Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Local Grape Juice!

Grapes are one of the easiest fruits to pick; it goes to fast! As Samuel Thayer says, you can pick gallons in an hour without taking a step. Now, these aren't from our own yard, but they are pretty close to home.This is Gibbie and I sorting grapes. We carefully rinsed our hands regularly as we plucked the grapes from their stems.
We picked the grapes in a local alley. They grow all over around here in St. Paul, fecund and forgotten. Unlike table grapes, these grapes (small, seedy, with a rather alarming flavor and texture to the unsuspecting) aren't really for eating raw. Best for making juice (or wine, cordial, etc, for those more knowledgeable than I) and jelly.

With a full pot of grapes, I added some water and turned the heat on. When all this rain dries up, I can't wait to try juicing in the solar oven! Anyway, on our regular gas stove, I simmered the grapes till the skins burst. The juice is dark, bright purple. An important step to note, that I often try to bypass, is letting this cool off a bit before moving on!
After boiling the grapes until they release their juice, I took a big mixing bowl, set it in the sink, and lined it with a clean dish towel. Into the towel I poured the grapes. Then I bound up the corners of the towel and tied it to the dish drainer, right above my bowl. When the dripping had slowed to almost nothing, I squeezed and mashed all the extra juice I could out into my bowl.
Here we see the drained juice getting strained a bit more in my homemade jelly bag.

As suggested by my guide, Mr. Thayer the forager, I let sediments settle to the bottom before decanting my lovely grape juice into a pretty pitcher. About two quarts of grapes made well over two quarts of grape juice. I mixed it with sparkling water, though I could have diluted it even more, it was so strong. Really it was grape juice concentrate! With just-ripening apples on my brain, I'm thinking that apple juice would make a superb sweetener for our next batch!

I hope to bottle a batch in those re-sealable German beer bottles, maybe also freeze a batch as concentrate, as part of our hoard of local goodness against the winter blues.

The juice was rich and delicious. Also made tasty popsicles!

Summer Rennaisance

Hello! Sorry for the big gaps in posts lately. Summer is just, well, summer; we've been busy living it instead of documenting it. I do hope that some of these snippets will turn into more complete posts, as we have more photos, stories, recipes, and such to go with each. Let us know if you want more details! We would also love to hear about all your summer adventures!
We've been having a bit of a musical renaissance in our home. The kids have a wonderful new drum and a resurgence in interest in the piano. All the excitement has inspired the adults in the house to revisit our love for music as well.The birthday house we made for Ezra has been continuing to see lots of play. I do hope I get a chance to show pictures of the beautiful artwork Gibbie has made all over it in the last week. It's pretty great. These things stick around until they fall apart, you know. We'll be taking bets on when the birthday house bites the big one and lands in the recycling bin.
A vignette from our kitchen table. Gibbie has begun to love picking flowers. Recently he told me, "You can't like flowers. Just me. I like to pick flowers." He makes lovely bouquets of uprooted plants, flowers, and weeds, as well as being a charming helper when picking tomatoes from the garden.

If anyone else is disappointed in their garden yields, we're in the same boat. I'm just not very experienced at the whole garden thing, and keep making very basic mistakes, like not planting tomatoes in full sunshine, or not pruning. Due to recent heavy rains, the bulk of the crop is finally ripening, and all bursting their skins from the excess water. Not to worry, we're picking and using them anyway!

We are supplementing with beautiful produce from our lovely farmers' markets, and have really actually overdosed on fresh fruits and vegetables recently.
This is a little garden fantasy of mine: a willow withe house. I read somewhere that willow is really easy to propagate; you just stick cut ends in the ground. Sounds too good to be true to me, but we found a fairytale-perfect willow house at the farm where we picked our blueberries, Rush River. The willow wands compose the frame, and the lovely leaves grow in thicker every year.

In our own garden, I have moonflower growing all over a big, rainbow-shaped frame. It's finally covered in lush greens! Maybe soon spread a quilt underneath and read a pile of books in our little bower. I'm still hoping for flowers before it gets too cold! Moonflowers are big, white, beautifully fragrant, and open up at night.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ezra's Birthday

Ezra had is 1st birthday yesterday! We celebrated today with a small party in the yard with neighbors and some family. Libby made this blueberry cheesecake with a gram cracker crust, fresh grape juice (from wild grapes) and a great cardboard playhouse. Look at all of the photos here, including plenty of the traditional baby-devouring-cake coverage.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Cherry Juice

Mary brought over some great Door County cherries tonight. I think Gibbie enjoyed them more fully than the rest of us... if you know what I mean.