Surprises, an early start and partly harvest home

The alarm went off at 5:30am. It does every morning now. I am beginning to relish more and more the peace and quiet to get stuff done or just sit and read emails uninterrupted or just research and read. It’s wonderful. When the alarm went off this morning I debated rolling over and going back to sleep. I’d not made it to bed until after 10:30pm (late for me now) and I’d spent the afternoon with a fairly severe headache so some extra sleep was a fairly viable option. I dozed off whilst I thought about it. I woke with a start ages later. 5:38am. I got up. πŸ˜€

This morning I decided to get stuck into getting the last of the current harvest (which we’d bought through our local co-op direct from an organic farmer) safely away for the coming months. Corn is the word of the day in this case. Corn, sweet corn or cobs of corn littered my coffee table and I was over them. Yesterday afternoon had been spent shucking 60 or so cobs, then cutting off the kernels to pressure can them as they can’t be safely processed with water bathing. Sorry Fowlers Vacola. This was a job for the big guns.

Canning is a bit of a confusing term as far as understanding how to can at home. When we buy canned goods at the supermarket they come in a metal tin or can, completely sealed and requiring cutting open with a tin/can opener to access the food inside. Home canning is also done under high pressure, although likely not nearly as high as commercial canning but it’s done in glass jars. Ball Mason jars are the standard jars that most canners are designed to use, usually in pint or quart amounts although other sizes are available. They are a 3 part system with glass jar, lid seal and then the screw band for the jar. Sadly, the lid seals contain BPA or so my reading and research (and a friend who has also done reading and research) inform me. 😦 The seals are a one use only although there are other lid accessories out there like Tattler lids (made of plastic but BPA free). In Australia, with our Fowlers Vacola bottling system being the most common and readily available system it is indeed fortunate that the Fowlers Vacola bottles can also be used in pressure canning. πŸ˜€

So, back to the corn.

I filled up all of my remaining #14 vacola bottles which hold about 350ml I think (1lb),Β and a few of my #20’s which are about 1.2 US pints/ 600ml , close enough to the size of a standard 410g can from a supermarket. Fill your pressure canner with water as per the specifications and get it boiling whilst you prepare everything else. Otherwise you end up waiting for the silly thing to boil whilst your bottles sit and wait.Β To can corn, fill your bottles or jars with corn to within an inch of the top and then cover with just enough boiling water to cover the kernels. This is cold packed corn. Hot packed corn involves bringing the corn to just under the simmer and making sure it’s heated through before spooning into jars and then making sure the kernels are covered with boiling water. This is considered the safer option by the powers that be as you guarantee your corn is heated through but given the preserving time and pressure I’m not concerned about it not heating through so I cold packed my corn. Once your bottles are full, carefully load your canner using the necessary tongs and put your lid on. Again, follow your canner instructions (seriously, don’t muck around with guesswork with canning. A mistake can make you very sick or worse). Mine requires bringing back to the boil then venting steam for 10 minutes before starting the pressure building. Processing time varies depending on your altitude so you will need to know your height elevation. I processed my corn high just to be sure (it’s a riskier food than some) at 15psi for 85 minutes which is the pint processing time and pressure. The #14 bottles are less than a pint but better to over-process than under. I am very generous with my processing time too as I go and do something else whilst the pressure rises so as soon as I see it’s at minimum pressure that’s when I start counting from but adding on some extra time. Mine got at least 90 minutes last night although it may be closer to 100 minutes depending on when the 15psi was preached. πŸ™‚ As I said, better to over-process. πŸ™‚ Once the canner has processed the full amount of time (if the pressure dips beneath the processing pressure you must start timing again) turn off the heat and leave it to cool and lower the pressure. Don’t lift the pressure regulator or do anything to hasten the pressure dropping. In my case, I turned off the stove and went to bed. πŸ™‚

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Home canned, locally farmed, organically raised corn. #14 jars at the front and #20’s at the back.

This morning I opened up the pressure canner and removed my still steaming hot bottles. One of my #14’s broke (this can happen if there is a crack or chip or flaw in the bottle – ah well) so I cleaned off the resulting corn floaties and set my bottles on a folded tea-towel to cool. I’ll remove the clips in the next few days.

