Construction · Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary

Oops – I did it again! Food processor woes.

At the end of July, I had 4 pounds of very ripe figs ready to process into jam and could not get the lid to my food processor to seat.  At first I thought it was too early in the morning, so I polished my glasses, took another gulp of coffee, and tried again.   After struggling with it for another five minutes and feeling like a fool, I looked at the top of the bowl and saw that it was no longer perfectly round!   With all those figs waiting and us trying to get ready to head back to the farm, I took the easy way out and headed to Target to buy a replacement for the food processor that had served me well for well over 10 years.   Why did this happen?   The answer to that lay in the booklet that came with the new one — don’t wash the bowl on a sani-rinse cycle.   I’d never done that before because I usually have my jars washing before I start slicing and dicing, but with the kitchen counter replacement, I was doing things out of order.

I made two batches of jam using my shiny new food processor and happily headed back to the woods and stayed there until a multi-day forecast of 80% rain!   I came home and harvested the last of the figs and got ready to make a new batch.   Once again I was dealing with a lid that didn’t fit and once again the bowl is no longer round.   However, this time I know that I did not wash the bowl on a sani-cycle, so I’m not very happy about my purchase.  I’m still waiting to hear back from the manufacturer about why replacement bowls are not available.

The jam I made with that batch of figs tastes good, but as I resorted to pureeing the figs in the blender before making fig and blueberry jam, it just doesn’t look as appetizing as when the figs are in chunks.   Now we’re at the point of the year where I look forward to having more pantry space so that we don’t have to store jam and honey in odd places around the kitchen and dining room.    Maybe next year we’ll be able to start the foundation for the new house….

New countertop and sink
New counter-top and sink

Still, it is a joy to cook in my kitchen with its shiny new counter tops and stain resistant sink.   Even the blackberry and blueberry juices wiped right off.    We painted the floors of the base cabinets when we replaced the counter tops, so much of this week was about putting shelf paper down and putting everything away.   Instead of just putting stuff back where it’s been for the past 15 years, I tried to put things away where they made more sense.  We’ll see how well that plan works as we try to find stuff over the next few weeks!

So, on Tuesday, Farmerella and her Prince Charming turn back into teachers, but we’re returning as relaxed, inspired, and excited teachers for our 8th year until retirement!   We have to get used to alarm clocks instead of sunrises and walking on the treadmill instead of walking down to unlock the gate in the mornings, but my recent reading and hubby’s two seminars this summer have us burgeoning with new ways to present material, and that is invigorating.    It’s going to be a good year!

 

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Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary

A Good Thermometer is Hard to Find

One of my main frustrations with cooking with sugar, whether it be jam or fondant for the bees, is the inconsistency of the texture of the final product.   I know I have to get this right before I’m ready to start selling any jams.   I’m now on my fourth thermometer and finally both batches of jam I made are exactly the firmness that I’ve been aiming for all this time.

Thermometer
Thermonib Thermometer

I’ve been using the metal candy thermometers that clip to the side of the pot with varying results.    Even on the best batches, the jams were not as firm as I wanted until I used the above Thermobib thermometer.   I made two batches of jam this week and both are the same consistency.

The jam in the picture is spiced apple and fig jam.  It’s probably a little more chunky than most people would prefer, but I like to taste pieces of apple in the jams I make for us.   It is a simple recipe – 1 pound of figs, 1 pound of Granny Smith apples,  4 cups of sugar, 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of nutmeg.  I chop the figs first and cover them with a cup of sugar and the salt to draw some of the moisture out of the figs.  Then I peel, core, and chop the apples, add them to the fig mixture and dump the rest of the sugar and the spices on top.   When the figs have been resting for at least 30 minutes, I add the water and a strip of the apple peel, and bring the mixture to a boil while constantly stirring.    It needs to stay at a rolling boil for a minute or two and then it’s a matter of just boiling enough moisture out to reach the magic temperature of 220 degrees.   Remove the strip of apple peel before ladling the mixture into jars.   (The pectin in the peel helps the jam set and the rest of the peel makes a nice, healthy snack while cooking!)

I used a recipe from Delicious magazine for the blackberry apple jam, with the modification of boiling the blackberries in the water first and then straining out the pulp and seeds through muslin.  This is a good option for people who need to avoid seeds.   Personally, I just don’t like having to get the seeds out from between my teeth!    As posted in a previous blog, I’d already boiled the blackberries when I picked them at the farm, so it was just a matter of defrosting them and warming them through a little before straining them.  I chopped the apples a little finer for this batch.

Jam and Honey
Jams and Honey

At the end of “cooking day,”  we had two batches of jam from new recipes and had bottled 33 pounds of honey.    I love seeing the purple of the blackberry jam and the gold of the spring honey with the sun behind it.

