Things we forgot to mention in 2012

Somehow 2012 has snuck by and there was a boatload of stuff we didn’t blog about. Here’s some of the highlights.

The sauerkraut I made back in June turned out well. I was nervous about making kraut so I used a sweet recipe and I actually wish it had more of a fermented “bite.” Next time I will not hesitate to use a more traditional recipe. We made eight pints which now live at the back of the fridge and are slowly disappearing.

Lee made several batches of beer. We had an outstanding hop harvest so instead of drying them he made two batches with wet hops straight off the bine. He wasn’t super thrilled with how either of those turned out, but I think he has high standards from all the great Northwest microbrews.

Before the winter rains hit, Lee tested out his BCS shredder on the corn, sunflower and broom corn stalks. We ended up with a million sprouting sunflower seeds that popped up from the wet and warm weather that followed before it got cold.

More wiring was roughed in.

Some friends of ours flew a guy up from Arizona to work on their drywall. Their guy is an affordable drywall master and came over to work on one of our rooms in his spare time. We were blown away by his speed and his specialty is a drywall finish that Lee loves. Lee is obsessive about the final finish so this was a big deal for him. The drywall guy doesn’t like cold weather so when spring arrives we hope to bring him back to finish up several rooms. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂

The roof on the old shed by our house has gotten more and more leaky. Jack uses it as a hunting perch.

In December the shed roof really started failing. One morning we were startled by a huge crash as joists failed and stored toys came crashing down. Hard hats are now required attire if you want to muck about in there. We are hoping the building doesn’t completely disintegrate so we can leisurely disassemble it this coming summer. Lee has already started digging the perimeter for where a new shed is going to be built. That one will house the well pressure tank.

Lee mocks me for my love of turnips. He calls them a subsistence crop for starving Dark Ages peasants. I happen to like them raw, baked, and fried. This year I grew one that was (almost) as big as my head.

Lee installed a grid of hooks under the tractor port. They were extremely handy this summer as we dried many different crops from our garden.

There was quite a bit of food preserving that we never got around to writing about. We were late to get started, so Lee took over tomato processing and had salsas, pizza sauce, and pasta sauce simmering away this past September.


He didn’t just do basic sauces but really got into it. The next thing I knew he was oven roasting tomatoes…

Adding fresh herbs…

And making the most glorious tasting sauces. Among others, we made up a large batch of pizza sauce using this recipe. It’s not approved for canning, so we froze it in half pints. We didn’t like our 2011 spaghetti sauce, so for 2012 we switched to the “Spaghetti Sauce Without Meat” recipe available from your local extension. It’s one of the few that doesn’t require acidification, and it tastes much better as a result. If anyone else has canning-safe spaghetti sauce recommendations we’d love to hear them.

We ended up with an amazing harvest of sweet and hot peppers this year. A lot of the sweet peppers were eaten fresh, but I still froze three bags of diced peppers once the weather turned cold. I also froze a huge bag of Serrano peppers whole along with canning a double batch of candied jalapeños.

Lee got fancy with the hot peppers and slow smoked several batches of Poblanos on the BBQ grill. Yes, they should be red, but Oregon has a short growing season.

Once dried, they are all called Anchos. (He also smoked and dried Jalapeños, which are then called Chipotles.) He plans on grinding them up later and using them as chili powders.

At the end of the summer a cold snap killed most of our tomatoes, so we sliced and dehydrated lots of cherry tomatoes to save them.

We had a huge outbreak of symphylans in one garden bed. I think Lee still plans on doing a more extensive post about them one day. This picture was taken mid-October of a cabbage that had been planted since early May. It is huge compared to some of the other nearby plants that were stunted at only a couple inches tall. Twenty feet away, a group of Brussels sprouts planted at the same time grew normally.

Lee’s cat Jasper is still doing okay at the grand old age of 18 even though he was diagnosed with kidney failure and/or cancer early in 2012. He seems to have gone mostly deaf and his severe obsession with Lee has gotten even worse. (Neither of us thought that was even possible.) His brain is super cheesy and he doesn’t know what he is doing half the time.

