Sunday, 19 July 2015

Foraging in Our Backyard

Foraging for food is a concept that, to me, is becoming more trendy and mainstream these days. Even the term "foraging" is more stylish than "picking berries". When I was young it was something most farm women did out of necessity to keep sweet preserves throughout the winter months. We gorged on pies and bowls of fruit with cream and sugar before the long hot days of jam-making made the house too hot and the black flies insufferable. I should confess that I hated picking berries when I was young (much like I detested gardening....hmmm...perhaps my lifestyle is a return to the values my parents taught us back then). I am interested in learning to identify mushrooms so we can someday forage for them, but for now I'll settle for the saskatoon bushes we are lucky to have growing wild right here in our yard.

Saskatoon berries are similar to blueberries and this happens to be a great year for them. We are making the effort to freeze and preserve plenty so that we won't resort to buying blueberries fresh in the grocery store (they are tasteless anyways) or even the frozen bags that are trucked across the country. The few hours of work should save us money while also making use of wild, organic, local food that is literally on my doorstep.




So what to do when you have a glut of any particular crop? First I search through my granny's old recipe books, because they were compiled by prairie farm women who ate seasonally. A classic on the Canadian prairie is the Jean Pare Preserves cookbook, where I eventually chose the recipe for "fruit" as requested by our elderly neighbour. He described to me how his mother used to combine rhubarb and saskatoons in quart sealers.




I am not sure I got it right but I gave it a try and sent them over with Husband along with some saskatoon muffins (recipe adapted from my America's Test Kitchen Cookbook).


I also concocted a saskatoon berry syrup for the boys to have over pancakes.


I found a recipe for saskatoon sauce so I made that and froze the sauce to serve over cake this winter or use as pie filling or in muffins. All in all, I feel like we have made good use of the free wild berries on our land. I have 2 large ziplock bags of berries frozen already, and another 3 gallons of berries to do something with tomorrow. We haven't begun to put a dent in the berry supply, so I might do some jam for small gifts at Christmas. Have you got access to wild berries where you live? If so, what is your favourite way to preserve them?



Thursday, 16 July 2015

Orange is the New Pink

We have been blessed with a "rain delay". It was 12C this morning with a driving rain. I just couldn't make my kids go swim in a lake. We got some baking done this morning but it was too wet for weeding. This afternoon I dropped the boys off at Gramma's house and headed for the library and to grab a few groceries (more on the books another day). 

While childless in town I couldn't help but stop at the fabric store. While at the store it began to pour rain. While it poured rain I got lost in stacks of feminine but not girlie prints. You see, I'm banking on it that a couple up and comers will be girls...I'm really hoping ;)

Nothing too baby...nothing cartoonish...a hint of retro and not too much pink. In fact, I found some oranges that I really liked and a lovely print that's meant to look like the old butterick patterns from the 60s. LOVE!! 


The lady in the orange dress so reminds me of pictures of my mom when her and my dad first got married. A much more fashionable time...


I have berries to pick, a yard to tame and one more day of swimming lessons. There will be pickling and preserving before much sewing can happen here. But it's almost enough to make me look forward to winter :)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Unfinished Projects (of the quilted variety)

Sometimes it feels like nothing ever gets finished around here...weeding, mowing and trimming are rarely completed all at the same time (okay, never!) and even if they were things continue to grow and it is a constant effort to keep up. One that I enjoy, don't get me wrong, but one never really walks away from a garden thinking "my work here is done"!

I've been rummaging through some quilting stuff lately: a new baby born to my cousin's son, a friend beginning her own journey into quilting. While I've been digging around I snapped some pictures of the projects I will pick up again this fall when the weather turns cold and the gardens have been put to bed for the year. I didn't take the time to iron them and stage them in the yard like the quilting bloggers do, these are staged to hide the clutter in my sewing room and nothing else! I hope to do some nice photos of these quilts once I've done the binding, but that will be months from now. But anyways, the pictures:


I will give this little girl's blanket to my cousin's granddaughter. The bamboo batting is so soft and cuddly. It is actually leftover from a bigger project, so didn't cost any extra and the backing that I used is a sheet that my mom gave me long ago. Frugal! Gotta love it ;)


Also keeping the cost down, I quilted the little girl quilt myself. I'm happy with the results. I will do a post on each quilt as I bind them and actually complete a project at a time!


