Sunday, 29 June 2014

Split Rails

At the end of the driveway are two ancient half barrels.  The wood has eroded away at the tops and it's spongy.  We priced new decorative containers for the end of the driveway but we couldn't even find real wooden barrels, only resin ones, at prices which made me expect that they should come with house elves or self weeding soil.  For another year, we left the rotting barrels, because at least they still hold soil and plants. 

  But my man had a plan....

There are too many trees on our property and an amazing number of dead ones, which had been left standing for years.  An old laundry line post had been tossed aside at the fence  line.  An old Christmas tree had been stuck in the ground as if someone thought it might spontaneously root and start growing again.  One pine, which stuck out at an almost 45 degree angle, was tied to a tree behind it, with a rope and a nylon jacket!   So over the past few years, much of this has been removed, because we were both worried about safety and keeping the yard a bit tidier.   All of the trees downed were softwoods, so we weren't going to use them for the woodstove.  Lots of the useable wood has been split and set aside for next spring's maple  syrup endeavors.    A few though, were set aside for another use.

It started with some shorter pieces, two splitting wedges and a sledge hammer.    The wedges were being alternated along the length, like they were playing leap frog.

Longer logs required two sets of hands, taking turns.

As the afternoon progressed, the pile of split rails got bigger.

And all of a sudden, a new decorative split rail fence was being positioned at the corner of the driveway.  It was a few hours work, with only materials found around the yard, with a few bits of leftover wire and nails from other projects.   It's awesome.  I can dig up the ground and put in gardens inside or around the fence and we won't need to replace the barrels at all.   Any bets on how long it takes to get the matching fence on the other side of the driveway?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Strawberry jam, 1832 style

The Cooks Own Book from 1832 is set up a little differently than many cookery books.  It has an alphabetical listing of different dishes and ingredients, with the recipes after each heading.  Thus the  section on Jam, starts with Jam, Apricot, goes trough a variety of fruits ending with Jam, White or Red Currant.  The Jelly listings start with a plain jelly, which is wine based ending with Jelly, Strawberry with everything from Rum Jelly to Calf's Feet jelly in between.  It seemed like a good time to try the strawberry jam recipe since I had some strawberries which needed to be used up.
I'd love to know where all my  250 ml or 1 cup jelly jars go every winter.  I could find only 5 jars and only 1 of the 125 ml jars too!   There should be more of those but nope, they've probably gone off to party with my iPod, which is also currently in hiding.    However, I was pretty sure I had enough for the quantity of berries I had in the fridge and besides, jams need to be made in small amounts as well.

Strawberries an sugar just starting to mix together.
I weighed out my berries and I had 2 pounds of them - well, 900.6 grams.   The recipe calls for equal parts of sugar and fruit, so I weighed out 2 pounds of sugar, which was just under 4 1/2 cups.   When I mixed the two together, the strawberries quickly started become juicy.  I changed up the recipe a little bit, by adding the juice of one lemon.   While the recipe calls for more juice of strawberries, I didn't have any but some of the berries were a bit on the very ripe side and some were imported, rather than Ontario berries.  Those just don't work the same way for me when I use them to make jam, so I don't normally but I didn't want these to go to waste.  Higher acid levels will help the pectin set and help cut the sweetness a bit.
Syrup is starting to become more transparent as sugar dissolves.

Once the sugar started dissolving properly, I turned the heat on under my big jam pot and  kept it on low, stirring constantly, until the sugar completely dissolved.  Then I turned up the heat a bit more in increments, until I was someplace between medium and high heat and my jam was starting to boil.  

 DO NOT STOP STIRRING!   'cause if you do, the jam will burn.  I stirred for about 15 minutes when a candy thermometer said it was at 220° F.   This is supposed to be the temperature at which jelly will set.   I pulled it off the stove, skimmed the foam off the top of it and ladled it into jars, wiped the rims and popped the sealer lids and rings on.

Then I went to put them in the water bath and realized that the canner was still under the kitchen table and it sure wasn't full of hot water, waiting for me.   Luckily that is a mistake that I will only make once a year and there are only a few jars of jam to worry about.

The jam is tasty but it didn't quite set as much as I'd like.   Next time, a bit longer of a boil.   The aim is to get it to 66% sugar content which should be 220° F.   Perhaps my thermometer needs to be recalibrated.   Interestingly, the 1 : 1 ratio of fruit to sugar still seems to be an accepted standard for regular jam making today.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Sunday at Westfield - Cooking 1830's

 On Sunday at Westfield, I was asked to interpret in the Lockhart house, rather than the bake oven.  The Lockhart house is an 1830's farm house as was typical in Ontario at that time.   I can't believe I didn't take more photos, but as soon as I started, people came in and I was distracted.   At any rate, the Lockhart is set up with the facilities to accomodate open hearth cooking.  There are utensils, crockery, cast iron pots, pans and dutch ovens.  There is a hanging flat iron griddle, and even a reflector oven with a removable spit, so you can use it for meat and baked goods.  The best thing is that we are able to use the items to demonstrate for the public.

I had a variety of items to cook, not knowing how many people would show up that day.  I started up the fire and pre-heated the griddle.  I need to find one of these toys for home.  It was so totally awesome for cooking over a fire.  It would be great to hang from my tripod over the firepit!   Anyway, I got out the dough board and rolled out the Muffin dough I'd made before I headed out for the day.   I let them rise on the dough board and cooked them slowly throughout the day, so there were always fresh ones for the visitors to sample.   There weren't enough visitors to warrant making the oat cakes and cookies, but they were packaged so I could save them for other times if needed.

