Some are rotting on the vine in the greenhouse. Many are hollowed out by the resident chicks, and still, the tomatoes are cascading down the vines.
My favorite way to can cherry and grape tomatoes is to jam them all in a jar whole, and pack them with water with a bit of vinegar and salt (proper canning procedures, blah blah). They come out cool as refreshing as when they were picked, softened, with a hint of tang. I can eat a pint of them straight.
Dumpster Ninja Skills 101 – A Comprehensive Guide to the Cold Hard Precautions
Think like a ninja, dress like a ninja
1. Casing the joint
Case your local grocery stores, very sneakily.
First, outside in the daytime , find the garbage bin. Does this store have a crusher? Well, you’re done there. Does it have a locked dumpster? Some days those are filled too full to be closed and locked. Sometimes employees get careless. Many times it appears to be locked and isn’t (the padlock hang).
Are there loading hours posted on the dock? Then you can expect there to be workers in the store at least an hour earlier than that. Is there a bakery in the store? Then the bakers are there in the very very early morning.
Are there security cameras? Then you might go hardcore and wear balaclavas or headsocks like real robbers, and if you have vehicle assistance, make a good parking and loading plan so your vehicle doesn’t get ID’d. Keep checking for cameras, btw, in case they install some after noticing that someone is sifting through their garbage.
Take a casual stroll by a couple times at night to sess the scene and plan your timing. Between 11 and 3 or 4am are probably the best hours, but that’s really up to your location. Is your dumpster well lit? That makes your work easier but gives less cover. Are there cleaners working in the store? Determine their days and hours. Any security? Note cars in the parking lot. What else is going on in the area? What businesses are around? Diving right when clubs are closing or getting going is not great. Are there late night restaurants where employees, or cleaners, could come out the back doors to smoke and bust you? And probably most important, is this open dumpster in a “bad” part of town where there’s a remote possibility of garbage other than the store’s getting tossed in there? By that I mean sharps. Don’t ever take a chance like that.
Why all the cloak and dagger?
Because if you find the motherlode of all dumpsters, it could feed you for months, and you won’t want to lose it. I had one location produce insane amounts of food for over a year, then they got a crusher. It was heartbreaking. If you don’t take precautions, that wellspring could all be carelessly lost in one embarrassing evening. If you get seen, but escape, you probably wont want to go back, and if you do, I bet there’ll be a padlock on that dumpster now. So BE SNEAKY.
Trust me, it’s fun. The whole thing is hilarious.
2. The gear you need:
Wear dark clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty, but also don’t “stick out” for approach and leaving the scene (dress like a normal ninja person, not crazy dumpster diving ninja person), and good shoes. For jumping in. Feet first; dive is a figure of speech. If you’re squeamish, bring work gloves. Hats or hoods cover your hair and face. A flashlight is absolutely essential, bc even if the area’s lit, the depths of the bin will be shadowed. Ideally, a headlamp. Bring backpacks and/or fabric shopping bags on bike or foot missions. There will be zillions of boxes around to use if you’re going by vehicle.
3. Taking the plunge:
Going with someone else is way better than going alone. Some things can be really heavy, you can keep watch for each other, and it helps with the paranoia. It almost seems normal when you’re not alone. And it’s definitely funny. You want to share that.
Whisper to each other, keep rustling and banging to a minimum, keep eyes and ears open for anyone approaching. Try to keep yourself in shadow, or tucked near the bin, or between bin and building. Or in the bin, if you jump in, which is often necessary. If strangers happen to pass by, don’t bolt, just crouch and freeze wherever you are, and chances are they will pass right by and never know. Remember, people usu. don’t expect to see people in dumpsters, and won’t be looking for you. Do not stand tall atop the dumpster wading through and hollering about your discoveries. They’ll notice that.
