Category Archives: Food preservation

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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It’s that time of year and we had a lovely pumpkin to make a traditional Jack-O-Lantern with. We decorated with some fun decorations for the kiddies and we have our treats ready! It’s not technically our holiday and we don’t really celebrate but we do like to give out candy and have a Jack-O-Lantern anyway in the interest of being good neighbours. This Jack-O-Lantern art also meant we had pumpkin seeds. Over the years I have tried lots of pumpkin seed recipes but about 15 years ago I found a really good one. The result is delicious roasted pumpkin seeds you can eat whole without taking the shell off.

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The first step is get your seeds sort of cleaned up. They don’t have to be perfectly clean, just mostly. Put the seeds in a pot and add a teaspoon of coarse salt with enough water to float all the seeds plus two inches. Bring the seeds to a boil and then simmer gently. You will need to simmer a long time until all the seeds have a clear cooked look. It takes about 45 minutes but you use the look of the seeds not the time to decide. How long the seeds need depends on the type of pumpkin you use and the ripeness. As you simmer, occasionally stir and the uncooked ones will show up as lighter. You’re ready to start baking when all the seeds are greyish and don’t float.

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In this image the seeds are about half cooked. Some are clear and have sunk down. Some are still floating. You can’t really over cook at this stage so keep simmering until they are all boiled and greyish. Don’t rush this step or you will have tough seeds.

Once all the seeds are soft and greyish, drain the water.  Add enough margarine or butter to generously coat all the seeds and spread them on a cookie sheet. They will be salty from the boiling but you can add more salt if you like. Bake the seeds at 350F until they are all dry and golden brown. Every few minutes stir them and spread them again. Be careful with baking and watch closely because you can easily burn them.

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This is what they look like as they bake. They will brown in spots which is why you need to keep stirring them or you’ll end up with burnt spots.

Once the seeds are all baked to a uniform golden brown they are ready. No need to shell the seeds. The outside shell has been softened by the boiling and you just pop them in your mouth and eat them whole. I have been told the seeds will keep for a long time prepared this way, but they never have lasted to the time we blow out the candle on the Jack-O-Lantern at my house. YUMMY! Happy Halloween!

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Home Made Turkey Soup Base

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We had the absolutely best turkey dinner ever at my son’s home. He used a recipe that among other things called for a bed of vegetables and oranges. My son and DIL work full-time and so don’t have extra time for things like soup from scratch. When she offered me the turkey carcass, I jumped at the chance. I added everything the turkey had cooked with but the oranges to my big stock pot. I also added enough water to halfway cover the carcass.

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As you can see the turkey came with carrots and celery and seasoning already part of it. I also made sure to scrap the pan of the brown stuff on the edges and bottom of the pan. That brown stuff makes the broth really tasty. I also scrapped up all the fat and seasoning stuff as well.

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After a slow simmering for about two hours, the turkey falls apart easily and the broth has taken on the creamy colour you can see here. (Steam on the camera made the picture steamy but you should be able to see the difference.)

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The next step is the most tedious and took about twenty minutes. Separating the mixture from the pot into bones to be discarded on one plate and meat and veggies to go back into the pot on the other. One needs to work fast to avoid giving the stuff time to cool. Cooling food left standing around is bad. It can grow nasty bacteria if you aren’t careful. Also if you are canning you have to be extra careful about washing your hands and using clean utensils. I emptied the plate back into the simmering stock pot several times to keep the separated stuff hot.

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I had no need for turkey soup right away. I wanted to have it handy “put by” in case one of us is not feeling well. There really is nothing as tasty as homemade soup if you’re feeling ill but if you’re not feeling well, then who has the energy to cook soup from scratch? I ladled the soup into well cleaned and rinsed jars that had been sterilized with an extra boiling water rinse.

Even though the stuff is still really hot, you can see how the fat is separating and collecting on top. If you dislike the fat you can skim it off at this point. Personally I think the fat gives the soup more taste and fat has been given a bad name it doesn’t deserve so I left it on. I also added a dash of salt and a tablespoon of lemon. The lemon makes the soup slightly acidic which discourages nasty bacterial growth. Salt is also a preservative and brings out the flavour. I know salt is bad for us, but a dash in a whole jar is not that bad.

