Sour Cherry Vanilla Jam… or Syrup!

I was all being whiny at church and was like, “There are no local berry picking places where I can go pick berries!”  Ten minutes later an elder came up to me and said, “Do you like to pick cherries?”    um… YES!

I have never picked cherries before.

He said to come out to his place anytime, the cherries were in season.  I grabbed a friend and we drove out Monday mid-morning. I didn’t take a picture of the tree, because I forgot. But these are SOUR cherries, or PIE cherries, I have a heard them called. Bright red little guys.  Picking was slow going as the little buggers are reluctant to come off the branch. Some I picked the whole stem along with it, sometimes just the berry, and SOMETIMES, I even snagged the berry and the pit stayed on the stem attached to the tree–which maybe is a bonus.

Here’s my little helper:

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I told him, “ONLY eat the RED ones.”   Later that evening I went back with my husband to get some more when little Jayden comes walking around the tree coughing, gagging, spitting…  I’m thinking maybe he’d forgotten the “only eat the red ones,” advice. Sour indeed!

I scoured the internet until I found a recipe that sounded good… and then of course I didn’t follow it. Go figure, right?

Typical.

Item 1: Pit the Cherries. Some people use a little pitting tool. I’ve even heard there is some kind of crank strainer bowl where you can just put them all in, and mash the berries through and the pit stays behind.  Ben and I just man-ed up and did it ourselves. We started by cutting in half, and then taking the pit out.  Then we got smarter and Ben discovered if you hold the cherry over the bowl (so as not to lose the juice), pull the stem with one hand and squeeze the pit out with the other.

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Item 2: Heat all the cherries in a big pot. Use a much bigger pot than the amount of fruit you have. This is a dangerous frothy business.

After the berries were heated, juicey and wilty, I blended them all up with my hand blender because I don’t like chunky jelly.

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Item 3: Start your canning stuff. Heat the lids and jars as directed according to proper canning instructions. I had never canned anything before. EVER. So this was an exciting time in our kitchen. Thankfully the boy was asleep already. (Isn’t my oven beautiful!? Maybe it’s time to run that self cleaning feature again…)

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Item 4: Add Sugar and Vanilla!! The ratio I used was 4 – 3. If you have 4 cups of cherries add in 3 cups of sugar.  (So after the berries are blended and bubbly you have to pour them into a measuring device to see how much there is.) I added one teaspoon of vanilla for every cup of berries. Okay, who am I kidding, I just poured in a good amount of vanilla.

Item 5: What, are you crazy? Don’t put the lid on the pot! Someone I know who looks and thinks a lot like me once did that. Until the pot boiled over like a chemistry lesson gone bad. (See all that steam? Yea… Most of that is smoke. Mmm, nothing like the smell of burning cherries and sugar all over your stove.) Also, this person’s husband lovingly said something to the affect of, “What, are you crazy?! Don’t put the lid on! The whole idea is for the water to boil off.”    OKAY. That person was actually me. And I’m like… Good thinking, Ben.  But in truth, neither one of us was overly dismayed at the boil over. I boil over something on a weekly basis. It’s apparently one of my special talents. Homemade chocolate syrup was the WORST!

Fire in the hole! Boil with lid off...

Item 6: Boil for a real freaking long time. Supposedly there’s this thing called the “wrinkle test.” Where you put a plate in the freezer, then take it out… Spoon a few drops of jam on the plate, wait a couple secs and then smoosh one side with you finger. If it WRINKLES, the jam is done!! If it wipes right up like syrup… Then it’s not done.  Well, I boiled for 20+ minutes. I did the wrinkle test. Didn’t pass the test. And said to myself… Hmm.  It’s midnight. And I like syrup.  So I called in the muscles (husband) for item seven.

Item 7: Pour into prepped jars. So we did that, and put on the lids that had been boiling forever.  A few minutes later I heard these magical little PoPs! When the lids sealed.

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And that about wraps up my first canning experience! I settled for thick syrup because I was impatient, and I am okay with this.  Advice to you: Yes, put the toddler to bed first. No, do not start a cooking project after 11 pm.  And OF COURSE I didn’t take any final project pictures because I went to sleep instead.

Have YOU ever canned before? I have memories of Mom’s blackberry jam ALL over the stove. But it was lip smacking good!

What’s your favorite recipe? Pectin or no pectin?  Let me know!

See ya ’round.

-Tasha

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My Kids Ate Popsicles for Lunch

We are in the dog days of summer here in Nebraska, folks, and let me tell you that some days it is BLISTERINGLY HOT. Now, I love to be outside as much as the next person during the summer, but a gal has got to stay cool. So after a long morning of outdoor play, when we go in for lunch, more often than not, I vote for popsicles.

WHOAH, slow down there, Chief, did you say you eat popsicles for lunch?

Yes, yes I did and I don’t feel guilty either. I even let them have seconds if they want. I should probably clarify that what my children know as “popsicles” are really frozen smoothies packed full of super healthy vitamins & nutrients. But guess what, they don’t care! They are so happy to be eating popsicles for lunch it could even be a “liver pot piesicle”   …okay, well, let’s not get crazy…

Not a recent picture, Obviously! What kind of crazy mom would put her kid in a long-sleeved shirt in June…

I really love to experiment with smoothies and while some creations are less desirable, they all tend to disappear pretty quickly.

Here are a few of our family favorite ingredients:

Berries of any kind, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc — Beware of seeds and blueberry skin stuck in your teeth for hours that you notice when you go to bed at night and think, “GOOD GRIEF, has that been there SINCE 10 A.M!

Frozen Bananas (Buy them CHEAP when they’re brown, go ahead and peel and place in a container or bag in the freezer to always have on hand!)

