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Friday, April 11, 2014

Canning Sauerkraut

Well, remember that sauerkraut I started a few months ago? Well, this week we finally determined that it was perfect and canned it into 18 quarts of yumminess.

We actually had to move the pickling crock it was fermenting in to the garage from the basement. For about a week after it had first started fermenting, I kept wafting something that smelled like someone forgot to take the garbage out in the kitchen. After determining it was not the garbage, I sniffed around the whole kitchen, convinced that the refrigerator had something smelly in it or even maybe the kitchen sink was leaking. Finally, it dawned on me that MAYBE that 5 gallon crock of fermenting cabbage in the basement might be the cause of the phantom stink. Sure enough it was. Last time I made sauerkraut, we were renting a house that had a separate, closed in room in the basement, which is why it didn't smell.

Lesson learned.

Anyway, after 3 1/2 months of fermenting in the garage, this is what it looked like:


I removed the half gallon jar of water and plate it was sitting on top of to weight down the sauerkraut. After that, I skimmed off the floating sauerkraut on top and transferred the sauerkraut and brine to the pot using a pair of tongs and ladle.

I hot pack my sauerkraut and follow the canning instructions for sauerkraut as outlined in the Ball Blue Book. It is important to NOT allow your sauerkraut to come to a boil (heat it just to a simmer, then turn off the heat), as you do not want to kill all those very important probiotic yeast cells that were produced during fermentation. Plus, who wants limpy sauerkraut?


After heating, I pack my sauerkraut into prepared quart jars and fill to the top with the fermentation brine. I always make "extra" brine in case I don't have enough ladled out from the crock (which is almost always the case). According to the Ball Blue Book, 4 1/2 tsp. of canning salt per quart of water (heated) can be used for extra canning brine. I usually make a double, or even triple batch of extra brine and compromise with half fermented brine and half made brine for each jar. That way, each jar is getting a little of that natural, fermented brine.

Each jar gets 1/2 inch of head space and a batch of jars gets 10 minutes of processing in a boiling water bath. I usually have to process 2-3 batches, as my canner will only hold 7-8 quarts at a time. I process on a glass top stove and don't want to chance stacking quart jars in my canner and cracking the glass top (although I do want a new stove....hmmmm).

 I usually get 16 -18 quarts per batch of sauerkraut in my pickling crock.


See the juniper berries? Yummy, yummy, yummy! I can't wait to grill up some bratwursts this summer and put a big ole' pile of home fermented sauerkraut on top!



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring?

Well, today is the official first day of spring, but this is what we woke up to last Monday morning:


Not very encouraging, I know. We are all a little snow weary this season, as we've had 6 snow storms in the past 6 weeks. It's still a new concept to me and I do enjoy the unscheduled "snow days" from going into the office, but even I'm like, "ENOUGH!"

But even as I type this post, the sun is shining outside, almost all that snow is melted, and the temperatures are supposed to get into the 50's or 60's today. Here's hoping that spring is just a little bit closer.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sugar Shack

Last weekend, hubby and I took a day trip and headed southwest to Highland County, VA for their annual Maple Festival. We had been meaning to go to this festival for the past couple of years, but never got around to it for one reason or another. It’s only held for the first two weekends in March, and from what I understand, the maple sap used to make maple syrup only flows for a short time here in Virginia. I guess you can’t nail down Mother Nature for an exact date!


From what I gathered, the best maple sap to collect from trees in Virginia is from the ones that grow between 3,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level.  We definitely spent a lot of time driving on twisty-windy mountain roads to find this festival!  Straight from the tree, maple sap (or sugar water) collected from maple trees is made up of approximately 98% water and 2% sugar. It takes approximately 40 quarts of sugar water to make 1 quart of maple syrup, and a good tree will produce 20 quarts of sugar water every 12 hours!


The Maple Festival featured several sugar shacks that demonstrated how to make maple syrup. To make syrup, excess water is boiled away from the sap. Because a large amount of steam is produced when boiling off the sap, it’s not recommended to do this indoors, hence the separate sugar shacks. Making maple syrup on the home front usually involves using one large pot, but at a sugar shack, they use huge troughs filled with sugar water and build very hot wood fires under each trough to boil off the sap.


Can you imagine if you made this much steam in your house? It would be a good way to peel away ugly wall paper!


It was still pretty chilly outside, but the sugar shacks were VERY toasty and smelled wonderful. It was like a hillbilly day spa!


At each stop along the Maple Festival route, there were all kinds of maple-y treats being sold. We enjoyed a few of the local maple donuts that day.


After the festival, we stopped at a local freshwater trout farm and had one of the best fish sandwiches I've ever had. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture because I was really hungry! Being from Florida, it's not often that I ate freshwater fish. In fact, I don't think I've ever had freshwater trout before that day. All in all, it was a great day! 

Picture from Faces of Farmers.org

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ipsy February Glam Bag

Although I like to dig in the dirt for my garden, I also like to girl-it-up during the work week. I signed up for two sample beauty and makeup services three months ago: Birchbox and Ipsy, and so far I am really enjoying the surprises that show up at my door every month. Birchbox, from what I've found, leans more towards beauty and skin care, while Ipsy leans toward makeup. I never know what they are going to send me each month; they only use the beauty profile information I gave them in my application. There's been a few times where I was like, "Meh" on what I received, especially the tea-bags that were sent to me by Birchbox, but Ipsy had been hitting it out of the park as far as I'm concerned.

