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.