Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Canning 101 - Estimating - How Much Produce Do I Need

One of the challenges for me when canning is determining how much produce I need, or number of jars will I get from what I have on hand?  I don’t have a crystal ball, and since most of us did not grow up canning as a norm I need a reference point.  I found that point in an old canning book my Mom recently gave me.  Ball Blue Book The Guide to Home Canning and Freezing, dated 1983.  I bought the newly released version of another, and I find it more difficult to use than the old standard she gave me.  
Now, how to estimate the number of jars needed.  It would really stink to have all the produce on hand, and not have enough jars or lids, so planning is essential as far as I’m concerned.  I guess there’s always the freezer or dehydrator as back up, but I like to be prepared and know what I’m getting myself into. 
Here’s a rough list of produce, and the average weight needed for a 1 quart jar.  Please note, it will depend on how you pack the jars.  Is the product sliced, chopped, left in half, etc.?  But this should give you a great idea of what you’ll need to plan for.

Produce                                                               Pounds needed per 1 quart jar

Apples, Apricots, Tomatoes                                                   2.5 to 3

Applesauce                                                                                2.5 to 3.5

Berries                                                                                         1.5 to 3

Cherries (unpitted)                                                                    2 to 2.5

Peaches, Pears                                                                             2 to 3

Plums                                                                                             1.5 to 2.5

Tomatoes for juice                                                                        3 to 3.5


Green Beans                                                                                  1.5 to 2.5

Beets                                                                                                2 to 3.5

Carrots, Sweet Potatoes                                                               2 to 3

Corn (measured weight includes husks), peas                          3 to 6

Squash                                                                                              2 to 4

We’re getting ready to start our fall garden.  We were a bit delayed due to an issue at The Compound a couple of weeks ago, but hope to get the seedlings started this week, so I can do some more canning.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tin Roof... Rusted

OK, we’re affectionately calling the chicken coop the “loveshack”.   The Moose thought that up on our ride home late Saturday.  It’s a tin roof, and it isn’t rusted yet,  but that’s what he thought of so we’re going with it!  Of course with a rooster, there’s a bit of love to go around too.
What can I say other than it was HOT, HOT, HOT this weekend.  We spent Friday night trying to get a head start on the normal chores, only to have our riding mower go down, and then a backup mower as well.  I got about a ½ acre mowed with the rider before it broke down, so the Moose and I mowed by hand until dark Friday night.  I finished the remaining yard and drive on Saturday. Let’s just say that drive is a LOT longer than I thought especially while pushing a mower in the heat.  I spent the better part of 5 hours mowing on Saturday and physically it was about all I could do.

Even with the heat index expected around 105 degrees my Padre’, Mom and Daughter #1 still came out to help put on the roof.  We made sure the guys had plenty of water and an occasional break.  It was needed.  Each of them has sore fingers from where they missed the nail head, and cuts on their hands from the sheet metal.   Then due to the heat and direct sunlight, the metal sheets were extremely hot.  A double whammy of heat!  Throw in sore feet, legs, back, arms, and neck from climbing ladders, hammering, and lifting; a day of rest is well deserved.  They hammered in nearly 7lbs of roofing nails!

I’m so glad they had the fortitude to get this project completed.  Now we can sleep at night and not worry about the chickens getting attacked from overhead.  They did a great job, in tough conditions. We just have some finish work to complete on the outside edges, and then staple the cloth and chicken wire to the roof on the inside.  Another bonus, the temperature under that roof was about 10 degrees cooler than out in the sun.  A noticeable change. 
The chickens seemed happy when we were getting ready to leave.  They spent most of the day Saturday exploring their new surroundings, the little ones wrestled and actually could spread their wings and fly around.  If you've never had chickens then you can not understand, but if you do/did, then you know what I mean about having happy chickens.  You can just tell.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

I love those sayings from the movie Forrest Gump.  Life is like a box of chocolates, unfortunately, lately they’ve been chocolate covered cherries, or icky fruit nugget YUK!

We had one of “those” days this past Friday.  We stopped by a Pei Wei restaurant for lunch, ordered up and found a table.  First, those new-fangled soda machines that let you have 100 choices, only had the same typical sodas available, the others “were out”.  Why bother?
Then I ordered brown rice, got white, the Moose ordered his with a spring roll, they didn’t bring.   They corrected their mistake, but no thanks to the girl working the floor.  She was a nincompoop.

