Saturday, October 8, 2011

Finger Lakes Grapes

Last fall, we stopped at a garage sale with my parents.

Doug and I picked up some odds and ends for a few bucks, but Mom and Dad, THEY were absolutely ecstatic at their find. It was one of these:

It's a Finnish made, stainless steel, steam-processing juicer. I'd never heard of a "Mehu-Liisa" before. I still can't say I've come across many, but come to find out, they're not at all uncommon, especially among people who frequently make juice out of ... things... like grapes.

Despite their initial excitement, this contraption has sat unused in its box at my parents house (maybe even in that magical barn of my father's) since the great sale afternoon.

Fast forward to Christmas of last year. We were lucky enough to have the little guy's Gandmama came to spend the holidays with us, and while she visited, we decided to go enjoy some of the spoils of a few of the local Finger Lakes Wineries.
A view from the little guy's perspective while the adults
did some wine tasting!

My parents visited vineyards, and all I got was this saltine!

Turns out that not too many people go out tasting wine on New Year's Eve Day, so we had lots of opportunity to chat with the people behind the tasting counters! We learned that, at least at one place, they often have more grapes than they can process, and so after they've gone through and picked the best fruit from the vines, they let people come in and scavenge for whatever's left. For free. Our ears were piqued. 

Fast forward again to this week. The leaves are turning colors, the weather forecast was for frost at night, the gardens are slowly dying back, and our minds are turning to grapes. Almost as a lark, we called around to see if anyone had grapes, and lo and behold, our timing was perfect.

When Monday morning dawned clear, crisp and sunny (well, okay - at least it wasn't raining - the rest might be an exaggeration), the troops headed over toward Seneca Lake in search of these little balls of goodness.
Bobbin, picking Cayuga grapes.

First stop was for whites. They found Leidenfrost Vineyard had, and was willing to share, a local variety called Cayuga. Apparently the picking was a little slow (and the field muddy, as the little guy quickly found out - thanks goodness we're in the habit of travelling with several changes of clothes these days!), but you can't argue with "free", so some baskets were pretty quickly filled.
The haul from grape-field #1.
The second stop was for Concords, a red variety this area of the North East is pretty well known for, and one that makes an especially purple and particularly tasty juice. Personally, I think it's pretty good for eating too - tart, but with a sweet end to it, with little seeds that give a nice bust of juice along with their crunch. There, the going rate for the you-pick fruit was $0.40/lb, which still seemed to be a pretty good deal.

This was the final load - Concords on the left, Cayugas
on the right.

The picking itself was more than enough work for one day, but by Tuesday, it was time for the Mehu-Liisa to make a debut. Mom and Dad did all the leg work - washing, picking and sorting the grapes, and then in batches, steamed them to get the juice. 
I have to say, I've never juiced grapes before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but this steamer seemed to work well and, once the grapes were prepared, was simple to operate. We (they?!) ended up with about 18 pints each the juice. We did not weight the Cayugas, but know that about 20 pounds of the Concords were picked. Not too bad a "harvest"!!
Top Left: the Mehu-Liisa set up. Top Right: The bottom compartment
is filled with water and set to a slow but steady boil.
Middle: The top chamber is filled with the grapes - put in clean but whole.
Bottom: After about 30-45 minutes, the steam has brought out the juice,
which has dripped down through the perforations to collect in the bottom.

The juice can then be drained piping hot right into cleaned, hot canning jars.
The Cayuga (shown here) had to be filtered, but the Concord came out clear
and perfectly "PB&J" colored right out of the pot!
The next step is grape jelly making from all this juice - I hope to post about that soon!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Very Fall Day

I love days like today.

You don't really have much planned going in to it, yet by the end of the day, you realize you've been busy for the whole thing and got so much more done than you even thought possible!

To top it all off, it felt so very much like fall today. October. The best month of the year, even in the rain!

