mind it is the first week of October (I even tore off the September page of the calendar on Saturday and didn’t realize it until Sunday).  It may be the weeds or my confused state but I decided to dismantle most of the garden this past weekend.  I had Cherry Belle radishes the size of beets – over 5 feet tall and gone to seed (which was interesting since I had never done that).  I had a total of two beets the size of radishes.

130915 (2)I really began by pulling up all of my popcorn.  It had been raining the past week a good deal and I thought I should probably get it out of the ground.  I laid all of the stalks in my garden wagon thinking I would keep the ears on the stalks to dry further.  This was Tom Thumb popcorn, an heirloom variety developed in New Hampshire.  It was bred to do well in a short season.  It only grows 3 feet tall and is quite cute.  It did well.  Sunday I decided to pull all of the ears off of the stocks, peel back the husks and let them dry further.  They are supposed to dry to a 14% moisture content.  I’m not sure how you’re supposed to figure that out but most people just try popping a few kernels every so often during the drying period to see when they pop.  Works for me.  Did I mention that none of these ears is more than 4 inches long?  Most are in the 3 inch category – hence the name Tom Thumb. 

130915 (3)I then pulled what carrots I had.  I had planted two varieties – the old standby Danvers and Atomic Red.  Another rather disappointing harvest.  This is all I had – a total of 6 pints when it was all said and done.  When I saw them scrubbed up in the bowl I was glad I had planted both, they look great together.  I canned them with a brown sugar glaze.  I had heard a review from my sister that this was the only way to go.  Well, when you only have 6 pints you have to make a choice,  I went with sweet.

The rest of the potatoes were dug on Saturday and left out in the sun until yesterday afternoon.  Not a particularly good year for them either.  We had a lot of rain and the earth really compacted around them.  The potatoes are delicious, the yield was just not there (that and the fact that we ate fully half of them as new potatoes).

130915 (4)Then there is the matter of tomatoes.  The vines in the garden have been brown without leaves for a couple of weeks.  The yellow cherries just kept coming – we are at a loss to understand why.  This tomato is extremely prolific.  The bonus is it takes them a long, long time to rot.  Another interesting thing is they drop off of the vine as soon as they begin to turn yellow so rather than pick them off of the plant you end up picking them off of the ground.  I was pulling the stakes up that were holding the plants and these tomatoes were everywhere.  Not being one to let good food go to waste I picked them up and canned them with 4 red tomatoes that were the only ones left.  I ended the tomato season with an additional 6 pints of beautiful golden sauce.

I planted a total of seven eggplants – they produced 4 fruit.  They were delicious but I’m not sure if it was this particular year’s weather or my growing season is just too short.  The plants are blossoming like crazy right now but I know there won’t be enough time before we have a frost.  I feel a little bad pulling them up but I’m not going to weed around them.

The asparagus looks great. The bed will be cleaned out, mulched and  some edging will be put in this fall.  The rutabagas are just okay this year, they will stay in the ground until a couple of frosts hit, then I will pull them.  They are smaller than usual.  The rest of the garden will be tilled in the next week or so (because I can’t look at the crabgrass any more).

We have scoped out a new area for the garden.  This will involve outside help for excavation and some fill but it holds the promise of being a better location long term.  We have some mature maples along the south end of where the garden presently is and that is the one tree we are loathe to cut down.  I figure the way the crabgrass grew in this year it would take about a month to turn the present garden into lawn since most of the lawn is crabgrass anyway.





Little Gifts

130913 Grapes (2)I ran out of the grape jelly I made two years ago from grapes grown on a friend’s property in Rowe.  I was lamenting the fact that she wasn’t around to ask and I didn’t want to wander around on her land without permission.  I had just come to the sad conclusion that I would have another year without it.  Yesterday, at the shop, I walked over to get some information on a car and looked up at the fence that is in between our lot and the next.  Grapes – loads of them.  I brought out a box this morning and picked away.  They are small, they are wild and they are tart.  With the amount of sugar that is used in jelly making this is the perfect fruit.