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I then capped the jars and put them in the pressure cooker for one hour.  It is not safe to put anything into jars with meat or any low acid food, without using a presser cooker. Boiling water simply doesn’t get hot enough. You need the extra pressure of a pressure cooker to get the internal temperature high enough to kill nasty bacteria. That has to be done according to your pressure cooker’s manufacturer’s directions. The amount of time required varies depending on the kind of pressure cooker you have, the size of your jars, what your home’s altitude is, and the size of the individual pieces in the broth.  If I had added say, a whole potato or dropped in big meatballs I would have left it in my pressure cooker for an hour and a half. After the jars came out of the pressure cooker I left them to cool. The seals popped tight almost immediately. They continued to bubble for a long time afterward as they cooled because of how high the internal temperature got. I left them undisturbed until morning.

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Now the jars have cooled. The seals are on properly and the fat has settled on top again. The jars can be left for up to a year so they need to be dated so you don’t forget to use them up before they age too much. Now whenever I want to make turkey soup, I can open a jar and reheat it in a pot or the microwave. I do it in the pot and I add vegetables (which this batch won’t need) and some rice or noodles or maybe some potatoes and cook them in the broth at a slow simmer before serving. This is also great with a loaf of homemade bread. The one litre jar is just right for the two of us.

If you don’t like canning you can freeze the soup. I have found freezing changes the flavour and not in a positive way. Jars of home made soup taste nothing like a tin from the grocery store. One of the nice things I have found is home made, home canned goods taste just as good as home made just made. And you can’t beat the cost of doing it yourself.

Garden Plans and Other Winter Dreams

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Oh winter, when things are cold, the ground is frozen and one can only dream of summer. (I am spending my winter in Florida so I really can’t complain too much!) And I am dreaming! Oh how I am dreaming. Since my garden last summer was such a great success and produced so much lovely food I am full of dreams of this year’s harvest. Things never come out as perfectly as the retouched garden pictures in the seed catalogues. I don’t care. I enjoy dreaming over them anyway. I made many notes for my failures and successes of last year and my plans are in full swing.  The Canadian dollar has dropped to .69 on the American with the result being all foods in our grocery stores that are imported have skyrocketed in price. And so my Canadian dollar invested in garden seed has the potential to produce food worth a lot more if it comes from the garden making a pay off even more likely.

I purchased a small greenhouse and a plant starting light. If I get even half the plants I normally buy at the nursery that investment will have paid for itself this first year. I have tried starting things from seeds before but they always got spindly and sickly and never amounted to any size worth the fuss. Maybe with lights and a mini greenhouse they will this time.

Last year I had some weed issues. We had a fellow come in with a big tractor at the beginning of the year and he did a fine job working the garden up. I could have used a second tilling before planting but I was too impatient. The garden is only as good as the soil so this year I have done two things. First I made a great big note to till twice before planting anything. I also bought myself a small tiller. I will have the man with the great big one come in to do the first till and then I will my small tiller to do a second tilling as I plant and I will have the new tiller to do the rows in between as well. That should make my life easier and the weeds less trouble.

Worms got my turnip crop last year so this year I will be putting them in a different location, sprinkling the area with diatomaceous earth after each rainfall and picking a lot earlier. I will also try the trick of planting some marigolds in among the turnips. Hopefully I won’t have maggots this year.

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I have on my list saskatoons and strawberries. Getting fruit to grow in our climate is problematic but these grow wild in our area and we love eating them. So it should be possible to have two cultivars that give big abundant fruit planted. We won’t get much this year but the future looks bright. I may have to destroy some of the bushes the previous owner planted that do nothing but look pretty before I can find room but I will. I’ll take a tree/plant that gives me something to eat over one that looks pretty anytime. I may make an exception for marigolds if they keep the root maggots away.

Last year I got sloppy about labelling rows and ended up with rows I knew were beets, turnips and kale but I couldn’t tell which was which. We ate a lot of really great green salad from when I was thinning the plants but this year rows will be properly marked. Plus I am adding some cooking greens that can be preserved in addition to spinach, collard and mustard. If I succeed I will have a little of the south in the north this summer.

Some other notes were to grow cucumbers on tomato cages like my neighbour did with hers to make picking easier, plant smaller amounts but more varieties of herbs and plant more varieties of beans. I have always had bad luck with peas but I think I will try them this year as well. If anyone has a foolproof way to avoid having them turn white and fungus filled peas, I am all ears.

