Cranberry Sauce From Scratch

This year, I’m definitely into the holiday thing. With our first child expected a mere 5 days before Christmas, I simply can’t help it!! And yes, I’m one of those people–already planning where the tree will go, what other decorations I need to find, what lights to hang and all with a constant playlist of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in my head. And what does this have to do with cranberries? Well, part of it is to explain that I’ve been craving this amazing concoction for quite some time and also to help everyone else get ready for Thanksgiving (so that Thanksgiving can be over and I can blare Christmas music 24/7 without a word of complaint).

Two years ago when Hubby wasn’t Hubby yet and we were renting a crappy little house with no carpeting, we hosted our first holiday together–Thanksgiving of 2012. And of course I wanted to make a great impression on my future in-laws so I looked up all kinds of traditional recipes to throw together. My favorite holiday recipe was one of those and I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving without it! Jill Winger of the Prairie Homestead had a recipe I liked but that I’ve adapted a bit since that first time.

Most recipes call for a 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, but I splurged on my craving and bought the monster 3 pound bag along with a jug of my all-time favorite orange juice (high pulp variety of Simply Orange, its like crack to Hubby and I in case anyone wants brownie points). So, following my adapted recipe at the bottom, you’ll find it comes out rather tart but unbelievably delicious!

509Add orange juice and cranberries to a tall pot and bring to a boil. Stir in sugar and spices. Bring to a simmer for about 15-20 minutes until all of the berries have popped and the mixture starts to thicken. If you’re like me and you love this smell, its going to take every ounce of your strength to not start drinking the pot (although I admit to burning my tongue on a taste-test—SOOOO worth it!).

Now, if you’re happy with the flavor, you can serve it warm, pop it in the fridge (keeps for a week or so), freeze it (not sure on this one, but probably a few months I’d guess), or do what I do and can it. While the mix was thickening, I was getting my jars clean and hot so as soon as it was ready, into the jars it went and then straight into the hot water bath for 20 minutes (please refer to NCHFP guidelines).

If you wanted to be really smart about things, you could put your spices in a spice bag so you don’t have to go through the trouble to fishing them out one-by-one and then labeling your jars with a warning about cloves, but I was too excited to be bothered with thinking ahead…

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Like I said, this recipe made 7 pints (don’t ask me how many are left).

recipe

Happy Holiday Cooking and Feasting!!

Love,

Betty XOXOXOXOXOXOX

Crock Pot Apple Sauce

With the millions of recipes out there for CrockPot apple sauce, mine is probably the laziest that you’ll come across. God bless Hubby for going so far out of his way to buy my favorite apples in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD (Winesap apples from McGlasson’s Farm to be precise). But his timing and my energy levels could have been much better while were were getting past the rush of a baby shower and home improvements. The two giant brown bags he bought me had to sit on top of the fridge for nearly a month until I had more than two hours put together in a weekend to do something with them. And I wanted to make apple sauce, apple butter, apple jelly, apple juice–you name it!–but by last weekend they were in such bad shape all I could do was make apple sauce. And as you know from my previous post about pumpkins, I didn’t make a whole lot either. Normally I like to toss my chunks of apples in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes and then process them in my food mill. With just a handful of apples left, I couldn’t justify waiting that long to boil water. So, in steps the Almighty CrockPot.

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All the apples got rough chopped and tossed right into the CP with a splash of store-bought apple cider to keep everything nice and juicy. This mix cooked on high for about 3 hours while I processed the pumpkins. When I stirred the apples and found them dry I added a bit more cider which probably totaled about 2 cups. They softened up right about when the pressure cookers were starting their singing so out came the Foley Food Mill! Just as before, all the scraps (peels, seeds, etc) were saved for Bernice and I ended up with some really delicious apple sauce. I’m not a fan of the store-bought apple cider as it had preservatives that lent a funny taste, but it was all I had.

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Sadly this recipe only made 4 pints so I have to savor it wisely. Next year I’ll get back on par and make my usual amounts to get me through the winter without the icky store-bought stuff. Who knew I’d be such a snob about apple sauce?!

Do you make your own? Do you add spices or sugar? How have you made it in the CP before?

Love,

Betty XOXOXOXOX

What to do with your pumpkin after Halloween?

