Recipes | Cranberry Juice

Yesterday was cranberry juice canning day! We wanted to get our two freezers combined into one, and thanks to Black Hills Bulk Foods I had 22 twelve-ounce bags of cranberries in the freezer, waiting to be juiced. Now I’m down to 11 bags with 6 gallons of canned juice sparkling on my kitchen counter. Beautiful!

There is a little bit of a story behind this, actually. Ever since leaving the fire department at the end of February 2022, I have struggled terribly with sleep. Sleep issues are common in that line of work. I hoped it would get better as time went on and it just didn’t. After Brad and I got married, I could work from dawn until dusk, physical work, working in the heat, and by all reasonable estimations I should have been exhausted. Yet I’d lay awake in bed for literally hours. I struggled with restless leg issues as well. I couldn’t take melatonin, since I would have these weird, lucid dreams, so I tried valerian and Benadryl, occasionally with a small glass of wine. I tried magnesium for my legs, with marginal results. Basically, nothing helped.

On a whim back in November, unrelated to my sleep issues, I got some fresh cranberries at Sam’s and made up a batch of juice, and enjoyed adding a quarter to a half cup of it to a glass of water to drink, hot or cold. After a week of doing this, it occurred to me that I had slept well every night, and the only thing I had changed was that I was drinking cranberry juice. Long story short, I did a little research and found out that cranberries are a natural source of melatonin. Over the last 6 weeks, since adding cranberry to my diet, I have had the best sleep I have had since February.

I used a recipe from the website Practical Self Reliance. She shares a method of canning cranberries and sugar in water, and a method of canning extracted juice. I chose the latter method.

This is an unsweetened cranberry juice, although sugar can be added if preferred. It takes roughly 4 12-ounce bags to get a full 7-quart canner of jars.

The basic method is as follows:

1. Simmer approximately 3 pounds cranberries in approximately 4 quarts water. Simmer until the berries have popped, about 10 minutes, and lightly mash them. Strain off the juice, pouring everything through a cheesecloth-lined colander.

2. Add cooked berries back to pot with approximately 2 quarts of water. Again let it simmer for about 5 minutes and mash the berries. Drain off the juice.

3. Add cooked berries back to pot with approximately 1 quart of water. Simmer for about 5 minutes and mash the berries, and drain off juice for the last time. Discard the pulp. It is pretty flavorless at this point, but my chickens loved it, especially after it had sat for a couple days and fermented a little…

4. Pour hot juice into quart jars with 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims and seal jars hand tight. Process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner – adjust the time for altitude.

For each of the rounds of juice extraction, I used a little extra water just to make sure I’d end up with a full 7 quarts. If you’ve done much canning, you know the frustration of being a cup short of having a full canner of jars!

I love adding the juice to cold water for a refreshing drink or hot water for a delicious tea in the evening. And I have loved the sleep I have gotten since I started adding cranberry to my diet on a daily basis! Enjoy!

Recipes | Pumpkin Chip Muffins

Fall is officially here. There is that unmistakeable something in the air, especially in the cool of the evening, that spicy sweetness unlike at any other time of the year. The shadows get longer as the days get shorter and shorter, which actually gets me excited for long, cozy fall and winter evenings, working on projects, reading, doing those sorts of things that are just about done away with during the long days of summer.

Baking isn’t what I generally gravitate towards in the kitchen, but with fall in air and fresh pumpkins being harvested out of the garden, what better thing to bake than these delicious pumpkin chip muffins! I don’t go for pumpkin spice, but this just tastes like fall to me.

Ingredients

2 c. pumpkin, mashed or pureed (or a 15 oz. can of solid pack pumpkin)

4 eggs

2 c. sugar

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 c. coconut oil, melted

3 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

2 t. soda

2 T. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

2 T. vanilla

1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions

Beat together the first five ingredients, until smooth. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and gradually add to the pumpkin mixture – Mix well. Add vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Scoop roughly a quarter cup of batter to each cup in your muffin tin, either greased or lined with muffin papers.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 15-18 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes and then place individually on cooling racks. Recipe yields roughly 2 dozen muffins.

