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The Sweetest of Times………….

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Valentines Day is approaching but that’s not what I am referring to!

This is what I am talking about. This my first berry of the season being grown in a 6” diameter, 5 foot tall strawberry tower.

My strawberries are just now setting fruit but nearby area farms have some organic pick-your-own offerings. While out exploring in the Conroe area a couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit a farm boasting ripe berries. I managed to pick about 7 pounds, even though pickings were slim. I was out the day after the MLK holiday and the out of school kids and families had descended on the strawberry patch nearly wiping out the ripe ones.

I arrived home with enough for two batches of jam. I cleaned them up and bagged them for the freezer. Pulled one bag out yesterday, let it defrost and started cooking the jam. I love the smell, or should I say, the aroma of the cooking berries.

Bringing the batch up to a boil. Mmmmmm good!
Ready to skim the foam off before filling the jars. The foam……never wasted…..trust me!

Seven more half pints of “sweetness” for the pantry. I am watching the weather and postings to drag me out on another picking adventure.

TTFN

Bishop

Meyer Lemon Jelly and Other Tidbits

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As I promised in the last post, I am reporting back on the tasting feedback and impressions…..

Visually most folks thought it looked like light spring honey, see below.

One comment…..”tastes like key lime”…..I can second that!

” I like the jelly but was expecting a more pronounced lemon flavor”……FYI Meyer Lemons really aren’t a lemon.

And so on….”good, nice, tasty, can I take a jar?”

I am going to pronounce it a success and will do another batch this rainy weekend. I will likely jar up a bigger number of sample size jars for give aways. I will also resurrect the jam recipe, much like a marmalade. I will post that recipe if it comes to fruition.

Tidbits

Bees….16 hives and, knock on wood…..they all seem to be doing well. With the mild November and December the bees have been active. I have not seen pollen coming in for the last 3 or more weeks. I decided to put out feeders with pollen substitute. Based on the first one placed the bees are doing a happy dance. In less than 24 hours they had zeroed in and were loading up. See slomo video below.

I love watching the slomo images. The iPhone is pretty awesome.

The charity trap out appears to have been a success. All the bees are out of the shed where they had made a home and now reside in my half size top bar box. The big unknown is – how big is the colony? I started feeding sugar syrup two weeks ago and they sucked it all down. I added pollen substitute yesterday. During the cold snap on Monday I will lock them in and bring them home to fatten them up.

The garden is bare except for the Meyer Lemon tree and 70 new strawberry plants that are developing nicely. Plans for beets and sugar snap peas for planting in late February are underway. I need to refurbish the timbers on one of the 4 X 25 foot raised beds.

Another relatively tedious project will be to rebuild my tandem 4 X 4 X 4 compost bins.

I was gifted a bat house for Christmas figuring I could put it up high on my large oak tree…….guess what, not recommended. So, I need to come up with plan B! Maybe I can build an owl house and put it up in the oak tree.

TTFN

Bishop

Mmmmmmmm………..Meyer Lemons!

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The Meyer Lemon is not really a lemon. Bottom line, Meyer Lemons are both sweeter and less acidic than a true lemon.

“Citrus × meyeri, the Meyer lemon, is a hybrid citrus fruit native to China. It is a cross between a citron and a mandarin/pomelo hybrid distinct from the common or bitter oranges.[1]

Mature trees are around 6 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m) tall with dark green shiny leaves. Flowers are white with a purple base and fragrant. The fruit is rounder than a true lemon, deep yellow with a slight orange tint when ripe, and has a sweeter, less acidic flavor.”

From Wikipedia.

My Meyer Lemon tree has finally become productive after the hard freeze of …. I think 2017! I thought it had killed my lime tree and it obviously heavily damaged the Meyer Lemon. I trimmed the Meyer Lemon back and ignored the lime tree. As spring arrived the Meyer Lemon was sprouting new growth but the lime was bare. As I ripped the lime out of the ground I saw new growth….. too late – the was likely below the graft. Task done!

Meyer Lemons make a lemon curd that is both heavenly and bursting at the seams with both flavor and calories. Today’s cooking adventure does not involve lemon curd – it involves a first for me…….lemon Jelly. This will be a variation of the Meyer Lemon Honey jam I have made in the past. I have to give credit for the inspiration to Max Moszkowicz….he makes “lime jelly” and I just thought….Why not Meyer Lemon Jelly!

The process creates a wonderful aroma throughout the house. The aromatic lemons were thickly sliced and left soaking overnight in the kitchen. Then the aroma really amps up as they boil for 2 hours!

You can almost smell the aromas emanating from the photo of the boiling pot!

