Horti Honey's Blog of Yarn, Plants, and Life

Sarah Humke examines life through fiber tinted glasses….

Autumn Harvests October 24, 2014

Fall is a busy time around here.  The farmers are in the fields hurrying to get the corn and soybeans harvested before winter comes.  The combines and tractors run 24/7 in years that there is a lot of rain or bad weather.  Everybody is trying to get their homes and yards ready for the onslaught of colder weather.  Leaves and temperatures are dropping, adding urgency to everyone’s preparations.  The weather people on TV and radio begin whispering that dreaded word: snow.

Here it’s been both the same and different.  I’ve spent some time doing this:

The view from the driver's seat.

That’s a picture taken while I was combining.  It’s one of those jobs that is very boring but very important.

I’ve also been making a lot of these:

autumn 7

Those are pears in medium syrup.  Yes, the pears that Elise and I picked when I went to Kalona are finally ripe.  I have two crates finished and two crates still to go.  I’ve put up about eighteen pints and half a dozen quarts so far as well as a bunch of different jams and such.  I’ve also put away a few gallons worth of pear juice for making pear jelly later on in the year.  Last year, the pears from this tree were very small and difficult to work with because of the drought.  This year, they are huge by comparison and very, very juicy.  One of the interesting things that I have learned from working with so many pears this year is that pear juice is very fragrant when being cooked.  It really smells lovely, though not especially pear-like.

Autumn 4

The above photo is of apple and pear juices.  As you can see, they look very similar.  Different batches of both juices will be different colors of pinky-gold.  Thus, it’s really super important to label them.  Here’s how I label my canned goods:

autumn 6

I’m fairly simple in how I label my canned goods.  What’s in there and the month-year.  I don’t write down the day it was canned as it just takes up space and time and isn’t usually all that necessary.  Some people do in case there is a “bad batch” of something, but for me, often having the day on it would only narrow it down to two or three batches (and that’s if I’m not in the full-swing of canning that day!).  Sometimes I don’t put what’s in it if it’s something like plain green beans or my standard sliced pickles.  Everything else though, gets labeled to avoid confusion.

Before I started in on the pears, I was working my way through the rest of the apples.  One of the jams I tried for the first time was a lovely cardamom and apple jam.  The flavors blend remarkably well and the cardamom adds an exotic kick to the more plebeian apples.  I’ve also seen one for pears with cardamom which I will try, but I’m a little worried that the more delicate flavor of the pears will get overwhelmed.  So we’ll see about it.  In the photo, you can see the cardamom pods still in the jam.  I also do this with vanilla pods when cooking with them.

autumn 8

I’ve not been doing a whole lot of knitting or crocheting.  I’ve been working on some Christmas socks when I have free time and a crocheted blanket when I’m sitting watching tv shows.  My sweater in progress has been sidelined for the moment as the holidays are approaching and that knitting needs to take center stage.

 

Exploring the Orchard Road October 8, 2014

Over the summer I had heard that a new kind of mason jar was entering the market.  I had not gotten a chance to actually hold one in my hand until last week.  I just happened to check out the canning section in the Blain’s Farm and Fleet in Cedar Falls and low and behold they were carrying them!  Now, before you all get started, I know that the fact that I have canning sections regularly in stores around here is a blessing that many people don’t have.  In fact, that I pretty much expect most grocery and farm stores to have a canning section speaks volumes about where I am living and how people view canning here.  Canning and preserving have never stopped in the Midwest.  Thus, the canning a preserving sections of the stores have never disappeared like they have in other areas of the country.

However, I was still surprised to see this newest jar in the mason market in Cedar Falls.  I figured that it would be a coastal thing for the more (for lack of a better word) trendy canners in the bigger cities.  So I was excited to pick some up and give them a try.

The Orchard Road family of jars

The Orchard Road family of jars

Orchard Road seems to be making only jars and lids/bands at this point, compared to the mega company Ball (a subsidiary of Jarden Home products which also owns Kerr and Golden Harvest brands of mason jars) that makes all sorts of canning and cooking equipment as well as publishing numerous books.  I decided to do a head to head comparison of the two brands to see if there was much of a difference.

The very first thing that you notice is the packaging.  The jars come in very sturdy, very reuseable boxes.  Major points here.  These boxes are strong enough that you could stack them with filled jars inside and not worry about the lids being compromised.  They were even better than the old school Ball and Kerr boxes that those jars came packaged in.

Very sturdy cardboard and well made boxes.

Very sturdy cardboard and well made boxes.

There wasn’t really a big difference in sizes except that the jelly jar (the half pint) was a little taller and thinner than the Ball half pint.  The Orchard Road jars feel sturdier than their Ball counterparts, more like the pre-1970’s Ball jars.

Orchard Road half-pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road half-pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road Pint on the left and Ball on the right.

Orchard Road Pint on the left and Ball on the right.

Orchard Road quart jar on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road quart jar on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road widemouth pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road wide mouth pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road wide mouth quart on the left and Ball on the right.

Orchard Road wide mouth quart on the left and Ball on the right.

All the jars take standard mason jar lids and rings in both regular and wide mouth. I purchased some of the lids but none of the rings as I would assume that they would work fine (though if you have found differently let me know).  The lids were graphically appealing with their bold writing and clearly demarked area for noting what is in the jar.  The lids don’t have the little “button” in the middle like Ball jars but are more like the Wal-Mart Mainstays where the entire lid is sort of domed.  Thus, they don’t make a little “ping” when they seal more like a loud “thwack”.  However, the lids worked on both the Orchard Road and Ball jars just fine.

