Harvest Break: The Old Treadle Sewing Machine

Treadle Sewing Machine with Oak Cabinet

Treadle Sewing Machine with Oak Cabinet

How about a quick break from the harvest? As much as we love it and the results of it, it’s hard work. A few minutes to think about the coming winter and the long evenings should encourage us to return to putting up the harvest with renewed energy and determination.

But first, the break. In the basement, where it’s cooler. It’s a little dark down there, so let’s turn on the light. Look: Mom’s old treadle sewing machine!

I used to be fascinated by this sewing machine. It used to be set up in her bedroom, alongside a tall cabinet filled with material scraps, sheets, mending and various other pieces meant to be used for this or that. There were some old sweaters from which she would cut mittens or warm slippers for us kids, shirts from which she would cut the backs to make aprons and dishtowels and lots of jeans to be mended. When you have eight children, there’s a lot of sewing to do! Continue reading

Are you a Tatie Hoaker?

Are you a Tatie Hoaker, too?

Does that term have you completely foxed?

Here in Ireland, ‘Tatie Hoaker’ is Ulster dialect for potato picker, spud digger, harvester of earth apples. My Irish beloved could probably begin to wax eloquently, singing praise songs to the potato.

To see a patch or field of potatoes in flower is certainly a beautiful grace to the eye. Because we live in a frost pocket I put the First Earlies (Orla) into the polytunnel where we were able to harvest them on 1st June. The Second Earlies are now getting ready for harvest and the main crops will swiftly follow on.  Once the flowers have faded then they are ripe for ‘hoaking.’

When we choose varieties to plant I have two priorities. Are they blight and eel worm resistant? And, are they boilers, chippers, mashers, bakers or salad spuds? You can get a good all-rounder like Desiree. But to my mind you need to make sure you have a good floury potato, one that is good for frying or roasting in oil, and a waxy salad variety. Continue reading

Recycling Rain

Galvanized Watering Cans

Galvanized Watering Cans

As the summer heats up, water for gardens, lawns and flower beds can become a serious commodity. Many areas of the country are naturally dry this time of year, and others are hit with droughts when water is needed the most.

According to the EPA, lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40 percent of total household water use during the summer. That’s why now is the perfect time to learn how to harvest rain, one of the purest sources of water available on the planet. Without the chemicals found in many municipal water systems, rain is perfect for watering your edibles as well as the rest of your landscape. Of course, rain collection might seem like a far-fetched fantasy at the moment, but if you’re prepared for precipitation and keeping an eye on the sky, you’ll be all set to make the most of the season’s next storm.

Downspout Rain Catcher

Downspout Rain Catcher

What You Need

In order to reap the maximum benefits of rain, you’ll want to catch as much of it as possible. A collection system can be bottom-dollar basic: a rain barrel at the end of a downspout. If you want to get serious about gathering rain to quench an entire household, you can invest in a professionally installed system. Search for a rainwater system professional on the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association’s website at arcsa-usa.org. Continue reading

A Good Rooster

Before we ever owned chickens, I had no idea how useful a rooster would be. All I knew was that it would crow at the crack of dawn, and I really didn’t want to be bothered by that! When we got our first hens, we had no intentions of getting a rooster. But when one of the “hens” began to grow a comb larger than the others, and one day made this funny sound (cock-a-doodle-doo!)… well, you can guess what that meant!

It didn’t take us long to fall in love with our rooster though. Our then 5-yr-old daughter used to carry him around like a baby. She named him Dirty Wilson, “’Cause he’s dirty, and I just like the name Wilson!” as she explained to me one day.

After having him around for the past two years, I can now say that I’d never want to have another flock without a rooster. They are good for so much more than an early morning wake-up call (which, by the way, you learn to sleep through!).

Here are a few things I have learned about roosters…

A good rooster warns his girls of danger. If a hawk is around, he will lead them into the woods for shelter. Continue reading

Kooky, Krunchy…Kohlrabi

What is that extra-terrestrial looking vegetable growing in my garden?  I had never grown, eaten, or even seen a kohlrabi before a few years ago.  I like planting something new in my garden each year.  A couple of years ago I took the plunge and decided to see how kohlrabi would grow in my Colorado clay soil.

Kohlrabi is a  turnip-looking type vegetable.  It is a cousin to the cabbage and comes in both a white or purple version.  The edible part of a kohlrabi plant is the swollen stem just above the ground. I’ve read that you can also strip the leaves off the woody stem and add it to a salad for some variety in your greens.  Or, you can saute the greens in butter with salt like spinach.

The kohlrabi itself is a great vegetable for storage in a root cellar.  I’ve stored it in my refrigerator for months!

