Desserts, Gluten-free, Recipes, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Pies

Who’s baking pies today?  I am!  There are three old favorites, standards, I always make:  apple pie, pumpkin pie, and sour cream apple pie. I might make a new recipe (a chocolate pie) this year, and if it’s good, I’ll share it with you next week.

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For the apple pie, I use my home-grown, home-canned apple pie filling.  For the pumpkin pies, I use my home-grown, home-frozen pumpkin puree (recipe in this post below), and I do as my sister taught me–double the spices!  What a difference that makes in flavor.  For the sour cream apple pie, (which is the pie I absolutely must make for Thanksgiving, or else I’m in big trouble) I use some pie apples from the garden that I save in the fridge just for Thanksgiving.  Sometimes, I make my own sour cream for this pie, but this year, I’m using store bought.  For pie crust, I use a gluten-free crust made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour which I developed a while back that is so good, nobody but me knows it’s gluten-free!  For these recipes and more, follow the links below:

Gluten-free Pie Crust

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Apple pie filling

 

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

(makes 1 pie)

2 eggs

1 cup pureed pumpkin

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 can evaporated milk (or 1 cup heavy cream)

Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Pour into unbaked 9-inch pie shell and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: You may need to bake pie made with homemade roasted pumpkin a little longer because it is not quite as dense as canned pumpkin.  Canned pumpkin made be used in this recipe.

Happy pie baking!  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Canning, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free, Recipes

Apple Time

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The house painting project has taken so much time, there’s been no time for blogging.

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However, I did pick apples today.   My apples are falling!  I would have loved to have left them on the tree a little longer, but between wind, squirrels, raccoons, and birds, they had to be picked. I have the tree about 2/3rds of the way stripped and will finish tomorrow with my grandson’s help. I have nicknamed him Farm Boy, because he does love to garden. And I love to have his help.

If you are picking apples now, when they are still not quite ripe, here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned.

* Twist the apple clockwise (or to the right) to get it to release either from the stem or from the branch. Twisting rather than pulling does far less damage to your tree.

*Sort the apples as you pick them. I pick into a two gallon bucket (because that’s all I can lift when it’s full) and after I’ve filled the bucket, I sort them into separate boxes: a box for any wormy apples, any that have hit the ground, any that have been bird-pecked, and any oddly-shaped apples that won’t go through the peeler cleanly; and a box for “perfect apples,” those that are not bruised or wormy or bird-damaged. This is important because the old adage that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel really is true. When I sort as I pick, I know which apples need to be processed first, and which ones can sit for a while and sweeten up a bit more.  The pic below is of the damaged apples.  These won’t sit long.  I’ll be turning them into apple butter next week.

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*Store the apples that are going to sit for a while in no more than two layers, with plenty of newspaper in between layers to absorb moisture and cushion the fruit. Don’t stack boxes of apples on top of each other unless you can do it without bruising them.

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*Store the apples in the coolest place you can find where mice, squirrels, etc., will not damage them. This can be difficult sometimes. Right now, the only place I have to store my apples is our pump house, and since the temps are heating up again, they will not hold long. Cooler is better, if possible.

I process my bruised, damaged apples first because they will go bad much faster than the perfect apples. I make applesauce and apple butter with those apples. For my apple butter recipe, click on the link above.

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With the perfect apples, I usually make pie filling and dehydrated apples with cinnamon for the grandkids (and even my kids still ask for them!), but this year, it’ll just be dehydrated apples. I have plenty of pie filling left from last year, both canned and frozen. (For the recipe for canned apple pie filling, see below.)

For dehydrated apples, we use a hand-cranked peeler/slicer/corer machine (Dennis always helps me with this part). After slicing the rings in half, I drop the apples into acidulated water (lemon juice or Fruit Fresh added to water) to prevent browning, and I place them on the dehydrator trays and sprinkle them with cinnamon. You can’t keep them from turning brown, and the cinnamon helps disguise the brownness and gives them wonderful flavor. My kids have always loved these, and now my grandkids do too. Just the other day, my daughter was at my house, foraging in the pantry, and came across a bag of my dried apples. She ate half the bag and wanted to take the other half home with her!

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And don’t throw out the peels and cores–make apple scrap vinegar  or apple pectin stock with them.  Click on the link for the how-to.

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I usually make up gallon bags of pie filling for the freezer. I just use the apple pie recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook, and mix up the filling in a bowl (apples, flour or cornstarch—and you can use brown rice flour for this if you are gluten-free, sugar, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, cinnamon and whatever other spices you like).

