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Canning Inferno

I’ve been paging through my canning cookbook in my spare time and selecting recipes that I want to try. I found two that I decided to attempt this weekend: Tomatillo Salsa and a concoction called Inferno Wine Jelly. I love hot pepper jelly and the latter was the closest thing that I found that didn’t call for food coloring.

I didn't have quite enough tomatillos for the double batch of salsa so I grabbed a couple of green tomatoes from my garden.

I didn’t have quite enough tomatillos for the double batch of salsa so I grabbed a couple of green tomatoes from my garden.

I ended up with more salsa than I thought and hadn't washed enough jars. I put the extra in a new jar (once I could wash it) and froze it instead.

I ended up with more salsa than I thought and hadn’t washed enough jars. I put the extra in a new jar (once I could wash it) and froze it instead.

In addition to the frozen jar, I ended up with eight processed jars. The salsa needs to sit for a few weeks so the flavors can meld.

In addition to the frozen jar, I ended up with eight processed jars. The salsa needs to sit for a few weeks so the flavors can meld.

I goofed on the recipe for the wine jelly, which contains flecks of pepper. I made a double batch of the jelly as well, but forgot to double the amount of pectin. Not wanting to waste the $45 worth of wine in the recipe, I decided to reboil it. Just as well as the peppers are better distributed in the redo batch.

I goofed on the recipe for the wine jelly, which contains flecks of pepper. I made a double batch of the jelly as well, but forgot to double the amount of pectin. Not wanting to waste the $45 worth of wine in the recipe, I decided to reboil it. Just as well, as the peppers are better distributed in the redo batch.

Ta-da! If it turns out the jelly still isn't as set as it should be, I'll call it glaze and that will be that.

Ta-da! If it turns out the jelly still isn’t as set as it should be, I’ll call it glaze and that will be that.

 

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Fate and Brandied Peaches

Yesterday, I bought a huge box of Blades Orchard peach seconds for $18 at the farmer’s market, with the intention of making brandied peaches last night. But I ended up working all day and ran out of steam that evening while I unpacked jars, the pressure canner and other equipment I’d need for the project. I decided to wait until today.

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized what day it was. My Aunt Teri’s birthday. She was the inspiration for making the brandied peaches in the first place — she was famous for them. They were coveted gifts and a beloved side at family holiday meals. After eating the peaches, we often used the leftover juice for making bellinis. But the world has been without Teri’s brandied peaches since she died two years ago. I still miss her (and her brandied peaches) terribly.

I truly believe fate intervened so that I would be canning the peaches on her birthday.

I used one garden pail to ice down the scalded peaches and another full of lemon water to keep them from browning.

I used one garden pail to ice down the scalded peaches and another full of lemon water to keep them from browning.

This was my first foray into large-batch canning. I knew it would be a lot of work and I was right. It took no less than two hours to get just the peaches ready for adding to the simple syrup. I boiled them briefly in an enormous stock pot to loosen the skins and then dunked them in a  large garden pail full of ice water to cool them down. Meanwhile, I put the canning jars in the dishwasher to heat them up and started boiling the lids.

I had to peel and halve or quarter the fruit, depending on the size of the peach (and there were some huge ones). Then I could finally add them to the simple syrup boiling away on the stove. I had looked up several recipes for brandied peaches as I didn’t have Teri’s. I finally settled on the Spirited Peaches recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The box of peach seconds had some interesting specimens.

The box of peach seconds had some interesting specimens.

I ended up with about 25 cups of peaches to process, which filled 7 quart jars for the pressure canner and two bonus jars that I processed for keeping in the fridge. Some of the peaches ended up not being fit for canning, which is just as well — I had more than enough to work with!

I felt like my Aunt Teri was watching over me through the entire process, but whether she was guiding me like a guardian angel or laughing her ass off as I created a huge mess, I don’t know (probably both).

By the end, there was peach juice everywhere and just the smell of brandy in my kitchen was making me tipsy. I think I probably made some rookie mistakes. From what I understand, the fruit shouldn’t be floating to the top of the jars like they are in the photo below — I probably didn’t pack enough into the jars. I’m not the only one to have that happen though. I am hopeful that they will be edible, if not close in taste to Aunt Teri’s peaches.

photo 4-10

Provide Your Feedback on FDA Regulations That Could Impact Local Producers

I just finished submitting my comments on regulations.gov and to my legislators on FDA regulations that are under consideration right now and could dramatically impact small-scale providers of locally grown and produced foods.

