August 29, 2013

In a bit of a pickle

One day last week, I went out early to feed the chooks and realized things had changed.  The light was different.  It was more subdued and the deep summer early morning brightness was gone.  The breeze had changed and instead of that sultry southern warm wind, it was a cool north westerly coming through.  Later in the day, no matter how hard that sun shone, it didn't have that intensity that it seemed to have just a few days before.  That night, the tree frogs were deafening in their near unison chanting.  A couple of days ago, I headed out early and there was a flock of geese laying over in a field of golden winter wheat stubble.  The small stream had an eerie feel with the steam rising off of it.   Yep, it's feeling a lot like fall, sigh, and I'm so not ready for it.

The plane socks are finally done.  They've been sitting around almost there for a couple of weeks, with the second sock just needing the toe to be grafted.  Yesterday I sat down and bit the bullet, and grafted that silly thing together, tucked in the ends and voila!, another pair of socks for the impending winter.

Despite the weather, the cucumbers have given us a decent yield.  So many in fact that I wasn't able to keep up with them for just lunches, snacks and salads.   What to do with lots of cucumbers?  Make pickles of course!  The first batch was garlic dills.  Garlic dill pickles tend to disappear pretty quickly, especially when the boys come home for a visit.  I decided to try chunks this time instead of slicing up the cucumbers into spears.   These have to sit at least a week before eating.

Then I came across a recipe for sweet bread and butter pickles which looked delicious and simple.  So I made up a batch of those as well.   Luckily these only take 48 hours before one can sneak a taste.

The only thing about making pickles is of course the timing.  I never seem to make them in the beginning of the summer.  Combined with canning tomatoes, they are like an exclamation point to the end of summer preserving activities.  

August 26, 2013

More from Mrs. Beeton's Guild to Household Management

The last time I was working at the Bake Oven, I couldn't decide what I wanted to bake.  There are always fixings for soda bread on site, so that is a no brainer.  I'd just picked up a 10 kg bag of flour, so I knew I would also make a yeast bread.   I also had several logs of gingerbread cookie dough still in the freezer, so I knew I'd drag those out as well.  Even a half recipe makes a lot of cookies!    I'd been thumbing and flipping through various early 19th century cook books and had decided that I also wanted to make a cake.   Last time worked so well, by prepping everything ahead of time, so I knew it could be done.  I'd narrowed it down to several recipes, of which several were eliminated due to things like needing 10 eggs and I only had 6 since 2 or 3 of the hens are laying anyplace but where I can find the eggs.   I ended up going with Mrs.  Beeton's Guide to Household Management simply because I have a hard copy facsimile of the first edition of the book, which I can use like a regular cook book.

This is what is left of Mrs.  Beeton's Good Plum Cake recipe.  The use of the work plum in Victorian recipes doesn't actually refer to the fruit we know as plums or prunes today.  Instead it referred to sweet bits of fruit, often currants and raisins.   

This recipe uses only 1/2 cup of butter and has no eggs.  It's a very white cake and was super cumbly until the day after baking.  It's flavoured with currants and candied lemon peel.   It was pretty darned delicious although I'm not sure if it was quite as good as the previous Useful Cake that I baked the last time.

I also baked Mrs. Beeton's recipe for Heavy Gingerbread.  This recipe made 2 8 inch cakes.  It makes a very dense cake.  The flavour is quite strong which goes with the textue.  While I enjoyed it on it's own, it would be perfect with a good cup of tea.   Served with some ice cream, whipped cream or maybe even some Creme Anglais, it would be a stunning and elegant dessert.

August 18, 2013

18th - 19th century Red Currant Jelly

I'd done some reading up on early Currant jelly recipes.   Several different books have almost the exact same recipe and the others are very similar. 

The exact recipe I used came from The Frugal Housewife or Complete Woman Cook.  This edition is dated 1796 out of Philadelphia.  I've also seen an edition dated 1803.

