August 28, 2020

A Kool Aid dyed experiment

One of my weaving guild members is part of a study group in another town.  She recently lead a socially distanced class on "fun" dyeing.  They used Kool Aid.   You need to use the unsweetened Kool Aid drink powder in the little packets.  It's no longer sold in Canada, unless you luck out and find it at a discount or outlet store.  Last winter I found some packets at a dollar store and stashed a bunch of them for future use. 

At our last Zoom meeting, Barb had shown her results which was a huge pile of skeins that she had dyed with Kool Aid, at 1 packet to 1 ounce of wool yarn.  It was lovely, colourful and inspiring.

Not wanting to duplicate her results, I tried something a bit different.  I had picked up a packet of Guar Gum about the same time I purchased the Kool Aid packets.  Guar Gum is a thickener and one of it's many uses is to thicken dye for painting skeins.  It helps prevent the dyes from running together too much, allowing for techniques which might need more distinct lines.   I found it at the bulk food store, in the gluten free section. 

You don't need a lot of it. I used 5 ml in a litre of water.  I buzzed it up in a blender.  Since it was food grade, I didn't worry about extra equipment but used the seldom used smoothie blender in the back of the cupboard.   It was thickish, but from a couple of videos I'd watched, I thought it should have been thicker.   However, I decided to try it as it was, so if it didn't work, I had a definite starting point to work from   I divided the liquid into 7 disposable cups which had been sitting in a box for years.  I added a single packet of Kool Aid powder to 6 of the cups and left the 7th cup uncoloured, to use as an extender if I needed it.

The Kool Aid powder blended in quickly and gave fairly bright colours.   I used my acid dye syringes since I couldn't find my husbands stash of foam brushes which I sometimes use to paint fibre with.  Earlier in the day I'd wound a wool/silk blend warp for 2 scarves. I tied a tight choke tie in the middle, where the fringe from one scarf ended and the other began.  I tied looser figure 8 ties on the rest of the warp, except for the cross.  It was tightly tied too.

 I soaked the warp in warm water with about 1/4 cup of vinegar.  It's not really necessary, but I wanted the dye to take quickly.  As well, it was a lot of warp for a little dye, and I wasn't sure how diluting it with the guar gum would affect the dye to acid ratio.  I felt comfortable with a little extra security.

I used a lot of plastic wrap and ran it in long lengths, to put my warp on.  This protects the work surface to some extent but also protects the yarn when you steam it.   Since I was working on the glass topped patio table, I didn't put down any other protection on the table.  Kool Aid and Guar Gum are food safe, plus the glass table is super easy to clean.   I used syringes and spoons to paint the warp.  The syringes were discards from my husbands workplace and a friend who breeds Alpaca.  They are easily available at the farm supply store though.

Once I had the colour on, I wrapped the plastic wrap tightly around the warp threads.   I tucked one side in, around the warp and then rolled it up.   Amazingly, the guar gum did stop most of the leakage from where the plastic wrap pieces joined.   I dyed one scarf, rolled the plastic around it and then did the second one, as my table wasn't large enough to do both at once. I rolled the whole kit and kaboodle up like a jelly roll.  I popped it into a dye pot, with a steamer rack in the bottom, added a few inches of water and let it steam for about an hour.  I added water a couple of times during the process, to make sure the pot didn't run dry.   It doesn't need an hour, but my pot lid had gone missing, so the one I had to use didn't fit quite tightly enough.  This way I made sure it had enough steam time.

I turned off the stove after the steaming time was up.  I let the warp cool down overnight. If the wool yarn, or roving or fibre cools down too quickly, it will likely cause the fibre to felt up.  Since this was a wool silk blend, it could not only felt the wool, but damage the silk, if I didn't let it cool slowly.

The final colours are fun.  I'd read someplace that the purple Kool Aid was an ugly colour, but I rather like the purplish-grey colour.  The guar gum did prevent any major blending of colours from one colour to another, even if it wasn't quite as thick as I'd thought it should have been.  The warp is now on my loom, waiting for me to start weaving.

