Monday, September 19, 2016

Cherry Pie Jam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring the cherries, stirring constantly, with lemon juice, almond extract and pectin to a full rolling boil that won't be stirred down. Boil hard for just over one minute. Turn off heat. Slowly add 4 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring well. Turn medium heat back on and continue to stir as it comes to a boil. Bring it to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down again. Let it boil for just over one minute a second time, stirring constantly and watching it closely so it doesn't boil over. If it reaches for the top of the pot, lift it quickly off the heat for a few seconds. Then return it to continue boiling. You may have to do that a few times as it boils. WATCH IT CLOSELY! Jam in the burners and all over the stove is a very sticky and sugary mess to clean up. It's also a waste of fabulous jam! 
Pour into sterile, hot jam/canning jars. Top with sterile seals and rings. Boil in a water bath for a full 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Remove rings before storing. 

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

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

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Baking Winter Squash

We baked our 50+ lb Hopi black squash today. It's the largest squash I have ever grown! Hubby cut it into 16 pieces, each weighing between 1200 and 1500g each.  I knew it was a 50 pounder! 

We wrapped each piece in foil and are baking it today. We can't get it all in the oven at one time, it's so large! 

It lasted a long time and wasn't beginning to go yet. I might have lasted through Feb. We still have another, smaller one that hasn't ripened to full orange yet. I'm sure that one will be good for another month or so, maybe longer. 

I added the knife for size comparison. This squash is a dark, bright orange. Does it have more beta carotene maybe? That would be a big plus. :) 

We love it. We eat it as a cooked veggie with just a pinch of salt and butter. Delicious! It makes great pies, muffins, cookies, loaf and cake squares too! 

This is the longest I have kept one. I think the difference is that this year, I kept it at room temperature instead of in the root cellar. It was dryer and warmer on our dining room floor all winter. 

We go through a lot of squash in a year! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bringing in Your Plants

Autumn is just around the corner! It's September now. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. It's time to bring the houseplants back inside.

Trays for the plants have always been a concern for me. I bring in a lot of geraniums and so forth from the garden and start many plants indoors early in the spring. This year I am going to use boot trays under the plants! It's an idea that just came to me while shopping at Home Depot today. It's the only thing I could find that is big enough for this pot but it works perfectly. I can add other pots to the tray as well and use them in front of the patio doors too! I love the idea!

I planted most of my plants directly into the garden in June this year, so will have those to dig up and plant into pots with fresh soil shortly. I will have to look carefully to make sure there are no earthworms, earwigs or other insects coming in with them.

I'm buying more boot trays today!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cannas from Seed

I have successfully grown canna lilies from seed for a few years now and am always on the lookout for more canna seed. I love cannas! They are so tropical looking and perfect for filling in holes anywhere! 

Dwarf Yellow
This past winter I started many different canna seeds that I received in a trade. The above pic is a few that I grew from those seed. Some turned out to be large flowering dwarf yellow ones, very nice! One tall peach, beautiful! Several tall with very small yellow flowers but large tropical leaves and, so far, one dwarf gold colour. I will put the ones with small flowers together in bare spots in the new large flowerbed at the front. The nicer ones will go into the courtyard, the pond and various pots. 

I have developed a technique that usually works well. Canna seeds have a coating that has to be opened to allow water to enter and germinate the seeds. This is not so easy to do. Many seeds need scarification (as this is called) but cannas are particularly difficult. The first year I tried several different methods but the only one that worked for me was using a rasp in the drill on high speed and holding the seed to it with a pair of needle nose pliers. This year I have a whet stone that I used with success. 

The seed only needs a very small and very shallow opening in the black coat to germinate. I don't want to harm the seed inside or it will not grow. After this step, I soak them overnight in warm water before planting. If done correctly, they will germinate in about 2-3 weeks in warm temps in potting soil indoors. Many that I have started in this manner in Jan-Feb have grown to bloom in the same season, even in Ontario, especially the dwarf varieties which don't need a long growing season. 

One Peach Canna
Growing cannas from seed is very rewarding! I like all the tender bulbs that go into cold storage for the winter. I can put them where I need them in the spring, filling in holes and covering dying daffodil leaves as they age. Dahlias are another favourite for the same reasons. 

This coming winter I want to grow more cannas. I would love to trade for canna seeds that are not yellow. I have only yellow cannas now. I would like some with red leaves and some with fancy striped leaves and some with large red flowers. If you have seeds from these varieties and would like to trade, please contact me.