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Pumpkins One, Two, and Three (and Me)

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Entries in berries (8)


Pick, 2011

We go strawberry picking every year.  I love that it's become a tradition and it makes me wish I was blogging way back when it all started.  It's fun to look back and reread posts from 2009 and 2010.  Yes, I have many pictures from earlier years, but before I began blogging I never took the time to capture in words what our days were like.  I wish I could read an entry on the first berry picking outing wearing Max in a Babybjorn!

We usually go early in the season, with hopes of beating the heat.  But this year, for a variety of reasons, we did not find ourselves at a field until the end of May.  And it was hot.  So hot, in fact, that I hardly took pictures because I was dripping sweat and decided tucking my camera away for safe keeping seemed prudent.  Mental note:  research and purchase a backup point and shoot!

More proof that the heat was relentless:  both Leo and Will fell out almost immediately and retreated to the sandbox.  But not Max.  Heat does not affect our oldest child...never has.  He picked his share and then some.  Thank goodness, too, as he easily made up for his absentee brothers.  He even outpicked me.  And I'm happy to report that an 8 year-old's judgment concerning pick-worthy strawberries is leaps and bounds from a 7 year-old's...the difference a year makes both excites and saddens me, to be honest.

We went home with two flats and I did a quick batch of jam.  I used the same recipe as last year, though mixed things up by springing for some new jars I found at a hardware store. 

Aren't they cute?  I think so.  But I must say, I am not sure if I'll ever buy them again...their squatty aesthetic might be charming but it also makes them a pain to fish out of my deep pot.  Plus, my canner, which usually handles nearly a dozen jam jars, could barely afford the width of four of these jars and stacking was not exactly working out.  All of this matters, why?  Because, again, it was hot as blazes...and multiple batches of hot bath processing heating up my kitchen was not what the doctor ordered. 

On the bright side, since I had everything out and was cranky and hot anyway, I decided to can anything else available.  So when I spied some perfectly ripe champagne mangos in our fruit bowl, I chopped them up, added some sugar and cooked until syrupy.  I manage to get enough to fill and process three jars.  We are now huge fans of mango sauce with our pancakes, smoothies, and yogurt.  I will need to make more soon and will hopefully remember to write down a makeshift recipe.


p.s.  I almost forgot.  I also made strawberry syrup.  The boys have declared a certain pancake recipe "it" and this syrup is earmarked for the next several Breakfast for Dinner evenings we have planned throughout summer.  I love breakfast for dinner.



DIY Fruit Leather.

To ward off cabin fever last year, we played around with DIY gummy candy.  This year, as I rooted around our freezer, I was struck by the urge to finally use several quarts of strawberries (they apparently went MIA after I tucked them away last spring).  I dumped the berries, simple syrup and all, into a heavy pot, brought to a boil, and simmered until the mixture reduced and thickened.  It took a while.  I have no clue how long, other than to say it was a few hours.  We aren't watching the clock during these stay-at-home wintry days.  In fact, what day is it?  No clue about that, either.  Other than to say it's day six.  I think. 

My mixture still seemed too loose to spread vice pour.  So I cooled it in the fridge to set up a bit.  It worked, allowing me to indeed spread it--thinly--onto a silicone lined cookie sheet.  I popped it into a low-heat oven (200ish?) and cooked the concoction until it became tacky.  Again, it took a while.

Simply cut into strips, these were a scrumptious DIY fruit leather--really packed with flavor and not overly sweet.

I thought they might last a few days, so I rolled them into strips and packed them into jam jars, as if to be stored.  But why do I bother?  The little ones (and the big ones too, truth be told) ate two batches in one day flat.  I will try making more with store bought berries as soon as I can get to the market with a manageable parent-to-kid ratio.


p.s.  I think it's pretty apparent that I didn't use a recipe, mainly because my starting point was berries packed in simple syrup.  I just cooked and dried and hoped for the best.  And guess what?  I got fruit leather.  But as I suspect my next round will use plain berries, SimplyRecipe's version looks like a good reference.  I also know some of my canning books contain directions.  I'll report back.


Pick, 2010.

Similar to last year (and, in fact, every year since Max was born), we did our annual trip to the strawberry fields and picked a couple of flats.

It was a good day for it--still plenty hot, but bearable (about two weeks ago).  Max and Leo did a fair job of picking versus eating.  If I had to guess, I'd put the ratio at a solid 4 to 1.

