Saturday, July 28, 2012

Strawberry Trifecta

I have truly been on a strawberry jam-making kick.  This strawberry/kiwi is the third batch.  The first two batches were plain strawberry and strawberry/rhubarb.  All of them were made with Pomona's Universal Pectin, which allowed me to sweeten to taste.

I made twelve jars of the strawberry/kiwi, but two jars had already been given away before I could get any photos.  The strawberry/kiwi is the tartest, the strawberry/rhubarb was the most expensive to make because of the price of rhubarb (!!) (I do think it's my favorite, though), and the plain strawberry was also delicious.   If my grocery store keeps having affordable strawberries, I am tempted to try strawberry/honey jam, too.

There were enough leftover strawberries to make what in my family is known as strawberry shortcake.

This is not really a shortcake.  It's just a yellow cake covered with sliced sweetened strawberries (and usually a dollop of whipped cream), but it's one of our favorites.

And with the strawberries that were left over from the cake:
Just pour a little milk on top and eat up -- mmmm.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Simplicity 2205 -- Clutch

After the success of the pleated bag of Simplicity 2205, my daughter decided to make the clutch purse from the same pattern as a gift for a friend.  The instructions were well laid out, and the purse turned out exactly like the LINE DRAWING on the pattern instruction sheet, but.......the photographs of the clutch on the front of the pattern (see above) are actually UPSIDE DOWN.  If you want to see what the clutch really looks like, turn your head and look at the clutch from the opposite direction.

I don't really blame the photographer -- it looks like that is the way the clutch should go.  To my daughter and to me, the clutch just didn't look right the other way, and we just couldn't get past it.  It was hard to waste all that work and expense, so my daughter decided to cut off the top third of the bag and fix it like so:
The disadvantage to this is that the top is open and it's a little easier to lose things out of it.
Although the clutch still turned out cute, she will not remake the clutch part of the pattern because of these issues.  If you decide to make it, look carefully at the line drawing on the instruction sheet and make sure you are okay with it fastening from the bottom.

*I am posting a review of this on Pattern Review.  If you are unfamiliar with Pattern Review, it's a helpful resource for sewists.  You can research patterns, sewing machines, etc., read about other people's experiences and learn a lot of helpful tips along the way.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hawk Review

For this month's Note Card Party hosted by Vee I had to choose some pictures from our hawk family (featured hereherehere and here).  We still see (and hear) the young hawks around the neighborhood.

Mama watching over her babies.

Oops -- one fell out!

Almost grown up -- "Who, me?"

Ready to fly!

The Note Card Party is hosted every month by Vee at A Haven for Vee.  Go here to see lots more entries, or to enter yourself :)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Treasures from Home

My sifter belonged to my great-aunt Mabel
On our recent trip to visit family in Tennessee, I drove.  In case you were wondering, it's about an 18-hour drive, and yes I take two days to do it.  I am too old to drive that far in one day, especially with a car full of teenagers:)  We have flown before, but the cost of seven plane tickets is prohibitive, and then there is still the problem of transportation while we are there.  The other problem with flying is that I can't bring anything back with me.  Since this time I did have the car, I was able to bring back some treasures.

My mom had offered me these pink dishes before, but I had declined to take them, mainly because there is not enough of them to go around for my large family.  But after thinking about it, I decided I could probably add to them through some antique shopping, either locally or via ebay.  I changed my mind and asked if the offer was still good (it was:).  The large dessert or cake plate and the six small serving plates that match it belonged to my great-grandmother (my mother's maternal grandmother).  She died when my mom was ten, so I know her only through family stories.

The dishes are very faintly pink pressed glass, very pretty in person.  They are not particularly expensive and may have been something that came as a promotional item in oatmeal or flour containers. The cookie jar and the goblets were picked up by mom at thrift stores here and there, but she gave them all to me as a set that goes together.  The cookie jar has a broken lid, but I think it can be glued back together.

