Chive Blossom Vinegar

This time of year the chives are growing well and sending up lots of scapes with flowers atop. We let ours grow in this year to add some colour to the herb garden. With such a bounty of flowers, I started to wonder what they could be used for. A friend of mine had the same thought so I did a quick search online for possible uses.

After typing “cloves” in google and obviously getting the wrong plant in my search results, my brain starting working again and I realized that I had taken dyslexia to a new level. There are lots of recipes out there for making chive vinegar, but I found that quite a few missed some key steps in preserving so I’ve added my version here.

First thing to do is locate chives in bloom. If you don’t have any in your own garden, I’d recommend permanently borrowing some from a friend. To do this, call said friend, invite them out for dinner, and don’t show up. While they are waiting for you, simply let yourself into their back garden and pillage their crops. Cut, don’t pull, the flowers right at the top of the scape. A little green won’t hurt, but too much and the colour of the final vinegar may not be the desired shade.

Once you have a good collection of blossoms, do not wash them. A lot of the recipes online specify washing that flowers. Why? Apparently people are afraid of bugs. Chives are a great insect repellent for your garden and if you do find any creepy crawlies on your flowers, just blow them off. If it really bothers you to think that a tiny insect may be in your vinaigrette, run back into the bubble you live in and breathe in the purified air, and take your medication. If you do wash them, you’ll lose the essence of outside and some of the flavour that the pollen will provide.

Sterilize a glass mason jar by either submerging in cool water and bringing to a boil, or by using a sulphite spray. When you are using even new jars, you must wash them well with soapy water before sterilizing. There is residue from the factory, and this should worry you more than insects.

In a saucepan boil some vinegar. I used white distilled vinegar (p.s. all vinegar in Canada is distilled by law) but you could also use white wine vinegar. Avoid apple cider vinegar as the taste is overpowering.

Stuff your blossoms in the jar and fill within half an inch of the lip with the hot vinegar. When filling your jar with blossoms, it really is the more the merrier. Push down any blossoms that won’t sink.

To create a seal between the jar and the lid, boil the kettle and pour some of the water in a dish with the lid of the jar dropped in. After two minutes, the rubber gasket will soften and then you can place the lid on the jar. Screw on the band (not too tight) and wait. Now stop waiting, and have a look at the liquid. It starts to bleach the flowers of their colour and take on a lovely pink hue. Leave the jar to sit in a dark place for a few weeks before enjoying.

Clove......errrr....... Chive vinegar

If you try this recipe, let me know how it works out for you, or how you dealt with the botulism.

Garden is planted!

The last couple of weeks have been a little mad around here. Between work, the garden, the kitchen and all of the usual events that pop up, neither of us have had much time to do anything. Luckily, today we took some photos (finally) to share of the progress in the garden.

Taking advantage of the Victoria Day weekend and having a pickup truck, we moved a lot of soil, plants and wood. Last year we had three raised beds on the vegetable side but left space for two more 4×8′ beds. After visits to three Home Depots for 1x8x8’s (for some reason, Home Depot doesn’t like to carry common cedar planks, and the ones they do carry are so warped, you could wrap them around a corner) we built and installed the new boxes. We moved about 1 1/2 cubic yards of triple mix but fell short of filling both. We did however fill the cedar boxes I made a few weeks ago for our bean wall. Originally, on our patio, we had bamboo blinds hanging that were left behind by the old owners. We never used them, and we aren’t really worried about hiding from our neighbours so we pitched them. To get the most out of our garden, I built the boxes and strung glow in the dark rope for the beans to climb in a diamond pattern. If the cat will stop relieving herself in the one end of the box, we should get quite a crop of beans and a nice living wall.

This photo brought to you by Costco.

After planting the jalapeños and hot banana peppers in a raised bed, we planted the red hot chilli and scotch bonnet in hanging hot pepper planters. Special thanks to the person at my work who decided to throw away hundreds of dollars worth of cedar planks in the skip round back. This salvaged timber has helped build a lot of things around the garden this year, including the brackets for the pepper planters.

The idea behind the hanging pepper planters is that it receives more heat as there is more surface area which enables the plants to produce more peppers, faster. Downside to these planters is that they dry out easily and with the heat we have already had this year, it’s been hard to keep up. Each planter has seven holes around the sides which you plant 7-14 started plants in. Doubling up plants in the holes is supposed to help them root better, but we’ll have to see how that works out. Within the next 6 weeks I’ll start the first batch of hot sauce. If it’s any good, there will be plenty to share with those who don’t mind it being as hot on the way in, as on the way out.

Five bags of heat!

