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Blakelock’s Berries

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http://blakelocksberries.com/

I went to visit Paul at Blakelock’s for a private blueberry picking session. In about 25 minutes , on very young plants, +\- 3 years old, I was able to gather about 9 1/2 pounds of the sweetest blueberries. My dilemma now is – I want to make some jam and Kathy wants them all frozen in small bags for snacking. There should be some middle ground don’t you think? 

Blakelock’s is primarily a blackberry u-pick farm. They should be open by mid May. I picked at his place last year and I got a ton of great blackberries. 


I love how the blueberries cluster up. Makes for easy picking. 


The blackberries are blossoming and forming good looking fruit right now! 

I have committed to placing 3 hives at Blakelock’s early next spring. Should be a win/win. Paul gets the benefit of improved pollination and I get some berry good honey! 


This is one 4.5 plus bucket of berries drying out before packaging for my lovely and loving wife! PS- can I now make some jam Hun? FYI- a handful of green beans in the background along with my sourdough starter jar! 

Check out Paul’s website;

http://blakelocksberries.com/
TTFN

Bishop

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End of the Week

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It has been a busy week. The bees have occupied some of my time, weeds too much of my time, lovely carrots so sweet when roasted, removing the fading sugar snap peas…..replaced with English Cukes & Straight 8 cucumbers, two loaves of sourdough bread just pulled from the oven moments ago…….fortunately we are  not web-camming as the drool drips from the corners of my mouth, trimming back banana plants to maximize production, making strawberry jam, yard cleaning/kitchen table office cleaning……sister-in-law arriving this evening…..I am already tired and ready for my nap.

The bees, the queen and brood going back into the original top-bar hive over the weekend seems to have gone very well. The companion Langstroth hive is filling with honey!!!!!! Yee Haw! I am also helping the property owner get his garden up and going, feeding his chickens, harvesting eggs and mowing his grass. The things a beekeeper will do to for the host!

The split in Splendora on the “Cowboy” hive failed…..I feel guilty, as it was my mismanagement that lead to the failure. The only saving grace is another lesson learned to add to my prior mistakes. The remaining hive out there is doing well but may have earned a re-queening this coming fall. They are a bit defensive…..yes another one popped me in the face….on the nose.

Strawberry Jam. My “Goo” friend John’s daughter gives me the ultimate compliment for my strawberry jam – when she runs out of mine she falls back to “Smuckers”, she says mine is sooooo much better than store bought…..According to Brittany. I am a fan of the low sugar recipe from Sure-Jell light. Seems to let the taste of the berries shine through. I use Sure- Jell light for all my berry jams!

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The jam, cooked, ready to skim the foam prior to canning. The foam does not go to waste, my wife uses it on her egg-white/oatmeal frittatas.

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Six half pint jars and 3 – 45 ml jars for fun and gifts.

I have to share more about my carrots. As I have mentioned before, my soil has lots of clay but the adding of compost for four years has improved the soil, somewhat. I plant varieties that are shorter, stockier and tolerate the heavy soil better. Well, either a seed mix up or a rogue carrot in my patch. This guy was pretty hefty!

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Frame of reference – I have to order XXL beekeeper gloves and would love to find some XXXL gloves.

Just had to add a bee picture.

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There she is….tucking some pollen away. The symmetry is almost mind-blowing! I just marvel at what nature can accomplish.

Now, butter, knife, warm bread and some strawberry jam. Next slice, butter, knife, warm bread and honey.  Next slice, butter, knife and warm bread! Why can’t I lose any weight??????

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Proofed for 28 hours…..the sourdough flavor is outstanding!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

Good Things From the Yard

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Nearly started off with an interesting typo! “Good Thongs From the Yard” – that could have raised some eyebrows! Spring is here and good things are showing up. 

One of the yards that hosts a couple of hives also has chickens. For my garden I receive some chicken fertilizer…. nice way to say it! Almost as good are the excess eggs I receive. Yum! 

