Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fall Canning

    As we are approaching General Conference weekend, I'm almost done processing our plentiful grape harvest.  So far I've made about two gallons of raisins with our little dehydrator and I'm up to 11 gallons of grape juice.  That is all from just eight grape vines. The grapes have taken a back seat for the past few days while I've been canning apple sauce. I bought 100 pounds of Jonagold apples to go along with the harvest from our own trees. I've done 20 quarts of  apple sauce thus far and I am not quite half done.  I know that is a lot of apple sauce and grape juice, but I look at it as canning for the entire family.  We try to distribute a fair amount of our home canned juice, pickles, and apple sauce among the family.   Besides, home canned apple sauce is so much better than anything they sell in the grocery store.  On the other hand, we can easily use several gallons of raisins in a year.  We probably have oatmeal with raisins three or four times in a week.

Freshly canned apple sauce is a beautiful sight
    I always look forward to General Conference.  I try to watch as many of the sessions as I can and listen to all of the talks several times. I love the sincerity of the brethren. They present such a stark contrast to your garden variety tele evangelist.  I will wait until the weekend to finish juicing the grapes just for the tradition of juicing the grapes between conference sessions.

     I ordered a load of dirt today so we can replace the big divit left from the above ground pool.  We're going to try to level our yard while we're at it.  Both the back yard and the side yard have a significant number of uneven areas which are difficult to mow. Three yards of dirt will be delivered to our driveway tomorrow morning.   I've already arranged for one of my young minions from work to do most of the shoveling.  It wasn't a hard choice. I could either pay him to hold down the fort at the Beez Neez while I did all of the shoveling, or I could run the store and send him to my house for some quality time with my shovel and wheel barrow.

     October is a good time of year to put in a lawn in Western Washington. Soon after we plant the grass seed, the fall rains will start, watering the grass more gently and regularly that I ever could. Grass grows very well in the cooler weather. Also once it starts raining we won't have to protect the new grass from visiting grandkids. No one wants to go outside to play in the rain.


Friday, September 18, 2015

A Fun but Brief Trip to Oregon

     I made a trip to the Portland area this past week. The primary purpose of the trip was to deliver Linda's baby blue Vespa to its new owner, our daughter Rachel.  Linda wasn't riding it and wanted it to get better use than merely as an ornament for our driveway.  I have to admit that I was a bit sad to think that Linda won't be riding her Vespa with an ear to ear grin any more. However, I'm very happy that its going to a good home. I'm confident the Vespa will make Rachel's heart go pitter-pat and provide the same happy place that it did for Linda.  Rachel will have to endure a little delayed gratification with the Vespa. It seems that Oregon has slightly stricter rules in that Vespa riding requires a motorcycle endorsement.  In Washington that wasn't necessary because the Vespa was less than 50 cc.  Rachel will have to take a class and pass a driving test before the Vespa can become her new happy place.

     I spent Wednesday with the Arnetts in Hillsboro, Oregon and enjoyed an evening of fine dining.  Rachel made alfredo sauce from scratch.  I know I shouldn't have been, but I was amazed at how much better it was than any alfredo sauce from a jar.  Rachel claims scratch alfredo sauce is pretty easy to make. We chopped up some smoked salmon I had brought down and sprinkled it over the fettucini alfredo for a little Northwest touch.  Rachel also transformed one of my sourdough loaves into the most marvelous garlic bread. She added some chopped herbs (Rosemary, Oregano, and Thyme) to the garlic butter she put on the bread. The meal was served with a simple salad with olive oil and vinegar as the dressing and aqua minerale.  We had plans to use some of Rachel's figs to make fresh fig clafouti.  As it turned out, we were all too full to even consider dessert.  She made the clafouti (a type of pudding) several days later and seemed pretty happy with how it turned out.

