Sunday, August 26, 2012

Asian Pears, a Dritz Sewing Basket & other treasures

Yesterday morning it was off to the Farmers Market.  I have to say that the Saturday morning routine is one of my favorite ones.  I was on the hunt for whatever the newest fruit was, but also planned to pick up some hot peppers to make Pepper Jelly for our friend, Mike.  I'm not sure if he puts it on cream cheese & then crackers, but I know that he loves it.  I'd make pickled vegetables the week before & used some beautiful hot, red peppers in it, so I was headed back to the same vendor.  I've developed a pleasant customer relationship with this man since he's my source for beautiful tomatoes.  From him I've purchased & canned Grenardo, San Marzano & Monica tomatoes.  This week I picked up "Joe's" & the hot peppers.  I purchased some pears from my plum farmer (Roundhill Orchard in Southampton, MA) & after buying some yummy morning scones/brioche & I went over to Hamilton Orchard.  They had raspberries, but I wasn't really too interested in them.  They had a small, crabapple-sized fruit & I had to ask.  These were local Asian Pears.  I think I'd seen larger, commercially-produced fruit in the supermarket, but wasn't sure what I could do with these gems.  My morning pal, DS, told me that they were considered a cross between an apple & a pear & I should,"go for it" ... I purchsed about 4 pounds & brought them home.  I hunted online for directions on how I could jam/jelly/conserve this fruit, but there wasn't much out there.  Finally I found a recipe that I adjusted as follows: 
Asian Pear Jelly
Quarter the fruit & place in heavy pot with about 1/4 as much water.  Start on low heat, but stir frequently so that it doesn't stick.  As the fruit starts to soften add more water.  Boil until fruit is mushy.  I probably shouldn't have, but I did use my potato masher to gently break it up.  While the fruit was cooking I took 4 layers of tea towel & wet it with boiling water.  I placed the towel inside of my colander & the colander inside of a large Tupperware cake carrier lid &  poured the mushy fruit into it.  I placed the lid from the pan over the fruit & let it drain (without squeezing) until it cooled enough to place the entire parcel in the fridge.  I let the fruit drip overnight.
This morning I measured 4 cups of juice & checked my Certo insert for what percentage of sugar to use (there's no Asian Pear Jelly on the Certo insert, so I was just looking for approximates).  I used 7 cups of white sugar & brought the juice, sugar & 1/2 tsp of butter to a boil.  I added the liquid Certo, kept stirring for 1 minute & ladeled into my jars.  I processed the jars in a water bath for 5 minutes. The yield was 8.5 half pints of jelly.  The fruit juice had looked cloudy to begin with, but with the sugar after cooking it was a clear, light amber.  
On my way back from the Farmers Market I saw that St. Francis of Assisi was having their annual church sale on the Belchertown Town Common.  Here's a disclaimer - I'm not good at flea markets, tag sales, estate sales, etc. because I have the attitude that if it's being sold, I want it & I think the price is fair I'm not going to negotiate price.  The St. Francis of Assisi sale didn't allow any haggling, but had several tents & once I figured out that the items were sorted I had quite a good time.  I picked up a beautiful teal Dritz Sewing basket in new condition.  I don't think that a spool of thread was ever put inside of it. I also bought some crocheted edging pamphlets that I think I'll send to my friend, Gill.  I found some children's books bundled into baggies for .50 that Emily can use for her classroom library.  My favorite item was a beautiful tablecloth that I'm going to use on my table if I decide to sell jam at some point.
Today we went to our youngest daughter's first soccer game.  They lost 6:0, but we saw a little more hustle than last year.  On the way back we stopped at the Hadley Flea Market.  Please remember the earlier disclaimer -- well ~ I saw a framed print that matches some of the other hand-tinted photographs that I have.  It was fairly inexpensive & I negotiated $1 less.  Not great, but a good start.  I then saw a container full of sewing items.  I mean FULL - seam bindings, threads, etc.  I was almost drooling --- I had been teased so much by my husband & daughter about my savvy negotiating skills that this time I was going to show them.  I asked how much, offered him 1/2 & then he came back up.  I told him that I didn't want the container, only the contents & he thought a bit.  I took another look at the container & reconsidered my position - I brought the price midway between what he wanted & what I had originally offered & a deal was made.  The box has a sticker on it, so I'm going to do a little research.  Wouldn't it be funny if the box was worth more than the inside bits & baubles that I'd been after?  How was your weekend?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Vacation - Day 1 - Peaches, Peaches & Beets

