I was out picking some fruit for lunch during a break in the rain, and snapped a few photos of a portion of the backyard. The rains have re-greened the garden very quickly. I’m struggling to pick and roast and preserve tomatoes before the continued rains split them all. Same with the plums.
It’s not officially autumn yet, but it sure feels like it this week. The chill in the morning when I handle garden chores is quick to remind me that the days remaining in the garden are relatively few. The summer veggies and fruits are beginning to fade, but so many fall foods are coming in, I am swamped with produce.
It’s always been my goal to have an even distribution of fruit crops throughout the year. Late September is no exception. Raspberries, grapes, late plums, apples, goji berries are all still going strong. Physalis (Inca berries and ground cherries) are just beginning to ripen, and the quince, medlars, kiwis won’t be ready for another several weeks.
Here are a few photos from a little portion of the garden, as it appears today – lush and green, but beginning to ebb for the year:
One of my favorite fall activities is harvesting elderberries to make elderberry syrup.
I have two black elders (Sambucus nigra) and one blue elder (S. nigra ssp. cerulea), and most years can harvest 40 lbs or more of fruit from these three shrubs.
Most of the fruit can be reached from the ground, but I have a pole-pruner to help me access the large clusters up high.
We had a heavy rain which washed all of the forest-fire ash off, so it seemed like a good time to harvest the second round of fruit.
I let the poultry out of their run, so they could hunt for worms and bugs in the rain-soaked mulch. Ducks don’t like elderberries, and the chickens will only clean up a few. They would much rather go for the protein-rich invertebrates which abound in the shade garden.
One of the black elders makes smaller clusters than the other, but each individual berry in the umbel is larger.
All parts of the elder contain cyanogenic glycosides. The berries contain the least amount, which dissipates during cooking. However, stems, leaves, and roots contain toxic amounts. Elderberries need to be removed from the stems which hold them in a cluster before they can be cooked. Even the small stems which hold the berries together in their characteristic umbel shape need to be removed before cooking.
The berries stain clothes and skin, and can be fiddly to remove from the stems. I use a fork. Freezing the berries first can make it easier to remove them from the stems, as well.
After the berries are de-stemmed, they are washed to remove any grit, bugs, spider webs, and dried flowers. I then make a batch of fresh syrup, and freeze the rest in packages to make more syrup throughout the winter. I have dried them in the past, but feel that freezing better preserves the flavor and nutrition.
I take elderberry syrup regularly during cold and flu season – straight, stirred into hot tea, or even mixed with seltzer water. Elderberries contain very high quantities of vitamin C, and are rich in vit A, iron, B6, and potassium. They are a nutritional powerhouse, and I feel very privileged to be able to grow them at home, where I can control how the fruit is produced. The berries and plants are never sprayed. The shrubs are fed with rock dust minerals, organic poultry manure, worm castings, comfrey and compost tea. I know that I am feeding the soil so the plant can benefit and produce for me the most nutritionally-dense berries possible.
If you’re local and interested in some of my all-organic elderberry syrup, please check out the order form HERE (details are on the form). I will be making a batch that will be ready for pickup (or delivery to Oaks Park for derby folks) on Sept 27. Because I’ve had issues with folks ordering and not paying in the past, I’m going to take payment before I make a batch this time around.
If you have any questions about growing elders or making syrup, feel free to shoot me an email at angela@ParkrosePermaculture.com or leave a comment below. Thanks!
Yes, there is still gardening to do in February! Today, we were planting morel mushroom spawn under the apple trees, and this afternoon, I started prepping to plant the yummy Winecap mushroom around the garden. Here’s a video I made all about Stropharia, and some tips for success in cultivating this delicious gourmet mushroom in your garden.
If you havent had a chance, dont forget to subscribe to my youtube channel!
One of my kids’ favorite rituals is afternoon tea. We used to have a high tea on Thursdays, but as the kids have grown and their needs have changed, we’ve shifted to having a casual afternoon tea any day of the week they want to sit down and have it.
George inevitably wants to have tea every day, whether or not his siblings want to. He loves getting out the china and his favorite mint tea and feeling very grown up.
With our tea, we had the last of the Seckel pears from our tree, and the first of the medlars (well, I enjoyed them. George wasn’t so keen. He did like the pears – I don’t think anyone can resist a pear whose taste matches its nickname,”sugar pear”.)
While George enjoyed his tea, Hal got some snuggle time with our favorite houseguest: Annabelle the Pionus parrot. She is the most sweet-tempered, gentle parrot I’ve ever known (and I’ve known a lot of parrots). She has such a calm demeanor and likes hanging out with the kids, although she seems to prefer Hal to everyone else – which is a good thing, because he absolutely adores her.
One thing I really enjoy about tea-time is that I can sit and knit while George and I chit-chat. Today I finished a remnant hat while we were hanging out. I seem to have lots of small balls of various greys and yellows in worsted weight and have made a few hats with grey and yellow stripes – I really like the combination. I’ve now worked through all my grey odds and ends and George has asked me to make him a cotton hat with red in it, so that’s next on the list for knitting projects. (I also have a shawl on the needles, but I usually like a mindless, easy project to fall back on at the same time, and hats or socks always fit that bill.)
