Monday, October 12, 2009

Apple Juice

Jim's folks have owned an apple juice press for a lot of years. When our kids were little, we juiced nearly every year but the press has been idle for quite awhile now. This fall when we asked around if anyone wanted 'in' on juicing, we got some takers.

Here's Jim picking Spartans in the orchard of a guy he works with. He drove around with a pickup load of apples (about 840 pounds) for almost a week. Saturday he and Dawn picked Red Delicious apples, bringing home about 300 pounds. Breanne brought apples from her tree as well. We find we like a blend better than all one kind.

Today was juice pressing day. Quite cold, but thankfully very sunny and not windy. Here Hanna and Barbara run the grinder. The apples go in whole and are pushed against a spinning drum studded with nails using a wooden paddle.

Apple pulp comes out the bottom. See all the boxes of apples in the back of the truck awaiting their turn!

From there the pulp gets layered into the press itself, about 12 cups into each cloth, which is then folded, another set of slats put on top, repeated until all six of the cloths are loaded.

Then a small jack is placed in the press to squeeze the juice down into a bucket waiting to catch it. Here Breanne is running the jack.

Want to see the full scale?

Yes, the gang filled all three of those garbage cans (kept only for this purpose!) with fresh pressed apple juice. From here, it was divvied up for each family. Some have freezer space and poured the juice into empty pop bottles and milk jugs to freeze, leaving lots of space for expansion. And some of us are going to can the juice.

Is home-pressed juice worth doing? Well, it IS a lot of work. But here's one small person's opinion:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Raspberry Vinegar

Although raspberry vinaigrette is all the rage these days, not a lot of people are familiar with the cool refreshing drink that is Raspberry Vinegar. This is something Jim's mom has made for years--and so have I. Our kids' friends refused to try it when they were young. They didn't want to drink vinegar! But when we called it Raspberry Punch, everyone loved it.

It's very simple to make, but you do need to have a good supply of fresh raspberries. During the season, I picked off berries and just kept adding them to the buckets living in the freezer until last week when Hanna came home for a week of canning.

The first thing you do is add one part of vinegar to six parts of raspberries. Just regular old vinegar does fine. Snap the lids back on the buckets and let this brew for 2-3 days. It's not's pickling!

Then it's time to strain out the pulp and seeds so the juice will be clear and sparkling.

But there's still a lot of juice in the berries, so we hang them in an old pillowcase overnight, catching the remainder of the juice in a large bowl.

In the morning, we measure out the juice into a large pot and add an EQUAL amount of sugar.

Heat this up enough so all the sugar is dissolved. Then pour into canning jars, snap on boiling hot lids and screw bands. Can for about 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

How much does it make? Each gallon bucket (ice cream bucket) of berries makes about three quarts of juice concentrate. Our batch this week made 14 quarts.

How to serve? This is super-concentrated. Each one quart jar makes about two gallons of refreshing goodness. Or you can pour your glass about one-eighth full of concentrate, add some ice cubes, and top off the glass with cold water:

Nothing better on a hot summer day, so we're ready for next year!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Honey Extraction Day

Our mentor, Lew, came down this morning to walk us through our first honey extraction. The first order of business is getting the bees out of the supers that we wanted to extract honey from. Lew sprinkled a chemical on this board, then placed it on top of one of the hives. The idea is that the bees will go down the hive to get away from it. However, this requires a warm sunny day and we (quite thankfully, as the extracting shed was HOT) had a slightly cooler overcast day today and the chemical didn't heat enough to work.

This means that Lew fired up the leaf blower, tipped each super, and blasted the bees out of it. They weren't very happy, but they did as they were told.

We removed the ones with honey and got down to the supers with brood (home of the next generation of bees). These we left, of course!

Jim loaded the supers with honey onto the back of Lew's truck for the trip to his extracting shed.

Here the first order of business is to remove the capped comb from the outsides of each frame. Lew has a machine that does this. The knife that cuts it off is heated with steam. The capped comb (which has some honey still in it) drops to a stainless steel plate and drains into a heated vat. The honey sinks and the comb and other residue rises, so nothing is wasted.

From there the frames are placed in the extractor, basically a large centrifuge. Lew's holds something like 60 frames. (We've been given parts to build one that holds four at a time!)

It takes about fifteen minutes of spin time to extract the honey. Then Lew opens the valve at the bottom of the extractor tank, starts another little pump that sucks the honey up into the vat, where it runs through a filter before we filled our containers.

And here's the truck loaded with our empty supers (ready to be stored until next June) and the honey. Each of the small buckets holds seven pounds. A good day's work!

