Strawberry Topping, Beetroot, Apple Sauce and More

Over the weekend we got up to a bit of canning, it was half planned, half massively expanded because of cheap produce.
All of the recipes that we used are safe for water bath canning so you don’t need any special tools, just a pot of boiling water to keep the result on the shelf for at least a year.

Sorry there are less pictures than normal, I am having some phone issues and lost any photos that weren’t posted on facebook.

It all started with;

Beetroot
Paul, our next door neighbour loaned us one of his raised garden beds for the winter because we were having issues with Nic pulling out seedlings and he’s not a winter gardener.
He is looking to put in his summer crops next weekend so we harvested a big bucket of beetroot. I managed to open up my finger while cleaning them, but it was a nice clean cut and is healing fine.

We always try to start with a USDA approved recipe and then adjust based on our tastes (when we are sure it’s safe to do so). Beetroot is something we’ve been preserving for 3-4 years now so we’re getting more comfortable with the recipe changes.
http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_beets.html

We had enough beetroot for about a quarter of what is in the recipe, that was our base to which we added some extra cloves, the peel of half an orange as well as a tablespoon of mustard seeds.

A big challenge is judging how much liquid is going to be needed, it varies depending on the size and shape of the beetroot. I did roughly twice as much liquid as the scaled down recipe suggested to have enough for each jar. I always seem to have either way to much of not quite enough.

We need to wait a couple of weeks before they are ready to eat, but i’m quietly confident that these will be our best beets yet.

Strawberries
Shanelle noticed a place up the road who were selling less than perfect strawberry for $5/shopping bag, I honestly couldn’t see any problems with 95% of them and they would be perfect for canning. I would guess it was about 3-4kg worth.
We still have strawberry jam from last year so we decided to do something different this year.

Strawberry's

Strawberry Syrup/Topping
http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/berry_syrup.html
Was our recipe and we stuck to it, hardest bit we pressing the juice out because I didn’t have the right tools, just a strainer/sieve and a spoon, but still got 90% of it. The mushy mess that was left over is for Harry to munch on.
It ended up delicious, we’ve used it on chocolate pudding, ice cream and pancakes already. Way better than store brought.
Shan thinks we should do a bit less sugar next time (she said it was a bit sickly after a few pancakes), but it’s supposed to be a sometimes food so I don’t mind that it’s a bit over the top.

Apple and Strawberry Puree
While I was doing the strawberry’s, Nic decided to start helping, so I put him to work peeling, coring and slicing apples.
Obviously I needed to load the new ones on for him, but he was actually very helpful. Smashed through 3 bags of apples that Shan got from the spud shed for $0.49/kg.
We added 50% strawberries and 50% apples by very rough volume to a pot and used a hybrid reciepe somewhere between apple sauce (see further down) and the below.
http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/fruit_puree.html
Next time we probably won’t add as much water as we did, but Harry has been loving it with his weet bix and as a snack.

Apple Sauce
Last but not least was the apple sauce with the rest of the apples. This is another one that we’ve done in the past, but Harry’s love of food destroyed our stock of it. Hopefully now that he is on to more solid stuff he won’t gorge himself on all of it.

Not a bad effort for a day in the kitchen. It’s days like this that I 100% agree with Shanelle that we need a bigger kitchen.
And probably a bigger stove, and an urn for instant boiling water, cheese cloth or similar to get the juice out better, more head space above the stove, a label maker for the jars, probably a dehydrator.
Hmm, we’ve got a bit of a shopping list if anyone wants gift ideas for the kids birthday =p

It always feels good when you can turn a few $ worth of in season produce into a value added product that can be stored in the cupboard until it’s needed.

End Result

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Easter Weekend

It was a busy time leading up to Easter. I managed to find a 25 year old lemon tree that needed a new home.

We got a lot of cheap apples, pears and lemons (from the tree) so we did a lot of canning apple pie filling, apple sauce, apple and pear pie filling and lemon butter as well as both lemon and lime juice. I did n’t actually get a chance to get a pick of all the food together, but there was a lot, we actually had to buy more jars.

The recipes we used were roughly from the below, although we made a few changes for a combined apple and pear pie filling and also did some different thicknesses of the apple sauce so that Harry has some baby food ready for when he starts eating.

https://www.freshpreserving.com/apple-pie-filling-recipe-%7C-canning-apple-pie-filling—ball-recipes-br1123.html

http://www.sbcanning.com/2015/08/pear-pie-filling.html

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/applesauce.html

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/lemon_curd.html

http://www.pickyourown.org/lemonjuice.htm

The Easter weekend was planned to be a big burn off weekend. We were going to burn out all the stumps along the driveway. However, because the govt is always trying to help we were denied a permit to burn.

