Author: craig

Garden Update: September 2023

As the height of summer passes and we inch our way slowly toward fall, we find ourselves entering the busiest part of the year for me. While my husband is the primary gardener, I’m the primary food preserver—and everything needs to be preserved in the next few weeks.

Harvesting and Preserving

We learned our lesson last year. We used to like keeping things in the ground as long as possible, meaning that when we get the notification that frost is coming (usually in mid- to late-October), we then hurry to harvest everything all at once. And that means having to preserve non-stop for days or weeks to make sure nothing goes rotten.

I think I really burned myself out last year.

This year, we’re harvesting things when we think they’re ready rather than leaving them as long as possible. Really, an extra couple weeks won’t make much difference.

This means that this past weekend we harvested all the beets—53 pounds—and I pickled 26 pints / half-litres. We also gave some away to both our neighbours, my mom, and some friends of ours. We still have a small pile left. If I can find the motivation, I might try turning them into beet chips.

This past weekend also saw our potato harvest—234 pounds of Yukon gold and red-skinned potatoes. Thankfully, these don’t need anything done with them, at least not right away. In the past, a restaurant has taken some of our Yukon gold potatoes off of us, so I’m hoping they’ll be interested again this year. The red-skinned potatoes are good for canning, so once things settle down in November/December, I might look at canning some potatoes. These make great last-minute additions to dinner (fry them up like gnocchi) or breakfasts (fry them up like hash browns)—and since canning fully cooks them in the process, adding them to dinner or breakfast just takes as long as heating them up and maybe getting a little crispy on the outside. I’m hoping to convince a coworker to teach me how to make gnocchi, as I’d love to have bags of homemade gnocchi in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for dinners.

The tomatoes are ripening at a nice pace. They keep me busy but don’t overwhelm me. I just finished canning a batch of salsa and I’m stewing up a batch of butter chicken sauce that’ll be canned later today.

Looking ahead, I think this next week or two is going to be the herb-harvest period. We’ve got lots of basil that I’ll turn into pesto, lots of oregano that I’ll dry for kitchen use, some mint I’ll dry for a friend for tea, and rosemary that I’ll likely turn into a batch of rosemary wine. We also have some thyme, but I don’t know if I have a use for it—I could dry it, but it’s not really something I cook with—so I might just leave that one in the garden.

A lot of the other remaining things can wait till I have time. The peppers are slowly ripening but they’re fine sitting on the plant until I’m ready; the carrots and parsnips can wait till we have time; and the black beans and kidney beans are slowly drying and I’m in no rush to harvest them.

Legal Mustard

A few years ago, a wild mustard plant took root in our garden and we decided to let it grow. Though mustard leaves are edible, we never really came to like them. The seeds, though…I taught myself how to collect mustard seeds and make homemade mustard.

The first batch was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I threw it in the back of the fridge and forgot about it. And when the following spring rolled around and we were doing our first barbecue, I pulled out that mustard with a wary look. We gave it a try and ohmygod it was delicious. The flavour clearly matures over time.

Mustard plants grow millions of seeds and no matter how hard you try to collect them all, some always scatter. Year after year our mustard harvest grew as the plants spread. We never had to plant them ourselves—nature took care of it all.

Then, last year, we got a letter from the city about property maintenance bylaws. The letter was very unclear but mentioned tall grass (we have about two square feet of grass that got a little long) and noxious weeds. After researching it, wild mustard is a noxious weed. We had to tear it all out.

Turns out, after we tore it all out and contacted the inspector to verify we’d done everything right, he told us he hadn’t even noticed the wild mustard. The letter was just about the tall grass and the generic language included noxious weeds even though that wasn’t what he flagged for our property.

(Wild mustard is a noxious weed because it resembles canola and can infiltrate canola fields. If a canola harvest has too much mustard in it, the whole lot has to be dumped.)

We’ve still got half a jar of now-illegal mustard in the back of the fridge that I pull out when friends are over.

This year, we discovered the seed catalogue we order from has mustard—a legal kind!

The mustard plants are slowly dying off now—the seeds are harvested when the plant is brown and brittle—and I’m throwing the plants in one of those large paper lawn bags. In a few weeks I’ll work on harvesting the seeds and then set out to return to the world of mustard-making.

Since this is a new variety, the heat level of the seeds might be different. Wild mustard was black and dark brown seeds, which are the hottest. I’m not sure what colour these seeds are yet. But I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Looking Ahead to 2024

We’ve been gardening at this scale for a few years now, but we always learn new things and make new plans.

Next year our front yard will fully be fruit-only. My husband is planning to take out the horseradish plant before the summer is over, which is the only non-fruit/non-flower plant on that part of the property.

In the past, our neighbour who lets us use his yard has talked about moving to somewhere that requires less work and upkeep, and he’s talking about it again. This means we have to start coming up with contingency plans in case he does follow through on the idea of moving. (Given what’s been going on in this part of the city, if our neighbour moves, his house will be torn down, his property divided, and two or three new houses will go up in their place. The garden will be gone.)

This year we started gardening a little strip in our other neighbour’s yard. I think they don’t like mowing the lawn, so they’re eager for us to convert their whole property to garden space. If we lose our big space, this could be the route we go.

We’ve also talked about how we could downsize things and do it all on our property. (Do we really need 234 pounds of potatoes, 130 ears of corn, and 53 pounds of beets?)

Lately, my husband has been connecting with a meditation retreat place just outside the city and has volunteered some of his time to help out in their garden. They’ve offered to let us take some of the space for our own use. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s a big space and it could be ideal for things that don’t need lots of attention (since we can’t get out there everyday), like onions, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.

Of course, for all the talk of moving, our neighbour with the giant garden might end up staying there for several more years. But it’s always good to talk about these things so that if and when it happens, it’s not a disaster and we already have a plan in place. It also gets us thinking of what we’re growing and why. Like, this year we grew honeydew melon and realized that neither of us really like honeydew melon. If we’re crunched for space, that’ll be the first to go.

Update since I wrote the draft of this post: I decided to give honeydew melon wine a try—and I had just enough melon!

Honeydew melon wine (green) and corn cob wine (yellow).

Wine Failures

In my recent post about winemaking, I listed the country wines / garden wines I’ve made and the ones that are currently in process.

Well, I’ve had two disasters—one is salvageable and the other, well, we’ll see.

I noticed the airlock on the chokecherry wine wasn’t bubbling. This is concerning as it means that the yeast might not have taken hold and might’ve died off. If that’s the case, then I don’t have a bucket of wine, but rather a bucket of sugary juice that runs the risk of going mouldy.

I do these big batches of wine over at my mom’s place where there’s more room, so I’ll head over there this weekend and see if it’s salvageable. It’s certainly possible that the lid isn’t airtight and the excess gas is escaping elsewhere (and it is indeed fermenting), which is why the airlock isn’t bubbling. We’ll see.

Edit since I wrote up the first draft of this post: The chokecherry wine is indeed fermenting. It smells alcoholic and there have been some positive changes (like there’s no longer a layer of sugar on the bottom). I’m not sure what’s going on with the airlock not bubbling, but wine is certainly being made.

That seems to be the exact problem I had with the Saskatoon wine, though that one is salvageable.

The Saskatoon wine did actively ferment during primary (the first stage of fermentation where the yeast is most active), but after moving it to a new jar (called a secondary), the bubbling seemed to have died off quickly. I left it like that for a few weeks to see what would happen…but no bubbles ever came.

Well, it had certainly fermented earlier, so I knew the yeast had taken hold and survived, so maybe this was a wine that just finished early for some reason? It could have a low sugar content and the yeast ate up all their food quickly.

Anyway, I bottled it and let it sit around for a few weeks. I started to worry, though, that I might’ve bottled it too early. Maybe the lid wasn’t tight enough and gas escaped that way rather than through the airlock?

It didn’t take much convincing my husband when I said we should try a bottle of Saskatoon wine to see if it turned out.

I opened the first bottle…and it shot out like a geyser. There was wine everywhere.

Clearly, I had my answer. The wine had not finished fermenting before I bottled it and it continued to ferment in the wine bottle. This creates a safety hazard because if the pressure builds up too much, it could shatter the bottles. Not only would that be messy, but it’s potentially dangerous.

We opened two more bottles to see if they were the same. They did not shoot out geyser-like.

Anyway, now we had three open bottles of wine, though one was half-empty after the geyser. These are 375 ml bottles (half the standard wine bottle), so collectively it was just shy of a litre of wine.

We got some snacks, poured out the wine, and settled in for the first couple episodes of The Enfield Haunting.