To prepare, cut off the roots, leaves and various spikes poking out.  Peel off the tough skin with a paring knife and slice or chop.   Continue reading

Yes, You CAN: Ridiculously Easy Home-Canned Grape Juice

Home-canned grape juice in jars

This is probably the easiest recipe you will find for making home canned grape juice. I LOVE how simple it is. No cooking, no squeezing, no juicing; how great is that? And the flavor is outstanding. Do give it a try!

Grape Juice (Quarts)
Ingredients per quart jar:
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/3 c. grapes (I like Scuppernongs)
boiling water

Wash the grapes well. Using a funnel and ladle, pour sugar and whole grapes into hot jars. Fill jars with boiling water to 1/2 in. headspace, then cover with lids and rings. Pressure can jars for 10 min. at 5 lbs. Allow to cool overnight before testing the seals on the lids. If any didn’t seal, refrigerate immediately.

The pressure from the canner causes the juice to squeeze out of the grapes and fill the jar. Most of the grape skins will fall to the bottom of the jar eventually, although it’s okay if some still float, they are easily strained out. A layer of sugar may harden at the bottom of each of the jars, but this will dissolve over time.

My only other advice: make more than you think you’ll need; it goes fast!


Drying Food

We’re heading into the height of harvest time, and gardens everywhere are overflowing with the bounty of the season. At this point, there’s always the question of what to do with all of this fresh, fabulous food.

There is only so much you can eat tonight, right? If you already have completed a marathon of canning, you probably don’t want to see another boiling water bath or glass mason jar till next year. And freezing, while simple enough to accomplish, requires a lot of space and energy, and it leaves you with limited options for later preparation.

So, how else can you preserve those rapidly ripening tomatoes, herbs, berries and zucchini? That’s easy. One of the oldest food preservation techniques is still one of the best: drying. Continue reading

Going Paper Towel Free

There’s no sugarcoating it. Paper towels are something you pay good money for, and then throw away.
Sure, they’re convenient. Sure, it’s nice to have the “icky” things in life out of sight and out of mind (though they’re certainly not out of existence). Sure, using cloth instead of paper means a small increase in the amount of wash water and soap we consume. But let’s give ourselves that reality check: Paper towels are a monumental waste of resources, materials and energy.

Most paper towels are made from fresh trees, meaning they’re cut down with the sole purpose of getting that disposable roll into your kitchen. But the problem doesn’t end there — most paper towels are bleached and processed with chemicals and dyes that will eventually make their way into your home. Of course, production and packaging happens in factories that spew this pollution into the air and water. Then the rolls make their way onto trucks that travel thousands of miles and use jaw-dropping quantities of fuel. Paper towels are also difficult and potentially hazardous to recycle, so most cities simply won’t.

All this for a mere moment of utility, and then … into the trash. Continue reading

Old-Fashioned Squash Pickles

I had never heard of these until my Great Aunt gave some to me to try last year. I don’t even like squash, but one taste of this kind and I was hooked! They tasted, to me, like Bread and Butter Pickles; crunchy and sweet. Yummy.  I even began growing my own yellow crook neck squash, just so I can make my own Squash Pickles! Try them, and they may become a new family favorite.

Old-Fashioned Squash Pickles
9 cups (about 4-5 whole) sliced yellow squash
2 onions, sliced (1 cup)
2 med. red peppers, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
2 med. green peppers, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1/3 c. pickling salt
3 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds
In a 6-8 qt. pot, combine all of the veggies with the salt, and add enough water to cover. (Note: it’s best to use a stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick pot.) Cover and let stand for 2 hours. Drain mixture well in a large colander. Rinse and drain again.
In the pot, combine the remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add drained squash mixture. Boil for 5-7 min. Fill hot jars up to 1/2 in. from top with the mixture and cover with hot lids. Screw on lid rings, and hot water bath for 10 minutes.

How To: Can Green Beans

Tis the season! The garden is sprouting and I am looking forward to restocking my pantry. Though in my area green beans are just sprouting there are some of you who may be beginning to think about canning them. I thought I’d talk about one of the most common question I receive.

How do you waterbath can green beans?

This question is asked quite often, in varying formats.

I canned green beans for the first time this year using the water bath method. They were all sealed for almost a week and now they are all unsealing. The beans inside smell rotten. Why are they unsealing?

I don’t have a pressure canner. How long do I need to boil jars of green beans?

My parents canned green beans without a pressure canner, why can’t I?

Many people used to water bath can green beans. To do this they processed it for a very long time (several hours) in a water bath canner.

I don’t recommend that you do this for one very important reason. Green beans are a low acid food. Continue reading