Read the full details of the regulations and their potential impacts here on the Food Renegade blog.

I adapted the language on that site with my own comments and submitted it to regulations.gov at these links:

On-Farm Produce Rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0921-0199

Preventitive Controls/HARPC Rules: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0920-0188

I then sent the same comments to my federal legislators asking them to take my comments into account if they play any part in the process of finalizing such regulations.

Please consider doing the same thing. You can use my comments below:

As a consumer of locally produced food from farms in my area of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I urge the FDA to address the following issues in the proposed FSMA rules. It is so important to make it EASIER for these small farms to operate, rather than throwing up hurdles and roadblocks.

Industrial agriculture lays waste to land that could feed local populations so much more easily, with less damage to the environment, and healthier food options for consumers. Save the onerous paperwork and inspections for the industrial-scale operations that are poisoning our land and our food with pesticides and GMO crops. Let the smaller-scale producers flourish.

Tester-Hagan “qualified exemption” in both the Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule:
The gross sales test to qualify for the Tester-Hagan provision should be based on sales of food that is subject to FSMA, whether the produce standards or the preventive controls rule. Sales of food that would not be regulated under FSMA should not be included.

The FDA should not rush the process of revoking a producer’s Tester-Hagan exemption. The agency has other mechanisms it can use if there is an immediate threat of foodborne illness.
a) The FDA should be held to specific evidentiary standards before it can revoke a farmer’s or food facility’s Tester-Hagan exemption.
b) A farm or facility that is exempt under Tester-Hagan should be given at least 90 days to submit evidence and defend its exemption if FDA seeks to revoke it.
c) If the exemption is revoked, the farm or facility should have at least two years to come into compliance with the FSMA rules.

On-farm Produce Standards Rule:
The FDA’s approach to traditional farming methods, such as diversified livestock-crop farms, the use of working animals, and the use of biological soil amendments, is fundamentally flawed. The agency should not restrict these sustainable methods of farming without data showing an actual, verified increased rate of foodborne illness; the simple fact that these methods include diverse microbiological communities is not a sound scientific basis for restricting them.

The waiting period between applying manure and harvesting the crop should be no more than 4 months, and there should be no waiting period between applying compost and harvesting the crop. The excellent track record for safety on organic farms shows that this standard is sufficient.

Compost teas and other biological inoculants, including normal additives such as molasses, should be treated the same as compost.

Water testing should not be required more often than once a month, and farmers should be able to test less frequently after establishing the safety of their water source through consecutive negative tests. In addition, farmers should be given the option to test for pathogens, rather than having to treat or stop using the water that tested positive for generic e. coli.

The provisions on wildlife and domestic livestock need to be clarified to protect farmers who use biologically diverse farming from field inspectors using their discretion to require measures such as fencing or destruction of habitat.

Preventive Controls and HARPC Rule:
“Very small facilities” should be defined as being under $1 million in total annual sales, adjusted for inflation. Imposing HARPC requirements on businesses smaller than that is unnecessary and overly burdensome.

Any requirement for “supplier verification” should not prevent a facility from purchasing foods or ingredients from farms and facilities that are exempt from the regulations under the Tester-Hagan provision or other exemptions.

Low-risk activities conducted by a farm using its own products, such as making jams, grinding grains, or dehydrating vegetables, should not be subject to these regulations.

Low-risk activities, when conducted off-farm or by multiple farms working together, should not be subject to the same requirements as high-risk processing activities. The requirements should address both the scale of the operations and the level of risk of the activity.

Eating Out of the Box

It’s almost time! It may be fall, with cooler weather settling in and the leaves falling, but that doesn’t mean access to fresh, local produce and other locally produced foods has to end.

In Easton, we’re lucky to have Eating Out of the Box available to us. This is a weekly service along the lines of a CSA (community-supported agriculture) that does not require a subscription. Each week, you peruse the offerings that will most likely be made available and decide if you want to participate. Boxes are available for pickup (or delivery for a small fee) one night each week.