130913 Grapes (1)This is a classic case of finding food in unexpected places.  This is on a fence in a parking lot.  There is maybe a 4 foot wide span of earth in between the lots and that is where they grow.  They have been growing there for years judging by the size of the vines.  With all my whining about not having any grapes I’m surprised that Bill didn’t say anything about these.  After I said I was going to pick them today he told me that he had a customer that used to come in and pick them every year.  I guess I’m not really that surprised.  He, like me, never thinks we are going to see wild food growing anywhere down here.  It always seems so  . . . urban.  Too much asphalt and concrete.  Then again we have an old Italian body shop owner 3 doors down from us that cut a 3′ x 6′ patch out of the parking lot and grows tomatoes and peppers there every year – right up against the building.  They are spectacular but I always looked at that as the Italian gift, they seem to be able to grow tomatoes anywhere.

I think the lesson here is to open your eyes and expect the unexpected.  Then be brave enough to pick what you see and use it.

Now I’m just dreaming about those PBJs.



I’m So Done with Peaches


It’s been a busy few days.  Lots of canning this past weekend in spite of the hot, humid weather.  I always think if being way too hot when I’m canning, it’s the nature of the beast.

The canning marathon began Sunday morning with a large bowl of tomatoes.   The photo looks like it’s all yellow but it was half plum as well.

130901 Pizza (1)

These little tomatoes are bursting with flavor, one of my favorites and the plants are extraordinarily prolific.  There is always a bowl of these on the counter to munch on as you’re walking by.

I made the sauce highly spiced with homemade pesto and oregano (and lots of garlic of course).  It was cooked down to be rather thick and then I canned it in small jars (2/3 cup).  You never need much sauce when you make pizza and this just made more sense to me – that and the fact that I had two dozen of these cute little jars.

130901 Pizza (2)

Monday I wove and finished my scarf for the Big E.  That took a good part of the day.  It was hot, humid and rainy.  We invited friends over for dinner so the only thing I did outdoors was dig potatoes for dinner.  I also picked peppers and put them in to dehydrate. They were there overnight.  Before going to bed I went online and saw Apex Orchards had put out an APB about an overrun of peaches so I knew what I would be doing in the morning.

130903 Peaches (1)

Yes, peaches.  Lots of peaches.  I picked them up around 9:00 and started in as soon as I returned.  This wasn’t the best peach experience I have ever had.  They didn’t peel as well as I would have liked so it was slow going.  I managed to put up 15 pints and with half a box to go I decided to make a little jam.

130903 Peaches (2)I had picked up this new pectin at the orchard and was hot to try it out.  One of the reasons I don’t make much jam is the amount of sugar that has to go into it, this made more sense to me.  I made a jam with peaches, honey and ginger.  It smelled heavenly while it was cooking and what little was left in the pan tasted great.  The thing with jam is it sometimes takes a while to jell up.  By the time I left the house last night it wasn’t looking too thick. I figured I would give it a couple of days to see if it would be thick enough to spread on my toast.  If not it’ll just go into my oatmeal or yogurt.  Mmmmmm, Honey Ginger Peach yogurt, how good does THAT sound!

By the time the afternoon was over I was sooo over peaches.  Canning fruit also calls for serious cleaning – everything was sticky, including the floor.  This may be why peaches are one of the few fruits I put up.  The next will be pears but not until November.  I need a couple of months to recover.

130903 Peaches (3)I will be leaving for Fiber College in Searsport, ME this afternoon.  I’m not sure how much time will be devoted to blogging but I will make an attempt.  All I really want to do is smell and walk along the ocean and eat lobster but I may be coerced into doing a little crafting while I’m there.

Can All You Can


I posted a photo of my canyon of canned goods the other day and some comments surprised me.  I grew up canning.  My mother canned – a lot.  We had a large garden and what she didn’t can she froze.  Everything was done with a hot water bath so there were hours spent in front of that stove or in a hot kitchen, it takes a long time to process things with a hot water bath.  She used the WWII volume of the Ball Blue Book.  I still have it but these days almost everything I do is with a pressure canner.  It saves me time, water, energy and sweat.  I am also able to can pretty much anything safely.

