Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Gift Of Canning

It is raining here today and our outside plans are on hold, however there is lots to do inside. We are making an official inventory of canned goods. We were pleasantly surprised at what we brought with us from Virginia. I had been canning there, slowly and steadily to begin our food stores and we ate well from it. Now it has to be sorted through and put to the front for first use here.

The canned vegetables have to be sorted as does the variety of tomato products. There are green beans and squash as well as a few jars of sweet corn. The relishes and chow chows have their own section.

Of course my personal favorite is the jelly jars. Pretty 1/2 pints of basically colored sugar!
There is Basil Jelly that is a pretty pale green, Tomato jelly a rich red and Spicy Tomato jelly which is a paler, more translucent red. Hot pepper Jelly that is a dark green and Sweet pepper jelly that is a pretty medium green.Sweet Red Pepper jelly is the prettiest as it is a pale red with tiny flecks of dark red pepper in it.
These are our treats, they are the most fun to make and always special to break out a jar. We know they are technically bad for us with all the sugar but they teach us appreciation and  moderation. These are the jars I label with pretty flowery and colorful labels, these are what we give as gifts for Christmas.

We took a Jar of the Hot pepper Jelly and the Sweet Red Pepper jelly to give to Dan at our feed store. He is Amish and had mentioned his sons love really hot stuff and always see who can eat the most of something that can peel paint! He says he just like normal things so we told him the Sweet Pepper jelly was for him.

The Hot pepper Jelly is made with our own peppers, Craig's Grande Jalapeno. I know from experience that home grown peppers are hotter than most store peppers so I cut back the amount of Jalapeno's I used by more than half. The taste is wonderful.......for about 5 seconds, then the firey furnace of Jalapeno kicks in and belts you a good one. It is far too hot for us.

I asked Dan if his sons had liked the jelly the last trip to the feedmill we made and he said something interesting. He said they had not opened the jars yet, they were enjoying how pretty they are. He said they look forward to opening them for sure but feel gifts are to be savored and enjoyed not just gobbled up as soon as you get them.
That made us think about our canning, not just the jelly but all of the good things we have laid away for our use. Being able to can the good things from around us is a gift. Something we may not take enough time to appreciate and enjoy. So look at your shelves of home canning and see how beautiful they look, savor the anticipation of opening them to make a meal.

We are blessed with plenty in this country and even the poor have so much more than people do in other countries. I am so pleased to be able to gift with canning and enjoy the work and effort that goes into making foods with love.

Take care everyone and God Bless.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Play Toys and Work

All good things must come to an end! And Fiona has almost finished with the freezing/dehydrating/canning. She has done a wonderful job. I am looking forward to reaping from the bounty God has provided! The freezer is almost full again. We need to sort it. I have been neglectful. There are forty some dozen boxes of jars awaiting my storing of them. That is over 500 jars! They are all over the floor. We need more storage space already. But what a problem to have. And we still have a couple of boxes of tomatoes ripening that will need canning or dehydrating. There are a few peppers that need working. She has dehydrated most of the ones we had. They take up a lot less room when dehydrated. We dehydrate them and then stick them in a jar. Most of the onions are still here. They are holding up well. The cabbage is losing outer leaves, but is still quite good. The pumpkins/squash and the chickens/turkeys are making acquaintances. We are finding the squash/pumpkins to be quite tasty. So things are changing. Fiona is cooking them and the rind and seeds are going out to the poultry. We're keeping the meat, and some of the seeds. We may grow our own next year. 

As you can see, things are going quite well. We are very happy with the outcomes. We just have a little more to do.

