Maple Sugar Weekend 2010

This weekend was the second in New York State’s annual Maple Sugar weekend.  You can see my post on this from last year here.

This year, we went to a closer sugar house than Kent’s Sugarhouse in Berlin.  We found Woodview Sugarbush in Delanson instead.

This sugaring operation looked a lot bigger than the one in Berlin.  Their sugarhouse was much more spacious.

Inside, their evaporator looked much bigger.

We didn’t need an explanation on how the sugaring process works this year, so we headed outside to see a tapping demonstration.

Modern sugaring: Use a cordless drill to go about 1-2 inches into the tree. 🙂

Then, lightly tap the spile until it “catches.” I was surprised how gentle he was, instead of hammering it in.

Then, in the olden days, they would hang a metal pail on the hook of the spile and let the sap drip into it. It started coming out almost right away because it had just gotten warm enough.

But we were told that this year had been horrible for maple sugaring.  Last year, was their best year ever. The weather was perfect (below freezing nights, and warm days) and they made over 400 gallons of syrups! This year, the season is just about over and they’ve only made 120 gallons of syrup.  I guess that’s how farming goes.

Once we finished with the demonstration, we headed in to buy syrup! First, we saw they were selling stiles and buckets. I was really tempted to buy one and find a maple tree in the preserve behind our home to tap, but I held off 🙂 One day!

We ended up with a gallon of dark syrup, 8oz. of maple sugar and a log cabin of syrup to give as a hostess gift sometime this year. So much syrup! I bet you’re asking.  We’re hoping to use it as local sugar in baking throughout the year.

Farmers Market Yesterday

The Farmers Market is closed next Sunday for Easter.  So sad.  But we stocked up on lots of good stuff today.

First off, Bailey decided he wanted to come to the market with us, and got in one of our bags.

Silly kitty

Today’s loot:

  • 1 pint chocolate milk, 1/2 gallon reduced-fat milk, 1/2 gallon whole milk (for ricotta)
  • 2 dozen large eggs from Coopers Ark Farm
  • 1 bunch swiss chard from Barber’s Farm
  • 1 loaf honey whole wheat bread from Our Daily Bread
  • 1lb maple-smoked bacon and 1lb ham steak from Sweet Tree Farm
  • 1 cup strawberry yogurt from R&G Cheese
  • 3 apples from Migliorelli Farm
  • 1 bottle black currant dessert wine from Hudson-Chatham Winery

Notes from yesterday:

  • It seems as if we’re buying more meat than ever before.  We’ve gone through all our meat for the month of March from our CSA, except for the roast that we’re saving to eat with our friends in mid-April. Still one more week before April’s meat is shipped to us. We’d probably do without except that Easter on Sunday makes us want some ham!
  • The chard looks pretty. It’s so nice to have something else to eat besides spinach or root veggies. Look at those ruby red stalks!
  • K and I enjoyed our blackberry dessert wine so much, we decided to try the winery’s brand new offering: black currant.  It was K’s birthday so he got to choose, but I wouldn’t have minded more blackberry.

Good stuff!

The Broccoli Has Sprouted!

I guess the title of this post says it all.  After being under the lights for 14 hours a day for the last week, the broccoli has germinated.

About 7 of the 10 pots have so far sprouted.  I planted two seeds in each pot to make sure I got at least one plant out of them.  When they get their first true leaves, I will trim one of them (if both grow).

These are in our garage, so even though it’s been chilly they were still able to germinate.  Broccoli does well in the cold, as long as the dirt isn’t frozen!

Mesophilic Starter

Can you believe it?  I have somehow hurt my back AGAIN.  I guess working in the garden this weekend was not very smart, although at the time it felt ok.

I went to the family practice on Carman Rd. and the doctor told me there was nothing he could do for me and I needed to go to the ER.  They made me wait half an hour in the waiting room (I cannot get up from a sitting position without excruciating pain) then he pushed on my back which made me almost collapse, then told me there was nothing he could do. What could the ER do that he couldn’t? Isn’t he a doctor?  He also refused to give me a referral for PT (I don’t think I need one with my insurance anyway, but I asked) because he said he couldn’t examine me.  But of course, took my copay.

Why would I clog up the ER with something that was obviously not an emergency, when he is a doctor and it was during business hours?  So frustrating.

Anyway, since I’m now flat on my back unable to get up, I have time for a blog post.

Over the weekend, while I was mobile, I was able to make some mesophilic starter.

Although there are a variety of starters for different cheeses, there are two basic ones used for many: mesophilic and thermophilic.  I bought 5 packets of mesophilic starter from the brewing store the other day, but my new cheese book told me how I could make my own.  In order to save money, I decided to try – since it costs $6/5 packets (not a lot, but why not?)

