Creating an urban homestead and news about life.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Art of Bottling

This week I spent a lovely evening with some new friends bottling pears. It was a lovely night and a great time to get to know them better, enjoying a lovely wholesome dinner with some wine with the sound of bottles clinking in the background. Looking out through the north facing passive solar windows at the darkening bush enjoying the small things.

For those who are interested I use a fowlers vacola system which is an Australian system of bottling fruits and vegetables. It uses a glass bottle designed to fit a rubber ring and corresponding lid on top of the rim. A clip holds the lid and ring in place during the cooking process, and as the bottle cools down a vacuum seal is produced that will keep fruits for about 12 months.

I grew up eating fruits preserved in this way for sweets my entire childhood when we went to my grandparents (my parents didn't give us sweets very often so this was very special) but I never saw my grandmother making them. Last year some friends asked me to came around for a night of bottling and in much the same way they showed me practically how it is done. Shall we say I was hooked.

I bought some bottles at op shops and garage sales and then had the idea of speaking to my grandparents, who had a spare bottling unit and gave it to me complete with thermometer, more jars and stainless steel lids (very exciting as these can be reused, whereas cheaper-tin lids can only be used once or twice.

So when I was catching up for coffee with some new friends and they mentioned they had gotten a unit second hand but were too afraid to use it because they didn't know how, I suggested we get together and have a bottling night. I went to the local wholesale fruit market and asked how much a box would be. one box was 18 kilos which was a bit much for us to do in one night, but they were happy to sell me a half box for the same amount per kilo (about half the advertised price.) It pays to ask and to get to know your shopkeepers. Hopefully once I buy a property I won't need to but fruit to bottle, but until then I still buy fruit, making sure it is on special and in season so that I get the best price for the best quality. Things like pears and quinces and stone fruit are very seasonal and ideal for bottling because you can't buy local all year round.

We spent an hour or so peeling and slicing and packing the fruit into the bottles and then filled them with water, placed the rings and lids and clamps on and stick them in the stovetop unit and left them to simmer away while we cleaned up and then enjoyed our dinner. We had energetically peeled more pears than fit into bottles so we stewed some up in red wine, raw sugar and cinnamon served with double cream for one of the most delicious desserts out.

My bottles don't look quite this good ( and I don't have enough people to eat this many yet) but I'm working on it. And I have some more bottles of pears to open - just whenever I feel like. I have new friends who I'm a lot more friendly with, and that was a blessing.

Love to you all til next time. Hannah

PS, my mother has just had surgery for a mastectomy, hoping this is all that's needed apart from the dreaded chemo and radiotherapy. If you have a faith please hold her up in your prayers.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Today is world blog action day, an idea that was generated to say what if people all over the world could unite today to talk about one of the most important things in the world, the environment.

My journey in relation to the environment has been quite a long one. I grew up in a family that loves the outdoors, we had a very large houseblock by Australian standards for town dwellers and gardened and went bushwalking and camping frequently. My grandparents were all keen gardeners growing up during the war and in hard times and they produced a significant proportion of their food theirselves.

My family was also a Christian family and through my own growing faith and reading of the bible I came to an understanding and conviction of our great responsibility to steward this amazing planet which sustains and provides for us.

During my time at university I became more politically involved and aware, understanding more about how decisions are made and I guess, becoming more sceptical about the political systems. For me coming across the idea of permaculture was a lifechanging experience, as for me, it just made sense. Permaculture is about designing systems that work with nature and with the experience of nature to be sustainable. It involves gardening, house design, community networks and governance if you want to as it is a design system. It was developed initially by two taswegians (Tasmania is the island state just south of the mainland of Australia) and is now studied, practiced and taught all around the world.

For me i love the idea of working with nature and not against it to provide food, shelter and warmth, I love the fact that it is a positive movement, that is rather than protesting about things it doesn't agree with it is about offering alternatives, applying changes step by step. For me I don't have to be an island unto myself, I value relationships and learning off my friends, whether in person over coffee or working together on someone's garden or over canning up seasonal fruit, or over the wonder of the internet.