 

On a sad note, our artichokes didn’t make it through the winter. We were really looking forward to them fruiting for the first time this year, but they just couldn’t hack it. Forgetting that miserable thought, our raspberries are going bananas. I don’t mean long and yellow either. We had to weave them to keep the plants off the ground, and if the birds permit it, we should have a nice bounty of them as well. Our neighbours we back onto gave us a rhubarb to transplant. At first it didn’t look good for our latest addition, but over the last couple of weeks the plant has perked up and started some new stalks and leaves.

Raspberries or triffids?

There isn’t a whole lot to see on the vegetable side of the garden as most are still little tiny plants without any fruit. The other half of the garden is devoted to all things flowery and pretty. This is the side to see. First off is the shade garden. We added some hostas, lilies of the valley, bleeding hearts and periwinkle.  The ferns even came back from last year that we thought we had lost to the bastard squirrels.

Shady business

We were lucky to get some nice planters this year from family and friends. My mother gave us an old galvanized wash basin, and a good friend of our gave us two of her concrete creations. She is a furniture designer/maker and uses concrete in some of her pieces. These two were meant to be bedside tables with drawers but didn’t make the cut. (For more on her work, visit http://www.jeanwilloughby.com).

Planters galore!

So with most of the plants in, there was just one piece of business to take care of; the cat who keeps emptying her bowels and playing in the plants. Pretty simple really, we rung her neck, waited for rigor mortis to set in and we now leave her out the back door to brush the mud off our shoes.

Your boots will never be cleaner!

Once we have more growing and worth looking at, we’ll post more pictures. There is still a lot to be done in the next few weeks, but once things get going, it will be time to sit back and eat the proceeds of our hardwork.

P.S. I was joking about the cat, but if do have a dead cat lying around, you should read 101 Uses for a Dead Cat by Simon Bond.

Chickens decision delayed

For anyone following the chicken debate, we are still outlaws. Earlier in this year, the Licensing and Standards Committee in Toronto debated whether or not to read a prepared report on keeping urban chickens. They voted against reading it, which stopped the whole discussion in its tracks. It was quite a blow to all the chicken keepers here in the city that had real hope that they wouldn’t have to keep their flocks covertly to avoid prosecution and loss of their birds.

In March, Paul Hughes, a Calgary chicken keeper, went to court to argue that he should be allowed to keep his urban hens. The outline of his argument can be found here. Essentially, Mr.Hughes believes that a municipality shouldn’t be able to decide where we get our food from as protected under Canadian and international human rights laws.

The verdict was to be delivered last week, but as anything chicken-law related, it has also been delayed. Now we wait until September 14 of this year to find out. If Mr.Hughes is successful, his case may set precedence for the rest of us in Canada, making all of us outlaws, law-abiding citizens again. I guess we’ll have to find something else to rebel with if that happens. Backyard dairy cows? I’ll keep you posted.

Where to buy home beer and wine making supplies

Don’t worry, we haven’t sold out and taken on a corporate sponsor. I just wanted to write a quick post about a great store and resource in the Toronto area. If you’re looking for anything related to beer or wine making, try Haus of Vine (http://www.hausofvine.ca/).

A friend of mine got me onto them back before Christmas. It’s like visiting a candy store when you’re a kid. Trying to find a good source of home-brew supplies can be difficult, so walking into Haus of Vine was like visiting Mecca. There are shelves upon shelves, stacked with bottles of all sizes, fermenting containers, and anything else you can imagine. Then there are all of the drawers stuffed with yeasts, additives, and other bits and pieces.

Lincoln, the owner, is always happy to answer any questions and help you troubleshoot any brewing issues you’re having. As I was looking at growing hops next to the chicken run this year, I was worried that they may be poisonous to the birds. One phone call later, and Lincoln connected me with an expert who laid any of my worries to rest.

At Haus of Vine, you have the option to brew on the premises or take it home to do it yourself. If you don’t want to devote the space and time at home, Lincoln will sort it all out in his store for you. When it comes time to bottle, he’ll bring your brew or wine up from the cellar, and using his equipment you can quickly bottle everything and get it home to age.

If you are looking at getting started in wine/beer making, I’d recommend his Merlot wine kit or his all-grain beer kits. If you need anything else for any other brew (cider, hedgerow beers, mead, etc) he will have it.

My only other piece of advice, brew double of everything! You’ll be so impressed with your wine or beer that you’ll drink it faster than you can brew another one, and I’m sure Lincoln won’t complain about your gluttony.

Dandelion Petal Cordial

When you look at any grassy area, you’ll notice the sea of yellow dandelions. Since the provincial government banned many of the harmful weed killing treatments, these flowers have popped up everywhere. I guess you could say they are growing like weeds.

Don’t despair if your lawn looks a lot like ours did the other day. You may see big nasty weeds choking out the grass, but I see delicious possibilities! The other day I dug up quite a few dandelions for beer (more on that later) and noticed that there was still a lot of the little bastards left. Quick internet search (they have the internet on computers now) for what you can make with them, aside from beer, and I found a Swiss recipe for Dandelion Petal Cordial.

