Violets Can Cure the Blues

Time flies.  Every day the earth turns, each of us has only so many hours to feel the warmth of the sun before the dark descends.  It seems like the further I get in life’s journey, the fewer hours are in the sun.

Spring is finally here, and summer right around the corner.  It’s been a long, hard winter.  I’m so ready to feel the sun.  I wanted to collect dandelions yesterday. Last year I made dandelion jelly (When Life Gives You Dandelions), and it seemed like a good way to bring that spring feeling back.  I must have collected 500 flowers last year.  Yesterday…I don’t know where they went.  All those flowers I’d seen in the rain last week were gone.  Instead, I have violets. DSCF5348

Lots and lots of violets.  I love them! They spread like weeds, and probably ruin the lawn, but they are spring to me.  Lawns are overrated anyway!  Goodbye dandelions;  I’d be making violet jelly instead.

I thought about trying to convince my dear, loving children to go out and pick the flowers for me.  Wouldn’t they love to go outside and harvest flowers, stooping and bending like itinerant laborers, rather than sitting in front of a laptop? No, I didn’t really think so either.  That wouldn’t stop me from trying.  What did stop me from recruiting more help was this: See these flowers? DSCF5347

These are violets.  See how the leaves are heart-shaped, and the flowers look like someone sat on them?  These are wild flowers that are totally edible.

Now see this one?        DSCF5350    This is periwinkle.  Vinca Minor.  It has longer, narrow leaves and perfect flowers. It’s also toxic.  I don’t trust those kids to avoid the flowers that the dogs might have watered, never mind the poisonous plants!

So,  I stooped and picked, over and over until I had 8 cups of flowers.  Poured boiling water over them and set them aside.  My friend Jan came over to help.  We went out to lunch, did a litle shopping, returned home…and they had just enough time to bleed out their violetness into the water.  After straining them and squeezing out all the flower juices, I had just about the right amount (3 1/2 cups) of liquid. DSCF5355

I used the recipe from Taste of Home.  The only change I made was to mix the pectin with the sugar before mixing it into the liquid.  It seems to mix in better this way.

I added 1/2 cup of lemon juice, then 4 Tablespoons of pectin mixed with 4 cups of sugar.  That sounds like a lot of sugar, but it wasn’t as sweet as I’d expected.  After they are thoroughly mixed, heat in a stainless pot until boiling.  Boil hard for 1 minute, then process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Here’s the end result:DSCF5391

It’s a very nice jelly.  I actually prefer it to the dandelion jelly.  Avery tasted it first, and decided that she wanted to make “violet cookies”.  We stayed up that night and made thumbprint cookies.  She brought them to school as a peace offering to the kids in her class (This was a good idea, trust me).  It got thumbs up from all the other samplers.  If you have a field of violets mixed in with your lawn, then you really should consider making this jelly.  It looks lovely, and tastes lovely.  And I believe it might have healing properties for the soul.  A cup of tea, and a toasted english muffin with a spoonful of violet jelly… if you close your eyes you can just feel the light touch of the sun again.

50 Ways to Lose Your Pumpkin (part 2)….Can it Baby!

Canning pumpkins is a new venture for me.  We had plenty to work with, as I mentioned in “50 Ways…part 1“.  We kind of go overboard with some of the holidays.  That’s one of the things I love about Grumpy; he doesn’t hesitate to go overboard when it comes to holidays for the kids.  This is a photo of the early preparations.  Grumpy made those tombstones for me out of plywood and scrap lumber.  They’ve been holding up about 5 years now.  There is a lot of bloody looking stuff that gets added as the day goes on, and light up creatures in the trees and upper windows, “bats” flying in the sky (a light effect), fog machine, scary noises and (my favorite) we actually have a real creepy old burial ground across the street!  Halloween central- woohoo!  I’m not sure if it’s the burial ground or not, but we get slaughtered with crowds of kids here!

But back to pumpkins…..  So I managed to save one perfect sugar pumpkin to can this year.  These are the kind you want for pies and other baked goods.  Nice strong flavor, almost sweet and not grainy.  Pumpkin can only be safely canned in a pressure canner, and it must be in chunks.  Once you puree it the density is too great for canning, and you run the risk of not killing all the anaerobic bacteria (and you can get botulism!!! ).  Start by putting a kettle of water on to boil (or two); then start sectioning your pumpkin with a very sturdy knife.  Clean it out thoroughly, and scrape the stringy part out of the inside.  It’s easier to peel if it’s in strips like this photo.  (Okay- you caught me; that is a photo of a Jack O’Lantern type pumpkin.  The same principal applies.  I just didn’t get a photo of my sugar pumpkin in this state).  After it’s peeled, chop it into roughly 1 1/2- 2 inch pieces.

Next, put your pumpkin into a large stainless steel pot.  I usually use an 8 qt dutch oven.  This is not that one, and it’s not even stainless steel.  That pan was busy and I was lazy.  Carry on.  Now cover the chunks with the boiling water, heat on high, bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.  While this is happening, check to make sure your jars are clean.  That’s all- you do not need to sterilize them!  They get totally sterile in the pressure canner.

