My first batch ever of pumpkin butter

We have a pumpkin problem. I know I belong on an episode of “My Strange Addiction” or “Hoarders”–but, hear me out! What would you do if you were blessed with hundreds of pounds of beautiful, heirloom, nutritionally dense pumpkins (and the animals have had their fill)? You’d probably do what I’m doing. Invite them into your home and become fast friends.

These aren’t just “pumpkins”. They are (starting with the closest) black futsu, cinderella, jarrahdale, turk’s turban, peanut (Galeux d’Eysines), valenciano, and another jarrahdale. (NOTE: the black futsu pictured is the only black futsu we’ve received. I’ve heard incredible things about its “hazelnut-like flavor and tender skin”.)

A week ago, I believed that a pumpkin is a pumpkin is a pumpkin. But now that I’ve hefted, gutted, sniffed, tasted, explored and examined each pumpkin that arrived in our wheel barrow, I’ve learned to identify, discern and appreciate each unique “fruit of the vine”.

An idea just occurred to me this week. Actually it is more than an idea. It’s a dream! A destiny! An obsession.

We must grow grain in 2021.

I don’t mean an acre of rye–I mean a modest 10×10 patch of sorghum, a couple rows of corn and a corner of quinoa. I want to harvest enough sorghum to fill a quart Mason jar. I want to have enough dried corn to make a sweaty, dirty stack of red corn tortillas. I want enough quinoa to help me figure out if it was worth it for just one meal to say “We actually grew this, harvested it, did the chaff + winnow thing, then ate it next to a pile of sauteed kale and braised rabbit.” (P.S. I don’t know what braised means. I just said it to sound fancy.)

The messy middle

Just when you thought canning and preserving season was over! Hundreds of pounds of pumkins were delivered to the wheelbarrow next to our front driveway by nameless, faceless, generous neighbors. It’s a yearly tradition…and most of the pumpkins go to the animals–but a select few find their way to our kitchen where we gut them and process them.

Some will be cubed and bottled in the pressure canner; others will be cooked in the Instant Pot, pureed, then frozen.

The last sentence of the previous paragraph was the first time I’ve used a semi colon as an adult. So proud.

We planted several garlic varieties in late September/early October. I actually can’t quite remember when we planted it.

Chesnok Red in failed lettuce patch.

Deerfield in the ne corner, with elephant garlic on very end of row.

Dujanski hardneck by bean trellis.

Health store garlic on failed bean row.

Here’s to a huge harvest of garlic! My goal is to have enough by July 2021 to weave into braided garlic.

I pressure-canned a few quarts of plain green beans this summer, but I did it out of duty–not love. Who could honestly and truthfully love a limp, peaked green vegetable soaked and bloated in its own juices? In my defense, we had an abundance of fresh green beans, and I had to preserve them in a way that would honor this generous gift from Mother Earth. “Dearie, it’s what you’re supposed to do when you get a bumper crop of green beans.” So I did.

But behind the universe’s back, I secretly canned a few half pints of pickled green beans (also known in the canning world as “dilly beans”). I canned them hoping that they would fill the hole in my heart left by plain canned green beans.

And they did. My heart is now filled to “half an inch from the top” with crisp-tender haricots, little beads of popping mustard seeds, and a swirling snowglobe of dill and garlic.

For the past two months, the tiny jars of dilly beans waited patiently for me on the pantry shelf. Every time I walked by them I said firmly, “Not today, friend. I’ll wait until a very sad or lonely day, and then we will see what joy is bottled up inside.”

Today wasn’t sad or lonely, but still, a bottle was opened. And it brought the brightness and crispness and pure joy that I was hoping for–the happiness that pickled cucumbers promise every season, but really can’t deliver.

There are only 5 half pint jars of pickled dilly beans left. I will eat them very verrrrrry slowly over the next 10 months.

Or they will all disappear tonight.

I make no promises.

You reep what you sow. But when do you get to eat + enjoy what you’ve reeped? In Autumn + Winter! (Anyone else besides me feel like the seasons deserve to be capitalized?)

Well, we’re super ready to eat all the things we reeped + sowed! Here’s a little photo montage of the things we’ll be noshing on during the coming winter months

