Wild Blackberry Jam – low sugar version

“I don’t can much, but what I do can, I do can well.” -Anthony.

Atop that list of what I can is wild blackberry jam, the fruit handpicked along a well-traveled roadside near our home. These past few years of wet springs have translated into nearly 20 pounds of blackberries over the course of a few hours of picking. Well worth the entangled effort to retrieve them. I ultimately ruin a pair of old socks with weed burrs so stuck that picking them out is pointless. I walk back home with red-purple stains on my hands that make me hope passing law enforcement doesn’t stop me as a suspect in some heinous crime. But if you’ve ever tasted blackberries from a wild patch,  you know the product- raw or processed- surpasses the domesticated varieties for sale at the local nursery. And that naturally-wild  sweet-tart flavor is the foundation of my blackberry jams.blackberries

The trick to picking the quantities you’ll need for jam is to locate a patch that will give you at least 4 cups of crushed blackberries all at once, the quantity you’ll need for the jam recipe below. Yes, that means a lot of pricking for the picking. Of course, the best berry patches are those located near a water source- usually a creek. This allows the roots of the plant to develop a deep system that will sustain the plant into the fruiting stage. Patches too far from water will produce berries that will wither before they can be picked.

So… how does one pick blackberries without getting stuck by the thorns? If you really want lots of good berries in a single picking session, you don’t. And what clothing you wear will get snagged and tugged and frayed, so wear those clothes that you will soon turn to rags anyway… the thorns will accelerate this rag-making process for you. The truly bold will take along a half-sheet of plywood. The idea is to toss the plywood down on the brambles, step-jump on the plywood to create a flat surface to surf atop the thorns, and reach those hard to reach berries. You get more berries with this more aggressive approach to picking. Just don’t fall off the board and into the berry patch….

Of course, the Sac Valley has numerous patches that advance well into the Sierras. They ripen as the temperatures warm. So here in the Sac Valley, berries will ripen right at the end of June / beginning of July. As you move up in elevation into the Foothills, the ripe-date lengthens. We were turned on to a spot by a local lake out of Newcastle where the berries sit next to a spring. These berries turn ripe by early July and continue to pump out berries till fall. Problem: so many know about them that harvesting a big bowl all at once is a challenge. Not so, however, with the patch down the road. With the exception of a few who pick a few berries for breakfast, I seem to be the lone picker of this patch. Lucky me.

Anthony’s Wild Blackberry Jam
Makes about 5 half-pints

I don’t like syrup-sweet jams. Most jam recipes call for equal parts fruit and sugar… way too much for my blood (sugar). I like the taste of the actual fruit to come through when I slather it on my morning toast made of Rachel-baked bread.  This is our kids’ favorite jam, bar none.

Note: this recipe uses Ball Low or No Sugar Needed Pectin.  If you have another type of pectin on hand, feel free to use it.  But make sure to follow the recipe for Blackberry Jam that’s provided with the pectin you use – the recipes don’t translate across brands and types of pectin.  For Rachel’s tips on making amazing jam, check out her post on Triple Berry Jam.

Ingredients:blackberry jam

  • 4 cups of blackberries
  • 1 cup of unsweetened apple juice
  • 4 1/2 Tbsp Ball Low or No Sugar Needed Pectin
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 half pint canning jars
  • 5 half pint canning lids and bands

Directions:

  1. Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.
  2. Rinse berries thoroughly through a strainer. Pick out any wayward stems and spent blossoms.  After straining and rinsing, the berries need to be gently crushed. This is most easily done with a potato masher. You’ll need exactly 4 cups of lightly crushed berries once the mashing has taken place.
  3. Measure juice and other ingredients.
  4. Put fruit and juice in a 6 or 8 quart saucepan; a high-sided pot is preferred.  Gradually stir in pectin.  Add 1/2 tsp of butter or margarine to reduce foaming if desired.
  5. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.
  6. Add sugar.  Return mixture to full rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary.
  7. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, one at a time, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Clean rim and threads of jars using a clean damp cloth to remove any residue.
  8. Center hot lids on jars, allowing sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim.  Apply bands and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
  9. Place filled jars in canner.  Be sure water covers tops of jars by 1 or 2 inches.  Add hot water if necessary to create this 1 to 2 inches.  Bring water to a gentle, steady boil.
  10. Process jars for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.
  11. After processing is complete, turn off heat and remove jars from canner and set upright on a towel to cool, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.  Bands should not be retightened as this may interfere with the sealing process. If a jar doesn’t seal, refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.
  12. Clean sealed jars.  Remove bands.  Wipe jars and lids with a clean, damp cloth.  Label and store in a cool, dry, dark place.  Quality will be best if used within 1 year.
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robot lettuce

I think we’ll just stick to raising our fruits and vegetables in our garden without robots: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/07/14/5565939/robots-to-revolutionize-farming.html

And clearly, no one is paying attention to the real threat robots pose…. http://www.hulu.com/watch/2340

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ugly ducklings

muscovy trio

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. But what if the duck doesn’t quack, and it looks mostly like a duck, except for a rather odd looking snood sprouting from its head and falling over its bill? Must be Muscovy.

