I realize that I’m a month or two late for the PUMPKIN-EVERYTHING craze that annually arrives in September, but I finally gathered the time, the initiative, and the pumpkins to try my hand at making my own pumpkin puree. I’ve always been a big fan of Libby’s, but I’m pretty pleased with both the results and the ease of making this myself. Right after Halloween, it’s easy to find pumpkins for just a couple dollars, so it’s a great time of year to stock up for all your coming holiday desserts, as it freezes wonderfully.
And it’s sooooo easy. I urge you to give it a try for your own pumpkin recipes this year! Here’s how it’s done:
1. Select 1-2 small-ish pumpkins, or as many as you want to make in one batch. You can definitely puree pumpkins of any size, but they flavor and texture will be better from smaller pumpkins. These are often sold as “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins”.
On our brief trip to California a couple weeks ago, I had a few goals: relax, spend a day in Disneyland, and visit a local farmers market to buy come citrus. I am pleased to say that I achieved all of the above. The following weekend I spent the majority of my time in the kitchen getting to know citrus in way I never really have before. Aside from acidifying canned goods, or zesting the occasional lemon cookie, I’ve never really thought about citrus as an ingredient before. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of lemonade, orange juice, and grapefruit halves, but when I found myself pondering the best way to use five pounds of lemons, I had no idea where to start.
It only took a few minutes of consulting my favorite cookbooks and cookblogs to see the overwhelming consensus: lemon curd seemed to be square one for entry into the lemon-y baking world.
And to be honest, I had NO idea what lemon curd was. I couldn’t recall tasting it, though in hindsight I now realize that almost every lemon-y dessert I’d had probably used lemon curd as a base. Lemon curd, it turns out, is the happy marriage of lemons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Somewhere between the consistency of a jam and a pudding, curd can be made with any combination of citrus, though lemon seems to be the most popular.
Ginger has never really been something I’ve thought about very much. Occasionally, my dad would add some ground ginger to stir fry, or I’d use some in fall desserts. But the farmers near Durham have been showcasing mounds of baby ginger at their tables for the last few weeks, and my curiosity about this knobby little root grew with each table I passed.
And with fortuitous timing, I came across this recipe for ginger apple chutney. Combined with apples & onions, also plentiful at local markets, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to buy a chunk of ginger. The recipe wasn’t written as one for canning, but I suspected the acid content would be high enough for canning and checked with a deft canning blogger to be sure.
Landing in North Carolina, and dragging luggage out of the airport in the peak of summer, is always rather shocking after several days in the cool, dry air of southwest Colorado. Sure, my hometown is hot during the day at this time of year too, but no matter what temperature the mercury hits while the sun is up, the air cools each night jeans-and-sweatshirt weather.
Every trip to Colorado seems too short, but sometimes, I get to bring little tastes of home back with me. And this time, it’s some tasty homemade jerky!
I brought home about 45 pounds of them and have hardly mentioned them since?
Yeah, those apples.
I’ll be honest, my favorite way to eat apples is whole and raw, so I don’t actually use them in many “recipes”. But I decided this year that, in order to ensure none went to waste, I would cook some down to make something I could use as a breakfast, a snack, a side, or a gift: applesauce!
And now, for something completely out of the blue, a fresh berry jam.
No, I’m not so far behind that I’m posting recipes I made this summer.
Seriously. I went to the farmers market last week, and nestled between the butternut squash and dark, leafy greens sat some of the most fabulous raspberries I have ever seen.
I talked a lot about strawberries when I started this blog, just as they were ripening here. One might assume from so much strawberry talk that they held the highest honor in my berry kingdom.
Be still, my heart.
Luscious, tart, and totally worth the seeds that will get stuck in your teeth.
There is little to complain about with the North Carolina growing season. It’s long, it allows for multiple plantings of cool weather plants, and an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables grow here quite happily. But I have been stymied ALL SUMMER, waiting for baskets of brilliant red raspberries that would never arrive.
Until November, apparently.
Grown under passive tunnels that gather warmth without requiring electricity (as greenhouses typically do), these gorgeous gems of fruit are coming into their own when most other berries have long since disappeared from the market stands.
