Friday, September 26, 2014

Canning Marathon

    Linda has been away visiting grandchildren in Oregon for the past week.  I had to stay home and mind the bee store and take care of other obligations.  I've been taking advantage of Linda's absence to try to satisfy my urges to can.  Those urges seem strongest in the late summer and early fall as I see so much produce from the garden that I can't stand to see wasted.  The main things I'm working on at the moment are green beans, grapes and tomatoes.

      I've been canning a batch of green beans about every three days for the past two weeks. I think I'm up to about three dozen pints so far.  They're not really all that difficult. I usually prepare them while watching TV. The actually canning requires some attention to keep the pressure canner at the right temperature, but green beans in pint jars only require twenty minutes at ten pounds. That is a piece of cake compared to canning meat or fish. Most vegetables I prefer to eat fresh, but I like the green beans better canned.  Last year I tried my hand at pickling green beans. I liked them, but Linda didn't seem to care for them.  I take the pickled beans to work occasionally for lunch. This year I'm back to canning green beans.

    We've given away a lot of tomatoes this summer but their production is reaching a climax. Now I have way too many to foist onto unsuspecting friends.  Last year I made ketchup in order to use up the big bulge in production that happens at the end of the season.  I was happy with how it turned out, but I ended up with about a three year supply.  This year I decided to try my hand at making salsa. We generally go through a lot more salsa than we do ketchup.  We have a Norpro Saucemaster which made quick work turning twenty pounds of tomatoes into six quarts of tomato juice and pulp. I didn't have to blanche and peel the tomatoes. I just had to core them and cut them into small enough pieces so they would fit into the hole at the bottom of the hopper. I turned the crank and watched the skins come out the end of the machine while the juice and pulp flowed into the pan.
A year's supply of salsa

    The grapes on the other hand,  are very easy.  I use a steamer juicer to process the grapes. Its about the easiest canning task I do every year.  I have four varieties of grapes represented in my eight grape vines.  I usually get close to ten gallons of grape juice from them.  That ten gallons actually represents about twenty gallons of juice to drink as it is way too strong to drink it just as it comes from the juicer.  I dilute it with an equal amount of water and then add a bit of sugar to get the taste right.  I think my favorite part of canning grape juice is the wonderful aroma that permeates the house.
Canadice Grapes ready for the steamer juicer
Transparent grape juice fresh from the steamer juicer
The same jar of grape juice an hour later

    Many years ago when I was taking French in high school, I was told that studying French would be useful some day. That day finally came.  I needed to add some elevation to the quart jars I was filling with grape juice. As you can see in the photo below my Larousse French Dictionary filled the bill nicely.  I'm actually still working on learning French. Its partly to atone for the only D grade I ever got in junior high or high school. Now I'm using several different apps on my iPhone.  I figured that I'm up to a 1,000 word vocabulary but that doesn't get me very far when I try to read something in French.
A thick French dictionary put to good use

The steamer juicer works its magic
     Another canning project involved a gift of crap apples from Terry Johnson.  He had brought some pickled crab apples by the bee store for me to try. I thought they were wonderful, so he then gave me a bag of crab apples so I could make my own.  He dictated the recipe while I hastily scrawled it onto a yellow sticky note.  I've provided it below for any crab apple lovers who might read this.

                                  Pickled Crab Apples

Brine Ingredients:
    3 cups vinegar
    3 cups water
    6 cups sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoon whole allspice
    1 1/2 tablespoon  cloves
    2 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces

Combine the vinegar, water, and sugar in a pan with the spices added in a spice bag.  Boil the brine for five minutes then reduce to a simmer.  While this is happening, pierce each crab apple through with a long needle, then add the crabapples in batches to the simmering brine just long enough for them to become tender. Leave the stems on the crab apples. Let the brine cool. Then add the tenderized crab apples back to the brine and allow them to soak overnight. The following day, remove the crab apples from the brine and put them into pint jars. Bring the brine to a boil and pour it over the crab apples leaving a quarter inch head space.  I then processed them in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. This recipe made seven pints. I didn't measure out the quantity of crab apples that were in the bag Terry gave me. However, it was just the right amount to do seven pints of pickled crab apples.
Mr. Johnson's Pickled Crab Apples

Monday, September 22, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Hazelnut Crumble Crust and Family History

    One of my church responsibilities that I enjoy the most is overseeing our ward's youth family history consultants.  I see that responsibility as mainly motivational.  The youth have been very quick to pick up on both the use of the family search website and indexing. The plan is to meet with them about once a month, have some brief training/motivational message, let them discuss what they have been doing lately and encourage them set some goals. I want to avoid micromanaging them. We've been counseled to challenge them and then get out of their way and let them do it.  In order to help them look forward to a once a month meeting I've offered to sweeten the deal with homemade pie. The youth all seemed pretty enthused about the pie. So far so good.

