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June 2014

Easy Low Sugar Preserves: Success

I started preserving food when I moved to Ohio three years ago, and instantly loved it, but also felt nervous about some aspects of it, and in each of the past three seasons, I've been in the grips of scientific uncertainty, wearing out instruction pages of three canning cookbooks. This year I realized I have it under control, and have learned enough about why we do what we do to know when and how much of it is necessary, for the foods I like to preserve. One of the main items on the agenda for this season is to use less sugar wherever possible. Even contemporary small batch cookbooks use huge quantities of it, but this recipe perfectly exemplifies why that it is not always necessary. As well, there's a lot of good thought to be gleaned from the long, friendly comment section. Plus, the blog, Northwest Edible Life, is just good and interesting over all. I look forward to reading more of it.

I used plums, nectarines, and white doughnut peaches from Green BEAN, to make two pounds after chopping, and added four ounces of sugar, then refrigerated it all night.  The peaches are lower in acid than the other two fruits, but I used least of them.20140628_111223

The next day, I followed the instructions, using lime juice, a quarter teaspoon of blended curry powder for the "dry zest," and then I was going to add Amaro Averna for the "wet zest," but forgot it in the end! 20140629_130718
I ended up with four half pints of preserves plus a 4 oz "tester," which I inverted to see if it would seal without the processing. 14 - 1
It did, but of course I just wanted to see how it would set up, so then I opened it and tasted it first at room temperature and then again today after chilling. It's just as she described, perfect for me. 20140630_091621
It tastes great, though I think the liqueur would have been a perfect finishing touch. I can see others wanting to add a couple more ounces of sugar for this particular combination, and it would still be "low sugar" if you did. The secret to this preserves technique was in using the wide shallow pan, allowing the fruit to thicken pretty quickly without added pectin and the huge quantities of sugar needed for the pectin to set. It was so easy, I can't wait to try it again with a new batch of fruit. 20140629_133950
I will add, if you use this recipe, that sugar is still definitely a preservative in itself (to a certain degree, not to imply that simply putting things in jars with sugar is what preserves them.) So once you open these jars, they probably won't last as long in the refrigerator as a super sugary kind would. But...you won't let them, anyway.

If you have never canned food, you might start as I did, with the simple Ball canning starter kit. I added funnels, a jar lifter, and a magnet for removing caps and bands from the hot water in which they soften for use. (And my silicone "trivets" are a big help, as well.) The kit setup allows me to do four smaller jars or three quart ones in my 12 quart stockpot. Last year I bought a 20 qt stockpot to do more, but I'm uneasy about using it on the glass cooktop, so haven't used it much. And for me, it's better to do everything in small batches of just a few jars. Plus you can be more creative that way.20140629_142355-EFFECTS

Daily harvest bowls

When I had my community garden plot in New Jersey, I gave myself a nice little tradition of the daily harvest bowl. I have a big red bowl and each day I collected vegetables for it in a peaceful ritual. I do that here, but last year's harvest was so poor and discouraging, I didn't take many pictures as I had the year before. This year, I probably won't have the tomato harvest I hoped for, but everything else is doing well, and today I picked my first bowl of food. It will be another week or two before I can expect to do that every day or most days, but I'm going to tweet pictures of each one, as #dailyharvestbowl

In New Jersey, there was a nearby soup kitchen which accepted fresh food offerings from the community garden, so I dropped something off for it from each of my bowls. I can't do that here, so I'm going to be sure to add something to the Green BEAN bin each week, instead. In summer, I have them mainly bring me extra fruit and things I can't easily grow myself.

I picked snap beans for the last several days, meant to cook a few with potatoes on Friday, but saved them instead, and now there are several full servings to cook at once. They're such bright happy things.

Weekly Photo Update: Gea (Tellus) Big with Seed

Literary references come to mind when playing with the garden. Sometimes, with squash, "it's train up a child according to his way," which is, in a classical sense, referring to "how it's expected to turn out and so how we do, with squash."

