Self preservation. Oh and peaches and other fruits and veggies too.

It’s harvest time. Well, it’s harvest time for most other people. My own meager harvest is battling against the risk of early frost which is no immediate risk with 9 days straight in the high 20’s or low 30’s and more heat to come. But the farmers around us are in harvest mode and our co-op is in  hardcore produce mode too. Yesterday saw me picking up 60 cobs of corn (ok, so I left 30 at my friends house which they kindly dropped off at a half way point at 9 this morning), 6 cauliflowers, 10kgs of white nectarines, 10kgs of peaches and 2 kgs of blueberries. Their house looked like a very selective fruit sellers and smelled amazing too as they were bottling peaches when I arrived. My house now smells the same. Yum.

Hence, insanity struck last night. With a glut of beans offered to me for sale I topped and tailed then chopped up several bunches of beans, blanched and froze them, then 6 cauliflowers received the same treatment after being carefully de-caterpillared *shudder*. I fell into bed sometime not long after 11. This morning I woke at ridiculous o’clock (sorry Fran but 3:35 is an insane time to wake and 3:55 is no improvement for a get up and dressed time either. After some ‘sit like a vegetable, read emails and wake up a bit’ time I got stuck into peeling the corn. Again I discovered caterpillars. Bleuch! Once they were done I hit the peaches with a peeler before the arrival of one small and very talkative daughter came out and joined me. Yes, she takes after her mother. 😉 I had time to start filling jars before the inevitable “I’m hungry” breakfast gong sounded, by which time I had been joined by an ever so slightly less talkative elder son so I retrieved the quietest family member from his cot, fed them, filled the Fowlers Vacola with peaches and got it running, jammed the kids in the car and off we went for my meeting for the corn. We had finished and were on our way home again by 9am. A short visit to the Ballan Farmers market for a few supplies and then back home again. I’m exhausted and it’s just gone 10am!

Corn ready for removing from the kernel and then pressure canning

Corn ready for removing from the kernel and then pressure canning

Tis the season though when fruits and vegetables reach ripeness. The time when preserving must be done to capture that peak nutrition and peak colour. Over ripe fruits don’t bottle as well and won’t last as long and underripe ones lack taste and in the instance of fruits, sweetness. I like to bottle in water rather than syrup as my kids all react poorly to sugar and we are a 99% sugar free house. We do use rapadura (or jaggery as it’s also known) which is dried sugarcane juice but it hasn’t been spun to change its shape, hasn’t had the molasses and mineral salts removed (the good stuff) and it hasn’t been bleached either. It looks a lot like brown sugar but brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added back in. Rapadura has an amazing deep caramel flavour and is a little more textured but I don’t like the syrup it makes for bottling. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing and it has left a sediment in some of my jars. So, I bottle in water when and wherever possible which means I really want that peak sweetness.

So, I think it’s time I shared a “how to” on bottling. I highly recommend reading other blogs and also official web pages or the Fowlers Vacola books before embarking on your bottling adventure. The more knowledge you have the better you can judge what to do.

So, how to bottle peaches.

First things first, check your equipment. I often fail to do this and run short on rings or lids. It can be very difficult to bolt out to grab supplies in the middle of bottling and nigh on impossible with 3 young kids so do as I say, not as I do. 😉 This time around I’ve just bought a whole lot more lids, rings and bottles (mostly 2nd hand) so I knew I had the supplies I needed. The jars need to be clean and sterile so you can either boil them (you would need to look up the times for that), put them in the oven (again, you’d need to check what temperature and for how long or, as I did this morning at 4:30 am, load them in the dishwasher and run them through at the highest temperature possible. Our dishwasher has an intensive run (65C) to which I added the sanitise option. Leave them in the dishwasher with the door closed whilst you prepare your fruit.