Is it delicious? You betcha. :D

Friday, August 28, 2009

Roasted Tomato Sauce

This is a very versatile sauce that I use in soups, pastas, or as a pizza base. I make mega-batches this time of year when roma tomatoes are ripe. I have 2 large broiler pans that came with my gas range, and alternate them through the oven--when it's really hot I do the roasting in my barbecue!

For each broiler pan, I use about:
15 ripe roma tomatoes (more if they're small!), washed, cut in half
1/2 a large onion, chunked
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
A good drizzle of olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Run your hands through it so everything is well coated with oil.

Then roast for 30-40 minutes at about 375. You want the edges to be browning a bit, and for the aroma of ROASTED veggies to come through. Give them a stir every 10-15 minutes.

Then I just scoop the mess into my blender and give it a whiz.

From there I pour the sauce into canning jars and process in hot water bath for 30 minutes. Or you could always freeze the sauce.


Tomatillos are a fun little fruit that is often used in Mexican cooking. They grow on a bush somewhat similar to a tomato, but they're not really that similar.

They are covered with a little husk and are ready to pick when the green husk begins to warm to a yellowish hue.

The husk peels off very easily, leaving a slightly sticky, smooth green pingpong ball sized fruit. They taste a wee bit sweet and a wee bit citrusy and are somewhat crisp.

I used a handful of them in this delicious salad, Tomato and Herb Salad with Fresh Chive Cheese. I happened to have some homemade lemon cheese on hand (with dill in it) so used that. I'd recommend feta if you don't make your own cheese. This is a great summer salad when the tomatoes and herbs are going strong. Mmm.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


No, not the movie. Though that was fun, wasn't it?

My daughter Hanna made mega batches of ratatouille last fall and froze them in ziploc bags. Her method (in winter) is to let a package thaw a bit, empty it into a casserole dish, add a couple of sausages (Mennonite farmer is good, or Italian), and put it in the oven for half an hour.

Here's the basic ingredient list:

Olive oil
Red/Yellow Peppers
Salt & Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes

Cook for about 20 minutes until nice and saucey. Cool, then freeze.

So I saute the vegetables in my wok in as much olive oil as it needs. The ratio of tomatoes to *other* that I've been doing is about half. I don't have any peppers in the garden (and am not overly fond of them cooked, anyway!) but I do have both zucchini and eggplant. I don't have red pepper flakes at the moment so added a couple shots of tobasco sauce.

Here's what it looks like while cooking down:

Saturday, August 1, 2009


This morning our beekeeping mentor, Lew, stopped by to visit 'his' bees. (The guy that never wears a bee suit!)

He says they're doing really well! He put his finger into one of the combs and let some liquid honey drip onto my finger. Oh. My. Word! Have you ever had honey THAT fresh? Delightful. Warm from the sun, gentle sweetness. Oh, wow. I can hardly wait to extract some of it and start using our very own honey!! (Our old honey, purchased from other local beekeepers, will probably land up in new batches of mead, lol!)

Here Jim and Lew are looking over the supers already in place.

Yup. They've been busy little bees!

In fact, they then placed our very last supers in place. This means we either need to buy more supers...or extract honey in the next week or so in order to reuse the ones we have. Yay!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chamomile Tea

As I posted up the photo of the chamomile, it occurred to me to wonder what part of the plant is used for tea. A quick search proved that it's the blossoms! Well, we have lots of those.

So...I went out and snipped them off and will allow them to dry. I think in this weather they don't need to be in the dehydrator! This is pretty much all of the flowers here, so it's not a lot. Still, it's enough to try out and see if I want to grow more German Chamomile next year. It's a self-seeding annual but I don't think I left enough to self-seed!

The info says it has to be German chamomile, that the common roadside chamomile is virtually scent-free, and the Roman chamomile (which is a perennial) isn't the right kind for tea either.

Wikipedia provided this photo and the idea to mix the dry chamomile blossoms with cinnamon and dried apple bits. Might have to try that!

Garden Mayhem

It occurs to me that we haven't talked garden for a few weeks. Everything's growing really well. Except, of course, the things that aren't such as my green pole beans, which didn't germinate, I replanted, and still didn't germinate. Had poor carrot germination also.

No ripe tomatoes yet at our house.

The pumpkin plant thinks that not only should it produce giant pumpkins, the plant itself should be giant.

I've had several pickings of raspberries.

The dill and the chamomile are new best friends.

We're regularly eating beets/beet tops, swiss chard, and lettuce. We've begun stealing baby potatoes from under the plants. We've eaten one fennel and the other one needs picking. The kohlrabi-from-seed is doing well. Must thin the rutabagas soon. A few bush bean plants are doing well, but I don't know that they'll supply even one meal at a time. :(

The bees are happy and making honey, and we added another set of supers one evening last week. The current estimate (two hives) is about 120 pounds of honey.

