July 2011

I’m a fan of magic and magic is the only word for dried cauliflower. We grow and eat a lot of brassicas. Preserving them is problem though. You can’t can them unless you’re fond of foul, bitter mush. You can freeze them but it’s really hard to get a product that isn’t waterlogged. I counteract that problem by giving broccoli and cauliflower a good spin in the salad spinner before vacuum sealing in a food saver bag, then either stir frying or boiling right in the bag but this requires the constant input of a plastic bag. Drying solves both problems. I dried a bunch of cauliflower the other day to have as a class demonstration. It took only 12 hours to dry. I cut the flowerets and steamed them for three minutes. It took only twelve hours to become crispy dry. Dried cauliflower is funny looking. It’s a weird yellow color and very unappetizing. But set it in a bowl of boiling water for 20 minutes and you get cauliflower that looks and tastes like freshly picked and steamed. I have a mess of carrots that I need to do something with. It’s too early for the root cellar so I plan to slice them into coins, steam and dry. Rehydrated, they are wonderful in soups or glazed.

As much as I love canning, I believe drying is the way to go for flavor and nutrition, ease and energy efficiency. There are few inputs as I store my dried food in vacuum sealed jars with old canning lids. I do add an oxygen absorber packet but it probably isn’t really necessary. The power for the Food Saver and the Excalibur is negligible, certainly in comparison to the propane needed to run the canner. It is a lot less work and mess for me too. When I can’t use the root cellar, the dehydrator is my second choice. I’ll always can meat and broth, apple sauce and tomatoes, jams, jellies ,pickles relishes. I’ll can dried beans and some soups too. Most other things are headed for the Excalibur.

I’m looking forward to a trip to the cannery tomorrow. Maggie and I are going together to get oxygen absorber packets, wheat, oats and whatever else strikes my fancy. I’ll give you a report on Monday.

The heat has broken and with the cooler temperatures has come rain, badly needed and very welcome. We made pigs of ourselves last night, feasting on the first ears of corn, while marveling at a huge double rainbow. It’s amazing how the heat saps my energy and the cooler weather makes me quite sure I can tackle anything. Perhaps that explains my insanity over the canner and dehydrator these past few days.I’ve put up raspberry jelly, mixed pickles and relish. The dehydrator has run non-stop. I dried fruit leather yesterday and I just pulled out a load of cauliflower.

I love to dry cauliflower. I looks terrible just out of the Excalibur. All yellow and shriveled, it looks like anything but food. Give it 30 minutes in some simmering water and it comes back to life, indistinguishable from fresh. I’m teaching a dehydrating class for Berkshire Botanical Gardens today and I’ll be carting along a bunch of my home-dried food so I can show off just how easy it is to prepare.

I have a cauliflower recipe for you to try. I made this last night and it was a hit, even with folks who don’t generally like cauliflower. I steamed about 3 cups of flowerets they were just tender. I popped the flowerets in my blender and added some Parmesan cheese and a hunk of butter and blended. I needed to add some of the cooking water to get the right consistency. You want it to be like mashed potatoes. My daughter, Neddy, gave me the recipe. She is trying to lose some of the leftover baby weight. I’m afraid all the cheese and butter helped the cauliflower but not the calorie count.

If you have some time you can check out my web site. It still under construction but the first videos are on my YouTube channel. The link is http://www.youtube.com/user/preservingabundance. I won’t get an Emmy for the presentation but I hope I can pass on some skills to people who want to learn and don’t have friends or family to teach them.

We have big plans for the site. We will have teaching videos, a store, a blog and a book and movie review section. I plan to post videos on all of my preservation equipment and do product reviews. I want to do demonstrations on how I put together preparation kits and how to organize space. It’s a ton of work and it wouldn’t happen without Maggie. A tech guru I’m not. There will be some advertising on this site as I need to make enough money so I can least pay Maggie for her time. I hope you will visit the YouTube site. The more traffic the better although there won’t be much to see for a few more weeks.