So, why did I use a wool/silk warp, luxury fibres for a Kool Aid experiment?  Kool Aid, and food colours in general (Wilton's Paste food colours work well too), act as weak acid dyes.  That is dyes which are easily fixed with vinegar or citric acid.  However, they need a protein or animal fibre to work.   The only pure wool I had was blanket wool.   I didn't have enough of any one white fibre to wind a scarf warp, let alone a warp for two scarves.   I did however have enough white wool/silk blend for the warp and the weft for at least one of the scarves.   Since I know that food colours, when heat processed at the proper temperature and time are stable, I wasn't too worried.

August 24, 2020

Jam Time

One of the largest apricots in the container
I made both Peach and Apricot jam last week.  Apricots aren't easy to find in this area for some reason, and this year has been even more difficult.  People are saying they haven't seen any.   I was lucky when my son found some and presented me with a plastic clam shell container full of these teeny, tiny apricots.   I think in other years, they wouldn't even qualify for seconds they were so tiny.  In most of them, there was more pit than fruit!

foam shows jam is not ready
I sliced them in half, took out the pits and gave them a quick buzz through the food processor, in hopes that I had enough for a decent batch of jam.   I needed 4-5 cups of fruit and I had barely 2 1/2 cups.  I popped them in the freezer and checked the shops the next time out.  I would have been happy with a few imported apricots to add.  But not a single apricot, local or imported was to be found.  

foam subsiding and jam is clear
I used them in a 19th c jam recipe which calls for equal weights of sugar and fruit.  It made a spectacular jam, albeit a very small amount.   I was hoping to have enough for Christmas presents, but all I have is a personal stash.  Better that than no apricot jam at all though.

Jam with pectin has a pretty exact process to follow and if you do it with the correct timing, and quantities, you have jam!    Making it without pectin has a bit more of a margin for error.  It's easy to over cook it and get a solid, unspreadable  mass in your jar.   Been there, done that, couldn't eat the jam :)

Apricot Jam

You start off heating the sugar and fruit.  The sugar draws out the fruit juices, very quickly making a liquid which then easily comes to a boil.   It gets quite foamy and with a small amount like this, the pectin starts to do it's gelling thing almost right away.   Once it starts to turn clear and the foam subsides, you're almost there.
I keep a glass plate in the freezer.  I pull it out when I think the jam is close.  I put a dollop of jam on it and give it a second to cool.  I run my finger through it to divide the dollop in two.  If the jam doesn't run back together, then it's ready to go.

I ladle the jam into hot jars, wipe the rims, put on new lids and rims and pop the jars into a hot water canning bath.  Once it comes back to a boil, I process for 10 minutes.  If the jars were filled correctly and I get the rims completely clean, I get to hear those lovely little pings as the jars seal.   I do like that sound.

Peach jam which is sunnier and brighter than photo shows

August 16, 2020

Cucumber Ice Cream - 1885

From the 1885 recipe book, Ices Plain and Fancy, by Agnes Marshall, comes this interesting recipe for cucumber ice cream.   Apparently cucumbers were considered light and refreshing during this time period.  This is a very adult ice cream recipe.   If you make it for your kids to try, use apple juice instead of brandy.  If you make it for your friends, use the brandy :)

I really made this pretty much as was described in the recipe.   I used one large cucumber.  It was easy to de-seed by simply running a spoon down each half before dicing it.  When it said peel of two lemons, I interpreted it as lemon zest.  I did try to find the size of Victorian lemons, but couldn't find anything definitive on lemon sizes.  I used two lemons and zested most of it, but left a bit as I thought that maybe lemons were a tad smaller then.  I added the 3/4 pint of water which is 1 1/2 cups and 1/2 cup of sugar.   I cooked it until the cucumber was soft.  I mashed it up with a potato masher.  I didn't have a tamis (which is pronounced tammy lol), which is a type of sieve.  My sieve ended up doing duty as a wading pool strainer, so I did end up using my stick blender to smooth out the mixture in the end.   I juiced the lemons, in my antique glass lemon juicer no less :), added a tiny drop of green food colour and 1/3 c brandy.   It's a little less than a wine glass, but I'm not a drinker.   I went by taste here.   At this point, I let the mixture cool. The recipe doesn't say so, but I think the instructions to freeze and finish as usual would allow for this, as it's a pretty important part of the freezing process.  Once the mixture was cool,  I added the cream, sweetened with almost 1/2 c of sugar.  I used 10% goats milk light cream because it was the only kind I could find which didn't entail a trip to a grocery store for a single item.

