Thursday, October 4, 2012

mmm, mmm, apple pie

We invited a friend over for dinner the other night (yummy borscht!) and she brought a satchel of local apples for us. I like apples but I'm pretty picky about them - if I'm going to eat them raw that is. They can't be soft and mealy (yuck!!) and not too tart (blech!) and just the right amount of sweetness... I find that Honeycrisp is the best.

Of course, I'll eat any kind of apple if it's in a pie.  =)  So I made a pie of course!

Those of you who know me know that I don't like making crust. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and it drives me crazy when the crust doesn't come together the way it's supposed to, it cracks, breaks, etc.  We often use store bought crust which... isn't the best.  Every now and then I decide to give it a try again. I read books and recipes and helpful hints, etc for all the ways to do it right. Ugh. 

I've found and tried a few recipes in the last year and I guess they worked out, but things weren't perfect.  For some reason, the recipe I used yesterday, and the method, was marvelous.  I got the recipe from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (a hysterical and practical cookbook I got for Christmas last year). I put the flour, salt, sugar in the food processor and spun that for a couple seconds. Then I used half butter and half leaf lard (which we, of course, happened to have lying about in the freezer). I threw that all in the food processor and spun it around until the fat was in smaller pieces. 

Then I poured this out in a bowl and used a big spoon to mush the fat into the flour more. Those in the know, know that you get a flaky wonderful crust when you smoosh the fat into the flour.  I think I did one recipe where I used the food processor only and the result wasn't that good. The processor blades don't really smoosh - they just chop things up tiny.  So, you need that smooshing too. And I get tired of the whole fork and knife or two forks or two knives thing, so I decided to try the spoon and I like how well it worked.  Then in went a minimal amount of cold water at a time until everything held together. Right at the end I ran my hands under cold water till I was shivering and then I squished everything together by hand.  It's important, I guess, not to let things get too warm so lots of recipes recommend cold butter, cold fat, cold utensils, cold flour, cold hands, cold bowls, etc! 

Now the other part that hasn't worked for me is chilling the dough, in two balls, for many hours and then later rolling them out for the pie. Rolling out cold pie crust is hard, and it cracks!  So I've started rolling mine out right away and then chilling. I roll out the bottom and arrange it in the pie plate, cut off whatever edges I want to and stick it in the fridge. I roll out the top crust to the right size and stick it on a lightly floured cookie sheet - and into the fridge. 

This next part is how I learned to make apple pie from my mom. I peel and slice all the apples, toss them with cinnamon, maybe a little sugar, and steam/cook the whole lot in a skillet with a big lump of butter.  (Come on - you all know how much butter is consumed in this house!) After a bit the moisture starts coming out and the apples steam a bit.  If you throw the apples into the pie raw, sometimes it takes so long to cook, the crust starts burning before you can get a fork through the apples. I think the point is to halfway or 3/4 cook them - yesterday I kind of cooked them all the way when I went outside and got distracted in the garden. Oh well. 

So, I took the crusts out of the fridge and dumped the cooked apples in (along with the ooey, gooey delicious cinnamony sauce that is created in this process).  I cut holes in the top crust (with some tiny cookie cutters) then slid it over the top of the pie.  Trim the edges, fold under, and crimp.  I did crimp this pie, but it sort of rose and you can't tell. A little beaten egg white on top to help browning and into the oven.  The pie still cooked for over an hour - but, in the end, this has to be the most amazing pie and pie crust I have ever made. 

Complete with a scoop of homemade ice cream.

And I mean home-made ice cream!

I don't think I've mentioned yet one of the best gifts we got last year - an ice cream maker. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it - but we've probably had ice cream almost every single day since last December!  Strawberry, cherries and chocolate, vanilla, vanilla with oreos, mint with mint cookies.  Homemade ice cream is to die for.

Hmm, I think it's time for a little pie & ice cream pre-dinner snack!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Coop remodel

As promised, pictures of our mini-coop and run expansion project. Mama hen took to moving nests up to twice a day which isn't going to hatch any chicks any time soon. Perhaps she felt that she needed to sit on all three nests??

Here is the dog house we picked up. Cute, isn't it?

