Monday, October 13, 2014

dried apples

It's the moment you've all been waiting for!! The results from the dried apple tests are in!

In a not-so-surprising turn of events, the best tasting apples make the best tasting dried apples. Hmm, I'm sensing a theme: good apples are good.

The first round was trees number 3, 10, 11, 18 & 19. #20 had only one apple, which we ate. Apples off of tree #2 are all gone, as are tree #13.

The best were from #19, which we think is a Honey Gold tree. Those apples are delicious before they're ripe, baked, and dried, and when they're fully ripe they are head and shoulders above every other apple we have.

Next was tree #3, which I call the cider tree, because the apples taste like really good cider.

Next, tree #10, which was a surprise, because no one (except my friend Marcy) likes them off the tree, and they didn't cook up well, either. But they have an interesting flavor when they're dried.

Tree #11, which is a green apple. They were good dried.

Lastly, tree #18. But they were still good.

Next round: trees #7, # 12 and #21. And #10 again, for comparison.

I also discovered that there is no need for soaking them in lemon juice. At least not that we can tell so far. Maybe in storage things will change. They're a bit brown, but they are dried fruit, so no one minds.

I'm using a mandoline this year, and we all prefer the thicker slices. They don't take too long to dry.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

our first pears!

I've been waiting for our pears to be ripe all year. We got about 20 pears this year, despite the fact that only one tree bloomed, and I had been told that they need to cross-pollinate. They were red-ish from the time they were about two inches long, so it's been a bit confusing, waiting for them to ripen. We've been checking near the stem, like we'd been told to, but they just weren't getting ripe. I had a vague memory of reading that they don't ripen on the tree, but thought maybe I'd read you shouldn't let them ripen on the tree.

Anyway, a windy day last week, and we found them all on the ground, with the turkeys having a heyday. So we brought the ten that were left inside, but they were still hard as a rock. I set them on the counter for 4 or 5 days. As of yesterday, they are ripe and delicious. And huge and beautiful. Pear success!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

more apple testing


Red with lighter streaks and white specks. Not as crisp as some, but still good. These aren't usually my favorite, but right now they're totally delicious. Tart, but still a bit sweet. C doesn't usually like them because of their tartness, but he does this year.


Tart. I'm kind of running out of ways to describe apples. This one is not as good as #7, which is the last one I tasted, but it's fine. A bit more crisp, a bit less sweet, but still a good apple.

There were essentially no apples off of this tree this year, and what was there was eaten by T. This is his favorite tree, for climbing and for eating.


This is the apple tree we know the identity of: Winesap. A dwarf tree, not in the best shape, although it's the youngest of the producing trees. I like these quite a bit. They're better after a frost, according to my dad, sweeter. We've had two or three nights of light frost, but nothing serious. Supposedly cool weather leads to more sugar (and color) in apples, so maybe after a real frost they'll be fantastic this year.

These aren't really sweet, and they aren't really tart, but have a good apple flavor, kind of complex? Not a very strong flavor at this point. We picked a grape box full to store.

Friday, October 10, 2014

garlic brought inside

My Inchelium Red and Chesnok Red were hanging in the garage to cure (since the beginning of August, but who's judging?). It's been getting much too cold out there for them, so I finally brought them in today. I'm a bit concerned about them, since I learned last year that if you "refrigerate" them, they last, but then when your cold room starts to warm up in the spring, they will sprout. I'm hoping I didn't get them that cold. Since I'm choosing my planting stock from them, I'm keeping them in the cold room for now.

Most of these cloves are quite small, as you can see from this picture. I haven't

I saves as many of the bulbils out of the stems as I could. They're tiny and spicy - perfect to snack on.

Here is the Chesnok Red. These bulbs are bigger.

So now I need to clean up the other varieties, and then sort through to find what to plant. I have a feeling that I have way more garlic than I'll need for the year. But there are worse problems. . .

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

apple testing, endless apple testing

I've been keeping notes about the trees in the orchard for four years now. I'm slowly getting a handle on what we have out there. We were lucky to move in to a slightly neglected, but productive orchard with about 10 trees, only one of which is identified - a Winesap dwarf that my grandpa planted.

All along I've been keeping notes on what tastes good when. Last year I did a big apple pie test with each tree, with very wishy-washy results. I also stored a ton of apples last winter, and then failed to keep notes, other than the memory that the green ones didn't keep as well as the red. (And then found out from a friend - Darla at Good Eetens - that her green/yellow apple is her best keeper, so I guess I shouldn't assume.)

This year - drying! We picked apples from four trees a couple days ago, and I'm starting there. A few apples to dry, a few apples to store from each tree. This spring I spent quite a bit of time carrying out rotten apples - or making the kids do it - and I'd rather not do that again. Last year the harvest was just so overwhelming, I didn't know what to do. It seemed a waste to pile them in the chicken yard. This year the harvest is reasonable, and we have pigs, so that's an easy thing to do with them.