The wine was great! I definitely want to try it again next year and see how it tastes when it’s fully and properly fermented and aged.

There were still three more bottles of Saskatoon wine, but we didn’t want to drink that all in one night. We have a friend that was really interested in trying this wine, so we wanted to save it for our next hangout.

To be safe, I put the three bottles in extra-large Ziplock bags, hoping that this would prevent glass shards and massive spills if they shatter, and then put them in the bottom of the fridge, as the cold air will slow the fermenting if it’s still occurring. When we bring it to our friend’s place, we’ll tell him to put on rubber gloves (in case the bottle shatters in his hand…which has happened to my husband once and required a hospital visit) and do it outside (in case it’s another geyser).

Preparing for Winter

Though Winter is still a few months away, we’ll soon be in fall and then very quickly the snow will fly.

The next month or so will see me harvesting the last of what we’ve got (which is still a lot) and finding ways to preserve it. Last year, we managed to grow enough veggies to last us the year, except for mushrooms, which we don’t grow. I’m hoping this year is the same. Although I’m soon going to an indoor mushroom growing workshop, so mushrooms might soon be off our grocery list.

The only thing we buy in the produce section at the grocery store are mushrooms, apples, oranges, bananas, and ginger (which we’ve got in our garden this year!). That’s it. The rapidly rising cost of fruits and veggies hasn’t really hit us.

As the food preserving winds down in October, I hope to get back into baking bread and bagels. I’ve been maintaining my sourdough starter but haven’t had time to use it to make anything.

I’ve also got other projects I’ve been long neglecting because of the garden. Outside of this, I’m an author and a publisher and while I’ve managed to keep the publishing going, I really need to get back into writing. My favourite part of winter is the slower pace and just enjoying all of the food and drink that we’ve grown and preserved. It tastes so much better when we know we did it all ourselves.

For my husband, preparing for winter means slowly clearing out the gardens and planting the garlic so they come up right as the spring rolls around. As the snow falls, he wedges tree branches in our chain link fence and strings Christmas lights through them, giving it all a sort of enchanted forest look.

And as we get into the real depths of winter, well, that’s when the seed catalogue arrives in our mailbox and we start preparing for the upcoming spring.

A Rough Guide to Making Country Wines

Country wines are generally wines made with fruit other than grapes. Considering these wines are usually the output of my garden and I’m not located in the country, I sometimes refer to these as garden wines.

But whether you call them country wines or garden wines or something else, the process is still the same and the output is usually delicious.

I’ve learned over the years that fermenting—wines, kombucha, fermentation as preservation—is as much an art as it is a science.

Yes, there’s the obvious science stuff; fermentation is the process of using beneficial bacteria and yeast to produce a desired effect on foods. In winemaking, fermentation involves yeast turning sugar into alcohol.

However, once the basic science stuff is accommodated, art comes in. For winemaking that could mean tweaking a recipe to get a desired taste, upping the sugar content to increase the alcohol content, paying attention to the wine to get a sense of the fermentation stages and process (since I often find with country wines that the fermentation period varies wildly from the recipes I follow), and more.

So far I’ve tried:

  • Dandelion wine (now a regular summer project for me)
  • Lemon wine (a bit lemony, which I guess is to be expected, but it received mixed reviews)
  • Parsnip wine (surprisingly very good)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of mine)
  • Apple wine (delicious and will definitely be making more)
  • Lilac wine (unbelievably good)
  • Saskatoon wine (recently bottled, haven’t tried yet)
  • Cherry wine (going to bottle soon, haven’t tried yet)
  • Grape wine (going to bottle in a couple weeks, haven’t tried yet)
  • Chokecherry wine (currently fermenting, haven’t had it before)
  • Corn cob wine (just started this batch yesterday, haven’t had it before)
  • Beetroot wine (just starting this batch today, haven’t had it before)

The Equipment You Need

While country wines are dirt cheap to make—the ingredients are often fruit, sugar, water, yeast, and a few additives—there is a start-up cost with the needed equipment. Even then, there are things you need, and things you can get by without.

Country wines are often small one-gallon batches, which means you’re using smaller (and cheaper!) equipment than if you’re making full five-gallon batches from winemaking kits. (There are even mason jar micro-batch wine recipes if you search the internet enough!) However, if you like a garden wine and have enough fruit, you can always quintuple a recipe and use the traditional five-gallon equipment.

Everything I’ll list here is on the assumption of equipment needed for one-gallon batches:

  • Fermentation vessels, which are a fancy term to mean jars or buckets. Ideally you have two because you have to transfer the wine from one to the other a few times to remove sediment, but you could get by only having one of you transfer the wine to a temporary vessel (like several jars or jugs) while you clean out your vessel, then return the wine to it.
  • Airlocks / waterlocks, which are important to control the flow of air and, more importantly, any unwanted yeasts in the air that could spoil a batch of wine. (There’s yeast all around us!)
  • Bottles and corks. Since country wines are typically small batches, I like to use 375ml bottles, so the wine spreads out a little better. 375ml is half a standard wine bottle. You’ll also need corks and a corker (a device to put the cork in the bottle). Bottles can be reused, corks cannot.
  • Siphon, to move the wine from one vessel to the other.
    • Here’s one on Amazon, and it’s made for one gallon vessels. If you’re doing bigger batches with bigger equipment, you’ll need a longer siphon.
    • I actually don’t use this. I have a siphon but it’s for the big 5-gallon jugs, making it quite oversized for a little one-gallon jar. I usually use a clean ladle and carefully ladle the wine from one vessel to the other, leaving most sediment behind. If I also have to filter out chunks of fruit, I set a fine-mesh wire strainer over the empty vessel to catch the fruit as I transfer the wine. When transferring the wine to bottle—usually done by siphoning directly into the bottles—I use a funnel and ladle the wine in. It’s not the best, but it does the job.
  • Yeast. There are different yeasts meant for different types of wine. To be honest, I’m not the best with planning ahead so I often just use the one I have on hand. **Do not use bread yeast as you’ll get off flavours.**
  • Pectin enzyme, which is needed to break up naturally occurring pectin that comes on some fruits. Pectin is what sets jam and jelly nice and solid, not something you want in your wine.
  • Acid blend, which is needed to acidify some wines.
    • Here’s some on Amazon.
    • Alternatively, you can use lemon juice at a ratio of one tablespoon of lemon juice in place of one teaspoon of acid blend. I use lemon juice.
  • Tannin powder, to add tannins to some wines. This gives the mouth feel we associate with wine.
    • Here’s some on Amazon.
    • Alternatively, you can brew a cup of black tea / English Breakfast tea, let it cool, and dump it in. I always go with the tea option.
  • Yeast nutrient, as not all fruits give the micronutrients yeast needs to thrive.

The Stages of Winemaking

Once you get all the ingredients (which may include fruit/flowers, sugar, nutrients, acid, water, yeast, etc.) into your fermentation vessel, these are the general stages:

Primary Fermentation

Fermentation at the stage can be fast and furious, and sometimes the contents can shoot up the airlock and spill over.

The yeast is hungrily and greedily consuming the sugar and converting it to alcohol.

The fermentation vessel used here—even if it’s the same vessel you use throughout the process—is often called the “primary”. So if a recipe calls for stirring your primary or putting everything in your primary, it’s referring to the stage.

Secondary Fermentation

After a while, usually a few weeks, the speed of fermentation slows. The bubbles in the airlock are slower-paced.

At this point, you’ll usually rack the wine into your secondary. This is a fancy way of saying to move the wine into a new vessel, leaving sediment (or even fruit or flowers) behind.

This is typically done by siphoning the wine from one vessel to the other—or using a ladle like I do.

If you move the vessel before racking it—I usually keep mine in the corner of the counter and have to move it closer—it’s a good idea to let it sit for half an hour or more before racking. Moving can stir up the sediment, so you want it to settle before you rack it.

Racking and Clarifying

Recipes will often have you racking the wine—transferring it to a new vessel—a few times. As the yeast continues to work, sediment continues to accumulate. Some wines produce a lot of sediment (like dandelion wine) and others not so much (my saskatoon wine, currently fermenting, seems to give little sediment).

Bottling and Aging

Eventually the wine will finish fermenting. Regardless of the timeline given by the recipe, figure this out for yourself. Watch the airlock closely; if there are no bubbles in a five to ten minute period, the wine is likely done and the yeast has died off.

The risk of bottling too early is that if the yeast is still active and producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct of fermentation, pressure builds up in the bottle and it could explode. I once bottled a batch of dandelion wine too early—it ended up coming out sparkling like a moscato, but could have easily exploded. I was lucky!