Do not ever start ripping open black garbage bags. The really bad garbage is in garbage bags- bathrooms and deli garbage – you don’t even want to know. The good garbage is usu. in boxes, sometimes closed, sometimes top open. Sometimes tipped over, but that’s what washing is for. Another reason to not rip bags is the Golden Rule -don’t make a mess. This is for your sake. You want to protect your interests in this gold mine. Don’t make it obvious that you were there. Especially if the area is all swept clean. If you start strewing trash about at night, the poor sap who has to clean that up is going to gripe about it, and then they’re paying attention, and then you’re busted. Employees are not likely to notice there are fewer carrots there this morning than they threw out last night, but they will notice if the whole bin has been torn apart. And if you’re sharing a dumpster with other ninjas, then you know what they say about bad apples.
Move carefully and quietly. Speed is less important than stealth. It takes some time to really maximize a dumpster visit, if there is a lot of food. The best way is to pack boxes as you go through the buffet, then shuttle them quickly to a staging area, around the corner, ideally in shadow where you can drive up, load up in a minute, and take off. If on foot, then go through it all and neatly set aside what you want to take. If you make a return trip to pick up it’s a quick stop.
4. At home
When you get home with the bounty, wash your hands, hoot and exclaim how you can’t believe you just did that, (take pictures to share) and sort and assess all the happy food that you just gave a second life to. Some of it might not be as good as it looked at the scene, and that’s part of the game. Some food is perfect, some is spoiled. Check over any packaging for cleanliness and signs of compromise. Wash all the food before you eat it, just in case.
Now you’re a pro…
Dumpster diving is a little addictive, because you never know what treasures might be there any given night, but going every night is near impossible. Some nights just feel risky, or there’re cleaners or delivery trucks, besides, you’d be exhausted and soon have a full time job processing and preserving food and then trying to find people to give it away to. It is nice to try out different days of the week though. You’ll learn their dumping and delivering schedule and find some food comes in patterns. Speaking of sharing your bounty, I operate on informed consent. I can’t give someone food without telling them where I got it, so my beneficiaries are pretty tight (and amused) friends. But that’s your call.
Dumpster diving will increase your household garbage a little with the packaging you’re carting home. If you don’t have compost, you might want to take more care examining food before you bring it home. I drag it all home and then sort it out, bc I have a (flourishing) compost box. On the bright side, if stuff goes bad bc you can’t eat or process it fast enough, well, it’s guilt free, because it was headed for the landfill anyways. You saved it once already. BTW, if you have pigs, then you pretty much can’t not dumpster dive, even if you’re squeamish about eating the food yourself, because it is free high quality pig feed.
Dumpster diving need not stop at food. I was convinced that my future husband was for me when the two of us were regaling a table of “Oh I could never!” fascinated normal people with our Ultimate Score tales of Dumpsters Past. HW thoughtfully offered that everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster. A man at the table sputtered “What!? You look like a fucking REI model!” It was all true. HW looks like a fucking REI model (that’s MEC, for Canadians), and routinely dresses like one, and everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster, including the technical hiking shoes.
I just found out about a 2014 movie, Just Eat It, investigating food waste in America. It looks fantastic; I can’t wait to see it. The premise as I grasp it, is following a couple as they search for food in dumpsters and explore the epidemic of North American food waste, living on only food that would otherwise be wasted.
Is this dirty, shameful, disgusting? Those people are, gasp, eating garbage!?
It shouldn’t be. Because even if you don’t want to get in it yourself, you should know what’s in the dumpster behind the store you shop at.
Why? Because the cost of that food that’s getting thrown out is part of the cost of the food that’s getting purchased, and there is a great deal more food thrown out in North America than should be. As consumers, we should all care.
We’re not talking about finding a half eaten sandwich with a soggy napkin stuck on it or an apple core in a garbage can. We’re talking about unopened bushel boxes of fruit, still banded (never opened since leaving the farm). Frozen foods in complete packaging, still frozen. Boxes and boxes of mixed vegetables with tiny flaws, or no flaws. Bags of apples, carrots, baked goods, onions, potatoes, still in their boxes and bags. Bread by the giant clear garbage bag full.
This is the hidden cost of your food.
