A Bit of Catching Up!

DSC00004_1The summer has passed, and winter is now upon us. We were quite fortunate this year, with an abundant harvest, great health, and a generally satisfying life. We were able to harvest over 1,000 pounds of tomatoes, 1,000 pounds of various squash, a few dozen smaller watermelons and other types of melons, including two watermelons which weighed in at over 80 pounds. I was able to save a bit over 50 pounds of dried corn, 85 pounds of potatoes, thousands of individual sweet and hot peppers, a few hundred pounds of cucumbers, and much, much more.

The tomatoes and squash were preserved, with the tomatoes canned as either tomato2014_DSC00004 sauce, pasta sauce, or salsa, or dehydrated and frozen for later use.  The squash, especially the zucchini, was dehydrated, and the cucumbers were turned into pickles.   All together, we have over 350 jars of various things that I canned this year, and an entire chest freezer full of dehydrated fruit and vegetables.  We are still dehydrating peppers, making the upstairs a very spicy experience!

The chickens are laying around 40 eggs per week, though the cold weather has slowed them 2014_DSC00003down a bit this week.  Prior to this past cold spell which brought freezing temperatures and snow, I was able to plant  garlic, which consists of 7 types of garlic with a total of about 500 cloves planted. 

Planning for next years garden has begun, incorporating lessons learned from this year, including the elimination of some vegetable varieties, increasing other types of vegetables, and placing certain crops, especially the corn, in a more protected location that is out of the wind. 

A very small sample of some of the vegetables we harvested this year, and a small batch of tomato sauce:

2014_DSC00002  2014_DSC00021    2014_DSC000412014_DSC00050  2014_DSC00005

Peppers, Tomatoes, and Another Batch of Pickles, and More!

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It would seem that all we are growing are cucumbers, but we are really growing other things too. 

We are starting to harvest tomatoes and peppers now and carrots.  The peppers on the left are Anaheim and Banana, which are now strung up and hanging outside sun drying. Later this week I will also be harvesting some of the Pepperoncini Peppers for, well, pickling….  We have about 45 pepper plants of 13 different varieties.  Interestingly, I forgot to plant one of the peppers I really wanted, and one that we use frequently – Jalapeno Peppers.  I will make sure they are planted next year.

Some of the larger tomatoes are starting to be ripe, as in the Pink Berkley seen on the right.  25July2014_DSC_0010The others that are ripe are the Golden Nugget Cherry Tomatoes and the Principle Borghese, which is a paste tomato that is often used for sun dried tomatoes.  Instead of sun drying out tomatoes, we are using our dehydrators to dry them.  We have already completed one batch, which we vacuum sealed. 

Below are some of the tomatoes ready for the dehydrator.  The red ones are the Principle Borghese and the yellow are the Golden Nugget.  24Jul42014_DSCF7198

As I said, I made another batch of pickles using a different recipe. This time I used the Dill Sandwich Slices recipe from the Ball – Complete Book of Home Preserving book.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book.  Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

While I plan to process more cucumbers, I will more than likely not post the recipe unless it is something new.

Pickle Recipe – Dill Slices: 25July2014_DSC_0050

Batch Size:  9 – 10 Pints

Ingredients:

6 Tbsps. pickling spice (as discussed in this post:  Click Me!)
8 cups Braggs vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
8 cups Water (filtered)
1 1/2 cups white sugar 
1 cup canning or pickling salt 
10 each bay leaves 
20 garlic cloves
10 Dill Heads
5 tsps. mustard seeds
24 cups pickling cucumbers

Place 5 tablespoons picking spice in a cheesecloth bag, tying closing the top.  In a non reactive pan, place the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spice bag.  Slowly bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.

In prepared jars, place 2 cloves garlic, one dill head, 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds, and one bay leaf.  Pack pickles leaving 3/4 inch head space and top with pickling liquid, leaving 1.2 inch head space. 

26Jul42014_DSCF7205Process for 15 minutes (again, because of altitude, I did 20 minutes).  Turn off heat, remove canner top, and remove jars after 5 minutes.

In other news, we are staring to actually get a nice supply of eggs.  We are now up to 3 per day as the chickens are starting to get to the right age.  I am still not sure which rooster I will keep (we have two) as they are both getting along and are fairly calm roosters. 

Canning Pickles

17Jul42014_DSCF7125

The cucumber plants are still churning out cucumbers, to once again I am making pickles.  This time I am doing two batches, and ended up with 15 quarts of pickles total.  This brings our pickle stores to around 32 quarts and 8 pints.  A lot of pickles with more to come I am sure.