Transfer to bottles, either with a siphon or a ladle and funnel, and then insert a cork.

Most wines need to age, which means just sit around in their bottles, for anywhere from a few weeks to a year. You can certainly drink it before it’s done aging, but the taste might not be as good. The difference aging makes can sometimes be drastic. I tasted my apple wine while bottling, opened and drank a bottle midway through aging, and enjoyed some fully-aged—and each of these three tastes were wildly different.

Learning the Process

Learning to make wine feels intimidating. However, the way to learn is to just dive in and do it.

If you can invest in the equipment necessary, a good starter is a full wine kit from a wine store. Those have easy to follow instructions and very little goes wrong. That’s how I got my start, and it gave me the confidence to move on to country wines. (The downside is that these kits are made for five-gallon equipment, not the one-gallon equipment you’d be buying for country wines.)

If you’re a first timer or have never been comfortable with the process, but want to try it, find a country wine recipe with clear instructions and that tells you how to identify the steps, such as knowing when primary fermentation is over and it’s ready to rack into the secondary. The resource section below will help you find such recipes.

Country Wine Resources

This website will be a resource as I get recipes uploaded. Click on Recipe Index in the menu and look for the wine section. (As of writing this, the wine section doesn’t exist yet… but it will!)

Practical Self-Reliance—this is my go-to homesteading resource and highly recommend it. Ashley has several wine recipes with clear instructions, including information on substitutes for special ingredients and what to do if you don’t have all the equipment. Her Dandelion Wine recipe was my first country wine.

I now do five-gallon batches of dandelion wine because it’s so well loved.

Jack Keller’s archive—Jack was a leader in the country wine community online and wrote a very popular blog filled with recipes. After his passing, his community archived all of his country wine recipes in a downloadable PDF meant for sharing widely. I’ve got a copy saved here that you can download for yourself. These are more for the experienced winemaker, or at least for the brave soul that likes to experiment, because some of them feel like fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants directions.

Tasty Experiments

Country wines don’t usually taste like store-bought wines, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less enjoyable. You’ll find out which ones you love and which you don’t care for. My husband loves my dandelion wine and a friend of ours loves my rhubarb wine.

But it’s the experimenting that makes this extra fun and the final product extra rewarding. It’s looking at something in your garden and six months later pouring it into a glass to impress your friends. It’s about making something special and unique, something you can’t buy, something that can only come from someone putting in the time and effort to create something delicious.

Garden Update: August 2023

It’s becoming abundantly clear to me—as if I somehow hadn’t already learned my lesson—that it’s near impossible to do anything else but garden during garden season.

Keeping up with this site has been a challenge. I’ve been making recipes and taking photos and making notes, but finding time to sit down and type it all out has become quite difficult. I suspect that once the end of fall hits and we roll into winter, that’s when I’ll be able to sit down and write about all of my kitchen adventures.

When I tell people we have a big garden and it keeps us busy, I don’t think they truly understand the scale of it until they see it. I had some new friends come to our place for the first time this summer for a BBQ. I gave them the address, but then added “there’s no number on the house, so look for the garden, you’ll understand when you see it”.

Most properties in our area have just plain grass front yards. There are a few front yard gardeners in the area, but they still come nowhere near matching our scale.

The first thing that’s immediately noticeable, especially in late summer, are the sunflowers. My husband lines our front fence with sunflowers and we easily have the tallest ones in the neighbourhood, with them regularly reaching up to 15 feet in height. Along one side of our property is our wall of corn. So when you’re pulling up to your house and you’ve never been there before, it’s like a cube of greenery. And once you pass through the front gate, it’s been described as almost like a secret garden, likely aided by the fact that the sunflowers sort of hang over the entryway, making it look almost magical.

The Crops and the Harvests

The purpose of our front yard has evolved over the years, but it’ll be our fruit garden moving forward. Here’s where we have in the front:

  • Those sunflowers I mentioned along our front fence
  • Snap peas
  • Scarlet runner beans
  • Saskatoons (also known as juneberries or service berries)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Horseradish (not a fruit but it’s where we planted it years ago)
  • Goji berries (we planted the bush this year, haven’t had fruit yet)
  • We also tend to plant squash in the front to fill up the remaining space. In future years, this remaining space will likely be taken up with more fruit bushes. Currently, though, we have:
    • Acorn squash
    • Butternut squash

The front yard is also our most floral area, with a lilac bush, a rose bush, a double flowering plum tree (which just gives us flowers, no fruit), lilies, pots of flowers, and a handful of other things.

Along the side of the house, we have:

  • Corn
  • Snap peas
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Dill

Our back yard is bit of a mishmash:

  • Various flowers and non-edible plants
  • Borage (an edible flower/plant but we mostly grow it to keep the bees happy)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic (and garlic scapes!)
  • Green onions / spring onions
  • Mustard
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Pumpkin
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers

That’s all we can fit on our property, but we don’t stop there.

Our neighbour to the west is a lifelong gardener but isn’t able to manage his entire garden anymore, so he lets us plant what we want as long as we take care of it. We do, and we share some of our harvest with him, and we help him maintain the patches of produce he’s growing for himself.

On that property, we have:

  • Beans
    • Black beans
    • Kidney beans
  • Tomatoes (several types and sizes)
  • Popcorn
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers
    • Jalapeno peppers
    • Cayenne peppers
    • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Squash
    • Butternut squash
    • Acorn squash
    • Pumpkin (both small edible pumpkins and big jack-o-lantern pumpkins)
  • Melon
    • Honeydew melon
    • Watermelon
  • Potatoes
    • Yukon gold potatoes
    • Red-skinned potatoes (good for canning!)
  • Cucumber
  • Alaskan peas (good for canning!)
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Swiss chard
  • Rhubarb
  • Horseradish

This list still isn’t over.

Our neighbours on the east side have asked us to help them garden a bit—partly because they hate yard work and partly to cut their grocery bill a bit. Since it’s primarily us that would be tending to it and we’re already stretched thin, at this time we’re just doing a little strip along the shared fence between our properties. We share our harvest with them, particularly if it’s something we’ve grown on their property; one of the folks living there loves the corn.

Over there, we have:

  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots

They’re eager to get rid of their grass, so as a solution for next year, they’ll likely put a tarp over their grass and we’ll plant all our squash and melons around the perimeter, filling their yard with the big leafy plants—essentially, the effect of a giant garden, but with minimal work since it just requires watering around the edges.

And… that’s still not it.

That’s what we’re growing, but that’s not the limit of what we’re harvesting.

My husband up on the ladder picking cherries

I’ve also managed to gather:

  • Apples from a friend’s trees (200+ pounds with more coming this week!)
  • Sour cherries from a tree on that same friend’s property
  • Grapes—boxes and boxes of grapes—from a friend’s vine
    • While we have grapes, so far we get just a few bunches a year, most of which the birds eat
  • Saskatoons, foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • We have our own Saskatoon bush, but the birds ate every single berry before I had a chance to harvest them. I distinctly remember looking at the bush on a Saturday evening and thinking “Hmm… some of these are ready for picking, I’ll start harvesting tomorrow morning so I get them before the birds do.” The next morning, the bush was bare.
  • Chokecherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • With this, he had the specific request that I make chokecherry wine because he has good memories of his mom doing the same. Here’s hoping my wine lives up to that memory!
  • Pin cherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park

This has been and will likely continue to be a year of abundance. Last year with approximately the same number of plants, we had an abundance of broccoli but everything else did just okay. This year, everything is in abundance… except the broccoli. At this point I have more than a year’s supply of certain vegetables, and there’s still more coming.

The Preserving Plans

With a garden as big and as overly-productive as ours, the huge challenge is always: How the heck do you preserve all of it so you don’t end up throwing out tons of food?

Well, the answer to that will slowly be revealed over the coming year as I upload all my recipes here. However, I will say that it’s definitely a challenge.

Our little house doesn’t have a basement. (We have a little dug-out crawlspace where the furnace and hot water tank are, but it’s prone to flooding in storms and in the spring melt, so we can’t store stuff there.) Until recently, we only had a side-by-side fridge/freezer. This year I bought a 3.5 cubic foot deep freezer that fits nicely in our kitchen, doubling our freezer space.

However, I rely heavily on my mom’s house. She has a cold storage room in the basement that’s perfect for the potatoes and a deep freezer twice the size of ours that’s great for the rhubarb and various other things that get frozen.

But if we froze everything, we’d need a dozen freezers.

When my husband started in on this ambitious garden project (which began as just a strip in the back yard), I quickly taught myself farm wife skills, to borrow a phrase from a friend. I’ve written about my food processing journey here, but over the years I’ve learned what I like frozen, what I like canned, what I like dehydrated, and what’s fine to just sit as-is.

