Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Plum Jam

     So Linda has been down in Oregon for only two days and already I'm in a big jam...plum jam that is.  I'm taking advantage of her absence to turn the remainder of our plum harvest into jam.  She seems to have an anxiety attack every time I'm doing a canning project in "her" kitchen so it is a good thing to do while she is out of town.  I probably use the kitchen more than she does these days, so maybe we should call it "our" kitchen. However much I've taken over the kitchen in usage, she is still rather possessive of it.
This is our entire Santa Rosa Plum harvest

    Our plum tree is an interesting story in itself(at least to a fruit geek like myself). It originated as a gift from my sweet wife who was indulging my fetish for collecting fruit trees.  She purchased a Friar plum from Costco.  I had never heard of a Friar plum so I went on the internet and looked up the variety on the UC-Davis website. The description I found for Friar plum was surprising, "mealy and insipid". I had never read such a negative description of any named fruit variety. It begged the question, "Why did someone even bother to name it?"  I also asked myself why anyone was actually propagating a mealy and insipid plum and selling it to the public.  The Friar plum was lopped off the rootstock the following winter and I grafted on a start from our Santa Rosa plum, a variety that I knew I would like.  Over the next few years I grafted on two other varieties, Shiro and Obilnaya. Shiro is an early yellow plum while Obilnaya is an early purple plum.

    About six years have passed since I planted the plum tree and this is the first year I've harvested a significant amount of fruit from all three varieties.  They don't bloom at the same time so the weather doesn't always allow all three varieties to get pollinated every year. The Shiro branches bloom first, followed by the Obilnaya branches, with the Santa Rosa branches blooming last.  Having three different varieties on the same tree spreads out the harvest so we are able to eat fresh plums for about a month. Also it provides a hedge against our variable spring weather.  Last year I had no Shiro plums while the year before there was no fruit on the Obilnaya branches. The Santa Rosa is a freestone plum and is therefore more suitable to use for jam than the other two varieties. The Shiro and Obilnaya both taste fine but fruit clinging to the stones make them inconvenient for jam.
Plum Jam

      In addition to making jam I've had some other activities to help me stay out of trouble in Linda's absence.  I did a shift at one of the bee booths at the Evergreen State Fair on Monday. I'm scheduled for another shift on Thursday.  I'm also trying to get the rest of the gray Icelandic wool spun up.  I've got 12 balls finished and probably have another eight to go. Several years ago I got three Icelandic fleeces in a swap with a bee store customer.  The Icelandic yarn is pretty soft and I think it works well in a sweater. The white and dark gray fleeces have already been spun and converted into sweaters by Grandma Cozy. This particular batch of yarn is designated to go to the Tunnell family after Beth figures out what sweater pattern she wants Grandma Cozy to use.

    I have to admit that I am more than a little envious of Linda's ability to spend a week with grandkids while I am literally stuck minding the store. Here I am posting pictures about making jam while she is posting pictures of fun times with grandkids.  While I have mixed feelings about selling the bee store, I really am looking forward to having the freedom to spend more time with family.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Another Day at the Fair

    I started the day making sour dough waffles. Britton and Lucy had a sleepover at our house with their visiting Kang cousin, Elise. I offered several options to the girls for breakfast and blueberry waffles were the consensus choice. Oddly enough, "gruel" (i.e. oatmeal) never wins those breakfast popularity contests.  I used the same recipe I've been using for sour dough pancakes with the exception of adding extra oil. Also I took a chance and made them regular milk rather than buttermilk. Apparently the sour dough starter is sufficiently acidic to make the baking soda work as the waffles turned out nicely.
The girls practice their synchronized sleeping by spelling the letter "L"

    I  then went with the Tunnell's this morning to see the Fair Days Parade in Monroe. The parade route passed within three blocks of their house so we just walked. As it turned out, the primary reason Britton and Lucy love parades is the fact that so much candy is passed out. It wasn't quite the sugar overload of halloween, but I'm sure there was still a significant post parade sugar buzz. After the parade, I met with Mike Veatch to collect Madelynn and Abby, and Cassie Parrot in order to take them to the fair. It actually felt a little odd to just be going to the fair with grandkids as opposed to spending a significant chunk of time at one of the bee booths.

   We went through most of the animal barns, watched a lumberjack show, and looked at every last booth that was selling cheap trinkets. Abby was determined to find something suitable to bring home for her little sister. Ultimately, she decided on saltwater taffy, a pretty safe choice in my opinion. We also sampled some fair food with "Purple Cows", fair scones, and curly fries. We also took a few of the necessary silly fair photos. I think the lumberjack show and the rabbits were the biggest hits with the girls.

