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Another Hiatus – Ended

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It has been too long between posts so I wanted to let all y’all know that I am still kicking and busy. Well, for a couple of weeks I was busy relaxing in Los Osos California “braving” the chilly 52 degree F mornings as my garden and friends back in Houston were sweltering. Damn, I had to put long sleeves on, slept with the window open under a comforter….wow, I could get used to this. All good things are subject to change….I had to pack up and return to Houston.

Upon my return my cucumbers had succumbed to the heat and the white flies, yes, I knew it would happen. A couple of the tomato plants had also passed away…RIP….But they were making way for an August planting to provide good veggies into the Fall. I will replant!

Cucumbers are going int first. I will load the bed up with compost and plant a couple of varieties. The English cukes did really well this year so more of them and then a bunch of Straight 8 variety. The local honeybees love visiting my Cukes!

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August appears to about normal in term of temperature and maybe a bit more damp than normal so it should be good.

With my tomatoes, I may try an heirloom or two. Get them established while it is warm and hopefully enjoy the cooler temperatures going into the fall. Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple will be high on the list.

TTFN

Bishop

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Jelly Making

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The fourth batch of Mustang grape jelly is complete and it appears to be set and clear, although it is a dark maroonish color. I thought I would post a more detailed description with some excellent guidelines for novice jelly makers…..FYI I am not to far beyond novice when it comes to jellies…..I am much more experienced with jams!

 

Mustang Grape Jelly

5 cups strained juice

7 cups sugar

1 package Sure Jell Premium pectin

1 tsp butter

 

Prepare juice

In a large pot add 1 to two gallons of washed and de-stemmed Mustang grapes. Add enough water to cover the grape. Heat to a boil and use a potato masher to burst skins and mash the pulp. Boil for 20-25 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth. Do not squeeze the pulp, let Mother Nature and gravity do the work. Your patience will result in a much more clear jelly. Store in the refridgerator until ready to use….probably no longer than one week.

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 Gift sized jar. Love the beautiful clear color.

Jelly making

Add 5 cups of juice to a “tall” pot. Add pectin and butter and heat on high, continually stirring, until it is at a rolling boil, one that cannot be stirred down.When it boils it foams up pretty high.  Add the 7 cups of sugar all at once. Heat until to a full boil again while continually stirring. Boil 3-5 minutes. This is a bit of a subjective –  to test if the jelly has cooked long enough – I found this great description with photos….unfortunately I couldn’t seem to get them to embed themselves so I grabbed a few off the web.  My experience is that it takes a good 5 minutes to get to the sheet test stage for this jelly….The sheet test is when I take it off the heat and ladle into the jar. I sometimes use the wrinkle test but i look to see how slowly it sheets off the spoon as my gauge. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/testing-homemade-jellies-for-gel-point-1327874

“In theory, you can use a candy thermometer to check when the jelly’s temperature reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit (at sea level), but that’s not always the most reliable way to ensure your jelly is ready to cool.

Fortunately, there are other methods for testing jelly. Descriptions of how to do a jelly “sheet test,” “spoon test,” or “wrinkle test” can seem mysterious if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Let’s demystify those methods so that you can make jelly with confidence.

During the early stage of cooking jelly, the liquid is visible while it boils. It’s nowhere near ready yet. You’ll need to let the liquid boil until it becomes one gelatinous liquid with no separate liquid visible boiling to the surface.

Once you’ve established that the liquid is condensed into one form, then and only then should you apply the sheet or spoon test, but the temperature of the liquid is likely to be below 220 degrees at this point in the process.

Still, when you’re satisfied with the consistency of your jelly, dip a large spoon into the boiling pot and lift it about one and a half feet above the pot to pour the liquid jelly out all at once. What you’re looking for is the very last bit of jelly to come off the spoon. During the early stage of cooking, the last bit will pour off in a single drop.

As it gets near the gel point, bubbles will cover the entire surface of the boiling jelly and start to climb up the sides of the pot. This is when you know your ingredients have condensed into one liquid form and are just about ready to set. Temperatures inside the liquid should be in the 220 degree-range no matter where you stick the candy thermometer.

Do another spoon test – When the jelly is almost done, the last bit of liquid jelly will come off the spoon in two drops rather than one. This means that the jelly has already begun to form into a new jelly-like compound and should theoretically be ready to take off the heat and let cool in your jelly molds. Still, you should apply the sheet test to make sure it’s fully ready.

