Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Pickle Jalapenos

The Replacements
It's time to start looking for an easy way to fill up the empty rack space we created on Friday.  Perhaps a few jars of peppers could do the trick...

Though I loved the old peppers, I was never really happy with their consistency. Because I had gone with a canning recipe rather than a pickling one, the taste was great, but they were a bit mushy.  The short reason is that, when you can something you're relying on heat to kill the bacteria. But heat also breaks down veggies like peppers pretty quickly.  They don't turn to mush, but they don't retain any kind of crunch, either.

When you pickle something, you're relying on acidity to do the same job.  So I picked out a pickling recipe from The Food Network.  Let's see how that turned out.

Look, Ma, no gloves.
The first thing we need to do with this recipe is to utterly ignore the total preparation time. 25 hours? Ain't nobody got time for that.  We're going to do it all in about half an hour.

Here's what we need:

Jalapenos.  That might be important.  The recipe calls for one pound, sliced.  That's going to make a pretty small batch - about a quart - but we'll do it by the book this time and modify it in the future.  I usually don't like to break out the canner for anything less than 6 pints. Anyway, slice 'em up.

Salt. 2 tbsp of pickling salt or 4 tbsp of kosher salt.  I know nothing about kosher, so pickling salt it is.

Garlic, 2 cloves.  I've got some left over from my earlier attempts to plant garlic.*  The Wal Mart 'planting' garlic looks like crap, so I threw most of it in the trash into the mulch bucket and just used some of the leftover 'organic' garlic.  The recipe didn't say to slice or dice, so I threw them in whole.

Whole black peppercorns, 1 tbsp, optional. I used them.

Honey, 1 tbsp, optional.  I used it.

Water (2 cups) and vinegar (2 cups).  Combined with the salt, this is going to make a challenging environment for our friendly neighborhood bacteria.  So let's combine them.  In fact, throw everything into the brine except the peppers and bring it to a good boil. Then back the heat off to a simmer.

The small one goes into the fridge.
Make sure you have your jars, lids, and canner ready, because this next part is going to happen fast.

Drop the peppers into the brine, stir it up, and bring it back to a boil.

As soon as it boils, ladle it into hot jars, fasten the lids, and drop them into the canner for a nice 5-minute bubble bath rolling boil. Pull them out and you're done.

So what about it?  Well, despite the fact that this was deemed an 'intermediate' recipe, the hardest thing about it was making sure to get one clove of garlic in each jar.  In other words, it's simple.

Secondly, since I had a little left over, I got a chance to check the taste and consistency right away - both are very good compared to the old peppers.  While not 'pickle' crunchy, the peppers have some body.**  The peppercorns and garlic add a lot to the flavor.  I can't taste the honey at all.  

So I'd have to say that overall this recipe looks like a success. There also appears to be nothing in it that would keep you from doubling or quadrupling it for larger batches. And larger batches are what's on the way by the looks of the pepper bed.

* which are now a rousing success, I might add.
** The ones actually canned may have less, however, as they were cooked longer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The pepper bed

And the radishes underneath are coming along fine, thank you.
And man do I have peppers. Picked about a quart this week, gave lots more away, and am just about ready to start canning a few.  The only problem is that I still have a couple cases left over from a prior year's bumper crop.

I'm not sure that it's a problem so much, but I really don't like the idea of dumping 8 or 9 quarts and a dozen pints of peppers on the mulch pile.  The chickens might not like that very much.  But they're* not getting any younger, and despite my best efforts,** I will not be able to eat all of these this year. And pantry space looks like it's going to be at a premium.

So in the meantime I'm giving them away to coworkers and bagging them in the crisper. Since I've got cherry jelly on the schedule for tomorrow, the first batch of pickled canned peppers might have to wait until Friday. 

Hopefully by that time I can acquire a pair of unpowdered surgical gloves to wear while I slice them all up.  Cutting them with bare hands last time made me afraid to go to the bathroom for something like 12 hours. My fingers didn't smell like I'd smothered them in Ben Gay and then set them on fire, but they sure felt like it.

