Monday, August 25, 2014

And I thought jelly season was over

Not blueberries
So anyway, I'm walking thru the back yard on Sunday when I smelled something.  Not in a 'check your shoe' way, but in the way that makes you stop and inhale to make sure it really smells as good as you thought the first time.

It did. 

The 100 degree week* has done amazing things to my Concord grapes. The whole freaking yard smelled like a jelly sandwich.  So I grabbed the scissors and fought the spiders** and a few wasps and managed to get, after sorting, about 8# of almost quarter-sized grapes, while leaving plenty for the birds.  So it looks like a big, fat batch of jelly tomorrow.  Maybe the last of the year for sure this time.

Except that the lovely and gracious Rogue, who has put away 5 cases of applesauce in the past week, just brought in another 10 gallons of fat, juicy apples that are dying to become jelly as well.

* About the only one we've had here this year, I'm happy to report.
** Spiders last about 5 minutes in the deep freeze.  I gave them 24 hours just so they knew I'd won.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Apples and peaches and pears, oh my!


So anyway, by the time I got home from work today, the lovely and gracious Rogue had knocked out about a case of applesauce. Still about three buckets of apples left to go. Maybe by the time we finish those the pears will have ripened up enough to start them as well...

I would say I'm gonna need more jars, but it's absolutely amazing how much fruit a half dozen or more kids can eat.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Making Wild Plum Jelly

Wild things
I made plum honey jam a few years ago after hitting a decent fruit clearance sale.  It wasn't great. In fact, it took a few years to burn thru the case or so that I made.  In all probability, I'll never make it again.

However, with this year's bumper crop of wild/American plums, I figured I would try something different.  Never made jelly with them before, so what the heck?  Let's do this.

For those fuzzy on the difference between jelly and jam, here it is in nutshell: jam uses all the parts of the fruit* whereas jelly is made from just the juice. With jam you just mash everything into a medium like sugar or honey. To make jelly, we need juice and lots of it, which sometimes proves a problem when dealing with wild fruit.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, so let's start with the first things.

The first thing we need is a simple jelly recipe. This one from Taste of Home Magazine demands some 5 pounds of wild plums, 7 1/2 cups of sugar, and a package of powdered pectin.

The recipe in a nutshell:
  1. Simmer 5 lbs of halved and pitted plums for about 30 minutes.  Strain 5 1/2 cups of juice.
  2. Boil the juice and the pectin. Add 7 1/2 cups of sugar. Full boil that for another minute.
  3. Scoop the resulting jelly into half-pint jars and boiling-water process those for 5 minutes.
Pretty easy, but...

To make jelly we need juice.  So the first thing we have to do with our plums is cook them down.  The recipe says to halve and pit them in preparation for cooking.  Given the miniscule size of our prunus americanas, that would take on the order of a month and a half to make 5 pounds. Using the cherry pitter didn't work, either. So to make the job easier, I froze them.  Once they thawed they got kind of mushy, so I could simply squeeze most of them to get the pit out.

One side note, with wild plums you want to use red plums, not purple.  The yellow/orange ones have no juice, the deep purple ones have very dark, soft meat that seems almost rotten. But the reds are firm and juicy with meaty, yellow innards.  Good thing we have lots of those.

The chickens will feast tomorrow.
But perhaps not enough.  I cooked down just over 5# of plums and got a very consistent mush.  The recipe calls for straining that mush thru 4 pieces of cheesecloth.  Instead, I put the mush thru a big sieve, then the strainings thru a finer one.  I put those strainings thru a jelly bag and got some beautiful, clear purple juice.  Unfortunately, I got only about 4 cups of that. What I had mostly was a dry, sloppy mush that resembled stroganoff vomit. It brought back some very bad memories.

So we'll put our juice back in the pan and fire it up, but we'll have to adjust our recipe just a bit.  I actually added all the pectin - liquid instead of powder - because there are few things less useful than 1/2 ounce of leftover liquid pectin.  Once it got to a good boil, I added 5 cups of sugar. That's a little less than the ~80% target based on our juice, but since we're over on the pectin it ought to be alright.  I gave it an extra minute of hard boil just to be sure.

Jelly season is complete.
Now comes the moment of truth, or actually, 5 minutes of truth in the open boiler.  The recipe should have produced 8 half-pints.  Being short juice, I'm not surprised that I ended up with ~7.

What I am surprised about is how good it tastes.  The chicken slop is dry and sour, but adding lots of sugar to this juice** balanced it out quite nicely.  It jelled easily but not into a little half-pint brick like my jalapeno jelly did.  As of 10:00, one of the jars hasn't sealed, so one might end up in the fridge tomorrow.

Which is awesome, because the jelly is much, much better than the plum honey jam ever was. I'm pretty sure I'll have no problem making enough bread to get rid of all of it this winter.

* Excluding pits generally, but including small seeds like those in strawberries.
** Usually with jelly one runs about 50/50 juice and sugar.  This one is closer to 60/40 sugar.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Earn your preps

Treasures from my home town
It's difficult to stay motivated when it comes to prepping.  I've noticed this tendency most frequently among those who buy their preparations in one big shot - they spend a bunch of money "getting ready" and once they are done, they either forget about the whole thing,* or worse, interpret every headline as The Big One to try to stay focused. Not only is the boy-who-cried-wolf approach tiresome, it can actually distract you from deepening your preparations.