Today is (according to the calendar at work) the 1st day of my summer vacation.  Well - almost.  I'm actually going in to the office for 1/2 day on Wednesday & 1/2 day on Thursday.  I have meetings that I don't want to miss & there's follow-up after a big meeting on Tuesday that needs to be done.  Yes - someone else could do it, but I'd rather go in & take care of it.
So - summer vacation day # 1 - how did I spend it?  Yesterday - (like most summer Saturdays) started with a trip to the Farmers Market.  I picked up DS & off we went - chatting as fast as we could & then taking in the smells & sights of the market.  I knew that we were having about 20 people at our house for the afternoon & evening & I was drawn to more veggies than usual.  I wanted to have fresh vegetables & dip, a big green salad with a beautiful buttermilk dressing (recipe from Yankee magazine & David pronounced it "his favorite" when he finally had salad today for lunch), a fresh tomato salad to highlight the amazing heirloom tomatoes available & next to 2 loaves of fabulous soudough-base bread.  The main course was pizza, but I wanted to have the healthy stuff on the table, too.  I had made a Georgia Special cake (late birthday cake per David's request), but worried that I'd need a 2nd dessert.  Stay tuned for the 2nd dessert details (it's in the title & isn't beets).
On the way home (after leaving my beet greens for the chickens & admiring 5 fabulous new puppies) I stopped by the orchard run by UMass in Belchertown.  The sign said it opened at 10 & I was there at 9:45, but there were plenty of cars coming & going & I went in a few minutes early.  The orchard store opens on August 1st, but we've had such a hot weather that the fruit is coming in quickly.  Right now it's peaches, peaches, peaches.  They had freestone peaches available (which are so much easier to use for jams, etc).  I purchased a good size box of 2nds for $16.  For my purposes they were just fine.  I made a peach cobbler for the 2nd dessert.  My Alabama sister-in-law & Texas son-in-law were quite happy with the results.  I don't eat peaches at all so I can't say if it was good, but there's not much left.
My stepdaughter has been here this week for visit before she moves to Utah.  She asked if I'd teach her to make jam.  I was up earlier than her so made a quick batch of peach jam to start the day (8 jars on the counter).  She loves berries & I'd frozen blackberries when they were in season so that's what she made (8 jars on the counter), after she finished I was still looking at a lot of peaches so I made spiced peach jam (8 1/2 jars), & then saw that I had some local blueberries in the freezer to made blueberry peach jam [see recipe below] (8 1/2 jars).  At this point - I wanted to use up the peaches, but didn't feel like making any more jam - 2 quarts of canned peaches added to the counter.  The peaches have officially been used up.  I picked up beets at the market yesterday & wanted to get them put up ~ 4 pounds of beets yielded 2 quarts using the recipe from the last time.  I still have Fortune plums & a box of tomatoes to put up but that will be on day 2 of my vacation ;-)

Grandma's Blueberry Peach Jam Recipe - Blueberries and peaches with a hint of cinnamon - Delicious! You might want to make an extra batch for gift giving.

3 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh peach slices
1 package fruit pectin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
7 cups sugar

Crush berries
[note:  I was using frozen blues & did not crush - kd] and put in a medium saucepan. Cut the peach slices into pieces and grind in a food processor or food mill [note:  I did not grind up peaches – kd]; add to the berries. [note:  I added the cinnamon, sugar & ½ t butter at this point] Mix fruit pectin and cinnamon into the fruit mixture and cook over high heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly. [note: I had added the cinnamon to the fruit & sugar & processed as I normally do using Certo – added after the mixture came to a full boil & cooking for 1 minute – kd]

Add sugar all at once, bring to a full boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim and stir to remove foam. Ladle into hot jars and seal.
[See above – kd]