Strain out the pumpkin and place in to jars (like the photo).  Fill loosely to about 1 inch from top.  When you’ve filled all the jars, pour more boiling water into them to about 1 inch from the top.  The pumpkin will settle some.  Use a chopstick or plastic tool to swirl out any air bubbles.   Put the metal lids (not rings) into HOT water to soak for a few minutes.

Prepare the canner by pouring more hot/boiling water inside (I like to put about 4 inches in because I’m paranoid about it running dry).  Add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to keep your jars sparkly (they get permanently cloudy if you forget).

Now back to the lids:  Wipe the rims of the jars first with a damp towel (cloth or paper).  At this point I like to wipe the rims with either a paper towel dampened with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  It doesn’t get into the jar (I said “damp”) and helps to ensure a good seal.  Put those lids on, tighten the rings to almost tight (called “finger tight”, not “professional wrestler tight”).  Place in canner and turn the heat waaaay up.  When the hissing starts to get noticable, put the weight on and when it starts jiggling, set the timer for 90 minutes (quarts) or 75 minutes for pints.  I chose quarts as I believe I’ll get no more than a can of pumpkin would have after draining off the water.  When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave it alone to cool.  You can cool it in the canner overnight if you have to.  Do not remove weight or lid if there is any pressure remaining and until they have cooled down enough to minimize burns.  If they are warm (or not too hot) after you remove the weight and lid, place them on a towel to finish cooling.  Wipe them down, carefully remove the rings and check the seal.  If you ever have a failed seal, even if it’s been cooling overnight, it’s still safe.  Just put it into the refrigerator and either use it or reprocess it within a week or so.   I got 4 quarts of cubes from one good-sized pumpkin.  If you look closely in the photo, you can just see a bit of a jar full of beans behind the pumpkin.  Since I still had some room in the canner, I popped some dried beans into pint jars to can.  I hate running a half empty canner- it just seems like a wasted opportunity.  Put the dry beans in until jar is 1/3 full, then top with boiling water to 1 inch from top.  Finish the sealing in the usual manner. 90 minutes later you have perfect canned beans!

Homeland Security has Crabapples, and they WON’T Share!

The walk from North Station to my job is just over a mile.  At about the halfway point I pass the offices of Homeland Security.  They are impressive; tall, clean building and immaculately manicured walkways.  The walkway at the street level has grass of crayola green, and is lined with perfectly shaped crabapple trees.  Not only are they perfectly shaped, they grow purple fruit!  I’ve seen plenty of the red variety, and know of some trees that produce lots of golden yellow crabapples, but I’ve never seen purple before.

I decided last year that I would approach the guards to request picking privileges, rather than apply for official permission from this gi-normous agency.   It never seemed like the right time, however.  As the summer went into fall I saw the bounty from those trees drop onto the green carpet and get vacuumed away with the grass clippings.  What a waste!  I was determined that this year would be different.  I watched carefully until I felt they were just about ripe enough, then approached the guard.

It went like this:  “Hi there! So listen, every year I see these crabapples just fall to the ground and get sent out with the grass clippings. That’s sinful.  I’ve decided to take charge of the situation.  Here’s what we’ll do… I’m going to stop by after work, around 2:15, and pick all the fruit I can reach.  Do you have a step-stool? No? Well maybe I’ll just spread a sheet and shake those limbs a bit….Uh- yes, I do mean on the other side of the fence.  Don’t worry, that tiny fence won’t even slow me down.  I’ll just…What?…Well that doesn’t seem right.  This is ridiculous.  Listen friend…here’s what we’ll do…you help me pick these crabapples, I’ll take them home and bring you back some jelly.  Yes I will- I’ll give you my contact info.  We could be crabapple friends on facebook…that was a joke homie.  No, I know you’re not my homeboy…I said “homie”, that is short for homeland security-security guard. Kind of a long handle, you know?”

There are 3 things that I learned that day:  #1- Not to bother wasting time with the security.  Next year I’m going straight to the top.  As soon as the elections are over I’ll send a request.  #2- Security guards at Homeland certainly do not profile.  I am not on anyone’s shortlist of suspects for any crime, ever (unless it’s a crime to shave a few pounds off on your license).  #3- Security guards at Homeland Security carry both a walkie talkie and a weapon.  It’s a good idea to move on if they reach for either one.

So I explained my dilemma to Grumpy, and asked if (A) he knew anyone at Homeland Security or (B) he would be willing to help me pick those golden crabapples,  He wouldn’t comment on who he might or might not know (he knows a lot of people), but he agreed to help me with my foraging. What a guy!