Canned goodness… Time in a bottle. This year we canned pizza sauce, salsa, pears, pearsauce/applesauce, trout, chicken, beef, green tomato enchilada sauce, zucchini relish, cider, and dilly beans/green beans. In total, probably over 300 jars of food, canned a little bit at a time.
Already dipped into this stuff–it’s fantastic! We didn’t actually grow any of the veggies in this dried veggie mix… We just sliced it in the food processor and dehydrated it.
How did I eat pancakes before there was Apple Mosto Cotto?? It sounds so pretentious, but it’s nothing more than fresh pressed apple cider that’s been boiled down into a thick syrup. The flavor intensity of this stuff is out of this world. Apple Mosto Cotto is illegal in Canada.
Hazelnuts. Gleaned after a commercial harvest, hand shelled (which took for-freakin’-ever), roasted in the microwave and consumed daily. They are added to everything from smoothies to granola to ice cream.
These teeny sun dried tomatoes are adorable!! We’ll most likely rehydrate them and throw them onto pizzas, into pastas, and into soups. Ooooh, Mommy!!
My creepy vinegar collection. It’s creepy because there are gelatinous blobs floating in each jar that you never see in commercial vinegar. That blob is the “mother of vinegar”. It made the vinegar. I have pear, blackberry, apple cider, white + Concord grape, and plum vinegars. Some smell perfectly pungent and sour– utter vinegarous perfection. Others smell weak and kinda funky. I’ll perfect my vinegar making skills so that I can have more consistent results.
Hello, top shelf raisins! I’m not normally a raisin fan, but when my neighbor offered the the entire bounty from her 20’x6′ row of grapes, I couldn’t say no. Josh and I (and then a few days later, Alden + Grant + I) picked that vine so clean that even the local scrub jays were high-fiving me on the way home (wut??). We got about 6 quarts of raisins from that vine plus we pressed a little white grape juice, made some mosto cotto and white grape vinegar.

What a harvest! What a summer! Fueled at first by the fear of food shortages because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but truthfully it just propelled us forward on our desired path a little faster. We’ve always been on the road to self sufficiency. It feels great to know that we’re able to produce some of our own food–and make heaps of mistakes along the way–and learn a ton in the process. Eventually our goal is to reduce our grocery budget. Currently we spend about $150 (or less) per week for a family with three adults, and two teenagers (age 12 + 16). We have no “dainty eaters” in our home. No one goes hungry. We love food. But if we could eat more of our own home grown food, we could probably get our grocery expenses down under $75/week or $300/month. Yes, it would save money, but I think it’s the principle of producing our own food (to the extent we can) that is the most appealing.

I’m excited to eat this preserved food over the winter months, then begin the process all over again as we move forward into spring and summer of 2021!

Wait!! Don’t forget the delicata! We harvested about 20 squash from one plant!!! If you don’t know why delicata squash is so wonderful, lemme tell you. It has the shelf-stable power of a winter squash with the delicate, edible skin of a summer squash. The seeds are sweet and crispy when roasted in the microwave. The texture of the delicata is firm, the flavor is rich and the color is vibrant. Simply cut it up, (save the seeds for later) and toss with olive oil or butter + kosher salt (cuz we keep it classy, foo), then roast in oven until done. Delicata isn’t just some lame winter squash like hubbard. It’s so much more.

Lookie what i found while cleaning up the garden today…

I think this is the third carrot we’ve pulled from our garden this year. I tried to grow hundreds. Twice. I might just feed this one to the rabbits. Not sure why carrots are so hard to grow.

Last Friday, Isaac and I harvested our five bunnies that were born this summer. We would have had more, but there were a series of unfortunate events that wiped out our bunnies. (Heat wave + omnivorous chickens = dead bun buns.)

Processing the rabbits wasn’t too hard. Isaac put each live bunny into a bucket and gave it a clean head shot with a pellet rifle. We took the bunnies to a metal table next to the garden hose and began skinning and gutting the rabbits.

We plan to sell most of the future rabbits, and then carefully and gratefully stock our freezer and canned goods pantry with as much meat as fits our plan of eating meat sparingly. We also plan to share with neighbors (they have expressed an interest in rabbit meat.)

Our first meal with rabbit was simply pressure cooked rabbit with no seasonings (so that we could taste it with no herbs or spices).

Our bunnies weren’t fat enough to harvest last week. They need to be 5 pounds in order to process them. That ensures that you’ll have enough meat to make it worth the effort.

Hopefully by early November they’ll make weight. It’ll be interesting to go through the meat processing, uh, process. We have a high powered air pellet rifle (so stand down, bad guys!) which has enough power to take out a rabbit with one shot. We have a commercial stainless steel sink (with a drain board) in the mud room where I’ll be processing the dead rabbits. We have a good knife. We have three boys who can help with the process. We have chickens who can clean up the rabbit offal and magically turn those guts into a clutch of lovely speckled brown eggs. Cirrrrrcle of liiiife.

Now I just need to steel myself for the day when we actually have to process our bunnies.

Heather’s probably not going to post this, so I guess I will… Clover the sheep died on October 2. We don’t know why. She had no appetite for a couple months prior to death.

Recently I’ve been viewing our entire property as a growing space. There are little plants popping up in the grass, the gravel and the wood chips. There’s something green everywhere.

Up until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to what any of it was. It all fell into the “weed” category, or sometimes the “pretty weed” category.