I had plans-great plans-to finish the kitchen clean out. Bu I forgot to plan for life getting in the way. Friday dawned so hot and humid that we did what any sensible couple would do. We extracted 3 gallons of honey from a couple of supers we had left over from the winter. Extracting honey is sticky and messy on a good day and any day with temperatures over 100 degrees is really not a good day. And just as the weather broke a bit my chickens arrived, very dead and in need of processing. I spent all of sunday canning both chicken and broth and I’m heartily sick of the whole mess. I’m sure I’ll feel quite different on a snowy January afternoon when I pull out a jar and make chicken and dumplings. At least my daughter has a memory of me dancing to Lady Gaga with a chicken carcass.

I have been thinking about a couple of stock up items. There are five things you just can’t get here. Salt, sugar, citrus, coffee and chocolate are all things I use every day that are certainly not local. I can always use honey and maple sugar instead of sugar if I have to. Lots of fruits and berries are loaded with vitamin C. I grow plenty of tea herbs and, while it isn’t coffee, I can learn to adjust. I’ll suffer through without chocolate. I won’t be happy about but I’ll manage. But we need salt. Out bodies need it and it’s indispensable for making pickles and preserving lots of food without refrigeration. There is a description of living through a hot spell without salt in Alas, Babylon. With that in mind, I plan to order another 80 pounds of salt this week. Can I just add that I have purchased salt in bulk before and I think that 80 pounds of salt weighs more than 80 pounds of almost anything else. I still have loads of salt left but if I ever needed to salt down meat I would run through it pretty quickly.

As usual, the garden has decided to explode with abundance all at once. The beans, cukes and brassicas are all ready and the tomatoes are making an appearance as well. Do you know anything that tastes better than a sliced tomato sandwich with a bit of butter, salt and mayonnaise? Me either.

I’m posting a little late this morning. Bruce and I are getting out early for our morning 2.5 mile walk in order to beat the heat. Walking later is not a good idea as the temperature has been nearing 100. I’ve been planning as much inside work as I can. One of the big jobs I’ve been wanting to tackle is cleaning the kitchen.

It isn’t just the cleaning but the organizing I need to get to. One of my big problems is that I am a non-electric gadget girl. I collect things like spatulas and spoons, dishes and tins. If it has an old-fashioned feel or promises to do a job easier (I have about 10 can-openers) I can not resist it, especially if I find it at a tag sale or thrift sale. That’s fine except having too much stuff gets in the way of easily finding what I need when I need it. It’s also important to weed out the old spices and outdated baking powder and replace them with fresh supplies. I keep my dried food in a cabinet in the corner of the kitchen and now that my Excalibur is running full time, I needed to empty that out. I find that this humidity affects the seals on the jars I use my food saver on. I also found that some of the food had fully dried (or had picked up moisture over the course of a year) and had become moldy. Dried foods are the only thing I never keep longer than a year. I use it up or throw it out. My cabinet now feels like an empty canvas. I can’t wait to fill it with the colors and aromas of summer. I pulled out trays of mints for tea this morning and I’m waiting for the cucumbers, celery and mushrooms. I didn’t grow any of this. I found it at a farm stand. The price was right and I dont’s grow celery.

I have cleaned out my baking cabinet, my container cabinet and the large space I keep the supplies for cheese making, soda bottling and wine making. I found I was out of ginger and had a jar of something I couldn’t identify. That kind of thing just robs me of energy. I hate getting in the middle of a recipe and realizing I don’t have an important ingredient. I don’t have the space to waste on some crumpled thing that has no value beyond compost.

Today I hit the food storage areas. What I really want to do is can up some dried beans. I only have 6 cans of garbonzo beans and we eat tons of them. It’s just too darn hot to pull out the pressure canner today but the empty spot will call to me and there is always next week.

Keeping your space organized will save time, money and aggravation. It’s worth the investment of time.

I know. It’s only the middle of July but all of the sudden it’s harvest time. The garlic is amazing. I’ll have Maggie take some photos tomorrow so you can see. Some of them are fist size. the peas are just about finished and now the cucumbers and summer squash are coming. I have radishes and tomatoes and basil and lots of greens and chard and kale. The string beans and broccoli need to be picked daily.