One of the issues for these two batches may be the size of the cucumbers.  They were a bit large, but fresh, so I am hoping that they will end up crisp.

For this batch of pickles, I used a recipe based on the Ball – Complete Book of Home Preserving, and modified the base recipe to our needs.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book. Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

Pickle Recipe 2:17Jul42014_DSCF7120

Batch Size:  7 – 8 Quarts 

Ingredients:

Brine –

8 lbs. pickling cucumbers 
1/2 cup pickling or canning salt
Water (filtered) to cover cucumbers

Pickling Ingredients –

3/4 cup  pickling or canning salt
8 cups water (filtered)
2 Tbsp. Pickling Spice  (see below)
6 cups vinegar (Braggs)
1/4 cup white sugar 
7 – 8 tsp. yellow mustard seeds (1 tsp. per quart) 
10 (approximately) heads dill
14 garlic cloves 
14 Arbol chilies – whole dry

Pickling Spice:24July1024_DSCF7130

1 ea. – cinnamon stick broken into small pieces 
5 bay leaves – crushed 
2 Tbsps. yellow mustard seeds 
1 Tbsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds 
1 Tbsp. whole black pepper corns 
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cardamom seeds 
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. cloves – whole

For the pickling spice, I mixed the ingredients and put into a half-pint jar and further mixed by rotating (not shaking) the jar until all ingredients looked fully integrated. Smelled really good. 

17Jul42014_DSCF7125The cucumbers were brined by placing them in a non-reactive pan after 1/4 cups of sale was mixed with 8 cups of water.  The cucumbers were brined for about 14 hours.  When ready to use, I triple rinsed the cucumbers, and then drained.

To process, first prepare the jars and lids (look it up if you are not sure how to prepare jars).  Then take 2 tablespoons of the pickling spice and place in a piece of cheesecloth, making a small bag and tying closed.  Place the spice bag in a pan containing the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and summer for 15 minutes.  Turn on low and cover until ready to use.

Pack jars with 1-1/2 dill heads, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon mustard seed, and cucumbers to within 3/4 inches from top.  I put the Abrol chilies in between the cucumbers, on the sides of the jars to they looked nice.  Top up 19-July-2014_DSCF7144with the pickling solution to within 1/2 inches of the top of the jar.

Wipe the rim with a damp clean cloth, and attach lid and ring.  Place in canner.

Slowly bring the water up to a boil (I use medium heat).  When a boil is achieved, process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude.  because I am at 2224 feet, I processed to 15 minutes.  After the appropriate time, turn off heat, take lid of canner, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, placing them on a towel.

Lemon Pickles

17Jul42014_DSCF7145

One of the varieties of cucumbers that I planted this year was Lemon Cucumbers.  Though I only planted 4 plants, they have produced over 20 pounds of cucumbers, and are still going strong.  So, I decided that I would pickle some of them.

One nice thing about this batch is that I was able to use some of the Walla Walla Onions that I planted from seed.  The onions are still a bit small, but big enough to cook with in this case.  The smell from the onions was quite fresh and strong, but not harsh.  Fairly pleasant actually.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book. Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

Pickle Recipe – Lemon 1: 20Jul42014_DSCF7152

Batch Size:  7 – 8 Pints

Ingredients:

Brine –

8 lbs. pickling cucumbers 
3 lbs. onions
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
Water (filtered) to cover cucumbers

Pickling Ingredients –

4 cups vinegar (Braggs) 
4 1/2 cups white sugar 
2 Tbsps.. yellow mustard seeds  
1 1/2 Tbsps. celery seeds 
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric

20Jul42014_DSCF7157Prepare cucumbers and into 1/4 inch slices.  Thinly slice the onions.  Combine onions and cucumbers, place in a non-reactive bowl and add canning salt.  Cover with cold water and store in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

When ready to process, in a non-reactive pot, add vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric, slowly bringing to a boil.  Boil for 10 minutes.

Drain the cucumber and onion mixture.  Add to liquid and slowly return to boil.

Take off heat and pack jars with cucumber mixture to within 1/2 inch or the top of the jar.  Add liquid to top off 20Jul42014_DSCF7160to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar.

Wipe rim with a damp towel, add lid and ring.

Process to 10 minutes (15 for me because of altitude), turn off heat, take off lid, and then take the jars out after 5 minutes.