* either the peppers or the chickens. Or me, for that matter.
** The only way I have not tried peppers is in a cereal bowl with milk on top.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Build a codling moth trap

(l) after one week; (r) after one minute. Not the same.
Despite the overblown claims that vinegar is just as good as Round-Up at killing weeds, there is one thing that vinegar is good at killing: codling moths.

Codling moths are nasty.  If you find a 'worm' or a 'worm hole' in an apple, it's probably neither.  Odds are it's the result of a codling moth laying eggs on your trees, which eggs then hatch larva that burrow into your fruit (leaving a small hole), eat for three weeks, then burrow out (leaving a large hole).  The fattened larva then crawl to the ground or hide under the tree's bark, emerging the next spring as moths. These moths then lay eggs, beginning the cycle again.

Other than blasting your tree with alar or other things you really don't want to eat any more than worms, there are a couple of approaches that hold promise for controlling your codling moths.

The first is to create a concoction of one cup vinegar, one cup sugar, and a bit of banana peel. Put it in a milk jug, fill the jug with water, then hang the whole shebang from a high branch of your apple tree.  Unlike the worthless,* vinegar-based Weed-Be-Gone, this recipe showed promise immediately: the jug on the left is not simply discolored for the benefit of those with flash photography, it's full of dead moths, flies, and mosquitoes.

The second, which we shall be trying this fall, is to catch the codling moths caterpillars as they descend the tree by wrapping a six-inch-wide strip of cardboard about the trunk in August. You wrap the cardboard flat side in with the holes facing up-and-down, and the larva, upon encountering it, decide that this corrugated paradise is a convenient place to spend the winter.  One chilly December morning, you provide your guests some much-needed warmth by tossing all the cardboard into a pile and setting it on fire.

The first part of the strategy seems to work fine: after barely a week, I have lots of dead moths.**  The second? Well, we'll see how well the second does. I have this brush pile that will be just about ready to burn once the snow starts falling...

* ok, so it's not entirely worthless.  After 5 days, my weeds have a few leaves that have turned brown around the edges. 
** I have also agreed to pay TK and Molly a nickel for each moth they kill with a badminton racket.  That's not as successful.  Thus far I have paid out about 45 cents and need two new badminton rackets.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Making Wild Blackberry Jam

Leave the red ones for tomorrow.
One of the things I'm trying to do more of this year is take advantage of the wild fruit that grows around here. Sure, I've occasionally produced a batch of wine or jam from this bounty, but I've never made a habit of it.  Which means I've never collected my recipes nor gathered notes on them.

Also, I've seen very few reviews of stuff (like a certain vinegar-based weed killer) that simply doesn't work.  I find both types of commentary to be valuable. 

So lucky you. At least until I create a proper recipe system, I'm just going to chronicle recipes and notes here.  Unlucky for Five Boys' Mom's diet, today we made wild blackberry jam.

I chose this specific recipe (a new one for me) because you don't always get a nice round volume of berries when you pick your own fruit - I wanted one that could be easily adjusted for odd sizes.  Plus, since these blackberries are pretty tart, I wanted to go with sugar rather than honey as a sweetener.  This one fits the bill, so let's see what comes of it.

The recipe is simple:
  1. Combine x cups of wild blackberries with x cups of sugar.
  2. Boil it up to 220 degrees.
  3. Ladle the jam into hot jars.
  4. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Mission accomplished?
It really couldn't be simpler.  Lots of other recipes call for added pectin and/or a cooking time based on batch size.* For this one, I dropped 12 cups of ripe blackberries in 12 cups of sugar, mashed it up, and started boiling.  Half an hour later - *plink* *plink* - I hear the comforting sounds of lids snapping down.  Mission accomplished.

Or is it?  The first thing I noticed while cooking is that this jam is thin.  Gruel thin.  Getting the temp up to 220 doesn't take long, and most recipes want you to cook it down a bit to give the liquid some body.  The second thing I noticed is that when I pulled the jars from the canner, all the seeds were suspended in the top halves of the jars.  That's a hint that 10 minutes in boiling water did not change the consistency all that much.

But since I had a little left over, I poured it in a half-pint jar and popped it in the fridge to see if this concoction might thicken up a bit on cooling. It does, but not enough. The jam will stick to a cold spoon like crazy. But it's also pourable, like a thick syrup.  I mentioned in my post on strawberry honey jam that I like my jam thin.  But not this thin. All that complaining aside, I must note that it tastes freaking amazing.

