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Spring Must Be Near

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I haven’t been faithfully keeping up with the posting here but I would like to offer up several excuses. I will give you the option to decide which one or, if you choose, you can pick several.

  1. Work – I am a consultant, albeit par-time by my choice, but I sometimes don’t say no often enough….. Yes, dear I do hear but may not always listen.
  2. I get to surfing the web becoming distracted by; seed catalogs, bee keeping supplies & information, fishing spots & advice, Politics…..ugly politics goading me into writing letters to the clueless, Facebook, Trivia Crack, Blog reader…..I think you get the picture.
  3. I am actually spending some time in the garden…..the weeds never take a day, an hour or even a minute of of their evil plan to overtake my garden.
  4. Football – can’t use too much of that now but then there is the Six Nations Rugby starting up this weekend – First round!
  5. Lazy….the fire in the fireplace lulls me into that comfortable kicked back, laid back and mellow mindset.
  6. There is a box with many thousand photographic slides that need to be digitized….I sometimes go through a few when other duties call. Distracted again.
  7. I have a bowl chucked up on my lathe that needs to be finished. I need someone to give me a “Roundtoit”
  8. Wifely pressure to do something more productive, i.e., the tax return, organizing my business files, storing my beer making gear somewhere other than the dining room(we only use that room twice every year – I have till next Thanksgiving don’t I?).
  9. Procrastination – I suppose their is an element in most of the above.

Ok, enough of that. Garden news. The strawberries are beginning to produce. I hope I can harvest quicker than the squrrels and my wife eat them “au naturale”. Hmmmmm…….Hun whatever makes you happy. The strawberry towers seem to be safe, at least for now, from the furry marauders but not from my sweetheart. I added 100 new strawberry plants to the towers this fall. This year’s harvest will be small compared to next year’s.  Once they become established I should/could be overwhelmed.

Some nearly ready and more on the way.

Some nearly ready and more on the way.

Good looking and almost ripe.

Good looking and almost ripe.

My blueberry plants are beginning to bud out now and if the buds are an indication I should a nice little crop this second year growth. I have 4 plants in containers and two in ground plants.  I also inspected my lemon and lime trees…..no evidence yet of budding and blooms….I am a bit concerned. If nothing by March I could be longing for my Meyer Lemon Curd at this time next year.

The bowl that needs to be FINISHED! The rim is undercut and I need to ad some more depth to the undercut before finishing.

The bowl that needs to be FINISHED! The rim is undercut and I need to add some more depth to the undercut before finishing.

My bees seem to be wintering well. I am hoping for 30 lbs. or more of harvestable honey. I have tried to be very good to my bees but apparently I made one mad yesterday evening. The little bugger stung my arm! Oh well – the life of a beekeeper!

More soon.

 

TTFN

Bishop

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Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam – A Sensuous Kitchen Experience

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The title….The title is an apt description of the jam making experience but I will keep the blog descriptors “G” rated. What was actually going through my mind – is open for interpretation. I found this recipe in the same place I found the Meyer Lemon Curd recipe in the “Food in Jars” blog I mentioned in the post published on December 27th…..wait, wasn’t that yesterday? Life has given me lemons, more correctly, Meyer Lemons, and lemonade is not high on my list. Three alternatives made to date; 1. Limoncello – still a few weeks from completion, 2. Meyer Lemon Curd – a double batch, and now 3. Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam. Three decadent treats and the decadence is not restricted to flavors.

I will attempt to recreate the “cooking” experience as safely as I can. It has been a nasty, drizzly and cool day here in the Houston area. I stepped outside into the drizzle and hand selected 5, plump Meyer Lemons for the primary ingredient! Don’t try to read my mind, I will tell you that Led Zeppelin lyrics did not pop into my head until just a moment ago, so lets put that one to rest. I also used local honey…not mine but very similar in flavor.