Little ones, medium ones and big ones! He has about 20 chickens and they are laying very well now! 

Carrots, I grow short ones because of my clay soil. They may be short but they are very sweet. 


Unwashed but yummy. I put them on the grill the other night with some asparagus and chicken. Very yummy. When the sugars carmelize they are so yummy. 

Snow peas and sugar snaps are blooming and producing. The early pods never make it to the house. Insert smiley face and tongue licking lips here! 


 And yes…..strawberries. I have made two batches of preserves so far. One plain and the other with vanilla. I am hoping for so much more. 


And bees too. The Meyer Lemons are blooming and the bees are working. Mine and many others. Such remarkable creatures!


Ok, enough for now! Just one sting today out of 6 hives inspected today! I can always attribute a sting to a faux pas on my part! Yes, I have made a mistake or two! Most of the time I have no swelling but this one……hit my left hand and sure enough –  a little ballooning on the back of my hand. Ok Hun- please kiss it and make it better. 

TTFN

Bishop

Wild Harvest

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The lazy approach to this post. I have made jam from Texas wild dewberries and jelly with wild plums. I and anxious to add a jam or jelly from each to the wild Texas offerings from below. This is an article from Texas Parks and Wildlife, link included.

Use Texas’ bounty of native fruits for your next pie or jelly.

By Dyanne Fry Cortez

Illustrations By Clemente Guzman

http://tpwmagazine.com/archive/2013/aug/ed_3_wildharvest/

I still recall the summer I discovered mustang grapes.

I was 18 years old, working in a Youth Conservation Corps camp at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery. One of our projects was clearing undergrowth from the Colorado River bank west of the rearing ponds.

When we started, the place was a jungle. It had huge, lovely shade trees, but they were hard to find in the tangle of weeds, shrubs and vines. Any visitor who wanted to bushwhack a path to the water risked a run-in with poison ivy. Within a week, nearly everyone on our crew had a rash.

Less hostile, but equally abundant, were the gray-green, heart-shaped leaves and twisty, grooved wood of wild grapevines. I’d seen them before (they’re everywhere in the Hill Country) but didn’t know they actually produced grapes until I glanced at a vine we’d just chopped down with our loppers and pruning saws. It was loaded with small clusters of round, deep-purple fruit.

Mustang Grapes

Mustang grapes make a zingy grape jam.

Assured by a supervisor that they were safe to eat, I picked one and gave it a try. Extremely tart, but it had a definite grape flavor. Within the fleshy outer skin, a sweetish blob of white pulp enclosed several seeds. I looked up and saw more grapes hanging in the trees. Not the kind of thing you’d eat by the handful, but they were so pretty. In my teenaged, tree-hugging heart, I just knew they had to be good for something.

On my next off-duty afternoon, I “rescued” a tub of mustang grapes from the riverbank and dropped them off at my mom’s house in Burnet. When my summer gig ended, I came home to jars of zingy grape jam.

Since then, I’ve spent many a July day in search of wild grapes. Along the way, I’ve gotten acquainted with dewberries, agarita berries and prickly pears. There are wild fruits all over Texas. Finding them, gathering them and turning them into something good to eat add up to a great recipe for connecting with the outdoors.

Free food, you say? I wouldn’t call it that. Some wild fruits grow in inconvenient places. Many are armed with thorns or other natural defenses. Some seasons produce abundant crops; other times, it takes a lot of foraging to gather a batch. And some harvests are followed by days of work in the kitchen.

Maybe it’s the challenge that attracts me. Or maybe that first spoonful of mustang jam gave me a lifelong taste for untamed flavor. Here’s a sampling of what Texas has to offer.

Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata)

Range: Edwards Plateau and Trans-Pecos, may appear in other areas
Harvest time: May to early June

agarita

Agarita

With sharp-pointed leaves and red berries, this hardy shrub resembles a holly, but actually belongs to the barberry family. Agarita grows under oak and elm trees, along fencerows and at the edges of wooded areas. Plants that get sun at least part of the day are more likely to produce fruit.

