Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Bonanza

Autumn is in full swing, and so were the canning friends, who descended on my house for a bit of Sunday fun in the kitchen. We made, left to right, blackberry jam, red applesauce, sweet 'n' spicy zucchini, green applesauce, and pickles.

I can't give you a total cost breakdown because I don't know how much the pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market cost, but those, spices from the bulk bins, and another flat of canning jars were the only things purchased. Everything else was from backyard pickings. Well, okay—two of the pickling cukes were from a backyard; the gophers got the rest.

Maybe I'll try one of these strawbale gardens and see how cukes (and potatoes!) do in that.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Organic eggs

My good friend Tom used to keep chickens. "C'mon, Suzanny! Try it. They're fun. They eat your bugs and they give you eggs!" His exhortions stuck around, even if his chickens didn't—strict city ordinances and a fearful neighbor sent Tom's chickens on a one-way trip to a Livermore relative's yard.

But my town loves backyard livestock, so this year I took the plunge and bought some laying hens and ducks from some local breeders. It's extra work for me, and extra expense for the household, buying their feed and grit and oyster shell supplement, though I hope to reduce some of that by selling half-dozens to my neighbors.

And even though Tom was right, and chickens are tons of fun, and eat my bugs, what I'm really glad about is I never have to buy a store-bought egg again.

And if you think you're doing your part by buying cage-free/organic/happy-chicken eggs from the grocery (like I used to think), read Sean Anderson's article in the Arcata Eye.

Want to raise your own eggs? You might like the eglu backyard chicken coop, cute though pricey. Or if you're handier than I, build your own with the plans at the Backyard Chickens site. And if the whole idea of raising chickens for eggs is just too much bother (or you can't keep chickens where you live), find a neighbor or local farmer who does.

Ugly Tomato Sauce

At yesterday's farmer's market we bought a paper grocery bag of tomato seconds—ugly tomatoes in house parlance—from a Willow Creek farmer, about 12 pounds for $6. Busting out my canning setup, I washed off the fruit, trimmed out the bad spots and cubed the rest:

From left to right, my pot of bubbling tomatoes, my white enamel jar boiler, a colander holding a very small portion of that 12-pound score, and my tongs and jar-lifter.

I had half an onion, some dried basil, a zucchini, and a large red bell pepper, all left over from a bag of goodies my neighbor gave me last week from an unclaimed CSA box. I chopped those up, too, and added them to the pot along with some salt and pepper and the last third of a bottle of Two-buck Chuck:

I let them cook down over medium-low heat while we got ready for, then played, our weekly Saturday night Pendragon game. After four or five hours I turned the heat off and covered it for the night. Canning would just have to wait for Sunday morning.

While we read the newspaper I brought the ugly tomato sauce back up to a boil, then turned it down to simmer while I sterilized the jars. Filled, cooled, and stored now, I have 14 pint jars of fresh vegetable tomato sauce to enjoy over the coming months. We also had enough tomatoes from the bag to use some in BLTs for lunch and cut up in a tossed green salad with dinner tonight. Total cost (not including my time):

1 case canning jars, $10.35
12 lbs tomatoes, $6.00
1/3 bottle of wine, $0.66
Assorted vegetables and herbs, $free from my neighbor

Total cost per jar: $1.22

Just for fun, go see how much a jar of spagetti sauce costs at the supermarket.