It takes a little bit of interpretation to read this volume as it uses two different letters for S, in 3 different places.   If it's an S at the end of a word, it's written as an S as we know it today.  If it is at the beginning or in the middle of a word, then it's written as an f.  This works well, except of course when f at the beginning of a word is actually an f.  Then you have to read it to be certain of the meaning.  Thus stript (stripped) is written ftript., stalks is ftalks, stone is ftone, skim is fkim, fast is faft and fine is fine.  Once you get the the rhythm going, it becomes fairly easy to read.

  Having finally decided on a game plan, I took out the frozen currants and stuck them in a stock pot.   The original recipes call for putting the currants in a stone jar and setting that in a pot of water in order to cook the currants to make the juice which is needed for the jelly process.   However not having a stone jar, crock or even a glass jar which would work for the amount of currants and because they were frozen into 4 separate solid masses I chose to dump them unceremoniously into my stock pot and cook them directly over the heat.   I added 1 cup of water to the pot in order to help keep them from burning as they thawed out.   I put the stove on very low heat and watched carefully.   Because the heat was so low, it took a long time to thaw but I didn't have any issues with burning the currants.

I have 2 jelly bags which I purchased for this purpose.  I'd looked for cheesecloth but couldn't find any until after I'd already bought these.  Even so, it wasn't really fine or sturdy cheesecloth, which I wasn't sure would work, so I just used the commercial bags.  I put the currants into the bag and then hung them up from the cupboards since I hadn't a bowl narrow nor deep enough to hold the bag.   There are warnings in several recipes, both historical and modern about not squeezing the bag or getting cloudy juice.  However after letting the bags drip on their own, I had only a smallish amount of clear juice in the silver bowl.  In the larger batter bowl, I had a little less, but it was cloudy do to some unintentional mashing of berries with a potato masher.  I untied the jelly bags and squeezed the rest of the juice out into the cloudy juice.    Tossing the currants, still full of juice, was just too wasteful to think of, just because the jelly wouldn't be sparkly clear. 

Cloudy currant juice due to squeezing the jelly bags
I did make two batches of jelly though, one with the clear juice and one with the cloudy juice.  My son snorted and told me that I'd be the only person to be able to tell the difference between the two.

The recipe calls for 1 lb of sugar to each pint of juice.  A pint is 2 cups and I had exactly 2 cups of clear juice, which I put in my stock pot.  I weighed out and added 1 lb of sugar, turned the stove on low and started stirring.  Once the sugar was dissolved, I turned the heat up to medium high and kept stirring.   I just kept stirring and stirring until the liquid was at a good boil.  Then I took a few minutes to grab a bowl full of ice and a small metal measuring cup.  This should have been prepped before I started for testing the set of the jelly, but had forgotten to do so.    The first time I checked by scooping out a teaspoon or so of the jelly mixture and setting the metal cup on the ice to quickly cool, the juice wasn't thick at all.   Fairly quickly, after only about 10 or 15 minutes of boiling, the consistency of the bubbles started to change.   If you've ever made soap, it was like they were at the trace stage, when you could run a spoon through them and leave a trail.  They also became like clear red bubbles rather than pinkish foamy bubbles.   When I next checked, there was definitely jelly happening.   It went pretty quickly from then and just a few minutes later, the jelly was thick.  

The first batch made less than 2 cups of jelly which I packaged in 125 ml (half cup) jars.   I'd started up the water bath canner earlier, so it was full of hot water.  Because my jar rack was too large for these tiny jars, I put a dish cloth in the bottom of the pan and the jars on top, to try to keep them from bumping together.  I processed them for about 12 minutes, dragged them out and luckily the lids all did that lovely vacuum pop to announce that they'd sealed.

I can't actually tell which jars were the cloudy juice and which were the clear.  The open jar has the leftovers of both batches and the only way you can tell the difference of which layer was which is because there is a line where the first batch had cooled before I topped it off with the second.

