The Night Before the Killer Frost

apple harvestTwas the night before the killing frost,

and all thru the house,

not a creature was stirring,

because they were all outside frantically picking apples!

And jalapenos and tomatoes and green beans.

But mostly apples.

Red Delicious. Golden Delicious. Red Rome. Granny Smith.

It was a bumper crop – limb breaking actually.

We filled every box and bucket we could find.

And still we had apples.

We’ve been slowly picking apples for the last two months, picking a box or bag as needed. There are several bags in the freezer, several quarts of apple pie filling on the shelf, and many, many crisps and pies consumed.

I see many, many more pies and crisps in our future.

But not tonight.

Tonight I want a hot shower, and a big cup of tea.

And maybe some chocolate.

Aronia Berries

aronia berriesSo… have you tried the aronia berry?

About the size of a blueberry, it’s supposedly one of the most super of the super foods with even more antioxidants then the famed acai berry we hear so much about.

And it grows in the Midwest.

Who knew? We didn’t. At least until about a month ago when my sister mentioned them.

We did a little research and were quite impressed with their nutritional info.

But not so much their price – $10.99 a pound frozen! Ouch!

So when we met the aunt of a friend who happened to live 30 miles south of us – and had about an acre of the wonder berries – and invited us to come on down and pick some – we were pretty excited.

I could just imagine my super healthy family – able to leap off tall buildings, bend iron with our bare hands, and ward off every evil germ known to mankind.

And then we ate some.

Let’s just say that their common name is “choke berry” for a reason. Ugh.

aronia berries bushes

But we still picked four 5 gallon buckets full and brought them home. Then we spent four days removing every berry from the stem and freezing them in quart bags.

Talk about labor intensive.

But now what do we do with them?

Angel Girl threw a few in her smoothies and said they weren’t too bad – at least until the day she added too many and couldn’t even drink it.

I found a recipe for aronia berry pie on line and attempted one Saturday night. Sure looked pretty,  much better than it tasted.

And the texture was really weird. It sat on the counter untouched for days.

So now I have a freezer full of aronia berries that I can’t get in to my kids.

So much for super powers.

I’m afraid we shall remain mere mortals.

Auntie M’s Famous Spaghetti Sauce

spaghetti sauceWell… since my friend Sandy requested it, and it seems to be all I’m doing lately… I thought I’d take a minute between batches to post my famous spaghetti sauce recipe.

Okay, maybe it’s not so famous.

And I guess it’s not exactly mine – I got it from my sister-in-law Karen. But I have made it for years and served it often to family and guests.

I call it spaghetti sauce – but it’s really an all-purpose Italian sauce that we also use on pizza and in lasagna and cavatini.

It’s not hard – it just takes time!

First – get a bunch of tomatoes.   And I do mean a bunch! Then wash them and make them into puree.

My favorite way to do this is with my handy-dandy Victorio strainer. I purchased this amazing piece of equipment 20 years ago at an Amish store and love it! You can buy them on Amazon – and I highly recommend it! Mine paid for itself the first year and has saved me money (even made me money!) ever since.

If you don’t have a Victorio – you can also skin the tomatoes, blend them in a blender and push them through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Once you have the puree – you measure it, do the math to figure out how many batches you have and begin.

Auntie M’s famous Spaghetti Sauce

33 cups of tomato puree
1 whole onion (just cut it in half)
1 or 2 green peppers (just cut it in half and seed it)
6 bay leaves

Put the tomato puree in a large, heavy pot. Throw in the onion, pepper and bay leaves. (Don’t worry about fine chopping these – we’ll fish them out later!)

Bring to a boil over high heat, watching it carefully that it doesn’t boil over and stir it often.

Once it has boiled, cook for 2 hours, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, make your “slurry”.

What’s a slurry you ask? It’s the short cut to making a rich, thick spaghetti sauce without cooking tomatoes on the stove for hours.

The secret – tomato paste.  I mix the tomato paste and the spices to make what we call the slurry. Then I add the cooked tomato sauce and mix it to bring everything to the perfect consistency!

Slurry

9 – six ounce cans of tomato paste
1-1/2  tablespoons black pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
4- 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/2 up to 1 – 1/2 cups of sugar
3 tablespoons dried basil
5 tablespoons dried oregano leaves

In a very large bowl, mix together the tomato paste, pepper, garlic powder, salt, sugar, basil and oregano.

Carefully ladle the hot tomato sauce through a strainer (to fish out the well-cooked pepper and onions) into the slurry mixture.

