Cherry Pie Jam

This is one of our favourite jams and it taste just like cherry pie filling! I make it with sour red cherries. They have a different (better for jam) flavour than the black sweet cherries. It's almost a different fruit.

This jam is made with a little almond extract added. The almond gives the cherries a great flavour boost and is often added to commercial cherry pies. We love it! Almond is one of my personal favourite flavors and gets added to a lot of things. It goes well with cherry. This jam get a lot of compliments!

The first thing I do is pit the cherries. You can do this with a cherry pitter, but I prefer to just use my hands. I discovered this quick and easy method when we made dozens and dozens of jars of cherry jam for sale in the orchard store in years past. Using a pitter is just not feasible for more than a few cups of cherries at a time. 

I freeze the cherries first. It is necessary to make them soft enough to push the pits out. It also helps break down the cells to release the juice. I learned that when making wine years ago. It works for other fruits as well, especially dry ones like rhubarb. 

Thaw the cherries in a very large bowl until completely soft; then, using clean hands, squash the cherries with your fingers and push each pit out into your hand as you work your fingers through them. If you can get past burying your hands in the juice and cherries, this can be fun. Collect the pits in one hand while pushing them out with the other. Drop them as you work into a small bowl at the side. This will stain your fingers red or purple for a day or so but when you tell people you have been making cherry jam, it suddenly becomes more interesting. Don't promise samples to too many people. This jam is amazing and you won't want to give it all away. You can also buy cherry pitters that do many cherries at one time, but I find them expensive and the work is slower and more tedious. 

When the cherries are all pitted, I run a hand blender through them until they are all finely chopped. I have also, on occasion, squeezed out the pulp as dry as I could get it with my hands, placed it on a cutting board and chopped it, when I didn't have a blender. That works too, but the blended jams are smoother. I blend most of the jams I make. We just like the smooth jams better, personally, than the ones with chunky fruit pieces in them. You can always make both kinds and label them "smooth" or "chunky", like peanut butter. We made and sold a lot of jams in our store in the orchard and most people preferred the smoother ones.

4 cups chopped, pitted cherries in juice
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 small box powdered pectin (Certo)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do ot multiply this recipe. It will  not gel unless you make it one recipe with 4 cup of cherries at a time.

Put the 4 cups of cherries in a pot with a lot of room at the top and put on the stove at medium heat. Stir often to keep the cherries from scorching on the bottom. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of pure almond extract and one small box of pectin powder. DO NOT add the sugar at this stage. Stir and blend well (I use a whisk for this). I use generic, no name pectin most often. I have used Certo and Family Value. They all work the same if making full sugar jam. Just make sure you follow the directions closely. DO NOT add the sugar too soon with the pectin. If you do, it won't gel properly. 

Bring the cherries to a full, rolling boil with the lemon juice, almond extract and pectin. Boil hard for just over one minute. Turn off heat. Slowly add 4 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring well. Turn medium heat back on and continue to stir as it comes to a boil. Bring it to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down again. Let it boil for just over one minute a second time, stirring constantly and watching it closely so it doesn't boil over. If it reaches for the top of the pot, lift it quickly off the heat for a few seconds. Then return it to continue boiling. You may have to do that a few times as it boils. WATCH IT CLOSELY! Jam in the burners and all over the stove is a very sticky and sugary mess to clean up. Its also a waste of fabulous jam! 

Pour into sterile, hot jam/canning jars. Top with sterile seals and rings. Boil in a water bath for a full 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Remove rings before storing. 

NOTE: I use bleach water to sterilize everything, i.e. jars, seals, rings, spoons, strainers, funnels, lifters. I slid into making jams from years of making my own organic wines, so aseptic techniques are a habit for me. I sterilize everything used for canning anything and for making things with yeast or bacteria culture, such as yogurt, buttermilk or soft cheese. Bleach works well if thoroughly rinsed. If you don't rinse it well enough, it will kill the yeast and /or bacteria you are trying to grow. Not as necessary in jam making, however. Still...rinse well. You don't want jams that taste like bleach.

In the waterbath, make sure you have at least 2" of water over the jars to get a good seal. Less water and you might have some jars that don't seal. Listen for the pop and make sure every lid is conclave to be sure it is sealed. They should all seal within a minute or two after removing from the water bath. Store in a dark, cool, dry place that doesn't freeze. Refrigerate after opening. Keeps for at least a year when properly sealed and stored. 

If you make cherry jam that doesn't gel, just call it "syrup". Cherry syrup is fantastic on waffles, pancakes, yogurt and ice cream! Try a little in your coffee too! 

Beer Butt Chicken

Beer and chicken! What could be better?

Chickens sitting on an open beer can full of beer. It will boil and continually baste the inside of the chicken. The can should fit tight enough that the beer doesn't leak out the bottom.

The sauce recipe:
1/2 cup real butter
2 Tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne
4-6 cloves fresh garlic minced
1/4 cup parsley

Freshly dried parsley from the garden!

OK, this was my chicken BBQ post. The following is an excerpt from hubby's, who actually did the prep and cooking, as he usually does. I do the baking...usually.