Here is the mini-coop painted (mostly) and in place with the expansion in process. We always dig a trench around any expansion and fill it with chicken wire and rocks - keeps raccoons, etc from digging under and getting a midnight chicken dinner.

Here it is from the inside. That funny thing hanging from the tree? A truly amazing fly catcher. I think the day I took this pic the trap had only been hanging up for 24 hours. My new and favoritist defense against flies.

And here it is mostly done! We still don't have anything on the roof but we'll get to that. The people who built the dog house put insulation on the backside. We were going to move it in but didn't. Now we're thinking about just painting it so it's not so ugly.

Here we are on the inside.  It didn't seem like the expansion would give them that much extra space, but when it was done it did seem so much bigger. I moved the nipple-waterer (the bucket) to a different location where more of them can drink from it.  See one of our "chick" roosters peeking in to the mini-coop?

I guess it looks a little piecemeal, but when it's all painted it will look better. Not that the chickens care.
Something you can't see is that there is bird netting stretched over the whole open space above - keeps out the sparrows and hawks - and keeps the chickens inside!

And here is mama hen in her new house!  Jeremy did the door a day or two ago. Yesterday evening we drilled in the 2x4s to designate the nest area. Later, if a chicken wants to roost in here we'll put a 2x4 up on top of the standing ones. Voila! Roost!
Anyway, we put that in, filled it up with straw, put in some food and water and went to fetch mama. Jeremy grabbed one egg from another nest that was still warm and the three mama was on. She was so angry when he picked her up!! Leather gloves were a good idea. I made a little indentation in the straw, placed the eggs in, and Jeremy put mama on the nest.  She's been hunkered down there since (except of course to jump up for food and water at least once).
If she manages to stick with it this time - and there is nowhere else for her to go, so she'd better! - we should have up to four new chicks by the second week in October. It's a bit late, but we hope hatching a few chicks will break her of her broodiness.  Otherwise, we'll have to have chicken dinner sometime soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


After two-plus weeks sitting on the nest, mama hen decided enough was enough! Maybe she got chucked out by the other chickens one too many times, or maybe she decided the eggs were duds, or... who knows. But she gave up on that nest.

And... moved to the one next door! I guess she wanted a do-over.

Unfortunately, she got a bit excited about the whole do-over business and decided to start over AGAIN four days after that. We're a bit fed up with her wrecking all the eggs. Jeremy has taken to putting on thick leather gloves when he collects eggs at night and taking away whatever eggs she is sitting on.

We might be able to solve this soon though. I've been working on a project to add a mini-coop (tee hee!) to our ever-expanding farm outbuildings. We bought a good sturdy dog house off craigslist and have put it in place next to the main coop. I'm working on extending the run in that area to incorporate a little more space for the chickens and the mini-coop.

The idea is that we put broody hens in the mini-coop to do their business. That way they don't get kicked off their nest repeatedly by our bully Rhode Island Reds, and once the chicks hatch they can stay safe with mama for a few days until they are big enough to venture out. That issue was a bit tricky for us last time so this should solve it. It's an experiment - as everything here tends to be.

The other idea is that if we have a sick or injured chicken, it can be in isolation and recuperation in the mini-coop - instead of in a giant dog kennel in the middle of our living room, stinking the place up. So I'm looking forward to finishing this project.

I'll post some pictures when things are looking better.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Again? Seriously?

This started up last week:

Jeremy of course is beside himself with giddy joy. He is a crazy man. I'm actually surprised the mama didn't go crazy when I was filming her. I think her first or second day of broodiness she snapped at Jeremy when he opened the door on her. I had to pet her a little just to get her hackles to rise a bit. So, in another two weeks or so we'll have another bunch of chicks. I'm not sure how many she is sitting on - the other chickens haven't been able to kick her off like the last time. Actually, I'm not sure if this is the same hen or a different one.

This batch of hens will be one year old at the end of September and the first batch of chicks are just over 2 months now. Some of them are the same size as the silver leghorns; getting hard to tell them all apart.

