Like so many seasonal or holiday baked goods hot crossed buns can be prepared any time of the year. It’s not like the bakery gremlins are going to jump out from behind the wheat barrel and confiscate “unseasonal” baking. But, all the same, there is something to be said about allowing traditions and the flow of the seasons to prompt us to mix up our culinary repertoire.
Let Easter (or now) serve as the reason to mix up your baking by preparing a batch of hot crossed buns. If you can make buns you can make hot crossed buns – the only difference is the addition of a few spices to our standard whole wheat yeast bread recipe along with a cup of raisins added just before the dough is kneaded for the second time. When the buns have cooled they get a tiny bit of icing. That’s it. Simple, easy, fast and a delicious difference. Make a batch and the bakery gremlins who make these disappear will end up being your family members.
If there is a quintessential flavor to the fall, for me anyway, it is cider. That sweet flavor marks the conclusion of the summer and if not quite the close of the harvest season – its impending approach.
Like so many things in life there is the converse to the equation. For me maple syrup, and particularly tire d’erable aka maple taffy is the taste that while not always in line with the calendar date for the start of spring, marks the reality in a much more meaningful fashion. In order for the sap to flow the days need to be above zero but the nights still below, conditions which see the snow disappearing under the strengthening sun but not yet quite to the point that the hardiest garden occupants can be seeded out under protective coverings. If the final cider pressing coincided with the conclusion of the harvests of the previous season – save perhaps for some game and fowl – maple syrup season marks the sweet start to the promise of another season of bounty.
If you have a few maples you can easily secure some if not all of your own syrup. Spiles, buckets and their corresponding lids are still available – even if commercial ventures have shifted to less labour intensive pipeline systems.
Tapping maple trees – the first drops of spring
The tire d’erable – maple taffy itself is easy, even for first time candymakers (for that is what you will be after you have made it – a candymaker, and likely hooked on the process of turning simple ingredients and sugar into so much more).
If you don’t have your own trees you can use purchased syrup. You’ll also need a pan of clean snow or clean finely crushed ice to solidify the liquid candy, and some sticks. Popsicle sticks would be best but any clean stick or bamboo skewer will do.
As sugar solutions heat up they go through a couple of stages – the first is called soft ball stage, here the sugar solution when cooled forms a plastic pliable mass. As its temperature increases it transitions into hard ball stage where when cooled you get a hard candy. Move much beyond the hard ball stage and you get carbon – a disappointment compared to the other stages.
You can use a candy thermometer to establish these stages – or you can use the spoon you are stirring the syrup with to judge as small samples. How viscous (thick) is the hot syrup as it cools. If it starts to thicken significantly as it cools you are probably at softball. If as it cools while pouring the sample back into the mother liquor you find some clinging to the spoon and perhaps forming candy floss ribbons from wayward drips you’ve reached hardball stage.
For maple taffy (tire d’erable) you want to get to soft ball stage, and you can even get a bit beyond soft ball to play it safe.
Once you’ve reached this point pour out lines of the hot candied syrup on the snow, wait about half a minute and then insert a stick at one end of the candy line, roll it up and usher in spring and the promise of a season of harvest.
So last year on a visit to my local brew store – Defalco’s – to pick up yeast for my brewing. Front and center when I entered were a pile of beer kits on sale. Now the price for kits have been going up to the point they aren’t really competitive. These ones were regularly $20.59 but marked down to $13.59 – even considering I’d likely need to buy fresh yeast which is the only thing I consider perishable about these kit – they were a good buy. Granted they don’t give you the flexibility that brewing from grain does – but are they ever convenient. So I snatched up a bunch.
If you haven’t given brewing at home a try; or have put your gear away for a piece of time, maybe it’s time you picked up a kit and the carboys and brew a batch or two in preparation for summer.
The kit you need is limited and low cost so why not give it a try if you can make soup from a can you can brew beer, so stop saying someday and make someday today.
See just like making soup, only with way more malt and hops and a lot less chicken and noodles
Ready to add the yeast and let them do the rest of the work
The rush of spring continues. A few weeks ago I started rooting a bunch of grape cuttings I’d ordered. The grape propagation process is simple enough. Make sure you get good sized sections of last years vine while they are dormant. The sections should have at least three buds. You can store them wrapped in a damp cloth in your fridge for a couple of months if necessary.
