2012 Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog – I hope to write more and share more as this year gets off to a great start!

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Time For Planning

As promised, I have returned. With the holidays over and the first full week of winter under our belts, it’s time to buckle down and start laying some plans for what comes next. In the big picture, my husband is job hunting for a part time job and we are apartment hunting. We saw a workable, though small, place over the weekend. We’re going to head out again next weekend to see a few more. Being a reasonable distance from the city (not too close, but closer than where we are now), walking distance to the Metra commuter train and two bedrooms are the essential requirements. The nice-to-haves are outdoor space (of course), a gas stove and a dining room. So we’re plugging along with that.

January is the time of year when I really start thinking about the stuff we own – probably because we always seem to accumulate more than we intend to over the holiday seasons. I’ve embarked upon an organizational quest for the rest of the month – I redid our bedroom closet and organized a bunch of Little Man’s things over the weekend. It’s nice to be able to open a closet and not be confronted with an avalanche of junk. The next projects on the docket are going through all of the things we have in storage and sorting out items for this summer’s garage sales and repacking stuff that will be making our next move with us. A huge project, and I have no idea when I’ll find the time to get through it, but I plan to chip away on it in little bits and pieces. So it will all get done.

But while necessary, that’s all pretty boring stuff in the grand scheme. There are fun things afoot as well, and evidenced by the rest of my to do list –

– Inventory the seed collection. Anything to do with plants in the dead of winter makes me happy.

– Plan a modest container vegetable garden. Since I have no idea where we’ll be yet and how much outdoor space we’ll have, it will be modest indeed – a pair of tomato plants, some salad greens, some herbs, maybe some scallions… but the planning is half the fun and excitement anyhow.

– Figure out how to do an excellent cassoulet in the crockpot, since it is very much crockpot season and cassoulet is one of the best things of all time to eat when it’s cold outside.

– Sew a coupon wallet from my new-ish sewing book that I got last year – Fabric-By-Fabric One Yard Wonders. I’ve been anxious to try a new pattern from it and it’s well nigh time I got around to it.

I’m excited about a new year and all of the fresh possibilities that it holds. I anticipate great things this year – getting back on our feet in the way that we want, making a new home and continuing to work toward our big picture goals are paramount. But I’m also really looking forward to some good, honest cooking, lots of gardening (even if it is back in a collection of pots) and putting some time in at the crafting table. Here’s to a great year ahead!

Please Forgive Me

Well, that didn’t go as planned. I became one of those Bad Bloggers – the kind that I hate. The kind that redesigns the site/changes platforms/updates a name or concept and then… promptly falls of the face of the earth. I’m so sorry. It wasn’t my intention. Unfortunately, the last three months of my life have veered so far away from my best intentions that I don’t quite know which way is up. The move to suburbia did not pan out the way we anticipated. We’re no longer in the place we first moved to; in fact, we’re staying with my parents in law. There, I said it. The last three months have been fraught with upheaval, disappointment and struggle. But sometimes that’s the way life goes. My husband, son and I are all healthy and more or less okay. And at the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for.

What does that mean for me here? I will never give up writing. It’s my Thing. And I love this site. It’s not going down the drain. We’re working on the money situation. We’re working on the living situation. Hopefully – knock on wood – we’ll be back in our own place in January. We’ll be back on the mend, I have no doubt. And when I’ve got my little family situated back in a little place of our own, I’ll come back here and tell you all about it. Because as a householder in the position of not currently having a house of my own, I’ll have lots of projects and decorating and gardening to do once we’re settled.

So I’m sorry I abandoned Agrarian Revival for three straight months with nary a word. But those “please bear with me!” posts are too often the death knell of blogs, and I just didn’t want to admit defeat. And I’m not, but I am officially posting the “I’ll be back” notice on the door. And I will be. I know in the fickle world of the internets, you’ll believe it when you see it. So prepare to be amazed. šŸ™‚

The Great Tomato Chase

At long last, the tomatoes are all done! Photographed, jars wiped down, rings washed and stored for next year and the jars all neatly arranged in a closet, ready for use this winter.

