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Preparing for Winter & Peach Canning Tips

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Getting by with a little help from local farmers. 

We are deep into squirreling this time of year. Fill the pantry, the cold room, the freezers.  Can everything! This year I feel called to can more than I normally do, not so much in quantity, but in variety. My routine canned goods include jam, applesauce, tomato sauce, peaches, spiced apples, salsa, strawberry sauce, pickled beets, relish and pickles. Bone broth is canned throughout the year. I think that’s about it. Some of these things are canned every year, some every two to three years.

For the most part, we can things that work well for us as canned goods - maybe it’s for flavor, maybe it’s out of convenience, maybe it’s family tradition; the rest of our food gets preserved in freezers, cold storage, fermentation, or dehydration. But this year, I feel like we need a few extra canned goods on the shelves. Our first winter and spring here taught me two things: extended power outages are the norm (especially in colder months), and spring food comes about a month later than I am accustomed to. I mean, I knew spring food would come later, but to feel it was another thing. In time, as our set-up here improves, we’ll be able to push the growing season a bit in springtime. Thankfully, we’re able to forage a nice variety of green wild food come late May/early June, but April and most of May are pretty slim. No greens in the garden and not much in the wild, potatoes in the cold room are sprouted and ready for planting, winter squash has dwindled and the few that are left will soon begin to rot, any remaining stored carrots and beets are looking weary. Precious frozen peas and broccoli are long gone. Sauerkraut and fermented green beans are still available, but let’s be honest, don’t offer the same excitement as fried buttery potatoes. Thankfully we usually still have green beans and corn in the freezer, and now, hopefully kale pucks, too!

This year I’m planning to can some potatoes, carrots, green beans, and maybe some stew meat. Nothing crazy, perhaps a dozen quarts each of the vegetables, and half a dozen of meat. Not exactly sure yet. This could help with two things: the potatoes and carrots can add interest to our bleak springtime diet, and all of these things can be worked into easy stews during those inevitable power outages (our wood cookstove will be installed soon). When the power goes out, the first thing we do is NOT open the freezers. We have a generator, which is essential for protecting our freezers if needed, but we’re not quick to flip the switch on it. It’s loud and takes away from the temporary sweet silence of no electricity. The deep freezers, left untouched, are fine for at least 48 hours during a power outage. If the outage is longer than that, then we’ll get the generator going for a period of time. Having some canned meat and green beans on the shelf would be helpful. Winter power outages would mean I could still grab carrots, potatoes, onions, etc from the cold room. Spring eating though? I think we’ll appreciate having some shelf stable carrots and potatoes, even though it is not our preferred way to eat them. I have a feeling they’ll be a much appreciated way to fill that April-May gap. It’s also possible we will find it’s an experiment not worth repeating, but there's only one way to find out.

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Last week I canned peaches and that prompted a few questions from some of you, so I thought I’d answer those today. You’re not looking for canning instructions (those can easily be found here), you’re looking for troubleshooting help. I get it! Each type of canned food seems to have its own quirks to understand.


Tips for Canning Peaches (and other fruits)


Freestone vs. Cling - Your orchard will likely have peaches in two varieties: cling or freestone. The characteristics of these two varieties is such that the flesh of cling peaches is securely attached to the pit and not easy to remove, whereas freestone peaches have flesh that is hardly attached to the pit at all. The farm we get our peaches from has freestones available later in the season, so as excited as I am to snap up those first peaches in July and get to work, I wait until August when the freestones are in season. 


Removing Skins - Most people prefer to remove peach skins when canning or baking. You'll find most canning recipes suggest blanching peaches in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then dunking in ice water and skins will come off. I do this too, the only difference being that I first score the bottom of each peach with a large "x" using a paring knife. This gives you an easy place to grab onto the skins for peeling. They come off so easily this way. 


