Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Jams, Jellies, and Preserves...

In the Kitchen

It's jammin' season so I thought this might be a good time to say a few words about fruit preserves.  First, a word about pectin because if you don't have pectin you can't make some fruit preserves.  Pectin is a type of starch that occurs in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables to give them structure.  Some fruits, such as apples, naturally have more pectin than other fruits.  Commercial pectins are usually made from citrus rinds. When combined with sugar and acid (usually lemon juice), pectin is what makes jams and jellies develop a semisolid texture when they cool.  

Now, on to the preserves.  I think most people know the difference between a jelly and a jam.  Jelly is made from juice so it is totally smooth and often clear or opaque.  Jam is made from chopped up fruit so it has pieces of fruit in the spread.  Preserves is made from whole fruit or larger chunks of fruit.  Do you know about conserves and chutneys?  Here is a handy chart from Cookery Nation showing all different types of fruit preserves:

I kind of made up a fruit preserve that I call "jammy".  It is a cross between jelly and jam.  I make it with raspberries and blackberries.  I put the fruit through a sieve.  This helps to remove some of the seeds.  What comes through the sieve is like a thick paste and I use this to make the jammy.  So, it is not a liquid juice like what is used to make jelly and it is not chopped fruit like jam.  It is kind of in between so I call it jammy.  I have also seen other people just call it "jelly jam".

I like to stick to the basic jam and jelly recipes for items that I sell at the Farmers Market.  All items I sell at the Farmers Market have to be approved by the local Health District.  The low sugar jam recipes must be tested before you are allowed to sell them and the testing costs around $50 each!  Luckily, you just have to have it tested once.  They have to make sure the acidity is good so it will not get anyone sick.  Also, if you make anything "different" it must be tested.  I invented a Red Sunflower Jelly and it had to go through the testing process before I could sell it.  It is unique and a lot of people buy it for that reason.  You are not allowed to sell fruit butters because they are not considered safe because the mixture is so thick, it is hard to heat the jars sufficiently to get all contaminants killed.  Of course, you can make them for your own consumption...they just cannot be sold.  Just ask someone in the canning community about canning pumpkin and you are opening a big can of worms.  But, I digress...I have not really experimented much with conserves because once you start adding nuts, your input costs go way up.
Speaking of input costs...all the jams/jellies that I make are from fruit that we grow or forage for.  We have raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, plums, white and black currants, and apples growing on our farm.   In the past, I have foraged for dandelions, wild blackberries, huckleberries, elderberries, grapes, plums, pears, and I am sure there are other things that I am forgetting.  This year, we had an abundance of cantaloupe so I decided to make a Cantaloupe Basil Jam   It turned out great!  If we have extra cantaloupes in the future, I will make this again but I am not planning on planting extra cantaloupe just for this reason.  Just to be clear, I did not invent this recipe...it was in one of my preserve making books.
Another new jelly I made this year is a Crabapple Hot Pepper Jelly.  The peppers did not grow so well this year so I only had enough to make one batch but I think that will be good enough.  To juice the crabapples, I used my new steamer juicer.  I love that thing!  In this video I am juicing white currants...
I know that when most people think of preserves, they probably think of bread.  BUT, jams, jellies and other preserves do not need to just be used on toast and bagels. Consider using them in other creative ways:

Filling or topping for crepes, pancakes, and waffles

Topping for cakes and tartes

Top muffin batter with a dollop before baking

Create a glaze for pork or chicken

Add to homemade salad dressing (like a raspberry walnut dressing)

Add to yogurt (I like to buy plain yogurt and add fruit preserves for flavor)

Add to oatmeal

Add to BBQ sauce

Add to milkshakes, smoothies or tea

Use in cookie recipes (thumbprint cookies)

Top custard and ice cream

I only have a few more jams/jellies that I want to make for the rest of this year.  I want to try a new Apple Mint Jelly recipe that came with the steamer juicer.  Also, one of my ultimate favorite preserves is Pear Preserves and I am looking forward to making some of that as soon as the pears are ripe!  Our apples are not doing so well this year.  If I get enough, I will probably make some Apple Pie Jam too which is something I have made in the past.

One last note, something that I have not experimented with is making Lemon Curd.  Lemon Curd involves 2 of my favorite things...eggs and preserves!  I will be honest, I never even really heard of Lemon Curd until I started working in a French Bistro when the boys were toddlers.  We would sometimes have a "tea" party and lemon curd was served with the pastries.  Another fun item preserve to experiment with!

