Bottled sunshine

Down here in Oz, we’ve historically put up preserves for about 150 years, but only using the hot water bath method. 

My new Presto pressure canner, doing its stuff

My new Presto pressure canner, doing its stuff

The main contender in the preserving field  has been Fowlers Vacola, who have been in business for a very, very long time, and still produce water bath kits, jars, lids, seals and clips.  But we haven’t done much pressure canning, or as we call it here, bottling.  So when I started looking around for one here, I drew a blank. I ended up buying one through, a Presto, and very good it is too.  Today was its inaugural outing in the kitchen, and I now have 10 pints of bottled mangoey, orangey loveliness.


Fresh Bowen mangoes, ripe and juicy.
These beauties are 15cm (6″) long.

I bought a tray of 15 Bowen mangoes earlier this week. They were perfectly ripe, big, heavy and very juicy. They were being sold at a stall at the side of the road by a farmer who couldn’t sell them to a supermarket because the skins were slightly imperfect. I got them for $11 for the tray of 15, which is an extraordinary price – less than a dollar each!  Anyway, today was the day.  Out came 10 of my 1pt preserving jars, lids, seals and clips. I stood for an hour preparing the fruit and then put it with about a litre and a half (3pints or so) of orange juice into my big stockpot on the stove, to come briefly to the boil so I could hot pack it. Then into the warmed jars using my flexible wide mouth funnel – it’s a good thing I have that, or it would be hot splashes everywhere.  Fill up to the bottom of the neck, then put on the lid, which sits down snugly on the rubber seal you’ve already put around the groove in the neck, and then the clip on top.

10 jars of bottled sunshine

10 jars of bottled sunshine

What a great gadget. No more burned fingers

What a great gadget.
No more burned fingers

Into the pressure canner, to be processed for 10 minutes at 6psi.  Let it cool down, lift the still boiling hot jars out of the water using another brilliant gadget, the jar lifter, and let everything calm down and stop bubbling.  As the jars cool, the lids suck down and form a vacuum, and you can then take off the clips to use another day.  You can reuse the lids too, but the rubber seals have to be replaced each time.

The canner’s dead easy to use, comes with very clear instructions, and you can use any jar designed for preserving – not commercial jam or pasta sauce jars, the glass is too thin and wouldn’t stand up to the processing. Mason jars, Kilner jars, or Fowlers Vacola jars are all very solid, thick glass and have proper closures and work just fine.  You can now buy Ball brand Mason Jars in Big W in Australia, sold with the Ball water bath preserving kit but also suitable for pressuring canning. They come in a couple of sizes, which is handy if you don’t want big jars of preserves.

So now we have 10 lovely jars of mangoes bottled in orange juice to put on our breakfast cereal in the winter, when mangoes are no longer available.  No Queenslander in his right mind would buy mangoes imported from overseas – we know what a mango should taste like, and something that’s travelled thousands of kilometres in cold storage just doesn’t cut the mustard.  So when we have a hankering for mangoes in winter, we can now eat local!  I’m pleased to find how easy it is, and I’ll be spending some happy and messy hours dealing with a tray of tomatoes fairly soon…

Off to read some more preserving recipe books!


Words under Pressure #7

The Fountains of Salou

Shooting crystal reaches for the sun,
Seeming-solid pillars, with a fine down
Of spray to leeward, diamond dust
Blown off the sea to powder the land.

In ordered rows they march,
Rank on rank between the palms.
Tamed water sheltering the thirsty land
From the wild, slack, lively ocean.

Around the tanks, stones transmute,
Gleaming with fresh, glittering colour.
Drifted sand becomes cool and firm,
Sun heated stone is pleasant under foot.

Against the summer’s cerulean
The columns are stark white, dense
Against palest winter blue
Lit by low sun, prisms spring to life.

The colours of light

I haven’t seen as many rainbows here as I used to in NSW. 

Rain's on the way, but first, here's the pot of gold. If you look carefully, you can just see a faint second bow at the extreme left.

Rain’s on the way, but first, here’s the pot of gold. If you look carefully, you can just see a faint second bow at the extreme left.