They were fine to give us a permit before the 14th or after the 17th bit insisted that we hadn’t had enough rain to burn over a long weekend.

We made the best of it and worked on a ton of the other jobs we have going. We had plenty of people out there so our new toilet got a good workout, now we just need some rain to fill up the new handwashing station.

First up, I needed to get the lemon tree into the ground. Nice deep hole and as well watered in as we could do. I’m hoping it makes it survives, we’ve done the best we can. It left my trailer with a very unique unsquare look =p

Oscar and Donut stayed out with us 1 of the nights and we decided to try digging out a few stumps. 3-4hrs digging and pushing with the tractor shovels and mattocks later we had managed to get 2 of them out and decided that was enough of that.

The stumps we removed mean that the caravan end of the driveway is starting to look the part.

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We rewarded ourselves by testing out some safety gear and doing a bit of a penetration test on some plate steel. The result was, that if you get shot in the eyes by a shotgun at 15-20m then your eyes might be okay with most of the safety glasses (although your face will be wrecked). Even at 50m nothing could hold up to the .22. The best results were with the ugly ass goggles, but an even better result is to not be on that end of the firearm. In the penetration test (308 at 50m and the 303 at 20m) the 308 well and truely outperformed, but both left a nice mark. It was interesting fun. We also got to introduce my 2 young cousins to firearms, they seemed to enjoy putting some holes in the paper and trying to outshoot each other.

I spent a bit of time digging deeper holes for my soil samples. I still have my first results, but I’ve been told that the clay generally starts more consistently at about half a meter. If breaking the mattock is anything ti go by I think we do have more clay a bit deeper. Results at the end of the post.

Kelvin has a habit of meeting random useful people in his travels. He managed to stumble upon a pig farmer who had some fire fighting gear. He suggested that we could use the gear to try to dig a bore. It’s more suited to very sandy soils but we figured it was worth a try. we ended up digging almost a meter deep with the shovel then got about half a meter further with the water pump. Not very deep for a bore, but it’s currently filling itself up with reasonably clean and clear water, it smells a little anaerobic, but should be great for the plants. Rough numbers for the flow rate was 6 buckets of water (when full) then it refilled in about 2.5 hours so about 50l every 2 hours or about 300ml/minute. Far from record breaking, but it’s a great start and should help us get a bit more water on the plants. I still need to work out what I’ll do for pumping it, but for now buckets are doing the job in the exposed hole and we have the pipe in deeper for when we do have a pump.

Over the course of the weekend I managed to spend a bit of time up on the road side of the hill cutting in the part where the driveway goes to the road. It took a lot of work but I feel like i’m slowly getting better at controlling the bucket and taking off nice thin scrapes of dirt. It probably still needs about 3-4 hours to get it to the right level, but I figure it’s better to take it nice and slow rather than rush it and end up screwing it up.

We ended the weekend with Shan’s family coming out to the block for lunch and an Easter egg hunt as well as a few tractor rides.

Soil sample results

Assuming I’m reading my results correctly it’s looking a lot better than the previous run. It seems that up on the hill (once you get well into the subsoil) it’s basically all clay. It should work well for a couple of small dams up on the hill. There probably isn’t enough catchment for the dams all year around but with a solar pump from the new bore we might be able to get some nice high water.

It’s a bit of a pain that the wettest area of the property seems to have next to no clay even with the deeper sample, but we can always work with what we have.

Loquat Seeds and Canning Salsa

While we wait for the baby to arrive we aren’t heading to the block much. So over the last few weeks we haven’t been getting to do much homsteady stuff. A few things I did manage to get done are picking up a heap of free treated pine for our veranda, plant a ton of seeds and cuttings and can up some home made salsa.

We have a couple of Loquat trees growing up the road from us so I went down and grabbed a big pile of dried up fruit, a bit of time spend pulling the seeds out and I ended up managing to put over 350 seeds in pots (9 to a pot).

The blackberry that I kept in Perth from last years cuttings is now big enough to take more cuttings from so I did up a few pots with them, I also did a few sage and rosemary because both needed a prune.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately and it seems like it’ll be a cool end to the summer so I pruned our nectarine tree down from about 11ft tall to about 6ft. Its a very hard prune but I’m determined to train it so that all the fruit is within easy reach.

It also means I had a tone of good prunings to get a heap more cuttings started. I did 10 pots, each with about 30 cuttings in them.