Then since we’re heading to The Compound and the family is coming out to help, we stopped by Dunkin to get a box of doughnuts for the morning.  Yes, they’ll get a bit dry, but there isn’t anything around The Compound except McDonald’s.  Why bother?  The Moose decided to order a soft serve cone, one of his favorite things in the whole world is ice cream.  The machine was not working, unless you wanted ice cream soup.  Then he opted just to have a one scoop cone.  The girl behind the counter put less than one scoop on the cone, didn't fill the cone with anything, and balanced a small half size scoop on top.  They charged 3 bucks for that thing! 
We're tired, tired of dealing with nincompoops and their antics.   It seems it's this way with almost everything.  The real funny thing is they don’t even know they’re that stupid.

Friday, July 27, 2012

New Roof for Coop - almost

We’re making headway on the new roof for the chicken coop.  After the disaster two weeks ago, we haven’t thought about much else, except making sure we never have to come across a scene like that ever again. 
Last weekend we cleaned out the bottom of the coop, added it to the garden for compost, and locked all the chickens in the actual coop itself.  Since the new flock needed to realize this would be their new home and needed an extended stay, of at least a week anyway, it worked out fine. 

If you didn't know, chickens will come "home to roost", but only after they know where the roost is.  You need to sequester them for about a week in the area you want them to come home and sleep at night, and they'll keep coming back.  
We did have some other predators chewing through the roof, and the actual chicken wire itself.  Creepy to continue to see new holes, so we were glad we locked them all in and shored things up a bit overhead.  
Speaking of predators, I heard a coyote howling off in the distance this past week.  Yeah for us, now there's something else for me to worry about.  We'll be making sure the bottom of the coop is in good order.

In what little free time we have, we got a head start on this Saturday’s project to finish the roof.  We were able to put in some posts last weekend, and during this week, we picked up some additional materials, and framed out the roof.  Now, understand the coop is not square, and not level.  We did the best we could at the time, and were not concerned with perfectly square corners.  So we had to do some finagling to get it framed out.

Now we’re ready for the actual roof itself.  We decided to use 8’ and 12’ galvanized metal sheets.  We need a roof option that didn’t break the bank.  We’re going to staple the existing chicken wire and shade cloth the underside of the new roof, just because it’s easier than removing it. 

We’ll also be letting the new chickens out of the coop to explore their new surroundings and take a dust bath or two.  We'll all need one, after dealing with the heat that is expected.  Index to reach around 105 degrees.  What luck..  More updates and photos later this weekend.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Both Feet In

The Moose and I have decided to jump in with both feet again.  We have our new flock, which we hope will give us fertilized White Orpington eggs in the next coming months.  We’d like to hatch them, and hand raise them.  There is such a difference in birds when hand raised.   Can you blame them?  Our new flock is difficult to handle.  At this point there is no way we’d be able to let them roam The Compound.  We’d never be able to round them up if needed.  They’d just run away as you approach.   I find this extremely sad.  Maybe in the months to come, things will change, but the jury is still out.  We will have to let Corrie out on occasion, she’s already had a taste of freedom and she begs to be let out.  She knows what’s out there and we won’t be able to disappoint her.  She’s such a sweetie.
 The Hooligans would come when called; “snack time”, that includes Corrie.  They’d come out of every corner and run for the coop to see what they’d get.  On occasion we’d have to find Lucy and carry her back, as her head was always in the clouds, but they always headed home.  We do not have this benefit with the new ones.  That’s why we need to hand raise our own.  We also need them to allow us to pick them up so we can check them out, bandage a wound and of course just to cuddle.  We need and want this flexibility for us, and for them.
We are also hoping to start a batch of Buckeyes once again.   We absolutely loved this breed.  They were so friendly,  except the roosters on occasion, but they were absolutely beautiful to watch.   They are also an endangered breed and we could help them out.  Why not when we already understand the breed, and have had so much fun raising them.
Top; Nugget, Henrietta, Bottom; Monkey and the General

I found a breeder of Buckeyes and he comes with excellent references, and has an absolute love of the breed.  I’ll let you all know when we are ready to begin that phase.   Right now, we need to finish fortifying the coop/run.  Then we plan on dividing the run so we can keep the two breeds separate when we are ready for incubating eggs.  We also want an area to house broody, or sick chickens.  Something we’ve talked about from the beginning, and now we’ll have.
Who knows maybe we'll even consider some Production Reds, just for eggs.  Now I sound like a chicken hoarder.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Canning - Peaches

I gave canning peaches a try recently.  Since we don’t grow them ourselves we purchased approximately 24lbs of peaches.  The idea is to use firm peaches, soft will just not work.  I tried and you can immediately tell the difference when you eat them.  They are mushy.  They taste O.K., but the texture is not what we were looking for.