The biggest challenge has been to get an understanding of what my husband and I like to eat. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of recipes online to preserve food, but if you don’t like the end result then it’s the same as just not doing anything.

For example, there are lots of great jelly and jam recipes, but we don’t eat jelly or jam. (The one exception is this Inferno Wine Jelly that tastes amazing on a bagel breakfast sandwich.) We’re also not really dessert people, so there’s no point in canning up a bunch of fruit pie fillings. These dislikes of ours immediately cut out a lot of uses for the fruit that we grow.

This Year’s Theme

One challenge I gave myself this year was to try making a bunch of different wines. It’s a great way to use up some of the produce and it ultimately saves us a ton of money down the road. (Here in Manitoba, alcohol is quite expensive.)

The wines I’ve made and plan to make this year include:

  • Dandelion wine (done and aging, but I’ve made it before and know it’s good)
  • Apple wine (super delicious and more coming)
  • Lilac wine (nicely sweet and floral)
  • Cherry wine (still fermenting)
  • Corn cob wine (got some cobs stored in the freezer)
  • Grape wine (notoriously difficult to make but I’ll try it!)
  • Parsnip wine (made it before, quite nice)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of ours)
  • Chokecherry wine
  • Rose hip wine (not sure about this one for this year)
  • Hot pepper wine (just came across this idea yesterday, so I need to dig in more before deciding to do it or not)

In addition to wine, I have various recipes for flavouring store-bought alcohol. So far all the ones I’ve tried have been incredibly good. These recipes will show up on this site, likely in the winter. So far I’ve tried or will soon be trying:

  • Rhubarb ginger gin (a crowd favourite)
  • Sour cherry liqueur (mind-blowingly good)
  • Sour cherry gin (fantastic over ice)
  • Apple cinnamon brandy
  • Apple pie liqueur
  • Dandelion cordial
  • Hot pepper vodka

Looking Ahead to September

As August slowly reaches its end and we head into September, and then on into the fall, the busiest time of the year for me is about to be here. The tomatoes are just starting to ripen and soon I’ll have boxes and boxes of them. The potato plants are dying off, which means in a few weeks we can dig them up. And the kidney beans and black beans are forming now, and they’ll eventually mature and dry and be ready for harvest.

My husband has his own routine for the end of summer and oncoming of fall. He carefully puts away all the sticks he’s used to brace plants, he prepares the gardens for the winter, and he plants garlic cloves so they pop up first thing in the spring.

The best part of winter, though, is enjoying the fruits of our labours—all of those home-grown and preserved vegetables, the fancy drinks and wines that remind us of summers when the weather is hitting -40 C, and perhaps most importantly, sharing this abundance with family and friends.

But as winter sets in, there’s always one thing on our mind…planning for the upcoming garden season.

How to Preserve Saskatoons (Serviceberries, Juneberries) in a Sugar-Kombucha Brine

Saskatoons are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them crop.

We have a large saskatoon bush in our front yard. About a week ago, I was looking at the bush on a Saturday afternoon. The berries were starting to ripen—they’re perfect when they’re so dark-purple that they’re almost black—and decided I’d start picking the ripest ones the following day.

Well, Sunday morning rolls around and I head outside to discover that the birds had stripped the entire bush in less than twenty-four hours. Not only did they eat all of the ripe and almost-ripe berries, but they ate all of the completely-unripe berries too.

I had plans for those berries. I make a super-tasty saskatoon and Grand Marnier jam that some friends look forward to every year, and I had hoped to try making a batch of saskatoon wine.

Thankfully, a family member came to the rescue. He knows a good spot to find wild saskatoons and not long after the birds had devastated my crop, I was handed buckets and buckets of berries. I had enough for the jam and the wine, with plenty left over.

“Saskatoons” is apparently a very regional name for these berries. Whenever I would search for Saskatoon recipes online, the options were extremely limited—basically just pies or jam. My husband and I aren’t really dessert people and I’ve never baked a pie in my life, so I never knew what to do with these and we’d just eat them as-is.

One day I encountered a blog post about something called serviceberries and there was an off-hand anecdote in the post about how some people know them as saskatoons or juneberries. Suddenly I had the key to finding more recipes and posts about this little short-season fruit.

If you’ve never had saskatoons before, I sort of think of them as similar to a blueberry. However, that similarity is more in the size, shape, and colour, though to me the taste isn’t super dissimilar.

My saskatoon bush produces nice, plump, juicy berries. The wild ones are considerably smaller, as is often the case with wild versus cultivated fruit.

Back to the cooking adventure:

After making the jam (which I didn’t photograph, so I won’t get a blog post about it this year, but if you’re curious, it’s this recipe), setting up the wine (which I’ll post about in several months when it’s ready to drink so I can also comment on taste), and flavouring a batch of kombucha with saskatoons and blueberries, I was still left with more saskatoons than I knew what to do with.

I decided to give preserving them a try. It had worked well with blueberries, so theoretically I might get the same result with saskatoons.

I pulled up the recipe and set out to experiment. The photos in this post are of a double-batch of the recipe at the bottom.

To start, mix unflavoured kombucha, sugar, salt, and water together and set aside. Rinse the berries and then put them into the fermentation jar. Pour the brine on top, make sure everything is submerged (preferably with a weight), close it (with an airlock), and let it sit for a few days. Taste it daily until desired doneness, which for us was three days, same as with the blueberries.

This was a bit of a disaster in the process, requiring quick thinking to make things work.

The first is that since I wanted a double batch, it was too much for my fermentation kit. That was easy enough to solve—I’ll just use a bigger jar.

I got everything mixed up and put inside. When I went to put the fermentation weight on top of the berries, that was my next problem—the weight was designed for a wide-mouth jar and I was using a standard-mouth jar. I also didn’t have any wide-mouth jars on hand to just switch jars.

You can usually use a ziplock bag filled with water as a weight, but there wasn’t much room in the jar, so I decided to risk it and skip the weight. I made sure to stir the mixture with a spoon every twelve hours or so, to push the top berries underneath so nothing was floating on top too long.

Then came the problem with the lid. The fermentation lid, similar to the weight, was manufactured for a wide-mouth jar, so it didn’t fit the jar I was using. Luckily I have some wine-making equipment on hand, so I poked a hole in a mason jar lid and stuck an airlock in it. (In the absence of that, the next best thing would be to loosely put on a two-part mason jar lid. Theoretically, the weight of the lid would keep it down and keep out unwanted air, but also be loose enough to allow gas build-up inside to release.)

All potential disasters overcome, the project succeeded.

Once the berries are ready and fully fermented, I replaced the makeshift airlock lid with a regular lid and stuck it in the fridge. If you’re using a fermentation kit, you might want to transfer the berries to a new jar to free up the kit for the next fermentation project.

The fully fermented berries are wonderful on their own. The kombucha sugar brine gives it a sweet juicy taste, and as they continue to ferment (albeit more slowly) in the fridge, they may develop a fizzy texture felt on the tongue when eating them—some folks dislike this and some enjoy this.

Other than eating them straight out of the jar, they make a great topping for yogurt, ice cream, overnight oats, or any other food where you want a little bit of fresh fruit mixed in.

Even if the birds hadn’t stripped my berries in under twenty-four hours, the saskatoon season is so incredibly short. Last year, the birds left the bush alone and I got to harvest the berries—I got buckets of them off only one bush—and we enjoyed our saskatoon harvest for about a week and a half. After that, they were finished with until this year.

This spring we planted two more saskatoon bushes in our yard. Either we’ll have so many berries that even if the birds raid a bush we’ll still have some for ourselves, or we’ll just attract more birds and they’ll all know our yard is the place to be. As frustrating as it is to have the birds abscond with the harvest, we do appreciate that someone enjoyed the berries, even if it can’t be us.

Sugar-Brine Fermented Saskatoons (Serviceberries, Juneberries)

With sugar, kombucha, and a few other ingredients, saskatoons (also known as serviceberries or juneberries) can be easily fermented and last for weeks in the fridge.
Prep Time 5 mins
Fermenting Time 3 d
Course Fruit
Cuisine Fruit


  • 1 Fermenting Jar or Fermenting Kit See notes for alternatives


  • 2 cups Saskatoons / Serviceberries / Juneberries
  • 6 Tbsp Kombucha, unflavoured
  • ¾ tsp Salt
  • 6 Tbsp Sugar
  • 9 Tbsp Water


  • Mix all ingredients except for the berries.
  • Clean berries and then put them in the fermentation jar.
  • Pour the kombucha-sugar mixture on top.
  • Put the fermentation weight on top of the blueberries.
  • After twenty-four hours, taste-test daily until desired doneness. For us, we determined this was after three days, but the length of time will vary based on the temperature in your kitchen and various other factors.
    Transfer to a clean jar and store in the fridge.
    I'm not sure of the shelf life, but the jar in our fridge has been there a month and they're still good.


