I was recently in Denver with my tennis team. We went to lunch at the Nordstrom Cafe to celebrate a win, which was a treat because we don’t have a Nordstrom in Fort Collins. I am not even a shopper, but walking into Nordstrom made me want to shop and eat. Someone ordered the tomato jam jar and I could not stop eating it. The tomatoes in my garden are peaking right now so a few days after I got back I set out to recreate it. It is so delicious and perfect for a summer appetizer if you have some ripe tomatoes for the jam. Continue reading
September is a month of change and shift. We all need to shift slightly to adjust to the changing season and schedule. There are more demands and less lounging. Sleep is always an issue in my house. I gave birth to three restless sleepers that have a hard time shutting it down and rising in the morning. Now that we are on day 18 it’s better. We are starting to get a groove on in school and at home. Continue reading
It’s another milestone in my quest to learn more about growing, making and preparing food. A couple of weeks ago, I tackled fresh dill pickles that do not require heating and sealing jars. These are simple enough so that Ella took the lead on this recipe. In addition to the quick refrigerator pickles, on Wednesday, I got together with the village and we canned pickles all morning. The whole canning thing was very intimidating for me perhaps because I did not grow up with it, but my virgin canning experience was actually quite easy most likely because I had some experienced teachers. It motivated me to get some more days on the calendar that will be dedicated to saving my little backyard harvest and beautiful finds at the farmers’ market, like amazing Colorado peaches.
- 2-3 pickling cucumbers or as many as you can fit in the jar
- 5 sprigs of fresh dill
- 2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
- 4 Tbsp white distilled vinegar
- 3/4 Tbsp kosher salt
- Water to top off
- 20 black peppercorns, optional
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- Jalapeño pepper sliced, optional (for more spice)
- Cut cucumbers to your preference (discs, spears, or sandwich slices) and add to the jar with all ingredients except the water. Once everything is in the jar, fill to the very top with distilled or filtered water and screw lid on very tightly. Shake the jar up to distribute flavors and leave on your countertop for 12 hours. Shake again and turn upside down for another 12 hours, making sure the lid is screwed on tightly to avoid leakage. These pickles are best to eat after 24 hours. Make sure to store in the refrigerator.
- Don't be afraid to experiment with amounts. The above is a guideline that you can adjust to your taste and desired spiciness.
If you have tons of cucumbers and want to enjoy your pickles for the year to come, it is time to can them. For all the newbies to canning like me with no mom or grandmother to reference you are going to need to buy or borrow a few important tools.
I link to Amazon for all the tools so you can get a quick look at cost and description. I want to stress that though I know how easy it is to order from Amazon, please SUPPORT your local shops when at all possible.
Here are some tips most of which I learned on Wednesday. I referenced the tips below from from the Old Farmer’s Almanac so that I would not miss anything:
- Produce must be fresh when pickled. Avoid using waxed supermarket produce.
- Select the most uniform, unspoiled produce.
- Scrub food well.
- Be sure to remove and discard 1/4–inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Blossoms may contain an enzyme that causes excessive softening of pickles.
- Use canning or pickling salt (not iodized table salt!). Pickling salt has no additives. Iodized salt makes the brine cloudy and may change the color and texture of the vegetables as well as possibly leave sediment at the bottom of the jars.
- For the best results, use white distilled or cider vinegars with 5 percent acidity. Use white vinegar when light color is desirable, as with fruits and cauliflower.
- For crisper pickles, put the vegetables (whole or sliced) into a wide bowl and spread a layer of pickling salt on top. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool place. Discard the liquid, then rinse and dry the vegetables before pickling or canning as usual. The salt helps to pull the moisture out of the vegetables and makes them crisper.
- Sterilize your empty jars. Do not use recycled commercial jars or old-style home-canning jars. They can break in the canning process.
- Use new jar lids for a tight seal. To avoid rust, screw bands should be removed from processed jars that are stored. They can be easily removed after the jars have cooled and sealed, and then reused.