At least 10 cents from every dollar of yours spent on groceries is walking out the back door and getting thrown in the trash. The “official number” is 11%. I suspect the reality is higher, far higher. That’s like throwing a tenner in the trash can on the way into the store every time you spend a hundred. Food banks don’t do that well at Christmastime. Speaking of food banks, grocery stores almost never give their waste food to food banks, because it’s a liability. The most progressive stores compost, but for the majority, hundreds of pounds of edible food go to landfill.
When you see the produce boy sullenly picking peppers out of the display and putting them in the cardboard box on his cart, that box is going to be closed up and thrown into the compactor. Often, when you return something to customer service, say at Walmart or Canadian Tire, it goes straight in the dumpster, not back on the shelf. When inventory expires, or won’t be stored ’til the next holiday-appropriate season, ditto. When everyone looks behind the front row of milk for the better expiry date and there aren’t enough suckers to take the milk in the front, it goes into the dumpster when it hits the sell-by date. A bag of dog food gets snagged by a shopping cart and torn a little, or a box of cereal falls from the top shelf and gets a corner crushed, it goes in the garbage. When the purchaser screws up and the replacement stock arrives prematurely or in too great a quantity, the excess goes straight to the dumpster. Every time the truck comes with the new fruit before the old fruit sells, guess where the old fruit goes? Sometimes food goes directly to the dumpster without passing within eyeshot of the consumer. If there are too many bananas warehoused to ever get sold – into the bin. I’ve been told that at times, distributors sell food in combination (if you want bananas you have to take these coconuts too), and the less popular food will go directly out back.
Shall I even mention the manipulation of marketing? Lots of exotic food (starfruit, anyone?) is stocked in produce just to give the impression of variety and possibility. The store never expects to sell all the pink striped lemons and pluots, but their presence evokes feelings of abundance, progressiveness, and cosmopolitan choice! Plus they make the normal lemons look much more affordable. Guess where all that unsold showy food (imported from a great distance) ends up? I’ve noticed a higher percentage of organics in the bin than conventional. I guess they cost more, so sell less, so… get chucked more.
Extrapolate this across over 36 000 grocery stores in the US, and the waste of food is in the millions of tonnes. Eleven percent of saleable produce, wasted before it’s sold. It’s an obscenity that this much food is being wasted. Specifically, destroyed, compacted behind grocery stores while people go hungry all over the same cities (more stores have compactors than still have open dumpsters that can be filched from and reported upon). There doesn’t seem to be much talking about it, nor lobbying against it, probably because so few people really know about it.
Ask a dumpster diver, though, and they will go off about all the great stuff they’ve hauled out of a dumpster. They may even start rambling rhapsodically about those ultimate scores.
Funny thing though, not so many people want to admit to eating out of the garbage.
I know all about what I’ve described here, firsthand, because I’ve seen it.
Once I pulled up to our usual dumpster with my partner, and another truck was already there (yes, a truck is appropriate for the quantity of food). The pig farmer it belonged to was standing atop the dumpster with a hayfork, stabbing 1-3 plastic bags of potatoes at a time and pitching them into his pickup bed. The dumpster was too full to shut, with five pound bags of Yukon Golds. He filled his truck, then we took all we could imagine eating and giving away, and left the dumpster still far from empty.
One time a Walmart dumpster right after Easter was filled with individually bagged one pound solid milk chocolate bunnies. I mean filled. It looked like a wharf-side container brimful of fishes, only with chocolate bunnies. We tired of scooping them with our hands into the truck and left to drop the first shipment and return with shovels. Yep. Shovels. Those rabbits exceeded our chocolate “needs” for over two years. Chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate fondue, shaved chocolate, chocolate cakes, chocolate trail mix… you’re picturing Forrest Gump now, right? Ok, moving on…
One time the open dumpster was mounded high with banana bunches. Perfect bananas, even slightly green. The bananas were piled a good 3 feet above the lip of the dumpster, and littered liberally around on the ground, like a dump truck had dropped them into the dumpster and many had spilled. It’s a strong possibility that a forklift did dump a palletful straight into the dumpster. Inside the store, there were multitudinous bananas for sale as well. They were even greener. What can a person do with that many bananas? Banana bread, banana muffins, banana creme pie, banana…well, that’s about it. I tried to dehydrate the bananas and unintentionally made banana jerky. That is not as good as it sounds.