This time of year the concentration is on fruit with tomatoes included.  Last week I canned tomatoes, peaches and made apricot butter as well as a few jars of dill pickles.  This week will be a repeat.  I really need about 50 pints of tomatoes to last me until next summer, I’d prefer to have more but tomatoes aren’t as easy to come by this summer due to a blight that seems to have effected everyone everywhere.

The peaches are beautiful this year and I had a really great canning experience this past weekend.  I love it when everything goes smoothly.  I don’t want to fight to peel those peaches.  I read somewhere to make sure the water was at a rolling boil and to dunk only a few peaches at a time for 30 seconds then into the ice bath.  Worked like a charm.  I also made sure my fruit was at room temperature before I started.  Canning fruit at home also allows you to control the amount of sugar that is used in processing.  That’s important to me, I don’t like things really sweet, I want to taste the fruit.

Our pear tree is loaded with fruit this year – I fear for its branches.  The apple trees are the same.  I will probably make a few pints of pie filling from the apples just to see if I can make it work to my satisfaction.  The pears won’t even ripen until after Thanksgiving and I will can those in chunks like I did the peaches.

There is nothing like the taste of home canned food, especially in winter.  I know exactly what is in every jar, there are no preservatives, no additives, no GMO’s.  It’s real food.  There is also the feeling of food security which is certainly what food preservation is all about.  Having enough to eat until the next harvest comes in.  Plant enough to eat now and put by enough to get you to next summer.  We live in a world where everything is immediate.  It takes very little time to empty out a grocery store, they are restocked every day.  I don’t ever want to worry about where my next meal is coming from or not having food to feed my family.  I’m sure that comes from growing up when food security may have been a concern.  I just remember this time of year the shelves were stocked and you had choices.

130824 Canning CanyonI know when I look at this my mind is set a little more at ease.  I have good food, I took the time to make it right and now all that is left is the eating.

Good Food


My kids call me the doomer.  I try to tell them that I just like to be prepared.  I never want to worry about where my next meal is coming from.  In doing so I have learned to garden in good weather and bad.  This year is one of those years where some things are doing much better than expected while others are an unmitigated disaster.  Every year I seem to say to Bill, “If we had to survive on this year’s garden we would starve to death by February”.  Even though I’m getting better at my gardening and adding more and more perennial beds and plants to the ever changing array of food that I grow I know that it would never be enough for a family to survive on until the next crop comes in.

The main reason I really grow a garden is there is nothing like the taste of a warm cucumber just picked, or that summer tomato.  The real revelation came to me when I grew potatoes for the first time a couple of years ago.  Potatoes freshly dug scream “POTATO” when you eat them.  Something happens to produce the minute it is harvested – the taste begins to wane. There are only two things I grow that improve once picked – pears and long pie pumpkins.

Last weekend we made a spectacular meal of things we have grown (or in the case of the steak watched grow).  These are the meals that are memorable, the ones I like to share with friends and family.  I want them to know their food can be so much better. There is such satisfaction in knowing you started the seeds and nurtured your food.  That there are no chemicals involved in any of the food we ate.  The beef was fed grass and hay from one property, no hormones, antibiotics.  It grew up in fresh air and sunshine.  It tastes like BEEF, not the homogenized red meat you find wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.  There is a huge difference.

The garden surplus I will continue to can to use in the winter months.  Peaches and apricots are next on the list and I will continue with tomatoes.  Even with processing the taste of  home canned fruit of any kind is a revelation in the winter.  The first bite brings you back to summer.  That is what makes all the work of preserving your harvest in the summer worthwhile.