I’ll be back tomorrow for Ginny’s Yarn Along.
The Cassis Shawlette is off the needles and blocked. I made a few alterations to the pattern and am extremely pleased with the results.
The yarn is Malabrigo laceweight I purchased on clearance ages ago and can’t remember the colorway. It knits up very nicely, and I love the fuzzy halo and loft in the finished piece. The yarn is extremely soft and great to work with. I used about 3/4 of one skein for the shawlette and may make some baby booties with the remnants.
Joining Ginny for her Yarn Along today, where we share what we’re knitting and reading. This weekend I’ll be reffing a men’s derby tournament in Eugene, so today I’m trying to get caught up on house chores and snuggle time with the kids. I haven’t had much time to read, except for an hour before the kids got up this morning. I read a little further in Robert Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition.
Looking forward to catching up on everyone else’s posts in the Yarn Along when I get back Sunday night.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
We’re hunkered down at home today thanks to the weather. All derby practices and scrimmages have been called-off on account of the wind storms and flooding in Portland. All my big garden projects for the afternoon are similarly on hold. But we have found plenty to keep us busy in the hosue today.
Hal has a birthday party for a close friend from his ReWild Nature Immersion program, and I asked him what his friend might want for his birthday. He replied, “Carmine’s really into Minecraft, and I think a magic potion kit would be a cool gift. Let’s make it a ReWild-style kit, though, okay?”
Every magic potion kit needs something in which to grind the ingredients. We started wtih a wooden mortar + pestle set I found online. We polished it with some of our Beeswax Polish, and set about finding potion ingredients that could be ground in it.
George helped pack dried flowers (calendula, lavender) and herbs in babyfood jars (I had picked up a bunch on Freecycle for the kids’ craft projects).
I added sweet myrrh resin (Opoponax, from Somalia), which smells amazing and is fun to grind up.
I lined a thrifted wooden box with some gardeny-herby fabric cut to fit, then Hal helped arrange the jars of herbs and flowers and magical-doo-dads and dropper bottles and wrap it all up.
I know Hal was really proud of his homemade gift and I hope Carmine likes the finished kit and he gets a chance to create all sorts of messy magical projects and potions!
After a long derby weekend, we had a PJ day at the Baker House today to catch up and recover a bit.
The younger kids spent the bulk of the morning continuing to listen to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on book CD, while I got some more of the border for my Cassis Shawlette completed. I started this shawl ages ago, frogged it, and just re-started it after making some changes. So far, it’s not the most thrilling knit, but I’ve never made a shawl with this kind of construction before (border knit vertically and then body of the shawl picked up from the long edge), so I wanted to give it a try.
Between house chores and knitting, I got about 4 solid hours of yard work done, pruning grape and fall clean up and the like. I made a video showing some of the work I’ve been doing in the front yard as I get reading to cycle three annual beds over to perennial fruit guilds as part of our mini front yard food forest. You can view it here.
One of the trees I mention briefly in the videos is the the pawpaw. It’s sometimes called the Arkansas banana – it’s native to the Eastern US and is a fruit that I have a great fondness for. While I won’t have pawpaws for a few years if I plant them this fall (they have an extremely short shelf life and are not available commercially). In baked goods, pawpaws and bananas are interchangeable.
Since I had a ripe bananas on the counter and a hankering for pawpaws, I made banana muffins. Not the same, but tasty nonetheless. Here’s my favorite banana muffin recipe, and the one the kids always ask for. We had them for lunch and again for an afternoon snack. The leftovers will keep nicely for breakfast tomorrow.
This recipe uses tahini and spelt flour, both of which have a delicate nutty quality that melds nicely with the banana. If you don’t have spelt flour, you can substitute with whole wheat.
Banana Sesame Muffins
Makes 24 standard muffins
1 Preheat the oven to 400F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper or grease well
2..Combine the following wet ingredients in a non-reactive bowl:
3 chicken eggs or 2 duck eggs, slightly beaten
¾ C whole milk
⅛ C coconut oil + ¼ C tahini melted together and cooled
3 medium bananas, peeled and mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ C packed cup brown sugar
3. In separate bowl, sift together the following dry ingredients.
½ C spelt flour
scant ¾ C unbleached flour
scant ¼ C cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
4. Then fold following the add-ins to the dry ingredients:
¼ C sesame seeds
¼ C quick-cook oats OR toasted unsulphured/unsweetened coconut
1 Tbsp hemp hearts
5. Now fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to over-combine. Batter will be lumpy. When combined, fold in:
¾ C chopped chocolate
In a small bowl, combine: ⅓ C sesame seeds mixed with ½ C turbinado sugar
5. Fill each muffin cup at least 3/4 full of batter, and sprinkle with sesame-sugar mixture to top. Bake at 400F for approx 20-23 minutes or until muffins are browning on top, and set in the middle.