What kinds of produce are available in the cold winter months? Last year’s boxes usually contained a variety of greens, Asian pears, potatoes and more.

There is a small or large box option available. As the season gets into full swing, a la carte items like fresh baguettes, meat, dairy products, eggs and more can be purchased as well.

Check out the Eating Out of the Box web site and join their mailing list or their Facebook group so you will be notified when they start up operations in early November.

Fall Garden Update (and, Here We Go Again)

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Part of today’s harvest.

A little late to the party, I finally planted some carrot, kale and lettuce seeds today. What took so long? I had to clear out the dead and dying summer plants first and amend the soil in the beds. Between recent hot weather, travel and laziness, today’s 70-degree weather was my first opportunity to garden in a while. I did get some peas planted a few weeks ago and those are coming along.

So how did my summer garden grow? Wild. I had pumpkins everywhere, and there are still some long-neck canning pumpkins on the vine in my compost pile, waiting to be picked. I got one usable baby pie pumpkin — pests got the other two that had ripened. Phooey.

My tomatoes are still producing, so I haven’t cut those down yet. I finally pulled up the cucumber plants, but found a few cucumbers buried among the detritus that are hopefully still edible. I accidentally grew a cantaloupe plant (also a compost volunteer), but the solitary fruit it bore fell victim to pests in recent days. I was able to harvest some coriander (cilantro) seeds, which I’ll probably save for planting next year, rather than consuming.

Lessons learned for next year?

  • Put in more beds
  • Give the squash plants even more room than I did this year
  • Plant more of everything
  • Plant strawberries and melons (on purpose)

I still have a fair bit to do in the garden before wrapping things up for the cold season. I need to clean out around the beds and better prep them for next year. The landscape fabric alone didn’t do enough to keep the weeds down. I’m going to pull that up, remove the weeds and dig out still more hostas in the sunny corner of my garden. Next year, the area will get at least a good mulching, if not another covering of fabric before the mulch goes down.

I’ve turned one large bed along my garage into a new compost pile that I want to separate into three caged areas for more efficient composting. I’m also composting a bed outside my kitchen (no food scraps though, since it’s so close to the house) that gets a lot of shade and has only grown weeds. I’m hoping to try lettuce, possibly in containers, there next year.

I also need to clean up the fruit bushes I planted. The blackberry plants became very leggy and I didn’t do a very good job of training them onto the supports I set up. I need to tend to them and the only raspberry plant that pulled through. Not sure if I’ll try more of those next year.

Here We Go Again

Some of you may remember that last summer I went on an allergen-free diet for a month before slowly re-introducing foods to discover what food allergies I have (eggs and a wheat intolerance revealed themselves). Well, I need to do it again. I’m having a reaction to something and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks recently. The suspects are dairy and processed sugar, the latter of which has only slipped into my diet on occasion. I’ve also been eating grains other than wheat, so those may be a culprit as well.

So Monday’s the day I go back to eating only meat, veggies and a little bit of fruit. No dairy, alcohol, legumes or grains for a whole month. Honey will be my only sweetener. I plan on making lots of homemade, oven-baked sweet potato fries to help me pull through.

I’ve been treating myself in the meantime. I splurged at the gluten-free bakery today and feasted on Chipotle’s chips and guac last night. Not sure what my beverage of choice will be tonight, but last night’s was red wine.

I’ve already started stocking up on things to tide me over for the next month. I found myself eating way more protein than I normally would last time I did this. I bought a ton of chicken and ground bison today. I found beef sticks from Cedar Run Farm at the farmer’s market today and they have no preservatives or chemicals in them. Score! Perfect for snacking. I bought a bunch of kale and green beans, frying peppers and acorn squash to cook this week too. Bananas (not from the farmer’s market, of course), figs and raspberries will be my fruit splurges.

Wish me luck! Deciding to pursue this diet is often harder than the diet itself. I know I’ll feel so much better a month from now. And I’ll be done before the holidays hit. Hopefully by then, I’ll have figured out whatever it is that’s causing problems so I can avoid it. Fingers crossed it’s not alcohol or cheese!

