Pickled garlic scapes

jar of pickled garlic scrapes

When growing garlic, the flower stalks (also called garlic scapes) are removed soon after they appear, to direct the plant’s energy towards growing a bigger bulb. These garlic scrapes are really tasty, and I use them in any recipe that normally calls for garlic. They can also be pickled or fermented to preserve them for later.

This recipe uses the ‘hot jar, hot lid, upside down’ method that is used in many parts of Europe and Australia. If you live at a high elevation or strictly follow USDA methods, then you would water bath can or pressure can this instead.

Ingredients:

2 parts vinegar***

1 part water***

salt, to taste

garlic scapes, as many as you want

Method:

Carefully sterilise some jars with boiling water or in a low oven. Keep them hot in the oven while you do everything else. Sterilise lids in boiling water.

Heat the vinegar, water and salt until boiling. Mix through the garlic scrapes and allow to boil for another minute or two.

Quickly transfer the hot garlic scapes and hot pickling liquid to the hot jars. Seal in the usual way, then turn your jars upside down for two minutes before putting the right way up again. Alternatively, water bath can your jars for 10 minutes.

These will store for a year or more at room temperature.

***the amount to use is all relative to how much garlic you are preserving – if you’re preserving just one pint jar of them, then 300ml vinegar (1 1/4 cups) to 150ml (2/3 cup) water would be the right amount to use, if you’re preserving a lot of garlic at once, just scale this up or down, and feel free to use this pickling liquid for other vegetables too.

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Quinces: How to prepare, cook, and preserve them

Quinces are an easily-grown fruit that’s often ignored in modern diets. Not many people know how to properly prepare them, and they can seem a bit fiddly and slow to cook compared to other fruits.

I think it’s definitely worth learning to prepare and cook quince – they are like no other fruit, and there’s something deeply warming about the way they taste on a cold autumn day. 

My favourite way to cook them is to slowly simmer them in a spiced syrup. I make a large batch, we either eat them over the course of a few days, or water bath can them to store for later.

I also enjoy making quince jam – delicious on top of toast, porridge, and rice pudding. I’ll also share the recipe for this here.

Quinces in basket

How to find quinces

If you live anywhere where apples and pears grow, you can probably find quinces. They are part of the pome fruit family, related to apples and pears. Dwarf pear trees for home gardens are actually grafted onto quince rootstock, as they are so closely related.

Quinces are ready for a brief season in mid to late autumn. There are several different varieties, and they’re usually ripe in the second and third months of autumn. Ripe quinces have yellow skin and pale flesh, which turns red or pink when cooked.

Quince can be hard to find in shops. Look for roadside fruit stands, and buckets out the front of houses with fruit trees.

How to prepare quince

Get a very big bowl or pot and put 4 litres (1 gallon) of water in it, along with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. This acid water will help prevent the quinces from browning while you’re cutting up more of them.

Peel each quince and put in the acid water. Once they’re all peeled, cut the top off each one, then cut each one in half, and then in half again, to form four wedges. 

Now it’s time to remove the cores. Begin by using the knife right at the edge of the quince quarter, starting at the top, where the stem was. As you work your way downwards, allow the knife to follow the grain of the quince, so that you’re skimming along as close to the gritty and tough core as possible – this is something that is picked up over time. If you get a bit of gritty core in with the quinces, it’s not the end of the world, if you skim off too much, then that’s just some extra scraps for the goats and not for you. 

After coring, put the quince pieces back in the acid water again and leave them until you’re ready to cook. Peel and core the rest of the quinces and add them back to the acid water too. 

how to core quinces

How to cook quince in spiced syrup

In a 5 litre (5 quart) pot, prepare a syrup for poaching with 2 1/2 litres (10 cups) water, 800g coconut sugar (4 1/2 cups) or honey (2 1/3 cups), and some optional spices – I like to add 10 smashed cardamon pods, 1 cinnamon stick, and 2 star anise. Bring to a simmer on the stove and keep warm. These quantities will give enough syrup to cook between 4 and 5 kilograms (9 to 11 pounds) of quince.

Once all the quince is prepared, put them in the hot poaching liquid, adding more water and honey if it needs it. Quinces shrink a little while they’re poaching, so it’s fine to have them fit quite snugly together, but there should still be some extra syrup at first, and any extra can be used for poaching another batch of quinces, or making baked syrup dumplings, so it’s better to have too much syrup rather than not enough. 

Gently simmer over a medium-low heat for at least forty minutes, or up to a few hours if the heat is low enough. Quinces are best when they’re cooked slowly. I prefer to cook mine in the oven, as it’s a more gentle all-over heat, rather than the harsh heat that sometimes happens on top of my stove, but you can cook on a stovetop too if you keep the heat very low. 

