Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

I had my first scary experience as a canner the other day.

Background:  I’ve canned independently (aka-not with my mom) for 8 years and used tattler lids for 2- several hundred cans in most of those years, using mostly Tattler lids in the past 2 years.

I went to tighten the band on my jar of chili- just pulled out of the pressure canner (NOTE:  normal metal lids don’t get tightened in this process, Tattlers do- just a reference for anyone unfamiliar with them).

And it happened.  The lid and screw band burst off the top of the can- and scalding chili flew on my window, wall, counter, floor ceiling, stove, the 12 quarts of applesauce cooling on the counter, 15 feet down the wall at the dining nook, EVERYWHERE.  Some ended up on me- a bit at my elbow and some on my face.  About 1/4 of the jar was left in the jar.

canning jar explosion- what's left in the offending jar.

canning jar explosion- what’s left in the offending jar.

canning jar explosion- all over everything, including 15 feet down the wall to the dining nook

canning jar explosion- all over everything, including 15 feet down the wall to the dining nook

canning jar explosion- all over the window and walls

canning jar explosion- all over the window and walls

canning jar explosion- on the ceiling

canning jar explosion- on the ceiling


I immediately went to the bathroom (with my eyes closed to keep the chili out of them) and rinsed repeatedly with cold water.  I tried to process what had happened and thanked God most importantly that my little girls were not in the kitchen when it happened.  And then that it wasn’t any worse for me.   I used a cool wet cloth and some ice to keep my face comfortable for a while.  It had some “burning” sensation even after an hour- heat and/or chili spices related.  I had red spots, but somehow no blistering.

Here’s what was GOOD that I did:

#1 I had an oven mitt on one hand that protected me from some splatters, and

#2 I had a dry washcloth over the top to hold and tighten the lid.  That saved a lot of spewing scalding liquid from coming my way and potentially causing more damage.

Here’s what I think I may have done WRONG:

#1 I  didn’t let the jars cool once I took of the pressure canner lid.  While I haven’t had a problem before, I read (now) that it’s best to let the jars sit 5-10 minutes after removing the pressure canner lid before moving the cans.

#2 I MAY have left the band too tight when I put the can in the canner.  This is one of those subjective things- how tight is finger tight?  With Tattlers (again, different from metal lids), you tighten finger tight and back it off 1/4 inch.  Metals you just tighten to finger tight (still subjective).

This can (as others have in the past- pressure and HWB canning) had a bubbled up lid when I took it out of the canner.  So it may not have been able to vent as much as it needed and there may have been excessive pressure inside the can for that reason.  I’ll be careful in the future to observe this more carefully and err on the side of a bit looser.  And I’d suggest handling any can with a lid that bubbles up very carefully as well- maybe let it sit for longer before handling so it can vent more.

#3 the jar possibly may have been over-full.  Although I believe I left appropriate headspace, it did contain rehydrated beans that may have expanded more in canning). Or it may have had an air bubble in the can somewhere.  I don’t think so, but I don’t know for sure.

I’ll also use a larger towel (hand towel size) from now on instead of just washcloth size.  Less convenient, but more protection, I think.  I definitely did when I finally worked up the courage to take the rest of the cans from the canner so I wouldn’t “lose” them to not sealing.  But I did so with much trepidation and closed my eyes and turned my head as I tightened the remaining 6 cans!

Here’s a link I found helpful in analyzing what may have happened.  It’s on the Homesteading Today Forum.

I’m going to agree with the original poster at the forum- In my case as it was in hers, this was user error and had nothing to do with the Tattler lids as a dangerous product.  I like them, I feel they do what they should do and love that they’re reusable- you just need to be aware of the differences in how to use them, and follow general safe practices in canning regardless of the lid type.

Another poster commented that they’ve had a metal lid explode out of the canner as well.  I’ve had metal lids seep boiling liquids (peach juice, tomato juice, etc), but never explode them.

Lessons learned.  Hopefully it will never happen again, and hopefully it will never happen to you.  I know I’ll be relaying this info to any of my canning interested friends.

Leave the cans to cool 5-10 minutes after opening the pressure canner.  

Always use a hand towel over the top of the can in the tightening process (tightening for tattlers only).  I may be inclined to don a long sleeve shirt when removing cans- metal or tattler lids.

(Continue to) Keep the kids out of the kitchen when removing cans from the canner.