We just got home from a pig roast. It was so much fun. I got to eat fox. One of the young men had found it just as the car ahead had hit it. He brought it home and his mom (bless her soul) cooked it up. I don’t think much fox will make it to my dinner table. I thought it was pretty awful. Still, I’m glad I tried it because you just never know although sometimes you can make a pretty good guess.

On a preparedness note. I found a website via survivalblog offering antibiotic kits. I find it interesting and plan to speak with my doctor about it at my next appointment. I’s particularly intrigued because a friend is suffering from Lyme disease and the kit contains the appropriate medication along with instructions for use. The problem comes from diagnosing. Still, it’s worth the conversation.

I found another medical website via a reader here. I think the url is survivalmedicine. I will confirm it and post the link on Friday although I think you can access through my comments. I found it quite good.

This heat wave is pretty awful, especially if you’re very young, very old or if you are health compromised. Maybe you’re lucky and have AC that you can afford to run but if, like me, you have chosen to discard the AC or if you just don’t have it, you should make some plans about how you will handle the heat.

I begin each hot, humid morning by closing up the house. I shut the windows and doors and close the curtains to keep the hot air out and the cool, night air in. I put jars of water with lots of ice in a cooler on the counter. This prevents people from constantly opening the door to the freezer and the refrigerator to get something cold to drink. I put a pile of wash cloths in the same cooler and use those to mop the kids down from time to time.

I head out to the garden in the very early morning. Any work that needs to be done is finished before 10:00 or waits until late afternoon. I give any tender plants a good drink very early so the water won’t evaporate before doing any good. The heat of the day is not good for travel. You will use far more gas by running your AC and car trouble is no fun if you find yourself waiting on hot asphalt for help to arrive.

We move our bunny, Olivia, to a cool spot under the pine trees and check her water often. She’s pretty old and I fear this heat will kill her. I don’t have a dog but if I did I would be extra cautious about keeping her cool as well. We use to put our dog in the basement on days like this.

I keep Phoebe inside, even letting her watch TV just to keep her occupied and quiet. My kids don’t seem to wilt in the heat as quickly as I do but it’s still hard on little bodies. This is the day to put myself to work in the basement. I have a lot of chores down there to keep me busy and the cool, moist air is fabulous.

I also plan my meals first thing the in the morning. Food tends towards cheese and bread, fruit and cold salads, things that can be prepared without heating up the house. If I do need to cook, I try to use the solar oven. I will really appreciate that summer kitchen.

Maybe today I’ll use my weekend tag sale find. I spent $25.00 on a nifty hand-crank ice cream maker. An identical model in Lehman’s was $139.00 plus shipping and handling.

My canning presentation went really well. Twenty people showed up. It was an enthusiastic and knowledgable group, many with at least some experience under their belts. What was interesting about the numbers was the change. The woman who arranged the training said that prior to 2008, Berkshire Botanical Gardens would host these trainings and there were often so few takers that classes would be cancelled. Now, you have to be pre-registered and they don’t publicize the location to prevent a lot of last-minute walk-ins that they can’t accommodate. I don’t imagine for a moment that I’m the draw; few there had ever heard of me. I think the numbers say something though and here’s what I suspect it is.

We are a lot more concerned about our food source. There have been way too many news stories about contaminated food out there for anyone to be cavalier about where their food comes from or how it’s prepared.

We are a lot more concerned about food miles. Most of us have the good sence to be embarrassed when we purchase food produced on the other side of the globe.

We are a lot more concerned about our food dollars. Many people are poorer today that they were five years ago or they anticipate being poorer in the future. Food takes up a good chunk of our budget and we need to make those dollars count.

We are more concerned about food availability. What if some staple were unavailable at any cost?

We are more concerned with climate instability. Local storms, heat waves, cold snaps, floods and drought are part of the daily news diet. Weird weather affects food production.

We are concerned about geopolitical and economic events impacting our ability to feed our families. The debt ceiling talk and the constant talk of terrorism makes us feel very vulnerable.

We are concerned about jobs. If you have one, are you sure it will be there next year?

All of this gloom and doom is certainly on the minds of many but I think there are positive reasons for an upswing in preservation interests too.

Many of us love good food.

Many of us love the creative aspect of preparing food.

Many of us enjoy showing our love of family and friends by feeding them.

