Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Summer Fading Fast

The nights are definitely cold now. When I get up in the morning the fog is heavy in the marshes and my Vermont Country Store brass thermometer reads in the upper 30s - low 40s. The winter birds like nuthatches and chickadees are more prevalent at the bird feeders. I don't see the hummingbirds any more. And, of course, the leaves are changing their colors almost as you look at them. With the seeming collapse of the world's financial markets into BGD (Bottomless-Global-Depression), I decided to soothe my psyche and work in my field communing with Nature.

(I had a great time until Our-Government-At-Work decided to chemtrail the sky and spoil the view -- I guess The-Powers-That-Be are worried about farmers with pitchforks?)

Today I finished tilling the weeds under in the hops section that I began yesterday. Then I tilled the section next to it. I still need to do the section next to the perennial bed, and that should take me a whole day to do as it is the largest of my growing sections. I also checked the fruit trees and tilled the row I turned over a few weeks ago where I will put the plum trees. I think tomorrow I will dig the individual tree holes for them and the two apple trees that will be coming from St. Lawrence Nursery. I'll put the dirt from the holes in the high tunnel so it doesn't freeze. I'll be wrapping the fruit tree trunks with bark protectors before I know it.

There were some more tomatoes turning red in the high tunnel that I picked and took back to the house. I will have a great time canning the tomatoes when they are all ripe. I hope I can keep the plants in the high tunnel alive at least until the majority of tomatoes on them are sure to ripen.

I brought the camera with me out to the field to try and catch some of the Fall colors.

I also took some pics around the house.

My kindling box made from fallen tree branches isn't quite finished, but I like the rustic look of it. I'll cover it with a tarp when it's done to help keep out rain and snow. The picture with the wooden swing is a view of part of the front yard from our front steps. Tom's wood pile looks pretty good -- you should see how much wood he has stashed in the garage!

I am already thinking about next year. Despite our economic free-fall, I made a couple of seed/stock orders. I bought heirloom potato onions, Egyptian Walking onions, and golden shallots from Jung; and I found a great tomato seed company: where I found some neat heirlooms. I bought Indian Moon, an orange tomato heirloom from the Navajo people; Green Gage, a yellow cherry tomato but I forget where it comes from; Limmony, a beautiful large yellow variety from Russia; Large Red, the US commercial variety dominant before the Civil War; Red Brandywine; Italian Tree, another great-tasting, all purpose red variety that supposedly bears a full bushel of fruit per plant (I couldn't resist that hook!); and some more of the excellent Cherokee Purple that I tried for the first time this year. Lastly, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., I bought Golden Giant amaranth, more Bull's Blood beets and St. Valery carrots, Di Firenze sweet fennel, Ground Cherry (husk tomato), Wonderberry (huckleberries), Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi, Giant Musselburgh leeks, my favorite Forellenschluss lettuce, and some more lettuces to try -- Rouge d'Hiver, Dark Lollo Rossa, and Rough Grenobloise; more Perkins Long Pod okra and Chinese Pak Choy; French Breakfast, White Hailstone, and Philadelphia White Box radishes; Laurentian rutabegas, and Navet des Vertus Marteau turnips. These, along with the various squashes, cabbages, and corn seeds I already have, should make for a great garden next year. I can't wait to sit down and work out the garden plan.

Did I tell you I bought from the Weideger's Au Naturel Farm ( their hoop house growing book, Walk to Spring? That is a great book! I feel more confident about growing in my high tunnel already! And from I bought Herman Beck Chenoweth's Free Range Poultry Production and Marketing set (production manual and accompanying video). I can't wait to work up my poultry plan for next year. If you want to sell chickens or turkeys, this is the manual to get.

With Mercury getting to go retrograde, it will be a good time to finish up tasks that I haven't been able to get to, and to do more research on the Local Food Atlas. I feel bad that I didn't do more work on it this summer, but I was just not mentally there, if you know what I mean. Anyway, we should have at least two more days of nice weather and I plan to get as much work done as possible.

We heard from Sarah and she seems to be doing fine. She has not received the majority of the boxes we sent her, but I think they will reach her soon.