What is your favorite fruit preserves?  How do you like to eat your preserves?

~Denise

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Joshua Home!

Bringing Joshua Home...

On Sunday, August 22 Henry, Denise and Mark drove down to Salt Lake City, (SLC) Utah to pick up Joshua. We drove down to Boise and stayed there overnight then got up early and headed down to SLC.  We were able to make it down there around 11:00AM on Monday morning and discharge went quickly.  We headed to Apollo Burger for lunch (Joshua's request).  Then, we went to Mrs. Cavanaugh's for a tour of the candy factory (another suggestion from Joshua).  
Since this was our first stop, we took a lot of pictures.  We bought some candy AND had some frozen custard!

That evening, we went to the Tracy Aviary.  Tracy Aviary is committed to inspiring curiosity and caring for birds and nature through education and conservation.  Joshua really enjoyed the ducks there.  Two geese got into a fight which was "fun" to watch them honking at each other and trying to goose each other.  The pecking order is real!
On Tuesday morning, we went to the Natural History Museum in SLC.  The Natural History Museum of Utah illuminates the natural world and the place of humans within it.  There were exhibits ranging from dinosaurs, and gems and minerals to Native American artifacts.  Currently, they have a special exhibition of Egypt: Land of Pharaohs with a real mummy on display.  We grabbed lunch and then hit the road back to Boise.
On the way to Boise, we stopped by the Shoshone Falls which is often referred to as The Niagara of the West (my pic really does not do it justice!).  At 212 feet tall and 900 foot wide, Shoshone Falls is one of the largest natural waterfalls in the United States surpassing the height of Niagara Falls. Shoshone Falls is located on the Snake River as it carves its way through a deep basalt Canyon on its way to the Columbia River. 
On Wednesday morning, we got up early and started on our last stretch of highway back to Moscow.  We made a quick stop at Ponderosa State Park in McCall, Idaho.  This is Lake Payette in the pic. 
Then, we finally made it home!  It was a long trip and we are glad to be back to the farm!
Now, we are working to get Joshua set up for his Senior year of High School and learning how to all live together again!  Busy, busy!

Have an eggcellent day!
~Denise

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Fermenting feed for the girls!

In the Coop

When the girls were going through a molt last fall, I had read that fermented feed is great to give while chickens/ducks are molting.  We bought some gamebird feed.  It has 30% protein!  Our regular layer feed is about 17% protein.  Feathers are mostly protein so it is advised to increase protein intake when the poultry are molting.  There are several benefits of feeding fermented feed.  Fermented feed has tons of probiotics.  Fermentation makes the vitamins, minerals and proteins more bioavailable to the poultry.  In addition, fermented feed is easier to digest which is great during this stressful molting time. 

Any feed can be fermented!  All you have to do is put it in a bucket and cover it with water and let is sit for 3 days.  Easy peasy!  Since we feed about 23 pounds of feed a day, there is no way we could ferment all that feed.  I take about 5 pounds of feed and ferment that for the girls.  I end up adding about 15 pounds of water to get the finished fermented feed.  I also read that feeding fermented feed increases egg size, weight and shell thickness.  The fermented feed kind of reminds me of a porridge...
A study performed in Denmark in 2009 showed that laying hens fed fermented chicken feed not only performed better and required less feed, but they showed signs of increased intestinal health.  

Closer to home, I found a podcast talking about a study that was completed last year in northwest Washington.  They compared dry feed, fermented feed (fermented for 3 days), and hydrated feed (feed that had water added just before feeding).  Basically, the chickens ate a little bit less of the fermented feed AND the real eggciting news is that the egg lay rate went up 9%  for the fermented fed hens!  So, they ate a little bit less feed and laid more eggs!  Here is a video all about the study but I basically already told you about it...also, I found a Fact sheet about the study.
We probably will not be able to keep up the fermentation during the winter months.  It seems to me that the bacteria responsible for fermenting the feed will need a certain temperature to "work" and digest the feed to release the extra nutrients in the fermented feed.  We could try fermenting in the house but fermented feed really stinks!  I had also read that fermentation is really good in the summer when the birds will be getting water and feed at the same time when they eat.  Chickens need water to help produce eggs so any way of getting more water to them in an advantage.  We will start up the fodder production and use that during the winter months and ferment a little feed for summertime.  This is a great way to provide different foods and keep things interesting for the girls.

Here is a little video I made of the chickens eating the fermented feed out on pasture...
It took a couple weeks but the ducks seem to finally be taking advantage of the fermented feed...
So, bottom line is that fermented foods are good for us (see blog post from 4 weeks ago regarding radish fermentation) and good for the poultry!  Pickles or Sauerkraut anyone?