So we have three options:
  1. Live with excessively thin jam**
  2. Re-cook it to a proper thickness, add some pectin, and re-can it
  3. Pretend it was supposed to be syrup all along.
Either of the last 2 is probably a winner, and I suspect that I'll ultimately split the difference, keeping the larger jars as syrup and re-canning the smaller ones as jam.  Good thing there are lots of berries left to pick, because we'll probably have the chance to try this again next weekend. With a new recipe, of course.

I'll let you know how it goes.

* 4 cups of berries seems to be the norm.
** And never give any of it away.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where to Live XI - of Soil and Starvation

Hear the plaintive cry of the Ozark Prepper:
Missouriwannabe: Ozark soil gardening? Yeah, right. How in the world do I garden in this soil? I'm from central Illinois. Throw seeds on the ground here and you'll get perfect crops. I go down to our 40 acres in southern Missouri with my shovel and all I dig up is sand and rock. What can ya do to get those crops to grow down there?

holmeed: Beats me. I'm from Northern Ill and Wis and its terrible.

GraniteStater: Plant some trees instead. The soil in the Ozarks is not great for farming and gardening like it is in the Midwest core... 
One does not have to follow preppers for too long to learn that the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and northern Arkansas are an unparalleled bugout location.  They have a low population density, the area has minimal natural disasters,* and as the author of the just-linked article notes, it's a great place to be if the oceans rise.**  Alex Jones assures us that the Globalists(™) are all building their castles here because it's so perfect. And it is just about the only place in the central Midwest to receive Joel Skousen's top recommended rating. Surely this scientific consensus means it's a great place to relocate.

No, it's a terrible place.

Now even though I'm sitting at present right in the heart of the Ozarks, what I'm about to say does not apply only to this plateau but to anywhere you're considering as a bugout location an area suitable for strategic relocation. There is a general rule that is universally overlooked by people for whom geographic isolation trumps all other prep-related considerations: there is more to recovery than avoiding the initial disaster.

Harken back 100 years and ask yourself how the people lived in whatever area you're considering. The hillbillies Bald Knobbers people in the Ozarks were uniformly dirt poor and the entire area was subject to lawlessness, clan warfare, and eventually, waves of vigilantism. This desperate situation burned across the Ozark Plateau for 3 decades following the Civil War, and some of it well into the New Deal era.

Now expatriates from Nashville have discovered the beautiful Branson area and funded 30 years of capital improvements. New highways run through the mountains, beautiful cabins spring up behind gates and fences, country singers that everyone thought were dead open theaters on the main drag of a city that has tripled in population over that period.

Yet half of the children in this area still live in poverty. And there's a reason for that.  The Ozark plateaus are covered with thin, rocky, relatively poor soil that is subject to frequent droughts. Or, as MissouriWannabe discovered upon setting spade to his 40 acres: sing all you want, you still can't grow anything here.

The soil of the Ozarks is a matchless combination of limestone rock, clay, and sand.  If you want to live on pine cones and skinks, the Ozarks will suit you fine.  If you want to eat people-food for the rest of your life, you're going to have to implement one of two options:
a) move here today and get to work building your soil and your relationships.
b) plan to move somewhere else.
If you bug out to 40 pristine acres in SHTF, you're going to live a life just like the people of this land lived 100 years ago: nasty, brutish, and short, with vigilantes at your door and hookworms squirming in your stool. And you'll be surrounded by desperate, bitter, rickets-addled subsistence farmers who will treat you as an invader. Gold and silver will avail you nothing, for no one within hailing distance will have anything of value to trade you for it.***

No matter what area you choose to inhabit, you probably can't help how your neighbors live.  But you can help how you live.  Make sure the area you choose is self-sufficient in food - real food, not possums and wild mushrooms. Make sure the area you choose has markets or a way to move goods to and from them.  Finally, make sure the area you choose has the ability to produce wealth - food, mineral, metal, anything - because no matter the economy, the currency, and the politics that arise once the music stops, it is the production and trading of wealth that raises people out of their natural state of poverty.