She also gave me these two glass serving pieces, one square and one for deviled eggs, and this cake dome, which will definitely come in handy to keep flies and greedy dogs out of the treats.
Finally Mom gave me these two cast iron skillets.  The larger one is the right size for making cornbread.  I already have one but I wanted another so that I could make two loaves of cornbread at the same time (necessary to keep everyone happy).  The tiny skillet is just about worn out -- if cast iron can wear out -- but it belonged to my granny (my mother's paternal grandmother), who I did know because she lived until I was 27.  Little skillets like this are good for frying or scrambling an egg or two, and it's always fun to use something that once belonged to someone you loved (or who you would have loved if you could have known them).
And switching over to the other side of the family, these lovely jars of homemade goodness were made by my husband's sister.  She not only let us stay with her during our visit but sent me home with these goodies.  She is a terrific gardener and chicken keeper (and cat and dog and goat keeper, too), and I'm looking forward to enjoying these during the coming year.
It is so nice to visit our families and have little exchanges of treasures, especially since we don't see each other often.    I usually take my mom and sister books I have read that I think they'll like, or toys or games my kids have outgrown that younger cousins might like, or clothes that don't look good on me but might on them, stuff like that.  

It can be good to have tangible reminders that there are people -- even though we live far apart (some as far apart as heaven is to earth:)  -- who love us and think of us despite the distance.  This knowledge helps keep us -- me -- grounded, helps me remember that yes, I am part of a larger group even when I am tempted to think I'm all alone. I think that's how it is with God, too.  Even though He is not physically visible to us, He sends us tangible gifts to remind us that He loves us and to comfort us and to nourish us on the way.  And to remind us that we have a heavenly home and family waiting.  And someday we'll actually be home -- after all, that's where we are headed.

River views from a park near my mom's house

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." -- James 1:17 KJV

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Forays into Canning

In addition to putting corn and zucchini in the freezer, this summer I have been making forays into canning.  I grew up surrounded by people canning, my mamaw canned everything she could -- green beans, tomatoes, pickles, peaches, meat, sausage, relish, chow chow, and on and on.  She kept her jars  on wooden shelves down under the house in a little dirt-floored cellar until the day my papaw built a storage building so she could get to her canned goods a little more conveniently.  They also had at least two large chest freezers on the back porch that were stuffed full of more food.  If there had ever been a national disaster, I would've headed for their little house in the hills -- it would take a long time to starve them out.  For many years Mamaw kept me supplied with quart jars of green beans, tomatoes, and pickles.  When I got too many empty jars, I would bag them up and send them back to be used again.  It was my grandparents' way of taking care of me even though I lived far away.

Only once, about eighteen years ago, did I do any canning for myself, and then I made strawberry jam. I made that first batch of jam using Pomona's Universal Pectin, which allows you to use MUCH less sugar.  You can even make jams with sugar substitutes or honey.  I like being able to sweeten to taste because everyone at my house likes their jam a little less sweet.  And the directions that come with the pectin are easy to follow.  I found it at my local health food store, but if you can't find it locally you can find it online.  A box lasts you for at least two batches.  

This year I started with that same recipe.  I didn't grow any berries, but I found some at a good price and bought enough so that I was forced to can them.
I made ten little jelly jars of strawberry jam, and I was so proud and tickled pink I gave them their own little photo shoot.  Don't you love those little quilted jelly jars?

Then I had a whole counter full of cucumbers that needed to be dealt with.  This was on the same day that I put up that last batch of corn -- the day before I was leaving to go out of town.  Not great timing, but it needed to be done.  Maybe I work better under pressure.
Ignore the pack of hamburger that snuck into the picture
I sliced the cucumbers up into spears.
Since I hadn't done this before (not even eighteen years ago), I did the easy thing and purchased the Ball Kosher Dill seasonings mix and followed the directions on the package.
Pouring the pickling mix over the pickles
These are the wide-mouth pint jars.  At the moment I don't have a canner (although I have my eye on one), so I'm using my largest stockpot with a cake rack in the bottom.  It works fine except it is not deep enough for quarts.