My garden seed list is now at almost $250 the largest part of the seed expense being Saskatoon and strawberry plants, seed potatoes, and other larger “stuff”. Last year I kept careful track of my seed and plant costs and the garden more than paid for itself. In fact, I still have one last lonely container of frozen tomato sauce and some beet/horseradish spread. It makes me wince to think of hitting the send button on that order but spring will come, a gardener’s hope springs eternal, and the winter does end. Those cans of tomatoes look like I preserved the sunshine and warmth of summer.

I would love to hear if anyone else is planning their summer garden and what they are planning.

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Hot Pickled Green Beans: Good!

Hubby dearest loves his pickled veggies. This summer my green beans went a bit nuts and so I decided to try to bring them under control by pickling them. Since he likes hot and spicy, I got a hot and spicy recipe. Today I dug the pickled beans out from the back of the fridge where they have been sitting for the last eight weeks and we tried them. These beans are crunchy-crisp, very hot and not very salty. And the verdict is delicious.

You can find the recipe here thanks to Rita~ who says “I enjoyed these when I was in New Orleans Garnishing a Bloody Mary and had to come home and duplicate them. They can also be enjoyed as a side. Having a nice kick to them. Nice for gift giving.”

Ingredients

    • 1 1/2 cups water
    • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
    • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or 1 tablespoon honey
    • 2 cups vinegar, 5% acidity
    • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
    • 1/2 teaspoon dill seed
    • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
    • bay leaf
    • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
    • 1 chile, sliced in 8 long strips
    • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
    • 1 1/2 lbs string beans, trimmed
    • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, over high heat, bring the first 9 ingredients to a boil, then turn off the heat, stirring until dissolved. Add the chilies and garlic. Remove from heat.
  2. Wash and trim the green beans. Bring a large pot of water with the 1 teaspoon salt to a boil over medium heat. Add the beans. Cook until the beans begin to turn bright green and are just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Rinse immediately with cold water and put them in an ice bath for 10 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Pack beans in sterilized jars then cover with the vinegar mixture.
  4. Place lids and caps on cleaned rimmed jars.
  5. Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes, remove and cool in a draft free spot for 24 hours.
  6. You can also put them in sterilized jars and refrigerate instead of doing the canning process. Let flavors meld for 1 week. Just keep under refrigeration and eat within 1 month.
  7. I canned 2 jars and the 3rd was what I had left over for munching which was refrigerated.

Fall is here.

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The forecast for tonight is 2C (35.6) with a risk of frost. And so it’s time to harvest my herbs. On the table is my summer savoury and a mix of cilantro and carrots. The summer savoury is something I don’t use a lot in cooking. However, I read an interesting blog about extracting essential oils from this herb and I thought I would try it. So after picking I set some aside in a bundle to dry but most of it is currently in, or waiting to go into my crock pot. After it’s been properly stewed I’ll distill the mix. The resulting essential oil should work well for cleaning.

The cilantro I am handling a bit differently. I chopped the finer leaves up into small bits and spread it on a cookie sheet. That is in the freezer and once it is frozen I’ll just break it up and put the bits in a plastic jar in the freezer. I only really use cilantro in cooked dishes so I can just grab the jar sprinkle a bit in at needs and it’s as nice as fresh.

Fall is kind of sad time for the garden. I have been busy cleaning the garden out. I pulled up all the corn stacks and I have picked most of the tomatoes. If it frosts they will be first to go. The cucumbers are still producing but I have enough pickles now so I am not going to try to keep it going by covering the plants. If it frosts it frosts and if it doesn’t, well bonus.

I also noticed that white mildew has hit as it so often does in the fall. My spaghetti squash only produced two little apple sized squash. If we don’t get frost and the mildew doesn’t spread they might produce something but its unlikely. Note to self: next year don’t start spaghetti squash from seed. The season up on the 51st parallel is just too short.

And so I am kind of hoping the frost arrives tonight because then the garden is finished and the work is done. I am mostly hoping the frost will pass us by and I can get a few more weeks of produce. We shall see what the night brings.

One of the nicer aspect of fall is that the sun is now setting and it’s dark by about 8:30pm. The last few nights the northern lights have been absolutely spectacular and it’s been dark enough to watch them before bed. And so life on the 51st parallel is a series of tradeoffs. Down south they are still in summer heat but I’ll bet they don’t see a lot of northern lights like we do. Even in the bright city lights of Winnipeg the aurora was spectacular. We got an even better show.

