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Spindle Spinning

Spending time on my aunt and uncle’s sheep ranch I cleaned and carded wool but never got around to learning how to spin.   A few weeks ago I got a drop spindle and have been giving it a go.  I’m not very good yet but it is hypnotic to get the spindle going and watch the wool twist into a tough fiber.

Drop spindle

Natural wool comes in many different colors.

White

Gray

Here is the rather lumpy yarn.  Hope it gets easier!

A rustic look.

To learn more visit the Northwest Regional Spinners site here.

Plum Crazy

So many plums!

So many plums!

With all the heat this summer the plums are ripening sooner than usual.  Yippee!

I never really understood the term “plum crazy” until this year’s banner harvest; I can’t stop picking when there is ripe, juicy fruit to be had and every possible space is covered with some plum related project.

“Are you nearly done?” asked my daughter somewhat plaintively through a fruit fly induced haze.  “Uh getting closer” I said as I stirred up a new batch of plum wine.  “So what are these projects?” you ask with trepidation.

Have you ever seen the part in Forest Gump where Bubba talks about everything you can do with shrimp?  Here’s the plum version:  “You can make plum torte, plum jam, plum sauce, frozen plums, dried plums, pickled plums, plums in brandy, plum sauce and this is only the beginning!”

Here is a lovely plum sauce made by putting plums face down on a cookie sheet covered with melted butter and a bit of sugar in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  When the skins easily come off it’s ready to go.

Caramelized plum sauce

To dry plums you can either quarter them or pit them, push them out flat and put them skin side down on a dehydrator tray.  It takes about 24 hours for them to try to the point they won’t mold.

Dried plums

Each year I make plum tortes with a recipe from the New York Times.  These tortes are super easy to make and freeze beautifully.

Easy and delicious

Easy and delicious

Here is the recipe for an absolutely wonderful blue plum conserve from my Mother’s 1946 version of the Joy of Cooking.  I use the Italian prune plums but Damson plums work equally well.  This recipe does have walnut meats and be aware that there is some concern about canning preserves made with nuts.  I have never had a problem but do want to let you know about this.

Here is the mixture before cooking.

Here is the mixture before cooking.

Blue Plum Conserve

Ingredients:

  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 and a 1/4 pounds of raisins
  • 9 cups sugar
  • 5 pounds blue plums
  • 1/2 pound broken walnut meats

Directions:

Peel and chop the thin rind from the oranges and lemon and put it in a large bowl.  Chop up the pulp from the citrus fruits and add this and any juice to the bowl.  Next add in the raisins and the sugar.  Pit, slice and add in the plums.  Mix well then place in a large pot and cook until thick.  Be careful to stir continuously or your mixture will burn.  Add in the walnut meats.  Cook ten more minutes then put into sterile jars.  You can then water bath can your preserve if you so desire.

Here’s the finished product.

Year before last when we had an insane amount of fruit I did a plum wine.  It actually turned out to be more of a brandy and while quite strong, we liked it.

A Great Cracker Recipe!

This is still one of my favorite recipes! These crackers rival the 5 dollar a bag ones from the market and you can experiment with all sorts of herbs and flavors.

Panzanella Croccatini

  • 1.5 cups of flour
  • .5 cup very cold water
  • 1 tsp salt, play with this so it is to your taste, I am using less salt
  • dash sugar
  • 1/8 c rosemary chopped
  • 1/8 c olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and put a pan for water in the bottom of the oven.

First put flour, salt, sugar and rosemary in a food processor fitted with the cutting blade and pulse to blend.

Next add the oil and pulse to blend.  Add the water in a stream until the dough comes together and run for about twenty seconds.

Turn the dough out and knead to a smooth ball.  Divide it into four pieces and cover with a cloth to let rest for five minutes.

Roll each section in a pasta roller.  The next to thinnest one tastes very good.

Cut into sheets and place on parchment paper.  Spray with water water and sprinkle with herbs.

Put parchment paper directly into the oven on a baking stone, add a half cup of water to the pan in the bottom.  Turn crackers from front to back after about two minutes.  Watch them closely as they burn easily.  You just want a hint of brown.

Enjoy!

Plum Torte

These are golden with a tinge of green; perfect for tortes but too tart to dry.

