Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blackberry Pie

The Fourth of July makes me think of fruit.  Fruit pies to be exact.  And I love homemade pie more than any other dessert in the whole wide world.  So, with summer blackberries in the orchard and the summeriest holiday of all coming up, I have been fiddling with a blackberry pie recipe.  

Pie with homemade crust but berries left whole

I wanted a blackberry pie recipe with a lattice crust because I wanted to see the filling through the top, but I also wanted there to be plenty of flaky crust to go with the filling.  I also wanted a pie with good texture, some whole blackberries, but one that was oozing with gooey goodness all at the same time.  Most of all, I wanted a filling that held together when cut.  I love all pie, but I think a slice of pie should look like a slice of pie when cut.  

I started with a recipe that I thought sounded good, but I used my own all-butter pie crust recipe instead of the suggested crust.  When I made the filling the first time, I did not mash the berries but rather just tossed them with the flour, sugar, and nutmeg.  This resulted in a pie with an incredibly flaky crust but a somewhat gluey filling.  The pie did hold together, but the filling was too chunky, and the flour had not had enough liquid to mix with to create the gooey filling I wanted.  

Pie with store-bought crust but slightly mashed berry filling
So, I decided to make the pie again.  I had the crust just where I wanted it, so the second time I made the pie I made it with a store bought crust to save myself some effort since I was just playing around with the filling at that point.  I left all the ingredients and amounts in the filling the same, but I worked on determining how much to mash the berries.  I found after playing around with this pie, that you just want to mash the berries enough so that they create a little juice.  You want enough juice to incorporate the flour and sugar completely, but you still want plenty of whole berries and berry pieces to add texture.  The pie holds together beautifully when cut but is not at all gluey.  

I would like to continue to test this recipe with different thickeners such as Clear Jel, but for now I am pretty happy with it the way it is.  I will make this pie again this weekend, but this time, I will use my homemade pie crust and the slightly mashed berry filling.  It's going to be delicious!

Blackberry Pie- makes 1 lattice topped pie

A note on fruit pies...if you want a fruit pie to hold together when sliced, it is important to allow it to cool completely.  This allows the filling to set so it will not run when cut.  

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
approximately 4 tbsp ice cold water

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
6 cups fresh blackberries
a pinch of nutmeg
1 egg white

To make the pie crust, combine flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to blend.  You can also mix the dough by hand.  Add the butter to the processor and pulse several times until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Alternately, cut in the butter using a pastry blender.  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, flatten into disks, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill the dough for about an hour.  

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  

Remove one pie crust from the refrigerator.  Lightly dust a surface with flour and roll the pie crust into an 11 inch circle and place it in a 9 inch pie pan.  

Make the filling by tossing the berries with the flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, salt, and nutmeg.  Use the back of a spoon or a potato masher to gently mash the berries until they begin to give off juice but most remain whole.  Stir the filling to incorporate the flour and sugar.  Pour the filling into the pie crust.  

Remove the second crust from the refrigerator.  Roll it into an 11 inch circle on a floured surface.  Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut the circle into strips that are 3/4 to 1 inch wide.  Arrange the strips over the filling in a lattice pattern.  Tuck the edges of the crust under to secure the strips to the bottom crust and crimp the edges.  Brush the lattice strips with the egg white and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.  

Place the pie on a baking sheet (to catch drips) and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees.  Lower heat to 350 degrees and continue baking 30 minutes.  Remove pie from oven and allow to cool completely.   

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cherries Galore

I recently became the proud owner of 40 pounds of cherries thanks to some kind folks over at Sweet Preservation and the Washington State Fruit Commission.  I was asked several weeks ago via email if I would like to receive a box of fruit to can, and I said yes (of course) because who turns down free fruit?!  Well, little did I know that a "box" of fruit would really be two twenty pound boxes of the ripest, most perfect sweet cherries.  

Now, normally I can what's in season here in my part of the world, and that does not include cherries.  In fact, I have never purchased cherries that were grown here in NC, and I am not even sure that they can grow here (maybe in the mountains), so my hours of cherry canning experience totaled zero.  I was very excited to get to experience fruit that I had never dealt with before, and to have access to something different.  The problem I faced was trying to find ways to use all those cherries!

So, I immediately got on Amazon and purchased this cherry pitter because, of course, I had no reason to own one before that day. It did the job fairly well, but it takes a really long time to pit 40 pounds of cherries.  It would have taken less time if I had purchased a pitter that would allow a quicker flow of cherries into the chute and out again.  This one said it would, but ultimately, the cherries were so large and juicy that I had to place them just right in the chute so that it actually removed the pit and not just the side of the cherry. 

