Squirreling Away Nuts

I love nuts of any kind and the prices in the store right now just kill me. So when I do find them cheap I enjoy eating every little piece and squirrel away as much as way as I can.

Sorry, my mouth is full
Sorry, my mouth is full

My friend calls me up last week and asked if I wanted to get some free walnuts. It took me a whole .005 seconds to say “YES!” Christine pulls up in her hot rod (aka high mileage sedan) and we cruise to a nearby town and meet a gentleman with a walnut orchard. Our host was a riot and I hope I have that much energy when I am 81! This guy has a great racket going. We pick whatever walnuts we want, give him half, and call it good. He sorts and dries his half to sell and we take ours home. Winner winner of an idea don’t ya think? Anyways, he handed us these Nut Wizards that looked like a whisk on a 4 foot pole. I had never seen one before but even I could manage this baby. All you do is roll it on the ground and it picks up all the nuts for you. No bending over required. (I have mentioned I am lazy, haven’t I?)

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We ended up picking twelve, 5 gallon buckets worth. Not a bad haul for a couple hours work. We decided next time the girls are all coming with us because not only was it easy, but they couldn’t bruise the fruit like they did our apples. Hey, don’t knock slave labor!

We even got a cart to pull behind the riding lawn mower.
We even got a cart to pull behind the riding lawn mower.

Many of the nuts were already hulled, others needed a little work. When walnuts grow they are surrounded by this green husk. Once they fall on the grown, the husk begins to turn black. These husks are easy to remove, but one thing to remember is they are used to create dyes, so I suggest wearing gloves when doing so. This should be sone as soon as possible after picking your walnuts.

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Once the nuts are hulled, place them in a bucket and cover with warm water. Using your hand, agitate and stir those nuts till the water turns black. Repeat until the water stays clear. This removes the coating left on the nuts from the husk.

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Once the nuts are clean, drain and lay them on a cookie sheet and allow them to dry. If the wether is nice, you can place them outside. Smallville rains all of October so that wasn’t going to happen, so I moved onto option 2, the oven.

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The first batch I washed, I dried the suggested way I had found on youtube and I feel it cooked the nuts and was not happy with the results. The idea was to leave them in the oven for 1-2 hours and I think it was a far too long. The second batch I only left in long enough for the shells to dry, then removed the cookie sheets from the oven. I turned the oven to warm and kept the oven door slightly ajar. I also used my handy dandy toaster oven for 2 small trays. (I love my toaster oven) In less than 10 minutes all the trays were dry enough to remove.

I know it is dark, that way you can't tell I need to clean my oven.
I know it is dark, that way you can’t tell I need to clean my oven.

For long term storage, they went into a cardboard box. For the next week I will keep them in my kitchen so I can stir them up every day. This is to ensure that they really are dry and will keep.

Drooling over all the ways I am going to use these this winter.
Drooling over all the ways I am going to use these this winter.

Now I certainly don’t intend to crack nuts every time I want to bake this winter. That is where my slave labor force comes in. Guess what they will be doing while watching Netflix? Shelled nuts will go into quart sized Ziplock bags and straight to the freezer. Now I just need to find a use for all those shells…….

Blended Salsa for Canning

I love salsa, and while the jars at the store are convenient, most just are not that great tasting. Plus, when I read the ingredients I don’t know why many are even used. Now salsa is not difficult to make and a blended salsa lends itself to canning, so why not make a large batch?

Blended Salsa

2 quarts Blended Tomatoes
2 cups Diced Onions
6 Jalapeños (see notes)
1 cup Vinegar (apple cider gives a different twang)
1/4 cup Lime Juice
1 Tb Cayenne Pepper
1 Tb Canning Salt
1 Tb Cumin
2 Tb. Garlic Powder

Let’s talk tomatoes. Everyone has their preference as to which type they prefer. Me, I go for free every time. That is how I was able to land all the ones I used for this batch, while most are Roma’s, there were beefsteak as well. Roma’s are nice because they tend to have fewer seeds and less juice than a beefsteak.

Fresh Roma tomatoes

Being lazy isn’t always a bad thing, (don’t tell my kids I said that) and if I can skip a step and have the same results, I will. When making a blended salsa, I don’t think leaving the skins on makes a bit of difference so I forego any blanching and peeling the tomatoes. I cut the tomatoes in half and just squeeze them over a bowl. This gets rid of 80% of the juice and seeds and is faster than any other way. The tomatoes get slightly mangled, but we are blending them after all, so it doesn’t make a bit of difference. There are a few ways to blend the tomatoes, with a countertop blender, a food processor or a hand blender. Whichever way you prefer, just give those tomatoes a whirl until they are the size pieces you prefer.