When cooked, the quinces will be soft, and will have changed colour. They can fall apart quite easily, so handle them gently. 

Now you have a big pot full of cooked quince, ready to serve as a dessert, or add to cakes and pies. Quince in syrup can keep in the larder with the lid on for around a week, or you can put the quinces and syrup into preserving jars, seal in the usual way, and process in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes.

How to make quince jam

Quince makes a delicious jam, perfect with porridge, rice pudding, scones, pancakes, or toast. 

Ingredients

2kg (5 pounds) quinces

1 litre (quart) to 1.5 litres (1.5 quarts) water

1.2kg (2.6 pounds) honey

Method

If you don’t usually make jams, see my blog post here or my book for in depth information about the process.

Prepare quinces in the usual way by following the instructions above. Cut into very small pieces (or use a grater).

Heat 1 litre (1 quart) water in a large heavy-bottomed pot until boiling. Add the quince and stir.

Cook until the quince is very soft and can easily be mashed with a wooden spoon. As the quince cooks, it should fluff up a little and absorb water, so add water, a small amount at a time if it is needed, to form a thick sauce, keeping in mind that the honey will water it down further.

Add the honey, bring back to the boil, and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring every so often, until it passes the “plate test” (see my jam post or book for more on that)

Put your jam in jars in the usual way, Australian hot jar/hot lid/upside down works for this if this is what you normally use, or can in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

How to store quince

Quince can be stored for two or three months by selecting the very best, unbruised, undamaged quinces and placing them in layers in a 5 gallon bucket, with each quince surrounded by dry autumn leaves. Store in a cool place, such as an unheated room, a root cellar, or outdoors in the shade.

Quince jam and bottled quinces in spiced syrup will store for one year in a cool, dry place.

a year in an off-grid kitchen cookbook cover
For more seasonal cooking skills, tips, and recipes see my cookbook A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen: Homestead Kitchen Skills and Real Food Recipes for Resilient Health
Canned quinces, quinces in basket, preparing quinces

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Easy ways to preserve tomatoes off the grid

Tasty organic tomatoes, ready to preserve for the winter months

In A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen I included recipes for five of my favourite ways to preserve tomatoes with water bath canning – as tomato passata, tomatoes in brine, pizza sauce, salsa, and tomato relish. I’ve recently tried a couple of different methods that I’d like to share here.

Fermenting tomatoes

I’ve been intrigued about fermenting tomatoes for a while, ever since reading Shannon Stonger’s Traditionally Fermented Foods. it seems like such a simple and low energy way to preserve tomatoes, and perfect for preserving the garden harvest as it makes it to the kitchen, because you don’t need a huge amount of tomatoes to justify boiling up the canner, you can just preserve one jar at a time. Tomato season is a busy time on the homestead, and having a way to just quickly preserve things without much fuss is very welcome!

I tested this recipe out, left them alone for nearly a year, and they were still good to eat after that long. Tomatoes are a bit naughty in the jar and have a habit of rising above the fermenting weight (which is why in the photo you can see lots of tomatoes trying to jump out of the jar!), even then in my Fido jar, they were still really good to eat. I definitely recommend checking out Shannon’s fermenting book for more tasty fermenting recipes.

Fermented tomatoes

How to ferment tomatoes:

Pack whole, firm tomatoes up to the ‘shoulders’ of a fermenting jar – I use Fido jars, but mason jars can work too if you remember to ‘burp’ them once a day for the first week or two, or until the bubbling stops.

Add around 3 tablespoons unrefined salt, plus an optional tablespoon of fresh whey or sauerkraut juice for every litre (quart) jar.

Top with non-chlorinated water to above the level of the tomatoes

Weigh the tomatoes down with a fermenting weight, or with a cabbage leaf weighed down with a boiled rock or other heat-sterilised heavy thing.

Put the lid on and leave it at around 23ºC (73ºF) for a week or two, or until the bubbling dies down, then move to root cellar, larder, or fridge conditions of around 15ºC (59ºF) or lower where they will store for up to a year.

Use these fermented tomatoes anywhere that you’d normally add tomatoes – salads, soups, stews, sauces, and more. This is a great low energy way to preserve tomatoes.

Drying tomatoes

One of my favourite tomato varieties to grow is Principe Borghese, In my garden, this is a resilient variety that fruits very early, produces an abundance of tasty red cherry tomatoes that are great either raw or cooked, and it seems pretty resistant to pests. Last tomato season here was rainier and colder than usual, and I grew both this and “Gold Nugget” which is the earliest fruiting tomato that I know of, and Principe Borghese was the first to have ripe fruit, and was very plentiful. It’s also grown well for me in dry warm summers.

