Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hard Work

We had an overcast and coolish day on Friday.  It only got up to 77 F (25 C).  So I worked my butt off outside, moving mulch, planting the last few transplants that needed homes, watering, weeding, weeding, weeding, hilling potatoes, and generally doing much of the stuff that hadn't gotten done because the unseasonably hot temperatures had been driving me inside for too many hours each day.  We're now out of cardboard and newspaper.  It all got used up in lasagna mulching, and there are still pathways in the garden that haven't gotten the treatment.  I had to finally do a spit and shine on my filthy car, since I'd agreed to drive to the strawberry picking farm.  Then I spent a good chunk of time in the evening cleaning up some filthy canning jars I'd picked up for very little money through craigslist and trying to triage the kitchen mess.  It was a long day, was Friday.  After a shower I was more than ready for sleep but had to wait on the girls to retire for the evening before I could fall into bed.

Yesterday I was up early, getting my large containers ready for strawberry picking.  Serious gardening friend and I carpooled over to the U-pick farm, where I zipped through a little over 16 pound's worth of picked strawberries.  My lower back informed me that the strawberry picking felt an awful (and I mean awful) lot like gardening.  After that we nipped over to a tiny farmer's market organized by farming friend, where we found we were too late for asparagus or rhubarb. We consoled ourselves by grabbing evil baked goods for lunch (pecan-brioche sticky bun for me), and I picked up some raw milk cheese, spinach and scallions that were half way to being proper onions.

Back home by 1:30, I spent the next four-and-a-half hours processing my strawberries into 15 pints of jam and three half-sheet pans of frozen berries.  Amazingly, all the jam set up beautifully.  The secret, I found, is to simply follow the directions exactly.  (Well, except for skimming off the foam; I can't be expected to follow directions that lead to either waste or sugar overdose.)  This whole do-it-the-way-they-tell-you thing is surely obvious to other, saner people.  I'm just not much of a direction-taker in the kitchen.  I'm slow that way.  Anyway, we ended up with five well-set pints each of three different types of jam: straight up strawberry, strawberry-balsamic, and strawberry-ginger.  One special jar of the strawberry-balsamic also got several twists of very finely ground black pepper.  The quality control testing indicated that they were all delicious, though there wasn't any extra of that last black pepper variation.  That'll have to wait until we open that jar.  Of those we sampled, I think the strawberry-ginger may narrowly edge out the other two for our top pick.  We'll see.  This supply of jam had better suffice for the next year, considering how much sugar disappeared into those pint jars.  We should have some to give away as gifts too.  Now I kinda wish I'd put some into half-pint jars so that I could be generous, but you know, not too generous.

Around 5:30, my husband decided he wanted to make ice cream after all, so he snagged some of my frozen berries.  When that was done we improvised a very late dinner of hot dogs grilled with the oversized scallions, and washed them down with homemade strawberry ice cream for dessert.  It wasn't a day marked by the healthiest of meals, but as I've said before, executive decision making authority about what constitutes dinner is one of the few perqs of being an adult. I fell into bed and slept like the dead.

I'm glad to have gotten the jam made yesterday, when the temperature only flirted with 80 F (27 C).  Today it's going to flirt with 90 F (32 C).

Just as I was writing this post and loading the images, my husband killed a rabbit which he caught in flagrante delicto in our garden, using nothing stronger than a BB pellet gun.  I skinned it, gutted it, trimmed it, washed it, and had it inside before breakfast.  (Sorry, no pictures.  Next time.)  Since it's a wild rabbit, it's very lean and weighed in at only 1 pound, 10 ounces once reduced to the main edible portions.  It's going to be dinner, one way or the other, tonight.  Suggestions are welcome.

But for a morning and evening putter in the garden, plus dinner preparation, I'm resting today.  I may fold the mountain of clean laundry in the hampers.  I may lie under the ceiling fan and read escapist fiction most of the day.  I feel like I've earned it.


Sense of Home Kitchen said...

Our U-Pick for strawberries closed after last year's season. I am so disappointed. We have a strawberry patch, but it doesn't produce nearly enough berries for us.

Last year we picked several gallons of strawberries and froze most of them. They supplied us with berries for yogurt smoothies all winter.

We will not have as many smoothies this coming winter.

Pamela said...