This recipe made very good looking pickles.

Wine Update, and Squash!

20Jul42014_DSCF7147Racked my wines today, and I am very pleased with the results, so far.

The Cherry Wine came in with an SG of 1.000 and the Cherry Mead at 1.010.  As I mentioned in the original post, Cherry Wine and Mead, with care, 71B will go way above 14% ABV.  For the mead, it stopped in the perfect spot.

The mead it amazingly good for a 20 day old product.  The honey is present but does not mask the presence of the cherries.  There is a very pleasant sweetness, but not at all cloying. If the mead stops where it is, I will be happy and will not need to back sweeten or add any acid.  Wood?  Maybe.  I do have some wonderful medium toast French Oak chips hanging around, and I think they will go quite well with the mead.  I may split the batch and do half wood half no wood.

The issue is now what happens with the 48 ounces of cherry wine base that I added on the 20th to both the mead and the wine.  I did notice that there was some airlock activity 5 hours after adding the additional fruit, which I expected, so we shall see on the 4th of August how the wines were affected.

As for the Cherry Wine – It is really hot.  A lot of alcohol that I think will age out.  The wine I will have to back sweeten a bit, which I originally thought I might have to do anyway.  There is good cherry flavor and nothing except the alcohol that is harsh.  No wood for the wine though, as it is going to be a light and delicate wine if all goes well.

Look!  It is Misty is a zucchini standing in front of out 8 foot corn!

20Jul42014_300_2111

Dill Pickles

19Jul42014_DSCF7184

We planted 6 pickling cucumber plants (4 Homemade Pickle plants and 2 store bought plants), and 4 Straight 8 cucumber plants that can also be used for pickles.  The plants started off rather poorly, but now are producing a large number of cucumbers almost daily.  Misty has already pickled 7 quarts of pickles, and I just finished another 8 quarts. 

The dill is from our garden, and this is the first time that I have been able to successfully grow dill.  In Juneau the dill would become very tall and break in the wind and rain.  The plants here are short and quite strong, but I may not have planted enough to get us through the pickling season.

One change that I made was to substitute white vinegar for filtered Braggs vinegar.  I have nothing against white vinegar, I simply thought that a cider vinegar would bring a bit of flavor to the pickles.  The liquid is not as clear with the Braggs, but as long as the final produce is good, it really does not matter.

***One thing about the Pickle recipes that I post is that I do not include complete instructions. If you have never canned, or are unfamiliar with the processes I describe, please look up how to can, jar preparation, hot water bath versus pressure canning, and all other things canning related. To make it easy, you can just buy the referenced book. Canning is safe, but you really need to understand what you are doing before you do it. ***

Pickle Recipe – Dill 1: 19Jul42014_DSCF7163

Batch Size:  7 – 8 Quarts

Ingredients:

Brine –

8 lbs. pickling cucumbers  
1 cup canning or pickling salt
Water (filtered) to cover cucumbers

Pickling Ingredients –

6 1/2 cups vinegar (Braggs)
7 cups water (filtered)
1 Tbsp. canning or pickling salt
35 each. mixed peppercorns (I used a mixture of red, white, green, and black)
21 garlic cloves&
14 Dill Heads 
4 tsps. mustard seeds
14 Arbol chili peppers

23Jul42014_300_2116Mix the salt in the water, stir to dissolve salt.  In a non-reactive pan, place cucumbers and pour the brine over the cucumbers.  Place in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours (I did 18 hours).

Rinse and drain cucumbers well.

Prepare jars and lids.

Add the water, vinegar, and salt to a non reactive plan and slowly bring to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.

Pack prepared jars with 2 cloves of garlic (I used whole cloves), 5 (or more) peppercorns, 1 dill head, and 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds.

Add the pickles, 2 chilies, and place 1/2 dill head on the top.  The pickles should be packed giving a generous 1.2 inch headspace.  Add vinegar solution to within 1.2 inch of the top.

Wipe rim with a damp towel, add top and ring.

Process for 15 minutes (I did 20 because of altitude).  After processing, turn off heat, remove lid from canner, and take out jars after 5 minutes.

Sausage

11-July2014_DSCF7073

I wanted to make some sausage since the Summer Sausage I made in February is gone.  I made three types of sausage, 5 pounds each type.  The sausages were a Polish without Marjoram, Polish with Marjoram, and a breakfast sausage.  The sausage was smoked using the A-Maze-N Smoker, with 3/4 Maple and 1/4 Apple wood.  The smoker was lit at both ends. 

