Monthly Archives: October 2013

using strawberry leaves

strawberry plant

Now that the cold weather is upon us, my everbearing strawberries are finally done. There are some little berries on the plants, but they won’t ripen in the cold. It’s time to cut them down and throw some mulch over them for the winter.

 

Strawberry Leaf Tea

Every once in awhile I like to make ‘Garden Tea’, which is really just a compilation of leaves from the garden. Mint, raspberry leaves,  and strawberry leaves feature prominently in this tea, plus whatever else happens to be around. If I’ve just been foraging and have some fresh or dried nettle leaves, I’ll add those too. When we’re out camping, often I’ll just gather the wild raspberry and strawberry leaves (and mint if I’m lucky) and make a tea from those. It’s very soothing, this blend of flavours.

 

Leafcutter Bees Use Strawberry Leaves Too

leafcutter bee holesIt’s a good sign for the garden, especially your fruiting plants like squashes and cucumbers and peppers, when you see perfectly round circles cut into the edges of plant leaves. It may not look polished and spotless in the garden when this happens, but it’s good news. Leafcutter bees are good pollinators. They use the cut-out circles to line the narrow spaces where they lay their eggs. So if you see this kind of semi-destruction, don’t panic, it’s great news for your garden.

This leaf is from a White Soul alpine variety of strawberry. Alpine varieties tend to have smaller berries, but they are packed with flavour and they don’t send runners all over the garden. These are white, which helps with the bird problem. Birds are way more likely to eat red strawberries. In fact, I don’t think I had a single issue with birds eating these white strawberries, and they were not covered at all.

I’ll be sharing some of these seeds at the Seed Love Seed Swap on Saturday, November 9, 2014. Please come if you can!

More details on the events page (link).

I hope to see you there!

~Sarah

eating wild rosehips

red rosehipsI’ve been eating wild rosehips since I was about ten years old. My dad used to take me and my siblings out with him when he went foraging for rosehips, nettles, puffballs, watercress, and probably some other things that I’ve forgotten over the years.

I can’t forget the rosehips, though. Tangy and sweet, with more vitamin C than oranges, they are nature’s little candy bombs.

How to Eat a Rosehip

Many people gather rosehips and dry them out to preserve them. Most often they will make tea from the rosehips. However, vitamin C is destroyed by heat, so if you consume the rosehips in this way, you’re losing out on some excellent nutrition. I like to eat them raw, preferably right where I found them. I’ve developed a technique for this that is fairly straightforward, although it’s hard on the thumbnail. If you have a pocketknife that you can bring foraging, I recommend it. This guideline is for when you forget your knife. Like I pretty much always do.

Eating a Wild Rosehip Raw, Fresh From the Bush:

1. Take off the black end and the stem.

2. Use your thumbnail (or a pocketknife, if you’ve thought ahead) to dig a groove from end to end.

rosehip fingernail

3. Squeeze the two ends together, to ‘pop’ open the rosehip and reveal the seeds.

rosehip popped open

4. Scrape the seeds out of the shell of the rosehip. Again, with your thumbnail (or knife).

rosehip shells

5. Eat the shell of the rosehip. The seeds are furry and don’t really taste that great.

6. Scatter the seeds along your walk as you continue to hike. You never know which one will grow into another wild rose bush!

 

Can I Eat My Hybrid Tea Rosehips?

Technically, all rosehips are edible. Not all are equal in taste, though, and having tried the hybrid rosehips I can tell you that they don’t really taste very good. Not as sweet and tangy as the wild ones.

~Sarah

growing sweet potato in a pot

sweet potatoesTo be honest, I didn’t expect much from the sprouty sweet potato that I planted this spring. They grow nice vines, which is why I planted the tuber instead of composting it. Confining it to a container didn’t seem to be the best idea for actually producing anything edible. However, the spud had other ideas. Look at these cute little sweet potatoes!

Ornamental, Edible Vine: Sweet Potato

So the takeaway here is: plant your sprouty sweet potatoes!

They have a long season, which means earlier in spring is better than later. Mine were growing in my greenhouse for a bit before they were outside in their containers. If you don’t have any sprouty sweet potatoes, I would recommend buying organic if you want them to actually grow. Often the conventional ones will be sprayed to prevent them from sprouting. (link)

Even if they’re not sprayed, though, keeping them at cooler temperatures before you try to grow them will also slow down germination (see above link, a comment on the post by another researcher). So keep them warm when you bring them home from the store! And buy them in January for sprouting in March/April. Just leave them out on the counter/shelf somewhere warm in the house, they will likely sprout on their own before you plant them.

