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I did not do very much canning this summer, but the few things I did invest the effort in were just fabulous.

 

Hubby’s parents came to visit us at the beginning of September, and they came bearing goodies from the BC fruit trucks of Central Alberta.  Fruit trucks here in Saskatchewan have nothing on their AB counterparts; here, the best you’ll get is a van with a couple cases each of peaches and plums; there, there are semi-truck-loads of Concorde grapes, bushel baskets of peaches, pears, plums, blackberries…yum!

 

I had been trying to figure out a novel pork marinade using the chipotle seasoning I got in the spring, and somehow the case of peaches inspired me.  I googled “peach BBQ sauce”, and came up with a Ball recipe that I thought I could work with.   Of course, it is modified all out of recognition, but the proportions are still fine for water-bath canning, as I actually reduced the total volume of low-acid vegetables.   It tastes even better than I had hoped, and we are torn between hoarding the jars of sauce and drizzling it on everything from pork to rice to summer squash!

 

Peach BBQ saue ingredients

 

 Maple-Chipotle Peach Barbeque Sauce

6 cups peaches, chopped and packed tightly

1 cup red bell peppers, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

1 1/4 cup maple syrup (or honey, for honey BBQ sauce, but I like maple better)

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp chipotle spice

 

Mix all ingredients in a pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil/simmer, stirring frequently, for about 25 minutes to reduce the sauce and thicken it. Puree in a blender. Ladle into clean, hot jars, and process for 15 minutes (at sea level) for half-pints. Makes approximately 4 cups (4 half-pint jars) per batch.  Use as a meat marinade, BBQ sauce, or condiment.

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When I was a little girl, there was a big lilac tree at the side of the house, as well as a little lilac bush in the back yard. For a couple of weeks in springtime, we would gather big armfuls of flowers for the kitchen table, and I just loved that smell. I loved it so much that I experimented with ways of preserving it to enjoy later. I dried flowers to make sachets, but the scent faded very quickly – a few weeks later, they just smelled dusty. Another year, I tried soaking flowers in alcohol and almond oil in an attempt at making perfume, but that didn’t work, either. Eventually I just gave up and enjoyed them for a couple of weeks in the spring time.

 

lilacs

 

We have lots of lilacs here at the acreage. When I say lots, I mean probably a half-mile or more worth of lilac hedges – they run along the driveway, plus a long hedge out front of the house, as well as a random lilac hedge north of the goat barn. In springtime, I gather armloads of flowers, stuff them in quart jars, and put them in every room.

 

A couple of years ago, I canned up a batch of wild rose jelly. While I find it too strong to just eat on toast, it’s lovely in baking, in, say, thumb prints in shortbread cookies. Every time I open a jar, I get a whiff of June! This year, I thought I would try preserving the lilacs that way, as well. I gathered a few extra armloads of flowers, and made lilac jelly and lilac simple syrup.

 

For both recipes, you need to pull the lilac flowers from the stems, and make sure no green parts remain, or apparently they will make the finished product bitter.

 

lilac flowers

 

Watch for beetles and worms, too!

 

worm in lilacs

 

The color is quite pretty when you’re ladling into jars, but for some reason, it fades in the processing. Nevertheless, the final products taste great! The jelly is less overpowering than the wild rose jelly was, and the flavor reminds me of tutti-frutti. The simple syrup is already in steady use as a sweetener for home-made iced tea, for a novel flavor twist in our favorite summer drink.

 

lilac jelly and syrup, before and after processing

 

Lilac Jelly:

Really, this is just an adaptation of the recipe for Rose Petal Jelly;  you could use any edible flower you liked, and someday, I will try other variations, I am sure!

 

1 quart (4 cups) slightly packed lilac flowers, green parts removed

1 quart water

juice from 2 lemons

1 packet pectin

5 1/2 cups sugar

 

Simmer the lilac flowers in the water for about ten minutes. Strain out the flowers. Add lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to a boil (as per pectin packet instructions), add sugar, return to a rolling boil, and boil for one full minute. Remove from heat and ladle into jars. Process jars in a boiling water bath for fifteen minutes for pints.

