Canning For The Year

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This has been a wonderful busy fall season. It is amazing what a difference one year has made. Those of you who know me, know that I spent last fall recovering from a bout of West Nile.  I was so grateful this year to be busy with canning, spending time with family and friends and just celebrating how good life is.

For me one of the great things of life, especially the fall, is the canning season. Years ago my grandma canned every bit of produce she could get her hands on. She instilled in me a love of seeing the produce come out of the garden, journey through the canning/preservation process and end up on the pantry shelves.

Sometimes Fall can feel like an ending to a season. I am not sure why, but canning does not feel like giving up on a past season. Canning feels like preparing for a fresh start. Lining shelves with the summer’s bounty is strangely fulfilling and highly addictive.

What starts out as just doing some batches of peaches, applesauce and pizza sauce turns into a hunt for a new recipe to try….a new way to try preserve the produce.  Canning is kind of like putting Summer in a jar and opening it to enjoy on those cold winter days.

For me…..canning is hope….hope that you are prepared….hope that you are ready for what comes…..and the hope that by the time your jars run out, you also run out of cold winter days.

Seeing the shelves lined with filled jars gives such a feeling of contentment. I may be weird in that thought but I am okay with that. I love going into my pantry and just standing there looking at those filled jars.

I tried a new recipe this year. We had such an abundance of watermelon that we could not keep up eating them. We gave melons away, I juiced a couple melons and they still kept producing. Even the chickens got to eat watermelon!

So this year I made watermelon jelly. It is so pretty in the jars and really tastes like watermelon in a jar!  I am so excited that in the middle of a cold dreary winter day I can open a jar and feel like summer is not so far away.

Watermelon Jelly
Yield: Makes five half pints

Ingredients: 
5 cups white sugar
5 tablespoons powdered pectin
6 cups pureed watermelon (remove any seeds prior to pureeing)
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice

Instructions:
Whisk together sugar and powdered pectin until they are fully integrated. Combine watermelon puree, sugar/pectin and lemon juice in a large, non-reactive pot.
Bring to a boil and let cook until the temperature of the nascent jelly reaches 220 degrees. This can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on the width of your pot, the heat of your stove and even the weather you’re having. Check set using saucer test before removing it from the heat, to ensure that it will set.
Remove from the heat and pour into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and screw on bands. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.
When time is up, remove from canner and let jars cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, remove rings and test seals. You can eat immediately or store unopened jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
Notes:
*This jelly can take up to one week to set. Please give it time.

I found this recipe on Pinterest and here is the link:
https://foodinjars.com/recipe/watermelon-jelly-recipe/
My notes: 
I used the low sugar pectin so it would set up better. Also, make sure to boil till you reach the correct temp as this also helps with setting this jelly.
Do NOT omit the lemon juice or use fresh lemon juice.
this is needed to properly acidify the watermelon for safe canning.
I wait 24 hours before removing the rings.

 

I love having full shelves, but I also love to gift some of the bounty to my children and others. It is fun “shopping” my shelves and filling boxes to send home with them.

I love the fact that, for me, those jars speak of faithfulness. The faithfulness of my Creator in providing for every need. They are more than just food….they are a visual reminder.  Those jars are a way to connect with those that I love and a connection to those who have gone before.

Food is our common ground,
a universal experience.

James Beard 
Read more: http://www.searchquotes.com/search/Food_Preservation/#ixzz63Pz248Hn

Anticipation of the Season

top-hats

Only a few more days till Christmas and I have one more cookie recipe to share with you before the day is actually here. This is one is that my youngest two sons wait for with great anticipation as it is their all time favorite. In fact, the youngest told me just the other day; that he did not care what other varieties of cookies there were…..as long as there were plenty of Top Hats.

His enthusiasm for these cookies is contagious.  When I told him I was in the process of making them I could almost hear his smile through the phone line in that one word he uttered, “Yessss.”

It is always fun to find out what things are important to my children and husband on the holidays. Certain foods and certain traditions all speak different languages of love to each of them.  With daughter-in-laws and grandchildren added to the mix; it just makes it all the more fun.

Anticipation of the season for me is about so much more than all the preparation, baking, list making, shopping and so on. For me it is wrapped up in family and the love I see in their eyes for each other. The joy they have when they get together is a blessing to the heart and soul of this mom.