Here’s the haul –

That’s eighty pounds of tomatoes right there. I got twenty-seven jars – one jar shy of being four full batches in the canner. Most of the lot is Amish paste, which I love for canning (easy to peel and hold their shape). A few jars are beefsteak-style tomatoes – I think I got quite a few Brandywines. And you see my lone jar of yellow Brandywines front and center.

As mentioned, it took me a maddening twenty-four hours to can these babies. They are well worth the effort. Last year I only did fourteen jars (and wrote a tutorial about it) so I just about doubled last year’s take. Next summer I plan to double it still again, and that should be enough tomatoes to last us a full year. We eat a lot of tomatoes at our house.

Of course, I refined my process a little bit this time around – I’m always looking for ways to make the process smoother. The actual canning is easy; it’s the prep that’s backbreaking.

– I’ve stopped scoring the tomatoes before blanching them. To me, it actually makes them harder to peel because the skin starts to come off in the boiling water and then the ice bath, and it makes a big mess. So after I take them out of the ice bath I put a slit in the skin with my knife and then peel – it’s quicker and less messy all around.

– Thirty seconds in the boiling water is enough! I’m reminded every year how critical this step is when I let them go a little too long. You’d think you’d want to leave them in longer to loosen the skins more, but it actually makes them harder to peel because they don’t hold their shape as well. So be diligent about your blanching time.

– Blanching and the ice bath leads me to another question I don’t often see answered anywhere – how much ice do you need to can tomatoes? The ice bath is an important step – it stops the tomatoes from cooking and makes them cool enough to peel. Cold water alone isn’t sufficient – tomatoes from boiling water areĀ hotĀ and you’ve got to cool them down as quickly as possible. For eighty pounds, I went through thirty pounds of ice. Thinking in terms of a single canner batch of seven jars (or about twenty pounds of tomatoes) – you’ll need a single seven pound bag. There’s your math exercise for the day.

– Don’t forget to add a little white vinegar to the canner. It makes the jarsĀ soĀ much easier to clean when they come out of the canner, and they actually shine up pretty easily. This is definitely a nice step if you happen to have hard water – no unsightly hard water spots on your pretty jars!

– Wear shoes. Even though I knew better, I wore sandals during canning this round, and the whole time I kept thinking to myself “you better put shoes on before you burn your foot”…. cue the last five minutes of my canning session and guess what happens? I splash hot water on my toes! Fortunately, it was just a drop and not super boiling, but lesson learned – wear shoes while doing heavy work in the kitchen. Always.

So, that’s it for tomatoes this year! Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine folks at Midnight Sun, where I got my load of tomatoes again this year – I literally couldn’t have done it without them!

Tomatoes. Tired. Sleep.

A banner weekend here – 27 quarts of whole tomatoes with no added liquid and a gallon of juice. There will be photos of my haul, but not tonight. Sometimes I don’t know how our foremothers did it – because 27 quarts of tomatoes wasn’t cutting it for a big farm family back in the day. Probably triple that and it would be enough. Plus that quantity of beans, jams, jellies, pickles… oh lord. But for little suburban me, four batches in twenty four hours is a lot. So photos are coming. Details are coming. But right now I have to sleep!

Crockpot Pumpkin Butter

IĀ love, love, loveĀ Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights. In the course of normal living, prepared snack itemsĀ neverĀ show up at our house, laden as they are with high fructose corn syrup, unpronounceable preservatives and other nasties. But Pumpkin Delights are a childhood weakness of mine. I’m sure you’ve seen then before, in the limited weeks every fall when they’re available in stores –

They are so good. But really, I never feel so hot after eating them. They’re all junk. I’ve been brainstorming for a good long while how to reverse engineer these things. And I think I finally figured it out. It needs to be a pumpkin butter filling encased in a soft, spiced cookie. I’ll have another article up shortly detailing the specifics of building a batch of home made Pumpkin Delights (don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging!), but first things first – the pumpkin butter filling.

It seems that most places in suburbia do not sell pumpkin butter. Apparently I’ve been highly spoiled living in a food mecca like Chicago (ahem). No matter, pumpkin butter is easy to make on your own. I have two criteria for making fruit butters. Number one, it’s got to be a thick, buttery consistency – no glorified jams, please. And number two is no stove top cooking. No matter how diligently I stand at the stove and stir, the stuff always burns into a mess on the bottom of the pan. Not my idea of fun, especially with a baby (okay, he’s practically a toddler now) underfoot.

