Shameless Author Promotion – again

My daughter’s book, Keeping House,  is now available on Kindle and will soon be available in paperback.  I am very proud of her for accomplishing something she’s always wanted to do!

Keeping House, by E.T. Mills

Keeping House, by E.T. Mills

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Our New Toy, er, Tool

Peach Week continues and we are more than halfway through our pile o’ peaches.  So far, we have canned sliced peaches and frozen whole peaches.

Today, our new acquisition arrived:

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Finally, we have a dehydrator!

I have to admit that I have been a  dehydrator snob my whole adult life.  I love the Excalibur dehydrator; however, now that I again live where a dehydrator is useful, I just could not justify the Excalibur price tag.  After wasting two summers pining after my “Ideal Dehydrator,” I realized I was being silly.

A preparedness group I follow on Facebook recently had a discussion about food dehydrators and there were so many positive comments about the Nesco dehydrators that I looked into their offerings.  As it turns out, the company has addressed the issues for which I had previously snubbed them.  Even better, the model I chose was on sale and J was willing to split the cost!  I’m willing to spend $35 to give it a try.  So, we ordered the FD-75PR, 600 watt, model on Saturday and it arrived in time to participate in our Peach Extravaganza.

No sense delaying …

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Tonight we filled it with peaches.  It took about 4 peaches per tray and we had four trays ready to go in about an hour.

Our first batch is off and running!

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I’m looking forward to my first taste test — in 6 to 16 hours.

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“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is on its own wings.”  —  Unknown

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It’s Going to Be a Peachy Week

Friday, I went to Kalawi Farms and brought home

PEACHES!

Peaches - lots and lots of peaches!

Peaches – lots and lots of peaches!

The peaches I bought from the farmers’ market last summer were from Kalawi Farms and I was very pleased with their quality.  I want to make A LOT of canned peaches and peach jam this year so decided to go right to the source.

Kalawi Farms is about an hour and a half away from home.  I got 80+ pounds of Winblo peaches (sometimes spelled Wind Blow) and 7+ pounds of Cary Mac peaches for about $1.00 per pound, which is a great price!  I plan to make another trip in a couple of weeks to get more.

I have been washing them.  And washing them.  And washing them  — there were a lot of peaches to wash and dry!

A vinegar water bath, followed by a wipe, a rinse, and drip drying

A vinegar water bath, followed by a wipe, a rinse, and drip drying

Every flat surface in my kitchen and dining room, that is above the reach of my kitchen helpers the dogs, is covered with peaches.

They're everywhere!

They’re everywhere!

Saturday I will process the canned peaches, using the Winblo variety.  Later in the week I’ll do the jam, using the Cary Mac variety.

Any that are not quite ripe I’ll allow to sit out an extra day or so and then put them in the freezer for making peach pancakes and peach muffins.  My favorite use of frozen peaches, though, is to partially thaw a frozen peach and slice it for a fresh fruit dessert in the middle of the winter.  Mmmm, yum.

And, YES, the house smells wonderful!

 

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B3

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Oh, What Do You Do When Your Basil Grows?

I’ve planted basil as a companion plant every time I’ve planted tomatoes and this is the first year it has lived.  As you saw with my Tuesday harvest, I plucked quite a lot of basil from the garden.  This was my second pruning of the basil; the first batch went to J — right before we both came down with strep (translation: it went to waste).

The only “downfall” of having basil to harvest is that I don’t use a lot of fresh basil in my cooking. I despise pesto.  I do love this chicken dish using fresh basil: Chicken with Peaches and Basil.  Let’s face it though, with so much basil coming out of the garden, I needed a way to preserve it for later use!

I decided to dry it.  I’ve never dried my own herbs before so this would be a nice experiment.  Since I don’t have a dehydrator (yet!), my options are to dry it in the oven or to dry it in the microwave.  (In the south, air-drying or sun-drying just doesn’t work – the air is just too humid.)

I chose drying it in the microwave because 1) oven drying takes 2-4 hours – that’s a long time to have the oven on (using lots of electricity) in an already hot house (using even more electricity to cool the house), 2) microwave drying doesn’t take as long. and 3) apparently, the herbs don’t lose their color and flavor as much when dried in the microwave.

The supply list is very small:  herbs, paper towels, a plate, and, of course, a microwave oven (a staple in nearly every American kitchen)

First, I removed the leaves from the stems, washed them and then drained them.  This is where a salad spinner would have been nice.  I suppose I could have blotted them drier with a towel, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

Trim leaves off the stems, wash and drain

Trim leaves off the stems, wash and drain

Next, I laid out the leaves on a paper towel covered plate and covered them with another paper towel.  I made sure to open up folded leaves to ensure more surface area was available for drying.

Ready to go in the microwave

Place the basil leaves in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate that is covered with a paper towel

I microwaved in 30-second increments until dry and crunchy.  After each thirty-second increment, I opened the microwave and fluffed the paper towel cover.  This was to let the hot, humid air out of the oven. It took a total of 3 minutes (six 30-second increments) for each batch.  It is very obvious when the batch is done.  The time required for drying other herbs might be different, of course, as it would depend on size, moisture content, and possibly other factors.

Microwave in 30 second increments until dry and crunchy

Microwave in 30-second increments until dry and crunchy

After drying a couple of plates, I knew that the basil would not be done after the first minute of drying, so decided to try increasing the first increment to one minute, followed by four 30-second increments.  Interestingly, the smell was a little sharper (rather than sweet) when I opened the microwave door.  It was a significant enough difference that I decided sticking to the 30-second increments was the best plan.

Another lesson learned: using a paper plate would have been a good alternative.  I used one of my Corelle plates and it got really, really hot.  While it didn’t break, I sure was concerned that it would.

