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Pumpkins One, Two, and Three (and Me)

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Entries in canning (5)


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.


Small batch canning.

This year, we've been the lucky recipients of blackberries from a generous neighbor.  Their bushes are thriving this season—and I'm inspired to plant some in our own yard next spring.  They dropped off a gallon or so of gorgeous, ripe berries just before they headed out of town last week.  I made scones and three pans of cobbler.  And even after many, many handfuls of fresh berries, we barely made a dent. So I made jam.


I've already mentioned that I like to can. But there are many days when I am just not up to the process—or, more accurately, not up to the mess.  That's why I love small batch canning.  I don't have to haul out my large canning pot and I'm not up to my elbows prepping pounds and pounds of fruit.  I usually make up enough for a handful of half-pints, mindful that I want to process the jars in my every day stockpot.  And I usually do the batch while making lunch for the kidlets—typically an hour investment, tops.


I didn't have any pectin in the house so I was happy to find a pectin-free recipe on a favorite food blog, Sweet Savory Life.  It worked like a charm and was so very simple.  Two cups of berries + two cups of sugar + two teaspoons of lemon juice.  I dumped everything into my enameled Dutch oven, brought it to a hard boil for five minutes, reduced the heat to medium, cooked for fifteen more minutes, and skimmed the foam.  That's it.  At this point, I could have just stored it in the refrigerator.  But I chose to process the jam to make it shelf stable (ten minutes in a boiling water bath—any pot will work as long as the jars are covered by an inch of water. Place a small rack or folded kitchen towel on the bottom to keep the glass jars off the bottom of the pan). 

Here are a few of my notes from my canning folder from my kitchen. Yes, I have a canning folder. Lawyers love their folders.


*often times, bottled lemon juice is preferred in canning recipes, due to reliable acidity levels.  Of course, fresh will often do, but you might get inconsistent results.


*it's best to use a wide, heavy-bottomed pan for cooking your jam.  That's why I love my Dutch oven. It has something to do with the surface area/evaporation rate—sorry, that's all the information I have in my head on it, though I know I read it somewhere (google?).  Simply put, jam cooked in my Dutch oven usually gives me jam that will set but jam cooked in a saucepan usually will not set.  Go figure.


*I know several folks can via the 'open kettle' or 'upside down' method.  But I'm a rule follower and never have because it is not considered safe.  Food in Jars recently wrote a post on the matter and I think it's a good read.


*if you have a candy thermometer, use it.  Jam making is basically candy making.  Cooking your jam to 220 degrees is supposedly the sweet spot.  But I've cooked jam to 220 and still had batches not set.  And those we call syrups.


Happy canning!




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

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We went apple picking today.

Well actually, just the older boys and I went apple picking, as Charlie stayed back to let Will nap.  We picked a full bushel...lots of Golden Delicious and Empires, a few Courtlands, Red Delicious and Rome Beauties as well.  And of course, Granny Smith and Fuji--I think those are our favorites to eat raw.  And eat them we did.

I hope to put up pie filling tomorrow or later in the week and will post what canning recipe I settle on.  The one I used last year was pretty good but I think I can do better.  I also hope to can a nice surplus of applesauce.  I saw an interesting recipe for applesauce on a wonderful blog I just discovered called by little hands--you roast the apples.  I think this will bring a nice depth to the flavors so I'm anxious to try it.  I just love homemade applesauce.

I'm also excited to try Katie Brown's apple brownie recipe.  And for breakfast tomorrow, we're having apple popovers--can't wait.  Hope you are enjoying these beautiful fall days as well.