Anyway. Today, I was thinking "Molly Bloom, big with seed," which is actually a phrase in The Chosen by Chaim Potok, in which characters are referencing Ulysses. It is ironic only if we think deeper than I'm willing to go at this moment. It's the Gea aspect we're into.










"Convenience Food" and how to poach eggs.

Lunch today, with chard and an onion from my garden: a pictorial. You could garnish with chopped scallion, red pepper flakes, Japanese rice seasoning, chopped jalapenos, etc. I'd have added garlic, but am out until tomorrow. This took 15 minutes from chopping to table.








I poached the eggs with the seasoning packets. You can do that with ramen, but you gotta put the ramen in with the water. I find it more laborious. Plus, there are double the calories in a ramen block. You can partially scramble the egg if you prefer. But if you want good poached eggs,

Bring 2-3 inches of water and a splash of any vinegar to simmer (just below boil.) Crack an egg into a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or sink. Swirl it around for a few seconds just until the runniest part of the egg white drips out. Then slide the egg into the water. Repeat. Don't do more than three at a time, or four if you're a champ. Gently spoon a little of the simmering water over the top of the eggs. After a minute, make sure they're carefully loosened from the bottom, if necessary. For barely set yolks, take them out as soon as the whites on top are cooked.

Twine, bamboo, duct tape, and trash

Pretty much all you need for garden construction projects. I remember telling someone how important it is to designate an area where you can keep things you might reuse or turn into something else for the garden, but at the same time, to not let what you save out-measure the space you have for it. If you do that, you probably aren't using it and are one degree closer to having to make paths through your house to get to the bathroom.

It's true of all creative stuff. And things you collect. Designate where these things go. When that area is full, you can't put anymore in until some goes out. Easy peasy. I still have more books than shelves, so I'm working on that aspect, personally.

Recently I put up a bird feeder in the fairy garden, and Theron and I have enjoyed watching a remarkably wide variety of birds come through. There's also a birdbath I constructed in the new flower garden, from a plant stand and a shallow ceramic plant dish, this being half the cost of the cheapest birdbaths available. He helps make sure it's filled, being such a "correct" person, bless his heart.

I didn't mind at first when the squirrels found the bird feeder and knocked all the seed out. Birds just ate it off the ground. But then they tore into the begonias the man planted. And started chewing on the side of the feeder. And generally being the awful little rodents they are. So today I did this:





So we'll see if the wee little devils can scurry up the pole now.

Also, every year I use bamboo poles as much as possible to stake plants, tie things together, and so forth. Bamboo and sugar cane, totally renewable; look for stuff made from them. I constructed these trellises with bamboo and twine for some of the winter squashes. I know one side has delicatas (I bought a "harvest mix" seed packet, so silly, not doing it again,) and there might be a buttercup. These will do just fine on my makeshift operation. If one turns out to be spaghetti squash, as I suspect the giant on the deck might be, that will require some additional thought. The ones I was sure were butternut are in the little sunny center of the fairy garden, and may spread as they please.



The trellises have gigundous tomato poles in the center for support, trying to use less of that material, but at least it does not need to be replaced for a long time, same with my buckets and bins. I figure the key is to make it count, make it work well for you. That includes pretty white duct tape on the back of the birdhouse pole.

Experimental hilarity, part one

This year, I'm having fun experimenting with plants and seeds, largely due to purchasing the plastic greenhouse. I think I've mentioned my serendipity bowl before; I'd thrown a bunch of seeds that I'd found loose in the bottom of my seed box into some starter mix. There were cucumbers and winter and summer squashes, a few flowers, a couple snap beans and a couple peas.

I thought I'd sorted out the squashes, and just for the lols of it, I put one in the barrel with my best wild currant tomato seedling. Well, that seedling took off properly while the others have sort of limped along. It's five feet tall and bushy so far, and clearly has a ways to go. And I thought the other plant must be a cucumber, actually, as the first true leaves looked a bit stripey, and just ignored it except to encourage it up the homemade trellis.