This jam is incredibly delicious.  It's sweet enough but still with the tartness of the currants.  I hesitate to say that it might even be better than the Apricot jam.   The only thing I would recommend is that if you're going to listen to music while making this, don't presume that one CD will be long enough, because it won't be, not even the second time you try with the next batch.

August 15, 2013

Garden Delights

 I harvested the garlic yesterday!  It's late this year.  Usually I dig it up in July when the bottom leaves are starting to turn brown.  I dug up two plants about two weeks ago, to see how they were coming along and they weren't mature enough.   Finally, the leaves were dyeing back, so I figured it was time to harvest so they didn't split or rot in the ground.   There are lots of heads, but they are smaller this year and there were a number of heads which are too small to use.  Normally, I save all the largest heads of garlic to use for planting.  This year, however, they are all smaller than I'd prefer so may end up purchasing seed garlic to plant this fall.

The past couple of years my beets have been eaten by bunnies, eaten by birds, just not come up, so I only planted a half a row as an experiment with a totally different type of beet.  It's cylindrical instead of spherical.  Of course this year they're doing great.  This variety is sweet and tender, even though it's kind of ugly.   If I'd planted enough, they'd make spectacular pickled beets.  Good idea for next year if I can remember what variety it is or find the empty packet that I'm sure should be hiding in my seed box.

The cukes are still producing.   I've a 3 litre basket on the counter and more in the garden.  Looks like cucumber salad for dinner tonight.

Tomatoes!   Sungold I think, which is a hybrid, but produces early, sweet and flavourful orange tomatoes.   I've been picking them for over a week, but only a couple here or there and they never made it out of the garden in order to be photographed.  The taste of them, freshly picked, warm from the sun, right in the garden was too much to resist.

My last minute pepper plant that I rescued is doing well too.   I hadn't realized it was a mini-pepper plant, but they are tasty. 

The large, red tomato is probably a BetterBoy variety although I thought I'd planted the  Black Krims in that area.  However a Black Krim would be much darker with fairly pronounced green shoulders and this one is definitely all red.   I do hope that some of the Black Krims fruit this year.   We've had such a cool summer that there may not have been enough heat for the longer season heirloom variety.

August 12, 2013

Fun Projects and Making my day...

My daughter was out at the beach with her friend.  When they stopped for lunch, some low life broke into their car and stole beach bags.  They left the iPod which was probably the only item of value, but took swim suits, towels and my daughter's knitting!   Because she has just started collecting supplies and doesn't have much of a stash, all of her needles and notions were in her project bag.   Her birthday was this past weekend, so I made her a new notions bag to replace the one which was stolen and stuffed it full of replacement notions.  Knitting without a few basics can be more fussy, so there are stitch holders, cable needles, darning needles, a needle gauge and stuff like that to get her stash restarted.  Luckily making a quick zippered pouch, even a lined zippered pouch is a pretty quick and easy project.

I worked the bake oven the weekend before.   Usually the oven heats up quickly, when a good fire is started like had been done that day.  Once in a while though, the wind is such that it seems to suck all the heat up the chimney.   The fire wanted to smoulder rather than burn.  It took forever to catch along the length of the oven and then when all was said and done, the oven barely heated up enough to last for what I'd brought along to cook.  Because the temperature wasn't even and didn't hold like it usually does, the bread was a tad too crusty.  A couple of the batches of cookies were burnt, but more because it was incredibly busy and I was distracted telling people about the oven.    What worked perfectly though was an interesting experiment, straight out of Mrs. Beeton's Guide to Household Management, 1859.    I had just enough ingredients for the recipe A Good Useful Cake.   Before I left home I'd done part of the prep for the recipe.  I'd creamed the butter and sugar.   That was a slight deviation to the procedure, but I felt that since I was making a cake from scratch, on a wobbly table, outside under some trees, in what could have been any weather I could live with a few changes that I knew wouldn't affect the outcome.   I'd weighed out the flour, sugar and fruit.  I gotten 3 eggs from my hens the night before, so I'd packed them up in a container for projection and added some milk in a mason jar.   I crossed my fingers that this would be one of the recipes that worked but the ingredient proportions were pretty good, so I had high hopes that it would be at least a reasonable success.   Turns out it is an excellent and very delicious cake.   It had a texture similar to a pound cake, was not cloyingly sweet but had a very smooth and elegant taste to it.   It's a keeper!

