Category Archives: Canning

13 in 16: Skills and Goals for the New Year

In 2015, we had a rather aggressive list of skills and goals to accomplish. Although we made great progress, this year’s list will look much like last year’s but revamped with more extensive and detailed intentions.

1. Writing
I took, what I perceived to be, many risks with my journey to publishing. By risks I mean scary jumps into a world where rejection is not only possible, but highly likely.

I’ve decided to focus my efforts on writing a chapter book/story book starring the mice from my Adventures in Homesteading series.

I’ve laid out the “chapters” and started revising and submitting for feedback in my writer’s critique group and I’ve joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)…finally.

This year, I am going to clean and tighten up my manuscript and submit it to agents and/or editors for feedback.

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2. Seed Saving
Beyond saving amaranth and cilantro seeds, we made absolutely no progress on this goal.

That is three years of setting this goal and doing nothing about it.

Maybe with the extra day this year, we’ll move forward.

3. Concealed Carry
Another goal we have not tackled. We found a range near us that offers the class, but I want to get some range time in and get comfortable holding, handling and shooting my gun.

4. Essential Oils
I’ve been using essential oils on a weekly basis and as remedies for many common ailments…sore throat, cold, mood and anxiety.

There are a few classes offered in the area where I plan to learn more and use them even more and on a daily basis.

5. Back to “prepping”
We started to get back to prepping but sticking to it is almost like making that New Year’s resolution to “get fit and stay fit”.

It lasts for about six weeks and then the excuses start.

“I’ll start again on Monday.”

“Ok, after Valentine’s Day I’m really going to do it.”

We did get better at storing food and water. Not so much on home defense.

Our biggest progress on this goal? We added to our 72 hour kits. We took a day and, as a family, reviewed what we had in our bags and added what was missing. It’s still not perfect, but at least we did something.

6. Curriculum Planning
This is the one goal that I feel REALLY good about. The boys and I have a routine that often gets disrupted…and that’s ok.

That’s the beauty of teaching them outside the school system. We don’t have to make up days or ram through the rest of that ‘material’ in order to stay on track. Our goals are loose and our schedule is flexible.

Breakfast, playtime, work booking, playtime, lunch, playtime, field trip or fun activity, playtime.

They get plenty of play and they learn, learn and learn some more.

Sometimes we don’t see what they’ve learned until a day, a week, a month later, but it is so gratifying when I hear them apply something they learned to real life.

“Heel, toe, heel, toe…that’s a pattern!”

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7. Meal Planning for Paleo/Primal/Healthy Meals
This is a skill and takes a great deal of organization to plan for, shop for and and stay on track with both the planning and cooking of healthy meals.

It’s so easy to buy the pre-cooked, processed box of potatoes rather than take the time to prepare fresh.

By the same token, it’s so easy to log on to Pinterest and search for sites where the planning and prepping guide has already been laid out in simple steps.

8. Stocks and Investing
We took the steps and invested the money. We are diversified…stocks, cash, silver, bitcoin, etc..

We’ve used our bitcoin to buy a laptop, a tablet and two bookshelves. More and more sites are accepting bitcoin and payment including dell.com, overstock.com and the list goes on.

9. Fitness
I joined a fitness club and have been taking classes 2-3 times a week. I feel really good about this and my balance and strength have improved…drastically.

So far, I’ve been focusing mainly on muscle toning and not so much on cardio. I’m going to rotate in cardio classes so that I’m doing weights and toning 2 times a week and cardio two times a week.

Learning the correct and safe way to lift weights intimidates me just a little bit, but I have learned that a balance between cardio and weights is the best way to get fit.

10. Blogging
I have 268 followers now. 268! While I haven’t changed the design of the site, I have revamped it by adding category buttons to make it easier for visitors to navigate to what interests them.

This year I’ll continue watching 5 Minutes with Jack and seeking out how to turn my blog into a business.

11. Tree Care
We have planted many trees over the past two years, but done little to make sure they thrive and grow.

Well…they’ve grown, but I’m not sure they’ve really thrived.

This year, our plan is to learn more about propagating and pruning trees to ensure maximum growth and production. And, if we are feeling ambitious, we might try grafting.

12. Propagation
Our only try at propagating perenials last year was cutting off a blackberry branch, dipping it rooting hormone and sticking it in the vineyard.

