Archive for the ‘Food Preservation’ Category

In October 2016, I left the garden that readers of this blog are familiar with. I grew there–plants and children–for 30 years.

And then I had to give it up.

I’ve spent the past year chronicling the new garden, a “chapter” a month. I decided to post here, for old time’s sake, two posts a month, from December to April, starting with the first night alone in the new house, sitting in an empty living room surrounded by boxes.

It’s a strange, affectless moment, that first evening in a new house. The past is a closed door, and the future one with new locks and an unfamiliar key. All the boxes are labeled and placed in their appropriate rooms, and the checklist for how-to-move-out has become a checklist for how-to-move-in. Everything looks strange—the furniture shrugs itself uncomfortably into new spaces, there are too many pots for the kitchen cabinets, and there’s a street light right outside the bedroom window.

As if you were going to be able to sleep, anyway.

0- Intro

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Are you inspired by all the great handmade gifts our writers have been making? We like to cook things for the ones we love as well! Here’s some handmade recipes for holiday giving!


Of course, sweets are the mainstay of homemade holidays, but this year I decided to go savory. Every year I grow tomatillos, make pints and pints of salsa verde, and then it sits on the shelf because no one eats it. Naturally, this year I decided I’ll make it in half-pint sizes, and then use it for gifts. I made 20 half-pints. When I went to check for this photo, I was down to 11; I think my husband has been eating it because of the nice small sizes. I used Rick Bayless’ wonderful recipe, and grew everything myself except the limes. By the way, this stuff is great on pizza!Salsa


Well, Xan has me drooling over her salsa verde.

With the successful zucchini growing season this fall, I (Sincerely, Emily) knew exactly what some people were going to be getting this year for gifts! Zucchini Relish!  I started making this recipe back in the fall of 2009 with a few zucchini from my garden (before the nasty borer got to it!) and more from the farmers market. Now I am thrilled I can use all of my own, homegrown zucchini for the recipe. I have not harvested my horseradish yet, or I would have used that too!) I found the recipe over at Homesteading in Maine and I also have the zucchini relish recipe posted (with permission) over at my blog too.

Zucchini Relish 2We love this relish on sandwiches in place of mayo.


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I have zucchini. This is happiness to me.

The story is, I can’t seem to grow zucchini at all. The dang squash vine borers are horrible. So I out smarted them and planted zucchini in my neighbors garden.

We watched the plant grown and develop beautiful leaves. Watched the flowers open and then the little zucchinis start to develop. In the blink of an eye – shazam – it was time to harvest (you know how sneaky that zucchini can be!)  The plants are loaded and I had to leave town! No kidding. All that waiting. The thrill to watch the zucchini start to develop and grow… and I leave town. My neighbors aren’t interested in eating zucchini, in fact, they have never had it before, but they will pick and shred it for me while I am gone.

So, I promise to bake them zucchini bread. I promise to stir fry some for them. Promise Promise promise. It will be great (I love zucchini!) I picked the zucchini in the above photo the day before I left town. I shredded them and stashed it in the freezer.

I am dreaming of zucchini fritters or poor mans crab cakes. I am dreaming of zucchini in my spaghetti sauce. Oh, I am dreaming of zucchini bread.

How are you preserving your fall harvests? How about your zucchini… How do you preserve that so you can use it later?

Sincerely, Emily

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We welcomed a special guest a few weeks ago for a long weekend of fun and tasty food. I took advantage of the company to make some french toast topped with freshly canned plum jam.

I don’t follow a recipe for my french toast, so i won’t bore you with my notes. Needless to say that local milk, eggs and bread all come together for some fabulous eating!

Do you have brunch plans for this weekend?

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If you’re vinegar, you must respect your mother. She can survive for months in a dark and stuffy bottle, only to come back to life and create magical chemistry to turn cider into tangy and delicious vinegar. The mother of vinegar, much like the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) of Kombucha, the m.o.v. is a skin-like film that develops at the top of a batch of brewing vinegar. It’s weird. It’s amazing. It’s mysterious.