I spent this morning blanching the rest of the corn to remove the kernels for freezing and also some half cobs (they snap in half really easily) for corn on the cob for the kids. I now have a freezer full of corn kernels (5 sandwich sized snap-lock bags) and about 20 half cobs too. We bagged up the cauliflower florets too so I have officially processed all my fruit and veggies from this round. There are plenty of white nectarines for munching though. Yum!

I like surprises. Well, not entirely true. I don’t like surprises like lifting the chickens water bowl to find a breeding ground of millipedes. Nor do I like finding caterpillars on the cauliflower or corn. I definitely don’t like finding surprises in nappies (although my sense of smell fortunately prevents them surprising me very much). I DO like surprises like finding bees gorging happily in my pumpkin flowers. I do like finding that we have 6 pumpkins growing (although it’s not a huge surprise given that I made sure they were fertilised). I most particularly like the surprise I got this morning though. I usually glance in to see if any of our chickens may have deigned to lay us an egg and to my surprise this morning there WAS an egg! it’s been a LONG time. πŸ˜€ As I picked up the egg I wondered who may have lad it. Our pekin bantams don’t lay eggs as large as this one and I didn’t think our Dorkings were quite ready to lay (getting there but not yet) but as I picked it up the culprit was revealed. Miss Mandy, or Muscovy duck (as opposed to Milly and Molly, our Muscovy drakes) has finally reached maturity and has gifted us with an egg. πŸ˜€ Oh happy day!

As for the garden, I have 8 pumpkins that are growing, green tomatoes everywhere, including 1 in the greenhouse and rocket and spinach ready to harvest in the greenhouse too. My corn is still growing and some zucchinis are too although they’re both struggling for lack of both sunlight and water. Not a good location for that garden and I shall move it once the corn and zucchinis are finished. If they finish. Something has been digging in that garden bed.

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A death in the house and bottling more apricots.

We have our first death in the household since moving here. One of our 4-5 week old chicks, named John after our builder who first saw he wasn’t well, died last night. I got home about 10pm from bottling (more on that in a minute), got the kids into bed (I don’t normally kep them up that late but Martin was in Spotswood packing up the old house and we had been working hard until then so it was a needs must situation) then I finally got the chance to bring in our chicks. They’re around 5 weeks of age which means they’re nearly ready for life in the big pen but in the meantime they’re being slowly acclimatised by being taken out each morning and brought back in every evening. They’re enclosed in our old chook house, a small kit build one a friend gave me about 2 years ago which is plenty big enough for now 8 small chicks and it gives them time to get used to the other hens and roosters, and them to the smaller chicks too, before they’re in the pen proper. Well, when I brought them in last night John was a pretty miserable bundle of feathers. He was cold and stiff and I was convinced he was gone. Given how sick he’s been and that he hasn’t grown in a couple of weeks I had been fully expecting it and, if I’m brutally honest with myself (and you too of course) I was grateful too. A sick chick IS a lot of extra work AND he would have been so very miserable. Well, as I picked up this cold stiff little bundle of feathers he drew in a very sick gaspy little breath. Unbelievably he was still alive. I bedded the chicks down inside and said farewells to John (I am a sentimental fool I know), knowing full well he would not be with us in the morning. He was not. Orik couldn’t care less of course and Allegra just took it in her stride. It was just another piece of information to her as she’s still a bit young to really comprehend what had happened but Jasper is fully aware of what had happened and was most upset he couldn’t pat John again and couldn’t see him again and so on. We had a pat and said goodbye, both of us with streaming tears and John is currently sitting on top of Ignisa our wood heater, in a small tin awaiting Daddy to come home to perform a funeral. It seems kind of silly to hold a funeral for a 5 week old chick but I think it’s probably a necessary thing for Jasper to complete the hard little life lesson he’s just learned. He knows about death but it’s never been such real and tangible thing, only ever an abstract concept gained from his Granddad having passed years before he was born.

