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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.

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.

Walnut Dyed Shibori Napkins

We never have enough napkins so I made some new ones!

Last fall I gathered walnuts and froze them. Beach stones are for a tied pattern.
Simmer the walnuts until a deep brown dye is made. It will stain skin so good to use tongs or gloves!
Tie the fabric using tightly wrapped rubber bands. This wrap is with stones.
Soak the fabric until a dark color. The two on the right are accordion pleated then banded. You can use cotton, wool or silk fabric. Synthetic fabrics don’t take natural dyes as well.
This is what the stone wrap looks like.
You can achieve different patterns by combining stone wrapping, folding and pleating.
Let the wrapped fabric dry then remove the bands. Rinse until water runs clear. Iron fabric and turn edges over twice and sew.
All done!
Time to start planning dinner.

Dyeing with fresh indigo is easy!

Pick indigo leaves.
Purée leaves in a blender with ice water. Very cold water makes for a better dye.
Strain liquid then add fabric.
Rinse once dipped. Animal fibers will be blue and plant fibers green. This is wool.
Cotton
Silk

Another option is massaging the leaves with salt and squeezing out the liquid. The leaf paste can also be spread on fabric for a targeted pattern.

Flax!

Flax seeds add a nice nutritious nutty flavor to many dishes and the fibrous stalks can be spun into fiber.  Growing this plant in the Northwest is so easy that it’s almost seen as a weed.

First grow the flax:

Picture from: www.flaxandhemp.bangor.ac.uk/

Once it has matured and the seed pods are fully formed, harvest it and let it dry in a dark place.  Once the seed heads are dry lay them on a cloth and crush the seed heads to release the small seeds.

Crush the seed heads on a cloth to catch any loose grains.

Next winnow it to separate the grains from the chaff.

Winnowing is fun!

Here is the final product; lovely golden flax seeds.

These can be added to your favorite foods or saved to plant next year.

To learn more about how to process the stalks into fiber visit here.

Rose Hips

Growing up in the desert in Arizona rose hips always sounded so exotic but now that I live in the Pacific Northwest I can find these vitamin C rich tasty fruits everywhere. While all bushes make hips, Rosa rugosa is the variety that has the biggest, sweetest fruits.

You can see why these fruits are also called "rose tomatoes"

You can see why these fruits are also called “rose tomatoes”

They are ripe now and can be easily harvested. Be careful of thorns and make sure that no chemical sprays have been used.

This will be ready to be picked in a few more days.  Hips are ripe when soft to the touch.

This will be ready to be picked in a few more days. Hips are ripe when soft to the touch.

Rose hips contain 25 percent more iron, 20 to 40 percent more Vitamin C (depending upon variety), and 25 times the Vitamin A, and 28 percent more calcium than oranges!

Freshly picked rose hips

Freshly picked rose hips

Here are my top three favorite ways to use these tasty and healthy fruits:

  • Rose hip tea – you can use fresh or dried hips to make this comforting beverage. Just soak 3 to 4 hips in boiling water for 10 minutes then add honey or agave syrup to taste. This is great on a cold winter night.
  • Dried rose hips – split hips, remove seeds and spread in a clean area until dry. Once thoroughly dry put in jars or bags. If not completely dry they will mold. These can be added to recipes or just eaten as is.
  • Rose hip jelly

Seeded and ready to dry.

Seeded and ready to dry.

 

To make the jelly:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups rose hip juice
  • 2T lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar
  • One package of pectin

Directions:

  1. Wash the hips
  2. Remove the seeds
  3. Put fruit in pot and just cover with water
  4. Cook until soft then mash with a potato masher
  5. Put the fruit in a jelly bag or line a colander with a couple of layers of cheese cloth and strain out the liquid. To have clear jelly let the juice run out without putting pressure on the bag. This can take several hours.
  6. Combine the juice with pectin and lemon juice.
  7. Bring to a boil. Add sugar, boil hard for 1 minute.
  8. Pour into sterile jars then water bath can for 5 minutes.

 

 

Greenhouse Build

The goats are long gone but the shed remains. It’s now my “she shed” and this year I added on a greenhouse.

Existing structure
Corrugated plastic and fencing boards
Shelving and a plastic door that can be rolled up in warmer weather.
Planted seeds during a snowstorm with heating pads under the trays.
Grow lights helped with light and warmth.
Happy plants ready for planting!

Edible Flowers

Many of the flowers that grace our yards are edible.  They can be used as accents in a salad or as garnish on a main dish.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Edible flowers

Chive

I like to use chive flowers in salads to lend a slightly onion flavor.  Here’s a recipe for omelets with chive flowers.