That’s it. That’s all we did. But it worked!

We are going to try several methods of propagation this year including using root cuttings, leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, rooting hormone and layering.

13. Brewing
We know how to brew and we know how to make wine…but I don’t remember the last time we’ve actually done either. We’ll be focusing on getting our kegs full and learning more about making meads and cysers from fresh fruit.

Not so many skills
But goals to drive us forward
Start the year off right

Heirloom Salsa Round 2

I made some salsa last year with all of my heirloom tomatoes, but it didn’t turn out. At least not to my taste. It was too mild and too bland.

I decided that I would not make the same mistake this year.

The recipe I used is a mish mosh of many recipes I found on Pinterest. I took what I liked, ignored what I didn’t and used my own judgement for the rest.

I had been throwing my tomatoes in the freezer as I harvested them. I think I had around 20# of tomatoes in grocery sacks in the freezer.

I thawed them out, peeled (most) of the skins, chopped them up, threw some in the food processor and popped all into a stock pot.

I had a variety of tomatoes, most of them heirlooms: beefsteak, Aunt Ruby’s, Green Zebra, Black Prince and Mr. Stripey.

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Next, I chopped the peppers I had saved. Jalapeno, serrano, cherry, cayenne, pepperoncini and a few others I got from a friend’s garden.

I kept some seeds and ribs in the peppers to add some extra heat.

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I peeled three bulbs of garlic, chopped 3 large onions and threw it all, including the peppers, into a food processor and pulsed until they were finely chopped.

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All of this went into the pot with the tomatoes. I cooked it for 2 hours and then added white vinegar (for preservation) and cilantro, both fresh and from cubes I had frozen in oil earlier in the year.

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Then, I cooked it for the recommended 20 minutes, but it was still too thin and watery so I ended up cooking it for most of the afternoon. I added three cans of tomato paste to hurry the thickening process along.

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Finally, the consistency was right and it was time for a taste test.

It was spicy, ridiculously so…even for me. I knew it would just get spicier as it sat so I added more tomato paste to tone it down.

It was still hot after I cooked it down some more, but it was just how I like it.

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This process took most of the day so I opted to can it the next day.

The Ball Canning Book, the must-have guide for all canning endeavors, said to heat the water to 212* for acidic foods and boil the filled jars for 15 minutes at that heat.

Unfortunately, one of my jars popped as soon as it hit the water. I think I had it too hot. I had to pour the water out of the pot and start the boiling process all over again.

By the end of the day, I had 6 pint jars and 2 quart jars of spicy salsa.

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It’s delicious and I just know spicy food lovers will enjoy it.

I might give some of it away with a bag of chips and homemade taco seasoning as a Christmas gift.

Maybe.

Ridiculously Spice Salsa
(But you can tone it down.)
Around 20# of tomatoes
Peppers, as many as you can handle.
Onions to your taste. I used 3 big ones.
Garlic to your taste. I used 3 bulbs.
1 cup of white vinegar to preserve
Salt to your taste. I used a couple of heaping tablespoons.
Tomato paste to thicken to your liking.

Equipment
Water bath pot with canning rack
Thermometer
Canning jar lifter
Jars, rings and lids
Ball Blue Book Guide

Heirloom Salsa

I didn’t plant any red tomatoes. Sure, a few romas from last year’s plantings volunteered their services and we have a few from our CSA, but most of mine are heirlooms. Yellow, Black Prince and, of course, Mr. Stripey.

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I didn’t think about that when I started to make salsa to can. The only red in the mix comes from the mild red peppers and a few tomatoes from our CSA. It’s such a colorful blend of peppers, onions, tomatoes and cilantro…quite pretty actually.

Before starting, I looked at a few salsa recipes in the Ball Canning book and on Pinterest. So many sounded delicious! I decided to take the best flavors from several recipes to make my own tasty salsa.

Ingredients
I pulled quite a bit of the ingredients below from the garden, but I did end up having to get some at the store.

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Oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and lime juice for the jars. I later added cumin.

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Cilantro, Italian red and green peppers, leeks from CSA, tomatoes, jalapenos, red onion and garlic.

Method
My father-in-law is a great cook. He makes up marinades for pork, chicken, beef, veggies, you name it. They are so tasty…the perfect blend of flavors. I’ve watched him cook and asked him how he knows how much of this or that to put in. His response? Season it until it feels right.

