Since I’m still hobbling around, it was a treat for me yesterday to go with Mike and the dogs on a little farm tour in the truck. The soybeans are up and have set their first real leaves. The sunflowers are knee-high and some will bloom before too long. The produce garden looked refreshed from the rain and the clumps of dried clay he stirred up earlier with the cultivator dissolved into the mud between the rows.
The elderberry is in full bloom, the pear tree is loaded with unripened fruit, and the fig trees and blueberry bushes look much healthier than I expected given the prolonged winter, flooding rain, then dry heat. The grapevines have numerous bundles of fruit, though we lost many due to a fungus Mike had to treat. It looks like the birds got most of the raspberries, but the blackberries are coming on. The cherry trees are bare, although I did not look closely at the apple orchard. Most of these fruits are not meant for market, but for our own use and we will spend a portion of the summer picking, cutting, canning, freezing, juicing, dehydrating, or fermenting much of it.
Yes, we make wine now.
Ever so often, the scientist in Mike takes over, as was the case with wine-making. He simply has to vent that curiosity and the desire to play with scientific gadgets and instruments. Sometimes, I think it’s an excuse to buy a new one! That’s the way it was with wine making. He wanted to try it, to see if he could do it, and his first attempt was with a bumper crop of apples. So while I was in the house making apple juice, apple jelly, and apple butter, Mike took his portion of the apple juice to the garage to ferment. I’m not sure sure if I was happier at the prospect of trying his new wine or delighted that three or four gallons of juice did not have to be made into more jelly. Several weeks later, he bottled up dozens of containers of his golden liquid prize. It wasn’t bad…I guess. Since then, he’s made more of the apple, plus elderberry and a couple of blends with grape and with each batch comes away with a better-tasting wine. Of course to do that meant buying instruments that measure alcohol content and sugar content, a corker, and various other items by which to filter, ferment, and decant the liquid. He’s come a long way from “rotten” apple juice in a recycled glass water jug and even has a small wine-making library– gifts from friends.
This year he seems interested in making yogurt, something I experimented with in town along with my feeble attempt at cheesemaking. I am wondering what sort of instruments he plans for that, though. I used my crockpot, some canning jars, a towel lined box, candy thermometer, and a heating pad with great results using a gallon of store-bought milk and a container of natural yogurt. He, on the other hand, has been looking for a local dairy and I suspect will try to find a source for the yogurt culture itself. Still, this is an experiment I can get interested in too. There really is nothing like fresh homemade yogurt, a bit of home canned fruit, and a sprinkling of homemade granola.
Along the same lines, I wonder if he would like to try making our own tofu from the soybeans we grow. Probably not, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific instruments involved. Then again, where I used a one pound coffee can with the bottom cut out, a small dish and a brick as a cheese press, it would be a good excuse to get a real cheese press!
Our home experiments take place over the early summer, when there seems to be a little time in the day before harvesting begins. Oh, there is still almost daily mowing, bush hogging, weeding, and picking to do, as well as caring for the calves but during the heat of the summer, there is still a little time to enjoy barbequing with friends, experimenting, and enjoying the lush green acres that surround us– until everything seems to ripen at once and we have marathon canning and juicing events. That’s where I’m guilty of buying “instruments.” We now have two juicing mixers, two stoves, a number of water-bath and pressure canners and all the acoutrements necessary to the operation. As time goes by, only storage space and canning jars are in short supply.
In a way canning is an ongoing experiment too. As a trained microbiologist, Mike is acutely aware of the effects of bad technique in the canning process and we will not differ from established procedures on that, but we do experiment with the recipes themselves and with pre-canning practices. For example, when making tomato juice or sauce, we do not dunk tomatoes in boiling water then cold water in order to take their skins off. It is too time-consuming when you plan to can, say, a hundred jars of juice. Instead, we core the tomatoes, cut them in quarters (or more if they are the large heirloom tomatoes) and heat them until soft. The Kitchenaid with the food grinder/juicer attachment does the rest of the work, spitting out the seeds and skins as it juices.
Yes, I’m plugging Kitchenaid–it is the best mixer I have ever owned and I have owned a lot of them over the years. I had a similarly famous company’s stand mixer that only lasted a couple of months. No, I don’t get paid for plugging Kitchenaid. You can see the attachment we use here. We have canned literally hundreds of jars of juice, sauce, BBQ sauce, hot pepper sauce and even apple sauce and apple butter using this attachment. It was a great investment that has lasted for years (ten years so far for one of the mixers and attachments). Heck, it can even do baby food! Unfortunately, I have not found this attachment in any store, only at their online site, but the good news is Kitchenaids are still American-made.
So this week, if the ankle allows, I will pick up more canning jars, because there never seems to be enough of them, in spite of reusing them and donations from family and friends. Almost weekly throughout the summer I buy more of them, as well as lids and bands. I wish I could buy them in bulk! We will also watch as the wooden shelves in the garage get full with case after case of homecanned produce, ready for winter eating, for gifts, and for give-aways, and know that this yearly experiment was again a success.
Our farm tour yesterday hinted at the likelihood.