Homesteading

Satisfactory Exhaustion

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of satisfactory exhaustion that sets in after a long day putting up food that you’ve spent months growing and tending. This past week has been filled with long, exhausting days, but with each passing day, we’ve added to our store of food for the coming year. The house is filling up with all kinds of food, flowers, and herbs, and I love it.

Thursday began with a hurried run through the garden, doused in bug spray while picking as many veggies as possible before running back into the house to escape the clouds of mosquitoes. I picked all of the remaining purple pole beans, so that we could give the plants a fresh start, after I had let everything go for a few weeks. I knew I wouldn’t have many worth canning, but I hope to have better beans again next week. I also grabbed a few cabbages, and I picked all ripe tomatoes, and anything that was starting to ripen.

Before my mother arrived, the kids and I spent a little time getting the kitchen and dining rooms clean so that we’d have plenty of work space: garbage out, dishes washed, floors swept, counters and tables cleaned, jars out. In an ideal world, I’d have everything spotless at the end of a long day of canning, but sometimes I’m just too tired to have a totally clean slate first thing in the morning. And there are always the jars from the day before, still sitting on the counter, waiting to be put away. Everything cools on the counter overnight after canning, and in the morning, the rings get removed, jars washed and labeled, and then moved to the pantry.

My mom arrived around 9 a.m., just as I was putting a big stock pot full of corn cobs and water on the stove for making corn broth. Once she arrived, we started the day off by sorting through the beans, and prepping them for canning. Everything useable was picked out, and the rest set aside for another task later in the week. The beans were snapped and jarred immediately. The corn broth was finishing right around the time the beans were ready for the canner, and everything went in at one time.

After getting those two things in the canner, we went out and picked a bunch more sweet corn. Aaron had a bunch from his garden that he picked, Adeline had a few ears from hers, and my mom had a few left from her garden as well, but we also picked most of the rest of the corn from my main corn planting. We brought it inside and began the messy job of shucking the cobs and remove the kernels. I hadn’t expected to do two days of canning corn in a row, and I’m not sure my arms were happy with me, but I’m glad to have gotten so much corn done!

The corn job wasn’t nearly as messy the second time around. I’m not sure if that’s because we were doing half the amount, because kids didn’t help out, or because I learned a few thing from the first time around. Maybe it was a combination of things? Either way, I was glad that we had less corn to do! We still ended up with a few more gallons of canned corn. When everything was off the cob, we had a huge metal bowl full of kernels, and it looked like a big bowl of buttery popcorn with Aaron’s yellow cobs mixed with my white corn. It was hard to resist reaching in to take a big handful!

Aaron grew some perfect looking ears of corn! I think he was pretty excited to get a good harvest after years of trying.

Aaron wanted to save some of his corn for dinner that night, so we held a few ears back for corn on the cob. The rest went into the canner, and we went to work on our next project. Tomatoes were sorted by ripeness, and ripe tomatoes were washed, put in bags and put into the freezer.

Mom helped me work on my second batch of sauerkraut. This one was cabbage and garlic, and we tried out the new fermentation lids that I had picked up. I like the pickling pipes and the glass weights/stones that I used for the first batch, but at $21 for a pack of 4 for the lids as well as for the stones, I couldn’t justify buying another set. I’d have spent $42 to fill 4 jars. I ended up purchasing the Ball fermentation lids with springs. It was $18 for 4 springs and lids, total. I think I’ll try to do a comparison review of the two types once my fermentation is done.

The first batch of sauerkraut and second. You can see a distinct color difference after just a day or two!

We had one last job to do that day. There was a bowl of apples sitting on the kitchen counter that needed to be used up, so Mom and I decided to make apple pie bars. They turned out pretty well, and made for a great dessert after a long day of work! Of course, we didn’t eat dessert until after having Aaron’s corn on the cob for dinner.

Apple pie bars!

Friday morning started in a similar fashion to Thursday. I put on a sweater despite the heat, just to help keep the bugs and water off, and worked as fast as possible to dig up carrots and onions, and pick the apples off one of the trees. There was rain in the forecast, and I wanted to get as much out of the garden as possible before the rain came and made everything muddy. I picked a wheel barrow full of carrots and onions, and picked 3 bushels worth of apples from one of the trees. My plan for the day was to get carrots washed and stored, onions cleaned, and maybe work on a few other things.

After picking everything from the garden, I realized I needed to make another trip to town for a few supplies. I wanted to try storing carrots in sand this year as a method of preservation, but I had forgotten to pick up sand the last time I went to town. I also decided to pick up 4 more fermentation lids so I’d be ready for the next batches of sauerkraut that I’d be doing. (More on that later.)

The fermentation lids that I purchased to try. We have 4 total, now. You can see the little rubber gasket that allows the gas to escape so you don’t have to burp the jars. The springs go in after the food, and they help keep everything submerged in the brine. They were very easy to use. I just hope they work well!