Hal is at ReWild’s Nature Immersion program on Fridays. It’s the highlight of his week. He gets to run around outside all day, learn primitive skills, and engage in loads of imaginative play with his friends. He comes home tired, filthy, and very, very happy.
It’s not just a benefit for him: In a house with lots of kids, sending just one kid off for the day has lots of perks. It not only provides him with adventure apart from his siblings, but it also reduces the conflict, mess, noise, etc in the house by a significant portion. And considering that resolving sibling conflict normally comprises the bulk of my “parenting” lately, Friday is a day I’ve been looking forward to, as well. I get so much accomplished on Fridays, all while having a quiet, peaceful morning.
I got a loaf of sesame-spelt bread baked early this morning. It has 2 cups of unbleached flour, and 1 cup of spelt, so it takes longer to rise, but it gets some loft eventually. It is much less dense than an all-spelt bread, with the nutty flavor of the spelt still coming through.
While the bread was rising, I worked on a pair of top-down mix-n-match socks I started ages ago. I’m down to the toe on the last sock, and then I can block them! (Joining Ginny’s Yarn Along. These are 100% wool yarn my sister-in-law gave me some time ago. They’re leftovers from another project she did, so I’m not sure of the brand.)
While I’m knitting this morning, George has been alternating between working on a puzzle and playing with items on the nature shelf. He loves to look at the agates and limpet shells we collected at the beach last month, and added some hazelnuts from the backyard.
It seems that everywhere you look in the kitchen, there are medlars strewn about. The kids and I keep bringing them in as they fall from the tree. They need to sit on the counter for a few weeks to soften and be edible. I can’t wait to eat them: they taste intensely of autumn to me. (See my new video about growing and eating medlars here.)
This weekend is packed with derby. I’m officiating four bouts, in three days, as well as a few scrimmages. But next weekend I’m taking the weekend off to work on fall garden clean-up and transition some of the front yard garden from annuals to perennials. The plan is to add two new pawpaw trees, another pomegranate, and a “Nikita’s Gift” persimmon amongst the shrubs and herbaceous perennials I established the last two years. Finding derby-life balance is hard for me, especially as autumn in the garden is still a busy time, but I’m looking forward to a crazy derby weekend starting today and a permaculture weekend next weekend.
The dry summer and mild autumn here in Oregon have produced a pleasant surprise: the main crop of Negronne Figs have ripened! In our cool climate, the only figs suitable to grow are those that produce a delicious breba (first) crop. Many figs produce small, mealy breba figs that aren’t sweet and aren’t worth eating. Some varieties – like my Desert King and Negronne figs – are prized for their sweet, abundant breba figs. Most years the weather turns too cold for the later, main crop of figs to ripen. However, this year the Negronne’s main crop has been producing about 10 lbs of figs per week the past three weeks.
With the unexpected abundance of figs so late in the season, I’ve been cutting and freezing and preserving them, because we cannot possibly eat them all fresh. Truly ripe figs that have the most complex and fully-developed flavor only keep for a few days, and must be utilized quickly. One way to use up a significant portion of the bounty is to make jam.
Figs are the sweetest fruit, with a Brix rating of 20-30, and rarely as high as 40. (A very rough, untechnical definition: Brix is a measurement of sugar content, with 1 Brix = approx 1-2% sugar by volume). They have no acid and can by cloyingly sweet. I find plain fig jam almost overwhelmingly sweet and like to eat it with salty cheese to cut the sweetness.
Another option is to add a highly acidic ingredient to fig jam, so that its sharpness will cut the intense sweetness of the fruit. I’ve made fig and balsamic vinegar jam, and thoroughly enjoy it – especially over ice cream. The flavor is sophisticated and refreshing, but not particularly kid-friendly. This time, I had citrus in the fridge, and so chose that for the acid component of the jam. (If you like your jam quite tart, feel free to double the lime pulp and lime zest in this recipe.)
Fig + 3 Citrus Jam
Makes 4-5 half-pint jars
4 cups of finely chopped fresh figs (I cut them into 12ths)
2 1/2 C white granulated sugar
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
juice of 1 Meyer lemon
zest of 1 large orange
1 large orange
1/2 tsp sea salt
Optional: 2 -3 Tbsp Grand Marnier
- In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the chopped figs and sugar, stirring to combine. Allow to macerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Using a microplane, zest the lemon, orange and one lime. Juice the lemon. Set zest aside.
- Remove the peel/pith from the orange. Section out the fruit, and chop it. Squeeze the remaining membrane and reserve the juice. Repeat with the two limes. (Total reserved juice = about 3 Tbsp)
4. Prepare a hot water bath and sterilize jars, lids, and rings. Recipe makes 4-5 half-pints.
5. Turn heat to medium on the figs and sugar. As it warms, stir in the citrus ingredients and 1/2 tsp salt.
6. Bring mixture to a full boil, and cook, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Periodically mash with the back of the spoon or a potato masher to break up the pieces of fig. In 45-60 min, jam will thicken to desired consistency. Keep in mind, this is an old-fashioned jam without extra commercial pectin, and figs are low in pectin. The citrus contains pectin and will set the jam, but it will be a little thinner than jams with added pectin.
