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Archive for August, 2011

Once again, it is time for my favourite camping event of the year. Somehow, it is always the time when I feel inspired to work like mad on my challenges. This year, I have three things on the go.

First: My Viking Tent

This tent is a conversion of an War of 1812 recreation group’s ridge tent. It is 10′ by 10′ canvas, and needs minimal adjusting. Today I am ripping out the  seam joining the top part of the and back front flaps, and generally figuring out what is needed. Depending on when my son returns with the car, I’ll buy the wood and start cutting out pieces. This is project 28 on my A&S 50 challenge list.

Second: Smoked meats

I have four pounds of skirt steak marinating in herbs, plus a should of lamb that has been soaking in brine for a couple of days. Tomorrow, I will fire up the smoker and smoke them, along with a couple of pounds of salmon. I don’t bother brining the salmon as I think it tastes delicious plain. This is not the fine gravlax salmon; just some inexpensive frozen salmon filets. They work really well in soup or as snacks. Any little bits of jerky that are too small for the smoker will go into my deydrator.

Third: Merovingian Brooches

This is the easiest project to put off as the amount to cut away from the wax is intimidating. However, I made a fair dent in the project this weekend, and promise that I will sit down in front of the TV to work on it tonight or tomorrow. If all else fails, this is the one project I can take with me to Bonfield and work on there.

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Patience is a virtue

Tonight I broke out a bottle of apple cider I had forgotten about. This was made from a kit last fall. At the time, the instructions said it was ready, but it was pretty vile. Tonight, it was quite tasty!

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Blueberry Melomel

On Wednesday, I transfered the liquid to my secondary fermenter (a gallon jug). Although this recipe is supposed to make one gallon, It didn’t fill the jug completely – there is room for at least two more cups of liquid. The instructions say to leave it for another 30 days, then rack and top up. Apparently this simply means “add water” or another suitable liquid. Then I need to wait until it clear, stabilize (add potassium sorbate and a Campden tablet), then wait 10 more days. I’m sure glad I have Google, both to find recipes and then to figure out what they mean!

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After three weeks, I decided the pickles were sufficiently brined. According to my instructions in “Stocking Up” (edited by Carol Hupping Stoner, 1977), fermentation is done when no bubbles rise to the surfacwe after gently tapping on the side of the container. At this point, I had two options. I could leave them in the brine for future use by covering the surface of the liquid with a layer of vegetable oil or hot melted paraffin (to seal the surface). Or, I could desalt the cucumbers and pickle them. I opted for desalting.

To desalt, I drained the cucumbers and then soaked them in cool clear water for two hours (changing the water midway). I had about 4 quarts of cucumbers so I boiled up 2/3 of a gallon of vinegar (a little over half a 4 litre bottle). I added about 1/3 of the cucumbers at a time to the boiling vinegar. After 2 minutes, I pulled them out and put them back in my crock. I then covered them with the boiling vinegar and tossed in a cheesecloth bag holding just under 1/2 oz allspice berries, 1/2 oz whole cloves, and 1 stick cinnamon. The original recipe called for a piece of mace as well, but I didn’t have any. The amount of spices was intended for a full gallon of vinegar, so it should all work out evenly.

I covered the top of the crock with plastic wrap to exclude air, then popped the lid back on. The pickles will soak for 3 weeks before sealing in jars.

Up to the point of sealing in sterilized jars, this could have been a later, wealthier, or more southern pickle recipe. I can imagine different flavourings instead of the spices – dill, onions, garlic, mustard, etc. A sweeter pickle could be made by adding honey. If the pickles were stored in earthenware jars topped with oil, beeswax or even clean tallow, they would last for a few weeks or months, though there would be a higher risk of things like botulism.

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I put in some serious work on the brooches today. This is one of the most frustrating projects I have worked on in quite some time. Here’s why:

The purple piece is all that remains of my first attempt to make a wax mold for one of the brooches. When I snapped it just as I got it thin enough to consider it almost done, I was so frustrated I didn’t touch the things for a year or more. Besides, I needed to find more wax.

The broken pieces to the left of the purple bit are what remains after I finally got motivated again. It was coming along nicely until my son dropped it on the floor.

Undeterred (mostly), I started another, but got sidetracked with other projects. Today I worked steadily for a couple of hours and got it as thin as I dare (bottom left). It is now ready for the incised decoration. I was feeling too sleepy to focus on the decoration though, so it has been put away in a safe place. I am finally getting a feel for how much pressure the wax can take.

I also cut out a new wax block and started roughing out the second brooch. I suspect it might be possible to rough out more with a saw, but I am most comfortable using my little knife, even though it will take quite a while to get rid of all the excess wax.

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Blueberry melomel

I started a new batch of melomel yesterday, using unpasteurized alfalfa honey and the big domesticated blueberries, with a champagne yeast and filtered water. I added pectic enzyme, a jasmine tea bag and some yeast nutrient. So far, it seems quite lively, and is a lovely dark purple colour.

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Yesterday I taught my friend Mila how to make pickles. We did four different kinds. While most were not at all medieval, we did a variant of the refrigerator pickles with horseradish I made a few weeks ago. It is a pickle that could plausibly have been made, if the pickles are stored in a cold room rather than a refrigerator (which is what Mila plans to do).

My brined pickles have now been fermenting for two weeks, so tonight I added more salt and scraped off the scum. The scum is normal, but it must be removed as it changes the acidity of the brine and hinders fermentation. This is how it looked before scraping:

As they are now at the two week mark, I tested one before adding more salt. It is very salty but still quite crunchy. I will leave them for another week.

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