I decided to try several recipes and methods of preserving them.  I made a small batch (4 pints) of pickled cherries, 4 pints of cherries in amaretto liqueur following this recipe (I did process them for 25 minutes rather than 15 though as that is the standard processing time for raw pack cherries in syrup), and another 5 pints of cherries in syrup using the same syrup as for the amaretto cherries but omitting the liqueur.  

I also dried two quarts after pitting them which gave me about a quart of dried cherries for salads, sauces, etc, and I froze five quarts of pitted cherries for later use in pies and desserts.  All in all, barely a cherry went unused, and I was pretty proud of myself for going through them all.  

I have opened a jar of the cherries in syrup, and they are tasty.  I know the others will be as well.  Oh, and I almost forgot, I also used two quarts of crushed cherries to start a batch of Cherry Bounce.  Cherry Bounce is made with crushed cherries, sugar, and bourbon.  You let the cherries sit in the fridge for 3-4 weeks, and then you use the liquid as a mix in for lemonade, tea, or even to deglaze the pan when making a sauce for pork chops.  I'll let you know how it turns out once it is finished.  

For now, I hope you enjoy this recipe for pickled cherries.  You can adjust the spices in the jar as you wish.  I used a cinnamon stick, but peppercorns, whole cloves, or whole allspice would work also.  You can also use white vinegar if you prefer.  I used the apple cider vinegar for a sweeter, fruitier pickle.  

One word of caution, some recipes called for gently pricking the cherries before putting them in the jar while others did not.  Since the cherries are processed whole with pits and stems still intact, the idea of pricking is that the cherry skin will not split as easily.  I took the lazy route and tried without pricking, and some of the skins did split.  I don't mind that because I'm going to the one eating them, but if you plan to give them as a gift or serve them for a special occasion, you may want to prick each cherry once on the bottom before placing it in the jar.  

Sweet Pickled Cherries- makes 3 pints

A few notes on this recipe.  You may choose whatever whole spices you like, but don't change the amount or strength of the vinegar.  I also increased the pickling liquid by half so that I would have a little more which is how I ended up with 4 pints rather than 3.  

1 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
3 cinnamon sticks
2 pounds sweet cherries with stems and pits intact

Prepare your jars and lids.  Jars should be kept warm in the canner.    

Combine vinegar, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and simmer until sugar is dissolved. 

Remove hot jars from canner.  Pack each jar with cherries, and add one cinnamon stick to each jar.  Pour hot syrup over cherries leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rims and place lids and rings on each.  Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Remove jars from canner and cool. 



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Baseball Bats from the Garden

Last week was a very busy one, and in all my other tasks, my garden got a little overlooked.  Yesterday my husband went out to pick veggies while I was canning (more on that later), and he came in with the most gigantic zucchini I have ever seen in my life.  Who knew you could grow a zucchini with the diameter of a baseball bat and a length almost as long?!

He then called me out to help him pick,  and when all was said and done, we picked 10 pounds of zucchini (some were good size while others had gotten too large), 6 pounds of cucumbers (some of these were large also), a few pounds of yellow squash, and some zinnias.  

I will still use most of the large vegetables, but I will remove the seeds first.  The large zucchini will most likely get shredded and frozen for zucchini bread, but the baseball bat zucchini may get donated to the chickens.  I'm not even sure they will appreciate it, so it may contribute to the compost bin after that. 

I will post very soon regarding my latest canning project.  I'll give you a hint...it involves a fruit I have never canned before and lots of it!  Do you think you can guess what it is?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Canning Inventory 2015

Each year as I can and freeze foods, I keep track of the amounts in a small notebook as well as in the What's Preserved section on the side of my blog.  This is helpful on several levels.  Not only does it make me feel good to see my efforts pan out over the course of the summer, but more importantly, it helps me determine how much of each item we used over the year.  This is very important in helping me determine how much of something I want to put up the next year.  This year, I also started a Harvest section in the same notebook to keep track of how many pounds/pints/quarts/etc. of each item we harvested so we can plan how much to plant next year.  

Zinnias from the garden
Our garden is doing well so far.  Our tomato plants are loaded with unripe tomatoes.  Our squash, zucchini, and cucumbers are already giving us lots of tasty treats, and we harvested our red potatoes last weekend.  I am already freezing zucchini and squash in both shredded and chopped forms, and I am going to make a batch of pickles this week.  The plan is to eat the red potatoes fresh over the next few months, and to pressure can many of the white ones once they are harvested.  