Have an eggcellent day!
~Denise






Sunday, August 8, 2021

Currants!

 In the Food Forest    

I made some White Currant Jelly and took it to the Farmers Market.  A lot of people ask me what it tastes like.  I have a hard time describing it...I am not a supertaster (a person that experiences the sense of taste with great intensity).  I found the following description from specialtyproduce.com:

a floral aroma and flavors of sour cherry, 
kiwi, Muscat grape and a lingering residual sugar

This seems like a complicated description but maybe this is what I should tell people from now on...

Anyway, I had an idea for a different blog post today but felt that currants was a more timely topic.  I just finished picking the white currants and now I am picking the black currants.  I was able to pick 4 gallons of white currants off one bush!  They are really small berries too!  I was really impressed with the production!  I don't think I need anymore white currant bushes but I did propagate some of my black currants and I have 2 more bushes growing in the food forest.
White currants growing in bunches

I also have a golden currant bush and it put on a few berries this year for the first time but there was not really enough to make anything with them.  I think I also have a red currant bush but it has not produced any fruit yet.  

For some reason, I have always been fascinated with currants.  There were some wild currant bushes that grew in the hedge row at the home where I grew up.  They are still there.  I just thought it was so neat that these berries were just growing there and we did not cultivate them but could enjoy the free food.  
Black currants are bigger than white currants and a deep purple color

I knew that I always wanted to have some currant bushes in our food forest.  I bought some from the University of Idaho Pitkin Forest Nursery when we moved to the farm 4 years ago.  The U of I Fall plant sale will start September 1.  They have some amazing resources on their website about Idaho native plants. I am almost positive that they will ship trees/bushes.  I ordered some oak trees during the pandemic shut down last year and they came in the mail.  They do not list white currants on their website so now I am trying to remember where I bought mine from...hmmm...probably a local plant nursery.

Currants are part of the Ribes family and are related to gooseberries.  Contrary to popular belief, zante currants, are just tiny raisins and nothing like actual currants.  Currants can taste tart.  Red and black currant varieties are generally considered to be too strong and tart for fresh eating.  The white currants are the sweetest and may be eaten fresh.  All fresh currants can be used just like other berries.  They can be baked into quick bread or muffins, ice cream, sorbet, or used in pie filling with other fruits. Since both black and red currants contain a lot of natural pectin, you can use them to make the most delicious jams and jellies with only sugar as the other ingredient.
Currant buns

Black currants are also delicious with game meat, and often cooked into a simple sauce that's paired with duck or venison.  Freshly picked berries have a short shelf life so they need to be used right away.  This might be one reason you don't really see currants in the grocery store.  It is really easy to freeze them and pull out to use later.  They can also be dehydrated and used in baking.

Give currants a try!  I think that some black currant lemonade will be making a debut at the Farmers Market soon...

Have an eggcellent day!
~Denise



Sunday, July 25, 2021

Fermenting vegetables

 In the Kitchen

I had a bumper crop of radish this spring.  I had meant to thin the plants but never got around to it.  Oops!  No worries.  It seems to have worked out.  These radishes even fell in love because they were growing so close together...ahhh...

I had been picking a couple radish each day to add to my salad.  Then, one day I realized that one of the radish had a seed stalk and it was flowering!  So, I quickly pulled all the radish.  This bucket does not look too impressive but this is a 3 gallon bucket completely full of radishes!

I decided to ferment the radish.  This way, I could keep using a couple in my salads over the next few weeks.  I did plant some more radish as I was pulling these out.  I cleaned the radish up and cut off the tops and bottoms and stacked them into jars.

I made up a salt solution of 3 tablespoons salt in 1 quart water.  I used pink salt so that is why my solution is a bit cloudy and pinkish...

After packing the radish into the jars, I poured the solution in and then placed a fermentation lid on top.  This allows the gases to escape as the radish ferment.  It is important to keep all the radish under the solution at all times or you might get contamination.
Put the ferment in a warmish, dark place and leave for 3 days.  At the end of the three days, you can take the fermentation cap off and just put a regular lid on the jar and put in the refrigerator.  The cooler temperature of the refrigerator will stop the fermentation.  Here is a pic of the completed ferment.  Yes, the red color in the radish skin has been bleeded out into the fermentation solution.