We’re still using extra virgin organic olive oil from Trader Joes, because one jar in a case of 12 obviously had broken, oiling the labels of the other 11 bottles in the box. Unsaleable; into the dumpster, conveniently still in the box they were delivered in.
I’ve been in a lot of dumpsters, since the early 90’s. I’ve been flabbergasted at the quantity of food I’ve found.
Yes, I was introduced to the bounty of back alleys when I was a messed up homeless kid and needed to eat, but that was a long time ago. My on and off dumpster diving adventures for the last 20 years have had little to do with not being able to afford what’s inside the front door, and everything to do with curiosity and fascination with what’s out the back door.
Let me say that I am effing fortunate to be able to brag that I don’t need to dumpster dive; I do it for kicks. Many people do need to. It’s a social crime that 1 in 10 people are hungry in this culture of bounty and perfection that throws out so much. Hunger is a tragic aspect of this story.
This story of food waste is a layer cake of problems. We garbage food instead of sharing it with the needy, because it’s too legally risky. It’s inconvenient to separate waste on the commercial scale and compost. We’ve made salvaging food from the garbage illegal (it’s theft or trespassing), and employees are forbidden to take the waste food. We use fossil fuels to grow the food, then more fossil fuels to transport the food 100’s of miles to throw 11% of it in the garbage, and then burn more fossil fuels driving it to the landfill where it creates more carbon emissions rotting. Food prices are high, and rising, while a thick slice of the percentage of food produced is garbaged! The expectation of food waste is built into the planning of the grocery store so that the shopper can have a certain experience – how is this ok??? How did we get here?
And this is just the post-retail waste. Waste happens at the harvest point, in transportation, and if it is sold, is also wasted by the consumer, spoiling in the fridge and going uneaten. With all the tiers of food waste, it’s possible 40% of edible food is wasted in North America. I’m not even touching the extravagant waste that happens before food even reaches the grocery store, and after, when I talk about dumpster diving. The film covers that. (My numbers are old. It’s closer to 50% )
Every time I’ve furtively approached a dumpster, opened the heavy lid with a metallic creak, and gasped with delight and shock when I look in at a mountain of food treasure, I’ve simultaneously felt a heart-sinking sense of the tragic imbalance of things. This should not be! Our culture is seriously sick, to have arrived here, where beautiful, fresh, edible food is discarded for no legitimate reason.
What to do?
I’ll be the first to admit that dumpster diving is not for everyone. That’s why those who do should report from the front. What (else) is there to do about food waste? Talk to your grocery store and ask what they do with food waste. Ask for a percentage. Pester the stock boy and the grocery manager. Do they give their produce waste to pig farmers? I was once told No never, store policy. Why? Because of all the pesticides on the produce (What? But what about the people eating the food?). Just like fair trade policies and worker benefits on the food production end, retail stores should brag about their low waste percentages, food bank donations (Maranatha does it), composting programs, and discounting past due date foods, because we should care about these things!
Here in Nova Scotia now, I’m thrilled to see the practice of reducing food at it’s due date by 50%. This is unusual. Pink 50% off stickers pop up all over the Atlantic Superstores, from produce to dairy to deli to bakery to natural foods. That is all food that I’ve seen in dumpsters elsewhere in these two countries. Good job Superstore.
About this article. After writing most of it in 2012, and then editing it in 2015, inspired at the time by the discussion popping up in the media and the Just Eat It movie, I somehow continued to fail to post it despite friends begging for it and the importance of the subject. Until now. I’ve lost many of my “great score” pictures due to hard drive breakdown and still have not recovered them, but am posting anyway.
