The First Annual Hops Harvest

Monday, August 27, 2012

A few years ago, hops were a mystery ingredient. I had heard that they were in beer, but had no clue what they were, and especially, what they looked like. With newly inspired self-sufficiency in mind, I did some research and found out that they are vines that will happily grow over twenty feet tall, are harvested for their flowers that look like green spruce cones, and that grow beautifully where we are.

Beer is generally made from fermenting the sugars from malted (sprouted) and roasted barley, and this sweetness is balanced out with the bitterness of hops. On top of bitterness, they add a lot of delicate flavours  based on the variety, and also have a preservative effect.

I found a supplier and ordered some rhizomes, or root cuttings, based on suggestions from Neil, a talented homebrewer I visited a couple years back. He suggested I order a few different varieties that will have give a beer a fuller flavour. A "bittering" hop, to add the bulk of the bittering balance, so I ordered Chinook and Zeus. And flavouring hops to add character to the beer-Mt. Hood and Cascade.

I've been watching the cones slowly develop and decided to harvest on Saturday. I enlisted the help of my visiting brother-in-law, Bill (pictured, and looking the part) to help me out.

I have the hops growing up sisal twine that is attached to a crude, ten-foot frame I made out of some old pipes. Commercial growers just snip the string at the top, letting the whole vine tumble down, and then harvest the cones at a manageable height. We decided not to snip the whole vine down since many of the cones still seemed young. We opted to haul out a step ladder and pick the best ones leaving the others to harvest later.

We picked about ten quarts of the paper-like and nearly weightless cones and I put them on our brand new dehydrator to preserve. It has a fan and thermostat for better control. The fan dries each layer evenly and in a fraction of the time our old one would have taken. The thermostat keeps it warm, but doesn't ruin the delicately flavoured oils you need for brewing better beer.

We dried them in the garage at the farm, and it quickly filled with a sweet, piney aroma while we washed the sticky hop oils off of our hands.

Once dried, the previously nearly weightless hops are now, arguably, weightless.

We've got one of those foodsaver vacuum sealers on our shopping list, but haven't picked one up yet. So I did my best sucking the air out of some ziploc freezer bags, and threw them in the deep freezer to preserve.

I'm not brewing this year, so I think I'm going to give these away... I'm just happy to be familiarizing myself with them.

Next year, I'm going to be much happier to familiarize myself with the end product. But I'm going to have to wait quite a while for that.

Sausage Party!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Look what I found in our post list. An unpublished sausage making post from back in April. I remember the timing. It was really bad. We had ordered our first pig, and what we didn't know at the time is that it was going to be ready for the butcher at the busiest time in our lives to date.

We wanted to do lots of stuff with the meat. Curing and smoking our own bacon would be fun. Making dried sausages would be a great treat. But when it came down to it, short of asking the butcher to do everything for us, we decided to settle on making our own sausage.

And despite the stress, I'm glad we did. To simplify things we had the butcher make the ground meat for us as opposed to taking cuts home to grind ourselves. The only thing was that it had to be made into sausage within the next couple days. We paid for the butchering and some small and large casings, and we headed home to make our first batch.

Like most of the continent, we experienced a very mild winter, so back in April we just walked outside and picked all of the herbs that ended up in the sausage minutes later with the exception of rosemary, which doesn't like any sort of cold.

Once we mixed the herbs and spices in with the meat, we were going to regrind it finer with our Kitchenaid meat grinder, but it turned out to be useless, so our sausage was made with the coarser grind from the butcher. We're doing some investigating to find a better grinder and a manual sausage stuffer... suggestions welcome!

We tried five different types of sausage, a basic recipe from one of our homesteading books, A cuban recipe, calling for LOTS of our homemade paprika, a chipotle sausage using the our homemade chipotles (top image), an Italian sausage with lots of parsley (above image), and last, but definitely not least, a rosemary sausage attempting to replicate a wonderful breakfast sausage I couldn't forget from a Santa Monica breakfast joint. We based it loosely on this recipe.

The best part of making your own sausage is keeping a skillet hot to throw samples of your mixture on to fry up and make sure it's perfect.

Stuffing the sausage was simple, but using the Kitchenaid attachment seemed really inefficient. A manual stuffer that can fit a 5lbs of mixture seems to be a lot simpler. You can see a manual stuffer in this video, which also helped to teach me how to "link" them like a butcher does. Very simple.

The casings are washed and stored in a bowl of water to prep them for stuffing and once stuffed and linked they're hung to drip dry for a few minutes. I went over them with a sterilized pin and pricked a little hole wherever there was an air bubble in the casing.

To be honest, it was stressful timing with poor equipment, so it was more difficult than it should have been. It's one of those things that taught us a lot by doing and we're actually looking forward to doing it again and doing it better in about a quarter of the time. AND make more of those amazing rosemary sausages!

2012 Garden Status Report 2

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cilantro making some coriander seed for us, and the fennel still hasn't gone to seed. Something we're going to save for pizza sauce.

The summer presses on, but the garden has been moving slower than normal because of the dry weather. Last weekend's rain seems to have given things a boost, so we're hoping to have tomatoes ripening this week. Most of our garden went in late this year, so we're a couple weeks behind.

However, some of our pumpkins are already ripe. Some Rouge Vif D'Etampes, or cinderella pumpkins decided to seed themselves where we dumped the leftover pumpkins last fall, and they're ready a little early. All of our other pumpkins, the carving and sweet sugar pie pumpkins (the little guys), are still green. The cinderellas are good to eat too though, so we'll be making some pumpkin based dishes soon.

I love the way the pickling cukes hold on to the string we put up for them.

Our little onion patch is going strong this year. Last year it was mostly washed away by heavy spring rains, so to have more than a dozen onions is an improvement. I think we've got a couple hundred this year.

We have three Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon plants with a melon on each one that we're looking forward to. Our favourite watermelon is the sugar baby which we didn't have a chance to plant this year. It's a small, dark one. If you spot one at a farmer's market or grocery store, and it's sweet, save the seeds! It's not a hybrid.

I've been staking and suckering our tomatoes this year. However I let some of the suckers get a little out of hand. So I like to call them "semi-staked". I just want to keep the fruit off of the ground this year, so I'm tying them and loosely tying any other branches to the stake to give the fruit some breathing room.

Our peppers are growing well, but it'll be a while until they turn red. Last year about half of our jalape簽os turned red before we were forced to harvest, so hopefully a few more ripen all the way this year. The Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers (pictured above) are our absolute favourite. They're easily five times sweeter than any red pepper you've eaten before.

And lastly, hidden in an overgrown corner are the hops. They're producing lots of cones this year which I won't be able to use yet. I've harvested and threshed our barley, so next year is the year I hope to try my hand at home brewing.

Any day now we're going to have more tomatoes and peppers than we know what to do with. Well, we do know what to do with them-preserve!