Yield:  8 half pints & 1 quarter pint

Correction to my previous blog entry - they are not elephant EAR plums - they are elephant HEART plums.  All of my jars are labeled wrong & I'm not correcting them.
We cleaned up the house post-party, did 4 loads of laundry, ate some leftover tomato salad & helped unpack a new TV since it's tax-free weekend in Massachusetts.  This doesn't feel like much of a vacation. 
I've got plans to go to several scrapbook stores on Tuesday with Mary C. & I'm taking a class that night.  Right now it's looking to be the highlight of my week ~

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pickled Beets - Red Velvet Cupcake Honey Jelly & a Mermaid

  This is a photo of the pickled beets that I've just finished.  Wondering about the colors?  I bought beautiful organic beets & when they were cooked & peeled the inside was variegated.  The recipe was interesting as it was different from my usual one.  I wanted to can these beets & my regular recipe has jars of beets in the refrigerator.  I bought 3 pounds of beets & the yield was 1 quart & 2 points.  Here's the recipe I used:

  • 5 1/3 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 12 pounds beets, peeled and sliced
  • 6 1-quart canning jars with lids and rings


  1. In a large pot, mix the white vinegar, sugar, water, cinnamon, salt, and cloves together; bring the mixture to a boil, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the beets, and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Sterilize the jars, lids, and rings in boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, pack the sliced beets into the hot, sterilized jars, and pour in the beet liquid to fill the jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Run a sterilized knife or a thin spatula around the insides of the jars after they have been filled to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars with a moist paper towel to remove any food residue. Top with lids, and screw on rings.
  3. Place a rack in the bottom of a large stockpot and fill halfway with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then carefully lower the jars into the pot using a holder. Leave a 2 inch space between the jars. Pour in more boiling water if necessary until the water level is at least 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a full boil, cover the pot, and process for 30 minutes. Add more time if you are at high altitude.
  4. Remove the jars from the stockpot and place onto a cloth-covered or wood surface, several inches apart, until cool. Once cool, press the top of each lid with a finger, ensuring that the seal is tight (lid does not move up or down at all). Store in a cool, dark area.

I changed up this recipe a bit & here's my variation ~ I bought 3 pounds of beets (instead of 12) as they fit perfectly in my pressure cooker.  Did you notice that the recipe doesn't have you cook the beets in a pressure cooker?  I like my beets cooked holding as many nutrients in as possible.  By cooking them via my preferred method I can then easily peel them (you cook with the skins on) by wearing rubber gloves & rubbing the beet skins off.  I noticed that the recipe called for cooking the beets in the pickling liquid.  Since I was changing how the beets & liquid came together I substituted 1 cup of the beet liquid from the pressure cooker for the water.  [I divided the recipe by 4 based on the amount of beets I had].  The pickling liquid was exactly the right amount & 1 quart & 2 pints was ok as a yield for me.

I also wanted to try making a jam with wine & honey based on a recipe that I found.  I bought Cupcake wine at the store & loved the variety - Red Velvet.  When I found local honey I purchased a 32 ounce (2 pound) jar.  It measured out to 3 cups exactly.   Since the recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of honey (with 2 cups of wine) I had to buy a smaller jar of honey, too.  The jelly is lovely.

My sweet husband agreed to try jam if I could make it in a coffee cake.  He'd seen breakfast danish in the store at almost $7.00 a box & knew that I could beat that price.  I made a coffee cake with Blueberry Jam.  Cross your fingers that this opens the door for him.  He doesn't eat jam - at all.  Ever.  Can you imagine?  I make jam every week of the summer & he has no interest.  He didn't grow up eating pb & j so he has no interest in trying it now. 

I'm also including a photo of a card that I made for my Tea Swap partner.
The criteria for this card was that it was to reflect "where you live".  I live next to a lovely Lake & decided that if rivers have sirens - our lake could have a mermaid.  I love this little redhead & hope that my swap partner likes her, too.  She's made with a Stampendous stamp that I colored with color pencils.  I'd taken a class in CT & she was one of the cards we made.  This is a fun class program as you get to bring home a stamp after each class.  Now I can make as many mermaids as I like.  Since we have an upcoming party & I want it to have a Pirate & Mermaid theme I think she'll be making a reappearance.
How was your weekend?  I worked on Friday so this is a short one for me.  Tomorrow it's back to a long day at work.