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  (Portage, Michigan)
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How to Make Homemade Butter

wpid CAM03139 1024x759 How to Make Homemade Butter

When we first learned about the benefits of raw milk (and the harm of pasteurized milk from non-A2 cows) we decided it was worth switching to healthier dairy products. Buying a herd share was a no-brainer first step. Our herd share enables us to obtain raw milk from the cow we lease and yogurt and cheese made from her milk. We’re not big milk drinkers so keeping our consumption (both for straight drinking and baking) to 1 gallon a week works fine for us. Unfortunately we’re not able to purchase pre-made butter at the same time.

That’s too bad because though we don’t drink much milk, we do use a lot of butter. A lot. I seriously considered purchasing a second herd share just to have a enough cream for butter making. Unfortunately that’s not in the budget at this time. So instead, I’ve been making a habit of skimming the cream off our weekly gallon of milk and freezing it. I skimmed the milk by pouring it out of a gallon milk jug and into a gallon container with a wide mouth and lid. After a day or so the cream rises to the top and easy to scoop off. (You can see the cream line in the picture below).

wpid PicsArt 1395688899006 1024x759 How to Make Homemade Butter

After four weeks of skimming I ended up with about 7 cups of cream. These jars look very full, and they are, because of course the cream expands as it freezes. I want to be sure to say that I only filled them about ¾ full before placing them in the freezer. Filling them to the top would cause them to burst.

wpid CYMERA 20140324 135231 How to Make Homemade Butter

After collecting to jars’ worth of cream, I decided it was time for my maiden voyage into butter-making.

First I put the frozen jars into the fridge (on the bottom shelf because it is the warmest place in my refrigerator). I couldn’t tell you exactly how long it took the cream to thaw, but it was somewhere between one-and-a-half and two days.  With thawed cream on hand, I was ready to begin.

How to Make Butter from Scratch

These are the tools and ingredients I used:

  • 3.5 cups of cream (approximate)
  • A blender or food processor
  • 1 cup of ice water
  • A strainer
  • A medium to large sized bowl
  • A spatula
  • Paper towel or a cheesecloth
  • Wax or parchment paper
  • Bakers twine
  • Salt (optional)
For instructions and pictures, please visit our website by clicking here.
 
 

Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

how to make seed tape

Seeds come in many shapes and sizes. The tiniest seeds – such as radishes, carrots and onions – can be difficult to sow with precision. One way to address this problem is to use seed tape. Fortunately seed tape is easy to make, store and use, both in traditional row gardens and Square Foot Gardening raised beds. Seed tape helps you conserve seeds, minimizes (or eliminates) the need to thin plants later in the season, and makes a great winter-time project to give you a jump start on spring. Also gardeners with back issues will find this method of sowing seeds much less painful than bending over a garden bed. Plus if you’re a neat freak, it will give you control over having a beautifully, perfectly spaced garden. Won’t the neighbors be jealous?

For pictures and all of the instructions for creating square foot garden seed tape, click here.

 
 

Freezing Cookie Dough

Christmas means lots of things to lots of people. We have several family traditions and one of them involves baking gobs of cookies. The lineup varies from year to year but a few staples remain: Oatmeal Scotchies, Sugar Cookies and Gingerbread Cookies. (We don’t eat them all; many are given as gifts. But… we eat plenty.) In November of this year I had a brilliant idea: Wouldn’t it be cool if I whipped up some cookie dough during this I’m-not-crazy-busy-with-holiday-things-to-do time, stick it in the freezer and then (viola!) pull it out just in time to make hassle-free cookies with Christmas carols blaring in the background?

It was a brilliant idea!

I didn’t do it.

But I haven’t given up on the idea. And since pretty much any time of the year is a good time for freshly baked cookies, I’ve decided to make double batches during Christmas baking and save some for the rest of the winter. (You know, because I need extra hurdles to my diet-related New Year’s resolutions…)

I’ve personally never frozen cookie dough before. Just in case you haven’t either, here are tips I found on how to freeze both drop (chunky) cookies, such as chocolate chip, and for cut out cookies, like gingerbread and sugar cookies. I’ve also included links to my favorite recipes. Enjoy!

