Seedling Update #4 – The Waiting Game

For more than a week now I’ve been working on transplanting the seeds I sowed nearly a month ago.  I have far more plants than I anticipated, but cannot bring myself to pulling any of them yet. Who knows if all my transplants will make it or if the other seeds I’ve sown are even going to sprout.  At this point I want to cushion the garden so I have enough plants, even if they are all tomato and pepper, to fill every square inch.

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My broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and pumpkin plants have all sprouted, but for now they are going to hang out in their original pots.  I’ve found lots of information online on how to transplant tomato and pepper seedlings into larger pots before planting them in the garden, but have not been so lucky when it comes to these other plants.  I figure I’ll wait until they have another week or two of growth and then try transplanting a few of them to see if they survive the shock and continue to grow.

This afternoon I planted three new varieties of peppers that I ordered online.  These peppers will be for canning.  For the past four years I have bought a bushel of peppers from a local farmer and canned them.  This year my goal is to grow my own.  I bought Szegedi, Romainian, and White Cloud peppers.  All are sweet and either yellow or white with a very thick flesh — perfect for pickling.

I am so excited for the weather to warm up so I can get out and start preparing the gardens for incoming plants.  Being in Michigan however, there is no telling when that might be.  Just to give you a little taste of what it’s like here:  Two days ago it was 54 degrees and sunny outside, one day ago we woke to 3″ of snow on the ground, and today it was 52 degrees and sunny again.  Not the best track record for getting outside and making any progress.

I have a few more plants that I will be able to transplant in a few days, but then it becomes the waiting game.  There won’t be a whole lot to do with the plants until they start growing and the leaves begin to multiply.  Already some of the tomato plants are getting a new set of leaves, giving me hope that perhaps some of these will actually make it to the garden.

I have big plans this spring/summer and truly hope my efforts will be rewarded.  For now, I am enjoying the smell the plants growing in the dining room and the dirt under my nails, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Catching Up On Canning – Sauerkraut

March is the best time I have found to can homemade sauerkraut.  Because of St. Patrick’s Day and the hype to serve corned beef and cabbage, every super market and specialty grocery store puts cabbage on sale.  Typically cabbage is anywhere from $.33 to $.49 a pound.  The first two and a half weeks of March though you can get it as low as $.14 a pound, which is exactly what I paid for it this year.

At this great bargain price I bought six large heads of cabbage for less than $5.00 and with this I was able to get 8 1/2 quarts of sauerkraut.  This will be enough until I buy the token couple of heads of cabbage at the fall markets just because I love to buy farm fresh produce locally whenever I can.

I am not a big fan of fermenting cabbage or pickles in a crock.  I find it more cumbersome than doing it in jars and less sanitary.  For me, fermenting in a jar is the way to go.

Sauerkraut in jars is so simple, it took me about three hours from start to finish.  If I had used my food processor to shred the cabbage rather than a mandolin, the time would have been cut at least in half, but for some things I just like doing it a certain way.  A food processor will shred the cabbage quick, but not as thin as I like it.  My mandolin makes it paper-thin and then I use the chopping blade on my food processor to finish up any cabbage that couldn’t be done on the mandolin.

Here is what I do:

Homemade Sauerkraut Part 1

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  • 6 Heads Fresh Cabbage
  • Pickling/Canning Salt
  • Quart Jars

The first step is to shred the cabbage to the desired thickness.  The thinner the cabbage, the easier it will be to tenderize.

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Next you will add 2 tablespoons of pickling or sea salt for each head of cabbage.  Massage and knead the salt into the cabbage, reducing the volume by at least half.

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Squeeze the liquid from the cabbage and pack into clean quart jars.  Add another teaspoon of salt as you are packing the jars.  Be sure to really pack down the cabbage in the jars with a pestle  This is crucial to remove excess air.

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Once the jar is packed, add reserved salty liquid over cabbage and top with a folded leaf of cabbage.  This leaf will help keep the sauerkraut from floating to the top.

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Cover the jars with clean lids and bands.  Do not over-tighten bands as the jars will begin to ferment and liquid will need to escape.  Sealing them finger-tight is good.