Once I was back home, we unloaded the van, and then raced against the rain to get everything unloaded and all of the veggies back into the house before the thunderstorm began in earnest. I spent a lot of time cleaning up carrots and getting them ready for storage. Before I went to put them in the sand, I paused and decided I’d better check my facts on how to store the carrots. Well, it turns out, the recommendation is that you DON’T wash the carrots, and you let them cure somewhere for a day or two before storing. But I was already invested in the process, and after watching a video, where the guy talked about how his neighbor washes his carrots before storing them, I decided to just give it a try.

Most of the carrots we’ve harvested so far have been our Cosmic Purple carrots, but we planted a Kaleidoscope blend, as well as several different variety of orange carrots. You can really see some of the bad spots on these carrots, which is why I wanted to be sure I washed them before storing. With all the mud and dirt, I could have missed some of the damage.

From what I have read, you are supposed to trim the greens down, though not completely off, and bury them in peat moss or sand that is slightly damp, after you have let them cure in a for a day or two. You are supposed to just gently brush off the dirt. In the video I mentioned, the guy said that his neighbor not only washes his carrots before storing, he also completely cut the tops off of his carrots? Anyway, everyone agrees that whatever medium you store them in, the carrots should not be touching, so that the air can flow between carrots to prevent spoilage. Part of why I washed my carrots is because I had plenty that had some bug damage, and I didn’t want to risk losing a bunch because I had left a few buggy carrots in the mix.

All of the carrots that I picked totaled about one 5-gal. pail with the greens cut off and everything rinsed. After sorting through everything, I had about 2 gallons of carrots that were free from blemishes. These, I stored in the sand. They’re in the basement, and I guess, we’ll just pull carrots from there every once in awhile to eat fresh, and check on the quality. From what I have read, they’ll generally store through the winter. I guess we’ll see, since I not only washed mine, I also didn’t cure them.

The 2 gallons of carrots fit in one 5 gallon pail after getting sand layers in between. It’s also possible my sand is too damp, but again, we’ll have to wait and see! I *should* have a bunch more carrots to harvest yet this year, so I may play around and run some tests with various methods. It would also be interesting to see how different varieties end up storing in this type of manner. I have enough sand to fill 2-3 more buckets with carrots, yet.

Things were pretty muddy when I picked on Friday, because we’ve been getting a lot of rain recently, so I was more concerned about washing the carrots. I also ended up washing off my onions before laying them out to dry in the basement. Again, standard practice is that you DON’T do that, but I didn’t want to have mud and dirt all over the house, so I rinsed it all and laid it all out to dry.

I had the boys sort through the apples I picked that morning to find the apples that needed to be processed right away. I also picked a huge watermelon, more tomatoes, and several more heads of cabbage. I wanted to do a bit more processing that day, but our power went out somewhat close to the time I was going to quit anyway, a sign I should just stop! The kids helped me mop up the mud we dragged in from working on carrots and onions, we straightened up the house, and the tomatoes were put in the basement until they’re ready for the freezer.

Saturday, since I had planned to skip my morning walk due to all the recent thunderstorms, I decided I’d get a jumpstart on food preparations. I knew Scott would be canning the peaches that he picked on Thursday, and so I wanted to be sure that he had everything ready to go by the time he woke up.

I cleaned off all of the jars that I canned the day before and got them into the pantry in an effort to create counter space. I washed and emptied the counters, washed whatever dishes were in the sink, and got out jars and lids we’d need for canning throughout the day. Even though we wash all of our used jars after they are emptied of their contents before putting them back in the pantry to store empty, I wash them again on canning day, to be sure we have everything clean and sterile before we fill them once again.

While I knew Scott would be working on peaches, my plan was to work on applesauce, sauerkraut, corn cob jelly, and maybe some carrot preservation. Once I helped Scott get started, I began working on my own projects. He worked in the kitchen while I used the dining room. He got some help from the older three boys and I got help from Adeline and the younger two boys. It’s a satisfying feeling to get the whole family working on projects together like this!

We had about a bushel and a half of peaches that were picked. Scott quickly discovered the importance of having fully ripe peaches for the canning process. Even though you can use some that are not fully ripe, they do not peel easily, the pits do not come out easily, and they do not pull apart as easily. So, after the first round of peaches in the canner for blanching to remove the skins, he decided to pull out the ones that were not fully ripe, and just do the ripe peaches. It’s less than a half bushel that still need to ripen up. He and the boys made honey-spiced peaches, as well as regular peaches in syrup. They were filling jars with spices for the honey spiced peaches, and filled one too many, so I cut up two apples to fill the last jar with and we put some syrup in that as well and canned it with everything else.

While he worked on that process (peaches are kind of tedious, and there were a lot to deal with), I worked on a bunch of different projects. My first project was to make applesauce with the apples that I picked the day before. I used a little over a half bushel of apples that were bruised or otherwise damaged, and got the large stockpot heaping full of apples and cooking. I let it simmer, stirring occasionally while I got started on my next project: more sauerkraut.