Madelynn and Abby looking sheepish

The girls were obviously focusing more on farming than the picture

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fun Day at the Fair

Britton and Elise, looking a little sheepish
   I spent some time at the Evergreen State Fair today.  I was accompanied by two grandchildren, Elise Kang and Britton Tunnell, both age six.  They were good little troopers and patiently hung out with me at the Open Honey and Beeswax booth in the Display Hall. We did take an ice cream break in the middle of my four hour shift. We spent some time looking at chickens and rabbits while the girls ate their ice cream. They helped me hand out prizes for people who were successful in spotting the queen and asked a lot of great questions.  The observation hive behind the girls in the photo below is an Ulster Observation Hive I had for sale in the shop.  I had put the bees into it just this morning before going to the fair.

Britton and Elise enjoying ice cream cones at the bee booth
   My shift ended at 6:00p.m., after which we were free to look at the animals and do lots of fun fair things. We looked at sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, milk cows, beef cattle, and pigs. One sweet girl in the sheep barn actually let Britton and Elise assist her in trimming her sheep's fleece in preparing it for show.  The girls also both got to pet a 12 day old baby pig in the swine barn. As we were leaving the dairy barn, the girls pointed out the milk vending machine and talked me into getting them some strawberry milk and chocolate milk. I put the money in while Elise pushed the buttons for Britton's strawberry milk and one bottle of milk came out. Then I put the money in while Britton pushed the buttons for Elise's chocolate milk. It was like a Las Vegas slot machine as three bottles of milk came out of the vending machine.
Britton assists in trimming the fleece while Elise watches

   We watched a hand milking contest. Then Britton and Elise played with some old fashioned water pumps and grain mills that were set up near by for kids to use.  They also both had fun riding on the toy tractors.  As we were leaving we paid a short visit to the museum they have at the east entrance of the fair. We were initially drawn in because Britton had noticed some indian buckskin clothing on display. as it turned out, there were a lot of things to hold the girls attention in the museum. Before we left they had played with model trains and each helped to make their own personal rope. We all had a great time.

I think Elise would really like a grain mill for Christmas.

Britton and Elise riding the toy tractors


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One More Reason I Enjoy Living in Snohomish

   I had to drive down to work early Tuesday morning in order to pick up a nuc box so I could make up a new queen bank. I was expecting to receive a shipment of 50 New World Carniolan queens later in the day and I needed to prepare a temporary home for them. As I was driving towards the bee store I noticed a hot air balloon that seemed pretty low on the  horizon. It seemed like it was getting lower and seemed relatively close by. I decided to overshoot the store to see if I could get a better look.  Unfortunately, this was as close as I could get. It looked a lot cooler in person than it does in the photo.
Hot air balloon coming in for a landing nearby
    I stayed up a little late Monday night and baked two blackberry pies.  The pies would have been finished earlier in the evening but I got involved in watching the Seattle Mariners add to their current win streak.  We had the missionaries coming for dinner Tuesday night so I wanted to have one pie for dessert and one pie to send home with the missionaries. I used the Emeril pie crust recipe and used my lower protein biscuit flour. I was very happy with the pies and in particular thought the crust turned out pretty well.  Linda made lemon poached salmon, easily my favorite way to eat salmon, and some wonderful zucchini-potato pancakes. I think we should have the missionaries for dinner more often.  It was a good locavore meal with the blackberries having been picked within 100 yards of the house and the salmon having been caught in the Snohomish River.
A matched Set of Blackberry Pies

   On the garden front my Korean pears with Japanese names are starting to ripen. I'm hoping to be able to send some down to the Kang children who were my original inspiration to plant an Asian pear tree. I'm not a big pear fan, but I do like the Asian pears better than the European pears.
Chojuru Korean Pears


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sour Dough Pancakes

    I have this problem with my wonderful sour dough starter. I can't seem to get into a weekly rythym of  baking bread. Consequently, my sour dough starter is often neglected. It should be fed every week, but I am too cheap to throw part of it out to make room for the new and there is a definite limit to the amount of fridge space we can devote to a sour dough starter.  I finally decided that sour dough pancakes might be a good regular use for my starter.

My newly fed sour dough starter

   I spent some time this morning doing some research on the internet.  All of the sour dough pancake recipes were pretty similar.  They all seemed to consist of an egg, about a tablespoon of oil, a bit of salt, a teaspoon of baking soda, some milk, about a cup of all-purpose flour, and about a cup of sour dough starter.  I chose to use buttermilk because I had some on hand but the recipe didn't call for it. I didn't measure the buttermilk, but just added enough milk until I thought the batter was the right consistency for pancakes.  They actually turned out pretty well. Linda said they were the best pancakes I had ever made.
Sour dough pancakes

   I'm curious to try making them sometime without the baking soda. I would like to know if I could still make decent pancakes if we were in some emergency situation living out of our food storage and we had no baking soda.  I guess a more obvious solution would be to add more baking soda to our food storage.  Also I'm curious if the sour dough is sufficiently acidic by itself to make the baking soda work without using buttermilk since the recipe didn't call for buttermilk. l guess I can experiment with these two variables over the next few weeks. I just hate to monkey with a recipe that turned out so well the first time. What is that old expression? " If it aint broke, don't fix it!"