503As I’m sure most all of you have guessed by now, the answer to “what can I do with my leftover pumpkin” is sooo obvious–can it!! I might have a slight addiction, but as far as I know there’s no Canner’s Anonymous (“hi, I’m Betty”, “hello, Betty”). But in the spirit of harvest time, what else is a gal to do? The two lovely pumpkins that I’m canning in this post came from work after we were done with pumpkin bowling. As much abuse as they got, they were still in fantastic shape but my boss wanted to throw them away!–GASP–Step in the savior of little-known useful things! I love conversations akin to the one we had (“You can make a pie out of these?”) *sigh*

479Just as in the previous Mystery Squash 484 post, be sure you gather your (sharpened) tools first along with your bowls and refuse buckets. This time around, I had to step up my game and figure a way to cut through the toughest skins I’ve ever met. Once you get your first cut through, slide a butter knife in there as you go. Although I’m sure it looked like I was committing some kind of vicious crime against those pumpkins, it made me feel I had more control over how quickly my ultra-sharp knife was chopping through. Maybe your pumpkin will be a 480 bit softer. Another tool I found incredibly useful with this little saucer thing meant for saving your tea bag. I can’t remember exactly what struck me that I felt I needed to try it, but it made scraping the guts out much quicker and the membranes didn’t leave their usual stringy stuff behind. Its probably not worth going out to buy if you don’t already have one, but anything similar will give you lots of control and minimize the time you spend cleaning your squashes out.

I’ve never been a huge fan of peeling anything, but cutting the pumpkin into long narrow slices helped to have something to hold onto and quickly whip that tough orangey armor off. And if you have any animals around, be sure you’re saving all that yummy goodness for them. The goat and pig were most appreciative to have the scraps! All the pieces of pumpkin were chopped down to about the size of a quartered kiwi (or a medium strawberry if you like). Toss them in your clean hot jars with 1″ headspace, top with boiling water and lid pieces. Mine were processed for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure (please refer to NCHFP guidelines) and all sealed perfectly–except for this one! This was the first jar I have ever broken while canning, so may we please have a moment of silence?

Betty's first broken jar
Betty’s first broken jar

I assume it was thermal shock because obviously I wouldn’t have used it if my pre-run inspection showed any signs of damage. Oh well, it happens right? Something else I noticed that you might run into would be canning squash with two different water contents. In the pictures below, the left was the tougher (and crumblier) of the two to work with whereas the right picture shows a pumpkin of average water content. I had never come across this before so I opened one of the latter jars to be sure that I didn’t miss something gone awry during processing. There’s nothing wrong with either of them, just that the left pumpkin absorbed most of the water that was in there and the second not as much.

water content

When all was said and done I finished the weekend with 20 quarts of pumpkin, 4 pints of apple sauce, 4 pints of apple cider jelly and 7 pints of my favorite whole cranberry sauce. Tune in next post for the skinny on those adventures!

Happy canning folks!!!

Love,

Betty XOXOXOXOXOX

Call it denial, but I don't have any problems with my canning passions.
Call it denial, but I don’t have any problems with my canning passions.

Mystery Squash

When I planned my garden back in January I had the best intentions to be organized and smart about how everything was laid out. I mean, I researched and planned everything from how much broccoli to what grows best with cucumbers to trellises for my beans. In the end, about 99% of this planning went to the birds because I ran out of energy and enthusiasm when my morning sickness kicked in. And to make matters worse I have the unfortunate combination of thick-headedness, bulging sacral discs, and the release of Relaxin (darn you, Mother Nature). All of this meant that I was determined to get things done when Hubby wasn’t there to yell at me and ended up pulling, straining or causing other bodily harm so that nothing productive actually got done.

In the end I wound up with a handful of tomatoes, about 4 rows of corn, kale (that my goat helped itself to), bell peppers, spaghetti squash and this odd-looking orange squash–lots of it. I’ve tried to figure what kind it is but the best I can guess is I bought some kind of winter squash and planted it in just the right spot to flourish wildly. The patch was downhill form the old duck pond so I imagine the ammonia in their poop was what made this and the spaghetti squash so plentiful.

Split the suckers open and scrape out the guts!
Split the suckers open and scrape out the guts!

No matter, I still was determined to do something with the stuff so I bravely cooked it up and tried it–yummy! It had a smell and taste similar to pumpkin and lucky for me it canned up just the same. Although I admit I had no previous experience with farm-stuffs or frugality before I married Hubby, my momma and I canned pumpkin every year for her famed pumpkin pie. Conveniently, the squash are just a little bit smaller and easier to handle. Be sure your knives have been sharpened recently, though. Somehow I always forget this step and have to stop productions to sharpen the two or three I’ve grabbed. I always grab so many just to see which will end up working best.