Freezing Cut-Out Cookie Dough

Recipe: Christmas Sugar Cookies

Recipe: Easy Gingerbread Cookies

1. Mix dough per recipe.

2. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into three roughly-equal sized sections. (Note: Refrigerating the dough for 15-20 minutes will make it easier to work with.)

how to freeze cookie dough

3. On the floured surface, shape each section of dough into a disc about one inch thick.

how to freeze cookie dough

4. Place the disc on top of a sheet of wax or parchment paper. Fold the paper around the disc. (Optional: Use a piece of tape to secure the paper.)

how to freeze cookie dough

how to freeze cookie dough

how to freeze cookie dough

how to freeze cookie dough

5. Place each disc into a freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing. Label the bag with the contents, date, proper oven temperature and number of minutes to bake.

how to freeze cookie dough

how to freeze cookie dough

6. Dough can be stored up to three months.

7. To bake with frozen dough, remove the disc from the freezer and allow it to warm at room temperature for 10 minutes (or until pliable). Roll the dough out per recipe directions and cut cookies.

Want even faster cookies the next time you have a craving? Try this:

  1. Create cookie dough per recipe.
  2. Roll dough out to desired thickness and cut cookies.
  3. Transfer cookies to a room-temperate cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
  4. Place cookie sheet into freezer until… wait for it… frozen. (Could take 1 to 6 hours depending on your freezer’s temperature and the thickness of your cookies.)
  5. Once cookies are frozen, transfer them (quickly, to avoid a thawed, sticky situation) to a pre-labeled freezer bag and return to the freezer. Label information should include the contents, the date, proper oven temperature and number of minutes to bake.
  6. To bake the frozen cookies add an extra minute or two to the recommended baking time.

Freezing Drop (Chunky) Cookie Dough

Recipe: Oatmeal Scotchies

Recipe: Minimally Processed Chocolate Chip Cookies


how to freeze cookie dough
  1. Create dough per recipe.
  2. Place portioned scoops of dough onto a lined (wax or parchment paper) cookie sheet as you normally would. Since the cookies will not be immediately baked (and thus won’t spread out) you can place them close together.
  3. Place the cookie sheet full of portioned dough into the freezer until frozen solid. (This process will take at least six hours; you could also freeze them overnight.)
  4. Label a freezer bag with the contents, date, proper oven temperature and number of minutes to bake.
  5. Place completely-frozen cookie “balls” into freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible before closing the bag. Cookies can be frozen for up to three months.
  6. To bake with frozen dough, add an extra minute or two to the recommended baking time.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally. 

 
 

How to Make Homemade Almond Extract

Life, according to my belly, can be categorized into the following seasons: Soup season, grilling season, roasting season and baking season. We, dear friends, are in the heart of baking season! Our household has no concept of portion control loves good food. And while I can’t say that the food we eat is always good for us (it’s hard to claim that cake is healthy) we do strive to make everything with natural, wholesome ingredients.

That’s why last year I kicked our artificial baking supplies to the curb. No sprinkles, no colored sugar, no artificial food dye and no artificial flavorings. The flavorings were the most difficult to part with. Fortunately I learned to make homemade vanilla extract. It’s actually quite economical, all-natural and super tasty! When we ran out mid-year I made a second batch and also created some orange extract (which I’ve yet to actually use). So far, having homemade vanilla extract on hand has met my flavoring needs… save for one: Almond.

I miss almond flavoring.

There are some things that just need an amaretto-esqe touch.

Why is it then that it has taken me all of this time to think of making my own? (Silly me!) I wish I had started this a month ago so I’d have homemade almond extract in time for Christmas goodies.

At any rate, making almond extract (or any extract, for that matter) is so easy!

Click here for the recipe!