Immediately before pouring jam into jars, stir in 2-3 Tbsp of Grand Marnier (taste, if you want more, add another Tbsp), and stir thoroughly. Allow to cook for 2 minutes. (be careful, too much alcohol will thin the jam too much.)
8. Pour finished jam into hot sterilized half-pint jars, wipe rims, place lids and rings on, and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes. Jam will continue to thicken in the jar over the next 24 hours.
Yesterday I spend the morning making Pear-Quince Butter. It’s a twist on the traditional apple butter because I’m using the ingredients I have on hand. I have an abundance of quince trees in the garden, and the fruit is now beginning to ripen up. I also have basket full of pears right now – some from our Seckel pear tree, but most the girls picked up in Hood River this past weekend.
I make membrillo out of quince every year, and also Caramel-Spice Pear Butter (sorry, the recipe is top-secret!), but with the quantity of both in my kitchen right now, I thought I’d try mixing them together. I’m quite happy with the result. Here’s my recipe:
Spiced Quince-Pear Butter
5 large quince
10 pears (I used a mixture of Comice, Seckel, Barlett, and Red Anjou)
1/4 C water
6 C sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp kosher salt
Juice of two lemons
4 Tbsp brandy (optional)
- Wash the fruit, peel and core it. Cut the quince into 16ths and the Pear into 8ths (quince are harder and take longer to cook, cutting them into smaller pieces insures they will cook at the same rate).
- To a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch Oven, add the chopped fruit and water. Cover, and cook on medium until all of the fruit is tender (about 30 min).
- After fruit is tender, remove lid and reduce head. Here you have two options: for a super smooth butter, process fruit in a food mill. For a more rustic butter, mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Measure pulp. You should have 8 cups.
- Return the pulp to the pot. Add spices, salt, and sugar. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the butter cooks down to a desired thickness (depending on the heat and frequency of stirring, about 45 min to 2 hours)
- Halfway through cooking down the butter, Heat up the hot-water bath canner. Place clean jars in the canner and bring them up to a boil. Place lids and rings in a small saucepan and warm them (do NOT boil, it damages the rubber seal).
I use a lid-rack I found at a thrift store ages ago to keep the lids from being in direct contact with the bottom of the pan. It also makes them easy to grab when filling jars.
- When butter is ready, stir in lemon juice (and brandy, if desired). Cook 2-3 minutes.
- Fill half-pint jars, clean top of the jar, place lids and rings on snuggly. Process 5 minutes in a hot-waterbath canner. Remove from heat and let cool for several hours. Makes 9-10 half pint jars.
Thrifted yarn and easy patterns = two finished shawlettes.
I think this yarn is alpaca. It’s two shades done in stripes to get enough to make a shawlette. The knitting is easy, mindless, meditative.
This yarn is a wool/alpaca blend. Simple feather n fan style shawlette. Wish there had been more to make a larger shawl. I’m just about done with a larger autumnal shawl in worsted brown and purple with a feather n fan border, and will post pics when I get it finished (maybe next week?)
This one is a birthday present for my mom next week (Shh! Don’t tell!). I used to dislike feather n fan patterns and favor more delicate, intricate lacework. But with four busy kids, and needing to put my work down frequently, I have learned to appreciate a simple, predictable pattern.
I’ll be in Salem tomorrow reffing a derby bout, but will be back Sunday with a new recipe.
Blessings on your weekend!
I’ve made this Chanterelle and Gruyere Tart a few times in the past few weeks. It’s quick and easy, and uses ingredients I’ve had readily on hand in the pantry, and in the garden. It only takes a few minutes to put together, and is packed with autumnal flavor. If Chanterelles aren’t in season, you can substitute with any fresh, meaty mushroom, thinly sliced.
Chanterelle and Gruyere Tart
1 piece storebought puff pastry, thawed in the fridge
4 oz chevre, crumbled
6 oz gruyere, shredded
One heaping cup chanterelles, thinly sliced
Four pieces of curly kale, stems removed, and torn into one inch pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Pink Himalayan salt
Cracked black pepper
1 egg whisked with 1 Tbsp heavy cream
1)Preheat the oven to 375 F. Roll out the pastry. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and lay the pastry on top. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash mixture and fold over 1/2 inch. Press with a fork to seal and crimp the edges. Add more egg wash to the outside crimped edge. Return to the fridge to chill for 10-15 minutes if the pastry has warmed too much during this time.
2) Carefully spread the chevre across the bottom of the pastry. Sprinkle with half the shredded gruyere, the mushrooms, and the kale. Top with remaining gruyere. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with pink salt and liberally with cracked black pepper.
