Horrible Highbush Cranberry Sauce

Sometimes our best intentions can be met with utter failure. This was the case for my most recent adventure. Remember those highbush cranberry trees in my mini tree plantation? Now that we’ve had a few frosts I decided to give them a try by making them into a simple berry sauce.

Collecting them from the tree, the first most apparent thing you notice is the rank smell. Now some websites I’ve read mentioned that they have a musk, but lemme tell you there’s a difference between musk and outright nauseating putrid smell!! The berries were, in one word, repulsive. I’ve been having my doubts with these berries since I first saw them, and this awful smell only worstened my fears.

I cooked them up inside with the windows closed. This was a mistake of large proportions. It was fun to explode the little berries while they were cooking, and they did start to develop a suggestion of a sweet aroma, but it never got close to overtaking the putrid musk.

Once simmered, they were strained to seperate juice/jam from skin/seeds. They have cute little heart-shaped discs for seeds, and the red juice seems to have the potential as a stain. The skins can be seperated from the seeds easily by rinsing and floating in water.

A ton of sugar was added to the saucy jam, then back on the heat for some more cooking.

Then the taste test.

Oh no. Eew. Eeeewww!!! OH GOD! What IS this!? Did people actually EAT this!?

The taste goes something like this: “hmm, tart, sweet, not so bad… wait eew, gross, it tastes like puke!!! Nooooo!!!”

A complete failure. Maybe I did something wrong. Next year I’ll harvest the berries before the first frost to minimize the nasty odour and hopefully there will be potential for a yummy sauce… But I can tell you now that post-frost these berries are GROSS. If mthose results also fail I will probably chop down the trees and transform that area of the farm into something more productive, perhaps crops or a mini orchard.

Birds love the berries though. Know why? Birds can’t taste their awfulness! The highbush cranberry tree also has decorative uses, it is indeed a pretty tree to watch through the seasons. But in my opinion they simply have no edible use for us humans. Sure, maybe back hundreds of years ago they could have been interesting to eat especially considering they are available during the dead of winter, but my palette is simply not one that needs to be subjected to such a horrendous flavour! This just goes to show you that just cause something is technically edible doesn’t mean it’s yummy.

Spinning Milkweed Fluff

Milkweed Pod Process

Milkweeds. Who would have thought that they would be any good to me as a fiber artist? I have this habit of finding plants and searching online to see what I can make of the plant. You’d be amazed how far you can get with a simple Google search. My search term of choice was “spinning milkweed” and I was met with some interesting results:

  1. Yes it can be spun.
  2. No it’s not strong enough to be spun on its own.
  3. More commonly it was used for stuffing pillows and blankets, as milkweed is more insulating than goose down.

What a pleasant surprise! Actually I learned much more about the plant and its uses, its edibility, etc. Milkweed is the #1 plant that Monarch butterflies eat. Sure enough I found a caterpillar underneath one of the leaves!

So I harvested a bunch, cracked open the green shell (there’s a seam on the back that peels right into the core), pulled out the fluffy bits, de-seeded them (saving the seeds to toss back out on my next walk), fluffed the fluff off of the inner core (it’s like a spongy wafer), and set it out to dry on an old window screen.

Milkweed Fluff

Here are the fluff bits all dried out. They are luxurious and silky both in look and touch. Sadly the root end of each fluff bit is a bit on the picky side, if you had the dedication you could snip them all out though. Considering the amount of work that goes into making actual silk though it’s probably easier to snip these ends! And boy is it ever light and warm. Lighter and warmer than angora I would say. But not as soft overall due to the picky bits.

Spinning Dog Hair and Milkweed

Here I am spinning up some milkweed and Lee fur. The milkweed is just too slippy and short to spin on its own. From what I’ve read online not even plying it gives it enough strength. So I mixed it with a pile of Lee fur and spun it up, and will add this to the pile of yarn which will become a hat for the pup.

Dog Milkweed Yarn

Here’s the final dog and milkweed yarn. Surprisingly I got a decent amount – something like 15 meters of a medium weight yarn. The milkweed stretched things out for sure.

Yarn Closeup

And a closeup to show you the variation of white milkweed and medium brown dog fiber. And little burr seeds of course. There’s no way I’m spending time picking stuff out of yarn that will become a dog hat, and combing Lee to get rid of the seeds was the reason I ended up with all the fluff in the first place. Such is the life of a natural fiber spinner I guess, with fiber comes cellulose.

