Canning Time

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Strawberry jam and dill beans.

Little jars, big jars, lots of variety, and most importantly, lots of quantity. We've been working hard to preserve everything as it ripens from our garden. Eating fresh picked vegetables grown from seed in your own garden is the ultimate reward for the labour, stress, and time invested in growing them. But saving bits of this joy for the dark days of winter is a joy we discovered last year. We're looking forward to those moments in winter when we open up a jar of our own tomatoes that we grew and preserved.

Pickled beets and salsa

When we went to our first pickling party last year, and later had our own big tomato preserving day, we realized how important canning is. The simple act of spending more time with our food has opened our eyes, and deepened our respect for one the most basic human needs-nourishment. It may be scary to take your food accountability into your own hands, sometimes "ignorance is bliss" seems to do fine for people, but not for us.

Zucchini relish and Ketchup

The mention of canning conjures up images of long days slaving over boiling pots, but growing your own food for preserving brings with it a nice pace. We don't have three bushels of ripe Roma tomatoes at one time, so we might do a small batch of sauce, and then some ketchup a few days later. It's actually made it simpler. We also do all of our canning outside to keep the steam out of the house, and when we're done, we keep the equipment handy and ready for when something else ripens.

Peaches and, you guessed it, dill pickles.
If you're interested in canning, it's easy to get started. Chances are you have some pots, and one might be deep enough to cover some quart jars to process them. If you're looking for a great book, Ashley English's Canning and Preserving has been indespensible when it comes to canning. It has the theory to give you confidence and great recipes and tips.

Another great resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation, a U.S. site that has tons of free information and recipes. We first learned of it from Well Preserved, run by a Toronto couple that have been helpful in a bind. We'll tweet a question on twitter and they're back at us in a few minutes with loads of info. It's nice to be a part of a community that just wants others to can.

Tomato Picking

Monday, August 29, 2011

We all (minus Margaret) spent a few hours in the garden yesterday evening. It was a great time since Eli and Edith got caught up playing house in the pepper patch. The pepper plants are as tall as the kids, so they had a blast in them for almost two hours. Eli had to be dragged out.

Meanwhile, Melanie picked an overflowing bushel of Roma paste tomatoes, and a few baskets of others, including small black plums and a bushel of massive and heavy heirloom slicing tomatoes.

The kids usually wander around the garden barefoot for a few minutes before running back to the house asking for a movie or something. But this was the first time they really played in the garden while we worked. It really reminded me of growing up on the farm and having to find things to do. TV was never an option while the sun was up. There was always lots to do once you started, just, doing stuff.

The best part is that the kids are really eating a lot straight from the garden. It's now a tradition to dig up a carrot for Eli, and Edith will help herself to peppers and tomatoes non-stop. Although sometimes I have to do some surgery to remove a scrunched up herb leaf from a nose from time to time.

Field Trip: Manorun Farm

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I first learned of ManoRun Farm last summer at the Ancaster Farmers Market. After trying to make a date a few times since then, we were finally able to drive over to Copetown, Ontario. When we pulled in the driveway we saw a beautiful farmhouse and barn, some people working in the field, pigs lazing around under the shade of a tree and chickens wandering free all over the property.

Chris Krucker and Denise Trigatti have been farming organic for 18 years, and running their CSA for 13. Chris said that they moved out of downtown Hamilton looking for more land. They got a few animals, started growing some crops and before they knew it they were full-time organic farmers.

It was interesting to visit their farm and see a lot of things that we would like to be doing as well. Not only are they growing organic vegetables, herbs, and fruit, they grow their own hay and grain, milk their beautiful guernsey, as well as raise cows, chickens, and pigs for meat.

We loved the outdoor kitchen, where we found their beautiful clay oven. Chris said they mainly use it to bake bread, but just for themselves. They grow all the wheat they use in their bread and Chris had to buy his own small combine because farmers wouldn't run their massive machines through such a small field of wheat, especially an organic one with weeds.