 
 

Processing Pie Pumpkins

One of the few (possibly the only) crop I grew solely for our family this year was pie pumpkins. I only used one bed and ended up with about a dozen pumpkins. The pumpkins have been sitting around the house for a couple of weeks now, just waiting to be processed. After doing a little research (bless you, Google) and talking to a friend (bless you, Carrie) I decided to process our pumpkins using a combination of methods. I’m roasting my pumpkins in the oven and then dehydrating them to be stored in powder form. Here’s how…

Step 1: Roast the Pie Pumpkins

Dehead the pumpkin. (For those of you who don’t live with an 8-year-old boy or like to pretend you’re Eowyn, that just means “cut the top off.”)

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and stringy mess. The goal is to get rid of as much stringiness as possible. If you set the seeds aside you can roast them alongside the pumpkin!

how to process pie pumpkins

Cut the pumpkin into quarters by first cutting it in half and then halving the halves.

how to process pie pumpkins

Place the pumpkin pieces on a cookie sheet with the skin side up. This will help to retain moisture as the pumpkin pieces roast.

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Roast in the oven at 350* for 45 minutes or until the pumpkin pieces are fork-tender. They will look like this.

how to process pie pumpkins

Step 2: Puree the Roasted Pumpkin

When the pumpkins are done roasting the skin will be soft and somewhat withered. Allow the pumpkin to cool enough that you can handle it without being burned and then peel away the skin. Don’t be impatient or you’ll burn yourself! I used both a knife and my bear hands to remove the skin. It was an easy process.

The next step is to place chunks of the roasted pumpkin into a blender or food processor. After some experimenting I found that I needed to add about 1 tablespoon of water to each batch to obtain a smooth consistency.

how to process pie pumpkins

Since I plan to dehydrate my puree, a little extra water is no big deal. If however you are planning to freeze your puree, be careful not to make it too runny. If needed, you can remove excess moisture by placing a cheesecloth in a colander and letting the puree drain.

Also here’s where our freezing friends get off the train: Carefully scoop your puree into freezer-safe bags. Seal all but a small corner of the bag then lay it on the counter to smooth out the puree into a flat layer and push out excess air. Seal her up, label that puppy and stick it in the freezer for up to six months.

Step 3: Dehydrate the Puree

For those of you riding this train all the way into the station, it’s time to dehydrate your pumpkin puree.

Spread the puree out evenly onto a tray of your dehydrator and dehydrate for about 12 hours. I tried using both the mesh liner and the solid liner that came with my dehydrator. The mesh liner was a disaster – there was no way to get all of the dried pumpkin off it and the small bits I did retrieve accounted for a teeny portion of the entire tray. Boo. The solid liner, however, worked brilliantly.

how to dehydrate pumpkin

how to dehydrate pumpkin

Dehydrating in the Oven
Unfortunately I only have one solid liner which means I can only dehydrate a small amount of puree at a time (about 1 pumpkin). As an alternative I attempted to dehydrate puree in the oven. It worked very well! Here’s how: Lay a Silpat baking sheet (or parchment paper) onto a cookie sheet. Next spread an even layer of puree onto the Silpat and ‘bake’ at 170* for 5-6 hours. Mine dehydrated for 6 hours (I was working in the garden and forgot about it) and was slightly on the burned side, though still usable. If I dehydrate this way again I’ll aim for closer to 5 hours.

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Once the puree has fully dehydrated it should look and feel like a thin crispy wafer. Peel away and place the pieces into your blender. Then blend away until your crispy wafers are pulverized into tiny little bits (powder is the goal). Here’s what mine looks like…

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Store your dehydrated pumpkin away from heat and light in an air-tight container. According to the food preservation section of About.com you can store dehydrated pumpkin this way indefinitely. In addition to a longer shelf-life, dehydrated pumpkin takes up much less storage space then several freezer bags of puree. Also when if we have a power outage this winter I’ll have one less thing to worry about moving to a friend’s freezer while I wait for the power to return.

How do you cook with dehydrated pumpkin?

Does the idea of dehydrated pumpkin sound unappealing? I get it. But you can use dehydrated pumpkin for all of the same recipes as pumpkin puree: Pie, cookies, bread, cheesecake, pancakes, ice cream and smoothies. I’m looking forward to trying this one: Spicy pumpkin hummus. Yummy!

Here’s how it works. For every ½ cup of dehydrated pumpkin you should add 2 cups of boiling water. Stir the mixture up well and allow it to sit for at least 20 minutes. This will enable it to fully rehydrate and also to cool. The mixture should be completely cool before you use it in your baking.