Eight young Muscovy ducklings have been waddling their way ’round the yard these past two months. Bought from a Ukranian woman who didn’t know but a few words of English and used an old broom to gently scoop-push the eight purchased ducklings toward the pen entrance for placement into the cardboard box I brought for transport, Muscovy is our newest venture in livestock.

A plus to the Muscovy is that they don’t quack, so neighbor Bill won’t grouse about loud muscovy in profilequacks disturbing his peace while in his own garden. Muscovy also love to make meal of both mosquitoes and flies, which are especially plentiful here because of the horses living next door. Any critter that can turn a nuisance into edible protein is a friend of mine. And as for protein, the Muscovy is notable for being much larger than relatives of the mallard family. Even the Pekin duck, which we raised briefly before dining on him several months ago, pales in comparison to the grand size of the Muscovy, which can top out at 12+ pounds for a male, and 8+ pounds for a female.

That meat is 98% fat-free, tastes like sirloin, and is produced in copious amounts. We’re looking to this to balance out the predominantly white meat provided by our rabbits. Just as promiscuous as those rabbits, the females can breed up to three times per year, 12-15 ducklings per hatch. That’s a lot of birds, a lot of meat. And they grow F-A-S-T. As of this writing, they’re two months old and look bigger than a full-grown mallard at even this young age.

Of the eight birds purchased, one male will be kept along with any females. They weren’t sexed when purchased, so the odds are 50/50 that we have an even split of males and females. Thus far, half look smaller than the other half, so we’re optimistic that we have an even split. This would allow us to keep a solid sized flock of one male and four females. That would be enough females to keep the drake busy and us busy with Muscovy ducklings coming out of our ears.

We’re housing the Muscovies in our mega-plex chicken coop. By night, in the coop; by day, out and about the yard. Excellent foragers, they wander the yard in search of whatever fliesmuscovy trio or mosquitoes make the mistake of whizzing by, as well as the remaining grasses in the middle meadow for them. Over the winter, we plan to shoo them into the garden to seek out slugs and bugs. Unlike chickens who scratch up the ground – and my garden plants - Muscovies aren’t quite as damaging. Yes, they’ll make a meal of unprotected lettuce, but keeping the lettuce under wraps in our hoop house should serve as protection enough.  Not much will be out there for them to trample, so we’ll see if garden + Muscovy + winter = a good fit.

We’ll keep you posted on the Muscovy project… yet another in the ceaseless forays in suburban ag wannabes.

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gad zukes, good bread

zuke bread picI (Anthony) yet again made the mistake of planting too many summer squash plants. I tell myself annually that I am only going to plant one. Then I reconsider and put in one each of crookneck and zucchini. Of course, I end up with a few extra plants, so I decide to just stick those into a few bare spots I have in the garden. All the while I’m telling myself someone will take them. Yet every year, we transition from the initial anticipation of the first squash to rejoicing at its arrival to figuring out new uses for them.

One natural for the surplus is zucchini bread. I’ve never been a huge fan because it typically has the texture of a damp sponge and makes you feel like grabbing a toothbrush soon after consumption because of the cloyingly sweet taste. But rummaging throughzuke kids recipes on the ‘Net led me to Paula Deen’s zucchini bread. I’ve seen her show perhaps once (we don’t own a TV, so I’m not certain the context for watching), but I walked away from the viewing experience pretty well convinced that she is a heavy user of butter and sugar. The recipe I found was indeed sugar-laden. But the recipe did provide the promise of a zucchini bread with a crusty exterior and non-sodden interior. A perusal of the comment section for her recipe revealed that most thought the bread too sweet and recommended cutting the sugar in half, along with subbing in whole wheat flour. I followed the recipe with those modifications and now have a recipe that family and friends devour and compliment.

So if you’re feeling at a loss for what to do with all those squash and seeking a moist but not drowning bread, give this one a shot. And the cool thing is that this makes two loaves, so you can eat one now and freeze the other for later.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups grated zucchini or other summer squash, such as crookneck
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar.

3. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice.

4. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in.

5. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean.

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mystery wheat

An interesting news clip from CNN about genetically modified wheat – supposedly from a test field ended in 2005 – turning up in a farmer’s wheat field in Oregon.

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/us/2013/06/17/tsr-dnt-elam-gmo-wheat-oregon.cnn

 

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triple berry jam

It’s that season when berries of all shapes and flavors – blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, SAM_0204blueberry – start appearing in the garden or at the farmer’s market like delectable treasures of every color. Toddler candy, the food loudly proclaiming spring is here… and time to get your jam on.