 

lilac flowers

 

Lilac Syrup

 

1 quart lilac flowers green parts removed

1 quart water

4 cups sugar

juice from two lemons

 

Simmer the lilac flowers in the water for about ten minutes. Strain, return to pot, and add lemon juice and sugar. Return to a boil, and simmer for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar. Ladle into jars, and process fifteen minutes for pints.

 

lilac flowers in jar

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I was recently accused, via a post on facebook, of Food Insanity.  Oh, the poster did not call it that, but I don’t think it’s a stretch.  This happened by way of a link to a blog post at Northwest Edible Life:  The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater.  While it’s a funny post, and parts of it hit rather close to home, I don’t think we’re quite that far gone yet.

 

I could try to argue that we’re saving money by growing our own, but any savings from the garden are more than offset by the price of the goats and chickens and their hay and grain.  Forget the $64 tomato; we’re somewhere in the range of the $140 pound of (fresh, artisan, organic) ricotta and the $20 (fresh, free-range, organic) egg.   I’m sure we could buy groceries, even organic ones, for less.

 

The truth is, we do this because we love it.  Hubby has never been happier with his ‘job’, and I am happy with my low-stress husband.  We get to play in the dirt, keep cool pets like goats and alpacas, and hang out in the sunshine without having our view spoiled by fences or neighbours.  Rather than going to the gym, we get our workouts digging in the garden, pruning trees, picking berries, hauling water, and pitching bales.  At the end of all of that, we actually have something to show for it, too, which is a nice benefit.  We are both happier, and more relaxed, since we moved to the country; this is a lifestyle that suits us well, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we got pregnant just six months after moving here, despite all the issues we’d had before.

 

For instance, a couple of days ago, we spent a lovely sunny afternoon picking chokecherries along a neighbour’s lane.   Last year, we picked mostly here at the acreage, but the storm in June took out quite a few of our chokecherry trees, and blocked our access to many more with fallen trees and debris.  The neighbours have tons of bushes that are easily accessible, and had no plans to pick them; we spent a relaxing couple of hours gathering a few gallons of berries.  They were happy to let us at them, for the promise of a pint or two of chokecherry syrup later, once it cools down enough to do the processing.

 

(This is where I wax poetic about homestead food.  You can’t get chokecherry syrup in the store, and I have never seen chokecherries for sale…)

 

 

Recipe:  Chokecherry Syrup

 

For this recipe, you need chokecherry juice.  If you are lucky like me and inherited a steam juicer, this is not a problem.  For the rest of the poor folks in the world, though, you have to do a little bit of extra work.  Boil the berries for a few minutes in just a little bit of water, and crush them up as best you can with a potato masher to release the juice.   Put the whole mess in a strainer lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth, positioned over a bowl or bucket to catch the juice, and let drain overnight.

 

For the syrup, mix 3 cups of chokecherry juice with 6 1/2 cups of sugar.  Bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Boil hard for one minute, then ladle into jars.  Process in a water bath for 20 minutes.

 

We serve warmed chokecherry syrup over pancakes.  It’s a great Saturday morning treat on a cold winter day!

 

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There are lots of things I like to eat that don’t grow around here.  Mandarin oranges, for instance, and sweet cherries.  Coffee, chocolate, mangoes, cinnamon.  If I am going to eat these, I don’t really have much choice but to buy them at the store.  Back in Alberta, I could at least buy BC fruit (cherries, peaches, plums) from grower-run stands, but I have yet to see such a stand here where we live.   So, the grocery store is my supplier.  As much as I would like to keep my eating local, I also want to be able to enjoy food I can’t grow; I feel that growing our own or buying local for things that grow here, but continuing to indulge in ‘far away’ treats is not entirely unreasonable.  However, I still try to follow the seasons with my non-local food purchases, so I can get it as close to home as possible – peaches from B.C., for instance (in season shortly), versus peaches from Mexico (which is what you’d get in January).