MAKING CRABAPPLE JELLY AND BUTTER:  These are the crabapples we started with.  I wanted more…but someone (ahem) got tired of picking!  Notice that I’ve included lots of “not-quite-ripe” ones.  They have more pectin in them, so I’ll probably get good gel without adding any.  They’re not very large and perfect, but there were no threatening guards!  Some of them are fairly unattractive, although I found this one to be kind of cute–>

You need to take away the stems and deflower any that still have a lot of brown blossom stuff at the other end.  I find it easier to slice them all in half, then pulling away the stem is easy.  You also get a good look inside to make sure they aren’t occupied.  Now you need to add some liquid and start simmering.  I prefer to add apple juice, as I can use less sugar later to make the jelly. This pot is a huge dutch oven (the size is worn off the bottom), I’d say about 20 cups.  I added just enough apple juice so that it was about 1/2 filled.  Cover, let simmer for about an hour.  Then strain, save the apples aside for later.  This is the juice that was strained off.  Bring it to a boil, and boil for about 5 minutes.  Slowly add the sugar (I had about 8 cups of juice and added about 6 cups of sugar).  Crabapples are VERY tart, but there is about 1 Qt of apple juice in here too.  Return to a boil, boil one minute and process in BWB ***.  You can add more sugar if you want it to be sweeter, and try clicking here for instructions on how to test to see if the pectin is gelling enough before you can it.  If you don’t test, and it fails to gel, you can always reprocess with added pectin.

Now for the “Butter”.  In the past I’ve made crabapple “butter” and my kids don’t want to eat it.  This year I called it “crabapple sauce” and they loved it- kids!  You can make this with the cooked remains of the jelly making.  I have tried food mills and other ways of getting the crabapple flesh out, the only one that works well for me is the ricer.  It’s tedious, but worthwhile. You just keep filling the ricer with more of the little apples, and squeeze it out over another big bowl.  When I’m done, I squeeze it again through a fine strainer.  Those little seeds and cores can make it unpleasant.  When you are done, you’ll have a smooth-as-silk basis for the butter.  I add sugar and cinnamon.  I didn’t measure, so add it a little at a time until it seems “there”.   Add enough liquid to make it a runny consistency (I added about 2 cups of apple juice). Bring it back to a boil, boil for about 5 minutes and process in a BWB.  Here is the finished product: on the right, with the rosy tint, are 4 pints and 3 1/2 pints of jelly.  On the left are 7 pints of crabapple “sauce”.

Complete instructions for canning available *** here from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

I’m actually still recovering.  I started writing this post before I got sick, and today had just enough energy left to get it done.  I’m still coughing up a storm, but breathing is a lot easier than on previous days. Thanks for reading folks!

Chasing my tail while I’m dreaming of coffee…

This morning I really didn’t want to get up.  I stayed in bed as long as I could…which was around 8am.  By then the dogs were barking to go out, my kidneys were starting to scream for relief and my coffee fantasies were like 50 shades of brown.  I really need my coffee today.

So just to prove to myself that I wasn’t lazy, I got right to it.  After I poured a big mug of coffee(in my favorite Sliver Diner cup).  First, I made a couple of loaves of bread.  I’m going to write the recipe below, but I’ll ask your help in identifying the source.  I found this a week or so ago on someone else site, but I only wrote down the ingredients! I’ve spent almost an hour trying to find the source, but am coming up empty.  (It’s just wiped me out,and I give up!).

I’d been trying to dry corn.  I’d heard that it’s better than frozen or canned.  I was skeptical, but curious.  I tried with about a dozen ears.  When they got moldy I threw them into the woods.  Then I turned to my dear sista-in-law, Theresa.  She’s the Godess of the dehydrator.  I asked her what she thought of dried corn, and she decided to try her hand at it- even sent me a huge box with tons (in the hydrated state; about 4 quarts dried) of beautiful, deep yellow dried corn.  It smells amazing- just like boiled fresh corn.  I was toying with the idea of making some pea soup, and decided to try throwing in some of the corn.  While the bread was rising, and after I refilled my half empty coffee,  I threw together the pea soup. I made some with ham and some vegetarian.  The jars each got a handful (or 2 for quarts) of dried peas and corn, chopped carrots and potatoes, some salt and pepper and a little thyme.  Put it all in, filled to 1″ with water, pressure canned for 90 minutes at 10lbs and have 9 gorgeous jars of soup.  It’s hard to see in this photo, but that corn looks like it was just sliced off the cob!  Nice work T!

Then, before I ran out of steam, I made a raspberry pie.  First, I realized that I’d put the coffee into the microwave and forgot about it!  Try again, one minute to warm and then I’d make the pie.  Not just any raspberry pie.  This one was unusual.  I got the recipe from The Minnesota Farm Woman. The recipe is really simple.  Here’s what she said: 

“I first tasted this pie at a Lutheran church pie social, made by the granddaughter of the best cook in town, so I already knew it would be good. It was better than good. The recipe comes from from the collection of her husband’s late grandmother, Leora Osse. This is the simplest recipe ever!