Dishwasher sterilisation

Dishwasher sterilisation

Take your peaches, peel if you prefer. I have left the skins on most of mine but these peaches are just on the edge of being nice and ripe and hence they’re still quite firm. I’m able to peel them with a potato peeler, rather than cutting a cross in the end, blanching in boiling water for 30-60 seconds then plunging into icy water for the same time. The skins will usually come off although I rarely bother going to that effort. In this case though the peeler is working a treat and I can read blogs or watch a movie whilst I peel. Multitasking at its best. 😉 Once your peach is peeled, cut it in half and remove the pit or stone. You can bottle them as peach halves, peach quarters or peach slices. It’s totally up to you and dependent on how you use them. I’m slicing this time as I have apricot halves and nectarine quarters. And I felt like it this morning anyway. 🙂

Peeling peaches

Peeling peaches

If I remember I put the rings in warm water to soak before I start slicing peaches and the lids need to be sterilised too. I usually just fill a bowl with boiling water and plonk them in that. Just remember that the water IS boiling though when you go to get a lid out. Yes, I’ve done that many times before, this morning included. I find it easiest to put the rings around the bottles before filling them but afterwards is fine too. Make sure there are no twists in your rings. I gently flick them down with my thumb if they’re twisted when they go on.

Fill your jars.

Once they’re full to a bit under the rim – about 1-2cm from memory (yeah, I make these things up as I go along which is why I’m an unreliable (at best) “how to” person. Do NOT rely just on my instructions, please!) then fill them with boiling water or your syrup. If you’re using syrup you need to prepare it before the slicing part too. once your bottles are filled, put on the sterile lid (without burning yourself on the sterilised lids, their water or the now boiling hot jars of syrup/water and peaches) then put on the clip. Fowlers Vacola lids will not stay on the jar until after processing without the clip. They’re not screw on or press down, that’s the job of the clip. Make sure it’s properly in place then put your jars in the water bath unit. Once it’s full (don’t cram your jars in, make sure they have a little wriggle room) then put in some cold water. Watch that you don’t overfill it and end up with water either pouring or boiling out of the thermometre hole. Turn on your heat, lid on your unit and take a break or prepare more jars. The temperature needs to reach 100C and stay there for an hour. Once it’s done, turn off the heat and in best case scenario, let it rest and cool in there. If not, remove the bottles carefully. There are specific tongs you can get but I hate them. I’ve heard that the Ball mason jar lifters are better to use but I’ve not tried them. If I’m really struggling with using the tongs I grab my washing up gloves and work using them and the tongs. Do NOT lift the bottles by the clips or lid as it can damage the seal. Also, do NOT put your still hot jars on a cold bench, board or anything. I put a tea-towel, folded once down first. Even if they’re cool, it’s prudent.

My Vacola unit on the stove

My Vacola unit on the stove

Once your bottle have sat, undisturbed and not touching each other for 24-48 hours (I leave them 48 as that’s how long it usually takes me to get back to them) you can slide the clips off. Lift your bottle by the lid with your other hand ready to catch and see if the seal is set. If the lid comes off, pop it in the fridge for immediate use. If not, you’ve just bottled your first peaches. 😀

Nectarines, pears, plums, apricots and any other stone fruit I have forgotten is no different. You may need to peel or core but there is no difference in the bottling. Tomatoes require a little more as many modern tomato varieties are low acid and hence need a little extra acidic help so add some lemon juice or vinegar. Again, please google this or check out bottling books for amounts as it differs per bottle size. And the final disclaimer, do NOT bottle vegetables. Veggies, like beans and corn etc don’t contain sufficient acid to preserve them safely. If you have a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker) then you can safely preserve vegetables in bottles (the Fowlers Vacola bottles work with pressure canning too) but otherwise, please stick to blanching or dehydrating. I have a pressure canner so the chick peas, soups, meat stocks and vegetables that I put into bottles are all pressure canned and hence, safe. Botulism is not something you want to run risks with.

Well, as I finish typing this (after breaks to deal with the kids, feed and water the chooks and grab a bite to eat) the first round of peaches are ready. I will let them cool for a bit whilst I finish peeling these peaches and then it’s on to round 2.

Peaches

Peaches

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Deeply troubled

I watched A Crude Awakening last night. Not a wise move for a deep, refreshing sleep. I crawled into bed around 12:15 with my brain racing at a million miles an hour and on the edge of panic. Peak oil really is here.

Peak oil is the point at which the maximum amount of oil extraction has been reached, where after production will never be as high again. It means the last remaining easily accessible oil reservoirs have been tapped and are in the process f being drained. Like a mountain, when you reach the summit, the only place to go from there is down.

