Saturday, February 26, 2011

Squash Review

I have grown a lot of squash variations over the years, all in search of The Perfect Squash.

This is a review of all the types we have grown and my thought on the pros and cons of each, or the ones I can remember, anyway.

Most are cucurbita maxima. I have noted the ones that are not, in their description. There are four families of cucurbita squash/pumpkins. Maxima, moschata, pepo and mixta. I have never grown a mixta (cushaw) squash, so I can't give you any information about them. Squash varieties will cross within their family, only - but they will cross within their family, definitely, unless you take steps to prevent it. If you plan to save your own seed from year to year, you will need to prevent cross pollination. Hand pollinating is a great thing and will give you a much bigger harvest, but that alone will not prevent cross pollination.

When I say a squash is a good keeper, this depends on the conditions. We have an underground, old fashioned, stone cold cellar where the squash are kept. I sit them, not touching, on wooden skids to keep them off the damp stone shelves built into the wall of the cellar.

These are not in any particular order.

1) The Hopi black (left) is my first choice. You can read more about them in a previous post "The Perfect Squash" (also linked above).

2) Hopi pale gray - (picture right) produces lots of very large meaty fruits. They are a pale gray on the outside, but are also very pale on the inside too. I think the darker orange colour has more beta carrotene. I wasn't impressed with the pale colour. I will still continue to grow a few of these to keep the seed since they are so rare and are disappearing from our seed base.

3) Turk's Cap (also called "Turban") - these are a good size, although a little smaller than the first two. They have a small seed cavity with a lot of meat. The entire "turban" cap part is solid meat. They are sweet, not too stringy and good. They keep for a very long time, through Feb in our cold cellar. I will grow a few of these for decoration. They are brightly coloured and beautiful, especially mixed with the little gourds, plus you can eat them!

4) Hubbard - these are excellent, all around good squash. Excellent keeper, the best we have grown. Very large, orange, meaty fruits that keep in the right conditions until warmer spring weather. My only complaint is the extremely hard shell. You will need an axe or a thick knife and hammer set to cut one in half. Don't try to peel this one! You could poke holes in it and just bake the whole thing until the skin softens, than cut it, if you can fit it into your oven. These are very large!

5) "Upper ground sweet potato" squash - (c. moschata) was dissappointed in them, not much meat and pale in colour. They are huge fruits but all empty seed cavity inside, much like a Halloween pumpkin. They will grow in poor soil, sand, clay or rock where few other things will grow, so they are good if you have a spot like that and want to grow something productive there. Good keeper.

6) Acorn - (c. pepo) delicious little squash. Good size for baking stuffed, for 2-4 people. Good orange colour, sweet and not too stringy. Belongs to the c. pepo family so will cross with any zucchini around. Good keeper. Too small to process for freezer (the reason we don't grow them).

7) Japanese ebisu "nutty delica" - ok flavour. Too small to process for the freezer. Ok keeper.

8) Butternut - (c. moschata) Produced lots of fruit. Good orange colour and very meaty. Has a small seed cavity in the bulb end so entire neck is solid meat. Nice flavour but needs a long growing season. Good keeper. Might grow this one again, maybe.

9) Sweet mama - not that impressed with the flavour. Too small to process for the freezer. Not a lot of meat in each fruit. Ok keeper.

10) Buttercup - productive, meaty and less stringy. Good flavour, but not as good as several others. Very poor keeper.

11) Ambercup - Sweet, dark orange colour, good texture. Small, about the size of a large acorn squash. Good for baking with a meal. Too small for processing for freezer. Good keeper.

12) Spaghetti - (c. pepo) Excellent keeper. Not a standard winter squash. White flesh, can be used in place of pasta or cooked on it's own. Not used in place of orange winter squash in baking recipes. Our's are still good at mid Feb, although some seeds have begun to sprout inside the squash. Will cross with any zucchini, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and Halloween pumpkins.

I did plant jumbo pink banana squash and, although they sprouted, the plants didn't do much and just disappeared over the summer. I don't have any information about them. I have also planted others that didn't grow well and did not produce any fruit. I don't usually plant those again as I just don't have the time to baby the squash.

Now that we have found what we consider to be the best of the squash, we plan to stick to just those few and not continue to grow a large variety. It's a time and focus thing. We don't have much time during the growing season and we are already focusing our attention on as much as we can manage. That said, I do plan to grow a few "sweet dumpling" squash for the first time this year.