The combination of geographic isolation, poor soil, and played-out lead mines just means the Ozark Prepper, even if all goes well, will die the richest rock farmer in his county. If you want to live better than that, now is the time to pick a better county.

* Other than the New Madrid Fault which could theoretically put an end to the Lake of the Ozarks Table Rock Lake by removing its dam.
** Though I am informed that one can drive there from New Orleans without much trouble.  
*** This is not a criticism of the Ozarks or its people - more than once this vacation I have gazed upon a beautiful mountain and said, I could live here. What's more, I meant it: this place is gorgeous and its residents are among the most friendly and genuine people you will ever meet. It is instead a criticism of those preppers who understand our present plight but expect that a last-minute geographical juke is all the planning they need to cope with it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Making Strawberry-Honey Jam

If it's June, then the junebearing strawberries are in full production mode.*  So what better time to get some of that bountiful harvest preserved before the garden really kicks in?  I can't think of any, so let's do this. 

1.  Start off with 6 pounds of strawberries, quartered.  If you let your strawberries really ripen, the jam will be smoother and sweeter, but I prefer to have a few chunks in mine, so I mix in a few underripe berries as well.  Not underripe as in white, just really firm and solid.

2.  Add 3 3/4 cups (3 pounds m/l) of honey.  Here's a place where you can experiment if you wish, as some people use a lot less honey and replace it with low-sugar pectin, fruit juice concentrate, and the like.  The more honey you add the less the result will resemble jelly. I like my jam to spread on thin.

3.  Toss in 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice.  Fresh-juiced lemon probably tastes the best, but I don't have any lemon trees so lemon juice from concentrate it is.  It works just fine.

This pot was not big enough.
4.  Add two apples, grated, including the skin but excluding the core.  I just grate the apples onto the top and then toss the cores into the chicken bucket; others use a blender to really smooth it out.  Some recipes demand Granny Smith apples - apparently they provide more pectin - but others aren't so fussy.  I tend to use Grannies because that's usually what I have in the house, but I really haven't noticed a difference using other apples.

5. Bring the whole thing to a rolling boil and then simmer it for about an hour.  You can go half that if you like; the jam is ready once everything is hot and mushy.  But the longer you cook it, the thicker the final product will be.  Once it's gone 30 minutes, I start the jars and whatnot. As soon as they are ready, I cut the boil. Don't forget to scrape the gunk off the top of the jam and toss it.

Mission Accomplished.
6. Slop the jam into smaller-than-quart jars leaving 1/4" - 1/8" headspace** then process it in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  I use my pressure canner and leave the lid off.  The jars don't need pressure and would not be in the water long enough to build it up anyway.

7.  Let them cool overnight then check the seals.  Any jar that doesn't seal properly needs to go in the fridge. If more than one seals improperly, you're doing it wrong.  Go back to Canning 101 before you kill somebody.

The above will probably take 2 hours max and should provide about 12 pints of strawberry-honey jam with no added sugar and no pectin.  That's about what it took me tonight even with the lovely and gracious Rogue making homemade burger rolls in the kitchen at the same time.

Strawberries aren't terribly messy, so cleanup is a breeze. And the girls really loved the still-hot jam on the fresh-baked rolls.   I'm actually lucky I had enough left for the pantry.

* Unless you're Giraffe, where June is spelled A-U-G-U-S-T.
** The chunkier it is, the more space you'll need. The smaller the jar, the less space.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Where to Live X - Asteroid Edition

Not actual size
Scientific American reckons the numbers of The Beast:
This Sunday (June 8), the near-Earth asteroid 2014 HQ124—which some observers have nicknamed "The Beast"—will give the planet a relatively close shave, coming within 777,000 miles at its closest approach, or about 3.25 times the distance from Earth to the moon...
That's cool.  Space is full of all kinds of stuff that flies by at really impressive speeds.  Those that will hit us will do some damage. Those that don't - which is nearly all of them - will go on their merry way and we on ours.  And unlike other items in our Where to Live series, there's really no place one can choose that will allow you to escape a giant space rock falling on your head.

