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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Apples from the Farmers Market

My little fruit orchard is still in its infancy so my little apple trees are still several years from fruiting; however, that is not going to stop me from making home made apple sauce! 
One of my baby apple trees all wrapped up for winter.
Today was the last day of our local farmers market (The Mufreesboro Saturday Market), so I stocked up on apples.  Enough to make 2 batches of crock pot apple sauce (recipe below), an apple pie, and maybe have some to dehydrate.

Winesap, Granny Smith, Unknown, Roma
They smell soooooo goooood!

Unknown, but these are spicy delicious and crunchy

I am thinking that I made out like a bandit! I can't wait to be able to gather apples from my own three little trees one day. Grand Gala, September Wonder Fujii, and a Granny Smith.  Maybe put in some additional varieties in the spring?

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So my crock pot apple sauce is more like apple pie filling with an apple sauce texture.  Not quite as sweet and syrupy and gooey as apple pie filling, but full of that rich, complex, cinnamon, vanilla, clove flavor.  I know clove doesn't sound like something to add to apple sauce, but just a pinch leaves out the distinct clove flavor and smell while adding richness.  The following is for a large crock pot.

  •  14 - 20 apples, depending on size, peeled and cut into chunks or thick slices (either way, they will cook down into sauce)
  • 1 cup of warm water - maybe less
  • 1/2 c cornstarch
  • up to 1 cup sugar if you have mostly tart apples?  I've made this with no sugar before, and it is good that way, too.  In fact, sometimes I like it better that way.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground clove
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or flavoring
  • Optional: 1/2 stick of butter (if you aren't going to use real butter, skip this - margarine just doesn't really add anything in my opinion)
Fill the crock pot to the top - it will shrink down as it cooks.  Except for the optional butter, mix all of the other ingredients in with the water and pour over apples.  Dot butter on top like for a pie.  Cook covered on low for 4-6 hours.  Start checking every hour after the first two hours and turn off as soon as it is "mashable" with a wooden spoon.  Mash up and let sit covered for several hours to cool.  Sometimes a skin will start to form as it cools.  I use a wire whisk to reincorporate it.  This usually means that I used too much cornstarch.  Which may not be uncommon as I am not good with measuring things.

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Sorry, forgot to take photos of the apple sauce process.  I did, however, take pictures of the Yellow Jackets while I was cutting up apples on the back porch.  I gave them their own bit of apple trimmings on the far side of the table, and for the most part, they were happy to enjoy their apples over there and leave the knife-wielding woman alone.  And speaking of apple trimmings - I spread the cores and skins around the corner of the property where we have seen deer tracks before.  I figure, worst case, the squirrels will enjoy.  And that is not a bad thing. 
Sneaky Yellow Jacket thinks I don't know that it is sipping apple juice.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New FaceBook Page

The Little Biddy Hen House is now on FaceBook!  Not sure what I'll be doing with it, but since I'm a FaceBook Junkie, I'm sure there will be something there.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Black Walnut Obsession and Other Updates

Thistle Down and Black Walnuts

Yes, I suppose I am obsessing.  Have 5 or 6 more five gallon buckets full to hull and dry.  And after spending 2 hours with a hammer cracking them to win barely a cup of nut meats, I ponied up $40 and bought a purpose built nut cracker.  I spent an hour learning to use it, and I think I will be able to shell 2 cups or so of nut meats an hour after a little practice.  Yay!  Black walnuts for baking this winter.  And maybe some to give away.  At $20 a pound or so on Amazon, I should make back my $40 this season.
Tiny Red Spider among the floating bubbles of Morning Dew.
One of the reasons I am so slow at stomping on walnuts (to husk them) and putting them into my bucket is because I am always distracted by some little insect or, in this case, a tiny arachnid.  Less than 1/4 inch long, this little red spider is a marvel of industry.  The whole web is about 5 inches across, and covered in morning dew.

Last of the Summer Basil.
I feel bad that with all the abundance of Basil that we had this year, I did not put more up for winter stews and spaghetti sauce.  But, I did dash out on the evening before our first hard frost and gather up a few trays to dry.   I also got a tray of lemon balm, Melissa Officinalis, to dry to add to tea this winter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Walnut Harvesting Update

After some small experimentation, I have decided that, for my small scale processing, the boot method looks like it will work.

