Monday, October 31, 2011

Fruit Wine - Part 1

I sometimes shake my head when people express a theory that gardeners are patient people. I don't know where this idea comes from & it certainly does not pertain to me - I'm one of the least patient people I know, especially when it comes to things in the garden or things I do with my gathered harvest.

Today's case in point: making fruit wine.
In order to feel like my work is worth-while, I make 5 gallon batches of wine (versus 3 gallons or smaller), which forces me to make sure I have enough berries & fruit harvested & in the freezer.

Today I managed to stuff 18 pounds of thawed blackberries & 5 1/2 pounds of thawed rhubarb into the berry bag, dissolve just over 12 pounds of sugar into the juice & water & add the wine yeast to the 'brew pot'.

Now I have to wait - will it start to ferment?
Each day will require a stirring & mashing/beating of the berry bag & a measuring with the hydrometer to see how things are progressing.

I think I'll be lucky if I'm drinking this by the end of March... This is a serious test of patience, especially during the winter months but the results are worth it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Life in the Greenhouse

I shut down the tomatoes & pepper plants a few weeks earlier this year than last year, mainly because the tomato plants wouldn't stop growing but had stopped producing fruit. Plus it was a nice day when I decided to do it.

I threw on some potting soil from some of my deck pots to top up the soil level & then decided to throw in some radish seeds that had disappointed me in the veggie beds earlier this year.

I don't know what I was expecting, but when I checked in on the greenhouse today, I saw a field of green sprouts! 'Tis a wonderful feeling to see green things popping up when everything else seems to be finished for the year.

I will hopefully have some radishes to munch on in a few weeks or I might snip a few sprouts to eat right away or I might just leave the whole mess to 'do its thing' over the winter as a cover crop & turn it under in late winter to enrich the soil.

It's fun to see what happens when neglect has become my new approach to garden therapy...

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Be Jammin'... part 2

Yesterday I was seeking inspiration in a serious way & spent more time than necessary searching on the Internet.

What I found was a great idea for something new in my jam pot: Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar & Cracked Black Pepper!

Since I don't grow my own strawberries, I thought I would try it with loganberries. But lo & behold, I found a container of frozen strawberries in the freezer!!

So, I did a mix of loganberry & strawberry with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (the recipe called for 1/2 cup, but I didn't want to use up all of the vinegar I had in stock) & then 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper.

The result is a jam that isn't quite as sweet as strawberry nor quite as tart as loganberry & the vinegar is barely noticeable (the variety I have is lusciously sweet & rich) so you end up with a sweet smile on your face before the pepper bites you back.

It's not offensive at all & would probably not be something to eat with peanut butter. Would go with cheese & crackers & a lovely crisp white wine. A jam not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Be Jammin'

Now that the gardening season is winding down & the rains have returned, I finally have time to haul out my jam/jelly making equipment & start brewing up some treats for the winter.

I started the day with whipping up a few batches of 'specialty' jellies.

Spiced Pear Jelly (on the left) - I had already rendered the pears with some star anise, cardamom & fresh ginger & froze the juice til I was ready. A great colour & spectacular flavour. It took about 24 hours for it to set fully.

Rosehip Jelly (on the right) - this one is always hit or miss with me. I'm still waiting for the jelly to set up & I really don't understand why it's taking so long. I picked the hips earlier this year so they would have lots of natural pectin & made sure that I didn't put too much water in the pot when I rendered them to juice. A great tangy flavour & I have a waiting list of people who want the jelly - if it will ever jell... I use the syrup on pancakes & in marinades for pork dishes, but most people aren't that adventurous... Have got my fingers crossed!

Next on the list are a couple of different flavours that I hope people will appreciate.

Raspberry-rhubarb and blackberry-rhubarb. I had a great rhubarb harvest this year & came across many references that a raspberry-rhubarb combo is considered better than the more traditional strawberry-rhubarb blend. So I thought I would try that this year as I don't grow my own strawberries.

It's actually really nice! Since I've not got a very large sweet tooth (I prefer tangy & tart jams/jellies) this mix of sweet raspberry & tart rhubarb is just what I was looking for & hoping for.

The blackberry-rhubarb blend is also very nice - I'm tempted to see how much is left in the freezer & just make the rest into wine.

So this is the start of my 'crafty days' leading up to the Christmas Craft Fair at the end of November. I'm going to have to dig through the berry freezer to see what else I have in there & make a few more batches of jam & jelly before turning the rest of it into a few varieties of wine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Herb Box

Another amazing sunny & warm Autumn day yesterday - barefoot & tank top type of weather! Great time to clean up a few things in the garden & I got dirty to the elbows. ahhhh....

