This year, I decided I wanted to try growing sweet sorghum and making our own syrup. Where we live, we can tap maple trees and make syrup from the sap, but my husband and I really love sorghum and it is especially good for you. We can't grow sugar cane here in Indiana.
Yesterday, we cut down about a third of the row of sorghum cane.
We stripped off the leaves and cut off the seed heads.
Next, it was time to squeeze the juice out of the canes. Here are some of the canes.
My husband took pity on me and we decided we would purchase a sugar cane juicer. I had tried my Champion juicer and that was NOT going to work. This new device will take about 4 years to pay for itself, and I hope I live that long!
Here he is running the machine.
There is a pan with a screen on top of it that collects the juice. Then you get it out through a little brass spigot.
Next, I boiled the juice down. It took HOURS. Typically, people that do this do it outside in a huge shallow stainless pan over a fire. Not only does that make it faster, but it saves having to use electricity. Maybe next year I'll do it outside.
Once it turned into syrup, I turned it off and poured it into a Pyrex pitcher and let it sit all night to cool. I was afraid I might scorch it, but next time, I think I'll probably continue to cook it for a while and just tend it constantly at the end so it will be thicker. This syrup is slightly thicker than maple syrup. It is really different in taste, but we think it is delicious!
From 10 liters of juice we got a little over 1 liter of syrup. Most of it I put into an empty maple syrup bottle that holds a quart, and the rest you can see in the glass bottle here. Since I am not canning it, I will keep it in the refrigerator. The syrup I have purchased in the past did not need to be refrigerated. I just want to make sure.
And here is my husband's breakfast of Belgian waffles!
I believe this was a success. We will wait for a few weeks and process the rest of the sorghum cane then. I found out after it was too late that they typically process it later in the year.
Sorghum syrup has an impressive nutritional profile, too. That's a good thing!
This year we have a terrible raccoon invasion. They ate ALL the sweet corn before it was even getting close to being ripe. And now they are eating and knocking down tomatoes that are green. Ugh! Next year we will have an electric fence to keep them out.
Nevertheless, in spite of the raccoons and weeds, there is lots of food out there. I went out and picked things today and cut up 7 different vegetables and one herb to make a stir-fry for supper. It was very good, by the way, served over rice with some soy sauce. Here is what I put in the stir fry. The big white blob is some frozen onions. My garden onions were starting to rot in the ground, so I pulled them all and sliced them and froze them in little packages. Clockwise from the onions are sugar snap peas, sweet banana peppers, tomato, parsley, leek, and okra. I also added some fresh garlic from the garden. I feel, well, privileged. There are so many of our brothers and sisters in the world that have so little to eat.
Today I am making cucumber relish to can. It calls for cucumbers, sweet peppers and onions - all ground up. You know how it is... if you deal with a lot of onions, pretty soon your eyes will be burning and tears will be coming out enthusiastically... very uncomfortable!
I am here to tell you I have discovered a solution! At least it works for me. I used a hand powered food grinder to prepare the vegetables. While I ground the onions, I kept munching on cucumbers. For some reason, then the onions did not bother my eyes. Voila! I hope it helps you too!
I grow quite a lot of basil in my vegetable garden. I grow it between the tomato plants. I love this easy method of preserving it and also, I like to make pesto and freeze it.
How to Preserve fresh Basil
I have never tried companion planting before. I grew my own Genovese basil transplants this year and so had quite a few and decided to plant them next to tomato plants, as I had heard that is a good combination. It must be. I've never had such glorious basil before! The basil is on the left next to the tomato plant.
I went out this afternoon and cut a basketful of the fresh basil.
Then I removed the leaves from the stems, washed them well and gave them a few spins in the salad spinner.
Next I chopped them in the food processor and put them into a quart jar.
Finally, I covered them with raw apple cider vinegar and put a lid on the jar.
If my house was cooler, I'd just let it sit in a cupboard, but the house gets pretty hot this time of year, so I will store it in the refrigerator. When I want basil for cooking (pesto, spaghetti sauce, pizza, soup, roast, chicken.. etc.) I can just retrieve what I need and it will be like having fresh basil all year!
I went out this morning and took a lot of pictures of the garden and a few other things, so you can see how lovely everything is here on the last day of June.
Kitty greeted me when I went out the back door this morning...
...to hang up laundry. It is supposed to get well up in the 90's today!
And since we've had plenty of rain along with the heat, the sweet corn is VERY happy!
This year, for the first time, we are growing THIS squash. I am very excited to see how these turn out!
Here is some very nice eggplant growing on the hugulkultur bed..
A distant view of the whole vegetable garden:
My favorite day lilies:
Okra - I love it. It looks quite exotic to me.
My one and only Jericho lettuce plant. It is a volunteer. Jericho lettuce is wonderful. It stands the heat and tastes very nice even in the heat of Summer. I pick off the outer leaves as I need them.