Preparing the peaches takes some effort.  They need to be peeled and pitted.  I sliced mine, but you can dice them or just half them.  It’s totally up to you and what you’ll be using them for.

Make sure you follow the information about canning safety by making sure your jars are not cracked, nicked, etc.  Wash them along with the lids and rings and keep them in hot water until needed or in my case in the dish washer on the dry cycle.

Wash the fruit, fill your water bath canner (or really large pot) about half way with water, place a metal rack on the bottom, so the jars do not sit directly on the pot itself and heat the water to hot, boiling is not necessary at this point.   Now for the sticky part, make the sugar syrup.  I used medium syrup, recommended for peaches.

3 cups of sugar to 1 quart of water (since I did 6 jars, I made this recipe twice and had some left over)

Place sugar and water into a saucepan, and cook until the sugar dissolves.  Keep the syrup hot, but not boiling while you finish preparing the peaches.  You do not want the syrup to boil down.   This recipe makes about 5-1/2 cups of syrup.  You’ll use between 1 and 1-1/2 cups of syrup per quart of fruit.

Now for the fun part, start peeling and pitting.  Note from Sista: . I peel them by scalding them in boiling water for about a minute or less depending on how ripe. (the riper the less time it takes) Then plunge them into ice water. The skins slip right off. Then slice into halves or quarters. 

This recipe from Ball called for placing the cut fruit into a salt-vinegar solution of 1 TBL of each into 1 gallon of cold water.  This will help stop any browning.  Be sure to rinse the fruit before packing.  I had the Moose’s help, so it went pretty quick for us, and I only did about 6 quarts, so I skipped this part.

Take out a hot jar, and place it on a cloth.  Pack the peaches, leaving approximately ½” of head space.  Cover the peaches with the hot syrup leaving the same ½” head space.  Run the bubble remover down the sides of each jar to release air bubbles, and add more syrup if needed (this really makes a difference).  Wipe the top of the jar with a clean damp cloth.  Place the hot lid on top, and screw down the ring, evenly and hand tight.  Do not over tighten.  Place into the water bath canner, or very large pot.  Be sure the jars do not touch each other.  I could only do 4 jars at a time in mine.  The water should be 1-2” above the top of the lids, and hot, not boiling. 

Put the cover on the canner and bring the water to a boil.  Begin timing when the water starts to boil.  25 minutes for quart jars.  Once the timer ends, remove the jars and place on a cloth.  Allow to cool (jars should not touch) for at least 12 hours.  Test to make sure the jar is sealed.  Then store in a dry, dark, cool area.

I refrigerated a jar, and ate them the next day.  They were delish!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Putting to Rest and Things Piling Up

The Moose and I are absolutely exhausted thanks to the Florida sun and temperatures yesterday.  Heat index was over 100, and we felt it! 

We buried the Hooligan's ash, and said a final goodbye.

We also finished cleaning out the mess from inside the chicken run.  We scooped out the material that had built up on the floor for the past year as well as what remained of the incident from earlier in the week, and placed it in our garden.  With close to 70 wheelbarrow loads of composting material,  it's finally finished.  Now we can all begin again.

Daughter #1 called and offered her help and although she might have been hoping we'd say not to worry, we took her up on the offer.  We were getting really tired, and it was only around 11am.  We'd already been at the hard work since 7am.  Looking at what remained, we needed her help, and she once again pulled through for us.  She even brought us lunch!  We never would have finished if she didn't come out to The Compound. 

We were hoping to get started on the roof itself, and did get a couple additional posts dug and placed but it was near 6pm when we finished for the day, and we were just too tired for anything else. 

We have all the materials purchased, and the basic plans put to paper, so as soon as we get another opportunity we'll get it started.  Hopefully we'll be finished with it this coming weekend. 

