Thursday, June 25, 2015

Canning Chive Blossom Vinegar


 
This year I have been focusing on edible flowers in my garden with lovely orange calendula flowers, fiery nasturtiums, and onion scented chive blossoms. I was elated when a patch of chives showed up in my garden. This has been another wonderful surprise at my new house. Chives are one of my favorite herbs with a delicate onion flavor and the blossoms make a beautiful pink infused vinegar that is perfect as a salad dressing when mixed with half extra virgin olive oil. I love that I get to do some canning early in the season with this chive blossom vinegar. I always seem impatient in spring and early summer to do some canning on rainy days.

This vinegar will last 2 years if stored in a cool dry place. If you not up for canning, you can also make the vinegar and store it in the refrigerator for 6 months, but my refrigerator space is precious, so I prefer to make my stuff shelf stable.



Ingredients (makes about 3 1/2 pints)

2 pints of chive blossoms tightly packed
1 1/2 pints of white wine vinegar (approximate amount)

Directions

1. Tightly pack the chive blossoms into 2 pint jars. Pour the vinegar over the chive blossoms.
2. Cover the vinegar with cheesecloth or a paper towel.  You can use a rubber band to hold the cheesecloth in place.
3. Allow the jar to sit in a cool dark place for 2 weeks. Stir the jar with a chop stick every day.
4. Strain the chive blossoms from the vinegar.
5. Heat the vinegar to 180 degrees F.
6. Ladle the vinegar into a hot, sterile jars leaving 1/4" headspace.
7. Adjust the two piece lids and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
8. If you live at a high altitude, then process the jars longer. For 1,001-3,000 ft process for 15 minutes; for 3,001-6,000 feet process for 20 minutes; for 6,000+ feet process for 25 minutes.




Monday, June 22, 2015

Canning Sweet Cherry Red Wine Pie Filling



This year I was chosen as a blogger for Sweet Preservation. To write this post, I received a free box of sweet cherries from the state of Washington fruit growers. When I was asked to be a part of Sweet Preservation again this year I secretly hoped that I would get chosen for cherries. I have been craving cherries all winter long and locally we did not have a good cherry harvest in our area last year, so I did without cherries for the most part. You can imagine how excited I was when I received a box in the mail that was full of cherries! Sweet red little jewels that my family could not wait to sample.

The first request my family had was for cherry pie filling. We did not can any cherry pie filling last year due to the shortage of cherries in our area which is when having a nice supply of Washington cherries available in the grocery store is awesome. I am kicking myself for not freezing at least a few bags of cherries last year from Washington when I knew our local crop was going to fail. These cherries from Washington are firm and crimson red with a delicate stem attached. The cherries are sweet and juicy with a nice but subtle tart aftertaste. Sweet Preservation has provided a nice guide on how to buy the best stone fruits.

I have never canned sweet cherries for pie filling before, so I was surprised how the Clear Jel and sugar solution really brought out the tartness in the cherries. I liked the unexpected flavor that the pie filling brought out in the cherries. I think this pie filling would go really great in a black forest cake or in some cherry danishes where the intense red color can really pop. I also decided to use a splash of dry red wine in the pie filling for a nice unexpected flavor that you do not find in other pie fillings. For me cherries and red wine go together perfectly. For the wine, you want a small splash of something that you enjoy, but it does not have to be your favorite bottle or even an expensive bottle. I used 1 tsp of wine per quart of pie filling. I think this is the right amount to give the pie filling a hint of wine flavor without going over board.

I decided to cut my cherries in half for this pie filling instead of using my cherry pitter because I felt that the pitter would leave the cherries too large for pie filling. These sweet cherries are larger than a quarter. If you use smaller cherries, you could use a cherry pitter. However, I do like how the halved cherries look in the jar. I love when you line up all my jars of canned food that they all look unique with different colors and textures. As usual, I added less Clear Jel than the National Center for Home Preservation recommends because I find their pie filling too thick. Clear Jel is a modified cornstarch that is approved by the USDA for home canning of pie fillings of acidic fruits. You can find Clear Jel at Amish or German Baptist grocery stores or on line.

I even found these cute flower labels that remind me of cherry blossoms on the Sweet Preservation site that I can put on my jars if I decide to give them out as gifts this year.

Ingredients (makes 1 quart) modified from The Center of Home Preservation

3 1/3 cups cups of cherries, cut in half
1 quart water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Clear Jel
1 tsp dry red wine
1 tbsp + 1 tsp bottled lemon juice (not fresh)