    This month's offering, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with a Hazelnut Crumble Crust, was specifically requested by Julia Proffit. Personally, I am somewhat of a purist where rhubarb pie is concerned. I prefer my rhubarb pie straight up, undiluted by extraneous ingredients such as strawberries.  However, this particular recipe uses three cups of rhubarb to just one cup of strawberries.  Due to the predominance of the rhubarb it could be described more accurately as Rhubarb Strawberry Pie. The taste of the rhubarb is still pretty strong and the strawberries do improve the color of the pie filling.  The particular variety of rhubarb I grow is mostly green with very little red color. I would rather add strawberries than add food coloring.  Our local hardware store was selling rhubarb plants this past spring which were very red. I'm thinking I should consider adding that variety to my rhubarb collection next year.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie with Hazelnut Crumble Crust

      I found this particular strawberry rhubarb pie recipe on line at Simply Recipes.  The recipe is as follows:

3 cups chopped rhubarb stalks
1 cup strawberries, stemmed and sliced.  (I used frozen strawberries from our freezer.)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons minute tapioca
1/4 teaspoon salt  (I omitted the salt)
In addition to the above ingredients I added a tablespoon of flour to the filling to make sure the pie set up properly. It's nice to be able to serve up a pie that holds together when you slice it and try to put it on someone's plate.

    The hazelnut crumble crust is my own recipe. I simply combine 1 cup of flour with one cup of brown sugar and a quarter cup of butter. After it is all mixed together I had a half cup of chopped hazelnuts. I used my favorite pie crust recipe I got several years ago from Emeril LaGasse's website.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Salmon Fishing with Friends

    I went salmon fishing in the sound this past Wednesday.  I was invited by some good bee store friends, Jim and Dorothy Dushane.  The day started out somewhat gray but was beautiful and sunny by mid morning.  The silvers haven't yet arrived in Puget Sound in full force.  We managed to catch only one by 11 am.   However, the best part of the day was the company.  I enjoyed getting to know my friends better, how they met, etc. I was especially pleased to learn that Jim had retired from the Seattle Police Department.  Up to this point in our friendship we had mostly discussed honey bees.  Our previous careers somehow hadn't made it into the conversation.  Even though the fish weren't biting I had a lovely morning listening to Jim's war stories.

Jim and Dorothy Dushane

     The highlight of the trip wasn't the one salmon we caught but rather the ritual of cleaning that one fish at the marina.  There are five harbor seals that are full time residents of the marina in Everett. When the salmon are in the sound the seals greet the returning boats and line up at the cleaning station for their share of the catch.  I felt for a few minutes like I was at Sea World as the seals stood at attention in front of the cleaning station, barking at Jim to hurry him along.

Not in the least shy seals wait to be fed

This seal was swimming so close to the dock such that it was hard to get a photo.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Live Aloha

     The big day finally came.  Linda and I rushed home from church, changed clothes,  and drove down to the Seattle Center.  We arrived with just 45 minutes to spare. Amazingly we found a parking place in the parking garage right across the street from the Seattle Center. I guess it wasn't really so amazing considering that it cost $15.00 to park there. By the time we had parked and hurried over to the location of the concert we walked right into the column of ukulele players lined up waiting to enter.  I found my group easily enough and had time to stand in line with my brother and sister ukulele players for about 25 minutes before they started to herd us into the concert area. Meanwhile, Linda found a good place in the audience so she could take some video.  I was unable to include the video in the blog post due to technical difficulties. I will try again with the video on Facebook.
The Live Aloha Stage

The Live Aloha Stage was located right
 in front of the Space Needle

     I was very concerned about the fact that I had not managed to memorize all of the words and chords for some of the songs.  However, I was very fortunate to end up standing next to a woman who had the foresight to bring a small music stand.  It is so much more fun to play and sing when I know the song by heart and I'm not tied to the music.  Memorizing the words is more of a daunting task when singing in a foreign language and the words are more or less nonsense syllables.  We played a total of five songs, three in Hawaiian and two in English. Alu Like, Haole Hula, Ka Na'I Aupuni, There's No Place Like Hawaii, and E Huli.  I enjoyed the last song the most. Partly because because I had memorized both words and chords, and partly because there were about a dozen people doing the hula right in front of us.

