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by Heather Harris Brady
My Aunt Blanche (actually my grandmother’s cousin but that’s neither here nor there) was in her mid-90’s when she passed away earlier this year. She was a small bubbly woman who married a tall quiet man from North Carolina. Whenever they would come for summer visits she was like the Energizer bunny, no matter how hot it was, she would still make her banana pudding and other delicious and strange (to us) things.
So in memory of Aunt Blanche I decided to attempt this apple butter, something I have always loved but never got around to trying. She made it in the slow-cooker, which is genius because it can cook down slowly while you go about your business. If you start it at breakfast it should be done by dinner.
I knew we would be eating this up right away, so I made it sugarfree, sweetened with nothing but the apple cider. You can run it through a foodmill or processor at the very end if you want it super-smooth like the kind you can buy in jars. I’m sure this same method would work for other soft fruits as well, like plums, pears and peaches.
Apple Butter, Makes about four cups
- 16 cups chopped apples, a mix of varieties is best
- 1-1/2 cups fresh apple cider
- 2 t. ground cinnamon
Put the chopped apples into the slow cooker and pour in the apple cider. Turn the slow cooker to high and put the lid on.
After two hours the house will smell amazing and you will have a lovely applesauce.
After four hours it will keep cooking down and getting darker. You can see how mine has reduced by over half, but that will depend on your slow cooker, they all seem to cook a little differently.
Stir in the cinnamon at six hours. After eight hours it should be really thick and dark. You should see very little liquid when you stir. I spooned it into a metal pan to cool it down quickly.
Store the apple butter in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within a week. A magical thing happens when apple butter meets homemade bread and butter, toasted or untoasted.
by Heather Harris Brady
Why would one candy their own citron when it is so readily available in those little plastic tubs? Well young grasshopper, simply because it was there. I feel a fruitcake coming on and out of the blue I saw this in the tropical fruit bin at my local grocery:
I’ve never seen one in the flesh before (pardon the pun) so I quickly put it in the cart before someone else could grab it. Not that anyone would, probably, because – well, it’s just so odd-looking. It is, in fact, a Buddha’s Hand citron that chance brought to my little corner of the world.
If you’re close enough to smell it at all, it has an amazing citrus aroma. Not at all sweet, just pure citrus. It was kind of astringent raw (likely underripe) but perfect for candying. If you’ve got a lot going on, just do the cooking in a crockpot instead of on the stove, increasing the time to 4-5 hours on low.
Candied Citron, Makes about 8-10 oz.
One largish Buddha’s Hand citron
2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
1 t. cider vinegar
Granulated sugar for coating
Slice up the fruit into small dice.
Set it aside and combine the water, sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil and add the citron pieces.
Cook until all the pieces are transparent and the syrup is thick (about 2-1/2 hours).
Spread the countertop thickly with granulated sugar. Drop small spoonfuls of citron pieces on the sugar and tease them apart with forks (or use silicone gloves).
Make sure each piece gets evenly coated with sugar. Cool completely and when they are dry to the touch store in an airtight container until ready to use. You can use it as you would any other candied fruit.
One year ago: Swedish Visiting Cake
by Heather Harris Brady
Given that I am drawn to long, labor-intensive projects (writing books, art, raising kids, etc.) I guess my charcuterie fascination isn’t really a surprise. However, I haven’t had the opportunity to indulge it – until now, when I found a fresh pork shoulder waiting innocently in the meat case at my usual grocery.
Full disclosure, the photo above isn’t my finished project (it’s from here) because my project won’t be finished for at least a month, maybe longer. But it’s the goal, where I hope to end up. But if you would like to set out a homemade charcuterie platter for the holidays too you’re going to have to start now.
This my blend of seasonings, feel free to substitute. You can’t reduce the salt though, that’s your preservative!
Dry Cured Pork Shoulder
One pork shoulder (6-8 lbs.)
1 c. kosher salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 t. garlic powder
1 t. cajun seasoning
1 t. paprika
1 t. black pepper
1 t. ground sage
Combine all the seasonings in a bowl.
