Saturday, June 30, 2012

Demystifying "Shrub"

Years ago neighbors gave us a pint of "blackberry shrub", and told us to mix it with ginger ale for a refreshing drink (which it was).  We never got a recipe, or thought much about it, but last month I went to a booksigning for a canning book and they served "rhubarb shrub" with Proseccu and I decided to check out some recipes.  Basically, a shrub is made up of fruit juice, sugar and vinegar and before refrigeration it was a handy way to preserve your fruit.   But it seems that this staple of colonial times is gaining in popularity again.  Actually creating and drinking fancy vinegars seems to be happening worldwide and vinegar sommeliers can be found as far away as Japan and Korea.  But close to home, Pennsylvania's Tait Farms offers an assortment of shrub concoctions as well.

First thing I found was a New York Times Magazine article titled "Dropping Acid", which caught my attention and provides a nice history of this ancient beverage.  Also included was a basic recipe for any kind of fruit shrub.

Turns out that the real connoisseurs of shrub recipes are the "cocktail geeks" and I came across an interesting and funny article called Cocktail 101: How to Make Shrub Syrups.  This also included a recipe  as well as links to other resources

I had no idea that shrubs were that popular, nor versatile.   But what fun we will have experimenting with this one!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blueberry Cobbler

So far we picked about 12 quarts blueberries off our bushes. (For half of our bushes this is the first year bearing, and we only let some of the berries ripen - the other half of our bushes were completely stripped, as this is their first full growing season and we want them to develop roots rather than berries).

We've been experimenting with different recipes, and here is a favorite cobbler, which we found on and slightly modified:

Ingredients Needed:
  • 3.5 cups fresh blueberries
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of orange juice
  • 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of softened butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

- Preheat oven to 375 degree F
- Using a 7 x 11 inch glass baking dish, mix blueberries, 4 tablespoons of sugar and orange juice
- In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt - set aside
- Cream the 1/2 cup sugar and softened butter until fluffy - scraping bowl occasionally.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.  Gradually add the flour mixture - just until all ingredients are combined
- Drop batter by spoonfulls over blueberry mixture, covering as much as possible (a bit tricky, but it definitely works)
- Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes until golden brown, and the filling bubbles up.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Apache" Blackberry Status

To help us better estimate the start of the "picking season", we are documenting the progress of our blackberries from blossom stage to fully ripened stage this year.  Actually have had a few black berries - but not fully "filled out"  yet, and the center is still firm.  With other words, they are not fully ripe yet.  Considering there are about 500 berry bushes, and so far we found about one dozen firm black berries, they are not even close to being ripe.  Here is what the "Apache" berry plants looked like this evening:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quick Garden Update

Harvested and froze broccoli - 9 bags this weekend

Continued picking blueberries - so far we made some jam, pies, muffins, coffeecake and cobblers.  Trying to find the ultimate recipes.

Picking lettuce, onions, beets and potatoes for dinner as needed

Tomatoes have blossoms

Blackberries are beginning to fill, a few red ones have been sighted

Running a lot of irrigation, since we are lacking rain!

Flowers are in full bloom

Friday, June 22, 2012

Trellis Building Done for 2012!!!

We actually finished installing all the posts and wires for the Triple Crown blackberries and the Vidal Blanc grapes. The last wires were stapled in this morning.
Balckberry Patch June  2012

All rows are numbered
Each young bramble is trimmed and tied up

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Visiting DC

Seen during a recent trip to DC:

Morning run past the Washington Post Building
At the Fancy Food Show :)

Michelle's Kitchen Garden at the White House

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Great Auction Finds!

Once in a while we get really lucky at estate auctions and today was one of those days.  Not too far from our house was a sale that had tools and wine/beer making equipment - what are the chances for that! 