One of the issues I have with the Cookshack AmeriQue it its inability to cold smoke without a heat baffle, and smoke evenly at cold temperatures.  Using the A-Maze-N Smoker, I can still get a good smoke at 130 F.  Now I need to find a fan mod to get DSCF7077better circulation in order to properly cold smoke evenly.  Of course, for regular smoking, the AmeriQue is a truly wonderful smoker.

This was also the first time I used the LEM 5 pound Sausage Stuffer.  The LEM was fast and also gave a better texture to the finished product.  The problem I had was with the casings, which seemed to be very weak in places.  But, in the end it worked well.

The Recipes:

Recipe (Polish 1):11-July2014_DSCF7081

Batch Size: 5 pounds

Ingredients:

5 lbs. Pork Butt (2267 grams)
1 cup Ice Water
38.54 grams Kosher salt (Real Salt)
1 tsp. Cure #1 
4.35 grams Cracked Black Pepper 
13 grams Minced Garlic

Recipe (Polish 2):11-July2014_DSCF7104

Batch Size: 5 pounds

Ingredients:

5 lbs. Pork Butt (2267 grams)
2 Tbsps. Yellow Mustard Seed
4 tsps. Kosher salt (Real Salt)
1 Tbsp. Cracked Black Pepper
1 tsp. Cure #1  
1 Tbsp. Marjoram 
15 Cloves Garlic – Minced

Recipe (Breakfast Sausage):DSCF7111

Batch Size: 5 pounds

Ingredients:

5 lbs. Pork Butt (2267 grams)
1/4 cup Ice Water
4 tsps. Rubbed Sage
4 tsp. Kosher salt (Real Salt)
3 tsps.. Cracked Black Pepper
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp. Cayenne
4 tsps. Thyme
1 tsp. Rosemary
2 Tbsps. Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Nutmeg

The sausage turned out great, though the heat and the smoke in the smoker was a bit uneven due to, I think, the lack of air flow within the smoker. I am attempting to find a fan that I can put in the smoker to get a proper air current and an even heat and smoke at low temperatures.

The sausage was vacuum sealed and placed in the freezer

11-July2014_DSCF7108

It is Cherry Season

20June2014_DSCN0402As you can see in the picture of Micha picking cherries, it is cherry season in this area.

We were driving down our road last Thursday and saw a sign advertising U-Pick Cherries for 0.50 cents a pound.  After we returned home, Misty hopped on her bike and rode about 3 miles to the cherry orchard to see what was going on.  She came home with a pack full of cherries.  Misty and Micha liked them, so it was decided that we would go early Friday  morning and pick cherries.

We managed to wake up early, before the day became hot, went to the orchard, and 20June2014_DSCN0415proceeded to pick cherries.  About 3 hours later, the three of us managed to pick approximately 130 pounds of sweet cherries.  While it was hard work, it was also quite enjoyable, and it was difficult to convince Micha to leave.  I think she did not want to leave all the cherries she saw on the trees, but also did not realize how many cherries we had picked.

Micha and Misty have been cleaning and pitting the cherries, and we are also dehydrating 15 pounds of them for baking and later use.  Misty canned some for pies in a light syrup also.  As for me, they prepared 50 pounds of cherries that I am 20June2014_DSCN0468going to use in a 6 gallon batch of mead and a 6 gallon batch of wine.  Figuring to use a bit more than 4 pounds per gallon and shoot for an ABV or 20% for the mead, and 14% for the wine.  I would like the mead to be on the sweet side, and a dry wine with possible a bit of oak.

Our two apricot trees are producing apricots now also.  Micha has been picking them daily, and we now have tables, dehydrators and boxes full of drying apricot halves.  I do not know how many pounds she picked, but I would imagine that there are about 2 – 5 gallon buckets full.  Possibly 40 or 50 pounds maybe.

Fifty cent cherries and free apricots – hard to beat that!

Summer Sausage–Part II

06Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2289

The sausage is done!

This was a long smoke, but it seems well worth the effort.  First, a couple of comments about things to do differently next time. 

As mentioned in Summer Sausage – Part I, the sausage was too long.  This caused the sausage to be positioned hanging by the sides of the smoker, which may be cooler than the center.  So, shorter sausages in the future.  I also need to pack the sausage a bit tighter and pay more attention to air pockets.  There were a few fat pockets that formed due to light packing and air pockets.  Have more cold beer ready on smoking days – had to put some in the freezer to get it ready to drink.  And finally, take more pictures of the final product.

