DIY

What to do with all this yummy summer fruit.

This week has been good for making jams and other fruit preserves. I picked blueberries last weekend and am up to my eyeballs now in blueberry jam, blueberry pie filling, hedgerow jam and the like. While taking a break from the canning pot I came upon an old copy of HomeFarmer, for dreamers and realists. It’s a magazine from the UK which is really great for people like me who dream of living on their own homestead.

I found an article on old curd recipes in this edition and have decided that I would make some curds next. I have made orange curd in the past, and it was yummy. Unfortunately, my source of organic citrus has dried up so I need to find a new type of curd.

I found a recipe for mixed berry curd, which has possibilities. Here is that recipe:

Makes 3 small jars of curd.
500 grams of frozen mixed berries
2 eggs from your own free range happy hens
60 grams (that’s 2 oz) unsalted butter
200f (7 oz) caster sugar (I think this is powdered sugar)

Defrost the berries in a saucepan then warm them until they turn mushy.
Push the berries through a sieve unto a large heatproof bowl.
Add the butter and sugar to the sieved berries and balance the bowl over a saucepan of fast simmering water, bain-marie style. The base of the bowl must not touch the water. If you want a thick curd, cook the berries directly in the saucepan.
Stir until the butter and sugar have dissolved, then take off the heat and sieve in the egg, stiffing continuously until it is all mixed in.
Continue to warm over a medium heat, stirring continuously, when the curd starts to thicken. When the curd is thick, glossy and coats the back of a wooden spoon, it is ready. If you’ve been stirring for 30 minutes since adding the egg, then this is as thick as it gets.
Ladle into the jars, twist on the lids and leave to cool.
Place them in the fridge to thicken or keep them in a cool dark cupboard. Use within two months.

Just writing about homemade curd makes my mouth water. Homemade curd is sooooo good you’ll want to find a way to make your own double devonshire cream and scones and have a proper tea.

How do you can your curd? Some say you can’t (thanks USDA) but if you’re willing to take your life into your own hands, then you might want to can it. Believe me, once you’ve tasted the curd, you won’t mind thumbing your nose at the USDA.

Wash and sterilize your jars and lids. Never reuse the lids of your canning jars, but you can reuse the jars and the rings.
Ladle your hot curd into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove any trapped air bubbles with a clean plastic knife. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply rings. Process 4 ounce jars and half pint jars for 10 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure in a dial gauge pressure canner or a 10 pounds pressure in a weighted-gauge pressure canner.

Aunt J’s Lemon Curd (courtesy of Cooking Light):

1 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/8 tsp salt

1 cup fresh lemon juice

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1) Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in medium saucepan.

2) Add juice and eggs. Bring mixture to a boil while whisking constantly.

3) Reduce heat and continue to stir until thickened, about 1 minute.

4) Remove pan from heat; add in butter and lemon rind, and stir until butter is melted.

5) Cover and chill in refrigerator until completely cooled and thickened.

Makes about 1.5 cups.

Approximate nutrition for 1 tbsp serving: 35 calories, 1 g fat, 6g carbs, 0.5 g protein

Blueberry Soda Syrup

Today I used up the last of my blueberries. Last weekend DH and I went and picked blueberries at a upick place. We had about 20 pounds of blueberries. The berries were getting old and I had made as much jam and blueberry pie filling as I could stand. I was looking for another thing to do with the blueberries. I still had frozen blueberries from last year, and my dehydrator is on the fritz.

Enter Alton Brown! He can always be counted upon to do something interesting with ingredients. I searched the food network site and found that years ago he made a blueberry soda. Just the thing, as I am still playing with my sodastream.

I took 2 quarts of fresh blueberries and 2 cups of water. I boiled them for 15 minutes until nearly all the blueberries had split. I then drained the fluid with my jelly strainer. I added 2 tablespoons of lime juice and 7 ounces of sugar and warmed up the fluid enough to dissolve the sugar.

Alton says that the blueberry syrup will last for months in the fridge. I don’t think it’s going to last that long. I added a quarter cup of syrup into 8 ounces of carbonated water and YUM!

Best use of blueberries yet!

Homemade Syrup for Italian Soda or Coffee Flavoring

In my previous post, I talked about my italian soda experience. In an effort to remove artificial flavorings and sweeteners from my diet, however, I decided to look into making my own syrups for italian soda. These are various recipes I have gleaned and altered from all over the web. As you can see, this is basically simple syrup made with 1/2 white sugar and 1/2 brown sugar. You then add your flavorings in different ways. On Chowhound, there was a discussion at one point that if you used simple syrup at a one to one ration such as this, you would end up with mold in your syrup even if kept in the fridge after only a few short weeks. Some suggest that you should can the syrup, but I suspect that would change the flavor. Others suggest that if you make your simple syrup in a 2:1 sugar to water ratio, that it would keep longer as the resulting liquid is hyperviscous, thereby preventing growth of the mold. Food for thought.