But “play toys” have made an appearance on more than one occasion. Fiona needed a new food processor. She had her heart set on a Cuisinart Power Prep Plus 11 cup unit. She ordered it through Overstock and got it in a timely manner. Parts missing. Overstock gave us Cuisinart's number. They said it was made by Conair and gave us their number. Then it was phone tag and aggravation. Cuisinart and Conair wanted nothing to do with us and definitely didn't want to help us. Overstock went the extra mile. Ashley was great. She gave us a credit for our troubles. She called Cuisinart to get us the parts. No go. Ashley said if we paid for the parts, Overstock would reimburse us. (I forgot. Overstock sent us another unit, but the missing parts were not part of that package. We had to send it back. At Overstock's expense.) Anyway, Ashley went the extra mile again and intervened with Cuisinart and got the parts sent to us, at no expense to us. Way to go Ashley! And Overstock! Boo on Cuisinart and Conair! And Fiona is extremely overjoyed with her new “play toy”. Therefore, I am quite happy. But not with Cuisinart!!!

This is a wonderful food processor, it has made making Ketchup and sauces a breeze. It is quiet and best of all really easy to clean up after pulsing quarts of tomatoes.

With all the tomatoes, Fiona needed a “food strainer”. She wanted a Victorio. The Amish store had them in the crank handle model. She says it is a life saver. Happy again!

This simple strainer is a great piece of kitchen equipment but it does require a solid and sturdy table or counter to screw it on to.

This girl is so easy to please. (Look at who she is stuck with – ME!) She just came in bragging about how easy the gas stove is to clean after tomatoes, etc. had bubbled and splashed all over it. Nothing like her old electric stove!

And I had gotten her a funnel at the Amish store that has a built in head space measure built into it. She says it is so much nicer to work with. Another “brownie point” for good old ME!

And something like 17 cases of jars later – that is over 200 jars – she is ready to admit I was right for a change. I ordered her a “Vacucanner”. This is a pressure canner that has been modified for vacuum. It comes with a vacuum pump to pull a vacuum on the canner. It has a gauge to monitor the vacuum. And a valve to break the vacuum. This is not for liquids. Only dry goods like beans, herbs, spices, flour, rice, seeds, dehydrated peppers and tomatoes and other goodies (like we are getting), and rolled oats and other cereals. Whatever you have on hand that needs preserving works. We got the larger model that does half gallons. Put the dry contents in the GLASS jar. It has to be glass from what I understand. Tighten the ring. Back the ring off a quarter turn so the air can get out. (Make sure the rim of the jar and the lid are clean.) Put them in the Vacucanner. Put the lid on. Close the valve. Turn the vacuum pump on. Watch the gauge. A little over a minute later, when it gets to 29 inches of mercury reading (just a gauge reading, not really mercury), turn the pump off. Open the valve QUICKLY so the air can rush in and seal the jars. Check the lids to ensure they are sealed. Tighten the rings. Store the jars. All done. The modified canner we received was a Presto.

This is the Vacuum motor for the Vacucanner. It is shipped without oil so you have to add it to the machine.

 We wipe down the O ring with a light coat of olive oil.

 It holds 10 pints at once or 7 quarts or 4 half gallons.

You lock the lid on just as you would with heat canning.

Once the canner is closed you turn the motor on and in about 3 minutes it has vacuum sealed the jars.

This is a lot like water bath or pressure canning, just quicker. In regular canning, the heat pushes air out of the jars due to the expansion caused by heat on the air. When you set the jars out on a dry towel or whatever, they will cool. This will pull a vacuum on the jar and seal it. We just did the same thing, just without the heat. We can do 4 half gallons, 7 quarts, or 10 pints at a time. After the jars are filled and the rings are tightened and then backed off, you are ready to go. In about 3 minutes, the lid is on, vacuum is pulled, pump is cut off, valve is opened, lid is removed, and you are ready to store your jars.

We went to the salvage store and got rolled oats, cereal, beans, soup mixes, etc. We had dried apples, dried peppers, dried tomatoes, dried parsley, spice mixes, herbs, etc. to try this on. We had fun working with our new “play toy” together. And we got a lot of work done while the tomatoes were simmering. New fangled gadgets can be a lot of fun, and useful. We tried to match the jar to the product. Cereal is used quickly, so it went into half gallons. Beans went into pints and quarts, depending on what kind of bean it was. Soup mixes went into pints, enough for one meal or two for two people. Dried fruit and vegetables went into pints. They reconstitute nicely, but you don't need a whole jar, so a jar lasts a while. And so it went. The 8 or 9 bushel of peppers went into less than 2 dozen pint jars. And they are almost as good as fresh when added into dishes when cooking.