Most of my dehydrating information came from Dehydrate 2 Store, which also provides a video tutorial for creating a pumpkin pie from dehydrated pumpkin.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally. 

 
 

Making Strawberry Jam for Dummies

how to make strawberry jam

Why can’t my life be simple?

Let me preface this post by saying that, when all was said and done, I ended up with delicious, beautiful, properly-thick strawberry jam. If you’re here looking simply for instructions on how to do the same – without the ‘dummy’ narrative surrounding the process – you’ll want to scroll to the end of this post. Look for the heading that says Strawberry Jam Recipe. If you’d like to learn a little about what not to do whilst making jam, read on…

Jam Making for Dummies

We had a lot going on Monday night so I wasn’t able to make jam as planned. No worries – I decided I’d go to bed early, wake up early and get crackin’ on jam right away Tuesday. And that’s just what I did – got up early, put away some laundry and filled up the canner all before 7:00 AM. Still in my jammies, I started smashing berries and going over recipes.

Berries smashed – check!

Lemon juice added – check!

Canner rolling – check!

Jars sterilizing in the oven – check!

Pectin added to berry mixture – cheee… uh… wait…

My recipe calls for tablespoons but my box of pectin tells me ounces. Do I have enough? Surely Google will know. After quickly pulling up Google’s conversion calculator and entering the pertinent numbers, I determine that I’m short on pectin. By half. Crap.

I scour the cabinets. No more pectin. I text a neighbor (who is probably thinking “Who wants pectin at 8:30 in the morning??). I think about the dreaded amount of time I’ll spend driving to the store and back if I leave now. Then I remember that I’m wearing my pajamas… and I’d have to put on real clothes and possibly bathe myself before going into public… and that seals it: I’m gonna have to wing this.

Winging It

Thank God for Google (kind of… more on that in a minute). I started searching for pectin alternatives… there are several out there, but keep in mind I’m a jam novice so some of these “just use green fruit” (which I don’t have) or “just add cranberries” (which I do happen to have but are you kidding me?) options just aren’t going to cut it. In the end, I settled on two possibilities:

  1. Cornstarch and a little sugar.
  2. Boiled down orange peels.

Cornstarch and “a little sugar” sounds like a pretty safe, almost-like-my-packet-of-powdered-pectin option. Buuutttt… then I see all these warnings about “it burns” in your recipe and also I’m trying to make jam that leans more towards natural than unnatural and who knows what’s really in my cornstarch. And how much is “a little sugar” anyway?… no one in the cyberworld seems to know.

On the flip side, we don’t eat oranges. Ever… except (!!) many months ago when they were on such super-duper sale that I bought some… and I saved the orange peels in the freezer with plans to make orange extract out of them (because, we never eat oranges and I thought having extract around would be handy for natural flavoring). In all of my Google-please-help-me searching I ran across an experienced cook’s shot in the dark at how you could get usable pectin out of orange peels. Sounds natural enough – why not?

boiling orange peels for pectin

So…

Split strawberry mixture into to two covered bowl and place them in the fridge – check!

Turn off the burner under the roaring canner – check!

Look with disdain on my 1.75 ounce bag of pectin – check!

Start boiling orange peels – check!

Put on a bra and take a shower – pshaw!

Getting Pectin from Orange Peels

So for those of you who are as new to jam making as me, you might be wondering what this magical pectin stuff even is. According to our buddies at Wikipedia, pectin is:

“a structural heteropolysaccharide contained in the primary cell walls of terrestrial plants. It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braconnot. It is produced commercially as a white to light brown powder, mainly extracted from citrus fruits, and is used in food as a gelling agent particularly in jams and jellies. It is also used in fillings, medicines, sweets, as a stabilizer in fruit juices and milk drinks, and as a source of dietary fiber.”

In short, it helps your jams and jellies to thicken rather than being a runny mess. The recipe I found for extracting pectin from orange peels looked pretty much like this:

  • Peels from 2-3 oranges (frozen in my case)
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce mixture by half (20 minutes). Remove peels. Reduce by half again. Cool in fridge… add to strawberry mixture.

