Thursday, October 20, 2011

Independence Days 2011-11: Rain. And More Rain.

October has definitely felt more like November this year. Seems like the temperatures have been cooler than normal, days have been greyer than normal, and we've had more rain than normal. Sure, there's been plenty of fall color to enjoy, especially on sunny days, but it sure seems like the vibrancy of October has been a little, well, lacking.

Maybe that's why I've been such a slacker about updating the blog. It's not that I haven't been cooking, experimenting a little, gardening a bit -- I just haven't quite had the spark to sit me down and write about any of it.

So, much delayed, here's an update:

1. Plant something: nothing

2. Harvest something: chard, nasturtiums, ground cherries, sweet potatoes, two kinds of beans (for seed), pac choi, arugula, carrots, radishes, rhubarb from the Contradance Callers’

3. Preserve something: made lacto-fermented dilly beans; canned 14 pints of grape juice; dried stevia, thyme, rosemary; made lacto-fermented kim chi

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): still trying to stay on top of produce (and not always doing so well!) but salvaged two sad looking eggplants and turned them into eggplant lasagna; gave big bag of chard (which I have not been eating as fast as it grows!) to the Local Roots Café for a quiche

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): restocked cheeses, simple syrups, honey, flour for baking; bought two “Ferment-O” jars from the Delighted Gardener (her husband’s handiwork) for lacto-fermenting end of season vegetables

6. Build local food systems: went apple picking with the Southern Belle and My Adorable Nephews; worked on Local Roots newsletter; baked for market and café; baked a test bread and shared one loaf with The Vegan Baker; invited a local cookbook author to a signing at Local Roots in December; enjoyed lunch with the fabulous Jen at Local Roots; donated pita bread for a friend to use in sampling her new black bean hummus varieties at the market; planned a little more for my two bread classes at Today’s Kitchen Store in January; sent out press release for Harvest Dinner (fundraiser) at Local Roots

7. Eat the food: broccoli pasta; yogurt with raspberries and pears; popcorn; hash browns with chard and egg; grilled cheese with kale; lots of fresh apples; yogurt with dried ground cherries and pecans; spaghetti squash, straight up; eggplant parmesan soup and fall crusted butternut at Local Roots Café; zucchini “surprise” casserole; cheese grits; fresh grape juice and cider!; eggplant lasagna with homemade sauce; roasted Brussels sprouts (and other fall vegetables); chard-arugula pizza

How's fall been treating you so far?

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Grape Teamwork

Sometimes it's what you know.

Sometimes it's who you know.

And sometimes... it's a little of both.

I'd been hesitating to put away the last of my canning equipment for the year because I was hoping that I'd find Fredonia or Concord grapes at the market any week now. I haven't made grape juice in two years, and I drained the last jar some time back. But though I'd spotted Reliance grapes earlier in the season, I was holding out for the deep blue-violet grapes that make my favorite juice.

Enter, as he so often does, the Renaissance Man. One of his contacts with the local sustainable energy crowd has, for a couple of years now, invited him to stop by her place in the country and glean as much fall fruit as he likes. Two years ago, that meant paw paws. Last year it was paw paws and persimmons. And this year? That invitation included all the grapes he wanted.

Though he doesn't have a lot of experience at food preservation, the Renaissance Man -- in living up to his nom de plume -- is always happy to learn more. So he asked me, "What do I do with all these grapes?"

Dare I say it? I felt just a wee bit smug and oh so delighted when I replied, "You make grape juice. I'll show you how, and you'll give me some juice as my 'fee' for teaching you."

He picked the grapes off their stems on Saturday and stored them in the fridge until we could simmer them on Sunday. I came by to help with straining the juice, a task that took the better part of the evening since we had two big pots full! (And yes, as always, I forgot to wear gloves, so I ended up with very purple hands -- the juice "etched" so many lines into my hands that it looked like I had tribal tattoos!)

We ended up with about two gallons of juice -- far more than would fit in the pot and store in the fridge. So the Renaissance Man (again, living up to that name!) pulled out a large carboy from one of his earlier projects (making cider), and we poured the juice into that to store overnight on the cool back porch. (This picture shows how much juice we had after the first pot -- the end result was more than double that.)

On Monday evening, I returned to help with the canning. The RM racked (or siphoned, for those who might be as unfamiliar to the brewing process as I was!) the juice from carboy to pot, we simmered the juice while the canner came up to temperature, and then we filled jars and canned the juice in a hot water bath.

Fourteen canned pints, two uncanned pints (sent directly to the refrigerator), and a showing of Hitchcock's "Notorious" later, and we were done!

And what grape fun it was!

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