So far we have not had any problems with the squash borer. We did have an infestation of aphids on our squash and tomatoes a few years ago, causing them to grow curled vines but it did not seem to affect the fruit production. I have grown the squash in a different location every year. Perhaps that has something to do with it.
I enjoy growing squash! They take so little time and effort to grow and the plants are so beautiful, covering a large space with huge green leaves. Well worth growing in the garden!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vegetable Garden Planning

Spring is just around the corner here! I can actually see the ground in a few places. This is rare for late February, but you never know...

Time to do some serious garden planning!

This year I am planning to plant only what will be used and no more than we can reasonably handle with the time we have. (LOL! This is my plan every year and yet, somehow, I can never stick to it!)

I am a seedaholic. I freely admit it. I collect seeds from all over the world. I do plant most of them but always have many left over. Last year I was very good and only traded for what I thought I would actually use. I am going to start planting them after next week.

I grow vegetables, berries, annuals, perennials and vines. I am planning on growing 5 types of tomatoes, for eating and for seed, all are organic, (no GM foods here) and all are normal red tomatoes that we like to eat. I don't have time to grow anything just because it's interesting, unfortunately.

The very first crop ready to eat in the spring is the asparagus. We LOVE fresh asparagus! We have an old asparagus bed that produces a lot, and I also planted some asparagus seeds four springs ago and hope to have some of those big enough for cutting this year. They can be cut when they reach pencil size, which a few were last year. I left those to grow last year because I moved them the previous fall and wanted to give them a chance to catch up. I am excited to see what they do this year! They will need a generous helping of old chicken manure mulch as soon as the snow melts, maybe even sooner.

I am planting 5 different types of tomatoes this year. A lot of thought and experimentation has gone into what tomatoes to grow. Over the past few years I have come up with these five staples. The tomatoes we grow are heirloom tomatoes, except for the 'Manitoba', which was developed here in Canada for the short season in the prairies. It is not genetically modified but is the result of generations of breeding. Because it wasn't around 100 years ago and has been crossed in a fairly modern breeding program, it's not an 'heirloom' but it is 'organic', although you can't call it organic yourself if you use chemicals on it. People sometimes confuse the two descriptions, which are not the same thing. Both words do mean 'not genetically modified' which is what people are looking for anyway, so for that purpose they can both be used. None of my seed has been geneticallly modified but they are not all "heirloom".

I have grown all of these tomatoes for our own use for at least a year and am happy with them. Last year was such a bad year for tomatoes that I only got enough seed to sell from the 'San Marzano' tomatos. Hopefully this year will be better and I will have a good tomato crop for seed!

I was a test garden for a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes last year but that was a dismal failure! Blossom end rot! Every single tomato in that garden! This year I will be digging in lots of manure, lime, ash and epsom salts (for magnesium) to prevent blossom end rot.

These are the tomatoes I am growing in 2011:
1) Portugal Beefheart Tomatoes (my favourite). These are massive and meaty tomatoes. Delicious! Indeterminate, very fast growers, always the first ones up in the spring, outdistancing all others very quickly. (Warning: Definitely indeterminate! LOL!) I got the seed years ago from a gardener who's great grandparent brought them from Portugal. I have no idea what the actual name is, if there is one.

2) 'San Marzano' paste tomatoes - touted to be the best paste tomatoes in the world, from Italy. They have a very thick wall and little water, making them, indeed, a great tomato for cooking! indeterminate. I find that many of the leaves on this tomato need to be cut off to find the fruit and to let the sunshine into the rest of the leaves and fruit. I trim leaves off of all the tomatoes when they begin to get in the way of the fruit growing and block the sun. Always leave enough for the plant to make food.

3) 'Ailsa Craig' tomatoes - an earlier salad tomato, medium size, red, sweet with a fabulous flavour! Indeterminate. Your normal, every day useful salad tomato and very tasty!

4) Manitoba Tomatoes- determinate. (My only determinate tomato. I like determinate tomatoes, with our short growing season!) Large 4" tomatoes in a short time.

5) Matt's Wild Cherry tomato - indeterinate, high sugar content making them very sweet! Large plant producing a bumper crop of tiny tomatoes. (These hardly ever actually made it into the kitchen.) I am going to plant more of them this year.

