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.

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