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

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Some photos from the last week or so

I finally found my iPhone cable so I can download the photos which means I have a few to share. πŸ™‚ 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.

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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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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˜€

Just some updates

Lots happening here. Lots of little bits and bobs. A few big things too. πŸ™‚ I made our first harvest from the greenhouse garden last night. I harvested a nice big spicy peppery handful of rocket from the greenhouse garden for our dinner. It’s a little immature but I couldn’t resist the verdant greenery any longer. We had chicken cacciatore (or something similar to cacciatore) for dinner last night and in lieu of spinach to throw in, in went the rocket leaves. It was delicious. πŸ™‚ The tomatoes were home bottled (down to my last few bottles now) and the olives and onions bought via Highland Heritage so it was a mostly local meal. Sadly the chicken was dug from the depths of the freezer where it has been sitting on it’s polystyrene tray for some time. 😦 Like the lamb we had for dinner the other evening. It was a freezer find but I think that’s the last of it. πŸ™‚ I diced up turnips, potatoes, pumpkin, onion and garlic (all locally sourced and organic) and threw them in the schlemmertopf with 2 lamb shanks and a bottle of tomatoes. YUM! Absolutely delicious. Both of them are wintery meals I know but call it practice. πŸ˜‰ I can get the meals right before I have to learn to cook in Ignisa. πŸ™‚

And someone put herself to bed.

Someone put herself to bed.

Asleep on the dining chairs. I reckon we might have worn them out!

Asleep on the dining chairs. I reckon we might have worn them out!

We’re also a house under construction again. We are currently building a small shed where Martin can keep a few of his bits and bobs and we can store the boxes of stuff we have until we have the time and space in which to unpack. We are also building a woodshed, something we are in desperate need of. hopefully we can then clear up the random piles of wood dumped around the place which are both unsightly and snake havens. My plan for today is to get around to building my raised garden beds with their hugelkultur concept and hopefully purchase some compost and get the beds in and rotting down. I want to be planting out garlic in a few weeks! I would also dearly love to have our back garden resembling something other than a council tree cut down site. 😦

The giant moth next to Allegra's hand.

The giant moth next to Allegra’s hand.

We had some wild weather over the last 2 days too. Thursday the kids and I were privy to Mother Nature throwing a small but intense hissy fit in which I think she threw several large items of furniture down the stairs given the sounds of the thunder that rolled and rumbled around overhead for nigh on 5 hours. Most of them were quiet rumbles but we did have the dubious pleasure of jumping out of our skin after several intense flashes of lightning immediately followed by large loud cracks of thunder. For someone who really doesn’t like storms all that much, I think I did a pretty good job of not frightening my kids. That’s one of the things I hate about parenthood, having to hide your fears so as not to frighten your kids. Given Jasper’s reaction to the large moth that was on his foot I would say that my fear of bugs hasn’t been sufficiently well hidden. 😦 Best bit about our wild weather though was the heavy rain accompanying it. I believe there was large hail stopping traffic only a few kilometres away on the freeway but the only hail we saw was small enough to melt within seconds of reaching the ground. Still, hail in February?

Helping themselves to Daddy's breakfast. I hope you weren't hungry honey.

Helping themselves to Daddy’s breakfast. I hope you weren’t hungry honey.

The crazy weather has done something strange here though. Autumn has come early. πŸ™‚ Our poplar trees are changing their leaves to yellow and dropping them down over everything. πŸ˜€ As much as digging wet and soggy leaves off everything is annoying I am looking forward to raking it all up. Raking I hear you say, oh how fun (insert sarcasm there) but I see it as finely scattered compost! πŸ˜€ Once they’re raked up I will be mowing them which is the closest thing to a mulcher I have, them laying them on top of the branches in the garden beds before covering them in soil. The rest will mulch the garden beds or go into the compost bin to start breaking down for next Spring.

Speaking of compost, I’ve decided that once I harvest my spuds I will use the 3 spud boxes as temporary compost bins until the spring. I can then empty them out to enrich and top up the garden beds and then have my 3 boxes back for more spud planting in Spring again. Waste not want not on the space I say and the opportunity to have 4 cubic metres of compost is way too much to pass up. πŸ˜€ I guess I had better get that wheelbarrow tyre fixed so I can lug some chook poo around. πŸ™‚

My pantry of preserves. Not enough. 'Tis never enough.

My pantry of preserves. Not enough. ‘Tis never enough.

Another one of our roosters has been tagged for culling too. The glorious bird started his cock-a-doodle-dooing the other day although he’s been quiet since. If he stays that way he can stay but we must be courteous to our neighbours. How things will change after peak oil. A rooster will be seen as an asset, not a nuisance. Yet another reason to look forward to the coming crisis. πŸ™‚

Valentine’s Day passed quietly for us here. I was given a small rustic heart shaped box (which I can and will reuse) with a few small chocolates inside and Martin received nearly 5 litres of piccalilli pickle which I made for him and bottled in the Fowlers Vacola. We then spent the evening watching an episode of Life on Mars, a British TV series we both love. It was a pleasant evening but not particularly commercial. I don’t hold with spending a small fortune just to tell someone you love them once a year. If you can’t say it on the 13th or 15th of February, or any other day of the year, why bother on February 14th? I don’t mind the small fuss made as I know our love isn’t something that only happens for 24 hours once a year. It is in everything we say and do throughout the rest of the year too. In fact, my amazing and wonderful husband believed in me enough to move from Spotswood to Ballan upon my whim (yes he believes in the dream too but he believed in me and my dream before it became our dream if that makes sense) and although he may clutch in fright at his wallet when I mention my next crazy hippy idea and panic at the long list of unfinished jobs we have, he listens, researches and supports me in my wild dreams. He also does a lot of the hard slog, without complaint. πŸ™‚ I’m such a slave driver. πŸ˜‰

Piccalilli success!

Piccalilli success!

Well, the day moves on and we are still eating breakfast here so it’s time to get a move on.