Just a short note here about wording, "determinate" tomatoes do not vine and will stop growing tall when they reach maturity. They will then put their effort into ripening the tomatoes already growing. These are better for short growing seasons. "Interminate" tomatoes will keep growing tall and vining until the frost takes them. These will need to be pruned when they have enough tomatoes growing on them (and pruned again and again and again. Try to convine them that they need to stop growing!) I usually prevent suckers as they grow and top the plants about Aug 1. This gives the plant time to ripen what is there. Sometimes I still have to root prune to get more tomatoes to ripen before the frost and even then we still have lots of green tomatoes.

Some tomatoes will keep green in a paper bag in a dark cool place. You can keep checking on them and bring them out even in Dec and Jan to finish ripening in the kitchen. It's worth a try and I am going to do more of that this year, since I do have a cold cellar.

I also start pruning the winter squash, hard, on Aug 1. This stops the vining growth and makes for bigger squash that ripen on time. I am growing three types of squash this year.

I am growing mainly the Hopi Black. (See my previous post
'The Perfect Squash') but also 'Hopi Gray' and turban (also called Turk's Cap). I like the turban for decorating in the fall. They are beautiful!

I am thinking I might do a "Three Sisters" garden this year with corn, beans and squash, maybe, depending on where I decide to plant the corn.
I am growing lemon cucumbers this year for the first time! I already have the seed :-) I am quite excited about growing these! They have been around for generations but are hard to find because they don't keep very well. They don't taste anything like lemons, they are cucumbers. They just look like lemons. They have a very sweet taste and not at all bitter, like come cucumbers tend to be. I became interested in growing these a few years ago, as they are so good, but haven't actually bought seed for them until this year. (Sometimes it takes me awhile to go from thought to action. I can only focus on so many things at one time.) I like them because they are fat, making them a good shape to slice for sandwiches. We consider this to be the best use of a good cucumber! I am going to plant these in the berry garden, close to the house where I can baby them.

I will be starting these indoor in the next couple of weeks. I also plan grow a few pickling cucumbers. I don't want these two to cross so I will be separating them by at least 50', probably more like 150'. I think I will plant the pickling cucumbers in last year's tomato garden, only because the stakes are still there (and I'm lazy). That garden needs a lot of supplementation but I have a pile of old chicken manure I can use for that. That's potent stuff!

I think I will need to actually buy manure this year. Georgian Downs race track is just a couple of blocks from me. I am hoping to get some manure with bedding mixed in from there. I know that manure won't have any drugs in it! lol! (Hubby has to fix the truck first, unless he wants me to pile manure in the trunk of his car ;-)

Another thing I am going to plant this year are vining yellow beans. I'm getting too old to pick the little bush beans. I think sticking with vining beans on a fence will be a lot easier. The yellow wax beans that vine are hard to find. I can only buy locally the little commercial envelope packages of the vining yellow beans. The boxes and large bags of seed are readily available for the bush variety but, as I previoius stated, I don't want those. I find this frustrating! I may buy a few envelopes of the vining yellow beans to grow stricly for seed for next year. That means I will have to do another year of crouching to pick beans. Green beans do come easily and cheaply in vining types, and I will plant those, but we like the yellow ones better. They are a must in my garden and next year, at least, I will have only vining ones.

Maybe what I need to get is a little stool to sit on, after all, there's strawberries and raspberries to pick too...

I am going to plant some vining beans on the corn in my "Three Sister" garden.
I don't know if I am going to grow much eating corn this year. Our freezer is small so we don't have a place to keep the full ears for long (and there's no way I'm going to spend that kind of time cutting it all off the cobs! Just like I don't shell peas :-) I am, however, going to grow some red corn for fall decor and I'd love to grow some heritage blue corn! Most eating corn is a modern hybrid. Blue corn is one of the earliest varieties known, originating in South America. It has 30% more protein than the modern hybrid yellow/white corn too! I don't want the different corn varieties and colours to cross, so I will need to generate a careful placement plan for them with a great distance between. Corn is wind pollinated and can cross at great garden distances. There is also a modern cow cornfield across the road from me to consider :-( Some advice on distances for corn would be welcomed!