I am now known as the hippy to my family and friends, but I haven't made these changes in my life because I am afraid, I think fear can only incapacitate, not empower. I am afraid for the future of the world, but I also have hope that there is an alternative to the destructive way we are living. I live this way because I have tried small changes and found my life to be richer and more enjoyable. I get satisfaction from the food I cook and from preserving food, from harvesting food I have grown myself in soil I have helped create through composting my waste. I love creating things that I wear and use with my own hands, and I love the friendships I have made through this way of life. Slowing life down a little is very powerful.

Signing off, Hannah

Friday, October 12, 2007

Spinning Around

I have wanted to learn to spin for a while now, and was in a craft group (part of the permaculture group I was in in Sydney) where others learnt to spin but at the time I was working on some weaving. So when I recently moved back to the South Coast (of NSW) I thought I might look into it some more.
A friend at work told me she learnt to spin at a day course half an hour up the coast, but when I called them they are no longer running the courses. I tried to contact spinners and weavers locally but couldn't get onto one group and another met during the week which was impossible for me due to work commitments.
Then the other day I went to the new exhibition at the local art gallery, and it was an exhibition of works by the spinners and weavers. I met some of the members and found out that the local group meets on a Saturday and the next meeting was the coming Saturday. I went along and met a great bunch of women, a couple of men too, although they weren't spinners. They showed me how to comb a fleece and how to spin and offered to lend me a wheel to practice on until I buy one.
One lady had just had her sheep shorn and sold me a fleece to get started on and off I went to pick it up, however on the way there was a garage sale, and I found an ashford spinning wheel very similar to the one in the photo, (my camera won't hook up properly at the moment) This one only had a single treadle, but is very simple and compact to fit in my small hatchback. I had a go at spinning on it and it was fine so I ended up with my own spinning wheel. I could only justify it because I had learnt to spin that morning and I had told myself I wouldn't buy a wheel until I could spin.
I am really enjoying spinning, either watching the television or talking with friends and it really is quite meditative, and satisfying as you see the bobbin fill with wool. It's a lovely sound as well and the lanolin on the fleece is beautiful and soft on your hands. Next time I go I am going to learn how to ply....and then make something.....more then.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sprouting with Joy

I was introduced into a simple and easy way to make your own sprouts at home by friends in my permaculture group in Sydney and now that it is getting more towards salad weather here in Australia I have gone and bought my supplies from the local health food store and started. I bought chickpeas and mung beans, you can buy these from your local supermarket if you prefer. I then soak them overnight in a bowl of water (lukewarm but not hot) Then they go into the salad spinner. If you don't have one of these I reccomend it, it's great for washing lettuce and fruit before putting it in the fridge as it removes all the water that helps grow mould so they last longer. This isn't the same as mine but it's a similar idea, you have a basket inside a bowl and the basket is spun around like a centrifuge or the spin cycle of a washing machine using a handle on the lid, a push button or a pull cord.

So place you soaked sprouting grains and beans in the lettuce spinner and give it a good spin. Then eery 24 hours minimum, wash the sprouts in fresh water and spin them again. They are ready to eat when you see them starting to....sprout! Sprouts are delicious in sandwiches, salads, blended up with some tahini for a delicious dip, you name it.

Sprouts are highly nutrition, they can be grown locally year round, which means less embodied energy, and they are a great source of protein and vitamin C. A sprout is a seed starting to grow into a vegetable and can be made from the seeds of vegetables, grains, legumes, buckwheat and beans. And they are delicious. I will try and post a photo of them once they are ready to eat in a few days.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Introducing Me!

I thought I should post a photo so you know who I am.

Starting somewhere

This isn't really a start, because it's just an addition to the journey, I hope some people might join and be a part of over time. It's called swirlyness because swirly was already taken, and a good friend and I often wish each other a swirly day. Not a happy day, because most days aren't 100% happy, but swirly for me speaks of something that is joyful no matter what comes your way. It is full of colour and light and hope and life.

I had a swirly weekend. I am housesitting for a friend from work and last week two cats went missing, on the weekend I found one quite paralyzed from a paralysis tick and is now in the animal hospital having treatment. This was stressful and still is as the other one is still missing.

Yet also on the weekend I ran into my sister down town accidentally, I leant to spin and straight afterward happened accross a secondhand spinning wheel at a garage sale at a great price, I had some good friends round for dinner, I had a friend from Sydney call to tell me she was down my way looking at and we caught up for lunch. Altogether a most lovely weekend. Hope yours was too.