Remove the wrap from the pork and wash it with cold water.
Put it on a cookie sheet and massage the rub into it, covering every bit of it.
Slide it into a ziplock bag and return it to the refrigerator. We’ll check on it in a week!
One year ago: Fresh Cranberry Toasts (Thanksgiving Appetizer)
by Heather Harris Brady
Okay, so now we have our pretty little lavender sachet all ready to go. We’re ready to jam!
This is a freezer jam, if your freezer’s anything like mine you’ll need to plan accordingly. Freezer jam can make you feel like a rock star. It’s super easy and it keeps the great flavor of bright, fresh fruit. If you put the finished jam into the little one cup containers or jars it would make a beautiful hostess or holiday gift. I have to apologize in advance for these photos, it was REALLY late by the time I got making jam. Dusk is not my friend when it comes to blogging. . .
Blueberry Lavender Jam, Makes about four cups
3 c. fresh blueberries, washed and picked over
1 c. water
1 box of low-sugar pectin
2-1/2 c. sugar
One lavender sachet (see previous post)
Wash your jam containers in hot, soapy water and dry them thoroughly.
Bring the cup of water to a brisk boil and put in the lavender sachet. Let it steep for 15-20 minutes. The water will take on a rosy-lavender color. While you are waiting chop the blueberries in a food processor. We’re not going for a puree here, just a rough chop. Pour them into a large bowl.
Pour the lavender tea into a saucepan. Combine the sugar and pectin in a separate bowl, then stir it into the water. Bring it to a boil and boil for one minute.
Pour the pectin mixture into the blueberries and stir for one minute.
Make sure you mix from the bottom to the top, to spread the sugar and pectin all the way through. Ladle the jam into the containers and when it has cooled a bit, put on the covers.
They need to sit out on your counter for 24 hours. Usually the jam will start firming up in four-five hours. Put the finished jam in the freezer until ready to use on hot, buttered biscuits. Every once in a while your jam won’t get as firm as you like, typically it happens to me with peach for some reason. But all is not lost, it still makes a great sauce for pancakes or ice cream!
by Heather Harris-Brady
Although you can expect to pay gourmet prices at the store for a jar of blueberry lavender jam, it’s easy to make your own. While you can totally buy dried lavender buds, in part one here I’m going to take you through the process of drying your own herbs in the microwave and making an herb sachet. In part two we’ll get to the jam.
I used to dry herbs in brown paper bags but now I do them all in the microwave. It’s super fast and easy. I grow lots of different herbs in our yard as part of the landscaping, but this time of year you can find them at the farmer’s market or grocery store if you don’t grow your own. If you are using lavender, you should pick it while the flowers are still in the bud stage. Most of the other herbs tend to be leaves (basil, thyme, sage, etc.).
Drying Fresh Herbs
Wash the herbs and lay them out in a single layer to dry on a paper towel. When they are completely dry put the towel on a microwave-safe plate and microwave it on high for one-two minutes.
Take them out and test them. The branches should be completely dry and crispy. The buds will snap right off if you brush them. If yours haven’t reached this point, just put them back in for another minute. Mine sometimes dry unevenly and I will end up putting some of them back in. If you are using the leafy herbs you will be separating the leaves from the stalks.
There you have it! A clean, dry pile of fresh lavender buds. Store your fresh dried herbs in an airtight container until you’re ready for them.
Making a Sachet
I use organic plain muslin for teabags and sachets. A very thin old (clean) handkerchief would work too. Even if your sewing skills leave something to be desired it doesn’t really matter because over time these are going to get stained anyway.
You can make them any size you like. For soups and larger pots you may want to make bigger ones, but here I’m just making a small one out of a 7″ circle. Hem it all around the outside so the muslin doesn’t fray.
To use it, put your herbs in the center of the circle and bundle the edges up.
Tie with a length of kitchen twine, leaving a long tail to help you fish it out later on.
While you can certainly add a drawstring, I like this method because they open completely flat and are easy to clean. For the jam in the next post we’ll be using a sachet with 2 T. of dried lavender buds.
