Monday, September 24, 2012

Dehydrating Plums

We helped pick my parents plum tree a few days ago. There are two things I love to do with their Italian Prunes (that's the plum variety they have) besides eating them fresh. I love the plum jam they make and I also love them dehydrated. They are so sweet and delicious. When my sweet tooth kicks in, I reach for a dried plum instead of a cookie or brownie. It fills the need for something sweet and is a healthy food choice. I have enough plum jam left over from last year so this year I dehydrated all the ones we didn't eat fresh.

I let the plums sit in the box a few days as we ate them fresh and waited for them to get a little soft. They are a lot sweeter when dried if you let them get really ripe.

Wash the plums. Split them open and throw the pit away. Some plums are not freestone varieties which means their pit is stuck inside and nearly impossible to remove without cutting away all of the fruit. Italian Prunes have a pit that comes out very easily which is another reason I love them. I will digress for a minute to discuss the difference between plums and prunes. They really are the same thing. A prune is a dried plum. They also name some varieties prunes because they dry better than other types of plums. That doesn't mean you can't dry the plums you have access to. I've dried other varieties and been just as happy. So don't worry about the name - just worry about weather the pit comes out easily or not.

Turn the plum half inside out. Just push up on it from behind. 
Lay these halves on your dehydrator tray.

Here is my tray full of them.

They shrink by about half after drying for about 24 hours. It usually takes that long to get them to fully dry. I like to get mine all the way dry so I can store them in a ziplock bag in the pantry. If you want to leave them a little more chewy, you can store your bag in the freezer. They look a little funny, but they sure are good and healthy - no sugar added - just sweet and delicious all on their own.

 There are positive health benefits to eating any fruit, but a recent study suggests that eating dried plums significantly increases bone mass and helps combat osteoporosis. For the full article click here. It's just another reason to grab some plums while they are still available at farmer's markets and fruit stands and get your dehydrator going.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Free Bread Making Classes

Food 2 Store is a local preparedness store located on Fairview just west of Eagle Rd. between Denny's Restaurant and Seagull Book. Hope you can come - (Disclaimer: I don't work for the store. I teach classes on a volunteer only basis.)

Wednesday, September 26th 1:00 p.m.

Hands-on Bread Making Tips and Techniques

Nothing says "home" more than the smell of fresh baked bread! Join us to learn tips on making better yeast breads using your freshly ground wheat flour. Come ready to get your hands in the dough to feel what a great yeast dough should feel like. We will cover making bread using a mixer such as a Bosch or Kitchen Aid and also making it the "old-fashioned" way - by hand. This is a great class to bring older children to so if you are homeschooling, bring them along. Space is limited so call or email Food 2 Store to reserve your place.

Wednesday, November 7th 1:00 p.m.

Holiday Roll and Bread Making

Every holiday meal is better with homemade rolls! This class will cover the art of roll making. I will also share a few recipes and techniques for making other "fancy" holiday breads. Set a goal to WOW your friends and family this holiday season. You'll be excited to learn just how easy it really is. Space is limited so call or email Food 2 Store to reserve your place.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Zucchini Boats

Every summer our cub scout troop hosts a vegetable regatta. With three young boys, it is something they look forward to and talk about as the garden is growing - making sure we allow some things to get large enough. We gather large garden produce such as zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumbers and meet at the park where skewers and construction paper are provided. Then the boys set to work carving them into boats. The skewers provide stability and the paper is fun to add a sail. Each boat is unique in design. We then send them racing off down an irrigation ditch in one of our local parks. Dads with fishing nets are ready to catch them at the end and then the boys race them off again.

Here is my son, Ben's, design. He was so proud of it that he had to bring it home and show it off for a few days.

You could easily do this with a group of friends or for a family reunion. It's nearly free fun and one more reason to grow a garden!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Home Canned Vegetable Soup

I set a "provident living" goal for myself every year. It is something I started doing quite a few years ago. One year, I decided I was going to figure out powdered milk. Another year, my focus was on 100% whole wheat bread making. And another year, it was cooking and using dry beans. You get the picture. This year my goal is to overcome my fear of pressure canning. My mom never did it so I haven't had a chance to build up confidence in doing it. I have canned thousands upon thousands of quarts of fruits and tomatoes in a water bath canner, but until this year, I had never pressure canned. I started out easy and did green beans - 5 batches of them! After completing those successfully, my confidence is growing and I decided to tackle vegetable beef soup.

I started reading and searching for recipes. There are quite a few recipes floating around on the internet, but many of them suggested a different amount of time for cooking them under pressure. It was hard for me to be confident that the recipes came from a trusted source and had been tested in a lab kitchen. (Something about killing my family off with my experiment did not appeal to me.) I decided to seek guidance from the Extension Office. Here is what I learned.

NDSU Extension Service
Ask Extension
for answers to commonly asked questions.