Many of us prefer being self-reliant rather than dependant.

In two weeks I do the second of this four-part series. I will be teaching the basics of dehydration and freezing. I love this particular class. People know what to expect with a canning demonstration but I love the reaction to preparing food I’ve dried at home. Those weird, ugly little withered sticks turn into fresh tasting green beans and people are amazed. Heck. I do it all the time and I’m amazed.

I have a wonderful, busy weekend coming up. Many of you will remember my grief a bit more than a year ago when our historic little church burn to the ground. Tomorrow morning is the ground-breaking for the new church. It will look much like the old church but with benefit of having bathrooms and handicapped accessibility (no small things when one is aging or bladder challenged). Later in the day we are going to the Scottish Festival in Northampton. I’m a fan of all things Scottish, especially the music so I’m looking forward to this. On Sunday, James Kunstler is speaking at Bascom Lodge on Mount Greylock. The author of 1491 will be speaking as well and I hope to get up there.

This has been such an interesting thread. I posted the statistics for food born illness from home canned food in the comments section but I will just add (for those that don’t read the comments) most botulism is infant botulism coming from feeding babies foods that adults can tolerate but are not good for babies (honey is one example). The second cause if wound infection as botulism occurs naturally. Take good care of even small injuries. The incidence of food born botulism is very small with only 21 cases being reported last year. You are far more likely to get ill from eating commercial spinach than from my home canned tomatoes. Here are the take home points. Use up-to-date recipes from approved sources, proper equipment and excellent hygiene and you will be fine. Do not can anything with gravy. Make the gravy later-it only takes a minute. Don’t can dense things like pureed pumpkin or squash as the interior may not get hot enough. Don’t can in 1/2 gallon jars. Add acid to tomato products. Boil canned vegetables for 10 minutes before eating. I know. The idea of canned green beans being boiled for ten minutes is pretty unappealing which is why I freeze or dehydrate my vegetables. Don’t can milk products in a water bath as they are low acid and not safe.

I assembled all of my canning equipment in the kitchen last night to get ready for my canning class today. It is an amazing amount of stuff as I have no idea how well-equipped the kitchen I’m using is. I’m canning raspberry jelly and tiny new potatoes. I juiced the raspberries last night so I’m good to go. My Daughter, Karen, and my DIL, Maggie, are coming with me. Karen is my go-fer and Maggie is the IT girl and is going to film the class for my first posted video on the new web site. We are extracting honey next week and making creamed honey so both of those videos will be posted too. Maggie has worked really hard on this and it’s coming together.

I’m just about ready to pull the pea plants. This hot weather has been really hard on them. I’m putting in more cukes as soon as there is room. I ran out of pickles this spring and we are all feeling pickle deprived. I’m out of fruit leather too but I fortunately have lots of applesauce left. I’m using the leftover berry juice to flavor the applesauce and I will make fruit leather tonight. Applesauce is so versatile. I use it for fruit leather base, to replace 1/2 the oil in most recipes and as my main meal extender. It makes me very happy to see the 18 apples on my little apple tree. It’s the first year with an actual harvest, tiny though it is. It gives me hope for the future.

This is a guest post from Donna S. She graciously offered to share some of her info from her master canner’s course. I should have posted this long ago (thank you for your patience). I have changed my stance on several things about canning. I no longer can either butter or cheese as they are both low acid foods. I’m glad to have that opinion reiterated as I want us all to live to ripe old age. So here is Donna’s post. Might I just add that I cut and pasted this all by myself. WooHoo.!!!

As I mentioned, the class isn’t over yet, but I didn’t want to leave you in the dark! The first class we had was mostly food safety and freezing. I learned amazing things about botulism (which really does KILL) and other types of bacteria that the USDA has warned us about.

The most dangerous thing about canning and/or preserving food is making someone sick. I was very cavalier about canning when I started – I mean, after all, people have been doing this for hundreds of years. How hard could it be?? After sitting in the first class for 2 hours, I was ready to admit that I knew nothing and was surprised that I had been so lucky so far! Botulism is the worst culprit – mostly because it can live without oxygen and heat doesn’t kill it! So, all those tomatoes I was sooooo proud of – they might not have been acid enough to kill this bacteria! A pH of 4.6 is the thin line between pressure canning and boiling water bath canning and tomatoes can range anywhere from 4.0 to 4.8. Did I test the tomatoes I canned for my mother???? NO! She is over 80 years old and has the immune system of an 80 year old….I could have, at the very least, made her so sick she dehydrated, and the very worst, killed her!