Principe Borghese is well-known as a good tomato for drying, but I’ve never grown it for that reason, just for all the reasons above. Last season I experimented with drying them in the wood stove.

Crispy dried tomatoes

How to dry tomatoes:

Slice them in half. Place them cut-side up on a baking sheet. Put them in a very low oven with the door ajar – I dried mine at the bottom of the top oven of the wood stove as it died down for the night, and also in the warming oven all day. Once the tomatoes have mostly dried out on that side, flip them over and dry the other side.

Once the tomatoes are fully dry, they will be crispy and full of flavour.

Tomatoes can also be dried in a solar dehydrator in a similar way – just dry cut-side up until that side is almost dry, then flip over and dry until crisp.

Tomatoes with more flesh and less juice and seeds, such as Amish Paste, Roma, Principe Borghese, and other sauce-type tomatoes are the best choices for drying, but any tomato can be dried in this way.

Store dried tomatoes an airtight container such as a glass jar with lid. If kept dry, they will keep well for a year or more.

Dried tomatoes are great smashed up and sprinkled on salads, on top of pizza, or added to stews, soups, sauces, and more.

For more recipes and ideas for cooking and preserving homegrown tomatoes, see my book A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen

A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen: Homestead Kitchen Skills and Real Food Recipes for Resilient Health

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Building a better world… with tomatoes and goats

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Sometimes it’s hard to feel anything but angry about the current state of things, but there are lots of positive actions that can be done that boost personal resilience and wellbeing as well as reducing ecological footprints.

There’s a new book all about this, currently on Kickstarter here. My new book ‘Backyard Dairy Goats‘ is included as a stretch goal on it!

Preserving tomatoes at home

This year I did something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I bottled our entire tomato supply for the year…

I’d delayed this in the past due to annoying finicky instructions that insist on peeling the tomatoes, removing seeds, putting them through an expensive single-purpose gadget, and all kinds of stuff, but in the end I thought it was about time I tried this myself, using nothing more than a kitchen knife.

Our own garden harvest was not that big this year, for a few reasons that I’ve hopefully learned from, but rather than buying in bottled tomatoes from the other side of the world, I found a local organic grower, bought more than 30kg of sauce-grade tomatoes and bottled them all.

This is how we did it:

Step 1:
This step is only worth doing if you have too many tomatoes to fit in your pot at once. Sort through all the tomatoes and separate the damaged and super-ripe ones from the ones that can wait for a bit longer. Put the ones that can wait aside for another day (we preserved our 30kg+ of tomatoes over 3 days).

Step 2:
Wash the tomatoes, remove any leaves and stems (this is a good job for little helpers).

Step 3:
Roughly chop the tomatoes and put them in a big stainless steel pot (I used my 20 litre one).

Step 4:
Heat the chopped tomatoes over medium-high heat, smashing them up as you stir every so often. Once the tomatoes are bubbling you can either bottle them now, or reduce them for a bit. The jars I used were a bit smaller than the passata bottles I’m used to, so I chose to boil them to reduce them by around 1/4 to 1/3, to make for a more concentrated jar of tomato goodness. If you’re using plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes you’re more likely to get away with boiling them for less time, but ‘sauce tomatoes’ here just means any tomatoes that aren’t quite perfect, so they can use a bit of boiling to get rid of the extra liquid.

While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to heat up or reduce, sterilise your jars and lids and keep them warm.

Step 5:
If you’re concerned about the tomatoes not being acidic enough on their own to store safely, then add a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice to each 500-600ml jar, or 2 tablespoons to larger jars.

Put the hot tomatoes in the warm jars and seal them with their clips or rings, depending on which jar type you’re using. Put a big canning pot with a false bottom or canning rack on the stove (or use a tea towel or some cutlery at the bottom of a normal pot), put a small amount of warm water in it (so that the hot jars aren’t shocked by a sudden change of temperature), then carefully add your jars. Add more water, so that the jars are surrounded by water either to just above the top of the lid, or at least 3/4 of the way up.

Put the lid on the pot and bring it to the boil, or at least above 90ºC (195ºF). Hold it at this temperature for 40-45 minutes, then allow the pot to sit with the lid off for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter and allow them to cool on the bench before storing.

Fill up the next batch of jars for the pot and repeat until you’ve run out of hot tomatoes, making sure that the water in the pot at the beginning is around the same temperature as the jars. You can do this over two or more days, as long as the tomatoes are brought to the boil and kept hot for a while before bottling, and put into hot sterilised jars.