I'm the guy with the gray hair in the second row on the right
      I did a bit of an encore performance two days later. I was asked to bring my ukulele to a Relief Society function. They were having an Hawaiian cultural evening which featured Hawaiian food, some dancing, a game, and a short presentation about the history of the LDS church in Hawaii. I played a few songs while they ate and filled in between some of the activities. I even got a few sisters to sing along with me on two songs that were in English.  Towards the end I explained about the song Hawaii Aloha which Hawaiians sing at the end of almost every gathering, including sessions of the Hawaii State Legislature. The song expresses their love for the place of their birth.  We sing it at the end of every ukulele class. Its like the closing hymn. Its traditional that everybody holds hands while they sing it (unless you're playing an ukulele). Having experienced the emotion the Hawaiians have attached to this song I get a bit emotional myself when I listen to it or sing it. I guess I'm becoming somewhat of a Wannabe Hawaiian.  I love their kind gentle spirit. Its hard for me to imagine how Captain Cook managed to get himself killed on his visit to Hawaii.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pesto alla Genovese

     I have a serious love for Italian cuisine. My first introduction to serious Italian food came when I was 19 years old and served a two year mission in Northern Italy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Consequently, I developed a love for most things Italian, but especially the food.

     This past spring I was shopping for vegetable starts to fill in for a few of the things I had failed to start in a timely fashion.  As I was picking out zucchini and cucumber plants I noticed they had some really healthy looking basil starts.  I had tried to grow basil in the past from seed and it never seemed to prosper due to our less than warm and dry spring weather we get on the wet side of the Cascades,  On a whim (due mainly to my affection for Italian cuisine) I decided to buy a few basil plants.  I bought one green variety and one purple basil plant. My expectations for their success was fairly low, but due to our warmer than usual summer they both did very well.  So here I was with two big healthy basil plants that I didn't want to go to waste. Pesto alla Genovese seemed to be the obvious solution.  I was first exposed to pesto while a missionary in Italy and it was literally love at first bite.

     I am fortunate to have two very good and very large Italian cookbooks. One is written in English and is titled "The Silver Spoon". I found it on sale at Costco as I was browsing through their books.  The other one is written in Italian and is titled "Il Talismano di Felicita", or the Talisman of Happiness. I found this particular treasure at a local used book store for just $9.00. Both books had pesto recipes that were pretty similar. I looked at a few pesto recipes on the internet as well. The only variations of any consequence involved the exact ratio of pine nuts to olive oil and what variety of grating cheese they used. One recipe used a mixture of Parmeson and Pecorino while others used just Pecorino.  The methods used to measure the amount of basil leaves also tended to be a bit ambiguous. The pesto recipe in "The Silver Spoon"considered garlic to be optional.  Personally, I can't imagine making pesto without garlic.  The recipe from "The Talisman of Happiness" was virtually the same as one I printed from the internet except that the directions were more complex.  I decided to save myself the trouble of translating the recipe from Italian and to make it easier on anyone who wants to try their hand at pesto. Therefore I chose to pass on the recipe I found on the internet, courtesy of the Food Network Kitchen. It listed the recipe level as easy and the preparation time as five minutes.  It really is very easy to make, takes very little time, and regardless of the exact ratio of ingredients or specific variety of grating cheese used, it will turn out wonderful the first time you make it.

     I should offer one word of warning. Be prepared for some sticker shock when you go to buy pine nuts.  At our local Fred Myer pine nuts were $40.00 per pound in the bulk bins.  Fortunately, the recipe didn't require very much. I bought 4 ounces of pine nuts and that was enough to make four one cup batches of pesto. That is one cup of pesto prior to the addition of the pecorino cheese.  Since it is so very strongly flavored, a little pesto goes a long way. One cup of pesto plus the cheese is more than enough to flavor pasta for six people. Pesto can be made in larger batches as I did, then frozen in smaller containers that are suitable for one meal. It will only keep for a few days in the fridge, but can be frozen for three months.