It doesn’t rain as often, and when it does, the downpour is too heavy to allow that delicate filtering of light through water droplets which creates a rainbow. Although the sky and clouds are splendid up here, and the sunsets can be utterly breathtaking, I miss the sudden, fleeting and magical appearance of the bow of colour, sometimes double, like the one I captured in this photo.

So I thought I’d go out and find the rainbow for myself.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA Pale orange Lollipop plant SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA Pale green euphorbia SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA Agapanthus Blue erigeron Lobelia Indigo salvia Violet petunia Violet tree

They were all photographed within a few kilometres of home. I can’t exactly duplicate the rainbow, because these beauties are solid, and not made of light – and also, spring in the tropics doesn’t seem to run much to colours in the blue/purple spectrum much.  Any amount of red, orange, yellow and the full range of pinks, but blues are rare at this time of year.  Also, we’ve just had a thunderstorm, and the jacarandas I was counting on for some of the bluey-purple images have had their flowers battered to the ground by the rain.  So please forgive a slightly skinny selection at the cooler end of the range. I can’t decide which I like best, one of the showy tropical ones, or the sweet, small, delicate ones.  On the whole though, I think the first image, the poinciana is my favourite.

What do you think?

The waters are rising

No, we aren’t having a flood here, despite the fairly torrential thunderstorm we had this morning.

The bottom of the sea! Now I can see how large the quilt is going to be.

The bottom of the sea!
Now I can see how large the quilt is going to be.

The waters I mean are those in the Tree of Life quilt. The bottom row of 9 blocks is finished, and wonder of wonders, 99% of the seams match up. This is not  usually the case when I’m working fast, and I shrug it off, since perfection is reserved for the Almighty and I’ll content myself with getting it done.  However, I find that the more quilts I make, the more particular I’m getting, and even more so now that they’re out there under the public gaze, so to speak.

Two more rows of 9 blocks to do, and I’ll be halfway through the background.  Once the Sea section is done, I’ll set out the Sky half above it on the design wall, and away we go again.  And then after that, the tricky stuff starts.  I’m grateful that at least this quilt isn’t a queen or even double size. It’s going to make working on it in my small space a lot easier.  I’ll show you what I mean:

Left side of the sewing room, with the 'design wall' hanging from a pole across the top of my bookshelves

Left side of the sewing room, with the ‘design wall’ hanging from a pole across the top of my bookshelves

Right side of the sewing room, my desk and computer. What you don't see is the huge cupboard to the right of my desk, which houses my stash...

Right side of the sewing room, my desk and computer. What you don’t see is the huge cupboard to the right of my desk, which houses my stash…

My work room is about 2.7m wide (around 8’6″) and 4m long (about 13′). Into this space I have crammed two tables, my computer and printer, a set of floor to ceiling shelves about 3m or 10′ long, a huge oak cedar-lined cupboard for my fabrics, a typist’s chair, an easy chair for the Husband, an ironing board, my sewing machine, tool box and a couple of lamps. Oh, and a few other bits and pieces of course, but that’s the main contents.  The ironing board gets used a LOT as a subsidiary table/ cutting surface/ dumping ground/ quilt rolling area.  But I’m truly grateful to have this room to call my own. It’s air conditioned, comfortable, I know where everything is and can reach it, and the Husband visits frequently when I’m working or blogging, and listens to my thoughts, comments on my writing and keeps me company.

Cherry pies before

Cherry pies before

Cherry pies after

Cherry pies after

Hurry up with the photo, someone wants his pie!

Hurry up with the photo,
someone wants his pie!

One final braglet.  I made a couple of cherry pies this morning, and they!  Canned dark cherries in a medium syrup, which I thickened with arrowroot, encased in a sweet, buttery shortcrust pastry, baked till golden and served drowned in a small lake of cream. Life is too short for low fat dessert.

There may be trouble ahead…

… if this cloud is anything to go by.

Thundercloud at dusk

Thundercloud at dusk

Isn’t it fabulous?  The light was fading fast, so the other three I took were unusable, but this one captured the last, dying light of the sun on the edge of that big white thundercloud.  There have been rumblings and big black clouds all day but tonight’s show was super dramatic.  I ask you, grey and black and PINK…

The sea rises! On the design wall, waiting to be sewn together. The pieces are 4" squares, finished size will be 3.5".

