A few months ago, I was discussing blueberries with my dad. I was explaining that last year, we did not get any of our own blueberries because our guinea fowl ate them all before they turned ripe. It was very disappointing. My dad explained that my great grandmother used to have the same problem with wild birds. He suggested a fence. This is something that we'd been going back and forth on. The blueberries are in our front yard and being a woman, I do have a desire for the front yard to look somewhat presentable and more welded wire was not in my vision.
Dad told me that the fence didn't have to be there all the time, only when there were berries on the bushes. He explained that my great grandmother (whom I'm named after, by the way) used to keep a fence around her blueberries all year long to keep the deer out. Then, when the bushes started putting on berries, she would take down the fence and place it over top of the bushes to protect them from the birds. We thought this was an interesting concept and so when the bushes put on berries this year, we put cages around the bushes. The cages will be removed when we have harvested the berries.
When I think of pickling, I usually think of pickled cucumbers otherwise known as pickles. When I was growing up, my dad went through a pickled egg phase and I've always turned my nose up at pickled beets so I guess I've always known they existed but I've not really given it a lot of thought until now. Mostly, I just thought, "Who'd want to pickle everything?"
One of the Amish novels that I've been reading lately was talking about the women being in a hurry to get lunch on the table one day and they "just served some pickled beets as a side." Wow! That's when I realized that they are basically just dumping this side dish straight from a jar. It's already been prepared so no further preparation necessary. I tried this and just served my family pickles as a side one day. It was that easy.
Then I started looking through recipes in my Ball Blue Book of Preserving and realized that quite a few of the recipes in there are actually just various types of pickled salads. So far I've pickled cucumbers and squash. If all goes as planned, I will pickle some beets later this week (I've never actually tried them!)
There are several other advantages to pickling. You don't have to cook the vegetable again. You are preserving the vegetable without taking up precious freezer space. Cans are easily organized so if your freezer is anything like mine, you will actually be able to find it and know how much of it is left.
We do still need a pressure canner because I do want to learn to can our chicken broth and it might be nice to have some unpickled vegetables around occasionally.
Yesterday, I asked you how you preserved your fruit and mentioned that we prefer jam.
This year we changed our recipe to one that makes low sugar jam using calcium activated pectin. This method will actually allow me to use honey instead of refined sugar. This time I used sucanat for most of it and used my father-in-law's honey for the last two batches. All batches really tasted the same and set up well.
I was inspired to look for the calcium activated pectin because in the past I've been on a diet where refined sugar is forbidden. I finally got the motivation to do more research this year because I don't want to make jam with refined sugar yet again and end up not being able to eat the jam for an extended period of time.
I found the pectin at a health food store and followed the instructions on the insert. I liked the flexibility the instructions gave. They gave a minimum amount of sugar that could be used and a maximum amount. I found that there wasn't a lot of difference taste wise between using the maximum amount of sugar and the minimum amount of sugar.
It is definately berry season and I thought I would write a little about how I preserve our fruit. This is our third year going to pick blueberries at a local blueberry farm. The first year, I made the traditional jam with jam and sugar being the only ingredients. The second year, I did the same thing and also froze half. This year, again I froze half and jammed half using a different recipe.
What is the difference between jelly and jam? Jelly is fruit juices gelled. Jam is crushed fruit and and juices. Ofcourse there are other ways to preserve fruit that I'm not going to get into here such as preserves, conserves, butters, etc.
We cook our jam and can it. I prefer this so that it doesn't take up our precious freezer space and the cans are so convenient to grab out of the cabinet and dump into my muffin batter.
This week, we set aside two days to pick blueberries at a local blueberry farm. MrLivingOurWay actually worked at this farm one summer for fun as a picker. He and the owner always told me "Don't pull on the berries very hard. The ripest berries always just fall off the bush." This explanation always implied, that I should be pulling but only gently. I stilled ended up with a bucket that had many, many not quite ripe berries.
This time, MrLivingOurWay took a different approach that helped me out and it dawned on me that I might not be the only one that has struggled with picking ripe blueberries. He simply said "Give the berry a little twist and if it comes off, it's ripe. If not, then it's not ready yet."
So there you have it. Attempt to twist the berry off the stem. No pulling or tugging involved. I have to say our berries were of much higher quality once the whole secret of picking ripe berries was put into words that I could understand.
Note: We do have lots of blueberries planted in our yard, but they are still little so we are using those to snack on but it's not nearly enough to put up for the winter.
