Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Apple Peeler Slicer Corer Gizmo

This cool little gadget set us back about $12. It has a turning handle on the right, which turns the long screw shaft with three prongs on it, pushing the apple through the peeler, corer, and slicer blades. It clamps to the table with a screw clamp which does hold it firmly in place. I put a towel on the table because this is drippy, sticky work.

To use the gizmo, you'd move the prong-screw-handle piece all the way to the right, press an apple onto the three prongs, and turn the handle. This spins the apple and feeds it through the peeler, corer, and slicer. It's fun to use. C'mon, I'll show you.

First of all the apple bumps up against the little peeler doohicky. It's curve shaped so it can peel the ends of the apple as well as the middle. It's mounted on a spring so it rides with a little bit of pressure along the contours of the apple. It works best on a firm apple. Soft spots and bruises make the peeler blade quit cutting and it starts to ride on the surface of the peel rather than cutting into it. After going past the peeler blade, the apple moves to that metal circle.The metal circle cores the apple and the blade beneath the circle slices the apple into a long corkscrew.Here's the peeled apple after it's gone through the corer and slicer thingamabob. Sometimes you need to use a paring knife to cut out bruises or to cut bits of peel that didn't get cut off. It's way easier to cut bits of peel with a paring knife than to try to peel the entire apple uniformly.Here I've slid the peeled, cored, and sliced apple off of the core. I save apple cores for the chickens and apple peels for the rabbits. It works out nicely that they prefer different parts of the scraps.Isn't this just about the coolest thing you've ever seen? No? Then you must get out a lot more than I do.

I usually cut the apple in half at this point (vertically) so that I have lots of semicircular slices. They make great sliced apples for apple pies, and if I'm making applesauce or apple butter I can fit more apples into the pot if I cut them in half.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Last Saturday, I found these three beautiful eggs in the chicken house! Our hens are almost seven months old and most hens start laying around five or six months of age. I figured the short days were getting to them and to be honest I wasn't really expecting any eggs until the longer days of late spring.

I put a covered cat litter box in the corner of the chicken house where I found these eggs, and put wood shavings in the bottom of it. The next egg got laid right in front of the cat box, but all the eggs since have been laid in the box. They're nice and clean when laid in the wood shavings instead of in the dirt and litter.

There is only one hen laying in the cat box, because I only get one egg a day. She takes a day off about every five days. We have collected eleven eggs so far and we will have breakfast for dinner tonight: ham, eggs, and biscuits.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rabbit Lessons :(

These chickens and rabbits are enjoying apple peels and cores left over from the other day when I made the cinnamon red hot apple wedge thingies. The rabbits prefer the peels and the chickens prefer the cores. It works out well. I thought I'd put a happy picture here because the rest of this entry turns sad. But, I don't like the idea of only blogging the happy stuff. The lessons are important too, even when they're tough ones.

We're not intentionally free-ranging our rabbits, despite whatever impression the photograph may convey. The plan is that the kits stay inside the colony. I don't think the young rabbits got the memo, though. It's supposed to be like this:The colony is fenced with 2x4 welded wire, and has chicken wire on the bottom foot. The "baby" rabbits (now about eight weeks old) go through the fencing like it's not even there. Granted, they have to wriggle a bit now but it still doesn't deter them.

We set out to put hardware cloth (the stuff that is used for the bottom of rabbit hutches) along the bottom foot of the colony fence. The burrow where a doe kindled on Halloween is right on the fence, though, so we didn't put hardware cloth in that area. So, the kits still go in and out of the colony and we're down to four kits now out of the original double litter. We figure that's part of us learning how to raise rabbits in a colony and we're learning from our mistakes.

The sad part is that when we were putting up the hardware cloth, I stepped on the original burrow that two does shared for the first-ever litters of kits we had here at Palazzo Rospo. One of the does had been digging in it and I was pretty sure she was pregnant and going to use it to kindle. She was distraught when it caved in. I got a bale of straw and put it over the hole, so the burrow would have a roof again and some insulation. I didn't know what else to do. She sniffed around the straw bale and eventually went back to digging out the burrow. I figured all was well. That was about ten days ago.

The last couple of days she'd been pulling straw out of the bale and although I didn't see her carrying any into the burrow, I figured she was building a nest and would kindle soon.