So, the old-timers who have been canning for the past 50 years and the newcomers who are getting ready to buy their first case of ball jars, here’s my advise: get the USDA book and read it very, very carefully! Sure, no one has gotten sick yet from that garlic you put in olive oil and sit on your shelf – but the key word here is YET! It is not worth anyone’s life – especially my grandchildren – to take a chance and preserve some bacteria for them to eat! Follow the USDA guidelines. Don’t use a recipe that hasn’t been tested – especially tomatoes and low acid veggies!

Now that I have preached that particular message – class is GREAT! A lot of the stuff, I already know, because I have been canning/freezing/dehydrating a while and, believe it or not, I started with the USDA website! I didn’t have the luxury of my grandma to teach me and the only thing I can remember my mom trying to can was grape juice that fermented and exploded in storage! Initially, I just wanted to get the certificate to hang on the wall of my summer kitchen to advertise that the state of Indiana says I know what I am doing – but now, I am thankful that we have the class here and available! So far, we have done freezing, boiling water bath canning and pressure canning. next week is dehydrating, although we can’t really do any labs because of the time it takes to run something through the dehydrator. I will probably take my Excaliber so the others can see how they work.

Keep checking with Purdue University – they are trying to get a long weekend class set up (right now it is 5 8-hour days) and I believe they would take out of state applicants. It might not be until next year or longer, though. It is really tough to get people to volunteer to teach that many hours with a condensed curriculum.

Thank you all for you kind words. I’m back after one of those crazy weeks where I spent way too much time on the road. I have three days ahead of me with no obligations beyond local ones like church and picking up my CSA milk order. I do need to get some work done. I’m out of granola and yogurt, bread and pickled beets. I need to get to the root cellar and see if the few beets I have are still crispy enough to make pickles with. If not, they will sit in the cellar until our pigs arrive. We’ve had trouble find piglets this year. The litter we had set aside didn’t make it so we’ve been scrambling to find a replacement litter. There are some Tamworth crosses in NY that we can purchase so I guess that will be the solution. I don’t think we’re doing two pigs this year. I would rather get just one and then buy a 1/4 side of grass-fed beef from our neighbor. My meat chickens will be slaughtered on the 24th. I plan to freeze half and can half. 20 birds is a lot of meat to process in one go. I plan to have two canners going. One will be cooling while the other is on the stove. I have even considered using my third canner. If I have Maggie, Karen and Bruce helping and if I get the prep work done the day before and if have meals ready to serve and if have Phoebe occupied and if I turn the ringer off the phone and, and, and have I lost my mind??? Three canners! Maybe that’s crazy. But really. A lot of the canning time is spent waiting. That time could be spent preparing the next load. We’ll have to see. I’m debating about jar size. I was thinking quart but I want some smaller jars for the nights when there are fewer of us eating. I’m not sure how many jars 10 chickens equals as I don’t know the finished weight of the birds.

I have a series of training coming up. I’m doing a 4 part food preservation training for Berkshire Botanical Gardens starting next Wednesday. I’m also doing the NOFA conference and the Mother Earth News Fair again. All have been very well attended and a lot of fun. I love food people. There is always a lot of laughter and I always learn a lot. I will say that there is a sense of urgency among my attendees. People want to learn how to grow, prepare and preserve food. I’m not getting a lot of hobbyists; I’m getting people who believe that having these skills will be a necessity.

This leads to my next announcement. I’m setting up a website. I have a name but not a lot else. Preserving Abundance will be offering a series of videos teaching the ins and outs of all kinds of food preservation. I will be adding videos on bee keeping and gardening, cheese making and bread baking. There will adventures in foraging and wine making too. My DIL, Magggie will be my co-host and videographer. I need to buy a better camera and come up with a schedule of topics but I hope to be up and running by the end of August.

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