The anticipation of the laughter, the memories, the stories, the good-natured joking has taken hold and added a glow that rivals the brightly colored lights on the Christmas tree in the corner. My mindset is ready for the day to arrive….my preparations are not…..but they soon will be completed and if they are not; it really does not matter.

I finished the last of the cookies yesterday and tomorrow is house-cleaning time. If I figure it right I will be all set to go by the time the kids arrive this weekend.

I am not sure where I got this recipe; as I have been making these for more years than I care to count. These cookies take a little “canooey” work as my Grandma used to say. I will tell you; if you do make them….they are definitely worth the effort.

Top Hats
Cookies:
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
Filling:
6 ounces cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup nutmeats (optional)
1 cup flake coconut
Frosting:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons water
Melt and beat in 1/2 cup powdered sugar.

Mix cookie dough and shape into 1 inch balls.
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes at 325º – 350º
Remove from oven and thumbprint.
Mix filling and put on top of cookie.
Top with chocolate frosting.
NOTE: I choose not to add the optional nutmeats to the filling as my family does not care for them.

I will be counting the days till my family gathers. (I will also be guarding the cookies till they all get here!) I will be soaking up the joy that is this season and anticipating the contentment that is family.  May you be blessed in your preparations for this season of joy.

Christmas…that magic blanket that wraps itself about us,
that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance.
It may weave a spell of nostalgia.
Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer,
but always it will be a day of remembrance
…a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.

Augusta E Rundell quotes 

Hot Chocolate and Cold Wintry Days

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Today is a day for staying inside…..if you can. Fortunately, today I can stay inside; other than doing my chicken chores.  The girls do not require too much work at this time, other than feeding, watering, collecting eggs and keeping a path scooped through any snow that falls (they hate walking in snow), .

It sounds like the next few days, in our area, are just going to get colder and colder. The weather people are even telling us it will get to below zero wind chills the rest of this week. I am not looking forward to that at all! I can totally understand why some people flee this area in the winter and head south.

On days that are so cold the best thing you can do is “hunker down”. It is good to have some indoor projects to do on those days. With Christmas on it’s way; it is no problem finding things to do indoors.

The days are much easier to take when you are on the inside of your house looking out the windows. Being outside in this weather is really no fun at all. That wind actually hurts your face if you are out there too long.  Years ago a weatherman reminded us to forego our pierced earrings on those extremely cold days as they would just freeze our earlobes faster because of the metal.

I googled and found out it is only 97 days till Spring!!  Woo Hoo!! I told my husband this and he laughed……he informed me that technically it is not even winter yet.  Nuts…….that means there is still a lot of time for wind chills, ice, snow, snowdrifts, scooping snow, stoking the woodstove, scooping more snow, cold wind chills, scooping more snow…..you get the idea.  That TV program Survivor has nothing on us.

I have a feeling that surviving the winter is what makes the arrival of spring and summer so welcome. I also know that the older I get, it seems like the colder I get. Our folks used to tell us this and we never really believed them. Somewhere along the line they just keep getting wiser and wiser.

To make this season a little more bearable I  usually try to have some Hot Chocolate Mix on hand for the cold days. It is very easy to make and you end up with a large batch.

Hot Chocolate Mix
8 quart box powdered instant  non-fat milk

2 pound box Nestle’s Quik
2 cups powdered sugar
11 ounce powdered coffee creamer
In a large bowl mix all ingredients together.
Store in a covered container
Use 4 teaspoons to a mug of hot water.
(more or less  teaspoons to taste)

Making a batch of this might also be a great gift idea for a teacher, friend or someone you just want to give a little something too.  You could package it with a mug and some mints or marshmallows. I do know it also tastes wonderful with a little mint chocolate piece melted in your cup or if you put marshmallows in it.

There is really something very comforting about curling up in a blanket, sitting in your favorite rocking chair in front of the wood stove, with a cup of this hot chocolate in hand. If you manage to have a good book to go with this; the cold weather is not so hard to take. If you have a friend or your spouse sitting next to you, it is even better.

May the coming winter season treat you kindly and may you find blessings in the waiting for spring to return.

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.”

Edith Sitwell

(My blogging day mug was a birthday gift this year….pretty cool right?)

 

Warm Comfort for Cold Weather

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Tonight and the next couple days promise to give us a little advance taste of the coming cold of winter.  The weather man keeps telling us that a wide spread killing freeze is coming to our area tonight…..I believe him!

