Because We Can, Can, Can: Part II

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I don’t believe in easing into anything gently. I decided to can all the produce from our garden this year and in order to make it worth my time and effort, I had my hubs extend our planting. We had 34 tomato plants, 5 rows of green beans (a spring planting and a summer planting), 4 zucchini, 4 yellow squash, a few cucumbers, and a few other random things all in a 9 by 27 foot area.

I didn’t even wait for the garden to begin producing to can. I wanted farm fresh fruit as well. First up, strawberries and homemade strawberry jam. Again, no small canning here, I picked three times and brought home 2 gallons each time, for a grand total of 22 pints and 4 half pints (for gifts) of jam.

Strawberry jam was a good way to begin canning and because Rachel already blogged about jam in Part I, I’ll move on.

Next up were green beans. This is where I was initially intimidated because of the use of a pressure canner. You must pressure can less acidic foods that don’t reach a high enough temperature to kill any potential bacteria in the food when using a water canner. In a pressure canner, you put less water, lock the lid, vent excess air, and watch the pressure build in the canner. Processing beans is relatively easy. I won’t go into extreme detail here because you can read how to do it in the Ball Blue Book or on their website, www.freshpreserving.com. I have to admit that it wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. It just takes time. Don’t underestimate how long it takes the canner to reach the proper pressure and then after the processing time how long it takes to return to zero pressure and a point when you can remove the lid and jars. There were many nights when I didn’t get to bed until midnight. So now we have about 22 quarts of green beans and are hoping for another 20 or so if our second planting come in.

Oh tomatoes, how I love and hate you. Our 34 plants of tomatoes began producing. First off, we had to accumulate tomatoes over a week or so just to have enough to do a small recipe of Basil Garlic Tomato Sauce, found here. Let me tell you, 20 pounds of tomatoes is A LOT! You must have a huge pot to cook this sauce. Another useful tool is the Victorio Food Strainer. This is how you get the sauce smooth and remove all the seeds and skins. The hubs and I called it a night after this step and stored the strained sauce in the fridge. Night #2 was for reducing the sauce and canning it. So again, build in time for the entire process or plan on stopping points where you can begin another day. Canning, water bath and especially pressure, puts out quite a bit of heat so we chose to can in the evening, after the little prince went to bed. This produced 7 pints of sauce. Not as much as I would like for all the work involved, but I know EXACTLY what is in my food and we grew all of it except the garlic. Next year, I’ll know what to expect.

Tomatoes take 2 was Fiesta Salsa found here This only produced 4 pints but the work involved wasn’t nearly as much as the sauce and it is an amazing salsa. We love it!

Tomatoes take 3 (yes, we still had a ton of tomatoes) was Seasoned Tomato sauce from the Ball Complete Book. I started the cooking of the tomatoes before bath time and used too high of a temperature. The tomatoes scorched to the bottom of the pot! I was so upset! I thought I had just wasted another 20 pounds of tomatoes. Fortunately, my hubs convinced me to keep going and give the sauce a shot. What emerged was a “fire roasted” seasoned tomato sauce. I wouldn’t try to replicate it again on purpose but I’m happy with how we were able to save the scorched sauce we started with.

Enter the blueberries. My first blueberry picking didn’t bring home enough to do any canning recipes with so we just ate them. The second picking brought home about 3 pounds of berries which gave us enough to try a blueberry pie filling, recipe found in the Ball Complete Book. The gelling ingredient is Clear Jel. Let’s pause here and talk about Clear Jel. Clear Jel does not equal Sure Jel. Sure Jel is used for making jams and is readily available in your local stores. Clear Jel is a commercially developed product that is difficult to find and most often has to be purchased online. I didn’t know this when I decided to make my pie filling. I found a website that gave an equivalent of clear jel to tapioca so I used tapioca and followed the directions of the recipe. I probably should have bypassed the pre-cooking of the pie filling before canning. During canning, the filling seemed really thick so my pie filling may become a blueberry tapioca jellyfish concoction.  I guess I’ll see when I open one of the four jars we made.