So that’s just what I did. And here’s what I ended up with:

Orange Peel Pectin

Here’s hoping there’s a whole heapin’ mess of pectin in this boiled-down-orange-peel water.

Making Strawberry Jam (Finally)

What if the pectin-from-orange-peels doesn’t work? I decided not to take the chance of ruining ALL of my strawberry jam so I set out to make two separate batches – one with store bought pectin and one with orange peels pectin.

And that’s when it happened.

I opened up the pectin packet to measure out the 3 tablespoons of pectin needed for half of my strawberry jam recipe… and oddly enough, there was some left over. And oddly enough, the leftovers measured out to 3 tablespoons. Now it’s been a while since I’ve had an arithmetic test, but according to my math, 3 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons = 6 tablespoons, which is the amount needed to do the WHOLE recipe. 6 tablespoons… right there… in the little 1.75 ounce pouch I’d been looking upon with scorn all morning. Everything I needed… right there… the whole time.

Fie on you, Google conversion chart, for telling me that 1.75 ounces is only 3.5 Tablespoons!

At this point, I’m sure the sensible thing to do would have been to just mix everything back together, make the jam as designed and get on with my life. But after all the effort I’ve invested into this orange-peel-pectin thing, I’m all in now! When am I going to have (or rather, take) another opportunity to see if this works?

So with the berry mixture in two separate sauce pans, I begin boiling. The recipe says “Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.”  And that’s just what I did. The only problem is, in my haste to do two separate batches (Why did I feel the need to do both at the same time?) I unwittingly placed the orange-peel mixture into a too-small saucepan. A too-small saucepan now sporting a strawberry goo in a “rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.” It can, however, explode over the side and onto the burner. Also, because of its high sugar content, it can quickly catch on fire. But it cannot be stirred down… just so we have that part straight…

Fortunately after catching fire, it can be extinguished.

Me: Owen – pause that game, I need you to come here quickly!

Owen: Do I have to?

Me: Yes!

Owen: *Owen appears* What?

Me: Open the door and the window so the smoke can get out…

Owen opens both…

Me: Now come and stir this for me so I can catch up on the other one. I don’t want them to burn.

Owen begins stirring… two seconds later

Owen: Do I have to do this?

Me: Yes.

Owen: Mom – it’s burning me alive.

Me. No it’s not.

Owen: Yes, it is.

Me: Just keep stirring…

Owen: *singing* Just keep stirring, Just keep stirring… much like this…

 

Once everything was under control and Owen was no longer singing while burning alive, I observed that, alas, the orange-peel pectin mix was not thickening. My guess is that if I let it boil a while longer, it would eventually. However 1) I didn’t want to lose all of the goo that would evaporate to make that happen and 2) I was a little afraid of what might happen next if I kept going! So, I abandonded the experiment, added about 1.5 tablespoons of pectin and moved on.

The end result? Six hard-won jars of appropriately thick strawberry jam! And also a disastrous kitchen mess…

how to make strawberry jam

Victoriously secured in the face of both flame and mental anguish (even if they were self-inflicted obstacles…)

Strawberry Jam Recipe

What to make your own? Here’s the recipe (adapted from this one).

Ingredients

  • 5 cups crushed strawberries (about 5 lbs)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 6 Tbsp pectin
  • 7 cups granulated sugar
  • 8 (8 oz) half pint glass canning jars with lids and bands

Instructions

  1. Fill boiling water canner and heat to boil water.
  2. Sterilize jars in the oven (225* for at least 10 minutes) or heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
  3. Combine strawberries and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Add all of the sugar at once, stirring to dissolve. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.
  5. Scoop hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim clean and place the lid and band on tight.
  6. Process jars a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
 
 

Frost! (And Other Updates)

There’s a reason why the last frost date in Michigan (the reasonable date on which you can plant outside in the spring without worrying about frost harming your plants) has been moved to May 18. Last night (May 12/13) we had a visit from good ole Jack Frost! Pretty strange considering the old Last Frost Date was May 10 and we’ve been having beautifully warm weather before this sudden cold snap. Then again, this is Michigan, and it wouldn’t be spring if you didn’t have to trade your flip flops for the winter coat all in the same week at least one time…

I’m not sure if you would call it impatience or optimism, but it was sooo warm last week that I couldn’t resist the urge to plant out at least one warm-weather crop. My original plan was to transplant just three golden zucchini plants… I planted six. Here’s what I did to keep these little guys cozy over the very cold weekend (and right through last night’s frost).

