Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Handmade Help

If you're looking for a more practical way to help people affected by the bushfires, check out the Handmade Help blog: http://handmadehelpsout.blogspot.com/

There are three main streams of help being organised:
  • Craft - restash a crafter, quilt making, toy making, fund raising, etc
  • Cooking - submit recipes for a book
  • Gardening - this is currently being formulated, but a separate blog will be available soon
Have a look and see if any of it appeals to you.

love and light

Around the Garden and in the Kitchen

Remember Kale Cauli? Well it grew up and was duly harvested. Kale Cauli ended up being a bit green and a bit purplish.

The texture was similar to cauliflower and the flavour was something akin to the taste of very mature kale leaves, ie, a bit strong. Kale Cauli was edible, but not sure if I'd want to eat it too often.

There are a few more baby Kale Caulis in the garden at the moment, so my thoughts are going down the pickles track at this point.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, in the kitchen drawer where I keep potatoes and onions, a sweet potato decided to sprout. This is the first time I have ever seen a sprouted sweet potato in Canberra - must have been the hot weather.

The sweet potato is growing well and I'll have to put it in a pot and see what becomes of it. Because the cooler weather will arrive before it's finished growing, the bathroom is starting to look good as a new home.

Have still been bottling like a crazy woman and last weekend I made my first tomato paste. Sure, I could have bought the same quantity of thicker paste for just a couple of dollars, but at least I know where this lot has been.

Also in the kitchen, I've started a couple of batches of wine brewing - one with elderberries, blueberries and plums and the other with peaches and rose petals. The first one will be a red port-style wine and the second will be a white/blush dessert wine. Drinking will be a while away, but it sure does feel good to be making wine again!
And yes, dear Crone, I'll put up a post soonish to tell you how to go about it.

love and light

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Preserving to Recession-Proof

During the great depression in the 1930s in Australia, housewives were urged to bottle their own fruit and make their own jams in order to help their families survive the times. Fowlers Vacola bottles experienced a surge in sales during this time, as their icon, Mrs B Thrifty, helped to spread the message about preserving.

This summer in Australia, we have experienced heat waves, fires, floods and drought, as well as a declining economy. The federal government is implementing policies to hopefully soften the economic blow and the Australian community is rallying like never before to assist those in need. But it strikes me that we all need to ensure we have adequate supplies in our cupboards to get us through potentially tough times ahead.

One way of achieving this is to bottle or preserve food while it is abundant and relatively cheap. Many in our blogging community are already bottling their produce or are contemplating it, so I thought I'd share a couple of tips handed down to me - yes, I'm a second or third generation bottler, depending on the family line.

Vacola bottles and preserving kits can be found from a range of sources: new - online and in hardware and kitchen ware stores; or used - via local classified ads, garage sales, deceased estates, etc. I assembled my collection over a few years by scanning the classifieds every now and then. By all accounts it is getting more difficult to obtain bottles this way because people are realising the value of them. Most importantly, make sure your bottles have chip-free rims and no cracks.

There are basically two types of lids - the cheaper ones and the stainless steel ones. The cheaper type is shown on the left in the photo. These are OK for bottling fruits such as peaches and pears which are not highly acidic, but I wouldn't use them for tomatoes or for anything I wanted to store for a long time. If you can afford them, invest in the stainless steel lids. They may be double the price, but they will last forever. Well worth the investment.

The clips placed over the lid will exert a little more pressure and help the lid to seal better if there is a small coin placed under them. A 2c piece is ideal for this, but if you can't find any, try a 5c or 10c piece.

Now to the seals. These are designed to be single use only. It is important that they are placed in the groove around the neck of the bottle without any twists. Wetting them prior to placing them on the bottle helps and I usually get the twists out by flicking or gently rolling the seal with the fleshy pad of my thumb. Do NOT use any sharp instrument or fingernails, as doing so may damage the seal and compromise your preserves. Also, make sure the groove is clean before you place the seal on and that there is no food caught underneath.

After the bottles have been processed and have cooled for a day or so, you can remove the clips (and the coin). Immediately turn over the bottle and inspect the seal. If all is good, you should not see any leakage. If you spot any leakage at all or there is a break in the seal (which does happen occasionally, although I can only remember a couple times in nearly 20 years of bottling), put the bottle into the fridge and eat within the next few days.

Hopefully, you will end up with a collection of bottles like these.

If you do not have a bottling outfit and cannot afford one, do not despair - you can still bottle food. In this case, use glass bottles that have metal lids with a rubber seal and the pop-up thing in the middle. Prepare the food as usual (with syrup, brine or vinegar) and secure the lid on the jar.