Orchard lid open

Ball wide mouth lid on left and Orchard Road wide mouth lid on right.

Ball wide mouth lid on left and Orchard Road wide mouth lid on right.

The jars are visually clean, without a lot of ornamentation on them.  This is nice for a number of reasons.  To start, it’s simply cleaner visually.  It also leaves the focus on where it should be, the food in the jars rather than the decoration on them.  Another reason is that they are easier to clean.  I have had to clean calcified gunk off of many older jars and all the nooks and crannies of older jars makes them a pain in the butt.

Orchard demo

Now for the parts that I am not a fan of in these new jars.  First, they are more expensive. Something on the order of twenty percent more than the standard Ball jars.  Add to that the lack of lids and rings it makes them more expensive still.  Next is that they are sold in boxes of six.  If you are canning a lot, this is simply more boxes floating around the house.  My final issue is simply that they are made in China.  If something is going to be more expensive, I would at least like them made in the USA.

 

Who knew cabbage and honey were so similar?

There hasn’t been a lot of knitting content of late as there hasn’t been a whole lot of knitting done.  Mostly it’s been about getting food into jars.  Lots and lots of food.  The past weeks have been the apples.  At one point the porch was loaded with apples and the honey still in the combs.  Wow did that ever smell awesome!  If they could make an apples and honey scented candle that actually smelled like our porch it would sell like crazy.  I’ve been making some good smells myself.  Applebutter, applesauce, apple pie filling, apple juice, apple jelly and caramel apple jam.  I would estimate that I have gone through ten bushels or so thus far.  The apples are all from unsprayed trees thus have the usual assortment of critters in them.  Makes for some extra work when processing them but they are still tasty and useable.

I have also been experimenting with making sauerkraut.  Ackley, my hometown, is the site of the annual Sauerkraut Days (can you tell we’re of German origins around here?!?), so I suppose that it is fitting.  I was gifted two, new, three-gallon stoneware crocks this summer and each of them was pressed into service.  One has a sweet sauerkraut in it and the other has a sweet sauerkraut with apples added.  Neither are even close to full with cabbage.  I’m guessing that they could each hold about twenty pounds of cabbage (they currently have five apiece).  I learned while doing this that if sauerkraut is going to become a regular thing with me then I might be investing in a big cabbage cutter or a larger mandolin.  I also found that making sauerkraut is kind of like honey extraction in that you get cabbage EVERYWHERE (though thankfully it’s not sticky).  It just goes flying!  However, it was kind of fun and I look forward to the results!

The tender herbs and houseplants are getting moved into the house a little at a time right now.  I’m trying to get them in before freezing weather makes it a necessity, thus allowing for better choices as to where they should go.  I’m also trying to get my mints ready for winter, which mostly means trimming them back.  I will be making lots of mint jelly and apple mint jelly in the coming weeks.  I have also been experimenting with some pineapple sage jelly that seems quite promising.

Not a lot of photos as my canning and sauerkrauting have been lonely endeavors of late and it is difficult to take a good photo when your hands are full!

 

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Kalona October 3, 2014

This past week my friend (and former roommate), Elise, has been back in the midwest.  She is currently working on her PhD at LSU in animal science specializing in goats.  She was back in the midwest to attend and present at the National Goat Expo in Illinois and to see her family.  I wanted to see her while she was home so a plan was hatched to take me down to Kalona with her mother and to go to the small animal auction there.

Oddly enough, I went to a small animal auction and came away with a big box of assorted winter squashes and two bundles of beets.  The beets have already been pickled and the squashes stored for winter eating.  It’s probably a good thing that the auctioneer was so slow as there was a real possibility that I would have come home with an Angora rabbit or two:-)

Iowa has several disparate communities of both Amish and Mennonite spread throughout the state.  One of these communities is around the Lamoni area where I have gone for produce auctions in the past.  Another one is Kalona, which isn’t too far from Iowa City.  Around Kalona there are a number of businesses that cater to both the local community as well as the tourist groups that visit to see the Amish of the area in their horse and buggies driving around.

At one of these, a grocery store, I found the best prices on both Clear Gel and Pectin that I have been able to find, including on the internet.  I also picked-up two big cabbages to make sauerkraut from.

 

Pectin, lots.

Pectin, lots.

Clear Gel. Did somebody say pie filling???

Clear Gel. Did somebody say pie filling???

Future Sauerkraut

Future Sauerkraut

Elise’s folks have an overachieving pear tree in front of their house.  This years crop of pears was so abundant that it was bending the tree to the breaking point.

Kalona 4

Elise and I spent the afternoon picking pears from this poor tree.  At one point Elise got stuck in the tree.

Somebody call the fire department!  Elise is stuck in a tree!

Somebody call the fire department! Elise is stuck in a tree!

But most of the time it looked like this.

That is me with the very long fruit picker I am very familiar with now.

That is me with the very long fruit picker I am very familiar with now.

Elise’s neighbor grew an unexpected crop of pumpkins and I got to bring one home.  It isn’t pretty, but it’s going to be going into jars, pumpkin butters, and pies so it doesn’t really need to be.

Kalona 78

I bet it’s tasty though!