I’m relatively new to vinegar making. I made my first batch by simply leaving some raw cider out, covered with a cloth, to ferment and turn to vinegar (passing by the intoxicating hard cider). This was the best vinegar i’d ever had and i’m hopeful that this new batch made from store-bought cider will be reminiscent of this original wild vinegar.

I’d love to hear from you! Are you an experienced vinegar brewer? Please comment with your experiences or any fun facts about what’s really going on in that translucent mother floating in my mason jar. You can also read more about my vinegar making over at Pocket Pause.

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It seems jamming plums is a popular thing to do with us Dabblers. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a heavily laden plum tree at the edge of a neighbor’s yard. Since they weren’t picking the plums, i picked a pretty peck for myself! Over 15 pounds! I dried the first batch, but as we’re out of jam i felt the need to get the canning supplies out and make some jam!

I am not a fastidious person. This laziness makes canning difficult for me. Once i get going, i’m fine – but i’m frequently daunted by all the cleaning and preparing that is necessary for safe canned goods and often end up just freezing my work instead of processing it – which is really lame when you have a small freezer but plenty of cupboard space. I wasn’t a chicken this time, and put up 10 half pints of plum/blackberry (last year’s frozen berries) jam and half a dozen jars of spicy plum sauce which i think will accompany the rabbits i have in the freezer quite nicely.

I got the plum sauce recipe right out of the Ball Blue Book and scrimcoached the jam recipe. As i cooked down the fruit i perchanced to notice that the coupon found in my pectin box was dated 2008…. finding that odd i looked more closely at the expiration date on the pectin itself: April 2010! Woopsy! I only bought this pectin last year, though i did buy it from the bare and no de-funct grocery store here in Philomath……   Note my lack of fastidiousness. Luckily, the jam tastes and jelled just fine- so i think i’m in the clear. I used about 2 cups sugar to 5 pounds chopped plums and berries with a splash of lemon juice and a package of pectin. I can’t wait for toast this Winter spread on homemade bread and raw butter. No baking this time of year, it’s too darned hot!

What’s been filling your canning jars so far this Summer?

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I live in Oregon. Come the end of Summer, i will be surrounded by blackberries. Along the road, in the yard, in the neighbor’s yard, along the river: blackberries! It’s hard not to pick and pick and pick and fill the freezer with bags of berries. It is hard to use them all up, at least for me since i don’t cook many sweet things. So, after last year’s harvest i ended up with a few bags of berries chillin’ in the freezer until just a few weeks ago. I needed to make some room for the cuts of ram meat i was bringing home, so i defrosted one of the bags of blackberries for snacking.

Defrosted blackberries do not have much taste.

What to do?! I decided to make some syrup! I do not have a food mill, so i squished the soft berries through my pasta strainer and poured the juice into a small pot. Since i have no animals currently, I threw away the berry chunks and later wished i’d saved them to try and make vinegar (anyone have experience doing that???) I have no experience making syrup, so i scrim coached: Berry juice, a tiny bit of sugar, a hint of cinnamon and some time i simmered until the juice had reduced quite a bit. The resultant syrup wasn’t exactly syrup, but it was certainly thicker than juice and was GREAT over oatmeal, yogurt and goat’s milk ice cream.

I think i’ll actually PLAN on making syrup this year… but will need a recipe. And a food mill. Who has a great recipe, that hopefully doesn’t include more sugar than fruit? I just can’t handle much sugar.

If you have a berry great syrup recipe, please share!

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How many of you have ever bought (pasteurized) whipping cream for some random project, shoved it in the fridge, and forgotten about it for a while? I certainly have. Now, I’ve fed my share of soured cream and spoiled dairy to the chickens, but I’ve also found that as long as the cream is simply soured (broken down, by lactic acid forming bacteria) I can still use it.

Now, keep in mind this is a post about what I have done, not what you should do.

So. Soured cream is not quite the same as sour cream. Well, actually it is, but while soured cream is soured by bacteria that won’t harm us, it can also have additional creepy crawlies growing in it if it’s been exposed to other sources of bacteria. Sour cream is cream that has had either lactic acid, or additional harmless lactose-eating bacteria added to give it a consistent and safe sourness.