One Year Ago: Everyday Oatmeal Chip Cookies
At some point, maybe now when the late varieties start showing up, you’ll wipe the juice from your chin and realize time is running out. In just a few short days you’ll be staring down a whole ‘nother year before you’ll have local strawberries again. No need to panic, just grab the freezer bags.
A lot of you are probably old hands at this but this blog is also for my young friends just starting out, so if this is old news I promise another strawberry dessert next post.
My grandmother had a little metal pincher to cut/pulled the green top off each berry. They’re probably still around but I haven’t seen one in years. Later on I learned another way to clean strawberries from The Joy of Cooking. The Rombauers promised that if you took the time to core them they would taste better. I agree.
Carefully pour your berries into a colander and swish them repeatedly under cold water. I let them dry a bit at this point.
Then insert a short, sharp paring knife at a 45-degree-ish angle under the green leaves. Turn the knife in a circle to core the berry. It feels a little funny the first time, but after you get it down it will go just as fast or faster as cutting the tops off. Plus, you keep as much of the berry intact as possible.
One more note, I never refrigerate fresh, cleaned strawberries because I think it kills the flavor. I just make sure to use them up quickly. I do, from time to time, refrigerate sliced and sugared berries – but only for as short a period as possible.
After your berries are clean you have to decide how you want to freeze them. For long-term storage I like the sliced-berry method because they resist getting dry and crystallized.
Whole Berries: Line cookie sheets with waxed paper. Spread the berries out in a single layer. When the berries are frozen solid put them in bags, remove as much air as possible, and freeze.
Sliced Berries: Slice and/or quarter the berries as desired. Mix the berries with some sugar, using about 1/3 c. sugar per quart of berries.
When the berries have accumulated a little juice, put two cups in each quart-size freezer bag. Press them out into an even thin layer, removing as much air as possible, and seal.
Lay them flat in your freezer until solid, and store.
We’ll be using some frozen berries later on in recipes, but if you want to use them earlier you can thaw them in cold water or just leave them out on the counter
by Heather Harris-Brady
Since it’s getting to be salad time I thought I would post these little nibbles. You could also put them out with drinks, as part of a cheese course or as a dessert garnish. But they also make an interesting addition to salads, with goat cheese and chopped nuts. Plus, you’re making use of something you’d usually just compost!
Candied Grapefruit Peel, Makes about 2 cups
Peel (in long strips) from two medium grapefruit
1/2 c. water
1/2 t. vinegar
1 c. granulated sugar
Superfine sugar for final rolling
Take your strips of peel and remove as much of the white pith as you can. Then cut it into 1/8″ or 1/4″ wide strips.
Put it in a saucepan and cover it with water. Boil for five minutes.
Drain and repeat. This removes the bitterness from the peel.
Drain once more. Bring the 1/2 c. water, vinegar and 1 c. sugar to a boil. Add the peel and cook until the syrup reaches the soft ball stage (about 235 degrees on a candy thermometer).
While the syrup is cooking prepare a work surface (marble is ideal but a countertop will work). Cover it with parchment or foil and spread it heavily with superfine sugar. When the peel reaches 235 spoon it out onto the superfine sugar.
Working quickly, spread it out so the pieces are in one layer. Roll them in the sugar until they are completely coated. When they are cool, store in an airtight tin. You can roll them in more sugar before using them if they aren’t as white and crystally as you would like.
When I was a kid on the farm the hot, humid August days became even steamier with the sterilizing of jars and the canner going full blast through multiple shifts a day. Even the freezer items needed blanching so clouds of steam billowed continuously. My grandma and any helpers pressed into service battled to control the bounty of the garden and pack it into submission – green beans, zucchini, sweet corn and most of all, tomatoes. Bushel after bushel of tomatoes lined up on the back porch. These weren’t the pretty slicers from earlier in the summer. Instead these were burly linebackers that had fought toe to toe with storms and tomato worms all summer and had the scars to prove it. A few renegades showing tinges of green and orange stood along windowsills and steps to sunbathe until they were deemed worthy.