     While visiting with the Arnetts I also spent some time in Chet's recording studio.  It was a little brutal listening to a recording of myself singing. If I always remembered how badly I sound when I sing I would be much less inclined to play and sing in public.  Since I enjoy doing it, I've decided to exercise some selective memory and just forget about that incident. I will continue to sing in public and let the poor folks who have to listen to it to just deal with the consequences. The moral of the story is that it is always always better to sing and play with other people so there is some camouflage.
Honest, I really am very happy on the inside

      The following morning I drove to Forest Grove, Oregon for some quality time with the Kangs. A half hour after my arrival we were on our way to Tillamook.  We had a very fun visit to the Tillamook Cheese factory (as always), bought some cheese, and enjoyed some ice cream.   While eating ice cream at the cheese factory it was forcefully brought home to me that I need to make a concerted effort to smile more.  Sarah took a selfy of us enjoying our ice cream and I looked seriously grumpy in the photo.  I guarantee that I wasn't feeling the least bit grumpy on the inside, but I sure looked grumpy on the outside.  After the cheese factory and a mandatory stop by the jerky factory, we finally drove to the beach at Oceanside, Oregon.   It was a bit windy, but we all had a great time.
Yes, it was a very windy day at the beach

This was the best Chloe could do for the wind-blown look

    After we drove home from the beach, we went to Autumn's soccer game (a 6 to 0 win for the Forest Grove JV) and took girls to dance class.  Fortunately, the dance class was located near Momo's Hawaiian Shaved Ice. I finally got to experience shaved ice nirvana.  We then visited Barnes and Noble before we picked up the girls from dance class and went home.  It was a pretty busy day, but probably pretty typical for Sarah.  Somehow we managed to squeeze in a little ukulele time before we spent the evening working on family history. Sarah helped me get my iPad better set up for family history and gave then me a little tutorial on using the Keynote program.

    I drove home the following morning as I always do much better driving in the morning.  Just for some variety, I took the back way to Ranier, Oregon before crossing the Columbia over to Kelso, Washington. It wasn't any faster, but it was nice not driving through Portland and having less freeway driving. I had a great time hanging out with my daughters and grandchildren, but as always, the visit was way too short.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Making Sauerkraut

    I helped teach a little provident living class this past week at the Snohomish Ward's annual Labor Day picnic.  This is my second year in a row teaching such a class so it now has become as much of a tradition as the ultimate frisbee game.  Last year we taught how to make dill pickles. This year the class was on making sauerkraut.  I was gratified that there was a fair amount of interest in the topic of home production and storage and that I wasn't the only sauerkraut fan in the ward.  The class was hands on and about a dozen people participated in making the sauerkraut.

     Sauerkraut is a great home production and storage project for a number of reasons.  First of all, cabbage are relatively easy to grow in our maritime climate.  The only serious crop failure I've had growing cabbage in Western Washington involved a goat that escaped confinement. The goat was quite satisfied with my crop of "baby" cabbages, but I considered it a serious crop failure. Secondly, cabbage are relatively inexpensive to purchase and are plentiful in the grocery stores and farm stands at this time of year.  Thus one can practice making sauerkraut even if they are currently unable to have a vegetable garden.  Thirdly, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make. I know there are things that can go wrong in the process, but I've been making sauerkraut off and on for about ten years and it has always turned out well.  Lastly, sauerkraut is very nutritious, even more so than the raw cabbage it was made from.

    In preparation for my class, I printed out a little internet article about a Captain Cook voyage (I don't believe it was the fateful one he made to Hawaii). This was the first long sea voyage undertaken by the British Navy that involved zero deaths from scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet.  A previous voyage lead by another captain, consisted of four ships and 2,000 men and had resulted in 1,300 deaths from scurvy. The big difference stemmed from the fact that Captain Cook brought along 4 tons of sauerkraut. This wasn't canned sauerkraut. It was simply fresh sauerkraut packed into wooden barrels.  It was a two year voyage and the kraut lasted all that time in wooden barrels. They still had a bit of the sauerkraut left as they neared England. Supposedly, they gave the last of their sauerkraut to an Italian fishing boat. I don't know if that was part of a trade or if they were just sick of sauerkraut after eating it for two years.  I knew before that sauerkraut is a great source of vitamin C. I only recently learned that there is more vitamin C in sauerkraut than there is in raw cabbage. Somehow, the lactobacilli actually manufacture vitamin C while they are converting the cabbage into sauerkraut.