I’ve seen Just Eat It. It’s fantastic. It’s super fun to watch new dumpster divers learn the tricks, and they totally capture the delight of discovery, comingled with the stomach sinking disgust that this is what our society has come to, that can only be experienced standing on the brim of a dumpster filled with clean, packaged, edible food. They also discuss the other tiers of food waste, and present some happily encouraging alternative types of food handling. I beyond recommend it!
The Eastern Seaboard of North America is getting snowed on tonight. Mostly it’s a question of how much snow are we getting? In our particular spot the forecast is “not as much as some”. It started about five hours ago here, and a thick blanket has already settled on the world. Outside the light flakes are floating straight down and piling up with determination, and are predicted to keep at it for another 12 hours. So on this snowy night, let’s visit some stored sunshine from earlier this year:
After the honey extraction comes filtration. Have to get out all the bee wings, wax caps and bits of leaves.
See my super high-tech filtration system.
Wow, it takes a long time! The honey has to be warm enough to flow, but not too warm, then it’s not raw any more.
The wax is something else. It acts like glue gumming up everything, especially your filter fabric, but if you can leave it set long enough, it almost hardens into a block sitting on top of the liquid honey that settles out from it. I have about a one pound chunk of wax, sticky with honey and kind of dirty, from my first year’s honey operation.
My fancy setup worked, but it was pretty clearly less than ideal! Embroidery hoop, sewing pins, nylon mesh, and rigid styrofoam blocks.
Next time (there’s always a mythical next time when everything will be better), I’m going to have all the honey out of the extractor in one large vessel, and filter/fill it into gift/sale ready jars in one step.
Aha! I just figured it out! A bucket with a tap at the bottom. The wax will float to the top. Decant the honey from the bottom, and there will be little wax to deal with; the minor other detritus will filter out easily.
I think I’m finished with canning for the year. I think!
I have to make a habit of tracking my annual canning. I’m curious to know what the ideal #s are for two people for one year.
6 pts Plumsauce
24 pts “V8”, or, attempted tomato sauce that came out as juice, and after that much work, I canned it anyway. We drink a fair amount of V8, so that’s a few we won’t purchase
24 pts Tomato sauce (that did work)
21 pts Grape or Cherry tomatoes
6 pts Pickles
21 pts Pears
36 pts Applesauce
78 pts Peaches
6 halfpts pickled garlic
41 qts Tomato “soup” – just the tomato part of the soup, aka tomatoes between juice and sauce – they will make many good (tomato basil, cream of tomato, chili, did I mention tomato basil?) soups and stews.
46 more pts Applesauce
I hoped to do more “convenience foods”, like ready to eat soups. I also hoped to have most of a month to focus on preserving, but it turned out the opposite. It was a very busy Sep/Oct: I had to fit preserving in at the end of workdays and it was a weary, onerous task.
That’s a total of 309 jars; 42 canner batches (! – now I’m kind of impressing myself).
I canned no pumpkin this year, because somehow I have quite a bit left over from 2015, and I think I did far fewer apples, because it was an awful apple year. Edit-I purchased apples, and canned two more bushels.
Trash the rack!
This is the canning game-changer of the year – a silicone canning mat. Not only does it make everything quieter (no rattling), wayyyy less frustrating (those wire lifting racks are simply awful), but the water stays clear (no rusty lifting rack rusting into the water), AND nine pints fit in the canner with this mat, as opposed to seven!
Since I thought I should make a habit of documenting how much I can every year, I looked back into 2015, which was Year One for canning serious quantities.
I found my list alright, but for the big ones – peaches and apples – the number is left blank! Argggh! So, I have to estimate, based on 2016. I canned two bushels of peaches each year, but I did more apples than I did peaches, sooo….
15 pts beets
2 pts plumsauce
3 pts blue plums
3 pts red plums
3 pts pickles
14 pts pears
5 pts pineapple (grocery store sale!)
5 pts cherry tomatoes (whole, with a Tbsp of vinegar and pinch of salt – SO good)
60 pts peaches (approx)
70 pts applesauce (approx)
7 pts pie-ready pumpkin
28 pts pumpkin
4 half pints peach honey (not really canned, just jarred)
18 half pints pesto (ditto, jarred, and frozen)
So that’s (approx) 30 canner loads, including 6 double loads in the pressure canner for the beets and pumpkin.