In other more positive news, yesterday was spent up to the eyeballs in apricots, finished off with super sweet white nectarines. I headed over to Phoenix Park, a great caravan park with cabins and a most marvelous hall where we set up the pressure canner, Fowlers Vacola water bath, dozens of jars, bowls and between us, 30kgs of apricots and 5kgs of white nectarines, all organic and absolutely delicious. We had freshly made Vegemite and cheese scrolls and brown rice mushroom risotto for lunch, then got stuck into halving our apricots. I had decided to halve them and if the halves were complete and whole I would bottle them but if they were blemished or bruised etc, then the apricot minus the blemished part would be turned into apricot nectar for drinking. I bottled 16 of the #27 jars of apricots in water and 4 of the #36 jars and a #20 of nectar but sadly I forgot the golden rule and I unloaded hot jars onto a cold bench (in my defense I had only made it to bet at 1:15 the night before with a 5am wake up and I was pretty much exhausted when I was unloading the jars) so I’ve broken 2 of my #36’s and I have a 3rd of questionable condition as it’s leaked over 1/2 of its contents. It’s made me stop and think about several aspects of bottling juice but I’ve not given up yet. It sounds crazy, even to me, but it took us 11 hours to bottle 16 jars of apricots in water, 8 in light syrup, 7 bottles (I think) of nectarines and 6 or 7 bottles of apricot nectar as well as processing 30kgs of apricots and 5kgs of nectarines but we also had my 3 monkeys and a 9 month old in the mix! Not a bad achievement in my books.

So, here are the photos I promised from yesterday.

Sterilising jars

Sterilising jars

First jar of apricot halves . I figured out a better way to stack them in after this one.

First jar of apricot halves . I figured out a better way to stack them in after this one.

Left to right: With lid awaiting clip, clipped and ready to process and jar filled with apricots and water and ring on awaiting the lid and clip.

Left to right: With lid awaiting clip, clipped and ready to process and jar filled with apricots and water and ring on awaiting the lid and clip.

After processing. 10 successfully processed jars, 1 that appears to have sealed but with a LOT of air in it in the fridge and a small jar (#20) of nectar.

After processing. 10 successfully processed jars, 1 that appears to have sealed but with a LOT of air in it in the fridge and a small jar (#20) of nectar. Clips will come off tomorrow.

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Halving apricots and 4 well-behaved kids (with a very tired Orik who fell asleep within 5 minutes of taking the photos.

Broken jar. I put it on the bench and no sooner had I moved my hand away (thankfully) than POP! Vomit! What a mess!

Broken jar. I put it on the bench and no sooner had I moved my hand away (thankfully) than POP! Vomit! What a mess!

My other broken jar. :( The white you can see is actually VERY fine bubbles creating a path through the puree heading to higher ground.

My other broken jar. 😦 The white you can see is actually VERY fine bubbles creating a path through the puree heading to higher ground.

The same leaky jar with my other unsuccessful jar of nectre in the background. Only half full so it may not have sealed adequately with all the space (air) in the bottle. One to be used quickly.

The same leaky jar with my other unsuccessful jar of nectar in the background. Only half full so it may not have sealed adequately with all the space (air) in the bottle. One to be used quickly.

This morning was a very slow start after the late night we’d had. Orik slept until 7:30 (although he came in for milk at some ungodly hour of the night before dawn), Allegra after 8 and Jasper slept until almost 9. I think he would happily have stayed in bed longer except for his sister being insistent he get up accompanied by a grumbly tummy. As we broke our fast at around 9:30 10 I went out to take the chicks outside and was greeted by a couple of visitors I hadn’t expected to see. I knew we had kookaburras around as one had been visiting and eating the resident skinks from my potato beds and compost heap and then had returned that evening with a friend whereupon they’d caught the mouse Minnie had rejected the day before and another skink or 2. Given their predilection for snakes and other reptilia they are so very welcome. πŸ˜€ In fact we will be encouraging them to come visiting.

This morning's visitors. He took flight just as I hit the button but it's not every garden that has 2-3 kookaburras come and visit and not many that have a kookaburra perching on the edge of the trampoline. I think Martin's a little sorry he missed seeing them.

This morning’s visitors. He took flight just as I hit the button but it’s not every garden that has 2-3 kookaburras come and visit and not many that have a kookaburra perching on the edge of the trampoline. I think Martin’s a little sorry he missed seeing them.

The other kookaburra.

The other kookaburra.