The radish are pink all the way through...here is a pic of some pieces of radish that I am using to build my salad...they are the pink triangle shapes...
Here is a pic of the radish blooms.  They sure are pretty.  Some were pink and some were white.  
Since some of the radish were already putting up flower stalks, I just decided to let them go so I could collect the seed.  Here is a pic of the seed pods that will develop the seeds...
That is going to be a lot of seeds!  Did you know...you can actually eat the seed pods!  There are even varieties of radish that are grown specifically for their seeds pods.  I tried some and they are deliciouis!  I even found a recipe that sautéed some radish seed pods and added them to scrambled eggs!  You want to eat the green pods (not when they have already turned brown and are starting to dry down).  They taste like radish!  Surprise!  I also found a recipe for pickled radish seed pods.  You can pickle just about anything.  Just like you can ferment almost anything.  Just a note of distinction...pickling usually involves vinegar and fermentation involves salt.  

The girls got the radish trimmings and they were super happy!
Fermented vegetables do have a different taste and texture.  The radish are still crunchy but they are not crisp.  There are TONS of benefits to eating fermented foods:
1. they are easier to digest (they have been pre-digested by the bacteria during lacto fermentaiton)
2. fermentation makes the nutrients in food more available so they are more nutritious
3. fermented foods help our gut microbiome flourish (more good bacteria...yeah!)
4. fermenting creates new flavors and is a safe way to preserve foods
AND it is super easy to do...cut up vegetables, add salt water, let sit for 3 days, put in fridge...done!  Easy peasy!  I LOVE to ferment salsa and can't wait for the tomato crop to start soon!

Have an eggcellent day!

~Denise






Sunday, July 11, 2021

(Worm) Tea Time...

In the Garden

Using worm compost, vermiculture, to make worm tea can provide lots of micronutrients to your plants in your garden.  When a worm eats, the food passes through the gut and the organic matter gets broken into smaller and smaller fragments which releases the various components in it. The digestion of the food helps to release nutrients into the vermicompost.  Then, the nutrients from the vermicompost are infused into the tea and this is used as a fertilizer for plants.  You can use worm tea as a foliar spray to spray directly onto the plants which is absorbed through the leaves.  This can be effective if the foliage is showing signs of disease.  The worm tea will help the plant strengthen their defenses and fend off disease organisms.

The main reason I like to make worm tea is for that it can work as a natural pesticide.  The worm tea contains an enzyme known as various forms of chitinase to which insects have a strong aversion.  The worm castings also have the ability to activate multiplication of the chitinase-producing bacteria found naturally in plants.  Some pests that are repelled by the worm castings or tea, include a large array of insects including white fly, aphids, spider mites, fruit flies, and other nectar-sucking insects.

Here is the recipe I use.  This is taken from daringgourmet.com

Equipment Needed:

5 gallon bucket

4 gallons water (ideally use rain or well water because it has no chlorine; otherwise use city water but let it sit out for 24 hours before proceeding – chlorine is very volatile and will evaporate out on its own)

5 to 6 cups worm castings

3 tablespoons molasses (encourages the growth of healthy microorganisms)

Porous material for a compost tea bag (cheese cloth, dish towel, old t-shirt, etc).  Optional but will prevent your watering can or spray bottle from clogging when it’s time to use the tea.  Alternatively you can pour the finished tea through a fine mesh strainer into your watering can.

Process:

Fill the bucket with water.  Add the worm castings and the molasses.  Stir to combine.  (If you’re using a compost tea bag, place the worm castings in the cloth and tie to secure it shut.  Place the bag in the water.)

Let the tea steep overnight.  It will be a dark brown color.  Give it another stir.  Remove the compost bag if using (place the contents onto the soil or on your compost pile).

Pour some of the worm tea into your water can or spray bottle and dilute with water until it is a light brown color – the color of weak tea.

Use immediately for best results.  The microbes will begin dying off quickly so the sooner you use the compost tea the better while it’s most potent.

Do You Need to Aerate Worm Tea?

Both sugar (molasses) and aeration boost the microbial activity resulting in an increased microbial population.  Sugar alone will do that but adding some aeration will increase it further.

If you choose to aerate it you can use a fish tank bubbler to add oxygen while the tea is steeping.  Insert the aerator all the way to the bottom of the bucket.  Let it aerate for 48-72 hours, stirring occasionally.

Here is a video of how I make the worm tea:


Compost tea

Making compost tea is similar to worm tea.  I make it pretty much the same way I make the worm tea except I let it brew for 3 days and I only brew the worm tea for 1 day.  It works as a great fertilizer for plants but does not contain the chitinase/pesticide benefits of worm tea.  Here is a great post from Morningchores.com that describes compost tea and gives 4 recipes for making some.  I have read that compost tea can also help with disease pressure but it is more a preventative and not a cure.