The sheet test – When the jelly is ready, the last drops pouring off the spoon will run together and “sheet” off the spoon. What you want to look for at this stage is the absence of large droplets replaced by these amorphous globs instead. Once the liquid no longer pours off in drops but slide off in sheets, you’re ready to apply the final test: the wrinkle test.

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The Wrinkle Test – In order to apply the wrinkle test, have a small plate in the freezer while you are cooking the jelly. When you think it is done (based on the spoon test or temperature), place a small amount of jelly on the plate and return the plate to the freezer for 1 minute. If the jelly wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it is done.”

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Results have been good through 3 batches. I will attempt to do a batch with the Sure Jell light pectin in the very near future. Fingers crossed. The Sure Jell Low/No sugar pectin recipe guide lines for the grape jelly uses 5 ½ cups of juice and 3 ½ cups of sugar. That is HALF the sugar of the other recipe.

TTFN

Bishop

Muscadines…or is it Mustang Grapes…..Both are a Southern Thing

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A note about the delay posting this addition. I am confident that the Mustang grape vs. the Muscadine confusion has been resolved. I have been picking Mustang grapes. The Foraging Texas website has definitive descriptions. So, read on…….

It seems that the longer that I am living in Texas, the more I learn about the “life in the background”. Even though I am living at the edge of a huge city. Houston proper is home to about 2.3 million people, while the Metropolitan Statistical Area is nearly 6.5 million people. Crazy, I was just commenting to to my “Goo” friend John the other day that I never pictured myself living in a big city! Strange as it may seem, in the midst of this 6.5 million people, there is a good sized chunk of southern rural life.

Out for a bike ride the other day in my rural/urban setting of Kingwood, I spot purple spots on the bike path. I stop and look up……Hmmmmm, looks like Muscadine wild grapes. (not!!!!! see lead in note)

Vitis mustangensis, commonly known as the mustang grape, is a species of grape that is native to the southern United States

This woody species produces small clusters of hard green fruit that ripen into soft 34-inch (2 cm) dark purple berries in August–September.

They have a thick outer layer of flesh and on average contain four seeds. This variety of grape is recognized by the white velvet-like underside of the leaves, and often covers small trees, shrubs, fences and other objects that it grows near.[3]

At the beginning of the article I thought I was picking muscadines…so I wrote….

“Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is a member of the grape family. It is native to much of North America and grows wild in roadsides and forests.

It has been extensively cultivated since the 16th century. Its natural range is recognized in the following states of the US: Alabama, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. They are well adapted to their native warm and humid climate; they need fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat.”

I rode home and grabbed my bucket, put it into the saddle bagss on my bicycle and headed out. FYI, be prepared to drip sweat when picking Muscadines (and Mustang grapes)…..even early in the morning…80 degrees F and north of 70% humidity…..perfect for these grapes.

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I am I little taller than the average guy. I saw purple spots on the bike path on the West Lake Houston bridge and looked up. Within my grasp was a vine….a good firm pull and it was down at picking height.

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Lots of big and very ripe Muscadine (Mustang) grapes. I returned home with almost 8 pounds and – completely sweat drenched….90+ degrees and very humid.

It was obvious that the bridge had been picked pretty hard. I had spotted some vines nearby, the spot is my secret, and rode the over to investigate more closely.

 

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I have competition. In the shadow of the big city and adjacent to a busy 4 lane highway is a patch of grapes tempting the local deer. Look closely at the tracks in the sand. I probably picked 4 pounds from this location where the deer were browsing.

Several days prior to this adventure in picking/foraging, I picked about 3 gallons of ripe Muscadines (Mustang grapes) and processed them into juice for the first of several batches of jelly. I first washed then froze the grapes to burst the skins. I put them into a deep pot and covered them with water, just barely covering them. Cranked up the stove and mashed the heck out of them as they boiled. I boiled them for about 25 minutes while mashing and stirring.

You get the idea….a bit of work but well worth it. next, gotta strain off the juice through a double layer of cheesecloth.

The result of my efforts…..I filled a 1/2 gallon jar and about 1/2 quart of a dark rich Juice.

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A good start on the jelly making. Just a note; if you want clear jelly, do not squeeze the pulp, let mother nature and gravity do the work.

Muscadine Jelly – FYI….it was Mustang grapes so the final product more like “tart sweet”.

4 cups of juice

3 cups of sugar

1 package of Sure Jell premium (yellow box) pectin

1 tsp butter to reduce foam

Add pectin to juice and stir well. Bring the mixture up to a full rolling boil then add sugar all at once. Stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil again and count of 60 seconds at full boil. Skim foam and fill your hot sterilized jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and let he jars sit undisturbed for a couple of days so the jelly sets up properly. Should make 5 half pints plus a little more.

