Monday, December 28, 2015

Making "Fruit-leather"... and Jerkey

Samantha got us a "kick-ass" dehydrator for Christmas. The first thing Jeff made in it was - of course - deer jerky, which turned out great.

But then we experimented with making fruit leather - the fruit roll-up kind of snacks.  We thawed out some of our seedless blackberry puree (the same kind we use for making jam), and then cooked it with SureJel and sugar, only we used more than twice the amount of fruit than the jam recipe calls for.  This thickened the puree enough to be able to spread it on the trays of the dehydrator.   I should mention that we got non-stick silicon sheets for the trays - which was very helpful.

We also spread out some of our homemade applesauce on two additional trays.  We let the fruit dry for about 8 hours,then peeled them off the sheets onto a cutting board.  We then sliced and rolled up the dried fruit puree.  They turned out really well, more tart than sweet, and absolutely delicious!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sewing for Christmas - Part 2

Dresses for Little Girls and Their Dolls



And some more doll outfits:

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sewing for Christmas - Part 1

This year's holiday sewing projects were (as always) a lot of fun.  I made my first ever Christmas tree skirt, based on a relatively simple quilt pattern that used "thangles" paper to ensure perfect HSTs (half square triangles).  I found beautiful fabrics with gold on white patterns at the Smile Spinners sewing store in Perry County.  The entire project only took a few evenings of sewing as I machine quilted the tree skirt.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sauterne - a Wine worth Trying

One of the typical white wines from the southern part of Bordeaux is Sauterne. This sweet white wine is produced in the five small villages that make up the Sauternais appellation in Bordeaux, south of Graves. Sauterne is typically made from a blend of the two white Bordeaux grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Sometimes Muscadelle grapes are also included, usually at less than 3%.

The sweetness of Sauterne is not from a late harvest, but rather from botrytis, or Noble Rot, which develops during cool humid nights and warm, dry days at time of maturity. These humid conditions develop because the two rivers in this area, the Ciron and Garonne, have different temperatures, which cause the misting phenomenon.

The botrytis dries out the grape berries which leads to a concentration of flavors and aromas, as well as a concentration of sugar, which are the foundation of a very rich, full bodied, incredibly flavorful wine.

The botrytized grapes are hand-selected, hand-harvested, pressed, and fermented. Their high sugar levels causes the alcohol level to reach as high as 15% to 16%, at which point the yeast cells die. Fermentation ends with as much as 7% residual sugar!

Sauterne is usually aged in oak, anywhere from 18 months to 3 + years before bottling. Bottles can be consumed young, or aged for many years. The longer it is aged, the more amber the color and the more complex the flavors.

Sauterne is a very rich, sweet wine that is balanced by high levels of acidity. Aromas include honey, melon, pineapple, mango, papaya and dried apricots. It can be very complex and flavorful, and it is serves as an aperitif as well as dinner or dessert wine. Because of the time consuming harvest and production, Sauterne is one of the most expensive wines, and often under-appreciated.  Here is a link to a recent article in the NYT about this specialty wine.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Handmade Handbags

I found a beautiful Vogue purse pattern and finally had enough time over the Thanksgiving holiday to try and make this purse.  My plan was to make it out of deer leather, which we had gotten tanned many years ago, but since this was my first attempt at making a handbag, I decided to sew a fabric purse first before sewing with leather. I enjoyed making both bags - it did not take as much time as I had thought.  Actually, I found it easier to make a purse than to sew a dress :)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terroir - on a Rudimentary Level

Terroir is a French word, which means land – but in the context of wine, terroir refers to much more than the actual land, it encompasses all the aspects that influence grapevine development and fruit ripening potential, from the nutrients in the soil, drainage, the climate, elevation, predominant wind directions, humidity – even other plants grown nearby. Terroir’s definition may also include decisions made by people, such as traditional row and vine spacing, and pruning techniques.

All of this will greatly influence the characteristics of the end product - the wine – from the flavor profile to alcohol levels (which in turn depend on the level of brix at harvest).

Terroir is an important consideration when studying wine, as each region's terroir – even as small as microclimates within the same vineyard – will affect how the wine ultimately tastes. Wines from the same grape variety will therefore taste very differently, based on the terroir of the vineyard from where the grapes came.

Some very basic examples would include a grape variety grown in a warm climate vs a cooler climate, as the flavor profile will be very different. For example a Pinot Gris from a cool climate may have flavors of pear or apple, while a Pinot Gris from a warmer climate (where the grapes had a longer ripening season) would have flavors of peach or melon. Terroir is also the basis for the French appellation d'origine contrôléede (AOC) system.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Grape Harvest 2015

We had a great grape harvest this year - weather conditions were perfect and harvest parameters were great for each of our varieties.

We started with our Concords, which we picked  over several days during the last week in August.  We sold most of them at the local fruit auction.  On August 30th we picked the last of them and pressed them for juice (some of which we fermented for some wine experiments).

Nothing beats fresh Concord grapes and juice!

We harvested Chambourcin grapes from our young vines on September 7 (Labor Day)- a bit early, as we are going to try and make some rose wine from these.

