Thursday, July 14, 2011

Like a Prince without a Country- I miss my garden!

I have always loved gardening.  Even when I was forced labor for my mother in my school years, I loved pulling weeds and harvesting.  Of course, I made a big deal of it, just because I was a teenager.  I could not wait until I was married, and could have my own garden.
I learned to can at a young age.  I was put to work peeling scalded fruit and beets, as soon as I could stand on a chair up to the sink, and do so  We put up box after box of home canned peaches, pears, plums, apricots, tomatoes, and pickled beets.  I snapped beans and filled jars. I was in charge of keeping the inventory list, a way for my mother to get me to practice writing, I think.  When she sent me to the cubbyhole under the stairs to get a jar of something, I would cross it off the list, so we knew exactly how much we had at any time. 
One of the first things I bought with our wedding money was a water bath canner.  I actually wore out the jar holder part, and the enamel on the inside, and have had to buy another one since then.  It saw almost continual use during the summers.  I used to can all our vegetables, and any fruits I could get a hold of. I bought the biggest pressure canner I could find, and put up lots of green beans and soups and other low acid foods.  
I had no garden last year, and only a small raised bed this year, so the harvest won't be big enough to need canning.  It feels wrong not to be out there every morning bent over weeding.
It is a strange thing, not having produce to pick and take care of.  It is such a part of my everyday life in the summer, to be sterilizing jars, and putting food by.  I am like a prince without a country.  I am lost without my canning fix.  When the day's canning was done, I sat and looked through recipes to plan my next canning project.
We are planning out more raised beds, and will be putting in a new fence to keep out the destructive ghetto deer that plagued me in the last few years.  I want our produce to be for us, not the local deer buffet line!

I was able to get some rhubarb from my Mom, or pie plant as we call it, and the store had a special on strawberries  buy one and get one free.  I made twelve half pint jars of strawberry rhubarb jam.  The easiest of the jams.  I won't be enjoying it, as it is a sugar and fruit recipe, but my boys like it, and I can give it as gifts.  Not only is it awesome on hot rolls or biscuits, but it is a wonderful ice cream topper. Remember, rhubarb leaves are toxic, so cut the leaf completely before bringing it in the house, and don't put leaves in your compost pile.
I use my grandmother's old farm scale to measure the weights for canning, and to weigh out dried beans, ect...when I am cooking.  I like to can by weighing, rather than fussy measuring, so I often convert the recipes from cups to pounds. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
2 lb strawberries (about two clamshells, or 4 cups whole berries)
2 lbs diced rhubarb (about 8 cups diced fruit)
6 cups sugar divided
In a large stainless steel stock pot, place rhubarb and 3 cups of sugar.  Stir together well, and let sit to macerate for two hours.  The sugar will bring out the liquid in the pie plant.  Then add remaining 3 cups of sugar, and the stemmed and diced strawberries.  Bring slowly to temperature until all the sugar dissolves.  Once the sugar is dissolved, raise the heat to high, and boil until the gel point, when a spoonful of jam starts to sheet off the spoon.  I always think it looks kind of like a turkey wattle.  Skim off the foam, and pour into hot sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Adjust lids and rings and process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Bean Pickles
We love bean pickles.  We always put them out for picnics and family dinners.  In my estimation, it's not a proper Bloody Mary without a couple bean pickles for garnish!  I happened on a sale of organic beans, cleaned and with the stems and strings off, on a BOGO buy one get one free sale.  The pickling liquid is an easy mixture of water, vinegar, salt and pickling spices.  I prefer to use Mrs. Wages dill pickle packets for bean pickles.  It is a good quick pickling formula, and I add fresh dill, mustard seeds, chile de arbol pods, and a big spoon of garlic to each jar.  I also add Pickle Crisp which is calcium carbonate, I think, to make the pickles retain their snap after processing.  I was off on my estimation of how many beans I'd need, It was almost enough for a canner load (7 quarts) of pickled beans.  So, I scrounged around my fresh food bins, and found enough big jalapenos for a quart of them sliced in half.  The dill jalapenos are really good with cream cheese piped into the cavity, and topped with chives for an appetizer.  I also found I had two big containers of radishes.  I kept thinking I needed them and bought them twice!  There was enough for a quart of them also.  They are great as a garnish in a drink like a martini, or sliced as part of an antipasto tray.  I like them with a slice of cucumber on a whole wheat cracker for a snack.
I still had pickling liquid left over, as I packed the jars as tightly as I could with beans, jalapenos and radishes. I had some regular cucumbers, the ones with the waxy skin, so I peeled and diced them along with a couple each of red and orange peppers, and two big onions.  I added a whole big bunch of diced fresh dill, probably a cup, and made seven more pint jars of dill pickle relish.  I still had enough left of the relish to put one more pint in the fridge.  

We made a trip to Riverton the other evening, and I got four big bunches of asparagus.  That is my project for today, to make some asparagus pickles, and if there's time some home canned tomato soup to have on hand for the winter. It is a mixture of tomatoes with celery carrot and onion, and has basil and cloves.  It is a pressure canned recipe, so I'll wait until my babies go home to do that.  It requires constant attention, and can be a dangerous thing if not properly attended to. 

I have had people tell me they think it's weird I like to can.  I grew up in a household with a mom who survived the great depression as a child.  Canning, and keeping a pantry stocked full with a whole year's worth of food was how we lived.  If we didn't can it, we bought it in case lots.  That and a freezer full of wild game were our hedge against starving out, if something should happen.  When you grow up in a large family, you learn ways to get by on less money, but don't do without.  It's just a matter of "ass ends and elbows", or hard work!

Besides it being the way I was raised, we have had some lean times in our married life.  As newly weds, we ate a lot of beans, and macaroni to get by.  It became a challenge for me to grow and can our own food, to provide the best of what we could have for the lowest cost.  There is a great sense of satisfaction in standing back to view the rows and rows of filled jars, and know that your family gets to eat a product that was picked when it was ripe, and canned with no preservatives, or additives.  I can everything low salt, and in light syrup because that's the way my mother did it.  Now that I am diabetic, I am learning to can without sugar, too. 

It is definitely a challenge to still can without the benefit of the mounds of garden produce, but I am finding ways to do small projects when things are on sale . I can't wait for cabbage to hit the "cheap" category, so I can make sauerkraut!  My crock is ready and waiting!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Corn Beef Hash and Creamed Corn with Poached Eggs

Help!  Comfort food is needed!  We had quite a day here.  One of those where you keep working, and can't seem to make any headway.  I just got a call from my husband, and he's having a similar day.  He won't be home for another three hours.
That kind of ruined the plans I had to eat at our favorite steakhouse!  I cleaned out the fridge today, in preparation of my biweekly shopping day tomorrow, so I hadn't thawed anything out.  I just don't want pizza, we splurged on that last week. 
I was watching Rachel Rae while waiting for my kids to go home, and she was making a Ratatouille with poached eggs on top, and it reminded me of this dish we used to eat often when we were first married, and had chickens and lots of eggs to use up.  It is so easy, and is a wonderful comfort food.  Just what we need!  It will heat up nicely when my husband finally gets here, too!

Corn Beef Hash and Creamed Corn Casserole with Poached Eggs
In a square baking dish that has been buttered, mix a can of corn beef hash with a can of creamed corn.  Bake in a preheated 350*F oven until it gets bubbly, about fifteen minutes.  Top with raw eggs, and return to the oven just until eggs are set.  Serve with boiled cabbage, or buttered dark rye toast. 
Easily doubled, and makes a great brunch for guys who are coming in from the cold.  It really warms up the tummy!