Stir till combined.

Pack into sterilized jars and can in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

Makes 7 quarts.

Some hints –

I always double the recipe and put it in my heavy 18 quart stock pot. The heavier the stock pot the better. Flimsy light weight ones will cause scorching and frustration. Trust me – I learned this the hard way.

As for the sugar – you can add as much or as little as you wish.  I use 1/2 cup per batch which is just enough to take down the acidity of the tomatoes.

Home Canned Salsa

SalsaI didn’t even look in the garden before we left for the funeral last week.

In this case – ignorance might have been bliss at the time – but it did leave us with a lot of very ripe tomatoes waiting when we got back!

The really overripe ones went to our red wattle pigs,  Diesel and Ethel. So instead of making spaghetti sauce with them – I guess we made pork. 🙂

The rest we’re working up now.  Next up – another batch of Mendi’s salsa!

I love canning my own salsa!  It costs so little and I can control how much sugar goes into it.

This is the salsa we use to make our very favorite easy black bean soup!

Home Canned Salsa
recipe from my friend Mendi

5 pounds tomatoes
3 cup chopped onions
1 cup jalapeno peppers, diced (this is optional)
1 cup cider vinegar
3-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 – 3/4 cup sugar (I used even less and nobody noticed!)
1 cup green pepper, chopped
2 teaspoon garlic

Peel and chop the tomatoes into chunks.

Mix all the other ingredients with the tomatoes in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and cook until you get a desired thickness. (If I’m in a hurry – we have a thinner salsa. If I have time, we get a thick rich one.)

Make sure you use a heavy pot and stir often to avoid sticking and burning! (Ask me how I know this!)

Pour into sterilized pint jars, seal and process for 30 minutes  in a boiling water bath.

Remove from the canner and let cool for 24 hours on clean towels on your kitchen counter so that everybody who walks by with be impressed with your homemaking skills!

Enjoy all winter long when garden fresh tomatoes are but a distant memory!

Corn-a-Thon

It all started with an innocent question.

My husband called at lunch – as he always does – and as we were chatting about the mornings events  he mentioned that one of his buddies from work had some extra sweet corn.  Did I want some?

Of course I wanted some! Our first picking had been good – we enjoyed all the corn we could eat and had about 30 “fat” quarts in the freezer – but our second planting was stunted from the drought and our third planting was weeks away.

So we gathered some buckets and boxes and set the boys in to  meet their dad after work and pick us some corn.

I wasn’t expecting a lot – the guy told Jan they had been picking all week – but I was hoping for an all-you-can corn fest for supper and a few more bags in the freezer.

They brought home a Suburban full!

sweet corn

Boxes and boxes and boxes of sweet corn. Jan said they barely made a dent in the field.

They guys started husking right away and I got some water boiling.

We took a break for some supper – but by 6:30 we were back at it!

The next few hours are a blur.

Put corn in. Set the timer. Move the cooled corn to the table. Get fresh water. Cut some corn. Bag some corn. Clean some corn.Run out to grab more corn. Husk a few ears. Run in and take the corn out. Put corn in. Set the timer…

By 8:30 it was getting dark but the guys were still husking. They moved operations to the work shop. The table was covered with cooked ears but I sent Angel Girl out to help them finish.

Corn

By 9:30 the husking was finally done and all hands moved inside to help cut. My table was full of cooked ears, one counter was full of raw ears, and the other counter was covered with full freezer bags.

By 10:30 all four kids were cutting corn as fast as they could and listening to the 2nd Adventures in Odyssey CD. My feet stuck the floor in the kitchen from all the corn juice splattered.

By 11:30 the last of the corn went in to cook and the freezer was so full that I couldn’t find room for more.

By 12:30 the last ear was cut and the last of the freezer bags filled. The kids started cleaning themselves up and heading to bed while I looked at the disaster that once was my kitchen.

By 1:30 AM I had washed the dishes, scrubbed the counters and table, and was scrubbing my floor.

Finally tally – 58 fat quarts (a quart bag stuffed as full as it can be – usually between 5-6 cups), 4 exhausted kiddos, one trashed kitchen, and one wiped-out mom who kept shaking her head and saying, “What was I thinking?”

I know what I was thinking :

“Boy am I glad the kids are home to help!”

“Corn in the freezer is like gold in the bank!”

“This is sure gonna taste good come winter!”

“What a gift – all this corn for free! And I didn’t have to plant it, weed it, water it or try to keep the coons out!” 🙂