Friday, August 31, 2012


I planted a lot of beans this year.  Partly because last year's crop didn't fare so well, and partly because I still had seed from 2008 sitting around.  So, I decided, what the hay, I'll plant it all.  Most of that old seed probably won't sprout anyway, right?

I did that with a lot of the odds and ends of seed packets I had laying around from former years: planted what was left into nooks and crannies of my garden.  In the case of the beans, I planted one bean seed next to every corn seed I planted.  My idea was that the corn would provide a 'pole' for my pole beans to climb.

What actually happened was that nearly every bean seed sprouted, grew, and flourished, while not all my corn seed did as well.  In one corn/bean patch, only about 1/3 of the corn (last year's seed) came up.  Ironically, that was the patch where the beans did the best, so it's more of a bean jungle than a corn-and-beans-patch.

I started having harvestable beans about three weeks ago.  I've been canning them in relatively small batches (4-6 pints) at a time as they were ready.  Then I had to be out of town for several days, taking DD1 to college and visiting DS2 on my way home (the alternate route home, a longer route, but with DS2 smack in the middle of it).  I picked and canned beans the day before I left.  I could see that the bean plants were gearing up for increased production, so I made arrangements to have them picked again the day before I was scheduled to come home.  My bean picker kindly filled a plastic grocery bag with beans, tied it shut, and stored it in my fridge as I requested, so I could can them upon my return.

Wednesday, I again went to the garden to harvest beans.  It had been roughly four days since the plants had been picked in my absence.  I expected to get about another grocery bag full of beans.

What I experienced, though, was Beanmageddon!!  Two hours, four grocery bags, and an extremely sore back later, I stumbled out of the garden with my bounty of beans.  Staggering to the house, I glanced over my shoulder a time or two to make sure I wasn't being followed by bean plants.  Beans!  Beans!  Beans everywhere!  I was going to be overpowered by beans!

Oh, my aching back!  And picking was just the beginning.  They still had to be rinsed, topped and tailed, the long straight ones made into dilly beans and the curvier or shorter or 'bug tasted' (you know, where a bug has eaten a small spot of one, but you can easily cut that spot out) beans needed to be snapped into 1.5" to 2" pieces and pressure canned.

On the upside, we won't starve this winter!  We'll have lots of canned green beans!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Canning Whole Kernel Corn

Once I'd tried my hand at canning creamed corn, I figured whole kernel couldn't be any more difficult than that.  And I was right; it wasn't.

It did require measuring the corn once I'd cut it from the cob, so that I could add 1/2 tsp salt and 1 cup of water to every pint of kernels, then bringing the whole thing to a simmer before putting into hot jars, but that was as hard as it got.

Even the processing in the pressure canner was easier: 10 pounds pressure for only 55 minutes for pints.

So, from start to finish:

  • pick corn in garden
  • shuck corn and remove silks
  • rinse in cool water
  • cut kernels from ears with sharp paring knife--get entire kernel, you'd be surprised how 'deep' they go; I thought at first I was surely going to cut into the cob
  • amass kernels in a large bowl
  • measure kernels into large pot
  • add 1 cup water and 1/2 tsp canning salt for every 2 cups kernels
  • heat to simmer
  • put in jars, leaving 1" head space
  • process 55 minutes at 10 pounds pressure

corn, water and salt in the jar

jars in the canner

processed jars cooling on island

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homegrown, Homecanned Creamed Corn

I made my first ever creamed corn from the abundance of sweet corn in my garden this year.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated by the idea of tackling a new canning project.  Beans, no problem.  Tomatoes, easy as pie.  Dill pickles, in my sleep.  But corn?!?  For some reason, corn just seemed like an insurmountable task.

In reality, it wasn't.  Oh my goodness, it was so easy.  So, so easy.  Not fast, because I had to pick, shuck, and then get the kernels off dozens of ears of corn, but it was definitely easy.  I fear canning corn no more.  I look forward to many more years of canning corn.

Here's what I did, after picking and shucking those ears.

I tried to get as much of the silks off as possible.  Then, I rinsed each ear in cool water.  From there, one by one, the ears went to a cutting board, where I first stood the ear on it's wide end, and cut off the tips of the kernels with a sharp paring knife.