This is my favorite way (pretty much, only way) to prepare eggplant.
Eggplant sliced a 1/2 inch thick, sliced fresh tomatoes, and grated or sliced cheese. Grind black pepper liberally (I added sliced green olives to this batch). Hose down with olive oil and bake until the cheese bubbles.
Really, it’s like mini-pizzas with eggplant for the “crust”.
We’ve been making a steady supply of granola in the wonderful Sun Oven.
This stems from a compound realization: 1. We both like granola. A lot. We eat it very often. In spite of the risk of being called granolas. 2. It’s bloody expensive! Analyzing monthly expenditures turned up an alarming number on bulk granola. Oh, but it’s so good! Can’t stop! (see #1). 3. Rolled oats- not so much. Very cheap, or relatively so for these days. Really, it beggars belief how much the price for an oat can inflate if you drip some sugar on it and toast it.
We can make it ourselves!
So we’ve been mixing up big batches of granola and toasting by the panful on sunny days, which have arrived in abundance in April.
Our granola kicks a** on the granola we used to buy, and HW even muses that what makes it really special is he can “taste the sun in it”. We won’t be going back. Making enough to last through the winter might be a challenge…hmmm.
(we usu do twice this much at a time, and amounts are approximate, but this is the basic)
3 cups oats
Cinnamon, and often the usual pumpkin pie culprits- nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
Dash of salt
Optional 1/2 cup of some deluxe optional additions, like sliced almonds, pecan pieces, hazelnuts, flax seeds or pumpkin seeds; finely chopped dried pineapple, or candied ginger, or dried strawberries. This is what adds the wow!
These are the dry ingredients. Stir ’em up.
1/3 cup coconut oil
Splash of maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsps brown sugar
1 Tsp vanilla
These are the liquids. Heat them, together, and drizzle them over the dry while rapidly tumbling the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon.
Bake. Normally this might say 15 min at 350F? or some such. It’s about twenty minutes in the sun oven, and then stir it up and leave it another 10-15. Watch the oven! If it gets to dark brown, it could be just fine with milk, but there might be too much sun in it.
Oh, I may have invented this: I was displeased that my first batch of plum “preserves” separated in the jar- 1/3 liquid, 2/3 fruit mush. So I put the next batch through my jelly bag (but only quickly, not a full extraction), and the result was part 1, incredible glowing pink plum juice which I drank, and part 2, plum”sauce” the texture of applesauce, which I canned. It did not separate in the jars then.
I like that plum skins soften to indiscernability. Removing the skins from everything is not my favorite activity.
After epic peach canning day, I was reluctant to waste the remaining water that I boiled the peaches in, with sugar and citric acid in it too.
So I combined it with the kombucha batch I had ready to go. It happened to be a ginger infusion. Voila, peach-ginger kombucha. And wow, was it good. As usual, I bottled it in the twist-off capped pop bottles I normally reuse. During the stay in the bottle, the kombucha carbonates while the yeast does a little more work.
Sure, I was adding some sugary fruit juice to my kombucha, but my kombucha was a little overready, which often means that the yeast has had a die-off once the available sugar has been consumed.
But no, the yeast was alive and well, feasting on the sugars of the peach juice and carbonating like crazy.
I’m just after discovering how easy it is to make soda from the delicious and exciting book True Brews. Amazingly, shockingly, easy (just add yeast).
And here I was, doing it, as I discovered.
My first clue was the bottle that burst. I heard it – bang- followed by an ominous dripping sound. Luckily I was home to hear it, and ferreted out the cause. The lid had blown off, chipping the rim of the bottle.
My second clue was the second bottle that burst. In the meantime, HW’d moved all the potentially exploding bottles outside, in case more exploded, but I hadn’t gotten to decanting the pressurized bottles yet. The base of the second exploder sheared off neatly.
The book clearly warns to not put soda into glass bottles except upon serving, for aesthetics, because of exactly this. The pressure builds fast, and becomes great.