Ingredients:
1 pie crust
fresh raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3/4 pint whipping cream
Use your favorite recipe for pie crust or use a “cheater” crust, but I’ll bet that Leora never used one!
Line the crust with fresh raspberries. I use about 1 cup, but usually  use a smaller Fire King pie dish. Use 1 1/2 cup if your dish is a little larger. This works best with a regular-sized pie and not a deep-dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour and sugar. Pour this mixture over the berries. Pour the whipping cream over all. This may take a minute as it seeps in. Depending on the amount of berries you use and the size of your pan,  you may have a tablespoon or two of the flour mixture left over. Once the cream is poured, I always use my finger or a spoon to make sure there is no dry flour on top. Just push it in, but don’t stir.
Bake at 425 for 30-40 minutes. This pie comes out lovely and custardy and tastes of summer. I like it best chilled.”
Yup!  My family agrees- it is a really tasty pie.
Recipe for “Amish Bread”

1 cup of warm water
1/3 cup of sugar
2 packs of yeast
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup of warm milk
1/3 cup butter or vegetable oil
1 egg lightly beaten
6 cups flour ( I used unbleached King Arthur)
Mix together first 4 ingredients and set aside to allow yeast to activate. Then add the rest of the liquid ingredients. Measure in the flour, reserving the last cup to add in increments . Knead by hand for about 10 minutes, or about 5 minutes by electric mixer with dough hook, then finish by hand. (just my preference). Could be all done on machine. Pour small amount of oil in bowl, and grease bowl, then turn dough into bowl, greasing all of dough. Cover with towel, and let rise in warm area for about an hour or until doubled. then pan out into 2 loaves and allow to raise again till doubled. About 45 minutes. bake at 350° for about 25 minutes or until sounds hollow when tapped.
Well, this evening someone went to open the microwave and found….coffee.  That cup I never got to finish.  I still want that coffee…no wonder I’m so tired.  I want a great big cup of steaming cappuccino.  A cafe au lait….even a Dunkin Donuts would be okay…. but it’s too late.  That’s it for me today.  I’m just totally worn out.  Gnite all!

Finding a Happy Place for Peaches

Peach: [Darla taps madly on the tank glass trying to knock Peach off] Find a happy place! Find a happy place! Find a happy place!

My most recent search and procure mission to the Haymarket resulted in 1/2 bushel of peaches.  I didn’t grow up on a farm.  I had no idea what that meant.  I mean, I know what a bushel is; those weeks at St Luke’s summer camp, singing “Don’t hide it under a Bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine”…( I also remember all those days spent drawing crayon pictures of Jesus.  My kids do not spend there summers there).  So how come this little light of mine didn’t go off in time?  I had no idea how HORRIBLY HEAVY 1/2 bushel of peaches would be to carry.  

Then, I finally got it home and…what would I do with 1/2 bushel?  I know, peach pie.  No, they wanted  cobbler So fine, we’d make that.  That wouldn’t put a dent into the 1/2 bushel, though. 

Then, I realized that I’d promised to bring in breakfast on Sunday, so why not peach coffee cake? Well, again, that wouldn’t scratch the peachy surface. 

I was kind of resisting the idea of peach jam.  Let’s face it, if something doesn’t move fast enough around here I’m likely to try using it in a jam.  I just finished making a whole bunch of apricot jam a few weeks ago from another successful mission.   How many jars of orange colored jam can I give away um, go through?  Then I remembered where we started: pie.  I’m pretty sure that after a double batch of cobbler, these pie fans are not ready.  But come fall, and winter, those peach pies will be a big hit.  So I decided to can up some pie filling. If you want to try making (and canning) pie filling, there is a nice,basic recipe here at “My little cottage in the making”. I did make some small changes: I saved the juice that collected with slicing the peaches and used it in place of some of the water, I did not use almond extract, I never use bottled lemon juice.  I prefer fresh.  Even if I’m just using it to can fruit. I also added a couple of allspice berries to the pot and a tiny grind of nutmeg.  

Also, it says to heat up a huge pot of water, blanch them and let the peels slip off.  Not this time.  I’d heard about how you can save the peels, if you carve them with a knife so there’s a bit of peach flesh clinging, and make yourself a pie.  With the peels.  I’m not kidding.  So, I thought, if you can do this, why not use them to make jelly?  I’ve never seen peach jelly, but decided to do a search.  Sure enough, Hanni, here at Sweet Bean Gardening had given it a try. Her recipe sounded like what I wanted.  I think I followed it to the “T”, well except for a couple of small things.  First, I wouldn’t bother turning on the stove for only 3 cups of jelly! I cooked all the juice that I had.  Second, I also added the juice of one big lemon.  I tried putting that lemon in the microwave for almost a minute before slicing- that juice just burst out of the lemon.  I think it doubled the yield! So for the price of a lemon, some pectin and sugar, I wound up with a nice batch of beautiful peach jelly.  You see the one that’s not quite full? 

Yeah, that one there.  It went into the fridge for an hour to cool down.  We had an official tasting.  The verdict: all thumbs up! 

So, no thanks to Darla, my peaches have all found their happy place. :-)

New Jam for the New Professor

Summer brings hot lazy days, cold drinks, dragonflies and sunburns.  All good things. I know I’ll get flack for saying that a sunburn is good, but come winter I’ll wish I had that warm, tight feeling when my skin has just a tiny bit of pink overlaying the tan. 