Daughter #1 named the rooster, Alfred.  Short for Alfredo, since he's white. Alfred spent a better part of his day trying to get Corrie's attention.  She was not impressed.

She also named another young chicken, I think will be a rooster Pig Pen.  I'm still trying to figure out this breed. He made such a mess of himself while dusting, the dirt was damp since we just removed the top layers of material, so he had a mud bath. Here he is, looking at Corrie.  His chest looks gray, that's the dirt still stuck to his feathers.  Otherwise this breed is a true bright white.

After the floor was cleaned up, we opened the coop door to let the flock out to roam the enclosure.  At first only Corrie came out.  She was sooooo excited to come out and see us.  It was only her outside for the longest time.  The others were too scared, they barely ventured to the door way.  After some coaxing by Daughter #1 with corn on the cob and bread, Alfred came out.  Then about an hour before we closed up shop, a few more came out, took their mud baths and scratched around a bit.  Some of the others never even considered what they might find.  They were happy with what they knew.

All three of us, the Moose, Daughter #1 and myself were amazed and saddened at how the new chickens reacted to almost everything.  They had no idea what corn on the cob was, or grapes, tomatoes, salad greens, and bread.  They ran from it at first, then just looked at it for the longest time until one of them gave it a try.  Even then they were apprehensive.  They didn't know what to do with an earth worm either.  Weird right?  Once Alfred saw Corrie gobbling up the corn, he figured it was safe and gave it a try.  Then he tried coaxing the other girls over to eat some.  By the end of the day he was eating red grapes whole.  I think once they realize how good it tastes and how much better they'll feel, they'll be looking for treats too.  Even though they are scared of us, they were getting closer to us on their own.  Not next to us, but no longer 5 feet or more away.  There is hope for this group yet.

Miss Corrie was extremely nervous too.  Any strange noise, a wave of your arm and she bolted for cover.  Poor thing.  She's really quick too.  She did not want to go back into the coop, and was a bit tough to round up.  Can you blame her?  After everything, and now she's the one that doesn't belong in the flock.  She has a tough row to hoe. 

Thank you all for your kind words and prayers this past week.  It's been a tough one.

We'll be hoping for cooler temperatures, no rain and an overcast would be nice for this next Saturday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

New Flock for Corrie!

I hope you’ll indulge me a bit, much of my posts lately may seem melodramatic, but it is cathartic for me, and a way of healing a completely broken heart.  I promise to get back to my "old" self as soon as possible.
We stopped by The Compound this week to do some cleaning up of the area, and get the space ready for a new flock.  Corrie was so happy to see us and followed us around, including Miss Izzy in hopes of making a friend or two and for some companionship.  When the Moose picked her up, I really think she was telling him the story.  Her tone was soft and sad, as has been our mood since finding the awful scene.

Earlier that day I found a chicken breeder that was getting rid of a flock of chickens.  It sounded hopeful and worth the trip to take a look at the chickens and her farm.  We would be leaving with chickens no matter what we found.  We had a huge hole to try and fill.
After cleaning up, we headed out to pick up the new chickens.   High hopes for what was in store, a way to move forward, but our minds always traveling back to the Hooligans and their crazy antics.  They were our fun, hobby and extended family.  We spoiled them rotten, they were such a joy.

The new flock is pure bred White Orpingtons.  Friendly, docile, good egg layers, dual purpose and can go broody.  We’ve always wanted our chickens to go broody and raise the next generation naturally if possible.   If this happens, it will be a plus.  The new boys and girls are of mixed ages, from around 2 months old to 1 year.  I say new boys and girls, because we don’t really know the sex of each member of our new White Orpingtons flock. 

Side note:  We bought them from a breeder/farm as she is downsizing her farm due to the cost of feed.  Her feed bill is going up 35% starting next week, due to the corn crop issue.  She has a current feed bill of $710 every two weeks. 
After seeing the chickens, we were more than happy to take them off her hands.  They needed TLC and we're just the ones to do it. The new flock was raised in an outdoor covered pace of about 10’ x 10’.  Not to my liking of course, but soon to be rectified once living at The Compound.  The couple that ran this "farm" was too overwhelmed with animals to be able to take care of them to our lofty standards.  I don’t think our new chickens have ever seen fresh fruits and veggies.  They were a bit hesitant but after they realized it was something they liked they were eating up the treats we left them as if they’ve not eaten in weeks.  I can’t wait to see what they do in a couple of weeks when they are allowed to roam the 2.5 acres eating grass and bugs!    Other than their old space, they’ve never roamed free.  In my humble opinion, chickens should be able to roam free.