Avoiding Fruit that Floats - There are two methods to canning fruit: raw pack and hot pack. Raw pack is when you can raw fruit, and hot pack is when you can fruit that has been cooked for a brief period of time first - in syrup, juice, or water. Usually just a couple of minutes. I get the appeal of raw pack canning, and have done plenty of it myself, but the truth is most of the time you're going to get a better product if you hot pack. The reason you will have a better product is because you'll get some shrinkage as air in the fruit is released when it's pre-cooked, so you'll be able to have a truer jar-fill when you pack it. Alternatively, when you raw pack fruit in the jar, and it heats up for the first time in the jar, your shrinkage will occur there, which will result in unused space in the jar, causing fruit to rise up. Now, I've canned plenty of raw pack fruit and have not had the float issue every time, and plenty of canners will say this has never happened for them. But it is true that side by side, I do get better results when I hot pack. 

There are a few other considerations:

  • Be sure your fruit is at peak ripeness. Unripe fruit will have more air in it. Heavy, dense, perfectly ripe fruits will give you best results. 
  • Pack jars well. I pick up jars and kind of spin them back and forth in my hand a few times to settle fruit, and add more as needed. 
  • Heavier syrups result in less float. Light syrups create an environment in which fruit equalizes its sugar content with its surroundings. The fruit releases its own sugar, becoming lighter. I do not have experience in this as I usually go with the lightest possible syrup, but I do still get occasional fruit-float so I guess that's the trade off. Canners do consistently report that heavier syrups result in less float. 


Wide Mouth vs. Regular Mouth - This is a matter of personal preference. Wide mouth jars are often preferred because they are easier to clean, but I find they come with a higher seal-fail rate. Nothing terrible, but noticeable. This year I canned 50 quarts of peaches, mostly using regular mouth jars. I think I only used about six wide mouth quarts, and of those, two seals failed. None of the regular mouths failed. Having said that, I do find when it comes to peaches, the fruit tends to settle better in a wide mouth jar. So, as you can see, they each have their pros and cons. In time you will find your personal favorite. 


Siphoning - This is when your jars lose liquid during the canning process. The main reasons for this are headspace that is not quite correct in the jar, or rapid changes in pressure or temperature when canning. Most of us are water bath canning peaches, so the main tip to prevent rapid change here is to let your jars sit in the water, lid off, stove off, for five minutes after processing is done. This allows for the temperature and pressure on the jars to come down a bit before you remove. One final thing that can cause siphoning is if you tip the jars sideways while removing from the canner. This can cause you to lose the seal, which will change the pressure, and contents of the jar can spill out. Always keep jars straight up and down when removing from your canner. 


Having shared all these tips, please know that I still don’t get picture-perfect jars each time. That's the nature of this sort of thing. As long as there is a good seal though, your jars are safe. Sure, if there is a little siphoning or fruit rises above the juice there could be some slight discoloration in time, but just eat those jars first, and save your prettiest jars for gift giving or to keep at the front of your shelves, if you feel it is important to see those jars up front. I won’t tell that your jars in the back are less than perfect looking, if you don’t tell that my jars in the back are less than perfect looking. Happy canning, friends. I hope this was helpful.  

Autumn in August & Freezing Kale Pucks


On one of our trips to see family in northern Maine when I was a young girl, I noticed that some of my relatives had their kids’ winter coats and snowsuits hanging on the clothesline. It was August. To my seven year old self, such a sight seemed a little premature (always the domestic type), and I asked my mother why they were preparing snow clothes while we were on summer vacation? She told me winter was right around the corner for them,  and there were many things to do to prepare. Laundering snowsuits was one of them. It’s funny the memories we store from our childhoods. I can still see the clotheslines with snowsuits blowing in the sunny breeze, clear as day.

My mother was right, of course; winter was just around the corner. As we enjoyed our rather autumnal “summer” visit, sweatshirts were donned daily, and because I stubbornly packed mostly shorts for the trip, I kept warm by hoisting long knee socks up to the thighs of my tiny legs. Toasty. The habits of my current neighbors prove similar to those of my Maine relatives. Just last night, Scout and I took a drive to the general store three miles down the road for eggs - a silly habit of mine because the eggs actually come from a neighbor up here on the ridge, and she’s told me over and over to just come to the farm to pick up, but I have this thing about making sure retailers know there is a demand for the goods of small makers and farmers. In addition to sales of chips, cigarettes, and candy bars, it's important that they know Melanie's eggs are wanted, too. Anyway, driving down the road, tasseling corn to my right and Burke Mountain on the horizon, a brightly colored object caught my eye and turned my attention to the left. Carmen and Mo have decided to hang one of those cheerful seasonal flags from their front porch; a cornucopia basket filled with pumpkins, gourds, and harvest wheat. Autumn in August. They get a pass though because Carmen’s thick Quebec accent feels like family to me. I suppose it is in her northern nature, as it is in my family’s nature, to see August as the turning point.

