Grape Juice 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The time came to make grape juice again. It's one of the things we look forward to, not just because we bottle it in our super-awesome vintage pop bottles, but mostly because it's the only juice our son wants to drink. He's in kindergarten now, and usually by his age, anything that comes in a package starts to seem cooler. Instead, he's possessive about the grape juice. It's "his juice". So we'll go with that.

I picked up two bushels of white Niagara (variety name) grapes in the Niagara region, and was considering dropping by a house that let us glean their backyard Concord grapes last year, when I spotted a guy named Jimmy. He was picking grapes in a vineyard that looked like it was full of Concords. I was right, and he sold me a bushel for $15 and said if I wanted to pick my own, it'd cost me $10 for another bushel. That sounded good, and the fact he owns the same VW Westfalia camper van as me sealed the deal.

This year's batch of juice was exciting because we got to try out our own new Mehu-Liisa steam juicer and our new (old) bottle capper we scored at the local antique market for $3.

By the time we were through the first of three bushels, we gave my mom a call with a brilliant idea. We picked up her juicer anyways and ran them both. It made the process so much quicker.

The other great part is the twenty or so vintage bottles I picked up at an old barn sale. I was excited to put them back into use, even though I cracked a few.

One of the things you need, is to have the bottles near the temperature of the juice or they'll break while filling. For my first couple batches, I had the bottles at 250ºF in the oven and when I tried to fill them, they either broke or boiled the juice over. I quickly fixed this by sterilizing them at 250ºF for 30 minutes before dropping the temperature down to 215ºF for filling.

People ask us how we know they're sealed for sure when we use crown caps. We don't know for sure, but when I open a bottle, I listen for the hiss. If I don't hear it, I don't drink it.

Here's to another year of good drinking!

Click here to see our post on our 2011 batch.

A Long Weekend

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The labour day long weekend seems like an end for a lot of people. The end of summer, the end of freedom... the end of wearing white. But for us, it's a bit of a beginning. August and September are the real months of summer. September is when the garden is fully mature and when we start focusing on preserving.

We started the weekend early on friday with a country drive to pick up peaches to can, sweet corn to freeze, and spelt flour so we can turn the oven on as the days get cooler and make more bread. We get our organic spelt flour right at the mill. It's incredibly fresh and we use it for everything.

Volker, the owner of the mill told us to go take a look at a project he had contracted my brother-in-law to build for him. It's a root/wine cellar he's building out of a metal culvert. It'll be buried when it's done and it looks like a great idea.

Melanie began canning tomatoes and peaches with a little help. We canned some of our excess slicing tomatoes last year and they were a bit watery compared to the pasty Romas... but they were delicious. The flavour was exponentially better, so we're now canning them alongside our traditional paste tomatoes.

Mel canned a pile of homemade salsa and lots of peaches. And then we broke for lunch.

Casual lunches with friends are the best. A loaf of bread, a ball of burrata, all the tomatoes you can slice, and a bunch of open preserves are just as good as an agonized-over dinner.

One of the surprises we found recently, apart from the biggest tomato we've ever seen, was the appearance of the American Chestnut on a farm near ours. It's a tree that is almost extinct. Small seedlings appear, but a blight brought over from Asia doesn't let trees grow more than a few years. Years ago it was a desirable hardwood-our house, built in the '20s is full of it. A neighbour and friend sent a nut over to show us its unusual shell. It doesn't fruit every year, so she was excited. Maybe these seedlings are original American Chestnut, and maybe, just maybe they'll have some resistance to the blight.

And last, but not least, there's my new espresso machine. Hopefully we'll soon have the best coffee in town, which is a depressingly easy achievement. I spent the last week finding parts and rebuilding it, but it's now up and running. It's taught me that the machine itself is only half of the equation. A good grinder is definitely equally important, and I finally have it running. We're all well caffeinated here now, well, except the kids. Although they're loving the steamed milk.