Urban Foraging, Experiment #2: Black Currants!

Today while walking . . . well, somewhere in . . . a city . . . I noticed something dark purple and shiny calling out to me from some shrubbery.  It was . . . it couldn’t be . . . no, it really was a blackcurrant bush!  And there were ripe purple berries dangling there just begging to be picked. (photos to come)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, that such a treasure had not already been gleaned by another observant forager like myself.  I filed the location and vowed to return at a more convenient time to collect my treasure.  X marks the spot 🙂

So I returned under cover of dusk, wearing a green dress so as to blend in with the shrubbery, and spent a good half-hour picking.  Oh, the smell!  I was in cassis heaven as I plucked the juicy berries from the branches.

I brought my treasures home and marched through my little girl’s bedtime routine all the while thinking about the jam I could make with my find.

Well, after getting her into bed, and chatting with my mom on the phone I got down to the serious business of microwave jam making . . . at 11 o’clock.

First, I found a recipe seemingly from a Four-H club (?) for making small batches of microwave jam.  Aha!  Perfect.  For what I had was the makings of a small batch.

I knew that when I started out, even before I had measured my one-and-almost-three-quarters cups of picked berries.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cut up fruit, but I was willing to go a little on the lean side.  I even included all of the “blemished” fruit, hoping that it wouldn’t spoil the flavour too much.

Then I topped and tailed them, and washed them.  In the measuring cup full of water, several of the more blemished ones floated to the top.  “That can’t be good,” I thought, and took a peek inside. Nope, not good.  It was a dried-out stinky worm-bed inside my beautiful berries.

There was no denying the fact that they most certainly would spoil the flavour, so I went through them again, discarding any berries sporting what looked remotely like a worm hole.  Down to . . . a very respectable 1 cup of washed, sorted, topped and tailed berries.  Sigh.

So I decided to halve the recipe.  “At least I’ll get one jar of jam,” I reassured myself as midnight struck and my dear partner (who had stood by me during the sad, sad culling process) went to bed.

The recipe calls for:

1 1/2 cups of chopped fruit

flavourings and lemon juice (this refers to a mysterious unlinked “chart”)

1 1/2 cups sugar

So I halved the sugar and added a bit over a tablespoon of lemon juice for good measure, and set about following the instructions.

Heat in microwave about 6 minutes, or until boiling–mine took much less time. Stir well, and then cook in microwave 10 to 13 more minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Mine went faster here too, and I was done after about 6 minutes.  It says at this point you should chill a spoonful in the fridge for 15 minutes to test the consistency, but I was pretty sure mine was jelling, so I jarred it*.

And this is what I got:

Approximately 2/3 of a one-cup jar of black currant jam.  Sigh.

Well, what this experiment taught me was respect for two things: 1, the price of high-quality blackcurrant jam, and 2, the value of pesticides.

I’m going to bed now, but at least I can look forward to some tasty jam tomorrow morning.

* Microwave jam is not processed, so it must be refrigerated immediately and will last for about a month in the fridge.


As I mentioned earlier, over my holiday I had a chance to do some canning with my mom.  We did a whole whack of strawberry jam, and another whack of stewed rhubarb, which my mother-in-law kindly and generously cut for me from her garden.  Hooray for free food!  The strawberries were not so free, but at the Sudbury Farmer’s Market they were only $20 for two 4-litre baskets.  Yes, you read that right: $2.50 per litre, and I didn’t even have to pick them myself!

I love making jam and other jam-like things, so it was very exciting for me to find such cheap and plentiful berries to can.  I’m getting a head-start on my Christmas gifts (so anyone on my xmas list, please forget you saw how little I paid for these berries!!!!).  I also have a toddler who tends to go to bed rather late when we are visiting Grandma and Grandpa (Em and Papa), which meant we started around 10 pm and were just finishing up around 1 am.  It was a late night, but I didn’t even look at the clock until the end.

As for the recipe, we just used the one on the pectin box, which called for a bunch of crushed strawberries, plus a bunch of sugar, some lemon juice, and the pectin.  We did 2 batches, separately, which was a good thing because they wouldn’t have both fit in the pot!

Next up, I’m hoping to get enough blueberries on our next Sudbury visit to do a batch of blueberry jam.  And then we should be into apple and crabapple season, and I’m hoping to do some crabapple jelly and crabapple butter.  This will be part of my urban foraging series–I just can’t turn away from free food!  Any advice from other crabapple gleaners, especially from the Ottawa area, would be much appreciated!