Prepared Mesolithic Starter

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet direct-set Mesolithic starter
  • 1 quart skim milk
  • 1 quart canning jar

To make a prepared mesophilic starter for the first time, you need a direct-set starter.

I sacrificed one of the five I had bought in order to make a bunch of prepared.

Directions:

1. Sterilize the 1-quart canning jar by placing the jar and the lid (not the band) in boiling water for 5 minutes.

2. Cool jar and pour in skim milk, leaving a 1/2-in of head space (the whole quart of milk won’t fit in). Tightly cover with sterilized lid.

3.  Put the jar in the boiling water canner, making sure 1/4 in. of water covers the top of the jar.

4. Bring water to a boil, and let boil for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the jar from the boiling water and let cool to 72F.  This will take awhile!

6. “Innoculate” the milk by putting in the direct-set starter.  Uncover the milk in the jar, pour in the starter, and close the jar up quickly. Shake around to mix the starter into it.

7.  Place the jar in a place that’s 72F for 15-24 hours (16 hours is what my book says it normally takes).

8. When the starter is finished, it’ll look like yogurt and will separate from the sides of the jar.  If you taste it, it’ll taste slightly acidic and a little sickeningly sweet.

9. Once it’s finished, chill right away.  If you’re not planning to use all that starter within 3 days, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it. Each cube = 1 ounce of starter and to make cheese (like cream cheese) you usually need 4 ounces.

Is it March?

Saturday was such a beautiful day.  High 60s, sunny, the perfect day to get back in the garden! I had on my new garden wellies, sun hat, and a TANK TOP!!

The garden looked much different this time around.  The snow is gone! (At least for now).

Our plot

We opened the doors of the coldframe to let the sun directly hit the spinach. It’s coming back!

Some more baby spinach is starting to appear.

I planted the rest of the cold frame with more spinach.  Spinach can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked, even if it’s cold.

We turned over some dirt in the new part of our plot.  There’s still so much to do.

We planted some more garlic.  We have close to 40 planted now! Whew!  It looks like about half of the garlic we planted last fall didn’t make it through the winter.  Some did, however.

In the older part of the garden, the wheat we planted last fall is just starting to come up.

Back at home, K has finished our seed stand.

It’s time to start the broccoli!

The broccoli is going under the lights for 14 hours a day until it comes up.  Broccoli is a brassica that does fairly well in cooler weather, so although I won’t just plant it out in the garden just yet, I’m going to start some seedlings.

Next week, more seedlings!

The Post In Which I Make Cheese

My hubby has recently decided he wants to make wine/beer at home after reading an old book on brewing.  Personally, I think it looks fun!  There’s an awesome recipe in the book for making blackberry wine, which I really want to do this summer! After all, we picked 2 quarts of this stuff last summer to make preserves, and you only need a gallon to make wine!

But anyway, I had heard about a local brewing store on NPR called Homebrew Emporium, and suggested to K that we take a drive there so he could buy this special brewing yeast.  But I admit I had some selfish reasons for wanting to go as well. They carry New England CheeseMaking supplies!

For those who might not know, New England Cheesemaking is the place recommended by Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I’ve wanted to try my hand at cheesemaking ever since I read the book, and now I’m kicking myself for finally getting into it now that the weather is getting better and we’ll be in the garden nearly full time soon.  I should have done this over the quietness of the winter!  Oh well.

So while he looked around his dream store, I went in search of this!

This book is known as THE cheesemaking bible.  I hurriedly flipped through it for something easy to try, so I could buy the necessary ingredients before we left the store.  I settled quickly on cream cheese.  Let me repeat – I was going to make cream cheese!

The uncooked-curd method of cream cheese (which gets a slightly wetter cheese and isn’t as firm as the blocks you can buy, but still tastes the same!) is SO easy to make! To make one pound of cheese, you need:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 quarts pasteurized light cream or pasteurized half-and-half
  • 1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter
  • cheese salt (optional)
  • herbs (optional)

Cheese salt is basically non-iodized salt, so kosher salt will work as well.  Really, the only thing I had to buy at the store was the mesophilic starter.

It comes in packets that are kept in the freezer.  They have expiration dates on each packet, but the store told me you could keep them in the freezer forever and they’d be fine.

The next day, I bought half-and-half at the farmer’s market.  They only had 2 pints (1 quart) so I had to make half a pound of cream cheese instead.  That was fine!

To make this “soft” cream cheese, you bring your cream or half-and-half to room temperature.  Then, add your starter and mix it thoroughly.

Cover your bowl and let it set at 72F for 12 hours.  It’s wintertime here and I wasn’t quite sure where I could put the bowl in a place that would remain around 72F for that long, so I decided to place it in the boiler room.