The fellow on the trampoline flew off a little so I followed after him and was blessed to be able to stand about 3 metres away from him. They really do have the most amazing glossy hard black eyes. Predatory, without being cruel if that makes sense. Sadly I didn’t get laughed at (never thought I’d say THAT in my life) but I was snickered at, a slow craaaak… craaaak… craaaak… but not the full-throated belly laugh. Is there any other bird in the world with such a distinctive and joyful call I wonder? It is simply marvelous to hear them chortling and chucking away in the trees across the creek and it never fails to make me smile. πŸ™‚ If you have never heard a kookaburra’s laugh, check out this link. Well, Mr Kookaburra was warmly welcomed and most cordially invited to drop in whenever he fancies and no need to call first. In fact he was told he’s welcome to make himself at home whether or not we are at home BUT he was warned off the baby chicks (not that he can get to them at the moment anyway but still). What a wonderful cheer me up after John’s discovery this morning. I just wish my photos were better but with limited zoom and an iPhone only and being a less than average photographer… Oh well.

Sitting in our silver poplars next to the house.

Sitting in our silver poplars next to the house. Sorry for the crappy photo.

And finally, I put my kids down for naps this morning as I could see they were cranky from too little sleep and although I know they’re not very eco at all (we’re getting back into cloth again but we have been using sposies just whilst we got settled 😦 ), Allegra who is just toilet training went back into a nappy for her nap. Jasper was being helpful and went to fetch it for me…

Stick em up and give me all your chocolate!

Stick em up and give me all your chocolate!

Moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of apricots!

I love the song Peaches by Presidents of the United States of America. It came out whilst I was in year 11 or 12 – mid 90’s for anyone who has no idea of how old I am or when I went to school. πŸ˜‰ (34 in case you’re wondering and graduated 1996 πŸ˜› ) And since we’ve moved to the country AND it’s stone fruit season I find myself humming or badly singing that line. This time however I will be eating a lot of apricots. And by a lot I mean a LOT! I have 30kgs of those sweet smelling pink and yellow balls of goodness. 30kgs of organic apricots! Nom! Oh, and I have 5kgs of organic white nectarines that are so divinely sweet they’re nearly confectionery (of the healthiest kind) and 5kgs of organic plums that will be ripe in a few days. I will get to sing Peaches about peaches though, just later in the season.

Now if we tried to eat 30kgs of apricots, even between the 5 of us, we would end up with rotting fruit and king sized tummy aches but the plan is to bottle them in my Fowlers Vacola. I’ve got 11 of my #27’s loaded in and they’ve just finished processing so I’m leaving them there to cool until the morning and there’s a #20 with pureed apricots in it for apricot nectar. I’ve also got a #36, which holds around 1.3 or more litres in the fridge as there wasn’t room to fit it in this round. Sadly, the weather today has been a wee bit hot (my car registered 43C as outside temperature although I think it was probably closer to 39C) so I’m not doing myself any favours by bottling tonight. However, since the fruit is perfectly ripe today it needs to be done. I just wish the cool change would hurry the heck up! 😦

I’m no expert on bottling and I’m pretty new to the whole gig – only my 2nd season bottling so if you want to know how to do it I suggest you ask Dr Google or consult a book. Fowlers Vacola have a book that’s written for their system, of which I have a pretty old version thereof and they only difference between the old and new is stovetop or electric system and some of the food fashion has changed but essentially it’s the same.

I sat there this evening, thumb in bum and mind in neutral as a dear friend says, knife in hand, slice the apricot down the line, peel it open, pit out and apricot halves into a bowl. Where there was bruised fruit I discarded the damaged bit (my birds are going to get a feast) and the incomplete half went into Hermy the Thermy for nectar. Apricot nectar is just pureed fruit, skins and all bottled and then at a later date it’s watered down 1:1 and sweetened to taste. Nommy! I anticipate having around 4 litres of bottled nectar which means 8 litres of juice for us to drink. A splash of summer for us to enjoy when stone fruit is just a memory. The apricot halves will be turned into puddings or served with custard for dessert. The process of bottling though was wonderfully mind numbing. Just what I’ve needed. It’s a perfect job to do with friends to have a natter at the same time or like I did this evening, just to completely veg out but usefully. lol

Anyway, looks like I might end up with over 30 jars of apricot halves if I don’t decide to dehydrate some – think I will – and then those several litres of juice. How good is that!

Well time for bed (it’s 1am) as I’ve got a wonderful day of bottling planned tomorrow with a friend. It’s going to be heaps of fun! My jars are packed, Hermy is packed and the ingredients for vegemite scrolls and risotto are packed and ready for lunch too. Just need to grab the apricots in the morning, load kids and kit into the car and off we go! πŸ˜€

I’ll post some photos tomorrow.