At work, however, summer is the beginning of another year of residents.  The residents descend on the hospital in exactly the same frenzy you see with the new and returning wizards at Hogwarts.  Some are sweet, some awkward, some bossy and some are…Slitherins. It’s not pretty…

This year we also have a new attending doctor.  Sort of like a professor of wizardry.  He came to us after working for a few years in Hawaii.  This won’t be held against him.  How could he know?  The weird and crazy halls of medicine cannot be compared to the great expanse of soft sandy beaches, the magestic view and fiery lava flow from Kilauea, the haupia pie from Ted’s bakery.  How would he cope?  How would he manage to survive outside the hothouse world of the islands?

So I thought.  In casual conversation I asked what day he thought he plans to see patients in the clinic.  He revealed that he was a little concerned about seeing patients at all.  What? Was he shy?  Intimidated? Yes, I thought those things.  I may have…possibly even asked.  Silly me.  What was our new doctor afraid of? Said he “Sometimes I let the work stack up until the end of the day.  Then I wind up working on it in the evening.  I just don’t function well that way.  At 5 o’clock, I don’t want to work anymore.  I just want a drink.  Or several”. 

Welcome George.  You’re going to fit in all right.  You’ll do just fine!

Since I am no longer (and have not been for ages) a bartender, I settle for being the Jelly Lady, and make jam.

This recipe was adapted from www.yummly.com

                                Strawberry Margarita Jam

6 cups strawberries (crushed)
1/3 cup lime juice
2/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup triple sec
6 cups sugar
1 packet low sugar pectin
1 NOTE: Do NOT use a food processor to crush strawberries or you will get puree and jam will not have a good texture. Use a potato masher.
2 In a large pot, mix together strawberries, lime juice, tequila, and orange liqueur.
3 Stir in pectin, bring to a boil over high heat.
4 Stirring constantly.
5 Boil hard for 1 minute.
6 Remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar.
7 Return to a boil and boil one minute.
8 Remove from heat and stir steadily for 5 minutes. This will keep the fruit mixed evenly throughout the jam.  Trust me- I forgot this step and you will notice I have floating fruit.
9 Ladle into sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch from rim. Wipe rims clean. Apply lids and rings. Tighten to fingertip tight.
10 Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

It’s never going to replace a drink, or several, in the evening.  It’s a very nice jelly, however, and like that very mild sunburn, it’s a pleasant reminder of summer drinks and good times.

*** pie photo is from Ted’s Bakery, a local institution in Haleiwa, HI.  My husband became addicted to their pie.  As there is not yet a 12 step programs for pie fools, I’ve become adept at making them myself.  Watch for the recipe whenever Grumpy next tries to romance me with his laundry washing and car maintenance skills.

What a Rhuboob!

Rhubarb always seemed kind of exotic to me.  Kind of weird and dangerous.  I never saw any in the flesh until I moved from So Cali to New England.  There was then a good sized patch of it at the farmhouse where we lived. 

I was in charge of the vegetable garden, the asparagus bed and the raspberry patches.  Being 17, I was  lazy and pretty much sucked at all of it. Those plants had to fend for themselves.  I was good about planting and harvesting, but not much else.  The harvesting could even be a challenge.   I would try to harvest the berries, wrapping newspapers around my legs before I put on my jeans and boots.  That kept the bees and wasps from stinging me as I waded through.  I do remember seeing the rhubarb come up, and unfold with it’s great big leaves and bright red stalks.  I didn’t actually eat any of it.  My rescue mom baked a pie or two.  I heard that the leaves were poisonous, and that was it for me. Sorry dude; Not worth dieing over! 

Since then I’ve come to appreciate the tart, bold flavor.  When we moved to our latest abode I was surprised to see some pop up right by the kitchen door.  It also appeared in a few places on the bike path nearby (oh- not that I would ever poach or anything…).  I may not be an expert on all things- okay, on most anything, but I knew this was rhubarb.  I know that it comes in many variations; some stems are red, some red with green and some are pretty much a nasty green-brown color.  There were the reddish greenish kind.  Then, before I could act on my baser impulse, some jerk stole all the rhubarb that was growing by the bike path! So annoying!  All I had were the few stalks by my kitchen door.  This wild rhubarb has skinny stalks, so it didn’t add up to much.  I decided to make some jam, but instead of strawberry/rhubarb, I decided to make a rhubarb-citrus marmalade. I found a recipe that was sort of like what I wanted.  It had oranges, rhubarb, lemon and sugar.  I also added a little  lime.  It was clean-out-the-fridge- time and I was on a roll.  The stuff was so strange- I wish I had a picture.  Didn’t have my thinking cap on.  Basically it looked like baby food with chunks.  Or worse, if you know what I mean.  That didn’t stop me from trying it; it was delicious!  Just close your eyes, shut up and eat.  The weird thing is that even months later, the rhubarb never got mushy. It stayed crunchy.  That’s just not what rhubarb does!  Maybe, it’s what wild rhubarb does (aha).