On September 13 we picked all of our Vidal Blanc grapes.  This was our first harvest from these vines and we are looking forward to some white wine experiments.  Next year, we should have a lot more as the vines mature.

And finally on the weekend of September 19 and 20, we picked the remaining Chambourcin grapes.  It kept us busy all month!  Now comes the clean up of the bird netting, the harvest bins and all equipment maintenance.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Greenhouse turned Shadehouse

We planted Morning Glories along one side of the greenhouse and tied bailer twine from ground anchors to the top of the greenhouse roof.  The plants just found their way - and once they reached the top, they grew downwards.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Major Equipment Overhaul

We took our crusher/destemmer to get sandblasted and then had it re-coated.  All the bearings were replaced in it as well.  It looks brand-new and runs like a finely tuned machine :)

Newly coated stand for
the Crusher-Destemmer 
Newly coated

We also took our basket press apart and Jens made new oak slats from scratch, which Jeff sanded and coated with several layers of food grade finish.  All crush pad equipment underwent its annual maintenance regiment as we prepare for harvest 2015!!.

Basket slats are drying in
the tractor shed
Assembly of basket started

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What a Weekend

Our weekend got off to a great start:  a new granddaughter was born on August 21, just before noon. Welcome Elena Weyant, at 6 lbs 14 oz, and 17 inches long...

We also harvested most of our corn and worked on blanching and freezing on and off all weekend - with help from Zach, Rachel, Toben, Fiona and Adelaide.

And Tina continued staining barn boards - using up another 5 gallon bucket of stain - slowly making progress.  Someday we will have the most awesome barn in the county!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Visit to Ag Progress Days

Lars and Tina spent the day at Ag Progress Days near State College - something we do almost every year.  Lucky for us, Zach was there as well through his work and he spent his lunch time with us checking out tractors and dreaming :)

As always, there were lots of things to see, from machinery to trial crop plots, animals, weed identification quizzes, flower beds and potato variety exhibits.  And of course the agricultural museum...and the honey ice cream from the PA Bee Keepers Association (yum!)

And my favorite - the manure vacuum (really??):

Monday, August 17, 2015

State of the Vineyard - August 17

Looking good - time to bring out the bird netting:

Vidal Blanc


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Staining Barn Boards

We are taking advantage of a few sunny days - and the short period between blackberry harvest and grape harvest - to work on our barn boards.  We have over 3600 board feet of white pine lumber, which we plan to use for refinishing the outside of the barn with a board and batten look.

The lumber was cut back in January, and since then has been drying out nicely.  The boards are definitely ready to be stained - but it took us a while to choose the type of stain and the color.

Cetol® SRD

We finally selected a Sikkens product, called ProLuxe, which is a translucent, water repellent wood finish that is good for siding and log homes.  The color we eventually decided on is a simple natural oak, the lightest of the sample shades in the picture above.

We are staining both sides and all the edges of each board - and each board is 16 ft this is a very slow process.  It took a full day for one person to stain 4 layers of boards from our pile of 27 layers.  We used extra fence posts as supports for the drying boards - they were taking up the entire area in front of the barn.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Blackberry Harvest 2015 - Final Results

It was another great year for our blackberries:  We started picking on July 11, at least two weeks earlier than in 2014, and we stopped picking on August 10th - when we stopped tallying.  There are still stray berries out in the patch for breakfast cereal or pancakes.

Nearly a whole month of picking!  (No wonder I did not find time to update our blog).

The "official" grand total of picked blackberries for 2015 was 2018.36 lbs.  Of this, we froze 838.36 lbs, and 1190 lbs of berries were picked into pint and quart boxes.

Friday, July 3, 2015

More Jam Recipes from our Garden

Experimenting with different combinations of fruit was a lot of fun this year, since we finally had a nice variety to choose from.  Here are two other delicious blends:

Strawberry-Gooseberry Jam:
  • 2 cups cooked gooseberries (cooked with 1/4 cup of water until soft)
  • 4 cups of nearly pureed strawberries
  • 1 packet of low-sugar SureJell
  • 4 cups of sugar
Follow recipe on SureJell insert for cooked strawberry jam.

Black Currant - Blueberry - Blackberry Jam:
  • 1 cup finely chopped blueberries (nearly pureed)
  • 1 cup cooked black currants (heat currant with a small amount of water until berries are soft)
  • 4 cups seedless blackberry puree
  • 1 packet of low-sugar SureJell
  • 4 cups of sugar
Follow recipe on SureJell insert for cooked blackberry jam.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Herb Garden in June

We have had so much rain this spring, that everything is just simply LUSH.  We've been harvesting herbs for a while now, some of them have had two cuttings!  Of course weeding takes a lot longer, as they are very lush as well :)  Here are some favorite views from our "kitchen garden":

oregano in the front left,
then 3 sages in the middle,
parsley and thyme in the back
sweet alyssum with geraniums

mint and lavender drying
in the kitchen
lavender (left), tarragon (right)
daisies and roses in the background