The first non-cooking thought that hit me while stirring the batch was triggered by the aromas caressing my nose…. it was the mix of honey and, what must have been the volatile oils from the Meyer Lemon peels. The aromas were like the spring blossom time for citrus, most notably, from a midnight ride many years ago on my motorcycle down Sunset Blvd. The trip started on the UCLA campus and ended at Will Rogers Beach in Santa Monica. I have written in the past about the intoxicating scent of those Sunset Boulevard citrus blossoms on that cool and clear night. Just an amazing memory of the scents burned into my memories. My passenger that night I’m sure has similar memories of that scent filled ride, along the sweeping turns, cool and scent filled night leading down to the beach. Mmmmm – great memories triggered by the aromas buried in my gray matter.

As I was day dreaming and replaying that ride down the windy Boulevard the aromas coming off the batch of jam began to change. My first impression was that of a citrusy – Jasmine perfume scent. I had some, uh hum…. interesting thoughts….if a women was wearing a scent like this, the temptation to nibble and nuzzle her neck would have been overpowering. Plucked from somewhere deep in my memory banks was a connecting thought….pair this perfume aroma with the fresh scent of Herbal Essence shampoo and the beast within would have been testing the chains! – Careful Bishop…. I wondered if it was just my maleness fueling the thoughts when my wife popped into the kitchen and noted the perfume like aroma coming off the pot on the stove. She provided confirmation that my olfactory sensors were correct. Her comment pulled me back to the task at hand…..Jam!

The boiling process went on longer than the recipe called for. In hindsight, based on how thickly the jam set up, 15 minutes of boiling is probably correct time. I went well beyond that based on my sense of the thickening. During that time the aroma changed from arousing….(can I use that word?) to something very pleasant. The new aroma made me think more about hot, buttered and toasted sourdough bread lathered with this jam…I am very basic in my desires! I went from carnal to primal over the course of about 25 minutes.

I wound up with almost two pints of jam, probably a little darker in color than expected. If I had cut off the boiling time at 15 minute’s it may have been several shades lighter. I am assuming some “carmelization” took place. The jam is very well set and very tasty. I have many more lemons to pick so my next batch may be a little different….in results, but I hope that some same memories are triggered, memories that still make me smile. My lemons could not have been any fresher, once picked they were washed and in the boiling/simmering pot in less than 8 minutes….that may help explain the abundance of volatile lemon oils in the kitchen. Note to self……lets go ultra fresh again.

Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam

Yield: 3 to 4 half pints, plus a little for your morning yogurt

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds meyer lemons
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups honey

Instructions

  1. Wash the lemons and place them in a saucepan that can hold them in a single layer. Cover them with the water and bring to a boil.
  2. Once the water is bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the lemons for 25 minutes, until the skins are tender but still hold together.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and let the lemons cool completely.
  4. Place the lemons in a blender carafe and add two cups of the cooking water.
  5. Blend at low speed to break up the lemons. Take care not to puree them entirely smooth.
  6. Pour the lemon mix into a low, wide pan and add two cups of honey (choose something mild in flavor so that it doesn’t overpower the lemons).
  7. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to medium-high.
  8. Cook, stirring regularly, until the jam thickens and sheets off the back of your spoon or spatula. You can tell it’s nearly completion when it hisses and spits when you stir. My batch took all of 15 minutes of vigorous boiling to achieve set, but times will vary.
  9. When jam is finished cooking, remove pot from heat.
  10. Funnel jam into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for ten minutes.
  11. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.

By on February 19, 2014 in jams, jellies, marmalades

 

My little dwarf Meyer Lemon tree on an earlier day.

My little dwarf Meyer Lemon tree on an earlier day.

In a few more weeks I should see my bees working the Lemon blossoms....Mmmmm so good!

In a few more weeks I should see my bees working the Lemon blossoms….Mmmmm so good!

TTFN

Bishop

Rainy Day Garden Blog

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We had a rainy and stormy night last night. The thunder was the booming and it was the rolling type followed by the sound of heavy rain drumming rain on the roof. The last 24 hours brought 2.76 inches of rain in my neighborhood and as much as 3.64 a few miles away. As I write the sound of rain beating down of the roof is accelerating again…. Gotta love it!