Mustang Grape Jelly 

Same process to obtain juice.

5 cup of juice

1 pkg Sure Jell Premium (yellow box) mixed with juice.

Bring to a full boil and add 7 cups of sugar…that’s right, 7 cups.

Bring to a full boil for 3-5 minutes, the two batches I made took the full 5 minutes to get to the proper jelling point. Test drops on a cold plate until satisfied if it is ready….a bit subjective but it works. Skim the foam, fill sterilized jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let sit undisturbed for a couple of days…..I think I read that somewhere else…..Hmmmm.

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One of several gift jars I made with the batch. I will make another two batches later this week. Love the beautiful color.

For the total “Southern” experience, I am in the process of making Muscadine (Mustang grape) wine with the 8 pounds I picked yesterday. I had a great visit with the owner of the The Grain Cellar down in Humble, TX. besides being a home brewer, he is a knowledgeable wine maker and a knowledgeable resource on yeasts. He loves to share his knowledge with customers….as well as sample of his wine making as well as his beer brewing….I will attempt to make about 4 gallons of wine!!!!!

Now….from this evening….Preston at he Grain Cellar insisted that I did not pick Muscadines so he started me on the research journey….. Preston, you were correct. The definitive plant description is found by examining the leaves. Mustang grapes have a “white” lighter color on the underside of the leaves. Muscadines are green, top and bottom. Now I know.

The Mustang Grape “must” in the wine making bucket has a great aroma. I am looking forward to finishing the process. I will post the wine making adventure later.

Three batches of jelly are in the jars, the last two made properly…heh, heh. Not sure if I will go out and sweat again to pick any more….and the season for the Mustang grapes is beginning to close….to hot! and too little rain!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

Oh Honey

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Cutting the cap off a beautiful honey laden frame releases a burst of honey and floral aromas. Mmmmm finger licking good!!

Includes screen shots from the uncapping video.

That pure and clean capping wax is used in the Rosemary/Peppermint lip balm that I make in my spare time! FYI – I don’t make it very often!

TTFN

Bishop

Berries for Sale

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For all y’all in the local area;

Blakelock’s Berries – I picked 17 pounds the morning of June 6th and have them cleaned and in the freezer. I see much Jam and maybe some blackberry flavored honey!

http://blakelocksberries.com

Also find them on FaceBook at Blakelock’s Berries – $ 3.50 perpound of U-pick berries. They take cash and cards. 

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17 pounds of blackberries bagged up and now in the freezer. I also have about 6 plus pounds of luscious blueberries from The Sanctuary Blueberry Farm out near Montgomery, TX. They may be closed this coming Sunday the 10th of June. Check FaceBook or the website before driving out.They charge $4.00 per pound and yes, they do take cards!

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Pioneer Berries

 Phone: 936-537-0446

Email: pioneerberries@gmail.com

 HOURS OF OPERATION

 8AM – 8PM  **Mon – Sat.

**NOTICE: Open days are subject to random closings to give the berries more time to ripen. Please call in advance or check the website for daily availability.

ADDRESS

2512 Pioneer Ln Cleveland, TX 77328

This Years Prices

 You-Pick= $2.85

Pre-Picked= $5.50

All Jams= $5/Jar

 

http://www.pioneerberries.com/

There is always Moorehead’s out on FM 1314 but I don’t care for the parking issues and crowds. Today’s update indicates lot’s of berries available. FYI – they only accept cash or checks. No bank cards.  $ 2.50 per pound

TTFN

Bishop

 

Because She Loves Tomatoes

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She didn’t grow up loving tomatoes! She had only been exposed to those from the supermarket. Here is a little info that may influence where YOU but tomatoes in the future;

I worked at a produce warehouse in Bakersfield California….we received produce by the truckloads and placed them into the appropriate storage room. We would then load trucks for the local stores 5 nights per week with the produce items they had ordered. The tomatoes we received were not any where near red when they arrive but 3 days later they were red and headed to the shelves at the local markets. What was magic about the 3 days?

Answer: A room with controlled temperature, humidity and a big dose of ethylene gas. The tomatoes went into the room hard, firm( the hard and firm part is to help in transit) and with some evidence of a pink at the stem attachment, three days later, very red but still hard and firm tomatoes were sent out to the markets. It is no wonder that she didn’t like them!