But last year, a friend, Suzanne Lepowski, shared a canned apple pie filling recipe with me which I altered because I don’t can with cornstarch or Clear Jel (unsafe with the former and too expensive with the latter), and it worked perfectly. One quart jar isn’t enough for a 9-inch pie, but works fine with an 8-inch pie. If you want to make 9-inch pies, can both quarts and pints. One of each will fill a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. All you have to do is add a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, or ¼ cup flour, or brown rice flour if you’re gluten-free, to the contents of the jar, and then put it in your unbaked pastry shell. The apples are tender, and the pie is delicious. Thanks, Suzanne!

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Canned apple pie filling (no thickener)

6 pounds apples (About 20-25 medium apples:  amounts to about 5 qts. cored, peeled, sliced.  This will make about 3 quart jars of pie filling.)

Ball Fruit Fresh (or several tablespoons of lemon juice)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (and I add 1/2 teaspoon allspice because I like it in my pie filling)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel, core, and slice apples.  Add apples to water with Fruit Fresh according to directions on Fruit Fresh jar, or add several tablespoons of lemon juice to a large bowl of water. Combine sugar and spices in large pan. Rinse and drain apples.   Stir apples into sugar and spice mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until boiling.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot, sterilized quart or pint jars, leaving 1 inch head space, place lid and cap, and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, adjusting for altitude according to altitude chart.

I hope you are able to leave your apples on the tree long enough to let them be kissed by frost.  It makes them sweeter.  But if, like me, you are working with apples now, I hope you enjoy these recipes.  We do.

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Beverages, Canning, Desserts, Recipes, Uncategorized

Blackberry Time

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It is blackberry time, and we are busy trying to get caught up with our picking after being away for five days.  And it rained all day yesterday, so if we don’t pick quickly, the berries will rot from too much moisture.  So, instead of an original post this week, I’m going to repost a recipe I shared last year, in case anyone else is dealing with an abundance of blackberries.  Just remember, the berries can be frozen (don’t even wash them unless they are dusty) in gallon freezer bags and juiced later.  They will render more juice after the freezing and thawing process.  This recipe came from my sister’s father-in-law, who went by “Tip,” thus the name of the recipe.  This stuff was a big hit at my 40th high school reunion last weekend!

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Tip’s Blackberry Cordial

9 cups blackberry juice

2 cups sugar

3 cups vodka or brandy

 

Bring blackberry juice and sugar to low boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and add vodka or brandy. Pour into clean bottles (brandy or vodka bottles work well for this) and cap tightly. Stores indefinitely.

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Dairy, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free

Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie

A recipe for Rhubarb Cream Pie was floating around Facebook a few weeks ago, and I shared it to my timeline. It reminded me of the Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe I was given years ago by my good friend, Wes Reid. Sour Cream Apple Pie has been a family favorite for many years, and if I were to forego making it for every holiday get-together, I would be in serious trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, I had rhubarb in the garden ready to pick, so I decided to try to adapt the Sour Cream ApplePie recipe, subbing in rhubarb and sour cream and a streusel topping, and see what happened. Oh, my goodness gracious, it might be even better than the Sour Cream Apple Pie. Dennis and I only got to eat one piece each before we had to catch the red-eye flight out to Denver, so my friend and neighbor, Yolanda, took it home with her when she came to water my plants. She said it was really good, too. With all that rhubarb in the garden, I thought I’d be making the pie again before I posted the recipe, so I didn’t take a picture of it.  But trust me, if you like rhubarb, and even if you think you don’t, you’ll want to try this recipe.

So here it is, and you’ll only find the recipe here, my friends: Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie.  It can be made with gluten-free flours and lower-glycemic sweeteners as well.  You’ll need an unbaked pie crust to put it in. My recipe for gluten-free pie crust is linked at the end of the post.  Or use your favorite pastry crust recipe, or really streamline your pie baking and buy a crust.  I did it myself during the busy  years!

Custard Filling:
1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons flour*1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream**

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except rhubarb. Put rhubarb in unbaked 9” pie shell and pour mixture over the rhubarb. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 min., then reduce heat to 350 and bake for additional 30 min.

While custard is baking, mix the topping:

Streusel Topping:

1/3 cup sugar***

1/3 cup flour*

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Mix well and sprinkle over pie at end of first cooking period. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard. Cool completely before cutting. Store in fridge.