Tomatoes take 4 (and yes, still more tomatoes) was simply whole canned tomatoes. I was tired of making recipes and didn’t have the time to do another one any way so it was time to just get them in the can. I can make them into sauce when I pull them out later.

And because I didn’t have enough to do already, I decided to pick a bushel of peaches. A bushel is actually more than you’d think. Try about 50 pounds of peaches. Those 50 pounds became sliced canned peaches (because I couldn’t fit my hand into a regular mouth quart jar), halved canned peached (because I went and bought wide mouth quart jars and could fit my hand into it), and 9 quarts of peach pie filling. I’ll admit, I’m most excited about the pie filling. We had a little extra that wouldn’t fit in a jar so we added it to our homemade vanilla ice cream we started in the maker after the peaches started processing. The ice cream is AMAZING!

A sampling of my canned goods

A sampling of my canned goods

That was my first year of canning and it was BUSY but now I know what to expect for next year. Have you tried canning? Did you have any great recipe finds? Any recipe fails?

Happy Frugal Homemaking,

Robin


Frugal Homemaking: Cleaning that dirty shower

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Sparkly Clean!

Okay, I admit it. Cleaning the bathrooms is one of my least favorite things to do. Thank goodness for a wonderful husband who takes care of those pesky toilets for me.

Who wants to clean in a small, confined space, with noxious fumes killing their brain cells. Not only that, but those bathroom cleaners are EXPENSIVE! And they don’t even work that well!!

I had lunch with an old work friend a few weeks ago and we were talking about our shower caves (you’ll see in my picture what I’m talking about) and how we hate to clean them. She shared a spectacular idea with me. This is a quick, easy, and CHEAP shower cleaner. Are you interested yet?

Take one of those dish brushes like this, Fill it half and half with Dawn dish soap (or the store brand as I did) and white vinegar.

Now, when you are in the shower and just about done do a little scrubbity, scrub, scrub. I keep a cup in there as well to rinse the spots that the shower spray doesn’t reach.

There! You’re shower is fresh and clean after each use and there aren’t any harsh chemicals going up your nose or down your drain! Isn’t that exciting?

Here’s a pictures of my shower. Sorry about the lack of a before picture, but take my word for it, it was gross. Do you see what I mean by a shower cave? And it’s BLACK! Believe me, not my choice. 🙂

What easy, inexpensive, and earth friendly cleaning products do you use?

~Robin


Frugal Homemaking: Because We CAN CAN CAN!

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Matt and I fell in love with canning last summer. For my birthday Matt got me a canning kit which included a canning pot, funnel, and tongs. I was in my second trimester at the time so we were only able to perfect a strawberry jam recipe before I had to give up canning to swollen ankles!

Now that the baby is no longer nursing every hour and sleeping every other hour, we thought it would be a great time to attempt to can again! As is tradition in our household we cannot start any canning project with out canning beer for Matt and canning stress eating cookies me 🙂

nom nom nom canning beer and cookies!

nom nom nom canning beer and cookies!

Here is our recipe which was tweaked from about 4 different books and internet recipes.

We used Sure Jell because it was on sale!

We used Sure Jell because it was on sale!

A little over 4 cups of mashed strawberries

4 cups of sugar

1 packet of pectin

A little over 1/4 cup of lemon juice or roughly the juice of 1.25 – 1.5 lemons.

half a case of organic local farmer's market strawberries

half a case of organic local farmer’s market strawberries

photo (24)

First you want to pick out any strawberries with bruises or mold. Then clean the strawberries. Cut the strawberries into quarters after chopping the head off, and rinse again in a strainer.

potato masher works great for this step!

potato masher works great for this step!