Too wet to have coffee with the bees but I am enjoying my coffee. I am kinda sorta having coffee with my oldest daughter and her husband – they are out in Camarillo California to be precise, but with me in spirit. They sent the family a gift pack the past several Christmas’s from Harry & David, well known for their pears, but this pack had a 12 ounce package of coffee beans. The Northwest blend flavored – Hazlenut, Praline and Cinnamon. So, Melissa and Tayna….here’s to you! I am also snacking on my homemade sourdough bread, 30 minutes out of the oven…..still warm enough to melt the butter under a layer of my Serrano pepper and peach preserve.

Fresh and warm sourdough - Yum - I love making bread but even more so...... eating it!

Fresh and warm sourdough – Yum – I love making bread but even more so…… eating it!

I did check on the bees and the garden yesterday and they are busy buzzing away and gathering pollen. The strawberries are kicking out blossoms like crazy and I noticed a handful of blossoms on the sugar snap peas. I suspect I will be picking some snap peas well before New Years Eve. The carrot seeds sprinkled a few weeks ago are coming up nicely and should be ready to thin in another few weeks….I say should….seems like I have good intentions and always wind up with crowded carrots!

I will be picking my lemons this week and I need to decide how to reward my self, hmmmm – Lemon Curd is high on the list and may also be compatible with making Limoncello. How about both! Claire from “Promenade Plantings” gave the best advice for using lemon curd – open jar, insert spoon, pull out a heaping spoonful and insert into your mouth and let your taste buds celebrate….She said something like that

  • 1.5 Liters of Everclear – available in Texas
  • 14 Lemons
  • 1.5 Liters of water
  • 2.333333333333333333 pounds of sugar

Peel lemons taking care to not use the white portion of the peel…..just the yellow.

Place peels and Everclear in glass jars, seal tightly and place in a dark cool place for two weeks.

Mix sugar and water – heat and stir until dissolved. Let sit for an hour or so.

Drain lemon peels from the jars and mix with sugar water. Make a calculation a head of time in order to have on hand enough bottles to accommodate the new volumes.

Be patient and allow the bottled Linoncello to sit for a full month in a dark and cool place.

Store in the freezer and enjoy shots….I am looking forward to the fruits of my labors.

TTFN

Bishop.

“Doin’ The Dew”….Wild Dewberry Jam

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In the woods around Kingwood…..my home location – the wild dewberries have been ripening up. We had a good spring…plenty of rain and the crop is massive. There is a good patch of low growing dewberries at East End Park….a nice, well used area with miles of walking and biking gravel trails…. lots of berry pickers! http://www.eastendpark.com/about.html

I will share two locations and keep a few others secret. As I mentioned above, East End Park has a nice low growing patch in the open area to the right as you go through the barriers at the entrance. The other location….and I really like this one because many of the berries grow in an upright manner….helps the “old Man” save his back while picking. This other location is in River Grove Park across the walking bridge to the soccer fields and then a short walk over to the East edge of the fields. Based on what I saw yesterday, next weekend will be an outstanding weekend for berry pickers.

I brought home enough from two separate expeditions to cook up a batch of dewberry  jam today. In fact, I had a little too much for one batch and the freezer holds the start of the next batch. I always make the low sugar version of jams, strawberry, blackberry and dewberry. I use 1/3 less sugar than the regular homemade jams.

I started with 6 ½ cups of mashed up dewberries …. The recipe called for 5 but I used about 5 ½ cups of berries, bagged a cup for the future and went to work. My “go to” pectin is Sure Jell Light. I do try to follow the recipe sheet and measure everything!!!!! I fudge just a little but try to stay within reason with my deviations from the recipe.

The mashed of dewberries coming up to a boil.

The mashed of dewberries coming up to a boil.

Filling the hot sterilized jars with the yummy mix!

Filling the hot sterilized jars with the yummy mix!

Tools of jam making.