The hen, about 1 year old, had gone broody earlier this year and hatched a few of her own eggs, recently took a beating from a previous rooster, and needs some extra TLC.  We put some Neosporin on the sore spot, and put on a saddle to keep the others from picking at it.  Sorry the photos aren't much better, but the new one's get too scared when you get too close.

The newbies are all housed inside the coop itself, and the rooster is roaming the run area.  We’ve decided to keep them separate for some time, so the hen can heal.   They were all a bit skittish, since they really weren’t handled or around people too often.  That too will be rectified.  The rooster, who is a handsome devil,  I’m guessing is right around 6 months, as he doesn’t have his spurs, and is not quite filled out was really getting in to all of his new space.  He too runs away from you if you get within 5 feet.  Seems odd for a rooster, especially from our experience.

Corrie was a bit surprised by her new family, and immediately tried defending her turf, but I’m sure in time, she too can move forward.  There are a total of 10 White Orpingtons, throw in Corrie, and we have 11 chickens residing at The Compound once again.  All things are still not right with the world, but this brings us a bit closer.   The entire lot of us is a bit banged up at the moment.   I think with time we’ll all be doing a little better.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Corrie's Story

I promised some of you a story of how Corrie became the last of our line of Hooligan’s.  Here it is.

If you’ve ever read the book, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, then you’ll understand why our little lone survivor is named after her.  Corrie ten Boom has been a source of inspiration since I read her book, and researched her life.  Corrie ten Boom survived the holocaust while being held at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and of course all the tragedies that were a part of her time held in captivity.  She survived, when many around her, including much of her family did not. 
Last Saturday we placed a “have a heart” trap on the top of the coop to try and catch a rat or two by chance.  It was Corrie’s lifesaver.  She found her way in to the trap, and triggered the door closed to keep her inside and the culprit that destroyed the rest of the Hooligan’s from getting to her.  This is where we found her.  Huddled, scared and ready for anything but where she was.   I could think of no better name for our lone survivor than Corrie.  She too has faced a holocaust of her own.  It is a vision that does not leave our memories and not one that needs to be shared with others. 

Since Corrie was our only survivor, and chickens get depressed if not with a flock, we needed to either give her away, or bring her some new friends.  We’ve decided to stare evil in its face and bring her new friends.   There is one thing about our family, we are nothing if not tenacious and we just couldn’t get rid of her after everything.  She’s our last link.  I’ll have more on the new editions, and how we are going to deal with the overhead invasion tactic used in a following post.
Miss Corrie

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rest in Peace - Hooligans

We made a nonscheduled trip for work near The Compound on Monday and thought we’d stop by and see how the Hooligans were doing.  Now I wish we’d never gone, and would just let the 2-1/2 acres go to hell in a hand basket!  I cannot put in to words what we saw.   No noise, no stampede of chickens racing to see you at the gate, no life.  All of the Hooligans, except one was dead (I’ll tell you her story when I’m not so emotional).  Their lifeless bodies laying randomly on the floor of their run.  All of them!  To say the Moose and I are devastated, is an understatement.  We are not sleeping, eating little and cursing the animal that chewed it’s way through the top of the run, and left the carnage.  We are broken, but in time will put ourselves back together again.

Canning 101 - Safety

Just like you shouldn’t cross the street without looking for cars, you shouldn’t can food without following some safety guidelines.  

Understand that in the air and all around are invisible microorganisms; mold, yeasts and bacteria.  Some of these are good, but others are not under certain conditions.  Canning interrupts the natural process of spoiling through heating foods in sealed containers.  The heat destroys the harmful microorganisms and at the same time, air is driven from the jar forming a seal, preventing the harmful bacteria from entering and contaminating the food.  If we ignore the safety aspect of canning, we run the risk of racing out into the street and harming ourselves or our family.

·       Inspect your jars for nicks, cracks and sharp edges.  Do not use if you find any.

·       Do not use any rusted or bent lids or screw bands.