This next batch of sauerkraut is just straight up regular sauerkraut. Salt and cabbage. Scott and I were talking the day before about how I needed more lids for fermentation, when it dawned on me that I could be using larger jars to ferment the kraut. I used wide-mouth, quart jars for my first two batches of sauerkraut, not even thinking that I could have used some of my half-gallon jars. So for the last batch that I made, I used two half-gallon jars instead of 4 quart jars. However, I did end up with extra kraut, and was still able to fill a whole other quart jar.

These jars of kraut were made two days apart each, starting from left to right. The first jar is very magenta. The middle jar, you can still see light pink patches where the cabbage had been white, and the third jar is incredibly purple with obvious white. You can see the two types of fermentation lids used. The right and center jars use a spring to push the kraut down, so you can see more of the brine, because as the cabbage becomes more wilted, the spring is able to put more pressure on the cabbage. The rock in the jar on the left keeps everything submerged, but doesn’t add more pressure over time. The center jar vs. right jar, you can see a big difference with the amount of visible brine, as the stuff in the right jar is still very fresh.

So, at the moment, I have 3.25 gallons of sauerkraut fermenting on the counter, in 11 jars. I could have fit the same amount in 7 jars. For the final batch of sauerkraut, I picked up a gallon Mason jar. I won’t be able to use a fermentation lid on it, but we wanted to try a few different methods so we can figure out what works best. As for the large jar, I’ll have to use some kind of other weight to hold the kraut down, probably a rock. I can use the lid that comes with it, but I’ll need to burp the jar. Otherwise, I’ll have to use some other kind of a cover for the jar.

But I don’t regret getting the extra fermentation lids. I would like to try fermenting some other things, like carrots and garlic, so I can still use the lids for various projects in the future.

Sauerkraut, however was not my last project for the day. I used the big food mill that I can hook up to the drill to process the applesauce. It goes a lot faster with the drill! We got the sauce in the canner, and I began working on yet another task: corn cob jelly. It’s a recipe I’ve never made before, but heard good things about, so I thought I’d give it a try. I only sampled a lick before canning it all, but it sure is delicious! I was surprised. People use it on biscuits, mostly. I’m sure the kids will want to try it on PB and J… that’ll be interesting! It didn’t set as well as I would have liked, but it still turned out well.

Purple, yellow, orange, and white carrots, red (white flesh), yukon gold, and purple majesty potatoes. I only made three jars, but they were pretty before canning! The colors faded a lot after the canning process, but there are still a lot of different colors in the jars.

After that was done, I cut up some of the carrots with damage as well as a bunch of potatoes, and I canned 3 quarts of carrots and potatoes. I probably could have and should have done more, but I was getting tired and decided I didn’t want to keep cutting up food. I hate filling the canner only part way, but hey, progress is progress.

I wasn’t quite done for the day, however. We’ve been wanting to use the blue corn for a few days now, so it was time to test it out in a batch of cornbread. I only made a single batch (we usually do a double for our family), but it was delicious! I used the mortar and pestle to grind some of it, and after a bit, decided to try grinding it in the blender. It worked pretty well, but I’d still like to get a grain mill at some point, since that’s something we’d like to be able to do in the future.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the corn has a nice smell, and after grinding it, it still retains that corn smell. The corn meal has a sort of brown/grey color, but after mixing the batter, it definitely brought out the blue. I needed a full cup of cornmeal, but only made about 3/4 cup, so I used some of my white, store-bought corn meal. I’m not sure how much that 1/4 cup would have made a difference in color, but I’m sure it would have been a little darker, and possibly made the flavor just a little bit stronger. We didn’t have any butter on hand, so we ate it without any butter, like we usually wood, but it was still delicious, and not quite as dry (though very crumbly). It was a nice way to wrap up a few long days of work!

The kids took a vote on who liked mom’s special cornbread better than the usual stuff we had. It was nearly unanimous. Paul wasn’t sure, but I think he was just nervous to try it because the color was weird. The lighting was also really terrible when I was taking pictures, because it was cloudy and raining, and we had to have the lights on. I felt like we didn’t get a true representation of the actual color. But taste… definitely amazing!

Today, I took the day to just relax and unwind a bit before I begin throwing myself into another long week of hard work! There’s a lot of food that’ll be ready to harvest soon.

I hope you are having bountiful harvests and are happy at work preserving your bounty!

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

2 Comments

  • Trudy L

    Everything is so pretty and colorful! Even though you couldn’t get everything to grow as you hoped, you made a HUGE dent in your food bill for the year and your kids are learning valuable lessons. I was so impressed to see just how well everything did!
    Looking forward to more canning!

    • Spring Lake Homestead

      Yes, I’m excited to see how much of a dent we make in the grocery bill. Although, if inflation keeps up, we won’t notice much of a difference. Either way, it’ll be appreciated.
      I love all the colors, too!
      Darn! I tried getting the picture of our corn mess in here, but it didn’t upload. I may have to try again.

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