Notes:

*I used brown rice flour in the custard filling and in the topping. It worked just fine to thicken up the custard and to crisp the streusel topping. If you are gluten-free, brown rice flour is a pretty good substitute for wheat flour for all kinds of applications. (Maybe I need to write a post about that!)

**I used homemade sour cream when I made this pie. Follow the link for the directions for making homemade sour cream.

***I also used coconut palm sugar this time instead of white sugar in the streusel topping because I wanted to see how it would taste and work in that application. It was fine. I did not use coconut palm sugar in the custard filling because rhubarb is so tart, I was afraid the coconut palm sugar would not be sweet enough. When I get home and can experiment some more, I’ll try it in the custard filling also, just to see. Sugar is sugar, whether you use more or less, but if I can use organic and less, I will, and I got a smoking deal on organic coconut palm sugar at Grocery Outlet not too long ago, so I have plenty with which to experiment.

The Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe is on my Thanksgiving post, so I’ll link it for you here in case you want to try that pie as well. Also linked is my gluten-free pie crust recipe, made with gluten-free flour from WinCo’s bulk foods section, which I have recently learned is probably from Bob’s Red Mill. I have been using bagged Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour here in Denver, and it is identical to what I buy in bulk at WinCo. although twice the price.  Buy bulk if you can.

Happy pie baking! Use that rhubarb while it’s fresh. It’s good for you.

7/28/15:  I finally remembered to get a picture of this pie for this post, but before I could, a piece was already gone!  Yeah, it’s that good.

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Desserts, Recipes

Christmas Cookies

This week’s post is a Christmas cookie story.  But more than that, it’s a story about families, and it’s the story of traditions.  Hang with me, and there will be some recipes in it for you.

Christmas means, among other things, Christmas cookies.  For our family, there are two kinds of Christmas cookies: gingerbread and sugar cookies.  These are two old-fashioned cookies whose goodness, for me, never goes out of style.

I usually make crisp gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree.  They smell good, taste great dipped in coffee like biscotti, and because there is no butter or egg in them, they keep until well after the tree comes down, if there are any left.  After the cookies are rolled, cut, and on the cookie sheet, I poke a hole in the top of each cookie with a straw, so it can be threaded with a ribbon and hung on the tree.  These cookies will perfume the room with spice and give an old-fashioned look to our tree.  For the tree, I don’t decorate them, because I don’t want bits of icing or sprinkles falling on the floor, and besides, I like the way they look, plain, among the brightly-colored ornaments.

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If I want to give them away or put them in the cookie jar, I’ll let the kids ice them or sprinkle them with colored sugars or candy sprinkles.  It turns out that my son-in-law, Solomon, loves spicy gingerbread, so the grandkids and I made them especially for him this Christmas.

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Gingerbread Cookie Ornaments

(makes about 4-5 dozen medium-sized cookies)

¾ cup dark molasses

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

1/3 cup cold water

5 tablespoons shortening

3 ½ cups flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour can be used)

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat molasses, sugar, water, and shortening.  Mix in remaining ingredients.  Dough will be relatively stiff.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours to firm dough.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll dough ¼ in. thick on floured board (do not use whole wheat flour for rolling).  Brush off excess flour and cut with floured cookie cutters into desired shapes.  Place about 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheet.  For tree ornaments, use a plastic straw to cut out little holes in tops of cookies.  If you are decorating with colored sugar or sprinkles, shake these over the cookies and press lightly into dough.

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Bake until firm, when no indentation remains when touched, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool on rack before frosting, if desired.  (I don’t recommend frosting before hanging on the tree, for reasons mentioned above, but that’s up to you.)

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I am not a professional baker, nor a photographer, just a pretty good cook.  So I don’t claim these are the prettiest cookies you’ll ever see.  But they sure taste good!  (My daughter-in-law, Tori, says that I make things taste good, and she makes them look good, and that’s the truth of it.)

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The other cookie we always make is a sugar cookie.  This recipe comes from a neighbor and good friend of my mother’s, Marge Darby.  My brother and sister and I played with and went to school with the Darby kids, so their family is always there in my memory whenever I think about my childhood.   My mother loved these cookies, and one day, she sent me over to the Darby house to copy down the recipe.  I must have been 8 or 10 years old, as my awkward printing in the original copy attests.

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Since I wrote this recipe down nearly 50 years ago, it’s the one always used in our family.  I have tried others, but they just don’t stack up to this one.  Both Marge and Mama have since passed away, but I think of them each time I bake these cookies.