But I started learning more about medicinal herbs, and quickly discovered that many of them “follow” humans. Yarrow, plantain, dandelion, blackberry. I was stunned to find out that our backyard is a literal pharmacy–full of pain killers, astringents, anti-parasitics, diuretics, laxatives, antibacterials, antifungals, sedatives, carminatives, and anti-inflammatories. All within an itty-bitty plot of land and all in rich abundance.

Yesterday I accidentally squeezed a little part of my thumb in between the pinching part of a nutcracker. (Don’t ask.) It not only broke the skin, but took a 1mm x 2mm chunk out of it. I quickly washed it off, but blood kept coming out. I ran outside to a clean patch of yarrow leaves, smashed them between my fingers to create a spitless poultice (because mouth bacteria, eww!) and jammed the dark green, leafy paste into the bloody hole in my thumb. The bleeding stopped and the pain never came. I was waiting the rest of the day for the throbbing that typically accompanies deep cuts–but it never came!

So there’s my first real experience with backyard pharmaceuticals. They work. Some of them may take days or weeks to take full effect, but using yarrow to stop bleeding was instantaneous and miraculous.

I’m seed saving!

This is the first time I’ve ever seed saved. I’m doing it because seeds were hard to come by this year. Not super hard to come by, just annoyingly hard to come by. Everyone decided to grow a garden and it took the seed companies by surprise.

We’ll, I don’t want to be taken by surprise next spring. We’re going to have tomatoes, beans, garlic and corn. And a bunch of other stuff. It’ll be a great year, just like this year was!

Soldiers of flavor

For the past three days I’ve been picking and saving tomatoes so that I could do a large batch of fire roasted salsa.

Today was that day. It began with picking and washing tomatoes of all shapes, types and colors. We’ve got paste tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pear tomatoes, striped tomatoes and that about it.

Then I put the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet with parchment paper. The tomatoes roasted in a 450 F degree oven, then I blasted them with the broiler to blacken and blister their skins. This is the secret to the sauce.

I got 12 pints today. My family can easily inhale a pint of salsa as a pre-dinner snack, so 12 pints is less than 2 weeks worth of salsa. Kind of weak, but I’m happy that we canned our own homemade salsa this year. It may not fill our family’s yearly salsa needs 100% but it’s a step toward self sufficiency, and that’s what matters.

Next year, though, my salsa ambitions are going to scare you. Who wouldn’t love knowing that they have access to a fresh new jar of organic, home grown, home processed fire-roasted salsa 365 days of the year. At 12 jars per canning session, that’s a lotta math and a whole lot more tomatoes.

365 divided by 12 pints = about 30 days

This means that for the entire month of August, I’d have to can a dozen jars of salsa every day.

Road trippin’ with my friend, Mme. Cherry Tomato

Yesterday, amid the smoke, fires, destruction, and global pandemic I harvested about 20 pounds of tomatoes from our 6-row kitchen garden. This is the largest tomato harvest of the season so far!

Gardens bring hope, that’s true. But they also bring something that runs a really close second: fire-roasted salsa. And now, because of a couple hours effort, our family has 16 pints of nature’s gift to tortilla chips.

In yesterday’s batch of salsa I carefully altered the recipe (which your not supposed to do because it’s risky with water bath canning + acid levels). I subbed our gypsy peppers instead of jalapenos (we didn’t plant any hot peppers this year). I subbed our flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro (which would have required another trip to the store–no gracias). And I subbed lemon juice for lime juice because we had lemon juice open in the fridge.

I’m hoping that in just a few days we’ll have another huge, 20 lb. haul of vine-ripened tomatoes. I promise to make more salsa!

I feel very sad for people who have chosen to cut tomatoes out of their lives. We harvested about 15 pounds this morning. They are bursting with the essence of summer. I can’t imagine my life without tomatoes.

These ones will become fire-roasted diced tomatoes, which I will either bottle, freeze or dehydrate. Haven’t decided yet.

Pear sauce on oatmeal

It ain’t pretty, but it’s breakfast.

This morning while canning chunky pear sauce and talking to Josh about our kitchen cabinets, I discovered this ugly but delicious combination: oatmeal and pear sauce (with a splash of whole milk).

This pear sauce takes the place of any and all sweeteners for oatmeal. Buh-bye brown sugar. In fact, pear sauce is not only crazy levels of sweet, but it’s also gratefully loaded with fiber, which helps slow down the digestion–which is a great thing when sugar is involved. Sugar + fiber=nature’s way of keeping you healthy. Thanks, Mme. Nature!

I obsessively adore this chunky pear sauce! It immortalizes the fleeting flavor of fresh picked pears and entombs it in a glistening glass sarcophagus. It has a bold grittiness, toothsome appeal, and assertive texture that is missing from sleepy old Mott’s applesauce. I’m not even sure that pear sauce is commercially available, which makes it a billion percent more desirable.

“Rah-rah for pear sauce!” said the homemaker, as she bottled and preserved 16 pints of the golden, lumpy, half-pureed nectar . The sun hung golden in the sky, like a ripe pear.