We are in that awkward phase in the Midwest between hot muggy summer days and cold freezing winter days. Some of our days are absolutely beautiful and warm; they are dry, sunny and golden . Tomorrow, according to the weather man, does not promise to be one of those days.

This afternoon we spent some time digging out the sweet potatoes as I have heard they cannot be left in the ground when there is a killing freeze. I have never grown sweet potatoes but thought I would give them a try this year. I only planted a couple of plants and was curious to know how they did.  There were not a lot of them but it will be fun to try to make sweet potato fries……when I find a recipe.

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There are also many hills of regular white potatoes that are needing to be dug out.  Fortunately those are not quite as fussy as sweet potatoes and can stay in the ground a little while longer. The pie pumpkins need to be picked and put somewhere to be stored until I have some time to cook them out, puree, and freeze to be used for pies, muffins, bars and breads later in the year. The harvest season is always busy with a variety of things to do.

I am grateful for the time between soybean harvest and combining field corn.  That is when my husband has time to do the digging up of produce. It always seems to be a race with the weather at that point. Usually the weather pattern is unsettled and it can range from beautiful to rainy and sometimes even flurries of snow.

With the cold weather coming I was in the mood to make soup. This morning I decided to make Cream of Cauliflower Soup. (I also add Broccoli if I have it.)  I got this recipe many years ago from a friend named Ethel.  We always joke that pretty much any recipe that has Ethel’s name on it is going to be good…..and they always are!  (She might be the local  version of Betty Crocker!)

Anyway, here is the recipe for the soup:

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
1 large potato (peeled and diced)
1/2 cup celery (chopped)
1/2 cup carrots
1 head cauliflower

Cut all vegetables and cook 15 minutes till slightly tender.
Put in crock pot.
Add:
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
2 soup cans milk
1/2 pound cheese
Cook about 4-6 hours in crock pot.
NOTE: I do like to use a bag of California Mix frozen vegetable in place of the head of cauliflower.
you can also use broccoli instead of cauliflower.
For the cheese I use Velveeta as I like the smooth texture it gives.

This makes a large batch and is wonderfully smooth and creamy.  I have a feeling it is not a diet soup but I like to console myself that during the busy seasons a person needs a hearty soup.

May you also enjoy the warm comfort of a bowl of soup on a cool fall day.

I think that women just have a primeval instinct to make soup,
which they will try to foist on anybody who looks like a likely candidate.
Dylan Moran

Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/soup.html

Crossing the Canning Border

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Quarts of Apple Goodness

 

I think this week I finally crossed the border from “canning the produce season” into “using the canned goods season”. I finally dealt with the cooler full of apples that has been standing by my kitchen counter for the last two weeks. My excuse for procrastinating was they (the apples) looked like they needed a little more ripening……I am sticking with that excuse.

I really do like the season of harvesting the garden produce and preserving it for use in the coming year.  It always seems like somewhat of a race to beat the weather, the bugs, the heat, the “girls” (my chickens, for those of you who are first time visitors here), and the voles that seem to love burrowing in my garden and eating the things like potatoes and carrots.

Today I finished those apples and turned them into beautiful quarts of apple juice. I always need to be sure to have juice on hand for when my grandbabies come. It is one of their favorite things about coming to the Chicken Grandma’s house. (it ranks right behind chasing chickens, picking up rocks, throwing rocks, taking a bath in the big claw-foot tub, having tea parties and following Grandpa around).

As I washed those canned jars of juice it occurred to me that once again I would be needing to move a few things around in my pantry. I headed over that way and moved empty jars (yes I still have some) around to make room for the full jars. Pamela at BeeOrganizedWithPamela would be so proud of me for re-organizing the pantry!!

In moving things around I made a disturbing discovery.  There were “signs” that a small gray furry critter decided to cross the border from outside and come on in. I am not sure why this critter decided it was time to change his address and go house hunting.  Perhaps because we had frost on the ground this morning?

I am not sure why the event of the mouse migration always takes me by surprise. We do live in an old farmhouse.  Any small crack in the foundation is pretty much an entrance gate for mice with an invisible sign over – “Come on in and make yourself at home.” This seems to be an annual event.