ManoRun Farm also runs an internship program through Craft, an organization which links people interested in farming to a network of organic farmers who are willing to provide room, board, food, and education in return for labour.

Check out this video we found on their site that I believe was filmed last fall. It's a lot of fun and Chris shares some great words at the end, just before sticking his hand into a pile of steaming manure.

Stop by the farm, or visit them at one of the farmers markets they sell at. You might just see them at a market Chris himself helped establish.

Ancaster Farmers Market - Wednesday 3:00-7:00 pm
Dundas Farmers Market - Thursday 3:00-7:00 pm
Locke St. Farmers Market - Thursday 3:00-7:00 pm

Oh no!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Look at what we're faced with every few days. At least we know a lot of people who are happy to take them off of our hands, it's a reminder of the bounty of summer that is so important to capture and store to spread throughout the year.

We over-planted slicing tomatoes, but underplanted a lot of other vegetables. Maybe we should have staggered them as well. We tended to put everything in at once. But we're not complaining, especially since it's our first year of growing on this scale. We just learn for next year.

Books: The Self-Sufficient Life and How To Live It

Monday, August 22, 2011

When we first got the itch to start growing food for ourselves and become a little more self sufficient, this was the book that got us going. I signed it out from the local library and couldn't put it down. After maxing out the times I could renew the book, I had to return it and couldn't take it out again because someone else had requested it. So I requested it for Christmas.

Well before this current back-to-the-land movement, John Seymour wrote The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency in 1976, which over the years evolved into the current edition of The Self-Sufficient Life.

The book is a glimpse into living off of the land. A labour-intensive, low-consumption life, where money and consumerism take a back seat to simply taking care of yourself and your family.

The book doesn't just show you how to milk a cow (your cow of course), it gives you an ideal layout of a home dairy, and all the basic recipes for what to do with the milk. Directions are there for how to grow your own grain for either bread, or even brewing, including the steps of how to malt and brew with barley.

Though not the biggest in the book, I find the one-acre farm inspiring. It shows how much you can do with a relatively small piece of land.

The book starts with a bird's eye view of an urban garden, and on the following pages gets up to the ultimate 5-acre self-sustaining farm.

It's essentially a how-to book for living like John Seymour. And the reader has the benefit of his years of wisdom. It's a great head-start.

Whether you're moving out to the wilderness, or just want to take small steps toward being able to take care of yourself, The Self Sufficient Life will give you the advice you need to make the most of what you have.

You can even learn how to get rid of bungees. They only exist because people don't know how to use rope anymore. And we also fantasize about when we'll have a cow.

Add the The Self Sufficient Life and How To Live It to your bookshelf by visiting the publisher's site here. Or find it through your local bookstore.

Field Trip: Peaches

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One of the most anticipated and savoured of Ontario's fruits is the peach. It's a sure sign of the depths of summer. We always look forward to peaches and polishing off a whole basket on a hot day. But this summer is a bit different. Not only are we enjoying them fresh, we're also canning them for the first time. It's always rewarding to eat locally in the middle of february, and we can't wait to pop open a jar of our own canned peaches on some snowy night.

As each different fruit and vegetable ripen in our garden, or in the case of peaches, in our region, we've been thinking of different ways to make them last. So far we've tackled freezing and canning, and we're planning to do some dehydrating and juicing as well.

I've learned a lot about peaches this past week, as it's my first time canning them. I've learned there are two types, freestone and clingstone. A clingstone is a peach that clings to the pit. They're fine for eating, but if you're trying to slice them beautifully and simply for canning they'll tend to break up as you try to cut the tender fruit away from the pit. A freestone, as the name implies, is a peach that separates easily from the pit. This makes it a much easier task to separate the fruit and slice it easily.

We were in the Niagara region this weekend and took a drive down a country road to find a local fruit stand to buy some peaches. When you're canning, the best price is important, but this usually comes at the expense of aesthetic beauty. We asked around and eventually found a stand where they were selling seconds ("firsts" are visually perfect fruit) for fifteen dollars.

