Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Free Fruit!

My neighbors with the apple tree had asked if I wanted more apples. Why yes, yes I do! So I stopped by today with a jar of apple jelly from their tree for them, met their wee new granddaughter, and then picked 6 pounds of apples just from the branches hanging over their driveway. When I got home, I chopped them in half, cooked them with a little water and then ran them through the food mill. To the sauce I added about a cup of brown sugar and some cinnamon. They're currently in the canner: 2 quarts and a little more for me.

Also today I swapped out the bee food jar. The bees were a little more active today, one even landed on my leg (oh, yes, I was without the protective gear today) and made me a little nervous but soon left. There were about 10 bees attached to the lid of the jar, I managed to swap the lid to the new jar of syrup without disturbing them too much; they were still on the lid as I put the jar back in the hive. All in all, a relatively quick and certainly painless bee tending experience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Vegetables

With yesterday's farm share pick up, my vegetable drawer is rather full. Since we just can't eat that much, it's time to start making things with the veggies. First up, a batch of caponata. For this I had 2 eggplants, so I scaled the recipe up by 1/3 and used 4 peppers (instead of celery), 4 small onions, 4 tomatoes, and the last of my Kalamata olives. I didn't have any green olives for this batch. This made 3-1/2 pints of caponata and I'll take one jar to my parents' tonight.

The next thing was another 2 quarts of green beans, which are currently in the canner in 4 pint jars becoming "Zydeco Green Beans." Essentially, they are dilly beans without the dill. Instead, there is garlic, mustard seed, and a chili pepper in each jar.

The farm share is a bit out of control: 1 spaghetti squash, 1 pound of carrots, 1 bunch of beets, 1 head of lettuce, 1 bowl of arugula, 3 heads of garlic, 4 onions, 8 peppers, 2 quarts of green beans, 1 bunch parsley, 2 quarts blackberries, 1 quart peaches, 2.5 pounds of summer squash, 30 leaves of kale, 1 quart cherry tomatoes, 2 pounds of regular tomatoes, 8 tomatillos, and I didn't even get the flowers, husk cherries, basil and seasonal herbs. As soon as I got home I made a salad for dinner, used some of the tomatoes and onion in our enchiladas, and baked a peach and blackberry crisp. Which was dessert and breakfast. The berries had been too squishy to eat straight so I needed to bake with them. I contemplated a peach-blackberry jam but the crisp seemed a better option.

I've been keeping an eye on the bees, and have made a pint of "Bee Food" concentrate: sugar, water, lecithin, lemongrass oil and spearmint oil. This is added to the sugar syrup, 1 tsp. per quart. When I replace the quart jar tomorrow afternoon, that will be the first time they get it, hopefully they will like it. It's supposed to give them some essential nutrients.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Foraging When I Can

Yesterday was a pretty good weather day - 80's, a breeze, not too humid. Today we have thunderstorms. We were supposed to go camping this weekend but it's looking like that is a no go as this rain is supposed to continue all weekend. As our friends with whom we camp said, a passing thunderstorm is one thing but who wants to put up a tent in the rain?

Anyway, that same little voice that nagged me about the blueberries was after me about elderberries, too. The flowers had been so prevalent that there had to be tons of berries, the voice reasoned. And the voice was right. Yesterday I went back to my favorite elderberry shrub and the berries were ripe, plentiful and huge. I picked a whole bunch and came home and got them set up to extract the juice. I got about a quart of juice out of them. As I still have elderberry syrup and 1 jar of jam (of which I'm not fond because of the seeds) I decided jelly was the way to go.

This morning I mixed the 4 cups of juice with a little over 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 5-1/2 cups of sugar and 1 package of powdered pectin and came out with 7 cups of elderberry jelly. It still has that slightly earthy taste which I like.

Also this morning, I am pressure canning beans. I had about 4 quarts of string beans from the farm share and, as I already had dilly beans, I thought maybe pressure canning them might work. I don't really do a lot of vegetable canning this way, probably because I have an aversion to canned vegetables after eating a lot of elementary school lunches. Something about the metallic taste/smell, I think. Anyway, maybe glass jars are better? We'll see. Three quarts of beans, cold packed, are currently in the canner.

