Monday, October 26, 2009

In-cider information

It's cider season in Whatcom County! Our neighbors had 33 crates of apples from their trees this year, so we pitched in to help turn them into cider.
Check out this clever work table! The top is made from wood slats, so you can dump your apples or other produce on it and hose them right off. We are definitely going to build one of these for Seven Trees.

Running the crusher is a two-handed job for some of us....a good upper-body workout.
There are little metal teeth inside the hopper that break the apples down enough to make extracting the juice easier. Once the press is full, a wooden board goes on top and a giant screw is turned to force all the juice out. The disk of apple-squishings is called a cheese. The cows got to eat a few wheelbarrows full of the spent apple pulp, which is also known as pomace.

Naturally, we filled a couple of carboys to start some hard cider brewing. We added campden tablets to kill off any wild yeast first. The old-fashioned traditional way is to let the yeast already present on the apples do the fermenting, but this can be unpredictable. We didn't want to take any chances, so we'll use Nottingham ale yeast on one batch, and a wine yeast on another. The ale-yeasted batch we'll bottle carbonated, hopefully with none exploding while they finish fermenting.
We also canned up quite a few quarts to have over the winter. The short processing time pasteurizes the cider, but it still tastes a million times better than anything from the store. Below is a short movie of the crusher in action.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Congee and critters

Look at this lovely use of an old laying hen! The soup above is called congee. Also known as jook and chao ga, it's an Asian version of comforting chicken soup. My personal recipe is this:

One soup chicken
One 'stalk' of lemongrass
Three 2" pieces of fresh ginger
1.5 cups Jasmine rice
Salt & pepper

Put an old laying hen (previously butchered) into a soup kettle and cover with water.
Chop the lemongrass into 1.5" pieces.
Scrape most of the peel off the ginger and add.
Add salt to taste, maybe 1 tablespoon.
Simmer 24 hours on the back burner, not letting it come to a boil.
Take out the chicken and remove meat from bones.
Strain out lemon grass and ginger.
Put chicken meat back in pot and add rice.
Bring to a quick boil, then simmer until rice is porridgey.
Salt & pepper to taste.

Garnish bowls of congee with chopped cilantro and squeeze a wedge of lime into it. Heavenly!
This kind of soup can't be canned, so I freeze it with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of cilantro in each container.
Magnus is taking advantage of chilly nights by the woodstove. The squash are in curing before being stored in the pantry for the winter. They like a week or so of warm temps, then they will last for months in the cool dry pantry on a wire rack. The Uncle David Dakota dessert squash are all they're cracked up to be. Highly recommended!

Gemini is obviously starving to death, and needed to come up on the back porch to beg for dried apple slices through the kitchen window.
After a hard day's work at Seven Trees, humans and critters need to relax.....Gemini doesn't really like beer, but he can't help being nosey.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Puca time!

Our berry patch out front usually gives us the first sign of the end of summer. For weeks straight, we're able to pick more berries than fit in the freezer. But eventually a day comes where the berries look good from a distance, but on closer inspection are all funky. Some have slug tracks, some are already rotten and dropping off, and some never really get ripe. We call this "berries gone puca". What the heck is a puca, you ask?
The Puca (also spelled Pooka, Puka, Puck) is a supernatural creature mostly associated with Ireland, West Scotland and Wales. It can take a variety of shapes, dog, rabbit, goat or goblin, but a large black horse with glowing golden eyes is the most common form. It has the power of human speech, and legends abound in Ireland of people seeking advice from a Puca, which are probably remnants of pre-christian religious rituals. Pucas are also known to abduct unwary nighttime travellers, taking them for a wild ride, then leaving them unharmed where they were found.
An ancient agricultural custom was that any crops left unharvested after Samhain (Oct. 31/Nov. 1) belonged to the Puca, and anyone gathering them would also gather the ill-will of the Puca. Parents would warn their children not to eat these crops by telling them they would make them sick. In many areas people would proactively leave a small portion of their crops in the field, called the Puca's share.
If you'd like to read more about this creature, including how one was tamed by Irish high king Brian Boru, check out these links:
Our garden is just about done for the year. We left plenty for the Puca, and still have a lot of broccoli, chard, lettuce, kohlrabi & carrots planted for winter harvesting. Sitting on the gravel pad where the greenhouse used to be is about 20lbs of carrots, and a kohlrabi the size of a bowling ball. Doug & Buddy had fun gnawing on it. After 4 years of trying to integrate the greenhouse into our food production, we decided we could do without it. Four-season gardening is a wonderful thing, but we'd really rather take winters off and eat canned, dried & frozen harvests. The back porch will be mostly enclosed soon and will be an excellent place for seed starting, which is pretty much all we used the greenhouse for. The greenhouse has gone to its new home with our Endorean friends.

Last of the peppers! We pickled all of these, using a fridge-pickle recipe. We noticed that canning them in the hot water bath makes them not keep as well, and with a 2nd fridge in the shop, we have room for them.
Some of the squash have made it inside for their pre-storage heat treatment. They keep longer if they get a week or so in warm temps. When they're done by the woodstove, they'll go on a metal shelving unit in the pantry.
A persistent visitor to the sunflower feeder. I'm not sure if this woodpecker was after seeds or bugs living in the seeds, but it spends a lot of time at Seven Trees.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Getting ready for winter

It was a breezy weekend in Whatcom County.
There were power outages all over, mostly due to downed trees like this one across the road from us. Our power didn't go out until they turned it off to get rid of the tree, but we still had fun chatting with neighbors and a couple of friendly police officers.
This weekend I also experimented with making roasted vegetable stock that went into a batch of black bean veggie soup that I canned. Here are the raw stock ingredients, ready for roasting. The recipes I used are here: Roasted veggie stock and Black bean soup.
We got a nice pile of maple rounds from one neighbor we bought firewood from, and it's so hard that we had to call for reinforcements to split it. Here's our neighbor to the north, who brought his tractor-driven hydraulic splitter over to help.
And a bit of video showing how powerful the splitter is. We're keeping a couple rounds intact for splitting on, the old fashioned way. We also use a splitting round for peening the scythe on, and killing chickens. Funny how important a chunk of hardwood is to farm functions....