Thursday, July 12, 2012

Syrup making days

We've been so busy with summer activities and gardening that we've hardly had time to write. Sorry about that.

With the chickens now fenced out of the garden for the most part (they still sneak in occasionally) the rows are growing nicely. I will have to take the wheel hoe and go over the original rows which are not a green fuzz of small weeds and then move the drip hoses into place. It's not too late to be planting some beans and other crops that like the warmth of summer and to be thinking ahead to fall plantings and the coming winter. Peas will wait to be planted for a few weeks so that they mature in the cooler fall weather. I've cleaned out the weeds in the front flower beds so I think I'm going to plant some scarlet runner beans beside the house which will look beautiful when they're mature.

In the garden we're eating lettuce and harvesting radishes before they bolt or split in this hot weather. More lettuce is planted to replace the ones we're eating. Having a continuous supply replanted is great because you always have a choice of baby leaves or mature lettuce. I prefer to grow it fast and eat it fast so it never becomes overly mature and bitter.

The peas need a fence to grow up so I'll try and get that done today and in the greenhouse I'll finish tying up the supports for the tomatoes and cucumbers so that they are ready for the growing plants. The melons are trained up their strings and there are pretty yellow flowers on the plants already. The zucchini are blooming too so I'd imagine that we'll be inundated with the wonderful green things soon. Thank goodness we love zucchini!

It's 6:15 and a refreshing 13 degrees C (55 f) which is nice because we're heading for another 30+ C (86 f) day again. It's easier to take the heat now that the humidity is lower and the house can cool off at night. Before going to bed I opened all the windows and the house feels fresh and cool this morning with the thermometer on my wall reading 20 C (68 f) and the girls snuggled up happily in a light blanket. The house temperature will likely drop a degree or two further until we close up the windows in a couple of hours. With the good insulation in this house it will stay cool in here for a while, at least until we start making syrup!

Yes, that's the plan for today. We're bottling fruit syrup. Strawberries are starting to slow down production so we're taking advantage of them while we can and he wild blueberries are starting to come ripe. I got a deal on bottles from the feed store as long as I bought them all so I'm now the proud owner of 55 glass syrup bottles and about 35 lids. Some are the 375ml size and some are 500ml so they're good for various uses and gift giving. The idea is to use wax as a sealing agent on those bottles we don't have lids for. It worked for Grandma most of the time so why not me? I'll thoroughly clean and heat the bottles first to be sure there are no surprise bacteria on them before filling them with hot syrup and sealing with paraffin wax. But first I've got screw on lids so I'm all set.

Fruit syrups are easy to make and involve about the same amount of time as making jelly. You start with clean sterilized bottles or jars and keep them hot until ready to use.

Pick your fruit (or buy) and wash it in cool water, picking out any mushy fruit or stems and leaves. Hull strawberries if using them. Place 7 cups of fruit in a pot and thoroughly mash or use a food processor too. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice and bring fruit to a rapid boil then simmer until soft for 5-10 minutes without scorching so keep stirring if you have to.

Now you can either sift through a seive and into your big pot, or you can hang the fruit mush in a jelly bag or cheese cloth. The seive gives a cloudy syrup and the jelly bag juice makes a clear syrup, your choice. You'll end up with about 4 1/2 - 5 cups of juice.

Add sweetener (7 cups sugar or another substitution*) to the juice in the pot and boil for 1 minute.

Bottle the syrup in the usual manner (use a funnel, fill jars, add hot lids and seal) then process for 10 mins at sea level adding 5 minutes for every 5000 feet increase in sea level. Remove jars from the water bath canner, cool overnight, remove rings, check that they've sealed and the lids are curved down then label and store.

For my bottles I won't be able to process this way because the lids are plastic so I'll seal them immediately upon filling and store them in a cool place. The syrup won't last long with my pancake eating horde.

That's my day in a nutshell.

* Sugar Substitutions. You can use 4 1/2 cups sugar, 2 cups stevia, 4 cups splenda or a combination according to your taste.

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