Canned vs. Refrigerator Pickles (scroll for my secret recipe)

 When it comes to preserving cucumbers, you have three delicious options:

1. Pickle them using the canning method

2. Make refrigerator pickles;

3. Or ferment them.

I have yet to play around with the third option, but the first two I have lots of success with.

Canning pickles is pretty straight forward. Find a recipe you want to try and follow the directions. The only tips I have for this method are to be sure that your cucumbers are extremely freshly picked. My mom tends to pick cucumbers for 3-4 days leading up to my visit, and she stores them in the refrigerator. By the time I get them home, they aren’t fresh enough for crisp canned pickles. It’s still possible to can them (since they are relatively fresh) but they work best as thin hamburger pickle slices.  Continue reading

Pressure Canned Pumpkin

AIMG_3991 week ago, our family visited my parents’ Hill Country ranch and came back loaded with produce.

My mom — a notorious green thumb — sent us home with 6 medium to large pie pumpkins as well as kale, Swiss Chard, cucumbers (more later about the pickling we did) and tomatoes. She also sent enough basil to make two rounds of pesto and freeze an entire tray of basil cubes (more about that later, too).

For the pumpkin canning, I followed the directions in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Refer to the book for more detailed instructions, but the process went like this…

1. Wash the pumpkin. Remove the rind (we used a peeler for ease) and seeds. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes.

Side note: The discarded parts of the pumpkin we fed to our chickens, and one sizable chunk that fell on the floor went to the dog (who is crazy about winter squash and pumpkins, raw or cooked). Pumpkin is a natural dewormer.

2. Sterilize jars in boiling water. The Ball book says I will need 1 quart jar for every 2.5 pounds of pumpkin. I weighed the peeled but not seeded pumpkins using a digital scale to guess at how many jars to sterilize. I found that I needed about 1 quart per every pound of pumpkin, but it may have been how I packed the jars that caused the discrepancy. In any case, I always prepare extra jars.

3. In the meantime, bring pumpkin cubes to a boil in a pot of water. Boil them for 2 minutes and turn off the heat. The goal is NOT to soften them all the way through. Just to get them warmed up so you can hot pack them into jars.

4. Hot pack pumpkin into sterilized jars, topping with hot sterilized water from the pot you boiled the pumpkin cubes. Be sure to press them down with a tool of some kind to maximize the amount of pumpkin in each jar and remove air bubbles, but try not to smash the chunks too much in the process. If you don’t pack them well, you’ll end up with a lot of room for liquid and need more jars than the recipe suggests.

5. Process jars in a pressure canner. You’ll need to process pint jars for 55 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes. In order to do this, fill your canner with how ever much water the manual tells you. Mine says 1 1/2″ of water. Then load up your pressure cooker — I use a 10-quart All American but any kind designed for pressure canning will work. Screw the lid on and heat ‘er up. Let the canner steam without a weight for how ever long your manual says. Mine says 7 minutes. The Ball canning book says 10. (I went with my manual for speed.) Then, put the weight on and start the time.

6. When the jars are finished processing, take the canner off the heat but do not remove the weight. Allow the canner to depressurize naturally before removing the weight. Then open it up and allow the jars to sit and cool for 10 minutes before removing them and placing on the counter to hang out.

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After they cooled and sealed, my jars needed a good wipe down. We have lots of minerals in the water that leave a white residue. This is normal.

Because we did a big batch with 3 sizable pumpkins, we ended up with 11 pint jars and 7 quart jars. There will be quite a lot of pumpkin pie and breads this year. The pumpkin bread recipe my stepdaughter and I tried earlier this week is phenomenal, by the way. Check it out here. However, we cut the sugar down to 1 c. total in the first batch. The next one I am going to cut it down to 3/4 c. and see how it goes. The coconut oil made it super moist and tasted great.

Hopes for an early summer harvest

With plans for a trip to Peru this summer, Austin and I have our fingers crossed for an early summer harvest. So far, so good.

We have a few pests to tackle (or endure) — mostly pillbugs, slugs and spider mites. But other than that, our garden is thriving. Sunflowers are popping up everywhere; some are volunteers from sunflowers we had last year, and some are from seeds I planted that were moved around by the recent rains. The best laid schemes of mice and men, eh?

I took some pictures of my discoveries on my evening exploration and found a whole lot of cool things to share… including a snake! These days the garden changes daily. It’s quite an incredible transformation from the generic suburban backyard we had before.

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New additions to the homesteading library

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Here are the books I’ve collected thus far.

In the last couple months, I’ve been putting together a homesteading library for myself. This is my research project for the next year, which will help inform the novel I am writing about farming the suburban sprawl.

Also, these are some pretty mouth-watering reads for my inner informational text loving nerd.

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