Monday, May 31, 2010

Heavenly Hazelnut Pie

   I have a new pie recipe to share.  I made a rhubarb pie today and mixed up enough pie dough for two double crust pies.  After I cut up the rhubarb it became obvious that I had only picked enough for one pie.  As I was considering what sort of pie to make for the second pie Rachel showed me an old recipe card she had found for "Heavenly Hazelnut Pie".  We still have about three quarts of  shelled hazelnuts on hand so hazelnut pie it was.  Since this recipe only required a pie shell I had enough crust made up for two more pies. The basic recipe is as follows:

        1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
        1 6oz package of choclate chips
        1 9 inch pie shell, unbaked
        3 large eggs
        1 cup of honey
        1/2 teaspoon vanilla
        1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled

     Sprinkle nuts and chips over the bottom of the pie shell.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, and vanilla.  Blend in the butter and pour the mixture into the pie shell.  Bake at 325 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until firm.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.  Makes eight rich servings.
Optional: serve with ice cream.

      Since I had two pie shells, I decided to try a little variation on the recipe.  I only had enough liquid honey on hand for one pie ( an embarrassing confession for someone who owns a bee supply store and sells honey), so I used brown sugar for one pie rather than honey and substituted butterscotch chips for the chocolate chips.  Both pies turned out very well and set up nicely. Linda told me that they truely were heavenly. However, she liked the original recipe chocolate chip version better. I used three duck eggs in each pie which is probably the equivalent of using four chicken eggs.

     I use a pie crust recipe from the Mormon Family cookbook.  It really is a pretty simple recipe and turns out well.  The recipe for the pie crust is as follows:

      2 1/4 cups flour
      1 teaspoon salt
      3/4 cup vegetable shortening
      1/3 cup cold water

     I usually just put in half a teaspoon of salt and sometimes I omit the salt.  I blend the flour and shortening with a pastry cutter and then add the water gradually while I toss the flour and shortening mixture with a fork. I'll try to get some pie pictures uploaded tomorrow.

     It actually was sufficiently warm and dry this afternoon that I was able to go through a few beehives.  I was pleasantly surprized to discover that one overwintered colony has put away about eighty pounds of maple honey.  I knew they had stored some maple honey, but I didn't expect that much.  We don't get maple honey every year as it depends if the weather is warm enough and dry enough for the bees to forage when the maples are in bloom, usually during April.  Some years it seems to rain the whole time the maples are blooming.  Not everyone likes maple honey as it has a strong menthol flavor.  Some people even describe it as tasting like cough syrup.  I like it, but I can understand why many people don't.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Duckling Countdown

   Finally the mother instinct has kicked in and one of my ducks is setting on a clutch of seven eggs.  I had about given up on them.  I have two hen ducks.  One is a Rouen duck (a sort of domesticated mallard) and the other is a slate blue runner duck.  The runner duck is the one that decided to start setting on the eggs.  It takes approximately 28 days for duck eggs to incubate so I calculate that we can hope to have ducklings on about June 26.  Since ducks are somewhat nervous creatures I'm going to ask all of the grandchildren to try and give the mother duck some privacy. If we give her some peace and privacy I think there is a better chance that she will persevere through the four week incubation period.  She is setting on  a clutch of seven eggs, four from the Rouen duck and three of her own eggs.

     My little water garden is doing well.  I had taken the water lily out of the water garden and put it in a 5 gallon bucket in the garage for the winter.  They are fairly winter hardy if they are in a pond that is large enough where it won't freeze all of the way down to the plant. My two half whiskey barrels are small enough to freeze all of the way through in a prolonged winter cold snap so I thought it safer to overwinter the lily in the garage.

    When I took the lily out this spring I noticed that there were several smaller plants in addition to the main plant.  I read in one of our garden books that water lilies are fairly easy to divide.  The book said to use heavy clay soil and to cover the soil with pebbles.  I divided our water lily into three pots and left one smaller plant in with the main plant. I buried a fertilizer tablet in each pot.  A month later the lilies are thriving. The main plant has put out 4 new leaves and a flower bud has reached the surface.  All three of the smaller plants have put out a new minature lily pad.  I think I'm going to have some extra water lilies to give away at some point.