Let jars sit in a cool dark place for at least three months.  During the first couple of weeks you should check on the jars every other day or so to burp them.  Also, check to make sure that the liquid in the jars does not fall below the folded cabbage leaf.  If it does, add a salt brine to top it off.  To make brine, combine 4 1/2 tsp. pickling/sea salt and 4 cups water.  Bring to boil to dissolve salt.  Let cool to room temperature.  I usually make a jar of brine the same time I make the sauerkraut so I don’t have to worry about having to do it later.

Once the sauerkraut has fermented for at least three months, you can remove it from the jars, heat, replace in clean jars and seal for storage.  I typically let mine sit for at least 4 to 5 months, as we like it pretty sour.  Some people don’t open the jars after they are done fermenting to re-jar them.  I have mixed feelings on this.  Although I have not always re-jarred them using the water bath method, I somehow feel more secure in doing so because I think it will prolong the shelf-life of the sauerkraut.  I’m not a huge believer that botulism would be a factor here because the jars seal themselves during the fermenting process and we never got sick when we ate them without resealing them, but everyone should make their own decisions and do what they are most comfortable with.

In a later post I will go into greater detail as to how to re-jar the sauerkraut, as my jars that were made in October are ready to be sealed now.  Possibly next week.

With St. Patrick’s Day over, so is canning sauerkraut for another year, unless I have success in planting cabbage in my garden this year, in which case I’ll be doing this again in October — keep your fingers crossed, and for this I am — Simply Grateful. 

2015 Canning To Do List

Now that the holidays have come to a close, I am anxious to get back to some canning.  Up until last winter I really didn’t know that there was canning beyond summer and fall.  Last winter however I canned many things and am ready to start my list of canning projects for the next couple of months.

The first thing on my to do list are sweet potatoes.  These were bought when I found them on sale for $.28 a pound at Thanksgiving.  I don’t have as many as I’d like, as we’ve been eating them, but I am excited to give these a try.  I want to use the canned sweet potato for pies as well as a side dish for pork or poultry.  Seeing as the pumpkin I canned last fall turned out so well, I am confident that these will turn out also.

Next, I have raspberries and blackberries in the freezer from last fall and definitely want to make some things with these.  Combining these with the cranberries I froze in November and December, I’m sure I can come up with some tasty syrups, sauces, and concentrates.

Mentioning cranberries, I made some plum-cranberry sauce last November to use on turkey burgers and it turned out perfect.  I am definitely going to make more of this.  I went to several grocery stores today to see if I could find a few more bags on clearance, but everything was gone.  I hope I bought enough to keep me happy until next November.

Sweet potatoes, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries should keep me busy for January.

Once I clear out some space in the overflowing freezers by using some of the berries that are frozen, I’d like to do something with white potatoes.  I found several recipes for canning potatoes that I want to try as well as methods for freezing and dehydrating.

White potatoes, as long as I can find a good deal on them, should keep me busy in February.

For March I plan on making more sauerkraut and canning cabbage in several other ways that I’ve wanted to try. Being that cabbage goes on sale for about $.14 a pound around St. Patrick’s Day, I will definitely be stocking up. Freezing, canning, and dehydrating are all on the agenda.

That’s it for the first quarter of 2015.  I have lots of jars itching to be filled in the garage and pantry shelves in the basement emptying, making space for new concoctions.

I should keep track of how many jars we go through a week.  Last week I counted only 6 jars on the counter that we’d emptied.  During the holidays though there were a few weeks that we went through more than a dozen or more.  At the end of the fall canning season October 2014 I had seven dozen jars of freshly canned food on the floor in the pantry because I didn’t have enough shelving.  Now the floor is clean and the shelves have gaps in them.

Already I’m having to ration the pickles I canned last summer.  With Grace going through a jar a week, we won’t make it till harvest time — thus why the pickle A-Frame is going to have a matching companion next year.  300+ pickles harvested for 2014 and going for 400 – 500 for 2015.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Holiday Season 2014 is over and a brand new 2015 is just beginning, full of potential and possibilities, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.