Next you want to mash the strawberries until they look like the above picture. This is a great step for older children that want to help!

cut lemons into smaller slices

cut lemons into smaller slices

I personally think fresh lemons taste better, but you can also use lemon juice. Helpful hint: cut the lemons into super thin slices. Seeds are easier to get out and you get more juice out of each squeeze! Please do not squeeze the lemons if you have any open wounds. It will burn like crazy!

use your lemon rinds to make fresh lemon flavored water!

use your lemon rinds to make fresh lemon flavored water!

 

We use a turkey deep fryer since our stove doesn't get hot enough.

We use a turkey deep fryer since our stove doesn’t get hot enough.

Once you have your strawberries mashed, or if you have an adult helper you can do this simultaneously, you want to sterilize your jars by putting then in your canning pot. You must have something on the bottom of your boiling pot so the glass won’t touch the bottom. Otherwise it has a high chance of shattering. Most canning pots come with a tray for the bottom! The glass jars need to be boiled for between 10-15 minutes. If you have hard water you are going to want to add some plain white vinegar so that you don’t get water marks on your jars. I personally like adding a liberal amount of water to help sanitize and clean the jars! If you are reusing jars make sure you run them through the dishwasher first!

photo (7)

 

Once they have completed their boil please use some kind of tongs with a rubber end to remove the glasses.

If we were super safety conscious Matt would be wearing a pot holder.

If we were super safety conscious Matt would be wearing a pot holder.

Set the jars to dry on a kitchen towel or old bath towel.

photo (8)
Back in the kitchen, you are going to want to mix your slightly over 4 cups of mashed strawberries, 4 cups of sugar, pectin, and lemon juice in your pot on the stove.

all ingredients added!

all ingredients added!

This next step is optional. If you like your jam with chunks of strawberries then crank up the heat on your stove to achieve a roiling boil. Matt and I prefer less chunks in our jam. To get out the chunks I use my hand mixer and break up the chunks while it is on the stove. Do not attempt this if you are using a non stick pan it will ruin the finish. For teflon and non stick pans remove the mixture from heat and place in a separate bowl and mix until you have reached the desired consistency.

photo (4)

 

Bring the mixture to a roiling boil for about 30 minutes to activate the natural and added pectin.

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foam will begin to appear once you have achieved a roiling boil!

Make sure you are stirring the mixture often to prevent over boil and burning of your jam. Helpful hint: do not fill your pot more than half way. This stuff can grow and rise on a seconds notice and is very prone to over boiling!

sanitizing lids

sanitizing lids

While the jam is boiling put all of your lids in a small pot and let them boil for about 15 minutes.

Once your jam boil timer ring grab a spoon and grab some jam. Put the spoon of jam on a paper towel in the freezer for about 1-2 minutes. If it has the consistency of jam then you are good to go. If it is still too runny try increasing the temperature and adding some pectin until you reach the desired gooey-ness.

use a shallow spoon or ladle to remove the foam

use a shallow spoon or ladle to remove the foam

Then you need to scoop off the foam. We put it in a separate bowl, but you can just throw it down the sink if that is easier for you.

 

photo (20)

 

Use your funnel and a deep ladle to fill your jam jars. You are going to want to fill them to between a quarter of an inch and a inch from the top of the jar.

photo (17)

 

Grab your tongs and place your lids on the jars and screw the metal ring around the top. Do not screw the lid on too tightly or your end users will never be able to get the ring off!

photo (18)

Now it is time to add your jars to the hot water bath in your canning pot. Make sure the temperature gets hot enough HERE is a temperature guide list. Once you reach that boiling temperature, they need to boil for between 10-15 minutes in order to seal the jars. Once you are done pull them out with tongs and your should hear a flurry of PINGS as the lids suck in and seal the jam. Once cool, press the center of the lid. If it does not move then you have successfully sealed the jar. If it still clicks up and down then you should eat the jam within the next few days or toss it because it is not sealed and will go bad if not refrigerated and consumed.

and we jam jam jammed!

and we jam jam jammed!

Jam usually has a shelf life of around 3 months, but I try and encourage people to use it sooner rather than later!

