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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Rolling Pie Crust for a Fruit Pie Sure, this photo is out of sequence, but I liked it so much I wanted it at the top of the page. I hope you’ll be rolling out pie dough this way soon.

Don’t blink. Strawberries and Rhubarb are in season in my Home Kitchen Garden, but that won’t last for long. I have only two productive rhubarb plants, so I don’t eat much rhubarb in a season. I usually get three or four harvests before the plants stress out in summer heat. Thankfully, in the first few weeks of strawberry season, there is always enough rhubarb to make pie.

I used to make rhubarb pie, and it suited me just fine. In recent years, however, I’ve held out for strawberries and rhubarb… can’t say I like the combination better, but I like it as much… and more people are open to eating strawberries and rhubarb than they are to eating rhubarb alone.

Strawberry-Rhubarb from a Home Kitchen Garden Wash and cap the strawberries, and wash and cut the rhubarb to ¾-inch lengths. For the pies I made during this photo session, I used about five cups of prepared rhubarb and four cups of prepared strawberries.

Pie Insights

My mom raised me on pies made with oil-and-milk pie crusts. Classic pie crust involves cutting shortening into flour and wetting the mixture with enough milk to make a heavy dough. Oil-and-milk crust involves adding milk to salad oil and stirring that into flour. I’m sure a trained pastry chef can argue the quality of the resulting pie crusts, but for the effort, oil-and-milk is just fine.

Unless you’re someone who struggles with rolling pins (I’ve known a few admitted rolling-challenged folks), making pie is a very easy task. It is time-consuming, taking minimally 40 minutes to go from fresh fruit to assembled pie… and another 40 to 60 minutes for baking. Here’s the motivation:

When you show up to dinner with a homemade fruit pie, for some reason you impress people. My guess is that those people have never made pie and have no idea how stupid-easy it is to do. Pie is a great dessert, so why not learn to make it and enjoy the enjoyment others express toward your baking?

I measured fruit by dumping it into empty pie plates. When I’d filled two plates, I had enough fruit so I poured all the fruit into a large mixing bowl. Here’s how to make pie filling. In this case, I put three cups of sugar in a bowl and stirred in ten tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Finally, I tossed the sugar and flour mixture together with the fruit. The center photo shows half the fruit/sugar/flour mixture in a prepared pie shell. The photo on the right shows a pie ready for baking.
To make dough, put two cups of all-purpose flour in a bowl and stir in about half a teaspoon of salt (left). Measure ½ cup of salad oil, and add five tablespoons of milk to it. Don’t stir the milk and oil (center). Pour the milk and oil all-at-once into the flour, and mix until you have dough… but no more. This is enough dough to make the bottom crust and the top crust for one pie. I almost always make two pies at a time, so I use my first batch of dough to make two bottom crusts and I make a second batch of dough to make top crusts.
When the flour has absorbed all the oil and milk (left), use your hand(s) to pull the dough into a ball (center). To make a bottom or a top crust, tear the dough ball in half. Leave half in the bowl and put the other half on a piece of waxed paper where you’ll have room to work it with a rolling pin.

Rules of Thumb for Fruit Pies

I haven’t followed a fruit pie recipe in more than ten years. I’ve learned the recipe for dough from making a lot of pies. After that, I work from three rules of thumb and constant experimentation. See the box titled Recipes for Pie (below) for the shorthand of what I did in the photos. Here are the important rules of thumb for making fruit pie fillings:

1. Think of apple pie filling as the baseline and make adjustments from there. For an apple pie, if you use four-to-five cups of fruit, sweeten it with one cup of sugar, and thicken it with three tablespoons of all-purpose flour.

2. Adjust the sugar according to the fruit’s sweetness. Apples are fairly sweet; rhubarb is not.

3. Adjust the flour according to the fruit’s juiciness. Apples aren’t particularly juicy; nor is rhubarb. Strawberries, however, are very juicy.