Over & out.

Re-Usable Toilet Paper

Home-Made Toilet PaperMy husband thinks I’ve lost it.  He says I’ve crossed a line.  The line between “frugal eco crafty mom” and “I raise my own pigs and recycle my grey water.”  Frankly I would LOVE to be the latter, but maybe that makes him uncomfortable.  If there is a line, I think I crossed it long ago.  But this?  This is just a natural extension of some other trends in my life.

First trend, cloth diapers.  We started using cloth when our daughter was almost a year old.  Our reasoning before that had been that we don’t have a dryer, and we don’t have a house with a separate laundry room so it seemed inconvenient.  But when I saw a friend’s baby with her bum hugged by soft cotton instead of scratchy noisy plastic, I was touched, and inspired to go cloth.  I’m so happy we did!  It’s been amazingly easier than I thought it would be, and it has saved us SO much money (not to mention environmental karma!).

The second trend is my Lunapads.  I did some reading online and got scared of what they put in tampons, and what happens when you put those tampons in you.  Also, after switching to cloth diapers for the baby, I thought, “Why not switch to cloth for myself?”  I did it, and I loved it!  It felt like a little treat for myself each month.

So, see?  This is just the next step in a long progression of reusable cloth products to replace disposable ones.

I first read about cloth wipes on the Lunapads blog, where they linked back to a Crunchy Chicken article about her experiment switching to cloth.  I was inspired!  But I was also lazy, and it wasn’t until a couple weeks later, with my TP supply rapidly diminishing, that I decided to sew some up.  So yesterday, armed with a template, some scissors, my sewing machine, and some super cute flannellette I bought a few months ago, I set to work.

I wanted the wipes to be about the same size as 2 squares of toilet paper, so I made a little cardboard template in that size and drew a bunch of rectangles on the cloth.  Next I cut them out, and then I zig-zag stitched all around the edges.  I got 19 from what was left of the 1/2 yard piece of cotton (I had also made some doll sheets & pillow case out of the fabric).  And voila!  The cutest darn pile of toilet paper you’ve ever seen!  Don’t tell me it’s not!

My plan is to use these just for pee . . . at least for now.  We wash our cloth diapers anyway, so this won’t cause any extra laundry in our house.  I’ll report back once I’ve tried this out for a week or two and you can let me know if you think I’ve completely lost it!  In the mean time, I’ll be singing “You can feel the cottony softness . . . .”

Shampoo-Free Update #2

Last week I posted about going Shampoo-Free, or “poo-free” as the bloggers call it.  On Thursday June 4th, I started washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

The routine is: 1 tsp of baking soda, diluted in about a cup and a half of water from the shower. Pour over head and then massage in as you would do with shampoo.  The neat thing is, it feels kindof “soapy”, giving the impression that it’s doing something.  It might be psychological, but I like to feel it working.  Don’t leave it in too long, and then rinse well.

Next, dilute the acv in another cup and a half of water from the shower and pour all over head.  Massage in.  I like this feeling too.  The baking soda leaves the hair feeling somewhat stiff, but once the vinegar rinse is in, it feels soft and supple.  Massage through hair, and then rinse well.  The website recommends rinsing with cold water, but I just use the shower like normal.

I’ve kept it up for the week and this is what I can report:

– My hair is soft, clean, and supernaturally shiny.  I’m getting much better performance than my old shampoo/conditioner routine.

– It’s very easy to do.  I just bring 2 containers into the shower with me, 1 with some baking soda and one with some apple cider vinegar.  I add some water from the shower, mix, and dump over my head, massage in, rinse, and then follow with the acv rinse.  Easy peasy.

– I don’t smell like a pickle.  The first day I did a little, but that was because I used about a 1/2 cup of acv instead of the 2 tbsp called for.  Now, if my hair gets wet (like when my toddler splooshes my hair in the bath, every day) I can get a faint whiff of vinegar, and maybe I wouldn’t encourage tall dark handsome strangers to come and sniff my hair, but normally it just smells like hair.  Which I like.

– You wanna talk cheap?  This is basically cheap as free, and totally benign environmentally.

So, I’m sold!  I’ll do another update later on, but for now, I highly recommend baking soda and vinegar as a hair wash/rinse.  Let me know if you try it too!