Remember the giant whole pickles? I used to buy them in elementary school in the snack line at recess, plucked straight from a vat of brine by the school cook and deftly wrapped in a flimsy paper napkin. Only fifty cents! Add to that a Sunny D or a zebra cake. Then to the tire swings!!
Those were the days. Minus kids making fun of my glasses and my last name.
I’ve always known that pickles are a relatively easy canning project, but I had never actually made them until last weekend. This particular method is easier than I could have possibly imagined.
The berries have been picked, sliced, sugared, and cooked. Each jar has announced with a satisfying little pop! of the lid that it is sealed and ready to be stored until it is opened, its contents slathered onto someone’s breakfast. Maybe mine, maybe yours.
The final step in my eight-flavor experiment in strawberry jam (who knew there was so much variety?) was definitely the most relaxing: the tasting! Sampling each variety was hugely important, you see. I mean, how else could I tell you which ones worked and which ones didn’t? Trust me, there was no other reason to open so many jars of jam at one time.
I made a date of it. Made some biscuits, sat on the balcony, even grabbed a notepad to record my initial reactions to each jar. It was fancy. I may or may not have pretended I was a snooty judge on a Food Network show.
Soooooo, twenty-0ne pounds of strawberries. Now what?
I wish you could have seen the faces of other customers entering the strawberry field as I was attempting to tote these boxes out. Most of them looked at me with a bizarre look of pity. Like I’d gone off the deep end. And/or had a serious strawberry addiction.
In case you’re just now tuning in, I spent the early hours of sunshine last Saturday picking strawberries to transform into jam, and after arriving home with my loot, it was time to start preserving.
Freezing Fresh Berries
While most would agree that berries are best when eaten fresh & ripe, they also freeze really well. In my stubborn attempt to avoid purchasing produce when it is incredibly out of season, freezing berries opens up many possibilities to enjoy fruit when it’s snowy (or, in my current location, semi-cold and gray). Berries can be frozen in a syrup or juice, but I prefer to freeze them whole.
What You Need
cookie sheets (make sure they fit in your freezer… trust me on this one and test the space with an empty sheet before you start)
berries (if you don’t have those, you’re doing the wrooooong project)
It’s pretty straight forward. Sort through your berries and find the beauty queens. Freezing berries with soft spots isn’t the best idea, so find the nicest, firmest, most beautiful berries in the bunch. Wash them, pop off their tops and if you can, pop out the hull (the white firm spot right beneath the green leaves). Arrange them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper so that they aren’t touching. Then freeze ’em!
I froze one sheet for about three hours and another tray for twenty-four, so I’ll keep you posted about any difference between them when I actually use them on some dreary winter day in the future. Why did I not just freeze them in their container and skip the teetering tray of berries step? This way, I will be able to pull out exactly the number of berries I want rather than one giant clump of them fused together. Just planning ahead. For smoothies. Who needs ice when you have frozen strawberries?
Strawberry jam: the first recipe in food preservation cookbooks, the poster child for all things homemade, and glistening ruby red in quilted glass jars and wrapped with a ribbon of twine.
And you can make it with tools you probably have in your kitchen already.
Now, baskets of still-earthy vegetables from the farmer’s market seem to provide the standard imagery for the local food movement, but my goal is to eat as locally as possible all year long, which involves learning how to preserve food when it is plentiful to get through months when it is not. And while jam is not the most necessary of foods, it is a great starting point if you want to learn to can. Which I do.
I’m sure you can tell where this is going: I made some jam! Okay; I made a lot of jam. So let’s rewind from this spoonful of crimson goodness, and I’ll tell you all about it.
A key ingredient of strawberry jam, as you might imagine, is a hefty amount of fresh strawberries. You can go about procuring these berries however you want, but I chose to find a local farm where I could pick them myself.
The premise of a pick-your-own farm, or a “u-pick”, as they are commonly called, is simple: a grower plants their crop, then instead of harvesting it and selling it in turquoise paper baskets, they invite customers to the farm to pick it themselves at a much lower price. While most pick-your-owns also offer some pre-picked goods for sale at the farm stand, the labor burden is significantly reduced since the majority of harvesting is done by the customers themselves. They get free labor, you get a good price on berries, it’s a pretty sweet deal.