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.

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.
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!

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.

Today I canned 16 pints of pear sauce (it’s just like apple sauce, but with pears!) Half the jars were smooth pear sauce, half were chunky. Hannah helped me wash and sort the ripe pears. It took a couple hours to get through all that fruit Just for fun we had a jar of chunky pear sauce with dinner tonight, and it was gone within minutes.

I still have more pears that are ripening, as well as apples and plums. What a blessing all this fruit is! Thanks to our neighbors for such a beautiful, bountiful harvest!!

I’ve been in food production mode this summer. Here are some of the fruits of my labors! Everything is made by hand, with lots of love.

All of the items in this box will be coming with us to Rexburg for our meetup with my parents. The contents will be divided between my parents and my siblings.

Kale choppin’ school is in session

This morning I harvested 12 ounces of dinosaur kale (lacinato). I chiffonaded it and bagged it up in 3 ounce portions.

I like the dinosaur kale because it’s a beautiful color, it’s sturdy, and when it’s sauteed with butter it turns a deep green.

Kale is wonderful. Swiss chard is terrible, but we have to keep growing it because the birds like it more than the kale. It saves our kale from the birds.

I went and picked more greens because I want to try making green powder. It’s a blend of dehydrated greens that are powdered in a food processor or blender. They can be added to smoothies and…that’s about it.

To preserve the nutritional integrity of the greens, they can be dehydrated on low heat or air dried.

The greens that I’m using are flat leaf Italian parsley, curly parsley, Swiss chard, and kale. I’d love to add more herbs, but my herbs are languishing this year. My fernleaf dill was eaten by slugs, and my sage and oregano aren’t off the ground yet. My chives died, too. Also, my rosemary is struggling with self-worth issues.

I picked 1 pound 12 ounces of greens. By the time they’re dried, they’ll weigh around 2 ounces, I’m guessing.

For the last few weeks Josh has been threatening to pull out the kale if we don’t start using it. The truth is that by the time I’m done making dinner, the last thing I want to do is harvest a fistful of raw ingredient, dirty up another pan and prep a side dish–I’m just mentally ready to sit down and relax. Truly, I LOVE having kale with dinner. When Josh comes in from work with a bouquet of kale and pulls out a pan, I am so grateful.

Late last night as we sat around the table with the kids, Josh started looking up ways to preserve kale. (No way I’m canning it–that’s gross) He suggested freezing it raw or blanching it first then freezing it. Less work is better, so I ran out to the garden in the dark and grabbed some to wash and freeze so we could test it out.

This morning I cooked the frozen kale, which didn’t even need to be defrosted. I put a little water in the pan, threw in the frozen kale, steamed it, then quickly and buttered/salted it. It was PERFECT!

Today I picked, portioned, and processed 2 lbs 12 ounces of kale (both varieties that we have). I froze them in 3 ounce chunks, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in a freezer bag. I was able to get 9 three ounce pouches of washed, deveined and ready-to-steam kale.

Today was a big day.

The Case tractor was down for a couple months to fix the clutch. The clutch fork partially broke and no longer worked. I scoured eBay and found a replacement. I also scoured eBay to fins replacement oil seals for the hydraulic pump. When we tried to put the tractor back together, we didn’t get the hydraulic shaft splines lines up and warped the clutch pressure plate. After two failed attempted to buy a replacement, I finally got one on the third try for $270. This time, we took the access cover off the side of the torque tube and put things back together very carefully, checking frequently as we went, and it worked. Today, we finished putting all the other pieces back on, and we started it up and drive it around. I considered replacing the clutch disc while we had the tractor split, but a replacement is almost as expensive as the pressure plate, so I didn’t.

Next, we need to replace one of the rear wheel rims, which has rusted out. Our neighbor Jon might be able to find one. We also need to fix leaks in the front hydraulic pump and left brake assembly.

Also today, the bees came. The boys worked hard the past few weeks to assemble the beehive, and today we got the nuc. The nuc cost $120, and we’ve spent another couple hundred on the hive and equipment. We probably won’t be able to harvest any honey the first year.

Heather pressure cooked 50 pounds of chicken and 7 pounds of beef this week. She also dehydrated about a quart of celery, carrots, mushrooms, and onions.

We are considering getting rabbits to breed for meat.