It will definitely be time to put my husband’s trapping skills to work. I have given up trapping these invaders myself as I am quite sure they gain weight when I put out traps. For some reason my traps tend to turn into peanut butter self-feeders for rodents. Last year when we had this same issue I am pretty sure we ended up with obese mice roaming the pantry….until my husband took over the job. It made me wonder how large one could actually get?

I told my husband it is definitely job security for him. His comeback comment, “Well I am good for something…..trapping mice, killing spiders and opening pickle jars.”  He actually is really good at those tasks.  He laughs when he says this and so do I.

For those of you who would like to try canning

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Peels and Cores

apple juice I have included the recipe below.
I tend to use the peels and cores from the apples
and use the rest of the apple for applesauce or
apple pie filling.  That way I get the most out of
my apples.  I hate to see anything go to waste! When I am done with the peels and cores they go to the girls. They love to finish off whatever is left.

 

 

 

Canned Apple Juice
Apples
Cream of Tartar
Water
White Sugar
Wash apples before beginning.
Cut whole apples into thin slices, or use the peels and cores from apple baking
or apple canning projects.
Red apples peels will add a lovely pink color to the juice.
Measure the amount of apple pieces and put them into a large crock, plastic, or stainless steel container. Do
not use aluminum or porous metal as it will give a metallic taste.
Bring to a boil an equal amount of water.
Add 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar for each quart of boiling water.
Stir and pour  over the apple pieces.
Cover and let stand for 24 hours.
Pour juice off the apple pieces into a large container, squeezing pieces in a cheesecloth.
Measure juice into a heavy cooking pot.
Add 3/4 cup white sugar for every 2 quarts of juice.
Bring juice to a boil.
Pour into jars and process in hot water bath for 25 minutes for quarts.

For now the shelves are clean, stocked and ready for the “eat the canned produce season”. There is only one small problem. I still do have some empty jars…….I wonder if I can get my hands on one or two more 5 gallon buckets of apples?

And she prepares for herself her bread from the summer
and she stores her food at harvest.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/border/

Peanut Butter Bars

Peanut Butter Bars

I have been having some issues with my blog site.  I am not sure why but it might be just the way this week is turning out.  Sometimes life just piles extra stuff on to what a person has planned.

I knew I would be spending 3 days in the hospital with a family member who had surgery. I knew that would take up my days as it was a 1 1/2 hour drive …. one way. I didn’t realize how tired I would be just sitting there!

What I did not know was that I would also be washing machine shopping (see Monday’s post). I also did not know that my blog would be having technical issues.  It would not let me into my drafts, it would not let me leave comments on those blogs I love to follow (now you know why there has been a looming silence from the Chicken Grandma), it really would not let me do anything. I do love technology …… when it works.

I will give you a little report: Surgery went well, I have my machine picked out (not many “bells and whistles” on it and that is good with me), and obviously I am back up and running in the blog department.

I should learn not to get frustrated when this stuff happens. I have learned ……slightly…..when I just walked away from the computer Wednesday and muttered, “all righty then – no blog post today.” I must admit I don’t think I was muttering graciously.

Today’s post is going to be quite short due to all the above-mentioned items and sweet corn ripening in the field that urgently needs picking and freezing. What I do have for you today is a recipe for some delicious bars.

These are some of the best bars…..I think it might be the frosting. It is the creamiest, smoothest frosting and tastes wonderful due to the peanut butter in it. When eating these I try console myself that they do contain protein in the form of peanut butter…….it might be a delusion but I am sticking to it.

Peanut Butter Bars
1 Cup white sugar
1 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup oleo
1 Cup creamy peanut butter
1 Lg. egg
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 Cups flour
1/2 Tablespoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
Cream sugars, shortening, oleo, peanut butter and vanilla for  minutes.
Add eggs and mix 2 minutes.
Add rest of the ingredients.
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes
Frosting
3 1/2 Cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 Sticks oleo
1/2 Cup peanut butter
1/2 Tablespoon vanilla
1/3 Cup milk

OOPS!!!!!   Someone called to my notice that I forgot pan size. I use a jelly roll, cookie sheet, bar pan (whatever you call it) approximately 11×15 pan.
and it works really good if you do not spread it all the way to the edges as it tends to expand a lot.

And now I am wondering what do you do when life throws you some things that you really think are one to many at a time?  I am personally working with myself on the verse below. I have to say it is not always easy….especially when it involves my laptop!

  Whoever is  slow to anger has great understanding,
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

Proverbs 14:29