30 August 2011


The season is beginning to turn towards fall: the evenings are cooler, the hay is being baled in the fields, and the geese occasionally appear overhead, contemplating the journey south.

The garden didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but the efforts to eliminate the quackgrass have been more successful than I dared to believe. Oh, there’s still lots of the stuff around the edges, but the central planted garden beds are reasonably weed-free.  I now know why people like to plant in rows instead of the intensive square foot method: when you have a large garden and a lot of weeds to deal with, the rows mean you can just walk through the garden, hoe in hand, and scritch up anything that is growing where you didn’t plant anything. Of course, this works better if the dog doesn’t get into the garden and dig a cool spot in the dirt before your seeds get started – thanks to Mackenzie, I have a few plants growing in odd places as the seeds got tossed several feet to one side when he dug up his napping place in the spring. Still, my long-handled half-moon hoe has seen good use since the initial clearing with my mattock. I think next year, I’ll try the same approach: dig up the stubborn roots with the mattock, rake everything smooth, plant in rows, keep the space between the rows cleared with the hoe, and slice out anything too close to the plants with the hori-hori knife.

Next year, I’ll also be planting earlier. In fact, I hope to experiment with some fall seeding under cover: if I clear out some space in one of the beds this fall and put the row cover in place, I should be able to put out some cold-hardly seeds after the winter chill sets in. When spring comes, they’ll ‘sprout when ready’. I had some plants that survived the winter with no cover or anything – some feverfew, onions, and a few other herbs, so if they made it on their own, they might do well with a bit of help.

I’ll also get a bed ready for early spring planting: if Kevin Kossowan can do this in his city back yard, I think it’s worth a try out here too!

In the meantime, I’ll keep checking the corn (we have a few cobs growing out there), the squash (I see some spaghetti squash and what I think are pumpkins … I didn’t mark which thing I planted where and all the squash plants look alike to me), and the tomatoes (there’s a few tiny little tomatoes on the vines, I have no idea if anything will get big enough to use before the frosts come but we can hope).

In fact, I should probably go out there now, wander the rows with the hoe in my hand, and see what I can see.

08 August 2011

Crabapple Jelly

Every so often, I search through the Kijiji ‘free stuff’ ads, just to see what’s out there. After all, you never know when someone might be giving away something you really need, or be looking for something you want to get rid of.
Last week, I saw a post from a city dweller who had a crabapple tree that was full of ripe fruit they were not going to be able to use. If we’d come pick them, we could take all we wanted! Well, free fruit sounded good to me, and the house was located not too far into the city making it a reasonable distance to drive. The Boy and I packed up some containers, a stepladder and our water bottle and headed into town.
The tree was indeed laden with apples, branches sagging towards the ground under the weight of fruit. Fortunately the tree had a lovely climbable shape, so The Boy headed up into the branches and picked from up there while I climbed the stepladder and took what I could reach from below. In the end, we had approximately three laundry baskets full of crabapples – and there were still plenty of apples left on the tree.
photo 2
I’ve spent the last four days preserving this generous gift: I scavenged the house (and my mother’s basement) for jars then purchased four dozen more, plus three 10 kg bags of sugar and several boxes of pectin. Supplies at the ready, and with my mother’s generous assistance, we made over fifty jars of jelly, applesauce, and canned juice. The juice that remained when we ran out of jars is now fermenting in the crock pot (who knows, it might make a decent fruit wine, and it’s worth a try).
It was a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that paces itself quite nicely, so you can easily sit down and rest in between stages if you need to. I kept the computer on the kitchen table and looked up recipes, checked email, and played Scrabble with The Reluctant Farmer (who is working out of town for two weeks) as I worked. The jelly making process itself isn’t complicated, and the various tasks seem to naturally flow together, making an assembly line that can be run by one person, but goes faster with two.
Here’s what it looks like: put your canning jars in the dishwasher for sterilization. While it’s running, wash and load some apples into the big stock pot and set it to simmer. While that’s simmering, take the juice from the previous jelly bag extraction and start a batch of jelly (measure and heat the juice with pectin, lemon juice and sugar, then bring it to a fast boil). When the jelly is done and poured into jars, still steaming from the dishwasher, you can remove the stock pot from the stove and let it sit on the floor while you get the jars into the canner. While the canner boils, empty the crock pot of juice, then mash the fruit in the stock pot and pour it into the jelly bag to get more juice (I normally use my Lee Valley jelly bag setup, but for quantities this huge, I took one of The Reluctant Farmer’s t-shirts, sewed the hem shut, and put a stick through the armholes to hang it from two chair backs so it could drain into the pickle crock). Wash some more apples and reload the stock pot, then start the next batch of jelly. You can probably make two or three batches of jelly from one stock pot’s worth of juice, so take your turn in Scrabble while the canner boils. When the juice has all dripped out of the fruit pulp, dump the contents of the t-shirt juice bag into a bucket and take it out to the chickens.
Repeat as needed until crabapples are gone. :)
We now have over fifty jars of preserves: some large Gem jars of canned juice (which can be used to stretch other fruits into larger batches of jam or jelly, or used in a punch); some apple sauce (crabapples make sauce the same way regular apples do, and I found a recipe for applesauce pie that I want to try); several jars of syrup (The Boy and I both like oatmeal for breakfast, and a dollop of fruit syrup mixed in makes it perfect); and, of course, an awful lot of jelly. We have plain crabapple jelly, as you’d expect, ideal for glazing pork or fruit flans, mixing into porridge or baking, or eating on toast. We also added chopped apricots or peaches to several batches of jelly, which produces a really interesting result: the fruit more or less disintegrates during the cooking and the fine pulp distributes itself throughout the jelly, adding both flavour and texture.
Of course, it would take us years to eat through this much jelly and sauce and syrup ourselves … but it’ll keep for years if need be, as it’s all been processed with full sugar and a hot water bath. Besides, it makes a wonderful gift - just about everyone enjoys a jar of home made jelly. I’m also hoping to make some trades: if you’ve got too much of whatever fruits or pickles or jams you put up this year and want to swap for crabapple, let me know, then we can both have variety in our pantries!