Which means he sometimes wakes up and finds himself on a roof in need of rescue.

I didn’t get around to picking blueberries but we did pick cherries from an orchard. I froze 13 quarts of sweet cherries and canned Holiday Cherries and Brandied Sweet Cherries with Red Wine. The brandied cherries are delicious.

Early this year Lee made up some chicken stock. Man that stuff was awesome! It was like liquid gold. We froze a half dozen quarts and then wished for many more.

I’m sure I am forgetting some items. Lee has plans to write up more extensive posts about broom corn, painted mountain corn, symphylans, potatoes diseases, and hops. Hopefully he gets to those before 2014 rolls around.

Update (01/28/2013): Some of the comments below focused on aspects of food safety with respects to canning. Although your local extension office can provide you with safe canning recommendations, the most central organization seems to be the National Center for Home Food Preservation. For reasons of safety, we try to stick to their tomato canning recommendations and those in the Blue Book Guide to Preserving. While high acid preserves and pickles present few safety risks, moderate and low acid foods such as tomatoes and vegetables must be canned according to established procedures. A small change in acid level or food density can greatly affect the likelihood of a Botulism outbreak and Clostridium botulinum is one bacteria you want to avoid.

The down side of this is that for certain foods, there are very few “approved” recipes for canning. I know of only two tomato soup recipes for example. We made the “Spiced Tomato Soup” from the Blue Book this summer and it was absolutely horrible–like an over-sweet ketchup with cloves. For my second batch of soup, I made a roasted red pepper tomato soup somewhere between this recipe and that recipe. It’s not canning approved, so I froze it in quart containers. While I like the long term stability of canned goods, the freedom of frozen foods can be heady stuff.

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31 Responses to Things we forgot to mention in 2012

  1. Bruce king says:

    Why don’t you pressure can the low acid sauces?

    • lee says:

      Based on my reading, this doesn’t actually make it safe (at least not according to the U.S. food safety recommendations). Logically, if you can pressure can beans or meat you should be able to pressure can low-acid spaghetti sauce. Practically, there are few recipes which seem to take this approach, except one for blended vegetables which requires a ~90 minute cooking time and the ‘spaghetti sauce without meat’ recipe I referenced.

      From what I can tell, the U.S. canning recommendations were created by several separate organizations with different testing procedures. They are now all under one division, but there’s no money for new testing and the existing recommendations are based on following very specific procedures. For example, while nearly all tomato sauce recipes now require acidification (whether water bath canned or pressure canned), the ‘without meat’ recipe does not because it has a long established history of safety. (Why this isn’t true of the plain sauce recipe I don’t know.) The canning recommendations also opt for the shortest cooking time in each case to maintain nutrition, under the premise that acidifying has no impact on flavor. (I do not think this is true.)

      As someone who likes to take a scientific approach to most tasks, I find the jumble of differing canning procedures and downright contradictory claims from the official sources extremely frustrating.

      • bruce king says:

        Well, if you go into your local supermarket you will find thousands of cans of tomatoes and hundreds of cans and jars of spaghetti sauce.

        It’s possible to can it, and it clearly is able to be done safely. Maybe a bit more looking will give you the confidence to do it.

      • lee says:

        Yes, you can certainly find almost anything in canned form. However, a great many of those tomato products contain citric acid and for those that don’t I am sure pH and viscosity tests were performed to ensure that specific criteria were met. You can also buy canned goods such as pumpkin pie filling which are not considered safe for home canning under any circumstances.

        While almost anything can be canned, the directions for safely canning a great many things are not available to the public in a well tested and repeatable fashion. I have a strict ‘better safe than sorry’ policy when it comes to canned goods. It doesn’t take much of a hospital visit to negate a whole lifetime of savings from canning (if there are any in the first place) and people do still manage to poison themselves occasionally.