I am posting the recipe which includes the jelly variation. A disclaimer……only the Meyer Lemons are organic in my version……I know that for a fact as I have 100% control over the lemon growing. The honey is also mine, not lemon blossom, but it is local and raw – I can’t guarantee that it is organic………I tell bees to stay away from non-organic sources but I am not sure they pay much attention to me.

Once the jelly is done and allowed to set for a few days I will post a taste test update.

Meyer Lemon Honey Jam

INGREDIENTS 

*3 lbs Lemons (Meyers, of course!) 

*6 cups filtered Water 

*5 cups Organic Cane Sugar 

*1/4 cup Organic Lemon Honey (or other delicately flavored honey like Orange or Clover) 

*6 drops pure Lemon Essential Oil (1 drop for each cup of juice) 

 

INSTRUCTIONS ~ WASH lemons. 

~ TRIM off ends. Cut into fat slices. REMOVE pits (if making Jelly) 

~ COVER with filtered water. Leave to soak overnight or 7-8hrs

~ BOIL for 2 hours covered. ~ Then STRAIN through a jelly bag. COMMENT: Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag or your jelly won’t be clear! ———————- 

NOTE: If you want to make Lemon JAM, skip the straining & whir the hot lemons and water carefully with an immersion blender. You definitely wouldn’t want the pits in the mix for jam though! So pick them out.

~ MEASURE juice. ~ ADD 1 cup sugar per cup of juice. STIR to dissolve sugar over low heat. ~ BOIL again until set. (15-30 minutes) ~ FILL sterilized jars as usual. ~ STORE in a dark cool cupboard. Jelly will keep for 1-2 years, but the flavor & color tend to fade beyond that time. 

Recipe from – http://www.figswithbri.com/

One of the web sites suggested that a slice of lemon would enhance the beauty of the jelly in the jars. I thought it would look great too! I sliced up a lemon, filled the jars, placed the jars in the canning water bath, turned around and what did I discover? You guessed it.

They will pretty good on top of some grilled salmon filets! LOL.

Almost looks like a light spring honey as a finished product!

TTFN

Bishop

Additional trivia for those that are curious……

“The citron (Citrus medica) is a large fragrant citrus fruit with a thick rind. It is one of the original citrus fruits from which all other citrus types developed through natural hybrid speciation or artificial hybridization.”

“Mandarin – mandarin orange

Pomelo – “The pomelo is one of the original citrus species from which the rest of cultivated citrus have been hybridized. 

Yellow Banana Peppers Galore

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I only put in a single yellow banana pepper plant – and the title fits nicely.

galore

At a party with more cupcakes than anyone could imagine, you’ll hear guests say, “There are cupcakes galore!”  Galore means there’s so much that it’s unbelievable.

The Irish phrase go lear literally translates as “to sufficiency.” If there are sufficient enough bananas to build a house with them, you’d say that there are bananas galore. The word is an example of a postpositive adjective, which means it comes after the word it describes. So when you go to a circus and 700 clowns surround you, don’t say “There are galore clowns,” because the correct way to express your terror is this: “There are clowns galore. Help”.

I increased my knowledge of the English language today. Without knowing why, I had always used the word “galore” as shown in the title. Unbeknownst to me – the word “galore” is a postpositive adjective. Reminds me of a common gringo mistake of placing the adjective before the nouns when attempting to speak Spanish. In English it is “blue sky” , in Spanish it is “sky blue – cielo azul”!

Ok, language lessons over for today. Now let’s deal with my yellow banana peppers galore!

I brought in another handful before I started slicing them up into 1/4 inch thick rings. I did weigh the pile, a little more than two pounds, more than 900 grams. My garden seems to be well suited for growing peppers and such. These are about 6″ or 15 cm long!

I stuffed the pepper rings into 4 pint jars and a single 1/2 pint jar, all jars preheated of course. The pickling mix was 5 cups cider vinegar, 1 1/4 cup water and 5 tsp pickling salt brought to a boil. Prior to stuffing the peppers into the jars I added 1 tbsp mustard seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds into the pint jars and about half that amount into the half pint jar.

The heated pickling mix was poured over the peppers leaving a little less than 1/2 inch of head space. They were processed 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Recommend letting them sit undisturbed for a day or more and then tuck them away for a week or two to allow the flavors to blend.

Ready to process.

The final product with some of my 5 gallon honey buckets in the background.

I also have Poblano peppers galore! I will fire the smoker up this weekend and roast/smoke them with pecan wood. These scrumptious smoked peppers provide the heat and smoky flavor for my smoked Poblano pepper jelly. Amazing as a glaze on pork chops or pork loin and also very nice mixed with soft cream cheese as a chip dip. Yum!