On their web site, they have the six enemies of long term food storage. Number three is insects. This is a quote from their web site:

No-one likes to think about insects in our food, but the truth is they are always there. If you store food without heating it or without removing the oxygen, eggs already present will hatch and devour your food. If you pull a vacuum to 22 hg, any insects will die for lack of oxygen, and any new eggs that hatch will immediately die. If you pull the vacuum to 28 hg, insects at any stage will die, eliminating the possibility of contamination after opening. Every VacuCanner comes with a gauge so you can be sure the food you are storing will be good when you need it.

I have to admit, we did cheat some. We were going through a lot of jars quick. We had bought 24 dozen jars along with the soup mixes, beans, etc. All of these jars were almost gone. We had other jars or we could go buy more jars, but we just didn't need to use all of these jars. We discussed it and decided to use half gallons for some things, along with pints and quarts. We filled 4 half gallon jars with parsley. We filled 6 half gallon jars with Mexican spice mix – it is old, but still quite good. There are at least 6 half gallons of dried apples. There are 9 half gallons with cereals. And a couple of other things are in the large jars. We have a lot of “things” in jars. Just not much variety. That is next years project: to get some variety into the jars. A lot of these will be empty by then. Accessories to many a fantastic meal!

Oh!!! Did I mention that she has almost 30 other dozens of jars with “liquid” in them. That is another 350 (give or take) jars of food. And those Squash/pumpkins may be getting dehydrated and vacucanned. She can tell you about that recipe and procedure!

I don't think we here need to concern ourselves with this, but I thought some of you might be about to consider this for yourselves. From their web site:

Heat plays a major part in the success or failure of your long term food storage. Research shows that most dry foods stored at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (which is the average temperature of most basements or cellars) will last for 30 plus years in an oxygen and moisture free environment. As a rule of thumb, every 10 degree increase above 60 degrees will take ten years from the life of your food. Every ten degrees cooler than 60 degrees can add ten years to the shelf life. This holds true to about 38 degrees, at which point most dry foods can keep indefinitely.

This little bit of info from their site, we have had trouble ourselves with in the past. We provide this in the hopes of helping someone else.

To store dry foods long term, the foods you put in jars must have a moisture content of 10% or less. If the moisture content is higher than 10%, mold, fungus, or anaerobic bacteria such as botulism can grow in your food storage. VacuCanner will remove the moisture that is in the air as humidity.

Anyway, Fiona is winding down her work on all the auction produce I dumped onto her. She has been a fantastic help. I am lucky and thankful for her. She is a prize. And we have had a lot of fun in the midst of all of this work. And the antics of the recycling poultry is another joy for Fiona to tell you about. I will admit to us “wasting” an hour or two every day with our “children”. In six to ten weeks, their time will be coming. And more jars will be needed!

Life is too short to not enjoy it. So, the heck with it! Go have some fun and enjoy your lives!!!

From the insane asylum escapees up here on Mocking Bird (or Poultry) Hill to all of you, we hope God blesses you at least half as much as He has us.

How can you resist Buff Cuteness!


Ralph and Fiona

PS: Fiona says I need to mention something. When you open a vacuum sealed jar, it is almost as hard to open as a pressure canned jar. It is tight. A wide mouth is easier, the same as in a pressure canned jar. 

PPS: Happy Thanksgiving and may we all recognize what we have to be thankful for! 


Wednesday, November 11, 2015


A Minute of Silence in the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month.......Remember in that minute and give thanks!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Rainy Days and Photo Ops.

Well I thought I would do a photo post. Yes I know its a bit of a cheat but if I get this done we get to go to R&S Salvage for fresh bread pretzels!