I ripped out everything from a few deck boxes (they were over-crowded with daisies - hint: don't plant daisies in a container that is only 8 inches deep) & I moved one of the boxes down to the landing on the stairs & filled it full of herbs. It's now nice I close to the door & I should be able to take a few snips here & here through out the winter for cooking with.

All of these plants I started from seed: rosemary, sage, lemon lavender & orange thyme. There are a few small winter savories mixed in that I hope will last the winter - I've never grown it before. Mixed in between the plants are a lot of bulbs I found in the boxes when cleaning them out - more than likely yellow crocus, so I will have a nice show of colour come February.

Can't wait!

ps - we had our first touch of frost last night - time to get the rest of the sensitive plants indoors or into the greenhouse!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mystery Volunteer

While most of my gardens are done for the season, I still have some amazing things happening. I wanted to grow Hubbard squash this year - we ate a lot of them over the winter & I quite enjoy the buttery flavour & texture of this vegetable. Unfortunately, all the plants I put in died - either dug up by birds or eaten from below by bugs.

But I noticed about a month later that there were random squash plants popping up all on their own through out most of my veggie beds. I would have thought that the seeds would have not been able to survive the composter & when I put out the compost in the spring, I didn't really notice an abundance of squash seeds present. Well, since I was taking on a new attitude this year (stepping back & doing as little as possible to see what happens), I let all the volunteers 'do their thing'.

This is what the result is. An unknown squash. I think it might be a 'mutant' squash - one that cross pollinated with the other flowering squash in neighbouring beds. I was going to harvest & eat it for Thanksgiving, but found I already had 2 orange Hubbard in the house that needed to be eaten, so it is still in the garden.

It's funny that it looks like a watermelon, but we don't eat watermelon, so I'm pretty sure that's not going to be one of the possibilities. I check on it almost every day - will actually do so in a few moments when I head outside.

The other squash I have still out there looks like an acorn squash - this one was already pecked by a bird, so it might not last too much longer. I had noticed that a lot of my little squash'lings would get mouldy very quickly, so I harvested them at a very small size - slightly larger than a golf ball & just boiled them up whole to eat along-side the rest of the meal. Quite tasty done that way too - even if I never really knew what I was eating.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Visiting the Pear Tree

Well, it's still kind of difficult to see exactly what I meant last week about this being a 'Monster Pear Tree' but I thought I'd share a photo anyway. I went by a couple days ago to see if there were many that had fallen down that I could gather - the lower branches here are picked clean by me (the pears still sitting downstairs trying to ripen up). But it looks like the bear has found easy snacks of all the windfalls.

There were 2 rather large piles of fruity-poo & almost zero pears on the ground. I don't know if the bears will climb this ancient tree, although I'm told that the kids up the road have been known to do so...maybe I should ask them to do it again & shake down a few more bags for me!

Anyway - I'm going to take a walk today & check it out. I have the feeling I will have to wander by almost everyday to see if there are windfall pears that I can gather before the bear snacks on them...

Still - it's a lovely tree!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rosy Rosehips

Yesterday was one of those magical Autumn days - sunshine & warm breezes. I made my way up to the bluff to pick some more rosehips for future jelly making & had several therapeutic moments of just standing in the sun listening to the waves pound the rocks below.

I hope the rest of the rosehips ripen nicely in the next few weeks. I enjoy taking time away from everything else up on the bluff...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Autumn Harvest in Red

Autumn is my favourite season. Life seems to slow down in certain areas while kicking into high gear in others. The gardens put on a great display of bright colours - mine are mostly in yellows & the birds twittering in the bushes are finding bugs & berries to get them on their way for their winter travels.

I grew up in Ontario where the colours & smells of Autumn were bright & strong. I miss that. Here on the West Coast, we seem to miss all that. A lot of the deciduous trees simply drop their leaves while still green & they turn brown on the ground.

But I've found a way to ease myself through all this by harvesting my own crop of Autumn Red colours! This year is a great year for me. I've got red peppers in the greenhouse that are finally ripening & are wonderfully sweet. The cherry tomatoes are slowly ripening too but are much larger than anticipated - which is great as we can eat them on sandwiches! The raspberries are slowly plumping up & ripening - they are growing much better than the summer canes did & the berries are at least twice as large too. It was a difficult year for raspberries, but I'm grateful for these last few handfuls I'll be picking for another few weeks.

There are also wild 'reds' I'm harvesting too - rose hips! I'm not going to wait for that first frost to harvest them - they are just too perfect right now & I think they contain a bit more pectin while still a bit unripe which should allow me to make rose hip jelly this year instead of rose hips syrup (which I rather enjoy also - great for pancakes or marinades!).

So, I'm going to run out there right now & see what else I can find before the rains return...