Giving Thanks

Two days ago, I hopped in the car on an absolutely beautiful fall day to make the short drive to Lake Geneva to pick up our side of beef.  This is an annual trek we have been making for four years now and once again I find myself sitting here on this first day of November, grateful beyond words for what we now have in our home.

With each piece of meat, wrapped neatly in crisp white butcher paper, I placed into our deep freezer, I was reminded of the farmers who went out each and every day to bring cool water to this animal.  Who raised it with the utmost care and dignity.  Who allowed it to roam free upon the fields of grasses that it was created to consume.

And I too am so very thankful for the animal itself, who gave of its life so that my family may have sustenance.  I cannot think of any other way I would rather consume meat.

My entire family is very well aware of where this food came from.  We have walked upon the green pasture where this steer roamed.  We shook hands, chatted and laughed with the farmer who raised it.  We know our food.  We know our farmer.  And for that, I am ever so grateful.

Fall Preparations

With frost now hitting our area in the evenings, this little family of mine has been rushing about, making final preparations for late fall.  I really do love this time of year because at this point, I am ready to nestle in and do a bit of indoor work (reading, crocheting, sewing) instead of the manual labor that is involved with a large garden during the warm months of the year.  I am so thankful that we live in an area that experiences all four seasons.  It gives us a chance to let our bodies and souls rest and rejuvenate before starting the growing season again the next year.

Our first order of business was to bring in all of our herbs.  These seem to be the first of our plants to get hit with frost, so they topped our priority list.  The girls and I picked our basil, oregano, sage and thyme and then dried it in our food dehydrator.  Once the herbs were dried I ran them through a quick whirl in the spice grinder and put them in Mason jars. We store our dried spices in our spare refrigerator for the winter.  The herbs keep very well storing them this way, and we have found it saves us a great deal of money in the winter months to have all of these herbs on stand by.

Next came the tomatoes.  Oh those tomato plants…All 36 of them.  I must admit, I was dreading this activity this fall.  Good thing I had a little helper by my side to keep me company and do some of the manual labor 🙂  We first picked all of the remaining ripened tomatoes.  Then we harvested all of those lovely green tomatoes (a recipe to come tomorrow), and took down all of the cages and composted the vines.

I received some garlic seed from my mother-in-law, so that went into some of the empty beds that had been cleared a few weeks ago.  Hopefully the seed makes it because a certain little kitty cat keeps wanting to dig it up.  We shall see if this little garlic venture is fruitful come next year.

We are trying something new this year for weed control.  Gardening is quite the effort in trail and error and each year we seem to fail in this department.  Last year, we planted annual rye grass in each of our beds.  The rye grass was suppose to act as a ground cover to help deter weeds, die off in the winter months, and leave the soil enriched with nitrogen and provide excellent compost to till in come spring.  Well, we didn’t get much of a hard frost last winter, so the rye did not die off.  Instead, we were left with garden beds filled with two foot high, green rye grass.

This year we are just aiming for weed control and plan to add compost to our beds in the early spring.  We stopped by our favorite local coffee roasters that I mentioned in this post, and got a bunch of burlap coffee bags.  I cut these and used them to cover each of our beds that will remain dormant for the winter.

And now we venture into the unknown with our fall/winter garden we added this year.  For now, it seems to be surviving the frosty evenings just fine and we should be able to start harvesting in the very near future.  A new adventure waits in the valance.  I can’t wait!

Apple Sauce

A sure fire sign that fall is upon us is when we start to find apples popping up here and there at the farmers’ markets.  Last week, we found our very favorite farming family at market with their tables loaded down with the most beautiful apples.  There were Cortlands, Jonathans, Honey Crisps, and Crimson Crisps.  Each more delicious than the next.

With all of this goodness to choose from, the girls and I decided it was high time to start making apple sauce.  So yesterday, with much fanfare and hullabaloo, we began our apple-sauce-making soiree.

The girls did all the work, while I took pictures and drunk in the sounds of 2Cellos on the IPad.  They used our very favorite apple peeler/corere/slicer to do the majority of labor, and then took turns adding some yummy local honey and spicy cinnamon to the mix.  We make our apple sauce in our slow cooker, so we just set it and forget it 🙂

A few hours later, once the aroma of the sweet and tangy apples, floral honey and spiced cinnamon fill the air, we have the perfect apple sauce for our family’s liking.  Fall is here.