One week in, I thought I would give a quick update. This weekend a FindingOurWay said "Mama was right. We are getting a lot more done without watching so much TV." She says she only misses watching one TV show. This after less than a week!
We find that we are able to communicate much better and there are family activities which are replacing the TV. Board games have become a favorite activity that often replaces TV in the evenings. The FindingOurWays are using their imaginations more and a lot more work is getting done outside and around the house. I've just replaced my time on Facebook with twice as much time reading books which was a favorite activity of mine as a child. So much so that my mother actually worried I was reading too much and I think MrLivingOurWay is getting a little concerned about this as well. I am not finding the need to even turn on the computer most days since I'm on a break from work.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the way this experiment is going and I hope that the TV will permanently be limited in our house when the month is over.
We have about 10 guinea fowl. They run free and roost in the trees. We like them because they are good watch birds being the first to alert us at night if something is wrong. However, they roam quite a bit and because of this tend to disappear at a higher rate than our chickens being an easier food for predators since they roost out in the open, getting hit by cars, etc.
It's time to hatch again and new guinea eggs were put in the incubator at the beginning of the week. MrLivingOurWay and the FindingOurWays searched over the month of May to find the guinea nests until they finally found enough eggs in a short enough period of time to justify running the incubator. The incubation period for keets (baby guinea fowl) is slightly longer that of chickens at about 28 days.
We have only had a few hens try to hatch their own in the past and held our breath over the month of incubation. They like to nest fairly out in the open which makes them even more prone to predators while sitting on a nest. Once hatched, they would guide the chicks all over our property and one was almost always left behind. I think the last one had about half of her keets by the time they were ready to be on their own.
Most people who've heard me talk, know that I am really not a fan of television. I confess that I've been watching more lately. My list of "must see" shows consists of House, Bones, and lately The Office reruns which were running two back to back episodes on a local station. The difference between me and the rest of my family is that if I'm not home or there is something else to do, then I'm ok not watching the TV show.
I knew around the end of March that we were going to go a month without TV this summer. MrLivingOurWay decided that we should do it in June because "in July and August it's really too hot to do anything but sit inside and watch TV." He has been known to get up at 5am during those months to get his outside chores done and not go outside again until late evening. As someone who spent many summers earning money as a lifeguard outside in the summer months, I disagree and am hoping that the addiction to television will be broken and we will find better use of our time.
I couldn't expect my family to give up something that was going to be hard for them and not give up something that is equally hard for me so I'm giving up Facebook. Facebook is usually my window to the "real world" since I work at home and don't really get out much. It stays up in the background as I get my work done, probably slowing my progress.
This is not a new idea at all. I first heard of it from the Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV as a child. Laura at Getting There had Digital Detox week for her family in April. Her family did not use computers or TVs for a week. This is a great concept, except that we telecommute and I'm pretty sure that would not go over well with our company. Many people I know in real life are TV free and allow very limited computer access to their families.
As promised, it's June 1st and I'm back. Most of the past month has been spent sitting at my computer way more stressed out than I believe God meant for us to be. I can reflect back on the prayer I prayed as I began two jobs last August. I prayed that The Lord would get me through my committments for the coming year and that he would gently make it obvious if one needed to go. Thankfully, things were going along just fine until a little over a month ago when He made it obvious that this arrangement was not going to work out for the long term. I am greatful that the only one to whom He made it obvious appeared to be me as both companies seemed very pleased with my work. I, however, was not as pleased and officially resigned from one of the jobs over the past month. I've missed keeping up with this blog and it's become increasingly obvious over the last few days that I need this outlet.
Despite my being cooped up in our home office staring at a computer screen, lots of things have been going on here with little of my involvement. More figs, raspberries (thanks to a friend), and kiwis have been planted. We have had tiny harvests of blackberries, raspberries, and huckleberries. Wild grapes have been transplanted in place of a some of the grapes that we planted earlier that didn't make it. The garden we were in the process of moving, has been moved and planted with tomatos.In the old garden the peas and lettuce have been pulled up. New chicks have arrived and are happily living on our back porch. The chicks that were living on the back porch are now living in chicken tractors in our back yard. I did have time to alter a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and got up the nerve to make my first loaf of gluten free bread.
Today, I was out in the garden weeding and planting corn. It has never felt so good to have my hands dirty. It's amazing how much better I feel after stepping outside for just a few hours.
I hope to be posting daily again now that I should have more time. I appreciated those who let me know that the break was okay. I know a lot of women are in this alone while their husbands are at work but I am truly following the lead of my husband. Since he does so much work around here, it gives me a lot of time to write.