Okay- not aha.  Big freakin not.  Guess what I just found out??? That rhubarb has a twin.  Check this out:      It’s called burdock.  It’s got the same big green leaves.  The same (skinny though) reddish greenish stalks.  It is edible (yeah- fine time to figure that out!).  However, it tastes nothing like rhubarb.  It’s becoming popular with some survivalists who grow it for it’s greens and stems as well as it’s roots.  Now, all of these photos look a lot alike to me.  Can you really see a big difference?  I can’t either.  The way to tell them apart is to break open the stems.  Burdock stems are hollow ( I thought I had some water deprived rhubarb).  Also, rhubarb has a tangy smell and taste; while burdock is bland.  

I’ve been fooled.  What a rube!  What a rhuboob!  I’m going to have to buy my rhubarb at the farmers market.  I did kind of like that burdock citrus marmalade, however….

For those who might be wondering, the photos #1,2 and 5 are burdock.  Photos #3 and 4 are rhubarb.  Kind of tricky, huh?

Stumblin in the Kitchen with Apricot Jam

Sometimes it’s a good idea to follow instructions.  And sometimes I do.  Not so likely when it’s medical advice.  Nurses are sort of iffy on that, and I’m no exception.  I had this minor surgery on my foot and they told me to “rest” for 2 weeks, wear an aircast and use crutches.  Crutches suck.  They were no help at all.  The air cast is great, and I can get around just fine.  The problem here is “rest”.  They operated on Monday, and I rested.  No lie- I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Then on Tuesday I think I rested some more.  On Wednesday, I kind of had things to do.  Then I went back to work,  but I took it kind of easy.  Until after work on Friday.  Then… I stopped to see my friends at New Saigon for a sandwich.  And I went to the Haymarket.  I took the subway (resting my foot)most of the way and only walked a couple of blocks to get there.  I had just enough time to see every stall, and from my favorite sellers I bought a variety of things, including apricots.  This isn’t the season for them yet, so they were not quite as ripe as I’d like.  Then again, they were only 5 for $1.  I bought $5 worth.  Then, I carried my haul 5 blocks to the train (where I rested).  On the way home from the train  I had some shopping to do.  I wanted to make apricot jam.  Because the apricots were a little less than gorgeous, I wanted to simmer them in apricot nectar, to make them taste amazing.  If you want to be The Jelly Lady, you have to have some high standards.

Apricot Jam – recipe from Food.com (with my own adjustments for less than perfect fruit)

8 cups diced fresh apricots

2 cups apricot nectar

1/3 cup lemon juice

6 cups sugar

(optional- 1 pat butter)

First, before you do anything else, take your canning (or tallest) pot and fill with about 8 inches of water.  Cover it and put it on to boil.   

Next, sterilize jars.  You can boil them, but I prefer to just put them on my (heinous, old stained) baking pan and heat them to 225f in the oven for 20 minutes. I prefer to have pint and half pint jars, and always prepare more than I need since I don’t always measure the fruit ( I prefer to eyeball it).

Put all the jam ingredients into a large pan and bring to a boil, continue at a gentle boil for 30 minutes.  I don’t like very large pieces or lumps in my apricot jam, so I use a stick blender to smooth it out a little now. I also put in a pat of butter. It gets rid of the foamy stuff on top.  And it’s butter

Take the lids (the jars come with a two piece cover- the ring and the lid.  You can figure this out).and let them soak in hot (not boiling) water for a few minutes.

Remove jam from heat and fill jars leaving 1/4 inch at the top. Wipe the top of jars carefully.  Now put the lids on and tighten the rings just slightly.  They need to go into the boiling water (make sure they are covered by at least an inch of hot water).  After water returns to a full boil, set the timer for 10 minutes.  That’s it.  Use tongs, or can lifters, or superhero arms to lift the jars out, put them onto a dishtowel or counter.  Let them rest untouched and without tipping for several hours.  You can remove the rings now (so they don’t get stuck).  Check the tops (push lightly) to be sure they have sealed.  IF they haven’t sealed, refrigerate and use these jars first.  The sealed jars will last for years.  As if.  That could happen.  Just like I could be on “rest”  and crutches for 2 weeks.

Canning our way to safety (or what to eat when the Zombies come).

Finally, a day I don’t actually “work”.  I am still getting oriented to the new job, so I’m working 24 hours this week in addition to my usual hours at work in Boston.  Yesterday was Friday, AKA “Haymarket Day”, so I stopped by after work.  There were slim pickins to be had at the fair.

I wanted to pick up some amazing-yet- inexpensive veggies to have on hand.  I’d hoped to buy in bulk for canning.  The best deals yesterday were: sweet corn (3 for $1), tomatoes (3lbs for $1), and limes (10 for $1).

Last night I decided to can the corn, as my kids weren’t in the mood for it on-the-cob (If I weren’t a nurse I’d check their temperatures.  Being a nurse, of course, I don’t actually own a thermometer).   Then I figured, as long as I was in the kitchen, I’d make some salsa.  I always used to buy it in bulk, but after the first use it sat in the back of the fridge and got fuzzy.   This time I would can it in 8oz jars (one use with our family).

I also sliced up 3lbs of onions that were at that “eat me or send me to college” age.  I put them into a crock pot with 1/2 a stick of butter.  After 24 hours (yup- just keep cooking them on low) they are just the sweetest, brownest, tenderest things you ever ate.  The finished product came to almost 3 pints.  They last well in the fridge (well they would, if people didn’t eat them up).  They are amazing on pizza.