We did lose one rather tragically last week. I was fiddling around in the yard and heard a chick sound that was unusual. Like someone was being picked on...a lot. I went to investigate and realized the sound was coming from inside the annex. I went in and peeked inside their little entry door. What I saw made me flip out and, luckily, gave me the dose of adrenalin power I need to lift the whole roof of the hen house and pull down the front wall so I could rescue the chick. She must have been attempting to roost on the ledge of the open window in the coop, fell, and got one foot caught in the opening of the window. I suspect it broke in her struggling. Then her lovely flock-mates came in and had pecked her head raw and bloody. Little savages.

The poor thing! I lifted her out and realized pretty quickly that there wasn't much we could do. I'm sure we could have patched up her head; but her leg was pretty bad and it didn't seem like she could hang on much longer. Thank goodness Jeremy had just gotten home from the farm. I did not want to wait long to take care of her and I didn't want to do the deed myself. I'm just glad I got to "rescue" her and comfort her for a moment before we dispatched her - instead of her dying in the coop being cannibalized by her siblings. Savage little beasts.

I've got a few more videos here for your viewing pleasure...or to pass the time if you don't have anything else to do. The first two were an attempt at getting a video of bedtime. I'm glad this phase is over. This would last for what seemed hours every night for weeks. Momma hen would wander around making her "y'all come to bed now" clucking sound and many chicks would follow. She head up the ramp, some would follow, some would go in; she'd go back for more, the chicks who went in came out; back and forth and so on. Then finally she'd go in and inevitably there would be 2 or 3 chicks left out that would suddenly realize mom was gone and they would peep miserably, and at the top of their tiny, not insubstantial, lungs. Many nights I'd go out and chase them around trying to coax them into the hen house with mom. It got really fun when they started escaping the run and I was chasing them around the yard half a dozen times a day. Grr. In one of the videos you can see a chick getting a piggy back ride from mom. ADORABLE. One of the cutest chick things I've ever seen.
Then the last one is from about two weeks ago, so they're much bigger - but still peeping away adorably. Enjoy! It seems like not much is going on around here of interest...well, perhaps it is...I just don't have time these days to blog about it!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Makes you wish you were convalescing...

Some friends of ours had a baby recently and Jeremy got signed up on the list to bring them a meal. Tuesday was our day and Jeremy went all out (of course).

 He started with a medley of dried mushrooms. I don't think he actually dried them, I think they dried on the logs. These are shiitake, oyster, and nameko (all grown by Jeremy). He thinks they look beautiful - I think it looks a little.... gross. (You know you're a mushroom farmer when...)


 Then he sauteed them (most likely in some bacon fat)

 Then tossed them in (store-bought, the horror!) crust along with sauteed onions and some chunks of cheese.  Gruyere maybe? I can't remember.


 Then in goes the egg mixture, then bake, and voila!

We also heated up half a baguette (store-bought) and Jeremy cooked up a bunch of kale from our garden with sesame seeds, sesame oil, and some garlic. He can never make enough of this stuff to make me happy.


 And finally a little package of homegrown raspberries from our yard.

Our friends were very happy to receive their dinner (though I think it was all mostly too weird for their 1 1/2 year old).

 Kind of make you wish you were convalescing and needed someone to cook you dinner?

Monday, June 25, 2012

So many berries

Our berries are doing quite well this year (except our blueberries of course - not a sign of them at all!).

A couple weekends ago Jeremy made pancakes for breakfast and I went out and picked raspberries and strawberries for topping.  It seems the tulle netting has worked well and we are getting lots of strawberries all to ourselves.

Nothing seems to eat the raspberries and there are tons of them. Black, red, and golden. I picked a lot Saturday and made a big cobbler out of them.

It looks nice, but the biscuits didn't rise much or turn out like they should have. Oh well - throw some whipped cream on and everything tastes better!

We have discovered though, one of the absolute best things to do with raspberries is make ice cream. Wow, that is some tasty delicious stuff!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The secret to success

I think the secret to growing food really well is not liking it.

Case in point: we grew wine cap mushrooms last year and did not like them at all. Now they are growing all over the place, spreading far beyond where they were planted. At least they look pretty.

The other thing is ground cherries. They look like tomatillos, little berries that grow in papery husks and are sweet. They're not bad, but they weren't our favorite. I think we had two or three plants on top of the terrace. Now we have ground cherry plants popping up EVERYWHERE. They're in all the garden beds and more. It's really quite amazing.