Seeing as I have 75L of alcohol brewing in the basement, I thought it was time to make something for the prohibitionists out there.

It’s simple really. Go out to your yard where you’re sure the cat or dog hasn’t left a gift, and with scissors, cut the heads off the dandelion plants. Using this method you’ll avoid bittering the drink with the milk contained in the stems. By pulling on the flowers you squeeze the bitterness all over them and it will spoil the flavour. I cut about 120 heads. I only picked the best of the best (there was quite a selection) and avoided any that were closing or weren’t very brilliant in colour. The idea with this recipe is to capture the essence of a warm day in a syrup. If you pick dull flowers it will taste like a miserable day, and if you want that taste, you’re better off just drinking from dirty puddles and eavestroughs.

Some of the dandelion heads

In the recipe it said to wash the heads. I didn’t for two reasons; I’m not worried about bugs, and why would I want to wash away all of the tasty pollen? If the green portion of the heads are included in the pot, the flavour will become bitter, so the yellow petals must be separated. Easier said than done. I had to split each flower in half and pull away the petals very carefully trying not to pull green with them. Midway through I started to fantasize about a machine that could do it for me. Yes, it’s a sad fantasy. After an hour, all of the heads had been processed. My fingers were a mix of yellow from the pollen, and black from the greens. With black finger nail tips I looked like I’d gone into someone’s nail polish collection and given myself a terrible French manicure.

100% petal, no green.

Referring back to the recipe, things became a little unclear. How much water? “Enough to cover the petals”. But the petals float. I could add 10 gallons and they still wouldn’t be covered! Yelling at computer doesn’t get you far, so I guessed at the amount of water. I brought the water to a boil, gave things a stir, and set it aside overnight with a lid on to steep.

Stop floating!

The next day, I strained off the petals, using a spoon to squeeze out every last drop of liquid. Then, I weighed the liquid and added 95% of the weight in sugar. I re-boiled the mixture until the sugar had dissolved. You’re supposed to add lemon to taste, but I forgot to get one and I couldn’t be bothered to go out so I left it out. Once the liquid had cooled enough, I poured the cordial into two sterilized bottles.

Finished product! Delicious!

Moment of truth. Added an 1/8″ of the cordial to a small glass and topped it up with fizzy water. Wow! It’s like the sun is shining from my mouth! Some people in this household weren’t as impressed and said it was too sweet. More for me.

Making a Sussex Trug

While watching Edwardian Farm, we noticed that they were using a really nice wood strip basket to collect fruit in. After looking all over the internet for what it was called, I found that it was a Sussex Trug. The design of the trug was developed over the last few hundred years and is renowned for its strength and durability in the garden.

The internet is an amazing resource where you can always find something on a specific topic. My topic was, “how to make a sussex trug”. Nothing. Then “how to make a trug”. Nothing. All I found was people protecting their trade secrets. Fair enough I suppose, but I just needed some basic information! In the end I found a video that at least discussed materials, and after a few paper models, I’d figured out the sizes and form of the strips.

Traditionally chestnut and willow were used to make the trug. Seeing as neither of those were readily available, I substituted with Baltic birch plywood. This isn’t your run of the mill plywood you get at the local big-box store. This is high quality, voidless, incredibly strong plywood. To simulate the thickness, I used 3-ply (1/8″-ish). The strips were cut with the grain into 60″ strips for the rim and handle, and 30″ strips for the basin.

To bend wood or plywood, you can’t just work it over your knee. The wood won’t shift, and if it does, it will snap. In the past I’ve built steam bending boxes, but at 60″, the strips were too big to construct a box for. Instead, I soaked the plywood in water overnight in a trough I made from some down spout and plastic sheeting. In the morning after soaking for 12 hours, I emptied the cold water and refilled with boiling water.

Soaking the strips of Baltic birch plywood

After another half an hour, the strips were fairly pliable. To create the desired shape of the handle and rim, I made two forms out of two 3/4″ pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) laminated and cut to the right size and shape. I lined the edge of the forms with wax paper to protect the MDF from soaking up any excess water from the strips.

MDF trug forms

With the forms ready to go, I worked quickly to bend the 1 1/4″ strips around the form, securing the strips with a ratchet strap. I left the forms with the Baltic birch wrapped around them in the sun to dry for the afternoon. That evening, I removed the bent pieces from the forms. At this point they loosely hold the shape, but need to be set in place to stay true to the shape.

The trug rim and handle after drying in the sun

Both rim and handle, are made up of three strips laminated together with waterproof glue. To do this, each preformed hoop is placed back on the form with glue between each hoop. It is important to alternate the seam of the hoops to avoid creating a weak point where the hoop will break. With the strips in place with glue between them, the ratchet straps went back on, and the pieces were left overnight to cure. Before bed I plunged the strips for making the basin into the water trough to soak.