Avocado  — Adds a delicious creamy texture, healthy fat and stock full of vitamins

Spinach/Kale — You can add a surprising amount of spinach before it changes the flavor.

Wheat Germ (unless you’re Danae and gluten makes you SICK — chock full of Vitamin E and some other great stuff I don’t remember…)

Ground Flaxseed (JUST A SMIDGEN!)

Apples — Peel or not peel, if you don’t peel, just blend it on high for a really long time and it will be nice and smooth. Unless you LIKE a chewy smoothie/popsicle.

For liquid you can add water, milk, Almond/Soy milk, heavy cream, juice, juice concentrate…

We avoid adding sugar, unless I put in too much flaxseed and it came out bitter–then by all means I add on the sugar in lieu of gagging.

A splash of vanilla extract takes the boat.

 

I am SURE there are some specific smoothie recipes out there… but for us? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So go ahead eat popsicles for lunch.  They are fast, filling, and Oh So Refreshing! The perfect summer treat (your kids will thank you for not making THEM eat raw spinach any other way.)

 

Keep it Real,

Danae & Tasha

 

P.S. What are some of YOUR favorite smoothie/popsicle combinations?

Laments of the Organic Bread Baking Biz

Laments in order of current thought progression:

1) Organic baking ingredients are difficult to come by in a small town.

2) Baking bread takes a minimum of 4 hours from measuring the flour to bagging a cooled loaf.

3) Gluten free Danae cannot partake of the bounty.

Advantages of the Organic Bread Baking Biz:

1) I gorge myself weekly on delicious homemade bread made from ingredients that I trust!

2) My husband’s coworkers are consistently jealous and awed by his daily lunch assortment, often including Organic PB&J on mouth-watering slices of homemade bread.  (This month’s flavor is Nash Brothers Organic Blueberry Jelly found at Bag N Save.  Look for coupons at: www.nashbrotherstrading.com.)

3) My house smells awesome, the day and few days after my bread baking extravaganza.

4) I no longer spend hours standing in the bread aisle at the supermarket reading ingredient labels.

How am I able to accomplish such a task? Well, let me tell you all about it.

Firstly, I must purchase organic ingredients, some at Harvest Health on 6th Street in York, some I find in Lincoln, and some I order online from Azure Standard.

Secondly, I put all the ingredients together, mush them around, and cook it.

Thirdly, eat and enjoy.  Fairly simply, yes?

If you would like to keep reading, here is the story in picture form:

First I clean my kitchen. I choose to never begin baking without a clean kitchen.

I mix together some dry ingredients:

2 Cups Bob’s Red Mill Organic White Flour

1 Cup Bob’s Red Mill Wheat Germ

1/2 Cup Organic Rolled Oats

1/4 Cup Organic Instant Non-Fat Dry Milk

1/4 Bob’s Red Mill Wheat Bran

5 tsp Active Dry Yeast

4 Tbsp Organic Cane Sugar (Or Organic Maple Syrup, mmm)

1 tsp Sea Salt

When the dry ingredients are mixed I add:

2 1/4 Cups HOT water

1/4 Cup Organic Sunflower Oil (or any kind of oil)

Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes, add:

1 Cage-free organic egg

1 Cup white flour

Mix on high for one minute

Then I switch my batter mixer out for the dough hook and slowly add:

2 more cups of white flour, and 1 cup of wheat flour

As the hook kneads the dough I end up adding about another cup of flour. When it gets doughy, I dump it out and knead for about 10 minutes… I don’t really have a system. I just kinda knead til I’m bored with it. Some people say you can tell when the dough is ready. I haven’t really been able to tell. So I just knead for a while. When you think you’ve kneaded enough and you’re needing to stop kneading, then knead some more. You need to knead for quite some time to have the yummiest of breads.  Btw, if you’re short like me, then get yourself a stool to stand on. Your kneading counter should be waist-high so you can really get your back into it.

Now comes the fun part. Smush it all out like you’re making biscuits, then fold the edges in around the circle–like curling in flower petals. Go around again, pulling in the dough.

Pick up the dough, flip it upside down, so the smooth side is facing you. Rock it back and forth in your hands pulling the smooth side tighter. As you tighten the top dough, just keep tucking it up under the ball. This is called Rounding the Dough. I think. I don’t suppose it’s super important, but it allows the dough to rise evenly and eagerly.

Dust your counter with flour, and put a big bowl on top. Isn’t she a cute ball of dough?

Leave her for about 20-30. My clue is when she’s huge enough to stick to the bowl all the way around. And this is a big bowl, mind you.  While she was sleeping I sliced up some organic oranges to dehydrate. Like so:

I was planning to simply do something crafty with them because they’re so pretty. But they turned out to be really yummy. So I ate them instead.

Wow! Look how big that dough is!

Gently roll her out. Knead the air out. Since I was making 5 baby loaves, I cut her into 5 sections. But she will make two big loaves or three mostly big loaves.

I oil my pan with coconut oil. Roll out the dough.

Fold up one side. So she’s frowning at you.

Fold in the edges.

Roll the dough!

Place dough seam down in pan. Slice the top if you care to. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

Cover with a light damp cloth. Let rise for 45-60 minutes or until she looks good. If you let the dough rise too long then she might sink in the oven, and that’s no good. When she’s done rising, you should be able to poke her and she won’t bounce back up.  Bake at 400* for 20 minutes. When you knock on the crust she should sound hollow.

I regret that I was so excited to eat this lovely loaf that I neglected to take a picture. Your loss really, because eating her is much better than looking at her.  With that, thanks for reading!

I’ll be selling these beauties at the Farmer’s Market in York, Thursday’s 5-7.

See ya ’round,

Tasha