3) Bake at 375 for 15-18 minutes or until crust is browning. Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and turning golden. Remove from oven and immediately place on a wire cooling rack.
Cut into 16 pieces. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!
A friend from derby is recovering from a broken leg and I’m taking her tomato bisque and homemade bread for dinner and needed a salad for the side dish. The garden is bursting with tomatoes and peppers, the mint has spread everywhere, and the fall curly kale is ready to start harvesting. I have a big block of feta in my fridge and a lot of Israeli couscous in my pantry. And thus, this salad came together.
(Note: The recipe serves four, but some of the quantities look large in the photos because I made a quadruple batch to share with my parents and so our family could have some for dinner, too.)
End of Summer Israeli Couscous Salad
2 cups Israeli couscous (sometimes sold as “pearl couscous”)
2 1/2 C water
2 tsp salt (I prefer pink Himalayan)
1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 C chopped tomatoes (I used a mix of cherry and beefsteak tomatoes)
1/2 C finely chopped sweet peppers (I used pimiento and part of a yellow bell pepper)
1/4 sweet onion, very finely chopped
2 large pieces curly Scotch kale, washed, ribs removed, and chopped
2 tsp fresh mint, cut in a fine chiffonade
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp cracked black pepper
6 ounces feta, crumbled
- In a medium saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the couscous, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes or until couscous is tender and cooked through. Remove from heat, remove lid, toss gently with the olive oil, and allow to cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, combine all chopped veggies, mint, pepper, vinegar, and feta and gently toss.
3. Gently fold the cooled couscous into the bowl of veggies. Add salt and additional pepper to taste. Garnish with sprigs of mint, and serve at room temperature or chilled – your choice. Enjoy!
I’ve always been a sporadic blogger. Honestly, the last several months, it’s been easier to Instagram. After a long, unintended blog break full of
officiating roller derby,
working in the garden,
and writing for Azure Standard,
the change of the seasons always draws me back here. I have recipes and knitting patterns in the works, and hope to be back to blogging on a semi-regular basis…for a while at least…until derby and work and unschool life with four kids gets overwhelming again.
Blessings on this tail end of summer. Back tomorrow with a recipe to share.
My youngest child, George, loves muffins. Several mornings a week, he requests muffins for breakfast. And he wants variety. Sometimes I make banana-tahini muffins, sometimes blueberry with streusel topping, sometimes molasses spice muffins. Thanks to G’s desire to be surprised with new types of muffins, I am always working up new recipes.
We have a lot of chai tea mix leftover from the holidays, so I have been working up a recipe for Chai-spice muffins. Our chai mix contains powdered milk, black tea, sugar, cinnamon, clove, cardamon, anise, and ginger. Over the past week I’ve baked several revisions and the kids gave me their honest feedback of every attempt. Here’s the winner:
George’s Chai-Spice Applesauce-Oatmeal Muffins
1 1/2 C old-fashioned oats, uncooked
3/4 C spelt flour (you can substitute whole wheat)
3/4 C unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp chai tea mix
1 C applesauce (unsweetened)
3/4 C firmly-packed dark brown sugar
1/2 C whole milk
3 Tbsp oil (I use hazelnut, but you can use vegetable)
3/4 C chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
Optional: sprinkle tops of the muffins with brown sugar before baking.
1)Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl sift together dry ingredients
2)In a separate bowl, whisk together applesauce, brown sugar, milk, egg, and oil.
3)Fold wet ingredients into dry until just combined, then fold in chopped chocolate. Be careful not to overmix.
4)Fill lined muffin tins with batter. Tins will be nearly full to the top. Sprinkle with brown sugar if desired.
5)Bake at 400 F for 22-24 min, rotating halfway through. Let muffins rest for 5 min before removing from pan and cooling completely on a rack. Makes 12 muffins.
I am behind on my blogging, but it has been for good reason (and for once, that reason isn’t roller derby!). I’ve joined the blogging/writing team at Azure Standard, and have been busy working on my first two pieces. Keep an eye out for my posts in Azure’s new Healthy Living blog. I’ll be writing about gardening, permaculture, beekeeping, poultry keeping, and sharing LOTS of my original, healthy recipes.
This is what gardening looks like in Western Oregon in January.
I’m trying to finish shoveling a giant pile of mulch off my driveway. I’m down the last couple of yards, and even though it was 38 degrees and raining out, today was the day when I had room in my schedule to work on it. So, I got to work.
Most of the garden is asleep in January, but I still make the rounds of all my perennials every week to check on them. Each one gets a visual inspection for weather/rodent damage, disease, state of dormancy, etc.
The Goumi berry (Eleagnus multiflora) (left) and Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) (right) plants may lose their leaves in winter, but they still provide visual interest with upright shape and scores of thorns. The Goumi’s thorns are only on younger growth, but their downward hook means it is easy to snag a hole in your pants as you walk by. Sea Buckthorns are notorious for their spines, but I grow Siberian varieties, which are less thorny than their German cousins. Both species are nitrogen fixers and produce their own nutritious tasty fruits, but their spikey nature means I have planted them on the perimeter of the garden – near enough to the pome fruits to provide nitrogen-fixing benefits, and where their own berries can be easily reached but not where kids will fall into them, or clothes become easily snagged on the spines.