Eddy goes Friday to see the doctor for his pre-op appointment before getting his ingrown toenails fixed. I will be getting him new shoes! Lara is doing well, and Tom is ok; the interferon makes him very tired. I am doing well on my diet and may just make my goal of 10 more pounds lost by the end of this month. I am very proud of myself! I can actually fit into my size 16 jeans. If I can get down to a size 14 before the end of the year, I will buy myself something nice as a reward.

It is getting late so I think I will go to Facebook and try to figure out how that works. Take care and keep your chins up -- when the economy finally hits bottom, it can only go up!

Monday, September 08, 2008

How to Make Sauerkraut in a Crock

Over the years I have been asked, "How do you make your sauerkraut in the crock?", and now that I have a digital camera, I thought I would finally be able to put the process on-line with visuals instead of just text for those of you who would like to try this for yourselves. It really is simple, and once you do it a couple of times, you won't believe you may once have been afraid to try it. This process is for Bohemian style sauerkraut, taught to me and my sister by our Dad (now 78 years young), who learned it from his mother, Anna Kadrlik Ledvina. And just a note here to let you know that after the kraut is fermented, I will do a Part II and show you how I can the finished kraut.

First you will need a clean, 5-gallon crock that has no cracks. If the crock has cracks, it is useless for fermenting.

Next, a dolly to set the crock on. Remember, a full 5-gallon crock is HEAVY. The dolly will assist you in moving the full crock to where you will want the kraut to ferment. I use a cheap, plant pot dolly I bought for $2 at the Dollar Store. The large size fits a 5-gallon crock perfectly. (You may want to go ahead and purchase better castors for the dolly from the hardware store.)

You will need a cutting board, a good knife, 6-8 large heads of cabbage for a 5-gallon crock, a good supply of onions (preferably yellow onions), pickling salt, and caraway seed. You will need a plate or lid for your crock, some sort of weight (I use a rock I picked up out of the field -- and washed VERY well), cheesecloth or muslin and rubber bands or string, and, you will need something to "stomp" the cabbage with. I use a "stomper" I bought from Lehman's, but you can use a rolling pin that has no handles, the hitting end of a baseball bat, or a piece of 2" x 4" that has its ends smoothed (you don't want wood slivers in your kraut!) Make sure your "stomper" is very clean.

Now get out your knife sharpener and sharpen your favorite knife. Cabbage is easier to cut through if your knife is sharp.

How thick or thin you slice your cabbage is subjective. You can slice your cabbage with a knife, a grater, the slicer attachment on your food processor, a hand made "krauter", or a mandoline. I have tried all of these methods over the years and prefer to use a mandoline. It may not be as quick as the food processor, but with the mandoline you can adjust the size of the cabbage slice. Newer mandolines are safer to use to use than old-style krauters, but if you feel confident enough of your manual dexterity to use a custom-made krauter, you will probably get the "perfect" kraut slice with it. I happen to like my fingers, however, and will continue to use my ergonomic mandoline. Pieces that don't work through the mandoline get hand sliced with my knife.

Take a head of cabbage and cut it into quarters (4 pieces). Now it should be easier to cut out the core from each quarter. Trim away any blemishes. Slice each quarter and put the slices in a big bowl.

After each head of cabbage is sliced, place the slices into the crock. Now slice 3-4 onions and place the onion slices on top of the cabbage in the crock. Sprinkle at least 1 Tablespoon of pickling salt and 1 Tablespoon of caraway seed over the onions. How many onions you use, and how much salt and caraway seed you use is a matter of taste. The antiseptic properties contained in the onions help prevent spoilage, and the salt acts as a preservative. (You can use a lot of salt if you want, but remember to rinse your kraut before you use it.)

Now get your stomper and stomp down your kraut. The idea is to break down the cabbage and onions to release their juices as this juice is the fermenting liquid. The level of kraut in the crock will reduce dramatically as you stomp. When you feel "suction" as you raise your stomper or can visually see good wet juice on top of the kraut, stop, and slice up the next head of cabbage and onions. Repeat the layering process of slicing and stomping until the crock is full to about 3 inches from the top.