Maybe if we focus on not liking tomatoes our tomato plants will start growing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

chicky pics

Aren't they just so adorable!?! Poor mama hen: we like to go peek on the babies all the time and she is still not all that happy about it.
Looks like there are still some unhatched eggs under her - I'm guessing they're all white ones. Those silver leghorns... let's just say they won't engage in any funny business with the rooster!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This morning when Jeremy went out to open up the coop he heard some mad peeping and there were babies!
We have been wondering how this would go: the nest is up kinda high in the hen house and I don't know how the babies are going to get up and down from that spot. So when Jeremy went out there one of the chicks was down on the floor peeping away - and probably a bit chilly. She/he must have fallen out of the nest. I'm glad the rooster and hens didn't gobbler her up or step on her. =/

Jeremy spent the morning building a little platform and ramp so they could have food and water close by and, maybe, be able to get down if they wanted. But so far they are staying put under mama hen. We've only seen evidence of two chicks - and it sounds like there are more than a dozen eggs under mama still. So we'll see how many more hatch.

Pictures soon!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Before a whole lot of people go crazy, I am not expecting! Our chickens are! (But yes, I put that subject line in anyway just for the response. =)

Anyway, up until a few weeks ago I was thinking how funny it was that in all our chicken years we'd never had a broody chicken. Ever. And then one day I went out to check eggs, rather late, and there was a chicken on the nest. That seemed odd to me. Maybe she was sick?
But she was there again the next day. It slowly dawned on me that she was broody! And boy do broody chickens protect their eggs! Just check out what happens when you try to peek in:

The poor thing was kicked out of the nest by the other birds for several days running because they wanted to lay in the box too. So the eggs kind of piled up under her. I think there are at least a dozen, if not more. You may remember the chickens preferred not to use the other nest boxes in the chicken annex. Jeremy hung up a "privacy curtain" in front of those other nest boxes and voila! They started using the other nest boxes. So now our mean mama is left in peace.

I'm sure it has been three weeks since she went broody. I didn't write down the actual date so it could be more or less. So either she's going to hatch those eggs out any moment now, or we have an infertile rooster. We shall see. But in the meantime, between Jeremy and I, that poor hen is checked on three or four times a day! And she is usually not very happy about it.

This is a rather happy subject for my 400th post on this blog. I'm sure if I'd been blogging more regularly in the last year I would have reached 400 long ago. Oh well. We can only do the best we can do, right?

Keep your fingers crossed that we get some baby chicks - 'cause how cute would that be!? Of course then we'll have to sell or give them away because we really don't need more than 20 chickens!!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Harvest time

Harvest time around here actually began a couple weeks ago when the first few snap peas were ready to eat. But then on May 30th (or 31st) I ate our first raspberry. I'm sure that must be a record for Minnesota!
We have a big plantation of this Korean Gold, which I think is the best tasting raspberry of any variety.

This is going to be an amazing year for raspberries. These are our red and black ones out front:

We've also had our first few strawberries!

 Actually, a stupid squirrel got the first one. Grr! After that I made good on my plans and put up tulle (a kind of fabric) all the way around the bed. Something got in and made off with another berry or two and this time I think it was a rabbit. An adorable little bunny (and I mean little!) has been hopping about our yard looking adorable and scared and wreaking havoc on everything. It chowed down on one of our tomato plants. Grr. Anyway, I stapled the netting even more and we've been able to keep our strawberries to ourselves. They are tasty!

Also sometime in the last week or two I got an email about some extra apple trees. I jumped on that opportunity! We went over and picked up a 5-foot tall bare-root Honeycrisp. I went to work digging a hole in the back yard for it, trying to find enough composted material and good dirt to put back in the pit of sand I had dug out (ack! I hope the thing grows!). But after only a week or so the tree has leafed out and has flowers!

It is also cherry harvesting time. I'm not sure how much we've picked at this point; maybe 10 pounds? My brother picked a large bowl on Monday or Tuesday this last week and Jeremy just finished picking another large bowl. At the risk of tempting fate, the birds have STILL not discovered our two cherry trees. We are lucky. And for those who remember (uh...that is if I actually even blogged about it!) the little sucker we saved last year is doing very well. It's already about 4 or 5 feet tall now and even set a handful of cherries this year. I have high hopes of it taking over for the last part of the old tree when it dies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm back!