Today, on my day of rest (while I did some laundry), vegetarian daughter (Avery) asked why I hadn’t canned something more useful.  She said ” I like vegetables, but it would be more useful if you’d can some stew or chili so we have whole meals ready”.  Hmmm…”you mean the vegetarian kind?”.  She looked at me as if I were slow (13 year olds are wizard at that look).  Then she patiently explained “Mom, you can things so we will be prepared.  For emergencies, like a zombie apocalypse, you know?  Obviously in an apocalypse it’s every mammal for himself!“.   How could I be so silly?   Why hadn’t I canned beef products for just such an event?  Well, dd and I went back to the Haymarket.   We still weren’t able to get anything terribly great, but did buy a case of (14!) mangoes for $5, and 3 lbs of strawberries for $2.   She ate 3 (yes-3!) mangoes on the way home.  Then I quickly started what I hope will be life-changing beef stew.  Last fall we bought 1/2 a steer from farmer Kevin (another nice neighbor).   My kids call him Merlin.  The steer, I mean.  They name everything.   The pig was Henry (and, yes, I did check to be sure their future therapy was covered by our insurance).  Anyway, back to Merlin.  He’s at freezer camp in the basement.   I fetched out some Merlin (?) shin slices for the stew.  After slow cooking them in a roaster for a few hours at 300f, I put them into the crockpot with the pan drippings and some of the carmelized onions.  I filled it with water to stew overnight.  Tomorrow I’ll skim the broth, chop the meat, roast some carrots, add potato and some herbs to the whole thing and can up some hearty zombie-thwarting beef stew.   But first, I’ll be going to work.  Because my day of rest is over.  Where did it go?

Addendum: After work today (Sunday), I called on the way home to see what they’d had for dinner.  Hubby said that after smelling the beef all day he thought he’d wait for me to make the stew.  Really.   It was already 745pm.  I wish I were kidding.  He was able to cope and cook up some sausages instead.  I’ve roasted the carrots, filled 9 pints with these and some raw diced potatoes, beef and broth.  I still haven’t decided if I should thicken it for stew, or leave it as is for soup.  It can chill until tomorrow when I’ll skim to remove fat and process in the canner.

Wine, Wine, Whine…

I have this bottle of wine that makes me crazy.  It was a gift from a lovely friend.  She meant well; but it’s really not good.  And she’s really, really nice.  She just sucks at buying wine.  I mean, there’s a meter on the label that places it somewhere just this side of cotton candy.  It’s really not my kind of wine.  I’d feel guilty throwing it away.  I’d have thought that somewhere in the last couple of years I’d have found someone to drink it.  Instead, it sits on the rack.  The bottle of red that I forget about.  There must have been a dozen times in the past year when I’ve gone to the rack, pulled it out thinking it was some wonderful, overlooked treat only to see that Banty rooster on the label.  I like chickens, and roosters even.  You wouldn’t think so if you heard me the other night when I pulled out the LAST bottle of Merlot only to find- Banty Red.  Then it occurred to me:  why not cook it up into jelly?

The only real problem was the sugar.  There was already sooo much in there.  I thought it would be okay if I tamed it with some spices.  Maybe a spicy-wine-jelly to serve with cheese?  I knew that peppercorns were needed.  Then, after searching the pantry for possibilities, I settled on allspice and star anise.  Do you see how these are packaged?  They came from the “international” section of the market.  These spices are normally way too expensive to buy on a whim.  Like $5 for a tiny little jar.  In the foreign food section, though, they run about $1 a bag.  It’s like we’re the dumb American tourists paying too much for everything, only it’s in our own town!  Anyway, do you know why I picked allspice? Me either, but it sounded good.  And star anise: I picked it because it’s pretty.  I’ve been wanting to open the bag just to play with those perfect little flowers.  And the cool little seeds inside.  How cute is that thing? So, first I followed the advise of America’s Test Kitchen and reduced some of the wine (about 2 cups).   While it was reducing I simmered the rest of the wine with the spices.  After about 20 minutes I increased the heat, added 3 Tblsp of (low sugar) pectin, 2 Tblsp lemon juice and brought it to a full rolling boil.  Then I stirred in another cup of sugar, returned it to a boil for one minute.  I added the reduced wine, strained out the spices and somehow an entire 750ml of wine plus sugar only added up to 2 cups of spiced wine jelly (plus about 2 ounces that we used for tasting).   Do you see all those jars lined up?  What was I thinking???  That bottle had seemed like such a big, annoying thing and now it’s just two little jars of jelly.  It’s still a bit sweet for my taste- it needs a sharp cheese to tame that sugar.  My son PJ, who’s 11, thinks it’s just delicious.  Don’t worry, the alcohol cooked out.

When Life Gives You Dandelions…

Spring is here.  It’s official.  The yard is filled with dandelions.  After the first few moments of delight at the field of yellow, my mind turned to thoughts of foraging.

