September 24, 2013

Harvest Time: Grapes

This is the third bowl of grapes harvested this year. This is the biggest bowl I have, sitting here in one of our patio chairs. I didn't weigh it but I expect it's about 25-30 pounds of grapes.

At the time I brought this bowl in, I already had 8 pints of home-dried raisins in the fridge.

I now have several pounds of frozen grapes in the freezer.

And I've given away grapes to several neighbors, at least one of whom had jelly ambitions.
I have not made grape jelly this year as we are still eating our way through the batch from a few years back. Turns out I easily make more jam/jelly than we eat.

Clearly, I need to prune the grape back harder. Or I need to know someone with a grape press and penchant for small batches of wine.

Introductions appreciated!

September 20, 2013

Harvest time: Tomatoes

I think I'm going to stop trying to grow any tomatoes that aren't a cherry variety. For the last few years, I've put in a couple cherry tomato plants and a couple of others. I get little tomatoes, Sungolds and Sweet Millions, not loads, but some, but very few of the big tomatoes. My neighbors last year got lots of big tomatoes, so it's probably more my fault as a tomato grower than the fault of the tomatoes or our summers. But perhaps it's time to acknowledge and run with what I appear to be good at.

Because I can still buy boxes of tomatoes from our farmers' market. Since we still have leftovers from last year's canning, I only got 60 pounds this year.

It takes all day and I'm a bit batty by the end of it, but I can process all 60 lbs in one go. I would have gotten an even 24 quarts out of it except two jars didn't seal. But when you add the 22 jars that did seal to the 15 we had left from last year, you're putting 37 quarts of tomatoes in the pantry and that feels pretty good. (I've made a note on my pantry inventory list so that I can note when we use up those leftover 15 quarts, which will help determine if 60 lbs of tomatoes is the way to go next year or if I should continue scaling back.)

The big change in the tomato routine this year was to recapture sauce from what would have previously gone straight to the compost. I got this from Northwest Edible Life last year: take all the skins and cores that would have gone to the compost pile, put them in a pot, cook them down, run it through the blender, then run that through the food mill. The result: 9 pints of pure tomato sauce. From something I was going to send to the compost. I had no idea.

It's a lot of work, hot and sticky and hell on the hands (burned knuckles from packing tomatoes into hot jars, the occasional knife knick, the sting of lemon and tomato juices), and I'm almost always a basketcase when I'm done, but I'm not ready to let go of my home-canned tomatoes. Local organic tomatoes packed into reusable glass. We eat too much pasta sauce around here to give this up.

(Oh, I also made a couple batches of tomato preserves. See previous post on preserves. You'll be coming for grilled cheese sandwiches, right?)

September 17, 2013

Preserving Season

I've discovered Preserves this summer. Sure, I've been "preserving" for a few years now: freezing, drying, canning, etc. And I've certainly preserved fruit before.

But a Preserve. It's not whole or sliced fruit floating in simple syrup. It's not jam or jelly. It's somewhere between the two: chunks of fruit in a syrup, often with additional flavors. I know it sounds strange, but I'm finding preserves to be a little bit more flexible, more "ready to eat" than just fruit in jars.

See, I canned apricots back in 2010. Almost 20 pints of golden orange yumminess. We're still eating them. A pint is just slightly too much, so a jar gets opened and then it gets ignored until, in desperation for fridge space, I make a smoothie. (No, I'm not going to pack apricot halves into half-pint jars... that's just crazy.) Canned apricots go well on yogurt, but not on pancakes or ice cream. And they've already been cooked (via the canning process) so they don't really work in tarts or pies. I suppose I could make an apricot cobbler out of them by cooking them down some more.

But with preserves, it's all ready to go. Warm the preserve gently, add topping and pop it in the oven. It can also be a pancake topping. A yogurt stir-in. A toast spread. And a cake upgrader. All in one jar! With this approach, I might actually stockpile less food each year.

peach preserves
Besides, they are just pretty! These are peach preserves. I've got apple and tomato as well in the pantry (no, I'm not likely to put tomato preserve on ice cream, but it's amazing in a sandwich), and plans for several berry varieties. I'll probably stop there... I expect I'll be out of jars!