  2. Woody says:

    Curious if the shredder handled larger branches. I fell in love with our tiller this year and was wondering if a search should be pressed on for a chipper/shredder.

    • lee says:

      I have the BIO-100, and it really chews through branches without any problem. The claim is that it can handle 3″ branches, but the little 10HP motor hooked to ours probably can’t. I know I ran some 2″ branches through it without much slowdown. The shredder itself is a very heavy piece of kit and I don’t think they are overestimating it’s capabilities.

      That said, it didn’t perform super well with garden waste. If I dropped corn stalks directly into the hammer mill through the brush shoot they tended to become stringy and bind up in the hammers. The machine never jammed when running, but once stopped it was impossible to restart (the belts just squealed). After cleaning it out several times, I ended up taking two of the rollers out on the discharge side and using the chipper for the larger corn stalks. Conversely, the chipper shoot didn’t handle dried sunflower stalks very well. Something about how the fibers broke off prevented them from feeding correctly, and I ended up having to push them through with quite a lot of force of drop them through the hammer mill.

      The Earth Tools site describes the BIO-100 as the better chipper and the BIO-80 & BIO-150 as better shredders and I think this is probably a fair assessment. I won’t shred any corn stalks with it this year, but I plan to turn a lot of branches into wood chips.

  3. Dayna says:

    Great post! I have a couple of questions for you…
    Do you freeze the roasted peppers or dehydrate them? How do you store your dehydrated veggies? How do you keep turnips? I love them too but didn’t know how to store them or potatoes so I dont grow them.

    • robin says:

      We dehydrated the roasted peppers after they were smoked. Right now they are just stored in mason jars until we grind them up. Our dehydrated veggies are usually stored in glass containers or plastic bags. No hard and fast rule. It usually depends on our storage space when we are doing it.

      I’ve blanched and frozen turnips before but that is the only way I have stored them. Our potatoes are in boxes which we keep dark with a covering in a cold room in the house. It’s not until spring that they start getting soft and sprouting. If I had a cellar I would store them there. You can store turnips for about five months the same way. Just make sure the greens are chopped off before you do it.

  4. Great post!..Seems like a productive year and great to see all the things that we missed! Beer making is a fine art…so far my own (beer making) art resembles that of a 1st grader.

    • robin says:

      LOL. A first grader brewing beer huh?! I tasted the first batch Lee made and I liked the flavor. Granted, I am not a beer drinker so I don’t have the high and exacting standards of someone who really enjoys it and knows their beer. My friend who likes beer (and liked this batch) decided it should be named Cascade Gone Wrong. The hops we grow are the Cascade variety.

    • lee says:

      My beer making attempts so far have also been like 1st grade art. None of them were undrinkable, but there was always something a little unbalanced in the flavor. My most recent batch is deeply odd. There’s a “green” flavor which I would ascribe to the use of fresh hops, but I’ve never tasted it in commercially made fresh hop beers. My goal is to eventually perfect a simple IPA recipe with a medium malt body and a big dank citrus hop flavor.

  5. Snowbrush says:

    “Lee has gotten even worse. (Neither of us thought that was even possible.) His brain is super cheesy and he doesn’t know what he is doing half the time.”

    I was saddened to learn this, but pleased to find that you seem cheerful despite Lee’s problems. With any luck at all, he will become more tractable as he disintegrates, so if you should find yourself feeling a bit sad as he stumbles about like a complete moron (as he was doing when he burned his hands by resting them on a hot stove) this should give you something to look forward to.

    Loved the photos.

    • lee says:

      Ah, the power of selective quoting. It really does say that! I could hear Robin giggling away upstairs after she read your comment. I suppose I should be insulted by “stumbles around like a complete moron”, but that’s probably a good description of somebody tripping and putting their hand on a woodstove. I’d say the cooktop really is 500°, give or take.