Another staple we grow a lot of are sweet peppers, specifically green bells. I grow rows and rows of them, chopped, bagged and frozen for cooking, enough to keep us in peppers all year. We use a lot of them! They go in just about everything. I also have some seeds for a few 'Habanero' peppers I might grow this year. We do like a little heat in chili and so forth. We tend to use 'Tobasco' for that but I thought I would experiement with hot peppers this year. We'll see how it goes. I would like, at a future date, to make our own hot sauce, one day... (not this year!)

Another thing I want to grow, not exactly a vegetable, are luffahs (loofah) ! I have wanted to grow my own dried luffah sponges since I started making my own soap, decades ago. (Did you know that real luffah sponges are a vegetable that you can grow? Cool, eh?) I have tried a few times, unsuccessfully, but didn't really put much into it. This year I am going to plant them and baby them until I get some luffahs that are mature enough to harvest. I want to make some mats for the porch from sliced extra large ones, as well as bath sponges from the early ones and I want the seeds to sell to soap crafters. I had thought, at one time, that I might pour raw soap into a full, unsliced luffah and let it harden like that, then slice it. My very own homemade soap luffahs! This is still in the "idea" stage but I am determined to be successful in growing my own luffah sponges this year! Must start those indoors early next week!

I will also be planting the Aunt Molly's ground cherries and the chichiquelites this year but, uh (LESS THAN I PLANTED LAST YEAR!!)
I usually have plans for the flowerbed too, but not so much this year. This spring I am cleaning them out and rejuvenating them. Myself and a few friends are having a giant garage sale on my busy corner on May 5th this year. I will be selling lots and lots and lots of plants there, all gleaned from my flower beds and maybe some woodland plants and strawberry plants too. Do come by if you are in the Barrie/Innisful area that day. (If you are serious about coming and want directions, send me an email.)

Planning my garden is great fun! It keeps me from going "stir crazy" in the wintertime too. Gardening is so exciting!

Spring can't come early enough for me!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Amazing Pork Barbecue Sauce

This is a fabulous pork barbecue sauce!

Approx 4-5 lbs pork shoulder (more if bone in) - cut off cap (big fat part); then rub with yellow mustard & salt & pepper

Cook in slow cooker until meat is soft & falls apart easily (approx 7 hrs in slow cooker on low)

Remove & chop or shred. Drain off liquid. Replace in cooker & add pre-prepared sauce. Leave on low until ready to eat. Stir occasionally.

Kansas City Sweet Sauce
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp curry
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup molasses

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Cat's Play or Attention

This is a common picture when I'm trying to do some close work. Any chance for some attention is a good time for Shadow. He's a sweetheart, for all he's a tough cookie! He's a great mouser, lining them up on the front porch when they are active!

This past weekend the snow and ice melted somewhat and fell off the house and roof. There was about an hour of time when a lot of big noise was coming in from outside. Shadow didn't hide under the couch (his favourite spot whena stranger comes into the house). He sat up alert beside me and growled loudly the whole time, ready to do battle. When there was more ice falling noise from the bedroom window upstairs, he ran up there to meet it, growling all the way! With all this courage, he is very gentle and sweet. You can pick him up roughly or push him off the counter top (a rare occurrence) and he will just purr the entire time. No matter what you do, if you touch him, he purrs. I have never felt his claws or teeth, even in play.

When Hubby put a single empty can of tuna on the floor for them, Abby ran up first and began to lick it clean. Shadow came behind her and licked her ears, encouraging her to keep eating. When she was half finished, she stepped back and let him have his share. It was so sweet. They really have bonded and he takes care of her. He goes to look for her if she doesn't come when I am feeding them. (He's ALWAYS there when I am feeding them! lol!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Growing Your Own Grains

One vital step on the road to self sufficiency is growing your own grains. We are moving in that direction, but only on a small scale. I grow a few grains but not enough to make our bread, just enough to sprinkle on oatmeal or cereal.

I originally started growing grain to use as chicken feed. While it does make good chicken feed, the ones that I grow are also good for people to eat.

My objective for the years to come is to grow all of our own grain needs, organic wheat included. At the moment we don't grow wheat but I am looking into it.
We do grow flax, both the yellow grain variety and the blue variety. Both are good for eating but the blue ones are beautiful enough for the flower bed. They are one of the few true blue flowers and reseed to come back year after year. I do grow a few in the flowerbed, but I grow rows of them in the field. It's hard to keep the deer away from the flax! Just as the pods were full and ripening, they ate a lot of it to the ground. Very frustrating! (Really, I love the deer but they have to stay away from my garden!! ) A big dog helps to keep the deer away but a big dog will destroy the garden as fast as a deer...