- Always wipe the rim of the jar clean for a good seal after filling and just before putting the lid on.
- Process jars in a boiling-water canner for the correct amount of time (a canner is a large standard-size lidded kettle with a jar rack, designed for heat-processing 7 quart jars or 8 to 9 pint jars in boiling water).
- Label and date your jars and store them in a clean , cool, dark, dry place such as a pantry, cabinet, or basement. Don’t store in a warm spot!
- To allow pickles to mellow, wait at least 3 weeks before using.
My friend April put together a pickling spice that we used with the cucumbers. This recipe can be used in pickling different vegetables, not just pickles.
- 3 tbsp crushed bay leaves
- 3 tbsp fresh peppercorns
- 3 tbsp whole allspice
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 3 tbsp mustard seeds
- 3 tbsp juniper berries
- 1 tbsp whole cloves
- 1 tbsp dill seed
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- Combine all spices in jar and shake. Use anytime a mixed pickling spice is called for.
Once you have your desired pickling spice, you can start your pickling process.
- 4 pounds small cucumbers
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, for each jar
- 1 fresh sprig of dill for each jar
- 1 tbsp of mixed pickling spice
- 2 quarts vinegar (apple cider or white distilled )
- 1/2 cup pickling salt
- Slice, spear or leave cucumbers whole. Pack cucumbers into sterilized jars along with the garlic cloves, dill sprig, and mixed pickling spice. In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the vinegar and salt and boil for 5 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe dry the rims of the jars, then cap each with a lid and screw band. Prepare a boiling water bath and process the jars in it for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the bath and set them on a towel on the counter. They will “seal” (you will hear a pop) during the cooling-off process. Place any jars that do not seal properly in the refrigerator and use first.
- See the pictures below.
Finally, since this canning experience was my first please do not hesitate to leave a comment of any suggestions that will make the above process better or just different methods that are also proven or preferred.
Happy harvest, friends!
In my twentieth year I moved out west and, for the first time, paid my own rent and bought my own food. My roommate made me add steamed broccoli to my mac n’ cheese being that we were so poor and our nutrition was limited. I loved it and realized that if I could eat broccoli, I might be able to love lots of other foods that I would regularly reject. As a kid, our mother was super busy with six kids and did not enjoy cooking, which resulted in most of us kids having a very limited diet. After I got married, I started a garden, but if the cooking was elaborate Darren would step up to the challenge in our house. I loved the act of growing our own food when possible and that drove me to learn more about making food. Even now, I am a newbie at growing, cooking and preparing food, but I am determined to learn and pass on some helpful skills to my kids.
Thank goodness for my village. Once a week, through the late summer and fall, we get together to cook, learn from each other and try new things. This week my friend Kate took the lead in sharing her Frozen Fresh Peach Pie recipe. The western slope of Colorado grows amazing peaches. They start showing up at the farmers’ market in early August. Kate is originally from Missouri where pie is held in high esteem. She first made us a frozen fresh peach pie right before the Colorado peaches were in season. We were hooked and decided we all needed to have a taste of summer in the dead of winter.
The goal is to freeze these the fresh peach pie filling in a pie plate and have them ready to fill freshly made dough.
This is super easy. You will just have to perfect your crust for the perfect pie.
Serving size: One pie (Pictures are multiple servings. We froze 19 pies!)
1 quart peeled, pitted and sliced – roughly 4-5 large peaches
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bring large pot of boiling water to a boil. Score your peaches on round side and boil for 30 – 45 seconds. Cool in a bowl of ice water for a minute or so. Work the skin off the peaches with your hands. It should come off easily.
In a large bowl, cover the peach slices with the sugar and let them rest for about 30 minutes to develop juices. Add the flour and salt and mix well, making sure the peaches are well coated.
Line a pie plate with overlapping plastic wrap. The lining should extend five inches or so over the edge. Place the filling in the pie plate and loosely fold wrapping around the pie filling. Freeze until firm. When filling is frozen solid, remove from pan and wrap tightly with aluminum foil and/or freezer bags. Return to freezer until ready to use.