Picking agarita fruit is hard work. The berries are small, a quarter-inch or less, and well protected by the prickly foliage. My favorite way to harvest them is to spread a sheet on the ground and whack the bush with a broom handle or other suitable stick. Scraping branches with barbecue tongs works, too. You’ll lose some fruit in the dirt (but they’ll be enjoyed later by wild creatures), and you’ll get a lot of leaves and twigs mixed in with your harvest.

Back home, I dump the whole collection into a large cooking pot, fill it with water, and let it sit for several hours. Leaves and dirt sink to the bottom; berries float to the top, where I can scoop them out with a strainer. That’s the idea, anyway, and it sort of works. If I spend half a day picking and wind up with two gallons of cleaned fruit, I feel as if I’ve done well.

Agarita makes a pretty red jelly with a flavor all its own. I’ve also seen recipes for a sweetened juice cooler and an agarita wine.

Dewberry (Rubus trivialis)

Range: East and Central Texas, coastal river valleys
Harvest time: May

Dewberry Agarita

Dewberries

Dewberry is a wild blackberry that grows on a low, trailing vine. Its thorny stems and white, five-petaled flowers mark it as a member of the rose family. Berries start out green, then turn red, but are sweetest when they’re black and fully ripe. This is one wild fruit that’s good to eat right off the vine. It’s also good for pies, cobblers and preserves.

Botanist Scooter Cheatham, director of Useful Wild Plants Inc. and lead author of its multivolume encyclopedia, offers this tip for Texas wild harvesters: “When the dewberries are ripe, the green [mustang] grapes are coming along. If you can’t find enough dewberries, put in an equal amount of green grapes, and it makes a scrumptious cobbler.”

Mustang Grape (Vitis mustangensis)

Range: Eastern two-thirds of state
Harvest time: May through July

Several species of wild grapes are native to Texas. The tart, highly acidic mustang grape is the most common. It climbs trees and drapes itself over fences. Large, old vines can be found in wooded areas. I’ve gone hunting many times and found a good bit of fruit hanging too high to pick, even with a good ladder. When they’re within reach, grapes are easy to harvest. Pull them off the stem one by one, or clip clusters with a small pair of garden shears and remove the stems later. Wear latex gloves: the acid in the fruit can irritate skin and leave hands itching for days.

Guten Appetit!, a cookbook published by the Sophienburg Museum in New Braunfels, offers this advice on picking green grapes for preserves or cobbler: “Use grapes that are not mature, about the size of an English pea and before the seeds are hard.” For my own jam, I wait until they turn purple in July.

Other Vitis species grow in various parts of Texas. Wherever you live, there’s probably a vine nearby that could provide fruit for jam, jelly, cobbler or wine. All of our native grapes are dioecious, producing male and female flowers on separate plants. Only female vines will bear fruit.

Western Mayhaw (Crataegus opaca)

Range: East Texas near Louisiana state line
Harvest time: April through May

mayhaw

Western mayhaw

Mayhaw is a type of hawthorn, a small to medium-sized tree that flowers in spring and produces a cranberry-red fruit. It grows in acid soil along rivers and sloughs, often standing in shallow water, but will also grow on dry land. Jim McNeill, a jelly maker of long experience, had a grove of large mayhaws at his home in Nederland.

“They were probably in excess of 75 years old, but Hur­ricane Ike flattened them,” he says.

The fruit falls off when it’s ripe, and mayhaw pickers harvest it from the ground. McNeill would spread a sheet under his trees, catching the fall over several days. If spring rains come at the right time, some locals gather the fruit by taking boats up the backwater sloughs. Rising water lifts fruits that have fallen at the river’s edge, and people scoop them up with nets.

McNeill uses a three-pot steamer system to extract juice for jelly. “Raw mayhaw extract is so bitter it would roll your tongue,” he says, “but the jelly is tops, I gotta say. It’s about the best, other than maybe fig preserves.”

Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana)

Range: Central and South Texas, Coastal Plains and Big Bend area
Harvest time: Fall

persimmon

Texas persimmon

A small tree with attractive peeling bark, Texas persimmon produces black, tomato-shaped fruits about an inch across. As with the wild grapes, fruit appears only on female trees. Common persimmon (D. virginiana) grows in East Texas and makes a slightly larger, orange-colored fruit. Persimmons contain high levels of tannin and are not fit to eat until they fully ripen, begin to wrinkle and go soft.

“When they look bad, they’re actually good,” reports Scooter Cheatham.

Ripe fruit can be eaten fresh or baked into puddings and breads. I’ve seen recipes for persimmon jelly, but never had much luck getting it to jell.

Plums (Prunus species)

Range: Statewide
Harvest time: July through September

plum

Plums

Texas is home to several species of wild plums. The most common, perhaps, is the Chickasaw plum (P. angustifolia), a small tree that forms thickets on prairies and savannahs from East Texas to the Rolling Plains. The rose-colored plums can be picked and eaten right off the tree. Mexican plum (P. mexicana) trees grow larger, up to 35 feet, and are more likely to be found scattered among other trees in riparian woodlands. Its purple fruit is less palatable on its own, “but it makes wonderful preserves,” Cheatham says.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia species)

Range: Statewide
Harvest time: Late summer to fall

Prickly Pear Cactus

 

Prickly pear

It may take an expert to identify the particular species, but most Texans know a prickly pear when we see one. The plants produce showy flowers that mature into cylindrical fruits known variously as pears, cactus apples or tunas. The flattened stems are usually armed with wicked spines. The tunas have spines too: clusters of tiny stickers called glochids, more treacherous because they’re so easily overlooked. Tunas can be eaten fresh, but take care to peel them first.

When harvesting prickly pear tunas, it’s best to wear protective gloves, long pants and boots. Katy Hoskins, who grew up in the Trans-Pecos area and now lives in Sweetwater, uses barbecue tongs to pick tunas off the plant.

“Then I hold them with a meat fork and use a hand-held propane torch to sear off the spines,” she says. Prickly pear fruit makes a hot-pink jelly, a syrup for flavoring candy and drinks or a wine that turns golden yellow after a few months on the shelf.

The Responsible Gatherer

You don’t need a hunting license to stalk wild fruit. However, some practices followed by good hunters apply to gathering as well.

Know your target. Just like shooting the wrong bird can get you a stiff fine, sampling fruit from the wrong plant can make you sick, or worse. Don’t eat anything you can’t identify.

Respect the resource. Birds and wildlife eat wild fruits, too, so don’t take more than you can use. And don’t gather fruit or seeds from rare, threatened or endangered species.

Be careful where you pick. It’s against the law to collect plants or plant parts in state and national parks. Parks run by local governments may have similar rules. Picking on public roadsides is not recommended because of safety concerns. Your best bet is to collect on private property, with permission. If you don’t find any of these plants at your own place, check with a friend or relative who owns some land. Many people lack the time and inclination to harvest their own wild fruit, and are happy to let someone else do the work — especially if they get a pie or a jar of jam as part of the deal.

Recipes

Wild Plum Jelly

(From Janell Turner of Claude)

5½ cups prepared plum juice (see below)
6½ cups sugar
1 box Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin
½ teaspoon butter or margarine

Start with about 5 pounds of plums. Remove pits; do not peel. Put in pot with 1½ cups water and cook until tender. Mash through colander to strain. Bring juice to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Measure 5½ cups juice into 6- or 8-quart saucepan. Measure sugar into separate bowl. Stir pectin into juice. Add butter. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Quickly stir in all sugar. Bring back to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off any foam with metal spoon. Ladle quickly into prepared jars.

