Monday, 25 June 2012

The Underappreciated Crabapple

Summer is starting to set in and the canning in our house is beginning to ramp up. My latest project has been crabapple jelly. While they used to be a household staple, I think crabapples are rather under appreciated these days, so I thought would share my crabapple reverie with you.

We are very lucky to have a crabapple tree in our backyard and even though we haven't given it the best of care it still provides us with plenty of crabapples for canning. As you can see from the picture above, we don't treat them with anything so they aren't very pretty. Luckily, crabapple jelly doesn't require them to be pretty.

The only thing necessary to prepare them for processing is washing them and removing the stems and blossom ends. Since the cooked mixture, including seeds and cores, will be strained out and a great deal of pectin, which helps the jelly gel, is found in the cores, you wouldn't want to remove the cores anyhow.

Once the mixture is cooked down it has to be strained through cheesecloth. I used a strainer lined with cheesecloth and held up with kebab skewers over a large bowl to collect the juice. The important thing in this step is to make sure, tempting though it may be, that you don't squish the cooked apples and release the apple mush into the juice thus causing your jelly to be cloudy.

After cooking the juice down with sugar and pectin the jars are filled and processed for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. And then voila! Beautiful jars of crabapple jelly!

So, if you find you or your neighbors find yourself being pelted in the head or tripping over crabapples why not put them to good use and try this old fashioned delight!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Preparing for the Solstice

The solstice has always been a special time for our family and right now things are abuzz in preparation for our family summer solstice celebration. Last year we had a bit of a rocky start when I fell off a chair while trying to hang herbs to dry. My rear hurt for weeks! Hopefully, this year will be a bit less ouchy!

While we don't have a specific plan yet, we have worked on a few things and should be finishing up and finalizing this evening. We will also be having airbnb'ers tomorrow night, so I'm hoping that they will participate as well.

Since the solstice is traditionally a night for fairies, Will and I made a needle felted Solstice Fairy, in brightly colored sun-like hues, out of wool last night. We will also be making Solstice Cakes for Will to leave outside for the fairies tomorrow night.

I also made a small knit beehive and bumblebee to put on our nature table since honey is a common symbol of the solstice and the bright yellow color makes us think of the sun. I think the bumblebee still needs some wings, so I might needle felt some on this evening.

Jacob has been working hard to get the area around our fire pit cleared away, and in traditional solstice style, we will be having a small bonfire outside that evening. He's also hoping to get out our camping gear and roast a chicken and some vegetables in the dutch oven over the fire, and of course, no bonfire would be complete without hot dogs and marshmallows.

In addition to fire and fairies, no solstice would be complete without herbs! I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to harvest as much as I can and then Will and I will finish up tomorrow evening. Some will be used to store for winter, some will be used to make a wreath for the door and some will be bundled together to throw in the fire.

I'm thinking I may put together a list of herbs and their meanings and have each person pick out at least three that are special to them to put into their fire bundle. This would be especially fun if our airbnb'ers participate. I will probably write a small secular ritual based on letting go of the past and moving into the future that we can do tomorrow evening with our herb bundles.

Hope everyone has a beautiful solstice! If you're local and don't have any plans feel free to bring a dish and a drink and come and hang out! If you're not local, but have special plans or posts about the solstice I'd love to hear about them, so please feel free to post any links or plans in the comments!

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Surprise Chickens!

What a surprise we had yesterday! We'd been inside most of the day and had heard the chickens loudly fussing, but upon looking out the window we could see nothing except a bunch of fussing chickens. Until we went outside to do the evening chores! Lo and behold! Our Ameraucana had hatched 8 chicks!

Which she had proceeded to deposit in my flower garden! Oh, my goodness!

We moved mom and babes to an enclosure all by themselves so that they would be safe and upon inspection this morning they were all tucked up under her wings safe and warm.

I'm so excited that we have baby chicks since it's a somewhat rare occurance for urban chickens to be able to hatch babies! Jacob, who has had chickens all his life and lived on a farm for quite some time, had never actually seen a clutch of chicks hatch. He was pretty proud of our mama hen last night!

It will be interesting to see what kind of egg layers these chicks turn out to be since their dad is a Welsummer rooster, whose breed lays brown eggs, and mom is an Ameraucana who lays green eggs. I'm sure I will be updating more as the little fuzzballs grow up!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

WIP Wednesday

I've been rather neglectful of WIP Wednesday, but I think now is the time to resurrect it.

This week's work in progress is a quick little slouchy beret. I've been knitting for everyone else lately and now it's time to do something for myself. I've let my hair grow out long, but for practicality purposes I keep it up in a bandana most of the time, so I'm hoping this will give me a nice alternative to a ratty old bandana.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Walnut Cottage Canning Contest

Canning season has officially started at our house and I'm sure it has in your house as well. While I can't do a canning contest based on taste until they develop computer taste-o-vision I can, at least,  judge on some visual factors. So with that in mind I present to you Walnut Cottage's First Annual Canning Contest.

