Well, it’s been awhile. Since last I updated, I had a baby. Hence the reduced blogging. My urge to make preserves seems only to have strengthened, though, and now that summer’s here in its full glory, I’m at it again. 

For Christmas I was given a copy of Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures, which I had heard many good things about over on the Harvest Forum.  Recently someone on there asked whether the book has changed anyone’s life. Upon relfection, I’d have to say yes. It has really solidified my transition to no-pectin-added, traditional jammaking, and made me aware of how to layer flavors to get something truly amazing.  So far, I’ve made her rhubard with honey and rosemary preserves and her two kinds of apricots with vanilla and gewurtztraminer. That last one blew my mind, it was so good. The book has inspired me to make two creations of my own using her technique (I know it’s not really her technique, it’s been used for a long time, but she’s where I learned it, so I’m giving her credit anyway) of long maceration, straining, boiling the juice to gel point, then ading solids.  The first was strawberries with Earl Grey. The set was a bit loose and the Earl Grey doesn’t really jump out at you like I sort of hoped it would, but they’re tasty!

And yesterday, I whipped up my own concoction of sour cherries with slivered candied ginger, vanilla, and mead. Cherries are low pectin, too– Ferber uses green apple jelly to provide the pectin in her cherry recipes, but the green apples aren’t in here yet,  so instead I added the finely grated zest of one orange and one lemon, and let the lemon seeds macerate with the fruit overnight to extract all their pectin– I’m delighted to report that it worked and the jam achieved a good set. The flavor of the mead doesn’t jump out at you, either, which is ok by me– I was going for layers of flavor, and I’d say that’s what I got.  The jam is such a lovely, dark red.  I don’t know what Christine Ferber would think of the results, but I’m happy with it.  Now I have one jar of the apricot and one of the cherry open in my fridge, and it’s going to be tough decision-making every day as regards to which goes on my morning toast!

Plum maple conserve

August 16, 2009

And so this weekend, the canning project was the Plum Maple Conserve from Small Batch Preserving. I followed the directions fairly faithfully (added an extra tablespoon of lemon juice, that was the only tweak), and have no complaints. It took a little while to boil down to the gel point– it seemed to get stuck at 212F for about an hour– but eventually it made it there, and boy is it delicious.  Another one that I may not be able to bring myself to share with others. Sharing never has been my strong point.

Also bought another box of tomatoes, but am out of energy to do anything with them today. The plum conserve took it out of me.  With luck, they’ll last until tomorrow, at which point, pizza sauce. I have a plan to make myself some french bread pizzas to freeze instead of spending an arm and a leg on store-bought ones. Made the baguettes for them today…I hope that they, too, will last until tomorrow.

Peach Butter

August 10, 2009

Every year I make peach jam of some sort– one year it was peach and ginger, last year lemony peach (lemon zest and lemon balm, verbena, thyme). This year I decided to try something a little different– peach butter. The recipe is simple– 4 1/2 lbs medium peaches, peeled, seeded, chopped, boiled 20 minutes with 1/2 c. water and then run through a food processor (I used my stick blender).  Measure out the pulp (should be about 8 cups), add 4 cups sugar, the juice and zest of one lemon, and boil it down until it’s of spreadable consistency.  I added a teaspoon of ground cardamom and a splash of vanilla, too.  It’s that last step– boiling it down– that takes a while.  I expected a couple of hours, it was more like the better part of the day.  Definitely not a quick project. Lots of stirring towards the end to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.  Some minor peach burns from spatters as it became thicker.   But the result! I may never go back to peach jam. The flavor was so bright and concentrated– peach jam with the volume turned up several notches. I got about 6 pints in the end, one of them in the form of 4oz jars for gift-giving, but I may not be able to bring myself to give any of it away.  My peach butter. All mine.

Carnivorous plants update: Something ate one of the pitchers on my S.  rubra, the venus flytraps seem to have survived my unnecessary repotting– one seems to have been trod upon by a cat-sized foot, not clear yet how well it will recover. One of the flytraps caught a housefly– you can see the little fly eyeballs staring out, cold and lifeless.  The sundew has dew and is thriving. The only one still in question is the Nep, still don’t know if it’s acclimating or dying a slow death.