Also, please note if you still have a wee one you might want to enlist Grammie’s help in keeping your baby occupied while you jam!

This canning sessions would not have been possible without Grammie's assistance with nap time!

This canning sessions would not have been possible without Grammie’s assistance with nap time!

As always we love questions and comments!

-Rachel

 

 

 


Frugal Homemaking: Nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread

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As long as I can remember, my mom baked homemade bread. Unfortunately, as a child, I didn’t appreciate this act of love and devotion to my health. I wanted the store bought, no health benefit, sandwich bread that all my friends brought to school for lunch. Well here I am as an adult and I finally appreciate the beauty of homemade bread. Not only for it’s health benefits, but also for it’s frugality. Have you noticed the price of the “healthier” breads lately?! ACK!

I’ll admit that I have been making homemade bread for a few years. It wasn’t one of my recent frugal choices, although it did begin as a frugal/yummy choice in college a few years ago. From then on, I tried to make bread myself rather than buying the preservative filled breads from the grocery store.

My husband takes his lunch to work every day, two sandwiches, and LOVES my homemade bread. He, and I, never realized how much until I didn’t have time to make a batch because of some graduate school deadlines and we resorted to a loaf of store bought. He came home from work and just raved about my bread and how much better it tasted. After that, I always tried to anticipate the end of the last loaf and make another batch before we ran out.

Now that I have a little man in my life, it’s a juggling act for everything, bread making included. I won’t tell you bread making is a short process. It isn’t. Each step is relatively short, but there are a few steps involved in the overall process.

First lets start with the recipe. Yes, this looks like a lot of flour. That’s because this makes a BATCH of bread, 5 loaves. I don’t want to make bread every week so I make this recipe of 5 loaves and freeze them. I have to credit my mom with this recipe.

Ingredients

Ingredients – Left to right tupperware containers are sugar, white flour, wheat flour

 

White Bread Plus

1 Cup warm water
2 Tablespoons dry yeast
Dissolve yeast in water and let sit until foamy.
This takes about 10 minutes. You can speed up the process by sprinkling between 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar on top.

Stir together in a large bowl: 2 eggs, 1 Cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon salt

Add: 4 Cups warm water, 1 Cup melted shortening, yeast mix

Add: 8 Cups flour – stir till batter is smooth (not necessarily lump free, just incorporate all the flour. USE ALL PURPOSE FLOUR. Not Self-Rising)

Add: 8 Cups flour – stir together and then knead on floured surface until smooth and elastic
Okay, remember when I said incorporate all the flour in the previous step? That absolutely IS NOT going to happen in this step.

Stir until you can't

See how the spoon is sticking straight up? I don’t think I can stir any more.

That’s what the kneading does. Stir for as long as you can to mix in as much flour and then dump it all out on a floured counter and get your hands in it.

Dump onto the counter

Look at this ooey gooey mess of dough

You’ll most likely need to sprinkle more flour one the dough and on the counter as you knead to prevent sticking. Now, this will take a little while. Don’t rush it. Just keep working the dough until it is smooth and elastic. It’s hard to explain that, but you’ll most likely begin to feel it.

Done kneading

Amazing how this happens. Nice and smooth and elastic

Place dough in an oiled bowl, coat surface of dough with oil. Cover bowl and place in a warm spot to rise 1 hour.

First Rise

First Rise

This is where you put a few tablespoons of canola, vegetable, whatever you want oil in the bottom of your mixing bowl that you’ve shaken out all the loose bits from. No need to measure, just eyeball it. Dump the dough in and spin it around on the oily bottom of the bowl to get oil all over it. Then, flip the dough over so the un-oiled side is now face down and the oiled side is up. My Tupperware That’s a Bowl has a lid so I put it on, burp it, you know you burp Tupperware, and put it in my oven. I put the bowl on a pot holder because I don’t want the bottom to melt any and turn the oven to warm. IMPORTANT!! Do not turn the oven on and walk away! You need to keep the door open a smidge so you can feel the temperature. Once you feel it’s warm enough, but not hot, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Set your timer and go enjoy a latte for that first hour rise.