·       Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for lids.  In general they should be washed with hot soapy water and rinsed.  They are typically held in hot water until needed during the canning process.

·       Eliminate air bubbles in jars using a bubble freer (nonmetallic), and pack food into the jar leaving the recommended head space.   Anywhere from 1/8” to 1”, so read the instructions.

·       Only use canning jars.  Do not reuse glass containers from the grocery store.  They are not made to withstand the heat and/or pressure required.

·       Never pour boiling water or hot food into a room temperature jar.  Your jars should be washed, rinsed and left sitting in hot water until needed during the canning process.  Do not heat your jars in the oven.  You can also leave them in your dishwasher until ready as long as the machine keeps the jars hot.  I start using mine when the machine is on the drying cycle. 

·       Never put a room temperature jar into boiling water.

·       Do not place a hot processed jar on a cool or wet surface, you risk the jar shattering.

·       Always use nonmetallic utensils.

·       Do not use wire brushes or steel wool to clean jars, they can damage the glass.

·       Of course, be careful when handling the hot water or hot food.  Use the jar lifter; it’s not there just to look good.

Hope the information is helpful.   Let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hornet or Wasp, What's the difference?

Looking back at our Saturday, it seems a bit of a stinker actually.  Although we got started early, took care of the usual with the Hooligans, sold 4 of the young roosters and fixed AGAIN the roof on the Tiki Hut, I feel like we didn’t get much done.   It took us most of the morning through early afternoon to get these chores completed.  I’m not sure if it was due to the heat, or just lack of overall energy.   I did find the time to get stung by a hornet/wasp.  On my left arm and it is still red, swollen and itchy today.  Cortisone 10 does not help! 
Even though it seems we didn’t have a huge list of things to get accomplished, it didn’t change how tired and sore we were after we left.   So, not much to report at The Compound.  But I'm sure we'll come up with a few more projects in the very near future.  Like finishing the outside of the outdoor oven, and starting our fall seedlings for the garden.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Outdoor Oven Recipes

I created a page to house the recipes we use in our outdoor oven.  If you are interested, just click the link at the top of the page.  I'll keep adding recipes as we go so keep checking back.

New Followers

Thank you to the new Followers that joined my site.  I look forward to reading your comments, and hope you find some interesting information, or at least a laugh or two along the way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Canning 101 - Methods of Canning

I find that canning is like planning a vacation.   First you need to decide on the destination or food to be preserved.  Are you looking for a simple place to stay, quiet,  kick back and read a good book;  standard peas and carrots, or something more exotic or adventuress like zip lining, rock climbing; salsa or spicy chili? 

Both are vacation, but they take you to different destinations, and will require different types of clothing and planning; Acid – Water Bath Method, or Low Acid – Pressure Canning. 

Generally all fruits are acid foods.   If you add vinegar to a recipe, like pickles and relishes, they are treated as acid foods.  The vinegar takes the place of the natural acid found in fruits, so their processing falls under the acid-water bath method.  (Note: When it comes to tomatoes, if processed by themselves are considered acid, but when added with other vegies like onions or peppers, they are treated as low acid.) 

The acidity that exists in acid foods can easily be destroyed, killing the mold and yeasts, by heating the filled canned jars in boiling water for a period of time.  Acid in food protects against the growth of bacteria.  

Water baths, are just that; a large pot of water, creating a nice jacuzzi for your canned fruits.  You can use a standard pot with lid, but it needs to be large enough for your filled jars to sit in, and allow for an additional 1 -2 “of water on top.  You’ll also need something on the bottom to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot, and enough room so the jars do not tip over or bump against each other.  The boiling water needs to touch all the surfaces of the jar for proper processing.

Low Acid
These are foods that contain very little natural acid, typically all vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood, soups, salsa (mix of tomatoes and other low acids like onions and peppers) are all treated as low acid-pressure canning method.

