Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canning time!

It is that time of year again. Time to start canning and preserving fruits and veggies. I just picked the last of the green peas that I planted in February and will be pulling up the vines today to get ready to plant green beans. Also this morning I took a gallon of strawberries out of the dehydrator (I have a packed quart of dried sliced berries now) and made 6 pints of jam. I still have about 1/2 a gallon of berries to decide what to do with. I may make some more jam. Not sure yet.

Today will also be the day I do a lot of yard work. We finally have a nice warm day after almost a solid month of rain. My daughter will be mowing while I am working in the garden (since she is graduated now and doesn't have to go to school), then I will have her help me move the compost I made over the winter and put it in the garden. I will get my husband to till it all in this evening and plant my green beans tomorrow. We will still have to figure out a trellis system for the garden since the green beans we have seed for will grow about 8 feet tall. Maybe some sort of hoop system that I can use as a hot house this fall and winter. We will see.

I am getting excited about the new canning season. Since I put up a bunch of food last year for the first time, I will know better this year what we will actually eat and what size jars to use to each item. I know that I don't need to put beans in quarts this year. We just don't eat that much of them. And I know that I will need to can a lot more tomatoes. We used all of them in about a month. We also used all of the corn I put in the freezer in about 5 months so I will need a lot more of that too.

We still have fruit though. For some reason, we just didn't eat that much. Maybe I just need to make more deserts. We ate the dried fruits better than the canned, so maybe I will just dry more instead of canning them.

I have canned quite a bit of meat so far this year. I get it from the grocery when it is on sale. If I can it, we can still have good meat even if the power goes out. We won't have to worry about all of it thawing out and spoiling. I am thinking I will dry some more too. Jerky is just too handy to have on hand, and it makes for a really nice stew in a bind.

Now that I have the dehydrator, a vacuum sealer, and a pressure canner, there shouldn't be any reason why we cannot put up enough food to last us a year or two. Buy it on sale or on clearance and seal it for future use.

Now if I just had a grain mill.....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Excalabur 2900 dehydrator

I got my new dehydrator in this week and I am so excited. It is more than twice the size of my old one (15 sf of drying space) and actually much faster too. The first day I got it, I dried 6 chopped bell peppers (on sale for $1.78 for all 6) and 5 chopped onions ($1.99 for a 3 pound bag) and still had 2 trays left empty. The same amount of chopped dried onions retails for about $6. And since I use the peppers and onions all the time when I cook, it is a great deal for us. And also much better for cooking when I just don't feel like chopping up an onion.

I also picked up some really nice strawberries from a roadside vendor this week. I have bought from them in the past and they are some of the best strawberries you will ever eat. At $14 a gallon, they are a little bit expensive, but still cheaper than the grocery store, and the taste just can't be beat. We ate a few of them fresh and the rest (a little less than a gallon) I made into fruit leather and dried sliced. The finished product gave us about 10 fruit roll-ups and almost a quart jar of dried slices.

The sliced berries work out really well for us. I make scones with them, and we use butter and strawberry freezer jam on the hot scones. Really awesome and very easy. Take your favorite biscuit recipe (there is a good one on the back of the Bisquick box, just don't use the liquids), add 1/2 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of sour cream, and a big handful of crumbled berry slices and enough water or milk to make a really, really stiff dough. It just needs to hold together and not be too "wet". Place the dough on a greased baking sheet and pat it out to about 3/4 inch thick and round. Slice it like a pizza and bake it in a moderately hot oven, I generally bake at 375, until it is nice and browned all over. Like I said, just awesome.

Drying food takes up a lot less space than canning, and the majority of the time, tastes just as good as fresh. 3 pounds of chopped, dried onions will fit into a half gallon jar and you don't have to worry about them getting soft or mildewed in the pantry. If you need "fresh" onions for things like potato salad or similar recipes, just soak them in a little warm water and they will plump back up. Same with the fruit. To make a fruit salad or compote, soak your mixed dried fruits in a little water or apple juice to plump them back up and chill.

Just about every vegetable can be dried and stored. Potatoes work out really well. Slice and parboil the spuds, surface dry with a paper towel and lay them out on the trays. After they are dry, they can be used for scalloped potatoes, re-hydrated and fried, or cooked in the microwave with a little milk and then mashed. Drop some in a stew or soup, run through the blender to make potato flour or instant mashed potatoes. Very very useful.

I would suggest this to just about anyone who wants to be able to preserve food without the mess and expense of canning. Buy produce when it is on sale or in season from a farmers market and dry it. And if the dried foods are kept sealed, they will keep just about indefinitely. It is a great way to save money. And eat healthier.

Friday, May 8, 2009

An Era Ends

Things change. It is a simple fact and there is not a darn thing you can do about it. Children grow up, people get old, and pets die. We do not like it, but there is nothing anyone can do about it.

We buried our family pet of 14 years this week. Katie was a Border collie/Miniature collie mix and turned 14 this month, before she quietly laid down and stopped breathing. She had been ill for a while and finally stopped eating. We all knew that the end was near, but that didn't make it any easier to bear. She is buried in her favorite sleeping spot, by the back fence, beside the bench. We will be building a raised flower bed over her resting place so that it will not be disturbed. She was interred with a bag of her favorite Pupperoni's and her favorite blanket was her shroud. She will be greatly missed.

My daughter had her final orchestra concert this week as well. After 7 years of concerts, rehearsals, fundraisers, practice sessions, private lessons, and lost music, my daughter will be packing away her viola. She is convinced that she will still play occasionally, but her life will be filled with new things now, and I doubt she will take the time. Another end of an era.

Graduation is on the 21st of this month. And my daughter will be an Honor Grad with a Beta Club sash. And she will be 18 in a couple of weeks. I am not sure I am ready for her to be grown up. No more groundings for staying out too late or not doing her chores, no more making her go with us to places she has no interest in(like the grocery store), no more telling her that she "can't" do something. If she asks, I will probably give her an answer like always, but if she doesn't ask, I have no authority to tell her to be home by 10, or that she can't go to a concert in Little Rock with her friends. All I can hope is that she heeds the lessons we have taught her and acts in a responsible manner. I have faith in her, she is a good kid. But it is a Mother's job to worry, so I do.

All in all, this week has just sucked. And I feel old.

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