I decanted the surviving bottles into a couple 2l pop bottles, which are built to survive pressure.
Peach soda! So good! See, one bottle’s already almost gone.
Every day, the first apple tree is dropping five gallons of apples. Dropping. That’s a fraction of how many are staying on the tree.
About half of them are split, and go to the pigs and hens. When I pick them up, wasps come tumbling out of the splits. I think they might get drunk on the spoiled apples. The wasps are luxuriating in the apple glut. Pretty soon, the pigs are gonna give me the Another apple? face too. The undamaged ones, I’m saucing, since this is a lovely sauce apple.
This is one of the dozen or so trees HW pruned in the spring, and this tree has responded exuberantly. Many of the apples are “store-sized” already (would expect a couple years pruning to come up to full size).
This is just the first tree to get ripe, of….63?
Haha. There are, at last count, 63 apple trees here, but only about a third of them look likely to bear apples, and most of them haven’t been pruned, so they have tight little stingy apples. If all goes well, we will have a fine amount of cider this year. Over time and annual pruning, more of these legacy apple trees will come back into production.
The apples are coming! One of the big, old, stately ancient apple trees (when we come up with the perfect name for these wizened empresses of apple trees, it will become the name of our farm) by the old farmhouse is loaded with fruit, weighing the branches down to the ground. I picked up about 5 gallons of apples just off the ground, lobbing many of them directly into the pig compound. Oink, oink. Happy pigs.
Although we were late getting to it, the sap was late to run this year, due to this weather the Maritimes are having. So, we are right on time. First warmish, sunny day, it’s about to begin..
We tapped six trees, just using little 1-2 gal food grade buckets. Edit: Later we put aluminum foil hats on them (paranoid conspiracy buckets) with elastic bands. Wasn’t pretty, but it worked, relatively. Only lost two hats in the wind.
We don’t intend to boil down the sap to syrup, because we don’t have an outdoor cooking facility, so we’ll have to use it fresh. We’ll just drink it, cook with it, drink it….
There’s nothing more divine than cold fresh maple sap. Perhaps it’s even healing.
I was digging with my hands hoping for enough young potatoes for a meal, and this big one came up! A little bit on the creative side, but a nice healthy potato.
The potatoes, beans, strawberries, and cucumbers are all thriving this year on the unamended soil we dug in the spring. The greens, beets and carrots are best not mentioned. Next year, we will probably plant only the former crops in the new-dug beds, and the latter and anything else finicky in this year’s beds, which will have had some building/amendment.
One essential off-grid accessory is the solar oven. It was on my list of early things we would have to build, but my Dad gave us this commercial oven (Sun Oven, from Illinois), and is it ever wonderful.
Portable. Oh so portable, because it’s ultra light, and it’s a perfect size dimensionally for picking up with two hands and toting around, even when there’s something stewing or brewing in it.
Incredibly well-designed. The inside is easy to wipe clean; there’s an adjustable landing leg on the back for easily adjusting the tilt to aim it at the sun; when you stow the reflective panels, which takes about 2 seconds, there’s a snap strap that secures them, and then there’s a suitcase handle; the exterior is molded plastic, without seams; the glass has a airtight rubber seal; it holds a tall pot or two bread pans side by side. Especially, there’s a cradle inside that holds the pot or pan, and it swings to keep the contents level no matter of the tilt you put on the oven. The cradle has a little edge to keep your food aboard. All so very very well-designed.
The internal thermometer is obscured by condensation pretty quickly when it heats up. This oven heats up very fast, hitting boiling in about 20 minutes. It takes 3-4 hours to bake, say, banana bread. I scoot it around in the afternoon and adjust the leg to keep it aimed at the sun. On a sunny hot day, I can bake two items.
It’s not just for baking of course. It boils water, cooks rice (like a dream), cooks anything in a pot, really. I even managed to burn something. I’m trying to get into bread, in the spirit of reducing things that we purchase. H.W. got a lot of discount bananas though, so there was a run of banana bread, which does very well in the Sun Oven.