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I wanted to make some jam that wasn’t sickeningly sweet and highlighted the fruit flavor better.  I tried to modify a no-pectin strawberry jam recipe with less sugar, but came out disappointed.  The flavor was good (and for no-pectin jam, the recipe I used was here, and it worked great to separate the juice from the berries to prevent scorching and add back some fresh flavor.)  But you really need more sugar.  I cooked and cooked and cooked that jam, was careful to watch my temperatures, did test plates to check the gel in the freezer, and only after a significant amount of cook time did I get it to thicken enough to be tolerable (read:  it’s still runnier than I would have liked- and won’t work well for PB&J to travel, but it’s still yummy jam!)  That long cook time also significantly decreased my yield- I expected I’d get 12 pints and I ended up with 7.  Needless to say, don’t skimp on the sugar if you make this no-pectin version!)

I ran across Pomona’s universal pectin and decided I’d order some and give it a try.  There’s nothing like hours over a vat of strawberry jam to kick the DIY cheaper out of you…

My mom has been picking her blueberries and red raspberries and always gives me a bunch (Thanks mom!).  I’d gotten some strawberries and threw them in the freezer so I’d be ready when I got my pectin, so triple berry jam seemed a great place to start.  I picked a few wild black raspberries, red raspberries, and a handful of the first to ripen blackberries, so really it’s more of a 5 berry jam, but that’s beside the point.

I read the directions carefully- although it seems hard to mess up, I didn’t want to end up ruining my jam (although it sounds as if it’s easy to fix if it’s too stiff or too runny).

It says you can double or triple your recipe- something you don’t dare do with normal pectin.  So I did.

I did a double batch first.  I mixed up the calcium water and set it aside.  8 cups of mixed mashed berries, 4t calcium water, and 1/4 c lemon juice (only part of my berries needed lemon juice added) went into the pot and I heated it to boiling.  I added 1/2 c sugar, too, to help get the juices flowing from the strawberries.

Then the sugar and pectin is added.  (You can also use honey or other sweeteners- The pectin is activated by the calcium water, not the sugar).  I mixed 4 teaspoons pectin into 2 cups of sugar, then added it to the pot and stirred.  So my total sugar added for 8 cups of berries was only 2 1/2 cups.  Normal pectin would have required 8 or more cups!  The recipe guide on the little paper suggested 4 cups, but your sweetener choice and quantity (if any) is completely up to you!

I brought it back to a boil, then ladled it into my jars and processed it in a hot water bath.  My yield from the double batch was 4 1/2 pints.

SInce that went so quickly and easily, I whipped up another batch, tripled this time.  Same process as above.  I added a touch more lemon juice for flavor and a bit more sugar just to see if there was much difference.  This yielded 6 1/2 pints.  So I’ve got 10 pints of jam for the shelf and 1 in the fridge (I jus mixed my 2 half pints together).

Easy, delicious, and great real berry flavor!  Not to mention I saved money by using only a fraction of the sugar I would have on jam with normal pectin…

And for a price break-down:  If you can’t get it locally, you can buy pomona’s online here (shipping costs included).  I about fell out of my chair seeing the price was $6 a box, but that box makes several batches of jam, so I think the price evens out fairly well.  It also drops in price if you buy in bulk quantities, and it supposedly will not go bad over time- so you don’t have to worry about if your pectin is too old to set your jam anymore.  Add to that the savings from not having to add as much sugar, and I think I’m making in cheaper now than before, not to mention being healthier and tastier!

Since making the triple berry, I’ve moved on to plain raspberry, blueberry, blueberry raspberry, and strawberry.  Each batch has been completely successful with perfect texture, no picky treatment required, and all have been triple or quadruple batches.

33 pint jars of jam on the shelf so far this year, plus we’ve enjoyed some in the fridge.  So far, I think it’s well worth trying!  It seems to be a very flexible pectin (not texture, but use).

*I have no connection to pomona’s and I’m not being paid or reimbursed in any way to write about it.  I just tried and liked the product and thought I’d share.

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Our final MOPS creative activity of the year was these concrete garden stones.  I can’t say yet for sure how they all turned out, since I can’t take off the frames and until Friday.  But I think they should be great!

Update- they DID turn out great!


The concept for this is taken from a “Sunset” Book called “Decorative Concrete” for a reverse pebble mosaic.  This is a good intro to basic concepts of concrete without having to worry about finishing the concrete surface or hurrying to get your designs in place.

You will need a form, sand, pebbles/marbles/shells/other embeddable objects, and bagged concrete mix (Get the 5000 lb mix), plus water, a bucket to mix in, and a container for measuring (mine is a 3 cup cottage cheese container).