The other side test I tried was to put out a couple of trays to air-dry overnight – to see if it made a difference in processing time.

20140708_210844While the leaves were drier to start with when I put them in the microwave the next day, it did not make a difference in the time it took to make them dry and crunchy.  It still took three minutes per plate.  It was nice to know, though, that I didn’t have to finish the whole batch in one effort.

My final tally was 7 plates of basil dried:

Home-Dried Basil!

Home-Dried Basil!

I will put it in a couple of jars in the freezer.  Did you know, a half year is the shelf life of most dried herbs and ground spices?  To extend the shelf life of those not-so-inexpensive herbs and spices you buy at the grocery store, freeze half of a new bottle’s contents in an airtight bag or container.  When you’re finished with the first half of the jar, retrieve your still-fresh supply from the freezer!

Extend the shelf-life of dried herbs by keeping your excess supply in the freezer

Extend the shelf-life of dried herbs by keeping your excess supply in the freezer

I could break/chop these up into small bits like you get in a grocery store jar but I’m just going to leave them whole and crunch them up as I use them.

This was quick and easy to do.  It is effective for smaller batches of basil and would be especially practical if you brought home some fresh basil and then discovered you couldn’t use it up before it decayed.

One unexpected but nice side effect:  the house smelled amazing!

 

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‘Twas a Dilly Dilly Day

Last year I reported on my first attempt at making pickles in The Maiden Voyage of the Pickle Maker.  This year, now being an experienced pro (insert snicker here), I invited my daughter, J,  along for the ride.

A couple of weeks ago we found some humongous cucumbers in my cucumber bed.  I swear it had only been two days since I was out there to find nothing remarkable and then, this:

behemoth

Unfortunately, after harvesting those behemoths, both J and I came down with strep. Friday, the 4th, we were both finally up to dealing with pickle making.

J arrived about 11 am sans children (thanks to Dad for keeping the kids home!).  We had planned ahead and had “everything” we needed.  Jessica wanted to make “stackers” out of the big cucumbers.  Over the course of the two weeks of illness, though, several other cucumbers were harvested.  So, after looking at the supply, we decided pickle relish was also on the menu.  That meant going to the store for additional ingredients.  After that, we were hungry, so we made a nice pasta salad for lunch.  (Rotini, cucumber, tomato, avocado, italian dressing – it was yummy!)

Pasta Salad for lunch

Pasta Salad for lunch

Finally, hours later, we started working on the project we had come together to do.  It was really nice having an extra pair of hands and someone to chat with while working.

I scrubbed the cucumbers, J sliced them.   Stackers are cut length-wise and the slices are as wide as the cucumber and as tall as the jar.

"Stackers" are cut length-wise and as tall as the jar

“Stackers” are cut length-wise and as tall as the jar

Someday I’d like to figure out why these extra-large cucumbers were yellow instead of green.

J didn’t know that if you lick the cut end of a cucumber, you can tell if it is sweet or bitter, so she learned something new from her mother (at this age, that’s a bonus!).  If you put a bitter cucumber in your jar, the whole jar will turn bitter, so this is an important step.  J, having just eaten half-dozen mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, felt that was not a good mix with cucumber licking, so I was the designated Bitterness Tester.  As such, this was what I saw for the first hour of work:

Cucumber roulette - is it sweet or bitter?

Cucumber roulette – is it sweet or bitter?

J would slice off the end of a cucumber and present it to me for licking.  I only came across one that was truly bitter.  (Let me tell you, it was enough to make me dance – definitely not a happy dance!).  A couple of others were questionable, so we just didn’t risk it with those.

The pickle relish was 6 cups coarsely chopped cucumbers (we like chunkier relish), 2 cups chopped red pepper, 2 cups chopped onion.

Relish mixture

Relish mixture

As with last year’s effort, we used Mrs. Wages pickle mix (the Kosher Dill mix this time).   I know there are purists that will say I’m cheating by not doing it the traditional way with pickling lime and purchasing a bunch of different spices and seasonings.  In my book, though, getting the job done counts more than meeting someone else’s version of “the right way.”

Once everything was in the jars, the pickling juice was poured in, rims cleaned, heated lids and rings attached, and the jars were processed for 15 minutes.

Ta-Da!  The final product was 4 pints of stackers and 6 pints of pickle relish.

10 lovely jars!

10 lovely jars!

Note that after the 24 hour setting period, I remove the rings from my jars.  There are folks that will vehemently oppose this action and others that fully support it.  I was taught to remove the rings.  If the rings are left on and the jar seals fail, having the ring on will allow the seeping product to reseal the jar, with contaminants in it.

We had enough chopped cucumber to make another batch of pickle relish but not of any other ingredients (in particular, another package of Mrs. Wages was nowhere to be found) so we are doing an experiment — freezing the remainder.  We’ll see if it’s usable once thawed.

It was a fun and productive day!

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A Nice Surprise

After arriving home from work, I dutifully went to water the garden and was surprised to see these:

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I was totally surprised since bug damage had destroyed more than half of my tomato plants last month.  I didn’t expect any better results for the remaining plants.

Aren’t they pretty?

I also picked three more cucumbers and a bunch of basil.  This was the total haul for the day:

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Gardening’s not so bad when you get something in return!

 

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gandalf

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“Over the years, Americans in particular have been all too willing to squander their hard-earned independence and freedom for the illusion of feeling safe under someone else’s authority. The concept of self-sufficiency has been undermined in value over a scant few generations. The vast majority of the population seems to look down their noses upon self-reliance as some quaint dusty relic, entertained only by the hyperparanoid or those hopelessly incapable of fitting into mainstream society.”    Cody Lundin, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes

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