Directions


1. Blanch the cherries for 1 minute. To blanch, add the cherries to a 1 quart of boiling water. Add the cherries to the boiling water. The 1 minute time starts after the cherry solution starts to boil again.
2. Drain the cherries and reserve the liquid and cherries. Keep the warm cherries covered in a bowl. I usually keep them covered with a dish towel.
3. Measure of 1 1/3 cups of blanching water and add it to a medium saucepot.
4. Add the sugar, Clear Jel, and red wine to the saucepot and heat on high heat with stirring constantly until the mixture is thick and starting to bubble. I find that Clear Jel thickens very quickly especially around the edges of the pot.
5. Add the lemon juice and let the mixture boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly.
6. Add the cherries to the to the Clear Jel mixture and gently stir.
7. Add the cherry pie filling to a hot sterile jar leaving 1 inch headspace. Seal with a two piece canning lid (reminder Ball canning lids are not recommended to be placed in a pot of simmering water anymore.)
8. Process in a boiling water canner for 30 minutes. If you live at a high altitude, then you need to increase the processing time. At 1,001-3,000 feet process for 35 minutes; at 3,001 to 6,000 feet process for 40 minutes; at 6,000+ feet process for 45 minutes.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Goal: To Go On A Hike In All 50 States



The kids and I have come up with a new goal for ourselves. We want to go on a hike in all 50 states! I will be documenting our adventures on this blog. As we complete hikes and I blog about them I will be linking them up to this page, so far I have just listed hikes that we have gone on so far with all 3 kids, but I have not blogged about any of them yet. I love to hike and travel, so I think this will be a fun goal for my kids and me. Do you have a favorite place to hike in your state? Tell me in the comments your favorite place to hike in your state.

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana: Celery Bog, Moyer Goulds, Turkey Run State Park, Shades State Park
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri: Table Rock
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico: 
New York
North Carolina: Crowders Mountain Pinnacle Trail
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina: Botany Bay
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia: New River Gorge Long Point Trail
Wisconsin
Wyoming

Monday, May 4, 2015

Eggs with Ramps and Hollandaise sauce on a Whole Wheat English Muffin



I have been foraging ramps and fantasizing about growing those beauties in my forest garden. One day I will have a nice spring crop of ramps right in my own back yard, but until then I will forage them at a land trust.

Eggs and ramps are one of my favorite combinations. The nice onion with a mild background flavor of turnip from the ramps enhances the eggs perfectly. I had two egg yolks sitting in my refrigerator from another meal that used only egg whites, so I made a nice buttery hollandaise sauce that has a nice subtle hint of tangy lemon for my eggs and ramps. The hollandiase sauce adds a richness to the meal without over powering the salmon and eggs. I layered that all on top of my crunchy whole wheat English muffin with some smoked salmon for a very hardy brunch after foraging. This is one of my all time favorite spring meals and it is nice enough for company. Nothing screams early spring to me like ramps.

Ingredients

2 large eggs
pinch of salt
4 ramps (more or less depending on how much you like ramps)
1 tbsp butter + 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
1 whole wheat English muffin
2 ounces smoked salmon
hollandaise sauce (recipe below)

Directions

1. Beat the eggs and pinch of salt together in a small bowl. I use a whisk to beat my eggs.
2. Wash and chop the ramps. I like mine chopped about the size of a dime. Add the ramps to the beaten eggs.
3. Add 1 tbsp of unsalted butter to a hot cast iron pan over high heat.
4. When the butter bubbles add the eggs to the center of the pan.
5. Gently stir the eggs in the pan. Once the eggs start curdling, then fold the eggs instead of stirring the eggs and drop the temperature to low.
6. Once there is no more liquidy eggs, remove the eggs from the pan and set aside.
7. Cut the English muffin in half and place the rest of the butter on the English muffin and toast the muffin until the edges are slightly golden brown.
8. Remove the English muffin from the heat and place on a plate.
9. Place the eggs and salmon on the English muffin.
10. Drizzle with hollandaise sauce.

For the hollandaise sauce

2 egg yolks
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Directions

1. Simmer a cup of water in a small sauce pot over medium heat.
2. Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice in an oven safe medium size bowl until the volume has doubled. The bowl should be able to fit over a small sauce pot of simmering water without falling into the water. You can also use a double boiler.
2. Place the bowl on top of the simmering water.
3. Vigorously whisk the egg mixture over the heat while slowly incorporating the melted butter. You do not want the eggs to get too hot or they will scramble.
4. When the sauce is thick and doubled in size, remove the sauce from the heat and store in a warm place until ready to use.



Monday, April 27, 2015

Preserving Ramps



Ramp season is here! I love hiking in the woods and picking wild foods. I have been teaching the kids to walk quietly through the woods so we can hear the lovely bird songs chirping all around us as we hunt for morels and ramps. On this particular hike we saw our first wild bluebird! I did not get a good photo, but the bluebird is really an enchanting bird to see in person. The blue color pops against the landscape compared to a blue jay. I can see why bird enthusiasts have built blue bird houses in an effort to preserve this beautiful bird.



Anyway, back to ramps. My general rule for ramps it to pick less than 1% of the ramps in a colony because ramps are very easily over picked and because I want to leave ramps for other people. Never pick and consumer wild foods unless you are 100% confident of the identity of the plant. For ramps, the scent is the most distinguishing characteristic. There are several plants that looks like long slender leaves poking up in early spring, but they will not have the distinguishing onion mixed with turnip smell when you pick off part of a leaf. When you are first learning about wild foods, I recommend you learn from someone experienced in wild foods in your area and use a field guide. I never pick ramps that have a flower on them. At this point, I want the ramps to release their seeds so we can enjoy ramps next year. Lastly, make sure that it is legal to pick wild foods where you are located. Some parks do not allow you to pick wild foods while some only allow you to pick for personal consumption while other only allow you to pick certain foods.