Crockpot pumpkin butter seems to be the answer, and the recipe for Slow Cooker Pumpkin Butter at Baked Bree seemed like it would work. One thing I like about Bree’s recipe is the fact that it starts with canned pumpkin, but allows for fresh. The method simply entails putting a couple of cans of pumpkin puree, some apple juice, lemon juice, maple syrup and spices in a crockpot for 5-6 hours on low heat.

Of course, I made a few modifications. I reduced the maple syrup by a 1/4 cup, doubled the spices and added cloves to the nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger that she calls for. And because I’m a stickler for a thick, luscious consistency in my apple butter I propped the lid of the crockpot half open during the last hour of cooking so some of the liquid could evaporate.

Here’s what my pumpkin butter looked like when it first went in –

When it’s cool, I’ll portion half of it for the freezer so I can make Pumpkin Delights again, and use the other half for a fresh batch of them. And don’t worry – you won’t have to wait long to see how they turn out – I can’t wait to give the recipe I came up with a try!

Green Tomato Pickles

Before we moved I cleaned out the tomato plants. They were about at the end of their season, so it didn’t really make sense to move them. I got a small quart of green tomatoes off of our three Golden Nugget cherry tomato plants, so I figured that a quick pickle would be just the ticket.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to even worry about canning for long term storage (even the small batch recipe for Pickled Green Tomatoes over at Food in Jars calls for a pound). It is however, just the right amount to put in the fridge to eat over the next week or two. Ā How great will these be on the last grilled burgers of the summer?

I halved Marisa’s recipe, which is an excellent basic dill brine –

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/4 cup water

3/4 teaspoon pickling salt

1 teaspoon dill seed

2 garlic cloves

1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns

1 bay leaf

The process is much the same for refrigerator pickles as it is for the canned variety. Bring the vinegar, water and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and add the dill seed and peppercorns.

Put the garlic and bay leaf at the bottom of a jar. Pack with the tomatoes – for cherry tomatoes you can just leave them whole, or cut them in half – which ever you prefer. Pour the brine over the tomatoes and put your lid and ring on the jar. Let the jar cool to room temperature on the counter, then refrigerate. Consume within two weeks, but pickles are best if left for a few days to cure in the brine and develop their pickle-y goodness. And here they are –

Please note – these are not shelf-stable pickles! Even if you hear a “ping” from your jar lid because the brine is hot, that doesn’t mean these are “canned” and safe to keep for long-term storage. This recipe is definitely for a refrigerator pickle only! If you’d like to make water-bath canned pickles, the Food in Jars recipe above gives the processing instructions. TheĀ Ball Blue Book Guide to PreservingĀ also has an excellent recipe.

Getting Organized

Okay, a big move to suburbia and a big move to a new blog home all in one fell swoop. That means I’ve got a lot to do. Fortunately, things on the home front are pretty well settled in since we’ve been in our new place for about a week now. So that means I can figure out which projects are next up on the list (and therefore, which great things I can share with you). So without further ado, here’s a little sampling of what’s in store over the coming weeks here at Agrarian Revival.

– Green tomato pickles (a small batch from the Golden Nugget plants I grew this summer).

– 28 quarts (at least) of whole tomatoes canned in their own juice (from the lovely folks at Midnight Sun).

– Restocking the chest freezer with any corn and fruit I can still get at the farmers market.

– Home made pumpkin delights (I think I finally figured out how to reverse engineer the Little Debbies!).

– Sewing projects! Pants for Little Man’s first birthday party, an over-the-seat car organizer, and a coupon wallet are all on the immediate agenda.

– Painting a dinged up wood side table that we’re using in Little Man’s room – a splash of color will suit it just fine.

– Brewing another batch of two of beer. We’re down to the last few bottles of the last batch, so it’s high time to brew more!

There are a ton of other things on the long term list, but I think that will keep me busy for a few minutes. Be back soon to give you the details!