Some days it was hard to tell who won out,own as the kitchen battlefield was spattered a rich red. The thick air hung heavy with redolent tomato. However, the jars told the story, the women had again prevailed. Standing neatly in rows at attention on clean dish towels, caps shining, they waited for my morning inspection. One by one, little fingers tested the magic center button. Any telltale click and it was straight to the fridge. Those passing the test were dispatched to the musty, dark, cobwebby reaches of the cellar.
So luxurious now, so commonplace then, to sit barefoot as the smell of fresh cut grass drifted in, hedonistically packing away warm tomato slices and sweet corn kernels that popped at first bite. I’m happy to say that I still enjoy a bounty of tomatoes, in my own small way. I do not, however, can. I don’t have the equipment. So I’ve adapted my own method that I call flash canning. I scale down the recipes and instead of canning them, I put them in more temporary storage containers in the no man’s land at the back of the fridge. I let them age for a few months to blend the flavors, and then I move them to the front one by one until they’re gone.
Recently, when I had a backlog of tomatoes and a few leftover peaches, I made this batch of Sweet & Sour Fruit Relish. Since I often make Indian curries during the cold months, I added some fresh ground spices and fresh ginger so we can have this on the side. These fruit relishes are also great with plain roast chicken and grilled salmon.
Sweet & Sour Fruit Relish Recipe
Four cups chopped fresh tomatoes
Two large fresh peaches, peeled and diced
Three large fresh apples (I used some terrific Ginger Golds from Bardenhagens)
3/4 c. diced onion
1 T. fresh ground ginger
1 T. minced garlic
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. currants
1 c. apple cider vinegar
3 t. fresh ground spices (I used cardamon, allspice and coriander)
We love Indian food, so I chose compatible spices and ground them fresh. I don’t necessarily believe you need a lot of fancy kitchen equipment, but I do love the spice grinder! I store my whole spices in a dark cupboard, inside these little craft containers.
Combine all the ingredients in a large heavy pan. You can also use a crockpot if you don’t have time to watch it.
Stir occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Simmer on low heat for about two hours on a conventional stove or four-six hours in a crock pot. When the mixture has cooked down and thickened, spoon it into containers. I let it cool slightly and then put the tops on before storing in the back of the refrigerator.
Makes about five cups.
I used one large container and three small ones. The smaller ones are nice for hostess gifts.
My husband has been making a concerted effort to limit his intake of sugar, but it is amazing how much sugar is hidden in condiments. It is equally amazing how much it can cost to purchase sugarfree versions! So, because I had some beautiful tomatoes from my aunt’s Amazonian tomato patch, I made him a batch of sugarfree ketchup based on a recipe in my trusty 1940’s Farm Journal Canning & Preserving cookbook.
Back in the day there were as many types of ketchups as there were varieties of fruit available. They all follow the same principle: wash and dice your fruit, cook it down with some initial seasoning (usually onion), puree, add more seasoning and cook to a desired thickness. I’ve followed the same basic process here. In cooking school we often used large carrots for sweetness as opposed to adding sugar, so I’ve added in a carrot here.
Sugar Free Tomato Ketchup
12-14 red ripe in-season tomatoes, a mix of varieties is great
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped (I’m using this in place of the refined sugar)
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. allspice
1/2 t. garlic powder
Gorgeous tomatoes (a dozen or so), check.
Wash and chop the tomatoes into a large pot along with the onion and carrot. I left the skins on the tomatoes but you could remove them if you like.
Cook down until all the vegetables are very soft. Then puree, I used my immersion blender and pureed right in the pot itself.
(Sorry for the blurry photo – it’s the steam!). Add the additional spices and cook down until it’s at your desired thickness.
This recipe makes about 3-1/2 cups of ketchup. I kept some out for the refrigerator and packed the rest into small plastic containers to freeze for future use. So I have about three commercial bottles worth of sugarfree ketchup (which usually sell for over $5 per bottle) for less than a $1.00 in ingredients since my tomatoes were free!
My sugarfree ketchup, fulfilling its destiny!