No idea how to rotate this picture. These half square triangles were all made with the remnants of fabric leftover from a larger project. I used a walmart batting which seems stiff and too thick...I'm sure the cost of the lovely bamboo batting doesn't work out to much more. When I buy the bamboo from the locally owned fabric store I am not only getting a better product but I am also supporting a local female entrepreneur. Win-win! I think I will keep this little blanket on hand for a last minute baby shower gift. The light colours are suitable for either a boy or girl, I think.   


This little 9-patch was one of my first attempts. I really like the blue and white but I don't know what I will do with it when it is complete. I like to support the local women's shelter, which gives a blanket to every mother and child who leave there to begin a new life. I would like to think of this little blanket helping a child transition into a life free of domestic violence.


Needs ironed though! Below is the quilt that I made this past winter. It has many of the tones that are found in my living room and throughout the house.




I am happy with the way it turned out and used the bamboo batting I was telling you about. I also had it quilted in town at that locally owned fabric store.


It turned out nice and soft, just what I wanted!


I live in a house and yard where new projects begin before others are completed...it can be chaotic and sometimes I long for a more orderly way of doing things. But this season of our lives is passing by so quickly, we are busy with family and a new yard and I know it won't always be this way. In fact, I am sure I will long for these days when I have a quiet house and time to work on projects uninterrupted. For now, we live and work seasonally. It is time to be in the yard and on the beach, so that is where we are. Soon it will be time to work indoors and I will happily return to these unfinished quilts. I will post another update then :)

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A Hot Mess

Oh, it's hot. Saskatchewan is in the grips of a heat wave, a drought, and a record breaking number of out of control forest fires. It's hot, it's smokey, and it's starting to feel a tad apocalyptic.

There's a forecast for thunderstorms tomorrow and a week of showers. I sure hope we get it. I hope it rains and rains in the north and saves beautiful La Ronge, where I left a little piece of my heart. I hope no more property is lost and more importantly that no one is hurt. 



Not just another blurry picture, that's smoke from fires over 500 kms away. 

It's been around 30C (approx 88F) and last night was so smokey I didn't open any windows to let the house cool off. We do have a cool basement to retreat to if need be, but so far everyone has been happier in their own beds. The smoke lifted somewhat this afternoon and I've got the windows open trying to catch a breeze. 

It's not all been doom and gloom of course. I took my mom and kids to an open house at a local cheesiry. We toured the facility and watched the sheep being milked. Later in August I'm going to do a cheese making workshop there and I'm excited at the prospect of someday making cheese on my own.


Lined up and ready to milk. 


I didn't manage a picture of all the girls with their heads through but I was being courteous to everyone else who wanted a look!

I am trying to finish up the weeding in my food gardens before my kids start swimming lessons next week. We are driving back and forth to a local lake 5 days in a row. I'm a homebody and 5 consecutive days of being out and about is really my limit. I want my kids to enjoy the tradition of swimming lessons at a lake and so I'm going to grin and bear it. It's all about the memories, after all :)

We had a visit from our elderly neighbour. He is 75 tomorrow and invited us to his birthday party, and brought saskatoon berries and bubblegum for the kids. I am touched by the little things he does to help us out and we make a point of checking in on him and dropping off treats now and then. If you know an elderly person that is alone, I hope you take the time to pop in for a quick visit from time to time. It's particularly important to check in if there are major storms or power outages. The difference you will make in an elderly person's life is so worth the effort and you stand to learn a lot from a person happy to share their knowledge. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope you are enjoying good health and good weather!



Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Under Her Wing


Mama hen, at my parents' farm. She sat on her nest hidden deep in the long grass and hatched out 11 wee black chicks. When my mom moved her into the chicken house she slipped under the hen a guinea keet that had survived the briefly unplugged incubator. My boys inspect the hen house every chance they get and, yesterday, we saw the keet nestled up under mama's wing. 

A beautiful moment and a reminder to an often frustrated and frazzled mama to just set a spell and hold my babies tight up under my own wings. These days are passing by way too fast. 