Okay, I've actually been back for over a month. What can I say? I need a vacation!  =)

The computer is still awful and hard to work with. But more than that, this time of year it's hard to sit at the computer for hours when there is gardening, sewing, baking, and visiting with neighbors and friends to do.

I realized I'd better post something because a number of possible new readers may be disappointed that I haven't posted anything in over a month. Where would these new readers come from? Well - we're famous again.  Last fall we were interviewed for an article in Minnesota Monthly. The magazine came out a week or two ago and we've been hearing about it from friends, neighbors, and co-workers since then. I finally got to see a copy of it for myself just this morning. And right there in the article they mention my blog! So I guess I'd better get back on track and get blogging again. Here is the article online; the paper issue has several pretty nice pictures of us, and other fellow city gardeners/farmers.

So, what has been up around the homestead? A lot!

  • I planted a bunch of seeds just before heading to Kenya and when I returned two weeks later I found a little jungle in the basement. My wonderful husband had remembered to water and care for them so a ton of kale and basil came up. I also planted a load of Calendula and Borage - I got the seeds from my mom.  Why so many flowers? Well... 
  • While I was gone Jeremy picked up some bees! Pictures of that hopefully soon. They seem to be plenty happy and healthy and are working away at all that glorious honey.
  • So - where to put all that kale? Some of you may remember the boulevard raised bed I've been talking about for a year or two. I finally got that installed and half the kale went there and a few basil. There are also several rhubarb growing there so that spot is very productive now - or at least it will be. Building that bed allowed me to dig extra dirt out of one of the back beds so I could get that ready - and then I put more kale in there!
  • At some point I finished moving most of the strawberries over to one of the three beds in the back. I have got to get it all covered up though. We had our first almost ripe strawberry the other day but left it to ripen for one more day. Sure enough, the next morning it was completely gone. Squirrels!! I hate them!! Another strawberry is showing some color so I have to get all my netting up soon - like maybe today!
  • The second bed has a large and healthy crop of garlic, a couple tomato plants, and tons of kale. We are going to be eating a lot of kale chips this summer - I can tell you that!
  • The third bed has a tomato and a wall of snap peas, the first of which were ready to eat just the other day. Yum!
  • In chicken news - we have a broody hen!!! For the first time in three years. It seems like everyone else always has broody hens, and it's pointless since they don't have roosters. But we of course do, so it's possible this Maran will actually hatch something out. Hopefully pictures and more story about that...eventually.
  • I don't think I've talked about mushrooms hardly at all. Jeremy is still busy innoculating and is nearing the end. There is a small pile left in the garage. Today he is working on totem innoculations out at the farm. My brother has been visiting us for awhile, so Jeremy has a helper. Yay! Jeremy isn't force-fruiting yet, probably will start that next month, but lots of mushrooms have been growing on their own. Enough that Jeremy has had at least 8 pounds (usually more) at each of the last three farmers markets. That's right: Jeremy is selling his shrooms at the Mill City Farmers Market
Hopefully it won't be another month before I get back to some real posting. I used to blog so much more and I really enjoyed it. I guess I still do, but... I've got too much on my plate and something has to give.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Blog switch

Lots of things I want to post about (a yummy shiitake risotto dish we just made, the overachieving plants sprouting in the basement, things blooming and popping up all over the yard, etc) but it will all have to wait.

I'm digging my Vicarious Travelblog blog out of mothballs to, hopefully, blog about my impending trip to Kenya. That's right! I'm going to Kenya in two days! It's for a worldwide conference of Quakers (of which I am one).

In any case, I won't be posting here till May. If I get a chance at all (fingers crossed!) I'll be posting at my other blog.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Noisy girls

We have five nest boxes, but will those girls spread out and use all of them? No. Will they take turns? No. At least they're splitting the egg laying between three boxes instead of trying to get all the eggs in one single box.

And it also seems like at least 10 at a time are feeling the urge to lay an egg which means they need to cluck and screech and carry on. First announcing, "I'm going to lay an egg!!" Then following that up with, "I laid an egg!" It gets kind of noisy around here in the mornings.