    The process of making sauerkraut is not complicated.  I got my sauerkraut recipe from a Rodale Press book titled "Stocking Up".  They credit the USDA as the source of their recipe.   50 pounds of cabbage, shredded and mixed properly with one pound of pickling salt, and given three to four weeks to ferment  under the right conditions,  results in a whole lot of sauerkraut.  This recipe can easily be adjusted to whatever amount of cabbage is available.  In our case we shredded about twenty-five pounds of cabbage so we used half a pound of salt.  That was an amount that fit comfortably into a five gallon food grade bucket.  Sauerkraut can be made in all sorts of containers, including expensive crocks and glass jars.  I prefer used food grade five gallon buckets as I already have a lot of them and they are a nice convenient size.  The bucket or crock doesn't need to be sterilized. It just has to be clean.

      I was assisted in teaching the class by Lynell Nielson. She is an avid fan of fresh lacto-fermented food and is knowledgeable about its health benefits. In addition to being a good source of vitamin C, lacto-femented foods offer probiotic benefits.  They contribute to a healthy intestinal flora. There are numerous cultures which have some sort of lacto-fermented food as a daily part of their diet. An example of that is the Koreans eating kimchee on a daily basis.  There are other purported benefits besides the probiotic aspect.  I  found an interesting internet article about sauerkraut and the incidence of breast cancer in Polish women.  In Poland most women eat fresh lacto-fermented sauerkraut about three times per week. Polish women living in the Chicago area eat less fresh lacto-fermented sauerkraut, averaging about once a week.  The rate of breast cancer was significantly higher among the Polish women living in the Chicago area.  While there may be other factors which could have contributed to this result, there is a great deal of evidence regarding the health benefits of fresh lacto-fermented foods.

     Lynell brought a very nice shredding device intended specifically for making sauerkraut.  It worked very well such that it only took about 45 minutes to core and shred the cabbage.  We tried to make sure all of the attendees had to opportunity to shred cabbage.  We mixed in the salt as we added cabbage to the bucket.  When we finished shredding the cabbage, the bucket was full up to about an inch or so from the top.  I took the bucket home and dumped it into a large plastic tote and mixed it some more to insure the salt was evenly distributed.  After I had repacked the shredded, salted cabbage back into the bucket, a lot of water was being exuded by the cabbage. This time I was able to pack the shredded cabbage down such that it was about six inches from the top of the bucket. I placed a plate on top of the cabbage and weighted it down with a gallon of water in a used milk jug.  Within a few hours the plate was submerged under the liquid.
Our bucket of sauerkraut after six days
    The sauerkraut seems to be coming along just fine.  After six days of fermentation it has reduced itself down to a little more than half the height of the bucket. there3 is plenty of liquid to cover the sauerkraut. The liquid has a little foam on the top, but no evidence of anything moldy.  I skimmed off the foam and tasted a piece of the sauerkraut from the liquid above the plate. It passed the taste test as well, but is still several weeks from being done. When the sauerkraut is finished I will take it to a Relief Society activity where it can be divided up amongst the participants of the class.

    The process of lacto-fermentation doesn't depend on sterile conditions but rather on conditions that favor the lactobacilli over other bacteria.  The addition of the salt and the fact of the kraut being under liquid and thus not exposed to oxygen are both conditions which favor the lactobacilli. It is essential that the fermenting cabbage remain covered by the liquid.  Another important condition is the temperature.  Making sauerkraut won't work in hot or cold conditions.  The lactobacilli favor a temperature range from  50 to 70 degrees. That range is pretty easy to come by in Western Washington.  I usually make sauerkraut in September so that temperature range is pretty much what we get for most of the month.  In warmer climates, it might be wise to make the sauerkraut in the basement.  How long the process takes is a function of the temperature.  The cabbage becomes sauerkraut quicker in the warmer portion of the range and slower in the cooler portion.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Harvest Time

    I had to harvest my corn a little early. Some enterprising bushy tailed rats (often called squirrels) were starting to raid the corn patch.  Also the weather turned rainy just as the corn had started to dry down.  I can't imagine the stress of someone growing these crops on a larger scale and depending on them for their living.  I grew Mandan Red Clay Parchiing corn this year. I'm not unhappy with the results, but I'm not sure it would be suitable for a serious field crop.  First of all it sends out numerous tillers (side shoots) that tend to fall over onto one another.  It sent out ears inconsistently, that is not all at the same time, such that I had more partially filled ears than I like. Pollination might have turned out better with a larger patch, but I'm not sure.  My corn patch was ten feet by thirty feet this year. The filled out ears of lavender colored corn are quite pretty.  I'm not sure I will grow this variety again. I guess the ultimate test will be when I eat it.  I have several other short season corn varieties I still want to try out.