September 13, 2013

Harvest Time: Pumpkins

Some people grow enormous squash. This week at our farmers' market, our favorite farmer brought in a squash so folks could guess its weight. It was a funny looking thing, about three feet long, a foot tall, just over a foot wide, with a all-over bumpy surface. I watched a man lift his son, then lift the squash, to better gauge the weight of the squash.

I guessed it to be 96 lbs. Caitlyn refused to guess, although she admitted to wanting one of the farmers' market t-shirts that was the prize. The farmer told me (later, not near the squash) that my guess was a "little high".

Of course it was. I only grow tiny squash.
The pumpkin on the right is about 4 inches tall.

You should see my butternut squashes. They are even tinier. Single-serve, even. Except I might be able to eat two of them.

September 10, 2013

A Beach Blanket Quilt

Back at the beginning of the summer, Stash was approached by the local portion of the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases for contributions to their silent auction portion of a fundraiser they were planning for later in the season. We put out a call for donations, and I committed to making a quilt. Since the fundraiser's theme was going to be "Beach Party" (referencing the movies that made Ms. Funicello famous), I attempted to go with a beach blanket theme for the quilt.

beach blanket quilt
I'm not sure I've quite captured the idea, but this is the quilt that resulted. I used a jelly roll of "Salt Air", piecing the strips together lengthwise in groups of 10, then cutting the strip sets into width-wise (is that a word?) strips again, 2.5 inches and 6 inches tall. These smaller strips-of-strips got put back together, alternating heights. I was going for something striped like an old-fashioned beach blanket but wanted to give it a bit of a twist. The final result is about as long as a typical beach towel and just a little wider. Someone (not me!) could totally put this on grass or sand and work on their tan. Or two people could have a side-by-side picnic.

beach blanket quilt
My favorite part turned out to be the binding. I had a couple extra strips of strips which I augmented with strips from the backing fabric. I was a little worried that it'd be weird to sew the binding down with so many seams in it or that it would look strange, but I'm pretty pleased with how this turned out.

beach blanket quilt
My friend Marissa quilted it for me. Usually I'd insist on quilting it myself but since this was destined for donation (and I was on vacation for part of the summer), I gratefully turned it over to Marissa when she offered. She used a water-splash motif that's just perfect for the beachy theme.

Unfortunately, the fundraiser has been postponed (personal drama in the life of the organizer, I think) but I'm still taking this quilt in to Stash. It'll either be collected for next year's fundraiser or go on sale, I suppose. While I'm not unhappy with how it turned out, it's not really singing for me; I'm having no trouble letting go of this one.

September 06, 2013

Harvest Time: Apples!

The apple tree in the back yard has gone bonkers this year.
apple harvest, round oneI've made a first run at the apple harvest, filling this box more than half way. The apples are small and slightly underripe (read: pleasingly tart) and bake into lovely things.

apple breadLike this yeast-based apple bread, which smells amazing when it's baking and goes wonderfully with cheeses (we've tried chevre and cheddar so far; brie would be delightful).

apple muffinsOr these apple muffins. I may have made 6 batches of these for a neighborhood End of Summer community event, and my neighbors may have eaten every single one.

apple preservesAnd these jars of apple preserve. Slightly lemony and spiced with nutmeg, it's a bit like having a cup of apple pie filling in a jar. So far, we've put these preserves on toast and on yogurt. I bet they'd be amazing slightly warm and poured over ice cream. Or pancakes.

apples saucingAnd there were still apples left over, so naturally I made apple sauce. And an apple cake (doused with brandy).

At the moment, there are no more apples in the house. But there are more on the tree, roughly about the same number as I've picked already. And since there are fewer apples on the tree in total, the tree is busy make the remaining apples larger.

Does anyone have a portable apple press? Or a juicer? I could use one of those... Otherwise, you are all going to have to come over and eat Baked Things With Apples In Them.