Great post. I'm impressed at your productivity. Yesterday I went to Galena, IL, and bought a couple of jars of specialty jam. They sound weird but are actually yummy. Pumpkin butter, and Rhubarb blueberry jam.

Wendy said...

If you have some woodchips, smoked/grilled rabbit is awesome! I usually use a rub of cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and sage, and then just let it cook on the grill - one low - over some smoking chips (I like apple the best) until it's tender. Delicious!

Bon apetit!

Konnie said...

I love the way you write. No idea about the rabbit. But if I was your neighbor, I would be already at your house wanting to try the strawberry/ginger jam:)

Katidids said...

Sounds as if you've earned a day off, Rabbit is sooo good!, I've always tossed them in the crockpot or cooked as you would a chicken. Our berries are ready to go but not enough for winter or jam. I'll be heading to the local u pick on Tuesday

AlysonRR said...

Could you share your recipes for the varieties of strawberry jams? That would be great!

Unknown said...

Looks great! I'll bet you felt so satisfied at the end of the day.

Jennifer Montero said...

Your culinary skills are impressive! And your self control (I would have eated at least 8 lbs while making the jam). How do you cram that much productivity into one day? I should be digging the garden now instead of reading about other people's work.

You haven't got a PYO pecan-brioche sticky bun farm nearby, have you??

Kate said...

Sense of Home, sorry to hear about the closure of the strawberry farm. Can you put in more of your own plants? Any other local fruit alternatives for your smoothies?

Pamela, my productivity comes in spurts. So much so that the spurts are blog-worthy. Those jams sound great.

Wendy, I didn't wait long on deciding how to cook the rabbit, but I'm filing your recipe. I wonder though whether farmed rabbits have more fat than a wild spring rabbit. I'm pretty sure grilling our extremely lean garden rabbit without barding it somehow would have turned it into a tire. Still, I like the sound of smoked rabbit, so thanks for the suggestion.

Konnie, if you were my neighbor, you'd be most welcome to sample the goods!

Alyson, for the strawberry-balsamic I just substituted balsamic vinegar for about half the lemon juice. For the strawberry-ginger, I finely grated a piece of fresh ginger about the length of my thumb into the pot with the strawberries, sugar, pectin and lemon juice. I used that much to go with a recipe that used 2 quarts of berries.

Jaimie, thanks. And yes, it is a good feeling of accomplishment.

Jennifer, very funny about the pyo pecan-brioche sticky bun farm! That much productivity, you will note, was actually crammed into *two* days, and I collapsed on the third. Seriously, I was a lump yesterday and needed the break. As for the self-control, we were told straightaway at the u-pick farm that we were allowed to sample as we picked. We did so. It's a smart policy on the farm's part. People don't feel furtive, and they end up buying more, I think.

Chile said...

Oh, sorry for my previous question. I see you posted how the rabbit was dispatched already.

I hear ya on the jammin' generosity thing! In fact, I intentionally purchased several flats of the 4 oz jars for that specific reason. Smart recipients know that returning the jar ensures continued generosity...

Day in the life of A Parmentier said...

Kate, I was doing the same thing on Sat. We went to the U-Pick at our CSA and ended up with 2 flats of organic strawberries for $30! My mom and I spent the next 6 hours making 4 different kinds of jam, ice cream, frozen strawberry bags, strawberry short cake etc! It was a long day! I was curious, what kind of pectin do you use?

Lorie said...

Oh! I feel your back pain. We are close to 100 lbs of strawberries taking me two + hours to harvest. Need to work on sections each day so the back is not screaming when finished. I have a pot simmering on the stove right now, yummy preserves. Aching back and all, it is so worth it!

Kate said...

Chile, no worries. Yes, I can now see the advantage of the little canning jars. I'm going to do some scouting for all kinds of canning jars at yard sales this weekend. I'll be especially happy if I come away with any small ones.

A Parmentier, just out of curiosity, is that your surname, or are you saying you grow a lot of potatoes? I use regular powdered pectin for sugar-added recipes, the Ball brand to be specific. I also follow the recipes given in the Ball Blue Book of canning, which is listed on my Bookshelf page.

Lorie, I know, it really is hard on the lower back. I just heard that the same farm is going to have raspberries in a few weeks. I'm thinking that might be a lot easier on my back. But I'm not sure I'm up for another massive canning session, nor do I think we really need any more jam. But...I think I love raspberries even more than strawberries. Sigh...