When the crock is just about full, you should have enough juices on top to cover the kraut completely. There are times, however, when the cabbage used is too dry and you will need to supplement liquid. If this happens, make a brine of 1/2 cup of pickling salt and one quart of water, and pour just enough brine to cover the top of the kraut. Now take your crock lid or a plain dinner plate (not one with a metal trim), turn it upside down, and place it on top of the kraut in the crock. On top of this lid, put a weight. The kraut should now be completely submerged by at least an inch under the liquid juices. NOTE: It helps when you buy your cabbage to ask when it was picked. Generally, if you buy fresh cabbage, it should sit for three days before you make kraut, otherwise you will have too much juice which can raise the chance for spoilage.

Now take your cheesecloth or muslin dust cover and cover the top of the crock. (Use a double thickness of cheesecloth if you are using that instead of muslin.) Put a rubber band or tie string to hold the cloth in place. Carefully move the crock to where the kraut is to ferment. You want this place to be cool but not cold (between 65 and 75F), and you want the crock to be left undisturbed for about 6 weeks. (Mark your calendar or you will forget when to check the crock!) When the kraut is fermenting, there will be a very acrid smell and you may need to air the room out. Also, no matter how clean a housekeeper you are, your crock will attract vinegar flies. When this happens I use a light vaccuum attachment and carefull suck the flies away. Periodically, carefully remove the cheesecloth or muslin cover and check the liquid seal over the kraut. The kraut should be fully submerged. If it is not, make a brine as described above and VERY CAREFULLY add enough liquid to fully cover the kraut. You do not want to disturb the kraut! Replace the dust cover and don't worry about any gook or mold you may see. I will tell you about that in Part II.

And that is all! I keep my crock in my laundry room as it tends to be cooler than the rest of the house, and I don't have to worry about the crock being disturbed because I am the only person that uses the laundry room. I open the back door to air the room out if the fermenting smell gets too strong, and when the vinegar flies show up, they are away from the kitchen and easy to vaccuum up. A cool, enclosed porch area, one that is out of the sun, is a good spot to keep a crock, too.

Stay tuned for Part II in about 6 weeks.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Good Day at Farmers Market

The day started out chilly and damp, and the rain held off until after the Farmers Market ended. Lara had a good time at the market. I coached her through the prices of everything we had to sell, and a couple of times I walked away from the stand to let her handle the stall by herself. She did just fine! I was very proud of her. We had French Breakfast radishes, Pak Choy Chinese cabbage, Forellynschuss lettuce, sorrel, Red Cloud and Kennebec potatoes, Czech Tan, Shvlisi, and Samarkand garlic, Stutgarrt onions, and mixed heirloom tomatoes. We sold all of the greens and radishes, about 15 pounds of potatoes, and some garlic and onions. I was surprised the tomatoes didn't move, but that's ok -- we'll eat them in salads this week.

Some of my customers were looking for herbs, so next week I will be sure to cut some spearmint, parsley, basil, and sage. I do think there can be a good market for fresh herbs. I met some new customers today. They are in Phillips by way of Brazil! It is truly strange how people wind up in far-a-way places! I wish them well in their stay here in the Northwoods, and I hope someone tells them how to dress for our bitter winters!

After the market, we checked out the new St. Vincent DePaul Thrift store in Phillips. Boy, you should have seen the people in that place! Then we went to Pamida and I bought the stuff Sarah wanted me to send her and got the makings for trail mix. When we got home, Tom helped me mix up the trail mix. It made me happy that he helped me. Talk about a good mix: Cheerios, Wheat Thins, mini-grahams, mixed nuts, home-dried apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, bananas, and cherries, and a big canister of raisins, and little stick pretzels. We had so much we had to split the mix into two big bowls. I got out my vaccuum sealer and we used up the whole 11" bag roll making quart sized bags of trail mix. Tom is going to the store on Monday, and he will pick up another roll of bag form so we can seal up the rest of the mix (if it isn't eaten first!). Then I will box that up (hopefully I can fit it all in one APO box)and send it off to Sarah. HOAH! 783rd MP BN!

BTW, dried sour cherries are EXCELLENT. . . .