They will sprout stems/leaves from one end, and roots from the other, generally, but the tuber is flexible. In my case, the end sprouted, so I chopped off the top 2 inches and planted that. As you can see, it grew lots of roots from the amount of tuber I left it. So you could probably chop it in half and plant both halves and it will give you two plants.

If you grow the vine in a container, give it a deep container with lots of room and healthy, nutritious soil. Keep it watered but not soaking wet – make sure you have drainage holes in the bottom of the container so the roots don’t rot. It likes sunshine, 6-8 hours or so per day.

Next year I think I’ll try growing it in the ground, see if I get bigger sweet potatoes! This was such a nice surprise, I’m hoping that maybe I can grow even more next year. Let me know if you have any experience with these, I’d like to know if there are any tips or tricks that will help.

~Sarah

building a cider press

flowing ciderHappy (belated) Thanksgiving!

When I married my hubby, I was instantly imported into a family that loves to tinker and build stuff. A few weeks ago my father-in-law helped me build a cider press, and this Thanksgiving when the extended family got together, we made cider! It was so much fun to have the kids and everyone involved and enjoying the cider afterwards too.

It was a fairly straightforward project, made easier with the help of someone more skilled with power tools than I. Although, if he had his way, we would’ve built it out of steel and welded it all together!

This is a work-in-progress. I will share it here as inspiration and provide a bit of a how-to, but know that it is not perfect and there are still things we’d like to improve. It is possible to get amazing cider from something that is not perfect, though. All the kids agree.

Building a Homemade Cider Press

bottle jackThe first thing I bought was a bottle jack. This provides 6 tons of pressure. Based on my casual online research, it seemed like a good amount to start with. I knew I wanted to use wood, so I didn’t want to get a bottle jack that could possibly break apart the press!

If I would’ve done the calculations that my engineer hubby wanted me to do, I probably could’ve figured out exactly how many tons of pressure the press could handle and bought a larger bottle jack. However, I told him if he was worried, HE could do the calculations, and probably in his sleep. I didn’t want to spent hours on something, only to confirm that all those cider-making guys on the internet were right about 6 tons being a good number. Risky, maybe, but if I was taking too big of a risk, hubby would save me. He’s good like that.

porcupine pailMaybe I’m too trusting of ‘all those cider-making guys on the internet’, but I figure I need to start somewhere, and waiting for perfection is going to kill me quicker than making a mistake or two.

The porcupine pail is another example of trust: a food-grade plastic pail, wrapped with tie-wraps to keep it from exploding due to the pressure. Holes are drilled in the bottom and along the bottom two inches of the sides. We did tweak this, though. Instructions said drill holes all the way to the top, but we didn’t like that idea.

I took a few snapshots of the press today after it was cleaned up so you can see how it’s put together.

First up: the picture that started it all, taken from http://www.cider.org.uk/press.htm

cider press plans

The image was very fuzzy so we couldn’t see the measurements. But it clearly gives the basic overview, so we went with it. Our press is 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, because cedar 4×4 post lumber comes in 10 foot lengths. We made modifications on the feet, and we aren’t using the square pressboards, as you saw earlier.

Here’s our bottom side view. 

bottom side view
The piece of wood extending from the bottom of the shelf is for attaching the meat grinder that we used to process the apples.

Here’s a pic of the grinder in action:

apple musher
As you can see, the boys got tired of the hand cranking and decided to tweak the process just a bit.

I should also show a closeup of the top. Here it is:

top of the press
Hubby found some HUGE washers/metal plates, plus the C-channel (blue metal) to put on the top bar to keep the bottle jack from pressing a hole into the cedar.

All in all, I think it worked pretty well. Still more to tweak, though! Someone wants to incorporate more metal parts, like a drip tray with a spigot (awesome!). And replace the porcupine pail with a stainless steel tube (next year…). And…  there’s more, but I’ll save it for another post.

cider4 cheers

Cheers!!!