Then, after going around the entire ear of corn and cutting off the tips of the kernels, I grabbed a tablespoon and used it to scrape out the pulp from inside each kernel.  This was pretty quick.

After every two or three ears of corn done this way, I dumped the pile of corn tips and pulp (and milky juice) into a large bowl. It didn't take long to have rather a large amount of 'creamed corn.'

From there, I ladled the corn and pulp and juice into hot canning jars and added 1/2 tsp salt to each one.  The canning book says you can also top off to 1" head space with boiling water, but I found that my corn was juicy enough it didn't seem to need added water.  And I was afraid of ending up with the really runny creamed corn that you seem to get whenever you buy it at the grocery store in the past five years or so.

I put 2 quarts of boiling water into the bottom of my pressure canner (as per the manufacturer's directions), set the hot, full, capped jars into the canner, put the cover on, and away we went.  At least, that's how I feel whenever I seal the pressure canner lid; I'm often heard saying "and away we go" as I turn the burner to high.

After the canner got up to 10 pounds pressure, it took 1 hr 35 minutes processing time until I was able to shut the canner off.  Once pressure dropped to zero, I removed the weight, carefully opened the lid, and took my very hot jars of cream corn out.  They were set on a dry towel (very important) on the island to cool for at least 12 hours.

After that, I did whole kernel corn for the first time.  That will be in my next post.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

To Eat A Peach

I love peaches.  When we bought the land at this little place here, one of the first thing I did was plant three peach trees.  Then I waited for them to get mature enough to bear fruit.  Once they did, I found that I loved peaches even more.  A peach, in season, bought by the bushel for canning, tastes pretty darn good.  A peach, dead ripe, plucked from your very own tree and still warm from the sun, tastes awesome.

When I figured out, earlier this summer, that the solid week of freezing nights we'd had late this spring, after all my fruit trees had been in blossom for 3-10 days (depending on variety), had killed all those embryonic fruits and that I would get no peaches (or any other fruit) from this little place here in 2012, I was bummed.

Okay, bummed is an understatement.  I was very upset.  I was so upset, I even sank low enough to buy a can of peaches from the store and eat them.  Blech.  Rock hard, very little peach flavor, much sugar.

Canned peaches from the store being very firmly ruled out, I decided I would have to find somewhere to obtain fresh peaches so I could still can my own this year.

After several weeks of squeezing peaches in stores, I finally found a few that didn't feel like lumps of cement.  They gave a bit when squeezed, so I bought them.  And tried to eat them.  Tried.  Couldn't.  It was even more devastating than realizing my trees were bare. First of all, it had been defuzzed.  I prefer my peaches au naturel, with fuzz.  Secondly, it was dry, not juicy.  Thirdly, it had a texture somewhat akin to oatmeal, which I have not yet acquired an appreciation for.  It's rather like eating paste, and I gave that up in early grade school.  Fourthly, there was no peach flavor.  None.  Blech, blech, and double blech!

Desperate, I searched the internet and contacted orchards within an hour of me.  "Nope, no peaches."  "No, sorry ma'am, ours got froze out too."  "No, unfortunately we have no peaches this year."

Then I hit upon a brilliant idea.  I would go out of state!  Not that I would do this just for peaches, but I was going to be heading out of state to deliver DD1 to college, and then going way far north in my own state to visit DS2 at his college.  Maybe I could find peaches on my travels.

Hope renewed, that was my plan: buy peaches from somewhere 'local' to where I was when I found them.  Somewhere on my route to do motherly goodness.  Gas expense justified :0)

Well, I realized in Minnesota that even if I should locate peaches there, they would never be good by the time I got home from visiting DS2.  Ripe peaches, ready for canning, are pretty perishable.  They wouldn't survive the non-refrigerated multi-day journey from purchase in MN to the northern wilderness of MI and back to this little place here before hitting my canner. I really didn't want bushels of peach mush in the back of my suburban the third day after purchase.  Well, darn.

