No, we didn’t fall into the abyss as many are starting to wonder. We have just been busy, busy, busy with all sorts of activities here at Seven Oaks. I even had to re-read the last post or so to see where I had left off with the summer narrative. Although I was complaining about the cool summer and the lack of tomato ripening, the tables have turned and we are now in the lovely state of being inundated with beautiful tomatoes and other summer crops! The rain situation has been sparse for more than a month. We had a small amount of rain yesterday and are now experiencing a measurable downpour, the results of which I will report later but thank goodness for this much needed rain! Our gauge said we had over an inch by noon and since it continued raining most of the afternoon, I’m hoping we had twice that amount!
Just about every day is a 20lb processing day for tomatoes and my goal is to stay just ahead of Dave’s harvesting. When he brings in nearly 40lbs a day (which he did at least one day last week) that means I have to double my efforts to keep on track. Of the nearly 1380 lbs of produce we have harvested YTD, the tomato crop (at 333lbs as of yesterday) is daunting but we are delighted with this volume so I’m doing everything I can to (no pun) to deal with these precious fruits.
Although I’m canning much of this volume, I must admit that I’ve joined the hordes of folks who are dehydrating their tomatoes these days. Here is what I did recently to keep up with the volume. I quartered and cored a bunch of beauties and sprinkled the tops with a slight shake of sea salt. I can’t get as many trays into the dehydrator since these pieces are taller than slices of other items I’ve dried so far.
These lovelies turn out like this and just make you want to gush with joy! My sources, printed and on line, tell me this method of preserving tomatoes is far out pacing the canning process. I can see why since this was relatively easy to do. But, I’m a bit old fashioned and I also have the equipment and the know how to process tomatoes in a variety of ways so I continue to do so. I have been canning our harvest into diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and pasta sauce with really great success this summer. I am pleased to have the equipment to do this as well as ample space but it is time consuming to do so. I start in the morning with 20 lbs of tomatoes like this. I wash, quarter and core them and dump them into a very large pot to cook down on the stove. They boil for 15 minutes before I put them through my food mill to separate them from the skin and seeds. Then I put the results back on the stove to cook down to a thickened sauce. This takes hours and hours of stirring to keep the mixture at a fast simmer/boil without scorching the bottom. Last weekend, my friend Joan came over and we produced TWO batches which required 3 large sauce pots to stir at once! We did this as well as bottled the honey…more on that later. The outcome of approximately 20 lbs of lovely, ripe tomatoes is only 6 pints of nice, thick sauce. But oh, how wonderful it is to open a jar during the winter months and use it in one of our savory dishes! Besides drying and canning the tomatoes, I’m also roasting them at every chance I get. I do this most often with the cherry tomatoes and sometimes in conjunction with other veggies or just by themselves. I’ve invested in multiple half sheets in order to do this in my convection oven simultaneously. The results are lovely and get frozen, flat in gallon bags or eaten for dinners over rice or pasta.
Tomatoes aren’t our only game this time of year. I’m also trying to keep up with the green bean harvesting. This I do mostly with freezing. Dave harvests pounds and pounds of these and brings them to me in these trays. So far we are just under 40 lbs. I stem them and blanch them in boiling water for 3 minutes before cooling them fast in an ice bath. Then I let them dry a bit on towels. Before bagging them up for the freezer. I use a straw to suck out the air of each bag before putting them away. These are wonderful all winter long when the ghost of anything green is a faint memory! We are pretty excited to have lots of cucumbers again this year to turn into our favorite pickles. It was really fun to have the pickle tasting bar at the wedding but I’ve gotten serious admirers since then who think the sweets are pretty special. That encouragement is just what I need to continue to experiment and so I have! I’ve made spears this year with great success! They are pretty darn easy to do. You cut them as such… proceed with the initial brining….play the Tetris game with them to load them into the waiting jars just so (really, this is a hot potato game since the spears at this stage are piping hot!)And then process them as normal! Yeah, spears!So what, you might ask, is happening with the fermented pickles of 2014? Remember, oh so long ago when I was loading up the crocks with whole pickles to turn into sour pickles? Well, thanks for asking…they just came into their own recently! I’ve been tending them for about 4 weeks and the aroma when I lifted the crock lid was something I wish I could share with you! There is an intense dilly-ness about them! Part of the process tho, is to skim the surface of any scum every couple of days. I don’t think I could have been any happier to do this since it was a sign that everything was on course! These have been worth the babysitting time! I decided this week that they were ready and tasted one with great fan fare and approval. I took them from their crock and washed them thoroughly. Then I loaded them into the quart jars. These can be kept for 4-6 months in the refrigerator just as is, or processed in a hot water bath to be kept longer in the pantry. I decided to do a bit of both but I changed the instructions just slightly. The UMN instructions at this point said after packing the pickles into their jars, to take their brine and boil it and then then cover the pickles with the hot brine and process. This I did, but found the brine to be just way too salty for our modern tastes. So I re-rinsed the pickles and added boiling water to their jars to process. The pickles now have plenty of their brine-y flavoring to hold their own in the sour pickle world! In other news, we are eating the few peaches that we kept on our trees and although smallish, they are delightful! These are Red Havens. These are not our only fruits to be harvested. Strawberries are a recent memory but the blueberries continue to surprise me and are still producing in two of the varieties as we are now over 65lbs for the year. We plucked the first watermelon from the fields and it looks like a wonderful specimen with more to come as well as cantaloupes which will be plentiful in the next month or so! There are so many things to be excited about this year but before I get to the bees, let me just report on our two newest crops that we are gaga about! Here is our first ever cauliflower! One in a long row of them! The industry is a bit better about blanching the heads and we are working on that but I feel a little photosynthesis won’t ruin the taste!And Brusselss sprouts! These are not going to be ready until the fall, but oh, how exciting it is to see these little buds forming on the branches! I will research ways to preserve both of these cruciferous vegetables!So, we take and we take from the earth, all these lovely fruits of our labors. But it is so important to give back which is what we are doing now with our composting. Our two barrel composting unit has been overloaded with goodies in the past month or so and it was time to unload it and re-distribute the wealth. It is relatively easy to do with this composting model to open the mouth of it and crank it out and over a wheel barrow. The smell of it was invigorating! Here is Dave distributing in the rich compost into the plot where were just harvested 200 lbs of potatoes. Its like a little thank you note to the field.
As always, last but not least, is the bee report. Thank goodness this is a relatively quiet time for the bees. We harvested and extracted the mid summer honey and then gave the bees some space. At my last posting, I was pretty darn excited to report that the very first bees at Seven Oaks had produced 36 pounds of honey which I extracted at Jurgen and Helen’s house one day. The thrill of getting your own honey from bees you have been caring for is unmeasurable! So, it is natural that bottling this same honey was pretty exciting as well! I have been researching jars for this purpose and ordered up some candidates from a company outside of Chicago. Think about the process of getting a 36 pound bucket of honey into little 7oz jars!!! There is a method for this and it is done with a bucket that has a spigot for this purpose. I borrowed one from Jurgen while he was out of town and proceeded last weekend to transfer the bucketful of honey to my little jars. It wasn’t nearly as much of a sticky of a mess as I anticipated. And I’m now the proud mama of 59 jars of beautiful honey from Seven Oaks Farm! Creating labels for these will be my next project! And finally, just a note here to remember my dear mother-in-law, Margaret Sauerhoff who passed away last week. She was an amazing woman who I enjoyed knowing through the last 37 years. I can’t begin to list all of her wonderful traits here since there are too many but I must say she was a wonderful person and I’m so honored to have been so welcomed by her into the Sauerhoff family!