Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 10)

Lately I have been visiting my garden right before the sun sets. Tomorrow will be different. There is definitely some harvesting and work to be done in the garden. I spotted some gigantic squash tonight, a large cucumber, many tomatoes and plenty of swiss chard and kale. I also want to plant a few things for my winter garden like carrots and greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula).

The lettuce plants that I let go to seed are full of fluffy pods. Every time I walk by I collect a few seeds from the pods that have dried out. The bush beans pods are also drying up. I am enjoying letting my plants mature and collecting their seeds. Actually, it's a great excuse to be lazy and leave the plants in my garden alone. I am so busy right now with preserving food that I hardly have time to pull weeds or do any other garden maintenance. Next week my sister arrives and I will glad to have an extra pair of hands to help with all the work that needs to be done.

A couple weeks ago: Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 9)
This time last year: Garden Journal (vol 12)

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Canning Marathon

This space has been rather silent in the last couple weeks. We've been busy preserving food, visiting friends that have come from afar and renovating our home, which never truly seems to end. In the last weeks I've been freezing apricots, swiss chard and basil pesto but now that tomatoes and peaches are ready for harvesting the preserving marathon is in its most intense phase. Actually, I almost feel that waking up early and going for a run would be a relaxing activity these days.

We recently picked over 45 kilos (100 pounds) of Roma tomatoes from Covert Farms, an organic u-pick close to Oliver, BC along with the same amount of peaches. Along with this significant influx of produce I have been picking close to 10 kilos (about 20 pounds) of tomatoes from my garden every two or three days. So what do I plan to do with all the tomatoes? Well, we eat a lot of tomatoes every day but it hardly makes a dent into the pile. I have been slow roasting our grape tomatoes and freezing them for later. I did this last year and we enjoyed adding them to pizza, pasta, stews and soups. When I get tired of slow roasting the grape tomatoes I start tossing them into a large freezer bag whole.

The first canned tomato product that we tackle is our basic spicy red salsa. We make two or three batches of the recipe to satisfy our salsa cravings throughout the year. Once the salsa is made we move on to crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, and when we get tired of those we make homemade ketchup and tomato paste. This year I'm also experimenting with making some yellow tomato and basil jam and spicy peach and yellow tomato jam.

And the peaches? Most will be canned in simple syrup. Although I did start a batch of vanilla peach mead from True Brews but it won't be ready to consume for eight months to a year, which seems like a very long time to wait. I may also make some peach jam.

How about you? Have you had the chance to preserve any of the summer's bounty for the coming winter?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam

Last year, apricots came and went and few made it through my door. It's a mystery as to how that happened because there are apricot trees everywhere around here. This year I promised myself that I would get apricots, even if I needed to do some guerrilla apricot picking. Before going guerrilla I made a special trip out to Hillside Farm to pick their apricots, only to discover that they had all.been.picked. We managed to scrounge up half a dozen apricots by climbing very tall ladders, that's all. My children were very hot and not impressed and I made a mental to note to call ahead next time. Just as I was feeling discouraged by the lack of apricots a friend dropped off two cases of apricots (Thanks Maria!). Then my neighbors brought me apricots from their tree, and then more from their friend's tree. And just like that I had apricots, lots of them. I may still do some guerrilla apricot picking because I hate seeing apricots go to waste (or any food for that matter) and it's fun to go rogue for causes like this.

Apricots are such an easy fruit to prepare. There is no need to peel them and even a toddler can open and pit them. We froze most of our apricots and made a few batches of apricot vanilla bean jam. The recipe below is simple and the vanilla bean can be replaced with a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary or a teaspoon of dried chili flakes. A rosemary or spicy apricot spread would work well as a meat glaze or an accompaniment on a cheese platter.

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam
Makes 6 half pints or three pints. 

8 cups apricots, chopped
4 cups sugar
2 lemons, juiced
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Note: Apricots don't contain a lot of pectin so this jam tends to be softer. I like my apricot jam soft but if you prefer a firmer jam or a jam with less sugar then I would suggest adding some Pomona's Pectin which you can get a most health food stores.

Add chopped apricots and 4 cups of sugar to a large pot. Split and scrape the vanilla beans adding the seeds and pods to the pot. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover the pot and place it in the fridge for a night or two to allow the apricots to macerate. This step could probably be skipped but it's a great excuse to be lazy and put off making the jam for a couple days.

The next day (or the day after) remove the pot from the fridge. Add the lemon juice. Stir to combine and place the pot on stovetop. Bring the apricots to a simmer over medium-high heat. As the apricots cook and thicken reduced the heat to medium-low. If you prefer a smooth jam you can use an immersion blender or counter top blender to blend some or all the apricots.