   I've always liked my pancakes on the fluffy side.  Not that crepes can't be wonderful too. I just like my pancakes to be sufficiently fluffy to absorb honey or syrup. My mother's pancakes were always thin, never fluffy. I always enjoyed getting pancakes in a restaurant because they were fluffy. For many years I had just assumed Mom didn't know how to make good pancakes. Later, I discovered that she made those thin pancakes on purpose because Dad liked thin pancakes.  We have this very small portion of French ancestry, but the surname Tunnell is an anglicized French name. It is just possible that a love of thin pancakes (i.e. crepes) was the only bit of French culture that survived in our family ten generations later.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Honey Harvest

    I stayed up late last Thursday night harvesting honey down at the store.  In the past I've always extracted honey at home in the pantry and kitchen. The pantry is small enough such that I can easily heat it up with a space heater to 85 degrees or warmer. The honey spins out easily in a warm room and not very well at all at normal room temperatures.  I managed to do just fine at work, thanks in part to a 90 degree day that left the shop warmer than is comfortable. However, the main reason it worked out well was the fact that I used the warming cabinet to heat the boxes of honey up to 115 degrees. Linda enthusiastically supported the use of the shop. The only reason I have gotten away with extracting in our kitchen for so long is the fact that I usually spin out honey while Linda is out of town.

   I wasn't able to get all of my honey done. I just wasn't up for an all nighter, but I did spin out about 100 pounds. My main goal was to get some honey extracted so I could do an entry in the Evergreen State Fair.  Last year was a poor honey year so there wasn't much honey entered in the fair. It looked kind of sad last year to see so much empty shelf space where honey entries belonged.  I dropped off my honey entries at the fair grounds on Saturday afternoon.  It was obvious that they were doing much better than last year.

     An extracted honey entry requires three one pound jars of honey, preferably in queenline jars, the kind shown in the photo. The extracted honey is divided into ten different categories based on the color of the honey ranging from water white to extra dark amber. My entry of blackberry honey will probably end up in the extra white color category, which is the next to the lightest color category.  The honey is first tested for moisture content.  If it has more than 18.6 per cent moisture the entry is disqualified. I tested my entry with the refractometer at work shortly after I had bottled it in order to avoid the embarrassment of a disqualification. It tested at 17.4 per cent water.

    The honey judge makes sure the jars are clean and filled to the correct level, and looks for air bubbles or tiny bits of wax on the surface of the honey.  He also has to taste the honey to make sure it doesn't taste burnt, smokey, or fermented.  Other than that, honey isn't judged based on it's flavor.  That would be pretty arbitrary as the flavor of honey varies wildly depending on its floral sources. Some varieties of honey, such as Maple or Buckwheat have strange flavors that are an acquired taste.  I once won a nice big "Best of Division" ribbon for some Maple honey. It looked really pretty, but most of the fairgoers would have made a face if they had tasted it. My red haired daughter describes  Maple honey as tasting like cough syrup as it has a very strong menthol flavor. That would put Maple honey at a severe disadvantage if it were judged on its flavor.

   The honey judge also uses a polariscope which reveals every last fleck of wax or air bubble.  The best way to rid a honey entry of air bubbles and bits of beeswax is to put it in a warm place for a week or so.  All of the bubbles and wax will float to the top where it can be skimmed off.  I didn't have the luxury of waiting for a week so I sped the process up by placing my honey in the warming cabinet overnight.  The warming cabinet is a large insulated wooden box which is heated by two light bulbs. We use it at the store to reliquify crystallized honey and have set the thermostat at 115 degrees.  By Friday morning all of the tiny bubbles and wax in my honey had floated to the top.

