Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Have You Seen A Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar?

I have written a lot about Monarch butterflies in previous posts and the fact that I let milkweed plants grow where ever they want in my yard and garden.  It is my little way of helping the declining Monarch population.  If you want to read some of the posts I have written about Monarch's, just type monarch butterfly into the search box.  If you have milkweed plants, you have probably noticed a  caterpillar eating on the leaves that looks different from the Monarch caterpillar.  They are called a Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar.  Another name is Milkweed Tiger Moth.  At first I thought it was a tent caterpillar because the color was similar.  Looking more closely I saw all the hairs.  When the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, the Milkweed bug http://www.thecabincountess.com/2015/09/the-milkweed-bug.html and the Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar eat the leaves of a milkweed plant, they are ingesting a highly toxic chemical.  The milky sap in the plant is poisonous to humans and animals.  Birds feast on a lot of different insects but somehow they know not to eat Monarch butterflies, Milkweed bugs or the Tiger moth.  They retain the poison even after changing from a caterpillar into the moth or butterfly.  Predators learn that the orange and black color is a warning, and they shouldn't eat them.  Bats also like to eat insects but they can't detect the orange and black in the dark.  Amazingly the milkweed tiger moth has an organ that emits an ultrasonic signal easily detected by bats. This signal warns the bat of a toxic bad tasting meal and bats soon learn to avoid the tiger moth.  The tiger moth caterpillar turns into a drab brown moth but the signal they emit protects them at that stage of life.

The milkweed tussock or tiger moth caterpillar.

The leaves of this milkweed are being eaten off.

All the leaves are gone from this plant, but the seed pods remain.

I think these caterpillars could be very destructive.  They can eat the leaves off a whole plant very quickly.  Fortunately they leave the seed pods which will burst open soon leaving the wind to distribute seeds which will turn into new plants next Spring.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Making Caramel from Sweetened Condensed Milk

By now most of us have seen how to make caramel sauce by slow cooking sweetened condensed milk in the can.  All you do is place unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk in a slow cooker, cover the cans with water, put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for five hours.  From what I can tell it works but cooking in the metal can always bothered me, and I never tried it.  Then I saw how you can do the same thing, but instead pour the milk into canning jars, cover with a lid and put it in the slow cooker or better yet, cook it in a pressure cooker.  I bought two cans of sweetened condensed milk at Aldi.  I poured the milk out into half pint canning jars.  Two cans of milk fit into three canning jars.  I put lids on the jars and put them on a trivet in the pressure cooker.  I added enough water so it came just under the lids.  I set the cooker on high for thirty five minutes and let the pressure release naturally.  When I opened the pressure cooker, I was amazed to see beautiful caramel dipping sauce for apples or anything you like to eat with caramel.  Just taking spoonfuls will work too.

It was very good, but I have very intense taste buds and I could taste a slight evaporated milk taste.  Maybe it was the Aldi product or maybe all sweetened condensed milk tastes that way.   My husband and my grandson's liked it, but I wasn't satisfied.

I decided to make my own sweetened condensed milk.  I used 1 cup of powdered milk (which also has that taste too), boiling water, sugar and a little melted butter.  I put it in the blender and mixed it until smooth.  Then I put that mixture in the small jars to cook in the pressure cooker.  It tasted better to me, but the texture was wrong.  Maybe I didn't blend it enough, maybe I blended it too much or it could be the butter.

Next I decided to try another brand of sweetened condensed milk.  It was between Borden and La Lechera.  I decided on La Lechera by Nestle.  Now I am very aware of the Nestle Boycott and of all of Nestle’s alleged crimes against humanity.  It has been going on for years.  Some of it has to do with baby formula but also about their business practices.  All the charges against them are most likely true, but to eliminate all products from a big company like Nestle is virtually impossible.  Nestle is also the parent company for thousands of other products we don't even associate with the Nestle company.  I have a feeling if we got down to the bottom line on most products, we would be disappointed.

The caramel I made from La Lechera was quite good.  I will be asking my family what they think, but I preferred it over the others I have made.  I will try the Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk by Borden next time, but as of now I have had my fill of caramel.  The Borden company probably has people protesting them too.  I don't really know or maybe Nestle owns Borden.  It's way too complicated for my brain.  The bottom line is that cooking any brand of sweetened condensed milk, which is basically sugar and milk, turns it into a nice caramel.