Isn't that beautiful?

Isn’t that beautiful?

Punch dough down. Cover bowl and let rise another hour.

Punch it down

Punch it down

Pretty self-explanatory. Manhandle the dough to get all the air out. Flip it over again so the nice pretty side is face up rather than the manhandled side you just vented your frustrations on. Cover, warm your oven like in the first rise, and go enjoy another latte. Maybe a decaf one this time.

Show it who's boss

Show it who’s boss

Flipped over and all the air punched out

Flipped over and all the air punched out

Dump dough onto clean counter and divide into 5 equal parts.

Second rise. Wow that's big!

Second rise. Wow that’s big!

Now if you’re the perfect judge of division, then you might be able to divide the dough into 5 equal parts in just one cut. However, I’ve made this recipe a lot, and I still can’t do that. So, divide the dough into 5 parts as best you can and then eyeball each piece of dough. Slice small pieces from larger balls and add them to the smaller balls to try to even everything out. Again, this isn’t a pretty part so just trim ’em up.

It ain't pretty

It ain’t pretty

More uniform in size

More uniform in size

Shape each into a loaf.

To shape my loaf, I flatten one dough ball onto the counter in a rectangle about as long as my loaf pan. Then I roll it up, pinch the long seam to seal it, and pinch the two edges closed. Put sealed side down in your loaf pan. Repeat 4 more times.

Flatten into a rectangle

Shaping

See the pinched seams?

See the pinched seams?

Place in greased loaf pans, and let rise until double (another hour) covered with a towel.

Loaves with seam down and all on the same shelf in the oven for the last rise

Loaves with seam down and all on the same shelf in the oven for the last rise

Covered for last rise

Covered for last rise

You’ll be an expert at warming the oven by the end of this recipe. Put all your pans in the oven on the same shelf. You’ll be able to fit them, trust me. They won’t all be side by side but it will work. Put the towel over the loaves, warm the oven just like in rise #1, and walk away to enjoy a third latte. Okay, maybe not a third latte, but you get another hour to do whatever the heck you want to.

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.
No need to take them out of the oven and preheat. Just remove that towel, turn on the oven to 350, set the timer to 40 minutes, and walk away.

Golden brown and DONE!

Golden brown and DONE!

Once the bread is baked, remove from the oven and let sit in the pan for a few minutes. Then, turn the loaves out onto racks to cool, again, covered with that towel. The towel will trap the steam and keep the crust moist. Now if you want crispy crust, then by all means, leave the towel off. Once the bread is cool, wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil and freeze until you devour that first loaf of homemade yummy bread.

DSC_0362

DSC_0363

If you’d like some wheat flour in your bread, substitute 2 to 3 Cups whole wheat flour for equal parts white flour. If you choose to do this, your dough will be denser and more difficult to knead, so just be aware of that.

There it is. Now you have 5, count them, 5 loaves of fresh homemade bread to enjoy, and you know exactly what went into them. Your blood, sweat, and tears.

Ready for a knife and some butter.

Ready for a knife and some butter.

Are you hungry yet? Go make some bread!

~Robin

 


Frugal Homemaking: DIY Blackout Drapes

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My son T is almost 7 months old. Until recently, putting him to bed at 7 each night posed no problems. Then we faced day lights savings, the bane of my existence. I dread having that hour taken away from me (I <3 sleep) and I dreaded it even more because I had to figure out a way to (1) adjust my son to that hour and (2) put him to bed for the night while it’s still bright and sunny outside. Enter the blackout liner…

At first I was just going to clothes pin some blackout liner behind the café curtains already hanging in the window. Honestly, this would only replace the blanket that was clothes pinned behind the curtain anyway. What?! I had to make his room somewhat dark for daytime napping. I very quickly realized that was just one too many steps toward ghetto-ness and so I decided to make a black-out curtain.

