Sunday, April 27, 2014

Unintended Perfection

For the last several years I have drooled over my blogging friends' posts of wild violet jelly.  These beautiful little flowers come and go quickly in early spring and I tend to be so busy gazing upon them and taking pictures that they are past their peak when I think about harvesting them.  This year I remembered to go out just in time. I sat in the middle of our large patch of these native beauties, and took pictures while I picked.

We have made jams and jellies for years and it is always a great experiment.  It seems that every time I use a recipe calling for pectin, no matter what the volume, the jellies never set up. Upon the suggestion of a friend last year I purchased River Cottage's Preserves Handbook.  I cannot recommend a better book for the home preserver.  The suggestion for pectin rich fruits to compliment the fruits, flowers, or herbs that are bring preserved is brilliant.  Every jam or jelly that I have done with these recipes have set up beautifully, with no added pectin.

Our wild violet adventure has been much the same.  I found from multiple sources the same basic recipe for violet jelly.  They all called for making a violet tea of sorts, then adding sugar, lemon juice and pectin and boiling for 10 minutes.  Alas, it was tasty, but a little too tart for our taste and it only partially set up.  Since I remembered to harvest flowers early enough this year, we were able to do a round two, and I went back to my tried and true River Cottage book. I much prefer the methods in this book and the flavor is absolutely beautiful, though for this medium it turned out as a lovely rich syrup, a perfect cordial, not jelly.  

Though I went in with the intent for jelly, I will stick to berries for that.  Our state flower seems destined to be the flavoring for homemade sodas, with or without a splash of vodka, and I am perfectly OK with unintended perfection.

Wild Violet Cordial

3.2 lbs apples, rough cut
6 C violets, rinsed & packed cups
Sugar (by volume, see below)
7 Tbsp. Apple cider vinegar

Place apples and violets in a sauce pan and just cover with water.  Bring to boil and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.  Place mixture in straining bag and separate liquid (this takes 2-3 hours, we hang the straining bag over a bowl and for this volume re purpose our honey strainer, our jelly bags were too small).  Measure out your liquid and add it back to the saucepan with equal amounts of sugar.  For me this was 9 1/2 Cups.  Add the vinegar and boil until it reaches 220 F.  Skim any scum (the violets had virtually none), bottle & enjoy!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Five Years

It is hard to believe that five years ago on a very early spring day spent planning the garden, I jotted down a few notes about balance and set up a little space called Tilting at Windmills.  The time has flown and what began as a log of our garden turned into a space to record our journey into the simpler things.  Thank you to all who have taken and interest in and shared this space with me, I have met some wonderful people, many of whom I call friends. If you are new here, welcome!  I thought that there was no better time than an anniversary to link some favorite posts; the cribs notes version of this journey so far.  Happy Easter Weekend!

Our Story
The Tastebuds Do The Seven Deadly Sins
Don't Eat Yellow Snow 
The Bierock Bee
Industrialization vs. Extinction
Hello Mother
It's Whats For Dinner
The Bones That Hold Us Together
October Brings
If I Were..
Fall Wedding With A Tiny Footprint
Paradoxes and Dilemas
Chili, Pie, Tradition, Oh My!
Physiology of Taste and Tastebuds
Harvesting Honey (Part 1)
Mother Rooster
Evolution of the Gourd Lantern
#reverb10~ Moment

Thursday, April 17, 2014


It is hard to believe that she is thirteen years old.  In the last year especially we have caught glimpses of the young adult that she is growing up, far too quickly, to be.  She is confident, active, witty, smart, sarcastic, thoughtful and caring to name a few.  We are oh so proud.  Our wish for her is that as she grows and changes, she continues to be true to herself.   She should place trust in her good sense and solid instincts to guide her while knowing that her forever sounding boards are just a room, text or phone call away and always ready to help. She will forever be our 'squid', and never too old to snuggle.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Curds and Whey

A few months ago we began to get milk delivered at home.  I found a good company that gets us whole milk from local dairies that is very minimally pasteurized, so as close to raw as we can easily get.  Many weeks we go through quite a bit and since I never seem to remember to log into their system and change my delivery, every few weeks we have a surplus. 

What do you do with this kind of surplus?  We began to experiment in cheese making.  I had heard that mozzarella is very easy and so we started with that and it is wonderful.  Last weekend we found ourselves with a milk abundance, and decided to make lasagna.  Always looking to try new things, I looked into different recipes for ricotta.  As it turned out it is even easier than the mozzarella and it is so amazingly good, that I have vowed never ever to get store bought again!

We have our Tastebuds dinner club on Saturday, then an egg hunt and light luncheon on Sunday and for both occasions we are looking at recipes that include ricotta.  I guess that I will have to remember to log in this week, I will need to order extra milk!!