"I took my chickens for a walk today. I closed the lid so I guess they won't go far. That's 3/4 full cans of beer they're sitting on, a place to rest if they get tired. I'll come back in a couple of hours and see how they're getting on. I hope they enjoy the exercise!"

I had to post it. His is so much more colourful than mine! lol!

Easy, Moist Pudding Cake & Frosting

Directions for making any cake mix into a delicious and moist cake. You can even use those cheap generic cake mixes for this and it will be dense, moist and delicious! Ignore directions on the box.

1 cake mix full size, any standard flavor. Ignore directions on box.
1 standard package of instant pudding mix, flavor to complement the cake mix.
1 cup water or juice to flavor cake
4 eggs
½ vegetable oil

Mix all except the eggs together very well with mixer. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour into greased cake pans. Bake at 350F following baking times on cake mix box for pan size.

- If you don’t have a pudding mix flavor to match the cake mix, use vanilla.
- Banana – add 2 sm ripe bananas with banana cream pudding to yellow cake mix. Reduce oil to ¼ cup
- Black Forest Cake: Cherry chip cake mix with dark choc pudding
- Butter pecan cake and pudding with maple frosting
- White cake mix with pistachio pudding mix and ½ cup coconut added to cake mix.
- Carrot cake mix with vanilla pudding and ½ cup plump raisins added (cream cheese frosting, recipe below).
- Orange Cake: orange juice with white cake mix and orange juice in frosting
- Apple cake: apple juice in cake with 1/2 cup finely chopped apple and apple juice in frosting

**Easy frosting recipe below.

Tips for making a great cake:

- Keeping an apple in the holder with the cake will help to keep the cake moist.
- Use an electric mixer and beat the ingredients together extremely well.
- Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake to see if it is done. If the toothpick comes out clean and dry, the cake is done. I usually stick 2-3 of them into the cake in different places around the center area, just to be sure. If the cake is taken from the oven before it has cooked completely, it will fall flat and sink as it cools.
- A cake that is overcooked, even by a few minutes, will be dry, so watch it carefully at the end.
- Wait until the cake has cooled completely before putting the frosting on. Frosting will melt and run off the cake if the cake is still a little warm. If you are making a layer cake, it will take the upper layer with it.
- Make certain that your oven is calibrated properly. Most electric ovens get hotter over time so that they are baking at about 375F when you put the dial on 350F. If you are mechanically inclined you can fool around with the thermostat inside the oven and adjust it in the right direction a tiny bit. We do this when we get another oven or when our oven is obviously too hot. You will need a good digital or oven thermometer to do this and it takes time. Adjust the thermostat in the oven a tiny bit, then turn the oven on until the light goes out. Use the thermometer to test the temperature in the oven when the light goes off, adjusting the oven thermostat slightly, over and over again until you get it exactly right. It could take an entire day to calibrate your oven, but its worth it! It makes a huge difference in baking to have the oven at the right temperature. It should be a few years before it needs it again, if ever.

Simple Error Proof Frosting - any flavor
Basic ingredients for plain vanilla frosting for a standard large two layer cake:
4 cups powdered icing sugar
1/2 softened fat (butter, shortening, cream cheese)
1 teasp vanilla
water or juice in tiny amounts

Directions: ALL LIQUID IS TO BE ADDED LAST! Combine powdered icing sugar, vanilla and fat in mixer and process until fairly well mixed. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Put in any desired additions here (see list below). Add water or juice, a tiny amount (1 teaspoon) at a time, mixing well after each addition until frosting has reached the desired consistency. Beat very well on high after all additions are made. If it is too wet and thin, add more sugar slowly.

Variations: All additions are to be added and mixed in well before adding liquid (water or juice) to frosting.
- Replace water with any fruit juice to match the cake
- Maple: add 1/2 cup maple syrup before adding water
- Chocolate: Add 1 cup powdered cocoa before adding water. Decrease powdered icing sugar by 1/2 cup
- Fruit: add 1/2 chopped fruit and mix well, before adding juice or water
- Note: Be careful adding fresh fruit to frosting. Some fruits will turn it brown and need to be refrigerated. Most berries are ok in frosting.

Early Spring Seeding

With the onset of spring, comes renewed hope for the future year. This is the time to bring out the seeds I harvested from our own land, as well as the seed I purchased, traded for and actively sought after. It is a time to decide what to plant and where; and to generally plan for the season to come. Spring is an exciting time for us, with great expectations for the new growing season upon us!

Many of my seeds need to be planted early indoors, as our growing season is somewhat short and I like to grow many things from warmer climates. To this end I have installed a cold frame. This will be our first year to use it and I plan to fill it to the brim with early seedlings. I have already started planting many seeds for germination in the seed window which faces south and has a large sill with shelves.

While I do use small commercial peat pots, when I have them, I have begun to make my own using newspaper or toilet paper rolls. It's so easy, free and it breaks down in the soil so the roots can grow through. This means no transplanting is necessary. Just plop the newspaper pot into the ground or a larger pot, fill with soil and water. I do still put a few cuts in these pots near the bottom when planting into the ground, so the roots can grow through it quickly.