I (Rachel) have been teaching jams and jellies classes throughout the winter and spring… Two classes to train new groups of master food preservers. One class for my MOPS group.  Two more classes that we donated as auction items for our church and preschool.

The call to preserve the sweet jewels of spring into homemade jams and jellies has an allure even to those not really interested in tending garden or battling your local blackberry bramble. Sometimes you can find a deal at the last hour of a farmer’s market when the vendor has flats of strawberries that he can’t sell….

But before you start throwing fruit into a mason jar, there’s a lot to know – even beyond just following the directions on the pectin package.  Here’s just a taste…

  • The freshest and most flavorful fruit makes the best jam.  But even frozen fruit purchased from the grocery store makes darn good jam.
  • Take special care to measure accurately when making jams and jellies. Don’t alter the sugar from what’s specified by the pectin you use - sugar is required for proper gel formation.  If you want to use less sugar, purchase a low or no-sugar pectin such as Pomona Pectin or Ball No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin.
  • In addition to regular powdered pectin and low-sugar pectin, there’s also liquid pectin, freezer pectin and recipes for making jams using no commercial pectin.  There are pros and cons to using each.  Always follow the directions for the pectin you’re using for best results.
  • Don’t double jam recipes unless the pectin directions specifically allow it. The jam won’t gel correctly and you’ll end up with a more carmelized or cooked flavor.
  • You can reduce the amount of foaming in jams and jellies by adding 1/4 tsp of butter or margarine while the jam is cooking.
  • To prevent fruit from floating in your jam (especially an issue with strawberry jam), after removing the pot from the heat, continue to stir the pot slowly for 5+ minutes.  Then ladle into jars.
  • Jams and jellies can be safely processed in either a water bath canner or a steam canner.

If you do all this, you’re bound to be as happy as this guy…

anthony and jam

Low-Sugar Triple Berry Jam

A note on sugar:  This jam is made using Ball No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin, which gives you the flexibility to decide how much sugar to use.  I use 1 1/2 cups of sugar when I make this recipe.  If you’re making it for yourself and don’t mind a tart jam, consider using less sugar.  We often give our jam away as gifts, so we try to keep the sugar low, but without making it too tart.

A note on pectin:  There are several types of low and/or no-sugar pectin on the market.  It’s important to use the recipe that’s provided with the pectin you purchase.  Regardless of the pectin you buy, you should be able to do a version of triple berry jam.  Just read the directions carefully, and if you have questions, leave me a note and I’ll be happy to help you figure it out.

A note on the fruit:  Use any combination of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries for this recipe.  You can alter the relative quantities of berries, or even omit one and just have a double berry jam.  Also frozen (and thawed) fruit is perfectly acceptable. Importantly, the total quantity of thawed crushed berries should equal exactly 4 cups.  Note that if you use a bag of frozen mixed berries that includes blueberries, pick the blueberries out.  They have a lower acid content which will result is a softer (though still delicious) spread.

A note on water bath canning:  If you’re new to canning, consider attending a class put on by the Sacramento County Master Food Preservers.  The intro to water bath canning class is free, and the next one is on Saturday, June 8th from 10 am - noon.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups crushed berries.  Use a combination of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries (see note above).
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (follow directions on pectin container if you want to alter the sugar or use a sugar substitute)
  • 4 1/2 Tbsp Ball No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin

Directions:

  1. Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.
  2. Measure juice and other ingredients.
  3. Put fruit and juice in 6 or 8 quart saucepan.  Gradually stir in pectin.  Add 1/2 tsp of butter or margarine to reduce foaming if desired.
  4. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.
  5. Add sugar or sugar substitute.  Return mixture to full rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary.
  6. Ladle hot jelly into hot jars, one at a time, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Clean rim and threads of jars using a clean damp cloth to remove any residue.
  7. Center hot lids on jars, allowing sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim.  Apply bands and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
  8. Place filled jars in canner.  Be sure water covers tops of jars by 1 or 2 inches.  Add hot water if necessary.  Bring water to a gentle, steady boil.
  9. Process jars for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.
  10. After processing is complete, turn off heat and remove jars from canner and set upright on a towel to cool, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.  Bands should not be retightened as this may interfere with the sealing process. If a jar doesn’t seal, refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.
  11. Clean sealed jars.  Remove bands.  Wipe jars and lids with a clean, damp cloth.  Label and store in a cool, dry, dark place.  Quality will be best if used within 1 year.
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butternut nut 2

We’ve been chided for posting after the fact:  Presenting grow tips and recipes for certain vegetables after they have already been harvested, but not when those very veggies should be going into the ground. True, true. So below, we offer a forward-thinking re-post for those interested in actually having their own butternut crop to choose from when winter rolls ’round. Because as the re-post below reminds, now is the time to get your butternut seeds - and all your other winter squash seeds – in the ground here in the Sacramento region. So read on, find a bare patch of soil, and seed on….