INGREDIENTS FOR CINNAMON SYRUP

* 1/2 cup white sugar
* 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 cup water

DIRECTIONS

1. Stir together the white sugar, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Stir in vanilla extract and water. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Continue to boil and stir until mixture thickens to syrup consistency. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes before serving.

VANILLA SYRUP

If you use vanilla beans in cooking, always reserve the pod (wrap and refrigerate) once you have scraped the seeds out because it is perfect for something like this. Simply add the pod to the sugar and water, prepare as above except without cinnamon, and remove it once the syrup has reduced. If you are only making a small batch, you might want to only use a portion of the vanilla pod. If you don’t use vanilla beans at home, you can add approximately 1 tsp. vanilla extract to the water & syrup instead. The syrup manufacturer Torani says that vanilla is their best selling flavor.

PUMPKIN PIE SYRUP
Follow the directions for cinnamon syrup, but substitute pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon.

LIME (OR ORANGE OR GRAPEFRUIT OR OTHER CITRUS) SYRUP
Make the simple syrup as above. Use a microplane to remove the outermost (green not white) part of 5-7 washed limes. You don’t want any of the very bitter white rind, just the outer zest.

Just after the boiling is finishing add the zest. Let it boil for about a minute and turn the heat off and let the mixture steep until room temperature. Strain through a fine sieve or cloth and squeeze or press the zest to get out all the flavor. Put it into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate.

STRAWBERRY OR BLUEBERRY SYRUP

Strawberries, 1lb Chopped and frozen
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water

Directions

Wash, remove stems, and cut up strawberries. Place in freezer overnight. I suggest that you place the fruit in the freezer because when making fruit extracts with alcohol, you get better more intense flavor if the fruit is frozen first. I do not know for sure that this step in necessary. The next day, put into saucepan, add sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Add water. Boil until it thickens a little. Bottle and store in fridge.

Coconut syrup: I have never tried, but here is one person that has: The hungry engineer

Italian Style Soda

In a previous post, I talked about how we had bought the sodastream jet home soda maker, which is just a small CO2 canister connected to a device which allows you to carbonate water. You then add their proprietary syrups to make your own soda. They have many wonderful flavors of syrup, but the “coke” syrup tastes more like Pepsi and my husband has gone back to buying Coke in bottles. He also tried the mountain dew equivalent and that was also not the success that I had hoped for.

Since I am not addicted to soda like he is, but I like sparkling beverages, I decided to be more adventurous and deviate from the sodastream syrups. Originally I just added lime juice to their cranberry and pomegranate syrup. I am not good about measuring, I just pour about a tablespoon of the syrup and a tablespoon of lime juice in a liter glass and pour in the carbonated water. Yummy.

One day I was at the local coffee shop, enjoying a budget busting latte, when I noticed they were advertising “italian soda”. Normally, they don’t advertise italian soda, but they are gearing up for warmer weather when their income goes down because people don’t drink their hot coffee as much. I asked them how they made italian soda, and they grabbed a bottle of the torani syrup that they use to flavor coffees. Apparently Torani syrup comes in many different flavors, not just the hazelnut that I like in my lattes. They place one jigger of torani syrup and then add seltzer water and ice. Voila! italian soda, which goes for $2.50 a glass!

Torani has more than 80 flavored syrups, and they also have sugar free versions. You can find them in your grocery store if you’re lucky, or in your favorite spendy coffee shop. World Market has a wide variety of the syrups for a cheaper price than the coffee shops around here. You can always buy them online directly from Torani. This is probably the only way to get some of the more unique flavors, like italian eggnog and bacon.

There are other italian syrups to buy, such as DaVinci, Dolce, and Monin. I personally have only tried Torani so far, as I can’t find the others at my local stores.

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Tomatillos

Tomatillos must be related to the husk cherry, as they look similar. The fruit is encased in a papery husk, and the fruit is more sweet than average tomatoes.

They are native to Mexico and domesticated by the Aztecs around 800 BC. Physalis ixocarpa is commonly old and has large, up to 2 1/2 inch diameter, fruit. They start green and ripen to pale yellow. P. philadelphica produces sweeter, marble purple fruits.
Tomatillos like hot, well-drained spots with full sun. They are lighter feeders than tomatoes. Raised beds are great for tomatillos, especially if you have clay soil like mine.
Start tomatillos inside 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Harden off before transplanting. This means to climatize the plants to the new conditions by slowly adapting them. You should put a fan on them when they are young seedlings so they can feel something like wind. You can also vary the temperature somewhat when they are young, so that they are not so fragile when they go outside. Lastly, place the young plants outside for a few hours a day and bring them inside before evening so that they can slowly adjust. If you place them directly outside without these steps, they will die within days of the shock.