It’s ideal to make these outside or in an unfinished area, just because concrete can be messy.  But if you’re careful, it can easily be done indoors.  We ended up inside on carpet with 13 women making 2 a piece this morning, and I had almost nothing to clean off the floor (thank you for being neat, ladies!).  If outdoors and there’s a threat of rain while it’s curing, you can cover your concrete with plastic.  If it’s freezing, or going to freeze overnight, make it inside.

The first step is to make your form.  I’ve chosen to make 12″ square garden stones, so there are 2 pieces of wood 12″ long and 2 pieces 13 1/2″ long.  These are ripped from 2×4 stock.  The dimensions of the ripped profile is 3/4″ by 1 1/2″.

All volumes that I give for materials will be measured for filling this size form.  If you alter the dimensions, realize the volume of the form will change, so amounts of sand, concrete, and water will also change.

Because of the small size of the wood, it is best to pre-drill a pilot hole for screws to go in to prevent splitting.  The bonus is that this will be a re-usable form.  The alternative is to nail together with finish nails (regular nails will also likely cause the wood to split).  So- pre-drill a hole slightly smaller in diameter than your screws will be in both ends of the longer pieces of wood.  I used a 3/32 drill bit.  Or skip the pilot holes and chance it 😉

Once the holes are drilled, assemble the frame.  The long pieces overlap the short pieces.  Then insert screws to secure it.  You can “start” the screws so they’re most of the way through the pilot holes before you attach it to the shorter piece for easier assembly.

My screws are a little over an inch to 1 1/2″ long.

The Second Step is to prepare the form.  (Or MOPS CA starts here- I had forms already made and instructions written on a dry erase board for easy reference.) Place it on a scrap of plastic that is larger than the form.  It should be resting on a flat surface (floor, sturdy table, etc).  Then put a layer of sand in the bottom of the form.  This should be a thin layer, evenly spread to cover the entire bottom (plastic) of the form.  I used a 24 oz cottage cheese container for measuring- it holds 3 cups.  I used about 3/4 of a container of sand, or roughly 2 1/2 cups.  You will be pressing the decorative mosaic elements into this sand, and they will stick above the finished concrete as far as they’re pushed into the sand.


The Third Step is to make your mosaic.  Gather your embeddable objects The thinner the object, the less likely it will adhere properly in the end.  Insert whatever decorative elements you want to be visible on the stone into the sand.  I used a rough figure of  one 1-2 pound bag of stones/marbles for every 2 garden blocks.  Your mileage will vary.

Large pieces will have to be worked down into the sand and the sand re-smoothed before continuing (do these first if using).   Gently press your objects into the sand in a design of your choosing.  Remember that the further they are pressed into the sand, the further they will stick out of the finished block.


A few things to remember: 1)  Your image will be reversed.  If you’re making a monogram, or word, keep this in mind- the letter must be mirror image and the word needs to be written right to left, not left to right.  2) The surface you will see when done must go into the sand- do not put the side you want to see towards you, or it will be encased in concrete.  3) The sand around the objects cannot be “banked” up or over the edges of the objects inserted.

Anywhere the sand is, the concrete will NOT be when finished.  You want your objects to be securely adhered to the concrete.  If the sand was smoothed up to the back surface of my tile in the above picture, it would make a channel in the concrete when finished. You don’t want a gap or channel next to these objects.  That gap would create a place for water to get in and freeze (f you’re in cooler climates like me), then expand, and the freeze/thaw cycle will damage your finished stone, eventually destroying it.

Once you have your mosaic completed, it’s time for step number Four.

In Step Number Four you will be mixing your concrete and putting it in the form.

Detail note if you’re seeing a discrepancy in the picture:  The concrete I used for this example was 4000 lb.  mix.  It was difficult to get the concrete to be flow-able enough without adding too much water.  For our CA we ended up using 4 scoops of concrete mix plus a scoop of sand/portland blend (50/50).  The easier thing to do would be to get 5000 lb concrete mix (stronger concrete- it already has more portland in it), use 4 scoops of concrete mix plus 1 scoop of sand.  A sand based bagged concrete mix is also available, but hubby says it’s not strong enough… ::)

Again using my cottage cheese container, I measured out 4 (full) scoops (12 cups) of dry concrete mix into a bucket.  Then I added 1 (full) scoop (3 cups) of sand and 1 (full) scoop (3 cups) of water to the dry mix.  (One 80 lb bag of concrete mix should make about 7 stones).  I used a gloved hand or a trowel to mix the concrete.  Mix until thoroughly combined- check the corners for dry bits.  It should be fairly firm- easy to get clumps of concrete in your hand.  If it’s really too dry, you can add a small amount more water.  You do NOT want too much water and a soupy concrete mix.  Too much water weakens the concrete, and could possibly cause problems with the sand where the objects have been placed.