They were either wormy or bruised and definitely not pretty when you're used to the perfect fruit of the supermarket. However, once cleaned up and canned you would never know they were once home to some tiny little critters. Also, the promise of these being freestones was a little early. About half of them were, the other half were a bit tricky to prepare.

We always tell our kids that it's a good sign to see a worm hole. If the bugs will eat it, it must be tasty. It's misleading to see perfect, unblemished produce that even the bugs won't touch. If you visit a supermarket, we're being lead to believe that humans are the only thing on the planet that are eating fruit and vegetables.

Click here for a printable pdf of the recipe.

My peaches don't look the prettiest, they are a bit stringy and definitely not in perfect quarters. But I know that when I pull our peaches out in the middle of winter, no one will be complaining!

If you plan to can peaches, now is definitely the time. Scope out your local farmers market for some freestone peaches, and if you want a bargain be sure to ask if they can sell you their "seconds". If they don't have seconds on hand, request a bushel and they just might bring one for you to the following week's market.

The Senko Mack

Monday, August 15, 2011

Something was missing last time we visited the farm. It was my dad's (via his dad) old Mack truck. I'm not too sentimental. It was sitting and rotting for years, and the guy who bought it will most likely restore it or use it's parts to restore another beautiful vintage Mack.

I'm more sentimental for the door with the hand-painted letters that stood up to years of weather and thousands of miles of deliveries to Walter Bick's farm in Scarborough full of pickling cucumbers or cabbage to turn into sauerkraut.

My dad has a lot of stories including losing the brakes on the 401 (Canada's busiest highway) and not stopping (pun intended) until the delivery was made. That's some fancy gearbox driving. The brakes failed twice again on the way home, but he fixed them twice again to make it back to Norfolk County.

He's also has a fond memory of a big bump on the QEW highway, and taking the daily glance in his rear-view mirror to watch a few cabbages explode like grenades when they hit the highway behind him.

Field Trip: Sosnicki Organics

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ben on his way out to cultivate.

After miles of corn, soybeans, and more corn, at the end of a long gravel driveway in the middle of Norfolk County you can find Ben and Jessie Sosnicki's organic mixed vegetable farm. The diversity that suddenly greets you is a welcome sight.

There's an old quip farmers used to spit out when they were talking to someone interested in farming. It goes: "Well, at least you won't be hungry." It tends not to be true these days based on what a lot of farmers choose to grow, but after seeing the diversity of the Sosnicki farm, it'd be the type of farm you'd never feel hungry on. Rich or poor.

Their garlic was about twice the size of ours. A testament to the care they put into growing it.

Ben took over the family farm in 1996 to continue the family business of conventionally grown food. Jessie joined the next year and they quickly realized they weren't making enough money to sustain themselves while competing with the handful of large growers in the area. Trying to figure out what to do, and even considering packing it in, they talked to Karl Schibli, their neighbour and organic dairy farmer. When we visited Karl's farm last year, he told us of how he faced the same decision. He suggested that the Sosnickis try organic farming.

Beautiful indeterminate (vining) tomatoes growing in their greenhouse. The red one is Costoluto Genovese. 

Ben and Jessie specialize in organic heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and cabbage, but in total grow about 30 different crops with well over a hundred varieties. Jessie says that Ben refers to them as "market gardeners" and I can see why. Their farm, with the exception of the cabbage and corn tends to be alternating rows of different crops. Which look less like a traditional farm and more like an oversized kitchen vegetable garden.

Good, old, all-yellow sweet corn. Fresh from the grill.

One of their specialties is organic sweet corn. Their corn season starts in August, which is fairly late, but that is because they grow untreated, organic seeds which don't deal well with the cold, wet soil of the spring like treated seed can. They also refuse to grow "peaches and cream" corn, or bi-colour corn. For some reason people got in their heads that bi-colour corn is sweeter than all-yellow corn, maybe because one farmer years ago sold a customer starchy field corn meant for cattle to make an extra buck. But believe us (the Senko family has been growing sweet corn for decades) yellow corn is usually much tastier.