I compared this to my other snippets of 100% dog fur. It’s a bit hard to describe their similarities and differences. Both were soft, the milkweed one was more luxurious like a rich sauce compared to mustard but then the picky bits were a bit tangy and sharp.

The next steps for experimentation include spinning it up with some white Shetland and dyeing it with my protein dyes. Since milkweed is a plant the fiber is a cellulose one, it will not be dyed with my protein dyes, unlike wool (and other animal fibers) which is a protein fiber. So the result will be a fantastically dyed yarn with white silky streaks peppered throughout it. I also want to try felting with the milkweed, whether it’s actively felting things together or sandwiching the milkweed between two layers of wool felt, or even using it as a component in a felted figurine.

Oh Milkweed. I have a feeling I will end up cultivating lots of you in my future. That will be cool though, it will treat the farm visitors to a Monarch show!

Inspiration from the Wild

Milkweed Leaf Inspiration

I was out harvesting milkweed pods yesterday. While most plants are thriving in the heat and rain, some of them just don’t make it through the summertime. This milkweed plant was one of them. However instead of feeling sorry for it or reflecting on death, I saw it as being such a beautiful plant full of inspiration and color, in contrast to the rest of the green milkweed pods made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same. I couldn’t resist taking the leaves. Now they will live on forever in this photo, and will inspire me to dye some of my yarn skeins in tones reminiscent of their dying glory.

Why was I harvesting milkweed pods, you might ask? You know that fluff inside them, that blows the seeds around? It can be harvested and used for spinning. Actually in the past it was used like animal down, stuffed inside blankets to keep you warm. Apparently it’s more insulating than goose down. Who would have thought it!

You can bet there will be a blog post about them in the future, once I figure out what I’m doing exactly. I’ve put a new feature on the blog, to the right hand side you can see a list of upcoming posts. These are drafts I’m working on based on adventures I’m having or going to have. Sometimes though the adventure becomes a bit more tedious than expected, as with the corn paper adventure… the husks just don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of separating in my crock pot. And I often come and post new posts which aren’t worked on in advance, just like this one. So the new feature lets you take a glimpse into the future but not necessarily only what will appear here – you have to come back or subscribe to the RSS feed to catch everything that goes on! And as always I do love to read everyone’s fun comments, even if half of them are from my mom 🙂

Happy Sunday to You!

Happy Sunday to everyone. A day of rest? Not here on the farm. We are always going, doing something or another.

Today we have some more cream-style corn to bag and freeze up, which was prepared by yours truly last night. Guess what will be served at Christmas time, haha! Fresher than anything you could find in the store, and with that truly delicious local Ontario taste, it will be a much appreciated jolt back to summer during the wintertime.

I also have a very important mission to do, and that is to find my camera battery charger. You see, it’s been kinda misplaced since the move back in March. I have been using my mom’s gorgeous Nikon D70s in lieu of my Canon SD1100IS – anyone who knows cameras can tell that the Nikon gives you much more control over the shot size and focus with its interchangeable lenses. Then again my Canon can record movies, and I’ve been meaning to share with you Lee’s funny bouncing through the wilderness. The choice was made for me when my mom rightfully reclaimed her camera to go capture some of summer’s beauty, so the hunt is on for my battery charger. Wish me luck!

Afterwards it’s back outside to care for the animals and take Lee for a stroll around. Lee has been quite helpful in rounding up the turkeys when it’s time for them to be locked up for the night. And as I mentioned in my last post, he’s also helpful in wrangling the goats when they try to escape – which I can gladly say has not happened since Lee chased them that time! Also I no longer have to worry about ducklings being under my car, Lee makes sure they are all far away. Talk about a helpful dog. You should see it when he’s watching the turkeys though – he takes his job seriously! I’ve never seen him more focused than when he’s staring down a turkey.

One thing we’ve discovered during our walks is that we have a lot of wildflowers that can be used for dyeing. Queen Anne’s Lace makes a neat green/yellow, Purple Loosestrife makes purples/greens/blacks, goldenrod makes gold – and all three of these are more perennial weeds than flowers. The more I look around, the more flowers I see and the more I will have to photo and share with my Pandateers who are so excellent at identifying plants!