The first few hours of the day were spent standing out in the rain at the Farmer's Market. Well, okay, I was lucky enough to have a tent over my head... but it was still damp! It was cold out, but spirits were high and the company of the other vendors was pleasant. Dad's broccoli was a big hit!
Trying to keep warm while selling honey,
broccoli and beans for my parents. Mom was
making a guest appearance at another local
market so I covered for her in Lansing. 
Doug covered for our "neighbor" for a few minutes and wouldn't stop chatting with me long enough to even take his picture. I put this in the post just so you can see the two figures in the background - that would be the little bug and his Bobbin - playing in the rain. Boys will be boys, right?

We got home and quickly got to work on a basket of apples - peeled, sliced and thrown in a crust with sugar and cinnamon and we had a pie. A few were prepped and went into the freezer while we were at it as well.

It's probably the ugliest pie I've made in a while (there's a reason you shouldn't try to piece together all the scraps and make another crust out of them...), but with a cold glass of milk or bowl of ice cream, as the case may be, it sure made for a good dessert!

After the pie was in the oven, I set to work to make some fresh mozzarella from some raw milk we got from a local farmer. I'd made yogurt with it before and it turned out fantastic, and was anxious to see how cheese would turn out. It was divine - stringy, salty, with a nice rich flavor that you just don't get from pasteurized milk. 

The cheese went strait onto some crust I'd set to rise before I stared, and after adding a few toppings we very shortly had dinner on the table!

Peppey-roni pizza with lots of cheese is a
favorite around these parts!
Finally, after the little guy went to sleep (one good thing about no-nap days is how early we can get him to bed!), we moved on to deal with the piles of tomatoes that were accumulating in the garage. We didn't get as much juice as I'd hoped, but this pot's pretty full and it will make at least a few jars of sauce after cooking down tomorrow!

And now, here I sit, happily ready for bed at 9:30 at night!

It was a good, full, fall day, for sure.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oregon 2011 Highlights

Here are a few highlights-in-pictures of our trip to Oregon last month. Our trip was fast and furious, but we are so glad we went. Time spent with Grandmama and Great-grandmama was fabulous, and we all feel so very much at home there. Coming back to NY was even harder than usual.

Thank you, Oregon, for the great visit! We can't wait to come back again...

The little guy got his very first "real" hair cut - had to look
good for Grandmama and Great-Grandmama!
Adjusting to flight was not really an issue...
SOME one is really getting into the "Say
Cheeeese" thing for photos lately!
Ahh... Tillamook Ice Cream!! (MaMa was
equally as happy, let me tell you!!)
Tillamook Cheese Curd!! Yumm!!
The highlight of the visit to the Tillamook
Farmer's Market was much more the dogs
than the produce! 
Beach Time!
Netarts Beach, Tillamook, Oregon.
Sprinklers at the park where we had a picnic with the
Cawlfield side of the family!
The alliance was quickly re-formed between Aunt Terry
and the little guy!
Cousin Kayla also became a quick friend!
It was SO good to see everyone -
it was a perfect (and delicious) picnic afternoon.
Three generations of Finks! 
One of the best parts of visiting Great-Grandmama was
the chance to play in her cool chair!!
Octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science
Center in Newport.
A B.E.A.U.tiful evening at one of the lighthouses in Newport.

No visit to Newport is complete without a visit here, of course!
New friends from old ones... 
Polar bear at the zoo - man was she big!
Choo Choo Train ride at the Portland Zoo!
Saying goodbye to Great-Grandmama was
very hard to do.
The Bug and Grandmama getting quality time at the airport.
Our little traveler - looking bright and
bushy-tailed even after our red-eye flight
home. More so than Mama, I'd say!
More photos for anyone who wants to see more than this brief tour can be found at: 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peach Goodness

Last year, our peach tree had issues. Nearly all the fruit got some sort of mold/rot on it before it was ripe enough to pick and eat. 

We were sad.

There was, however, just enough good peaches in the harvest to make one batch of peach shortcake, and for that we were happy.

That shortcake also let us know, quite unequivocally, that whatever variety of peach was on that tree, was G.O.O.D.   We hoped this year's crop would be better.

2010 Peach Crop: Not So Good.

And we were right! Some TLC early in the season and watchful eyes several times a day while the fruit has ripened has reaped us baskets and baskets of lovely, yummy peaches.