 Here are the turkey's out in the front yard. They  graze a lot and make happy turkey noises all the time they are out and about.

 This is the tub of Ginger, we are keeping it in the utility building at night but it has done exceptionally well here in the climate!

A question....if the chickens eat the herbs do they taste better when you roast them? 

Here is a Royal Palm hen...she was sure she was hidden until I talked to her and then she gave a turkey sigh and, after eating some thyme, came out from behind the buckets!

 Here are the crazy keets, they eat as a group, run as a group, fly as a group but still get separated at odd times. The shorter ones get lost in the grass but you cannot stop them from going everywhere!

 The art of nailing into season oak! This is some of the original nail work we found when we started to work in the tobacco barn. Hey we would never nail like that!

 Humn this is some of the nail work the next people will find...we now drill pilot holes when we work at nailing things to the seasoned oak poles and planks!

 The turkey's found the brace's at the fence corner to be perfect for roosting and preening after a busy day eating Asian beetles and the like!

 We wondered which turkey would make it to the roof from the deck railing first, of course it was the Little Royal Palm Hen, she is always around and will sleep at your feet. She is also a superior look out!

Ahh the current version of our duck pond, a storage bin for under the bed, The ducks can get in and  out easily and the turkeys like to drink the duck slurry that is left after the ducks have a 'Spa' session. Go figure  on that!

 Here is one box of peppers we did not buy. These are the peppers we harvested off the heirloom pepper plants we brought with us from Virginia.

And last but not least a view of the poultry, Ralph had given them a squash and some carried off peices to the far side of the pen to eat, some regarded it as peasant food and ignored it and other pecked at it for hours. Even the ducks came over to see what it was.

I hear Ralph calling, or is it the thought of a warm and buttered bread Pretzel? Have a great day and God Bless you all!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To The Auction We Go

In case you haven't figured it out yet, we live in an Amish community. Great people, great neighbors! The hardware, the building supply, the sheet metal, the feed mill, most saw mills, etc. are Amish. I bought a 1000 board feet of assorted width 8 foot pine lumber for $0.45 per board foot. It was charged at 8 foot lengths, but they all varied from a little over 8 feet to about 10 feet. I haven't seen any under 8 feet. The widths were about 6 inches to 12 plus inches wide. Varying widths all mixed together.

Metal roofing: we have gotten heavy gauge left over roofing for $1.00 per foot. Some is 4 feet long, some is 12 feet long, and the rest is in between. I load it on the trailer and stop in and tell them how much I have. They never checked. I just pay and leave. It was by my count. There are assorted colors. That is fine with us. And the poultry don't mind either. We are burying it 12 to 15 inches vertically around the poultry house to deter digging predators.

There are several salvage stores around. We prefer the larger one (with the deli and bakery- very sinful). (The hot buttered pretzels are over an inch thick and about as wide as my hand. They alone are worth the drive. And, oh so soft! And with lots of butter – real butter!) We got 14 ounce boxes of Campbell's tomato soup (various varieties) for $0.50 per box. We got a banana box filled with bags of popcorn for $3.00. They have repackaged spices (it appears they buy a 50 pound bag of sage or dill or whatever and fill small containers from that). The spices are not name branded, but appear to be quite good, and cheap. Fiona had a problem with the cinnamon. It was a lot stronger than what she was used to. She is using a lot of the spices in her canning. I haven't heard any complaints yet. We got quilted 12 ounce jelly jars for $8 and something. We're using them for spice jars. Working great! Some people might not like that, but it works great for us. It seals wonderfully, nice quilting, we can see the contents, we can write on them. Better than most stores bottles. Canning jars are $8.74 per dozen. Kellogg's Raisin Bran in a smashed box (inside bag is still sealed, just the box is damaged) was $1.50. Others were about the same. They have damaged goods, expired goods, and new goods. All at good prices. We pick up a pretzel and a few things, and ten boxes of canning jars. Next trip, a pretzel, a few other things, and ten more boxes of jars. We had this collection of new, empty jars. It is rapidly disappearing as she cans. We still have the jars, they are just being filled with edibles. 

