Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunshine in a Jar


The Kitchen Witchery & Brew Master (my own personal titles) got creative this weekend & decided to can some magic for consumption later in the dreary winter months.

My ingredients: honey, cardamom pods, a wee bit of bourbon and fresh-fresh apricots!

I really wanted to create Sunshine in a Jar (which is a term I stumbled upon while doing my research that another Brew Master termed their peach magic).

Honey Syrup - I wanted to use honey & not refined white sugar. Better flavour.
* 6 cups water
* 2 cups honey
* about 12 cardamom pods & 2 star anise (or other subtle spice blend you want)
- boil the mixture for about 5 minutes to draw out the flavours of the spices.
- simmer & keep hot while working on filling the jars with fruit

Cold Pack Method - I've not done a whole lot of canning before, but in my research, I found that the cold pack method (cold fruit with hot liquid poured on top & then processed in hot water bath) seems to be what will allow the fruit to not become mush in the jar. Do your research, ask questions from others & don't be scared to explore all options. 

* prep the pot for the hot water bath - fill about 3/4 full of water & put on to boil
     - if you can find something to put in the bottom of your pot to keep the jars up off the bottom of the pot, that would be prevent the jars from bouncing on the bottom of the pot & possibly cracking. (I use a clean wash cloth & will continue my hunt at garage sales for a round metal rack that will fit my canning pot)

* prep the jars - I use 500 ml jars. Wash & sterilize the jars & the lids & rings. 
* gather all other equipment such as wooden spoons, jar funnel, jar tongs, towels, etc.

* fill a bowl with ice water & a bit of lemon juice. This is for the apricots. I cut the apricots in half & flipped out the pit. Then I cut them into quarters & put the fruit into the ice water to keep them cold & from turning brown.

* start filling your jars - put the fruit in cut side down as this allows for more fruit to be put into the jars. Fill the jars only to the neck of the jar as any fruit above this will not be covered in syrup & will turn brown after processing.

* ladle in the hot syrup (without any of the spices as you don't want to over power the fruit with too much spice). If using bourbon - put a tablespoon or 2 in first and then the syrup. 

* tap the jar on the counter to remove air bubbles & screw on the lids. Once you have enough to process (my pot holds 6 jars comfortably & that's about how many I do each time to ensure that the fruit are all relatively the same temp going into the hot water bath).

* process the jars. I did it for 5 minutes as the water in the pot was boiling & I didn't need to wait to bring it back to a boil. I did not want mushy fruit and 5 minutes should be enough to safely process the fruit.

* remove gently & cool on the counter. I cool my jars on a tea towel.

* let mellow in your pantry for at least a month (if you can!) and enjoy!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Transitions and Transformations

Today I was sitting in the garden, watching the kitty chase the bugs & the dog rolling on the grass & I finally had a moment of utter & pure joy with my garden. I have not stopped gardening over the course of the last year, but it has been a year of complete change in my life - both personal, professional and in how I gardening.

I will be brief & the pictures will not show the whole story. No one wants to see the whole story - really - so what I am about to share is what we walked into 6 months ago, and where we are at - outside - today.

Welcome to Our Garden:
~ front garden ~
 I knew right away that the outside was going to require an over-haul. Some of which, we had hoped to hold off for a year (like the siding) but I had no idea how dead, dry & sterile the soil was until I ripped out all the dead plants!

The brick retaining wall for the flower bed came out. Dirt should not be piled up so high around your house - it allows plants & insects to get up & under the siding. And it was completely underneath the overhang, so was not getting a single drop of rain.
~ back yard & back of house ~

Now we move into the back yard. I know you can see it all - in its splendor & glory of winter plumage... you are asking: what's up with the blue paint?

~ back yard & back of house ~
Don't ask. That was a painful many weeks of torture to get rid of. AND it is still in the grass and the soil.

But so much potential!!

 Once every single white painted rock was removed from all the edging of the flower beds, things started to look less cluttered.