Most people pick the entire bulb, but you can see in my photos that I did not dig all the way down to get the full bulb because I forgot my knife on this particular hike.

Ramps have a very short season, so you might want to pick a few extra ramps for the cold winter months when greens are in short supply. Luckily, ramps freeze really well. I simply wash the ramps, dry well, then chop and freeze in a mason jar. I love ramps in my eggs. Happy harvesting!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

List of Seed Swapping Groups on Facebook For the Frugal Gardener




Seed swapping is a fun and frugal way to increase the diversity in your seed collection. Seed swapping is great if you are new to gardening and you are on a limited budget because you can buy a few packets of seeds and trade your way to a more diverse collection. Most seed packets come with more seeds than most small gardeners will realistically use before they start to decrease in germination.

I have had several wonderful experiences with seed swapping groups on Facebook. I have been able to swap seeds that I will not be using this year for seeds that interest me. I really like to use seed swapping when I want a small quantity of something to try out before I dedicate a large chunk of my garden space to something unknown.

Pictured above are some seeds that I got is some trades this year. I have traded for a lot of beans this year. I want to see how these various varieties grow in my garden before I plant a lot of them. Plus, the beans are really pretty! This year I have sent off seeds for cinnamon basil, green sausage tomato, baby corn bonus, and other seeds. Swapping smaller seeds costs me a stamp and a thank you card. Large seeds like corn, squash, beans, and peas cost me a padded envelope, a thank you card, and about $2.50 for postage. I usually swap multiple seeds with each person that I trade with to make trading more economical.

Here are some seed swapping groups that I am a part of on Facebook:

Edible Plants Preservation Society: This group doubles as a place where you can swap seeds and a seed bank where volunteers can grow out rare seeds for saving. This is my favorite seed swapping group on Facebook.

Seed Traders For Future Generations: This group sees a lot of daily activity as people post things they are growing in their gardens as well as trades.

Midwest Gardening and Seed Swap: I love this group because these are growers located in my region, so the odds are if they have a good experience with a seed, then I am likely going to have a good experience as well.

Seed Swap: This group is massive with people from all over the world (not just the US.) I have also seen people post bulbs for trade on this group as well.

Seed Swappers Paradise Group: This is another large seed swapping group.

The Trading Post: This group is strictly for trading seeds. Some groups will allow you to post gardening questions or show pictures of your garden for bragging rights, but this group is very narrowly focused. This group is great for people who want to spend a limited amount of time on Facebook.

Are you a part of any seed swapping groups on Facebook? If you are, then leave me a comment below! I would be more than happy to expand this list as I find new groups.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dipping My Toe into Forest Gardening


A lot of changes have occurred in my life that bring about new opportunities. I have bought my first house! I bought the perfect house for me. The house has a green house attached to the house, raised vegetable beds, several blueberry plants, several currant plants, a crab apple tree, and a ravine. There are lots of plants that I have not identified yet in my new yard because the yard has been covered in snow.


The previous two owners were both horticulturists, so the yard has been well taken care of over the years. I do know that there is an elaborate succession garden in front yard with lots of bulbs. There is also a drip irrigation system set up, 2 composters, and a rain barrel. I am grateful for all the wonderful infrastructure that this house already has in place. However, the ravine is having an erosion problem, so I need to fix the erosion in the ravine. The ravine is going to the focus on my a lot of my gardening this year. I want to transform the ravine into an edible forest garden. The canopy layer is already mature, but I want to add some more biodiversity to the ravine. In particular, I want to plant some American Ginseng because it is an endangered species and needs at least 70% shade in order to grow. My ravine in the perfect spot for this endangered species. Thankfully, I live in a state with minimal restrictions on growing this endangered species. My only limitation is that I can only harvest the ginseng a few months out of the year which will not be an issue for a few years until the plant establishes itself.

Forest gardening focuses on perennial plants grown in a polyculture. The emphasis is on useful plants that provide food, materials for hobbies, or beneficial to wildlife. A forest garden mimics a natural forest ecosystem with multiple layers from the tall canopy layer, smaller trees and bushes, vines crawling up large trees, herbs growing under everything and mushrooms breaking down decaying material. Ideally, a forest garden should be self-renewing and low maintenance through careful planning of plants that work together in a polyculture and choosing plants that do not require a lot of maintenance. I don't think I will be able to create a no work forest garden since I do like things like peaches that require yearly pruning. I envision my yard to produce an abundance of food and still be beautiful.

My first goal of the year is to inventory what is already in the yard. This is going to take me all year long to figure out all the bulbs that are in the front yard, but I should be able to identify the trees in the ravine sooner.  The next step is to take very accurate measurements of my yard and beginning planning. I hope a lot of good planning and research on my part will help me avoid some mistakes, but forest gardening is still in its infancy. I look forward to this new adventure!

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