I turned my hopes to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula).  The afternoon before returning to this little place here, I did find some peaches.  Unfortunately not in quantity enough for canning.  The U.P. is a different zone than this little place here, and their fruit trees blossomed out later than mine, and escaped the late frost of the lower peninsula.  The farmer I happened upon, however, did not have many trees, and he'd had several canning customers before I drove by him at the side of the road with his little farm stand.


I bought a few peaches anyway, just for eating fresh.  They were delicious.  The memory of their flavor, texture, juiciness and fuzz will have to tide me over until next year, when hopefully I will again have my own fresh-from-the-tree peaches.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beans and Peppers and 'Maters, Oh My!

I haven't posted in the past week.  The garden is on overdrive at present, so I've spent many hours picking and canning veggies.  The above picture is just a portion of what I've canned since Saturday afternoon.  There was more last week, however I didn't take the time to get photographic evidence.  ;o)

The above picture was just my pickled foods: 6 pints dilly beans, 3 quarts dill pickles, 8 pints pickled hot pepper chunks, and 6 pints sliced jalapenos.

On top of that was a mountain of green beans to process.  (Well, truthfully, I took these next two pictures before doing the dilly beans, so only half a mountain left--7 more pints of green beans).

Green beans in my largest colander, after being topped and tailed.
I watched Forrest Gump while topping and tailing them.
Yes, the whole movie.
It took that long.
It was a lot of beans.

My hand for size comparison; 
my 4" (ish) wide hand spanned a bit more than a third of the colander.
Did I mention that's a lot of beans?

In the first picture of this post, if you look again, you'll notice the tomatoes alongside the canning jars.  That was one day's harvest; about half a bushel.  They were Monday's project.

All 19 pints of them.  Boy, am I glad I have two water bath canners.  Otherwise, it would have taken way longer than the four hours start to finish that it did.

This brings my total of canned tomatoes up to 30 pints so far.  I'm shooting for 50, that would give me consumption at slightly less than one jar a week for the coming year.  With only three of us at home (once DD1 is at college), I'm really not sure how much we need per year in food any more.  I do know that when there were six at this little place here, we went through probably 2 pints a week.

Also canned, but not pictured, is 4 pints of tomato sauce.  I have more sauce tomatoes to do yet before we head out of state later this week to take DD1 to college.  Until I have all the diced tomatoes canned that I want, I'm only saucing the Romas.  Probably in September I will start saucing all of them.  We go through a lot of tomato sauce since I make all our spaghetti, marinara, and pizza sauce from scratch--and they all start with a pint of tomato sauce!

I also have a whole lot of corn to process, which I'm a bit intimidated by.  I've never had a good enough crop of sweet corn to need to process it; we always just ate it for dinner right out of the garden.  This year, however, I have dozens, maybe even more than 100 ears, still out there and all are dead ripe.  So, time to attempt some home canned cream corn, and decide if I'm going to can or freeze my whole kernel corn.

I also have more long slicing-type cukes than we can keep up with, so I'm going to attempt to make some hamburger dills with those.  Just as soon as I find a no-sugar recipe.  The only hamburger dill recipe I have uses a bit of sugar, and, for a household in which no one likes sweet pickles, the last ones I made were just too sweet.  So, some internet searching and experimentation tonight. . .

If I have time, I'll do a blog post on making the cream corn and the hamburger dills before I head out of town.  Otherwise, it might be a week or so before I get to it.  But I'll be back, I promise.  Stay tuned. . .

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A New Melon For Me

I have been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, for years now to grow watermelons at this little place here.  Our previous land had sandy soil, and I easily grew watermelons.  This little place here, however, has heavy clay soils and it seems that watermelons don't care much for that.  Usually if I do get them to germinate and grow, they don't grow enough to be ripe before frost hits in the Fall.

Having read about a Canadian watermelon, Cream of Saskatchewan, I ordered some seeds of this variety to give a try this year.  I had hoped that a melon that would ripen in Canada's short growing season might do the same at this little place here.

Well, it's early August still, and we have harvested and eaten three Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons so far.  While they aren't what you expect when you think of watermelon, they do ripen, and they do taste good.