    When I first fixed up my water garden this spring I had a good number of mosquito larvae living in the barrels.  I bought a dozen feeder goldfish which I added to the garden.  Now, a month later I have four goldfish left and no mosquito larvae. The surviving goldfish are significantly larger and I suspect they may have eaten some of the other goldfish. The only dead goldfish I found was one poor fish that got sucked into the water pump.

    We are a bit behind in getting our garden put in due to all of the rain we've had lately.  So far all I have are five rows of potatoes, a few volunteer potatoes from last year, and some shallots.  I'm hoping to get some more progress made on our garden tomorrow.  I have some tomato plants that were a gift from a bee store friend that I would like to get planted. I'd like to cover the tomatoes with a row cover until the weather warms up and dries up. I'd also like to put in more cabbages than we did last year. I've gotten positive feedback on last year's homemade saurkraut so I'd like to do more of it this year.
red currantsblueberries

     Some of my cherry trees have set a fair amount of fruit while others have very little.  It all depends on when the weather was too poor for the blooms to be pollinated.  Happiness is having a variety of cherry trees that bloom at different times. My Rainier, Lapins, and an unknown variety all have a fair amount of fruit forming. My Bing, Lambert, and Hudson all have very little fruit.  My asian pear tree has no fruit at all, the plum tree has about the same as last year,while the blueberries appear to have set a bumper crop again. The red and black currants also have set a good crop.  We will probably have ripe strawberries in another week or so.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Package Bees

    This is a delayed post because I was way to tired at the time to finish this.  Besides, I didn't have pictures at the time. 

    Today (April 16) was the first day package bees and I am so tired. I left on Wednesday with my friend, Quinten Williams,to pull our bee trailer down to Redding, CA. Quinten did most of the driving.  On Thursday shortly after 2:00 p.m. they started loading up 550 boxes of honey bees into our trailer and we pulled out of town at about 3:15 p.m.  Once they load the bees into the trailer it is a straight shot back to Snohomish, only stopping for gas.  We arrived in Snohomish with the bees at about 1:30 a.m. on Friday.  I spent the morning removing the packages from the trailer.  Everything is stapled in place so the load won't shift and the bees will have ventilation.  It usually takes me about four hours to remove all of the stapled lathe strips and get all of the bees out of the trailer. The first picture below shows the inside of the trailer with all of the packages still in place.

    Once again my 78 year old mother was pressed into service vacuuming the hitchhikers off the bee packages. Linda spent part of the day ferrying bees down to the store and then relieved Grandma vacuuming hitchhikers. When they make up the bee packages there are bees flying everywhere. Many of these "lost souls" latch onto the packages so there are a lot of loose bees that make the trip from California. The hitchhikers don't go to waste. Our special bee vacuum sucks them into a cage without hurting them.  When the cage inside the bee vac had lots of bees I used it just like a package and installed them into a hive.

      Rachel spent the entire day at the bee store.  We had several good friends who helped out at the store. Terry Johnson and Dave Pearson handed out packages while Dave's two daughters helped Rachel in the store.  I don't know how we would be able to do the package bees if we didn't get so much help from our "bee groupies".  Over 350 of the packages  went to their new homes on the first day. We still have a little less than 200 left to hand out tomorrow. That may actually feel like a light day in comparison to today.

Adventures in Woodworking

    I don't have many regrets in life, but I have always regreted my relative ignorance as to the proper use of woodworking tools.  There have been a lot of times when I have wished  that I had taken a few shop classes in junior high or high school.   Today I made some significant progress in addressing that difficiency in my education. My friend Quinten taught me how to set up a jig on the table saw to do box joints. There is something magical about fitting the pieces together and having them fit snugly. The whole point of making box joints has to do with a particular bee hive project I'm trying to do.

    I'd like to try a Warre hive this year.  It's a type of unconventional hive which has smaller dimensions and is supposed to make it easier for the bees to make it through the winter using less honey stores. They look really nice as well, considerably more decorative than a conventional beehive.  Most people do them as top bar hives where the bees build comb suspended from top bars with no enclosing frame.  That works well for people who really don't want to manage their bees, but simply want to let the bees do their own thing.  I wanted to do one with frames.  That way it would be easier to look in on the bees once in a while and I would have the option of doing extracted honey.  The only options for top bar hives is "cut comb" or "crush and squeeze".