Suburban Homestead

Amid the labyrinth of power lines and close proximity to our neighbors, we are slowly but surely developing for ourselves a bit of a suburban homestead paradise all our own.  When we took possession of this property four years ago, we were given a perfectly blank slate to work with because the previous owners had just filled in their in-ground pool.  This left us with a lovely, flat, fenced-in canvas that we are now able to glean a great deal of food from.

{Before.  Late July 2012.}

The gardening space we previously had contains 12 4X8 foot raised beds and one 4X16 foot raised bed.  Then just outside that space we have a smattering of lavender and rhubarb and some heirloom perennial flowers.  Last year we added 2 apple trees, an asparagus and strawberry patch, raspberry bramble and an herb garden to the mix.

And now, here we are…

I am so thrilled by how the space turned out.  I must say I was a little skeptical for a while there, when the vision in my head did not seem to match what lay before me.  But with a bit of digging, a little building and a whole lot of hauling, I am satisfied to say the very least.

We used the beautiful circa 1850 barn timbers I mentioned in a previous post to create a more permanent border for the existing asparagus and strawberry patch.  We used the remaining timbers to create a brand new perennial vegetable bed that will soon be home to more rhubarb (rhubarb wine here I come!), asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes.

We then added three additional 4X8 foot raised beds and one 4X4 bed.  This fall these beds will be loaded with cold hardy annual vegetables that we then hope to cover with a hoop house of some sort.  We are crossing our fingers this will give us delicious, fresh vegetables year round.  We also plan to add some gorgeous tree stumps around the fire pit for prime seating for those s’more-roasting evenings right around the corner.

Our Weekend

This past weekend we opted to stay close to home because many of us in our little household of four were getting over the lovely beginning-of-the-school-year sniffles. It always seems so odd to me to have a cold in the middle of a ninety degree heat wave, yet that was our particular situation this weekend.  So with lemon tea and honey in hand, we set to having a fun-filled weekend none the less.

The first pumpkins of the season made an appearance at Friday’s market, so we had to buy just a couple.  The girls worked hard all of Saturday morning, digging out the seeds and preparing for some roasted goodness.

While the girls worked hard on the pumpkins, I got busy making my homemade granola. We were able to purchase some delicious home-grown oats from Hazard Free Farms, which helped to make the granola extra yummy.

I also tried another treasure from Grandpa Dit’s recipe box: piccalilli.  I must say, standing in the kitchen over a giant pot of boiling veggies on a ninety-seven degree day was not one of my brightest ideas, but the final result was quite tasty.

And I chopped the day away, getting food ready to put by in the freezer for the winter months.  Andrea Hazzard, from Hazzard Free Farm, gave us a great suggestion for preserving watermelon.  Pour boiling water over a bit of honey, making honey water.  After cooling down the honey water, pour it over diced watermelon until all watermelon is covered.  Then freeze it for enjoyment in the winter months.

Rajah enjoyed finding a new hiding spot.  Oh my.

And Tyler enjoyed some brewing time.  He concocted a batch of caramel creme ale.  Yummy.

I have also been hard at work in the backyard, continuing with our garden expansion.  I am so excited to bring you the finished product in tomorrow’s post.  Hooray!  See you then.

The Three T’s

If you may have noticed in this post, or this one, or maybe this one…We are surrounded by tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes…Oh my!  Last week we stared at the tomatoes filling every container available in our house and covering every horizontal surface of our kitchen and tried our best to formulate a plan.

Try as we might, there was no way this family of four could consume all of these tomatoes on our own, at this moment.  So preserving was our solution to our overabundance, and preserve we did.  We made tomato paste.  We cooked up some good ole Italian tomato sauce.  We dried. We froze.  We’ve got tomatoes in all forms now, safely tucked away in the larder and in the freezer for enjoyment over the winter months.

And now as I peer out my kitchen window, there is whole new crop ready to be picked.  Ah.  The tomato fun never ends 🙂

Canning Day

Mom (standing with hands on hips, a bit overwhelmed):  What am I going to do with all of these vegetables?

Five-year-old Preservation Expert:  Mommy, there is a lot of stuff here.

Mom (hands still on hips, a bit more overwhelmed):  Yeah.  Got it.  I’m still trying to figure out what to make with all of it.

Five-year-old Preservation Expert (with a look of absolute clarity):  I know!  I think we need to have a canning day!  Like, a whole day when all we do is can and freeze stuff for winter.