I try to use it for cooking every sunny day. Every time I use it instead of the stove, I save that much propane. And when it’s hot, no one wants to heat and steam up the camper, ugh. This keeps the heat outside. I pick it up and set it in the sun, open the reflective wings, set something to bake and turn it to optimum sun a couple times during the baking, then fold in the reflectors and put it away for the night. E-Z. Awesome. I’m really glad I didn’t know until now what this oven goes for, (phew!), but it does have a lot of advantages over the bulky, heavy, less portable and versatile homemade possibilities, and I can’t imagine any possible improvements. This is the top of the heap of solar ovens.
Exhibit A: One individually shrink wrapped, and labeled, and pricetagged…potato. One potato. For hundreds of years we’ve known that potatoes can be stored for months, cooked, and indeed, microwaved, in nothing but their own skin, because they already have skin.
I’m very excited about this. I started a tray of grass in advance just for the occasion. It’s just a camper-sized tray, as small as seed trays come. We don’t have the field space to support any larger crops, so we will have only short cycles of wheatgrass juice for now. I’m looking forward to the day when we have a half dozen trays in perfect timing and two oz each a day is de rigueur.
The kittens were really excited about the grass, snacking on single blades like spaghetti.
A mesh lemon bag is rocking my world! I just have to share this simple but so totally awesome innovation for anyone else out there culturing kefir.
If you put your kefir grains in the mesh sack, then you can just lift them out of the kefir, rinse them off, and put them in the new milk! No straining or sieving, no fingers involved, and less washing. It’s SO easy. The whole separating the grains and rinsing was the messy part before, sometimes enough for me to put off using the kefir for a day, or another day….
I’m definitely overly rapturous about this, but I’ve been culturing kefir for at least five years, so after all this time, this ultra-simple revision to the rinsing process is nothing short of a revolution! Not my original idea- it was suggested to me.
New to kefir?
It’s super easy to DIY, and supposed to be stupendously good for you (really, the health attributes ascribed to kefir get wild). Basically it’s milk that you leave out in a warm place (as counter-intuitive as that may seem), with a few small lumpy “grains” in it that start the culture that changes the milk to a type of yogourt. You have to always keep the “grains” when you harvest your yogourt, rinsing them and putting them into new milk for the next batch- they are what holds the bacterial life that grows, and they need a bit of coddling.
You can make a smoothie out of kefir when it just begins to separate (the yogourt stage), or you can let it keep stewing until it’s quite thick, and treat the product like cream cheese, adding herbs and spices, for instance. You can use different kinds of milk, too. All you need to start are the grains. Mine were given to me years ago, so I’m not sure how the product I see in the supermarket works (?), although grains seem to be available for sale online.
I don’t mill all my flour with it, but we did run out of flour yesterday, needed cookies, and broke out the mill, which delivered cookies in no time at all. It is an awesome machine, able to grind grains of all kinds and even coffee beans. I like to grind flax seeds with it, and really like making chickpea flour.
H.W. is already schemin’ on hooking it up to a bicycle.
…hard on the heels of much cookie non-success. I’ve figured out the key to edible baked goods: measuring. Follow the recipe. It’s not like sewing, it turns out.
My baking goes in a cycle- I measure meticulously for a while, and make great baked goods. My confidence builds, I start to throw in experimental additions and substitutions, things get wild; quality declines. Eventually I have a couple disasters, the kind that make me feel like I should have just dumped a bunch of flour and sugar in the garbage and saved the interim steps. Then I go back to following recipes. Repeat.
I’m back on the top of the quality cycle now, with this recipe. Tahini cookie success. Cookie quality is measured in hours, after all- how many hours the cookies last.
Washing pumpkin seeds before the last pumpkin pies of the year from my modest garden. These were very nice sweet pie pumpkins with rich golden orange flesh, and I look forward to growing next year from the saved seeds. Just thinking of how many pumpkins the seeds from one pumpkin could produce, and then how many pumpkins the following year…it’s as boggling as counting stars!