 

Then there is the stuff that we could grow, but haven’t got a harvest of yet – blueberries, for instance, and apples, and plums.  Sour cherries, also, and pears and hazelnuts.  We have planted all of these, but the trees and bushes are not yet bearing, and mostly won’t be for some time yet.  Some of these things, we have gotten lucky and found a local source for – apples and raspberries, in particular.  However, we have never found someone selling local blueberries, nor pears, nor sour cherries, which is a shame, as we would really like to buy these things from a local seller, since we are going to buy them anyways.  Especially with pregnancy last year, and now with a baby who will be starting on solids in the next 6 months, I am not going to be a purist about eating only what we can grow or acquire locally.  Being healthy and well-nourished trumps heroic efforts at local eating, or even making political statements, for me.   However, I do find it sad that there is so little opportunity to buy local varieties of things that actually grow very well here.  Once we get a transfer down to the farm, and have the space and irrigation water to do so, we plan to BE the local supplier of several things, but I digress…

 

All of this is a long lead-in to the fact that I have seventy pounds of random fruit sitting in my kitchen that needs dealing with, not counting the 20+ pounds I have already put up for the winter.  Now is the season for sweet cherries, as well as blueberries from the West Coast (local blueberries are much later – more like the end of August, I believe).  I have no idea what the season for mangoes actually is, but they are on sale by the case right now, and were on sale by the case this time last year, so I assume that means they are in season somewhere right at the moment.   So I bought 50 pounds of them, as well as 20 pounds of sweet cherries and 20 pounds of West Coast blueberries.  Ninety pounds of fruit…sounds a little excessive, doesn’t it?  But we managed to chew through a lot more than that last year, and now we are three, so I am erring on the side of having too much, rather than too little.

 

So what do you DO with fifty pounds of mangoes?  Well, last year, we dehydrated a ton of it, as well as freezing some.   We found that, while we enjoy the dehydrated mango, we don’t eat that much of it, but we do love mango smoothies, and had to ration the frozen mangoes, so this year, it will all go into the freezer.  You could also can it, but Hubby and I agreed that it would probably be too slimy for our tastes (mango is a little slimy at the best of times), and we couldn’t think of how we might ever use canned mango, so frozen it is.

 

The cherries will also mostly be going into the freezer.  If  I had been able to find sour cherries (also called pie cherries), I would have canned up a bunch for pie fillings and maybe jam.  However, sweet cherries don’t make nearly as flavorful a jam, and are too sweet for making pie filling (in my own opinion), so they will also mostly be frozen.  I am making an exception to try a recipe for cherry preserves that I think might be nice with yogurt, so 2 or 3 pounds will end up in the pantry, but the rest will be frozen for making smoothies and eating over yogurt and ice cream later, or possibly flavoring some applesauce that I plan to can in the fall, time and energy permitting.

 

Most years I would make blueberry jam, and even canned blueberries in light syrup (for pies and muffins), but I went overboard making both of these things last year, so this year’s berries are also being frozen.  We absolutely burned through the frozen blueberries last year, so I am putting much more away.

 

We have picked most of the peas that we are likely to get from this year’s garden, and frozen those, too.  While the harvest was rather disappointing, it was entirely our own fault…we had to excavate the peas from under a mat of thistles and nettles and other weeds before we could even harvest them – the garden got away on us, again.

 

The raspberries should be coming soon, as well.  We won’t be able to harvest enough to meet our own needs for the entire year, but we’ll still get some, and there is a fellow from a nearby town who sells them for a reasonable price, so we’ll be buying some for…you guessed it…freezing.  I would normally make jam and raspberry preserves, but we do still have plenty of those put away.  I did not realize how much jam we were giving away in a typical year in Alberta, so we seem to have a glut.