If I could find one bad thing to say about peaches though, it's that they just don't keep very well! We'll have harvested every day for probably a total of ten days or two weeks, and we've found that if we don't get to that fruit nearly right away, it quickly goes the way of last year's harvest - brown and moldy.

Needless to say, we've been enjoying them very much, in many ways!
Strait up...
Chopped into yogurt and granola in the morning...
Peach Jam...
Peach Pie...
and this year, something new:

Peach Butter.

The idea is from Smitten Kitchen , but I've of course changed it just a touch (what can I say - the lady and I think alike, and apparently we have very similar taste buds!).

I start with chopped peaches - skin on in my case, as I removed them later with a food mill.

I cooked them in water until they were pretty soft and you could see the skins starting to fall off.

Here's where the pit crew came in: once the peaches were soft, I (or really we) put them through a food mill to get rid of the skins and smoosh them into a sauce. This morning, Gra and the little guy were on hand to help!
Yes, the little man in this shot DOES have clothes on his
bottom half - BIG BOY UNDERWEAR, no less!!
Where DOES all that stuff go anyway?
This is the sauce right out of the food mill.
Once through the mill, I put all the sauce back in the same pot, added sugar and a little lemon and boiled it down. At first it didn't take much oversight, but as it boiled down, I had to stir it more and more often to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

This is the sauce (butter!) after almost two hours of boiling.
The original recipe says that there are multiple ways to test if it's "done". I went the route of the eyeball. It seemed it reached a point where when I lifted out the spoon, the sauce dripping off it didn't end in what looked to be water. I also could pour a spoonful on top of the rest of the pot and it would sit there for a few seconds before sinking in. At this point I added more lemon, just to be sure the pH would be good for long-term storage.

The first couple of times I made this, at this stage in the game I just ladled it into clean jars, let them seal and stuck them in the freezer. Today, I was doing small jars which I hope to use around Christmas time and so decided to officially can them so they would hold outside of a freezer. 

With a little help from a dish towel, I got all twelve four-ounce jars into my canner. I processed them at boiling for ten minutes.

If you want, you can watch the exciting conclusion to the canning process in the short video above! For the full experience, make sure you have your volume turned up!

Today's finished product!
If you're interested, here's the nitty-gritty:

Peach Butter
recipe adapted from

6 pounds* of fresh peaches, cleaned, pitted and cut into eighths
1 cup water
2 1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice (divided)

* this is the weight with the pits still IN the peaches, but the bad spots cut out!
  • Cook peaches with water in large pot, until soft and skins starting to fall off.
  • Process in food mill to separate skins and puree the fruit.
    • Alternately, you could poach the whole, cleaned peaches in water for 60 seconds to let you pull off the skins, then cut and cook down. In this case, instead of using the food mill, puree soft chunks using a food processor, hand blender or potato masher, and continue on as by the other method.
  • Return puree to pot, add sugar and 1Tbsp lemon (fresh or jarred OK).
    • Lots of recipes seem to add spices here - cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla etc, but like Deb, I opted for the pure peach route.
  • Bring to a boil and cook down until about half the volume (this will depend somewhat on both the moisture in your fruit and how thick you like your butter to be), about 90-120 minutes. Stir occasionally at first, frequently at the end to keep fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  • When done to the consistency of your liking, add final 1Tbsp of lemon juice and stir well to mix.
  • Ladle hot butter into clean jars. Makes about 6 half-pints. 
  • Store in refrigerator, or process, following safe canning procedures, 10 minutes in a hot water canner.

In other exciting local news:

Thomas the Train and his friends have officially
taken over the kitchen.
The little bug's affection for cheese, in all
its glorious shapes and forms, has not in
any way diminished.

Little Peep (who is not at all little any more) started cock-a-
doodle-dooing this past week. We were very very lucky to
find a nice lady at the Agway Chicken swap who wanted to
take him and give him a new home.
Bye-bye for now, Little Peep!
We harvested our potatoes! Garden
lesson #997 of the season: yield per unit
work for potatoes = VERY LOW!!!
(But none the less yummy!)
We had a wonderful trip to Oregon at the end of August.
I hope to get up a post with pictures from that visit later
this week!