~Sarah

frosted kale is sweeter

dino kaleI have a confession to make. About kale. I know it’s a superfood, and healthy people eat lots of it (and love it!!!), but I have a hard time enjoying it. I’ve had some good moments with kale, like when a friend made a salad with baby kale greens, or a batch of kale chips turned out really well. I like it in soups. But for the most part I try to hide it in my food and pretend it’s not there. Because really, I’m not a huge fan of the taste.

Am I being too honest? I’m sure I’m not the only one. Actually, I’m writing this post based on the assumption that there are many other people like me, who might like to know:

 

How to Eat Kale and Love It (More Than You Already Do)

1. Find the right variety. My least favourite kale is Red Russian, so I don’t do a very good job of harvesting it. My daughter feeds it to her rabbit. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why I planted so much of it… perhaps it was a moment of weakness for the poor baby seedlings I didn’t sell!

This past year I grew 3 varieties for sale and for my own gardens. I didn’t foresee a run on kale, so I ended up with 2 varieties in my own garden (but that’s ok, I don’t really like it that much….) If you try a few, in a few different dishes, it will help you decide on your favourite.

Red Russian (to me) tastes more bitter than the other varieties. I know people who love it and say it’s their favourite, so I would say it’s a personal taste issue. Dinosaur Kale (also known as Lacinato) is pictured above. It has a more mellow flavour. Curly Kale is the standard variety that most people are familiar with. I’m debating whether to try White Russian next year, having just heard of it recently. There might be other varieties too that I’m not familiar with – feel free to let me know what you’ve tried, I’d love to hear about it.

2. Learn the best way to eat your favourite varieties. Dinosaur Kale is my favourite type to eat in soups. I slice it across the leaf in long thin strips, so they’re like green noodles in my brothy soups. If I’m going to make flavoured kale chips, I’ll use the Curly Kale, since it holds more of the good stuff in its many folds.

There are other methods for eating kale, like dicing it really finely and hiding it in lasagna. Or adding it to stir fries, stems included. Some people like to steam it and eat it with vinegar, or cook it and mash it with potatoes and sausages (hello Netherlands, I’m looking at you…). Baby kale greens in salad are great; I think it’s because they’re still so tender.

3. Wait for it. Kale tastes better after it’s been out in a light frost or two. The cold temperatures signal the plants to convert starch to sugar, so they taste sweeter. Kale is not the only plant that does this; all the members of the Brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi) and roots (carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, beets) will do the same.

One year we left the Brussels Sprouts out all winter. They were protected by their huge leaves, but still spent time frozen outside. The kids were eating them like candy, because that’s what they were! So sweet, right from the garden.

4. Spice it up! Use it as a vehicle for your favourite spices/dips/sauces and see what happens!

 

Good luck, and let me know how it goes. You can find me on Facebook; feel free to start a conversation.

~Sarah

 

 

kefir: healthy homemade soda pop

kefir compositeThis is a family favourite. It tastes like ginger ale but has all the health benefits of a good probiotic like yogurt or sauerkraut.

Water kefir makes a fizzy drink if you seal it tight during the second phase of fermentation. Adding ginger, lemon, and dried figs has proved to be the best flavour combination at our house, probably because it tastes like ginger ale.

The figs provide the nutrition, sugar, and colouring, while the lemon makes it more acidic (better for fermentation) and the ginger is irreplaceable for authentic flavour.

In this post I’ll share how I make my water kefir. I’ve done some experimenting along the way and discovered what works best for the kefir grains that I have. Some people will do things differently, and that’s ok. According to some of the reading I’ve done, kefir strains can vary slightly and respond a bit differently to different types of sugar and nutrition depending on the composition of the grains. That is, in what ratios the various bacteria and yeast strains occur in the particular grains that different people may have.

No matter the finer details of your water kefir, though, there are some basic rules that apply to all.

How to Make a Great Water Kefir: 3 Basic Rules

1. Use natural spring water. Not tap water, because the chemicals will kill your kefir grains. Not distilled water, because this will also kill the grains; they’ll just die a slower death due to lack of nutrition. There are also natural mineral drops you can buy (ask at a health food store) if you have reverse osmosis or filtered water. I use spring water, but I also add these drops because I want to be sure my grains are getting all the nutrition they can handle. It’s working, because I have way more than I need and I’ve already given a few batches away. They grow if you feed them well!