Add your clumps of concrete by handfuls to your form.  CAREFULLY set the concrete on top of your mosaic design so it doesn’t shift.  Cover designs first, then fill in any gaps.


Once there’s a layer of concrete on everything and your form is mostly filled, you can pat the surface. This vibrates the mixture and allows it to settle into the holes, cracks, and crevices to ensure there won’t be gaps in your final surface.

Keep patting and gently pushing the high spots of the concrete around with your hands.  Make sure the concrete is well worked into the corners and along the edges of the form.  It’s fine to do this in stages- put a little in, work it down, repeat.  If you don’t get it worked in well, you’ll have this happen:

The edge is rounded over and lumpy.  Still okay, but not as nice as it could have been, because the concrete did not get down into the edge of the form next to the sand.

It’s also fine to use a hammer to pound a bit on the top edge of the wooden form.  This helps to vibrate the concrete and get it worked down into those edges.  A palm sander does the same trick, only even nicer.

The Final Step is to even off this top (someday bottom) surface of the concrete.  You should have it already fairly even form the patting with your hands.  Now we’ll take a stick to “screed” off the surface to make sure it’s even and basically smooth.  The screed stick rests on both sides of the wooden form.  It is slid back and forth across the surface of the concrete, still resting on the side pieces of wood on the form.  At the same time, it’s slowly drawn across to the other side of the form.  So- “saw” the stick back and forth and SLOWLY pull it across the surface.  All that jiggling from the “sawing” motion allows the surface to be smoothed s you pull the extra concrete off of it.

If you get a gap where the screed has passed by (1st pic), take a bit from the extra in front of the screed, fill in the hole (pic 2), back up, and re-screed that area.


Continue across the entire surface of the concrete, scraping the extra off the edge of the form.

Dispose of the extra.  It will harden and cannot be re-used (unless it is used for another purpose right away).

Now for clean up.  Wash off/out anything you want to re-use.  Extra concrete can be scraped out of buckets and thrown in the garbage or outside (depending on where you live… Water it down if you throw it outside for less permanent mess).  The wash/rinse water from your clean up can be thrown outside.

Go put some lotion on your hands- concrete is pretty rough on them.  The solid lotion bars we made on Spa day work wonderfully for this!

You must be PATIENT and wait for your concrete to set up.  It will be solid within the day, but it is still very fragile and “green”- do NOT remove the forms yet.  Also know that if yo touch the surface of the concrete as it cures, it may feel warm- that’s a chemical reaction thing in the concrete- no worries.  Wait 48 hours before taking out the screws that hold the form together.

Once the screws are removed, the wood pieces can be pulled away from the block and the block can be flipped over.


Brush off the extra sand and see what you made!


The block should not be put outside in the weather for a week and if it will be used for weight bearing (sidewalk blocks, etc), it should be allowed to fully cure for 28 days.  A sealer can be applied if desired after the 28 days.  The stone below is one I made about a year ago and we sprayed part of it with a sealer to see how it would look.  These stones were not polished like the ones above, but with the sealer, they look just as nice- so they’re free instead of paying $1 a bag.

For our MOPS CA, they’re staying at the church until cured.  I’ll take the forms off and they’ll get to take the stones, forms, and screeding sticks home at the next meeting.

Need a print-able for a group project?  Try this:  concrete garden stones take-home sheet

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If you’re looking to try Tattler reusable canning lids, you can enter a giveaway at their facebook site. Go to http://www.facebook.com/reusablecanninglids and “Like” them, then send your name to the email address provided there. Someone will be winning 12 dozen each of wide and narrow mouth jars! Will it be you? Or me? (Probably not, but it’s worth a shot!)
I’ve been canning and just used all my tattler lids up that I got to try. I was able to get 3 uses in on some of the lids so far with no problems, and I’ve only had one jar not seal using them. I just pulled my 92nd can for the year out of my canner today. (Not all of them have Tattler lids, but maybe someday!)

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These are quick and easy and delicious!  Not a dill, sweet, or bread and butter, they have a taste of their own.  No cooking, no canning, no heating anything.  Perfect to do on a hot day with the abundant cukes from the garden.

This recipe is from my husband’s mom.