They are a small, round variety.  Not surprising there, several northern type watermelons are small and round versus large and oblong.  The big surprise is when you cut into them.

They are white!

Completely ripe, yet not a hint of pink.  If anything, I'd say they are a butter color.  Probably why they are named Cream of Saskatchewan and not just Saskatchewan melons.

Here's a picture of me holding half a melon in my hand for size reference.  This is mid-sized of what I've grown of these so far.  The bigger ones are maybe as big as a basketball.

Perhaps I should say that I have large hands for a woman.  Not big, necessarily, but I have long fingers (hence a ladies 'large' glove size), which makes for a wide grip compared to your average size lady.

DH and DD1 don't think this melon is very sweet, but I give it a thumb's up.  No, it isn't overpoweringly sugary, but it does have a good flavor.  I'll definitely grow it again in future years.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Refrigerator Pickles

It's mid-summer at this little place here, and I have made a couple batches of refrigerator pickles all ready.  They are really easy to make, and while I'm not fond of them (I prefer my cukes as dill pickles rather than any other form of cucumber product), DH and the kids love them.  So I make batches and batches of them from mid-summer until the Fall frosts kill the cucumber vines.  Like I said, they are really easy to do, require only 4 ingredients, and make a great healthy snack for my family.

If you want to make your own, just take some cucumbers, either nice slicing cucumbers from the store or farmer's market if you're not growing your own, or some of the oddball ones from your own garden.  I usually can the decent pickle-sized ones and serve the beautiful slicers in salads or on sandwiches, and make refrigerator pickles out of the 'reject' ones: the twisted, gnarled, bug bit, one-end-going bad, overgrown, sunburnt, or otherwise funky cukes.

This year's inaugural batch of refrigerator pickles was made with some way overgrown pickling cukes I 'discovered'; they had been tiny bumps behind blossoms before all our rain, and by the time I got to the garden afterward they were bloated things nowhere near the size to fit into a canning jar.  So. . . refrigerator pickles it is!

1. Wash your cukes if needed.  If from the store, I definitely would, from my own garden I don't bother unless they have dust on them or got splashed with mud during a recent rain.

2.  Peel the skins off.

3. slice in rounds about 1/4" thick.

4. place in a shallow dish

5. sprinkle with salt (I used canning salt, saving the free-flowing stuff for our salt shaker that goes on the table)

6. cover with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water

7. place on a shelf in your refrigerator

They develop more flavor if you let them sit overnight before eating any, but that rarely happens here.  DH is usually snitching some right as I am mixing them together if he's home, or as soon as he discovers them in the fridge if he was at work during the assembly.

I can't tell you how long they stay good for in the fridge.  At this little place here they are often gone within 48 hours and the troops are clamoring for another batch.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tomatoes Are In!

The tomatoes are finally coming in!  All the hot weather we've had this summer has been great for them; all my plants are absolutely loaded.  I've watched those green tomatoes for weeks now, and they are finally beginning to turn red.

Early last week, it was the few early ones here and there that made for great snacking and the wonderful red ripe tomato taste in a breakfast omelet.  Then, after two solid days of rain (much needed rain, I think about 3 inches!), the girls and I ventured into the garden yesterday to see what we would see.  I was afraid that all that sudden precipitation would have made my nearly ripe melons split, and also a lot of my almost ripe tomatoes.  We did find a few that had split, both melons and 'maters, but most were still intact.  We got to harvesting the red tomatoes, and ended up with enough canning type tomatoes to fill eleven pint jars this afternoon.  We also picked dozens of the paste type tomatoes which I will make into sauce Monday or Tuesday.

Like most things I do, canning tomatoes isn't difficult.  As I've said before about numerous other tasks, it's not hard, just time consuming.

I do it the easy way, by doing raw pack, which saves some time not having to heat the tomatoes before putting them in the canning jars.

First, I sort out my ripe from not-quite ripe tomatoes (sometimes while picking the ripe ones, adjacent ones get knocked off.  That's okay. Bring them in the house; they'll ripe on the counter or a windowsill just fine.).

Fill the canner with water, and set that on to heat.  Also fill the blancher with water and set that on to heat.  Also get the clean jars and rings ready to warm up.  Don't forget to put your lids on to heat too.