Sure, there are a lot of good bi-colour corn varieties available, but it's sad that growers were cornered into having to work with it because of purely aesthetic reasons.

Some of the diversity on display at the farm. Beets, tomatoes, herbs, cabbages and more. At right are their beautiful leeks.

One of the things that they also grow are a few weeds. Like the damning sight of a tiny blemish on a tomato, the sight of a weed will cause a conventional grower to go mad. But at the Sosnicki farm you'll find them here and there, and they'll get to them. They're not hurting much.

Ben and Jessie dig all of their potatoes with an antique potato digger that they say works like a charm.

Jessie keeps chickens for eggs. They planned on going into organic egg production, but decided to keep their focus on the produce. If you're looking for a backyard chicken, and we highly recommend them, a few of Jessie's chickens are up for grabs, and they're at the perfect stage where they are just starting to lay.

Everything on the farm is free-range, including Lady Bug, their horse.
She wanders around with no fence in sight. I bet she thinks she's one of the dogs.

If you're interested in buying some of Ben and Jessie's produce, and we suggest you ask them about organic canning tomatoes, you can find them at the following Toronto farmers markets.

Riverdale Farmers Market, Tuesdays 3-7pm, May through October
Dufferin Grove Organic Farmer's Market, Thursdays 2:30-7pm, Year Round
Evergreen Brickworks Farmers Market, Saturdays 8am - 1pm, Year Round
Withrow Park, Saturdays 9am - 12pm, May through October.

The Danforth's The Big Carrot also carries their roma tomatoes and sweet corn in season. Their cabbages and other root vegetables are stocked all winter.

Garden Status Report #5

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A pretty big mix of tomatoes. Purple Cherokee, Green Zebra, Purple Plum, Black Krim, Stupice (pronounced stew-peach-ka), Roma, Juliet and a couple peppers we picked since they had a bit of end rot.

Things are getting a little crazy in the garden. First we had too many zucchini, and now it's on to the cucumbers and tomatoes. I think I've thrown out more cucumbers than we've saved. It feels like if we leave the farm for three days, they go from little pinky-sized things to monsters that look better suited for hitting baseballs.

This year is a major learning year for getting quantities right and as overboard as we went with zucchini and cucumbers, I think in the coming weeks we're going to face the biggest glut yet - tomatoes.

A lot of our tomatoes have end rot, which I would normally be over-stressed about, but with the quantity we're growing, it's not a big deal. End rot is when, you guessed it, the end of the fruit begins to rot. I've been reading that it's caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil, however, after talking with Linda from Tree & Twig, we're pretty sure it's simply irregular watering. With the wet spring, and the long stretch of dry weather we had, it's no wonder. We'll be filling any upcoming dry spells with some well-timed waterings.

I was also a little worried about figuring out when the green zebra tomatoes would be ripe. But we found a few, huge, soft to the touch, and yellowing a bit, and there's no question. They're being saved for lunch tomorrow.

The green (and purple) beans are delicious and we tend to eat them all out in the field. We love beans, and our  three-year-old gets a kick out of undoing their "zippers". It's a pretty good way to get him to eat them in their best form. Fresh.

The cabbage is doing well, especially the savoy cabbage we planted. The more traditional cabbage is coming along but seems to have lots of bugs in them. We're starting to see brussels sprouts forming and I have a feeling I'm the only one who's going to be eating them. I have to do some research into how to harvest them.

The Jimmy Nardello peppers we planted are going to be interesting. We planted seed we saved from a friend's pepper, and after reading that they're quite a bit easier to cross-pollinate than tomatoes, we're not sure what we're going to get. Maybe they'll be perfect and true-to-type, or maybe they'll be... something else.

Aren't the Chiogga Beets beautiful? We're lightweights when it comes to eating beets, but these ones are sure inspiring.

We've already pickled about a dozen jars of cucumbers and it was great to make them with our own garlic and dill. We pulled up most of our beets, and are preparing to pickle some of them this week. If you have any pickled beets recipes, please send them our way. We're looking around for ideas.

Oh, and if you want any tomatoes, let us know.