One other recipe I tried this week was figs in honey.   I don’t know if the flavors will integrate over time, but this is a recipe that I would only make for family in the future as it uses too much honey for us the market it.   I do want to try Roasted Figs in Honey as an ice-cream topping sometime, but again just for family.   Sometimes we just need to enjoy what our fig tree provides for us without turning it into jam first!

I’m very happy to say that these were the last recipes I tried on our old, boring, beige counter-tops and that I am looking forward to cooking in our almost-updated kitchen.  More about that in the near future…..

Canning · Cooking · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Hunter-gatherers

Yesterday, I temporarily deferred my equal rights ideologies and stepped back (way back) into a hunter-gatherer role,  trailing along behind the man of the house, picking berries while he did the manly task!

There are so many beautiful ripe blackberries on our property, but they are so hard to get to.  At the best of times, wild blackberries demand a blood sacrifice,  so I am always weighing the pain-versus-gain factor.   Since my last blackberry harvest, BIL sent us a picture of a timber rattle snake up under one of his blueberry bushes, edging back into some wild blackberries, so that made me even more cautious.

Blackberries
Wild Blackberries

Then, hubby came along and cleared a strip along one of the really good blackberry patches with the bush hog, giving me much easier access — still not  pain free, but easier.  By following in his wake, I was able to harvest 1 1/2 quarts of beautiful, juicy blackberries which I then washed, boiled, and froze so that I can turn them into jam when we’re back in the city.    As a few family members need to avoid seeds and the rest of us don’t really enjoy picking seeds out of our teeth, I’ll strain them and then press the rest of the juice out of them before adding apples and making blackberry-apple jam.  I cheated last year and bought frozen blackberries for a trial batch, but that jam was good enough to make me want to harvest what nature has provided for us here.

Of course the other side of the hunter-gatherer equation is the hunter.   I guess hubby was hunting undergrowth when he cleared those paths for me, but his other hunting chores yesterday involved getting rid of the critters that have been bugging me!   We discovered that the yellow jackets at the gate had actually moved into the gate through a drain hole, so it’s no surprise that they became irritable when we rattled the chain against their home.  They are now in an afterlife of some kind.   We avoid using pesticides whenever possible, but we can’t have yellow jackets attacking guests or us at the gate.   His other accomplishment led to one more restless night followed by a good night’s sleep as two field mice have now been evicted from under the kitchen sink.   There’s a huge hole cut into the back of the cabinet, and we thoroughly spray-foamed that, but that didn’t stop them.  There’s another hole cut in the side of the cabinet to let the drain pipe go through.  We’re hesitant to put spray foam in there because we don’t want it on the back of the oven, but we’ll seal it up with aluminum foil after we’re sure there are no more mice romping around in the walls.    We’re generally believers in the if-you-kill-it-eat-it philosophy, but I draw the line at making mouse and yellow-jacket casserole.  (Actually, I draw the line well before that — there’s still too much suburb in me to eat possum or squirrel, although I did LOVE the dove hubby hunted last fall.)

Tractor delivery
Our new tractor

Even though I spent much of the day taking on more-than-usual traditional female tasks, I did start the day having fun on our new Kubota tractor!   I have been hesitant to bush hog on borrowed tractors, even though BIL and our neighbor have shown more confidence in my abilities than I’ve believed myself to have, but I quite quickly became comfortable on relatively flat land knowing that if I damaged something, it would be something I was paying for!    I even found it easier to back the tractor up than to back my car up because I can see where I’m going so much better.   However, that became tricky after a while because of my on-going neck discomfort (I can’t call it pain right now) and my bi-focals.   While bi-focals are great for many things, they don’t work well for looking back over one’s shoulder or for checking bee hives.   I have an eye appointment next week and will probably get a pair of long-distance glasses and a pair with which I can see bee frames.    I’m not sure how I’ll juggle three different pairs of glasses — maybe the eye doctor will have a better suggestion!

Our other exciting 15 minutes yesterday was when we had to combat a waterfall running down the inside of the RV door!   Hubby made adjustments to the strike plate for the door latch and that kept the rain out, but in the time that took, the torrent filled a casserole dish and soaked a bunch of towels. (I wish I had a picture to post, but we were both a little too occupied to grab a camera!) It’s times like these that make me glad I brought every old towel that we had at the house here.  Sure, they take up space, but sometimes they come in handy.   We started today with a trip to the laundromat and that led to reorganizing towel storage — what better time to do it than when every towel in the house has just been washed?

It’s a beautiful sunny day,  the trails we cut last year are now trails again, and we can see the stakes for the house-site again.     Life is good on the farm!