Row Cover

On Friday afternoon I covered the raised bed with a plastic row cover. The row cover is attached with utility clips to hoops made from PVC pipe. The zucchini share a bed with radishes which actually prefer the cold weather. Fortunately these are the Rat’s Tail radishes which I’m growing not for the root but for the edible seed pods. The row cover will warm them up substantially in sunny conditions, causing them to bolt (grow faster and produce a flower). Bolting is bad for regular radishes because it alters the taste and texture of the root, but in the case of these radishes, a little extra heat will just move the I-want-seed-pods process along a smidge faster.

row cover

This row cover was put in place to protect golden zucchini plants from May frost.

Cloches

In theory, a row cover should be enough to keep my precious golden zucchini plants from being frost-bitten. But since I got a little overzealous and planted out six instead of three, I decided to bring in some insurance. Enter the cloche (pronounced “klohsh”). A cloche is a tool that originated in France to keep plants from being harmed by frost and to force their early growth. The cloche is typically bell shaped and made from glass. Here’s a picture of a classic cloche.

classic French garden cloche

{Image Credit}
betterlivingthroughpermaculture.com
Click on the image for a DIY cloche idea.

I’m not fancy enough to have beautiful French cloches like the one above so I used my own micro-farm-style cloches: mason jars.

diy cloche

The zucchini plants get double frost protection – glass cloches made from mason jars and a plastic row cover.

diy cloche

The upside down jars keep the plants warm and safe from frost.

The zucchini plants were covered from late on Friday afternoon all the way through this morning (Monday). When I first placed them over the plants, it was chilly and windy but the sun was shining, and they looked like like the picture above. When I retrieved the cloches this morning, the plants looked like this:

diy cloches

The “after” shot is pretty much the same as the “before”!

diy cloche

Despite a smidge of mud on one leaf, this plant
(just like the others) looks great!

So based on my experience, the combination of row cover and cloche worked beautifully! My zucchini plants are ready for spring!

Other Plants in the Garden

Everything else that is planted out in the garden is frost tolerant – lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, peas, carrots (teeny tiny seedlings), beets (just now coming up), onions, strawberries and a few other things I can’t think to name right now. There is one sad exception: The potato plants.

Since potatoes are planted out so early, my novice-farmer brain assumed that they are frost tolerant. But as I was coming in from the garden this morning I noticed that many of the leaves looked very frost bitten and dark. What a giant bummer because they have been coming up SO nicely (about 4 to 6 inches each)! One of the garden tasks I was planning for this afternoon was hilling potatoes. After doing some quick research it appears that I just need to trim the dead/damaged leaves and the plants should continue to grow just fine. Next year I’ll throw a row cover over these too!

potato plants

Here are the potato plants before last night’s frost. They don’t look as cheerful this morning…

The only thing planted in the Fenceline garden right now is turnips… or perhaps I should say “was” turnips. These are frost-tolerant and were coming along nicely… until one or two certain four-legged creatures who are otherwise quite lovable dug half of them up. Not. Happy. Time to get that electric fence fixed

The other heat-loving plants have been hiding out in the greenhouse snuggled together on the shelves near the heater which came back into action for the weekend. After today the heater should be going into hibernation until fall.

Also the blueberry bushes are starting to blossom! This is exciting but also a bit sad because I was planning to transplant them to their permanent home before they blossomed. (They are currently in large pots inside the garden fence.) I suppose that task will now have to wait until fall, which is ok, because I’m still not sure where I want to put them.

If you look closely you can see closed buds on the branches. There are a few open blossoms this morning.

If you look closely you can see closed buds on the branches. There are a few open blossoms this morning.