 

You may be beginning to notice a pattern, here.  It has been between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius for the majority of the last few weeks (save a few days when it has rained), and the idea of boiling anything on the stove for any length of time at all is not appealing.  Freezing is a relatively quick and easy way to preserve seasonal fruit, especially if you like smoothies like we do, or if you like yogurt and fruit (my usual breakfast at work).  It just happens that the fruit that is in season right now lends itself well to being frozen, though the peaches will be coming soon, and we generally like to can a bunch of those – however, when I was pregnant, I was less interested in eating the canned peaches and pears, so we still have a respectable stash of both, and I am debating whether or not to can any new ones this year at all.   In the end, it will depend on the weather and my overall energy level, I suppose.  It is amazing how much produce you need when you are planning for an entire year of eating, but I would rather be eating frozen blueberries that I bought for $2 per pound than paying $7 for per pound later for frozen berries, or $4 or 5 for a tiny clamshell package of berries in winter when we’re having a craving…

 

 

 

 

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May and June would be our hungry months, here.  The potatoes have all sprouted, and while they are technically edible, they are bitter.   The onions are gone, and we’re out of salsa.  We’re down to just a couple of spaghetti squash, and even they are starting to soften.  Of course, we would still have grain and dry legumes if we were living strictly off what we could grow and store, and there are wild greens (like dandelion and nettle), rhubarb, and asparagus; however, it’d be a pretty limited diet around here for the month or so until the peas and new potatoes are ready. However, having said that, the chickens are laying like mad, and I could have been milking the goats, had I not decided it was not worth it when I was in late pregnancy and/or dealing with a newborn.

 

In the garden, the peas are up a hand’s width, but nowhere near bearing.  The lettuce and spinach that is up by the house (and therefore getting watered occasionally) is at the ‘baby spinach’ stage, but there is not enough of it for more than a few salads, just yet.  The stuff out in the garden is barely up.  The early potatoes are up, too, as are the early carrots and beets, but they are just tiny yet.  The June bearing strawberries are blooming, but berries are still a little ways off.  We should have planted corn and such last week, but with all the work to be done in the house before company arrives (tomorrow) and baby arrives (theoretically next week), the garden has taken a back seat.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get to it before baby comes, at least.

 

All in all, I’d say the root cellar experiment was a success.  Next year, we’ll try to manage the humidity better for the carrots and turnips, and hopefully will be able to get them to last longer.  We’ll also store fewer potatoes, as we did not even come close to eating what we had, and they can’t be fed directly to the livestock (they need to be peeled and cooked first, or they’re not very good for them).  We’ve planted more onions, in an effort not to run out this year, and lots of tomatoes for salsa.

 

Next year…

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Well, another new month, another fact-finding trek down to the root cellar!

 

As of today, a few of the potatoes are starting to go a little soft, but the majority are still firm and basically perfect.  Potatoes are amazing.

 

The beets are mushy, and pretty much done.

 

The cabbages are still firm, but have developed some white mold on the outermost leaves.  They are still fine to eat, once you peel off the few outermost layers, however.

 

The onions are still fine, but there are not many left, and we will be running out soon, despite our efforts at conserving.

 

The pumpkins all went mushy in the last couple of weeks, though the spaghetti squash are still going strong.

 

We are starting to go through the canned fruit more now, as we’ve run out of frozen.  It got to the point that I am now buying any fruit that is on sale at the store, and chopping and freezing it, as I still want my smoothies, but I struggle with paying $7.50 for a little baggie of frozen peaches.  Unfortunately, this totally blows our local eating thing; the six pounds of strawberries I cut up and froze last week were from California. This is not going to stop me from doing that, however, or from buying other long-distance fruit (fresh or frozen), as I am not willing to run any risk of compromising baby’s health over a matter of principle.  We will plan better (or at least put more fruit in the freezer) this summer and fall, and chalk this up to a lesson learned.