Canned tomatoes, salsa, green tomato mincemeat and tomato sauce waiting to go to the basement storage area.

 We got here too late to put in a garden. We thought we might get a fall garden put in, but there was just too many things going on. And still are. The solution was the Amish produce auction. It costs $5.00 per year to join and get an auction number and $1.00 per lot bought or sold. That number and the $5.00 entitles you to buy or sell. Don't scratch your nose during the auction. That's how I got the turnips. I don't even remember them being auctioned, but I bought them! Wednesday was the last auction for this year. We got 4 boxes of canning tomatoes at 20 pounds each for $4.50 per box. That is $18.00 plus the 1 dollar for the lot equals $19.00 for 80 pounds of tomatoes. We got 2 – 10 pound boxes of green tomatoes at $6.50 per box. We got 3 pecks of peppers for $5.00 each (these were large yellow, red, purple, white, and orange peppers. Top quality.). A ½ bushel of large, beautiful, red peppers was $10.00. We got 4 – 20 pound boxes of no. 2 tomatoes at $10.00 per box. (That is $0.50 per pound for no. 2 tomatoes.) We got 4 pecks of green tomatoes (one of them was red) for $6.00 per peck. I paid $10.00 for a bushel of large green peppers. Large stuffing peppers - $2.50 per peck for 2 pecks. Red tomatoes – 5 pecks at $2.50 per peck. And the pumpkins Fiona mentioned. For $16.25 plus the $1.00 each for 4 lots equals $20.25 for over 300 pounds of squash/pumpkins. Most will be winter treats for the poultry. And us!!! Several have already been gifted to neighbors and friends. 


It is hard to figure out, but we got about 180 pounds of tomatoes plus 9 pecks of tomatoes. That is almost 300 pounds of tomatoes.

We got 1.5 bushel of peppers and 5 pecks. I thick that works out to 2.75 bushels of peppers.

And over 300 pounds of squash/pumpkins.

Price tag: $182.05 total. We drove away with over 600 pounds of food for us and the poultry for $182.05. 

Our load of produce purchased at the Hart County Produce Auction.
 About 10 days prior, we paid out $230.00. We got almost 300 pounds of tomatoes, 6.5 bushel of peppers, 3 pecks of onions, the 1 peck of turnips (nose scratcher?), and 3 bags of cabbage. There were 14 heads of cabbage in each bag and the heads weighed 5 to 6 pounds each. That means the heads cost less than $0.90 each. At the IGA supermarket, cabbage was $0.79 per pound. Maybe this will help explain why the jars are filling up. The dehydrator is running almost non-stop, also. And the deep freeze has a lot more in it, too.

The first trip had about the same amount of tomatoes, almost 4 more bushel of peppers, and add the cabbage and onions. All for $48.00 more. All of the produce has been really nice, top grade. 


This isn't a lot of variety, but it is better than nothing. And at a good price. We'll try to get the variety next year with our garden. 

Price breakdown for The October 12th sale at the Produce Auction.

Fiona and I were just talking. Is this a sign of the times? People are living in town and, according to them, they don't have room for a garden. Why don't they go to a produce auction or a farmers market or CSA or do something to get food to preserve? Yet, they mow a 1 to 5 acre plus yard? When buying jars, every time we would hear: “That is a lot of work” or “That is too much work”. It is better than starving or GMO's or pesticides. From the looks, we are just weird! The price worked out nicely for us.

Look around your community for good deals. Often, they are there waiting for you to discover them. We had seen the auction, but didn't realize it was for anyone – like us. Our insurance agent told us about it and explained how it works.

God has blessed us in so many ways. This place, the neighbors, the businesses, etc. are all a blessing. And, of course, I have Fiona!

We hope and pray that God blesses you too.

Ralph and Fiona