      Fortunately, that was three weeks ago and my hand is mostly back to normal, although all the fingertips and part of the palm are bright pink and I still have bits of skin falling off everywhere. I seem required to injure myself every second January, so I got the 2013 event out of the way.

  6. ShimFarm says:

    Looks like you’ve had an awesome year, you two! Those are all big accomplishments, save for the falling-down shed. I’m actually happy you posted about it, because it’s a copy-cat to one of our sheds. I feel less bad about it now.

    Speaking of copy-cats, imagine if Jack lives another 10 years? Then you’ll end up with a Schatzie, lucky you! She was supposed to be dead a long time ago, but she’s still alive and scratching.

    There’s nothing like drywall, is there? Well, there’s always paint, but when you’ve been looking at wooden studs for years, it’s sheer ecstasy, I’m sure. I can practically hear your sigh of relief…

    Keep up the good work, and looking forward to your next post!

    • lee says:

      Well, when we condense six months into one post it tends to overstate our productivity. 2012 was probably the least productive year we’ve had, but hopefully things will turn around for us in 2013. We are talking about scaling back the garden to focus more on home improvement.

      Jasper is around 18 right now (and he’s lost 1.5 lbs this year), so I don’t think he’ll live another decade, but he’s doing pretty good. Your Schatzie cat is really defying the odds!

      Drywall, even in unfinished form, feels like a huge improvement. We moved our bedroom into that room soon after we took the picture.

  7. Lisa S says:

    I have been reading your blog for a while now and had to let you know you guys are a bad influence! My husband and I had been “talking” about buying a small couple acre plot here in Florida and your blog helped push us over the edge. Here we are in our second month on our 5 acre mini farm. Planting season is starting up so as of today I have 10 types of tomatoes planted and we are bickering about what kind of chickens to get next (we already had 3 but a coyote later we now have 2) and even talking about getting two pigs after reading your wonderful “pig journal” story. Thanks for the spaghetti sauce recipe and the great idea about smoking the peppers. Now if I can only figure out what to do with all the collards and okra! Best wishes and thanks for some great ideas!

    • lee says:

      Congrats on your new place! That’s amazing that your tomato growing season is already starting. We don’t think about putting tomatoes in the ground until May 15th! I hope the house on your new property is in good condition, because I have to admit that rebuilding a house while fixing the land, growing vegetables and keeping livestock is a few too many projects to take on at once.

      We always grow collard greens because they grow fast in the summer and then will keep most of the winter as well. We mostly just sauté them in a little lard or bacon. I don’t think okra will even grow in Oregon. I love fried okra, but that’s probably not the healthiest way to eat a lot of it. You’re definitely in the right part of the world to find good local recipes for both of those vegetables.

      • Lisa S says:

        Next time you have fresh young collards try sautéing green onions in a little olive oil and browned butter then add chopped collards. Stir for a few then add either left over champagne or sweet white wine and a little smoked paprika. Cover and let steam for about 10 to 15 mins. Very tasty and pretty healthy.
        We had just finished restoring a 1923 Bungalow from the ground up when we found “the farm” and decided to rent out the bungalow. Fortunately the new place was close to move in ready but in the next few years we will be building a new home here. Smaller, 2/2 and very modern (and all handicap ready just in case) for out retirement. Living here for a year or two is allowing us to see where light hits, how the ground drains and making choices about views we want to see. I don’t think I will ever be able to get my husband into another fixer upper job again after the Bungalow.

        • lee says:

          Thanks for the recipe. We’ll give that a try. Your new house plans sounds ideal. The disadvantage of remodeling is that you can’t really fix the site placement or the core floor plan. Robin tells me that when we move again it cannot be to another DIY monster.

  8. Benita says:

    You guys are amazing! That tomato sauce looks delicious and that kraut makes my mouth water. Congrats!

    • lee says:

      Thanks! The kraut really did turn out good, aside from the sweetness. It has a nice crunch to it that you never find in the canned varieties.

