Monday, April 28, 2014

Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the severe weather in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Kentucky.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What About the Water, Wendy?

I canned chicken soup the other day. Five pints. I also had two quarts of water in the canner. Just plain, filtered water from our Brita pitcher. Nothing special.

But I wanted to explain why.

As I mentioned in my post about canning, I don't have a canning season any more. In fact, during canning season, it's rare that I have a whole canner's worth of most things. My garden just doesn't work that way for me, and the only time I have a huge bulk of something where I'll spend the entire day peeling, slicing, stuffing and boiling is when we go to a PYO farm or when I happen to purchase a bulk lot of something like tomatoes from the local farmer. Most of the time, I have a few pints of jam or a couple of jars of tomatoes.

Sometimes, when I have only a partial canner of one thing, I'll can several different items at a time to fill up the canner (and yes, I do pay attention to the canning times of EACH item in the canner to make sure that they are all given the recommended processing). My "canner" - the one I use for a boiling water bath - is just a big stainless steel kettle, basically a standard cooking pot. The tray from my pressure canner fits the bottom exactly, and I use that to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot. I have tongs* for lifting the jars out of the boiling water. I also have a pressure canner. Each pan holds about seven quart jars and eight or nine pints.

Sometimes, like yesterday, I don't have seven quarts or eight pints to fill the canner, and so I will add a jar of water. I use the filtered water we have in our Brita pitcher, and I top the jars with a previously used canning lid - which I know is a NO, NO, NO! in the canning world. For the record, I'd never reuse a lid on a food that I was planning to store long-term, because, of course, I don't want to poison my family, but I also don't want to waste that food. I spend a lot of time and effort putting that food into those jars to preserve it, and seriously, losing even one jar is really hard - especially if I was counting on that jar for dinner, and I discover it's not been properly sealed.

If there's ever a question about the seal on a jar, I won't use it.

The jars of water serve a couple of purposes. It helps fill the canner so that the jars don't move around, too much, and potentially break. Almost worse than discovering an unsealed jar in my pantry is having a jar break during the sealing process. I hate that.

The jars of water also increase our potable water storage. I'm not a fan of buying water to begin with, and storing stuff, long term, in plastic jugs is questionable, anyway. So, I use canning jars that aren't being used for other things and fill them with water.

The jars are sealed, and so the water is presumably safe to drink. It's been boiled in the jar for however long in the boiling water bath or it's been subjected to the high heat and pressure of the pressure canner. Any living organisms will no longer be living in the water after that, and since I use filtered water in the jars, it has the added benefit of having most things filtered out anyway.

It's a neat little trick for those who are dealing with partial batches, to justify using the energy it takes to seal those jars of food, and it also serves to increase our readiness in emergency situations.

I love these win-win solutions.

*I don't have these, specific, tongs, and that's not an affiliate link, and I've only posted it as an example of what canning tongs look like.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Survival Art

It's April. April is not, traditionally, a time for canning. Everyone knows that canning season is in the summer and in the fall - when the garden harvest comes in.

I used to adhere pretty strictly to that schedule. I think I've even mentioned canning season on occasion. Right now is not canning season, and this morning, when I got out of bed, and a couple of days ago, when I roasted that chicken, I never imagined that I would be canning, today, in April.

Life is funny like that, and there are certainly things I do now that I never even imagined would be part of my life back when I was in my twenties. I never imagined that I'd learn to harvest a chicken. Not me. I was a "city" girl (well, suburban, actually, but definitely *urban* and not *country*, and most certainly, I was not going to - ever - live on a farm).

We raise chickens, and mostly, they go in the freezer. Raising them ourselves is different than buying a chicken in the grocery store. There's something more personal about the whole process, and the idea of not using every bit of the bird ....

Let's just say that it's one part frugality and one part spiritual gratitude that makes each chicken stretch into as many meals as we can make it. To waste, even just a tiny portion of it, would be an egregious offense of the highest magnitude.

We had roast chicken for dinner the other night. Then, Deus Ex Machina took chicken to work for lunch two days. And there was still come chicken, still stuck to the bones, which were boiled for broth.

... which ended up being a bit more than I expected.

... and so, I am canning.

I picked the rest of the chicken off the bones (my dogs and our new male kitty were very, very happy for the tidbits they received during that process) and boiled them. The meat went into pint jars, and I added some carrots that really need to be used - sooner rather than later. They're keeping well in the refrigerator, where we moved them when the "cold storage" (*cough* my bedroom *cough*) got too warm as the outside temperatures started getting above freezing, but no fresh foods keep forever, even in the refrigerator.

A little salt and some seasonings, and it's soup, which I'm pressure canning right now, in fact. When it's ready, it will go on a shelf. Add some couscous, rice or pasta, and it will be a quick lunch for the girls or Deus Ex Machina.

It's not canning season. I never thought I'd be canning today, but I am, because sometimes, in this homesteading life, it's just the way we do things, and rolling with the punches is a survival art we homesteaders are good at.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fix it

The rake handle broke last fall.

I liked that rake a lot. I was kind of bummed.