Cover the dough with another sheet of waxed paper, then roll it out roughly into a circle. The circle’s diameter should be the full width of the waxed paper. Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper and flip the dough (with the bottom sheet of paper attached) over onto an empty pie plate. Peel off the second sheet of paper (left), then work the dough down into the pie plate so it rests on the bottom and against the inner sides (center). Trim whatever dough hangs past the edge of the pie plate (right). Save the trimmed pieces to roll out with the next dough ball.
After lining the second pie plate and distributing the filling evenly between the two shells, make a second batch of dough, divide it, and roll half out as you did for the bottom crusts. To make a lattice, peel off the top piece of waxed paper and use a pizza cutter or table knife to cut the dough into ½ inch strips. I run five parallel strips across the pie (left), then turn the pie and run five more strips on a bias. Finally, I run a strip around the rim of the pie plate (right)… this helps hold the components together when I add fluting.
To add fluting and crimp together the lattice with the bottom crust, I use my index finger and thumb on one hand to push the dough against the end of the thumb on my other hand. So, I push in with my thumb and index finger while pushing down with my thumb. Pinch the next flute where the previous one ends, and eventually you’ll get back to where you started… but the pie will have an attractive scalloped edge.

Make a Pie from Your Home Kitchen Garden

The photos in this post demonstrate every key step of making strawberry-rhubarb pie with the exception of taking the pie(s) out of the oven. Oddly, we ate the baked pies before it occurred to me to take a photo.

Before the season passes you by, harvest some rhubarb, pick some strawberries, and make some pies! Oh, and if you prefer video instructions, please visit my sister web sight, Your Small Kitchen Garden, where I’ll post links to videos demonstrating how to make strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Recipes for Pie

Pie Crust for One Pie (top & bottom crusts)

  • 2 Cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ Cup salad oil
  • 5 Tablespoons milk

Stir salt and flour together in a medium-sized bowl. Fill measuring cup to ½ cup line with salad oil. Add 5 tablespoons milk to the salad oil; do not stir. All at once, pour the oil and milk into the flour and stir until it makes dough. Form dough into a ball and use half to make a bottom crust and half to make a top crust.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

  • 4 Cups prepared strawberries (wash and cap the berries)
  • 5 Cups prepared rhubarb (wash and cut to ¾ inch lengths)
  • 3 Cups sugar
  • 10 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Put strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and flour thoroughly. Then toss the sugar/flour mixture with the fruit. Evenly distribute the fruit and sugar into two pie plates lined with raw pie shells. Cover pies with lattice crusts and bake on jelly roll pans at 400F degrees for 45-to-60 minutes. Pies are done when crust is golden brown and filling is oozing thick, bubbly syrup.

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My first harvest of peas each spring is always about this overwhelming. I had taken a quart basket to the garden with me to handle the bounty.

My home kitchen garden has blessed me with my first home-grown peas of 2009. The pea harvest is, perhaps, my favorite of all harvests through a growing season. So, naturally, as the pods emerge I become, perhaps, overly vigilant: I check my vines each morning and again in the evening, looking for the first ones plump with green pearls.

Today I picked the first full pods. Usually, the first harvest is only a small handful that sits a day or two in the fridge until enough others grow plump to make a side dish or a meal. As you can see from the first photo, today was no different: I harvested only a small handful of pods.

My eagerness clouded my judgement. The peas I removed from these pods should have stayed podded for at least another day… and I enjoyed eating them.

Of course, in my excitement for the first harvest, I sometimes choose a few pods that aren’t quite filled out. Despite having been very selective today, it happened again. But fortunately only three of the pods I picked were a tad underdeveloped.

Now that I’d removed them from their plants, they weren’t going to grow fuller… and I can’t abide using such immature peas in my cooking. Betcha can guess what happened to the peas. Sure, and they tasted swell.

 

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Nearly centered in the photo are three rows of peas in my home kitchen garden. Immediately to the left of the left-most peas are lettuce and spinach with carrots and cilantro to the left of them. When the spring crops- the peas, lettuce, and spinach – wilt in summer’s heat, I’ll remove them, making an 8′ by 14′ clearing in which to grow winter squash. I expect the squash to grow well beyond this 112 square foot area.