4 c sugar

4 c vinegar

1/2 c salt

1 1/3 t turmeric

1 1/3 t celery seed

1 1/3 t mustard seed (I usually use 1 t ground mustard)

3 onions, sliced thin (I just use 1)

cucumbers, sliced thin (or thick, or cut into spears)

Mix sugar, vinegar, salt, and spices together.  Do NOT heat, this is a cold syrup.  Prepare your jars.  The original recipe says 3- 3 pound peanut butter jars.  I used a gallon jar and 2 quarts.  Divide the onion evenly amongst your containers.  Add cucumbers to each jar to fill.  Cover with syrup (mix well!) and put on the lids.  Refrigerate at least 5 days before using.  They’ll keep in the fridge forever, just get stronger flavored.   We had some make it almost 2 years in a no-cucumber year.  I’m not sure how they lasted that long, as usually they’re eaten up in a hurry!  Our supply usually makes it about 9 months and we have to go without until we get more fresh cukes.

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More progress has been made on our chicken coop and garden.


John has been putting the touches only a finish carpenter can on the chicken coop.  He has trimmed out the doors and windows to match the house (all 2 windows we have trimmed there…).  He’s also finished the cupola for venting.  It looks very nice, I think.  But it’s taken a lot longer than necessary for chickens!  He looks out the door and can enjoy it, though.  If it looked like a thrown together mess, it would bother him a lot!  Good thing I didn’t build it myself.

The coop is 8×12 with a 3.5×8 garden shed in the back and a 8.5×8 chicken section in the front.  It still will gain a window in the left hand side and eventually some insulation and a little electric for a lights and a couple outlets.

To review:  Our plan was to enclose a garden/chicken run.  It’s split in half, so that each year the chickens get one side for a run and we get one side for a garden.  We’ve pretty much completed the project.  A little dirt to fill in the trench where the chicken wire runs into the ground and the “panel” that can be opened to let in a tractor to till each year needs to be attached.  I let the chickens out in their side of the enclosure this morning to attack the weeds that have grown so well in there!  There’s also a small run off of the coop that will be fully enclosed for a most always accessible but secure chicken run.

Their favorite weed seems to be milkweed.  Weird.  I though it was mildly poisonous, but they’ve been eating it with abandon and choosing it to eat first for the past several weeks and have been doing fine.

The first rooster (my “pink” chick) attempted his crowing yesterday morning.  He’s the big one in the first picture.  I am suspicious that several more are roosters- they have a deeper red tone to their combs and around their eyes.  They seem to be larger as well, and one (“red” chick has small wattles now- need to check and see if that’s to Chantecler standards).  I haven’t tried too hard to count how many MIGHT also be roosters, because it’s still hard for me to tell and I don’t want to know how many expensive chicken dinners I’ll be having yet.  I am also pretty sure that two of the 4 ameraucanas are roosters- both with red feathers flecking their bodies.  The ones that are clearest in the photos here I think are both female.  The tiniest one I’ve named “Sparrow” as that what she reminds me of, both for her brownish coloring, her size, and her strong, constant chirping!  No one else has official names yet.  Just colors.  I’m still amazed at the size differences from “Sparrow” to my “pink” rooster.


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Someone else said these are like peppercinis.
I made some of these last fall, since for the first time in my life I had peppers that grew and produced well! The bell peppers still were pretty much a failure, but the banana peppers did awesome for me.
We’ve enjoyed some banana peppers on subs, so I searched around to find a recipe to make our own. This is what I found, but I also added a bit of crushed red pepper, since these were not HOT banana peppers, and we don’t like them quite that hot, anyhow. This originated at the Taste of Home Forum if you want to see the original thread.
The flavor of these was very good. We made some with and some without the crushed red pepper and found the flavor with it to be much better. But I think the crushed red pepper does something that causes the peppers to soften a bit, so the texture eating straight from the can is a bit mushy (but fine in sandwiches).
For each PINT sized jar:
1/2 c water
1/2 c vinegar
1/8 c sugar
A bit of turmeric (to color)
Boil the above 4 ingredients to dissolve sugar and  heat the “syrup” in prep for canning
1/2 teaspoons diced garlic (or one clove, or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Remember to multiply the ingredients above by the number of pint jars you plan to can.

I put my (washed/sterilized) jars in a tub partially filled with hot water to warm the jars and prevent any cracked jars from thermal shock.
Fill your jar with sliced banana peppers. Add the garlic, salt, oil, and crushed red pepper right into the pint jar with the peppers. Pour the boiled sugar/vinegar/water mixture over the peppers and fill to 1/4 inch from the top of the can. If you’re short on liquid, add equal parts vinegar and water to finish filling the jar. (Make sure you get some of the boiled sugar mixture into each of the jars before you fill all of them all the way to the top!) Wipe rims, put on hot lids and screw bands on.
Since these are “pickled”, they can be hot water bath canned. Process (boil) 10 minutes.

FYI, this recipe is not interchangeable using bell peppers. I tried a can to fill the canner, and they were disgusting!

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