Now, for the good.

The sausage is great.  Perfectly formed, perfectly spiced, consistent color, texture, and taste throughout all of the sausages.  I tasted a sample from each sausage as I packaged them, and all were the same.  While I am not sure if this is the absolute best Summer Sausage I have ever had, it is certainly one of the top two, and I know every ingredient that went in these sausages, so I feel good eating them.

When I make this sausage again, I may change the spices a bit for half of the batch.  I would like to add more red pepper flakes, more garlic, and more whole and cracked pepper.  I may also add some buttermilk, which I forgot to do this time, to give the sausage a bit of a tang.

Also, the A-Maze-N Smoker worked great and produced about 5 – 6 hours of light smoke that flavored the sausage quite well.  If I use it to make something that requires heavier smoke, I will simply light it from both ends. 

ETA:  The yield was:  10.65 pounds

The below of a picture of the final product as I was getting ready to vacuum pack and freeze:

06Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2288

Summer Sausage–Part I

01Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2277

One of the reasons we purchased a side of beef and a whole pig was to make various types of sausage, especially Summer and Polish Sausage. One of the things that has delayed the process was the lack of some of the ingredients and a way to smoke in my new smoker.

The problem with the new smoker is that it is not possible to cold smoke, or smoke at low temperatures. However, I found a product that will allow me to cold smoke so I purchased it.  The new smoker item is the A-Maze-N smoker, pictured05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2282 below right, which is simply a 6 X 6 inch metal maze that you fill with the sawdust of your choice, light, and place in your smoker.  At this time, it is burning away and seems to be working, but we will see how good it smokes when we taste the sausage.    I also purchased all of the ingredients I was missing, so at this time we are now in the process of making Summer Sausage.

The recipe for this sausage is a combination of recipes on the Internet in order to get the salt and nitrates correct, and added ingredients that I thought would be good in Summer Sausage. 

Recipe Summer Sausage:01Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2263

Total Weight: 10 pounds

Ingredients:

6.5 pounds lean beef
3.5 pounds  pork butt

2 teaspoons Prague Powder #1
2 cups Soy Protein Isolate
6 Tablespoons Corn Syrup Solids 
1 Tablespoon Whole Peppercorns 
1 Tablespoon Cracked Peppercorns 
1 Tablespoon Cracked Mustard Seeds 
1 teaspoon Ground Coriander Seed 
4 teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 teaspoon Onion Powder

Smoke:

3 rows Hickory
1 row Apple

Casings:

2.5 X 24 inch fibrous

The process was pretty simple since the meat was already ground for me.  I mixed the spices, mixed the spices into the meat, let cure for 24 hours, soaked the casings in 90 degree water for 30 minutes, stuffed the casings, let those sit overnight, and place in the smoker.

05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2269However, one of the things I needed to find out is if my recipe tasted good, and if I needed to add anything else.  To determine this, Misty fried a sample and we sampled it.  Basically, it was great.  This recipe would be wonderful as a breakfast sausage, and I am very hopeful that the smoking process will add a high level of complexity to this recipe. 

At 0615 I started preheating the smoker to 130 degrees.  At 0815 I placed05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2285 the sausage in the smoker for one hour, then slowly raised the pit temperature to 150 degrees.  At 3:15 I raised the pit to 160 degrees, and at 4:15 to 170 degrees.  At this time, 5:33, the internal sausage temperature is 139 degrees.  So far, all is on track for a good smoke.

I did manage to make a couple of mistakes in this process.  As you can see from the image on the right, the sausage is a bit too long.  It seems my measuring foo is very weak these days.  I thought that a 16 inch sausage would fit perfectly in the smoker, taking into consideration the ends and the hanging string (I am sure there is a real name for that).  However, in the future I will do 12 inch sausage because these are simply long.  One of the issues is that they will not be colored evenly, which should not affect anything but the appearance of the sausage. 

Also, I really need a sausage stuffer.  While my Kitchen Aid worked well, it blocked some of the peppercorns and changed the consistency of the meat, especially the fat.  But overall, I am pleased so far. 

I will post Part II of this tomorrow, after we remove from the smoker, cool, and taste.  But, in the mean time, here are a few more pictures from the process:

05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2270 05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2271 05Feb14_Sausage_DSCF2278

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