Another thing I did yesterday was put a jar of sugar syrup (3 cups sugar, 3 cups water) into the hive in my hacked together feeder. I used a plastic take-out tray and some bamboo skewers, cut to fit, to make a base for the jar of syrup. Using a nail I poked tiny holes in the lid for the bees to sip from. The base holds the jar up so the bees can get underneath it to drink. I went to check on them at the end of the day and they'd taken about 1/4 cup, maybe more, of the syrup already. This way I can make more syrup and just swap out the jars and hopefully a little less often than what I was doing in the beginning. There is a product called Honey B Healthy that contains essential oils for the bees, I purchased the ingredients online and will start making some when they arrive. Apparently one adds about a teaspoon of this mix to each quart of syrup and it's good for them. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


From one 9-pound batch of free apples I made: 12 cups of apple jelly, 2 quarts of applesauce and 1 quart of sweetened apple juice. Not bad!  I plan to enter the apple jelly in the fair so for fair purposes: 7 cups prepared apple juice (9 pounds apples, 9 cups water, simmered and then strained through cheesecloth), 9 cups sugar, 1 box Sure-Jell pectin. Prepared the usual way, processed for 5 minutes. For the applesauce, I took the leftover pulp from making the juice, ran it through the food mill, and added about 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup honey. I feel very frugal, having made all these things from one gift of apples.

Speaking of fruity gifts, the peach crisp was lovely for breakfast!

I also started the kimchi fermenting this morning. The cabbage was drained and the brine saved. Then the cabbage was mixed with scallion, ginger, red pepper, salt and sugar and packed into a 2 quart jar. The brine was poured over the top and then the rest of the brine is in a ziploc bag in the mouth of the jar to keep the vegetables below the brine. Shouldn't take more than a few days to ferment. I have warned my kids about the smell.

I am too tired today to get to the green beans, maybe tomorrow!

What I did have the energy for was to go "bar by bar" and inspect my hive. What I found was a little disheartening. There were plenty of new bees, larvae, and pupae, but almost no nectar and no honey stores. I got worried and emailed my beekeeper friend. She suggested I feed them from this point forward as there isn't a lot of nectar around right now and they're going to need it. I have an idea to make an easy feeder so I'll work on that tonight and set it up tomorrow. That way I won't have to feed them every other day. I was able to completely disrupt the hive by moving every single comb without getting stung so that's good, at least. I would have a video to share except that I don't seem to know how to work the GoPro. Next time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gifts from Nature and Neighbors

If it seemed in my last post that I had a lot of things going on, well, they just multiplied!

Continuing the theme of an epic year for fruit, my neighbor's apple tree, which they had in recent years pretty much given up hope of saving, had so many apples on it that one of the limbs broke off from the weight. She offered me as many apples as I wanted, so I got about 9 pounds yesterday and proceeded to simmer them with water to make apple juice. I let them strain overnight in the fridge and the plan is to make apple jelly and maybe applesauce with the leftover pulp. Which I would have done today except for the peaches.

At work today there was a bag of peaches with my name on it! The nurse with whom I swap jam for eggs had been picking peaches at a friend's house and very kindly thought to bring me some. There were enough little peaches to make a batch of jam (since I didn't have almonds I added a teaspoon of almond extract after the hard boil, but each jar does have a maraschino cherry - homemade, of course) and a small crisp. I will bake the crisp in the morning for breakfast, right now the peaches have a little sugar and lemon juice on them and are waiting for the topping.

Also today, I picked up my farm share. I still have a quart of green beans left over from last week, and picked another 3 quarts. I think I might try pressure canning them, in case they taste better than beans in the metal cans. Hopefully I can get to that tomorrow, in between checking on the bees and making all the apple jelly and sauce. And kimchi. Did I mention I started a batch of kimchi? No? Well, that too. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Many Balls in the Air

Today there are a bunch of updates on several ongoing projects:

Bees: they are doing well. It appears they are about 1/3 through another comb. There are so many bees out foraging that they arrive back at the hive at a rate of about 3-4 bees per second. The pollen they carry ranges from white all the way to a deep olive green, which might be an aster species. I'm worried, though, that they won't have enough time to build up their honey stores before the fall. Unless something amazing happens in the next month, I will likely have to feed them over the winter.