Persimmon Chiffon Pie

Graham cracker crust
1 cup persimmon pulp
4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup and ¼ cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ tsp salt

Beat pulp and egg yolks together. Mix 1/3 cup sugar, gelatin and salt in saucepan. Add pulp and yolk mixture to saucepan. Cook and stir until mixture just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and cool, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds up on a spoon. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add ¼ cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the cooked persimmon mix, pile into graham cracker crust and chill.

Online Extra: More Recipes

About jellies and jams

When great-grandma made jelly, she cooked it until it jelled using the natural pectin in the fruit. That’s possible with many of the fruits mentioned here, but it’s tricky. When I’ve faced chiggers, rattlesnakes and Texas heat to harvest my fruit, I don’t take chances in the kitchen: I use powdered pectin (Sure-Jell and other brands). The basic cooking and canning instructions are in the box, so the recipes in this section won’t go into detail about that.

The challenge is getting your harvest to the cooking stage, then figuring out the right proportions of fruit, pectin and sugar – because the recipes in the box usually aren’t written for wild fruit.

Agarita Jelly

Place cleaned berries in a large pot and add enough water to cover fruit. Cook until berries start to pop open, or until they appear tender when pressed against the side of the pot with a spoon. Pour fruit and water into a jelly bag and let it drip overnight. It’s okay to squeeze the bag once or twice, gently. Combine one box of pectin with 6-1/2 cups juice and 7 cups of sugar.

Dyanne’s Low-Sugar Mustang Jam

I’ve made grape jam according to a standard Sure-Jell recipe (5 cups grapes, 7 cups sugar), but sometimes I like to dial back the sweetness and let the tart flavor really come through. This requires specially formulated pectin. It’s a little harder to find: look for a box labeled “light”, “low-sugar” or “no sugar.”

Wash grapes, add water to pot and boil for an hour or so. Pour mixture into a sieve and stir vigorously, forcing through quite a bit of pulp along with the juice. Discard seeds and leftover skins. Use one box low-sugar pectin, four cups pulverized fruit and 2-1/2 cups sugar.

Mayhaw Jelly

(Gail Smith, Harvest Time Farm Stand, Canyon Lake)

Cook mayhaw fruit, mash and strain. Use 4 cups juice to 1 box pectin and 5 cups sugar.

Prickly Pear Jelly

(Reprinted with permission from Native Plant Society of Texas News, July/August 1988)

Rub fruit with a heavy cloth to remove the tiny bristles. Or, better still, hold it over a flame and burn the bristles off. Wash and slice the fruit into a saucepan, then add 2 cups water for each cup of fruit. Cook until soft – don’t hurry! – and strain the juice through a jelly bag or several thicknesses of cheesecloth.

For jelly, use:
3 cups prickly pear juice
½ c lemon juice
1 package pectin
4-1/2 c sugar

Marmeladenkuchen (Marmalade Cake) with Green Grape Preserves

(From Guten Appetit!, Courtesy of Sophienburg Museum, New Braunfels)

Preserves
Pick stems and wash grapes (use grapes that are not mature, about the size of an English pea and before the seeds are hard). Put in large kettle with sugar, a pound of sugar for each pound of grapes. For 5 pounds of grapes, add 2 cups of water. Gently boil until a dark red in color, about 3 hours, stirring often.  Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Cake
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
¾ cup milk
4 eggs
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Topping
4 eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups pecan bits

Marmalade – 1 pint green grape preserves (see above)

Cream butter and sugar together; add eggs one at a time and beat. Add milk that has been combined with vanilla, alternately with flour which has been sifted together with salt and baking powder. Pour into a greased and floured pan (9” x 13” x 2”) and bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 30 minutes.

While cake is baking, prepare topping. In large mixing bowl, beat eggs until light and foamy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until very thick. Fold in vanilla and pecans. Remove cake from oven when done and spread marmalade over hot cake. Pour on topping and return to upper third of oven; bake until lightly brown and crusty. When cool, cut into squares and serve.

Mustang Sorbet

(Justin Arecchi, Justin’s Ice Cream, San Antonio)

Put 1-1/4 pounds cane sugar in large jug and fill with water to make 1 gallon. Stir and refrigerate overnight. Add 1 quart strained grape juice and freeze in ice cream freezer.

