Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joys of the Harvest

Today's Harvest - Ingredients for Tomato Pepper Salsa

Yes, this is a lot of work. During the winter, you scour seed catalogues (online and in paper format), cruise the Seedy Saturdays, and pick out what you want to plant for the upcoming season (or maybe you were organized and patient enough to save some of your own seed from last year). Some stuff gets started inside and babied through until ready for hardening off. The rest get directly planted outside at the appropriate time. Gauging when that time falls is always a challenge with variable frosts and capricious early spring weather. Then you have to weed, water, prune, trellis, water, water and water.

But what magic! From a teeny, tiny little package of DNA and nutrients springs forth a new generation, ready to provide us with flavour, colour, gourmet delights and inspiration for art on many levels, sometimes within a matter of short weeks, others take the whole season or many years to bear forth with a result. And being in the garden really brings you in touch with the seasons, with all the critters that make their homes in your garden (the good, the annoying and the downright destructive, alike), and with the complexities of the soil from which all your plants draw forth their resources.

While the work involved in starting, growing, protecting and maintaining these plants so that we can at some point glean a harvest, and then of course the work involved in putting that harvest away in the freezer, canning jars, dehydrator or fermentation vessel, can be overwhelming, the returns of satisfaction, knowledge and pleasure are sure worth it!

Baby Green Fig Preserve

A Fig Tree by Melita on Flickr

We had a wonderful harvest of our green figs this year; however, every year, we seem to have a second crop which absolutely never matures. It seems a shame to let them just drop off and rot, so I tried to find something to do with them. I'll tell you, it was a challenge. While I did find a couple of recipes (or thought I did), none of them provided me with actual, specific processing instructions, and that's a problem for figs (here are instructions for canning fresh, ripe figs - you'll notice how long the boiling water bath processing takes with them).

Figs are not a highly acidic fruit, so you either have to acidify what you're preparing them for, or you have to pressure can them (I got reference for the pressure processing from a couple of different sources, including Stocking Up, to use 5 lbs pressure for 10 minutes, but my pressure canning manual that came with my weighted-gauge pressure canner doesn't recommend anything done at less than 10 lbs pressure). That's fine, but I didn't really have a positive idea of how long & at what pressure to process in the pressure canner. And how much lemon juice or vinegar do you need to add to acidify them sufficiently to just use the boiling water bath method? And really, who wants to process for 45-50 minutes in the boiling water when a pressure canner cuts the time enormously?

Not really knowing what to do, I sort of combined knowledge from a few different locations. My base recipe was from a post by "denninmi" on a garden forum. But I added a signifcant amount of vinegar (roughly based on this pickled green tomatoes recipe) to hopefully increase the acidity sufficiently.

Sikalaki Gliko

2 pounds unripe figs
3 pounds sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 lemon, seeded & diced fine
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon

Rinse the figs and poke a hole in blossom end of each fig with a thick nail, a screwdriver or just a paring knife. This step is very messy from the sticky latex oozing out of the figs. I also pruned off the stems, but other recipes suggest to leave the stems intact (I suspect this is for ripe figs only, but I'm not sure).
Place figs in water and let them soak for a few hours (I basically let them soak overnight). Discard the soaking water.
Boil the figs in plain water for 15 minutes.
Transfer figs into cold water, allow to cool down, then drain.
Replace cooking water with fresh water, and repeat the sequence of boiling the figs for 15 minutes, putting them in cold water until they’re cool, and then draining them.

I used a less than perfect aluminum pot (stainless steel is always recommend for preserving foods as it's non-reactive), because I didn't want to have an uncleanable, boiled-on latex mess on my wonderful stainless steel maslin pan. Yes, the boiled latex came off with a significant amount of elbow grease and a scrubby pad.

Boil the 3 pounds of sugar with the vinegar and water for about 5 minutes, then add the figs, diced lemon and spices.
Boil the figs in the syrup for 30 minutes, then turn the heat off.
Leave the figs in the syrup for 12 hours.
Remove the figs from the syrup and boil the syrup until "thick" - I boiled the syrup to soft-ball stage (230F). This took a good hour of stirring and waiting.
Put the figs back in and bring back up to a boil so that the figs are hot and the syrup is boiling. I did this part in my maslin pan, which was perfectly shaped for this step, and by this point the latex had been boiled out of the figs.

