Beans, Beans and More Peach Preserves

I just wanted to begin today’s post by saying how heartbroken I am about Robin Williams’ tragic death.  I come from an exceedingly dysfunctional family – just about every neurosis known to mankind is represented in some form – but we’re not suicidal, so I can’t begin to even understand what he must have been going through.  The (very intelligent) husband of Beloved’s cousin said that Robin’s death is “a truly sad reminder that brilliance and happiness rarely reside peacefully in the same brain.

That may be true, but it is so incredibly pitiful.  Is Don McLean still around?  This calls for a song – The Day The Laughter Died.

Yes, I’m old.  And very, very sad.

At any rate, I guess I’ll move on to my originally intended post, which should really have been titled “How I Spent Last Weekend” or “Wanna See What A Bushel of Green Beans Looks Like?”

I hope so, because it looks like this:

Bushel O' Beans

Well, that’s slightly over a bushel; the green and purple beans in the blue colander are from our garden, while the rest are the bushel we purchased from our CSA farmer.  See how neatly the CSA beans are all trimmed and cut?  It was done entirely by hand and took over 3 hours.

Remember – neurosis runs in the family.

Once that was done, I began the process of actually pressure canning the whole mess.  Well, except for the beans from our garden, which are currently fermenting merrily away in a Pickl-It jar on my counter as Dilly Beans.  The canning took 2 days, because while you only need to process the jars for 20 minutes, you still have to fill those jars, seal them, arrange them in the pressure canner, close the thing up (I don’t think NASA secures astronauts as well as this thing locks down), bring it up to pressure, process for the 20 minutes, then let it naturally vent the pressure.

All in all, processing one batch of green beans took nearly two hours.  I processed 2 that first day, so 7 hours all told on Saturday, and this was after we’d run our errands (which included purchasing an insane amount of green beans).

Sunday saw me canning not only the third batch of beans, but a dozen half pints of peach preserves.  Thank goodness you can process those in a water bath, so all I had to do was peel, pit, and dice the peaches before mixing them with lemon juice, sugar and pectin and cooking them down before putting it all in jars.  That only took about 3 hours, all told.

And here’s what 3 bushels of green beans, canned, looks like – minus one pound that I used for tomorrow’s recipe and the two jars we ate last night for dinner:

Bushel O' Beans - Canned

The two boxes in the background are the peach preserves, along with the strawberry-rhubarb I canned earlier in the season.

Next up?  At least 4 bushels – maybe six – of tomatoes for sauce and paste.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

The Zucchini Invasion

Our vegetable garden is doing marvelously well this year.

Boy, is it doing well.

We’ve already harvested rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries (both red and black), lettuces, spinach, collards, Swiss chard, kale, peas, turnips, beets, carrots, radishes and some green beans – many more of those are on the way.  We’re about to start harvesting peppers – bell, jalapeno, serrano, poblano – as well as the cabbages; tomatoes will be ready soon, too.  The onions are coming along, as are the sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes, and the spaghetti and delicata squashes doing quite nicely.  It also looks like we’re going to have quite a few cantaloupe and even a couple of Sugar Baby watermelons.

I think the only things we’re not going to see much of are butternut squash, parsnips and okra, which is sad – Beloved and I both adore them.  But, when we’re ready to harvest the late summer/fall vegetables, we’ll be able to plant more greens and cool weather crops; in fact, I think Beloved’s already got a second round of peas going, as well as more radishes, turnips and beets.

And of course, there’s the zucchini and summer squash.

Tons and tons of zucchini and summer squash; not only are our own plants producing like the vegetable version of gerbils, we’re getting an average of six pounds a week from our CSA. (When we pass roadside stands or booths at farmers markets heaped with piles and piles of the stuff, we just shudder.)