The one showing ridges is ready for drying - the others need another round of cleaning.
  1. Look for walnuts where the husk has darkened on on side
  2. Step on walnut with heel of "mucky boot" and squash
  3. With rubber/latex glove, "squirt" walnut out of hull
  4. Leave hull to decompose right where it is
  5. Fill 5 gallon bucket until bucket is about half full
  6. Use the "jet" setting on a hose sprayer nozzle to spray walnuts in the bucket until water just covers the walnuts
  7. Use a 3 prong hand cultivator to mix the walnuts against each other until the water is really dark
  8. I am discarding the water where I am trying to kill weeds on my gravel driveway
  9. Repeat the rinsing cycle a few times
  10. Spread nuts out to dry
I was able to process three times as many walnuts as my first try (4 hours for a mixing bowl full of walnuts) - in about half an hour.  I could have probably cut the time down, but I spent a lot of the time picking up walnuts being slow and lazy.  If I had put some energy into it, I'm sure I could have picked up that many walnuts in a much shorter time period. 

From what I have read, Black Walnuts often only produce every other year or every 3rd year or so. There are still buckets of walnuts to harvest, so I am assuming this is one of the "good" years. So gotta harvest enough to have walnuts for a few years of brownies and banana bread! (And I say that like I actually bake...)

These ones have been drying for about a week now. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Black Walnut Harvesting

American Black Walnut - July 2015

Back in March and April (2105), when all of the trees had begun to leaf out, this one lone tree in the middle of the pasture remained leafless.  Earlier in the winter, my husband had cut vines as thick as my wrist from around her.  As all the other trees stirred to life, we thought that perhaps we were to late in rescuing her from the strangling vines.  By May, however, she began to leaf out, and as Summer brought warm rains and sunshine, she came into her own.  By July we knew she was going to gift us with many gallons of walnuts.

In less than 5 minutes I had gathered a 5 gallon bucket full.
There are at least 15 more gallons from her, and twice as much from her sister.

Fast forward to Autumn:  October has been cool and drizzly so far.  Portents of winter, but also the harbinger of garlic planting season and the walnut harvest.  I donned a sweat shirt, shorts, and mucky boots (after all, I'm from Northern Nevada, and it wasn't that cold), and headed out to try my hand at preparing walnuts.  Native North American Black Walnuts, to be exact.  I had watched my YouTube videos and read various blog posts, and now I was finally going to do it.

Being too lazy to find my small hammer, I substituted my small crescent wrench.

I only harvested a small 5 gallon bucket of fallen walnuts, and I was pretty sure I could process those by hand.  I had seen a video where the hulls were tapped all around with a hammer and then twisted off of the hard shell.  This seemed like an easy, no stress, low tech way to spend a Saturday afternoon on the back porch looking out at the drizzle.  Since I couldn't find my small hammer, I convinced myself that the back of a crescent wrench head was probably a better shape for mashing walnut husks, anyway.  And, indeed, it worked well.  As walnut juices stain, I was forewarned, and wore heavy dish washing gloves.  I listened to some TED talks and got into the rhythm of tap-tap-tap and twist.  I got to where I could hull one in less than half a minute.

After hulling 5 gallons of walnuts, the husks still added up to nearly 5 gallons.

Hulling the walnuts takes off the husk and most of the "fruit," but the walnuts are still covered in a fair amount of gunky stuff.  I can see where pressure washing them might make the final cleaning much easier than the method I used, but walnut husks and leaves contain juglone, and juglone prevents other plants from growing.  So I used the wash 'em in a bucket method and scrub 'em with a wire bristled grill brush.  I poured the resulting black water and sludge where I did not want anything to grow.  While husking 5 gallons of walnuts by hand was not a major ordeal, hand cleaning was.  Definitely going to look for a better method of washing them.
5 gallon bucket of un-husked walnuts equals one large mixing bowl of shell-on nuts.

All and all, I spent four hours to get on mixing bowl full of nuts.  And I haven't even shelled them yet.  They will need to hang out and dry for a few to several weeks, depending on temperature and humidity before I can crack them and find out what the actual harvest will be.  Still, even though I need a method that will scale, I'm pretty happy with this modest haul.

Can't wait for them to dry so I can crack some open and eat them!