I’ve heard that the success rate of them will be pretty low, hopefully we get a few successes out of it given the sheer volume that have been put in.

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Another result of the rain and cooler weather is that the volunteer tomatoes have started to split, I cleared everything I could off the vines and ended up with a few kg of usable ones, I popped next door and cleared up some of their excess tomato’s and capsicums.

Add a few chilli’s from the freezer and a couple of onions and we have a pretty basic salsa that is safe to can. We ended up with 7 half pints and 1 pint.

Tastes pretty good, but next time I think I need to add more tomatoes and cook out the liquid a bit more. But the learning is half the fun.

In the time it has taken me to get this blog post up, Shan has had the baby, Harrison was born on 15th of Feb, pretty exciting for Nic to have a little bro.

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I’ve used a bit of the time I had off work to get some Pomegranate seeds into the ground. Our next door neighbor has a tree hanging over the fence of his new place so I picked a nice one and split the million seeds over 8 pots. I also put in a few Peach’s, Plums and Apples.

One of my pet peeves is people freaking out about seeds not being true to type. Every variety of fruit that you buy in the shops was originally started from a seed. No the seeds from that fruit likely won’t be true to type, but how are we meant to find the next great thing that is more drought tolerant, pest and disease resistant and even tastier without more people putting seeds in the ground to just find out what they are gona get. The granny smith apple was started from some apple cores left by the river.

Imagine what would happen if 1 in 50 people in Australia got 10 seeds to germinate (less than 2 apples worth) then lets say only 1 in 20 of those seeds actually make a nice fruit (the info I’ve seen puts the numbers closer to 1 in 4), we would have 220 thousand new varieties of fruit in Australia. All of which would be more locally adapted than just about anything we currently have. /end rant on starting seeds

We’re def getting a lot of seeds in the ground. I don’t think they will be ready to plant out by spring so I’ll probably be over summering them next year for planting out in autumn 2018, it’s a long slow process, but it will be worth it in the end when I can produce 50-100 of my own variety of fruit trees for the cost of running the sprinklers rather than $10-30 a piece.

A Few Days Canning

With Shanelle due in the next few weeks we’re trying to put as many easy meals away as possible, with that in mind we’ve spent the last few days preserving whats in the garden for later as well as freezing some meals.

In all we’ve ended up with 3 half pints of Rhubarb for apple pies, a lasagna in the freeze and one for dinner tonight as well as 5 pints of Potato and Leek Soup.

The Rhubarb was fresh harvested from from the garden, this is the first year that we’re using more than a couple of stalks. But we harvested a fair bit this time around.

The variety that we have doesn’t turn red so we added a bit of food colouring just to make it a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

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We used the below recipe from their free printable book.

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/rhubarb_stewed.html

Next up Shan did her Lasagna’s, I didn’t get any pics or details but it’s her standard recipe i’m pretty sure.

Today I went out and harvested our leeks, they aren’t as thick as store brought but they do the job. They were grown from seeds that I saved last year which feels pretty good. I’ve got a few seed stalks drying so I should get a few seeds for next year as well.

The soup was ridiculously easy, especially because we still have our own chicken stock frozen from a few months back.

We’ll just need to add some cream and heat when we want a feed. We were going to do this batch in quarts, but turns out all our quart jars are still full of rabbit stew =p With all the food that we’re putting away I think we’re going to need more jars very soon, I originally didn’t think we’d use the quart jars very often, but I think they will be more handy than expected

Our Potato and Leek soup recipe was from;

http://www.sbcanning.com/2011/05/canning-leek-and-potato-soup.html

Pretty productive couple of days managing to put away 6-7 good meals and the rhubarb for deserts, a good chunk of it was from our own backyard as well which is a huge bonus.

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Pressure Canning Rabbit Stew

A couple of weeks ago our canner was delivered and we have finally had time to do our first batch of canning with it.


Our canner is a presto 21l, it as well as a lot of jars were on special for Christmas so we ended up with it, 1 dozen half pint, 2 dozen pint and 6 quart jars for $230 with free delivery, not a bad start to our pressure canning journey.
Our first canning run was rabbit stew with 3 of our home grown NZ White rabbits.

We did the stew in 2 batches, the first for pints and the second for quarts. It was a battle with Nic to save the meat for the jars so we gave him a few bones to chew on while we worked.

We used a recipe for a chicken soup but I was told by quite a few people that it was fine to swap out the chicken for rabbit. We used some of the chicken stock that we made a few months back and added a couple of extra vegies to give it a bit more flavour.

http://www.simplycanning.com/homemade-chicken-soup.html

All in all it was a pretty painless experience and we’re excited to finally be able to put some low acid foods in the pantry rather than taking up precious freezer space.