So, what does this mean? It means that many of the things we take for granted that we use day to day will either be no longer available or will be so expensive that only the elite can afford them. Things like plastic toys, furniture, cosmetics, transport, cooking, power and food. Yes, food. Food is heavily reliant on the fuel industry. Think of labels on food and when they tell us it is made in China. Or India. Or anywhere that isn’t local. The production lines are almost certain to be run using fossil fuel produced electricity, is then potentially kept cool (if needed) and shipped to us, then further divided and shipped around the country. All of that process, from the grower to our plates uses a LOT of fuel. A LOT of crude oil in various forms.

This is my panic. When the Peak oil Crisis really begins to bite, many of the out of season or non local foods we are now used to being able to buy whenever we fancy; fish from foreign seas, tropical fruits in our southern states, cold stored fruits that are out of season; all of these will become too expensive for the average Joe Bloggs. Most fruits and vegetables including things like tomatoes, carrots, bananas, even apples and oranges, will either cease to grace our places altogether or only be available during their growing season. And there will only be those able to be grown locally that we will be able to afford to purchase for our plates. We will not be able to afford the fuel to drive to our workplaces in the city, or drive the kids to school or even to the supermarket. Unless we can walk or cycle to these places, they may very well be out of reach.

Scary huh.

Solution? Yes, there is a solution and it is something we can all do. Grow as much of our own food as we can, preserve in some way the excess and try to only source locally grown foods now. The less fuel we use now, the more will be there to help us when it reaches critical times. Putting in large vegetable beds, raising chickens for meat or even just eggs may not be an option for everyone, but every little bit helps. Even if all you have is a balcony, plant a prolific fruiting tomato, a large cropping bean and I even saw the other day how to grow carrots in 2L drink bottles! If all you have is a window sill, grow your own herbs. If you have room, plant a potato sack. You would be surprised at just how many potatoes you can harvest from a single spud bag. It may not feed you all year long but even if you get a month or 2 worth of supply, that’s only 10 months of the year you need to buy it.

Through my research and reading of blogs from all over the globe I know there are many others out there doing this. Homesteading as they call it in America is not a new concept, just not as common as I believe it is going to become in the very near future. It was also very common to grow ones own food during the war when there was food rationing. Well, once again I believe we are about to face food rationing. There is a lot of information too on preserving and you can kit yourself out with a Fowlers Vacola preserving unit and some bottles from as little as $40 on eBay if you’re lucky. The accessories are sold by many on eBay too as well as many hardware stores and the jars are often found in op shops too. Pressure canners (pressure canning allows safe preserving of vegetables and other low-acid or non-syrup preserved foods) are readily available on Amazon. The jars too can be sourced on Amazon or eBay too. There are also many other companies selling them.

Dehydrating is another way to preserve fresh food for the future. Again these  can be easily sourced on the internet and I have even seen instructions on Pinterest on how to build a solar dehydrator. It’s how it used to be done! And blanching and freezing requires no other equipment other than what most people have in their kitchens already. Lets enable ourselves whilst we can, before it becomes an absolute necessity.

Carrots

I had a busy morning yesterday. After putting Orik to bed for his nap I headed into the kitchen with Jasper and Allegra to sort out the 3 or 4 kilos of carrots I had purchased. Out came the big saucepan, mandolin slicer, frozen kangaroo mince (I needed something cold to chill the water and I needed something for dinner) and a sink full of carrots and water. Jasper was installed at the sink with a scrubbing brush and he cleaned the mud off the carrots. He had a ball and the bonus was he helped me immensely. Allegra helped me by collecting the sliced carrot and bagging it up for me. We sliced and diced all the carrots whilst the water boiled and then the blanching and chilling began.

I followed the instructions, and indeed got the idea in the first place from my friend over at The Eco Mum who had blogged about it a couple of months back. Check out her blog for the links and details.

Anyway, I now have a HUGE bag of carrots blanched and frozen for future us and I know they are organic well as being heritage carrots (purple skins with orange inside and a golden yellow carrot inside and out) and best of all, they taste DIVINE.