Berry Pudding

(Marie Offerman, New Braunfels)

Ingredients for 2 servings:
1 cup crushed dewberries (or any other berries)
2 to 3 T sugar
2T cornstarch mixed with cold water. Adding a small amount of berry juice won’t hurt.
Whipped cream

Combine sugar and crushed fruit in saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, being careful not to burn mixture. After sugar is melted and mixture starts to boil, stir a few spoonfuls into cornstarch/water mixture, then add that back to the saucepan. Continue stirring on low boil until pudding thickens. Put in bowls and cool. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Prickly Pear Juice – No-Cook Freezer Method

(Barton Hiatt, Dripping Springs)

Pick tunas when they are very ripe, almost ready to fall off the plant. Peeling is optional, because the tiny thorns will be filtered out in the final step. Mash thoroughly with wooden mallet and freeze, which will help break down remaining fibrous material. Thaw mash and push through a colander, then strain again through fine mesh. Juice from the first pressing will be very concentrated; it’s good for some recipes, don’t drink without diluting! You can get a second press from the same mash by adding water and putting it through the strainers again. Juice and concentrate can be frozen or used right away.

Prickly Pear Popsicles

(Courtesy of Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture)

2 cups prickly pear juice
1 cup water
2T lemon juice concentrate
½ cup sugar or agave nectar

Blend juice and water; add lemon juice and sugar. Freeze in ice-pop makers.

Prickly Pear Punch

(Courtesy of Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture)

Two 2-liter bottles lemon-lime soda
8 oz prickly pear juice concentrate
4 oz lemon juice concentrate (to taste)
10 sliced limes (to taste)
Ice (as much as possible)

 

Pepper Jellies

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I am doing some Fall clean up in the garden, pulling up the pepper plants, cucumber vines and pulling more of the ever present weeds.

I grew three types of pepper plants this summer. The most prolific of the trio was the Poblano pepper. The Serrano came in second and the Red Bell pepper was a very distant third. An outcome of the clean-up was a large number of peppers to be used/consumed. In the past I have used the poblanos as trading material at the local farmer’s market as well as trading for a dinner at one of the local Mexican restaurants. I need to qualify the comment about the Serrano pepper plant – three weeks ago it was loaded and I failed to harvest. The result today was barely enough to make a batch of Serrano Pepper Jelly. Poblanos to the rescue!

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Poblano on the right and Serrano the left.

First up this morning was the Serrano Pepper Jelly. It so tasty when completed. We mix it with soft cream cheese as a spicy dip. The use of store bought Red Bell Peppers creates a nice red hue and the bits of finely chopped pepper pieces creates a “confetti” look in the finished product. I don’t usually use liquid pectin when making jams and jellies but past pepper jelly efforts have made a less than firm set. No troubles with this recipe.

Serrano Pepper Jelly

Yields 7 8-oz jars or 14 4-oz jars

Ingredients 

§  1 cup chopped red bell pepper

§  1/2 cup chopped green Serrano peppers/Poblano peppers

§  5 cups white sugar

§  1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

§  1 (6 fluid ounce) container liquid pectin ( like to use Certo brand)

 

Directions 

Step 1: Sterilze jars, lids and rings according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Heat water in a Large pot or water canner.

Step 2: Remove stems, veins and most of the seeds of the bell and serrano peppers. Mince peppers in a food processor.

Step 3:  In a 5-quart pot over high heat, combine bell peppers, jalapenos, sugar and vinegar. Bring to a rolling boil; boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.  Skim off any foam.

Step 4:  Stirring constantly, add the pectin and let mixture continue to cool for 3 minutes more.

Step 5: Pour into hot, sterilized jars and top with sterilized lids. Secure lids with bands and put back in pot hot water and boil for 5 mins.  Remove from water and allow jars to cool slowly, creating a vacuum seal.  Jars may make a popping noise as they cool.