Today it is raining which is good for the carrots and beets, though a little unnecessary for the potatoes and tomatoes. This morning I harvested beans, kale, broccoli, herbs, and cucumbers before the rain set in. Then I planted some blue vervain. This year I have fallen in love with a particular preservation method for kale that includes quickly steaming it and pressing into muffin cups. Next you freeze, and voila, a few hours later you have kale pucks! It’s the handiest thing ever. Last winter we felt pretty deprived in the (semi-fresh) greens department. I learned of the kale puck method from Whole Fed Homestead and will explain below. If freezer space is at a premium for you, this has got to be the best method for putting up fresh greens. Normally we dehydrate most of our winter greens, which has its place, but really does not lend itself to use in quiche, casseroles, stir-fry, etc.


I don't keep careful track of how much kale I harvest, but it would not be a stretch to say that what you

see in the above photo is close to three bushels of kale. Such a space saver!


How to Make Frozen Kale Pucks

This method works for any cooking green.


  1. Gather kale. De-stem, rough chop leaves, and wash (I swish in a big bowl of water).
  2. Get a pot going with a steamer basket on medium-high (covered).
  3. Have a baking sheet, tongs, timer, and muffin pans ready. Crystal uses silicone muffin pans for easy removal once the pucks are frozen, which I imagine works great but I do not have any. I do have a couple of “muffin top” pans though, which are only about a 1/2” deep. I use those and with the gentle edge of a butter knife they pop right out. I do not think standard muffin tins would work well, but might be wrong about that. 
  4. Once you’re all set up and ready to go, add three large handfuls of greens to the steamer pot, place the lid on and set your timer for two minutes. Let steam, giving the greens a toss with your tongs halfway through.
  5. After two minutes, use tongs to transfer greens to baking sheet. Quickly get your next three handfuls steaming. When the greens are still very warm but safe to touch, pick them up by the handful and press into your muffin cups. Greens must be warm for this to work correctly. Don’t be afraid to press firmly.
  6. Repeat process until your greens are gone.
  7. Freeze muffin trays for several hours or overnight. Pop pucks out of the pans and store in freezer bags. As mentioned above, because I do not use silicone pans, I give the edge a gentle nudge with a butter knife to release pucks from the pan. I also used a metal straw to suck the air out of the bags so they are better protected for long term storage.
  8. To use, run your knife through frozen or semi-thawed pucks if you’d like them to be a bit more chopped, or just crumble into whatever you’re making. And if it's a pot of soup, just toss a puck in if the kale is chopped to your preferred dice. Enjoy!



Goodness you all know how to welcome a girl back! Thank you for such warmth, enthusiasm, and encouragement over the last week. I mentioned that I’d share more about the nuts and bolts of this new blog, and I will, but you’ve already done a great job on your own of noticing the archives, the navigation tabs at the top of this site, and the category buttons on the sidebar (still have a few to add). It was an interesting task to manually go through over 1,500 blog posts and decide which category they each fell under. I tried my best to keep categories limited for ease on your end; not sure I succeeded there! You may have noticed the handy catchall called “Heather’s Ramblings” which is my not so subtle way of lumping everything that had no specific theme into one hodgepodge location. I also tried not to assign too many categories to a post in order to prevent redundancy while you browse different sections. Sometimes it was unavoidable, as certain posts truly do belong in more than one place. However, I did not enthusiastically tag posts with six different categories just because so many kind of fit the theme; I tried to be a little more discerning than that. All of this to say, I set out to clean things up around here for your reading ease, and hopefully achieved that. 

In my next post I’ll be sharing some tips on canning peaches, as I’ve been asked a few times about that this week. I’d hoped to have it out Friday, but I’m going to take a day trip to see Emily so it will need to be early next week instead. Probably Tuesday.

Okay, I have to get back to the kitchen. Kale pucks have finished freezing and need transferring to a bag, and I need to address the pile of cucumbers, green beans, and broccoli. Talk to you soon!