The final result was 7 pints and 4 quarts of stew as well as 2 quarts of stock that we can use next time.

Hopefully over the next few months we will do a bit more with fruit and vegies as things hit their peak season and we get them cheap.

Nectarine Puree

This year was our biggest harvest ever of nectarines, I followed the advice of one of the people on our Facebook page and turned most of our nectarine surplus into nectarine puree for yogurt and ice-cream. We might also see how some of it goes to make fruit leathers when we get hold of a dehydrator. We started with an overflowing bucket, but by the time we fed the neighbors and my work it was about half a bucket.

Pretty easy job to process them. We followed method 2 on the page below:

Peaches for Baby Food- Recipes & Tips for Feeding Baby Peaches

The hardest part was peeling them,

 i think i needed to put more water in the trays, it seemed like the parts that were in the water were easier the peel. I froze them in various sized ice cube trays and am actually thinking they will be good to eat on hot days on their own.

A Years worth of Beetroot

Short and sweet entry for today.

We harvested our bed of beetroot for pickling.

Last year we harvested enough to last the year (we have 1 jar left) and this year they seemed to be growing better than ever.

A lady on Facebook had mentioned that she was looking for some fresh beetroot. I traded a kg or so plus some nectarines (we have tons of them at the moment) for a mulberry tree that she had.

The mulberry is a bit over a meter tall. I already have a fair few mulberries but I like to support trade economies when I can.

I spent most of the morning turning the fresh beets into 8 1/2 jars of sliced beets and 2 jars of baby beets. Last year we used about 1 jar/month but this year they were in bigger jars so I’m quietly confident that we will have enough.

In case anyone is crazy enough to copy the things  i do, I used the recipe below and processed for 10min in a hot water bath.

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au/recipe/pickled-beetroot-L257.html

Mowing the grass, making jam and cleaning up beer.

After a bit of medical trouble we ended up at the block earlier than expected and I was given orders to take it easy.

This weekend was our last days that we could have fires before summer so we needed to do our last bit of clean up and had a mini bonfire with a few of our helpers.

I spent a fair few hours pulling out blackberries, I’m still determined not to poison them but am keeping them in a patch about 5m wide. I’ve cleared a path 1-2m wide around them and am pulling out any canes that try to make a run for it.

All the pruning over the last few months has lead to a lot of new growth and tons of healthy looking flowers, hopefully we will be getting a feed in a few months time.

A few weeks ago Kelvin got himself a lawn mower and has been slowly mowing our 2-3acres of grass.

The grass is growing way faster than expected and we have a few areas well over a meter high. I helped out along the fence line by blading a row with the tractor, although I feel like the lawn mower would do a better job of keeping it down for a few months. I may need to get a slasher, or work out a way 2 attach 3-4 lawn mowers to the tractor.

While I was doing that Shan worked on putting together the car port frame that mum picked up for free.

I needed to see of the tractor would fit and got a massive shock when I went back and saw that a swarm of bees were starting to set up home on the canopy, they provably would have left on their own but I sped things up a bit by putting a smoldering branch nearby to smoke them off. The pic I got didn’t do them justice but it’s a bit intimidating have 100’s of bees in your face.

The tractor fits perfectly but we still need to work out what to roof the carport with so that it can’t blow away but still keeps the majority of the rain out.

For the Friday night mum and kelvin had a few friends over so we had a fire up their end and managed to get through almost a bucket of wood.

The following day we had Tessa, Ryan and Lucus as well as Oscar and his shitbox rally team mate so the fire was at our end.

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Ryan was a great help loading up and driving a heap of tractor loads of wood down to camp while I worked the chainsaw.

I dropped a few trees that need to come down for the driveway and cut most of them into manageable sized pieces. Our cutting and clearing efforts came to an abrupt end when the chainsaw got stuck in a falling tree.

Looks like I’ll be needing a new bar and chain sooner than expected.

I managed to get 3 more mulberries and 3 grape vines planted. I think the mulberries will be my #PlantedForBill trees although our whole property is based on his work so it seems weird to say that just a couple of trees are for him.

My slightly older mulberries, avocados, figs and lemon grass as well as the parsley all seem to be taking off with the spring heat, assuming we can get them through the first summer we should start getting some fruit next year (at least from the mulberries). We’re also already getting tons of strawberries from around the caravan.

We had a good big fire to relax around Saturday night, the weather is getting better and it was a beautiful night.