     The recipe for Pesto alla Genovese is as follows:

  2 cups of packed basil leaves
  2 cloves garlic
  1/4 cup pine nuts
  2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

  Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with  salt and pepper.
   If using immediately, add all of the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.
   If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle the remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in the cheese.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Obsession with Growing Corn

    I appear to have developed a serious obsession with corn. I even grew two different varieties of corn this year and devoted a pretty high percentage of my vegetable garden to corn. Growing corn for me is a way getting in touch with my roots. Most of my ancestors within the last 200 years were farmers and most of them grew corn.  My grandfather, Guy Dudley Tunnell, was an Iowa farmer who grew lots of corn.  His father and grandfather (both named John Wesley Tunnell) were farmers in Missouri and they also grew corn.  My mother's grandfather, Enos Sinor, was a subsistence farmer in northern Arkansas. He also grew corn. My mother lived with her grandparents for a few years following the death of her mother. She helped her grandpa weed his corn field.  Some of Grandpa Sinor's corn was used to feed livestock, but they had some of it ground into meal which they used to make corn bread. They made corn bread and biscuits every day. They often had biscuits for breakfast and cornbread at dinner and supper.  I imagine the Tunnells probably all ate corn bread on a daily basis as well.

      The first variety of corn I planted this year was Painted Mountain flour corn. I grew it with the intention of grinding it for corn bread.  It is a great choice for our maritime climate as it doesn't require as much heat as many corn varieties. We have been blessed with a much warmer summer this year than we usually get in western Washington.  Consequently the Painted Mountain corn tasseled fairly early and made ears in plenty of time to dry down before the rains start.  The kernels are already getting relatively crunchy.  I'm not going to have to pull the stalks to let the corn finish drying in the garage. I've had to do that with some varieties of corn I have grown in the past. I planted this variety in the garden in the front yard. The stalks don't get particularly tall. The tallest among them are only about six or seven feet tall. I planted several varieties of winter squash on the far side of the corn and they spread throughout the four rows of corn and then some.

    The second variety of corn I planted is called Reid's Yellow Dent. It is an heirloom variety of field corn. I didn't plan to try that variety, but a good friend gave me the seeds and it seemed like a waste not to plant them.  I originally had a much larger patch of Reid's Yellow Dent, but the ducks trampled about half of it. That rampage resulted in one roast duck which I reported in an earlier post and a corn patch reduced by about 50%.  The amazing thing about the Reid's Yellow Dent corn is that the stalks can grow as tall as fourteen feet. The ducks would be hard pressed to do any damage to the corn now. Since we don't have wonderfully hot and humid summers like they have in the midwest, my corn only grew to a mere twelve feet tall.  However, that variety doesn't seem well suited to our climate.  It tasseled much later than the Painted Mountain corn and will be hard pressed to make ears and dry down before the rains come. That means I will probably have to pull the stalks up by the roots and let them finish drying in the garage. However, if my primary intention was to grow Halloween decorations or provide organic bean poles for my pole beans, I think Reid's Yellow Dent would be tough to beat.  Assuming I can get the kernels to dry down completely I would be happy to send some seed to any readers who live in a more corn friendly climate.

Reid's Yellow Dent - My grand daughter Abby and I provide perspective.

      Last year I grew a variety of corn called Ruby Gold. It produces ears of corn that are either all red or all gold. If I plant some of both colors of seeds I will continue to get both colors, but always full ears of one color or the other..  Corn is apparently genetically very complex. It is wind pollinated, so if I want to save seed I need some distance between corn patches. It is also helpful if the two varieties don't tassel at the same time. My plan is to alternate years between Painted Mountain and Ruby Gold so that I only plant one variety in a given year.

    I have a nice grinder that works very well at grinding the corn into meal. However, the task of shelling the corn was rather tedious and hard on my fingers.  Since I seem to be getting larger corn patches each year I was not looking forward to shelling out the harvest.  However, thanks to my recent purchase at the Evergreen State Fair, the task should be much easier this year. I bought an antique Fulton corn sheller, cleaned off the rust, painted it black, and mounted it onto a wooden box. I had noticed that my grand children seemed to really enjoy using the hand crank corn shellers at the Western Heritage Museum located at the East side of the fair grounds.  I inquired at the museum and was pleased to learn that he had an extra corn sheller he was willing to sell. Now instead of sore fingers, I can look forward to a small contingent of cheerful, willing, and enthusiastic helpers. I just hope I have grown enough corn to satisfy their desire to turn the crank.