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Garden That Didn't Grow

We are having a hot dry summer here along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Today we had temperatures around 30C and had a late afternoon thunderstorm which brought high winds and a bit of hail. Our yard received one inch plus two tenths or rainfall, while 4 miles away my parents had about half an inch. We are glad to have had the moisture and all my rain barrels are overflowing. 

The hot dry summer has had me asking, what would I do 100 years ago if it were this dry and my garden didn't grow? Surely it happened from time to time. Did families go hungry? Absolutely. Were some forced to town or onto the generosity of family? Undoubtedly. Back then if a person in the country could not or did not produce their own stores of food they could not last. Growing and storing enough food for one's family and one's livestock was the real difference between success and failure on the prairies. Nowadays, if you have a total crop failure such as I have had with carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, SIGH, you might trade with a neighbour for some of the things you have plenty of (so far, that would be onions), try the farmer's market, or you just say to heck with it and count on the grocery store for your missing produce. But this all has me thinking, 100 years ago on this piece of land I would be starting to feel a bit desperate.

There are some factors that would be different, of course. I would likely have quadrupled the amount of potatoes I had planted. I would have relied heavily on crops like turnip, pumpkin, squash and cabbage, and I would have a root cellar in which to keep them all. But here in my 2015 first-world-home, I have an entire area dedicated to water and heat loving tomatoes and peppers. I reserved one raised bed for my children to plant, and I have large spaces that are purely ornamental. My apple tree has 2 apples on it this year and the pear pollinator has died. I put in 10 raspberry canes last year but they immediately filled in with weeds and I have decided if they die it is probably a good thing. Something has eaten the strawberries before I can get to them, and I have 4 or 5 varieties of sunflowers planted for the birds and our pure enjoyment. It is obvious that this garden is not meant to sustain us through our cold 6-7 month long winter. But what if it had to?


Above, one raised bed that has produced nothing besides a couple sunflowers, some nasturtiums, and a couple bean plants. 

Below, sunflowers bent over from the driving wind and rain. I'm sure they will bounce back, but I must rethink how much of my garden is used to grow things not specifically meant to feed this family through the winter. 



I did plant carrots and greens and peas and I reseeded cucumbers, beets and peas when it didn't look good. The carrots and greens seem to be a write-off and there are so far only enough beets for a couple meals. The cucs are up but I am wondering what my yield will be, and I am thinking that this should be my last year of using the grocery store as my back up plan. Next year I hope to have space prepared to plant more and harvest more than I need, with the aim to get my family through the year on what we can grow ourselves. Of course this is not a revelation to many who garden. But for me it is time to step up and grow/harvest/preserve as though it is my only option. I am lucky enough to have the land, I am healthy enough to do the work, and I want to be able to make it happen in case the day ever comes where we must be totally self-reliant. Do you grow your annual supply of any one fruit or vegetable?


Monday, 29 June 2015

Air Quality, and Peony Love

We have had a beautiful stretch of very warm weather (for the Canadian prairies, at least). The trouble for most of us is the weather is a month early and has preceded any amount of seasonal rain. So although we've enjoyed some time at the beach, the 30C heat that we enjoyed all week is actually baking the crops in the fields and turning pastures to dust. If you're a farmer in these parts, you're probably getting worried.

I put the sprinkler on my garden every few days to keep things alive. I am lucky that I don't have to carry buckets of water. But most days I do. I run the sprinkler on the garden to cover more ground but water most of my flowers by pail. We have a couple large totes that I bought from the nearby Hutterite Colony (previously used for canola oil) that I use to catch rain. Then I also have my 3 rain barrels, and they have a bit of water left from the 8/10 rain we had a few weeks ago. Slowly I've used most of it to water my tomatoes and grape vines, and all the perennials near the house. Speaking of those, I'm having some serious love for the peony I planted last year. There are 3 new ones as well, but they haven't bloomed. I was so proud of the hot pink one by my shed....



Until I went to my mom's and saw her pale pink one in all its glory....



I do so love peonies!



It is a smokey, hazy day today--smoke arriving here from fires in northern Saskatchewan. My mind is on my friends there, hoping no homes are threatened and that the fires are soon under control.



It is smokey here, yes, and it is a reminder to treasure the clean air that we normally take for granted. To think of all the people that live in similar haze everyday of their lives...we are truly fortunate to live where we do. How is summer shaping up where you are?