Yesterday morning I went out to feed and water the rabbits, and found little naked newborn kits lying dead all over the ground. She kindled outside the burrow for some reason. I figure she just didn't have time to dig a new burrow or get the old one rebuilt to her satisfaction. It was really sad putting those little purple-pink bodies into a grocery bag :(

If a deer had come close by the fence, caved in a burrow, and we'd lost a litter of kits, I'd have been disappointed but sucked it up and figured that's part of life. Having been personally responsible for this incident, though, makes me feel ill. Not only because of the loss of the kits, but also for the doe who was probably quite upset by it all and now has milk but no babies to nurse.

In retrospect, I should have been much more careful around burrows when I wasn't sure where they went underground. I should have spread out plywood or something to distribute my weight better.

We've decided to enlarge the colony to about three times its current size. The expansion will cause the Halloween burrow to be in the central area of the colony rather than right on the fence line. That way we won't have to get anywhere near it to put up hardware cloth.

On a brighter note, I did see one of the Halloween kits yesterday. It came out of the burrow, looked around, and went back in. It's pretty big at only three weeks old.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Apple Wedges in Cinnamon Red Hot Syrup

This recipe is from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

Apple Wedges in Cinnamon Red Hot Syrup
Yield: about 6 pints
  • 8 to 10 punds apples
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon red hot candies
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups vinegar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (optional)
Wash, core, and peel apples. Cut apples lengthwise into eighths. Treat to prevent darkening. Combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepot and bring slowly to a boil. Drain apple wedges. Pack hot apples into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Ladle hot syrup over apples, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two piece caps. Process 15 minuts in a boiling-water canner.

To slice and core the apples, I used one of those apple-corer-slicer gadgets. It's the first time I'd used one, and I was pretty happy with it.It's a little tricky with apples that are severely off center, but for most apples it's super easy to use. It cuts well and leaves you with wedges that are easy to peel with a pass or two of a paring knife. The only difficulty I encountered with it was the thing didn't cut completely through the bottom of the apple.
I used the handle of a wooden spoon to knock out the core and then just used my fingers to knock the wedges on through. Those blades are pretty sharp, so poking the core through with your fingers is... inadvisable.

The label of the Fruit Fresh type stuff I used says to only leave the fruit in there a couple of minutes so I cored, sliced, and peeled about three or four apples, dropping the peeled wedges into a bowl of solution to keep them from browning. Then I used a slotted spoon to drain them and move them to a larger bowl. They still browned a bit but not too badly. I'm slow. It took me 2 or 3 minutes per apple even with the gadget.

I opted not to use the food coloring. I don't care for the intense red of some cinnamon apple products.

I used white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar, for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to avoid the dark coloring of the vinegar and I knew I wasn't going to mask it with red food coloring. Second, I was using Stayman apples which are already pretty sweet so I wanted the bite of white vinegar instead of the more mellow flavor of apple cider vinegar.

I got 10 pints instead of 6 (didn't weigh my apples though) so I canned 9 (that's all my canner will hold) and we ate one with dinner last night. Yum!


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Baby Rabbits

Back around the 9th I posted that we had discovered there were kits in the burrow dug by a couple of the does. Someone said they thought the kits looked about 16 days old back then. These photos were taken on the 25th so I'm guessing the babies are around 4.5 weeks old in these photos. The does are definitely sharing a burrow and I think they're not too picky about whose babies they nurse. I know I saw one baby approach both does to nurse (but at the time, neither doe was particularly interested and they pushed it away).

I know for certain at one time we had seven babies running around. The most I've seen and been able to count recently is five at a time. They get through the fence, so it's possible we've lost a couple to predators. I'm planning to put hardware cloth along the bottom of the fencing as soon as I get time and the rain lets up. The babies are eating lots of solid food now. They eat pellets, dry leaves that fall from the trees, and grass. I think they sneak out of the fencing to get to the grass and other delectables.

Here's the daddy, a Californian buck, with a couple of the kits. The Moms are New Zealand White does.

If you look at the kit in front, you might notice he's blind in his left eye. We have two kits like that and we think it's because the does picked them up by their heads. It's just a guess, but it's all we can come up with. They seem to get around just fine, and their eyes were like that the first time I saw them, before they'd ventured out of their burrow.


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