We’ve been cooking and eating it several times a week – often for lunch and dinner.  Before too much longer I’m going to go on a zucchini bread baking binge, the vast majority of which will be given away to our co-workers and friends; the rest will be frozen and most likely consumed over the holidays (Oldest Son is coming to visit for Christmas! Hooooooraaaaaay!!)  In the meantime, we’ve been freezing a great deal of it for use during the winter and early spring months, before we face next year’s Zucchini Invasion.

Freezing zucchini is really quite easy.  We simply shred it using the shredding blade of our food processor, then measure it out in 1-cup portions.  Those portions are then placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer until completely frozen – usually overnight.  Then we vacuum seal them with our Food Saver and pop them back in the freezer.

Shredded ZucchiniShredded Zucchini Bagged

How do you use all of this frozen, shredded zucchini you may ask?

It’s actually a good question; the first time we did this, I was hard-pressed to use it all.  But, if you think a little outside of the box, it really isn’t hard.

You can use it in Zucchini Fritters, of course, or your favorite zucchini bread or muffin recipe – I never had much luck making paleo zucchini bread; it always came out heavy and/or gummy – but when I go on my baking binge, I’ll probably use this recipe.  However, I mostly hide it in savory foods.

It’s a great addition to meatloaf and meatballs, or the meat filling in stuffed cabbage (especially if you’re grain-free or low carb; it substitutes the rice or bread crumbs quite nicely).  It’s easily hidden in many types of casseroles, including the breakfast type, and is also really good in soups and tomato-based sauces – toss it in the spaghetti sauce AND the meatballs, and you’ve got your kids eating twice as much!  I’ve even thrown it in omelets and quiches.

So embrace the zucchini.  You’ll really be able to eat it all.

Spring Has Sprung. Sort Of.

Ah, Spring – you capricious flirt.  You give us warm, beautiful days, allowing us to hope that this horrible winter will really end, then turn around and do this:

March in Ohio

Yes, that is just so WRONG.

Despite only blogging once last week (and losing readers because lentils are apparently of the devil), I’m really ready to start blogging on a regular basis once more.  I also think the whole thing is about to morph again, as our focus is once again shifting.

No, other than incorporating properly prepared legumes and grains back into our diet (with the occasional sugary-but-homemade treat), our diet isn’t really changing – the main focus is, and always will be, grass-fed/pastured meats and eggs, full fat grass-fed dairy, organic, local fruits and vegetables and healthful fats.  But we’re well-accustomed to eating this way now, and are becoming interested in other things.

Being empty nesters (and, unfortunately, dogless) has recently given us some very unaccustomed spare time.  For me, this means trying my hand at things like homemade yogurt and sourdough starters as well as taking up old hobbies from my youth, such as crochet and cross stitch.  Recently, I’ve completed two afghans and am almost finished with a white cotton spread for our bed.  I’ve started a cross stitch sampler with a Senility Prayer (“Grant me the senility to forget people I don’t like, the good fortune to run into those I do like, and the eyesight to tell the difference”) and find myself eying patterns with skulls and crossbones that say “Don’t Make Me Poison Your Food” for the kitchen.

Hey, I never claimed I was a normal old lady.

Beloved has once again turned his attention to seed trays and grow lights – we have a veritable mini-farm in the living room (and that’s just mostly herbs and a couple of tomato plants, with a couple of other things thrown in to mix it up) – as well as the garden out back.  He ripped out half the trees in our once shady back yard, and there are four additional raised beds, quite a bit larger than the others, to complement the two original in-ground and five raised beds he added last year.  One of the now treeless areas is now sporting three of these:

Take A Wild Guess

I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you what this is (I believe there will be a detailed post on the planning, construction and use in the very near future), so I’ll let you speculate about it in the comments section.

I will, again, be canning and freezing much of the fruits of our labor, as well as those from the CSA, and will probably talk quite a bit more about that this summer.  Other tentative plans include re-purposing an older model refrigerator into a curing cabinet for homemade charcuterie and freaking out the neighbors with a bat house and a beehive.

So, basically, we’ve become suburban homesteaders.

It’ll keep us off the streets.