Theoretically, soured cream was once regular cream, and assuming it was pasteurized (I don’t suggest doing this with raw milk) all of the harmful creepy crawlies were killed off in the process. After that, the cream was likely poured into a sanitized container and sealed. Assuming this container stays free of harmful creepy crawlies, it’s likely that the cream will stay fresh for quite long until it finally succumbs to the lactose-eating bacteria that is still present. I’ve been known to use slightly soured cream to make a particularly tasty topping for fresh fruit, and I’ve baked into bread, but there is one use for soured cream that surpasses all others…

Last summer I had ordered several containers of cream in anticipation of a big project, and unfortunately the project for which they were intended was forgotten… as were the containers of cream (I think they were behind a few other projects in the fridge, including the pickled radishes). By the time I discovered them, I found that I’d let over $12 of cream go to waste! Grrr…

After a brief brainstorming and a few google searches I had the perfect remedy, and it wasn’t feeding it to the chickens. Are you ready for this?

Salted Caramel Sauce!

I know, right? Soured cream doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to end up in a delicious ice cream topping, or drizzled over fresh strawberries, but it was a very successful experiment indeed.

Basically when making any caramel sauce, you bring sugar to the caramelization point (or sugar and water, depending on your method) and then you cut the caramelized sugar with a liquid – most often cream. The caramelization point is approximately 320º, and there are few harmful creepy crawlies that can live when exposed to temperatures half that temperature, so using soured dairy to cut caramel is (in my very unscientific experience) fairly safe.

I set about making “wet” caramel, which means you begin heating the sugar after moistening it with a bit of water. When it his 320º, instead of adding cream, I added the soured cream. It boiled and frothed and got super gooey and sticky and I was convinced I had ruined it, but sure enough after I stirred and stirred and stirred I was left with a thick and gloriously tasty caramel sauce that everyone should try at some point.

So tonight I decided I needed caramel sauce for a recipe I was working on, but we were out of cream altogether… but what did I find in the back of the refrigerator this time? An unopened container of sour cream! Divine intervention, that was.

I substituted sour cream for the soured cream that would have substituted for the fresh cream and within 20 minutes I was trying desperately to slap my own hand away from a cooling batch of delicious caramel. Seriously. I couldn’t stop licking the bowl. I was like a little kid. I’m still considering going back into the kitchen to see if I missed any spots…

Anyway, I wanted to share this recipe. I feel like it’s pretty indispensable when it comes to folks with sweet tooths. I think next time I may try it with buttermilk to see if there’s a difference in taste; will it be more butterscotchy? Hmmm…

Not-for-the-chickens Creamy Caramel Sauce 

The Players:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups sour cream, soured cream, heavy whipping cream – at room temperature, or slightly warmed
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt (sea salt, fleur de sel, whatever you choose – make it flavorful, though)

– Measure everything out ahead of time. Trust me. You’ll want your cream on hand precisely when you need it – not ten seconds later.

– Place sugar and water in a medium sauce pan and stir to moisten the sugar and distribute the water. Heat this mixture over medium to medium-high heat, without stirring. I know you’ll want to stir it, but seriously, don’t. Agitation can cause the sugar to crystalize and then you’ll end up with a weird, chunky, sticky mess.

– If you’re concerned about crystallization, you can brush the sides of your pan down on the inside with water occasionally to keep sugar crystals from forming along the edge. I don’t usually do this, and I’ve only had it crystalize once… and I stirred it… A lot.

– Once the sugar begins to boil, place a candy thermometer in the mixture and slowly raise the temperature to approximately 320º, which is the point that sugar caramelizes.

– As soon as the sugar reaches the caramelization stage, slowly pour the cream into the sauce pan. The mixture will get super grouchy and sputter and boil and bubble. Using a wooden spoon or a metal whisk, stir quickly to incorporate the two liquids as they hit a mean temperature. If you get a big ol’ clod of thick caramel in the middle, remove the pan from the heat and work to scrape and scumble the clod around until it breaks up and begins to rejoin the rest of the liquid. If your sauce ends up kind of lumpy, fret not. Simply run it through a medium-fine mesh sieve (or even a colander would work) and it’ll turn out just fine.