  9. Amy B says:

    Dear Robin and Lee,
    I am so glad I found your blog. I started reading from your first post and have been working my way forward with a few posts a day for the past two weeks. What you two are doing is absolutely on my list of life goals (as much as gutting a mouse infested house can be anyway) and I find the passion that you have put into it is very inspiring. I just wanted to let you know that even though your journals may be mostly for your families and friends, reading about your home and life has relit an old spark in me to live a simpler (and yet in many ways more complex) life. A richer life. As soon as my our babies are a little bigger our family will be moving to “the country”. Thank you very much for sharing your story. 🙂

    • lee says:

      Actually, very few of our family or friends visit the site. FarmFolly is dedicated to anyone who finds it informative, inspiring, or entertaining. We were less active at posting last year, but we still very much appreciate comments which offer suggestions or words of encouragement such as yours.

      You are right that “simpler” may not be the most accurate word to describe homesteading. I think living in a condo in a big city, with three grocery stories within easy walking distance and plenty of employment and culture just a metro ride away is probably about as simple as it gets. Homesteading requires a certain mindset, an obsession with how things are grown and made, and an acceptance that your lifestyle will replace many of your hobbies. A good friend of ours moved “back to land” during the peak of that movement (circa 1970), and in a short period of time found that he hated the isolation of country living. For those that love it though, there are few substitutes.

  10. Leigh says:

    Very interesting post. I didn’t even know there was a sweet recipe for sauerkraut! Actually, I never cared for pickles until I started making sauerkraut. There’s just something lovely about a nice sour crunchy food, with bonus probiotics!

    I’ve been adding citric acid to my spaghetti sauces to can, on the advice of Putting Foods By. I’ve read of several folks (pressure) canning cream of tomato soup, but the USDA doesn’t approve that one either. I finally canned the soup without the butter & flour cream sauce. I just take a few minutes to make it myself before serving. The soup is dynamite.

    • lee says:

      Yes, flour, butter, and cream are all verboten for canned tomato products. I would assume that changing the spice profile is harmless, although greatly reducing the sugar (such as to fix that terrible soup recipe we followed) could affect the safety. We also wanted a cream of tomato recipe, so we add half-and-half to the soup when we reheat it. Next time I’ll try thickening it with a roux as well.

  11. John says:

    Hey guys, I just spent a couple days reading your blog! I found it when searching the web for info on raising pigs. The story that came up was your calculations of raising the two pigs. I have really enjoyed reading the blog. The wife and I curently live in suburbia in San Antonio Texas but hope to with in the next year, buy some property south of town. We are looking at 5-16 acre properties.
    I’ve been wanting to raise our own meat and vegetables for a while now and may get my chance. As far as meat I wanted to start with chickens, and then move to pigs, so you story is really motivating me. On the pictures above, pablanos are always sold green, at least everywhere I have seen them. Also in a former life I was a food safety guy and low acid canning can be very dangerous. To do it commercially you have to competed a special FDA course in low acid canning. I was a QA manager for a food manufacturing company and one of our operations was low acid canning. Botulism is the most deadly substance known to man and is nothing to mess with.
    Thanks for your blog, you have given me tons of ideas. I look forward to reading more.

    • lee says:

      Thanks for another confirmation on the risks of DIY low acid canning. I strongly recommend that people stick to tested recipes. That said, there are already many approved low-acid recipes for canning meats, beans, etc, so it’s clear that low-acid tomatoes could be canned safely. I think the NCHFP should spend a little money testing low-acid tomato canning. Since some people will omit the citric acid for the sake of taste anyway, it would be nice if safe guidelines were established.

      I’ve seen green Poblanos in stores as well, but dried Anchos are usually red. Perhaps that is the other difference, aside from drying, implied by the name change?

      • John says:

        Aw ok, I guess I wasn’t paying attention to the whole “drying them” part. You are correct, dryed anchos are red. 🙂
        Again, I really enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to more updates. Any more pigs in your future? May be a cow? 🙂


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