I started to do the same. At first, I was conservative with my seasoning. I was too afraid I would over season and sabotage the dish. In fact, I did ruin dishes a couple of times with too much salt or pepper*.

*Note: You don’t need to use as much pepper and salt if it is finely ground.

Then, as I cooked more and marinated more, I got a better sense of what tastes good together. So when I made this salsa, I didn’t really use measurements. I used two full bulbs of garlic plus more garlic powder, some oregano, a little chili powder, probably too many jalapenos, 3 or 4 pounds of tomatoes, a few leeks, two red onions and then two cans of stewed tomatoes that I crushed.

I prepped and put all of the ingredients in a stock pot and put it in the fridge overnight. I told myself it was to let all the flavors “mesh”, but really, I was just tired from all of the chopping, mixing and crying over the onions and leeks.

I mixed it all up the next day and cooked it on the stovetop.

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I tasted it several times, adding a pinch more of this or that until it was to my liking and knowing that as it sits in the jars, the flavor will only get better.

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Then, I sterilized the jars, rings and lids, ladled the hot salsa into the hot jars, and processed for 10 minutes.

I ended up with 4 quarts and 3 pints. Enough for us to enjoy, and share.

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***
Customary haiku for my amusement.

13 in 14
Canning requirement complete
Next is sewing. Yikes.

Canning Tomatoes for the First Time

Yesterday, my sister-in-law and I canned tomatoes for the first time.

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We used the recipe from the Ball Canning book for canning tomatoes in their own juice.

We had a variety of tomatoes: Mr. Stripey, Black Prince, Roma and some heirloom red tomatoes from our CSA share.

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We ended up with two big bowls of diced tomatoes after we had blanched them.

I was amazed at how easy it was to peel the skin off once the hot veggie was dunked in ice water.

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We started the whole process at 1:30 and had 7 jars in the water bath canner by 3. Then it was another two hours while the boiling water sealed the jars.

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Seven jars fit in the canner, but I was sure we wouldn’t have enough tomatoes to fill all seven.

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Boy was I wrong. We had an entire bowl left over. I think the jars look pretty with their red, yellow and dark red tomatoes floating around in the juice.

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All of the tomato skins, seeds and cores went into the scrap bowl for the chickens. They were very happy with their evening snack. A few fights even broke out over the larger pieces.

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I’m a little skeptical about how these tomatoes will taste. Some of them were not quite ripe enough, so I just used the ripe part and cut off the rest for the chickens to enjoy.

We have so many more tomatoes in the garden that are ripening every day. I think I’ll try my hand at sauce and salsa.

13 in 14
Canning goal is almost done
Sauce and salsa next

Brassica Blitz

My brassica starts are ready to be transplanted to the ground for food in the fall.

We have broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts. They were downstairs under a grow light and out of the heat for a time. Then, I set them outside for a few hours a day to get them used to real sunlight. Now I’m planting them in the raised beds.

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I’ve not had much luck with the brassica group. Last year we only harvested one head of cabbage and none of our broccoli, cauliflower or brussel sprouts grew. At all.

This year, I hope, will be different. The boys like broccoli a whole lot and I am looking forward to making Chinese Cabbage Slaw, roasted brussel sprouts and mashed cauliflower.

But…if we lose it all, none of it will go to waste.

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Munching chickens munch
Brassicas are their favorite
The bugs, a bonus

Canning Tomato Sauce from Frozen Romas

The time is here. I am ready to can my first only batch of tomato sauce for the season.

Now I am more of a get-it-all-done-at-once type of person so we froze the tomatoes we didn’t eat or share..whole…until we had enough to can. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get the skins off by just running the tomatoes under hot water!

We had about 15-20lbs. This is a guesstimate based on me standing on a scale without the tomatoes and then standing on it again with the tomatoes to see the difference.

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Now for the recipe. You can scale it up or down depending on how many pounds of tomatoes you have. I didn’t really follow the recipe. I added herbs and spices to my taste. The basil, rosemary, parsley and thyme were all from our garden!

3 lbs tomatoes
2 whole bulbs of garlic, cloves separated
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried Rosemary
Lemon juice, about 2TB
Parsley
Red Pepper flakes
Red wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a baking dish with olive oil and throw in tomatoes, garlic cloves, salt and pepper.