Walking around today, I noticed that one of the rhubarbs in a particularly warm and sheltered spot has emerged early from dormancy. The new leaves are always a vibrant blend of fuschia and chartreuse, with salmon and tangerine overtones. Simply beautiful.
The rhubarb divisions potted up for our upcoming spring plant sale are all still dormant, but I can spy one in the upper right trying to wake up.
The backyard isn’t much to behold this time of year. One can hardly tell there is an orchard along the U-shaped perimeter of the yard – it all blends in to the fencing with the leaves and fruit absent. The rain garden in the foreground doesn’t impress much at the moment, either. But soon sleeping herbaceous perennials and spring bulbs will start to stir from their slumber.
For the time being, the ducks have the run of the place -the rain keeps the chickens hiding much of the time, and the ducks follow me around as I take care of morning chores, although here they’re happily preening in the rain garden, in the midst of a downpour. Always in their element in wet weather, the ducks.
Working outside every day in winter weather has taken a toll on my hands. Every time I come in, my knuckles seem to be cracked and bleeding. Potting up dormant berry bushes for the spring plant sale, in particular, has been really rough on them.
Because being out in wet, windy, cold weather so much was damaging my hands – and because my dad, a hobby woodworker, was experiencing similarly cracked and banged-up hands – I made up a special batch of lanolin-rich hand salve.
Lanolin is the waxy oil from sheep’s wool – because it is washed from the wool after shearing, and no sheep are harmed in production, it is a vegetarian (not vegan) product. But because it is also an animal fat, made to keep skin & wool healthy out in the elements, lanolin is the perfect choice to use on hands that spend many hours outdoors or in rough working conditions.
Combined together with beeswax, lanolin makes a water-resistant coating against rain and wind. And because lanolin is readily absorbed into the skin, it helps to heal and moisturize severely dry skin as it protects.
I’ll be back later in the week with more from the garden – evergreen plants that provide winter interest now – and nutritious fruit come summer!
If you’d like to order some of this batch of salve, you can find it here.
My dear friend, Trish, from Lucky Lola Studios asked me to make her a little quilt she could use for newborn portraits. Something pastel and gender neutral. My local thrift store is the perfect place to pick up bags of scrap fabric for $0.50-$2. It’s often vintage or good quality quilting remnants from Fabric Depot. If you’ve got a use for little bits of this and that all the way up to fat-quarter sized pieces, their grab-bags can be a good deal.
A while back, I found a bag that was all 5×5 or smaller pieces or strips of Depression-Era reproduction fabric. Most of the pieces were 2 inches or smaller, but some were long strips. I’d been holding it back for the perfect project, and it seemed like just enough to fulfill Trish’s request.
My favorite pieces were these teacup prints! Just enough to cobble together eight squares for the main blocks.
Since we’re on the subject of handwork, I wanted to share these books my sister-in-law got us for Christmas. All of the scenes are made from felted wool! The kids and I have loved looking through them and Ruth has been researching more about how to make felt figures with wire frames underneath.
I finished the quilt with some machine quilting and used some vintage thrift store fabric for the back and thrifted bias tape for the binding. Looking forward to getting it off in the mail this weekend!
Now that the holidays are over, the kids helped switch the Nature shelf over from “Christmas” to “Late Winter”. With the change of the seasons, I bring out new objects and the children choose which ones to put up.
These little hand-carved camels were a gift from the girls’ preschool teacher, and we cherish them. They live in the tea cupboard with our best teacups, but George insisted we put them up on the nature shelf, along with a handmade cup his cousins gave to us last year. We weren’t quite sure how it matched the theme of the season, but there’s not arguing with a four year-old.
We try to include seasonal objects from nature, but in January, most things are dormant…So putting our Living Stones (which don’t receive water all winter long) seemed like an appropriate addition.
Most of our collection of South African succulents are of the genus Lithops, but two are Pleiospilos, including the one above. They start to look shriveled and a little worse for wear toward the end of winter, but they live in a climate where they receive less than 3 inches of rain per year.
The rest of the time, they are conserving water in their tiny fleshy leaves. Over-watering can kill them, because they lack stomata like other plants – they will drink and drink and drink water until they burst and die, so they only receive a small amount of water during certain phases of their life cycle. You can see from the Lithops above, why they are called “Living Stones”. Aren’t they fascinating?
Hal chose a squirrel jaw and a turtle jaw for the table. To him, they represented “the harshness of winter for wildlife”. I recently found a handmade pineneedle basket at the thrift stire, and it serves as a stand for his contribution.
If you’re interested in keeping Lithops as houseplants, you can order them from Living Stones Nursery in Arizona. Lithops can be fussy as houseplants, but once you learn about their soil needs and their life cycle (they have lovely flowers!) – and as long as you do not overwater them – they make fascinating plants to keep in your home.