Last year I used lemon juice in water (using this recipe) to keep them from browning. I read somewhere else if you move quickly, that's not necessary. So we'll see with these test apples. Last year, I dried a bunch of apples, and they were like candy for everyone in the family. I stored them in a 2 quart blue glass Ball jar, and they lasted well into the winter.

First tree up: #10

Using my brand-new fancy mandoline, I cut one thin and one thick. Last year, I cut the apples for drying by hand, and it was somewhere between those two settings. These are not my favorite apples - crisp and sweetish, but chalky. Not much flavor. I think this was my friend Marcy's favorite tree, but no one else likes it. They don't cook up well, either. If a tree needs to go, this should be it. (Although it does hold the tire swing. . . )

Next, tree #3:

This year, these are my favorite apples. They're have such a complex flavor - sweet and tart - and are crisp. To me, they taste just like cider should. I made applesauce with just these apples this year, and it's completely delicious. I left it sitting overnight with the skins, so after I put it through the food mill, it was a beautiful pink color. 

At this point, they're getting a just a bit mushy, and not many are left on the tree. I picked all that the rest, to store in the cold room, which I’m pretty sure is a bad idea. We should just eat them.

These apples are really white inside, sometimes with a ring of pink just inside the peel. It doesn't really come through in the picture. I should have put another apple next to it to compare. Anyway, two of these, thinly sliced, no lemon juice.

Tree #19:

There aren't many of these apples this year. There were never many, and I had real trouble keeping the kids from eating them earlier in the season. They're some of the first apples to be good eating apples, but if you let them go, they become totally delicious. This is the tree that we think is a Honey Gold.

Tree #11: 

This is N's favorite apple tree. I think these are fine apples - hard, although not really crisp, pretty sweet, a bit tart. They are great for applesauce and such because the windfalls are in great shape - tough apples. I don't love these though. We'll see how they are dried.

Tree #18:

These apples look a lot like tree #10, but are slightly better. This is actually the tree that "won" the baking test, if any apple won. (Opinions varied widely, to say the least.) It's a bit sweet, and not nearly as chalky. The tree is covered with apples this year.

Tree #20 - Ginger Gold, planted in 2011. We got one apple off the tree this year!

So, this is supposed to be a golden apple. And early. It is neither. It was a dusty red, and seems like it might not be totally ripe now, after our first frost. It is good - sweet and tart, a good amount of flavor. When we cut it open, it was a bit greenish, and the tiniest bit chalky, like maybe it's not ripe. So maybe not a Ginger Gold, but still a pretty good apple. I didn't try any dried apples, since this was the only one. We just enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

life with geese

It turns out a person shouldn't leave their squash out to cure when you have geese. I assumed they'd be hard enough to survive, which in retrospect is ridiculous, given that they eat wood off my sister's house. I guess the butternut is tough enough, but I'd better bring it in just in case.

Nothing is safe around these animals - squash, woodwork, trees, rosemary bushes. It's time for them to go.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

tomato deliciousness

I just love these Nebraska Wedding tomatoes. They're so pretty.

But the hands-down favorite tomato for me this summer is the Black Cherry. They're almost apricot sized, kind of a weird purple-y color, and completely delicious. I'll definitely be planting those again next year. The plants are super viney and prolific - not a great match for tying on strings. Then again, the one in a cage is doing well because it also took over the empty neighboring cage.

I've had very little luck with big red tomatoes this year. Or black, or red and yellow. These orange ones are doing pretty well, and the cherries are doing well. At least Mexico Midget and Black Cherry. I talked to someone else in the area with the same problem, so maybe it's not just. Part of it is just me, because I'm not picking them quickly enough, so I sometimes find rotten big tomatoes in the garden. A big part of it is the grasshoppers and crickets and slugs. They're everywhere, and they love tomatoes. All the big tomatoes have holes in them.

Anyway, from my garden I managed to get 20 pounds of (mostly) big tomatoes, to can as stewed tomatoes in water, hot pack. I got 11 quarts, but I think I should have been pickier about just taking the tomatoes and leaving the juice/water. Oh well. I want to can more, so I bought a flat of 25 pounds from the man whose name I can't remember at the Sheldon farmers market. Then I used about 8 pounds of them to make two batches of River Cottage passata. Which I love. It made 10 (I think) pint jars of sauce for the freezer. I just blend instead of putting it through a food mill. One with basil, the other with thyme, to compare.

Also, I took the whole harvest of Principe Borghese, cut them in half, and dried them. It filled a quart jar, and should be enough for the year. Also, I have a jar left from two years ago. 

I have the rest of the flat of tomatoes on the floor of the kitchen, rotting. I plan to can them tomorrow. After that frost about a week ago, we've gotten warm weather again, and the tomatoes are doing well. If this keeps up, I may regret buying some. In any case, I'll have eaten enough Mexico Midgets to last me a year.