Mandan Red Clay Parching Corn
Dill slices

    My cucumbers have been quite productive, way beyond my ability to keep up with them.  I grew three kinds this year, a regular slicing variety (straight eight), an English variety (tall telegraph), and a German pickling variety (Vorgebirgstrauben).  Try to say Vorgebirgstrauben just once, let alone fast three times. I sent a box of pickling cucumbers home with my daughter-in-law and I've done several dozen quarts of dill slices. I given lots of the slicing cucumbers away as well.  I've also dumped several five gallon buckets of overripe cucumbers into my compost pile. On one hand I hate to see any of them go to waste, but it is very hard to find them all when they are ready to pick in my jungle of a cucumber patch.  Especially when I am busy and don't have the time to search the cucumber patch on a regular basis.  On the other hand, it is so much easier to find them after they are oversized, overripe, and have turned yellow.

Canadice seedless grapes

    My grapes are also ripening.  The Valant (a type of very early concord) and Canadice ( a red seedless variety) are ready to pick.  The Interlaken (a green seedless variety) are not far behind them and should be ready soon. Usually I am juicing grapes around the time of General Conference.  Thanks to our overly warm summer I may be done with the grapes by the time I'm normally just starting. I'm going to try dehydrating a larger percentage of our grape harvest into raisins this year. Our home made raisins are very good, just a little tarter and less sweet than store-bought raisins. We actually use quite a bit of raisins as Linda and I both like to put them into our oatmeal. I love grapes for a lot of reasons.  They require so very little care. They have minimal pest problems. They are wind pollinated such that they always set fruit. Grapes put down really deep roots such that they don't require watering in our climate.  The biggest chores are pruning and the harvest. Turning the harvest into grape juice is also a pretty easy task with a steamer juicer.

    One thing I really love about grapes is that they are so very easy to propagate.  Most grape varieties can easily be rooted from cuttings.  If anyone who reads my blog (within the continental United States) would like to get into grapes I would be happy to provide dormant cuttings when I prune them during the winter.  I have had very good success just sticking them into the ground and using them as a trellis for my peas. By the time the peas are done most of the grape starts have roots and leaves.  The three varieties I listed above are  very early varieties that will work in the Puget Sound area. If you live in a place with warmer summers you have a lot more options available than what I can offer.  Lon Rombaugh, is a table grape expert who lives in Aurora, Oregon. He has written a book titled "The Grape Grower" which I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in growing grapes. He also sells cuttings for about 100 varieties of table grapes.

Potimarron Winter Squash

     We did very well on winter squash again.  The Potimarron I planted in the front have produced about 25-30 squash. I planted them next to the corn so they rambled throughout the corn patch. The number is approximate as I won't have an exact head count until after I finish removing all of the corn stalks. It is a bit of a treasure hunt. I also have one Oregon Sweetmeat and about 8 spaghetti squash.  I was very pleased with the Potimarron. It produced every bit as well as the Red Kuri I grew last year.  It is a Hubbard type so it should be a good keeper. The size is also similar to Red Kuri in that it is appropriate for smaller families.  The squash aren't so large that it takes weeks to eat one squash.  I can easily get several pies, or make soup and one pie from one squash.  I guess the ultimate test is always in the eating. We'll see if I like the flavor as well as the Red Kuri. This is a French variety. The name translates to "Brown Squash"  They are quite pretty, not brown at all,  and will look nice piled up on the porch for a few weeks.  I have a lot more than Linda and I will eat so I am very happy to share them if some of my readers need more squash in their life.  However, unlike grape cuttings, they are not a convenient size to put into the mail.