How to Eat for Free (Occasionally)

It pays to go to farmer’s markets and to get to know the farmers! Yesterday, I scored free hamburgers (and really good hamburgers at that) and a ton of slightly bruised tomatoes. Between that and zucchini that I grew myself, my dinner tonight was practically free!

Thanks to Kim at Black Bottom Farm for the free burgers — they *are* really good. Kim was kind enough to offer me the burgers after I also procured some of her bulk ground beef and breakfast sausage patties — those are a breakfast staple for me now. I ended up grilling the burger patties this evening. They are perfect!

When I mentioned to another farmer that I was planning on freezing tomatoes for use later, she offered me a bunch of her slightly bruised produce to go along with my purchase. Those bruises won’t matter when I process the tomatoes into sauce later. Score!

This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten food for free simply by chatting with one of the vendors about my plans for their food. It helps to be working with an item that is in over-abundance (like tomatoes right now).

I didn’t have to ask for these freebies, but I have invested time to talk with each of these farmers in the past. I even visited Black Bottom Farm not too long ago (read my post about the farm here).

Go ahead and give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose by learning more about the food you eat by talking with the people who grow it for you!

Garden Update

I think I’ve harvested the last of my zucchini. There are still blossoms on my lone zucchini plant, but the bulk of the plant is looking pretty rough. My cucumber plant still has tons of blossoms on it though, so I hope it will keep producing.

A critter now truly has been after my baby pie pumpkin plant, so I found a recipe for rabbit repellant made from cayenne pepper, hot sauce, water and dish soap (just a little) and I sprayed that on the plants today, including on the sole little pumpkin that is nestled between two marigolds (the only reason it’s still around, I think). I have two huge gooseneck pumpkins growing by my garage.

My tomato plants also don’t look that great but are still bearing fruit. I need to cut back some other straggly plants that are past their prime and think about seeds to plant for the fall. I want to plant peas, more lettuce and kale. I’m thinking of transplanting the rosemary out of my VegTrug so that I can completely refresh the soil in that before doing anymore plants in it. The kale in there is looking anemic. I might wait for the basil growing in that container to die off first though…

I’m also already dreaming about what to plant next spring. I want to add at least one raised bed to my yard — I’m thinking lots more beans, some melons and plenty more squash plants.

Christmas-in-July Haul

Sweet summer.

Sweet summer.

It’s my favorite time of year again! Nothing beats that first blackberry of the season. Absolutely nothing. I demolished half a pint of these just in transporting them from the sink to the fridge. Here’s what else I bought at the market today:

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 huge jar of local honey
  • 2 lbs ground bison
  • cute summer squash (since mine never happened this year)
  • lettuce
  • jalapenos
  • scallions
  • marinated feta
  • cantalope

Garden Update

Garlic and tomatoes.

Garlic and tomatoes.

I told my tale of squash-plant woe at the market and the conclusion is that it’s most likely squirrels noshing on my squash blossoms. The chicken wire around my largest container doesn’t seem to be keeping them at bay. I’ve never seen one in the vicinity, but I think I might make some cayenne spray to see if that deters them in the future. I want pumpkins, dammit.

Other than that, the garden is doing pretty darn well. I started hand-pollinating the pumpkin plants since that seemed to work well for the cucumbers. I have been noticing more bees frequenting the veggies in the morning, so maybe they’ll start doing more of the work for me.

My super-steak tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. I harvested one of them and the first garlic this morning, but I probably should have waited until the soil had dried out for the garlic — I’ll leave the rest in until then. We had massive amounts of rain yesterday.

The blackberry canes are really establishing themselves and there’s even some green berries on one of them. Can’t wait to see what they do next year.

Last weekend, I concocted a weed spray of vinegar and dish soap. I used it right before the sunniest time of the day. It worked really well and fried the crabgrass around my driveway. I didn’t pull it up in time though and they’ve come right back. Gotta work on my timing, but it’s nice to know you don’t need chemicals to kill weeds.

In other news, my compost tumbler is all but broken. The plastic warped where it connects to the spindle and it’s only a matter of time before it pops off. Then I have to decide whether to keep using the barrel in a spot where it won’t kill the grass or to set up a compost pile somewhere. I don’t have a large lot, so it would be close to my house, which isn’t that desirable. I could buy a different compost bin, but I’d rather save my pennies. I need to do some research on building my own.