So, that is it.  Short and sweet.  It took about a week but I ended up making 4 batches of worm tea and had enough to give to every single plant in my garden.  So far, so good!

Have an eggcellent day!

~ Denise



Sunday, June 27, 2021

Worms...

Building a worm bin    

When we moved to the farm, there was a tub in the barn.  We set it up and put rocks and water in it.  At the time, Mark had a fascination with throwing rocks into water.  He spent many hours on the back patio throwing rocks into the tub of water.  Then, the second year that we were here, he didn't seem interested in throwing rocks into water anymore.  So, we cleaned it out and I kept thinking that some day I was going to make a worm bin out of the tub.  Finally, that day has come!  First, Logan built a frame out of wood to set the tub into.  (I know it looks a little crooked but it actually setting on uneven ground.)  I placed the tub in a shady area, if the bin gets too hot, the worms may die.
Henry was able to put in a drain so that we could catch the leachate that drips out.  A quick note about leachate.  The stuff that drips out of the worm bin is NOT worm tea!  It is called leachate and I have heard different ideas about whether or not you should use it in your garden.  Initially, I read that you should never use this.  Lately, I have heard that you can dilute it 1:2 or 1:20 but not to use it on plants that you want to eat.  The reason you do not want to use it on your vegetables is that worm bin leachate can potentially contain toxins that are harmful to people.  So, use it on your nonedible flowers, trees, bushes, or put into a hot compost bin.
After we had the frame and the drain all completed, it was time to fill it up.  I added large rocks to the bottom of the tub to help with drainage.  
Next went in a layer of wet cardboard.  Make sure to soak it really thoroughly.  This is the first layer of the bedding and it needs to be the consistency of a wrung out sponge.
On top of the cardboard, I put in some of the aged compost from the chicken barn.  This was not screened, it was just taken from the pile...again, I wet it down well...
Now, let me back up a minute.  I have had a small worm bin in the house for the past 3 1/2 years!  These worms were really needing a new place to live.  My plan is to put them into the worm tub outside during the spring, summer and fall.  Then, as temperatures start to approach freezing, I will take them out of the tub and put them back into the bin and bring them inside for the winter.  I got my initial worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm and they are red wigglers.
I dumped out the worm bin into the tub.  
There was a lot of good vermicompost in the tub!  Vermicompost is like black gold for your garden.  It is the compost that the worms make.  I put it out in a layer on top of all the bedding.  I am going to go back in and harvest some of this vermicompost out later to make worm tea...that blog post will be coming out in a couple weeks...
I pulled back the vermicompost and put a little food in for the worms.  They will also eat the bedding (cardboard and newspaper).  I save a tub of vegetable scraps during the week and when it gets full, I put it into the freezer.  Then, I bring it out, thaw it, and feed the worms.  It looks like they are getting carrot and celery scraps this week...
I covered up the food scraps and put a thick layer of shredded newspaper on top.  I watered down the newspaper.
Then, I just covered it with some cardboard.  I just wanted to put some type of "lid" on top to slow down any evaporation.  I regularly water the worm bin and feed them food scraps each week.
So...why go through all this trouble...what good is a worm bin?  
I have a few reasons for keeping worms:
1.  helps recycle food waste into an organic fertilizer that is rich in microbial activity
2.  makes a rich organic fertilizer that is easily taken up by plants
3.  great high protein chicken food
4.  reduces the need for pesticides (more about that in the worm tea blog)
5.  vermicompost helps with water retention in the soil and releases nutrients slowly to plants

As I mentioned earlier, I will keep the worms outside most of the year but when it starts to get cold, I will be able to harvest some worms out and feed them to the chickens.  I will then take a handful and put them back into the worm bin and bring them inside for the winter.  Of course, I will be able to take the vermicompost out of the tub and apply it to the garden.  I can use the worms from the bin to "inoculate" the worm tub the next spring.  

We are going to get a heat wave this week so I put some shade cloth over the tub and I put my compost thermometer in so I can keep an eye on the temperatures.  The worms will die if they get too hot or too cold.  If I notice that it is getting too hot, I will take some worms out and bring them back inside the house until this heat wave breaks. 

One of the most amazing things about vermicomposting is making worm tea.  I will have an entire blog post about how to make worm tea and all the great benefits of worm tea in a couple weeks...

Have an eggcellent day!
~Denise