Place in a large pot (eg, boiler) and fill with cold tap water to the neck of the jars or just below. Bring the water to simmering (NOT boiling) point over about 45 to 60 minutes.

For peach, pear and apple slices in syrup, leave at simmering point for about 20 minutes; for tomatoes or tomato based products, leave at simmering point for 50 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave to cool in the pot before removing. You should find that the centre area pops down when the bottles are totally cooled and you'll have a good seal.

Whether you are using Vacola bottles (or similar) or reusing glass jars, you should hear a hiss or a pop as air enters the bottle when you open it. If you do not, check very carefully for signs of food spoilage and if there are any, discard the contents.

Now here's an offer to any Canberra (or nearby) bloggers who are interested in getting started in bottling. Email me (naturewitch@grapevine.com.au) and we can arrange a time for you to drop over and have a bottling lesson. Over the next couple of months, I'm likely to be bottling from time to time and am more than happy to show you the ropes.

Edited to add: Forgot also to say to make sure the lid is on straight and not skewed to one side. You can use just one clip and I do if I don't have many free because of processing lots of batches on the same day, but my preference is definitely to use 2 clips. With 2 clips you can get the lid on straight in two directions and you get less failed seals.

love and light

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Hot, Burning, Drowning

Our beautiful country is suffering.

People in Victoria are suffering horrendous losses of life and property due to the bush fires. At least 65 people have been confirmed dead, more than 300,000 hectares are burnt out and 640 homes have been lost at this stage. And the authorities think that most of the fires have been deliberately lit. What kind of heartbreaking lunacy is this?

Across South Australia and Victoria the heat wave conditions of the past few weeks have also cost many lives, particularly elderly people who did not have cooling or fans or refrigeration when the electricity was load-shed. And all because of the heavy energy usage going on.

In Queensland, floods are destroying property and livelihoods. There doesn't seem to be much in the news on loss of life, but there was an item about a five year old boy being taken by a crocodile.

And what about the native animals and plants? We've seen the pictures of koalas approaching people to get them a drink - a rarity as koalas usually get their moisture from the leaves they eat. But what about the animals now losing their homes to fire or flood? What about the plant species that may be endangered as a result of our "weird weather"?

Please spare a thought for all creatures currently being tested in ways many of us can never even begin to imagine. Many have lost loved ones or homes or livelihoods. And to all of those wonderful volunteers who are out there helping - a big, heartfelt thank you!

For those of us sitting in the relative comfort of 40C, with our fans or coolers and cold drinks - we can donate money through the National Australia Bank or the Bendigo Bank or the RSPCA or Wildlife Rescue service. We can also donate household items and clothes through our local charity collections. And we can pray that this will all end soon, without further loss of life.

love and light

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Preserving . . .

Wouldn't you know it, the heat has caused some things to ripen up quickly.

This morning before going to work I picked a bowl of tomatoes, one of zucchini and button squash and a very large one of peaches. Not that I'm complaining . . .

Tonight I picked leeks and stewed them up with zucchini, button squash, tomatoes and herbs. Then into bottles and into the steriliser. And the maximum today was about 38C! I must be nuts!!!! LOL

Instead of preparing the peaches (there's only so much heat a girl can take), I made butter. The peaches will have to wait until tomorrow night. It's still going to be hot, but I don't want to waste the fruit.

I'll post some photos of the finished results later.

love and light

Monday, 2 February 2009

My New Love

I have a new love in my life and I'm embarrassed to admit that it's not a who but a what . . . our new juicer!

The juicer arrived today, and already it has made some extremely refreshing carrot and watermelon juice and also some macadamia nut butter. And it is relatively quiet! And easy to assemble and clean.

As well as being able to produce fruit, vegetable and sprouted grain juices, it can make nut butters; extrude pasta, noodles and breadsticks; mince; and make baby foods and sorbets. It has a 20 year warranty on the motor and 5 years on the attachments - a machine built to last.

Because it uses a low rpm gear, it maintains the enzymes in the food it processes. Apparently centrifugal and high speed juicers often denature the delicate enzymes because of the heat generated by internal friction.

There's a few different models of this type of juicer on the market, some with twin gears. Some of them cost thousands of dollars; this one cost a few hundred.

Here is our new baby . . .

We bought it online through Nature's Wonderland. The price was the cheapest we could find and the service was terrific. They have a good range of sprouting seeds, juicers, dehydrators, etc. Well worth having a look at their site if you are in the market for any of these things and more.

love and light