We have a shelf area in our mud room which houses most of our canned goods as well as a small chest freezer in which we store all of our vegetables.  Here's what is left from last year.

Canned Goods: 

  • 2 pt green beans, pressure canned
  • 1 pt pasta sauce
  • 2 pt chili garlic dills pickles
  • 2 pt corn poblano salsa
  • 6 pt crushed tomatoes
  • 4 half-pt Concord grape jam
  • 1 half-pt plus 3 (4 oz) jars peach jam
  • 3 half-pt apple wine jelly 
  • 13 half-pt scuppernong jam
  • 7 qt blueberries
  • 2 qt whole figs
  • 2 qt blackberries
  • 1 pt pumpkin puree
  • 2 qt shredded zucchini
  • 3 qt crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 qt pesto cubes
  • 2 qt turkey stock
  • 2 pt chicken stock
  • 1 pt pasta sauce
  • 13 pt corn kernels
  • 3 gal whole strawberries
  • 7 qt crowder peas
  • 1 gal plus 1 qt chopped zucchini/squash
Once I have compiled a list like this, I try to analyze it to see what we used and what we didn't.  We didn't use as many berries or crushed tomatoes as we have in the past which means I can get away with putting up less this year.  My list also reminds me that I am much more likely to use things like chicken stock, pasta sauce, and tomatoes when I have canned them rather than frozen them.  I think that is because those are things I tend to reach for at the last minute, and when they are frozen I don't prep them in time.  We also used less corn than in the past, but to be honest the variety we purchased last year wasn't our favorite which I think led to less corn side dishes.  We will try to purchase Silver Queen corn this year which is our favorite.  We also need to find other uses for the scuppernong and muscadine grapes in addition to jam.  We used all of them for jam last year, and even though it was good, we tend to prefer Concord grapes for jam.  We gave some away and ate some, but there has to be another use for the grapes.  We will search for something.  

There were several things that we really ate lots of and need to make more of this year including pasta sauce and salsa (!!!).  We also need to make salsa verde which we didn't make last year but are now out of, and we want to try our hand at pressure canning any potatoes that aren't storage quality so that we can add them to soups, stews, or mash them throughout the winter.  

In addition to all of this, I put up some things we have never put up in the past, and it will be interesting to see how we like them over the course of the year.  I have frozen sugar snap peas, broccoli, and kale so far. 

If you haven't been keeping a canning notebook and list of preserved items, I definitely encourage you to start.  It is most helpful and you will appreciate your efforts so much when you get into the canning mood this summer.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Foam and Two Types of Strawberry Jam

It is nearing the end of strawberry season here, and we picked up what we will probably be our last berries on Monday.  We have been getting a gallon or so a week to eat fresh and to make jam.  We also pureed a gallon and a half and made fruit leather in my new dehydrator (more on that later).  

When it comes to strawberry jam, I am a bit of a purist.  I like flavors in other jams like cardamom pear, gingered peach, and apple pie jam, but when it comes to strawberry I just want to taste strawberry.  I have gone the strawberry vanilla jam route without added pectin before, and even though it was good, the longer cooked jam and the vanilla took away some of the fresh taste that I love about strawberry jam.  So, I go the purchased pectin, classic recipe route when it comes to strawberry, and I am perfectly happy with that.   Over the years I have learned to preserve what we like best and what we will eat because ultimately (even though it may be fun), that's the point.  

I did decide to make some strawberry freezer jam this year though.  Freezer jam is not cooked, and therefore, it retains all of its bright, fresh flavor.  I froze the jam in pint containers, and it is delicious.  I wish I had added a little more pectin though because my berries were pretty ripe that day, and they prevented my freezer jam from setting up as much as I would have liked.  It is still spreadable, but could have been a little thicker.  I am thinking it will be just as delicious over yogurt as it will be on toast.  

All in all I put up 11 half-pints of canned strawberry jam and 5 pints of strawberry freezer jam.  

While I am posting about strawberry jam, I wanted to address the foam on jam issue.  If you have ever made cooked jam, you have most likely experienced a thick layer of foam on top as the jam cooks.  The directions in recipes will tell you that you can prevent some of this foam from forming by adding a little butter to the jam as it cooks.  I never do this, but that leaves me with foam to skim off.  

Foam on jam just after removing the pot from the heat

There are several reasons you want to skim the foam from jam, and even though I know some people who don't bother, I think good jam making practice says otherwise. First of all, as the jam cooks and air bubbles up forming the foam on top, the foam takes on a different appearance, consistency, and texture from the rest of the jam.  It is still tasty, but it is light and airy, not like jam.  It creates color variations in the finished jam if added in, and you will be able to visibly tell that you left it in.  This may not matter so much if you are just using the jam yourself, but if you plan to give it as a gift, enter it in a fair, etc. it will just be better aesthetically without it.  