This is where Google is my friend. I Google everything. My husband asks me something, I Google. I’m laying down for “Mommy and Me” afternoon naps and I want to sew a blackout curtain, I Google it. So, typing in “sew blackout curtain” on my smart phone brought me tons of choices on how to make this wonderful creation. I chose to use Amy Willa’s tutorial, found here. This style makes a panel that you hang with curtain ring clips like these.

I won’t recreate the wheel here and tell you exactly how to make your curtain panel because you can read for yourself on Amy Willa’s blog. What I will tell you is that she did make a mistake and was a bit unclear to me, and maybe other novice sewers in writing her instructions. So let’s discuss…

Lots of fabric to work with

I had a limited amount of fabric having bought the last of a bolt. So with 1 and ¾ yards and 2 yards of black-out lining I began reading Amy’s instructions. I followed the spirit of her dimensions in cutting, in that I cut 2 inches from the side and 6 from the bottom. For the most part I didn’t cut much of my blue linen, but I did have to cut quite a bit of my lining. These are the dimensions taken from Amy’s blog:

Prepare Fabric:

1. Cut curtain fabric in a 44″X 60″ rectangle with your rotary cutter or fabric shears

2. Cut your blackout lining to 42″ X 54″.

Okay. This is a mistake that in Amy’s head was probably fine since she’s done this more than once but for us novices, this creates quite the headache. Yes, your lining needs to be smaller than your curtain fabric. I’ll explain that a bit more later, cause I had to call my mom about that one. If your curtain fabric is 44’’ wide, then your blackout lining needs to be 40’’ wide, not 42’’. The lining must be 2 inches shorter on each side! Not 2 inches shorter total. I blindly followed the directions cutting my lining only 2 inches shorter and proceeded on with the instructions. The 6 inches difference in length is correct and works perfectly. Also, rather than blindly following her dimensions for a curtain, measure your window. How annoyed would you be if you make this great curtain and went to hang it only to find it 6 inches too short and not wide enough to keep all that light out.

Next the directions instruct that you sew the left and right edges of fabric together. Really?! But they’re shorter! I was completely confused and had to call my mom, the veteran seamstress to talk this out. She explained that yes, those instructions were indeed correct. After the side seams are sewn together like this, you turn the fabric right side out, like you’re flipping out a pillow case, and lay it blackout liner up and centered on the curtain fabric. If you’ve followed my amended dimensions, you should have about an inch on either side of the lining. I’m sure you’re looking at this and thinking, how in the heck is this right? This is the most bizarre drape I’ve ever seen. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Again, mom talks me through. The extra fabric is pulled flat under the blackout lining and then folded, pressed and sewn down over the lining. The lining lays flat all the way into the crease of the curtain fabric that is folded over. This makes the entire drape able to keep the light out. Just think, if the lining didn’t go all the way into the fold of the side seams of the drape, you’d have light peeking through the curtain fabric. No fun when you are trying to sleep.

Because my dimensions were incorrect the first time, I laid my sewing together pieces back on the table only to find that I barely had half of an inch to spare on either side for a side seam. Ugh! I had to rip out an entire side seam that I had just sewn together and figure out the right amount to trim off. First, I completed one side seam as the instructions said so I only had to mess with one incorrect side seam. At least I’m smart enough to realize that, right? I ripped, trimmed, and re-sewed only to find that I hadn’t trimmed quite enough. Okay, maybe not super smart. AH!!! I was slightly annoyed to say the least. I dislike doing things more than once and I totally detest doing things three times. At this point, I wasn’t very happy with Amy’s directions. Thankfully, my third measurements and trimming resulted in the correct 1 inch overlap. Whew! I could now finish the second side seam and the rest of the curtain.

Finished drape, open finished drape

Those were the issues I faced in using Amy’s instructions for DIY-ing a blackout curtain and now that I’ve explained them to you, you shouldn’t have any problems. Right? I guess you need to try for yourself and see!

-Robin