The broom was started to look rather worn, and so we decided to get a new one.

Then, the question was, what do we do the old one?

I fixed the rake.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Trying Something New

For us, it's baby-steps with most things. We'll try something, and then, slowly try to incorporate it into our lives, if it's something we think will move us closer to how we want to live. Like eating local, gardening, raising animals for food.

We've been doing plant identification for years, but only in the last few have we incorporated wild foods into our diet. While, initially, we didn't, necessarily, consider maple sap as a foraged food, we do, now. This year, we harvested enough sap to make two gallons of syrup. It was a short year, but that's the way it goes with foraging. Some years, there are tons of wild apples. Some years, not much to speak of. It's a take-what-you-can-get-when-you-find-it kind of lifestyle, and it's never the same, which means that our foraged diet is incredibly varied.

But, that's okay.

We're always learning, and as late-life foragers, we know that we'll never learn it all. Like we're not really very comfortable with our knowledge of mushroom foraging, and while we've had some success with a few mushrooms, mostly, we just eat other stuff.

This year, with regard to tapping, we're trying something new. It was our neighbor's idea, actually. We were pulling maple taps the other day, and she asked us when we were going to tap her birch tree ... and make beer.

So, we did. The birch sap is flowing, like crazy. It takes 100 gallons of birch sap to make on gallon of syrup, and so we won't be boiling the birch sap to syrup, but we will be doing as she requested and using the sap for beer. We have several recipes in Stephen Buhner's "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers" that we're excited to try.

Worst case, we'll have a few dozen bottles of beer no one except Deus Ex Machina will drink ... and a new lesson in what works.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Started Too Late; Ended Too Soon

It ended as quickly as it began.

We boiled all of the sap we had stored this past weekend (and couldn't have asked for a more gorgeous day - from the clear, blue sky to the neighbors across the way practicing with their jazz/funk garage band - awesome!). We have stored just a couple of gallons of syrup, which might get us through to next years' sugaring season - depending on how frugal we are with it.

It was a weird year. Every year, though, for the past many have seemed odd - an early very short season; a late very short season. I guess the lesson is that we have to seize the day, because these moments we have for gathering and storing are fleeting.

We are incredibly thankful for all of those pint jars on our pantry shelf.

Next weekend it's time to start looking for Japanese knotweed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

First Boil

It's hard to believe, but we've made it over a third of the way into the year and today is the first day we are boiling sap.

We're thinking we may not get much syrup this year. Guess we'll see how April shapes up.

Our set-up changes - just a little - every year. Maybe, someday, we'll figure out a set-up that we want to make permanent ;).

Yes, I still insist I am not a hippie.

Deus Ex Machina observed that he's multi-tasking - boiling sap and smoking his hunting clothes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mixing Bowl

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know anything about antiques. I like them when I see what someone else has. In homes where the people who are doing the buying know about such things, I admire their taste and knowledge, but I just don't really seem to be able to put those kinds of things together.

Mostly, it's because the stuff in my house has to have a purpose. I don't have a lot of room or time for chatzkies, and I also don't have the money to purchase things that will just sit and look pretty. Once I found this really cool, old fashioned-looking manual coffee grinder. It looks really quaint, and I bought it. It works, and we use it.

Occasionally, my daughters and I enjoy going to the indoor flea markets. There are a few of them in the area. Recently, I discovered a new one (a friend had gone there, and blogged about it), and so, as a surprise, I took my girls there. Our usual indoor flea market is like a huge yard sale. There's an occasional gem, but mostly, it's just stuff. This place was different. It's touted as an "antique" place, and I almost decided not to go inside, knowing that around antiques I would be totally out of my league.

I am glad that I didn't allow myself to not go in, though, because it was very neat, from all of the cool glassware (and there was a lot of that) to the old fashioned pay phone booth (complete with a light that turned on when one closed the door, and yes, it worked - local calls only). Precious found a stuffed bunny she really wanted. It's probably not an antique.

I decided that I wanted a mixing bowl. I bypassed several sets, because I don't need a set, I just needed one, but of a particular size, and I didn't want plastic (wood would have been nice, but the ones I found were prohibitively expensive, and I think, Deus Ex Machina could make me a wooden bowl, given the time). So, I kept looking.

Finally, I found one. A Pyrex brand, which means it has that ceramic feel and look, and it was stamped with a USA mark on the bottom, which means it wasn't made in China. Priced at under $15, I decided that it would do nicely.

I don't know if it's an antique. In fact, I almost hope not, because I'm going to use it. I bought a mixing bowl, because I needed a mixing bowl, and it was exactly what I was looking for.

I've always been intimidated by antiques, because often they're just so expensive, and I never know if I'm really getting something that's worth what I paying, but I guess, today, what I learned is that the value is in my own mind, and with most things, since I plan to use them, and not resell them, if it's a price I can afford and am willing to pay for something that I can use, it doesn't matter. Right?

There's another antique store that I've always looked at as I was passing by on the highway, but never had the nerve to go into. Now that I've cut my teeth, I think I can.

I wonder if my girls are up for another adventure.