Set outside at the same time as your tomatoes, when the ground is at least 55 degrees F. Just like tomatoes, tomatillos sprout roots along the stems. Leggy transplants can be planted very deeply, at an angled trough. The entire stem can become a very vigorous root system, which only improves the plant’s health later.
They are indeterminate, which means they sprawl. They grow about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, so be sure to give those young transplants plenty of room. They produce lots of fruit, right up until frost. They also like to be mulched deeply, which helps to conserve moisture.
In 75 to 100 days from transplant, salsa verde! Pick the fruit when the husk splits, before they fall to the ground.

I’ll post my recipe for salsa verde soon. In the mean time, you can freeze the fruits whole, after removing the husks and washing the fruit.
Recipe for deep fried tomatillos: in three shallow bowls, place flour in one, cornmeal in another and in the third beat an egg with half a cup milk. Put halved tomatillos in the flour, the egg mixture, then in the cornmeal. Fry in oil until crisp and golden.

Make your own Soda At Home.

DH and I have been on a DIY kick for a number of years. We grew our own chickens for meat and eggs, grew most of our own vegetables, brewed our own beer and wine. All of these adventures were quite successful, after a fashion. Yes, we had wine turn to vinegar, but then that is still useful, so I consider that successful. We also had a beer keg explode all over our living room rug; that was less wonderful overall, but most of the beer that he has made has been tasty and well received by our family and friends.

When I was young, I remember my parents making homemade soda pop. They would mix the root beer and put it in glass jars and store the jars under their bed. They would not allow us to get anywhere near the rootbeer jars until it was poured into glasses, but I don’t remember many jars actually making it out of the bedroom. I do remember my mother renting a carpet cleaner and vowing never to let my father follow through with his hare-brained schemes again.

Of course, when I decided to make homemade rootbeer, I didn’t tell DH those stories. We bought the Old Fashioned Root Beer Extract in the cute little brown and yellow bottles that I remembered from my youth. We used baker’s yeast, as that was what we had on hand and fermented it just as the directions suggested. Now, the directions do say that there is a minute amount of alcohol in the root beer when you make it that way. However, I don’t consider 5% to be minute. We ended up with alcoholic rootbeer, which was quite popular with the adults at the party we had, but not appreciated by the parents who had small children.

We decided the next time to actually pay for special yeast and went to the local home brew store (LHBS), where we bought champagne yeast. This worked better, with only a small amount of alcohol in the rootbeer and the appropriate amount of fizz. However, I did not drink the rootbeer quickly enough, and after a week, the rootbeer had developed a decided aftertaste which was not pleasant. In fact, you could say it was not unlike the taste of library glue.

The more amusing part of the story is what happens when you forget about your glue flavored rootbeer and leave the closed 2 liter sitting on the counter in the kitchen. One night, several weeks later, DH and I were sitting in the living room watching tv. We heard what sounded like a shot coming from the kitchen. We ran back there to find that the plastic two liter had exploded, spraying rootbeer all over the ceiling, cabinets, countertops and floor. After I got done laughing, I had to promise DH that we would not do that again and would find a better way.

However, by this time I had discovered that you could buy all sorts of wonderful syrups for soda at your LHBS and I didn’t want to go back to buying soda from the store. If your LHBS doesn’t do soda, or isn’t exactly “local”, you can buy wonderful syrups online at Northern Brewer or Prairie Moon Beverages . I was dying to try homemade Sprecher rootbeer, as that is one of my very favorite rootbeers and it is “spendy.” Unfortunately, as I discovered, you can’t make Sprecher rootbeer with the low-tech yeast carbonation system. Apparently, there is some sort of preservative in the syrup which prevents the yeast from multiplying and doing their job.

My dreams of good and cheap homemade soda were put on the back burner for a time. I thought about breaking out the champagne yeast now and again, but I still hadn’t gotten the library paste taste out of my taste buds. This weekend, however, DH and I were walking through the outlet mall, killing time. We wandered into the kitchen outlet store, wondering if they had some sort of new and exciting gadget when our eyes lit upon the SodaStream device. What a neat little device! Carbonates your water and you can make your own soda at will! No need for that nasty yeast aftertaste, no worries about exploding bottles, no unruly pile of plastic bottles to return or recycle.

