July 13, 2009

I’ve always thought the term “busy as a bee” was just a folksy saying, but I watched a honeybee in the lavender today and I believe it’s true. They are busy creatures and rarely sit on a blossom, lounge around listening to their apian Ipods.

And, evidently, neither do I.

It’s been weeks since I sat down to write. In the garden, I’ve busied myself with weeding and tying up tomatoes. And in the kitchen, it’s all about the first canning sessions. As I went through each day (somewhat frantically), trying to get everything done, I would think “I really should be writing about this.” I even took a number of photographs to illustrate what was going on.

So, time has passed. Here are reports from both Farm and Kitchen.

The farm is warming my heart. Everything is very, very tall. I planned to put the plants where I knew the sun would cooperate – four to six hours of good sun – IN LATE SUMMER. In the early part of the summer, that part of the yard is only sunny three to four hours a day. Consequently, everything grew to the sunlight. Tomatoes are putting on their first blossoms last week – all about five feet off the ground, which will be interesting if the heirlooms weigh in at 1.5#. Vegetable gardening is such a labor of love. Every day, I battle mosquitos (they’re just awful this year) to add another support or tie, look for bugs, pull a few weeds. And so far, my harvest has been about five salads worth of leaf lettuce, 1 cup or so of English Peas, a dozen strawberries, two or three cups of basil, two or three cups of parsley, sufficient quantities of chives, thyme, rosemary and oregano and several nasturtiums. Clearly, this is not going to feed even our family of two.

I am working on patience, regular watering, weekly doses of Alaskan fish fertilizer both from the watering can and through the hose end sprayer, which, by the way, seems to be a great insect detractor as well – ‘tho it smells like dead fish for a couple of hours.

I have high hopes for late summer harvesting.

Without a doubt, the more interesting world is the one in the kitchen – the preserving room. I depend on three books: The Blue Ball Book of Preserving; Mes Confitures; and Well Preserved.

I’ve been haunting the farm stand and the farmer’s market, buying when the prices seem right and the produce is at the peak of ripeness.

Here is my early summer production:

2.5 pints sauerkraut
6 quarts of dill pickles that exploded (sigh)
3 more quarts of dill pickles. So far so good.
6 pints of amazing sweet pickle chunks (Craven County Sweets)
1 pint pickled asparagus
2 quarts sour cherry liqueur
2 quarts peach liqueur
1 gigantic glass jar of green walnut wine, still steeping
7 quarts sour cherry pie filling
6 pints sour cherry jam
6 pints raspberry jam
5 pints peach, strawberry, lemon verbena jam
6 pints strawberry rhubarb jam
4 pints strawberry balsamic jam
1 quart peach slices in ginger syrup, an experiment

Today, I found gorgeous apricots that should ripen tomorrow and will become jam. That may complete my jam making, as the tomato season is heating up, and I’ll be on to salsa, bloody mary mix and pasta sauce for the next two months.

I love this season, and this, my second year of canning, is just so satisfying. It’s glorious to go to the basement and see all the sparkling jars lined up and know that winter will be that much tastier.

The walnut wine was quite fun. It took me two years to time it right …. and remember to ask Susan, the orchardist at the farmers market (Nob Hill Orchards,) for green walnuts. She brought me a bag of lovely scented green orbs, and I quartered them and poured in cheap red wine, vodka, orange peel, cloves, and vanilla bean. It steeps for 40 days, then, once strained, sits another three mohts to develop. It will be perfect at Christmastime.

I’m especially thrilled with the liqueurs. Last summer, I put up two quarts of sour cherries in vodka or maybe brandy, and sugar, promptly forgot that I did it, and by the time I found the jars again – sometime this Spring – I wondered what I should do with the odd looking fruit. I had completely forgotten that FRUIT was not the point of this recipe.

A casual internet conversation led me to strain the fruit and taste the booze. It was divine! My mind was busy thinking about ways to reduce and use as a glaze for duck. Or mix with sparkling water for a fruity, light, summer cocktail. From that point forward, no fruit was safe.

For an incredibly easy and satisfying canning experience, here is a recipe for fruit liqueur.

Sour Cherry (or Any Fruit) Liqueur
Source: an internet conversation

One quart glass jar with lid, washed well in soapy hot water.

½ lb. sour cherries or any other, preferably organic, fruit, washed.
Leave pits in as they add a slight almond flavor. Prick cherries with a knife tip. Half or quarter peaches, apricots, apples and pears.
½ lb. sugar (about 2 cups)
2 cups vodka, the cheap stuff
You can also use eau de vie, marc or brandy, but do not spend money unnecessarily, cheap is best.

I’m sure you could add vanilla bean, cloves, cinnamon stick. I’m not sure about green herbs like thyme and rosemary, but intend to test some herbal infusions.

Do not shake, just place in a warm spot for at least three months.

Strain through a coffee filter, cheesecloth or wet paper towels. I like it best chilled, served in a cordial glass.

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