Another update

It’s been ages since my last post. In fact I’ve been most irregular posting this year. It’s far more fun getting out and living it all than writing about it I’m afraid. πŸ˜‰ Continue reading

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I think I’m back

Wow, it’s been ages since I disappeared off-line. Nearly a month! And no, I’ve not been without a laptop that entire time but it has taken some time to get things up and working again. Not that we’re there entirely yet either. 😦 Continue reading

Tomatoes, coconut flour, sauerkraut and foraged bounty

The tomatoes are done! The big order is bottled and safely away. The pantry is groaning.

Continue reading

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 Β 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. πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ˜€

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

The mad scramble for lids, a hot day and procrastinating.

Let it be known… I am not the best at making decisions that bring together ALL the elements. Not my strongest area, not even remotely close to it actually. I’m not very good at planning things at all. I’m better at coming up with harebrained schemes or dreaming about things for ages but putting things into action with forethought and direction? Naaaa.

I decided Monday that I wanted to pressure can some chick peas. I stuck them in my stock pot to soak as I am following the instructions from this blogΒ and they soaked overnight. Yesterday morning I remembered that the forecast top temperature was 32C. Probably a little warm to have the stove on all day but not much I could do by then. I’ve ended up with 11 of the size #20 Fowlers Vacola jars (about 11 pints – the #20’s are pretty close to a pint and close enough for working out pressure and time πŸ™‚ ) Β but of course, whilst I’m filling up and putting on lids I discover that I’m 3 lids short. I’m just sooooo good at planning ahead. 😦 A mad scramble finds me 3 jars of which I can pilfer the lids and we’re good to go. Then I discover that the canner fits 9 jars, not all 11 so the remaining 2 are waiting to be pressure canned along with the 5 #31’s of pumpkin soup ingredients (the #31’s are 900ml and I pressure can them as quarts – again it’s close enough. Please note, NEVER puree the pumpkin soup before canning. It’s too thick to can safely, yet as partially cooked ingredients it is safe. πŸ™‚ ) I’ve followed my own pumpkin soup recipe but the canning information is here and also in my canner instruction manual. πŸ™‚ At least I had the lids and rings and clips all ready for the #31’s. πŸ™‚

So I now have 5 jars of pumpkin soup ingredients and 11 jars of chickpeas all cooling and settling and ready to go as convenience foods which I know all the ingredients. It’s exciting. πŸ™‚

Pumpkin and potato soup ingredients. If you blend it then it doesn't get hot enough int he middle to kill the bugs as it's too thick. So, open can (bottle), heat and puree in Thermy, with blender etc and serve. Easy peasy. :D

Pumpkin and potato soup ingredients. If you blend it then it doesn’t get hot enough int he middle to kill the bugs as it’s too thick. So, open can (bottle), heat and puree in Thermy, with blender etc and serve. Easy peasy. πŸ˜€

Chickpeas!

Chickpeas!

Chickpeas MUST be pressure canned. A Fowlers Vacola won’t process them at a high enough temperature to make them safe to eat as they are a low acid food. PLEASE be vigilant with this if you want to process your own foods. πŸ™‚

Now, if I am to be perfectly honest, I had no absolute need to can those chickpeas. They’ve been sitting snug and dry in their jars for several months and will happily sit there snug and dry for probably a lot more than several months more but the real reasons I wanted to can them was because I am having a ball canning things and I love seeing all the jars lined up nice and neatly in my pantry. I also love the convenience of grabbing a can from the cupboard and hey presto, dinner is served but as many cans are lined with plastic containing BPA and I have no idea just how many or which brands (this article states it’s as high as 92% of cans) I made the choice to avoid canned food as much as possible. Yes, that means my kids have not had the pleasure of canned spaghetti nor of baked beans very often (although they did the other night) but once I get some navy beans and tomatoes I can make my own tomato sauce (tomatoes have been ordered) Β and then my own baked beans. I can’t wait!

MUST get more lids and rings before then though. AND more jars. πŸ˜€

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.

IMG_5106

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.