Thursday, August 29, 2013

Before It's September...

I thought I should show you a little bit of what August looked like...although I also should warn you- this is quite a lengthy post....

Our Heritage red raspberries bear twice a year- once in the early summer and again in late summer.  The early summer crop was disappointing.  It was puny.  And there were SO many ants (like, on every berry) and a nice sprinkling of Japanese beetles.  But, oh, the second crop has been AMAZING.  It might have something to do with all the rain we've had this summer but *I* like to think it was thanks to our bees.  I have never seen our patch so laden- it's hard to keep up with them.

And, friends.  If your picking bucket does not have a string on it so you can wear it around your neck, you need to go take care of that right now.  It allows you to pick with two hands or use one hand to pull down/up/over a hard to reach cane so you can pick every single one.  And it looks nifty.

Last year, we only grew enough corn for fresh eating and were too lazy (or exhausted) to buy local corn to freeze.  We missed it this past winter something terrible and vowed to plant a lot this year.

Instead of blanching it like we've always done we tried something different.  This method came to our family through my great aunt and uncle who heard about it from folks in Lancaster, PA many years ago.  They did corn this way and so did my Grandma and, more recently, my mom tried it and we tried some of the corn she put up.  It was delicious.  Okay, well, I'm sure you've heard of it (and may have a very strong opinion about it one way or another) but here's what you do: Cut the corn off the cobs RAW (cobs are husked and brushed first).  Measure out some corn, add some sugar, then salt and some crushed ice.  Toss and freeze in bags.  Presto.  You're done.  Recipe here.

How does this work?  According to Jamey, as soon as corn is picked, the sugars in the corn start converting into starch.  Blanching inactivates the enzymes that cause this.  Adding sugar to raw corn makes up for the fact that some of the sugar conversion will take place (because it wasn't blanched).  Enzymes also work slower when cold, so the crushed ice helps to slow the conversion until the bags are placed into the freezer.

red beet hummus

My canner, looking quiet but actually bubbling away.

It always feels like our tomatoes are never going to ripen.  Here is the first batch canned- plain, good-old chopped tomatoes.

I am in love with New Zealand Spinach.  Do you know it?  Last summer friends gave us a large bag of it after I expressed interest in trying it.  I love spinach but it's always gone before I'm ready to say goodbye in the spring and goes to seed before I can get as much froze as I want.  What was amazing to hear about this spinach is that it grows ALL SUMMER LONG!  Not only that, but it spreads and re-seeds itself!

I would describe the texture of the leaves as older regular spinach- a bit thinker and tougher than tender baby spinach- so it doesn't lend itself to salads very well (although some of you may love it that way).  But it is PERFECT in quiches and any other hot dish that calls for spinach.  And, it freezes beautifully.  I froze some of that big bag they gave us last year and it worked perfectly.  Just look at this gorgeous stuff...

Another thing we tried differently this year was to trellis our tomatoes, thanks to Herrick Kimball.  We also pruned them more consistently than in years past.  Kimball's book gives an excellent tutorial on how to do this.  We used rigid cattle fencing- the same kind we use for our peas.  By pruning the plants and helping them up the trellis, they get more air and more light and more energy goes into the lovely fruit.

We might not have pruned them as hard as we could have- we're still learning.

We're pleased with the method so far and are in the thick of ripe (and green) tomatoes.

Sadie has a cherry tomato plant that is over 6-feet tall.  It and two others like it have been keeping us happy- it's like eating candy.

Sadie, Miriam and the new neighbor girl turned the hog shed/playhouse into a real playhouse this summer.  They were looking for something to do one day and I suggested they add some furniture to the playhouse.  I helped nail 2 x 4 pieces of wood into the sides of a pallet (as legs) that we found in the wood shed (shhh...) after sawing them to length.  Have you sawed anything with a hand saw lately?  Man, it's hard.  I was huffing a puffing as the girls stood around waiting for their table.  I couldn't help laughing at myself out loud.  The boys helped move this cabinet inside to act as their counter and cupboard.  They asked to use some canning jars (of which we have hundreds) and soon filled them with chopped tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, flowers (for their table) and water.  They rounded up chairs and stools, a table cloth and plastic dinnerware.  They practically lived in it for days.

I had grown tired of canning peaches.  They never ripened at the same time which frustrated me to no end because I'm a big-batch kind of girl.  If I'm going to make a mess, I want it to be worth it.  So, of late, I've been canning nectarines instead because you don't have to peel them and they ripen more consistently.

But I did start to miss the peach.  A friend heard of a great deal on peaches and asked if she could pick me up some when they went to get theirs.  Since I wasn't planning on doing peaches that week, I only asked for a bushel.  I decided I wanted to try using honey syrup this time instead of sugar and while looking up ratios of honey to water I came across a blog where a woman said she heats up her syrup in her tea pot.  Brilliant!  Why hadn't I thought of that?  It would make the pouring much easier.  Also in the same series of searches, I was reminded of the fact that many people blanch their peaches to get the skins off like you do tomatoes.  I had never tried this and decided, why not?  I was already doing peaches when I didn't plan on it, was already using honey instead of sugar (recipe and method here), and was heating my syrup in a tea pot- why-in-the-world would I not just go ahead and try to blanch them, too?

It was A DREAM!  My bushel of peaches were two varieties and ripened at different times.  Since I was blanching, I canned them all at once since I was able to blanch the slightly less ripe peaches just a couple minutes longer than the others.  The skins slipped right off with no waste.  Sadie was even able to help me with ease.  I quartered and pitted and she slipped the skins off.  Those little arms can reach right down in and position the peaches perfectly, too.