There will be three categories:

Prettiest Packaging - Go wild decorating your jars! Think outside the little piece of gingham fabric that one adorned the tops of winter gifts of canned goodies and come up with your own ideas! Take a picture of your decorated jar and tell us what you did with it. Remember to keep it safe and non-toxic!

Best Winter Stash - Who can squirrel away the most and best winter provender? Take a picture of your stash with a list detailing what your stash consists and post it!

Most Creative Recipe - Come up with the most creative recipe that you can while still staying within the boundaries of safe food preparation. Then post your recipe or ingredients to show us what kind of yumminess you came up with.


Rules and How To Enter

  • Anyone can enter the contest. All you need is the desire and ability to can your food.
  • In order to enter you can do any of the following:
    • Write a blog post explaining your entry complete with pictures and information on the category you are entering. Then post a link to it in the comments section.
    • You can also post you pictures and information on our Facebook page if you do not have a blog and then share your post on your own wall so that your friends can see your entry.
  • You may submit one entry per category, but each person will only be eligible for one prize overall.
  • Contest will close at 11:59pm E.S.T. on Sunday, September 30th. The winners will be announced and prizes sent out on October 5th.
If you are participating please feel free to right click save the contest button and post it with a link back to the contest page. I would also love it if you would share the contest information on Facebook, Pinterest or any other social media sites you might be part of.


First Place
 First place winners in each category will win a 6 piece cotton napkin set from Solstice Fiber Arts with their chosen initial or symbol and color.


Second Place 
Second place winners in each category will receive a set of 4 felted fruits in a cornucopia just perfect for a harvest time nature table!

Third Place
Third place winners in each category will receive a box of liquid fruit pectin, a box of regular mouth canning lids and a box of wide mouth canning lids to get you started on next year's canning.

Happy Canning! Check back here often to see any new entries!

Picnic Time

Summer time in our house is picnic time and yesterday we got to go on our first picnic of the season! 
Half the fun of picnic time is getting everything ready. Our menu consisted of roast chicken, deviled eggs, broccoli and pumpkin bread.

Will and I started by boiling eggs and making pumpkin bread from some frozen pumpkin we preserved last year. We even made an extra loaf that's sitting in the freezer waiting for a special occasion.

Once the pumpkin bread was in the oven it was time to finish the deviled eggs. We used Wasabi Mayonnaise from Trader Joe's instead of regular mayo and they turned out incredible! I also used my homemade cucumber relish that you see in the picture. I'm definitely going to have to make more of that relish this summer! Yum!

With everything ready it was time to pack up the basket. I love using mason jars to bring our drinks. It enables us to bring something for each of us without creating a colossal mess!

There were no open picnic areas at the front of the park so we had to follow the road back to the little shelter house.

Where we then unpacked our awesome dinner!I think it's a nice looking spread if I do say so myself!

Once everything was eaten and put away, it was time for play. First on the list was exploring this hollow log. Sometimes, Mother Nature makes the best playgrounds!

Next on the agenda Daddy got to chase Will through the playground equipment and help him slide down the pole and swing across the monkey bars. Daddy doesn't fit too well in children's play equipment, but he was a good sport about it and tried his best.

What a wonderful picnic! There is very little that's better than good food, good times and great family outings!

Hope you enjoyed going along on our family picnic! I've included some of my favorite tips for making you picnic spectacular! I used to be intimidated by the thought of packing and schlepping food around, but after a few tries I learned to love it and as soon as we come home from one picnic I can't wait to go on the next!

  • I said it above, but I'll say it again, MASON JARS! They are perfect for packing your beverages. 
  • CHICKEN! Fried chicken, roast chicken, bbq chicken, cold chicken. However you cook it chicken is a perfect picnic food. 
  • Make sure you have a nice sized picnic basket. Before I got the picnic basket we have now I sometimes used just a regular large sized wicker basket. 
  • Keep a set of melamine dishes on hand just for picnic times. You can also keep a set of napkins on hand as well. (Solstice Fiber Arts Studio sells custom cotton napkins for awesome prices on Etsy!)
  • There are lots of books and articles on picnics, but check out bento box lunch info as well. Lots of cute ideas especially for the little ones. 
  • Make the entire experience an event from the time you start getting ready to the moment you come home. It's not just about the picnic itself, but about putting it together and reflecting as well. 
  • Make your picnic a date for you and your significant other. Picnics can be super romantic as well as super family oriented.

Hopefully this post has you thinking about what to do on your own family picnic. I've added some really cool things in the  Walnut Cottage Home Store for you to take on your picnic. There's a little bit of everything there from play picnic sets for the kiddos to wine and cheese picnic baskets for the adults. Check it out! 

And don't forget, when you go on your own picnic be sure to come back here and leave me a link to your blog post or tell me about your experience in the comments! I'd love to see all your ideas and family adventures!