2012 Blackberry Honey

   This may seem like a lot of work for a blue ribbon, but I have to uphold the honor of the bee store. I also entered a shallow frame and a western frame in the heaviest frame contest.  I should have done some candle and beeswax entries but I didn't have time to look through my stuff to find a worthy entry.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Planing Cedar Boards

   For the past eight months I've had a big stack of rough cut cedar boards,stacked and stickered,  drying in our garage.  After the last few weeks of hot weather they were starting to look fairly dry.  I decided it was time to pull some boards off the pile and try planning them. The correct thing to do would have been to break down and buy a moisture meter to insure the boards were sufficiently dry.  Being a little cheap and impatient I opted for the easier way of just running a few boards through the planner.  They actually seemed to turn out pretty well.  The next steps will be to joint the sides, then round the edges on the router table. Then I'll cut out a notch on opposite sides so I can use them as ceiling boards in the toy room. That seemed more simple to do than tongue and groove.
Cedar board coming out of the planer

Cedar board feeding into the planer

       I only ran twelve boards through the planer, but I generated multiple wheelbarrow loads of shavings for the duck pen.  Between a bountiful supply of cedar shavings and the big load of sand delivered by the Everett Water people, I think I am in pretty good shape for keeping the duck pen sanitary.  The duck pen is as clean as it has ever been. I also generated a little harassment from Linda who thought I should have been working on something else.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Camping with Family

  I just got back yesterday evening from a camping trip with the Kangs, Arnetts, and Veatches.  We stayed at the Gales Creek Campground in the Tillamook National Forest. The kids spent a lot of time playing in the creek and had a great time together. It was fun just watching the grandkids enjoy each other's company.  Unfortunately Gales Creek is seriously lacking in agates and other interesting rocks. Therefore the kids spent a lot of time building dams and moving the rocks around.

This little rock dam is about three inches higher than it was when we arrived.

Luna was able to find a cool heart shaped rock

Autumn, Anthony, and Oreo enjoy time at the creek

   We took a nice day hike on Tuesday morning.  The smaller children hiked about 4 miles on Gales Creek Trail while Aunt Rachel led the older children on a longer 6 mile hike. They were pretty good little hikers for the most part. There were a relatively small number of "Can we go back now?" comments which surprisingly did not come from the smallest children.
Natalie, Rachel, and Sarah on Gales Creek Trail. 

   We enjoyed lots of quality time around the campfire, sang songs, and ate well.  We listened to Sofie play her fiddle, Uncle Mike on his penny whistle, and lots of picking away on Grandma Linda's new Ukelele. It was fun when I was hiking on Tuesday morning to hear little Lilly singing a song she had learned at the Monday evening camp fire. The older children prepared some lovely blueberry dutch oven desserts each evening.  Aunt Rachel got fancy for breakfast one morning and poached some eggs in a half bell pepper. Note in the photo below that it is rosemary on the poached egg and not the usual "scout pepper" sort of debris that often ends up seasoning food when camping with children. Uncle Mike gave rides on a little trailer contraption he had made to pull behind his mountain bike.  He got a serious workout by the time all of the younger kids had been given multiple rides around the campground.

Natalie is obviously enjoying the ride. 

Luna with a big helping of Dutch Oven Blueberry Delight

Poached Egg  ala Rachel.

    We finished off our outing with a trip to Tillamook on Wednesday. We had a great time on the tour of the cheese factory, bought some cheese, ate some wonderful ice cream, and then headed for the beach at Oceanside. Among other wonders, the beach had what Gales Creek lacked, namely lots of agates. The beach also had some nasty little transparent arthropods that Sofie aptly dubbed "annoying little bitey things". I'm curious as to what they are as I'd not noticed them before. In spite of the little biters a great time was had by all.

From left to right, Lilly the Cow, Madelynn, Chloe, Anthony the Farmer, Elise, and Hannah

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cooling Off at the Pilchuck River

     Saturday was blistering hot by Western Washington standards. We broke into the 90s.  I know that will not get us any sympathy from most people throughout the nation who have had to deal with a brutally hot summer and drought. However, residents of the Puget Sound region are not used to anything resembling normal summer temperatures.  It doesn't take much summer heat for us to be suffering.  A good solution to summer heat in the little town of Snohomish is to head for Pilchuck Park and cool off in the river.
Anthony and Sofia Romero enjoying the river

Linda enjoying quality time with her Kindle

    Linda took our visiting grandkids down to the Pilchuck River. After I had cleared a few things off my to do list I was able to join them for a bit.  I spent some time wading in the river looking for agates. Just wading in the cold water was sufficient to cool me off.  I guess the mere proximity to cold water was good enough for Linda.

Honeybee gathering nectar from Japanese Knotweed
     While wading in the river I couldn't help but notice that the Japanese Knotweed was breaking into bloom.  That is about two weeks earlier than normal. The knotweed blooms were attracting attention from a lot of honeybees, unfortunately, none of them mine.  My bees don't gather much knotweed honey because we live a good mile from the river and more than three miles from Pilchuck Park.  My friend Quentin's hives gather a lot of knotweed honey as their property backs up to the Pilchuck.  Japanese Knotweed is an ornamental that escaped to the wild and is now quite a nuisance.  Like a number of invasive species it happens to be a pretty good honey plant.  Knotweed honey is quite dark and strongly flavored, but lacks the nasty aftertastes of many dark honeys.  It actually tastes very close to sorghum molasses.