I used a Cuisinart Ice Cream maker.  It's electric and while I've always wanted an old fashioned crank ice cream maker, this one is quite effective and efficient.  I do like that I can turn it on and walk away, just checking it every so often.   Realistically, I probably make more ice cream because it's electric than if it were hand cranked.

This ice cream was interesting.  It was light and refreshing.  It was adult ice cream and it you'd added a full wine glass, it would have been far more potent.  It was something to be eaten in small amounts though, which makes sense when you look at the way a Victorian meal was served.  It would make a good palette cleanser between meals, but I think it would shine as an ending course for a Victorian luncheon or picnic.

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup white sugar
1 3/4 cups water
1/3 - 1/2 cup brandy
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 cups cream (sweetened to taste) I added 1/2 cup sugar here.
green food colour

August 02, 2020

Nettles for Fibre

This is a nettle patch which started growing in one of the gardens.   I've been wanting to try processing nettles for several years.  I got started once, but realized how many nettles it would take to actually make an impactful project, so I've never gotten farther than a bit of research and chopping a few down.  

This past week though, I donned some leather work gloves, jeans and long sleeves even though it was 29C with a humidex of 33C or something like that.    If you try this at home or the edge of some wooded area, please wear long pants and long sleeves.  Nettles have little hairs which are hollow and filled with an irritant.  If you even just gently brush the plant, you will get an intensely sore, red, welted area, which will last for hours.   Cold water and aloe help somewhat.   Apparently so will plantain, but I didn't find any until my welts had faded :)  

There are several different ways to process nettles, and not a lot of information on how this was done historically, although we know that nettles were used as cordage and in textiles for a very long time.   I started off with a method which is considered to be a possible prehistoric method.

I used secateurs and snipped each stalk at the base.   With my leather gloves, I ran my hands up the stalk to removed the leaves and flatten the evil hairs.   I ran my gloved hands up and down a few times to make sure the stalks were safe.  Once the leaves and hairs were gone, then the nettles were safe to handle bare handed.  You could use a piece of leather for this.  I tried that, but it was much easier for me to just use the leather gloves.

The next step is to take a hammer, dowel or a stick and gently tap the nettles to start to break it open.   I found that one could be too gentle and the thick stems required a bit more force than I anticipated.  I used a hammer because I found one that had been forgotten in the barn. It seemed a good thing to rescue it and put it to work.

Once the stalks were cracked, I slit the whole stem open by running my finger or thumb up.  Then it was supposed to be quite simple to crack the inner pith, break it back and peel the bark off.
It wasn't difficult but it did take a little bit of time.  Nettles have a segmented stalk and while the fibres are long, they are attached at each segmented node.   I had to ease the bark off these nodes.   This took the extra time.

After about 4-6 stalks, I had this little pile of fibres.    I was hot, and bored.  If I wanted to prep the fibres for spinning, I would have to then scrape the bark off.  I decided that I didn't need to work the pre-historic method of prepping nettles.

re-using bale twine to bundle the nettle stems
Instead I would try dew retting the nettles. I snipped off all the nettles I could find.  I stripped the leaves.  When each stalk was stripped of it's leaves, I lay it in a pile in the sun.  Once I had enough nettles prepped, I tied them in two places with figure 8 ties, stood them against a fence to dry a bit overnight.  The next day I lay the piles on the ground.  I plan on wetting them down twice a day.  While it rained last night, we've really had a near drought summer, with really warm weather and very little dew.  This way I can try to help mother nature along.  I don't think I will get any more fibres, but I will hopefully end up with some useable tow as well.  If all goes well, the dew retting processing should take 2 - 3 weeks.

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about processing nettles.  The process I'm sort of following at least showed some usable fibres at the end of it.   I realize I'll have a very small amount of actual finished fibres when done.  With all the work I've put into it already, I'm thinking that I can see why flax became a far more attractive fibre.  Even though flax is a lot of work to process, it is still less than flax and not so dangerous either.   Next year maybe I'll remember to order my fibre flax seed and can do a comparison.