And so continues a day in the life with a very young child that just gets it.  Of course.  Why wouldn’t we put some of this food by for when the bounty is less?  Sometimes it takes youth to open our eyes to what is right in front of us.  Wonderful suggestion my darling girl.

Here is a walk through our day of food preservation…

{A wonderful new idea I got from this magazine.  What a fabulous idea!}

{Salsa, salsa and more salsa}

{Got to love hot pink fingers for a day.}

{I struck gold this week!  I found my grandfather’s recipe box in the back of my parents’ pantry.  It contains all of his old canning recipes, including his bread and butter pickles, my favorite of all his canning greats.}

Tomato Time

Sorry for stepping away for a day, but my garden work kept me detained a bit longer than I thought when I was writing on Monday morning.  The tomatoes are in full swing  and I seemed to have gotten lost amongst the vines for a very long time before resurfacing and realizing that most of my day had passed me by.

This is the first year that we have not planted any slicing tomatoes.  We planted only small cherry-type tomatoes (Juliets and Mexican Midgets) for the girls to snack on, and paste tomatoes (Viva Italias, Speckled Romans and Amish Pastes) to use for tomato sauces and salsas.  What I didn’t realize about these types of plants is how many more fruits they produce compared to slicing tomatoes.  Oh my.  On Monday afternoon while I was picking, I found 4-6 ripe tomatoes, 6-8 I’m-almost-ready tomatoes, and about 20 addition green tomatoes just waiting to get ripe.  That is also not factoring in that each plant still has about 20-30 blossoms.  Apparently the tomatoes have done just fine with all of this heat.

So what to do with all of these lovely tomatoes?  Tomato sauce it is!  I love, love, love making tomato sauce.  I have no idea why I cherish this activity so very much, maybe its my Italian roots, but I look forward to this activity come late July each and every year.

Yesterday I woke up early to begin this favorite task of mine.  I went out to the herb garden, enjoyed the cool damp air from the rain the night before, and spent some time in meditation just picking oregano and basil.  It was a great start to my morning.  Then with coffee at the ready, and ingredients laid out, I went to work.  And what lovely work it was, in the quite of the morning before anyone else awoke to begin their day.  Ah.

My Tomato Sauce

I kind of fly by the seat of my pants with this recipe as (much like with my pesto). I first put a good amount of olive oil in the bottom of a stock pot.  I then add garlic and onion (chopped) and I cook that down until the onions become translucent, but not brown.

I then add my chopped tomatoes and my fresh oregano and basil.  I add a bit of salt and pepper at this point, cover the pot and let it cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  I then remove the lid and allow to cook for another hour or so.

At this point, I run a hand blender through the sauce (I don’t strain my seeds.  I know all the Nanas out there may turn their nose at this 🙂 )  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  Then I bring the sauce down to a simmer and leave it for several hours.  I stir it every once in a while to keep the bottom from sticking.  At the very end I add a bit of butter to cut the acidy taste.

I freeze my sauce as opposed to canning it because I find it hard to stick to an exact recipe, which is so very important to do if you are canning.  I normally freeze my sauce in wide-mouth glass quart jars filled about 2 inches from the top of the jar (to allow for expansion during freezing.)

Putting Food By: Pesto

“Would you say your pesto is the besto?” ~Friends

Each and every time I watched Friends in college, snuggled up on the couch with my roomies, and heard Phoebe say this line, I roared with laughter.  Well, let’s face it, I pretty much laughed like crazy any time I watched that show.  But looking back, the funniest part is when I was in college, I had no idea what pesto even was!

Now that I have discovered the wonderful world of pesto, I definitely would not say my pesto is the besto, but by golly it is pretty darn tasty.  I love, love, love making pesto in giant batches and freezing it for use in the winter months.  It helps to bring that lovely basil taste that reminds me so much of summer to the table when the heat is on and the snow is falling outside.

The particular batch I made this weekend had toasted walnuts, basil, swiss chard, garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and salt.  But the great thing about pesto is you can use a wide variety of nuts and/or greens and the pesto will turn out great.

When I freeze my pesto, I put it in 8oz, freezer safe, glass jelly jars.  I fill each jar to 1 inch from the top (to allow for expansion in the freezer).  It freezes beautifully this way, defrosts easily and allows for easy preparation when you pop it out of the freezer at a later date.

***

Some of our favorite home preservation books are:

Putting Food By by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg and Beatrice Vaughan

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (There are some great canning recipes scattered throughout the piece.)

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader