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What a Summer!

Yes, I am still alive!  Life has just been so busy that I simply have not had time to write.  Fortunately it’s all been a good busy. I’ve been on a camping trip, farm sitting, cooking, eating, spending time with friends and family, training my dogs and preparing to start teaching next week.  In the midst of all this I’ve started a new relationship, which, as I’m sure you know, tends to divert the attention considerably!  Hopefully my life will settle into a little bit more stable of a routine now that work is starting up again.  Hopefully.

This summer has been one of the best of my life.  Certainly the best in recent memory.  It’s been absolutely wonderful spending time with the people I care about, sharing my home and food, and generally having a very good time.  My life has consisted of little other than work for years now, and I didn’t realize how much that was wearing me down.  I feel human again.  I sure hope I can hold on to this for the coming year as it’s going to be very stressful.

On the food front, I’ve been experimenting with cheese making and really enjoying the results.  So far even my mistakes have been quite tasty.  I’m learning that things turn out quite differently depending on the ambient temperature and humidity levels, and also on how long I let things set.  Also the age of the milk seems to make a difference.  Cheese made from very fresh milk is much milder than that of milk that has been sitting in my fridge for a few days.  Cheese made in really hot weather has a stronger taste that that made on a cooler day.  I expect professional cheese makers work hard at strictly regulating temperature and humidity in order to produce the exact effect they are looking for, but I don’t have the time or energy to do so.  So I just warm my milk, add some cultured buttermilk, and let it sit until it clabbers.  Or separates.  Then I strain.  And eat.  Yum.

The last batch I made separated overnight and had such a strong flavour (the milk had been sitting out for several hours in very hot weather before I added the buttermilk) that I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat it.  I had poured it into the colander lined with cheese cloth and tasted it.  Oh dear…had it gone bad?  Thinking I wouldn’t eat it, I left it in the colander rather than tying up the cheesecloth and hanging it.  My plan had been to feed it to the dogs for dinner.  Well, to my happy surprise, the curd drained much better this way and produced a lovely, even, granular but moist texture.  And while the flavour was strong, mixed with honey, walnuts and sliced peaches it was fabulous.  I ate it for breakfast for the next three days.

I also learned, through discussion with a group of farmers around the campfire at the Canadian National Sheepdog Finals (which I attended two weeks ago with my wonderful new… um, man? boyfriend? partner? I’m going to have figure out an appropriate ‘label’ to use here) that cream turns into butter best at 58F.  I am going to see if I can put that to the test later today as I have two quarts of cream in the fridge waiting to be churned.

I also have a lot of cabbage, a pile of beets and a few other things filling up my fridge that need to be processed.  I think I am going to make a new batch of sauerkraut with them.  And perhaps some lacto-fermented beets.  These will be a little fussy as I’ll have to peel and shred quite a few rather small beets, but the results sound tasty.  This is also how to make a traditional borscht, which I’m dying to try.  I was very excited the other day to find a new pickle crock at Berryhill in St. Thomas (a great little store for serious traditional cooking equipment, including an enviable array of cast iron pots and pans).  I have been wanting a good size crock for a while but have been hesitant to use the ones I find at thrift stores; I’m always worried they’ve been used for something other than food and don’t like the idea of doing a caustic, lengthy fermentation process in a container that could have traces of something toxic in it.  So now I have my new crock and I don’t have to worry!  I will fill it with cabbage and salt and see how it works.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted on these experiments.

Before going on our camping trip I managed to put up 11 liters (quarts) of peaches for the winter.  This was the product of two 11-quart baskets of peaches that I purchased while on a short visit to Niagara.  As usual they ripened faster than I expected and I lost about a quart’s worth due to lack of punctual processing.  But it has been worse in previous years.  I’m happy to have this many put aside as canned peaches remain one of my favourite foods in winter.

I’m not sure what else I’m going to put up for this winter.  I still have nearly a dozen quarts of tomato sauce, and given how busy I am going to be over the coming weeks, I may just leave it at that.  I’ll be sure to make some roasted tomato sauce and put that in the freezer but that should do me for the season.  I hope.  Maybe I’ll make a little more.  I’ll see how much time I have.

I’m also planning on making some wooden crates and storing potatoes in my scary, damp, dirt-floor basement.  Apparently it’s ideal for storing potatoes (and not much else!).  I’ve never been successful at keeping potatoes over the winter, but I read a little more about it this time and hopefully things will go better. I also need to get a lot of leeks into the freezer, and perhaps some roasted red peppers.  I’d like to make some red pepper jelly too. Oh my!  Still a lot to do.  But the harvest is only really just getting started.

Well that’s all for now.  I have more stories and lots of photos, and will do my best to get them posted soon.  No promises, but I’ll try!


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