***

The cool of autumn leads to the cold of winter, which leads to the hot soups, breads, and salads from the fall harvest. One of those favorite soups from chef Rachel is a butternut soup: sweet, hearty, and well-paired with a homemade whole-wheat bread. Another is a butternut cube-topped salad, also paired well with that same bread.

The butternut gets its start in early-June as a seed stuck in the warm soil left bare from the just-removed fava bean crop. Butternuts need a lot of room to roam, as much as pumpkins- they seem almost to be seeking an escape from the garden altogether. Planted in DSCN1191groups of three in low hills with plenty of compost, the plants need little else but consistent water. This year, we’ve selected the heirloom, Butternut Rogosa Violina Gioia (a ribbed variety of exceptional flavor) to fill the front yard bed newly created this spring break. I simply pulled back the straw mulch and planted three seeds per hill. Nine hills – if they all germinate – would give us 27 plants. At 6+ per plant, we’re looking at plenty of butternut for ourselves, the Garden Bounty, and folks interested in buying a few to re-coop seed costs.

3-4 months after planting, as the first frosts settle in, the vines will die back to reveal the creamy-tan pear-shapes the size of footballs; expect a half-dozen per vine. If you are growing other winter squash, that number will be plenty. The squash can be stored in the cold of the garage for months. I’ve had them keep till March, which gives you plenty of time to do something with them. Winter squash aren’t like summer squash where you have 2.4 million pounds of them at once, and you have to do something with them… like give them to passing motorists at stoplights or let them grow big enough to target shoot. Their storability is what keeps me heading back to butternuts and other winter squash. They don’t hog room in the fridge, just a little out-of-the-way space in the garage. When you need a hearty meal in the dead-cold of winter, the unassuming butternut is there for you.

The best way to get into the butternut is to cut off the ends to create a flat surface for easier handling, otherwise they tend to roll awkwardly off the counter. Once the butternut can stand on its own, you can peel it with a standard-issue potato peeler. Then slice in half lengthwise to allow easier scooping out of the seeds, which are also edible if roasted like pumpkin seeds. Once the gloop of seeds has been removed, you face a great deal of vibrant orange “meat” to cut into cubes. At that point, the recipe is your guide in terms of cooking methods.

Be clear: I was one of those reluctant winter squash eaters when I met Rachel; the two recipes below have me hooked and looking forward to more butternut iterations on my dinner plate or bowl.

Fall Butternut Squash Soup

Dorina Gilmore in her blog: health-full  has given us “my” wonderful butternut soup recipe.  My advice is to make it exactly as she writes it.  We’ve made it a few times and love it.  The one time I strayed from the recipe a bit was the only time I was a little so-so about this recipe.  It’s copied for you below – but all credit goes to Dorina.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or organic butter
  • 2 medium butternut squash, peeled & cubed (or Trader Joe’s does it for you if you don’t have time – check out the fresh stuff in the refrigerated section!)
  • 2 tart granny smith apples, grated
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 3/4 cup white wine (sherry or chardonnay)
  • 2 large boxes (organic) chicken broth (about 50 oz.)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup cream, for garnish

Directions: 1. Add olive oil or melt butter in large pot. Add butternut squash. Saute in pot for 15-20 min. until soft. 2. Meanwhile, prepare other vegetables and apples. Add to pot and allow to sweat until soft. 3. Add wine, broth and spices to pot. Bring to boil and cook 5 min. Lower heat and cook for additional 45 min. 4. Puree soup using immersion blender or food processor.

*For fancy garnish, drip small amount of heavy cream on top of each bowl of soup. Use toothpick to drag cream around in curly designs. Top with fresh parsley.

Spiced Butternut Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad From Bon Appetit

I’ve just used normal old lentils and paprika, and we haven’t used the mint. And we’ve used the spicy salad mix from our garden. It’s subtle but lovely, and wonderful with red wine and a nice loaf of bread. If anything, use a little extra cumin, paprika, olive oil and vinegar.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup French green lentils
  • 6 cups 1-inch pieces peeled seeded butternut squash or sugar pumpkin
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 cups baby arugula
  • 1/2 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Directions:

  1. Place lentils in small bowl. Cover with cold water and soak 10 minutes; drain.
  2. Cook lentils in boiling salted water until tender but firm, about 30 minutes. Drain lentils. Rinse under cold water, then drain.
  3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place pumpkin in large bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, paprika, and sea salt. Arrange pumpkin in single layer on baking sheet; roast 20 minutes. Turn pumpkin over. Roast until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool.
  4. Combine lentils, pumpkin, and oil from baking sheet with arugula, half of goat cheese, mint, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among plates; sprinkle remaining goat cheese over.
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