A fermentation kit usually has a jar, a weight, and an airlock. This is the one I have and it worked perfectly for this. (I can’t find it on Amazon, but if you’re in Canada, I got it at Canadian Tire. Alternatively, here’s a more expensive and more complete kit from the same company available on Amazon, though it looks like it’s several lids and weights but you provide your own jar.) If you don’t have a fermentation kit, you can use any jar that’s big enough to hold all of this, and then use a Ziplock bag filled with water as a weight. You might get scum forming on the bag and that’s okay.
Keyword juneberries, preserving berries, saskatoons, serviceberries

How to Make Rhubarb Ginger Gin

It’s just about rhubarb season here!

Some folks are already harvesting theirs but for some reason the plants on our property always seem to be a few weeks behind everyone else’s—like, my lilac is just about to start blooming, but everyone else’s has already bloomed and the flowers have fallen off.

Using up rhubarb has always been a challenge for us. Last year we got 95 pounds and that wasn’t even all of it. Technically we don’t have rhubarb on our property, but both neighbours have it and neither wants it, so we get it. I harvested only one neighbour’s patch and did only one harvest to get that 95 pounds—if I’d done both patches and two harvests, I likely would have ended up with somewhere around 150 pounds.

For many people that sounds like heaven. For us, though… we don’t eat sweets very often, so we really have no desire for rhubarb crisps, rhubarb pies, or rhubarb jellies.

I’ve made a rhubarb-based barbecue sauce and a rhubarb relish that were both amazingly delicious, and I’ll likely feature those recipes here eventually. (I think I have enough leftover from last year to last us through this year, so that might be a next year project.)

The gin, though…

Venturing into rhubarb alcohol, I tried a few things—rhubarb wine (recipe coming eventually), rhubarb schnapps, rhubarb gin, and rhubarb ginger gin. All of them are delicious but by far rhubarb ginger gin is the most popular.

When I make a batch and end up with just over two litres of gin, it’s easy for that to be polished off in as little as two weeks. Everyone loves it.

It’s an incredibly versatile drink too. So far, I’ve had it the following ways:

  • Straight-up, with or without ice
  • Topped with just a splash of lemon juice for brightness and freshness (it really changes the drink)
  • Mixed with Coke
  • Or, if I’m feeling fancy, the Bee’s Knees Cocktail, which is the gin shaken with a splash of lemon juice in a shaker with ice and served in a glass rimmed with natural sugar and bee pollen (recipe coming eventually)

Making it couldn’t be easier.

You take a big jar (I use this jar, and though there’s no fermenting happening, I set up the airlock to keep it airtight)—and if you’re in a pinch, a large pitcher with a lid or with plastic wrap to cover it will work too—and throw in the gin, rhubarb, ginger, and sugar (all quantities listed in the recipe below). Give it a stir or a shake and let it sit on the counter out of direct sunlight for about four weeks. You’ll want to stir or shake it every once in a while to help the sugar dissolve, but it’ll do that on it’s own over the four weeks anyway—for the last batch, I completely neglected it and it was fine as always after four weeks.

Bottling it can be a bit difficult. I take a big two litre glass measuring cup and rest a wire mesh strainer on top, then carefully pour the contents of the jar into it. When the measuring cup is half full, I pour it into the bottles. I repeat this process till all the gin has been bottled.

It will be a bit cloudy, unfortunately, but it’s so tasty no one really cares. If presentation is important to you, you could likely run this through a coffee filter, or if you have a siphon for wine-making, you could transfer all the liquid to a new jar and let it settle for a day or two, then siphon it into bottles, leaving behind any sediment.

For bottles, I have grolsch bottles that I got from Ikea—these are the bottles with the flip top. They have them at Dollarama too, but the seal isn’t as nice, and I see them on Amazon sometimes, but I’m not sure of their quality as I’ve never purchased them. The ones at Ikea are really nice.

However, you can use whichever bottles you have on hand. If you’ve got some fancy antique bottles, use those. If you don’t care about the presentation, you could just re-use old gin bottles. Whatever you want to use is fine!

I’ll follow-up with a post later this summer on some ways to use the rhubarb ginger gin (basically describing the drinks in the bulleted list above), so watch for that post! I’ll try to remember to come back and update this post when I do that.

If you’re curious about this drink, I very highly recommend giving it a try—I’ve yet to come across someone that doesn’t care for it.

Rhubarb Ginger Gin

A delicious summer beverage that even gin-haters enjoy.
Prep Time 10 mins
Infusing Time 28 d
Course Drinks
Cuisine American


  • 1 Glass Jar Ideally a gallon / four litre size.
  • 2-3 Glass Bottles For bottling. (See notes.)


  • 1.75 litres Gin (See notes.)
  • 1 kg Rhubarb, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 Ginger, about the size of your hand, chopped (See notes.)
  • 400 g sugar


  • In a large glass jar, combine gin, rhubarb, ginger, and sugar. Cover with a lid and let sit out of direct sunlight for four weeks. Stir with a clean spoon or shake jar occasionally to help the sugar dissolve (but it will do this on its own over time if you forget).
  • After four weeks, strain and bottle.


This was a recipe that I found online and then just sort of eyeballed and adapted to my tastes. As such, it’s sort of a loosey-goosey recipe that can be adjusted as needed.
The glass bottles needed for bottling the gin at the end—you can re-use the original bottle the gin came in, but you will need a second bottle. The juice extracted from the rhubarb adds volume and you will end up with more than you put in.
I buy a 1750 ml bottle of gin for this, but if they don’t have it in stock I’ll buy two 750 ml bottles (which totals 1500 ml gin), but I don’t adjust the rest of the ingredients. I always buy the cheapest gin I can find because the flavour of rhubarb and ginger completely overtakes the gin.
The rhubarb can be fresh or frozen. I harvest all our rhubarb in the summer, wash it, chop it, and freeze it, and make this drink year-round.
The amount of ginger in this drink is completely arbitrary, but don’t be intimidated by the amount. The original recipe I found called four four coin-sized slices. That would barely result in any ginger flavour. A piece the size of my hand results in a nice gingery flavour, without the sharp bite of ginger.
If you’re a ginger-hater or allergic to it, you can leave it out, but without the ginger this can taste a little overly-sweet sometimes.
Rhubarb ginger gin can be drunk as-is, or served with a splash of lemon juice, or mixed with Coke.
Keyword Alcohol, gin, ginger, rhubarb

How to Preserve Blueberries in a Sugar and Kombucha Brine

A while back I tried fermenting blueberries with a salt solution. While it worked and the blueberries were fermented and were able to sit in the fridge for several weeks, it wasn’t my husband’s favourite. He could never really get rid of the salty flavour of the brine.

I was determined to make this work. My husband loves blueberries, but he eats them slowly, so they’re at risk of going bad before he finishes them. Plus, when they’re on sale it’s always tempting to buy extra and save some money.

Thankfully while researching salt fermentation, I’d also come across a sugar fermentation method that used sugar and kombucha. Since we brew our own kombucha (and that’ll eventually get posted on this site), this seemed like an easy one worth trying.

As long as you have kombucha, this one is easy and simple to put together. If you’re buying your kombucha in the store, you’ll want to make sure it’s pretty fresh bottle so that you can be reasonably sure that the beneficial bacteria is all still alive. You’ll want unflavoured / plain kombucha so that you don’t end up flavouring the blueberries with whatever flavour you purchased (though that might be an experiment worth trying someday—I bet ginger kombucha would make lightly gingered blueberries). If you’re home-brewing your kombucha, I scooped some out for this recipe right before adding the fruit into the kombucha.

The one piece of equipment you’ll need is a fermentation kit. Here’s the one I have. (I can’t find it on Amazon, but if you’re in Canada, I got it from Canadian Tire. Alternatively, here’s a more expensive kit from the same company available on Amazon, though it looks like it’s several lids and weights but you provide your own jar.) However, this is also optional—you can just use a large, clean jar, and when it comes to the step where you need the fermentation weight, you can use a Ziplock bag full of water.

This recipe really couldn’t be simpler, provided you have the ingredients and fermentation kit.

In a bowl or large glass, store together kombucha, salt, sugar, and water until everything is dissolved and nicely mixed. Then rinse or wash the blueberries to ensure they’re clean, then put them into the fermentation jar. Pour the kombucha/sugar solution on top, close the lid, and let it sit on your counter.

