Well, no calf yet. Ruby is looking absolutely glowingly healthy but not enormous, and so I texted the guy I bought her from to see if he saw any breeding date I could use, he said no, the bull went in with the cows last November and so…it could be whenever. Oh boy. So let me talk about my other obsession right now, packing my pantry. I stole this book unintentionally from a friend a long time ago, called Stillroom Cookery. It is full of all kinds of unique ways to put food up, and also to use the “put up.” I adore books like this!
A” Stillroom” is more common in the eastern part of the US, basically it’s a naturally cool space off the north side of a house, preferably and traditionally made of stone. Because it’s never hit with the sun, it would be naturally cool. I’d never heard of this before, only root cellars and such, but it sure makes a girl dream. Meanwhile, I have my kitchen in the old house which is sort of like a Stillroom, and I have a very wet basement, my cupboards, and freezers to fill with deliciousness. I strive to eat as much from my farm as I can, to reduce my carbon-footprint and to live as cheaply as possible. Buying groceries is an expensive endeavor. It is convenient, but you do pay for that.
A couple years ago, I really overdid it on canning with almost 800 jars put up, using the excuse I would be selling all these products at a farmer’s market. While I did sell a fair amount, all the hauling of these ridiculously heavy things back and forth wasn’t quite worth it when an end of the year review was done. I mostly took last year off canning so as to finally use up the pantry-ful of leftover canned goods. This year I don’t need to can tremendous amounts of a couple things, I just need to put up smaller amounts of what it is I actually use and like to give as gifts. I am fermenting kimchi, pressure canning green beans and salsa, fermenting apple vinegar and canning tomatoes. I dried nettles and herbs, and have a huge batch of my awesome herb salt curing. I’m also trying a new idea of making larger suppers out of the garden ingredients and freezing the leftovers, things like herb roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic and zucchinis, with chunks of chicken of the woods mushrooms my sister Melanie and I found growing in profusion off a tree in someone’s front yard when we were out on an errand. We also went and picked 10 dozen ears of sweet corn and blanched and froze about 20 lbs of sweet corn kernels. I found a cool recipe for frozen cucumber salad, which will allow me to have that fresh cucumber taste (not a pickle) in the winter and hopefully keep me from spending $5 on a non-local cucumber in February -I get serious cucumber cravings in the winter.
I still had some lingering jars of jam I’d made quite a few years back. I don’t really eat jam or jelly, and if I have bread, it’s usually toasted and topped with a fried duck egg, not eaten with something sweet smeared on it! So, those jams are being turned into something much more useful to me: alcohol. Besides the jams, I’ve been using all the seasonal fruit to my advantage in making hooch. I say hooch because this is not really even wine I am making, it’s just fermented fruit-infused water, with organic sugar or honey, and baking yeast. Just bring the fruit in water (or jam) to a boil, add sugar or honey to dissolve, then let cool overnight. (I used to try “wild-fermenting” my wines and it always made for really weird flavors and most were barely drinkable. By boiling and then adding yeast and sugar, you are much more likely to get a product that isn’t a waste of your time and resources.) Then strain into sterilized bottles and stick a balloon on top. When the balloon deflates, it is ready so take the balloon off, taste, drink and loosely cork or cap the leftover bit. That’s all – hooch is not high-falutin’! I think I have like 15 gallons of various hooches going! There is so much fresh fruit available right now. I picked wild plums, my friends shared pears with me, and I have a summer apple tree which was loaded with fruit ripening over the past couple weeks. Hooch hooch hooch!!!
Then there are the fall apple trees, of which there are MANY. I’ll be canning honey cinnamon applesauce with that coming bounty. I don’t really eat much applesauce out of the jar, but it is SOOOOO good when baked slowly in the winter, in a thin layer on parchment paper, transformed into apple leather. A perfect way to double duty using the oven and warming the house in the winter.
The easiest and best way I have found to put up applesauce is to just cut the cores and any blemishes out, leave the skin on. Save the cores and trimmings in a separate super-clean bucket to make apple vinegar. Simmer the cut up apples with a just a bit of water to get their juices coming out, stirring frequently. When it’s all mush, add honey, about 1 quart to a 5 gallon pot of simmering apples. Stir in cinnamon to taste, then get ready to can. I use a blender to make my applesauce silky smooth and transfer it straight from the hot pot to the belnder and then into my canning jars. I become a factory, an assembly line. You can put up a LOT of applesauce this way, and if you have buckets of apples, this works really well to get them all put away for later use. To make vinegar, just cover the cores and trimmings with water, add some raw vinegar if you have it, and cover with a plate and then weight it down (with a jug of your wine fermenting?!) to keep the bits submerged below the surface of the liquid. Cover the whole sheebang with a big dishcloth or a pillowcase, watch out so the cloth covering doesn’t dip into the liquid, which can wick the liquid onto the floor. Said from experience. Wait for about 4-6 months and then strain into jugs. So yummy in all sorts of applications (salad dressings especially) and also probiotic!
I’d love to hear your favorite and most useful products that you put up, and how you do it!