~ back yard & back of house ~
Once all the pots & watering cans & sticks & blue-painted supports were removed, things started to look even less cluttered!

~ back yard & back of house ~
Once the metal overhang, rat infested wood shed, termite infested greenhouse & 8 foot wall hiding a 5 foot wide dead cedar hedge were all removed, dug up & thrown out - things really opened up and we realized that we did indeed have an amazing south facing backyard with So.Much.Potential! (read that as: So.Much.Work.)

~ Nola ~

 Nola & Spook are my constant shadows in the back yard. Nola hopes for some edible & tasty treat to eat and Spook hopes for a fresh hole to be dug so she can jump head first into. 
~ Spook ~

~ Sunsprite Florabunda rose ~
 I have started to make a few special purchases for the gardens as we dig things up, move things around and find out how the sun moves through our new space.

 This rose is luscious! It has been blooming for us for 2 months and ever since I gave it a hit of fish fertilizer, it has rewarded us with yet more blooms to enjoy. I hope to bring more roses into the gardens in the coming months.

There are other plants that I have not yet identified - mostly because I haven't unpacked the gardening books and also because I'm just going to enjoy them for now and figure out what they are later. I want to see how they perform from initial spring growth, blooming time and then how they look as they fade & end the summer season. 

~ yellow daisies ~
I still have a love of daisies and as I wander around the neighbourhood looking at other people's gardens, I realized that I'm rather done with the traditional white shasta daisy - it gets too tall & flops over with the wind, rain or dry heat. This yellow daisy is compact and has been blooming for a long time. Plus it doesn't smell like cat pee!! Definitely a keeper & one I'll divide up in the fall/spring when we dig up the gardens more.
~ marigold ~

There were only a few seeds I planted this year - marigolds were on that list as they just make me so happy. I heard a rumour that cats will dig up marigolds as they don't like the smell of the flowers - I'll keep an eye on Spook and see what happens. Right now - she would rather jump on them, chasing bugs.
~ calendula ~

 Another seed I just has to plant are the calendulas. Love their warm colour and they will grow practically anywhere!
~ gladiolas ~

In the front yard, things have taken on a rather wild, self-seeded look. One surprise are the gladiolas - clumped rather tightly together and in a spot where we tend to cut through the flower bed, but they are a nice vertical edition to an otherwise low growing bed.
~ calla lily ~
During my wanderings, I have noticed that calla lilies have the potential to grow very well out here. Some places I've seen them growing over 4 feet tall & in a massive clump! I like the red ones and will see if they will over winter & perform well for me.
~ front flower bed ~

The front flower bed was blasted, demolished & trampled down many times as the siding was replaced, the soil was moved away from the foundation and all the tulip, daffodil, crocus, and other spring bulbs were dug up, divided and replanted (as best I could in sand). This is what was stirred up - a wonderful flowing wild bed of honey-scented alyssum, tall red, fluffy poppies, shorter bright hits of orange in the California poppy and a few other random hits of sedum and violas.
~ apples ~

We were told that there were fruit trees in the yard - which, in January, it is hard to tell what is what if you've never grown fruit trees before.

Well, one is an apple - as yet, not verified for variety. Since I have never grow my own apples, I neglected to thin out the fruit properly back in June and as a result, the poor wee tree was leaning drastically and the branches looked ready to break. So I very carefully thinned about half the apples off - made apple sauce for the first time in years! And now we just need to wait to see if the remaining fruit will ripen into a nice eating apple.

There is also a plum (very poor fruit set) and a fig (rescued from the front yard).
~ blooms in the back yard ~
This is where I was sitting this morning in the shade. Summer has finally arrived and it is very hot & dry outside right now. I have to learn about water restrictions and watering times and odd/even days... but that's all part of the transition and transformation of being a gardener with a new garden. 
The light and space in the back yard (even with a backyard neighbour in close proximity) is so peaceful. Can't wait to get back out there to smell the flowers, watch the insects and remember what it is about gardening that makes me happy...
It is very simple.