– After the two liquids are combined fairly well, return the mixture to a boil just for a minute or so and then remove from heat.

– Add the vanilla and salt last, stir and then pour into containers. Keep the sauce refrigerated (though theoretically you could can it in a pressure cooker – or in a hot water bath if you’re daring and playing by ‘old school’ rules. Sugar is a pretty good preservative. Still, I don’t particularly condone the canning of dairy products via hot water bath!)

The sauce will thicken over the next few hours into a fantastic drizzley, sweet, sticky goo that is perfect for icecream, fruit, yogurt, bundt cakes… and spoons. I prefer spoons. 🙂

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens and her livestock, her insatiable sweet tooth, her quest to become a cottage foods bakery and her adventures in leasing a small 19th century cottage and orchard in SE Michigan.

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When I decided to go local and package-free, one of the things I had to do was learn to make sweets, since I have the sweet tooth to end all sweet tooths (sweet teeth?).

This has been a less-than-successful effort. While I’m pretty good with cookies, my quick breads never cook all the way through and I’ve thrown away more pies than I’ve eaten.

I also canNOT get jelly to set. Here’s the whole sad tale (but don’t worry, it has a happy ending.)

Cucumber jelly- fail
I’ve made lots of jam and preserves, but what started me on the whole jelly thing was this irresistible recipe from Dabblings and Whimsey, (how could I resist a blog with “dabbling” in the name, right?) which I found via that preservation goddess Punk Domestics. I mean, whoa, something new to do with cucumbers, amirite?!  Problem: didn’t set, ugly color, because I used evaporated instead of crystal sugar. Probably not enough sugar.

Lemonade from lemons: Sage Advice cocktail
1 oz. cucumber simple syrup
1-2 oz. sage-infused vodka
3-4 oz. sparkling lemonade
garnish with lemon slice, cucumber slice and sage sprig
serve over ice

Apple jelly-fail
Once again, too little sugar?

Lemonade from lemons: Apple leek potato salad with Apple mayonnaise
1/4 cup apple syrup
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 of a whole nutmeg, grated
ground white pepper to taste

Peach jelly-fail (ish)
Using the recipe from the pectin box. This one set, but I apparently boiled it too long, and it got hard.

Lemonade from lemons: Chocolate-covered peach jellies
Reheat, in a double-bottomed pot over very low heat, until completely melted. Pour into glass pyrex baking dish, about 1/2 inch depth. Allow to set again, then cut into 1/2 squares. (Don’t make them any bigger, these are very very rich.) I used those chocolate melting dots that you can buy in the produce section, and coated each square in chocolate. Harden on a sheet of wax paper. My friend’s husband wants to marry me because of these.

 Apple jelly-fail redux
Again, recipe from the pectin box. I put the *@&^$()$%# pectin in after the sugar. (Repeat after me: pectin first, pectin first, pectin first).

Lemonade from lemons: Spiced cider liqueur
2/3 bottle of middle-shelf vodka
1 cup apple syrup
1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 nutmeg, crushed, 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice, zest of 1/4 orange
Mix ingredients together in the vodka bottle. Store in cool dark place for 2-4 weeks. (Another great Christmas gift, decanted into decorative bottles.)

Cucumber jelly candies dipped in white chocolate TADA!
I finally ended up with the item I set out to make. I didn’t give up on the cucumber jelly, and after the peach jelly save, it occurred to me that a cucumber jelly candy in white chocolate would be amazing. And yes, it’s true. I used D&W’s recipe again, but doubled the pectin and kept it at a boil for more than 30 minutes, until it “sat” on a spoon. Several people now getting these for Christmas.


Having finally ended up with what I started out to make, I’m feeling ambitious. Next up–green tea jelly! What do you think?

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Be sure to see what our “East” (quotes deliberate!) Challenge participants have been cooking up, in today’s companion post. Here in the (kinda) West, our recappers Jen, Miranda, Xan, and Sage have made their own Seasonal, Organic, Local, Ethical meals.