These are golden with a tinge of green; perfect for tortes but too tart to dry.

I dream not in sugar plums but in Italian prune and this year my dreams are all coming true; the neighbor’s tree is bursting with succulent blue fruit.  I harvest the plums in succession for each recipe tastes best with a different level of tartness.

First up are the wonderful New York Times Plum Tortes. Over the years I have modified the recipe a bit and here is my version:

Plum Torte

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup regular or brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup unbleached white or wheat flour, (if wheat is used it will raise less, you can also do a blend of flours)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • If unsalted butter is used add in a pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Enough halved and pitted plums to cover top of torte
  • Sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top
I use my food processor to make the batter.

I use my food processor to make the batter.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream sugar and butter in a bowl. Add flour, baking powder, salt and eggs, and beat well.

3. Put the batter in a pan.  (I like to give these as gifts or make them ahead for potlucks so often used disposable aluminum pans.)  Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and cinnamon to taste.

4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze.

These tortes freeze beautifully but need to be cooled then well wrapped in foil.

Ready for baking.

Ready for baking.

All set!

All set!

 

Making Pickled Beets

It’s wonderful to pull out a jar of home-grown, home-canned pickled beets for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  They are very easy to make, so get your canning supplies ready…

First you pick the beets.

Medium sized beets work best. 

Then you either cut the tops off to stir fry or, if you have goats or chickens, they love them too!

Yum 

Once you’ve removed the tops and trimmed off the long tap root, simmer the beets until they are tender, which you can test by piercing them with a fork.  Peel them, then cut them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices.  I have a tool that gives them a pretty wavy edge.

I got this tool at Fred Myers. 

Pack the slices into sterile jars and add in about a teaspoon of pickling spice.  Make up a pickling solution of 3 1/2 cups vinegar to 1 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of pickling salt.  Be sure to use 5%, store bought vinegar as acidity levels can vary in homemade vinegar.  It’s the acid in the solution that will keep your food safe.

Toasting the spices first can bring out the flavors.

Fill to within about a half inch of the top.  Then seal up and boil in a water bath for 30 minutes.  This will help to ensure that the beets are truly safe to eat.

Let sit for at least two weeks for flavors to blend.

Enjoy!

Dried Apples

The apples on my front parking strip are starting to fall and it’s time to do something with those apples!  Over the years I have made apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling and several other types of apple based products.  The thing that my family likes the most are dried apples.  These can be added to morning oatmeal, put in cookies and muffins or just grabbed as a quick snack.  What I like about going the dried apple route is that they are quick and easy to make.

First pick your apples.  It's ok if they have blemishes or worm holes.  You can cut these out.

First pick your apples. It’s ok if they have blemishes or worm holes. You can cut these out.

I like to use this apple peeler and slicer.  It really cuts down on time and is great fun to use.

I like to use this apple peeler and slicer. It really cuts down on time and is great fun to use.

Here is what the apple looks like fresh from the machine.

Here is what the apple looks like fresh from the machine.

Lay the slices out on your dehydrator racks and fire them up.

Lay the slices out on your dehydrator racks and fire them up.

Here are the dried slices.  It takes about 5 hours for thin slices, more for thick ones.  You want them dry but not hard and brittle.  Once they are dried put them in Tupperware or mason jars.

Here are the dried slices. It takes about 5 hours for thin slices, more for thick ones. You want them dry but not hard and brittle. Once they are dried put them in Tupperware or mason jars.

 

 

 

As many of you know I recently started working with the Washington State Department of Health and three days a week I am based near Olympia. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Bush Prairie CSA Farm.

This farm was first settled by George and Isabella Bush in 1845 and the rich land has been worked since then. There is an archeological dig going on now with students from Evergreen State College finding all sorts of interesting artifacts. Here’s a recent King 5 video on the dig.

Tomatoes, squash, peppers, herbs, beans and more flourish on five acres of fields and under heat saving hoop houses. There is even a 170 year old Butternut tree brought out west by Mr. Bush. It is the oldest living Butternut in America.

Here’s where to learn more and register for their great CSA program.

Fresh salad greens.

Fresh salad greens.

Sunrise in the hoop house.

Sunrise in the hoop house.