Cook the apricots until the jam is thick and shiny, about 25 to 30 minutes. To test if the jam is ready pour a small dollop of jam on a small plate and place the plate in the freezer for a minute or two. If the jam is ready it should gel. The jam on the plate should wrinkle when pushed.

While the apricots simmer, sterilize your pint or half-pint sized jars and prepare your lids. When the jam is ready ladle it into sterilized jars, wipe the rims before adding the lids. Place the jars into a water bath canner and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling process for 10 minutes, making sure to adjust the processing time to your altitude. Remove the jars and let them cool on the counter top. Check the seals and place any jars that failed to seal in the fridge. Oh and don't forget to lick the pot clean!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 9)

The sun is starting to set a little earlier in the evening. I welcome the relief it brings from the summer heat but a small part of me wishes the earth would stand still in its orbit, just for a little while longer. It's such an unrealistic wish and not truly one that I want fulfilled but I do enjoy this time of year so much.

Visiting the garden after the sun has set is magical. I go down, bare foot, camera in hand and play peek-a-book with my garden plants. The tomatoes are starting to ripen and if I find one that's ripe I pluck it and let it explode in my mouth. Nothing speaks to me of summer like a vine ripened heirloom tomato. As I walk past the pepper plants, I remind myself not to be deceived by the apparent lack of peppers. I swoop low, sweep back the foliage and smile and the abundance that I see. Before continuing on I double back and head to the bush beans. Earlier last week I picked all the beans and froze enough to fill a gallon sized bag. I can see that the beans have worked hard since my absence and it is time for another harvest. I also need to harvest and freeze some swiss chard and kale but that can wait until tomorrow.

I move on to the corner garden aptly named "the jungle". I have a tendency to put all sorts of plants in this corner bed. Right now there is a row of the dry beans along the fence. They have grown half way up the lattice and I see that they are covered in blooms. I may yet have beans before the fall arrives! In front of the beans there are two volunteer tomato plants that I didn't have the heart to pull and half a dozen cucumber plants. We enjoyed our first cucumber last week and it was so crisp and juicy. And in front of the cucumber plants there are several squash plants, one of which has gone rogue and decided to climb the fence and go into my neighbours yard. And along with all those plants there are several sunflowers and a watermelon plant that's struggling to make it. To find anything in this jungle I have to plunge below the squash plants and navigate through the jungle or enormous prickly leaves. When I come out with a zucchini or cucumber it's most rewarding!

A couple weeks ago: Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 8)
This time last year: Garden Journal (vol 10) & Garden Journal (vol 11)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Visiting Tante Alice

Tante Alice and her brother.
Tante Alice is very special to us. Even though we aren't biologically related, she is still very much part of our family. We first met when I was very young. My parents brought me to her french daycare, and while that was long ago I still have treasured memories from that time. Tante Alice often recounts stories of me when I was little. She was instrumental in my potty training and ensures that I don't forget that fact!

When Tante Alice moved to the Okanagan we continued to have visits with her. Occasionally my parents would send me down to visit her on my own. These were memorable times for me. It was during these visits that Tante Alice would teach me how to knit, sew, do quill art and zipper-sand art. I would spend hours in her well stocked craft corner and stay up late playing rummy and eating ice cream with her . Much of what she has taught me over the years has taken root in my heart and my life.

Now that we live in the Okanagan we are able to visit Tante Alice more often. Tante Alice is 86 now and still very active and lively. Every time we visit I leave feeling blessed to know this amazing woman who is filled with peace and joy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Biking on the KVR

My eldest recently decided that he didn't need his training wheels anymore. The defining moment occurred when he crashed his bike into the lake and had to ride home with only one training wheel. I think he might have learned how to ride without training wheel sooner if our street was more conducive to beginner bikers, but our street is quite hilly. Now that he's happily graduated to a two wheeler we've been exploring the Kettle Valley Rail Trail a couple times a week. 

My son was inspired to ride on the KVR after a family of touring cyclist stayed with us for a night earlier last week. The family, with two young boys, had been biking the KVR and they were such an inspiration to us. After they left my son begged me to go biking and wouldn't stop until I got organized enough to go. Our first adventure out happened to be the day that our area received a rainfall warming. We thought that we might avoid the torrential rainfall but we didn't. The rain came down hard and fast. Felix thought is was the best bike ride ever! I have to admit that it was a lot fun. We biked about 8 km on our first ride, and there were many water breaks along the way but everyone really enjoyed the ride.

The second time we rode the KVR we went with our friends who are very familiar with the portion of the trail we were riding. They shared with us all their special spots along the way. The rogue apricot trees, the waterfall, the dock, the red rock and the cave. I hadn't even noticed these places on my first ride through. We enjoyed exploring all these new places and then had a final dip in the lake before returning home. 

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)