The next day I added hot water to the trough as before, and removed the laminated pieces from the forms. After filing and sanding the edges round, I assembled the rim and handle. To hold everything together, I used copper nails. These nails will never rust, and when hammered into the wet basin strips, they leave blue marks in the wood which is pleasing to the eye. I think finding the right nails was probably the most time consuming part of the whole process. After going to Lee Valley and Home Depot, I found copper nails at Canadian Tire that were a little long, so I snipped a little off the end of each one.

Another feature of the trug is the wood feet to keep it upright and from spilling your harvest all over the floor. I used some leftover white poplar from our kitchen cabinet doors that I shaped and sanded to best match what I found on the internet.

Poplar trug feet

With the handle and rim assembled, it’s time to start the tricky part of nailing down the basin strips. Starting in the middle, the largest strip is nailed to the bottom of the handle hoop, then the feet, and finally the rim. As the wood is flexible from its night in the bath, it can be bent, with a little force, to conform to the desired shape. Strip by strip, the basin is assembled, overlapping each strip and carefully nailing each into place. Once complete, the rough looking trug is set out in the sun for the afternoon to finish drying which will set the pieces to their new bent forms.

On the final day, I trimmed all of the excess from the ends of the basin strips, and voilà, the trug is complete!

Side view of the trug

Top view of the finished trug

The trug is now waiting for the first harvest of the season so it can do its duty. At this point, I’m guessing that harvest will be weeds we’ve pulled from the garden. But don’t throw those weeds away! There are lots of things you can make from them. More to come on that in the following days.

Potato time!

The last frost for our region is typically no later than April 29th, so it’s time to put out some of the hardier plants. One plant that can sustain the odd frost is the potato.

Potatoes can take up a lot of space in your garden beds and are great at creating back-breaking work to keep them happy and to harvest them. As potatoes grow, earth must be mounded up around the growing plant to stop the sunlight reaching the tubers and turning the edibles green. You probably don’t want to eat the green ones as they contain the toxin solanine. If you want, give it a go, and let us know how it works out for you. If you don’t make it to a computer, I’ll come to your funeral.

Back to mounding. Why bother creating giant, unsightly hills in your garden when you can grow them in bags! In England people started experimenting with growing potatoes in different containers and have now settled on tarp bags. These reusable bag can be found at the dollar store and have a spring hoop running through them which helps keep them erect. Using a cigarette, burn drainage holes in the bottom. The burning melts the tarp and stops the hole from getting larger. Dispose of cigarette as it now has plastic melted to the end. You wouldn’t want to inhale any of the dangerous toxins in the plastic, so just stick to the ones that come with the cigarette.

This year we are doing four bags with two different varieties. The first variety is the Norland red potato which has a shorter growing season and produces small and medium-sized tubers. The other type we are trying is the Yukon Gold, a yellow potato good for baking and chip making. You can get potatoes from Canadian Tire for under $5 but make sure you check each box for mold. Introducing mold and other disease to your garden will ruin your growing season for a lot of your crops.

Norland and Yukon Gold

In your bag, add three or four inches of good soil, free of stones and weeds. Make sure that you have already placed your bags in their final resting place. These bags get quite heavy with all of the soil and disturbing the plants with a move could snap off shoots.

Dirt in a bag. Wow, really, wow!

Have a look in your box of potatoes and take out three or four very happy looking specimens. Luckily, we were spoiled for choice. The nursery that produces these ones must give them a spray of anti-depressants before packaging.

A few more days and they would have opened the box themselves.

Gently place the potatoes, with all growth pointed up, on the soil. Add another three inches of soil, or until the tops of all the growth is covered. At this point, you’ll realize you’ve run out of soil and have to nip out again. Swear a bit, get the soil, and top up the low bag. Pat soil, water, wait. Nothing happens. They’re potatoes. If you want fast growing, you would have planted bamboo (which attracts pandas, hence why bamboo growing isn’t popular in Canada).

Moments before being buried alive.

As the plants grow, you have to add more soil. Once the plant is 12″ tall, add another 6″ of soil. Repeat until the soil reaches the top of the bag. At this point, just let it go. Eventually the plant will die back and this is a sign that the potatoes are almost ready for harvesting. If you ever want to get an idea of how the potatoes are progressing, feel around the sides of the bag for potatoes. When they are ready to harvest, you just dump the bag out on a tarp and rifle through picking out the potatoes.

In no time you’ll have a nice collection of potatoes ready to be stored for the winter, or cooked up right away. Any small potatoes that aren’t worth cooking can be saved and used for potato wine or you can throw them at the pandas now occupying your backyard bamboo garden.