2. Use white sugar. This was a hard sell for me, because I don’t like having white sugar in the house. I’ve tried brown sugar, I’ve tried using molasses with the white sugar for more nutrition, but this always ends up giving the kefir a bad flavour. So I use white sugar for the initial fermentation. And if you’re wondering about using honey, I would recommend against it due to the natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that honey has. You’ll kill your grains with kindness.

3. Use organic flavourings. During the second phase, when you’re creating your homemade soda pop, you’ll want to be sure that the dried fruit is not treated with oil or sulphates, because that will affect the outcome of your kefir. As well, using organic lemons means you can use them with peels on, which provides a more well-rounded nutrition profile for your grains. If you’re going to all this trouble to make a healthy, tasty drink, you might as well keep it pure.

Recipe for ‘Ginger Ale’ Water Kefir

As I mentioned, our family likes the ginger ale flavour the best, so the instructions here are for this basic recipe. I’ll also include some variations you might like to try.

Ingredients and Materials, Phase 1

1 L mason jar

baby facecloth or cheesecloth to cover opening of the jar

elastic to hold it on

3-4 heaping tablespoons water kefir grains

1/4 cup leftover kefir liquid from previous batch

1/4 cup white sugar

natural spring water, enough to fill jar to 2 inches below the top

mineral drops (optional, but recommended)

Instructions, Phase 1

It’s important that everything you’re using is clean, but there’s no need to sterilize your equipment. Put all the ingredients in the mason jar, stir, cover with the cloth and let it sit on the counter for 2-3 days. You will see bubbles – this is good! Sometimes the grains will get carried to the surface by the bubbles, then fall again when the bubbles pop at the surface. Fun to watch if you’ve got a million other things you could be doing.

Ingredients and Materials, Phase 2

strainer

container to strain the liquid into; I use a glass 4-cup measure with handle and pouring spout

jars that seal; I use the bottles from IKEA that have the rubber seal flip lids (here’s a pic)

1 slice of organic lemon, cut into small pieces (so they fit in the bottle)

1″ square piece of ginger, peeled and diced

1 dried fig, diced

Instructions, Phase 2

Strain the kefir grains out of the liquid. You can then put the grains back in the jar with 1/4 c of the liquid and follow instructions above for starting all over again with Phase 1. If your grains have doubled in volume, you can even start 2 batches!

Pour the strained liquid into the bottle, then add the flavourings above. Seal and place on the counter for 2 days or so.

**Important**

Be sure to ‘burp’ the bottles at least twice a day. If you don’t let out the buildup of gas, there’s a chance that the fermentation could cause the bottle to break. Just flip them open in the morning and evening and close them back up again. I sometimes will do this 3x a day because I really don’t want to deal with exploding glass bottles.

And that’s pretty much it! Have fun, try different flavours, try it plain (yuck), try eating the grains (tasteless but fun and squishy – probiotic gummy bears!!), share it with friends.

Oh ya – alternative flavours…

Our family also enjoys cranberry/lemon/dried apricot. We tried using limes, but found it turned bitter. Maybe if they were peeled they would add a better flavour. If you try it let me know! Prunes are also good for flavour.

We tried adding lemons, apricots, prunes, and molasses (not all at once) to the first phase of fermentation, and basically found that it doesn’t really help. If anything, it makes the flavour worse. Especially the molasses. Blech. However, it is good for feeding the grains because of the nutrients in these foods. So it’s a good idea to do that every once in awhile. I have a few batches going, so I add a dried apricot to one of them and a dried prune to the other. When I strain the grains, I will then mix them up so the more well-fed grains are mixed with the ‘plain’ grains that I didn’t feed. I’m hoping that in this way they will get all the nutrition they need without compromising flavour.

***Edit***

ALSO: Rachael added that kefir doesn’t do well if it’s exposed to metal (unless it’s stainless steel), so a plastic strainer would probably be better than an old rusty metal one. Thanks Rachael for reading this over and checking it for me!

~Sarah

Credits

Thanks to Rachael Ward, of Bailey’s Local Foods, for sharing her water kefir grains with me! It’s been a fantastic (and yummy) learning experience for me and my family.

I started my journey by reading the Yemoos Nourishing Cultures website – the FAQ is very detailed and will likely cover any questions that you still have after reading this post. You’re welcome to ask me questions, but you can also head over to their website to see what they have to say.