Did you have any frost issues in your garden? Is anyone out there going to be adventurous and transplant heat-loving plants before the actual last frost date? I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Homemade Pure Maple Syrup Part 2

Last week I shared that we’ve been collecting maple sap for making our own maple syrup. It has been a great family-time endeavor and the first step – collecting maple sap – couldn’t be simpler. To learn how to collect your own maple sap, click here.

Our first batch of sap (10 gallons) has already been turned into 3 pints of golden, delicious maple syrup. (And a pint of that maple syrup has already found its way into a batch of oatmeal cookies!)

DSC03770

The first batch of syrup from Arcadia Farms!

From my perspective, the second part of the process (boiling sap to convert it to maple syrup) has been pretty easy too. That’s because my father-in-law (hereafter lovingly referred to as “Papa”) did all the work. This is Papa’s third year making homemade maple syrup and he’s figure out a thing or two about how to make it work. You can learn from his experience (along with other tidbits I’ve gathered from the web and a book called Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide by Rink Mann) to discover how to make your own syrup too.

To start, I’d like to give you a general overview of how the sap-to-syrup process works. Put simply, you need to:

  1. Collect sap from maple trees.
  2. Boil sap so that the water evaporates and the sugary syrup remains.

Easy-peasy, right? Essentially, it is. But there are nuances to boiling sap that are critical to understand if you’re going to end up with maple syrup instead of a gooey, burned mess. As Rink Mann puts it:

“the process involves boiling the sap so that the water in the sap evaporates off in the form of steam, leaving the sugar behind in the boiling pan. Sounds simple, doesn’t it, and it really is, although at certain stages of the process , particularly as you’re getting your brew close to being syrup, there can be terrifying moments. Remember, we’re talking about starting with, say, 33 gallons of sap and ending with 1 gallon of syrup.”

 Click here for the rest of this article, which includes the following info:

 
 

Homemade Pure Maple Syrup

drilling holes for maple sap syrup tapMy father-in-law (hereafter lovingly referred to as “Papa”) is currently in his third year of making homemade maple syrup from his own trees. Last year he made an abundance and we’ve been blessed with as much free, pure maple syrup as our little pancakes hearts can handle. I’ve been eager to try making our own syrup ever since it dawned on me that we have some maple trees of our own (four of them, in fact). I’m especially interested in making my own maple sugar. Since this is my first year and I’m getting a late start, I doubt I’ll end up with a large volume of finished product. But just like everything else, you’ve got to start somewhere! I’m hoping I’ll get enough experience this year to be able to make a decent supply (maybe a whole year’s worth?) of maple sugar next year. Next year maybe I’ll even wear this t-shirt while I work.

Why would I want to make that much maple sugar? Namely because I think it would be a fabulous, “healthier” alternative to highly-processed, non-local cane sugar. Pure maple syrup is also way better than a bottle of anything Aunt Jemima can cook up. Have you ever read the label on store-bought syrup? Here’s the label from a bottle I found lingering in the disarray of our fridge (soon to meet its destiny in the garbage can):

Take a peak at what's in store-bought syrup.

Take a peak at what’s in store-bought syrup.

Boo. My maple syrup will contain only two ingredients: Maple syrup and love.

So far, maple sugarin’ (<– said with my best hick accent) has been pretty easy. Here’s the skinny on what we’ve done so far and how you can make your own pure maple syrup too!

How to Make Maple Syrup and Sugar

The basic concept of making maple syrup is easy. First, you gather sap from maple trees. Next, you boil the sap down until the water evaporates and the sugary-sweet syrup remains. To make maple sugar, you continue to boil the syrup until it crystallizes. The general rule is that you’ll need about 40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup. That 1 gallon of syrup will net you about 8 pounds of sugar. Of course there are details and nuances to the process that you’ll need to know, but that’s the process in a nutshell.

Papa lent me a book called Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide (by Rink Mann) to help me get started. The book is short, to-the-point and a good practical guide. I spent about 15 minutes reading before our tree-tapping adventure yesterday and felt fully equipped. Most of the information I’m going to share with you in the rest of this post either came from Papa’s advice or this book.

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