Tools of jam making.

The idle food mill - sorry Hun - you will have to live with the extra seeds.

The idle food mill – sorry Hun – you will have to live with the extra seeds.

I am having a banner year for jams and other canning goodies so far. I made a double batch of lemon curd from my homegrown Meyer Lemons. Horribly rich so I just use a little dab when I indulge. I have about 18 half pint jars of my homegrown strawberry jam and now 8 half pint jars of Dewberry Jam. The pantry is looking good!

The Pantry - Lots of Strawberry, Lemon Curd and Dewberry. Also a dab of 2013 leftovers, Pomegranate Jelly, Chipotle Peach jam, a blended jam - Blackberry/Dewberry/Strawberry and some Serrano Pepper Jelly.

The Pantry – Lots of Strawberry, Lemon Curd and Dewberry. Also a dab of 2013 leftovers, Pomegranate Jelly, Chipotle Peach jam, a blended jam – Blackberry/Dewberry/Strawberry and some Serrano Pepper Jelly.

I sometimes debate whether I should run the mashed berries through the food mill to remove a bunch of the seeds….about half….the seeds don’t bother me so I skipped that messy step. As the mix comes to a boil the aroma is so good….once the sugar is added and the color deepens the aroma now becomes a little sweeter.

TTFN

Bishop

 

When Life Gives You Lemons…….be Decadent!

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I know, that’s not how the standard saying goes, but life is too short to be just ordinarily optimistic. I suggest that you amp up your response and make people wonder about your sly smile. Do something out of the ordinary when life gives you lemons….maybe, step out and do something decadent!
Life did give me lemons, some wonderful Meyer Lemons from my dwarf tree in the backyard. My wife left for Orlando yesterday with my daughter and on her way out the door she pointed to the bag of lemons and said, “Do something with those lemons!”
She wasn’t smiling and I wasn’t sure if the tone in her voice had any latitude or hint of humor!

I figured I just better give the standard Texas husband’s response and said, “ Yes dear,”
I had intended to deal with them on my own time and schedule but I never found one of those handy “ round to it’s” lying around …..Until her comment. That was a genuine “round to it” handed to me!
I had some errands to run and decided that if I am getting a “round to it”, I may as well be decadent and enjoy the thrill. I knew that if I was to be really, really decadent with the lemons I needed lots of eggs and lots of butter. Decadent Lemon Curd was going to my afternoon plan! The recipe to make one single pint of this luscious, sensual and decadent curd requires one stick of butter, six egg yolks, one cup of sugar and of course fresh squeezed lemon juice with zest.
I took a risk and made double batches, two to be precise. The yield was about 4.75 pints. I am licking my lips right now…..there was a trace of this Lemon curd from the toast I just consumed before starting the post! Oh my, yes a bit of a cliché, but, Oh My…..it is so good!

The recipe;
Ingredients
• 6 egg yolks
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. Make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds out)
• 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks
• zest from the juiced lemons
Instructions
1. In a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Add the lemon juice and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd. Stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil. Your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. (my research finds that about 170 deg F is good).Drop in the butter and stir until melted.
2. Position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl and pour the curd through it, to remove any bits of cooked egg. Whisk in the zest.
3. Pour the curd (a single batch will make one pint of curd) into your prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. If you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil). According to So Easy to Preserve, it is best to process only in half-pint jars or smaller, as they allow better heat infiltration.
4. Eat on toast, stirred into plain yogurt or straight from the jar with a spoon.
Notes
Adapted from “The Martha Stewart Cookbook”
Step 4 is well stated – several years ago when I made my first batch of this decadent concoction, I made a comment about the uses for such a treat. One of my readers and author of the wonderful blog, “Promenade Plantings” suggested that the best way to use it is by the spoonful, straight out of the jar! She is spot on!
Give her blog a look….great stuff, stories and recipes. http://promenadeplantings.com/

I put three of the pints into pint jars....A bit much but once a jar is opened it doesn't last long!