About a year or so ago, the oldest Darby boy, Tom, contacted me via Facebook.  We’ve been sharing memories and stories ever since, so when I got the sugar cookie recipe out in preparation for this holiday season, I thought I’d take a picture of it to show to Tommy.  I was sure he’d get a kick out of it, but I had no idea it would mean as much to him as it did.  (For his reaction, see Tom Darby’s blog.) Just this past week, he baked the cookies he remembered from childhood.  And he gave us a little more of the recipe’s history. Tommy says, “As far as I can recall they came from my Grandma on my Dad’s side. They were in a cookbook put together by the Women of the Fort Dodge (Iowa) Lutheran Church which was published sometime between the end of the Great Depression and World War II.”  That’s a recipe with a lot of history and tradition behind it, and they are the best sugar cookies I’ve ever tasted.

Sugar Cookies

4 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening, or butter, or *oleo  (see note below)

3 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon hot water

Sift flour and sugar and salt together into bowl.  Cut in fat, add nuts and mix well.  In center of flour mixture add 3 beaten eggs and vanilla.  Add soda dissolved in hot water.  Mix thoroughly.  Roll thin, cut and shape.  To roll out cookies, use half powdered sugar, half flour.  Place two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

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Notes:  For those who don’t know, oleo refers to oleomargarine. It became popular or widely-used during the food rationing of WWII. A friend of mine remembers mixing the yellow coloring into the margarine to make it look like butter. I grew up using margarine for everything, but of course I don’t use it any more. However, for this recipe, I usually use half shortening and half softened butter.  I like the flavor butter gives, but all butter makes the cookies spread awkwardly and lose their shapes.

I always chill the dough for an hour before rolling—this makes them easier to roll, and it also helps them keep their shape while baking.  Keep the dough in the fridge and cut off smaller pieces to work with until it is all rolled and cut.  Thin means about 1/8th inch, and this thinness helps keep them crisp, but you have to watch them because they will burn quickly.

Also, using half powdered sugar and half flour to roll out the cookies is key.  Plain flour (as I learned through bitter experience) just doesn’t taste as good.  I often use whole wheat pastry flour in the cookie dough, but it should be noted that to roll out the cookies, you need to use white, all-purpose flour mixed with the powdered sugar.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies, about 6 dozen, depending on what size you make them.  I often cut the recipe in half.

I used to decorate these cookies with a standard powdered sugar icing, but then I discovered edible paint, and that was what my children liked to do, and now my grandchildren enjoy painting the cookies as well.  (Some years, they get really creative.  This year, we baked between 10 and 15 dozen cookies, so they kept it basic!) I keep a set of cheap paintbrushes in the kitchen for this purpose and just run them through the dishwasher when we are done.

Edible Paint:

Separate two eggs.  Beat the yolks with a fork, then add 1 teaspoon of water and mix well.  Divide into several cups or dishes.  Add different food colorings to each cup, mix well.  After the cookies are rolled out, cut, and on the cookie sheets, use clean paintbrushes (run them through the dishwasher if they’ve been previously used on watercolor paints) and egg yolk paint to color the tops of the cookies.  As they bake, the paint will harden into a glaze.  They are really pretty, still taste great, but don’t deliver the sugar shock like icing does.  You can still taste the cookie, and believe me, these cookies are worth tasting.  As for how they look, they remind me of stained glass windows.  This seems somehow appropriate for both Christmas and Easter cookies, which is when I usually bake them.

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One of the best things about the holidays, for me, is the traditions we have made and keep alive through the years.  These are individual, to some extent, to each family, and I’d love to hear about your Christmas traditions, especially if you have a recipe to share.  Happy holidays, everyone.

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Desserts, Leftovers, Main dishes, Recipes

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Green Turkey Enchiladas and Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes

Most of us have a favorite way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers.  I’m freezing my leftover stuffing to use later this winter with the Cornish game hens I have in the freezer.  I usually make turkey soup, but yesterday, it occurred to me that I have all that green tomato salsa verde that I made earlier this fall, and why not use up the leftover carved turkey in some green enchiladas?   I hadn’t tried the sauce yet, and since I just picked another box of green tomatoes out of the greenhouse, I might want to make more of it.

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I made two pans of enchiladas, one with gluten-free tortillas for me, and one with flour tortillas for the rest of the family.   And they liked it quite a bit, so I might be making more salsa verde this week.