This month, my package arrived right on Valentine's Day, which felt like I was sending myself my very own special Valentine. Hubby really slacked this year, so it was nice to have something unexpected show up and brighten the day.


I got a beautiful light plum Zoya nail polish (can't remember the name), "Peony Petal" lip gloss by POP Beauty, "Ambrosia" liquid eye shadow by Eyetini, cleansing face mask samples by Skyn Iceland, and lastly a set of real human hair eyelashes and eyelash glue by J.Cat.

I can't wait to try the nail polish, as I've been hearing good things about Zoya, and I LOVE the color! Wish I could remember the name. The lip gloss is almost exactly the same color as my favorite lip crayon from Ulta named "Rocker Pink," so I was excited to try it. Although it goes on really saturated, I don't like the way it smells. It kind of reminds me of dry erase board markers!

I've never tried liquid eye shadow; however, "Ambrosia" is almost exactly the same as my favorite color by Urban Decay, "Toasted". Isn't it funny how we get excited by the colors we already like? Anyway, it was really nice going on. I found using the pad of my finger worked better than the applicator; however, the shadow did crease by the end of the day, even when using Mac's Paint Pot "Painterly" as a primer. Oh well, I'll still keep this as a travel shadow as the color is gorgeous.

Of course, I haven't tried the lashes, as I think those are really for special occasions, and I've yet to try the cleansing masks.

Overall, I really enjoyed this month's glam bag; thanks Ipsy!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dreaming of Spring

Having cabin fever during the winter gives you a lot of time to catch up on small projects around the house. In this case, hubby and I finished building our new raised vegetable garden beds for the upcoming season. The beds are 10 feet by 4 feet, and when the snow melts we will flip them over and pound the corner stakes into the ground.


Last year, we started out with 4 raised beds and then added a fifth at the end. It was definitely a learning experience. Our cucumber crop came in like gangbusters, but our tomatoes were struck by early blight from all the wet weather last year and being planted too close together. Later, the tomato plants that survived were ransacked by squirrels. Our bush beans were wonderful, but our beets were a bust from over seeding and not enough thinning (but the beet greens were great!). We planted sweet potatoes that did so-so, mostly we think from not enough sun, and the leeks were pretty successful. And onion slips rotted due to all the wet weather.


Ironically, the most challenging thing we came across from starting a raised bed garden was finding planting medium to fill them. Last year, we had to use purchased garden soil and bagged compost. This past fall, we managed to squirrel away a lot of leaves and started a second compost pile to help amend. We'll still have to purchase some bagged garden soil, but hopefully just this one time to get us started. From that point on, the beds will be amended and built up with compost, leaves, and cover crops.


So, now we have 10, 10' x 4' raised beds and we have a busy season planned. So far, I plan on growing the following vegetables this year:

Tigger Melons
Red Malabar Spinach
Bush Beans
Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Peas
Giant from Italy Parsley
Butterhead Lettuce
White Stemmed Pak Choi
Paris Market Carrots
Supersauce Tomato
Buttercrunch Lettuce
Sugarloaf Endive
Catalogna Chicory
Black from Tula Tomato
Brandywine Tomato (Suddeth's Strain)
Atkinson Tomato
Druzba Tomato
Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry
Corvair Smooth Leaf Spinach
Win-Win Pak Choi
Detroit Dark Red Beet
Chioggia Beet

In addition, I have a bunch of flowers and herbs that are going to be planted as well. I'm still on the fence about a fall planting. Last year, I was more than ready to put the garden to rest at the end of the summer season, but for now c'mon spring!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snowmance

Valentine's Day has been a bust. I was supposed to go into work today, which we were also having a potluck, but the roads are a mess and I'm "working from home". So, what do you do on Valentine's Day when you are snowed in?


You shovel the front walk way and driveway (thank God for nice neighbors with tractors and snow plows).


You retry that Salted Cranberry Grapefruit Jam recipe.


You make a big batch of homemade chicken broth to be used for chicken noodle soup and canned chicken broth.


You bake (although I made these particular pies a long time ago in another kitchen...but you get the picture).


And then, dream of spring.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It's citrus season, so I like to keep my eyes open for new canning recipes to try. I spied this yummy sounding recipe for Salted Cranberry Grapefruit Jam from Local Kitchen last year and I immediately made a mental note to give it a try. So, over the holidays I grabbed a few extra bags of fresh cranberries, threw them in the freezer, and waited.

Last weekend, I picked up a large, red grapefruit and started on this recipe Monday night. Initially, it tasted wonderful! It was salty, sweet, and sour all in the right places and I had hopes this would be my next new favorite preserve. But after letting it macerate for 24 hours and boiling it down to the jelling stage, the grapefruit peel took over and slapped me upside the head. It was really, really bitter. Bummer.

Grapefruit peel has a tendency to do this, and you have to be a hardcore marmalade lover to get over the bitterness. Some English marmalades are made specifically to be really bitter, but I don't like them one bit, and I won't give a jam or jelly away to someone if I don't love it myself.

Shame; it jelled up perfectly too. Well, back to the drawing board. I'm going to try this recipe again with only the grapefruit pulp and no peel.


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