Habanero Gold

August 2, 2009

Scored some habaneros at the farmer’s market yesterday and so was finally able to try out Habanero Gold. It is delicious.  I used Carol’s big batch adaptation of the recipe, which yielded 12- 4oz jars plus some extra, which I put in an extra jar for us to enjoy immediately (I always feel silly canning something and then opening a jar of it immediately).

I used about 1/3 c. of habaneros, which resulted in a nice burn that’s tempered nicely when you pair it with cheese. If you don’t like hot at all, this isn’t for you, and if you like hot a lot, you may want to put more habs in.  Personally, I have a lot in common with Goldilocks on this point, so 1/3 cup was just right.

pepperjelly

A note on getting the colorful bits distributed evenly throughout the jelly: you’re not supposed to invert jars, because it can break the seal. And that ‘tipping it gently’ thing advocated in some recipes doesn’t work for me. I found that rapidly twisting the jar on a flat surface (as though it were doing The Twist on the dance floor) worked pretty well. They floated back up again a little bit, but ended up better than they started, anyhow.

Carnivorous plants!

July 31, 2009

Well, the plants I ordered finally arrived…the seller had apparently had some difficulties with a computer virus that had knocked him instantaneously back into the 20th century. But anyway, once that was straintened out, my CPs (that stands for ‘Carnivorous Plants’, btw, not ‘Complementizer Phrases’) arrived forthwith.  2 flytraps, a sundew (D. dielsiana), 2 pitcher plants (S. rubra and S x Dixie Lace), a pinguicula, and Nepenthes copelandii.

Now is the time to form your betting pools with respect to how many of the plants I will kill, how soon, and in what order. Personally, I think it’s a toss-up between the Nepenthes (just because it’s my favorite, that means it has to be the first to go, right?) and the flytraps (because I repotted them, and then 15 minutes later read that I should not repot them). On the bright side, it’s nice and humid and sunny where I’ve got them, they’re in a 1:1 sand/peat mix, and I water only with distilled water.  Skipping over the total newbie mistakes, moving on to the intermediate-newbie mistakes. I am only a second level carnivorous plant grower, I fear. *sigh*

My Sarracenia purpurea continues to thrive, at least. Growing a new pitcher every other week, it seems like!

Canning tomatoes

July 30, 2009

Scored a large box of tomatoes for canning and went to town on them this past week.  Came out of it with several tomato-stained shirts, a lot of tomato skins for the compost pile, and 6 pints each of crushed tomatoes, roasted tomato garlic soup, and chunky basil pasta sauce.  The pasta sauce was the most challenging, mainly because I had to simmer it for something like 3 hours (rather than the 40 minutes the recipe predicts), and it had an alarmingly sharp flavor at first due to all the vinegar (which you can’t reduce, since it’s necessary for making the recipe safe to can). The good news is that after all the simmering, the flavors mellowed and it turned out to be very tasty– bet it’ll be good on pizza as well as pasta.

The first time I canned tomatoes was many years ago, using the “Putting Food By” book as a guide. I had all these little yellow pear tomatoes, and believe it or not, I skinned them all and canned them up. Not sure we ever used them (my mother: “What do we DO with them?”  Me[exasperated]:” Mom, they’re TOMATOES.”), which is probably for the best, since Putting Food By doesn’t exactly use the most up-to-date canning methods– no acid (in the form of bottled lemon juice or citric acid) was added, so who knows what lurked within. Especially since they were Boiling Water processed, and they were yellow tomatoe s(already lower in acid than red tomatoes). Yikes.  Nowadays I not only go by the book, I make sure it’s the most up-to-date book available.

For the best info on canning tomatoes, visit the NCHFP website. If you have questions, visit the friendly and experienced crowd at the GardenWeb Harvest forum.

July 24, 2009

Despite my earlier resolve to continue to eat dandelion greens throughout the year in order to determine whether they are in fact less bitter in early spring, I have failed to do so. (And it’s not for want of dandelions in the yard, believe you me). Some things, you have them once a year and that’s quite enough. Sorry, dandelions, but apparently that’s true of you, too, no matter your ample nutritive properties

In jam-making news, I made some blueberry lavender jam. I’d give the recipe, but I don’t think I need to. Just find any old recipe for blueberry  jam (from the pectin recipe insert, for example), and add a sprig or three of lavender to it.Fish out the lavender before jarring it up. There you go.