Canning Mixed Vegetables and Soup

Date: April 1989 (Reviewed June 1996)Source: NDSU Extension Service Nutrition Specialist
You can use a mixture of vegetables, dried beans or peas, meat, poultry or seafood for soups. The blend depends on family tastes.
Select, wash, and prepare vegetables, meat and seafoods as appropriate for the specific foods. Cover meat with water and cook until tender. Cool meat and remove bones. Cook vegetables. For each cup of dried beans or peas, add 3 cups of water, boil 2 minutes, remove from heat, soak 1 hour, and heat to boil. Drain and combine with meat broth, tomatoes, or water to cover. Boil 5 minutes. Add other vegetables and heat to boiling. Caution: DO NOT THICKEN BEFORE CANNING. Salt to taste, if desired. Fill jars halfway with solid mixture. Add remaining liquid, leaving 1-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a pressure canner.
Process soups in a dial gauge pressure canner at 11 to 13 pounds pressure or at 10 or 15 pounds pressure in a weighted gauge canner. Process hot packed pints for 60 minutes and quarts for 75 minutes. If the soup contains seafood, process for 100 minutes. Correct pressure is determind by the altitude.
There are two classes of soups: (1) Those made with stock and (2) Those made without stock such as the vegetable mixture.
The basis for stock can be beef, lamb, veal, fish, poultry or game; either separately or in combination.
When you make soups, use the bony part of the meat. Trim off all extra fat, add water and simmer. Soup stock should never come to a full rolling boil. Skim off any extra fat, or coagulated albumen (al-BYOO-mun), as it rises to the surface of the liquid. If you add salt, put it in after you remove the bones. When soup is almost done, you may add different vegetables and spice to improve flavor.
If you have further questions, contact your county office of the NDSU Extension Service for additional information on canning soups.

After all my reading, I determined that the exact kind or amount of vegetables didn't really matter. You just fill half the jar with the combination of vegetables and meat that you choose and then fill the jar with liquid (broth or seasoned tomato juice.)

I decided to use this Roasted Tomato Garlic Soup recipe for my broth. You can bottle it up all by itself if you'd like. I could tell after I made a batch of it, that my family would love it as the base for a vegetable soup.

Roasted Tomato Garlic Soup
Recipe By :Katie
12 tomatoes -- *see Note
2 carrots -- cut in 1" pieces
1 large onion -- quartered
2 whole heads garlic -- peeled (or more, to taste)
olive oil
2 cups chicken broth -- (or 3)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil -- (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
Core tomatoes and cut in half. Place, cut side up, on foil covered cookie sheet with carrots, onion and garlic. Brush with olive oil. Bake at 400F for about an hour, or until veggies are roasted and a little blackened. Place in a large saucepan with the chicken broth and basil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Blend with a stick blender (or in small batches in a blender) until almost smooth. To can: Process in a pressure canner, pints for 60 min. and quarts for 70 min.For dial gauge canners use 11 pounds pressure at 0-2000 ft., 12 lbs. at 2001-4000 ft., 13 lbs. at 4001-6000 ft. and 14 lbs. above 6000 ft. For weighted gauge canners use 10 lbs. pressure at 0-1000 ft., and 15 lbs. over 1000 ft.
*Note: These measurements are approximate...I use whatever it takes to cover the cookie sheet. This makes 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of soup. Cream may be added to taste when the soup is served.

I added some celery to my baking sheets before roasting. I made 3 batches.

Here is my pan after roasting.

I pureed everything up in my food processor. 

Here are my jars 1/2 full of my veggie mix. I used carrots, celery, zucchini, cabbage, green beans, and onions. I also cooked up some beef stew meat to add to the mix. I filled them to the top with the tomato soup broth and then processed for 1 1/2 hours at 12 pounds of pressure. I had to do it for 1 1/2 hours since I added the meat. If I had only used vegetables then the 75 minutes would have been sufficient.

I now have 21 quarts of delicious vegetable soup just ready to heat and eat for a quick dinner. We'll go through a couple of quarts at a meal so it gives me about 10 meals. Not too bad for a days work. Most everything came right from our garden also so it was very inexpensive to make - the cost of some celery and a few carrots - not too bad at all.

If you are someone that really feels a need to follow a recipe, you'll find one here that follows the current guidelines.

9/5/2013 Note: After eating this through the winter, we have learned that we love it when I heat 2 quarts of soup and stir in 6 oz of tomato paste. It adds a little more rich tomato flavor and makes it the perfect consistency for our family's tastes. Hope you enjoy it as well!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Our First Peach Harvest

We harvested our first peach crop at this house! We planted our little trees a couple of years ago - to the kids that is forever to wait! Everyone had to get in on the action of picking all 8 of our peaches. Next year we hope to get an even bigger crop.

They were sweet, yummy, drippy and delicious! This year we will still drive out to the orchards to purchase enough peaches for canning, but in a few more years, we hope to grow all we'll need.