Jens and Jeff spent most of the day in Perry county, but it was worth it - we got an automatic wine bottle filler, about 600 clean wine bottles, a bunch of carboys, a crusher-destemmer, stainless steel milk buckets (good for fermenting beer), a lime spreader which pulls behind the tractor and Jens also got some nice tools!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

More Strawberries Planted

Finished transplanting young strawberries from the herb garden into the "jam" garden, which pretty much filled all the beds up.  Above is a view of the finished garden with the elderberries blooming in the background (they are doing awesome)  and the Vidal Blanc grapes barely visible across the street.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stringing Wire and Tying up Grapes

Started anchoring the trellis end-posts so that we can run at least the bottom wire for the Vidal Blanc vines.  So far, two of the six rows have wires and this evening, we started pounding in the 3 ft. bamboo stakes - one for each grape - to support and guide the vine up to the wire.  It rained most of the day, which softened up the ground nicely and the little stakes went in rather easy.  We are using zip ties to hold the bamboo stake to the wire, hopefully that is sufficient.  We got about 100 done, not even a quarter yet... 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Family Time

Haley meets Sparkles, the calf
We had a lot of visitors this weekend, including Anja, Duff and Leif from Pittsburgh, Haley from Paris on her way to Colorado, Sam & Caleb and Jens & Grace.  So we did not get too much done on the farm, except enjoy walking around and showing it off - which was a lot of fun! 
Jeff trying to make Leif smile
Tina showing off the refinished barn
Anja and Duff
Sam and Caleb hanging out

Haley holding Leif
Haley and Leif with grapes in the background

Almost smiling!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Berry Update

Our blueberries are beginning to ripen, and we actually picked a few this evening.  The blackberries are still blossoming, but berries are starting to form - and the sheer amount of these is slightly daunting!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June Grape Update

We got all our Chambourcin grapes tied up to the double row of catch wires (second row of wires), and we added the post extensions to run the 3rd - high- wire to eventually position the shoots on.  We are using the VSP (vertical shoot placement) training system and the grapes look great right now. This year is only their second growing season, and to be safe and not stress the vine too much, we left one bunch of grapes for just the nicest vertical shoots.

Our new Vidal Blanc patch is growing nicely and we have no deer nor rabbit damage so far (knock on wood).  We have all the trellis holes drilled, and most of the posts are already pounded in.  We are just working on the end posts, where additional cross pieces need to be installed - then we can start running the bottom wire.  We ordered 500 bamboo stakes today - to place by each growing vine - to guide it up to the bottom wire.  The stakes should be here in 2 days - we hope!
This "patch" consists of 500 vines, whereas we only have 200 Chambourcin grapes so far.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Jam and Smoothie Garden

Making nice progress on our newest patch:  the "Jam and Smoothie" garden.  We started a second blueberry patch last fall, on the house side, between the newest Triple Crown blackberry patch and the existing elderberry patch.  Earlier in the spring, we added a row for raspberries, black and red ones,  with one lonely gooseberry bush at the end.  This week, we added two more rows:  one for Honeyoye strawberries, (we planted 50) with currant bushes at the end, and another one for "unknown, but really good" strawberries.  We plan to use the "runners" of existing strawberry plants, which are growing happily in the herb garden.  The patch is finished off with a row of lavender - some of these were left over wedding favors, which we supplemented.  Hoping the lavender bushes grow up nicely and attract plenty of pollinators!   The fruit trees then border the lavender on the other side.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


I guess you have to be bit crazy to get excited about the first batch of canning for the season, but we do ...every year!  We started off the 2012 canning season with strawberry jam - 20 pints of it.  We use the low sugar "Sure-Jell" kind, and pretty much follow the instruction verbatim.  EXCEPT:  we make the regular jam (NOT the freezer kind), - but then store the jam in the freezer.

We like the taste and consistency of the regular low sugar jam, but the color and freshness that the freezer provides. We also do this for nectarine and peach jam  - they all loose their color and flavor too fast if not frozen.

Our second canning job were the peas this weekend.  Between ourselves, our family and friends we ended up picking 24 buckets of peas, or 15 bushel.  We never did finish picking the entire patch, we simply ran out of time and volunteers....but then the peas were supposed to be a cover crop anyhow, to get nitrogen into the soil.  The pea pods were just a happy by-product.  We canned 50 quarts of peas between Friday night and Saturday.