It’s also the height of peach season, so peaches are next up in line for the canning pot. Think I’m gonna try peach cardamom this year.  I picked up a Spanish tarragon plant recently– that’s what I have in store for the plums come August. Plum tarragon. I’m not yet sure what I’ll do to the pears.  Maple, maybe. Pear maple. With pecans!  Yes, I think that’s it.

For the first time in many years of buying stuff online, someone has failed to follow through with the product. It makes me sad; I really wanted the stuff I bought! It was a good deal! Now we’ll see how well Paypal’s dispute resolution system works.

I’ve had a compost bin pretty much ever since we bought this house , but I’ve been pretty lazy about it. I threw in kitchen scraps during the summer, and then a bunch of sticks, twigs, and woody shrub trimmings. Then it got wasps, and I left it alone for a year. It rapidly became all sticks. I never could figure out how I was supposed to get the good compost out of the bottom of it.  I never turned it, never paid any attention to what sorts of things I was putting in.  The beginning of this year, it was a mess. I was determined that something must be done.

I discovered the Compost Forum over at GardenWeb, and quickly became obsessed with the idea of rehabilitating my pile and getting some good use out of it.  The first thing I learned was that if I wanted all those sticks to go away, I’d need to add more greens (for me, this means weeds, tea leaves, veggie trimmings, banana peels, citrus peels, the occasional pumpkin)…but not too many, or it would get too wet (especially with all this rain we’ve been having) and just stink. So I learned to add in some shredded cardboard, paper, or dry leaves to balance out the greens.

Anyway, all of this is just to say that just last week I finally felt the warmth the pile was generating, and today I finally turned the bin– actually, I was moving it to a new location since we may be enlarging the deck, and the previous location was right next to it in the to-be work zone. Anyway, all the stuff from the top went to the bottom, stuff from the edges went to the middle, and it’s all fluffed up now. Lord, what I found living in there!  Let’s just say I was really glad I was wearing gloves. All the life is a good sign, though…even unearthed a couple of big mama earthworms toward the bottom of the pile, which couldn’t have made me happier. Best of all, I now have a few good inches of nice dark soil left from the bottom of the old locale that I can use in my garden.

Who knew I could ever get so excited about rot?

June 3, 2009

My friend Abbie is in Mali again, doing linguistic fieldwork in a Dogon village.  She keeps an online journal— I love reading it because she’s quite a good writer and captures many details of this life that is so different from mine here in the U.S. Midwest.  At one time I had wanted to do fieldwork– then I got to know my own nature a bit better, and separate who I would like to be from who I actually am.  When I get into unfamiliar situations, I clam up and shut down– I can’t help it, it’s a reflex, not something that I can choose to do differently and overcome.   I don’t adapt well to new people, I don’t know what to say or do.  Needless to say, this is not a successful mode of operation for a fieldworker who depends on good, frequent, culturally appropriate interactions with local people to succeed and live well in their second home.  But anyway, Abbie’s journal allows me to see things through her eyes, if only in brief glimpses.  If you’re interested in other cultures, travel, Mali, linguistics, the realities of fieldwork, do give it a read.

The strawberries are in at the farmer’s market! A couple of months ago I made a parfait consisting of layers of pastry cream and strawberries drizzled with a balsamic-orange syrup. The syrup was so good atop the strawberries, I decided that I must do a version of this in preserve form.  As I so often do, I used Pomona’s Universal Pectin to make this low-sugar, bright-flavored jam.  Don’t try substituting another pectin here, it won’t work.

4 c. crushed strawberries with juices

 1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tsp. grated orange zest

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, boiled and reduced to about 1/4 c.

1/2 tsp vanilla

pinch salt (optional)

 1/2 c. sugar

2 tsp calcium water, 2 tsp Pomona pectin.

Combine the reduced vinegar, orange juice, strawberries, pinch of salt, and calcium water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and pectin powder well.  Stir into the strawberry mixture, stirring vigorously. Bring back to boil. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla.  Ladle into properly prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Or refrigerate. Makes about five 1/2 pints.