My newly painted Fulton Corn Sheller

The view from inside the box. 
    One of my church responsibilities is to count tithing every other Sunday after church with Ethan, the Ward Financial Clerk. We discuss a wide variety of topics as we count the tithing. Recently we had a very in depth discussion about corn. Ethan grew up in California and has Mexican ancestry. Although not raised speaking Spanish, he learned it while serving a mission for the church in Mexico.  Ethan was very impressed with the traditional methods of growing, storing, and using corn that he saw in Mexico. There was a particular room in every house used to store the dried ears of corn and they still add lime to make the masa harina, just as their ancestors had done for centuries.  Ethan's ancestors limed the corn to make it more nutritious and ate it with beans. My southern ancestors often soaked corn in lye to make hominy so that the corn was more nutritious and they also ate cornbread with beans. My Missouri and Iowa ancestors also ate a lot of corn bread and beans.

    In 1833 Joseph Smith received a revelation known to Mormons as the "Word of Wisdom" which includes the proscription of the use of alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco.  In addition to the "Thou shalt nots" the revelation also includes a number of "Thou shalts" which includes the following:

   "All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground. Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain."

   So why is "corn for the ox? It is because cattle have four stomachs and are able to digest corn more fully than our one stomach. However, when corn is treated with lime or or lye it makes more of the nutrients within the corn available to our less complicated digestive tracts.  Also eating corn together with beans results in more complete nutrition as the beans have a lot of what our digestive tracts are unable to extract from the corn.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ukulele Class Update

   The Live Aloha Hawaiian cultural festival is fast approaching (September 7) and I am still working to memorize both the words and the ukulele chords for the five songs we'll be performing (me along with about 499 other ukulele players)  A month ago I had trouble remembering how the tunes went the day after class. Now I couldn't get them out of my head if I tried.  I'm very comfortable with most of the chords we play. There are a few notable exceptions which are still works in progress. This past week I sat across from another Haole at ukulele class and noticed he was doing this really cool triplet strum when we came to the vamps.  I will definitely have to learn how to do that some day. It's really more like a structured jam session than a class.

    I wasn't sure on the exact definition of "Haole" other than it was used to refer to a white person. One of the Hawaiians referred to me as a Haole and then apologized for having used the term. That made me think the term may have some mild deprecative meaning to Hawaiians similar to  a black person calling a white person "Honky". When I later looked it up on the computer, several definitions seemed pretty neutral while one definition used the term "pejorative" in describing its meaning.  Personally, I'm very comfortable with being a Hawaiian Wannabe and don't mind being called a Haole.  How pejorative the word is undoubtedly depends on the attitudes of those who use the word.

    The Hawaiians in the ukulele class have all been very gracious and welcoming to me. It's been such a fun time that I have wanted to share it with friends and relations. So far I have brought 4 different visitors to class, comprising Linda, grand daughters Luna and Madelynn, and a friend from church. This past week when I brought my grand daughter, Madelynn, she seemed to have been very inspired by the experience. As I drove her home she was trying to think of a way she could arrange transportation to attend the class on a regular basis.

    This past week we spent some time towards the end of the session practicing the music for several hula numbers the group would be doing soon at a luau for the Lake Stevens Senior Center. This included a men's hula dance. I was amazed as one particularly big Hawaiian guy was transformed into the epitome of grace when he started to dance the hula.

   I took advantage of some slow time at the bee booths this past week to practice my ukulele.  At the "outside" booth, located in the Snohomish County Ag Area, we have a live beehive in a double screen tent( a screen tent within a screen tent), I tell fair visitors that the tent is to protect the bees from the fair visitors. They think I am joking, but I think they really do pose a greater hazard to the bees than the bees do to them.  On a few days as things got slow, I sat inside the tent for an hour or so serenading the bee hive.  I didn't get stung on either occasion so bees apparently don't seem to mind Hawaiian ukulele music.  On the other hand, I also didn't notice any of the girls clapping and a few of them pooped on my ukulele. The main reason for sitting inside the tent with the bees is that it seems to attract the attention of the passers by and questions like, "Why aren't they stinging you?" It provides a good opportunity to explain to the public the usual peaceful nature of the bees in contrast to their more cranky cousins,  like yellow jackets and bald face hornets.

    While working at the "Outside" booth one of our visitors had some interesting tattoos. While I'm generally not a big fan of body art, I found it difficult to disapprove of these particular tattoos. I didn't notice until later that one bee had a red bow on its head while the other didn't. Possibly they were intended to depict a girl bee and a boy bee.  Yet the boy bee still had a stinger.  Unlike the bees in the Bee Movie, male bees have no stingers. The only thing they can do when they are annoyed is to buzz angrily.

The Owner of the Beez Neez meets the owner of the bees knees