Easy Amazing Ricotta

1/2 Gallon whole milk
2 C. heavy cream
1 tsp. coarse salt (I used Kosher)
6 Tbsp. lemon juice

Combine milk, cream, and salt in a saucepan and cook until it reaches 190 degrees.  Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and gently stir until well combined.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Strain through cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl and let sit straining fro 1 hour, this separates the curds and whey.  Transfer to a container and refrigerate or use immediately.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Season of Growing

As I write this I hear a steady rain on the roof, the wind howling outside, and yes a brief transition to snow is expected this morning.  This past week has been a blur and I have been neglectful of this sacred space.  Not that we are over-extended, just simply those once a month and one time responsibilities or activities, combined with the regular kid spring routine, all seemed to come at once last week and left few moments of leisure.

It has been one of those weekends, dodging raindrops, completing farm projects in fits and starts.  Though not the dramatic large projects, finishing touches were placed on all of those almost finished things, and slow steady progress made on other tasks.  I think we have the garden plan for the year in place and it looks like we will not be rotating any beds off this year, they will all have to earn their keep.  I sent out the first farm bag email of the year and was both humbled and thrilled by the overwhelming response.  The enthusiasm is infectious and spurs us to expand more and more.  Best of all is the little ditty above. The first flower of spring on the farm signaling the season of growing has begun.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Sea

As I drive the kids from place to place, I frequently listen to our local NPR Stations.  There are always interesting stories on and a news snippet yesterday morning particularly captured my ear.  It was discussing the temporary shutdown of an Indiana steel plant due to delays in deliveries because of the lingering ice on the lake.    The shipping season is off to a slow start as the Great Lakes still have nearly a 50% ice cover and in some places the ice breakers are trudging through three feet of ice... in April!

What particularly appealed to me was the British news woman who at the end of the piece referenced the five inland seas.  I have never heard this term before and found it wonderful.  Perfectly romantic and full of mischievous adventure, don't you think?  I love that I live on the shores of one of these seas.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Farm Weekend

As the weather begins to cooperate more and more, we are beginning to feel the soreness in our core muscles that comes from the hard work that is spring on the farm.   We completed last weekends hoop house adventure by finishing the planting and installation of the second one.  We filled it with three varieties of garbanzo beans, and giant Salanova lettuce heads that should be farm bag pleasers.  We also seeded Summer Crisp lettuce, kale and spinach to the cold frame by the house.  The garlic has just poked its green shoots above the straw and seems to be coming up abundantly.

We also laid down some landscape fabric over a grassy strip adjacent to the berry beds where our newly grafted baby apple trees will go in about a month or so.  We segmented out about 40 feet and plan to espalier them in that row.  I can not wait to see how many of them we can get to take!

We are really beginning to feel the absence of the other house in that we are more freely and actively dreaming of what we can do here now.  We have plotted out all of the areas that need clearing and begun to make a plan for getting it all done.  A couple of years ago we pulled out a number of large overbearing green hedges from the South and East sides of the house.  Last summer we barked it all in and planted the area with hostas.  Yesterday, with the help of a big chain and the tractor, we pulled out all of the leggy hedges that were encroaching on the North side of the house.  Now all of our irises and hostas on that side will have a space to shine without being choked out.

We also managed to retrofit the chicken tractor in preparation for a small flock of meat chickens and ducks that will free range the summer away.

I love spring farm weekends because we relish in being outside and are kept company by the abundance of birds and sounds of people out and about.   While it is still bare, buds just verging on greenness, we have the opportunity to visualize what will come next.  To top it off, we have a mass of energy bottled up from an exceptionally cold winter indoors to make those visions come to fruition.

A perfect example of how each child approaches a sunny 54 degree day differently! How was your weekend?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Singing for Spring

A little morning walk with my camera, if only I could have captured the sounds of all of the birds around despite the 28 degrees, singing for spring.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That keep so many warm.

Emily Dickinson's Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Epic Struggle

 As much as we are aching for warm weather and sunshine, winter is attempting to hang on.  The temperatures for the week are still forecast to be ten degrees below normal with a few possibilities for sloppy snow through the mid and end of the week. 

We did manage to have a couple of warmer days over the weekend.  Saturday afternoon and Sunday shown with crystal blue skies.  The chickens scattered happily about to scratch as we cleaned out their digs from the long winter.  A win, win.... happy chickens and happy compost.

If Mother Nature is reluctant to bring spring, then we will help it along.  We built two small hoop houses over raised beds.  A perfect spot for starting cool weather seeds, while it is still a bit too cool, and they will function perfectly as a place to harden off plants that we start in-doors. 

Even though we are only getting hints of spring, it is energizing.  You can feel the struggle of the life on the farm right now.  The life around us wanting to stretch and bloom, yet not sure if it is quite safe to do so.  As you can see we are all a bit like this rhubarb, poking our heads up and wondering when Spring will win the epic struggle between seasons.


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