Edible flowers

Lavender

Lavender cookies are fragrant and delicious.

Edible flowers

Rose

Candied rose petals are a sweet my daughter likes to make.

Edible flowers

Calendula 

Have you ever made homemade calendula cream?  It’s easy to make and fun for kids to create.

Edible flowers

Elderberry flowers

These can be dipped in batter and fried to make fritters.

Edible flowers

Sage

Sage flowers can be sprinkled over a dish to give a mild sage flavor.

Edible flowers

Johnny Jump Ups

I like to put these on cakes to decorate them.

Oregano!

Oregano bunched and ready to hang to dry.

Oregano bunched and ready to hang to dry.

My family loves Italian style food so we go through a ton of the herb oregano each year. Luckily it’s very easy to grow; you can start it from seed or buy a plant at most local nurseries.  It does best in full sun and doesn’t like to be water logged but do be aware that it self seeds quite easily.

Right now is a good time to harvest oregano!  This flavorful Mediterranean herb is best harvested on a warm, dry morning right before it blooms. To harvest and dry cut it three inches above the ground then bunch it and hang it in a cool place with good air circulation.  Be careful not to make the bunches too big or the stems in the middle might rot.  Once dry I store it in the basement in mason jars and bring up just enough to last a week or so as the heat and light in the kitchen can make it lose flavor quickly.

In addition to adding oregano to the usual pizza and spaghetti sauces here are some other interesting ways to use this prolific herb.

Oregano Infused Simple Syrup 

Ingredients:

1 C. water
1 C. sugar
2 C. fresh oregano

Directions:

  1. Bring water to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the oregano to the syrup. Boil for 60 seconds and let it steep for 30 mins as the syrup cools.
  3. Pour the cooled syrup through a strainer into a glass bottle jar.
  4. Store syrup in the refrigerator.  Small amounts can be added to sparkling water or it can be used in cocktails.  I think it pairs well with vodka.

The flowers taste good and can be dried for great bouquets.

The flowers taste good and can be dried for great bouquets.

Oregano Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:

  • Four chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped
  • Juice and zest from two lemons
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup green olives with brine
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a frying pan, add chopped garlic and chicken.  Cook until the outside of the chicken begins to brown.  Add the lemon juice, zest and olives and turn down the heat.  Cook slowly until the chicken is almost done.  Add the chopped oregano and finish cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve garnished with a fresh sprig of oregano.

Oregano Herb Butter

Finely chop 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh oregano mix with one cube softened butter. Roll into a log on wax paper then wrap in the paper, put in a plastic freezer bag and freeze until needed.  Can also be immediately but should be refrigerated if you need to store it.  This butter can be used to baste meat, season veggies or on bread.

Oregano Olive Oil Cubes

Chop fresh oregano and mix it with olive oil.  Pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it.  Once frozen put in freezer bags.  This can be used in salad dressings, to baste meats or veggies or anytime fresh tasting oregano is needed.

Baked Feta with Oregano

Take a block of feta and cover it with 4 cloves crushed garlic and 4 T fresh oregano leaves. Drizzle with 1/4 c olive oil and top with a large tomato.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes until bubbly. Serve with bread or crackers.

Herb Crust for Grilled Meats

Chop fresh oregano and mix it with olive oil and other fresh herbs to taste. Cover meat to be grilled with this mixture then cook over a hot fire.  This will both add a nice flavor to the meat and keep it moist.

Do you have other favorite ways to use oregano?  I’d love to hear them!

 

Lavender Wands

Lavender

Lavender

I love lavender!  I use it in cooking, sachets and many other ways.  The flowers on my bushes are just beginning to bud out now; over the coming weeks I will share some of my favorite ways to use this versatile herb.

Here is how to make lavender wands.  These make great gifts and can be hung in closets to scent clothes and perhaps repel a few moths.

First gather a bunch of lavender with long stems and tie the bunch together right below the flowers.

Bunched lavender

Bunched lavender

Bend the long ends over the flowers to cover them and make a little cage for them.

Almost done!

Almost done!

Now tie the ends with ribbon and trim any loose ends.

Ready to hang in a closet or place in a drawer.

Ready to hang in a closet or place in a drawer.

For more of a wand shape cut the stems longer.

Et voila!

Longer stems

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carmelite Water

Here’s a soothing tonic for stressful times. Carmelite Water or Eau de Mélisse, has been used since the Middle Ages to settle nerves.

Here’s how to make a simplified version using readily available ingredients:

  • Two cups white wine
  • One cup lemon balm leaves
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Harvest fresh lemon balm
Place ingredients in a mason jar and put in fridge to steep for 24 hours.
Decant and enjoy!