William pretty much just wandered up and down the rows, fascinated.

(Yes, I always dress the boys in red shirts when we strawberry pick.  Ask me how I've learned....)

Once we were home, I hulled and prepped the mountain of berries.  Some were sent to the freezer as whole berries, packed in a simple syrup.  I love freezing strawberries this way for later use in syrups or other dessert toppings.


But about 20 cups or so were sliced up for two batches of strawberry jam.

I am really getting into canning (I think a pressure canner is inching its way up on my wishlist).  I especially love seeing all the pretty jars lined up, waiting to be filled.  How I wish I could find somewhere local to buy Weck jars; they are so lovely.  Until then, I'm enjoying the quilted jam jars I picked up last year on sale at the end of the summer.


This year I tried a new recipe...strawberry vanilla jam from the blog Food in Jars.  Both the blog and the jam recipe are crazy addictive, just so you know.  The recipe is lower in sugar than most and the addition of lemon and vanilla is just heaven in my book.  And I say this even though the first batch never set--it's no bother for us as we've enjoyed it as a syrup every weekend over our pancakes or crepes.  For the second batch, I added in a bit more pectin and it set beautifully (though it did take a couple of days).  I always make such a wreck in the kitchen when I make large batches of jam.  But it's quite worth it, I say.

We've gifted a fair share of our jars, with little picture notecards of the boys proudly picking the berries.  But we've also tucked plenty in the pantry for the year.  

Go to Marisa's gorgeous post for pictures of the process and the full recipe.  But because I plan to print my blog as a keepsake, I've also copied the recipe here, along with my notes, after the jump.

xoxo, Sandra

linking up here:

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Well, as promised, I made Luxirare's pies-on-a-stick.  Hers looked amazing.  And delicious.  Mine?  Not so much.

I read her post carefully and was very happy to see edits with tips--and follow those tips I did.  But I still could not master a good filling-to-crust ratio (unless you count all the filling that escaped their little pie-pop homes, which I'm pretty sure you cannot).  I used fresh strawberries mixed with homemade jam, a combo that has faithfully worked for me in hand-pies.  Of course now that I stop and think about it, I am not surprised that the filling seeped everywhere when I attempted this here.  The hand-pies I make are rustic and hearty, with a folded side-seam to match, whereas these were supposed to be delicate gems balanced on a stick.  So now I know.

I think when I try again (because they are just too cute to end the story here) I will:  a)  use a thicker filling with cooked fruit (my fresh strawberry chunks were way too big so of course they let off a lot of juice) and b) use a sweeter crust--Martha's Pate Sucree or any other basic sweet crust that does not need to be prebaked should work nicely.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I've already eaten pate sucree straight up and thought to myself, "fruit?  Who needs fruit with this"--just in case my ratio is off yet again and I'm left with a dough-pop. 

Good luck if you give it a go--and I sure hope you do--and please, please pass along your tips and triumphs.  It obviously can be done and in fact done quite well, as Luxirare shows on her blog so beautifully.  Go there to be inspired.  Look below to be amused. 





We are CSA members to a farm and try to make it there a few times during the season to pick fruit.  We recently went for blueberries and managed to pick quite a haul.  Will, who usually does more quality control tasting than picking, even managed to pick a nice amount. 

I love blueberries and often bake them up in muffins, scones, and pies.  But I wanted to try a new blueberry recipe so turned to one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  Her post on Blueberry Boy Bait made my day (I love recipes with a story!) and the single-layer cake the recipe turned out made my boys smack their lips and ask if we picked enough to make it again and again and again.  Trying to be funny, I casually said, "oh, like to infinity?" which, of course, led to a dozen questions and my feeble attempt to explain the concept of an unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity to a four and six-year old--yea, that was a fun one.  I should have just left it at "it's what Buzz Lightyear says" because when I tried to simplify it by telling them "you can never get to infinity.  It's as big as you can get," they responded, "then what's infinity plus one?"  I made them be quiet with seconds.              

I'm linking to the recipe rather than reprinting here because the only modification I made is adding in at least twice the amount of blueberries (so a generous full cup).  I'll be trying it with other fruit soon. 




Bake. This.  Pie.