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Heat is a relative thing and while , something may be hot for me, it may be mild for you. In the recipe above I suggested 6 large jalapeños. I highly suggest starting with 3 and then taste your salsa to see if you would like more. I also leave the seeds in, which adds even more heat.

If you do not have a food processor, wear gloves when chopping peppers.
If you do not have a food processor, wear gloves when chopping peppers.

In a large pot combine all the ingredients and bring to a low simmer. Now is a good time to taste it because heat bring out the flavors and oils in your ingredients. Add more of whatever you think it needs. While most home canning recipes do not call for salt, I add it to this recipe because I think it really brings out the flavor of the tomatoes in the end product. I don’t think 2 Tablespoons is very much for 10 points of salsa.

Tomatoes are one of those items that can be waterbathed, but only if prepared correctly. Because the acidity level of modern tomatoes can be low and unpredictable, acid must always be added when waterbathing. This can be done with citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar. Because we added the cider vinegar and lime juice to the recipe, we have increased the acidity enough to water bath the jars. If you opt to leave those ingredients out, you really should pressure can your jars.

Julia is working hard to seal my jars.
Julia is working hard to seal my jars.

I want to be very very clear in something, I canned in quarts but quarts have never been officially reccamended for salsa. I do it because canning tomatoes have been and the salsa is very similar. If you don’t feel comfortable with this this ONLY fill pint sized jars and process for 15 minutes in a water bath.

Normally I would put these into pint jars, but I am out of them so I used quarts instead. This batch makes 5 quarts or 10 pints of salsa. Pour hot salsa into your jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Using a wet towel, wipe the rims to remove any food. Top with your hot lids and screw the bands on. Place jars into a pot of simmering water and when the water reaches a rolling boil, process for 15 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes. Remove to a towel on the counter and allow to cool for 24 hours before touching those bands. Aren’t they a thing of beauty?

Be sure to label your jars as mild, medium or hot if doing a variety of batches.
Be sure to label your jars as mild, medium or hot if doing a variety of batches.

Now to go find me some chips…….

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Mexican Sauce

Sunday I was blessed with a plethora of tomatoes. I took Boo with me to pick whatever I wanted. I returned with 10 gallons of green tomatoes that I have plans for this week. But the ripe ones needed to be dealt with quickly.

Fresh Roma tomatoes

I love to use my countertop roaster for canning. I can cook one large batch of something and it will stay warm as I process several batches on the stove. I went back and forth of what to use my tomatoes for and since they are Romas, I settled in Mexican Sauce. I can use it for things like enchiladas. I have not perfected the recipe yet but used dried chilies (next time I want to use roasted fresh ones), chili powder, cumin, garlic and onions.

Bloom end removed and sliced in half.
Bloom end removed and sliced in half.

As the tomatoes because cooking I removed much of the liquid. As it would need to be evaporated anyways it is easier to remove it early on. As with most sauces, I cooked it low and slow. I waterbathed the sauce, but to do that you MUST add lemon juice to increase the acidity. If you don’t want to do that they you need to pressure can the sauce. This batch produced 9 quarts which should get us through the next year.

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Always let the jars sit for 24 hours before removing the rims! If you don’t, the lids could still come off. I know how tempting it is to do it early but if you do, you will regret it. Don’t ask me how I know. lol once the rims are removed, wash the entire jar so no food residue remains and store with the lids off.

All ready for easy meals this Winter.
All ready for easy meals this Winter.

Canning Supplies

If you wish to to can anything this year, you will need to get prepared before the produce is in your hands. The items below are listed according to what you plan on putting up. For example, freezer jam does not require all the same tools as green beans. If you are new to canning, I highly recommend starting with freezer jam as it is one of the easiest things to make and requires the smallest investment.

FREEZER JAMS AND JELLIES
1. Freezing containers: The goal is to freeze the jam in a way that allows the least amount of air to come in contact with the food. You can find containers that are specifically designed for this purpose made of plastic. Another option is to use a regular canning jar and lid.

2. Sanitizing: If your water is set to a proper temperature of at least 120 degrees, you may use the dishwasher to sanitize your containers. Another option is a large pot that allows enough water to be added so as to completely submerge the glass jars. While a jar lifter sounds frivolous, it is something you really want to invest it. They are only a few dollars and are well worth the money.

A Water Bath Canner, is basically a giant pot.

3. Pot: You need a pot that will hold the ingredients for a given batch of jam and allows room for the foam that appears on top. Some recipes allow you to cook the ingredients in a crock pot for several hours.

4. Mashing: There are several ways to mash your fruit. You can cut with a knife, which quickly become tedious. An immersion blender and potato masher can help the job along. A juicer makes quick work for jellies while a food mill really crushes the fruit.

5. Pectin: While not all recipes call for it, using pectin is the best option for beginners IMO. This is what causes your jam or jelly to set up. There are 2 types, powdered and liquid. Make sure you know if your recipe calls for a specific type before you begin.