Dew on the Reemay

Dew on the Reemay

Soon more eggplant

Soon more eggplant

Lots of room for heat-loving crops

Lots of room for heat-loving crops

Of course there are tomatoes!

Of course there are tomatoes!

 

I just got back from a trip to Eastern, WA. It is bone dry and the forests are burning but the country is a gorgeous array of colors, shapes and lines.

Much of the wheat has been harvested. Production is below normal due to the drought.

Much of the wheat has been harvested. Production is below normal due to the drought.

Grain silo outside of Odessa.

Grain silo outside of Odessa.

Horses on the Palouse.

Horses on the Palouse.

Sky, earth and grain.

Sky, earth and grain.

An isolated farm.

An isolated farm.

A huge owl lives in this barn.

A huge owl lives in this barn.

 

Herbal Caramels

Fennel seeds for a new taste.

Fennel seeds for a new taste.

This is most definitely not a super healthy item but in small doses they are absolutely delicious!  I have been experimenting with herbal caramels for a while and the possibilities are endless.  You can use almost any herb such as rosemary, thyme or lavender.  I tried using green fennel seeds and the buttery sweet licorice result is delectable.

You can add herbal flavor either by infusing or by sprinkling the setting pan with dried seeds or dried leaves.  To infuse, melt the butter in the cream, put in the herb, remove from heat and let sit for 50 minutes.  Take out the herb and the resulting mixture will have a lovely herbal flavor.  (The easiest way to do this is to drop a whole sprig in.  If you just have dried herbs then place in a small square of cheesecloth before steeping for easy removal.)
To sprinkle, wait until the caramel begins to set then add the seeds on top so they just sink in to the top layer.  This is really gilding the lily but I like to sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on top as well.  (If you like chunky bits in your candies try the sprinkle route if you really like the smooth creaminess of caramels then I’d go the infusion route.)
Here is the recipe I like to use:
Herbal Caramels

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, (one stick)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated or regular milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Your favorite herbs

Directions

Grease a 9 inch square pan.
 
Put all the ingredients but the vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan and heat until mixture comes to a boil and the butter melts. 
Put all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan.  The mixture will boil up as it heats so make sure the pan is big enough.

Put all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan. The mixture will boil up as it heats so make sure the pan is big enough.

Keep cooking, 25-30 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 244°.  If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a small amount into ice water and when it forms a soft ball it’s ready.

Butter is just beginning to melt.

Butter is just beginning to melt.

Almost there!  It takes 20 to 25 minutes to reach 244 and the last few degrees can rise quickly.

Almost there! It takes 20 to 25 minutes to reach 244 and the last few degrees can rise quickly.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and pour into your buttered pan.  Once cooled slightly add herbs on top.

Fennel seeds and salt.

Fennel seeds and salt.

When cool, cut into squares and wrap in waxed paper.  These keep best in the fridge.

These are wrapped in parchment paper but waxed paper works better.

These are wrapped in parchment paper but waxed paper works better.

 

With the warm weather all the fruit is coming in strong! In fact there’s so much it’s time to start canning and jamming.

Friends have been telling me about the virtues of Pomona Pectin for quite a while. I recently got some from PCC, and now I’m hooked. Because it doesn’t require sugar to jell, you can easily vary the amount of sugar you use or you can use a different sweetener all together; the result is a fruitier, fresher jam which is quite nice.

Pomona Pectin

You can get sweet peaches now from the farmers’ market. If you are going to can with farmers’ market produce, always ask to see if they have any produce they have set aside as too blemished to sell. You can often get really good deals this way, and as long as the produce is not spoiled it cans up beautifully for a fraction of the usual price.

Millions of peaches!

First wash the peaches. Then to make them easy to peel, put them in boiling water for a couple of minutes then in cold water until the fruit is cool to the touch. The peels should slide right off.

Transforming into jam.

Next mash them or pulse them in a food processor. For jam you want pieces of fruit so don’t puree them. Put the peaches in a pot with lemon juice and calcium water. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add in the pectin and sugar and bring back to a boil and cook for one to two minutes.

A little extra zip.

I like to add in some flavoring or spices but you need to be careful not to overpower the fruit. Spices can also intensify over time so it’s better to use less to begin with until you get an idea how much tastes good to you.

Clean jars

Carefully pour the hot jam into sterile jars, do a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, and you’re good to go.