We're finally getting typical hot July weather, which means Jim is out cutting hay. We're about two weeks behind on that because there hasn't been a rain-free window long enough in the forecast until now. The local farmers' market is in full swing (too bad they don't seem to have anything not in my garden--except ripe tomatoes!) and our friends' cherry trees are bowed under from the weight. Bad year for cherries because they've split from all the rain. But for someone willing to put them straight in the freezer or dehydrator, it's not so bad. The orchards that depend on shipping out are suffering.

That's about where things are in our 'scratch' world!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rhubarb Melomel (Mead) -- Part 3

Today we racked both the amarone wine and the rhubarb mead. For the amarone, which is a kit wine, we followed the directions. For the mead, we made up our own :)

The mead's specific gravity today was .998. .004 down from the first racking. Apparently this is good. (The amarone was also .004 down.)

No photos today, because, well--nothing looks different than last time. We racked the rhubarb mead into a fermenter, then Jim 'degassed' it by agitating it vigorously with an attachment to his drill. Meanwhile I'd mixed 1/2 teaspoon of potassium metabisulphite into 1/2 cup of cool water. We then mixed this thoroughly into the mead, then let it sit 20-30 minutes before re-racking it back into the glass carboy. (We understand the purpose of the PM to be making sure the fermentation is turned off, or complete.)

With fermentation locks in place, both carboys are now out in our mudroom (cooler than under the dining room table where they've been living until now!) with a garbage bag over each to keep them in the dark. And there they shall sit for 2-3 weeks until we do it all again.

Again, the taste tests on both were positive.

Friday, June 26, 2009

First Meal from the Garden :)

We may have been on vacation, but the garden was busy growing (so were the weeds!) and tonight we had our first fresh produce of the season. What was ready first? Well, the salad greens might've been ready, but they didn't come in tonight. Instead, we went for swiss chard and kohlrabi to enjoy with a pork steak.

I usually grow rhubarb chard and plant it from seed. You can also get plain green chard or rainbow chard (in which the stems are yellow, green, orange, or red). It tastes a lot like spinach but doesn't bolt (go to seed) nearly as early in the season. And you can cut it off just above the ground and it will grow a new batch of leaves that will take a couple of weeks or so to be ready to harvest. I cut about 1/6 of my little patch tonight.

As for kohlrabi, it's a member of the cabbage family. I planted four seedlings I bought at the garden center and a bunch more from seed. This one is from a seedling. These don't regrow but are worth the space anyway as they are slightly sweet and crunchy. Sort of like broccoli stems, but a nicer texture.

I trimmed off the kohlrabi leaves off over the compost pile.

Here I've washed the swiss chard and torn out the toughest (thickest) stems. It's a good idea to wash each leaf, turning over and checking the other side also. I once did a poor job of that and served Jim a large cooked slug attached to the back of a chard leaf. Not recommended.

While we waited for the chard and the pork steaks to cook, I peeled the kohlrabi and made it into sticks. We polished it off as an appy :) This is the pottery plate I purchased from Mussels and More on vacation.

Just to show you how much the swiss chard wilts while cooking.

Ah, supper. Serve the chard with a little butter, salt and pepper. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Middle Mountain Mead

While we were on vacation last week, we paid a visit to Middle Mountain Mead on Hornby Island.

It crosses our mind that adding value to the honey our bees (and the additional hives we expect to buy) will produce might be a good idea. In our area there is no shortage of places one can purchase local honey. There may well be room in the market for more; I haven't yet done the research to make an educated decision. But right now we're looking at options, and opening a meadery is one such option.

We called ahead for an appointment because Hornby Island isn't into its summer schedule yet in June, and with two ferries to catch to get there, we didn't want to make the side trip if seeing the meadery wasn't a possibility. We were greeted by this young gentleman, whose name I forgot to get. Bad me.

Their tasting room is charming, and adorned with vast swaths of drying lavender.

The mead display area is simply made to suit the setting.

A large deck off the tasting room offers comfort and a spectacular view.

Our guide willingly showed us around, answered all our questions and encouraged me to take photos. Here he and Jim are discussing the fermentation process.

Then we wandered through their gardens for awhile. These aren't show gardens, but rather bee gardens. The beauty of mead, in my opinion, is that the bees make honey out of your flowers and fruit blossoms, then you can use the fruit itself, added to the honey, to make mead. Seems like a good use of resources to me!

Anyone know what this flower is (below)? See the busy bee? :) (You might need to click on the photo to enlarge it in order to see the bee.)

So the grounds below the meadery/tasting room are filled with ingredients for honey and ingredients for mead.

Here's the view they have to suffer through every day. Ah, bliss...

And, yes, we tucked a few bottles of various flavors into the car for special occasions over the next while. An Olde Mead, Cranberry Lavender Mead, Cyser (apple mead), and Green Tea Elixir.