When I’m feeling ambitious, I manage multiple plantings in my home kitchen garden. By this I mean I plant the same garden zones two or three times through the growing season. When weather cooperates, cold-weather vegetables planted early grow themselves out as summer approaches. I remove the dying plants and introduce other crops.

Usually, I plant peas, lettuce, and spinach in adjacent rows so there will be space in which to plant something large in June… and my first choice is almost always winter squash. Squash is a great late-season vegetable that stores well; it’ll keep for months on your dining room floor unless your spouse makes you move it to the garage.

Awkward Spring for a Home Kitchen Garden

Weather has not cooperated. This has been an unusually cold spring for my zone 5/6 home kitchen garden, and I’ve heard similar observations from gardeners all over the northeastern United States. I’m used to planting summer crops in April, but we had so many cold days in April and May that my spring crops are about a month behind where they’ve been in past seasons.

It dawned on me this could become a problem when it’s time to plant the winter squash: if the spring crops are still hogging garden space, where will I plant four hills of squash?

So, for the first time in my life, I started squash seeds in containers. When they go in the garden, they won’t have lost the month the cold weather crops lost in April.

Time Lapse Silliness

As my squash seeds started to sprout, I got the urge to capture some of them popping out of the soil: I wanted to create a time lapse movie. I don’t have the best equipment to film such a sequence: my video camera shoots at only one speed, and my digital picture camera has no features to simplify shooting a sequence of photos over an extended period. Here’s what I did:

I mounted my camera on a tripod, and set it on the ping-pong table pointing at my squash pots. I shot one photograph every fifteen minutes for 24 hours. The 24 hours were deadly; I pulled an all-nighter to complete the sequence, and it wasn’t long enough.

About two weeks after popping out of the soil, my squash babies are putting out a second tier of leaves. I may need to pot them up (meaning, plant them in a larger pot) to buy time given how late spring actually started this year. On the other hand, recent summer-like heat may burn off my spring crops before I’ve gotten complete satisfaction from them. It’s been a difficult season for kitchen gardeners in the northeastern United States.

Turning on my digital camera consumes a lot of electricity, and I had to turn it on for each photo I took. It ran through three battery changes. Also, to get consistent framing and focus, I had to push buttons on the camera about thirteen times per photograph. Unfortunately, all this button-pushing caused tiny but perceptible reorientation of the photo frame.

After shooting the photos, I expected to load them into Windows Movie Maker (free software you can download from Microsoft’s web site) and package them as an AVI file. But Windows Movie Maker couldn’t sequence the photos as I wanted. The shortest period it will display a photo is an eighth of a second… but the shortest transition from one photo to another is a quarter second. Whatever settings I chose, the time lapse sequence was choppy.

So… I Googled. My search uncovered a handy piece of free software called Photolapse 3 (you can download a copy at the Photolapse web site). The programmer built this software specifically to create time lapse movies in AVI files. The download was painless, and the software proved easy to use. Within minutes I had built an AVI file that was no better than anything I’d done in Windows Movie Maker.

Through experimentation, I learned it’s important to use small image files when making a time lapse movie. That became the second biggest chore of my project: my photo-editing software doesn’t have a batch mode for reducing an image’s size and jpeg compression, so I manually adjusted all 99 images down to 640 by 480 pixels. For future time lapse sequences, I’ll shoot the photos at that resolution in the first place.

Photolapse 3 produced a lovely movie.

Finishing the Video

The output from Photolapse 3 was just a time lapse sequence of seeds sprouting. To add titles and a soundtrack, I pulled the time lapse movie into Windows Movie Maker. There, it was easy to dress it up and save the assembled components as a new AVI movie file. It was a lot of work for a 33-second video, but it was also a lot of fun for a gardening/photo/technology geek. In any case, I expect to harvest a lot of squash in October.