Agricultural Fairs

130528 Weaving (1)


The Heath Fair is coming up and I decided to enter a few things in it this year.  The overshot coverlet is one of them.  When I was a kid I would enter the fair every year.  I loved going there and seeing my things on display and winning ribbons.  They have premiums as well and the amount has not changed since I was 10 years old.  First – $3.00, Second – $2.00, Third – $1.00.  It has never been about the money – it’s about the ribbon.  Heath is still one of the best agricultural fairs going in my opinion.  It is very small, it has all the best fair food, they have a horse draw (which is my favorite event – especially with my camera), and they have a good, but not overwhelming competition going for all of their crafts, canning and livestock.  I also enjoy visiting people I’ve know for a lifetime but only see now at the fair.

The interesting thing about the fair is that everything that is entered has to be made in the time between the end of the last fair and the beginning of this one.  When it comes to canning and pickling that puts a bit of a time crunch on the maker.  I made the pickles last week, it will be the only canned good that will go in.  The weaving obviously has been completed and I entered a small hooked rug.  The other thing I entered is “Category: # 18  “Best Confection or Baked Good made with Maple Syrup”.  I have NO idea what I’m making and that may be the one thing that falls by the wayside.  You see, with entering things in the fair you have to register well in advance – no registration, no entry.  Fortunately they do online registration now so I just picked some categories and entered.

The day after registering for the Heath Fair my weaving instructor sent out an email asking her students to consider entering some of their weaving in the Big E because weaving was a category that was in danger of being dropped due to a lack of participation.  This fair is HUGE.  It is the Eastern States Exposition, goes on for days and the competition is stiff, especially in livestock.  I was unsure if the quality of my weaving would even be up to standards for this fair, I didn’t want to be embarrassed.  I got an “are you KIDDING?!” when I expressed my doubts so I entered two items.  If you’re an entrant you receive two entrance tickets and a parking pass – can’t go wrong with that – parking alone can be a deterrent for me.

The thing is I entered a piece that isn’t even on the loom yet.  I warped it last weekend only to find out that I had threaded it wrong, after unweaving about 5 inches I discovered I hadn’t counted my warp threads correctly so I had to really start all over again.  Bummer.  Guess what I will be doing this weekend.  I see it as the ultimate challenge – a 72″ overshot scarf in tencel and wool done from beginning to end in 3 weeks (maybe a little less).

Challenge accepted.

Let the Madness Begin



I made a couple of quarts of dill pickles the other night and was commenting to my sister about what hot work canning is.  I do most of my canning in August when everything seems to come in at the same time in the garden.  This weekend I will probably can some new potatoes.  I’d like to do some salsa but that never seems to make it into a jar once the prep is done, it’s too good fresh.

Peaches are just starting to come in so I may do up some of them as well.  Diced this year, yes a lot of work but worth it in January.  Most of the time I just halve them and pack a jar in light syrup but I’m the only one who ends up eating them and a pint of peach halves is too much for me.  Diced ones I can just throw into my cottage cheese – nothing yummier.

Pesto, tomatoes of every kind, beans, pickles, relishes, these are all the things that I expect to have to eat each winter so the pressure is on now to get it done.

At the end of last winter I cooked a smoked turkey that I had bought from Pekarskis.  There were not a lot of people who were there to eat it and there is a lot of meat on an 18 pound turkey (it was a lovely free range bird as well).  I cut all of the meat off of it, made a stock of the bones and canned it in pints.  There were about 15 I recall.  This canned turkey has been one of the best experiments in canning ever.  I use it in jambalaya or black beans and rice and it is spectacular.  Not only does it taste wonderful with a great texture it is the ultimate convenience food.  This was my first foray into canning meat but will not be my last.

I think anyone who is considering canning should make that leap into a pressure canner.  Yes they are expensive but canning with a hot water bath limits you to high acid or sugared fruits.  I know once I got over the initial fear of the thing my canning options were exponentially expanded, it seems like there is nothing I can’t can now.  Pressure canning is faster and safer and helps you diversify your larder.  There is nothing better that wondering what’s for dinner, opening your canning closet and seeing choices.