But there's more to location than avoiding asteroids.*  There's also this:
Asteroid 2014 HQ124 was discovered on April 23, just six weeks ago... But that doesn't mean the asteroid would kill millions of people if it struck New York City or Tokyo.

"Once it's within radar distance, the precision is remarkably good on its position and speed," Boslough said. "So the folks at JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] would be able to predict its impact point to within the nearest kilometer and its time to within the nearest second."

There would thus probably be plenty of time to organize an effective evacuation campaign if 2014 HQ124 were headed straight for us...
So think about that for a minute.  Let's imagine that The Beast was coming for the New York City Metropolitan Area's 19.9 million kind and selfless residents.  No doubt about it - the big brains at the JPL deduce that The City That Doesn't Sleep will receive its wake-up call on June 8th at 5:43EDT, just atop the Metropolitan Museum of Art in downtown Manhattan. The Beast will destroy everything in a 20 mile radius and damage every building, track, road and bridge in a 50-mile radius, above ground and below.

The lab coats make this discovery on May 15th, about three weeks before impact. Let's skip all the conspiracy theorizing and agree that our scientist heroes get the green light to publicly announce "23 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."** That's hardly 'an effective evacuation campaign.' That's where the fun begins.

As with every hurricane evacuation order, there are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who simply ignore it and choose to ride it out. There are others - including the Metropolitan Museum of Art - who will make multiple trips back and forth to Philadelphia, hauling stuff that is certain to be destroyed if they don't. For every person tasked with actually planning and implementing the evacuation, there is one politician who has to blame the President or the Speaker and three bureaucrats who need to preen before the cameras or cover their asses for something or other.*** There are fights over jurisdiction and squabbles over overtime. Chris Christie's staff decides to close a busy bridge for political gain to do a last-minute traffic study.

Then, of course, there are people who, having defied evac orders previously, try to escape at the last minute anyway.  They flood the highways, block the bridges. They run out of gas and the most inopportune times or in the most inconvenient places. They do not care that the truck behind them, clearly marked Metropolitan Museum of Art, is carrying the priceless Obelisk of Thutmose III; nor could they do anything about it even if they knew what an obelisk was.

That bridge full of screaming, crying New Yorkers is exactly where you don't want to be.  If The Beast is going to fall on my township in Bugout County, Kansas, I can get a hotel room 30 miles up the road and go about my business. I'd actually be closer to work. I might even have time to get all the stuff out of my basement before a 100m space rock takes up residence there. My little dirt road will see no more traffic than it normally does, unless it's from urban idiots coming to watch the show. Hell, I would not even expect CBS's New York affiliate to cover it.

This kind of evacuation is simply not possible in a city of a million, much less 20 million people. Yes, they have lots of hotel rooms nearby.  But they do not have nearly enough U-Hauls, storage areas, or even roads to deal with the millions of people who will evacuate while saving as much stuff as possible. Stomp an anthill some time - that's NYC with a 3-week warning that an asteroid is about to land on it.  It does not get any better if you give the resident ants more time.  And it gets worse if you give them less.

The real danger in an SHTF scenario, even one as seemingly random and unavoidable as an asteroid, is not that big rock in the sky.****  It is being in close quarters with millions of others who are going to attempt the same thing you are, at the same time, but in a state of absolute panic.  The odds are very good***** that some of you, maybe a whole lot of you, aren't going to escape.

Don't be on the last train out.

* I had to laugh at a USA Today article on the asteroid that noted, "although there's no chance of it hitting our planet, experts say its massive size makes it something to take seriously." Why would one take seriously a non-threat? Have you reviewed your unicorn invasion defense strategy today?
** Jonah could not be reached for comment.
*** Plus it will take time for Al Sharpton to figure out how a space rock can be raciss. And Alex Jones and Joel Skousen have to blame it on globalists who are building bunkers in the Ozarks for just this purpose.
**** Provided, obviously, that you have sufficient warning that it is coming. Without such warning, I'll be the first to admit it might be a concern.
***** by which I mean, "very bad".