What do you have up on your Nature Table or Nature Shelf in late winter? The kid and I always love to see what other families are gathering for their tables.
Joining Small Things for the Yarn Along today. We’ve had what my eldest calls “knitting weather” the last few days – it’s been icy, and you just want to hide under a blanket and knit, knit, knit.
The last few days we’ve had snow, followed by ice and more ice which made the roads undriveable. The kids initially did a lot of sledding and playing outside until the falling snow turned to ice and everything became a dangerously slippery mess.
The backyard garden isn’t much to look at, but I put out some seed for the birds and within minutes a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos had landed to fill their bellies.
The chickens hid inside their coop most of the day, but the ducks seemed to really enjoy the snow. Even when the weather turned to freezing rain and their feathers were coated in ice, they stayed outside, looking contented.
Much like the chickens, I spent the bulk of my time staying out of the weather. Afterall, it was “knitting weather”.
I finished knitting a few pairs of mitts, women’s S/M for my Etsy Store.
At the cuff, they will get needle-felted designs, but I’m still working out exactly how I’ll decorate them. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
Back tomorrow with more crafting from winter break.
I’ve always loved making candies at the holidays – particularly nut brittles and toffees. This year, I’m trying something different. And I have the Portland Village School to thank for the inspiration: Earlier this month, I had a table at that school’s craft fair. During the last hour, the volunteers brought each of us vendors a couple of apple cider vinegar caramels to help us get through the last bit of the afternoon. The caramels were delicious, and I loved how the ACV cut the sweetness of the soft, rich caramel. So, I set out to come up with my own version to make for gifts this year.
Angela’s ACV Caramels (with Pink Himalayan Salt)
-4 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar (you can use Bragg’s or homemade) (Note: when making this recipe for myself, I prefer a stronger ACV flavor, and use 6 Tbsp of vinegar)
-3/4 C brown sugar
-3/4 C granulated sugar
-3/4 tsp sea salt
-1 1/2 C heavy cream
-2 tsp vanilla extract
–Pink Himalayan Salt for sprinkling
NOTES ON SAFETY: Candy-making involves boiling sugar, and can be dangerous and cause serious burns, so work carefully. Always work with a bowl of ice water nearby in case boiling sugar splashes on your skin. Also, as the caramel boils, it will bubble and foam up quite high in the pan – make sure your saucepan is deep enough to prevent the boiling sugar mixture from overflowing.
1)Line an 8×8 square pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
2)In a saucepan on medium heat, add the apple cider vinegar and simmer until vinegar has reduced by half
3)When vinegar has reduced, add the sugars, heavy cream and sea salt to the saucepan. Continue to cook on medium, and add a candy thermometer to the pan.
4)Cook, scraping down the sides now and then, until the mixture reaches 240 F. This will take several minutes, and the boiling mixture will foam and rise up quite a bit – if it approaches the top of the pot, stir it back down.
5) When the caramel reaches 240 F, immediately remove from the heat and carefully stir in the vanilla extract. Quickly pour into the parchment-lined pan.
6)Let pan of caramel sit on the counter for 2-3 minutes and then sprinkle with desired amount of pink Himalayan salt. Transfer pan to the refrigerator for a few hours until caramel is set.
7) To cut the caramel: Turn caramel out onto a lightly buttered cutting board. Coat both sides of your knife blade thinly with butter. Cut into squares. If you find the caramel is tearing or sticking instead of cutting, re-apply butter to the knife.
Place each square in a rectangle of wax paper and twist ends to close. Store caramels in the fridge and eat within 2 weeks.
Recipe Variation: Omit apple cider vinegar. Heat caramel mixture to 245 F, remove from eat and add vanilla extract to the caramel, also add 2-3 Tbsp whiskey (be careful, the alcohol will boil immediately when it contacts the hot caramel). All other directions are the same.
Recipe © 2015, Angela Baker. Please don’t reprint or use photos without permission. Thanks.
It’s dark so early now, I have plenty of time for indoor projects – this weekend it was making up a batch of lip balm for Parkrose Market.
Our lip balm is called “top bar” because we are top bar beekeepers, and the honey in our balm is from our bees.
As someone who is outside, working in windy rainy weather on a daily basis, I need a lip balm that will soothe and heal chapped lips and offer good protection. I so make Top Bar Lip Balm with beeswax, organic sunflower oil, organic coconut butter to moisturize lips and fair-trade raw shea butter and vitamin E oil to help heal and protect them.
Bea loves to do woodworking with her Grandpa Bishop, and together they made me a little wooden lip balm holder for the display table at the craft bazaars I’m working the next few weekends.
She learned how to set up and use the drill press, and put 12 holes in a block of maple wood we picked up at SCRAP last week.
It makes for a neat and simple display, don’t you think? Very much appreciate them making it for me.
You can find out Top Bar Lip Balm here.