The Hardest Work, the Sweetest Rest


Making the most of some fresh pineapple my sister grew in Florida and sent to us. 

One afternoon in late July, I looked up from mulching the potatoes to see goldenrod blooming across the field. Already? The potatoes are still flowering! I've yet to harvest a single green bean!

That, in a few sentences, sums up my first growing season in Vermont.

The longest, snowiest winter anyone here can remember, followed by the slowest, coldest, wettest spring in recent local memory, and now it seems summer would like to welcome autumn before we’ve harvested much beyond the cool crops of springtime. We do still have some time, of course, but there is no denying a shift in the air, a softening of light. This formerly southern New England girl's concern about her still mostly empty harvest basket is understandable. I'm finally beginning to appreciate the term harvest season. True harvest season. Practically happening in one fell swoop, after summer builds and builds and plants do the slow, hard work of reaching maturity before frost. In the end, some plants will shine and drown us in their fruits, while others will suggest we try again next year.  

It's not a typical summer here in northeastern Vermont, many seasoned gardeners in my region keep reminding me of this. Everyone planted late as the fields were simply too cool and too wet before mid to late June. Good luck getting a Brandywine to ripen when you plant out on June 23rd, knowing your first expected frost date is anytime after September 1st. But isn't that the thing about gardening? The relentless optimism that inflicts those of us lucky enough to feel a love for it? Hope runs eternal, as they say. 

New to me growing conditions aside, this summer has been incredible. In many ways the best of my life. Adam texted me a photo of the outside thermometer in Connecticut recently and it said 110ºF. I think in this region we’ve hit 90ºF once this summer, maybe twice. It has been glorious. 

Goldenrod at the end of July. There is a seasonal collision that happens here, so different from the lingering transitions I'm used to in Connecticut. We'd normally see goldenrod sometime in late August, signaling back to school and fair season and soon after that, apple orchards. But here, goldenrod bloomed before I picked a single cucumber, green bean, or zucchini. It feels otherworldly: How can this be? I've come to realize that if anything is worth seizing in this life, it is every precious, fleeting, Vermont Summer Day. 


Morning paddle on a pond we love. 

So here we are, our first full summer in Vermont, and the endless work is satisfying in ways I don’t think I’ve known before. The challenges are real, too; the biggest being that Adam returns to Connecticut several days each week, so I need to approach most things with just my own two hands. Needless to say, some things have progressed slower than my hibernating-wintertime-self imagined. So idealistic, she was. Still, there is a feeling of peace and quiet nostalgia to most of my days that is difficult to describe. It’s not so much nostalgia in the longing sense, but in the sense that the clock has wound back to a simpler time; a time I've been dreaming and writing about since I was 16, but have not experienced consistently until this summer. It feels as though the wisdom and skills of the women who mapped out my DNA are finally, and earnestly, coming through. They are stepping forth and showing me the way. At nearly 47 years old, I've finally been able to strip away the concrete and foul water and heavy traffic and fighter jets running reconnaissance over our suburban rooftop. That kind of chaos is not what our biology is designed for. I feel more human now.

Scout and I sat in the shade of an old apple tree on that afternoon I first noticed the goldenrod. He’d just returned from making his rounds on the ridge, saying hello to his pals and to family, and sipping from every quick running stream to and fro. I, sun-soaked and sweat-soaked from hours in the garden, wrists and forearms sore from the effort required to tame particularly tenacious weeds. Yes, retreating to the shade was just the right respite from my hard work and his grand adventure, raspberry-mint iced tea in hand. Scout lounged in the crook of my bent leg, wiggling on his back a time or two to get a good scratch from the earth, then he settled into stillness as I pet his soft ears. We sat there for about thirty minutes or so, relaxing into late afternoon, noticing the scent of goldenrod on the breeze. And near the end, I realized it was the kind of moment I find myself experiencing over and over this summer: This feels slow, like the pace of yesteryear. The hardest work, the sweetest rest.



Milkweed blossoms about to become cordial. 

In the coming days and weeks I will share more details about this new chapter in life, this new blog, and what you can expect here. And I will share about the name, North Ridge Farm. For today, I just wanted to write something, say hello, and welcome you to my new home on the web. Thank you for visiting!