TTFN

Bishop

Wild Mustang Grape Jelly Revisited

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I am sad to report that my “secret spot”for picking the Mustang Grapes was cut back by the City of Houston this spring so I was forced to find another source. I was able to forage a little over 3 gallons of grapes. It is a hot sweaty endeavor to gather up the grapes as they ripen at the beginning of July. It was 95 degrees F and 80+% humidity when I was picking. I was thoroughly soaked when finished.

Many times I can find nice clusters like this but most of the time I’m not so lucky. Photo from the attached article- I can’t take credit for it.

Preparation of the grapes takes some time. I spend the time to de-stem all of the grapes but have discovered that the time consuming effort may be a bit of overkill. I am attaching a link to a recipe that simplifies the process and leaves the stems on. Just a note, I do not wear gloves when I pick and then de-stem the grapes. My hands have experienced a mild but persistent itching sensation for a day plus after handling the grapes. I will use glove next time both while picking and then skip the de-stemming step.

My recipe calls for 5 cups of strained juice….. I don’t force it through the cheesecloth as I like clear jelly. The jelly is a very sweet yet tart jelly with 7 cups of sugar. I use Sure Jell pectin and a tablespoon of butter. I find that I need to boil it at a full rolling boil for almost 6 minutes before it reaches the jelling point I like. The boiling process foams up very high so a deep pot is a necessity. I find that once removed from the heat the foam falls quickly and leaves little if any foam to skim off before ladling into the jars. I process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

The photos don’t quite do it justice. The color of this jelly is amazing! I made 6 sample/gift size jars with this batch. I will make a couple more batches for a total of 30+/- half pint jars. And yes, I will part with a half pint jar for $6.00 or an appropriate barter!

The attached article has a recipe that differs very little from mine but does include a 1/4 cup of lemon juice to aid in the setting of the jelly and a 1/4 cup less grape juice. A word of advice, unless you have large sized equipment, do single batches and always measure everything meticulously. Test your jelly to ensure it has boiled long enough. The attached article as a great explanation and photos illustrating how to check your jelly.

https://jennifercooks.com/how-to-make-wild-mustang-grape-jelly/

TTFN

Bishop

How to get the Kitchen Floor Mopped?

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It is a given that my wife married a man that is just a little sloppy with his activities, and yes, his(my) activities include use of the kitchen for;

Honey bottling

Jam and jelly making

Making beeswax lip balms

Beer making & bottling

And obviously cut up, shredding and prepping meats for the grill and smoker.

And I am sure there are some unnamed transgressions.

Today was a little busier than usual! I finished cutting up and bagging around 15 pounds of strawberries…….. note – yesterday I ran off to Wood Duck Farms in the morning and picked 6 buckets of strawberries, returned home, cleaned and packaged half the haul and made it into the shower for an on time departure to see George Strait at the Houston Rodeo.( English majors and other grammar police….I kinda like run on sentences)

As I said – finished the berries but then decided to make strawberry jam! It is a pretty simple process. I have determined that a gallon freezer bag stuffed full is perfect for a batch. I follow the SureJell package instructions very closely. Critical are the boiling sequence and times. Add pectin and a 1/4 cup of sugar, on high heat, mash and stir at the same time. Once at a full rolling boil, add the remaining 3 – 3/4 cups of sugar and return to a full rolling boil….count slowly to 72 while it boils and remove from the heat. Oh yeah, toss in a tbsp of butter to reduce foaming…….I am not sure it helps but the directions suggest it.

Skim the foam, yes there will be foam. Waste not, want not. My wife loves the foam on top of here egg white and oatmeal frittata. Three tablespoons of quick oats in a small non stick pan, add enough egg white to cover and cook to done. Smear a little strawberry foam on it and enjoy. Remove a jar from the hot water bath and fill to 1/4 inch of the top. Snug up sanitized lids. The process took a little longer as I made 19, 55ml jars, cute little things, and 5 – 7 ounce hex jars. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath and then set aside.

This is not a full rolling boil. There is foam and a few boiling bubbles but not what you are looking for.

Getting close! If it is still bubbling and spattering, even while stirring, you are there.

Processing for 10 minutes.

The finished product ready for labeling. To the right is the yummy foam my wife uses for her frittata.

Next up was prepping two chickens to be cooked “Beer Butt” style on the grill. It takes 75 minutes or so while trying to keep the closed grill temperature at about 350 F.

The final result. In the beer cans was a nice oatmeal stout and a few crushed garlic cloves. I used A rub and garlic salt seasoning.

A quick dinner with a nice quinoa cold salad before heading off to the gym. When I returned I still had the beer to rack over with the reminders of the spots on the kitchen floor still fresh in my ears. Got the beer, a nice Wit beer, racked and the floor mopped – Hun!

It says priming tank but has been put into service as a fermenter due to leaks in my original fermenting bucket.

I think it is bed time now.

TTFN

Bishop

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

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