Squirreling Away & Busting at The Seams

Autumn is here! It’s my favourite season and I hope it brings more cool weather. And some rain. It’s the time of year when I feel like a squirrel. I have been scampering around collecting and making food to fill the pantry, fridge and freezers for the months ahead. Or for if covid or any other sickness strikes. It takes a lot of time and energy providing food for all my family members at the moment and I know I would struggle to keep up if I got sick. But also, it’s just the time of year when there are a lot of crops in season and I’m trying to get them while they’re fresh and process or store them away. We grow a lot of food ourselves but there is still plenty we have to buy at the moment, so I am continuously increasing the practice of buying in bulk when things are in season or on special. You don’t have to grow things yourself in order to preserve them.

Once I had gotten my in-case-of-covid supplies checked off – elderberries/elderberry syrup, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, plenty of honey, lemons in the garden, ginger, frozen fruit juice cubes (especially orange juice), elderberry and zinc lozenges, tissues, RATs (rapid antigen tests), a few meals in the freezer, essential oils and homemade chest rub still on hand… I turned my attention strongly back to food.

I found a blueberry farm where I could get 10kg of blueberries for $60. So I did. They were all in one bag in a box so when I got home I had to put them into smaller bags and get them into the freezer. It was then that I really realised just how full our garage freezers were getting… I had an accidental blueberry spillage on the ground. Not of too many, but enough to not want to throw them away. So, being a resourceful squirrel, I washed them and put them in a pot with a splash of lemon and some sugar and made a small amount of blueberry jam. It is very nice actually. I just won’t feed it to guests. We will keep our ground jam to ourselves.

As the freezers have become more and more stuffed full of produce, meat and processed items, a couple of things have dawned on me:

  1. We need to think about getting another freezer or a bigger freezer.
  2. It’s time to work a vacuum sealer into the budget.

I’ve been wanting a vacuum sealer for a while, but the idea of it has turned from a would-be-helpful-to-have to a we-need-this-to-help-fit-in-and-keep-fresh-all-the-food. I know which one I want. I’m just going to have to wait for a little while longer.

The figs are doing well, when they’re not being eaten by birds. I’m enjoying fresh figs every day and I’ve also dehydrated some. The Little Fulla doesn’t like fresh figs but does like them dehydrated. Mostly, he just likes helping me to harvest them because it means he gets to climb in the bouncy, bouncy fig tree. It’s like a trampoline on those long, flexible branches. It is fun and a little dangerous. I may have dismounted ungracefully on one occasion. And almost got sconed in the head by his bouncy branch on several occasions. The fig tree is in line for a big prune when it has finished fruiting as the branches don’t need to be anywhere near that long, despite the fun factor. They only produce figs at the tips so I need to get the tree under control for ease of harvesting and accessing the Front Plot along that side. I am hoping to make some fig chutney and get more figs into the dehydrator.

I’ve been trying to harvest the pears, which has highlighted our need for a proper fruit picker. There’s only so much using the ladder that is practical. Apparently The Husband is going to make me a fruit picker. It has not appeared yet. The chickens, as always, like the part where too-damaged fruit suddenly falls from the sky. The feijoas are ripe and falling now too. Excellent.

Picking pears on the ladder above the eager chickens.

We’ve continued to harvest tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and ground cherries, but many of them are done now. The dryness of the last month has hastened the usual deterioration of the tomato and cucumber plants. I haven’t managed to keep up with watering at this tail end of the season as there has been too much else to do, so it’s been survival of the fittest.

Here are two big old yellow cucumbers that I left on the plants to get fully mature so I could save the seeds. The biggest one is actually a gherkin, Homemade Pickles. I put a normal-sized gherkin (9cm long) next to it for size comparison. Yup. It was a monster! The other yellow cucumber is Tendergreen. It got a bit stunted from being low on the plant and having its end touching the ground.

Mature yellow cucumbers for seed-saving purposes. Gherkin, gherkin, cucumber.