Are you as exhausted as I am right now?  Well, below you'll see a relatively rare sight- our kitchen in summer, at rest.  Now if only someone would clean me up and put me to bed.

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  1. Beautiful my friend. All of it! And you...get yourself a good night's sleep (or two...or three)! Love to you! Camille

  2. Oh my word, I have no idea how you get all that done! But I'm amazed. I know, I read your post a while back about how you feel when people comment about all that you do...I'm still amazed!!

  3. Busy lady! I feel your pain- though the "fruits" of my labor are less fruity and more pickle-y. ;-) I haven't come across any fabulous deals on peaches or nectarines this year which is a huge bummer. The other day at an Amish auction, I spent WAY MORE MONEY on concord grapes than I should have- but we haven't had home canned juice in several years and I was going through withdrawal. I came home and said "This is it- I MUST put an orchard and grapevines in."

    Yes- water "peeling" is so wonderful, isn't it?

    Also- when you can things like green beans and tomatoes- you can boil the hot water used to fill the jars in a teapot too. I use a big enamel pot (I think they were once used as a coffee maker, but lacks the innards.) and it suits one batch of 7 quarts perfectly.

    Happy August- it was good catching up with you (from a blog reader who rarely comments...)

  4. You had a VERY busy August! But, it looks like you learned a lot and were able to get a lot of those fresh foods preserved. Well done! You do deserve a nice long nap!

    PS - SO glad that you are back to blogging... missed these lovely posts!

  5. That New Zealand Spinach looks very much like Callaloo, a green that I first encountered in Jamaica. It is a wonderful green for sauteeing. Rinse, pat dry and set aside. In the skillet, sweat down chopped onion and garlic in vegetable oil with a LITTLE habanero pepper that has had the seeds and membrane removed then finely chopped (note: a little goes a long, long can skip the pepper if your family doesn't like a little heat). Chop the New Zealand Spinach in pieces no smaller than an inch wide and add it to the skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat until the greens are tender and done, adding salt and pepper to taste. This is a wonderful side dish to accompany any meat, or curry, or rice and beans even.

  6. I want to use honey in my canning, how much honey do you use for the canning/same as the sugar?
    Love that spinach.

    1. I'll update the post above with this link, too, but since others asked as well :-)...

  7. So glad you're back! I canned peaches for the first time this year. I usually whimp out and freeze them and later wish I hadn't....we've already eaten two jars of them they are so good. My husband bought me a bunch of jars at a yard sale and some of them have rust on the rims from leaving the rings on the jars...I tried and can't get it off...with all your canning experience, do you know if it would be okay to use them anyway? I used baking soda to scrub them and the rust is very faint on the tops where the lids would lie...thank you for all your wonderful garden/canning tips! Jan

    1. Jan, I believe it's really important that the seal between the very top flat part of the rim of the jar and the lids be very clean so you get the best seal. I would be afraid that those jars wouldn't seal or would become unsealed at a later date because of the rust. That's just my gut notion. But congratulations on the yard sale score!:-)

  8. you have a beautiful harvest.

    just wondering, do you dehydrate? I have tried it for the first time this yr, and am so in love with the results, would sure recommend it..

    in particular, was thinking that New Zealand Spinach looks great to dehydrate,
    and if you REALLY want a treat, try dehydrating tomatoes..

    oh my gosh, they are so good, just like candy..

    1. Thank you! I have dehydrated slices, carrots, strawberries, etc. And we love roasted tomatoes which we then freeze (since we don't dry them out completely, they don't have to be reconstituted- although they take up freezer space). I've often wondered why I don't dehydrate more.... I guess I'm just not in the habit of it. I'm glad you're having fun with it!

  9. Laura at Heavenly Homemakers recently did a post on freezing whole peaches (sorry I don't know how to post links). I am definitely going to try this as it looks so simple and they peel very easy when you want to use them.

  10. I.Am thinking of trying your corn method. Guaranteed to work? I have to can my doubled batch of pickle relish today plus the tomato sauce. I am also expecting about thirty relatives for a birthday party tomorrow and taking middle daughter back to college tomorrow. At least any family that shows up today will be able to lend a hand so I may get the plum sauce and the preserved pears done too.

    1. I mean she goes back to college Monday..don't think I could manage all tomorrow.

  11. Jane~
    Do you think it would be fine to use the honey water on pears as well as peaches?
    I just did a batch of peaches and have quite a bit left over and thought it should be fine.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Yes, others use this same method for pears and I may be, too, with our pears before too long:-).

  12. You mean you used to peel your peaches by hand!? No wonder you didn't love it! I always blanch mine, although this year I let them get too ripe and it was a bit of a squishy mess. Also, I've been canning peaches the Amish way which is totally not endorsed by any canning authorities, but we've/they've found it just fine: place peeled peaches in cold jars. Put in a bit of sugar (I'm sure you could use honey!) depending on how sweet you like your peaches and fill up with water to 1" headspace. Screw on lids and rings. Place in cold waterbath canner and fill with cold water to cover lids. Bring entire thing to a boil, turn OFF the heat, and allow jars to sit for 10 minutes in there. Remove jars to cool/seal. This helps the peaches stay firmer.

    Glad to see you're back in the bloggy world! I want to check out that spinach, too.


  13. To the lady who bought the jars at the yard sale with rust. I cleaned out an old cellar & had many cans with rust. We soaked them in a tub with water & vinegar over the tops - let them sit for a couple days. I used steel wool pad and all came off the tops & side tops. Try a few to see if it works.
    I love reading your blogs.


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