Grapes: while we were at the Y last week I noticed some tiny wild grapes. This week I picked about 1.5 pounds with the help of my younger child. While not enough to do anything with at the moment, they are washed and in the freezer waiting until I have at least 3 pounds so I can make jelly.

Cornichons: the recipe for these said they would be ready in a month, so I made a date on the calendar for today. I thawed some paté and spruce paste and we had that, with the cornichons, cheeses, bread, grapes, and chilled steamed green beans in a vinaigrette, for our dinner. They were spicy and crisp, mmm! The grapes were weird - elongated pointy things called "Witch Fingers." Have you ever seen them? Well, as I've previously mentioned, I'm a sucker for unusual foods or if they have limited availability. They taste like any other grape. Which is a good thing.

Pickles and jam ready to be gifted.
Wintergreen ice cream: I made brownies today, partly for us and partly for the guys who are still toiling away on our water main. This morning they started to work in front of the driveway before I knew they were there and so I had to go rushing out and ask them to stop long enough for me to get my car out. They were kind enough to do so (my heart sank as I ran out and watched the backhoe take a huge bite out of the pavement...but not so much that I couldn't get my car over it) and I reciprocated with lemonade and brownies. As before with the zucchini bread, the empty plate and pitcher were at my door within about 2 minutes. Anyway, we had brownies and wintergreen ice cream for dessert.

Gifts: we have two sets of new neighbors, next door and across the street. I brought each of them a few of jars of jam and pickles. I hope they feel welcome. Moving to a new place can be pretty overwhelming!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Back for More

Because this year has been so epic for fruit in our area, I have had a nagging little thought in the back of my head:

"Blueberries. You need more. When nature cooperates, you should stock up. Go get more."

The trouble has been finding the time and a willing helper-child. Our weekends have been filled up with work and travel so any trips to the blueberry patch would have to be on weekdays, and I have somehow managed to book my weekdays rather full. The kids have been at camp and then home and, because they were at camp, not so excited to leave the house again. Today I managed to make enough variables come together; I got out of work early, the weather was good, and the elder child was willing to go with me. We got to the blueberry bushes around 3 pm and left at 5. In that time the two of us picked 2 quarts of berries. In basically the same area we were at before, and not really having to move around at all. They are still so plentiful, and even sweeter than before. Must have been all that sun.

After consulting with my kid we decided I should make another batch of jam rather than put them all in the freezer. There were enough berries to do that and add 2 small bags of berries to the freezer stash. Now I'm on the lookout for elderberries. I'd like to make some jelly this year. The jam was too seedy. They should be ripe soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pickle Relish

Last year I made this recipe for golden pickle relish and it won first place in the Topsfield Fair. No pressure or anything....

Yesterday I mixed 6 cups of cucumbers, 2 cups of red onions (Red Long of Tropea, to be exact) and 2 cups of chopped green bell peppers with salt and let it all sit. Today I drained the veggies, mixed up the spices, sugar and Clear-Jel with vinegar and brought it all to a boil, then added the veggies, boiled again, and put it into jars. I used 5 8-ounce jars and 7 4-ounce jars, so I could start this year's gift stash.

Also, I started another gallon of yogurt. I've lost count, this is either batch 6 or 7 from that original packet of starter.  It'll be ready tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Quick Batch

Today's farm share pick up was interrupted by a massive thunderstorm...

While I was getting the already picked items, it was getting darker and darker and thunder was rumbling. I was told it had been rumbling for over an hour, so I figured I still had time. I went out to pick 2 quarts of green beans. The lightning was getting closer and closer! Just as I was finishing with the beans, the first large drops began to fall. Most of them missed me, they were so sparse. I started walking to my car, wondering if I could get the 1/2 pint of blackberries or maybe some dill flowers. By the time I got to the dill field the drops were coming more frequently. Halfway back to my car, the sky just opened. Whoosh. I was soaked in 3 minutes flat.