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Sunday morning Ryan and I cleaned up a few shade trees around our camp, they were hanging way to low and needed a pretty up, they will be perfect for the warm summer nights that aren’t far away.

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Oscar had a play with the tractor and found a pedal that I had never noticed before. He deduced that it was a did lock but that it didn’t work. A little while after he went home I decided to see if I could get it working. I put the tractor against a stump and got 1 wheel spinning. Pressed the pedal and like magic the second wheel was spinning as well. It will come in very handy for the times that I just can’t quite get enough traction.

My spinning efforts did a bit of a number on the track so I used it as a chance to get better at working the bucket and blade. A few more days on it and I think I’ll be competent.

Got a bit of shooting in Saturday arvo and Sunday morning as well, always good to get less experienced people some trigger time to remove the stigma and mystery that firearms seem to have. Pretty sure Dan and Ryan both had some fun.

When we got home our neighbor mentioned that the spud shed had strawberries on special which lead to our next project (Tuesday night by the time we got to it). Making this years strawberry jam.
My biggest struggle is getting it to set right because I refuse to use pectin, but this batch seems to be pretty much perfect.

I also had to clean up a lot of glass, it’s a lesson to make sure your beer is finished fermenting before bottling. This was a brew that I bottled early so that it would be ready for the wedding. It was pretty average to drink. And now this.

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Chicken Stock

A warning before I start today that chickens are made of chicken, if you’re not okay with that then you probably shouldn’t keep reading.

I’ve been complaining for a while that we aren’t getting any eggs from our chickens. From 6 chickens we’ve had maybe 3-4 eggs in the last week.
The issue is a combination of the time of year, less sunlight = less eggs. As well as the fact that we have been buying our chickens as ex farm layers. We get them for $5 a bird but they are already about 18 months old.

I think next time we’ll pay the premium for point of lay hens.

Today we decided that we were  tired of paying to feed the old hens and so we made a nice home made chicken stock.

I’m starting to get better at butchering and 6 chickens from running around to in the pot took me about 4 hours. Not record breaking by any means but I seem to be improving.

Scalding for plucking

Quick clean up

above are the first 5 ready for gutting

After I brought them inside I decided that it was easier to skin them that cleaning up the last of the feathers so buddy got a great feed of chicken skin and wings.

Should be enough for a feed for him tomorrow as well.

Our stock is pretty basic with some herbs, carrot, leak, onion with some salt and pepper. Although Nicholas tried to add some extra banana.

Turns what is basicly a waste product into something of value.
We don’t have a pressure canner so we can’t keep the final product in the cupboard so we’ve let it simmer down to as concentrated as we can and frozen it in big meal sized portions, should come in handy for the next few months.

Organic, free range, locally sourced, small batch chicken stock.

The hipsters would love it.

Caravan Almost Done

As you can see we’ve got our new website up and running, it’s still not 100% right, but I think we have more ability to customise and change things on here than we had previously. I still don’t know if the facebook images will work when I share it, but I know it is possible on the wordpress platform.

The caravan is all but ready to go.

All that’s left is getting lights on the back for the trip down, they arrived yesterday and I’ll be wiring them up over the next 2 days.

On the, it’s would be nice list is still getting the fridge to work on gas, but I’m not sure I have the skills to work it out so we may have to go without.

The next job will be arranging a power system that can run from the Patrol to give us lights while we’re out there. The 240v system in the van seems to be working without any issues, so I’m leaning towards running an inverter from the patrol batteries to run the van. I’m also toying with the possibility of being able to run the hot water heater from the car in which case we would have hot water. That would be a major bonus. I’m waiting to hear back from an expert before I get to far ahead of myself with that though.

I’ve started my first experiment with the olive barrels, but I’m expecting that by the time I get home tonight the barrel will be empty meaning we get about 4 days to the barrel compared to the 20-25 that I’m hoping for.

I’ve got some more ideas to try so I’m not to worried about it yet.

Last week I had a great score that I posted about on our facebook page, that was that I found someone with excess Illawarra Plums. I got a pot of them which turned out to be enough for me to have a good feed as well as 2 very small jars for later. The Jam turned out a little bit thin, but it is delicious. The main reason I was after the plums were for the seeds, so now I have 80 Illawarra plum seeds planted and waiting to grow. I also had a friend of a friend who was clearing Banana trees so I grabbed few and put them in the backyard so that I can collect pups for the block.

Our next planned trip will be next weekend over mothers day, I’ll be taking a few extra family members down with me as well as the van so it will be a big weekend I think.