There are other grains that I grow but the deer seemed to like the flax the best. I also planted rows of millet, amaranth, and poppies. I am currently doing germination testing on quinoa, red quinoa, and chia. I did plant millet last year but was unsuccessful at getting it to germinate so I won't be planting it again this year.

Quinoa and chia are new to me this year and I don't know if I will get them to grow here. I think quinoa and chia are long season plants, but I have them now sprouting in trays early indoors.

Quinoa is not a real grain but akin to spinach. Chia is a salvia.

Even if I cannot grow the grains to ripeness, I will grow them for sprouts. Sprouts are very nutritious eaten, as is, in a salad or on a sandwich! While we do eat them like this, my aim is to grow the seed for grinding and for sale in the seed store. I would like to see more people on the road to self sufficiency, growing their own grains and providing their own basic food needs.

All are extremely good for you! Both chia and quinoa are very high in protein, just about as complete a protein as it is possible to get in grain. Next year I am going to grow my own organic wheat...maybe.

I have yellow and blue flax seeds and amaranth seed for sale in my seed store. Now that I know the quinoa and chia will germinate well and quickly, I will be offering those soon, too!

Next year I am going to look into growing my own organic wheat. I don't tolerate wheat very well. One of the major side effects of this are migraines. I know from personal experience that I can cut my migraines down to a few a month if I cut out the wheat. It's hard, but if you live with severe migraines on a regular, almost daily, basis, it is worth it. I am hoping that organic wheat will be more easily tolerated.

Growing my own grains is another step for us on the road to self sufficiency. It's an exciting change that we are looking forward to!

Early, Early Spring Seeding

By this time of the winter, I am usually waiting impatiently for spring. I so want to be digging in the dirt, smelling it and planting things in it! One thing that helps me is planting a few very early seeds. Even though I am still indoors, at least I get to play in the dirt!

Last year I got so impatient that I planted all my tomatoes in February. Big mistake! This year I will wait until April to plant the tomatoes and the peppers.
I did plant a couple of small tomato plants just for early in-house tomatoes for us to eat. We are getting tired of paying for those store bought tomatoes! This is the 'Ailsa Craig' tomato that I planted a couple of weeks ago. It's doing well under lights. By the time it gets too big for the lights and the window, we will have enough sun for it to grow in front of the patio door.

At that time I also planted some catnip for the kitties. It is doing well under the lights.

I am using styrofoam cups simply because I have them left over from a summer pup party. I don't like using them as well as I like
My Newspaper Pots and I don't really approve of using styrofoam at all. I don't think I am going to continue using them for pots as they are tippy and I can't get as many into a container. The newspaper pots work much better.

My helper was right there with me, as she always is. Regardless of where I am or what I am doing in the house, Abby is near, unless she is sound asleep somewhere in a box or basket. If I am sitting down, she is in my lap. I paint with a cat and a canvas in my lap, I compute with a cat and a laptop in my lap. She is fully grown at 1.5 years old but small so she is an indoor cat. Being a tabby, she rules the roost around here and we love her dearly! Even with her small stature, she takes no guff from Buck! lol! She's definitely a "daddy's little girl"!

I am using horizontal blinds, cut into small pieces, as markers. I have done this for more than a decade and have been happy with them. The marker fades outside, but it fades from anything if left out in the weather. I have yet to perfect a long lasting outdoor marker that is easy and affordable. I have used styrofoam cups cut up and they work ok outside if you use a pen and make the letters indented into the material, but the ink still disappears.

For planting trays I reuse those hard, clear plastic food containers from the grocery store. I plan to use these to grow our own sprouts, as well, which will probably be another post soon. The bottoms need to be water proof and all labels removed from the top so the light can get in. They make excellent seed trays for the newspaper pots. I like reusing "garbage"!

I am not growing as many vegetables this year as I have in years past. We just don't need the food now that there are only the two of us to eat it and my time is so short, with working, gardening and all.

I am growing more of our own grains. I have planted chia, red quinoa and white quinoa already since they have a longer growing season and need the extra time. They are all sprouting now!

The quinoa is the tallest, which is good because it has the longest growing season. I will be offering these seed on my seed site soon, now that I know they germinate well and quickly.

