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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Blackberries coming in...

So I was gone over the weekend, paid a visit back to my hometown. Got to see friends and family, eat lots of great food, got a whole handful of really nice birthday presents. Got a fantastic hand crafted garlic roaster- it can handle 3-5 heads depending on the size of the heads. Heh, when I saw it in the shop, the shopkeeper pointed out they had actual roasters- that could handle one head. What I was looking at was really supposed to be for nuking up omelets or steaming veggies. So maybe I will end up using my garlic roaster for those applications too. Roasted up a couple heads of garlic yesterday, and ended up eating up a whole head of garlic on crackers last night- devine!
Driving back in late Monday evening, I noticed the yard seriously needs mowing again. The grass isn't all that tall, it's all the weeds sending up their pretty yellow blossoms that makes mowing a requirement. Yesterday was just a rest day- My feet were killing me from being on them all weekend and I had some serious blisters. And restless sleep and all the activity socializing really took it right out of me. Took a three hour nap in the afternoon, and still was fast asleep before midnight and slept in rather late this morning.

So it was time to go check out the garden. And damn it, the containers are irking the hell out of me. Without the drainage holes, too much water. With the drainage holes, never enough water, WTF. So I think I'm going to try some fall planting and see how it goes, but after the season is over, I'm going to dump out the buckets entirely so I can mix the compost with either soil or peat moss to help get the right balance of water retention. At this time I think the only crop I will really get is the green and yellow beans- bummer. But I did pick another three pounds of beans today, yay! Those are now cut up and in the freezer :)
The raspberries are pretty much done- I picked a whole dozen of them, lol. The mulberries are slowing down too, enough so that I don't think it will be worth it to keep picking them for the dozen or so maybe that I will get each time.
The apples are pears are looking good as hell- I think I may have my hands full with making fruit sauce, jelly, and drying soon enough. I'd like to think perhaps we will start pressing cider this fall, but let's face it, it's pretty damn unlikely that we will have a press or the carboys required for fermenting by that time. But a lot of the fruit is looking really good for other processing.
And since the raspberries and mulberries were almost puked out for the season, and a week had gone by since the last time I checked- I went out to the back 40 to check blackberries. And yeppers they are coming into season seriously. I picked three pounds today, and only stopped because I ran out of room in the container I brought! I'll go back out in a few days and just bring one of the two gallon buckets with me. That way I can pick as much as I want and still have room to soak them when I get back to the house. And so cool- something landed on my hand, and I shook it- it landed on my berry container- and it turned out to be a big ole brown grasshopper! He hung out on my container for most of my berry picking before hopping off again. Three pounds of berries equaled 12 cups of berries. I added 2 cups of water to the pot and mashed the berries real well. Brought the mess up to a simmer for about 15 minutes total, let it cool, then strained it through a cheesecloth to get just the juice, which yielded out to 5 cups. Heh, my hands were rather pink for a while.
Had to make up a fresh batch of hummingbird nectar- got home and the stuff that was out there was looking cloudy- not surprising considering the temps we had into the weekend.

And it was another glorious morning here at Growbox Hill!
Made the wild blackberry jelly this morning.... This is the recipe I used, it yielded 4 1/2 12 oz jelly jars.
3 3/4 cups blackberry juice
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 box pectin- I use the pink box sure-jell

Bring the juice up to heat, and stir in pectin.
Bring up to a boil while stirring.
Add in your sugar, and keep stirring till it comes to a full boil.
Let boil for 1 minute while still stirring.
After 1 minute, take off the heat and allow to sit for a minute or so to let it settle down.
Skim off the foam- I threw it into a little container and tossed it into the fridge, yum.
Ladle up into your jars. Use a funnel, and leave 1/2 inch headspace
Wipe the jar lip well with a damp towel
Put on your cap, and screw on your ring- but not too tightly.
Process in a boiling water bath for 8 minutes. An 8 oz jar calls for 5 minutes, I added on 3 minutes because I was using 12 oz jars.

I decided to use my large stock kettle this time for processing. My canner is kind of huge to do just a few jars, and I found that my smaller stock kettle wasn't quite deep enough to prevent some boil spillage during processing. Since we have hard water, I add a goodly splash of white vinegar to the water bath- that helps prevent the minerals from sticking to the jars. Ya still need to wipe down the jars before putting them onto the shelf though, that's just good sanitary practice. I started out with sterilizing 7 jars- better to have too many ready than to get to the filling jar stage and find out you are one short. All the jars have pinged, and by the looks of the half full jar, the jelly is well set :) From the foam jelly I tasted, the stuff is pretty damn good for my first attempt at this kind of jelly. Sweet but not too sweet- the wild blackberries have some natural tartness to them that balances out all the sugar. And it tastes fully berry, not just like colored sugar goo like what you often get in the store. So long as the jars set up well- and we will see if that holds true over the next couple weeks- I will consider this particular recipe a success.
In a few days I will go a picking again, and the next batch of berries will be made into syrup. And if there's enough of them, probably another batch of jelly too- stock up on some christmas gifts :) And of course, a quart or so for the freezer for the next time I make berry preserves.

After that, it was time to get out into the yard and get some mowing done. Got the front half of the yard mowed. At this point, I've decided to just go around the apple trees. I started out going around some of the low hanging branches, but then got too close, and one of the trees tried to eat me! Knocked my hat and earmuffs all askew, and disengaged the mower arm. So yeah, the trees have gone full blown Wizard of Oz and I will just be mowing around them till the season is over. But on the happy side, it means the trees are well and heavily laden with fruit, hooray!
Then I decided to start tackling the pine trees in front- I wanted to trim them up the trunk a bit. It will make mowing around them a bit easier and less of me being eaten by trees, and in the spring I want to start planting lavender under the cedar at least. Lavender is supposed to help repel ticks. I only got the cedar trimmed up, but that's ok. I was able to cut out the vining other tree stuff that was growing there too. Only got one wheelbarrow full of the cuttings down to the firepit before my foot was protesting enough that I decided to be smart and get off of it for the afternoon. Still got a couple more wheelbarrow loads to haul down to the firepit tomorrow before I can do any more trimming.
It was time to clean up then, and whew my arms had sap and scratches all over, lol.
Once I was feeling clean again, I decided it was time for a berry run. I wanted to pick up a pint of blueberries while they were still in good season to toss into the freezer for later preserve making. So I went down to the Extraordinary Berry, a local grower stand. They are the nicest folks, and always have excellent produce. Picked up a pint of blueberries, yep. Also ended up getting an overflowing pint basket of super sweet tiny red plums- I love plums. And I suckered up for a pint of red raspberries for the freezer as well- those will go well into the berry blend :) They said they should have sugarplums ripe in a couple weeks, so I might have to get back over there so I can make up some plum jam, yum. On the way back, I decided to hit the little blueberry roadside stand and pick up a second pint, give them a try. Their pints were a buck less, but had the warning to wash the fruit before eating. Hrmmm. I got a pint to try anyway, but I probably won't be going back there again, I'm guessing that the wash first might mean they spray their bushes with something I might not be too happy about. But now I have three more pints of berries for the freezer. Sheesh, by the time I get a quart of blackberries in there, I will be kind of overstocked on berries! I will have to keep my eye out for the next time fresh strawberries are on sale so I can make up another batch of berry preserves.

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