Separate your chunks from by-products
Separate your chunks from by-products

Anyways, scrape out the insides and rinse the seeds for munchies if you like those. I couldn’t get to that step this time, but maybe next time… All of the chunks ended up being about the size of a quartered kiwi–not too big, but also not so small that you’re wasting your time. Toss the chunks in a hot quart jar, top with boiling water, lid and seal and process those bad boys in a pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure for an hour and a half (see NCHFP guidelines here for adjustments).

Now I don’t know why, but for some reason I can never just can one thing at a time. I always end up canning at least two other things at the same time. Its a great way to utilize my free time (weekends only at this point), and I love how well stocked we are. So while I was chopping and peeling squash I was also boiling beans (using Jill’s recipe which I love and have down to an art) and the next day made a bit of chicken soup. I ended with a total of 6 1/2 quarts chicken soup, 12 quarts squash, and 14 1/2 quarts of beans.

Squash, beans and chicken soup!
Squash, beans and chicken soup!

And this is how much I love y’all—I’m going to share my newest recipe for the squash! I call it Mexi-Squash Spaghetti Sauce and its an absolute miracle when I need to throw dinner together pretty quickly. Here it is, I hope you like it as much as Hubby does!

mexi-squash spaghetti sauce

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Do you have any recipes for squash? Aside from pumpkin pie, this has got to be my favorite of all time! If you try it and tweak it, let me know so I can try it too!

Love,

Betty XOXOXOXOX

One for the Crow and Two for Me

Pretty morning sunshine on the corn stalks
Pretty morning sunshine on the corn stalks

Canning my own corn was an absolute breeze! Hubby had planted corn a long time ago so neither of us were quite sure how well our corn would grow. Turns out, we did pretty darn well.

When it was time for planting, Hubby made sure to ingrain in my brain the phrase “one for the crow, two for me” as I pushed three kernels of sweet corn in each hole. It got a bit numbing after a while of course but its something we have to deal with as gardeners. Mother Nature will always take her fair share (and then some on occasion) and its not in our rights to be upset about that. The animals were here far longer than us and being upset about a few missing ears of corn will only raise the blood pressure. So with that lovely adage in my brain, I went out one extremely pleasant July morning and began harvesting. Getting the corn off the stalks was a simple twist of the wrist and a sharp downward tug. Then into the bucket they went with a cursory glance for bugs wanting a free ride into my home. I made myself a nice little set-up on the front porch–where the weather was still blissfully calm and cool even in the sunshine. There’s nothing like the smell of early morning in the summer, is there? All of the corn got stripped (with the scraps going to a very happy pig and goat I happen to know) then the buckets came back inside for a good wash.corn, pig, goat

Back inside, the buckets were filled with lukewarm water and about 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide. I left these to sit for 15 minutes while I cleared counters (made an extra cup of coffee) and set my jars at the ready. I found it helpful to fill a pot with some water to weigh the ears down to ensure they all got a thorough soaking. After the

Pork Chop the veggie guard
Pork Chop the veggie guard

15 minutes (under Pork Chop’s guard), everything got dumped and rinsed in the sink. Then I got to all the chopping and slicing. Using a recently-sharpened paring knife, I cut the kernels off the cob, reserving the cobs. Why, you ask? Just wait….

With a mountain of fresh and incredibly sweet-smelling corn, I filled my hot jars with corn, topping with boiling water for a 1-inch headspace. I wiped the rims, added lids, rings and tossed them in the pot. Each batch was 278pressure canned at 11 pounds for an hour per NCHFP guidelines (read guidelines and recommendations here). Everything sealed perfectly and I still have cases of delicious sweet corn ready to toss into salads, rice, soups, etc.