Here are several of the hens trying to use the same boxes at the same time:

Jeremy just had to get a white egg layer ("how novel!") so we got these silver leghorns - which I've whined about before. They are very flighty. And they are very noisy. Occasionally I've been coming up to the house and I hear this awful screeching sound, like a child is dying in the alley. No, just one of the leghorns. I managed to catch one on video to give you an idea. This video is nothing compared to when they really get worked up. It gets much worse. They really do carry on about the egg laying.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

While perusing the internet some weeks ago I stumbled on this way of dyeing eggs. As I searched more, it became clear that I was one of the few people on the planet that hadn't heard of this or tried it yet. But I wasn't going to let that stop me!

First I blew out some eggs, which I've never done before. It is not that easy, especially if you make the tiniest holes in the ends of the eggs because you don't want to have big huge holes.

Anyway, I won't give all the details here because if you just search for dyeing eggs with ties you should find a bunch of people with advice. Martha Stewart apparently started it - or at least got the idea out there.

So you take a piece of silk, which can be from a man's tie or any other bit of silk, and you cut it to fit your egg. Wrap around the egg. Wet it first because this makes it much easier. (I tied the one up in string as an experiment.) You want every bit of egg to be touched by the silk.

There are many variations on the next step. You want to wrap something around the eggs to keep the silk on. You can use strips of fabric (which I did), or stick them in bits of panty-hose, or other ideas. Look at some different blog posts for ideas. I tied the silk on with threads at either end, but I don't think that was necessary; probably just twisting and folding down, then wrapping the cloth strips around would have done it.

Next is to put them in a pot of water, so the water covers the eggs, and add 1/4 cup of vinegar. Now is when you find out that blown eggs don't sink to the bottom - they float on top. So you'll want to weigh them down so they're in the water. I just stuck our colander on top and made sure the water was covering everything.

Simmer for half an hour. When they're done. Take them out of the water and let them sit till they're cool enough to handle. Then unwrap the fabric and silk and, voila!

They look all fancy and complicated, but they really aren't. I found that several had filled with water so I had to blow them out again. But water is easier to blow out then egg whites!

I was going to do a whole dozen, but I came to my senses (after blowing one or two eggs) and only did six. I have some ideas for doing it better next year. Jeremy says he likes the irregularities and spaces where the dye didn't transfer. But I don't. I want them to be perfect! And they will be. Next year.

Happy Easter, and I hope all your egg-dyeing adventures go well!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Back in December, Jeremy and I were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of breaking glass. It's amazing how quickly you can go from dead-to-the-world asleep to extremely awake when you hear a sound like that.
The only sign that we were sleepy and not fully-functioning was that we incautiously turned on all the lights and crept downstairs to see what was going on. As we came down the stairs I began to hear a strange whining/hissing sound. What could that be?
By the time I'd gotten a step or two into the living room, my brain had woken up enough to know exactly what had happened: one of our bottles of cider sitting out in the living room had blown up. The hissing sound? The bottle next to it just getting ready to pop.
There was glass and cider everywhere. Sleepiness returned long enough for me to decide to open that bottle a little to let the pressure out right there in the living room. Very silly. It was a Mt. Vesuvius gusher - I don't know how so much cider could have been in that bottle.
We got everything cleaned up and put the remaining four bottles in the kitchen. It was such a bummer because we had saved those half dozen bottles out for a Christmas present!

When I came home from work the next day Jeremy told me another bottle had exploded during the morning. Cider and broken glass all over the kitchen. (In fact, we're still finding bits of glass around!)
Some night awhile later I vaguely heard a dull thudding sound in the night; but I didn't think much of it. The next morning we saw a tiny little brown glass bottle on the floor in the kitchen. Now how did that get there? It was such a mystery where it came from I was worrying it trying to figure it out. Then I opened the lower cabinets where we keep our booze (wine, whiskey, etc). Ah. There had been one last cider bottle that had only been half full. It took longer for it to explode, which it did, throwing cider and glass all over the inside of that cupboard and breaking some other bottle as well. The explosion must have been big enough to push the door open, and that little bottle had rolled right out.