My friend called me up today.   She said she was dropping something off at my door but didn't want me to answer it because she had been exposed to chicken pox and didn't want to risk spreading it around.  She said I'd know what to do with whatever it was, when I saw it.  Her husband is a potter and he'd helped me make a bowl a while ago and let me glaze a few pieces of bisque fired dishes that had been kicking around for ages.  I figured that a couple of those had been fired and she was dropping them off.   I hadn't heard Maureen drive up and spent the afternoon making the notions bag.  When my sweetie got home from work, he showed me where he'd put this large white bag.  In it was the most amazing bowl that I'd ever seen.  It was truly a "Wow, this is totally unexpected"   moment   My son looked at it and asked " Mom, are you making bread anytime soon"?    I guess so!  Bread, cakes and all sorts of other things.  This will be the perfect vessel in while to dissect several 19th century cookbooks that have been calling my name!    Look out family, you might be eating some interesting and old fashioned meals in the near future.

August 09, 2013

Pantry Bounty

I found a nice basket of apricots at the local market.  They were just ripe enough to use and not overripe or with too many green ones.   Because they weren't perfect and blemish free, they were a little cheaper than the apricots at other booths.  So I grabbed a basket and when I got home, I made 2 batches of apricot jam and had a couple of leftover apricots for my snack.  Not only is it a beautiful sunset orange but it's very tasty! 
The cucumbers are ripening despite the weather.  I think if we had a bit of properly warm weather we'd have way more cuks, but there were enough to make sweet relish.  Last year I chopped everything by hand, which made a chunky relish.  I liked it but everyone else felt is wasn't "relishy" enough.  This year I ran all the veggies through the grinder.  I tried the meat grinder first as it has larger grind plates but the darned thing wouldn't work empty, so I finally gave up and hooked up the Kitchen Aid grinder.  The relish is a little finer than I'd like but it's good.   It's definitely not chunky.

Beans are getting frozen although we're almost out of freezer space.   With 44 huge chickens in there this year, though 25 were chopped up into parts, there isn't much room for anything else.  I ordered 36 meat chicks and despite counting them as I dipped their little beaks in the water as I took them from their shipping box, I miscounted and didn't realize we had been sent 38 instead.   They seem to always send an extra chick or two.   I also ordered 4 Rhode Island Red female chicks to replace the 4 year old layers.  Over the past couple of years we've found ways to help keep the meat birds in survival mode.  One is making sure that the water and food are far enough apart so that the meaties have to actually walk to get back and forth between food and water.  We also place the food up high enough that they must stand in order to eat and can't just plop themselves down beside the feeder and eat while lying there.   Finally, we've found that having a couple of scrappy little hen chicks keeps the pen lively with activity and it is that little bit more exercise that we think helps keeps the meaties from early heart attacks and untimely short life spans.   Their lives are short enough  and so I think they should at least have a decent chance at a fairly healthy, happy life, such as it is. In the end though, they are still supper.

August 06, 2013

Queue Jumping

Door trim is new!  Chair rail is original.
At least that's what it feels like...  The kitchen is still half done as is the laundry room.  They are stalled for various reasons, from economics to project size and hindered on several occasions by weather.  I mean when the drywall compound won't dry because it's too cold, despite a heater blasting as it, there's not much you can do but shut the project down for a while :)

Anyway, last on my list was the side entry way.  It's a small and I will admit, horribly ugly little room.  It's the main door to the house and was done up like the rest of the house, in peach paint and wallpaper.   If I never see another drop of peach paint, it won't be too soon!   The floor had some sort of plastic carpet which we ripped out as soon as we moved in because it was musty and filthy, leaving the plain, rough concrete floor.  Under the step we found a secret door, which lifted to hide a stash of old shoes and ski boots, stiff, filthy, mouldy old stuff, which probably should have been tossed when they were outgrown, some 20 or 30 years ago!