The sea rises! On the design wall, waiting to be sewn together.
The pieces are 4″ squares, finished size will be 3.5″.

On a lighter note, I’ve managed to get the Sea section of the Tree of Life quilt set out on my design wall.  I thought a photo was a good idea in case they all fall down overnight. It’s happened before, and I’m never as happy with it the second time round.  I just walked up and down the rows with all the colours on a tray, and dipped and placed and dipped and placed.  I think I probably repositioned about 4 squares at the end of the process, and that’s it.  I’m not going to over-engineer this quilt.  It’s coming from instinct, and that’s the domain in which I will leave it.

It’s been a hot, hot day at work, 32C/95F, and guess what, no aircon in my office.  The fan just pushes the hot air around.  Not a breath of wind until it was time to go home, at which point, of course, a breeze blew up.  But just to look on the bright side, I don’t have to go back there this week.  Next working day is Monday next week.  By which time, all sorts of excitement will have happened in my sewing room…

Until tomorrow, my friends.

Words under Pressure #6

So many of you are heading into the heart of winter, pulling out your warm clothing, putting on boots and coats to go outside. Here, we’re sweltering in hot, hot days and miserably high humidity.  It makes me a little nostalgic for being too cold, and being able to pile on the woollens!

Selfish Joys

Ah, the deep, rich, velvet comfort
Of old red flannel pyjamas
And oh, the pink-cheeked bliss
Of hot chocolate and fleecy socks.

The outrageous pleasure of a whole sofa,
Cushions, fresh coffee, a new book, and peace.
The happy hedonism of others’ cooking.
The acute rightness of a well-considered gift.

Yes, and waking warm, with sun on eyelids.
With grilling bacon in the hungry nose.
And gale-blown air in office lungs,
And the heart as high as heaven.

The Tree of Life, Part 2: cutting

I think I may be cutting 4″ squares in my sleep tonight.

On the left, the range of colours for the sea in the bottom half

On the left, the range of colours for the sea in the bottom half. On the right, sky colours for the top half

I have pressed and trimmed the selected fabrics and cut out all 324 background squares for this quilt. It’s just a teeny bit repetitive… I have spares, odd ones, outsiders and jokers in the pack, just in case a particular section of the quilt background tells me it needs something a little… different. My design wall flannelette sheet is up again, hanging from its pole across the top of my bookshelves.It’s not a hard surface, but it has the overwhelming advantage of being washable and folding up into a small bundle to be stowed away in the top of my fabric cupboard when it’s not in use.  Since I like to lay out a whole quilt at a time rather than block by block, this queen size pale taupe sheet is just about large enough (it’s not quite tall enough to take the full height, but then I’m not quite tall enough to reach the top of a full height one anyway!). I’m going to assemble the background in blocks of 9, 32 of them. It keeps everything stable and in manageable bite size chunks, and there’s not too much unpicking if I change my mind about something.

Sky and sea at the top, and below the fabrics for flowers, fruit, tree, leaves and at the bottom, the fish

Sky and sea at the top, and below the fabrics for flowers, fruit, tree, leaves and at the bottom, the fish

The fabrics for the other elements have been auditioned and selected too, but I’m not even going to think about them until I have the background completed. Now that there’s a small amount of visible progress, my subconscious is sending all sorts of ideas to the surface, mainly to do with how I’m going to quilt it. Talk about being a bit previous… So I’m making notes. And I think I’d better do a lot of FMQ practice too. I can’t quilt too densely or the thing will become as stiff as a board, and the original idea was for a lap quilt to tuck up under in the winter, so stiff is not good.

Creating the templates for the enormous amount of applique is something to scare myself with another day. I’m trying not to think about the applique itself. Can I face doing it by hand, needleturned? Or is it going to be fused and stitched down by machine? Either task is large, but the hand sewing will be monumental…

Anyway, the Husband is off to work on night shift, and for the next 4 nights, so I’m going to treat myself to some TV and hand sewing hexagons. I assembled the hexies for another 10 flowers last night while watching a DVD, so they’ve got to be sewn together tonight. Beautifully mindless automatic handwork.

And I might just make a cup of tea and have another slice of my freshly baked pineapple upside-down cake…