Second, canning experts like those at the Missouri Cooperative Extension bring up a potential safety reason to remove foam.  They say that since the foam is made mostly of air, if you add the foam into the jar you are essentially increasing the head space in the jar.  This could lead to improper seals or jams that mold more easily.  While I don't think you will ever get sick from jam with foam (unless you eat visibly moldy jam), it could mean that your jam will not last as long, and let's face it, no one wants that.  So, when faced with foam, remove it by skimming a large, clean spoon lightly along the surface of the jam once the heat is removed.  Place the foam in a bowl and repeat until most of the foam has been removed.  The foam can then be eaten on toast or refrigerated for a few days while the rest of the jam is canned. 

Foam on jam after sitting for a minute or so-  you can see the difference in color between the lighter red foam and darker red jam and berries. 

I personally find that strawberry jam produces more foam than most other types of jam.  I'm not sure why this is the case, but I find I do more skimming with strawberry than any other.  If you make freezer jam, you may see a little foam at first (like in my pictures at the top), but that foam is different from foam on cooked jam. It will dissipate as the jam sets over that 30 minute period.   

Strawberry season is such a fleeting season here.  We look forward to it all year, and it is gone before we know it.  Preserving some in the form of jams, leathers, and even freezing them ensures we have the taste of strawberries year round, and for that, and I am grateful.  

picture from previous 2013 post on Strawberry Jam

For the canned Strawberry Jam recipe and directions, visit my page from a few years ago.  I use the same one.  I did, however, make 11 jars this year, so I adjusted my ingredients for a 10 jar batch (you don't want to do more than this at one time as it can prevent the jam from setting up).  If you wish to make 10 jars, follow the same procedures as on my previous post, but use the following quantities instead.  For 10 jars, you will use 6 2/3 cups crushed strawberries, 7 1/2 tablespoons pectin, and 8 1/3 cups sugar.  

Strawberry Freezer Jam- makes 6 half-pints (or 3 pints)

5 cups crushed strawberries
2 cups sugar
6 Tbsp Instant Pectin (for freezer jam)

In a large bowl, stir sugar and pectin together.  Add crushed strawberries and stir 3 minutes.  Ladle into freezer containers and allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes.  Freeze or enjoy fresh.   

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gardening Goals

When we moved to the country, one of our many goals was to try to grow more of our own food.  We enjoy having canned foods on hand throughout the year, and we try to purchase most of our fruits, vegetables, and meat locally.  The problem I have found over the years with canning is getting my hands on fresh, local food in large enough quantities to be beneficial to us throughout the year but also at a price we can afford.  I have found, over time, growers that I use every year, but sometimes that means paying more than I want to for produce, traveling an hour or so to get it, or not being able to put up as much of something as I would like.  The items I generally need in larger amounts are green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and corn.  Other items like beets, basil, and peppers, I preserve in smaller quantities.  

From right to left, potatoes, snow peas, arugula, beets, and green beans.  Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc. are in the background at the far end.  You can also see our bee yard behind the garden as well as the run of our chicken coop. 

Now that we are settled in our house, we decided to plant our first garden here this spring.  We were able to walk around our property (which is about 3 acres) and see where previous owners had had garden plots.  One of the areas we had in mind had actually been used as a garden in the past, and we will keep the other areas in mind if we choose to expand our gardening efforts next year.  

Close up of potatoes, peas, and onions with our water tank and chicken coop in background

My gardening experience is limited to 4 (4 x 8 foot) raised beds at our previous home in which we grew potatoes, green beans, squash/zucchini/cucumbers, some root vegetables like beets, and herbs.  We grew enough back then so that we had some to eat fresh, but we never really had enough to preserve.  

peas, kale, beets

My gardening efforts here are focused more on preservation.  While I do want to have fresh veggies and fruits, I still visit the farmer's market weekly.  What I would like to see is the garden produce enough to put up so that we aren't spending time and money sourcing items from farmers in the area.  

We are also raising four turkeys this year to freeze later, and we plan on adding meat chickens in the near future.  All that coupled with lots and lots of fresh eggs, and we feel that we are on our way to meeting (at least in part) some of those goals we had when we moved here.  

Two of the girls- these two live on one side of the coop alone since our rooster does not get along with them.  They love pecking around their side of the yard closest to the bees.  Our new, smallest hive is in the background.  It consists of bees we captured when ours swarmed recently.