When you are ready to start rooting them, make a fresh cut on the base of the vine segment (buds face up), dip the base in water to get the rooting hormone to stick then dip in in your container of rooting hormone.
Push a hole in your damp potting medium with a pencil so that you can insert the base of the vine into the medium.
That’s it. If you have bottom heat great use it. If not, that’s ok too. The most important thing here is that even if the base is being warmed the air should be cool so that you delay having the buds break for as long as possible. As soon as that happens you’ll need to bring them into the light but before then then don’t need it.
While I started the process for the new varieties of vines I purchased a few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to clone the Beta grapes that were growing at my folks place and took the opportunity to do a video showing just how easy the process for rooting grapes is.
Give it a try, if not this year then make sure you take the few minutes to get it done next year.
I know it might be popular in some corners to suggest that as humans we have removed ourselves from the influence of the pull of eons of evolution and somehow our brains have been able to eliminate the tug of natural forces. I think we are a bit closer to animals than folks would often like to admit, and that shows in part in the forces and rhythms which drive us.
For me at this time of year, as the rays of the sun grow in strength there is an unmistakable tug to plant, to get seeds started and prepare for spring and the last frost date. Now, granted it’s not like I’m going to end up curled in the fetal position sweating in the corner if I don’t get my seeds planted – but it would feel decidedly odd.
Without a question I have a bit of an addiction to collecting, trialing, saving and improving plant material, and this time of year offers the start of a season of promise and discovery.
I am reasonably certain that my standby veggies whose seed I saved from last year will perform once again – the reisentraube and matina tomatoes – as well as the wild cherry tomatoes that drive the kids wild with their combination of marble sized fruit and high sugar content – fortunately they are as productive as they are loved. On the pepper front there are the Peace Sweet peppers, along with the Hungarian hot wax, jalapeno and greek pepperocini peppers that I can count on.
But then there are the pots filled with the new varieties or ones which while grown a few years back didn’t stand out enough then to merit replanting. Among those will I find a new favorite to add to the annual must have list? Will the seductive descriptions in the seed catalogs – Fedco is my favorite – live up to my expectations?
At some point I know I am going to have to turn from acquiring and saving seed to taking a more active role in breeding to obtain the characteristics I am looking for, but right now my fix is still met with saved and purchased seeds.
So, again this year I’ve wagered a bit of money on seed packets to compliment those I’ve saved and the natural roulette wheel has started its spin. Will some of these win a place on the annual must plant list or be relegated to an also ran. In either case even the losers in this race get eaten, so regardless of the outcome I ‘m relatively sure I’m bound to win this gamble.
Herb seeds sprouting
Matina tomato sprouts – promising a season of great harvests
This has been my pretty much my standard do it all whole wheat bread recipe for years. While this bread has all the health benefits of fresh 100% extraction whole wheat flour you don’t need to sell it on that basis – it tastes good.
I don’t think many folks would accuse me of being too caught up with sticking to recipes. In fact when developing and trialing ones to relay here I have to force myself to measure and record. That is due in part to my experience that most baking is fairly forgiving. The most critical element usually is ensuring the moisture level is correct.
If you are new to baking with whole grain flours be aware that they take longer to absorb liquid, and depending upon the moisture level in the grain you may need to adjust the volume of liquid in your recipe. I always look to achieve what would for white flour be considered a bit too wet (but not soupy) a dough when the dough ball is first formed by the machine. This seems to end up being just about the right amount of liquid to make a nice loaf.
Ok, so it’s not as dire a crisis as one might expect from a trip out cross country skiing in the hills when the trails are icy. But running out of jerky is a pretty big deal.
It’s been a popular treat – better received than gummy bears – which is saying quite a bit. So, in a way while it’s sad to see the snow slowly wasting away and the inevitable nearing of the end of the ski season – it’s nice that it’s warming up enough that the home built smoker will be coming out in about a month – when the evening temperatures are consistently above zero – to get us ready for hiking and canoeing season.
If you haven’t tried curing and smoking your own jerky you really should try. Check out our bookstore for the simple plans laid out in the “Homestead Expedient Cold Smoker” that should see you build a smoker for less than $20.