Notes

This recipe can be made with or without muffin papers, obviously. I much prefer using the papers, since these are pretty crumbly and moist when they’re warm, so it is a lot easier to handle them in a muffin paper. You can use just about as many chocolate chips as you want…I’ve done anywhere from 2 to 3 cups. It just depends on how chocolately you want them! I have also put a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in the batter, if I’m feeling the need for something extra chocolately. They no longer look like pumpkin if you do that, but they’re delicious all the same. If you want an extra kick of pumpkiny goodness, add a little more pureed pumpkin. Play with the amount of cinnamon and vanilla. I think my original recipe called for something silly like 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. I like to actually taste the cinnamon, thank you very much! You can also use white whole wheat flour for this, and I’m sure you could use regular whole wheat, although I imagine the texture and density would change.

These keep pretty well in the fridge and are delicious warmed up in the microwave for 10 seconds, with a little dab of butter.

Enjoy this taste of fall!

Recipes | Easy Trail Mix

Okay, so this barely qualifies as a recipe. It really doesn’t. But there isn’t another comparable word for a “handful of this, handful of that, shake it up” sort of concoction. But it has become one of our favorite quick snacks! Not to mention, this old coffee cannister is pretty nostalgic for me – It recalls years of memories of my grandparents and their delicious chocolate chip cookies, since this served as their cookie jar as far back as I can remember.

Anyway, Brad and I eat a lot of nut mixes and trail mixes. We come in from chores or cow work and just need a quick snack mid-morning, and a handful of something, oftentimes peanuts or cashews, generally does the trick. We had found a couple of really good trail mixes at Sam’s Club, but we ate enough of them that I finally decided I wanted to start just mixing our own trail mix. As silly or simple as this might sound, we enjoy the homemade version better than the store bought versions.

Pick from a variety of nuts, M&Ms or chocolate pieces, and dried fruit, add desired quantities and shake it all up! You can go sweet or savory, with seasoned or unseasoned nuts, roasted or raw, salted or not, and the list goes on. If you want to get a little fancier, you could toss your mix with a little olive oil and a seasoning of your choice, and bake briefly in the oven. The possibilities are endless.

This one is peanuts, almonds, M&Ms, and raisins. There were supposed to be cashews, but I think I accidentally ate them all before I got around to mixing this up. I made a second jar for myself without raisins. Brad pointed out that there were twice as many M&Ms in my jar as in his jar, but I pointed out that he got all the raisins. Fair’s fair.

Recipes | Pear Jam

Although I tend to associate canning and food preservation with the end of the summer and fall, it is a great way to make use of large quantities of fruit any time of the year, and it is so satisfying to be able to serve something completely homemade. I had bought a box of pears from a friend’s daughter for a 4-H fundraiser, and it made a delightful batch (four batches, actually) of sweet, tangy jam. We’ll enjoy some of it, but the majority of it will be set aside for wedding favors!

Simple tends to be how I roll, so I just used a SureJell jam recipe, with excellent results! It is extremely difficult to go wrong with fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. I did two double batches. A double batch is manageable, but I wouldn’t go over that.

Ingredients:

4 cups finely chopped pears
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 package SureJell pectin (not the low sugar kind)
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine to prevent foaming

Directions:

Prepare jars and lids and set in a clean and accessible place, ready to be filled. Washing the jars is sufficient, but I did pour boiling water over the lids. This jam is processed for 10 minutes (or more depending on altitude), so no need to sterilize the jars. Recipe yields about 6 cups of jam. I used half and quarter pint jars.

Wash and finely chop pears, measuring out 4 cups into a saucepan. No need to peel the fruit. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice early on to prevent browning. Stir in 1 package of SureJell powdered pectin and mix thoroughly. Add the butter or margarine, and heat the mixture on high, stirring constantly until it reaches a full rolling boil (doesn’t stop boiling when stirred). Add the sugar to the fruit mixture and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat, skim off any foam that forms (it wasn’t necessary with this jam), and ladle immediately into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe of the rims and threads of the jars, and seal with lids and rings, tightening the rings finger tight. Process in a water bath canner, adding enough water to cover the jars by 1-2 inches. Bring water to a boil and process for 10 minutes, or adjust for altitude. Where I live, it is a 20 minute process time. Remove from water bath canner and allow to cool, checking for successful seal as they cool. If the lid doesn’t pop down, the jam didn’t seal. Do this as you go, and you can replace any lids that don’t seal and reprocess the jar as above.