Once in my car I drove home, wondering if I was going to end up like those people you read about who have a tree fall on their car. They were really waving around in the wind! Fortunately, I made it home without incident and, by the time I got to my town, the rain had stopped. My husband wasn't as lucky; he was about to head home on his bike when the hail arrived. He ended up taking the subway.

After dinner I made 2 pints of dilly beans with 1 quart of the green beans. The other quart will be for dinner tomorrow night. For tonight's dinner I was able to use most of the farm share in the form of potatoes and salad. All that is left are a few cucumbers and carrots, one bell pepper, a head of garlic and some cabbage. Where did the rest of it go?  Into a batch of golden pickle relish, the same recipe which won first place last year in the Topsfield Fair. (For fair purposes, 6 cups cucumbers, 2 cups green pepper, and 2 cups red onion.) The vegetables are resting with salt until tomorrow and I'll finish the batch then.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Drinking some water off a mint leaf.
The last time I went into the hive I misplaced one of the spacer bars and I've been meaning to put it back in the right spot. However, I haven't really wanted to bother the bees, who are still transitioning through their various roles. Frequent peeks through the window have revealed that the combs are getting larger and they have been working on a new comb, although I don't see any evidence yet of honey or brood in it. Anyway, it was nice out today and I thought it might be a good time to fix that spacer but I didn't want to put on all the protective equipment. I figured, it was a small job, maybe I could go without the gear? Turns out, I could! I don't think I'd pull out a whole comb without gear or harvest honey or anything, but I can make a small tweak without too much fuss. That is nice to know.

Tonight for dinner I made the chicken tortellini with alfredo sauce but I ground up some kale in with the eggs so the sauce was green and full of kale. Even the 10 year old ate it, in small quantities. We also had sautéed zucchini, onion and garlic scapes to mix in, and the last of the carrots and most of the cucumbers from the farm share. I'm left with some turnips, one onion, 2 small cucumbers, cabbage and Napa cabbage, and a small amount of Swiss chard. The rabbit eats the chard and the regular cabbage so he's good for a few days at least!

Oh, and exciting news! We ate a few grapes off my Concord grape vine after dinner - they are ripening and we'll get at least a few more before the squirrels do, I hope.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Baking Than Canning

In addition to our weekly farm share, sometimes our mason drops by with vegetables from his fabulous garden. Usually zucchini is one of the things he brings (along with celery, green beans, basil, tomatoes, peppers and sometimes eggplant - it's really quite wonderful) and they're generally the very big ones. Each one makes about 3 cups of shredded zucchini, which means they are perfect for chocolate zucchini bread. Since I had 2, the other day I made a double batch - 4 loaves. Do you know why this recipe is so great? Because the 10 year old asks me to make it. Knowing full well there is zucchini in it.

One loaf went to my next door neighbors who had just returned from a month away. Another went to the construction workers in front of our house. They are replacing the water main on our street with a new 3-foot diameter main, complicated by old pipes, traffic, heat, and the fact that the entire neighborhood is mostly ledge. For the past week I've had to either make a date with them to leave my driveway or get my car out really early and leave it out on a side street all day. Anyway, they've been super nice. I brought a loaf of the bread to them, and said they could leave the plate on my steps when they were done. Not TWO MINUTES later, the foreman appeared at my door with an empty plate. I was highly amused.

The other two loaves were for us, and one was finished that day - eaten for both breakfast and dinner. See, it's a vegetable, right? So it's perfectly fine for dinner!

Last night we'd stopped by the local peach farm so I bought a quart of "seconds" as well as a quart of peaches for eating. I made the seconds into a peach cobbler which we ate for dessert. (Note to self, use the 9x13 dish, not the Corningware.) We tried it with the spruce ice cream - not bad, but I think I might like to try it with the wintergreen ice cream instead. If there is any left by the time I get home from work today!