I put three of the pints into pint jars….A bit much but once a jar is opened it doesn’t last long!

TTFN

Bishop

Organic and Decadent

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Interesting title….. I want to run a little test to better understand what words cause a reader to read on. Lets take a vote. All of you who read the post primarily because of the word “Organic” please raise your hand….keep them up so I can get a count. Good, thank you. Now those of you that tuned into the word “Decadent” please raise your hands for a count, not both of them – just one hand will do…… good thank you.

Hmmmmmm. I am not sure if I have a statistically significant sample to accurately determine the results….. Some of you may have voted twice or got the word “Organic” mixed up with another word after you saw the word “Decadent” influencing your voting! All this tells me is that my original plan for the title, ” A Natural Lemon Curd” may not have attracted many readers. Really, Lemon Curd? In Texas you might hear the refrain, ” What the Hell is Laaaman Crud or whatever you called that stuff?”

Honestly, I have to admit that I had no clue what lemon curd was until two years ago….yes I know I am not much of a sophisticated foodie, but I am learning! A neighbor friend and fellow gardener gave me a jar of her homemade lemon curd two years ago this Christmas. She has Meyer Lemon trees in her yard and enjoys sharing the bounty. I loved the lemon curd so much that I planted a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree in a wine barrel in my back yard. For a little guy he was prolific. I harvested about 25 lemons this year. So I decided to try my hand at making the fabulous lemon curd. I am sure my friend over at Promenade Plantings could give me some lessons and advice on how to best use my Decadently Rich lemon curd.

Here is where the “Organic” and “Decadent” came about….. I grow everything without chemicals so the lemons are “organic” by my definition. I used certified organic unsalted butter in the recipe, a lot of it! The sugar, well it was not labeled organic but it is essentially pure glucose and nothing else. I used a lot of sugar too! When I looked at how much butter and sugar went into this recipe – it made only 6 half pint jars, I realized how decadently rich this stuff is…. oh my! When you think of a food as being organic you first thought is something healthy. But, here we have an organic product that is so decadently rich and….”unhealthy”? –

Here is how I can justify the dilemma in my little “ole” pea brain….. “organic” = good, “decadent” in moderation = pretty darned good. That being said, I will eat my lemon curd, probably share some with others and feel good about my choices…… unless I can’t moderate my decadent desires and it flames out on the pleasure side of the equation…..its not like I have never gone overboard with “pleasures”….how many times?????? I could probably sit down with a spoon and eat the entire jar! Please don’t dredge up any stories to share with my wife…… she has probably heard most of them but my kids may not have…. after all those years playing Rugby there are a few stories floating around – most have been embellished over time! I didn’t know I was that entertaining!!!! How did a hard partying rugger find his way into gardening? That is a great question. May wind up being a future topic.

Photos are my lemons Au natural and photo-shopped a little. Kind of fun to see what the computer can do.

The winter garden is doing well. My son’s dog Sierra is back but I now have a garden gate to protect my little lettuces! The sugar snap peas, although not plentiful, are outstanding. My shredded leaf efforts are up to about 64 cubic feet and growing. If the weather cooperates this weekend I should be able to more than satisfy my expected needs.

More work coming up, more strawberry tower experimenting, install the new 4X4 bed for John…parts are in and assembled – just need to place it and fill it. Spinach and chard transplants are almost ready and the turnips are kicking butt. Looks like no winter for Houston this year! Oh, I also need to harvest the worm castings….. I keep putting it off. Lets see, what else, work part-time, make beer, turn a few pieces on the lathe, ride the bike, spend some time at the coffee shop and most importantly spend some quality time with my wife…..I need more hours in the day.

I am also planning a series of 3 backyard farming features….. John with his 32 sq. feet, me with my 350+/- sq. feet  and hopefully a piece on my friends, Jane and her John – they are utilizing the entire back yard and have converted most of the front yard to edible landscaping. Maybe a couple thousand sq. feet of plantings. Should be a fun project

TTFN

Bishop

 

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