6. Pouring: A ladle works the best and used with a canning funnel prevents spills and keeps the rims of the jar clean.

Pictured is the Funnel, Jar Lifter, Magnet Wand and Spatula.

7. Timer: It does not matter what you use, but recipes are very specific in how long a jar should be processed. This varies not only due to the size of the jar, but what you are canning. Too long and your food becomes mushy, too little and you risk spoilage.

8. Storage: Jars should be stored in a cool, dry and dark space.

PROCESSED FRUIT

1. Lids: In addition to all the items above, you must have brand new lids, this is NOT an option! While you may reuse the bands as long as they are in good shape and not rusted, the lids MUST be new or you risk not only losing your food when the jar is processed, but the food will spoil on the shelf Often with the jar lifter comes with a stick that has a magnet on the end. This is used to remove the lids from a hot pot of water after they have been heated. Personally, I use a fork, but give it a try to see if you like using it. Once the jar has completely cooled, the bands may be removed for storage.

Make sure you purchase the correct sized lids! The traditional size jar has the mouth that tapers to be smaller than the body of the jar. A wide-mouthed jar is about the same size as the jar itself. The lid is the flat part that sets inside the band. It covers the mouth of the jar and has a rubber compound that seals the jar shut. The band is the separate piece that is screwed onto the jar.

2. Canner: There are specific pots designed to hold jars being processed. They include a wire rack that is placed on the bottom while the jars rest on the rack. They are also tall enough to hold the larger sized jars.

The jars rest in the wire rack and the handles allow for easier removal and placement of the rack. Use the jar lifter to remove the jars.

3. Cooling: Towels are needed to rest jars on while they cool down. While you never want to put hot jam into a cold jar, you don’t want to put cold fruit into a hot jar either. When a sanitized jar is resting it is placed upside down on the towel. Use towels that are smooth and not fuzzy, you don’t want the fuzz getting into your jar before being processed. Good potholders are also a must. You will also want 1 specifically to wipe the rims of your jars before you place the lids onto the rim.

4. Containers: Only use jars that were designed to can in such as Ball brand. You can use old jars however you must be very careful to examine the rims for ANY nicks. Even if it is a small nick do NOT use it for a hot water bath as it can prevent a seal with the lid and lead to spoilage.

Choose the size and type of jar according to what you are putting up. A jam or jelly is typically done in a half pint sized jar. Peaches on the other hand usually are done in a quart size and a wide mouth jar makes packing neatly a little easier.

5. Plastic Spatula: These are often sold with the funnel and are very important to get the air pockets out of the jar before sealing. They are placed against the side of the jar, and lowered to pop the air bubbles.

VEGETABLES AND MEATS
1. Cooking: A steam pressure canner is not the same as a pressure cooker used to cook a meal. In order to process vegetables and meat safely you must use a pressure canner designed for that purpose. You can use an old one, however you should take it in to be checked before using. The gaskets can become old and cracked and the pressure gauge may become inaccurate. The gauges can be tested at your local cooperative extension office and readjust them. Improperly canned food will lead to a mushy end product or spoilage.

Pressure Canner

Canning can be lots of fun and is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. However, the rules MUST be followed correctly as spoiled food is unsafe food and can put you into the hospital. There are many sites you can find old ways of canning that are no longer recommended methods to use, such as baking jars in the oven. If you ever have questions about a method, contact your local cooperative extension office and they can put you in touch with expert canners who can help you. Your best source of a recipe is the current Ball Blue Book as it only promotes those current methods proven to be safe.

What is Old is New Again

To say buying new furniture is not in my budget right now would  be a gross understatement. My mom was a waitress and I grew up knowing that there is no shame in buying used. Beauty can be found in even a shabby looking piece. However, life in a small town puts limits on what is available. That is where yard sales can become your friend.

One day I was driving my daughter to school and saw something that caught my eye. On the way home I stopped. It was a wood dresser with a large attached mirror. I purchased it for $15 and called a friend to come help me haul it home.

I wish I had taken a before shot, but since I didn’t, you will have to trust me that it looked bad. The first thing I did was to remove the beveled mirror from it’s frame.  A quick trip to Lowes got me the hardware to hang it. While there I checked and saw a comparable mirror would gave cost me over $80.

Next came the hardest task, sanding the dresser. A primer had not been used so the paint came off easily. I needed to be sure to get all edges and clean every bit of dust. For most of the dresser I used a foam roller. This eliminated worries over brush strokes showing in the paint. I chose black with a satin finish for just a tad bit of a shine.

 

Sideboard

I intend to change out the hardware for something in a silver finish, but until I do I can live with what came with the piece. I also want to convert one side to shelves. For now thus will provide needed storage.

 

Have you ever discovere beauty in an old piece of