After a full 24 hours, taste test it daily until you reach a desired doneness.

In everything I’ve read about this, similarly to when I tried the salt fermentation, there’s never a definition of what doneness is and how to tell if it’s ready. So… my recommendation is to just wing it. With a full 24 hours on the counter, the beneficial bacteria and yeast from the kombucha will have fully established itself in your jar of blueberries, so you’ll have some of that preservation effect even if you call it done too early. At a worst case scenario, if you call it done way too early, the blueberries might go mouldy like they normally would, so next time you just let it ferment a little longer.

For us, it took about three days till my husband felt they were fermented enough and ready to go.

I transferred the blueberries and brine to a new jar and put it in the fridge. Even if you didn’t let it fully ferment before putting it in the fridge, that fermentation action will continue to happen, just at a much slower pace due to the cold of the fridge.

I think it’s been about three times now that my husband has said to me “That new way of fermenting blueberries is really good.” To me, that’s the mark of success.

For longevity of the blueberries… I don’t really know yet how long they last. The jar pictured here is still in our fridge (though much emptier now) and it’s been a full month, and the blueberries are still tasty and delicious.

Kombucha eventually turns vinegary, so if left a really long time, these might taste a bit pickled. If you reach that point, it’d probably be best to throw them out and start a new batch.

My husband eats these straight out of the jar with a spoon—they’re that good—but this is also an excellent way to preserve blueberries for smoothies or to toss on top of ice cream.

I’m tempted to try this same preservation method with Saskatoons (sometimes known as serviceberries). We’ve got a bush in our front yard and last year got quite the harvest. They’re similar in size to blueberries, though I think with less moisture content. If I do try it and if it’s a success, then stay tuned for the recipe!

Sugar-Brine Fermented Blueberries

With sugar, kombucha, and a few other ingredients, blueberries can be easily fermented and last for weeks in the fridge.
Prep Time 5 mins
Fermenting Time 3 d
Course Fruit
Cuisine Fruit


  • 1 Fermenting Jar or Fermenting Kit See notes for alternatives


  • 2 cups Blueberries
  • 6 Tbsp Kombucha, unflavoured
  • ¾ tsp Salt
  • 6 Tbsp Sugar
  • 9 Tbsp Water


  • Mix all ingredients except for the blueberries.
  • Clean blueberries and then put them in the fermentation jar.
  • Pour the kombucha-sugar mixture on top.
  • Put the fermentation weight on top of the blueberries.
  • After twenty-four hours, taste-test daily until desired doneness. For us, we determined this was after three days, but the length of time will vary based on the temperature in your kitchen and various other factors.
    Transfer to a clean jar and store in the fridge.
    I'm not sure of the shelf life, but the jar in our fridge has been there a month and they're still good.


A fermentation kit usually has a jar, a weight, and an airlock. This is the one I have and it worked perfectly for this. (I can’t find it on Amazon, but if you’re in Canada, I got it at Canadian Tire. Alternatively, here’s a more expensive and more complete kit from the same company available on Amazon, though it looks like it’s several lids and weights but you provide your own jar.) If you don’t have a fermentation kit, you can use any jar that’s big enough to hold all of this, and then use a Ziplock bag filled with water as a weight. You might get scum forming on the bag and that’s okay.
Keyword Blueberries, fermented blueberries, preserved blueberries

How to make a Sourdough Starter

I’d tried to get into baking over the last few years. We got a second-hand bread machine from my husband’s uncle and I was excited to start on the journey…but I just never really got into it. I was never really happy with what the bread machine gave me.

After letting that goal rest for a while, I decided to give it another try, but rather than look at the tools I have and figure out what I can do with them (like looking through bread machine recipes till I find an interesting one), I took the opposite approach and decided what I wanted to make and then figured out how to make it happen (in other words, I decided I wanted to make sourdough and I then had to figure out how to do it).

The key to sourdough—and the core element in its unique taste—is an active sourdough starter.

What is a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is basically fermented flour.

It’s bubbly and requires some care to keep it healthy and active.

To create it, you mix flour and water and cultivate natural yeasts. These yeasts are all around us—in the air and on surfaces and on us. Thus, each sourdough starter will have its own taste profile and its activity level might vary from other starters.

I used to think that fermented foods—like a sourdough starter—all came down to science. While, yes, there is an element of science to it, fermenting foods is often more of an art. You try something, you experiment, you do a bit of guesswork…but as long as you’re within the general guidelines of fermentation, your experiments are typically safe.

What is sourdough starter used for?

Since sourdough starter is filled with natural yeasts, it takes the place of yeast in breads that require some rise.

In the process of cultivating your sourdough starter, you regularly throw out some of the starter—this is usually called discard and it has its own uses in various things.

What you’ll find on this site so far, and in the very near future, include:

  • Basic sourdough bread (coming soon)
  • Jalapeno cheddar sourdough bread
  • Sourdough bagels (coming soon)
  • Sourdough chocolate chip bagels (coming soon)
  • English muffin bread using discard (coming soon)
  • Sourdough chocolate chip cookies using discard (coming soon)

As this site continues to grow, so too will the list of sourdough recipes. A good tip if you’re searching for more is to check out the Recipe Index page.

How easy or difficult is it to care for my sourdough starter?

It’s extremely easy to create and care for a sourdough starter, all it requires is a little bit of patience.

After you’ve created your starter using the steps below, you’ll want to regularly care for it to maintain it. If you’re storing your starter at room temperature on the kitchen counter, you’ll likely want to feed it and care for it on a daily basis, though I have gone every second day and it’s been fine. If you’re storing your starter in the fridge, you’ll want to feed and care for it on a weekly basis.

Sometimes your starter will get a strange smell. Mine will often smell like acetone (nail polish remover). This can mean your yeast is hungry for fresh flour.

When my starter gets this smell, I make sure to take care of it very well for a couple days to reduce or remove the smell. From what I’ve seen, if this smell is present when using the starter, it does not affect the taste or smell of the final baked bread or cookies.

You may develop mould in your starter jar. If you do, immediately scoop or scrape it out. (I had a tiny bit of mould once and it was on the half-dry starter clinging to the inside of the jar, so I scraped it out.) Fermenting foods, like what you do when making a sourdough starter, creates a thriving colony of beneficial microorganisms that do a good job of keeping out the bad microorganisms. When I got that bit of mould, I kept a close eye on everything to see if the mould would return or spread—it never did. If your mould comes back or if it’s something more serious like black mould, toss it all out and create a new starter. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

It’s pretty simple. All you need for equipment and ingredients are:

  • Digital kitchen scale (like this one); you can use measuring cups if you really want to, but going by weight is best
  • A large glass jar; I used a one-litre mason jar
  • All-purpose flour
  • Water

This process takes several days.

Day one

In a clean jar, mix 60 grams of flour and 60 grams of warm water. (If you prefer using measuring cups, it’s 1/2 cup of loosely-packed flour and 1/4 cup of warm water.) Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and let it sit on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day two

Look at the starter to search for any signs of bubbles. You may or may not have them forming yet. Either way, leave the jar on the counter another 24 hours.

Day three

Remove and discard about half of the jar’s contents. Add in 60 grams of all-purpose flour and 60 grams of warm water. Stir until smooth, cover, and let sit on the counter.

Days four, five, and six

Each day, remove and discard about half the jar’s contents. Add in 60 grams of all-purpose flour and 60 grams of warm water. Stir until smooth, cover, and let sit on the counter.

By now you should be seeing bubbles in your starter. You should also see that the starter rises in the hours after you feed it and by 24 hours later it’s collapsed back down. You can wrap a rubber band around the jar at the low level to keep an eye on the rise and fall.

Day seven and onward

Your starter should be active now. The level of activeness will depend on the yeast in your starter, the temperature of the room, your local climate (such as humidity), and several other factors, most of which are beyond your control.

Now you can go about feeding and maintaining your starter on a regular schedule. Each time you feed it, first discard half of the jar’s contents, then add 60 grams flour and 60 grams warm water.

If you’re keeping your starter on your kitchen counter, you should feed it every day. However, that requires a lot of investment of flour and your time, which is fine if you’re baking regularly. If you’re not baking quite that frequently, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed it weekly.

