Strawberry-Peach-Lemon Jam

I just got back from a week in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  My parents, one of my brothers and I all stayed at my grandma’s house and cooked a lot of pretty amazing food, so I have a several recipes I’ll be sharing this week as I get the time to write them up.

grandma
my grandma Molly in high school, in 1936. she’s the first one on the left, front row.

First up: this strawberry-peach-lemon jam.  It turned out really nice, with a gorgeous color, a good set and texture and lovely complex flavor.  (But… It’s also a bit of an abomination, since I used a bunch of sketchy fruit from a tiny local grocery store right down the road from us: conventionally grown, underripe, out of season peaches, some mediocre strawberries and a lemon to try and add some flavor.)  I’ve deemed it totally acceptable to break the usual rules about local fruit in our situation, when you’re staying at a house with several family members who all know how to make and can preserves, somehow there’s no jam in the house and all the local fruit is out of season.  The decisive moment was when I found an open jar of smucker’s strawberry jam in the fridge.  I don’t know who in my family bought that, but SHAME! strawberry-peach-lemon jamRecently, I’ve been trying to make really simple preserves, with just one kind of fruit, sugar and sometimes lemon juice.  I’m kind of obsessed with finding the best-of-the-best-most-delicious-you’ve-ever-tasted apricots/blackberries/whatever and doing the bare minimum that I need to do to get them into jars. Whoever grew the fruit is really doing most of the complicated work.  As far as my part goes, tracking down the perfect fruit is actually way more complicated than getting it into jars.

With boring grocery store fruit, though, I figured there’s no harm in playing around with some new flavor combinations to try and make the jam a little bit more vibrant.  And it worked! It’s kind of ridiculous that homemade jam is still so much better than the grocery store counterpart even when you’re not using very high quality fruit.  I’m really curious to see how this recipe turns out if I made it during the summer with some really sweet, ripe strawberries and peaches from our own peach trees.IMG_5388STRAWBERRY-PEACH-LEMON JAM

Makes: 4 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of strawberries, stems removed and sliced in half
  • 3 peaches, blanched, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 large lemon, sliced for marmalade*
  • 1 tbs. vanilla
  • 3 c. sugar

Day 1: Prepare the fruit and macerate

Combine the sliced strawberries, peeled diced peaches, sliced lemons and sugar in a nonreactive container. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

Day 2: Cook off the jam

Bring boiling water canner to a boil, prepare jars and lids.

Transfer the fruit to a heavy bottomed, nonreactive pot and cook on high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  After about 10 minutes, when the fruit is cooked through but the jam isn’t gelled yet, remove the pot from the stove and use a potato masher to mash the fruit to a consistency that you like.  (At this point it will really start to look like jam).  Put the pot back onto the stove and continue cooking until the jam reaches the gel point.  Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Attach lids and rings and process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

Note: Strawberry jam can be challenging to get to set properly, but since this has a bunch of lemon slices in it, it should set pretty easily. It did for me, atleast.

Another Note: When you make marmalade, the sliced citrus fruit is often parcooked in some water before the sugar is added to make sure that the rinds are cooked all the way through and don’t end up chewy at the end.  Since this recipe skips that step, it is very important to slice the lemon extra super thin, otherwise I’m pretty sure it won’t cook thoroughly with the strawberries and peaches.

*To slice lemons for marmalade: read this instructions from Hitchhiking to Heaven. I’m too lazy to write them out.

And, don’t forget that if you don’t have your boiling water canner with you, all you really need is a pot with some jar rings laid in the bottom and you’re good to go. canning rack

The Simplest Pumpkin Pie

I’m not sure why I’m writing this, other than that I’m really not in the mood to see my post about killing chickens at the very top of the page anymore.  I started working on this pumpkin pie recipe on Saturday, which I was really excited about at the time (it’s so simple) but then, everything kind of derailed.

(It’s weird – even as I type this, I’m not sure I want to write about this here.  But I don’t know how I could possibly write about anything other than this.)

My grandma died.

I’m so sad. I miss her so much.

The weight of the changing seasons feels crushingly heavy now.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on planting seeds for winter vegetables and gradually tearing out the fading summer vegetables and giving them to the chickens to pick through.  When I stand in my garden today and see the remainder my big tomato plants, yellow and tired looking, and then this huge span of tiny green lettuce and sweet pea sprouts coming up, the transition from one phase to the next makes my heart ache.  (Am I angry at the pink chard for germinating at a time like this? Maybe.)

The Simplest Pumpkin Pie

I might have to update this post when I’m in a better mood talk a little more about pumpkins and making pumpkin butter.   I will say, making pumpkin butter is really easy and it’s worth the space it takes up in the freezer.  I used this recipe here and some delicious pumpkins from C&A Organics here in Redwood Valley.  Since it was going in the freezer, I added a few tweaks, like some maple syrup and extra spices, which you could certainly play around with as well.