As always happens with jam and jelly, there is just enough left over to make a partial jar, or a couple of jars that didn’t fit with the rest of the jars aren’t worth doing another 20 minute process to finish them. These become refrigerator jams! And I have to say the warm jam was decadent on a piece of homemade bread, toasted with butter!

Enjoy this little taste of summer!




Recipes | Savory Tomato Pumpkin Soup

There is something soothing and comforting about a bowl of hot soup on a cold winter day, and with the snow falling and winter setting in, this easy soup is festive and flavorful. I’ve discovered that pumpkin is a lovely addition when cooking, so I wanted to share this unique take on a traditional tomato soup. I’m afraid I’m not a recipe follower, so naturally I’m also not an exact recipe writer, so use your own taste to determine quantity of some of the ingredients. Ingredients

1 15. oz can pureed pumpkin

1 15. oz can of diced (or crushed) tomatoes

~2 cups milk

chicken bouillon to taste

other spices to taste (garlic, minced onion, salt, pepper, savory)

Preparation – Combine pumpkin, tomatoes, and milk in a saucepan and whisk together. If using diced tomatoes, puree with an immersion blender before combining with other ingredients. For a thicker soup, use less milk. For a thinner soup, use more. Add chicken bouillon to taste (I used about a half tablespoon, or less, probably – less is better. You can always add more). Add dried garlic, dried minced onion, pepper, salt if desired, and savory. I’m generous with the garlic and onion. Again, add to taste. Heat and let simmer until all the dried ingredients are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Ladle into bowls and garnish with shredded cheese and dried parsley.

I’d like to try this sometime with fresh garlic and onion, and perhaps even add some other vegetables, but for now it makes for a great quick meal!

Enjoy!

 

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Recipes | Wild Plum Jam

The wild plums are sure bountiful this year! I don’t know what they were like last year, but this year has been amazing. I went picking again this morning with a friend, and we picked about 6 gallons of plums! I couldn’t believe it. When we drove up to the (secret) plum thicket, my heart sank a little, since the branches seemed awfully bare. But we climbed down into the thicket and the ground was covered with beautiful, firm, ripe fruit. Most of what we picked we actually picked off the ground. The plums that were still on the tree were barely attached and just fell off into our hands, or fell to the ground as we shook the branches.IMG_4288eYesterday, I finished processing my first batch of plums as plum jam, and it did not disappoint. Here is the recipe, the process adapted from a recipe on Kitchn and a Sure-Jell recipe.IMG_4270eIngredients

  • ~1 gallon of plums
  • 1 box powdered pectin
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. butter (optional)

Process

Wash plums and cut off bad spots. In a stockpot with about a half a cup of water, cook the plums with pits, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, mashing the fruit as you go. A potato masher can also be used to help loosen the pits. When the plums have reached a sauce-like consistency, remove from the heat and pull out the pits, leaving as many of the skins as possible. Use an immersion blender to blend the pulp and chop up the skins. Measure out 6 cups of pulp. There will be extra. In a stockpot, combine the plum pulp and the powdered pectin. Add butter if desired to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Mixture should continue to boil even while you are stirring. Add the sugar. Return to a boil, and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Skim off any foam that forms, and save for a taster.

Pour into prepared jars, clean the rims and threads, and seal jars with two-piece canning lids. Process 10 minutes in hot water bath (I adjusted for altitude and processed for 15 minutes).IMG_4272Notes

Jam differs from jelly in that jelly uses only the juice, while jam uses all of the usable fruit, including the skin. Plums can be pitted before or after cooking. Either way is bound to be tedious. I left the pits in and after an hour of pulling the pits out, I was almost in tears. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that I didn’t start processing them until 11:00 pm, so it was 1:00 am and I was still pulling pits out. So it was bad timing. If I make jam again, I don’t know if I will leave the pits in and cook them, or pit them ahead of time. I may try to use a ricer, which would unfortunately pull the skins out, but would at least make it easier to separate the pits and the pulp. It would be worth a try. IMG_4281eI had never made plum jam before, and I don’t know if I have ever even eaten plum jam before. But it is exquisite on bread with a generous quantity of butter. Enjoy!