A Few Tips and Troubleshooting

  • If you got absolutely no bubbles and the starter was a total flop, I’d suggest looking at what might have prevented the starter from growing. Is it perhaps too cold in your kitchen? Did you store it in a warm place like the oven and accidentally turn the oven on one time (and thus killed the yeast)? If you can figure out the cause, discard your starter and try again. If you can’t figure out the cause, discard your starter and try again—but perhaps try with a new bag of flour in case that was somehow the cause of your issue.
  • Don’t be disappointed if your starter is a little underwhelming. As long as it’s forming bubbles, you have a healthy and active starter. When I got started on this project, I got very little rise. Everything I read online said that when you feed the starter it will double in size, but at best I was getting a 25% rise. The yeast culture in your starter will get stronger over time as you continue to feed and maintain it. Nowadays, just a few months later, my starter will triple in size rather than just double.
  • If you’re continuing to have underwhelming results, you could try mixing in some whole wheat flour. I don’t know the explanation, but a baker friend told me it has something to do with how the flour absorbs moisture. In my research I’ve also found Canadian all-purpose flour is different from all-purpose flour in the rest of the world, which might be why I was having less-than-expected success. I now use about 12 grams of whole wheat flour and 48 grams of all purpose flour, for a total of 60 grams. (It’s a 1:4 ratio of the two flours.) This may be partly why my starter now triples in size rather than doubling.
  • You might get weird smells! Mine smells like acetone (nail polish remover) when it’s left too long. You might also get a murky liquid forming on top that smells like old gym socks—this is called “hooch”. Both of these are normal and have no ill effects on your starter, and the solution to both is being rigorous with your feeding until it goes away. I store my starter in the fridge since I bake about once a week and when I take it out, it reeks of acetone. I leave it on the counter for a few days, feeding it daily, and it’s soon smelling fresh again and is ready to be used. However, if you don’t have the few days of planning like I do, it should still be fine. I’ve baked a loaf with starter that had a strong acetone smell and the bread was completely fine.
  • After scooping out starter to make some baked goods, I usually feed it right away and I give it the same weight that I took out. For example, if I do a sourdough bread, my usual recipe calls for 50 grams of starter—so after scooping it out, I’ll put 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of warm water into my jar to bring it back up to the usual weight/volume.
  • You may want to purchase in a jar with a swing-top enclosure. I’ve got one of these, as you can see in the photos on this post. Instead of locking it down to close it, I wrap a rubber band around the locking pieces. This holds it closed but since it’s not airtight, if the starter grows far too much, it can escape and overflow (and so I keep the jar in a bowl to catch the overflow).

Now that you have a healthy and active sourdough starter, you can dive into the oddly-addicting world of sourdough baking!

Sourdough Starter

An active sourdough starter is the key ingredient for sourdough bread and a whole host of other delicious recipes.
Prep Time 7 d
Course Bread


  • 1 Digital scale
  • 1 Jar, about a litre in size


  • All-purpose flour
  • Water


  • Day one:
    In a clean jar, mix 60 grams of flour and 60 grams of warm water. (If you prefer using measuring cups, it's 1/2 cup of loosely-packed flour and 1/4 cup of warm water.) Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and let it sit on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Day two:
    Look at the starter to search for any signs of bubbles. You may or may not have them forming yet. Either way, leave the jar on the counter another 24 hours.
  • Day three:
    Remove and discard about half of the jar's contents. Add in 60 grams of all-purpose flour and 60 grams of warm water. Stir until smooth, cover, and let sit on the counter.
  • Day four, five, and six:
    Each day, remove and discard about half the jar's contents. Add in 60 grams of all-purpose flour and 60 grams of warm water. Stir until smooth, cover, and let sit on the counter.
    By now you should be seeing bubbles in your starter. You should also see that the starter rises in the hours after you feed it and by 24 hours later it's collapsed back down. You can wrap a rubber band around the jar at the low level to keep an eye on the rise and fall.
  • Day seven and onward:
    Your starter should be active now. The level of activeness will depend on the yeast in your starter, the temperature of the room, your local climate (such as humidity), and several other factors, most of which are beyond your control.
    Now you can go about feeding and maintaining your starter on a regular schedule. Each time you feed it, first discard half of the jar's contents, then add 60 grams flour and 60 grams warm water.
    If you're keeping your starter on your kitchen counter, you should feed it every day. However, that requires a lot of investment of flour and your time, which is fine if you're baking regularly. If you're not baking quite that frequently, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed it weekly.


Some folks, like myself, have found more success mixing flours. This might be partly due to how the flour is absorbing the water and the dryish climate here in Winnipeg affects it, or perhaps because all-purpose flour in Canada is different than in the rest of the world (so this might lead to different results than an American baking blog might experience), or it could be something else entirely. I use a 1:4 ratio of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. When adding in 60 grams of flour, this means 12 grams of whole wheat and 48 of all-purpose.
You might get weird smells. Mine commonly smells like acetone (nail polish remover) when it’s left too long. You might also get a murky liquid forming on top that smells like old gym socks—this is called “hooch”. Both of these are normal and have no ill effects on your starter, and the solution to both is being rigorous with your feeding until it goes away. I store my starter in the fridge since I bake about once a week and when I take it out, it reeks of acetone. I leave it on the counter for a few days, feeding it daily, and it’s soon smelling fresh again and is ready to be used. However, if you don’t have the few days of planning like I do, it should still be fine. I’ve baked a loaf with starter that had a strong acetone smell and the bread was completely fine.
Keyword sourdough bread, sourdough starter

How to Make an Irish Drop Shot

An Irish drop shot is a fun, though not quite so tasty, drink for an Irish themed night or a party.

It’s pretty basic—you literally drop a shot glass full of Irish cream into a glass of Guinness. The Guinness is acidic and this acid immediately starts curdling the cream in the Irish cream…meaning you have to chug the whole thing immediately.

If you’re a fan of Guinness, you may find this extra enjoyable.

(I’m not a fan of stout beers, so this wouldn’t be my first choice. However, I end up having it now and then if we’re having a dinner party with friends.)

A couple years ago I was experimenting with filming some food videos for TikTok and Instagram, and just happened to film a video very similar to this recipe. The Irish Slammer replaces half the Irish cream with Irish whiskey. The same rule applies—drink immediately!

Irish Drop Shot

Not the fanciest of drinks but a fun way to kick off a hangout with friends.
Prep Time 5 mins
Course Drinks
Cuisine Irish


  • 1 Pint glass or larger
  • 1 Shot glass


  • 1 can Guinness
  • 1 oz Irish cream Any brand is fine, see note below for a variation


  • Pour the Guinness into a pint glass. Ensure there is a bit of room left. If it's too full, take a sip or two of the Guinness to make some room.
  • Pour the Irish cream into a shot glass. If the shot glass is larger than an ounce and you're feeling adventurous, you can fill up the shot glass to the top.
  • Drop the shot glass (including the glass) into the pint of Guinness.
  • Drink immediately. The acidity of the Guinness curdles the Irish cream, so this drink is meant to be chugged down in one go.


If, like me, you’re not a fan of chugging a whole can’s worth of Guinness, you could do half a can of Guinness. When I do this drink with my husband, we usually split a can between us.
Irish Slammer: For a slight variation, fill a shot glass with equal parts Irish whiskey and Irish cream. Drop the glass into a pint of Guinness and drink immediately.
Keyword Guinness, Irish Cream, Irish Drop Shot

How to Grow Your Own Wheat and Make Flour

My husband and I take an experimental approach to our gardening. If we get the slightest idea of something that would be neat to try, we try it.

Thankfully, we have a lot of garden space to work with. In addition to our own property, we are able to use our neighbour’s very large garden and have recently started helping our other neighbour convert some of their property into a garden. So, with all that space, we can try something on a whim.

Like wheat.

My mom had picked up a little bundle of wheat berries for us (wheat berries are what the wheat seed is called) and we decided we’d have a little patch of wheat. However, we didn’t have enough to fill the amount of space we had, so I picked up some more wheat berries from Bulk Barn (a bulk food store here in Canada).

We were thus committed to this project.

Planting wheat is remarkably easy. You just clear some earth and sprinkle wheat berries onto it.

To do this, I just had a fistful of berries, loosened my fingers a bit, and shook my hand, letting the berries slip between my fingers and land on the dirt.

From there, we watered regularly. I did this in the summer of 2022 and we had a decent rainfall that year. It likely would have been fine with the intermittent rain, but since it was a small enough patch, I watered the wheat between rainfalls.

Maintaining wheat is easy. The wheat largely chokes out weeds, so it requires little to no work.

Before long we had a patch of knee-high wheat. Over the course of the summer it grew to about hip height.

I did notice that we had two distinct types of wheat. One would have been what my mom gave me and the other would have been what we got from Bulk Barn.

