Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 8)

Lettuce going to seed.
Last week while we were camping on Salt Spring Island the Okanagan was hot, hot, hot! When we returned our grass was crispy yellow but the tomatoes and peppers were in heaven. The plants are loaded and I am waiting patiently to pluck off the first ripe tomatoes. The squash plants are producing but not as much as I expected. There seems to be some blossom end rot and poor pollination. I'm going to try hand pollinating to see if that results in more fruit. As for the blossom end rot I have read that a calcium foliage spray can help but I need to do more research.

The cucumbers are starting to produce and so are the bush beans. I had to stop my children from pulling up every single carrot the other day, not that I can blame them because they are pretty tasty. We still have plenty of kale, swiss chard and beets, but no lettuce or spinach. I've let some lettuce go to seed. out of curiosity. 

My echinacea is blooming and I'm not the only one happy to see them. The bees have been enjoying them just as much as me. And about bees.. I have this fantasy of having backyard bees... is that crazy? 

A couple weeks ago: Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 7)
This time last year: Garden Journal (vol 9)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jam Camp by the Sea

We have returned from our Jam Camp adventure on Salt Spring Island. We camped for five nights at Ruckle Provincial Park, a walk-in campground that sits on the south east end of the island. It was our first visit to one of the Gulf Islands. Every morning we ate breakfast while admiring the ocean sparkling under the rising sun. The ferries would drive by every couple hours and occasionally we would spot a sailboat or fancy yacht. The campsite beach is rocky but when the tide is low you can venture out and peek into tide pools. We found starfish, crabs and sea anemone in shallow pools of sea water. It was amazing how much life the ocean sustains, even in those small tide pools.

Jam Camp is a family friendly camp where people come together to make music. The theme of this year's Jam Camp was Surprise! And there were surprises throughout the week! Like an impromptu birthday party for a set of twins that were once conjoined (part of a skit), dragon eggs in the forest, silly hats, and treats hidden in pots. There were also group projects that people work on throughout the week. Jeremie and I took part in a songwriting group while Felix and Claire joined a musical theater group. Teddy discovered the instrument tent and was happy trying out every single ukulele he could find. There were also opportunities for music lessons in the afternoon. A variety of lessons were posted on a board and anyone that was interested could sign up. You could learn to play the guitar, violin, ukulele, banjo, accordion, African drums... jam with others... learn how to do poi or do crafts (for the children). We didn't sign up for many things this year but Felix enjoyed learning poi and Claire liked the crafts. I snuck into a ukulele lesson on the last day and fell in love with this happy little instrument.

We also had a few opportunities to explore Salt Spring Island. I stopped at Moonstruck Cheese and bought some delicious organic ash-ripened Camembert. Mmmm cheese. I also managed to visit Cherry Blossom Design right before catching our ferry back home. They make such beautiful organic clothing that are very comfortable to wear. I almost feel guilty wearing the dress I bought because I feel like I'm in lounging wear. I would love to go back to Salt Spring Island again. It was such a lovely place. We will have to see where Jam Camp brings us next year.

Jam Camp 2013: Kokanee Creek

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Preserving Cherries: Four Methods

We have been the happy recipients of cherries! Lots of cherries! We have processed at least 50kg (110lbs) of cherries in the last few days. My fingers are an awful shade of brown-red from all the pitting and chopping. Pitting cherries is messy business and everything in the range of the cherry pitter gets speckled red... including the person doing the pitting. For pitting the cherries we used the Norpro Deluxe Cherry Pitter and it worked, well sort of. If the cherries were too ripe the pit would stick to the cherry flesh after being pushed out and if the cherries were large the pit would get missed altogether. After pitting the cherries each one needed to be inspected to ensure the pit was removed.

Freezing Cherries

We frozen the majority of the cherries in gallon sized freezer bags, nine to be exact. Frozen cherries are delicious in smoothies and can be thawed for any other number of treats. To freeze cherries pit them and lay them out on a baking sheet covered in parchment or freezer paper. Place them in a freezer until frozen and then put them in a sealable freezer bag or container. Cherries frozen in this way will last a year, if not longer.

Juicing Cherries

Cherries that are inferior (too small, ripe, underipe, wrinkly) can be placed into a steam juicer and juiced. No need to pit these cherries. The juice from cherries can be canned which is what we did. We also used the juice to make two batches of cherry-lime soda which is a recipe from True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home, a must have if you enjoy fermenting foods. I am also in the process of making a batch of sparkling cherry wine from this book.

Dehydrating Cherries

Dehydrated cherries are good for little people that aren't keen on fresh cherries. I tried dehydrating pitted whole and half cherries. The whole cherries take longer to dehydrate but take less time to prepare. Either works well. Remove the cherries from the dehydrator when they are not longer sticky but still a little soft, like a raisin.  I also made some cherry-apple fruit leather and it turned out so yummy that I resorted to hiding some away in the freezer.

Canning Cherries

This was my first year canning cherries. I followed the instructions for canning whole cherries on the National Centre for Food Preservation website.

Cherry-Apple Fruit Leather

Cherry-apple fruit leather is easy to make. This recipe, if you can call it that, has two ingredients: cherries and unsweetened apple sauce. Apple sauce add sweetness and pectin to the puree which helps with the flavour and texture of this fruit leather. 