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Processing Horseradish

Before
Doom axes:
I think you suggested you grow horseradish? I would like to do that as well...
While speaking with my mother, though, she said she is done with the stuff. Neither love nor money could convince her to work with it. Hard to process, and akin to working with mace, she suggested.
So, if you have horseradish, and you do process it, is there a better way? 
I grow horseradish, process it, sell the crowns on ebay all winter at $3 apiece. I have two large beds presently and a freezer full of the stuff.  I love it, as it's about the easiest thing in the world to grow. And nothing is better on a rare sirloin than a dab of ground HR. As your mother noticed, however, it's not the easiest herb in the world to work with.

For making sandwich sauces and the like, here's how I do it:

1.  Dig the roots in late fall, after the tops die off but before the ground freezes. Timing affects the flavor, and dormant roots will give you the most mace for the buck.  With a 4' x 8' patch you'll have buckets, maybe a wheelbarrow full of thin, straight roots.  Cut off the top 4" of root and just shove it back in the ground with the crown up. That's next year's crop, and now that's out of the way.

2.  Wash the remaining roots and scrub off the mud chunks with a plastic brush. You're going to find some that are too big or too small to work with (either they break or you can't get the dirt out from between the folds).  Re-plant those pieces or mulch them depending on size - what you're looking for is straight pieces at least 6" long with a little body to them. Pencil-width or larger is plenty.

3.  Peel the skin off of the roots with a potato peeler.  This should leave you with long, straight, white roots.  So far, no mace, but that's coming soon enough.

4.  Dice the roots into 1/4" pieces.

5.  Now comes the fun part.  Find yourself an old blender, because what you're about to do is really hard on the machine.*  Drop enough of the diced roots into the blender to fill up the bottom 3-4" then fill to the top of the roots with white vinegar.

6.  Grind, starting coarse but going faster and finer, until the result is pretty much a paste.**    This is the part where the product resembles mace. DO NOT STICK YOUR NOSE OVER THE BLENDER.  If you find afterwards that the HR is not hot enough to knock your eyebrows out, you can start with less vinegar (the vinegar acts to reduce the heat).  But always add enough to keep your blender blades covered. The smoke of burning appliances adds nothing good to your final product, trust me.

7.  Scoop out the ground roots or dump the whole mess into a sieve and let the vinegar drain out. The more vinegar you remove, the hotter the batch will be.  If you're really a glutton for punishment, re-use the vinegar with the next batch of roots (there won't be much left, however). Keep filling, grinding, and draining until you run out of roots or until smoke comes out of the blender.

After
8. The resultant paste serves as the base for your preferred sauces.  Add it to ketchup to make cocktail sauce. Add it to Miracle Whip to make horsey sauce for burgers. You can add it to dijon mustard or chili sauce to give them a kick. Or you can just use it as is for steaks.  I slop my extra into Ball jars and put them the chest freezer - it will last a good year or longer. Of course, if you grow your own HR, you'll never need to store it that long anyway.

I never can horseradish, if by that we mean cook it and seal it in a jar.  I just grind it up one fall afternoon and freeze it.***  By the next summer it will have lost a little of its punch, unfortunately.  But that's ok, because fall is coming and you'll appreciate the new batch's pungency that much more.

* I destroy one at least every other year. Farm auctions, FTW!
** You can do this part without vinegar, but you'll need a new blender about every 30 seconds. That said, the more you grind before adding the vinegar, the hotter the result will be. There's a balance to these things.
*** You can always do it in small batches throughout the year as needed.  I just prefer to do it all at once.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Potatoes in a Barrel, Update III


This will probably be the last Potatoes in a Barrel update until we dump the whole mess over in the fall and take inventory. After all, what is left to show?

The taters began at the bottom line on the barrel and the dirt is now about 4" from the top (I'll cap it off tomorrow, leaving only an inch or 2 between rim and dirt).

I have planted horseradish in the top. I did a straight transplant of a handful of full plants from the edges of the patch where a few precocious plants are wandering away from the rest of the group.  The full-size leaves withered immediately, so I sliced them all off. Within a week I had new growth, so the HR looks like it will grow there all summer. It will be interesting to see how the roots here compare to the roots in the regular patch.

The planned bush beans look like they will not make it here.  While I have some sprouted, the potatoes are far too full to allow much else to grow beneath them. So we'll have to find another place for the beans.