We’re having a better pepper season than we’ve had the past two years. That’s probably more about the number of plants I started and planted rather than my level of care for them. I was stoked that the seeds I saved from an orange pepper from the supermarket grew into plants that bore orange fruit. You never know, as pepper varieties, both sweet and hot, cross-pollinate readily with others grown nearby.

We ended up with an accidental cross with the Alma Paprika peppers. The seeds I saved last season and grew have borne fruit that appear to be a cross between Alma Paprika and Tollis Red. The bad news is they’re not much good for turning into paprika since their walls are thinner, more like Tollis. The good news is they taste good. Both The Husband and I like the taste of them better than Tollis, so maybe I’ll start some more from that seed packet next season. We’ve gotten a few Burpees Thickwalled peppers, which I’ve dehydrated to grind into paprika. At least we’ll have a small amount of homegrown paprika. I’ve been chopping and freezing excess peppers. Yes, more things to fit into the freezer.

It is nice to have a good supply of peppers.
Pepper love.

One day I discovered that there are now a bunch of places that sell avocados online. Fresh avocados delivered from the orchard. They even have subscriptions for regular avocado deliveries! Since I had also discovered that avocado can be frozen, I soon found myself staring with glee at a box of fresh, cozily-packaged avocados. I bought seconds, which have some marks or discolouration on the skin, but are fine inside. And these fresh, tasty, never-been-in-a-chiller avocados had been delivered for less than what I would have paid for them at the supermarket. My timing was good, as I also got three free ones and the price has gone up now as we get closer to the end of the main avocado season. Now to begin my foray into freezing avocado in various forms. And more freezer tetris.

Oh, hello, cozily-packaged avocados.

I would actually like a pressure canner to be able to preserve and store more things at room temperature. That should come before another freezer. There aren’t any places I know of that sell pressure canners in New Zealand. We have to buy them from overseas. We don’t have home freeze dryers here either. As a country, we’ve got a bit of catching up to do in the food preservation department. The trouble is, we don’t have a lot of storage space in the house for heaps of jars of food either. I feel like we’re busting at the seams of our homestead. How do we fit all the things in?!

Since we can’t presently fit any more big bags of tomatoes in the freezer to process later, I used 5kg of them to make a pasta sauce. We usually only make concentrated tomato soup that we use for everything, but I thought it would be good to have a more finished product that we can use for easy meals like throwing into pasta. I had my own ideas about what I wanted to put in it, plus got some ideas from other recipes and wound up making my own recipe. I don’t know that it’s passata or marinara or spaghetti sauce, as everyone has different names for tomato sauces and things, so I am calling it tomato pasta sauce. I wrote everything down so I could change things next time if I wanted to. The colour is more of a dark orange due to there being lots of yellow or orange tomatoes in it. It is very nice and so far we’ve used it in lasagne to shorten the process. The rest is in the freezer in 8 oz (236 ml) jars or 1/2 cup logs. The Husband has made more tomato soup too.

Tomato pasta sauce. How was this not in our lives before?

The row of Agria potatoes in the Front Plot has been harvested. The Husband and The Little Fulla got going with harvesting and I finished it off after I’d sown my brassica seeds (later than is ideal). The plants got blight earlier than usual and too much dryness throughout the season so the harvest wasn’t as big as it could have been. However, the potatoes look good and there are some very big ones there. The biggest one weighed 619g (1.4 lb). We can’t fit all the potatoes in the pantry anymore due to the flour buckets and other stored things. So there are crates of potatoes on the floor, covered with a cloth, behind Miss Scarlet’s high chair.

Even though it feels like we’re busting at the seams in many ways, there’s always somewhere you can stuff more vegetables. Or fruit. To that end I just bought a prune plum tree on special. Stanley. But where will Stanley go? He will go in the Maple Garden near where the loquat tree used to be. When I get it tidied up. The whole thing needs an overhaul to rescue it from the horrible weeds. Now I have some motivation to get stuck into it and so the battle has begun. Even if we don’t get fruit from the tree before we move on, I can take material from it to propagate and it will be something nice for the next family who lives here. The white flowers will put on a pretty show in spring too.

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