Apple-Cherry Fruit Leather 
Makes enough to cover four fruit roll dehydrator sheets.

Food Dehydrator (I use a Nesco dehydrator)
Fruit roll sheets
Oven (preheated to 150F, or as low as it can go)
Rimmed baking sheets
Silicone mat (Silpat), thick heat proof plastic or oiled parchment paper

8 cups sweet cherries, fresh or frozen
4 cups unsweetened apple sauce or chopped apples
Vegetable oil

Start by washing, stemming and pitting the cherries. Ensure all the pits are removed. Place the pitted cherries into a large pot. Mash the cherries with a potato masher or your hands to release the juices and add the apple sauce or chopped apples.

Bring the cherries and apple sauce to a simmer. Simmer until the cherries (and chopped apples, if using) are soft. Keep your eye out for pesky cherry pits and remove any that you missed in the pitting process. When the fruit is soft, puree the fruit using an immersion blender or a food blender, working in batches. If you hear any clinking noises stop and fish out the pit!

Spread a very thin layer of oil onto the fruit roll sheets or parchment paper, if using. Pour 3 cups of the pureed fruit onto the dehydrator fruit roll sheets or spread the puree 3-6 mm (1/8-1/4i nch) thick on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. Make sure to spread the puree out evenly. 

Place the fruit puree in the dehydrator or in an oven at 150F, or as low as it can go. Dehydrate the fruit puree until the fruit leather is no longer sticky. Store in an airtight container or you can even freeze it for longer storage. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Visiting a Premier Equestrian Facility


Last weekend, when people were coming to the Okanagan to celebrate Canada Day we were going west to visit family. I always feel a little strange leaving home during the summer because it is so nice here in the summer months. On the plus side we were going against traffic so it made the road trip quite enjoyable. We spent some time visiting my husbands sister and also had the chance to see my parents while they were at their horse show.

My parents bought three horses after the last of their three children moved out. They have become serious horse people. I knew that things were getting serious when I discovered that each of their horses have several (half a dozen?) brushes, apparently horses cannot share brushes. Who knew? My parents take riding lessons and ride in competitions. For the last week, my parents have been competing at Thunderbird Equestrian Park, a premier equestrian facility (that's what the website says). It's actually a really nice place.

We met my parents at Tbird and said our hellos to Prestige and Lucy, two of my parents' horses. Teddy was terrified of the horses and was firmly attached to my husband's shoulders. Claire had absolutely no fear of being around the horses, which made me a little nervous, and would have stayed there forever if she was allowed to. We walked Prestige and admired the roses. It was lovely... until the horse tried to eat the roses... actually it was still lovely and the remaining roses were beautiful.

After our visit with the children horses, my parents took us to Fort Langley, a quaint little touristy town. We visited the actual fort. My children enjoyed the various demonstrations but the gold panning was by far the best. You can never go wrong with rocks, water and shiny gold things (not real gold of course), even Teddy was in on the fun.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 7)

July has begun and so have our hot summer days. Last week I pulled up my peas, much to my husband's dismay. He couldn't quite understand why I would pull up perfectly happy peas plants to plant beans. What can I say, I really wanted to plant my heritage beans and that was the only place they would fit. The beans have already sprouted and grown a couple inches tall, which I happily pointed out to my husband.

The tomato and pepper plants are loving the heat. There are small tomatoes and peppers starting to grow. For the last week I've been puzzling over my Roma tomatoes' lack of vertically growth. I thought that I had accidentally pinched off their leaders. Then I discovered that they are a determinate (bush) variety, which explains why they look like a bush. Aha!

Last week I tore out a patch of lettuce that had bolted and become bitter. It's always a bit of shock to eat a mouthful of bitter lettuce - yuck! In the newly made space I sowed some more lettuce and Tyee spinach which tend to be slow to bolt in the summer heat. The squash plants are taking over the corner of my yard. We will be inundated with squash soon... The bush beans are flowering and the beets and carrots are getting bigger. The raspberries are also starting to ripen. There aren't enough ripe berries for preserving (yet) but plenty for enjoying. I hope that I can collect enough for at least one batch of raspberry jam - my favourite!

A few weeks ago: Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 6) 

This time last year: Garden Journal (vol 7) and Garden Journal (vol 8)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Strawberries and Cherries

Earlier this week we picked about 10 lbs of strawberries and 20 lbs of cherries from local u-pick farms. What did we do with all of it? We ate quite a bit of it fresh because it was just so delicious but I did manage to preserve some of it for the coming winter. I frozen a tray of strawberries for smoothies and made Traditional Strawberry Vanilla Jam, a favourite around here!

The cherries were a bit more work. My children insisted on making cherry pie so I let them pit the cherries while I prepared the crust. The pie turned out delicious by the lack of quality control in the pitting department meant we had the eat the pie very carefully, essentially massaging the cherries in our mouths to find hidden pits. Last year I froze most of our cherries and we've been using them in smoothies throughout the year. Because we still have some frozen cherries from last year I chose to canned some of this year's cherries instead. I put up seven quarts of whole pitted cherries in very light syrup. If we come across more cherries I will probably freeze and dehydrate some as well. I'm finding that it's nice to preserve produce in a variety of ways, when possible, because each method of preservation (canning, freezing, dehydrating, fermenting) is better suited for different uses.