So, the cobs I mentioned earlier were spared the wrath of Bernice (my lovely piggy) for one reason–Corn Cob Jelly!!!! On perusing the interwebs for other jelly recipes a while back, I came upon a recipe for this miraculous concoction and just had to try it. I was so excited in fact, that I didn’t even take any pictures (bad Betty, bad!). But what I can tell you for sure is that the jelly is not done until it resembles the color of honey. I followed the recipe exactly as it was written, and it did not set. When I went back to reread what I might have missed, the author mentions something about a coworker thinking the jelly was a jar of honey–so make sure yours looks like honey when you’re done. And as

This is the jelly--not done yet, it sure doesn't look like honey to me
This is the jelly–not done yet, it sure doesn’t look like honey to me

strange as the stuff sounds, it really is amazing. Just imagine taking the sunshine and the smell of summer, putting it into a pot of boiling sugar water, and out comes a lump of candied summer essence. Being in the beginnings of winter (and in deep mourning for my flip flops), just the smell of this jelly brings me right back to the front porch that glorious July morning!

 

Have you canned your corn before? Isn’t it amazing how something that delicious comes out of the plain old dirt?!

Love,

Betty XOXOXOXO

Entrepreneurship

My mother in law was recently made the godmother/sponsor of a friend’s daughter for the girl’s quincenera. A quincenera is traditionally a Mexican celebration of life and family on the fifteenth birthday of a young lady. It is her coming-of-age and therefore a very big deal. And being the sponsor of this young lady, my MIL’s gift needed to be perfect. The gift needed to represent both the family’s prosperity and the maturity of the young lady. It had to convey respectability and elegance. And, once again I stress, it had to be perfect. The mother suggested to pick between paying for the ($600+) dress or the invitations for roughly 30 families. Seeing as the budget wouldn’t quite afford such an extravagant dress, my mother in law elected to make the invitations–by hand!

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Look at our lovely little workshop!

She came to me for an extra pair of hands (and I never turn down a crafty project, its a true weakness) and I couldn’t have been more excited. But then she described all of the fancy details with all these ribbons and tucks and curls and boxes and me-oh-my my head started to spin!! I thought for sure I had gotten myself into it now. But the next day she brought over a couple of mysterious bags full of these ribbons and boxes and it all came together! Believe it or not, the hardest part was to make sure we had all of the information correct and proof-read in Spanish by three different people, just to be ultra safe.

The idea was to make some elegant scroll-like announcements so we needed some WP_20150711_10_56_45_Proreally ritzy stuff. I volunteered my parchment-style resume paper to print the invites on. Who uses pure white these days anyway, right? Then I trimmed them down a bit to fit onto little dowel rods making sure there was enough room for the ball ends to go on afterwards. A little smear of glue tacked the paper to the dowel, and then it had to dry. While the glue dried on those, I set to work experimenting with the sealing wax. I knew those would be the last to go on, WP_20150711_13_55_36_Probut since neither of us had used something this tricky in a long time I wanted to be safe rather than sorry while we still had time. The wax was really easy to use and the results were stunning! The hardest part was that you had to hold the stick just right or the flame went out and was a pain to relight.

Keep it all organized!
Keep it all organized!

Next, another little smear of glue down the line stuck the paper to the entire side of the dowel. Trust me on this, the Tacky Glue was the best option. I tested with Rubber Cement and Elmer’s–both curled the paper horribly (even though RC shouldn’t) and neither stuck well enough. Then these had to dry (again). I tried to keep all of the balls with the ends that they were formed to with our handy-dandy pliers, but they liked rolling and wobbling all over the place. While the papers were drying for the last time, I started cutting the ribbons that we needed. This was a bit tricky because my math is awful! We ended up running out of ribbon twice, balls twice and dowel rods once. Thank heavens that between the two local Walmart’s and one Hobby Lobby we were able to match things together.

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In any case, here is the assembly of our bows. I got a nice little line-up going after a while and (thank heavens to parchment paper) didn’t ruin a single box. After all the spider webs of hot glue were removed, I have to say these little puppies were better than either of us expected!

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A few words of advice though:

  • Always do the math twice and buy just a little more than you need–it will save on gas in the long run so you’re not all around kingdom-come trying to match ribbons and dowel rods together
  • NEVER trust that you have enough in your “stash” that will match. If she hadn’t insisted on checking the math, we would have started making the invitations and been unable to match one of the narrower ribbons we originally picked out.
  • Clothes pins are definitely your friend!
  • God bless hot glue guns and Tacky Glue

The invitations got great reviews from all of the friends and family. A friend is talking to us about wedding invitations for next year possibly!! I had no idea this would go to our heads, but we’re already talking about making a business out of it! Not sure I’m cut out to be a business woman, but I’ve gotten pretty darn good with assembly lines….

Have you done any hand-made invites? How did they go? Got any other tips or suggestions?

Love,

Betty

XOXOXO