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I chopped three or four cups of leftover turkey, both white and dark meat, into bite-sized pieces.  This made six gluten-free enchiladas for me, and ten regular enchiladas for the family.  I had cheese already shredded in the freezer, so I used what I had, which was white cheddar.  My favorite cheese for green enchiladas is pepper jack, but Monterey jack is also good.  I lined my pans with foil because I plan to put any leftovers into the freezer for a quick, heat-up meal on rushed days.  The foil will allow me to lift the cooled enchiladas out of the pan, so I can wrap them with more foil and plastic for a tight seal.

Green Turkey Enchiladas

(makes 8-12 enchiladas)

1 pkg. medium-sized flour tortillas (12)

3 cups chopped turkey, light or dark meat or mixed

2 cups blended salsa verde (1 pint jar)

1 cup chopped onions

1 small can sliced black olives

2 cups shredded cheese

1 cup chunky salsa verde

Spray the bottom of a 13X9 inch pan with cooking spray (or oil it with a pastry brush) and spread a generous spoonful of sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Reserve a quarter cup of sauce for spreading on top.  Mix the rest of the sauce in a large bowl with the turkey, onions, chunky salsa verde, and olives.  It’s easiest to mix the cheese in at this point as well, reserving a quarter cup for the top.  What you end up with doesn’t look that tasty, but it will be, I promise.

Starting at one edge, place 3-4 tablespoons of the turkey filling mixture along the edge of the tortilla.  Roll it up and place it seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have used all the filling mixture (you may have leftover tortillas).  Paint the tops of the enchiladas with the reserved sauce and sprinkle with reserved cheese.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until enchiladas are bubbly and cheese is melted and golden brown.

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Serving suggestions:  Top with sour cream, more of the chunky salsa verde, chopped avocado, pico de gallo.  Black beans with garlic and lime make a nice side dish.  With a green salad, you have a complete meal.

This dish was a hit with the family.  We finished the meal with a recipe of my daughter’s, a pumpkin pie milk shake.  The first time she made this, she included the pie crust from the leftover pie, but we have since decided it’s better without the crust, so we make extra custard now specifically for this dessert.  We first used homestyle vanilla ice cream, but last year, we discovered that Dulce de Leche ice cream adds depth.  You can turn this into an adult drink with the addition of a shot per serving of the alcohol of your choice.  Rum, bourbon, or brandy are all good choices.  Of course, you can always just eat the pumpkin pie as is!

Amy’s Pumpkin Pie Milk Shake

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(makes about 4 one cup servings)

1 quart  of Dulce de Leche ice cream

1 cup milk

1 cup leftover pumpkin pie custard

whipped cream (optional)

Blend all ingredients together and pour into glasses.  Garnish with whipped cream.

Later this week, I will make turkey soup out of the pan drippings in the fridge and the two carcasses in the freezer.  If you’ve got a good recipe for using up Thanksgiving leftovers, I’d love to hear it.

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Desserts, Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes

Thanksgiving Dishes

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I’m always interested in what other people serve at the Thanksgiving feast.  Our dishes don’t vary much, but sometimes we add something new to the menu, or we’ll drop something that’s not that popular.  So this week, I’d like to share with you what’s on our menu this year, and I’ve got a couple of recipes for you that I really like, and a new one I’m trying for the first time.

We like to hang out together all day as the dinner cooks, but we’re not the type of folks who go for formal appetizers, so we just have a cold cuts and cheese and crackers tray and a pickle plate out on the counter.  For the pickle plate, I’ll bring jars of pickled beets, pickled spicy green tomatoes, some black and green olives, and either Joel or I will open jars of dilly beans and kosher dill pickles.  I’ll also be bringing jars of my home-canned, charred salsa and green tomato salsa to go with tortilla chips.  There will probably be potato chips and dip, too.

This year, I’m bringing a bottle of champagne and a bottle of either my raspberry cordial or blackberry cordial, or maybe both, to make pre-dinner champagne cocktails.  For the kids, I’ll make a lemonade-based punch.  At dinner, we always open bottles of sparkling cider.

There’s turkey, of course.  We cook one at home for leftovers to feed the out-of-towners who stay at my house (our daughter, Amy, her husband, Solo, and his mother, Theresa).  Amy usually arrives a day early to help me with all the cooking.  For the last two years, my daughter-in-law, Tori, has cooked the turkey for the big family feast, and she’s done a marvelous job.  I taught her how to roast a chicken, told her to treat the turkey like a really big chicken, and she’s come through like a champ two years running.  This works well because we eat the feast at Tori and Joel’s house, and I don’t have to cook the turkey at my house and worry about then transporting it.  I have transported the entire dinner before, and I don’t like it!  I have also tried cooking it at someone else’s house, and I don’t like that, either.  So now, we divvy up the cooking, and it works well.