I love setting up my "grow" room and planting things in winter! It was -20c last night and is still -17c this early morning! Will spring never come??

Monday, February 14, 2011

A New Cookbook

I have a new, free e-book for download! It is the "Providence Acres Blog Cookbook" - A Collection Of Recipes & Tips From Our Blog.

You can download it free from the link in the left column.

It is totally free for your use, as are my other books: "Making Organic Soap At Home" and "Making Organic Wine At Home". If you like the books and use them, and you can afford to, please donate to help keep them free.

I am writing a series of "At Home" books for those folks who are on the road to self sufficiency and want to live closer to the land. Most families who have left their jobs and security and are just starting out on their own do not usually have much in the way of material possessions. The very definition of homesteading usually means a lack of material posessions. These people need the help these books might be able to provide and it is for these families that I want to keep them free, however writing a book takes up a lot of my time and effort.

If you want to help with this project and can afford to, please donate towards their use and continuation. You can use the "Donate" button on the download page and go through PayPal, if you wish.

My next book will be: "Keeping a Few chickens At Home". I don't have a publish date as I write in my spare time.

Please let me know if there is an important recipe or tip in the blog that I have ommitted in this book.

Thank you, everyone, for your continued support in this endeavor!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Easy Moist Pudding Cake & Frosting - Any Flavor

Directions for making any cake mix into a delicious and moist cake.
You can even use those cheap generic cake mixes for this and it will be dense, moist and delicious! Ignore directions on the box.

1 cake mix full size, any standard flavor. Ignore directions on box.
1 standard package of instant pudding mix, flavor to complement the cake mix.
1 cup water or juice to flavor cake
4 eggs
½ vegetable oil

Mix all except the eggs together very well with mixer. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour into greased cake pans. Bake at 350F following baking times on cake mix box for pan size.

- If you don’t have a pudding mix flavor to match the cake mix, use vanilla.
- Banana – add 2 sm ripe bananas with banana cream pudding to yellow cake mix. Reduce oil to ¼ cup
- Black Forest Cake: Cherry chip cake mix with dark choc pudding
- Butter pecan cake and pudding with maple frosting
- White cake mix with pistachio pudding mix and ½ cup coconut added to cake mix.
- Carrot cake mix with vanilla pudding and ½ cup plump raisins added (cream cheese frosting, recipe below).
- Orange Cake: orange juice with white cake mix and orange juice in frosting
- Apple cake: apple juice in cake with 1/2 cup finely chopped apple and apple juice in frosting

**Easy frosting recipe below.

Tips for making a great cake:

- Keeping an apple in the holder with the cake will help to keep the cake moist.
- Use an electric mixer and beat the ingredients together extremely well.
- Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake to see if it is done. If the toothpick comes out clean and dry, the cake is done. I usually stick 2-3 of them into the cake in different places around the center area, just to be sure. If the cake is taken from the oven before it has cooked completely, it will fall flat and sink as it cools.
- A cake that is overcooked, even by a few minutes, will be dry, so watch it carefully at the end.
- Wait until the cake has cooled completely before putting the frosting on. Frosting will melt and run off the cake if the cake is still a little warm. If you are making a layer cake, it will take the upper layer with it.
- Make certain that your oven is calibrated properly. Most electric ovens get hotter over time so that they are baking at about 375F when you put the dial on 350F. If you are mechanically inclined you can fool around with the thermostat inside the oven and adjust it in the right direction a tiny bit. We do this when we get another oven or when our oven is obviously too hot. You will need a good digital or oven thermometer to do this and it takes time. Adjust the thermostat in the oven a tiny bit, then turn the oven on until the light goes out. Use the thermometer to test the temperature in the oven when the light goes off, adjusting the oven thermostat slightly, over and over again until you get it exactly right. It could take an entire day to calibrate your oven, but its worth it! It makes a huge difference in baking to have the oven at the right temperature. It should be a few years before it needs it again, if ever.

Simple Error Proof Frosting - any flavor
Basic ingredients for plain vanilla frosting for a standard large two layer cake:
4 cups powdered icing sugar
1/2 softened fat (butter, shortening, cream cheese)
1 teasp vanilla
water or juice in tiny amounts

Directions: ALL LIQUID IS TO BE ADDED LAST! Combine powdered icing sugar, vanilla and fat in mixer and process until fairly well mixed. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Put in any desired additions here (see list below). Add water or juice, a tiny amount (1 teaspoon) at a time, mixing well after each addition until frosting has reached the desired consistency. Beat very well on high after all additions are made. If it is too wet and thin, add more sugar slowly.