     I finished cutting out my first box this afternoon. The box joints look so much better than simple butt joints and are much stronger joints.  I feel much more like a real woodworker.  Next I want to learn how to do dovetail joints using my router table.  I got a nice router for Christmas a year ago and a friend gave me a nice router table.  So far, all I've managed to do with it is to install the router onto the table.    

Cheesemaking 101

     As a celebration of the completion of the annual package bee frenzy I took the day off work today (Tuesday 4/27/10).  I left the bee store in the capable hands of a friend while I attended a cheesemaking class with two of my daughters (Rachel and Lia). The class was the result of bartering with Gretchen Wilson, a friend from the spinner's guild.  It's truely amazing what can be purchased using honey as currency.

      Gretchen raises Friesian sheep, a milk breed, and makes the most wonderful pecorino cheese.  She operates a custom carding business known as Gretchen's Woolen Mill and is also a weaver.  Gretchen and her husband live on a small subsistance farm they call "Quiet Waters Farm" located about ten miles east of Monroe.  Rachel, Lia, and I, together with four year old Lance, made the trip to Quiet Waters Farm for the cheese making class.

            When we arrived, Gretchen already had 2 gallons of sheep milk warming on the stove in large enamelware pot.  Since she had used this morning's milking it hadn't taken long to get the milk to the desired temperature. When the milk reached 90 degrees fahrenheit, Gretchen added the rennet and the bateria culture and set a timer for one hour. The rennet is made from the stomach lining of young calves and contains enzymes which cause the milk to coagulate or set up. While we waited for the rennet to do it's magic, we enjoyed a brief tour of Quiet Waters Farm and watched a Martha Stewart video on cheesemaking.

     The next step involved cutting the newly formed curds into cubes, (approximately) so as to facilitate separating the curds (solid) from the whey (liquid).  After the curds were cut, the mixture was gradually heated to 118 degrees in order to further shrink the curds and make a drier cheese.  A timer was set with 45 minutes being alloted to the shrinking process.  The curds were periodically stirred very gently during this process to keep them from clumping together.  However, the curds were removed from the heat as soon as the mixture reached 118 degrees fahrenheit.  The temperatures are very critical to the success of the cheese and vary according to what sort of cheese is being made.  Each particular bacteria culture needs a certain amount of warmth for it to grow.

    Upon completion of the shrinking process, the cheese press was lined with cheese cloth and the whole mixture was then poured into the press.  The press is used to squeeze more of the whey from the curds. The cheese is removed from the press the following day, rubbed in salt and transferred to the "aging cave", a special type of refridgerator set at 45 degrees.  After about a  week of aging the salt is fully absorbed and the surface has dried to form the start of the rind. At this point the cheese is rubbed with olive oil, then aged for about 4 months. When the cheese is fully aged it is transferred to the fridge.

      Gretchen had about six cheeses aging in her "cheese cave".  She had a finished cheese in her fridge that she kept in a ceramic cheese bell. She served us some pecorino cheese, with sliced apples and homemade bread as a light lunch.  Gretchen actually makes several types of cheeses in addition to the pecorino we saw her make.  She also makes a harder grating cheese, a sheeps milk version of mozzarella which she calls Ewesarella, and yogurt.  The sheeps milk is much higher in milk solids than either cows milk or goats milk.  Two gallons of cows milk would have produced a much smaller cheese.

  This is a somewhat simplified version of the whole process.  I didn't take notes at the time so I wanted to write this down while it was still fresh in my memory.

      When I retire for real the plan is to sell our house and move to a place on acreage where real estate is much cheaper than it is here in Snohomish County.  If I had 5 or 10 acres to play with I'd like to keep a small flock of sheep. I've given a lot of thought to various breeds and right now I'm thinking the Friesians would be  a good choice. I really like the idea of being able to do homemade cheeses. (Gretchen's cheeses are absolutely wonderful.) The crossbred Friesians are also fairly thrifty and tend to have at least twins if not triplets. I've spun wool from Gretchen's sheep and they seem to have a decent fleece for spinning.