The result:
Bottling my own tomatoes at home has reduced the amount of far-away foods in our diet, reduced our tomato costs by half, made us more resilient, reduced waste, and they taste better than factory-bottled ones. It was an enjoyable time with family, with all of us appreciating the process and the results.

Spiced Elderberry Oxymel (a herbal cold and flu medicine)

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Here is a simple way to make a healthy medicine for the cold months ahead. I can’t say enough good things about elderberries, and this way of preserving them for the winter can be used either as a daily boost to health to prevent colds and flus, or as something taken when you are sick to relieve the symptoms and get rid of the cold or flu quickly. This recipe is cheap to make, using stuff that’s always in my kitchen.

You will need:
Elderberries
Optional spices (see step 3)
Raw apple cider vinegar
Raw honey

1. First you will need to find an elderberry tree in fruit. I found these in the first month of autumn and in the garden of an old homestead we were visiting. Sometimes trees are on the side of the road, or branches are hanging over someone’s fence. Elder trees are beautiful to look at and many people have them growing in their garden as ornamentals that don’t end up being harvested. They’re supposed to be quite easy to grow, and the leaves and branches are good goat food.

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Photo credit: here

2. Carefully harvest the bunches of fruits off the trees, gather as much as you’re likely to use. I started with around 2 litres of loosely packed bunches and ended up with around 1300ml of oxymel.

3. Wash the berries and gently strip the berries from the twigs into a cooking pot, it doesn’t matter if a few small twigs get in too. Mix in a small amount of water (for around 1200ml of berries at this stage I added half a cup). Add some spices now if you wish, I added 1/2 inch of grated fresh ginger, a pinch of ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

4. Bring the berries to the boil with the lid on, then remove the lid and continue to cook, while squashing the berries with a wooden spoon to extract the juice and evaporate some of the water. Do this for 10-20 minutes, being careful to not evaporate too much of the liquid, until it looks like you’ve squashed the berries as much as they can be squashed.

5. Filter the juice through a fine mesh sieve, then continue to squash the berries into the sieve to extract the last of the juice. Pour the juice into a measuring cup or jar to see how much you have. I ended up with 400ml of juice. Allow the juice to cool down to a blood-warm temperature.

6. When you can put some of the juice on the inside of your wrist without it hurting, pour the juice into a mixing bowl and add the same volume of raw cider vinegar and raw honey, so that you have 1 part elderberry juice, 1 part cider vinegar, and 1 part honey.

7. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a fairly cold and dry place. Take 1 tablespoon at a time, either on its own or mixed with water. It’s also good mixed with boiling water as a hot drink.

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How to Make Butter

All you need to make butter is a bowl, a whisk, and some cream.

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The cream should have no additives, just cream, and if it’s créme fraiche for making cultured butter, then it will have cultures as well (here’s my recipe for culturing cream at home).

Put the cream in the bowl and whisk. After a fair amount of whisking it will become whipped cream. Continue whisking and whisking and the whipped cream will become more yellow. Soon after this you’ll begin to see some liquid forming. Continue whisking, more of the buttermilk will separate from the butter.

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You don’t have to do all the whisking at once, you can come back to it every now and then. Or you can use a stand mixer or hand mixer.

Once it looks as though all the buttermilk that’s going to come out has been released, strain the butter over a mixing bowl, reserving the buttermilk for recipes.

Put the butter in a bowl of very cold water. Knead with your hands a few times to release even more of the remaining milk.

Drain the water and replace with more very cold water. Knead again.

Remove the butter from the water, kneading as much water out of it as you can. Shape it and store it in beeswax wraps or glass jars. Enjoy!

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Cultured butter with buttermilk scones, créme fraiche, and honey-sweetened jam.

This post has been shared with Wonderful Wednesday, Friday Favourites, Party in your PJs,

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Cheese

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I’ve never successfully made a hard cheese with a natural rind before.

On a biodynamic fruit day, back when we still had Buttercup the cow, I mixed some of her milk with some of our goats milk, cultured it, sort-of followed an asiago recipe (I am not so good with all the continuous stirring), pressed it, salted it, and put it in the makeshift cheese cave to age. Roughly once a week, mostly on other biodynamic fruit days, I would tend to the cheese. I would rub more salt on it, brush it, to keep the growth of some things in check, and to help it form a rind. For months I looked at this cheese every week, wondering what it would taste like.

After around five months I cut into it. It’s probably the best cheese we’ve ever tasted!

Today I made this salad with it. Feta is really good in this, as is any hard cheese, or you can use chopped walnuts instead. This is a good salad to make ahead of time, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, just make sure the squash has fully cooled down before you add it to the spinach.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Cheese
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