 Tip: let cool, gently remove the rim and dry the lid and rings (do this very carefully) so that you do not get rusty lids.  Place rings back on but be sure not to screw too tightly then set overnight. Sometimes it has taken 2 weeks for this jelly to set so be patient.

This recipe makes 14 4-oz jars.  I like to put them in small jars because at this size they are a perfect addition to a cheese and cracker plate.  Isn’t the coloring gorgeous?  The flecks of peppers look like confetti.

http://www.marinhomestead.com/recipes/dessert/serrano-pepper-jelly/

I guarantee that it won’t take two weeks for this jelly to set. I had to use a spatula to get the jelly out of the pot when filling the last two jars from each batch. My yield was a little lower than the recipe – 11, 4 oz. jars. In the future I will smoke some of the Poblano peppers and make a “smoked” Poblano pepper jelly. I plan on using pecan wood…..a nice mellow wood. I have read that some that make Chipolte, smoked Jalapeno peppers, use mesquite for a stronger flavor. Maybe next time I’ll use the mesquite.

jbd_9952

Yummy Stuff.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Banana Bonanza

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2016 – the banana plants have been going bananas! Literally. Yes Plants not trees. The past two winters here in Houston have been mild resulting in the banana bonanza. I pulled up some info from the Texas A&M Horticulture website;

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/banana/

Here is the intro to growing the bananas;

“Banana

Julian W. Sauls Extension Horticulturist

Broad, long, graceful leaves and rapid growth-commonly reaching full size in just a few weeks-make banana a favorite plant for providing a tropical look to pool and patio areas. The development of bananas following a frost-free winter is a source of both pride and amazement to those unfamiliar with banana culture.

Banana is a tropical herbaceous plant consisting of an underground corm and a trunk (pseudostem) comprised of concentric layers of leaf sheaths. At 10 to 15 months after the emergence of a new plant, its true stem rapidly grows up through the center and emerges as a terminal inflorescence which bears fruit.

The flowers appear in groups (hands) along the stem and are covered by purplish bracts which roll back and shed as the fruit stem develops. The first hands to appear contain female flowers which will develop into bananas (usually seedless in edible types). The number of hands of female flowers varies from a few to more than 10, after which numerous hands of sterile flowers appear and shed in succession, followed by numerous hands of male flowers which also shed. Generally, a bract rolls up and sheds to expose a new hand of flowers almost daily.”

Ok – enough of the technical talk. The bonanza is a bit like your neighbor that is overwhelmed with zucchini – you hide when you see them coming. Yes, I gave away a lot of bananas. Once you cut the stalk off the ripening process speeds up. They are great in smoothies but one smoothie a day doesn’t take much of a bite out of the bounty. Eating fresh is a good idea too, but………you get the idea. The freezer is well stocked with both the Burro and Manzano bananas so now what?

Jam, yeah jam! Never heard of banana jam…..Google it! Yes Virginia, people do make banana jam!

Food.com, Yee Haw!

Banana  Jam by Chef GreanEyes on April 2nd 2009

4 cups of ripe bananas……no problem here!

6 ½ tbsp.  of lemon juice

6 cups of sugar – again no problem, I buy 25 pound bags to feed to the bees during lean times

3 ounces of pectin –

¾ cup of unsalted butter – I cut that back to a little less than ½ cup

Now the tough part…..it takes time and multiple steps to make the jam.

  1. Combine bananas, 3 cups sugar, lemon juice and let stand for an hour
  2. Add remaining sugar and cook over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved
  3. Bring to a boil for two minutes
  4. Remove from heat and skim foam
  5. Bring back to a boil – boil 1 minute
  6. Remove from heat and skim foam, yes, again
  7. Add butter and bring to boil AGAIN
  8. Add pectin and stir constantly
  9. Boil for  1 minute
  10. Remove from heat and skim once again.
  11. Allow to cool for 7 minutes
  12. Add to sterilized canning jars
  13. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes
  14. Let sit for 24 hours

Then enjoy!