Dandelion wine?  That might require new equipment.  I’m also not sure I’m ready to take on another hobby.  How about…jelly?  Could you make jelly with dandelions? Turns out: yes!  I found a site, http://www.fxcuisine.com , that explains how to make dandelion syrup and jelly.  So off to pick the flowers.  The site explains that you need at least 100 blossoms.  No problem.  I avoided the dog walking areas, and still managed to fill a container in a short time.  When I got inside and counted, I realized I had a little over 300.  Crazy!  I rinsed them thoroughly (you never know- we have a lot of other animals out there using the facili-trees), then removed all of (okay- most of) the green leaves.  All that fluffy stuff went into a saucepan with enough water to cover (about a quart).  I brought it up to a good simmer, then poured it all into a quart sized mason jar (I love mason jars!).  It steeped overnight.  It looked remarkably nasty this morning.  I was tempted to throw it out.  Then I might have to write about laundry.  Because I might have to do laundry.  Maybe this jelly was worth a try.  I strained all the flowers out, and the remaining liquid went into a large pot.  I brought it slowly up to a boil, stirring in 3 Tblsp lemon juice and 3 Tblsp (low sugar type) pectin.    As soon as it reached a boil, I added 2 cups sugar.  I brought it back up to a full  boil, and boiled for one minute.  Then into some 8 ounce mason jars (did I mention that I Love mason jars?).  I processed it in a pressure canner, because it’s beautiful outside, and heating a huge pan of boiling water takes a long, long time.  So, just to be certain that it was totally safe, I processed for 10 minutes at 10#.  And look: how pretty is that?!!!  My ingredients made 4 (8 oz) jars plus another 1/2 jar which was used for taste testing.  The consensus: YUM! My daughter thinks it tastes like white grape jelly.  Everyone else in our panel says that it starts out tasting like apple jelly, but then tastes more like honey.  What ever it is- they like it.

The Jelly Lady

Have you ever noticed that crabapple trees are almost never harvested? They are just ignored and their fruit lays scattered on the ground.  After we moved here I noticed that a lot.  And sometimes when I biked I’d smell that earthy wild grape aroma on the path.  I became inspired (per the kids obsessed) with the idea of foraging and canning.  I was never a big fan of jams or jellies. The store variety tastes more like sugar than fruit.  I wanted to make REAL jam.  I wanted to capture the essence of those grapes, the tang of the crabapples, and (when I discovered their virtues) the fragrance of  quince. 

My kids helped willingly at first, and later with patient sighs.  They acknowledge that the jam/jelly (and crabapple butter) is unparalleled, but “once you have a jar and a spare what’s the point”?.

The point is to share! Think of all those people: friends, neighbors, package deliverers and snow plowers who weren’t able to gather up and produce enough jam/jelly to get through the winter.  And with Christmas coming, we have a lot of people with whom to share.  Never mind that we don’t usually exchange cards, never mind gifts, with some of them.  When mom makes jelly, EVERYONE gets jelly.

Some people thanked me profusely, and regifted those suckers before they even warmed up a spot on the shelf.  A few thanked me, and much later reported that they finally tried them and “oh my!”.

And then there was Kristen.  She’s the daughter of a casual second degree friend.  Casual friend means: this is a great person, I really enjoy her company.  She’s married to a fellow lacrosse coach and friend of hubby (hence second degree) but I’d have her as a primary anytime.  We don’t, however, have a long history in the way of some closer girlfriends.  Therefore, her daughter didn’t grow up knowing me.  Meeting me when she is a teen means that I exist in the vague periphery of her parents lives.  I would have continued in obscure anonymity except for one thing: Kristen is my #1 fan. She loves jam.  And jelly. And, more than that, she especially loves MY jams and jellies.  For about a year I continued to be her supplier of jams and jellies, but her parents were the middlemen.  Then, last October, I was at their home for a large gathering. In the chaos of a party involving a lacrosse team AND a football game, her mom said “Kristen, you remember Mrs. Blanchard, don’t you?”.  Kristen almost walked by with a nod.  Then, suddenly, she looked right into my eyes and said “THE JELLY LADY?!!!”.   I felt like a goddess.  A jelly goddess.  She stayed in the area for a few minutes longer (even a jelly goddess can’t expect more than a few minutes from a teen). And then she asked the best question ever: “how did you, I mean, well, become a professional jelly maker.  I mean, is that what you do?”.  I just love her.  Not only will this girl have a lifetime supply of jelly coming in regular installments, this girl might just be in the will.

At Christmas this year I made some jalapeno jelly. It goes well with cheeses, some meats, etc.  Kristen, it turns out, hadn’t heard of jalapeno jelly.  So she tried it.  On toast.  And loved it.  When her mother told me that her daughter just LOVES that pepper jelly on toast, I was kind of horrified at first.  I felt kind of like I did when my kids gave my mother in law some Harry Potter jelly beans. Turns out, they gave her “grass, dirt and vomit” flavors. Yuk!  But then, I decided that if my #1 fan likes it, who am I to judge? And I created a new jelly, in honor of Kristen.  This is it:

I really hope she likes it!