Today I noticed fruit on it, and then I noticed...those are squash leaves. And they aren't summer squash, either, as they are growing upright with tendrils curling around the trellis. But the thing is, a) I don't remember having winter squash seeds before this year, and those were all old seeds, and b) these things will grow 20 feet long. The trellis is about 80 inches. So I will have to move the barrel to an area where the vine can continue to do...what it does best. Grow and grow and grow. However, it's quite early to have a winter squash, and I have more in the garden, of other varieties, and so that's a whole other issue of its own.
To me, it just looks like a yellow squash plant (expect okay, sure, the fruit isn't yellow.) It doesn't look like the few winter squash varieties I know well.
The other funny thing is that I planted two of what I was certain were random serendipity bowl cucumbers in a bucket, and only one of them is. The other is definitely a winter squash. But I can just move the bucket somewhere. These two plants came very close to drowning in the huge rains we had, but survived and are now growing again.
Cucumber leaves are flatter, in case you were wondering, and squash leaves are several different shapes, but sort of cup in the center. Winter squashes grow tendrils that grab onto things so they can climb. Summer squashes don't (actually I have learned that while most don't, there are a couple unusual varieties which do, but I've never seen them,) and they just grow a giant circle of vines that will spread out but not up.



Part two is about the pepper plants, homegrown v. purchased, deck v. garden, etc.

Paprika My Heart

Yes, well.

I saw this recipe a couple days ago and it intrigued me, so I tried it this afternoon, with just a few tiny changes. I'm very happy with the result, and will definitely make it again.

20140611_161316 This is three large tomatoes instead of six Romas, garlic cloves, red and yellow onion, and red potatoes. I added smoked paprika sea salt and black pepper, and a splash of olive oil.

The recipe called for eight skinless chicken thighs in a 13x9 pan, and a little Spanish cooking chorizo, as well. I used my French oven, and put in one link of sausage, and six bone-in thighs, cooking the other two separately. I left on the skin, and used Costco Tuscan Seasoning instead of oregano with the smoked sweet paprika, which I was generous with. I did not score the thighs, but brushed on a bit more olive oil.

Let me just say that I prefer cooking with meat that still has bones in it, and I also think it's better to remove the skin after cooking, if you don't plan to eat it. If you wanted to do that, you could rub the seasoning under the skin.



Olive Scaciati

Amusingly only to me, this favorite food of mine is composed almost entirely of garnish. I do it mostly like Mom did, but have the advantage of some better ingredients and tools. I smash the olives with a mortar and pestle instead of a heavy glass. 20140611_135831

I have divine wild Sicilian oregano from Jungle Jim's, even though I grow perfectly nice Greek oregano in the backyard.  20140611_140748Here is Sicilian oregano. Can you smell it?

I have good olive oil; she just used her vegetable oil. And I smash a few peppercorns to add in.

But Mom knew the olives weren't fantastic unless you let them marinate for at least a couple weeks. When I was a child, this was the only way I'd accept celery. Now I know it's just a spectacular seasoning for all kinds of things.

I have no recipe. It's a quart-sized deli container of large Sicilian olives, smashed open but not beaten up, a cup or so of chopped celery with leaves, half a dozen sliced garlic cloves, a few beaten black peppercorns, a couple tablespoons dried oregano, and olive oil drizzled over it until it's all just coated. 20140611_140546
I keep it in the refrigerator until I can't bear waiting any longer. With olive oil, that means it will look semi-solid. But it can just be left out until warm. Mom sealed it in a jar and put it in the back of a cabinet. I was unlucky with that, though, so I did it only once.

People add things. Carrots, red pepper flakes, vinegar. I can't get with any of that. I guess you can put it in if you like, but to me, it's just in the way of the olives and celery.

Weekly Photo Update: After More Rain

Zucchini blossoms! The first flowers from seed about to open up! And eggplant progress! These are uncropped, unedited pictures with my new phone. I think they look pretty good. But I'm going to art up a few of them later on, with mental energy or something. And there are new flower photos to add to Flickr.