Transfer the figs to clean, scalded half pint (250 mL) jars. Squish the figs down so that the air is pushed out of the centres, and to pack the jar well. Don't pack the figs too tight; I did that and had to reprocess 5 of my 7 jars! And as a result of reprocessing, I had to make up a quick & dirty vinegar syrup to bring up the volume. Pour a little syrup to bring headspace up to 1/2" from rim. Run non-metal spatula around inside edge of jar to let air out, and adjust the headspace as necessary. Wipe rims with hot damp paper towel and apply two-piece metal snap & screw lids.

Now here's the tricky part. I couldn't find any concrete information about the processing time, so I placed the jars in my weighted gauge pressure canner and processed at 10 lbs pressure for 10 minutes (remember that you have to vent the canner according to the manufacturer's instructions before you place the weighted gauge on the vent, and timing for processing starts once the gauge starts to jiggle, indicating that the 10 lbs pressure has been reached).

I have to say that boiling the green figs is horribly stinky. I didn't enjoy that at all (about as pleasant-smelling, in my opinion, as boiling stinging nettle for nettle beer; in fact, I thought the boiling figs was far worse than the stinging nettles, and that's saying something). But once you get the figs into the syrup and start to flavour them with sweet & spice, it seems much less unpleasant. I tried one of the figs today and while it's not sweet, exactly (the syrup is), and it doesn't taste like a fresh ripe fig, you can certainly get an essence of fig-ness from the flavour, as well as green-ness. It'll be really interesting to try it with stinky cheese and crackers; that's what I'd originally wanted to do this for. So, fingers crossed it was worth doing!!

And fingers crossed that I don't kill us all with botulism from under-processing the figs. But with the vinegar, and the increase pressure, I think (hope!) I've over-compensated.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gulf Islands

Dave & I took a break from the garden and took to his Dad's sailboat for a week. We had a fantastic time, had some great sailing, beautiful weather (not necessarily coinciding!) and managed to not kill each other in the tight quarters of the 22' Puffin.

Day 1 - Ioco to Mannion Bay, Bowen Island

It takes a remarkably long time just to get out of Burrard Inlet from Ioco in Port Moody; we spent a good chunk of our time fighting the current to get out past First Narrows (our fault; we didn't get going early enough in the day). Then it was clear motoring past West Vancouver, beyond Point Atkinson and into Mannion Bay, just on the other side of Snug Cove. It was our first anchorage, and it was beautiful.

We had a couple of gentleman row past warning us of the low tide that night and that the anchorage would get shallow. We were ok - with only about 3 feet below us in the keel, we're more flexible than larger boats. But just in case, we set the alarm on the depth sounder; it went off around midnight, with only an hour's worth of ebb left and about 6 feet to spare below us to go, we turned it off and went back to sleep.

Day 2 - Crossing the Salish Sea to Silva Bay, Gabriola Island

A little jockeying for position as we sailed out of Bowen Island to avoid power boats and ferries, we managed to get out into the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia) in pretty good time, and cross with the wind pushing us all the way. It wasn't exciting sailing, but it was good sailing, and we averaged about 4.5 knots (given our hull speed is about 5 knots, that's not bad at all). The weather was overcast & glaring until we got about 2/3 of the way across, then we broke past the cloud banks into glorious sunny weather. We gave Thrasher Rock a wide berth, and managed to navigate our way successfully into our second night anchored out, this time in Silva Bay. Another gorgeous sunset and lovely evening.

Day 3 - Through Gabriola Passage and Sailing Trincomali Channel

I was getting little sleep (and that pretty much continued) as our forward berth is a little cramped, and pretty hard surface. Hips & knees weren't particularly pleased with me, so I took some kick-starting in the mornings to become somewhat human. The weather was grey and breezy; we wound our way out towards Gabriola Passage close in time to maximum ebb, and rode the currents wildly through. It was great, but brief, excitement. We poked our nose into Degnan Bay, an alternative anchorage to Silva on Gabriola (depending on which side of the Passage the tides catch you), then headed out to Trincomali. We decided the wind was fair, so we set the genny & main, and had a fantastic sail down the Channel - we heeled over 35 degrees at one point!