Variations: All additions are to be added and mixed in well before adding liquid (water or juice) to frosting.
- Replace water with any fruit juice to match the cake
- Maple: add 1/2 cup maple syrup before adding water
- Chocolate: Add 1 cup powdered cocoa before adding water. Decrease powdered icing sugar by 1/2 cup
- Fruit: add 1/2 chopped fruit and mix well, before adding juice or water
- Note: Be careful adding fresh fruit to frosting. Some fruits will turn it brown and need to be refrigerated. Most berries are ok in frosting.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Growing Your Own Medicinal Herbs

I made a decision a few years ago to grow my own medicinal herbs and spices. It's a step on the road to natural self sufficiency. Medicinal herbs can be strong medicine and have to be taken carefully. I am not going to tell you how to use the medicinal herbs since I am not a qualified herbalist but there are a lot of good books out there on the subject and websites as well. One website I have used is "Anne's Remedy". It lists all the medicinal herbs in alphabetical order and tells you what they are for.

They also sell the herb oils, tinctures, teas and so forth but wouldn't you rather just grow your own? It can get a bit expensive buying these things, with postage and all.

I am not recommending that you use medicinal herbs in place of standardized medicine. I still go to the doctor and take the medicines that he gives me, when I need to. (I am usually almost dead by that time and have to be dragged there. It's free here in Canada, but I still hate going, lol). I tell him what natural remedies I am using. I think this is important if you are getting a prescription medicine because some of the natural remedies may react with the prescription drug. I do use the medicinal herbs that I grow, but very carefully and in their weaker form as tea.

I also grow most of my spices but I did not dry them this year. (I just didn't have time, you know... BUILDING FENCES!!! and all.) I threw a few fresh chopped spices into the freezer and have been using those, but this coming year I plan to supply all my dried spice needs, where possible, myself.
I have a lot of thyme that I planted from seed three years ago. I also have oregano, although I want to get some Greek oregano and I have sage, cilantro, mint, lemon mint, basil and lemon basil and rosemary. I never use terragon, so I don't grow it. (We are stuck in a rut and use the same spices all the time.)

I plan to dry all of these this year and keep them in jars in a cool, dark place. Probably the spare room upstairs, since it is unheated in the winter and the basement is too damp. You can see what I do with the mint in a previous post "Using All That Mint". (I have discovered this winter that I like a mint shot in my coffee, as well. I'm going to try that at home :-)

I do wish I could grow cinnimon and nutmeg. Ciinnimon is not that expensive to buy but nutmeg sure is! I use a lot of both in the pumpkin/squash recipes for pie and muffins. If you discover a hardy, short season cinnamon and nutmeg that I can grow, please let me know!

Another thing I want to grow this year is my own ginger. Has anyone grown ginger for drying and grinding? How does it keep in that form? How does it compare to storebought? I'm betting it is a lot more potent! The big question for me is this: Is it worth the time and effort, when my time is so short and I use most of my "effort" already? I need to know.

One thing I am going to do with my herbs this year is make my own herbal tea blends. Not "tea from China" tea , since it doesn't grow here either :-( I drink a lot of green tea and herbal tea blends, especially the mints. I hear that chocolate mint makes a fabulous tea. I have to grow some chocolate mint this year! I might even break down and actually BUY one in the spring! (I tend to avoid those places that sell reasonably priced plants. Too many of them just hop into my cart and insist on following me home!)

Another herb I am going to grow and use this year is stevia. I use too much of the artificial sweetener in tea and want to get away from it. (I know real sugar is healthier, but I don't metabolize simple sugars very well.) If you grow and use stevia, I wouldn't mind some feedback on the taste vs. sweetener and sugar.

I am going to dry these things hanging under the front porch roof where they are out of the sun and get the maximum air flow (and look so "country chic"). This is the mint that I dried last year. It is still hanging out there in -16c temps today. I guess I should have frozen it too. (Time! I had no time!!)

Now that I have these cool new spice jars, I might get adventurous and try new spices, just because I like the way they look in the jar!
For those of you who are interested, I sell a small few medicinal herb and spice seeds in my seed store at The Providence Acres Farm website.