Low acid foods contain harmful elements of certain bacteria, not easily destroyed at temperatures up to 212 degrees F, so they need to be superheated to 240 degrees F.  In order to get to this temperature, we need pressure.  Without this, your food will spoil or you run the risk of getting sick.
Pressure canners, are a very specific type of kettle, with a lid that can be clamped or locked down to make a steam tight seal.  They typically have a safety valve (be careful what you buy at a yard sale, look for the newer ones for safety reasons) and a pressure gauge.  Please follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions, each model operates differently.  Also, there is a difference between pressure canners and pressure cookers.  You’ll need to allow for additional processing time, should you be using a pressure cooker versus a pressure canner. I’ll be using a pressure canner.  I’ve never used a pressure canner before, so we’ll be learning together.  In the meantime, please review the information in the link below.  It gives a lot of good information relating to the safety and use of pressure canners.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Outdoor Pizza Oven - Test Fire

We test fired the outdoor pizza oven this past Saturday.  We took the leap of faith and invited friends and family out, and had a friendly competition for best crust and best pizza.  We had a blast planning and preparing.  The oven worked like a charm, and we got better after each pizza, learning how the oven operated, hot spots, etc.  I'll let the pictures do the talking, see below;


Hawaiian Pizza

What was left of the Hawaiian, after too quick a move.  Winner of overall best crust.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza, winner overall best pizza.

Choc. Chip Smore Cookie Pie

Rustic peach and raspberry tart

Need I say more?!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Physically Challenged Chickens

Are we soft?

We started our chicken adventure a little over a year ago.  In that original flock we had one “handicapped” hen, Nugget.  Not sure what happened or when, but she has a hip/leg issue.  Nugget limps along, cannot run and can semi-fly if needed.   She developed slower than the rest, was the smallest, that’s why we called her Nugget, but has since caught up and is laying about 1 egg per day.  She cannot lay in the nesting box with both her legs underneath her; she actually has the bad one sticking out to the side.  She’s amazing.   Nugget is very sweet, but very skittish since she’s picked on and the lowest on the roost.   Nugget loves it when I get a scoop of scratch and hand feed her.  She prefers me to hand feed it rather than pick it off the ground.  She’ll actually follow me around the run talking to me and wait until I share this special time with just her.  I love all my chickens, but I have a very special place just for her.

Our new additions, Class of 2012 brought another handicapped cockerel, Elmer.  He suffered with what we thought was pasty butt.  We diligently cleaned him up several times a day for weeks.  Hence, the name Elmer (as in Elmer’s Glue/ paste).  Lucky us, he turned out to be a boy, so the name stuck. (No pun intended).  He has some other things going on.  No tail, walks wobbly, and still suffers with poo stuck to his bum.  It never goes away.  He eats, drinks, is the same size as the others, flies around, and really acts like a normal chicken.  Until last Friday night, seemed to be doing fine.  He either landed wrong, or got the crap kicked out of him by one of the larger dominant flock.  Elmer could barely walk, his right leg was usable, but I could tell he was in pain.  He spent the better part of the weekend laying in the shade.  Come Saturday afternoon he was eating and drinking, but still favoring his sore leg.  We were very worried, but since he was eating and drinking, we thought we’d give him a couple more days and see.

No one wants to have to put an animal down, but I don’t want them to suffer either.  Nature is an amazing thing.  It can be harsh, but the resiliency in animals is truly something.  We spent the day at The Compound yesterday, and lo and behold, one of the first chickens to run around was Elmer!  Every time I’d take a look, he was eating, dusting, or just goofing off.  Whew, I’m so glad.  He’s another one that will likely end up at The Compound until his last breath.  We’re just soft…

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th!

To our founding fathers, their wisdom, and those that strive to do the same, thank you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Canning 101 - Self - Reliance

This I hope will become one of many, so called Self-Reliance posts.  The Moose and I decided a few years back that we needed to become more self-reliant.  We can no longer depend on large food manufacturers to provide healthy food products, or that we'll be able to afford them as inflation begins to soar.   As our economy continues to grapple with itself, we need skills that are from an era long since gone, and many of my generation only hear about when Grandma is around.   I hope to share some of what I learn, and have created a page dedicated to Canning.

The Moose thought it might be a good idea, to share canning recipes with the blogosphere.   I already have my list of topics and am thinking about other articles that can be posted that would fall under the self-reliance category.  If you have any ideas, or want to guest post, please let me know.