This pie isn’t incredibly decadent or over-the-top.  It’s just something sweet and nice that you can have with a cup of tea and not feel like you have to go run ten miles because of how many calories you just ate. I’m not a fan of those desserts. This pie is delicious, though, and we polished it off really quickly.

Cook time: lightning fast.  All the work was in making the pumpkin butter.  This seriously takes about two minutes to put together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 half pint jars of pumpkin butter, (thawed)
  • 3 fresh eggs
  • 1 pint jar of whole milk
  • 1 9″ pie crust

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin butter, eggs and milk.  Pour into the pie crust.  Bake until set, about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let it cool a little bit before you slice into it. 

Mother’s Day Watermelon Pickles

The ladies in my family are all preservationists.  My mom never once bought jam when we were growing up- she always had a sweet little pantry in the basement with sour cherry, blueberry and raspberry jam, icicle and bread and butter pickles, and canned apricots in syrup.  When I moved to California, before I started making my own canned goods, I begged her ship me out packages of jam since I couldn’t stand the stuff from the grocery store.

I will always remember hugging my mom goodbye when I moved away from Ithaca …  My boyfriend and I had been together for about a week when we packed up my crappy little Chevy Prizm with everything I owned and hit the road with exactly $400 to get from New York to California. Everyone had ominous predictions involving me turning into a meth-addict and living in a gutter. Well, we drove away exactly eight years ago today, and we are still together, and (so far atleast) no meth addictions or gutters.

I can’t remember exactly when my mom sent me that first box of jam, but I remember how happy I was. Each jar was carefully wrapped and labeled, all of them delicious, and all of them were the perfect reminder of home and family from 3000 miles away.  Ever since I was little, we would go to local farms and pick blueberries or strawberries or whatever else was in season.  My siblings and I would eat more than we picked, and then we would go home and mom would make all kinds of beautiful pies and jam.

I can’t leave my grandmother out of these stories…  She’s a true southern gal, raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The parallels in our lives are striking, and the red North Carolina dirt is part of who I am, even though my farm is in the Northern California mountains. When I was a teenager, we drove my grandma out to her childhood home. I remember gazing out at the fields where she had grown up, my grandma lost in thought, a sea of memories flooding the air around us.

my grandma molly in 1944 - the photo that my grandfather carried with him during world war II

Inspired by Mother’s Day, I would love to share my grandma’s recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind. Most people haven’t had pickled watermelon rind before, but it’s the best pickle I think I’ve ever had. Crunchy, sweet, spiced with cinnamon.  (To be fair, my dad is the watermelon-pickle maker these days- he’s perfected his own version with lemongrass).  This recipe embodies the preservationist spirit, making sure that no part of the fruit goes to waste.

Last year, right before the frost, a farmer that I know gave me a whole case of unripe melons. They are perfect for this recipe, since they have the most amount of rind. You can use normal melons too, though.

pickled watermelon rind

(Look up at the picture in the header. Second jar from the left is also pickled watermelon rind).

My Grandma Molly’s Pickled Watermelon Rind 

Cooking Time: This is a three-day process, with about 2 hours of active cooking time.

Makes about 12 pints (the original recipe doesn’t specify how much it makes, so I’m estimating this amount. You might end up with a few more or a few less).

Ingredients:

  • 1 large watermelon (do not use varieties with thin rinds)
  • 3 quarts of water for soaking
  • 2 trays of ice cubes
  • 3/4 c. salt
  • 9 c. sugar
  • 3 c. white vinegar
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 tbs. whole cloves
  • 6 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed

1. Prepare watermelon: Enlist friends and family to eat the pink part, but save the rinds instead of throwing them away. Using a sharp knife, remove the tough, dark green skin, leaving behind only the pale green part. Cut the prepared rind into 1″ squares, or whatever shapes work. You may end up with some triangles and trapezoids, but it will taste good whatever the shape.  You should have about 12 c. of prepared rind. 

2. In a non-reactive container (I use my big canning pot), soak the prepared rind with the 3 c. of water, salt, and ice cubes for 24 hours.

3. (Day 2) In another non-reactive pot, combine sugar, vinegar, water, and spices (tied together in cheesecloth). Boil for 5 minutes to make a syrup. Add in lemon slices.

4. Drain and rinse watermelon rind. Cover with water and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain again, and return back to the non-reactive pot. Pour the prepared syrup over the cooked rinds, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. 

5. (Day 3) Sterilize jars, wash lids and rims. Bring boiling water canner to a boil. 

6. Remove spice bag from the rinds. Heat the rinds and syrup to boiling, and cook until translucent, about 25 minutes. Pack the syrup and rinds into sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ head space. Process 5 minutes. Let stand 3-4 weeks before eating. 

These are so, so delicious, especially with old-fashioned buttermilk marinated fried chicken and gravy.  If you make them once, they will become a pantry staple in the years to come.

Mom, grandma, I love you very much.

PS. I have a lot of great stories about my grandpa’s tomatoes and my dad’s vegetable garden and concord grape jam, but I’ll save those for father’s day.