Finally, the last bottle of cider had broken!  But believe me, this was only the middle of our adventures with cider.

Back up a couple months to October. We'd been talking for some time about making some booze and wanted to start with hard cider. The original idea was to get apples and press them, making our own juice. But I, wisely if I do say so myself, decided that was ridiculous. We didn't know what we were doing and I'd hate to wreck a whole batch after spending all the time making the juice. So we bought fresh squeezed (or whatever they do to apples) apple juice from a local farmer at the farmers market.

We poured all the juice into one of our lovely inherited carboys. I know we added sugar (white and brown) and yeast, but I can't remember now when or how much (sorry - this isn't a recipe!).

I do remember that we didn't water down the yeast enough so it was more like a paste that we were trying to get into that tiny carboy opening. Of course it ended up slathered all around the edges. So I took our tiny rubber spatula and went around the opening to scrape up as much of the yeast as possible so we could get it into the cider.

And then the unthinkable happened. As I was scraping inside the neck, the rubber part popped off and dropped off the stick part and sunk right to the bottom! Oh. My. Word. I had this moment of wide-eyed incredulity before the immensity of this disaster crashed over me. We had been working so hard to keep everything sterile and clean so there weren't any contaminates that would mess with the fermenting and turning all this into hard cider. Well, I'm sure you've all seen the nasty insides of spatulas when the top comes off. Sick. And that was now floating in our cider!

So I berated my incredible stupidity for a few moments, and then we decided on our next course of action. We had to transfer all that cider to the other carboy so we could get that blasted spatula out.

Then cross our fingers that everything wasn't wrecked. So we did that. The next part is to put some vodka in the the little lid thingy (that's the technical name I believe).

You set that on top and wait for it to get bubbling. I believe this little stopper serves to let air out but nothing else in. And if it should suck the stopper in a bit, it just adds some vodka to the cider. Mmm, tasty.

Now I'm a bit fuzzy because I thought this process was supposed to take some time - weeks at least. Maybe it was supposed to be in a certain temperature and light environment. But at some point the bubbles would slow to a halt and that's when it would be done. And that happened for us in less than 10 days. I'm not sure what happened (maybe it was that magical stuff in the spatula) but our cider was ready to go.

Actually, first we back-sweetened it (which means putting some nice sweet apple juice into it so it's not so bitter) and added some yeast inhibitor stuff to stop the yeast from doing it's thing. Then, making as much of a mess as we could, I stood on a chair and held this tube thing while Jeremy filled each bottle. This is a special tube thing that has a stopper on the end so it only fills the bottle while you're pressing the end down into the glass. Or something like that. It's pretty cool.

Then we used our handy new tool and new caps from Northern Brewer to cap the cider.

We used recycled bottles as you can see. This fun experiment netted us 35 bottles!

And it was TASTY! Went down really smooth and then I felt drunk as a skunk after I'd had barely half a bottle. (I am a light-weight of course.)

Jeremy was so excited about our cider he was giving it away left and right to everyone we knew; and before we knew it was all gone!

We got started on our second batch a week later, in early November. This time we did it in a bucket and kept it at the appropriate temperature and light.

This batch stayed in the basement for a month before it seemed ready for the next step. I don't quite get it, but the next step was transferring it to the carboy so we could store it in the back hall and trip over it for three and a half months.

Now, it turns out the bucket is bigger than the carboy so we had extra cider. It was fine at that point (it would just get tastier with this second sit), so Jeremy put the cider into six and a half bottles. (You know where this is going.) I don't believe we backsweetened or put the inhibitor in, so a couple weeks later, after the yeast kept working and bubbling in those tiny spaces, there finally just wasn't room anymore, and CRASH! In the middle of the night. (Why do I feel like saying, "And now you know....the rest...of the story.")

Anyway, this last week Jeremy finally bottled all that cider and there is a lot. We had one ourselves, gave one to a friend who gave us lots of advice, and took one to a party. We're trying to save them a bit now - especially since there aren't any local apples around to make another batch.

This summer Jeremy wants to try making a beer.

And we're dying to get a recipe for Sumac Wine and try making that. We had some a friend made and it was some of the best wine we've ever had.

Yay for booze!