New tile floor
My sweetie decided he needed a small, sweet, easy to finish project for his holidays and to get back his home reno groove back.   He moved the front entry to the top of the list.  It is indeed a small project, at least in terms of the rest of the house.   First on his list was to remove all the trim.  The trim was different mis-matched sizes of old mahogany trim, in that heavy peach paint.  Then he tiled the floor.  Gone is the cement floor stretching from the garage.  The secret door step is sealed up and solid now.  The first layout of the tile had it all laid straight.  I suggested it be set on point and do to a little bit of a misunderstanding, this was what the next suggestion was.  I was quite happy with this idea!

Then the wallpaper was ripped from the bottom half of the walls!  It turns out that the previous owner used odds and ends of old, crappy paneling instead of drywall.   Some of the pieces weren't even the same thickness!   So painting the walls was now totally out of the question as was new drywall.   We had new chair rail but can't use it because it's one of the places where the thickness of the paneling changes!

Instead, we're adding wainscoting to the bottom half, which will be painted, a darker colour from a heritage paint palette.   I'll have to repaper the top half, but it darn sure won't have a drop of peach colour in it!

August 02, 2013

A quick sewing project

I needed a new apron for when I get to play with the Bake Oven , when I volunteer at the heritage village.  I've been borrowing one from the costume department but they are all a bit too large and a bit too frilly for me.  I'm short and some of the ruffly things are just too overwhelming to work in.  As well, they're all white, which is more of a fancy apron that a work apron for the time of 1865 - 70.   I decided to make one that actually fit me.

  Most work aprons that I've seen from that time period are pinner aprons, which use pins to hold up the bib, rather than a band or tie.  As well, work aprons really did tend to be colouful and patterned to hide the dirt.  I can say that when I work the oven, I get soot on my apron almost immediately, which shows up on the white most dramatically.  
The only fabric store left in town has a huge quilting department which does stock a few period reproduction prints.   While I wasn't in love with this pattern at first, the price was definitely right and the bolt markings designated it as 1863, which was pretty close to the time period I was after.  Pretty much everything else was later and a few were earlier.

It was pretty easy to sew up.  I marked and cut the pattern yesterday and sewed it together this afternoon.    I combined two different "patterns" for this project.  The first instructions were from The Sewing Academy,  from the section of free patterns.  The second was from World Turned Upside Down.  I do wish I'd gathered the bib a bit, but otherwise it's turned out quite nicely.  

The apron has buttons at the back, rather than ties.   I couldn't find my little piece of wood that I normally keep in my sewing box,  when I needed to cut the waistband button holes, so I took the apron out to the chopping block.  I found this little buttonhole chisel a while back and it cuts the cleanest buttonholes ever, way nicer than using snips or scissors.  It's one of those right tools for the job and makes a professional, very clean slice.

I put two patch pockets on the apron.  I've only seen a couple of that era aprons with large patch pockets, but there are a few.  It's the one thing that I find myself missing, so I added them.  I did match the patterns though, so they are more than  a bit discrete.  Here is the finished apron, pinned to the barn.  By the time I'd finished the apron, I loved the fabric and could have seen a dress made of this.  However I can't have a dress and an apron made of the same fabric, so I'll have to keep looking.

I purchased 3 yards of fabric but have 3/4 of a yard leftover, so I guess that means I've started collection reproduction fabrics for  a quilt! 

Rudbekia Goldsturm is one of my favourite flowers.  Despite it being yellow, it blooms for a very long time and at the end of the summer, when  a lot of the perennials have already had their 15 minutes of fame.  Sometimes I harvest it for dye plants, but it makes a rather soft, greenish colour and I do think it's value really is in the garden rather than the dye pot.