Shannon

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I am wife to Stewart, mama of five, homeschooler, messy cook, and avid fermenter. This is where I tell our story... of building a sustainable off-grid homestead in a Christian agrarian community... of raising this growing family of ours... of the beauty and the hard and the joy in all of it.
931 articles written by Shannon

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For some time we were eating gumbo several times a week, that spicy meaty stew served in seven rice-filled bowls. The bowls of okra were swiftly making meals and all was in balance… up until about three weeks ago.

That’s when the children collectively decided they were completely done with okra. It seems as though they may have had a meeting, the young girls finally convincing the hungry older brothers that enough was enough already. Joshua must not have been privy to such a meeting, and maybe didn’t even receive the memo afterward, because he still happily gobbles down this southern delicacy.

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So I was at a cross roads, so to speak. Continue with the gumbo in militant fashion or preserve the okra to spread throughout the year a little more. Because the black-eyed peas are simultaneously giving so generously and are in low regard among the young ones after perhaps one too many stir-fries, it made sense to start preserving the two in tandem.

These jars will be mixed into spiced meats and tomatoes, onions and celery when the frost comes and armfuls of firewood move into the house on a daily basis. Maybe by then the distance from the vegetables of the late August garden will be sufficient to happily warm empty bellies again. If not, perhaps the homegrown chicken broth will be just the sauce these vegetables need.

Either way they will get eaten, of that I am sure.

Canned Gumbo Vegetables

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Whenever I can vegetables of more than one variety, I consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation and simply follow the instructions for the vegetable that requires the most pressure and/or time. In this case, that is the okra.

I pick and clean the okra and black-eyed peas, several large harvest bowls being about enough for a canner load. I then snap the beans into 1″ pieces and slice the okra into 1/2 inch slices. These get raw packed into the jars and then covered with hot water, leaving headspace.

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I then process the jars at 15 lb of pressure for forty minutes in my pressure canner. Once the jars are cooled and the rings removed, they are tucked into cabinet shelves next to the canned squash and cucumber pickles from the early summer garden.

And what a joy it is to see those shelves filling up.

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It has been cool and breezy; wet and muddy – really unlike any August I’ve seen since we’ve been here. Though there is a change of seasons in the air, I’ve come to realize that we plant not on a fixed schedule or in terms of months, but rather when there is a path made towards planting. This usually means water and since the Lord has graciously filled our ponds and tanks in recent weeks, we prepare to plant.

In preparation for the fall garden, we harvested the last of the cucumbers late last week. We are trying to keep in mind that we’ve had an unusual summer, a cool, wet summer, but still these guys produced like mad so it seemed natural to try and save seed.

Saving seed feels like a mighty big commitment to me. Not in the actual doing of the process – that is actually quite simple and pain free. It’s in the not really knowing until next planting season if you’ve done it right. It reminds me of baking pies – they look great but you never really know if it worked out until you cut into it. Likewise, what if I messed it up and we are relying on last year’s saved seed for the garden?

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Furthermore, my try at saving last year’s summer squash seed was an absolute bust with a zero percent germination rate. So I embarked on this year’s seed saving with a fair bit of trepidation. Thankfully, I remembered our copy of The Organic Seed Grower which I find to truly be the most comprehensive book on seed saving that I’ve seen.

As I perused the sections on squash and cucumbers I found that I had skipped what appears to be a very important step in the seed saving process last year. Well, that and I completely forgot about the seed as it dried for months on end.

But that step I skipped? It was the fermentation of the seeds in order to remove what the book refers to as a “placental sac” around the seed. I knew that fermentation was common with tomato seed saving but for some reason didn’t think of it for the squash. How ironic that I’d skip my favorite part in the process!

So I tried to follow the basic instructions given for cucumber and squash seeds, as follows:

  • Choose a fruit that is large, a bit older than you would eat, and for cucumbers even just a bit yellow.
  • Allow the fruit to sit on the counter for a few days to age.
  • Slice the fruit in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out. Place the seeds in a small bowl or jar, along with whatever pulp is attached to the seed.
  • Using your hand, squish the bits of seed and pulp together gently so that the seeds become covered with the liquid and pulp.
  • Cover lightly and leave to ferment for 2-3 days, or until it begins to bubble a bit and a slight film forms on top.
  • Pour mixture through a strainer where much of the liquid and pulp are separated from the seeds. Spread the seed out to dry on plates, paper towels, or drying racks, removing any bits of pulp that might remain. Allow to dry for several days and then store in a dark, airtight container in a cool location.

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What’s funny is that I didn’t actually end up with any workable squash seed again this year. I saved these seeds on the hottest days of summer and completely forgot about the squash seeds fermenting. So I guess we’ll be buying seed for that again next year and even though it appears that I followed the instructions for the cucumbers, I still think only time will tell.

Are you saving seed this summer?