Along about 1982 she married me…..lucky for me and I suppose lucky for her too as I introduced her to “worldly” things like vine ripened tomatoes! She couldn’t believe how flavorful they could be. Her first taste of an Heirloom tomato, a Brandywine to be exact, blew her mind. Her comment was that it tasted like a perfect tomato with a dash of salt…..but no salt was added. Unfortunately I struggle to grow Brandywine tomatoes here in Houston but Bakersfield was perfect for them.

On the patio near the house I keep a determinate variety of tomato for her pleasure. She can keep a daily eye on it and removes the ripening tomatoes before her friends, the damn squirrels, can get to them…..I have proposed a solution for the squirrels but she won’t acquiesce.

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The patio plant sans ripe tomatoes….they have been removed before tempting the squirrels.

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One of her favorite combinations – vine ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion(not shown) No ethylene gas room used in the ripening of this tomato…..unharmed in the natural process!

Recipe…..

Whatever ratio of chopped tomatoes and quarter slice cucumbers that you desire. Chopped red onion to flavor and mix with a 50/50 mix of an Italian dressing and Ranch dressing. Let marinate for a bit…..she usually can’t wait, still taste heavenly! I will sometimes add fresh ground black pepper to my bowl.

The Sweet Million cherry tomatoes are kicking in and they can also be used….usually just cut in half.

I have a couple of Roma Tomato plants that are loaded up with green tomatoes and lots of blossoms.

Bee stuff for a moment. I extracted a couple of supers last week and put them out in the garden for the local bees, not my bees, to clean up before returning to their respective hives. They do a great job and helps the local feral bee populations.

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I hope you have access to vine ripened tomatoes….if not try a Farmers market but be picky. If you spot produce boxes behind the tables ask questions about the source!!!!! A gentle squeeze test will also indicate whether the are vine ripened or coerced into turning red…..not ripe but just beautiful red!

For you Hun;

“Don’t tell me it’s not worth trying for
You can’t tell me it’s not worth dying for
You know it’s true
Everything i do, i do it for you”

(“(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” is a song by Canadian singer and songwriter Bryan Adams. Written by Adams, Michael Kamen and Robert John “Mutt” Lange,)

TTFN

Bishop

Blueberry Bonanza

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I keep a handful of my beehives at Blakelock’s Berries, they have young, early season blueberries and three varieties of luscious blackberries. My wife and I both love blueberries and was able to satisfy some of our cravings from the early picking at Blakelock’s.

The go to place for blueberries on the north side of Houston has been out at Moorehead’s off FM 1314. The berries are abundant but the parking, traffic and lines at the checkout station are much more than my crowd anxiety can put up with.

Today I made a discovery, a Blueberry Bonanza! Pioneer Berries at 2512 Pioneer Lane north of Highway 105 and just west of Cleveland, TX. It seems like a looooong mile north of 105 but trust me, you won’t miss it on the right side of the road.

The blueberry plants are younger than Moorehead’s but much more mature than Blakelock’s. If you like to pick when the weather is cooler, hit up Blakelock’s – their berries are ready to pick in mid April and are done by the end of May. If you want to stock the freezer you have early and late choices.

How did I stumble across this place? Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then! I went the the bee supply store near Conroe and was headed to Splendora to check on my beehives. I chose Highway 105 as it was the most direct route. Cruise control was set at 60 mph, yes it really was, and I went right past the sign pointing north off of 105. Safe U-turn and I was on my way to Pioneer Berries.

Plenty of parking for the weekend crowd. They don’t get overrun like Moorehead’s.

Look close many ripe berries and many, many more to come.

Oops, the berries are not in focus but they are still very tasty, blurry image and all!

This typical. I picked for less than 15 minutes as I had the bees calling me.


3 Point 9 pounds of berries laid out to dry, sort through, remove stems and soft berries. Oh yes, a little to snack on before bagging and freezing.

The left bucket is some nice light honey from 77339, about 18 pounds has already been bottled. The right bucket is from 9 frames I extracted after berry picking today. It will be about 25 pounds after I clean up and drain the extractor and uncapping tank. The jars on the right are a nice dark red-amber honey – a little over 15 pounds. Part of this dark honey will be converted to Cinnamon Creamed honey by the end of next week.

The bees are really packing in the honey right now. I am looking forward to a very good spring/early summer harvest.

I will be off to Blakelock’s in the morning to round up some berry farm honey for what he expects to be a big day on June 2nd. I will be sell honey from zip codes 77345 & 77339 – Kingwood/Porter, 77328 – Splendora and 77302/77306 – Grangerland. I will also be selling my homemade jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry. Come on out for a good time picking Blackberries at Blakelock’s and if you want safe and sane blueberry picking, head on over to Pioneer Berries.

TTFN

Bishop

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