View from Winnipeg

Garden Tomato Production Outstrips Consumption

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As I expected we found ourselves swimming in lovely fresh garden tomatoes. No matter how many we ate, they ripened faster than we could eat. I decided to get production back to controllable levels by canning three large jars of them for the future. Many years ago when I canned tomatoes, the pressure cooker made me nervous so I used the old fashioned boiling water bath method. Today I am very comfortable with the pressure cooker so I did the cold pack, ten minute method except I went for 20 minutes instead of ten. I find the pressure cooker method much easier. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen the way the boiling water bath does. I also added my own onions, garlic and some store bought celery to the jar before canning. The tomatoes are a mix of yellow and red and the yellow ones are considered low acid so I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice just to make sure the acid level is high enough to avoid problems even though, with pressure canning, botulism shouldn’t be an issue. These tomatoes will make great sauce later with the year when the garden is finished. I will put them on the new shelves I have been building in my storage closet/tornado shelter.

There is a lot of personal satisfaction to putting your own home grown food by for later use. It’s only three jars because the I didn’t plan a garden for getting a whole years worth of veggies. I did that for three years in the past when I lived on a farm and we did what was basically subsistance farming. Next year I will consider more tomato plants and maybe more canning. In the meantime the jars are cooling, the colour is lovely, and three jars of stewed tomatoes worth about $15 will end up in my basement after about 30 minutes of work.

Garden Update for End of August

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The garden is now at the point where I am thinking rather wistfully of frost. This is today’s haul and is typical for a day. The robin has fledged her second brood and so she is no longer on slug duty and they are thick in the garden. I am finding I have to pick the tomatoes as soon as they begin to turn or the slugs eat holes in them. In one of our big winds several of my tomato cages got knocked over so I am also picking tomatoes off the ground even if they are still green. Yesterday I made spaghetti sauce from scratch. I have been giving away excess but I will very shortly have to begin canning tomatoes. I like to make fancy stewed and herbed tomatoes when I can since those are expensive to buy and take very little extra work if you are canning anyway. At the rate they turning by week’s end I will doing my first big batch.

The cucumbers have been a disappointment though not really due to anything they have done. It’s just been too darn wet. I should be at the top of the production of pickles but I am barely getting a small jar a day for pickles. I am also beginning to harvest the carrots, not just thin them, picking as much as we can eat in a meal every other night. Making pickles means garlic and as you can see by the muddy white ball, my garlic has been the best I have ever had. I have begun using it up one plant at a time and I am about 1/8 of the way through what I planted.

The beets and turnips are growing fat and sassy. I am leaving them for later to let them get to a decent size. I actually have corn ripening. The cobs are small but we might actually get a taste.

Some of my potato plants looked like they were giving up and dying, withering away without blooming, so we dug up the three plants.  I planted five different types of potatoes and it would seem the red ones, my personal favourite, are the ones that are giving up. (I didn’t note which ones I planted where figuring I would remember but I didn’t.) The red ones didn’t die in vain since we got some fresh potatoes in the dig, about 4 per plant. We do have enough for a couple of dinner and what is tastier than new potatoes? Note to self, the other varieties are doing just fine so next year repeat that assortment of varieties since conditions can vary so much. I have found the red ones perform well in drought in the past so I think the wet was what made the red ones unhappy this year. The purple and white plants look especially good, still vigorous and spreading and they have not bloomed yet. They must be good for wet years.

And of course there are the zucchinis. One plant is still having blossom rot issues but the other two are putting out at a fine rate. We are still eating our own zucchini for breakfast every day and loving it.

There is very little work in the garden now, just picking and cleaning plants out that are done. I have also decided to try collecting seeds. I planted heritage varieties and a community greenhouse has been put up two blocks away. I will try starting plants from my own seed myself next year and starting my own plants indoors. If it doesn’t work, I can always buy seed and plants at the nursery. If my seeds do work, I will save myself about $100.

Funny how you wait all winter to get the garden in, fuss over every little green shoot in May and stand looking at the garden imagining the bounty in June when all you are getting is radishes. By the end of August you start kind of half hoping for frost so you can quit. Now to wash off those carrots and potatoes for dinner.