Please don't get me wrong with this post's title.  I'm actually not a bossy person--more of a nudger.  But not with this.  This is way too good not to share.  So good in fact that I insist you try it.  And what is "it"?  A super duper easy 50-minute pie perfect for summer entertaining (I do realize that summer is half over but I wanted to give your swim-suit diet a fighting chance).  It'll make you understand the saying "easy as pie", which, incidentally, is a phrase I previously questioned because in my pie-making experience, making a good pie was actually pretty challenging.

I found this recipe last November courtesy of the Washington Post Magazine's holiday pie contest.  All the winning pies looked like, well, winners but this pie--the mixed-berry custard--went straight to the top of my pile of clipped recipes to try.  Maybe because old man winter was around the corner and the lure of a berry pie was too much to take, I'm not sure.  But after I made the pie, I made it again, and again, and again.  And then 4 more times.  So trust me when I say it's the kind of recipe you should just scribble on a post-it and stick inside a cupboard door, which is exactly where I keep my copy.  Are there more fantastic pie recipes out there?  Yes and I hope to get to those.  But this one is so quick, with ingredients you can always keep on hand, and yet turns out a pie so satisfyingly Dee.Lish. that I sometimes wonder if I really need bother. 

If you must go-Martha on it, knock yourself out by using a homemade crust.  But really?  Remember, it's summer.  So just keep a couple of Marie Callendar deep dish frozen crusts in your freezer, along with a few bags of your favorite fruit, and breathe easy knowing you can always say "I'll bring dessert" without running to the store.  Now go make it (nudge, nudge).  

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A few times each summer, we try to go to various area farms to pick fruit.  I think strawberries may be the boys' favorite--perhaps since it's always the first outing.  By the end of the season, let's just say they don't jump into the car and buckle up by the mere sight of a U Pick flat like they did this week.

Our youngest was pretty funny to watch.  I thought maybe he'd understand--after all, picking berries isn't that different from fetching his scattered Hot Wheels cars or other colorful items and depositing them into random containers (beware what lurks inside a tissue box at our house).  But no.  He definitely did his share of the eating though.

We went to Homestead Farms in Poolesville, MD, which we like because:  1.  there are farm animals to mix it up a little;  2.  you can walk to the fields without having to haul the kids, your gear, and a jog stroller onto a wagon; 3.  you can walk back to your car because if you have kids you will probably need to--diaper duty, forgot somebody's favorite truck to play in the dirt, etc.; and 4.  there is no admission fee.  We're also fans of Great Country Farms and Butler's Orchard but you usually need to take a wagon on those farms and Great Country also charges admission unless you belong to the farm, which we do but I'll review it later.

We usually get carried away with the quantity we pick.  It's pretty addictive when you get on a roll, especially if you tend to be a little OCD about things (ahem).  Looking at a couple of flats of berries can be daunting, so I like to can jam and also prep batches for the freezer to use later in desserts.

This year I wanted to try a pectin-free jam recipe and turned to Ina Garten.  You will soon see that I have a thing for Ina.  I made her Easy Strawberry Jam, which uses granny smith apples in lieu of pectin to firm things up--though you will never get a firm, firm set (but that's okay because I don't like gummy jam).  For canning, I get most of my info from a website called Pick Your Own.  

It's basically the end of strawberry picking in our area.  Next up, blueberries and peaches so go forth and pick! 




Banana Blueberry Bread.  Yum.

            Have you ever been to an Amy's Bread shop in New York?  If not, you should know that the promise--the potential--of a home cook turning out treats like theirs is pretty amazing.  And since my sister-in-law's name is Amy, I decided I had to get her The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread cookbook for Christmas.  And because I don't know of any fabulous "Sandra" bakery cookbooks, I went ahead and stuck one under the tree for little 'ole me as well. 

Since Will, our 15 month-old, usually loves bananas, I have not laid hands on any overripe ones for quite some time.  But now, out of the blue, he won't eat them.  He will mash them, fling them, poke them, and sculpt them, but nary a bit will get past his lips.  I've tried.  Of course, I'm more than a little vexed that without warning, my go-to, easy to transport--yet healthy--snack is out of favor with him.  But at least now we can enjoy banana bread again. 

Know that this is no ordinary banana bread--it's neither achingly sweet (yippee!) nor cinnamon-y.  It's flavorful and moist and, well, it's really, really good.  We ate both loaves within days.  I will force restraint next time by freezing one.  Better yet, I'll give away a loaf as a gift and spread the goodness.  I hope you'll try it. 


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