Here’s the movie:

 

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The milk house sits at the end of the old barn. When my parents bought the property, the barn was already very old. My dad made windows for it, repaired missing and broken boards, built storage rooms, and created space for the horses to come and go. Horses still come and go at the far end of the barn, and I imagine the loft holds hay. Other than that, I don’t think the barn sees much action; my brother’s family focuses attention around their house.

Way back in February, Your Home Kitchen Garden started cheerleading for kitchen gardeners to take up beekeeping. While I promised this blog would not become exclusively about beekeeping, I also vowed to install a beehive in my own home kitchen garden some time in May.

I’ve been a bit quiet about beekeeping lately, but I have been pursuing the dream. In May, I made a day trip to Ithaca to pick up my dad’s beekeeping equipment. I began my trip with high enthusiasm. And, while the trip got me much closer to the goal of starting a bee hive, it was also a significant setback.

The Old Farmstead

I grew up in the city of Ithaca in upstate New York. When I say “city,” I mean I lived in a house in the city. Ithaca is a small city, and things turn rural quickly when you drive away from city center. When I was in my early teens, my parents bought a farm about 15 miles from our house, and we commuted to the farm on weekends and occasional weeknights.

The home kitchen garden of my youth was a masterpiece painted by tractor, plow, and disc. We hauled horse manure, my mom planted and hauled water, and we mulched the whole thing with black plastic. The garden now hosts impressive stag horn sumac trees and some underbrush.

The farm has about 100 acres of mostly wooded land, with only about four acres of fields. A stream cuts through the property and passes within about thirty feet of a big old timber-frame dairy barn. There’s a tiny shack we referred to as The Milk House at the street end of the barn. This used to house a refrigeration tank to hold freshly-harvested milk where a truck could pump it out and transported it to a processing plant.

We had converted the Milk House into an intimate bunk house with a tiny coal stove (in which we burned wood), had fenced the fields and some of the woods to serve as horse pasture, and had established a large in-ground garden bed along one side of the barn. There was no electricity, no running water, and only a portable chemical toilet.

Despite the inconveniences, we spent nearly every weekend visiting the farm to ride horses and do chores. My mom took control of the home kitchen garden—or can I call it that since technically it wasn’t at our home? My dad oversaw maintenance, and he managed beehives.

The Farmstead Today

Many, many years ago, one of my brothers installed a mobile home at the farm and lived there until his significant other’s job took them both to Boston and later to Maryland. Then another brother built a modular home where the mobile home had been. There, he’s raising two daughters and a menagerie of domestic critters.

To illustrate the passage of time, the spruce trees in this photo were between three and four feet tall when my parents bought the property. We fenced in the hillside on which the trees grow and referred to it as the lower pasture. When the horses were bored, they’d eat the spruce branches. The trees have put on close to 40 years’ growth since I first saw them.

My mom died 12 years ago, and my dad’s interests shifted from the barnyard area to the woods. He’s trying to grow various hardwood trees, I guess so he can harvest and sell them to lumber mills when he reaches 145 years of age. My brother’s priorities have never quite matched those that drew us all to the farm when we were kids, and the kitchen garden and the beehives have received no attention in many years; my mom’s garden bed is now home to a stand of sturdy sumac trees.

The Cost of Free Beekeeping Gear

I get back to Ithaca, perhaps, three times a year, but I rarely poke around the barn: I park in my brother’s driveway, and visit inside the house… or I stay with my dad in the city. It was a bit surprising to see that my brother’s horses have kicked a hole in the side of the barn. Other than that, things looked a lot as they had when I was involved with the farm twenty years ago.

Actually, it was uncanny that so many things in the barn seemed to be exactly where I’d seen them 20 years ago: the workbench, some trash cans, saddles, tools… all still in place, but now covered with a thick layer of dust. These are things that, understandably, offer no utility to my brother.

My dad stacked most of the hive bodies, supers, frames, covers, and bases in the barn many years ago where they’ve remained untouched by human hands. Unfortunately, mice had colonized the hive boxes, destroying old honeycomb and building nests in its place. It made me sad, but not in a judgmental way: Priorities change. I’d paid no attention at all until Colony Collapse Disorder emerged and bees were all over the news.