We took a brief lunch at Clam Bay on Kuper Island, then fought our way past the waves and wind back into Trincomali Channel, and sailed for another few hours. Unfortunately, our time ran out and the wind wound down a bit, so we had to motor for the rest of the afternoon and into early evening to reach our destination at Montague Harbour on Galiano Island. On our way there, we saw a small pod of Orcas off our starboard (maybe 50 yards away), it was magic! We moored at the public wharf, so that we could get up and spend the day exploring the Marine Park.

Day 4 - Montague Harbour Provincial Marine Park

We woke up to drizzle, so we waited out the weather until late morning, reading and playing cards on board. When the weather cleared, we made our way along the shoreline to the forest, and walked along the trails through the salal (nibbling berries as we went), then down to the shoreline again, looking in tide pools, watching bees on flowers, looking at weird and wonderful rock formations. After lunch, we felt we should brave the temperatures and snorkel. Yikes, but it was cold!! And on the side we were on, pretty murky. So we kept the snorkel brief, and then went back to move the boat around the other side of the peninsula to a beautiful bay for our night's anchorage.

Day 5 - Ganges Harbour on Saltspring Island

The weather finally caught up to us and turned rather snotty. So we motored across Trincomali and up into Ganges for the day. We spent the day wandering the shops, and were delighted to find the complex work of Quadra Island printmaker, Richard Calver at the Pegasus Gallery. The gallery manager spent a very long time showing us the portfolio they carry of Calver's work, explaining his inspirations and stories behind his works. It was delightful. We stayed tied up at the Ganges Kanaka public wharf, watching the sea planes arrive and their pilots dock dexterously across from us.

Day 6 - Sailing to Sidney Island

We motored just out past the Three Sisters on a sunny, clear day, then brought up the sails and tacked our way along Saltspring and Pender Islands, and we finally had to start the motor just past Portland and Moresby Islands, then we saw another small pod of Orcas just off Sidney Island. The way into the wharf at Sidney Spit on Sidney Island is somewhat anxiety-inducing; there are some really shallow bits. So we aimed our bow for where all the big sailboats were anchored, and worked our way between them, keeping mostly to the less shallow areas. Sidney Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. We had a little walk around the Island, noting where the overpopulated fallow deer had chewed all undergrowth into non-existence, and a "high tide" line of branches trimmed six feet above the ground, as well as very stunted and thorny hawthorns. We even saw a small herd of six bucks wandering through the forest.

Day 7 - Sidney Island

We spent the day walking the sand spit, looking at birds & flowers (of course!), and searching the shallows for critters off the dock, then the afternoon walking through the forest, surprising fallow deer and seed eating birds. We shared the wharf with a huge catamaran crewed by a family with five kids and four adults; they loaned us their little foot-driven paddle kayak for a little trial run around the lagoon in the evening. Our other neighbours were a powerboat from Washington, and one of the gentlemen took a beautiful photo of Dave & I on board.

photo by Michael Pedrosa
Day 8 - To Cowichan Bay

Another poor weather day, but we saw a raft of rhinocerous auklets, a nice sighting to add to all the pigeon guillemots we'd seen up to that point. Again negotiating the passage between where the WSDOT ferry from Anacortes comes to Sidney, and the BC Ferries travel between the Island and the Mainland, and the Island and the Gulf Islands. We made it into dock at Cowichan Bay just catching the tail end of a squall, so we didn't have to endure rain in the cockpit for long. Mom picked us up, and we were off the boat for four days. Guess what I got up to? Yup, canning!

Day 9 - Cowichan Bay to Silva Bay

Our intention had been to cross the Strait, but we once again didn't get going early enough. Through Sansum Narrows at a great speed near maximum ebb, then caught sight just barely of what we think was a Harbour Porpoise. Little wind, but we were trying to make the tide through Porlier Pass. We did succeed, but got out into the Strait with little wind and waves running across our path. We tried, but it was so slow that we'd have gotten across at midnight, and not even into anchorage by then. So, cutting our losses, we turned up Valdez and went to Silva Bay again for our final anchorage. Sitting at dinner, Dave noticed a river otter swim towards a sailboat, haul himself up the ladder on deck, and proceed to chomp down on the huge bullhead sculpin that he'd dragged up with him. It was such a great sight!! We would have loved to see the owners return to a gut pile and fish head... I wonder what they thought?