Then I wash the tomatoes in the sink.

Once the water in the blancher is at a boil, then I put the tomatoes in it, a few at a time, and heat them for about a minute.

(the green shoulders on these tomatoes is sun scald, the tomatoes really are ripe)

The skins on the tomatoes should crack (although I find that not always does this work on the hybrids, but almost always on the heirlooms).  Even if they don't, I still take them out after a minute because otherwise the flesh of the tomato begins to cook and gets too mushy.

Cherokee Purple tomato showing crack in skin.

Immediately put the tomatoes from the blancher into ice water to stop them from cooking.

Once I've sent all the tomatoes through the blancher, I fill the now empty side of the sink with hot water and put the jars and rings in to heat up while I peel, core and slice the tomatoes.

 Hybrid tomato (Early girl?  I think)

 Heirloom tomato (Cherokee Purple)

I like to sorta dice my tomatoes when I can them.  Quartered is too big of chunks for most things I use canned tomatoes in, but if I dice them too small, they end up more like stewed tomatoes, of which I am not fond.

When I have several tomatoes peeled, cored, and cut, I start packing the first jar.  Each pint gets 1/2 teaspoon canning salt.

And 1 tablespoon lemon juice

then I pack it up to 1/2 inch of the rim with tomatoes.  You can top off to 1/2 inch head space with hot water if you want/need, but I find that the juice from my tomato pieces usually does the trick of filling the jar.

When the jar is filled and has 1/2 inch head space left, remember to release any trapped air bubbles with a knife, small spatula, or a tool made for this purpose.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean damp cloth to remove any seeds, pulp, or juice that might interfere with the lid's ability to seal.

Then all you have to do is put on the lid, tighten down the ring, and put your jar(s) into a boiling water bath canner and process for 40 minutes.

Once the time is up, remove the jars from the canner and place on a clean dry towel on your counter or other work surface to cool for at least 12 hours.

Jars out of the canner to cool. 
 Sometimes they boil over a little when I first take them out, but this never seems to interfere with the lids getting a good seal.

Sunday's canning bounty: 3 quarts of dill pickles and 11 pints of tomatoes.

Now, some of you savvy people who have recently gotten into canning or who have read the latest guidelines on canning might notice I water bath my tomatoes instead of pressure canning them as is currently recommended.  I've been doing tomatoes this way for a long time, about a decade and a half, and I add lemon juice and use (mostly) heirloom varieties, so I'm not worried about the tomatoes not being acidic enough to process safely in just the water bath canner.  You, of course, may pressure can your tomatoes if you so choose.  I'm going to keep doing mine this way.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Serious Case of "I Don't Wanna"

How do I know when I've been trying to do too much?  When I get a case of "I Don't Wanna".  You know, when you wish you were about three years old again so you could plant your butt down somewhere, cross your arms, stick out your lip, and refuse to do anything.  That is exactly what I feel like today.  I've got a serious case this morning.

I don't wanna wake up at 5:30 a.m. to get DH's breakfast made and pack his lunch before he leaves early for work today. (But I did, cuz breakfast together is our guaranteed uninterrupted private time and I know he didn't want to get up early either.)

I don't wanna can the peppers and cukes I started soaking in lime water yesterday. (But I will because otherwise they will go to waste.)

I don't wanna finish my baking for this afternoon's farmers market. (But I will, as soon as I determine how today's stormy weather will affect customer turnout and what items and quantities are enough.)

I don't wanna decide if I have enough tomatoes left on the counter (due to DH's excessive tomato snacking yesterday) to bother canning them, and if I don't can them, what to do with them. (But I will, most likely by going to the garden and finding the next ripest candidates to round things out.)

I don't wanna deal with DD1 who is due at college in 14 days and suddenly having severe anxiety over leaving home. (But I will, because what choice do I have?  She's scared and she needs guidance.)

I don't wanna, I don't wanna, I don't wanna.  The list goes on, but gets a bit too detailed of my life to put out in internetland.

What do I wanna?