We are turkey traditionalists.  We season the bird with butter and herbs and roast it at 325 degrees in a big, old-fashioned, heavy-lidded, enamel roasting pan.   I like to mix fresh herbs from the garden—chopped thyme, sage, hyssop, and tarragon—into softened butter, and this goes under the skin of the breast and all over the bird outside.  I sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I baste if I think about it, but the lidded roaster keeps the bird moist while producing a crispy skin, so if I forget to baste, it’s no big deal.

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I stuff my turkey with cornbread stuffing.  I make extra stuffing in a large casserole dish, and we take the casserole dish to the feast.  The stuffing that cooks inside the turkey stays at home for leftovers.  Tori doesn’t make stuffing, and her parents, who always feast with us, like a sausage and carrot and bread dressing, so they make and bring their favorite dressing.  Everybody has what he or she enjoys most.

Amy and I make most of the sides.  Amy has been crowned Mashed Potato Queen.  She has cooked and mashed the potatoes every year since she was a teenager.  Usually, she cooks the Yukon Golds I’ve grown in the garden.  But this year, all my Yukon Golds were volunteers (from a row Dennis didn’t dig the fall before!) and they matured so early that we had to eat them all this summer.  I have some garden reds, and I bought a 5 lb. bag of Golds, so we’ll mix them this year.  A handful of salt goes in the cooking water.  If this sounds like a lot, consider that if I don’t stop her, Amy fills my 13-quart stock pot with peeled and cut potatoes!  She puts lots of butter in them, and fat-free half & half to balance the fat in the butter.  She uses my old potato masher to break them up after draining, and then in goes the butter, and after it melts, the “cream.”  Then she uses the mixer to whip them up.  They are always light, fluffy, and creamy.  The key is to not overcook them.  Over-boiled potatoes will be gummy and gluey, no matter what else you do to them afterwards.

I make gravy from the turkey drippings.  I used to make turkey gravy with flour, but since I have stopped eating wheat, I’m reverting to cornstarch.  My mom had a funny rule:  cornstarch for light-colored gravies from poultry drippings, flour for dark-colored gravies from beef and venison.  (Of course, it was always flour for milk gravies, but that’s another story.)  I don’t know where she came up with this rule, but she never deviated from it.  At any rate, cornstarch makes a good, clear sauce for a light meat like turkey, and my turkey drippings are rich with butter and herbs from the herb butter I slather the turkey with, so it makes a delicious gravy no matter what you use to thicken it.

Some years, I make a puffy, sweet potato casserole.  My husband likes those overly-sweet yams with marshmallow topping, but he is the only one who does, so I don’t make it.  My kids don’t like sweet potatoes any way I fix them, but the puff is sometimes popular with other guests, and I really like it.  The recipe is at the bottom of this post.

This year, my son asked for a dish I love:  Roasted Roots.  I have to thank my dear foodie friend, DeAnna, for introducing me to Roasted Roots some years ago. This is a simple and easy dish, but you do have to have time to prep the vegetables and the oven space to cook it.  Tori and Joel have double ovens, so one oven will be free to roast the root vegetables and after that, to brown some homemade sourdough brown and serve rolls.  You can use any kind of root vegetables in Roasted Roots.  Our favorites are sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, and onions, a cup of each vegetable, cut into chunks.  If you can get tender baby beets, there’s no need to peel or quarter them, just trim off the stem and root ends and scrub well.  If the beets are big and you can tell they’ve been out of the ground for a while, put on some rubber gloves, peel them, and cut them into approximately 1-inch chunks.  Peel the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, and cut them into chunks the same size as the beets.  Cut the onions into quarters, and then halve the quarters.  Put all the vegetables on a cookie sheet (or two, if you’re making a big batch) and throw on at least 6 garlic cloves, still in the paper.  (The paper helps keep them from burning.)  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and toss them to coat.  I also like to mix a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or my homemade apple scrap vinegar with the olive oil before I toss the vegetables in it.  The vinegar really brightens the flavors, and the sugar in the vinegar helps the vegetables brown. Spread them out in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  If you have fresh herbs available, sprigs of thyme and/or rosemary are very good, tossed on top of the roots about 15 minutes into the cooking time.  Roast at 425 about 20-30 minutes, stirring at least once about halfway through, or until the beets, parsnips, and carrots are tender.  They are the hardest vegetables, so if they are tender, everything else will be done too.  The vegetables should be tender but should have browned and developed a crunchy outer “skin.”  Remove the herb sprigs before serving.  If you have more herb sprigs, a fresh bunch makes the dish look pretty.