The garden is approximately 75 feet by 40 feet and is divided mostly into rows running the length (75 ft) of the garden although we have some of our vining plants like pumpkin and melons planted close to the perimeter so that they can run out of the garden for more room.  Right now, from right to left, we have planted: 

  •  2 rows potatoes (1 row red, 1 row white potatoes)
  •  1 row snow peas (a bush variety)
  •  1 row divided into thirds with kale, onion, and arugula
  •  1 row beets
  •  2 1/2 rows green beans (a bush variety)
  •  1/2 row lima beans (I wanted more but ran out of seed)
  •  1/2 row zinnias
  •  approximately 20 cucumber plants (some vining, some bush varieties)
  •  5 yellow squash plants
  •  10 zucchini plants
  •  5 pumpkin plants
  •  18 tomato plants
  •  6 bell pepper plants
  •  a few melon plants (watermelon and canteloupe)
  • 1/2 row sunflowers
We also planted several additional fruit trees to supplement the ones already here in case we cannot get them to produce healthy fruit (they have some disease issues due to lack of maintenance from previous owners and age), and we planted blackberry vines and blueberry bushes early in the spring.  


So far, we are enjoying arugula and kale from the garden, and we ate our first snow peas (just a handful) the other day.  We are patiently waiting for more to mature so we can enjoy them with a meal.   

We have plenty to do in the garden this year and in the future to make it better.  When digging at the far end of the garden (the corner closest to you in the first picture) we uncovered the foundation of part of a barn that once stood on the property.  Due to the rocks and poor soil at that end, things aren't growing as well there.  We will need to amend the soil this year so that it is healthier and more productive next year.  We have also started a compost bin which we hope will help in these efforts.  In addition, we have bales of straw close to the garden that we had planned to put down in a thick layer to help hold in moisture and deter weeds, but we have never gotten around to distributing it.  Hopefully, that will happen soon.  We have started, thanks to my father-in-law, started collecting rain water from the roof of the chicken coop, though, so that we can water as needed.  

So, we'll keep working on it, and keep our fingers crossed that it will stay healthy and happy until we can harvest its bounty (or at least what we hope will be bounty).  I'll keep you posted on how things go as well as things we learn along the way. 



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits

Spring has been a very busy for us thus far.  We work on outdoor projects every chance we get which usually means evenings after work and weekends. We have been busy with the garden, bees (which have been very needy this week- more on that later), chickens, chicks, turkeys (which are now outside in a new hoop house we built), and general yard work. With strawberry season in full swing, I have also been making and canning jam and making freezer jam.  I'll post about all of those things soon (I am going to try to be a better blogger in the coming weeks).  All of this means I don't have much time to play around in the kitchen, though, so when I know I'm going to cook something special like dessert, it needs to be worth it.  

This Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits was sooo worth it.  It was excellent warm with vanilla ice cream, but it was also tasty at room temperature a day or two later.  It made plenty and was not all that time consuming.  Best of all it had the sweetness of fresh spring strawberries paired with the tart twang of rhubarb, and the cornmeal biscuits to which I added a little whole wheat flour were so much better than many cobbler toppings I have tried with strawberries in the past.  They offered excellent bite and remained intact without getting soggy from the filling. Any cornmeal will do, but I used Anson Mills cornmeal which I think has nice texture and excellent corn flavor.  

On a side note, I am going to go back to posting recipes here rather than offering the printable version.  The printable version has not been working and my attempts to find a solution have not worked. I apologize for any inconvenience.  

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits-  makes a 9 x 13 pan  

This recipe was modified from The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle.  

3 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
4 cups capped and quartered strawberries
1 tsp orange flower water (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch

Cornmeal Crust:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
3 Tbsp sugar, divided
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 Tbsp butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
2/3 to 1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 Tbsp ice water
flour for dusting

whipped cream, ice cream, or yogurt for serving

For the filling: Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, orange flower water, sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl.  Spread into a 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside.

For the crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk flours, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Use a fork to add enough cream to form a soft dough.  You want the dough to be moist but still hold together when you cut it into biscuits.  

Lightly flour the counter and knead the dough several times.  Roll the dough to 1/2 inch thickness.  Use a biscuit cutter to cut the dough and place the dough onto the filling.  You may need to use a spatula to help you lift the dough.  Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and water together and brush it over the biscuits.  Sprinkle the biscuits with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. 

Bake until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbling and thickened, 45-50 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Top with whipped cream, ice cream, or yogurt and serve.