As I proceed through this post, I’ll explain how I did it on my small scale operation here. If you have a much larger plot and want to grow a lot of wheat or if this is going to become a regular staple crop in your garden, I encourage you to do your Google research to find out how to do all this, because there are certainly better ways than what I did.

When late fall turns to early winter here in Winnipeg, the change happens in about 24 to 72 hours. Winter finally starts and everything needs to be harvested from the garden all at once.

For us that means all the half-ripened tomatoes, the potatoes, and the squash. And in 2022, that also meant the wheat.

My husband harvested the wheat by literally grabbing it by the handful and yanking it out of the ground. I came home from work one day to find our patio table absolutely laden with wheat. Most of it was ready for harvest—it had gone golden brown and was dry—but some of it was still too green.

With a pair of scissors I cut the heads of all the stalks of wheat, this took a super long time.

Anything that was too green was thrown out, but anything that looked dried or on its way to being dried went into a bag to be dealt with later.

My lesson here is to use fabric bags. I had one plastic bag of wheat, and since plastic is not breathable, it contained the moisture and went mouldy. The other two bags dried nicely, though, with everything turning golden brown.

If you have cats, I advise you to keep the bags out of their reach and/or tightly closed. both my cats repeatedly broke into the bags and pulled the wheat heads out to chew on them.

Normally I’d be okay with that because cats are curious and like to chew on plants. However, with wheat, as you can see in the photo above, there are strands that stick out. They are dry and stiff and pokey—I’ve scratched my hands on them. Something like that has the potential of getting stuck in a cat’s mouth or throat.

Anyway, that aside…

Let them sit and dry out completely. This can likely be accomplished in a few weeks, but for me the wheat became this thing I didn’t want to deal with and I ended up leaving it for seven months.

Now to process it and turn it into wheat!

Working in batches, put a bunch of wheat in an old pillowcase and absolutely bash the eff out of it with a rolling pin. If you know someone that needs to let out some aggression, invite them over.

Your goal here is to break the wheat berries out of their papery shells (the chaff).

In the photo, you can see I used a reusable shopping bag—that was the wrong choice. It had so much pokey, scrapey chaff stuck in the fibres that I had to throw the bags out.

When you start pulling it out of the bag or pillowcase, it should look like this…

Scoop it into a big bowl.

Since I was working with a smallish batch of wheat, I took the time to break up heads of wheat by hand if they survived the rolling pin bashing. I also dug my hands into the bowl several times and squeezed the wheat to break up some more and encourage the berries to separate from the chaff.

I recommend wearing rubber gloves or gardening gloves while doing this. The sharp, brittle chaff can easily cut like a papercut. At one point I even got some embedded under my fingernail.

Eventually you’ll have a bowl that looks like this…

Grab that bowl and a second bowl, and head outside. Hopefully there’s a gentle breeze or a mild wind. If not, you might need to bring a fan out with you.

Pour the wheat and chaff from one bowl to another several times. The breeze will blow away the super-light chaff, leaving just berries (and still some chaff) in the bowls.

When I eventually do up a post about harvesting mustard seeds, it’s the same process.

Eventually you’ll have a bowl of mostly wheat berries. I then handpicked out the last of the chaff.

To do this fairly easily, I scooped a handful onto a plate, picked out the chaff, and dumped the berries into a new bowl. Doing this several times soon leads to a bowl of only wheat berries.

Now we need to turn the wheat berries into flour.

You can buy a small grain mill if this becomes a regular crop for you, but there are alternatives.

You could use a coffee grinder (but be sure to fully clean it before using it again for coffee!) or, like me, you could use a high power bullet blender. Working in batches, I used the blender to grind it into somewhat-chunky flour.

I didn’t get it super fine because the blender started overheating. But I got it decently ground. When I use some of this flour, I’ll likely run it through the coffee grinder to see if I can get it finer.

I’m hesitant to use it for bread and general baking because that usually relies on a certain consistency of flour for rising and the other aspects of baking. I’m sure it would be fine for this, but with a limited amount of flour I don’t want to use it for bread and then have it not turn out.

I would, however, use it for recipes that don’t involve rising. For example, it would work great with Irish potato bread since the flour basically just holds the potato together, or as part of the crumble topping on apple crumble, or if you dredge battered fish in flour.

This was definitely an interesting and worthwhile gardening experiment. It’s not likely one I’d try again, but if you have a good patch for wheat, invest in a few tools and equipment to aid the process, and experiment with the best ways to use your flour, this could be a great crop for you.

How to Make Cheddar Guinness Dip

My husband and I like to have traditions around food.

We like to try new things and then incorporate them into an event to make both the event and the food special. For example, we love watching the Oscars every year and my husband always does up a big batch of Caesar salad (with dressing made from scratch) and fettuccini Alfredo (with sauce made from scratch).

For the past few years we’ve had a friend with Irish heritage come over for dinner on or around St. Patrick’s Day, and so our food tradition is that I try to come up with something Irish for dinner. We’re not the type to drink all the green beer, but more the type to want a good Irish stew with some Irish sides. Last year I made Irish soda bread.

This year I stumbled across a handful of recipes for Cheddar Guinness Dip and knew I had to make it.

What you serve with the dip is up to you. Around the same time I also discovered Irish Potato Bread, and these definitely go together well. Pretzels and celery sticks would be fantastic with this.

There is a small amount of Guinness in here and it’s not cooked so the alcohol isn’t boiled off or anything, so ideally this would be an adults-only appetizer. That being said, the amount of Guinness per serving is minuscule.

Other than the two cheeses, I treated this like a “measure with your heart” recipe. I eyeballed everything and doubled the garlic because who doesn’t like garlic?

But, let’s work through this:

If you have a big food processor, this whole recipe is made in there. I don’t. My food processor is tiny, but I found using a handheld blender / stick blender worked well. I just had to really force it into the cheese to get it to mix. If you don’t have one of these either, you could just mix it really well with a fork. Your final result will be a bit chunkier, but it’ll taste just as great. The chunky texture might even be more appealing, come to think of it.

Start with putting nearly everything in the food processor or a bowl—softened cream cheese, shredded Irish cheddar cheese, garlic cloves, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt, and pepper.

I had to head to the deli section of my grocery store to get fancy cheeses, but if that’s not an option for you either because of cost or local selection, getting an old or sharp cheddar cheese will do in a pinch.

If you don’t have Dijon mustard (I didn’t), a strong mustard will do. If all you have is yellow hot dog mustard, use that. For myself, I harvest and blend my own mustard and it has quite the bite, so I used that.

Blend it all in the food processor or with the stick blender or fork until smooth and nicely blended.

Pour in the Guiness and mix it up again. Be careful that you don’t splatter Guinness all over the place.

When that’s all mixed in well and you have a consistent final product, transfer it to your serving bowl and top with parsley (fresh or dried) and green onion.

Let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour to let the flavours really combine nicely, and then serve it up. Like I mentioned above, goes fantastic with Irish potato bread, but pretzels or celery would go great too.

This is definitely a recipe you can make a day ahead. We had leftovers that we ate the next two days while watching TV and it was just as good those times.

Honestly, this is super easy to make and super impressive. It was the hit of our dinner party and it literally took me like ten minutes.

Cheddar Guinness Dip

A tasty option for a St. Patrick's Day party, or any party really, with the sharp bite of Irish cheddar cheese and the tang of Guinness. Goes great with crackers or Irish Potato Bread.
Prep Time 15 mins
Resting Time 1 hr
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Irish


  • Food Processor (Large) You can make do without a food processor. See recipe for details.


  • 250 g Cream cheese Softened
  • 250 g Irish cheddar cheese, or other sharp cheddar cheese Shredded
  • 1-2 Garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard Any strong mustard will do in the absence of Dijon
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp Paprika
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • tsp Pepper
  • cup Guinness
  • 3 Green onions
  • Parsley, fresh or dried, to taste


  • Put the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt, and pepper in a large food processor and blend until smooth and consistent. If you don't have a food processor or yours is too small, there are alternatives. I used a hand blender / stick blender, pressing it down into the mixture to mix it up. You could also use a fork to mix and press together; with this method you'll get one that's less smooth but that's all right. If you're going with the fork method, you'll want to mince the garlic since there are no blades to chop it up.
  • Add in the Guinness and process until smooth.
  • Transfer to a bowl, smooth out, and top with green onions and parsley.
  • Let sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.


This works well as a “measure with your heart” recipe. If you want extra cheese or extra Guinness or extra garlic or any alterations, just go for it. When I make this, I eyeball all the ingredient measurements.
If you want to go all Irish, this dip goes great with Irish Potato Bread.
Keyword Beer, Cheddar, Dip for bread, Dip for crackers, Guinness