So how does one remain motivated to keep preparing other than watching disaster pr0n and living off fear's adrenaline?  One way that I have found is to deny yourself the satisfaction of prepping without truly earning it.  And by that I don't mean spending your hard-earned wages on preps. I mean earning that prep by doing something prep-related to get it.

Let me give you an example.  The adjustable wrenches pictured above were made by the Diamond Calk Horseshoe Company (later Diamond Tools) of Duluth, Minnesota.  That happens to be my home town.  Having grown up around Diamond Tools** my whole life, I can testify that tools like these would likely be inherited by my children.  I am not going to wear out a Diamond adjustable wrench, much less 4 of them.  And the price on Ebay, including shipping, was a mere $30 for all of them. Wrenches for life.  How easy could this be?

Yes, I could have just put them on a plastic card.  I'd have solid wrenches to add to the workbench and I'd be that much more tooled up for whatever comes.  But a few years ago I promised myself that I would not spend just any old dollars on preps, but only dollars I earned from prep-related activities.***  So to get these masterful wrenches, I needed to restore and sell 3 reloading dies or sell 15 copies of The SHTF Stockpile, or maybe sell 5 boxes of horseradish crowns.  I was not going to use wages, but I was going to use the motivation of need - well, of desire anyway -  to advance my prepping on 2 fronts at once.

In the end I sold the dies. The money from the first went into replacement dies, while the money from the other two brought me four adjustable wrenches that are now part of my SHTF Stockpile.  I got my preps, I restored a few tools, I provided prep items to three other people. What's most valuable prep-wise is that I didn't rely on my current job to do it, I used my preps to increase my preps.

Preparation is much more than having stuff. It's having the tools and the skills to get the stuff you need.  Find a prep-related way to get that and not only will you stay motivated, you'll advance your other preps at the same time. 

* Subconsciously expecting, I guess, that those freeze-dried green beans will taste even better in 2034 than they don't today.
** as many liberated by employees as purchased on the open market. 
*** After the absolute basics, which I already had.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rogue's turn at the canner

The lovely and gracious Rogue puts Sunday's apples to good use

Anyway, posting has been a little weird because the roofers knocked the satellite dishes out of whack, so no internet at home.  I'm pretty surprised at how much I don't miss it.  Except to check the SHTF Map when I wake up. It seems to have replaced Weather.com as the go to place for realtime weather...

Monday, August 4, 2014

That didn't take long


Apple Day

Plus some peaches and a cantaloupe
I feel less bad about the fledgling Granny Smith that got eaten by bunnies now that one in the orchard is really producing. So it looks like apple pies and canned apple pie filling this week. Plus, from the reds, lots and lots of applesauce, cider, and maybe some apple wine (which I have never made before) if I can round up a couple of glass gallon jugs.*

But it was quite instructive to note the difference that a few codling moth traps made. The Granny didn't have any traps in it and I would guess that about half of the apples had some damage. Minor damage to be sure, but still enough to notice.  On the other hand, the tree with those reds was right next to it and holds two quart-size traps that are literally filled to the top with dozens and maybe even hundreds of dead moths.  And I would guess that maybe one apple in five from that tree had damage.  The difference - not just between the trees but between last year and this year - is astonishing.

Next year, codling moth traps go in even before the blooms come out.  I just hope I can still get bananas for the traps.

* OTOH after looking at a couple recipes, good grief.  15 lbs of apples needs 8 lbs of sugar.  Maybe I'll just stick with cider.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cheater

It's OK to not follow the recipe
So I have to admit, I'm pretty happy with my salsa.  It's a deep red, it's thick, it's spicy.  And it's all those things because I cheated on the recipe.

I mentioned in The SHTF Stockpile that while I'm not a fan of storing freeze-dried foods generally, I'm a big fan of dried canning mixes.  This is not only because I'm lazy, but because when learning a new skill, like canning, you need to have some success.  While storing a bunch of bottles of salsa is a prep, making a bunch of them is a prep and an experience.  Using a canning mix can go a long way toward making that experience a good one.

That said, my home-grown tomatoes are not such a deep red, nor does the canning mix I used have big chunks of bell peppers, onions, and jalapenos like this salsa.

So here's how I cheated:  Yeah, I followed the instructions on the back of the package.  Except that instead of using 6 lbs of fresh tomatoes or 3 14-oz cans of canned ones, I went 2/3 fresh* and 1/3 canned - that way I got the texture of the fresh tomatoes and the color of the canned ones.  In addition to the mix, I chopped in a dozen fresh jalapenos and a couple of bell peppers from the garden and added a handful of freeze-dried onions.**

The result?  A hot(ter) salsa with deep color, fresh-tomato texture, chunks of peppers and onions, but which was still balanced and (most importantly) safe to open-boil can because it followed an established recipe. Eventually, probably, we'll have to get along without mixes and perhaps even store-bought vinegars.  But experimenting and practicing today will make that eventuality much easier, and one would hope, much safer.

* including a couple under-ripe ones. Not green, though, just sort of orange.
** See, I even cheat on the stuff I say I don't like. Actually, freeze-dried onions are one of the most useful freeze-dried foods you'll find.  Especially if you want to save your garden onions for topping burgers.