If it’s broke, fix it!

I’m a pretty DIY kind of gal.  I like to make my own bread and granola bars, occasionally sew some clothes, and rig stuff up when I get the chance.  But too often I still have the instinct to throw away broken stuff and get something new.

But not any more!  I’ve started fixing whatever I can, and boy does it feel good.  Even beyond the money-saving factor of not having to replace something, and the knowledge that I’m not sending this thing to the landfill, there is something very satisfying in opening something up, tinkering around, and finding out you’ve turned garbage back into gold.  

But the money factor is pretty sweet: Last week I saved about $40 by fixing a couple of things.  Here are my projects:

1. My plastic stroller rain cover.  After losing the beautiful fitted rain cover that came with my stroller some time last summer, or possibly the summer before, (argh–see my post on the Cost of Being Disorganized) I bought a generic plastic stroller cover to replace it.  Now, it was nowhere near as nice as my old one, but it did the job.  But like anything that comes into contact with kids in the outdoors, mine developed a couple of rips and tears over the year or two of use.  I’d been using it that way for months, but it was starting to get to me.  I mean, the ripped plastic look is not really what I’m going for.

I was very close to throwing it away, but my frugal mind rebelled, knowing I’d have to plunk down another $12 at Sears for a new one.  So instead, I brought it to my sewing desk and zig-zag stitched the tears with white thread.  It worked brilliantly!  No more ripped plastic, and you can barely notice the white stitching holding it together.  I am very proud.

2. An old fan.  We’ve had this fan for a few years now, and the last few times we’d used it, it started making a horrible SQUEEEEEEEEEEAK noise.  The last time we used it, it actually squealed to a halt, making more horrible noises.  Thinking it was a gonner, I was ready to chuck it and pick up a new one.  But something stopped me.  I think it was my pride in my previous repair job that inspired me to give this one a try.  

So I got out the screw driver and opened up the fan.  Turns out years of dust had accumulated inside and gummed up the works (well, duh!).  All it took was a little vaccuuming and a little WD-40, and the fan was as good as new.  No more screeching, and we didn’t have to replace the fan, which would have cost around $20 – $25.  I also gave another fan a good cleaning, so although it wasn’t broken YET, I bet I added years to its lifetime.

So there you have it.  I figure I saved around $40 once you add tax on, just with these two fix-it jobs, and I got the added bonus of pride in a job well done.  Now I’m asking myself, “What else can I fix around here?” !!

Hobbies that Give

Hobbies are great.  They can enrich our lives, release the “seeking” hormone in our brains that is one of the best highs a human can feel, help us meet new people, teach us new skills . . .

Hobbies can also be very expensive.  There’s always fancier equipment to buy, and lovely supplies, and even conferences, etc.  I’m totally guilty of getting excited about a new craft or project, buying a bunch of beads and pliers, let’s say, and never making more than 1 pair of earrings.  

So for now, in the interests of saving money, I’m concentrating on hobbies that 1. are cheap, and 2. produce something.  I’m avoiding all new hobbies that require new supplies, and focusing on what I’ve already got the stuff for, waiting for me in my closet.

In this spirit, I’ve gone back to sewing.  In particular, I’ve been sewing cloth napkins.  I was inspired by the gorgeous fabrics they’ve got for sale at Mimi & Lulu in Sudbury.  They have these fantastic remnant bags of colour co-ordinated fabrics from their collection, including some vintage fabrics, the perfect inspiration for beautiful dinner napkins.

Cloth napkins!  What a brilliant idea.  I was motivated to make some after my last purchase of paper towels, at $8 for the package.  Sure, we don’t use very many, but isn’t it a waste, when we could be working with something re-usable, better for the environment, and much more lovely to use?

So far I’ve made enough to keep our little family going, and have started giving them as gifts.  My first set of 4 were met with real appreciation, and I’m working on another set now.  I’ve worked through all of the usable fabric from my Mimi & Lulu bag, and am now moving on to the fabric that’s been sitting in my closet for years & years, including rescuing some fabric from my old out-dated clothes.

So another off-shoot of this is that these home-made gifts cost me little more than time.  I can make something thoughtful that someone else will appreciate, using materials I already have on-hand, something good for the environment, and which will save them money, and it saves me the cost of buying a gift from the store.