Canning has been used for generations as a reliable means of preserving food.   We’ve just gotten so lackadaisical, that it’s second nature to just pick a can with a pretty paper label off the shelf at the store.  Trust me, I still have to, there are just some things I cannot grow in my area.  But after learning about the chemicals that are sprayed on our foods, or GMO’s, I am making an effort to avoid them when possible.   We’re not perfect, but we have to start somewhere.
Of course, you need to source the items you need for canning.  Do you garden, or do you have access to a farmers market?  Canning can be done on a small or large scale.  Much of it will depend on where you live and the number of growing seasons you have.  We have two here in Central Florida; spring and fall.  This gives us access to fresh produce for a better part of the year.  What you may not know, is that everything we normally eat, cannot be grown in each season.  Cabbage, broccoli, etc. are cool season vegetables only for the fall season.   So, we’ll need to grow more during this season, and preserve more for the “off” seasons.

I am focused on canning; however you can dehydrate or freeze foods as well.  We’ll cover these in future articles.
Here’s a basic list of equipment needed.  I would suggest buying the items a little at a time, to help save the pocket book.  There is an initial startup cost, but this can be alleviated by spending some time at local yard sales, or on Craigslist.  Once you have these items, other than lids (which you can also purchase that are reusable), you’ll get years of use out of them.

·         Spoons, wooden are best.  For stirring and packing.

·         Knives, a variety are needed, for peeling and chopping as necessary

·         Saucepans for sterilizing lids

·         Measuring cups

·         Colander

·         Tongs

·         Food scale

·         Timer (I use my microwaves clock)

·         Water Bath Canner

·         Pressure Canner

·         Jar Funnel

·         Jar Lifter

·         Bubble Freer, used to run down the sides of a jar to release air bubbles

·         Jars;  quart, pint

·         Lids

Stand out items; Water Bath Canner.  The big box stores sell these as a kit that includes the canner, tongs, jar funnel, jar lifter and bubble freer.  Also, I buy the lid brand Tattler as they are reusable.  There are other companies out there, the choice is yours.    My friend “Sista” posted an interesting article regarding BPA in canned foods, as well as disposable canning lids.   If this is important to you, you’ll want to find lids that do not contain BPA.  Just one other reason to consider reusable lids can be found here.

The list can seem daunting, but please take the time to consider the health benefits of canning fresh produce yourself.   You'll know where your food comes from. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Outdoor Pizza Oven - Phase 3,

Although our temperatures neared 100 with the heat index this past Saturday, the cast of characters from last weekend made another guest appearance at The Compound to help us with phase 3 of the outdoor pizza oven construction.  My Mom, Padre', and Daughter Number 1. Trust me 5 sets of hands and brains became necessary.

This 1200 lb special delivery from Fire Rock arrived, after a snafoo by the freight carrier earlier in the week (damaged product was refused and sent back).  We were starting to bite our nails as the week progressed, since we really needed the unit delivered so we could get to this phase.  We have people depending on us for pizza next weekend. 

We were ready, and had the base finished last weekend.  Again, someone with greater power than our own, was looking out for us.  You see, the drawings of the unit show it at 48x48", which technically should be the min. base size.  We made ours 48x60, hoping for a landing area.  The landing area, became the area used by the entrance to the oven.  Can you even imagine if we didn't go with a larger piece, showed up yesterday and realized our oven base was too small?  After reviewing the drawing again, not one but three of us missed the entrance information, and it is not called out as an overall length anywhere on the drawings.  It's shown, but not included on an overall. 

Now the fun stuff!  Not!  Not only were the pieces heavy, so the boys had some fun lifting each one, but they were not really finished.  There was left over, I'll call it residue, on each piece.  It wouldn't allow for the pieces to fit together like a puzzle.  So we had to spend time rubbing the sides flat.

We put the unit together a couple of times minus the cap, to see how things would line up.  It still wasn't a great fit, but we had mortar to shore up the pieces.  The actual base is closer to 50", not the 48" as shown, since the pieces didn't fit together quite right.

 8 hours later, finished oven!

We still have to fire it up to cure, of course make some pizza, and apply the exterior finish. 

The small details, if addressed by the mfg would have made for an easier installation.  I know it sounds like complaining, not my intent, but I want anyone considering this oven to understand some of the pitfalls, so they are prepared ahead of time. Each issue is easily overcome.

Overall, we are very happy with the oven, happy with how it turned out, at a cost of around $1,200.00, it was at the top end of what we wanted to spend.  We are looking forward to pizza next weekend, and of completing the exterior finish.

We're now recipe hunting!