...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Too Hot to Can?

Mixed berries and drupes for our first "Homestead Jam"
It's 104F out there and I've decided to make preserves. I said I wasn't going to make any jam this year because we still have such a backlog from last year's epic canning season. But since fruit is the only thing looking extremely promising this year (save for the zucchini), I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to have our very own homestead jam. Who knew that blackberries needed next to no water to thrive? We've been picking 2-3 cups per day for the last week. I could have easily made an exclusively blackberry jam, but decided to incorporate the few red currants, gooseberries, and cherries I still have floating around from those harvests. I'm trying my hand at an old-fashioned mixed berry preserve today, one which does not require added pectin to gel. I've substituted granulated xylitol for 3/4 of the sugar and will let it cook until it passes the gel test. I'm also making this batch to replenish my supply of gift preserves, which I usually process in 1/4-pint jars with single-use metal lids versus the reusable canning lids that I've switched to in the last couple of seasons. I'll make a few "giftable" jars and the rest for our own larder.

No shortage of these heavenly blackberries this year.
Skimming the foam off the jam, hoping to incorporate it into a beverage
a la M.F.K Fisher in Gastronomical Me
Assistant Blackberry Picker
This morning I made a return visit to Kohl's Corporate on the northwest side of the metro Milwaukee area to do a "Food Preservation 101" presentation. This hometown company continues to make some serious efforts towards sustainability, as far as corporations go.  Not only to they provide fresh, locally-sourced, healthy choices in their impressive food service venues, but they encourage employees to focus on health, eat locally, help with the company garden (from which the produce is donated to local food banks), and attend presentations in their Green Lecture Series. Seems like it would be a great company for which to work and I was honored to be asked back to make the same presentation I did a couple of years ago, but to a totally new audience.

After my presentation today we swung by the West Allis Farmers' Market; I believe this was our first visit there this season. I ran into a Master Gardener friend who regularly attends my cooking classes and of course we started discussing the weather.  She informed me that one of the farmers in attendance had just experienced his well running dry. One whole aisle of farmers, who are usually ramping up for peak produce season by this time, was absent. I wasn't even upset when, after I chose to buy a mixed bunch of lettuces from another grower, I got home to realize that they were all bolted.  These farmers are trying to sell whatever bits and pieces of vegetables they have managed to salvage from this drought.  It's heartbreaking.

As you can imagine with this ongoing lack of rain and intense heat, my garden is also dire need of care--though I can't begin to compare it to what our state's large producers are experiencing. Certain perennials in our front yard landscape have literally burned up, various successions of seeds have been unable to germinate and/or poke through the soil because of its crust, and I've now counted six different species of insects--some remaining unidentified--beating up on my zucchini and other squash plants. My only serious concern on the homestead (though I have countless concerns for the farmers in our region) is that in late August I'm hosting a preserves and pastries event for our church and am hoping the homestead looks presentable for garden dining. (Yeah, seems like a luxury to want that when so many folks' entire livelihoods depend on every bit of rain.) I'm already getting close to writing this garden season off, starting to think about next year (and incorporating more permaculture to work with climate challenges), and having visions of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Time to refocus and be in the moment.

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