Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Domestic Engineer

Test batch of tomatoes for dehydrating
     I've been stuck in to preserving the bounty of the garden for the past two weeks. I have dehydrated a big batch of plum tomatoes - these were just the test ones. They turned out really bright red and leathery, as the dehydrater book said they would. I was a bit worried about spoilage so I froze them, but the next batch I dried overnight and they are dry and crispy, so I have them in a bag in the cupboard.
      Then I moved on to the abundance of cucumbers and the expressed need for mustard pickles. Each batch takes 12 cukes (why are pickle recipes so outdated? What the heck does 8 quarts of small cucumbers look like? Even when they say 12 cukes, are those big or small? Mixed? and don't even get me started on "pecks" of green tomatoes or gills of something else).  I have made two batches, so far, for a total of 12 jars, mostly 1-litre ones. I also made some "Zippy Zucchini Relish" with some of my many yellow zucchinis - I am hoping that people don't know it's zucchini. Now I will have to freeze or dehydrate the rest - they are still producing at a prodigious rate - though the green ones, in the lasagne bed, haven't done anything but bloom, all summer.
      I have been wanting to make bread and butter pickles as seen in Fancy Pantry, so I spent quite a bit of time looking for pickling lime (slaked lime, calcium hydroxide), including asking at a pharmacy. No dice. So I googled it, and got a lot of conflicting information about its safety (ranging from - go to a hardware store and get them to shovel a few pounds into a paper bag - to - never eat even the food-grade stuff as it will kill you). But I was determined to have crispy pickles even if it literally killed me, so I found a recommendation for WalMart's pickling department. I went there, and found - not calcium hydroxide, but calcium chloride, marketed by Bernardin under the name "Pickle Crisp". You don't soak the cukes in it, you just add a bit to each jar after  filling them. Sounds quick and easy, so I did it. (Watch this space for further details!) 6 - 1/2 litre bottles of bread and butter pickles.
        Next I made cucumber relish, a new recipe this time, with an overnight brine soak - I have never had much luck with this, as I find they really soak up the salt and the taste stays in the pickles. However, I did it anyway, rinsing them three or four times and straining them through a piece of nylon curtain sheer, which is wonderful stuff for the purpose.  So I have 8 - 1/2 litre jars of cucumber relish! If the cukes continue to produce, I would like to make icicle or nine-day pickles - I have only ever tried them once and they were a limp failure.  But I love them, and now I have a secret weapon (Pickle Crisp!) so I may just try again. And of course there are dill pickles - my dill has finally sprouted in the garden, I think because there was finally some moisture for it.
      As I have a big glut of non-plum tomatoes, and two batches of salsa already laid down, I made chili sauce. I don't know what I'm going to do with it - folks online are pretty disparaging about its use. However, I have 6 one-litre jars of it now.
Chili sauce in back, with cucumber relish & one B&B pickles
    Today I have been water-bath-ing them all, and washing the jars, putting on labels, etc. I must get canning kettle with a wire rack - it would help a lot with this chore. 
      Last night we had rain (!) and a bit of a thunder-and-lightning show, so today is cooler, with a nice north-west breeze, so I have decided to make bread. I started with my favourite "Oatmeal Brown Bread" from The Laura Secord Canadian Cook Book, my very first cook book, purchased on 19 Feb. 1974. I remember the first time I made this recipe, it calls for 1/2 cup molasses, and I didn't have any. I called on my neighbour, a little old exPat British lady who lived across the hall in my apartment block in Winnipeg - she didn't have molasses either, but gave me 1/2 cup of corn syrup. I found I preferred it with the corn syrup, as I don't like the rum/molasses flavour, so I have been using corn syrup ever since...until today, when I substituted organic honey. I have decided that the evil corn syrup will never again be used by me, so I am hoping that honey will be a good substitute, I'd hate to have to go back to molasses after all this!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dog Days

         I've been busy with visitors for a lot of the summer, and now that I have some gardening time, it's so hot and humid that I don't want to go out there. But there is deadheading to do, and tomatoes to gather, so I must go.
        The lilies are doing well - the hemerocallis are almost over, and of course the bi-colour orange ones have been absolutely spectacular (alas for my pink-and-white colour scheme). The regular lilium have a bit longer bloom season, and so they are still carrying on. But I am at a loss to think what I can replace all those orange ones with - I don't know of anything but phlox paniculata that's as vigorous and blooming now, and they don't have the different foliage and so on that's the real treat with the hemerocallis. And of course I have too many phlox already. I should say that I have quite a number of different burgundy hemerocallis (but they are just not as vigorous) and they have done quite well.
         Yesterday the humidex was 34, so I spent most of the day in the basement, sewing - and I still managed to work up a sweat, mostly running upstairs to cut out or press things. It's warm in the basement anyway, with the dehumidifier running. It's not the chilly dank place it used to be. I also went through all my bins of fabric, and threw out about 2.5 binsworth. That felt like an accomplishment. Also now all the silk is organized into one bin, etc. I only managed to finish one thing, but I have several other things cut out and have tidied up the work area, sorted out a dress I cut out some time ago and decided to throw out another - it was lined and had a printed chiffon overskirt and was just too fussy - and also the chiffon and the lining weren't working at all together. I found a cotton blend I made a lot of things out of a few summers ago - all gone now, or stored, I suppose - and I cut out a dress that should fit, with some of it. And I finally cut out that too-bright-for-the-eyes green bathing suit, and started to sew it. I may have already screwed up a bit because I was supposed to make a shelf bra for it, but I didn't install it at the right time and now it may be too late. Ah well. Sewing is a process, not a product (or not so much a product). I do like to wear stuff I make, though. I need some sewing things - cotton elastic for the bathing suit, bright red thread for a top - but I work tomorrow so I can pick them up then.