Joining Small Things this morning for her Yarn Along. I’ve been knitting up a storm in preparation for craft bazaars later in the month, but took a break from those projects to make a little hat, on request, for Bea. I have an abundance of odds and ends of grey wool, and she requested a grey hat with a sunshine on it, so it seemed like a perfect chance to use up those little balls of wool.
Bea is very interested in pre-Civil War history and instead of reading while I knitted and needle-felted her hat, we watched The Abolitionists on American Experience’s website.
I finished the hat before the end of the documentary, so for the last part of it, I put labels on the latest batch of salves and lip balm. I reformulated the salves a bit to make them more shelf-stable in cold weather, updated the labels, and can’t wait to get them packaged for the upcoming craft bazaars at The Portland Village School and Bee Thinking.
For now, it’s back to finishing knitting projects for the bazaars, spreading mulch in the garden, and thinking ahead to the menu for Thanksgiving.
Introducing our new line of Beeswax Wood Polish and polish kits! Made with local beeswax from natural beekeepers and sweet orange oil, our polish protects and conditions wood, and is safe for children.
Natural wooden toys, bowls, and furniture need to be buffed with polish a few times a year to keep their shine and prevent over-drying and cracking. In Waldorf education, children take responsibility of their possessions through The Practical Arts: this is where children are given child-like versions of adult responsibilities in order to master skills, increase independence and confidence, and prepare for adult life. Kids learn to care for their toys, play kitchen items and utensils by polishing objects themselves. This form of handwork teaches fine motor skills and teaches even very small children that they are capable of contributing in a meaningful way to family life.
Our 2 oz tins of polish are available on their own, and also in kits for children. The kits include a tin of polish, a handsewn 100% cotton flannel polishing cloth, and 2 natural palm wood child-sized spoons ready to be polished.
It’s nearly November, and yet we’re still finding fresh food in the garden every day.
George helped me pick some green tomatoes so I could make a batch of lacto-fermented pickles with them.
I picked the last of the quince for the year and have membrillo simmering on the stove right now. Can’t wait until it is ready to pour into a pan and set up and finally EAT. Nothing goes better with a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon than membrillo with cheese and smoked-paprika-spiced crackers.
Bea helped me dig a few sunchoke tubers for dinner later in the week. Sunchokes are an easy-to-grow perennial food-crop that are ready late in the year. They contain about 110 calories/cup and one serving contains 28% of your daily amount of iron. They are also a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Sunchokes also contain a lot of inulin, and while they are tasty sliced fried in ghee or bacon grease, they can cause gas in some people unless cooked for long periods of time. The best way to prepare them that helps break down the inulin is to simmer them in the crockpot in chicken or veggie broth and then make a mash with other root veggies.
Bea found an exceptionally large sunchoke while we were digging. She was awfully proud of it.
While I was cutting back some rhubarb plants – whose leaves are beginning to die back due to the cold night temperatures, I noticed one of the ground cherries nearby still going strong. One quick shake and full cup of ripe fruit fell onto the ground. We ate most, but I kept a few back in order to save the seeds.
On Monday I picked over 50 lbs of pumpkins for Birch Community Services, but today I picked just a few for our family. These are (my absolute favorite) Burgess Buttercup on the left, and on the right a kabocha-type variety whose seeds were gifted to me, which I want to say is Confection, but that might not be correct. I look forward to trying the one on the right and seeing how it compares to the excellent texture and flavor of Burgess Buttercup.
I’m very grateful for this late-in-the-year gifts from the garden, and look forward to a few more weeks of nourishing foods and healing herbs from the garden before it is put to bed for the winter.
No rain this afternoon, so it was time to take cuttings and root up a few perennials I hadn’t gotten to in the past few weeks. Today I was rooting goumi (Eleagnus multiflora) and silverberry (Eleagnus commutata), both of which are excellent nitrogen-fixing semi-evergreen shrubs that also produce edible fruit. Goumis produce copious amounts of tasty red fruit the size of a blueberry or larger, and I have three becaue the children enjoy the fruit so much. Silverberries produce smaller fruit which are gold with silver speckles. I don’t find the diminutive fruit worth harvesting for us to eat, but the chickens and ducks love them, so I grow silverberries in the orchard where the birds can get the fruit, and the apple trees can get the benefit of the nitrogen the shrubs fix.
Some plants will root easily on their own from cuttings (Ribes, grapes, for example), but some need a little rooting hormone to encourage the formation of roots.
After stripping all of the leaves off, and pruning off any side branches, the cut ends are dipped onto the rooting hormone and then planted. Over the winter and early spring, they will form roots and you have a new plant!
Since I had a few extra minutes, I rooted some additional herbs, and a dozen blackcaps.
George, age four, insisted on making all of the labels for the raspberries. He asked me to tell him what to write, so I said, “Munger Blackcap Raspberry” and then he wrote out his tags. He may not be the easiest four yr-old, but having him for a garden helper is always a real delight.
More tomorrow with some of the foods the garden is still producing this last week of October.