New spinach crop for fall:
Here is the row of sweet potatoes, inter-planted with onions to discourage bunny rabbits:
A row of sweet sorghum. I am going to attempt to make sorghum syrup.
Our sweet dog, Badger:
Crayfish hole in the grass:
Two of the chickens.. I was letting them free range... until they found the garden! Poor things.
I have begun experimenting with stinging nettles for fiber this year. Here are some of the fibers that I stripped and they are hanging to dry. I have no experience with this, at all, so I am trying to figure out what will work best for me. Did you know that during the 1st World War, the German army's uniforms were made from nettles?
A bit of cordage I made:
And a swatch I wove on my little pin loom:
It is hard to see here, but this is a side view of the bower my garden fairy and I made for her little boy out of basket willow branches. There are two benches in there.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into what is going on here right now.
Quite a while ago, I posted about canning clingstone peaches without sugar. That worked out fine, but was a LOT of work. Today, I figured out a MUCH easier way to do it. I bought a case of peaches for 69 cents a pound at our local grocery store. I thought they were freestone peaches. They weren't. Here is the link to my original post:
Here is what I did differently. Scald and remove peels. Then, take a nice sharp paring knife and just cut off pieces of the peach, down as close to the pit as you can. Put them into a jar as you do it, and as you go, press down the peaches so the juice covers the peaches. Fill the jar to within 1 inch of the rim with peach pieces. Then, proceed as before.
This was so easy and quick. Why didn't I think of it before? When I got done, I put some of the peels and pits into a saucepan, added some fresh mint leaves from the garden, covered all of that with water, simmered with the lid on for about 15 and let it cool. Then I strained it into a big drinking cup and added ice and a few drops of stevia extract. That was a refreshing drink!
My mother grew up on a farm in North Dakota, in the early 20th century. They had chickens, but their chickens laid white eggs. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but she told me that for Easter, her mother would boil the eggs with onion skins in the water to make them be a pretty color. I always think of that. I made these hard-boiled eggs a couple of days ago and wondered what she would think. These come from the chickens of a friend of mine, and they are brown, tan, white and even blue! Araucana chickens lay blue and green eggs. There is no need for me to color them at all, but if you DO color eggs, there are ways to do it naturally and not have to use chemical colorings.
Hard boil your eggs, and allow them to cool completely. Make sure they are well dried before placing them in the dye baths. Immerse the eggs in the coloring liquid to which you have added 2 Tablespoons of white vinegar (per quart of liquid) and put them into the refrigerator. Go back from time to time and check on the color. When it is as you wish, then remove the eggs and discard the dye liquid. The longer they soak, the deeper the dye color. After coloring, be sure to store your eggs in the refrigerator!
1. Onion Skin Dye Yellow to GoldTo make dye from yellow onion skins, place several skins in your pot of water. Boil them for a little while and allow the mixture to cool with the skins in the water. Then drain off the water to use for the actually dyeing. Add the vinegar. Put the skins in your compost. Soak your hard-boiled eggs in this dye bath and depending on how many eggs you use and how concentrated the dye bath is, you can get warm tones that range from gold to a lovely terra cotta.
2. Cranberry Dye Light Blue
To use fresh cranberries, boil 4 cups cranberries in 2 cups cold water until the berries burst. Let them cool. Drain and save the liquid. Add the vinegar. For a light blue, soak only a short time. If the eggs stay in very long, they will become dark gray in color.
3. Turmeric Yellow Dye
In a quart of water, simmer 1/4 cup of ground turmeric. Cool. Strain, add the vinegar and proceed.
4. Red Cabbage Blue
About 3/4 of a head of red cabbage chopped up will make a lovely blue. Again, cook for a while, cool in liquid, strain, add the vinegar and then dye your eggs.
I am sure there are a number of other recipes you can use. These are the ones I am familiar with.
You might wonder why I'd go to the trouble...? I used to use food colorings when my children were still at home. I was not aware of the natural choices besides the onion skins. This natural method is healthier, of course, and I think a lot more fun!
You can make patterns on the eggs by drizzling them with melted wax or wrapping them with rubber bands before dyeing.
Easter is coming soon! Make your plans and have fun with this.
I have blogged about this previously, but I will mention it again here. This is the BEST way to make hard-boiled eggs. even very fresh eggs will peel easily and you won't have the unattractive green layer between the yolk and the white of the egg. To Hard Boil Eggs
1. Bring a 3 quart saucepan half-full of water to a boil. 2. Using a push pin, poke a tiny hole in the large end of each egg. 3. With a slotted spoon, place all of the eggs in the boiling water. 4. When the water begins to boil again, set your timer for 10 minutes, and reduce the heat so the water is simmering. 5. While the eggs are cooking, prepare a bowl of ice water.6. When the eggs are done, immediately transfer them to the ice water. Let them sit in there for a few minutes. 7. Drain and peel when you are ready!