Day 10 - Return Home

We had a beautiful wind for 2/3 of the way across the Salish Sea, and sailed along at 5-7.5 knots, then the wind dropped off, yet the waves and swell didn't. I made the mistake of trying to focus on something through the binoculars, and that, combined with the chop and swell, seemed to make me really feel sick (an unusual event for me). So I had not much focus other than feeling like crap while Dave manouvered us towards the entrance to English Bay. We managed to get closer to shore and out of the chop and swell, and I felt much better as we motored through First Narrows (making over 9 knots!), and proceeded through at maximum flood towards Second Narrows (making over 11 knots on the other side!!). We made it back to Ioco, and managed to haul our crap off the boat, then collapse at home.


Our friend has a large Bing cherry tree in her backyard, and a next-door neighbour of hers has a small, sour cherry variety. Dave the monkey climbed up into the farthest branches of each to pluck a significant harvest for us. As a result, I got busy preserving (of course)!

Cherry Pie Filling

Quality: Select fresh, very ripe, and firm cherries. Unsweetened frozen cherries may be used. If sugar has been added, rinse it off while the fruit is still frozen. I used a mixture of sweet and tart cherries to give the pie a more complex flavour.

Yield: 1 quart or 7 quarts

Procedure: See Table 1 for suggested quantities. Rinse and pit fresh cherries, and hold in cold water. To prevent stem end browning, use ascorbic acid solution.

For fresh fruit, place 6 cups at a time in 1 gallon boiling water. Boil each batch 1 minute after the water returns to a boil. Drain but keep heated fruit in a covered bowl or pot. Combine sugar (use less sugar if you're using more sweet cherries than sour, or if you're using all sweet cherries) and Clear Jel® in a large saucepan and add water. If desired, add cinnamon and cardamom. Stir mixture and cook over medium high heat until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Fold in drained cherries immediately and fill jars with mixture without delay, leaving 1 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process immediately according to the recommendations in Table 2.

Table 1. Cherry Pie Filling.

Quantities of Ingredients Needed For

1 Quart7 Quarts
Fresh or thawed cherries3-1/2 cups8 - 9 quarts
(original called for 6 quarts,
but I found this insufficient)

Granulated sugar (see above)
1 cup
7 cups
(I suggest 3 cups for tart filling)
Clear Jel®1/4 cup + 1 tbsp1 3/4 cup
Cold water
1 1/3 cup9 1/3 cups
Bottled Lemon Juice1 tbsp + 1 tsp
1/2 cup
Cinnamon1/8 tsp
1 tsp
Cardamom1/16 tsp
1/2 tsp
Table 2. Recommended process time for Cherry Pie Filling in boiling-water canner

Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of PackJar Size0 - 1,000 ft1,001 - 3,000 ft3,001 - 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
HotPints or Quarts30 min354045

Spiced Sweet Cherries

Original from Stocking Up

6 to 7 cups of sweet cherries (e.g. Bing)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
2 sticks cinnamon, each 2" long
24 whole cloves
1/8 tsp dried ginger or 2 slices fresh ginger cut 1/8" thick
2 bay leaves
3 segments of star anise
5 green peppercorns

Wash, pit & stem cherries and chill in ice water and juice from half a lemon.
In saucepan, bring to boil remaining lemon juice, vinegar, honey & spices then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Drain cherries. Fill 4 to 5 half pint (250 mL) clean, scalded jars 3/4 full with cherries. Strain hot pickling liquid over cherries, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner according to the recommendations below.

Recommended process time for Spiced Sweet Cherries in a boiling water canner.

Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of PackJar Size0 - 1,000 ft1,001 - 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
or Pints
10 min1520

Black Cherry Conserve

Original from Stocking Up

2 seeded oranges, chopped fine, and if sweet, add:
(1 peeled & seeded lime, chopped fine)
1 quart black, sweet cherries, stemmed, pitted & washed
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 tsp cinnamon
6 cloves or 1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom

Barely cover the citrus with water (or cherry juice*) and cook until very tender.
Add cherries, lemon juice, honey & spices, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thick and clear.
Ladle into hot, scalded half-pint (250 mL) jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner according to the recommendations below.

Recommended process time for Black Cherry Conserve in a boiling water canner.

Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of PackJar Size0 - 1,000 ft1,001 - 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
or Pints
10 min1520

*We made cherry juice by steaming a mix of sweet & tart cherries in a very shallow amount of water (to prevent scorching). After canning (leave 1/4" headspace and process according to instructions for Grape Juice), I had some juice left over and it was perfect for the preserves.