Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Unexpected Bounty

The heat and lack of rain this summer had wreaked havok on our garden.  We were fortunate to receive 5 inches of rain from Hurricaine Isaac and fairly consistent rain since.  Our lawn was the first to respond by turning greener and lusher than it had been all year.  It was too late for most of the garden.  Before the rain, I was just hoping that my herbs would live to make it through another winter and be more productive next year.  I had given up on having any extra to dry and use over the winter.

To my delight, the herbs responded as well as the grass did to all the rain.  Last month, we harvested all of the basil.  We had more than enough to dry, plus I was able to make 5 meals worth of pesto to freeze.  The dill and parsley died early on in the summer, but the thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and chives started to thrive.  Last week I was able to harvest herbs to dry for winter.

Clockwise from the top-left: chives, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage.

To dry chives, I snip them finely with a pair of scissors and spread them out on a paper towel or paper plate to dry.  They are usually ready to put in a jar in about 3-5 days.

The rest of the herbs are hung by clothespins on cotton string along the soffit in our kitchen.  It can take up to a month or more for them to dry completely.  Once they are "crunchy" dry, I will take them down, remove the leaves, discard the stems and store them in sealed containers.  Herbs can be dried in a food dehydrator much more quickly than hanging, but I think they make nice decoration and make the kitchen smell "herby."

I love being able to open a jar of herbs from the garden in the middle of January.  The herbs have more flavor and fragrance than factory processed herbs.  It is also a cost savings over buying herbs, especially with the plants that are perennial.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Harvesting Honey and a Giveaway!

It has been about a month and a half since I processed the honey from our hive.  Things have been a little busy so I'm just now posting pictures about the event.

These are the honey supers with 12 frames of capped honey ready to go.  I removed the frames from the deep freezer 2 days before they were to be processed so that they would thaw.

This is a serrated, decapping knife for slicing off the wax caps with which the bees seal the honey.  The blade has a heating element to aid with cutting.  Nothing like a hot knife through wax!

Once the frames are decapped, they are loaded, three at a time, into the extractor.  This extractor is a hand-crank version rather than electric.  It spins the frames and the centrifugal force pulls the honey out of the frames.

The honey is then drained from an outlet at the bottom of the extractor.  It is filtered through a piece of cheesecloth to remove little bits of wax.  The honey is ready for use once it is filtered.  Honey is naturally antimicrobial and has too high of a sugar content to ferment without first being diluted.  It needs no further processing or heat treatment (pasteurization) to preserve it or make it ready for consumption.

The twelve frames of honeycomb produced about two and a half gallons of honey.  I will be doing a drawing on Halloween for one lucky reader to receive an 8 oz jar of honey.  In order to get your name in the drawing, leave a comment on this post!  The winner will be announced on this site on November 1st.  Good luck!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Field Trip: Arthur, Illinois

Today was a dreary, drizzly, fall day.  Since I finished my housework yesterday and had the day off from work today, I decided to head out on a field trip with my dear friend, Dusty.  Arthur, Illinois is a small town of about 2,300 in central Illinois and is predominately Amish.  It is about a 40 minute drive from my house - though I underestimate the time it takes every time I go!  Dusty and her husband farm in the country near Arthur, so a field trip is a perfect opportunity to catch up on each other's lives.

We met first at Beachy's Bulk Food Store.  I was impatient (and late) on my way out and turned a mile too early and found myself in the midst of dairy farms and buggies with no bulk foods in sight!  After "going around the block" and a mile further to the east I saw the sign and found the store.

It was a busy day in Beachy's so I didn't take any pictures inside.  It was also probably too dark.  The store interior is lit by skylights and on dark days, like today, gas lights.  I found the fine-ground wheat flour and vital wheat gluten that I use for bread.  Picked up a couple of beautiful, bartlett pears.  I also purchased some whole allspice and star anise for holiday baking - I usually only make it down to Beachy's once every 3-6 months. After we paid for our finds (cash or check only), Dusty suggested going to Shady Crest Orchard and Farm Market.  I had never been there before, though I have passed it several times on the way to the Great Pumpkin Patch.

Shady Crest had a beautiful outdoor display of pumkins, squashes and mums.

Inside, we found bags and boxes of apples, fresh baked pumkin bread, cookies and pies.  I was excited to find unpasteurized apple cider.  If you have never had unpasteurized cider, it is worth the effort to find some or make it yourself.  It is like drinking the very soul of an apple!  Shady Crest also had a full deli counter complete with Lebanon Bologna.  I did not think that anyone sold Lebanon Bologna this far west!  The girl behind the counter confirmed my suspicions that they order it from Pennsylvania.  My parents sometimes bring us a pound from Beilers Penn Dutch Market in Uniontown, Ohio when they come to visit.  Really, if you added electricity and a deli counter to Beachy's you would have Beilers.  So my NE Ohio friends should not despair of their distance from these fine stores! 

Overall, I had a wonderful visit with Dusty and brought home some treasures for my pantry.  A warm, bright spot for an otherwise dreary day!