To make newspaper pots, I wrap a piece of newspaper, cut to the right size, around a pill bottle so that both sides overlap a bit, and tape it. I use a tiny piece of paper masking tape to hold it in place at the top and bottom of the side. I don't put tape on the bottom of the pot as it is folded over and I want the roots to have the freedom to grow through. I like the paper pots because you can jam more of them into a space, since their shape can be somewhat warped and they can be forced to fit. Here are several placed in a clear plastic cookie container from the grocery store. The lid will be closed until they sprout then propped open for air flow, or removed altogether. These containers are marvelous for winter sowing of seeds needing winter stratification outdoors, as well.

Some seeds will need special treatment before being planted in the soil, such as the winter temperatures mentioned above. These canna seeds must have the seed coat removed in one tiny spot before planting, so the water can enter. I had to use the drill with a rasp to thin the seed coat on these babies! These are very hard seeds! I also soak them for a few days in warm water to start them off. This makes for a much quicker germination than direct planting. Many other seeds need special treatment.

Some need the seed coat nicked or thinned, some need just soaking in warm water, some need winter freezing temps. These I either put in the freezer or winter sow in containers outside on the deck. There are a few, such as strawberry and impatiens seeds, that need light to germinate. It is a good idea to know your seed before planting time comes. These seeds have gone through the winter outdoors and should be sprouting soon.

I will occasionally spread some seeds out between damp paper towels until they sprout. Then cut them out with the paper towel and plant the whole piece. This way the seeds absorb moisture, swell and germinate before planting, letting you know if they are viable. This is a good practice with old seeds or when you only have a few seeds and don't want to waste any. 

This is a plastic serving tray rescued and reused as a tiny greenhouse for sprouting seeds. Recycling is great for the environment and the pocketbook!

We have already planted many of the early seeds, the hardy ones that can go out into the garden as soon as it is dry enough to walk out there. Green peas and most brassicas can be planted directly into the garden as soon as May is here. We have kholrabi and broccoli already up and growing in the seed window, both brassicas. Also in the brassica family are cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnip and rapini. I will be planting brussel sprouts as soon as I get the seeds. (It's a time issue. I have none!) We love young, tender brussel sprouts!

Also recently planted, are the dwarf white and orange canna seeds discussed earlier, candy lilies and 4 O'Clocks, soaking here in water for a few days. I have never grown candy lilies before and I am looking forward to it. Directly seeded just this weekend are garlic chives, red currents, ground cherries and bell peppers of all colours. I have plans to sow the tomatoes, luffahs, ornamental gourds, giant Halloween pumpkins, watermelon and canteloupe tomorrow. I have some seed for special coloured decorative corn that I would like to start early but I don't know if there will be room for it.

Most of these seedlings will go into the cold frame, if it gets warm enough for them. (We had more snow this morning.) Our new coldframe, pictured below, has a glass top .

Labelling the seedlings is a bit of a problem. Most ink and marker will be worn away and faded by the rain and sun of the outdoors. I use coloured paper clips from the dollar store to mark groups of pots, or individual pots, then record the colour clip with the type of seed planted in my garden journal. I do use other lables for my plants. Many are made from old horizontal window blinds that I have 
taken apart and cut into short pieces. Some ends already have a hole in them for tying it to a small shrub branch. I use cut up plastic ice cream containers and cut styrofoam pieces. I like these because the pen leaves an indentation in the styroforam. This indentation remains even if the ink fades and it can still be read in good light with glasses on...and maybe a magnifying glass. I am continuing my search for the perfect marker that will last through the sun and weather without fading. I may try nail polish on wood this year, if I have time.

A garden journal is priceless for those of us with poor memories. I record what I plant, and where, so there are no surprises and no seedlings pulled because I forgot I planted them there and thought they were weeds. I lost an entire package of primrose seedlings like that last year! Darn!  I also do my large garden planning for crop rotation in my journal. I record a list of the seeds that I have to trade, a list of seeds I am looking for, seeds that I have wintersowed, growing tips that I want to remember to use and creative ideas that suddenly come to me. You know...the ones you get in your sleep when you have nothing to write on. When I'm feeling the need to garden in the dead of winter with ten feet of snow and minus 100 temperatures (slight exaggeration) I can always read my garden journal from last year and remember summer. A garden journal is a great tool and a must for anyone with a large garden.

Altogether so far we have planted for the windowsill: bell peppers (yellow, orange, red, green), broccoli, kholrabi, brussel sprouts, garlic chives, red currents, ground cherries, Holloween pumpkins, luffahs, matrimony vine, watermelon, cantaloupe, cannas, 4 O'clocks, incarvillea, candy liles, sage, comfrey and 3 kinds of tomatoes.

Collecting and growing new things from seed is always a great experience! Seedlings don't grow exactly like the parent. Some see this as a drawback but I see it as an adventure. A hand full of seeds is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get!

Other posts on spring seeding: 
"Sprouts On My Windowsill" -  2013
"Spring Seeding"  March 2013 
"Building A Coldframe" - May 2012
"Edoes and Elephant Ears" - Aug 2012
"Cannas From Seed"