On pie baking day, simply pop the frozen pie filling into a pastry-lined pan, dot with the butter, and if you choose, sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Top pie with remaining pastry crust and seal well. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until juices begin to bubble through the crust. If you feel the pie is browning too fast, lower temperature to suit your oven, possibly to between 350 degrees and 375 degrees.
The above was the easy part. On baking day the challenge is to get the perfect pie crust. I use an all butter recipe from SmittenKitchen and Kate uses this recipe from Barefoot Contessa. She substituted the vegetable shortening in this recipe with real lard. Yes, lard. and instead of using a food processor she grated the butter and lard into the flour mixture. It was amazing.
Kate baked us a fresh pie so that we could taste the fruits of our labor.
Spring skies unleashed with decisiveness, pelting the earth with rain and hail. Spring turned to summer and it hailed again. Somehow our garden has survived.
We are in the heart of summer when the priorities are swimming, hiking, impromptu barbecues and less routine. We are settling in to our new space physically and mentally. There are STILL boxes and blank walls and rooms in transition. If I let it, it could send me over the edge, but I don’t care (mostly). I am happy with the prospect of our life in this house and thoroughly enjoying the now. For the first time ever in our 20 years of togetherness, Darren and I are in sync about a house and know that we will be here for a long time. We are spending our days in the yard. We are constantly weeding what feels like Jurassic Park and we play with the chickens.
Ella helped me plan and plant the garden this year. She dug in, suggesting veggies and herbs that she wanted and liked. We took trips to the nursery together and she stuck out the majority of the project. In past years both girls start out enthusiastic and dessert me at some point in the process for friends or play. This year was different for Ella and it connected us like nothing else has in a long time. We are always connected by the fact that she needs me. For the first time in a while, I feel her happiness in just being with me in the garden. It feels good.
Darren has been working a lot. He is putting in his time so we can take off on a road trip at the end of the month. Yesterday, he had off for the holiday and we got out of dodge for a bit and escaped up the Poudre Canyon for a family hike. We rejected the 75 requests to invite a friend or meet up with a friends and got away alone as a unit – just for a few hours.
Liam hiked like a big kid for the first time. I carried the empty kid carrier on my back and resisted the urge to hurry him along as he bent over every few feet to pick up a “golden rock” or observe one of the hundreds of little butterflies that were out and about. We didn’t make it very far. Darren and I exchanged knowing looks that communicated what we were both thinking. What happened to our days of power hiking? Isn’t it funny that we are here together almost 20 years later together and we are responsible for these three little lives? They are so painfully slow.
Lots of drama ensued after Liam fell backward off a little footbridge into an icy cold stream completely drenching himself. We made our way back as the storm clouds thickened and hoped our night of fireworks would not be wiped out by the weather.
We lucked out.
As I sat watched the short, beautiful display, I was thankful. I was thankful for freedom and family and friends. I was thankful for the now and my place in this world. I delighted in Liam’s shrieks, “That one was my favorite! That one was so awesome! ” He did not stop shouting about how cool it was the whole time and Darren and I looked at each other and smiled.
Juliet and her bestie, Charlie brightened up my afternoon with a little lunchtime theater. Charlie is always the lead, Jules is content to be the back up and Ella is the director, very at home behind the scenes delivering orders to her younger counterparts. Liam is still trying to find his place in this game. He hasn’t figured out his role yet, but he will.
Summer takes my job to the maximum and I am savoring it. I am a dictator, a democratic leader and a peacekeeper. I am a housekeeper, a cook and a chauffeur. I am a teacher, a coach and cheerleader. I am a personal shopper, a financier and a vacation planner. I am friend, an enemy and a negotiator. And, after 5 PM, I might be savoring our summer moments with a Moscow Mule or a glass of wine in my hand because we all need a little help multitasking.