If somebody could waive a magic wand and take care of the I don't wanna list for me, I would sit down and do a puzzle.  I've been wanting to work on a puzzle for over a month now, but there is just too much needing to be done that I won't allow myself to even open the box.

If I didn't have to tackle the I don't wannas, I'd sit down and draft up about a dozen blog posts, mostly with how-to pictures.

If the I don't wannas would disappear, I'd like to finish the king sized quilt that has been a three-quarters finished quilt top for the last three years.  It's kind of brightly colored, and I'd planned to use it as a summer quilt on my bed.  I'd also like to make the T-shirt quilt with DD1 that she decided she wanted to make of her old high school sports and activities shirts.  The plan had been to work on that together this summer, and have her take it with her for her bed at the dorm.  Oh, and I'd like to make myself a new apron; my old trusty one is looking rather old and ragged after a good dozen years of use.

I wanna spend time with DH when he's not tethered to work.  Technology is not necessarily one of my favorite things, especially when laptops and smart phones mean that he is making conference calls in the dining room at eight p.m. and working on the computer until 11 p.m.  And juggling work issues on his 'vacation days' just about every day of vacation he's taken this summer, including the ones he took so we could watch DD1's softball team in their run for the state championship and when we went to SC for some R&R and to visit DS1, K2 and the grandbaby.  Or when he has to go into work right after dinner on Sunday to get stuff ready for 7 a.m. testing on Monday.  Or when he's driving us somewhere and has me type in a text or email to a coworker or boss on his smart phone as he dictates to me what the message needs to say so urgently. Or when his laptop joins us at breakfast (GRRR!!)

I wanna finish the manuscript of my second novel so I feel ready to submit book one and book three for publishing (they all  tie together, but one and three were written first, then I decided I needed two to explain some of the gaps between them).  I love to write, but only for me, not given a specific list of things to include, issues to tackle, or deadlines to meet.  Probably why book one got it's birth when I was eleven years old and in sixth grade, but didn't get polished up and 'finished' until DS1 left home when I was 36.  Book three I wrote in 2008 and haven't touched since.  Book two has been languishing under my overload of tasks for the past four years.  I do want to find a publisher for them, but adding that to my mountain of tasks is just too daunting still.

I wanna break!  No, not a break.  A change.  Yes, I want a change.  Add that to my list: figure out the change I want, and how to implement it.

I wanna stop trying to do three jobs (in terms of money making or bartering for things) and a myriad of tasks myself, and just figure out which one is the most lucrative and fits best with my family, my interests, and this little place here.

But first, I have to tackle the I don't wannas this morning.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Garden Eatin'

That's what's been for meals here lately: garden eatin'.  It's that time of summer when meals are not planned on what is in the cupboard, but what is ripe in the garden.

So far this week we've had:
swiss chard
hot peppers
sweet corn
summer squash

Certainly no lack of vegetables in our diet, and when I look at the list above I can find just one item I ate as a child--the corn.  Growing my own veggies has opened my eyes and my palate to the endless vegetable options there are.  Fresh picked just tastes so much better that it has converted this formerly picky eater child to a veggie lover.  Still picky though; but now it's a picky of fresh homegrown versus from the store, and not an "I'll only eat corn, beans, and peas" kind of picky.

My kids have been lucky to have had homegrown veggies most of their lives.  As a result, they are all veggie lovers.  They think broccoli is delicious.  They go wild over asparagus.  The first tomato of the season is eaten warm from the sun, and before it ever leaves the garden.  Peas have been known to disappear right off the vine and into their mouths without even being cooked first.  A ripe watermelon, picked from their own garden, is cause for children to do a happy dance, and then dig in until their hands and faces drip with the sweet sticky juice.  (We ate our first watermelon of the season yesterday, I should have put that on the list!)

Garden eatin'.  There's nothing better.  A close second is when you open up a jar in the winter time of something you canned in the summer.  Like the hot peppers and the dill pickles I've been putting up this past week.  Or the tomatoes that are slated for the canner on Friday.

I'm hoping to get photos of the tomato canning process, for any readers who've never canned before.  They're really easy to do.  Time consuming (like most canning), but easy.  Check back this weekend; hopefully I'll have something posted by then.