 

I don’t imagine we’ll have much left by next month, but I sure am curious how long those darn potatoes are going to keep on keeping on for…

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Continuing from January and February, our monthly food storage report:

 

The root cellar is starting to look a little more bare.

 

The carrots are now completely done; actually, they did not make it past the first bit of February before we weren’t really able to find non-bitter carrots.  I didn’t mind them being wrinkly, especially if we were using them in soups and stews, but I don’t tolerate bitter very well.  The goats are enjoying them as treats we dole out, however, so it is not a total waste.

 

The cabbages still look more or less fine.  As in last month, the outer leaves have dried out and discolored, but the heads themselves are still firm and tasty.

 

About half the remaining beets are fine – still firm and not sprouting too much.  The other half are starting to go soft, but are still completely edible.

 

The potatoes are fine.  I am still amazed by the potatoes.

 

The onions are going strong, but we are running out.  We are down to the little ones that are a pain in the butt, because you need 3 or 4 for a recipe.  Next year, we plan to plant 50% more – 600 sets, instead of 400.  It does not appear that they will rot before we can use them up, even the tiny ones, which is great.

 

The squash seem to have hit a wall this month.  About half of the remaining pumpkins, as well as a couple of the spaghetti squash, sprouted black gooey spots and mold in late February.  I am not certain if they just hit their ‘use by’ dates, or if it had something to do with us moving them into a different room of the house (they had to be moved, as we were painting the room they had been in).  The new room is just as cool as their former location, but may have had higher humidity.  Also, they wound up being more bunched together, rather than being spread out on the floor, simply due to the fact that we were putting a lot of stuff in that room in order to be able to paint the other room – air flow may have been an issue, as well.  At any rate, they were not a total waste, as the chickens really appreciate the squash, so we cut out the black and mushy bits to compost, and fed the rest to the poultry.

 

So as far as veggies go, we’ve already started having to buy carrots, and will be buying onions soon.  We’re fine for potatoes and cabbage, and the beets are so-so.  Suddenly, I am really noticing how well-suited the basic Ukrainian diet is for this region – perogies are flour dough, potatoes, onions, saurkraut, and cheese – things that store well here.  Same with borscht – beets and cabbage and sour cream.  Something to keep in mind when you’re planning your winter meals, anyhow.

 

As far as the other food storage goes, we’re starting to run out of some things.  I made too much jam and jelly this year, or did not give enough away, or something, but those shelves are still quite full.  We have not used any of the fruit syrup we made, though we’ve given some away, and it was very appreciated.  We still have lots of pears, peaches, and raspberries, but those are ones that always last fine through the winter and disappear in a flash come hot weather.  Salsa, however, we’re rationing, as we’d rather not have to buy it – it’s expensive, and not nearly as tasty from the store.  I should can several times as much this fall (if I can find the energy!).

 

The frozen stuff is much the same.  We have plenty of some things (corn, peas), too much of others (wax beans), and not nearly enough of a few things (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes).  I don’t think I miscalculated that badly on the fruit; I just seem to be having smoothies a lot more often than I used to.  I blame it on the pregnancy – I crave cold stuff frequently, but don’t want to load up on ice cream, so I make a nice, healthy smoothie, instead…almost daily…and have decimated my frozen fruit supply in the process.  Next year, we’ll put up extra, especially with the extra freezer downstairs, although it is fairly full with chicken, right at the moment.

 

Overall, we’re doing not bad.  I am not too happy about the squash crashing like it has, and we’re spreading them out better in an effort to get better air flow to the survivors.  I suspect that squash could store a whole lot longer, anyhow.  I’m still very happy with the potatoes, cabbage, and beets, and I have some ideas for how to stretch the carrots next year.  Onions – like I said, we’ll be planting a lot more come spring.  And we’ll adjust what we plant for the freezer (more peas, fewer beans) as well as making more of an effort to get fruit in the freezer, and spending maybe a little less effort on the jams and jellies.  We’ll get it all figured out eventually!

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