We had of course heard of homebrewers who would carbonate with CO2 tanks. They would carbonate both beer and soda, but I was turned off by the huge CO2 canisters and the need for regulators. Sure, it might be cheaper than the SodaStream device, but it can’t beat the SodaStream for ease, functionality and countertop beauty. Check out the Penguin if you don’t believe me.

We settled on the cheapest of the devices and bought some of their propietary syrups. They were pretty good, so now I am just awaiting the opportunity at home to make some delicious homemade Sprecher rootbeer!

You don’t have to put on your red light…

First off, this is not a story about ladies of the night, but a story about my own personal harem.
(Cue the song by the Police: Roxanne…you don’t have to put on the red light; those days are over you don’t have to sell your body to the night)
Yes, I have chickens. 14 laying hens to be precise. I really enjoy having laying hens, they give me true “farm fresh eggs.” If you are able, I would strongly encourage you to keep hens. Many cities are allowing chickens now, assuming that your neighbors approve. Madison Wisconsin is one local town that allows hens. I hear that even New York City allows people to keep hens, although I have no real knowledge to back this assertion.

This am I went out to feed my ladies their warm gruel. When it’s -20F, like it has been here the last few days, they really appreciate a warm breakfast. My husband grumbled as I went outside with my steaming pot, “those birds eat better than me!” to which I flippantly replied, “yes well they give me a nice little treat almost every day.”

Unfortunately, when I got out to the barn, I found that one of my little ladies had frozen to death over night. The red heat lamp which hangs in their coop had burnt out overnight, and all the chickens were huddled together for warmth in a corner of the coop. The poor Buff Orpington which was against the outside wall was frozen. I gave the warm gruel to the rest of the hens, who were quite grateful, and removed the poor little Buff.

This calls for a trip to Blain’s Farm and Fleet! My favorite place! When we moved out to Rural Wisconsin, I was a bit concerned about the lack of stores in the immediate vicinity. When we lived in Milwaukee, one of the largest malls in the state was just down the road. Not that we went there very often, mind you, but it was reassuring to have it near by. When we moved here, there was a mall, which had one tiny little department store and the Farm and Fleet. The department store shall remain nameless, as it is pitiful, but the Farm and Fleet! My husband said, well if you can’t get it at Farm and Fleet, you don’t need it! Right you are!

I found the heat lamps there, and there were two varieties in 250Watts: the clear glass and the red glass. The clear glass bulb cost $3.99 but the red glass bulb cost $7! Goodness! Considering that I have to replace these bulbs about once a month in winter, it makes sense to find out why I wanted to have the red glass bulb. My father used to tell me when I was a kid that the red glass allowed the chickens to rest during the winter, since it would provide heat, but not induce the chickens to lay eggs when it wasn’t natural for them. Of course I believed him then, but my Buffs and Araucanas still produce eggs, even though I have been faithfully giving them red light all winter. Does it really make a difference if you provide red light or white light to your chickens? I needed to find out!

The guy at the farm store told me to buy a red heat light for the chicks. He said the white lamps caused the chicks to see spots on the other chicks which they would peck trying to see if it was food. The red lamps apparently don’t do that. Sounds plausible, as the baby chicks seem to peck at anything that looks like it might be a bug. Why a white light would cause the other chicks to have spots, I can’t explain.

I’ve had other people tell me that the white light on 24/7, as we have it on in the dead of winter, causes the chickens to go a little batty, but that the red light doesn’t cause the same problems. It’s possible.

I’d really like to have some sound scientific evidence. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

Update: I have bought Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry and have found some more information here about lighting and chickens. I highly encourage you to consider this book if you have interest in raising your own chickens. It has practically everything you need in order to have your own flock of healthy birds.

There are three things to consider with light: wavelength, intensity and duration. Wavelength is the color. Chickens see better at 580 nm, which is the red end of visible light. intensity varies depending on the age of the bird and the ultimate purpose. I won’t bore you with details of this. Duration is more important, or better understood, especially as how it relates to egg production.

During the first 4 days, assuming you’ve bought day old chicks, you’ll want to leave on the light for 22 hours. This is to allow the babies to learn where to find the heat, water and food. After that, you want to be careful about day length. If you artificially give the birds light and expose young immature females to increasing day length, then they will mature sexually at too young an age, giving you smaller and fewer eggs. If you expose mature laying hens to a decreasing day length, they will produce fewer eggs. One might argue that the laying hens need that break from egg production in the winter, but we’ll save that for another time. The book has a good explanation of how to light your coop if your interested in that sort of thing.

The light stimulates the pituitary gland through the eye, which in turn stimulates the ovary through hormones to produce eggs. If you want eggs in winter (or any time the day length is less than 15 to 16 hours) you’ll need to provide supplemental light. This light can be a compact fluorescent or incandescent, up to 60w.

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