Main components of the beehives stood in several stacks to one side of the barn. Some components hung on hooks over the workbench, and others were in the drawers of the workbench. I began sorting through the stacks to find enough parts to assemble two hives. Essential components of a hive include:

  • A base
  • A hive body or brood chamber
  • A second brood chamber
  • Supers—as many as four or five by the end of a good season
  • An inner hive cover
  • An outer—or floating—hive cover
  • Frames to fill the brood chambers and supers

I also wanted to find the following items:

  • Queen excluders
  • Adjustable hive entrances
  • Bee escapes
  • Hive feeders
  • A hive tool
  • A frame lifter
  • A smoker
  • A pith helmet
  • A bee veil

For this post, I’ll leave you with the “shopping list.” I’ll explain what these things are in a later post.

A single brood chamber had broken away from the stack and tried to escape the barn. Apparently, it tripped on its way toward the exit and spilled its insides on the floor. The brood chamber’s attempted escape saved it from contamination by the mouse colonies, but it still needs a serious cleaning before I set it up as a bait hive.

The point of my story is that I found nearly all of these items. However, the essential components were in especially bad shape. As I removed brood chambers and supers from the stacks, I found two mouse nests inside the chambers. The mice had climbed to the tops of the stacks, chewed old honey comb from within the frames, and built large nests in the mined spaces.

At least one mouse nest had been there long enough that a whole bunch of mouse litter had sifted down through the lower hive boxes, contaminating everything with poop and pee. When I lifted the super containing the newer-looking mouse nest, a mouse fell out onto my foot, scurried up a cement wall, and disappeared under a heap of frames, hive bases, and hive covers.

Not a Great Start

I spent several hours sorting through hive bodies, pulling frames, busting the old (contaminated) beeswax from them, and stacking them in my car. Amazingly, my dad still had boxes of foundation—prepared sheets of beeswax or plastic that you mount on the frames and place inside brood chambers and supers. (There are hexagonal impressions pressed into the foundation sheets that provide a blueprint the bees follow when they build honeycomb.) Not so amazingly, a mouse had spent some time messing with the foundation; many sheets were stained with urine. Still, I found enough usable foundation to fill one brood chamber and one super; perfect to get started before having to buy any.

A brood chamber stands empty with a few pieces of useful gear on top. The bent metal object is a hive tool. You can use either end to pry frames from the hive, and to adjust frames once they’re in the hive. You can also use the tool to scrape off honey and propolis that the bees lay down in inconvenient places. The round metallic items are lids that fit on canning jars. Fill jars with sugar water, invert them in the wooden blocks you see holding the covers, and slide the blocks into the entrance of a beehive: you’ve just provided food for a young hive that hasn’t yet built honeycomb. The wooden sticks on the left are adjustable hive entrances. I’ll explain how they work in an upcoming post.

I scored two of everything on my list but a smoker, a pith helmet, and a bee veil. Except for foundation, I have enough essential components to start two hives, and can return to Ithaca to pick up more supers and frames should my bees require expansion space.

Here’s the rub: dealing with fifteen or more years of neglect was discouraging. I remember my dad assembling new, clean hive components when he started beekeeping, and that memory is way more romantic than the reality of working with dozens of mouse-damaged pieces caked in old, dried-out beeswax.

I estimate it will take a dedicated afternoon to clean a brood chamber and frames, mount foundation, and situate the hive near my garden. I’d have started this project in January had I anticipated the condition of the gear; there were no pressing gardening tasks to deal with in January.

So, I’m getting around to my bee operation about a month later than I’d wanted to. I still have inertia from my visit to Ithaca. There’s one more extenuating circumstance: my gardening budget can’t support the cost of packaged bees this year. So, my new goal is to set up the hive and bait it to attract a wild swarm. Conveniently, my dad offered up a partial frame of comb honey I can use as bait. Here’s hoping it attracts honey bees without also attracting bears.

 

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