That’s right, it found a home with the ginger ale that was fermenting!  It was a little warmer than 72F, but it was fine.  The next day, I took the bowl out, not sure what I would find.

Can you tell the difference between this pic and the previous bowl?  If you look carefully, it’s formed a solid curd.  I really didn’t think it would work, for some crazy reason. I was so excited when I found it really did!

Once your cream has curdled, you need to pour your curd into a colander lined with butter muslin.  You’re supposed to use butter muslin instead of cheesecloth because most cheesecloth bought in regular stores has too big a weave and allows curd to escape.  Butter muslin has a tighter weave.  But I didn’t own any so I just used regular cheese cloth.

Once the curd is in the muslin, tie up the corners into a knot and hang the bag to drain for another 12 hours, or until the bag stops stops dripping and the cheese has reached the desired consistency.  You’re supposed to change the bag a couple of times to aid in this process but I only own one cheesecloth so I didn’t have that option.

I was so excited about getting cream cheese that I didn’t leave it to hang as long as I probably should have.  But finally, I dumped the cheese into a bowl and looked at what I had created!

Looks like cream cheese! Tastes like it too!  I salted it with 3/4 tsp of salt, then separated it into two bowls and added some of my strawberry preserves to make strawberry cream cheese.

Just swirl a few tablespoons of jam or preserves into your cream cheese and set it to firm in the fridge. It will last 1-2 weeks, but I’ve noticed because I didn’t let it hang for as long as I should have water started separating from it after a few days.  Next time I’ll make sure to do 12 hours or even a little longer.

Finally, I had some of my fresh, local cream cheese with my strawberry jam on some local bread.  Delicious! And so easy to make. I’m going to try my hand at making ricotta next.  Can’t wait!

Ginger Ale

The hubby is getting into brewing, and has even asked to do a blog post on making wine sometime soon.  In the meantime, I’ve been doing my own sort of brewing, in the form of making some ginger soda. I had an old piece of ginger laying around the house, and it started to sprout, so it wasn’t good for much.

Ginger has been used for centuries to treat minor gastrointestinal problems. We usually have ginger ale in the house, which I normally use mostly when I have a stomach ache.  But I’m sure it will come as no shock to you that most ginger ales on the market have zero real ginger and some non-natural things  in there.

Apparently Canada Dry has real ginger in their ginger ale (though goodness knows how small the amount may be) but they (and most other soda makers, also include sodium benzoate in their list of ingredients.

What’s sodium benzoate?

In nature, sodium benzoate is a type of salt that is found in some foods.  Most often in the non-natural world,  it’s a chemical preservative in foods with high acid content.  In foods that have both sodium benzoate and a high concentration of vitamin c or ascorbic acid, there’s been some concern that the combination can form the chemical benzene.

Benzene is a carcinogen, and NOT a good thing.  We even studied case law on it in law school.

But sodium benzoate on its own is not a carcinogen.  There’s no proof that it alone does anything to you.  But the less chemical preservatives in my food in general, the better I feel.

So, I decided to try to make my own! It helped that I had leftover ginger in the house that was starting to sprout.  I followed this recipe with a few minor tweaks.

Homemade Ginger Ale

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp of freshly grated ginger root
  • 1/4 tsp fresh baker’s yeast
  • 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar  (optional)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (optional)

Directions:

  • Grate up your ginger root with the smallest part of your grater.

If you like lemon, add the juice of one lemon to your grated ginger.  I’m not a big fan of lemon in soda, so I left it out.  Stir your lemon and ginger to form a “slurry.”

Add your 1 cup of sugar, cream of tartar (for smoothness), and baker’s yeast via a  funnel into a clean 2 liter plastic bottle. It is important to use a plastic bottle because it has some “give” when it comes to the fermentation. Making it in a glass bottle has no such “give” and might shatter the bottle!

Add your lemon/ginger “slurry” to the funnel.  Don’t worry if some sticks to the funnel.  Then, rinse the container that held the lemon and ginger with water, but dump the water into your funnel instead of down the drain.

Fill the rest of the bottle with cool, filtered water.  Shake around to make sure all the sugar dissolves.  Obviously, the ginger won’t, but that’s ok for now!

Place your bottle in a warm location for 24-48 hours.  We put ours in our utility closet with our furnace.  It stays around 72F in there.

When you can’t easily squeeze the bottle, it’s ready!  The bread yeast has fermented to give an old-timey carbonation!  If you like your soda cold, chill it in the fridge before you open it.

Look at the bubbles!

If you don’t like drinking bits of ginger with your soda, filter them out as you pour your soda into the glass.

And voila! Carbonated ginger ale! The real, old school soda!  I thought it tasted great, and the hubby loved it and had a glass with dinner. It was VERY gingery and a little too sweet, so I might try a little less next time, but it was a great use of old ginger.

Refreshing!