The pickles have to sit six weeks in the jars without being opened, so I don't know yet how they turned out.  At least they actually LOOK like pickles.  I ended up with a dozen pint jars.
Here are the jars with their pretty labels.  The labels are a somewhat superfluous -- I could write on the lids -- but this is my first year canning, and I enjoyed shopping for the little accessories ;)
This past weekend I had the same problem with tomatoes that I had had with cucumbers.  They were overrunning my counter and had to be dealt with.  I had some slicing tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, but mostly I had Romas.  I initially planted the Romas intending to dehydrate them.  (I love dehydrated tomatoes.  They are a treat as good as candy to me).  But I don't own a dehydrator, and before I buy one I want to make sure I would really use it.  Any regular dehydrator users out there?
The last jar has a little separation but will still be fine (I think)
Anyway, I decided to can the tomatoes since I already had everything I needed for that.  I ended up with two pints of crushed tomatoes and two pints of tomato juice.  I learned three things from this experience:  1) a LOT of tomatoes go a LITTLE way  2)  better to use overripe tomatoes than underripe (don't even try)  3)  to make crushed tomatoes, you wring out the juice.  You might as well save all that juice and can it, too.

Finally, the strawberry jam was so delicious that I decided to do it again, only this time I made strawberry-rhubarb jam (eight jars).
It turned out delicious, too!
There is something about putting up food that is so satisfying. The pings as the lids seal are definitely music to my ears.  It is work, but it would be a rare person who is not proud of every jar they put on the shelf and every bag they put in the freezer.  Next I hope to get some peaches to freeze!

Here are the recipes I used:

Strawberry Jam -- Pomona Pectin recipes
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam -- Pomona Pectin recipes
Kosher Dill Pickles -- just followed the directions on Ball Kosher Dill mix
Crushed Tomatoes --

Let me add here that the PickYourOwn site is chockfull of helpful information.  Well worth a look!

I purchased a canning utensil set, which includes a wide-mouth funnel, a magnetic wand (to fish the lids out of the hot water), a thing to remove air bubbles, and a jar lifter.  I also purchased the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, the jars themselves (which can be reused), and the labels (not necessary, but a Sharpie marker is).  Not too much of an outlay, and next year it will be even less.  I am already dreaming of what else I can put up :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Putting Up Corn

The day before I was to leave on a two-week trip to visit family, I harvested everything out of my garden that I could.  I did not want our hard work to go to waste.

I picked forty ears of corn.  Then I sat on the patio and shucked forty ears of corn.....  I had to share all but one of those forty ears with various corn worms; the wormy parts had to be cut off with a paring knife.  At least the worms were considerate and mostly stayed on the end, leaving the largest portion of the corn for me :) Overall the corn looked beautiful.
This is how my momma taught me to put up corn for the freezer.  This is not how she learned it from her momma, but this is the easier way ;)

After shucking it and getting most of the silks off, take the corn in and rinse it in cool water and put it in a big pot.  Cover the corn as best you can with water and turn the stove on high.
When it reaches a boil, keep boiling for 10 minutes.
Then turn the stove off and remove each ear from the hot water -- use tongs -- and stand the ears in a clean dish drainer to cool.
After the corn is cool enough to handle comfortably, scrape the kernels off the cob, using a sharp knife and a big bowl.
You will end up with a big stack of corn cobs and a big bowl of corn.
Put the corn in pint or sandwich size plastic bags,  filling the bag, then pressing the air out and sealing.  To store, put two pint bags inside a 1-quart freezer bag, label the bags and stick them in the freezer.
My big bowl yielded enough corn for seven meals.
The best way to fix this corn is to take it out of the freezer, remove it from the bag and put it in a glass bowl.  Thaw and cook it in the microwave (this is one of the few things I actually cook in the microwave), adding a little butter and a little salt.  It will taste almost as fresh as the day you put it up.