I heated water in the old steel kettle to wash up with in the basin in the dry sink.   If it hadn't been so warm, I would have made tea from herbs in the gardens.  I have lemon balm and spearmint here and a bit of lavender.  In the 1830's, tea and coffee weren't always available in the general stores, so herbal alternatives were used.  Mint and lemon balm is a really yummy combination for an herbal tea.

It was a lovely day outside and it was an interesting change to work in a different venue at the village.  I will quite look forward to working here some more and trying out different cooking techniques.   At the bake oven, I surf the decades for baking.  At the Lockhart, I'll limit the decades to about 30 years, but be able to do so many other techniques that it shall be worth it.   There are apple trees too!  I've been trying to find a way to get a hold of a bunch of the apples when ripe,  to do an apple jelly demo in the autumn.    I shall have to get started on my 1830's costume.  I've had the fabric sitting in a corner for a year now.  Surely it's aged enough to be ready to sew with now!

1830's Muffins - (English Muffins)

5 cups flour
1/8 cup butter
 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsn sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 - 2 cups water or milk (more as needed)

Proof the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water mixed with 1 tbsn sugar.  Just dissolve the sugar in the water, sprinkle the yeast over it and let it sit for 10 minutes.  If the yeast is puffy and bubbly, then it's good to go.   Put the 5 cups of flour in a bowl, ( I use my stand mixer).  Add the salt, the butter and then pour in the yeast.   Turn the mixer on low and start to mix, or start to mix the dough by hand.  Slowly add in the rest of the water.   Knead or mix the dough until it is elastic.  I prefer this dough to be slightly softer than I might normally use for bread as it's easier to roll out.  

Grease a bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around so that the ball of dough is completely covered in oil.  This will keep the dough soft and prevent a crust from forming.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled.  I just toss it in the truck and it rises while I drive to Westfield, but any place that is draft free, warm and the cat won't get it, is a good place to rise bread dough.

When it's doubled in size, gently punch it down to remove the large gas bubbles, roll it out on a floured board or table.  Use a biscuit or cookie cutter to cut rounds.   Don't twist the cutter!  Just press straight down.  Sometimes twisting the cutter can seal the sides together and the muffins or biscuits don't get as light and puffy as they should.   Let the rounds rise a bit while you preheat a pan or griddle (medium heat?)  .  Lightly grease the pan's surface.   Put the dough rounds on the pan and cook until nicely browned on the bottom, flip and continue cooking until cooked through .  
Take off the pan and serve!  They can be split with a fork or just ripped apart.  You can toast them or not as you choose.  I like them freshly cooked, split and slathered with currant jam!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Spinning and more spinning

 My friend Kai went visit her family in Japan.  She brought me back this lovely gift of fermented Japanese Indigo leaves and the chemicals with which to process the dye vat!  I'm so excited about this.  I'm researching the how's right now because I don't read Japanese and the terminology in the translation of the instructions is different that what I normally use, so there is a bit of a disconnect with procedure.  It will happen though and it will be lots of fun.  Plus of course there is the research part, which is fun in itself.
 Merino in a colour called Beansprout.  It's very pretty and was easy to spin.  There was supposed to be 4 oz of it, but I'm wondering if there really is.  While Kromski bobbins are supposed to hold 4 oz, I've always found it to be completely full or even sometimes just a tad over full to get the full amount on.  This is just not quite there in my mind.  I'll weigh it after it is plied.  Yes, I'm going to ply it from a centre pull ball, and no I won't get any pig tails happening, because I've found keeping the tension even is all you need to keep pigtails at bay from any plying method.

More spinning, this time a Merino/silk blend.   Apparently it's supposed to be super slippery and hard to spin.  I've found that it drafts nicely and spins easily.   It's so pretty too, with a lovely mix of brown colours and the white silk.... and soft... lusciously soft.

Demonstrating spinning at the local Renn Faire on the school day.   My kirtle is too large by several inches around.  If I'd assembled it with opera seams as I'd intended, it would be an easy adjustment.  I like to write a little list of assembly steps when I make a garment.  However, I missed ready that particular item on my list of instructions and sewed the bodice together by rote, so instead, I'll have to rip the bodice half apart to make the adjustment.   It's way too much work for right now.  

Monday, 9 June 2014

Balancing Yarn Twist -getting it right

Sometimes it's the small things about spinning which make my day.  You know, when you do the math, get your calculations for spinning singles and then for plying.  You count and get into a zen bit of spinning. 
You pull the plied yarn off the bobbin, winding it onto a skein and you get this over twisted mass of yarn, which winds around itself. 

 I've stopped thinking to myself - OMG, I've done something wrong.  Instead I drag it to the sink.  I fill up a container with warm water or warm soapy water, depending on the yarn.  Then I let it soak for a few minutes or longer.   After squeezing out all the water, if you got it right... poof, beautifully balanced yarn!  It's one of those little things which always makes me happy.   It's not that you can't use an unbalanced yarn for particular reasons.  It's that I like balanced yarns.  I find them easier to use to get the results that I prefer.

I love the near instantaneous change in the yarn.  When you do projects which often take a long time, sometimes the instant gratification of small things like this, becomes something to look forward too.