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On the stalk and very ripe.

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Boil and skim 1, 2 or 3…..

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Some of the skimmed foam, no, it didn’t go to waste.

 

Based on what is on the “plant” in my garden, I have more neighbors to overwhelm, more freezer space to occupy and maybe a few more batches of this jam. The first batch was with the Burro bananas, the next will be with the Manazano…..taste test comparisons sometime soon!

 

TTFN

Bishop

Lots of Blueberries

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Yesterday, June 11th, was the day after the opening of Moorhead’ Blueberry Farm. The crowd was very large and traffic in and out was a zoo…..we learned a lesson, the smart people park outside the gate along the road….it is just a short walk in! I have been wanting to go gather blueberries at this farm for several years now but life seems to get in the way. Swim meets, soccer games, vacation, chores or the dreaded disease of age, CRS. (can’t remember shtuff).

http://www.moorheadsblueberryfarm.com/

On, Friday my “Goo” friend John and I had – (I just discovered an interesting tidbit, the difference between friend and fiend is a missing “R”) – Now back to the story. John and I had gone to inspect a house with bees in the wall. Structural cutouts are not my thing but the gentle man that called me to recue bees from a storm downed tree at his machine shop called me to help a friend. The owner of the house is an amazing creature lover, refusing to kill any insects. He wanted someone to safely relocate the bees.

The job was well out of my expertise, so I decided to decline. I knew the people in the house, the home owner’s daughter and children were anxious, as the bees had also found access to the babies bedroom…..just a few but disconcerting for the mother.  I knew two people that are “one with bees” to refer the owner to. One of them was booked for weeks the other, I leaned on him a bit, and he took the job as an emergency job.  I will share the full story later….I am going over to help/observe the removal in a couple of days.

On the return trip John and I wandered by a mutual friend’s house, one that is hosting one of my hives. He and his wife had just returned from the opening day of picking blueberries at Moorhead Blueberry Farm. Mike and Anette had 35 pounds of blueberries spread out to do the culling and drying before bagging and freezing. That piqued my interest as well as John’s. We decided to go on a berry picking adventure the next day. The wheels were turning and plans were being made. Mike and Annette suggested going early, they arrived at 7:00 AM and people were already leaving loaded down with bags of plump and ripe berries.

We didn’t take the advice to arrive early, but managed to gather three full buckets in a relatively short time. Entering and parking around 8:45 in the morning was very congested, thus the recommendation to park out on the road. John grabbed a small bucket, he put 6 + pounds into it. Kathy and I went big and each of our buckets ultimately held over 12 pounds of berries. Note for berry pickers; bring a couple of small towels. The buckets have a cord that hangs the bucket around your neck….one towel will provide cushioning and the other to wipe hands, sweaty brow and whatever else.

 

Berries 1

Two 12 pound buckets and a 6.5 pound bucket of plump and seet berries.

Berries 2

Kathy and John showing the fruits of our labor. We finished just before the rain hit.

Arriving home, we spread berries out in single layers on butcher paper to dry as we sorted them before bagging. Kathy over-filled 8 small freezer bags, labeled pint size, but they hold much more than that. I made two batches of jam, 10 cups of berries in each batch and we still have a bowl to eat fresh. YUM!

Berries 3

Some of the many iterations of sorting and drying before bagging. In the background are some jars of wild plum jelly.

The first batch was straight up blueberry jam made with SureJell light….less sugar, only 4 ½ cups per batch. The result was 10 half pint jars. The second batch, also made with less sugar plus a vanilla bean steeped in the hot and boiling jam. FYI, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean before using. In the future I may experiment with vanilla extract – vanilla beans are too friggin’ expensive.  The Vanilla Bean version made 4 pint jars and 2 half pint jars….identical yields…… and so very sweet!

Jam 1

1o half pint jars of wonderful and sweet blueberry jam.

Now, plan a blackberry picking trip!

TTFN

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