Now…I love garlic so I added 12 whole bulbs. Yep, 12.

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Bake for around an hour.

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Remove and let cool slightly. Fire up the food processor…a blender would work too…and place tomatoes in food processor bowl and blend, blend, blend. Once it is at the consistency you want, transfer to a pot.

Add your aromatics: basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and rosemary and any additional salt and pepper to taste. Then add the rest of your seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.

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I let it simmer for about 4-5 hours…until I thought it tasted right. Then I let it cool to room temp and strained it to get all the stringy bits and seeds out. I used cheese cloth, but I think a colander would work too.

And now for the canning.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

By the time it had cooked down and been strained, we had about 4 quarts left. I froze 2 quarts and made some chili with the rest.

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The sauce tastes spectacular and has just a small bit of kick from the red pepper flakes. Sure I’m disappointed that we didn’t actually can any…but I’m very excited to have such an awesome recipe for next year.

And from the smell coming from the stove, the chili is going to be delicious.

Canning Experiment

Since the pickled okra/chard was a success, I decided to try the same brine on cucumbers and green beans.

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From left to right: Green beans and chard, whole okra and chard stems, chopped okra and chard and thick cut cucumbers from today’s harvest.

Can’t wait to try them!

Our First Cucumber! A Haiku

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Delicious and green
Sweet cucumber so yummy
Pickles? I think so!

Pickled Okra and Chard: A Haiku

Oh yummy okra
You and chard are such a pair
Hot pepper, you rock

Pickled Okra and Chard

Our okra crop is coming in strong so Ray and I decided to see if we liked it pickled. Ray likes it fried, but I think we will have so much that we need to find a way to preserve it so we don’t get tired of fried okra.

Enter Pickled Chard and Okra. We did only one pint jar instead of the four the recipe below calls for in case we don’t care for it.

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INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 pounds of fresh okra (3 1/2 to 4 inches long)
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups cider vinegar
Fresh chard, 5-6 leaves, stems only
1 seeded and chopped jalapeno
2 cups water
3 Tbsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp sugar

Pickling spices:
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fresh dill
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Equipment needed:
4 pint canning jars, lids, and screw bands.
A large (at least 16 qt) pot for canning

Instructions:
Sterilize jars and lids by placing them in the canning pot on a rack or a cloth. The glass may crack if it is placed directly on the bottom of the pot. Fill the pot with water to the rim of the jars. Bring to a boil and let go 10 minutes. Pour boiling water over the lids to sterilize.

Combine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar. Reduce heat and keep warm.

Prepare the okra and the spices. Rinse the okra and trim the stem ends to 1/4-inch. We actually diced the okra here, but it was only because I did not fully read the directions. 🙂

Place all pickling spices in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Lay out a clean towel on your counter. Use canning tongs to remove the jars from the boiling water, emptying the water from the jars. Place the hot, sterilized jars on the towel on your counter to help prevent them from getting shocked by a cold counter surface and potentially cracking. Put a tablespoon of the mixed pickling spices to each jar. Place a peeled garlic clove on top.

Add the okra, chard and jalapeno to the jars. The top of the okra should come between an inch to 1/2 an inch from the rim of the jar.

Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the jars, up to 1/4-inch from the rim of the jars. Remove any air bubbles using a knife or any utensil. If the top level of the pickling liquid lowers while you do this, just top off with more of the pickling liquid. If for any reason you don’t have enough pickling liquid for all the jars, just add equal amounts of cider vinegar and water. No need to heat first, the liquid will get boiled in the hot water bath.

Wipe the rims with a clean damp towel. Place sterilized lids on jars. Screw on the the lids, firmly, but not too tight.

Put packed jars back in the hot water pot, some water will be displaced. Allow for 1 to 2 inches of water to cover the jars, remove excess water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove to towel lined counter or to a rack.

As the jars cool, you should hear a popping sound as the vacuum created by the cooling air in the jars pulls the lid down and seals the jars. A properly sealed jar can last in a cool dry place for about a year. If any jars do not seal, store them chilled in the refrigerator. Opened jars should last one to two months in the refrigerator.

Let sit 24 hours before eating.

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Voila!