We don’t make the traditional green bean casserole, but we do sometimes have green beans.  I like fresh green beans blanched and then tossed with mushrooms and onions sautéed in butter.  But this year, Joel is making the green beans.  He’ll probably use frozen beans, and he plans to crisp up some bacon and onions and sprinkle them on top of the cooked green beans.  They’ll be delicious.

I usually make some kind of fresh bread for Thanksgiving dinner.  I grew up with those packaged brown and serve rolls (my mom was not much of a bread baker), but I love fresh bread.  It’s one of the things I miss most about going gluten-free.  For the past several years, I’ve alternated between a loaf of herb bread–easy in the bread machine–made with herbs I picked from my garden and dried over the summer, and sourdough biscuits or rolls.  My old bread machine finally died this summer, so it’ll be sourdough rolls this year.  My sourdough starter also died because I didn’t use it or feed it enough, so I had to make some fresh starter.  The recipe for the starter and the brown and serve rolls comes from Tina Harrington’s Facebook page, Cooking on the Sagebrush Sea.  The recipe will appear at the end of this post.

I grew up with canned cranberry sauce, but the first time I tried homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce, I was hooked.  I make it every year, following the directions printed on the plastic bag of cranberries.  It’s just cranberries, water, and sugar.  So simple, but so delicious.  Some years, we make a fresh cranberry, orange, and apple relish as well.  It’s just equal parts chopped cranberries, peeled oranges, and shredded apples, mixed with just enough sugar, a half cup or so, to sweeten it to taste.  The problem with this relish is that it doesn’t keep well as a leftover, unlike whole-berry cranberry sauce, which will literally last months in the fridge.  (Yes, I’ve found it after 6 months in the back of the fridge and it is still good–a tribute, I guess, to the antioxidant power of cranberries.)  For this reason, you don’t want to make more of the fresh cranberry relish than you think you will eat on Thanksgiving Day.

At this point, we come to desserts.  Amy and I bake the pies, and this year, my granddaughter, Kaedynce, will be helping with the pie-baking.  I have made so many kinds of pie for the feast over the years, including pecan, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, and the traditional pumpkin.  But there are two pies that everyone always wants:  pumpkin, of course, and sour cream apple.

I grow pie pumpkins, and I roast and puree them for pumpkin pie filling.  I use the same recipe I grew up with—it’s on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can—with one other exception besides growing and roasting my own pumpkins.  Goldie, my sister and pie baker extraordinaire, taught me to double the spices the recipe calls for.  Oh, yeah.  It’s fantastic!  And the home-grown, fresh-roasted puree puts the whole pumpkin pie deal right over the top.  It is sacrilege to put anything except freshly-whipped cream, just barely sweetened and with a touch of vanilla, on top of that pie.  So that’s what we do.

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I owe the sour cream apple pie recipe to my good friend, Wes Reid, who brought me one years ago that his partner, Lori, had made for us.  I fell in love with the thing, made it for Thanksgiving that year, and then the whole family fell in love with it too.  Now, it’s the first dessert to disappear.  Sour cream apple pie is in the chess pie family, and it’s topped with a cinnamon streusel that gets crispy under high heat during the last few minutes of cooking.  This is a custard-type pie made with sour cream, eggs, and shredded apples, and while it sounds odd, it is absolutely the bomb, sweet and tart and tangy, and very easy to make.  You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.  My thanks to Wes and Lori for passing along this recipe from Lori’s family to ours.

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I usually make at least one other pie or dessert.  This year, I’ll be making my new love, pear mincemeat in a gluten-free pie crust.  Follow the links to previous posts that contain these recipes.  Pear mincemeat (no meat) is spicy, tart-sweet, with a great hit of citrus from the whole lemon ground up with the pears and other fruit.  It’s a wonderful filling for the gluten-free crust.  I like to make turnovers because they’re handy, literally, and bake up nicely, but a pie would be just as tasty.  I’ll see how busy I am on baking day.  A pie it’ll be if I don’t have time to form turnovers.  If I make turnovers, I’m thinking I might make a fresh lemon glaze to drizzle over them, to pretty them up a little bit and tempt someone who might be scared of the idea of “mincemeat” or gluten-free.

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It’s standard to ask a question at the end of a post, in an attempt to generate more comments.  I see it so much, it sort of feels like a cheap trick to me, and I’ve resisted the trend until now.  But now, I’m asking because I’m genuinely interested:  What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year?  And if you’d like to share recipes or stories, so much the better.