Chicago finally made it into winter this week. Here by the lake I (Xan) awoke to the first light dusting of snow for the season just yesterday. Although I think some our neighbors in the western suburbs and a little farther north have had a couple of inches, it’s extremely unusual to have such a late first snow. On the plus side, I’ve still got harvestable chard and parsley, although I did finally have to pull the last of the root vegetables before the ground froze hard. For my first official SOLE meal, I made a lovely heirloom bean cassoulet with local bacon; I confess to Spanish sherry as an ingredient however. The picture of the cassoulet is at Mahlzeit; here’s the bacon! (sorry vegetarians).


A bit north of Xan and on the other side of the lake, I (Jennifer), was able to procure some locally raised beef. I’m giddy that my dairy farm also sells their own organically raised pork, beef, and chicken, as well as eggs and raw milk cheese. With the stash of root veggies I’ve saved from the last farmers market days, I put together a nice stew.

It’s not only a healthy, seasonal meal, but inexpensive too! I used leftover stew meat and soup bones to make the rich and hearty meal. I let my stew cook down slowly for at least four hours, until it falls apart although the veggies went in a bit too early this time around. A bit of Michigan red wine was used to deglaze, but some non-local tomato past was added to help keep all those flavors together without separating into oil and broth. I only wish I planned enough in advance to bake up a good loaf of bread from local wheat!

beef stew


Out in Oregon, I (Miranda) am still struggling with the limitations of temporary apartment (read: a gardener with no garden) living, zip for a food budget and lack of active farmer’s markets. BUT i did pretty well this week with a stew that fed us for at least two days. It’s definitely stew season! Along with Jennifer, several of my western bloggers were cooking up stews this week. I cooked my very FIRST stew, so i feel it worth mentioning despite the glut of stews in the challenge. In my stew i used the last of our locally harvested potatoes, carrots from my mother’s garden in southern Oregon, and grass fed beef raised by an old high school mate of mine (in northern California). I admit to adding onions from the store as we’d used up the last of our homegrowns brought with us from Texas, as well as commercial worchestershire sauce and salt/pepper. I also got the cumin from the store, but the other herbs were homegrown. If you’re having a hard time with this challenge, you’re not alone! I promise i’ll try harder next week to stick to the challenge!

Like Jennifer, i really wished i’d baked some crusty bread to go with it. Instead, i served our stew with some Oregon baked “Dave’s Killer Bread” the first night, and some Corvallis baked sourdough the next.  The best part of this stew (other than the fresh-as-heck meat) was definitely the mushrooms we’d picked and put up in the freezer a few weeks earlier. Nom!


Well, I (Sage) am obviously “challenged” in more ways than one!  Usually 90% of what we eat comes right off our farm. During the worst drought on record this year our well went dry for six months, so for the first time ever, there was no garden and nothing to preserve. Because of our remote location, our closest farmers market is a four hour round trip. Eating well has recently become a monumental effort.

Aak wall soot

For this week’s SOLE meal I learned that cooking and blogging don’t always go well together. Let’s just say I kind of forgot I was cooking and the meal was burned beyond recognition. (Does this happen to you, too?) It’s something I admittedly do from time to time. However, I was quite surprised to discover my kitchen was also burning! Oops!

Exhaust after fire

Please do not try this yourself–this is NOT the recommended way to brighten the dark days of Winter! Apparently the flames (after melting the stove knobs and scorching the wall) caught the exhaust filter on fire, which melted some wiring and pushed the flames to the cabinets above. It was all quickly put out with a lot of screaming and a couple of pails of water. You know how white kitchens are all the rage now? Gray is the new white. Soot is also an amazing way to discover all those pesky hidden cobwebs left over from Halloween (or earlier holidays).

The weirdest thing is the spring water in a plastic jug about six feet away took on the most rancid taste it had to be tossed, yet the bottle was not deformed in any way by heat. It was as if the water served as some kind of room purifier.

Farmer Rick–who I might add is the most understanding husband on the face of the Earth, loving me through all my foibles, even making me feel good about getting our kitchen remodel, um, started–had just asked me moments before the fiasco what I wanted for Christmas, so it looks like Santa is going to have to fit more paint, a new stove and range hood on that sleigh. Sigh.


What did those of you in the “West” group make this week as your SOLE meals?

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