And now, the recipes, in the order they were mentioned above.   I hope one or more of them makes it onto your Thanksgiving table, either this year, or in the future.

Sweet Potato Casserole

2 ½ lbs sweet potatoes

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 T. unsalted butter, melted (plus more for the pan)

2 T. dark brown sugar

1 t. salt

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ginger

Pinch of nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place scrubbed sweet potatoes on baking sheet, poke with fork three or four times.  Bake for 45-60 min. or until tender.  Set aside to cool.

Turn oven down to 350 degrees.  Scoop potato meat out of skins and into bowl.  Mash potatoes until smooth.  Add eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste.  Whisk mixture until smooth.

Butter 8X8 casserole dish or pan.  Pour sweet potato mixture into pan and sprinkle top with pecans.  Bake for 30-40 min., until a bit puffy.  Serve immediately.

Sourdough Starter and Brown and Serve Rolls

Sourdough Starter:  Mix 1 cup white all-purpose flour, 1 cup lukewarm water, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tsp. active dry yeast in large bowl.  Leave out on the counter (or in warm place), covered with a cloth, until bubbling and yeasty smelling.  When mixture is frothy, scrape into a jar or lidded crock and refrigerate.  Starter is ready to use when a clear liquid has risen to the top of the jar.

It’s best to take the starter out the night before you plan to use it and feed it.  To feed starter, place in large bowl and stir in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour.  Cover and let sit in a warm place overnight to activate yeast cultures.  After measuring out the starter called for in the recipe, put the “fed” starter back in the jar or crock and back in the fridge.  Use your starter frequently, or at least feed it, or it will die.

Sourdough Brown and Serve Rolls

1 cup milk, scalded then cooled
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 cup of activated (“fed”) sourdough starter
2 small or one large egg
4 ½ cups flour (white or whole wheat)

Mix milk, salt, sugar and butter in a microwave safe measuring cup.  Heat until the butter melts. Let this cool to room temperature. Add yeast and let proof five minutes, then combine with other wet ingredients and 2 cups of flour in bowl of stand mixer.  Let knead on the dough hook for ten minutes.  Add remaining flour in ½ cup increments until the dough just comes together. Turn out into a greased bowl, and proof (raise) for an hour. Make into rolls (makes about three dozen rolls). Place in greased pans a quarter inch apart, and let raise another 45 minutes.

For Brown and Serve: Preheat oven to 250*F and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool, and wrap and freeze (or refrigerate). When you want to serve these, take them out of the freezer and let them thaw for ten minutes, then bake at 425*F for 5-10 minutes.

Note:  An egg wash makes breads brown beautifully.  Simply beat up an egg with a spoonful of water and brush it onto bread before baking.  For the brown and serve option, use the egg wash prior to the second baking/browning.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

One 9” pastry shell, unbaked

2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup sour cream

½ teaspoon vanilla

2 cups finely chopped or grated peeled apples (tart pie apples are best)

Mix dry ingredients, beat in egg, sour cream, and vanilla until smooth.  Add apples, mix well, pour into pastry-lined pie pan.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for additional 30 minutes.

While custard is baking, mix the topping:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Mix well and sprinkle over pie. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard.  Cool completely before cutting.  Store in fridge.

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Desserts, Recipes

Conversion: Gluten-free Pie Crust

I’ve got a gluten-free recipe for you this week, a gluten-free pie crust.  I thought I’d share it now, so that you can do your own experiments with the recipe before Thanksgiving.

Pie was something I thought I’d have to give up when I decided, in May, to cut gluten and wheat products and most grains most of the time, out of my diet.  I am not a celiac, thank God, but I did hope that going gluten-free would address some of my health issues.  I have arthritis in nearly every joint in my body, and over the past few years, I’ve put on some belly fat that does my back, hips, knees, and feet no good at all.  I also have serious stomach issues from taking anti-inflammatory drugs for twenty years.  And each year for the past five, at my annual check-up, my blood sugar numbers were a little bit worse, despite the basic goodness of a diet rich in garden vegetables and lean meats. I hoped that ditching the GMO-laden wheat that permeated my diet, in the form of homemade whole-wheat breads, etc., would address some of these issues.

But it was hard to think of giving up pie in my quest for better health.  Really hard.  Cake, I can take or leave, but I love pie.  I love all the possibilities for fillings, and I love the crust.  Some people don’t like crust.  I do, when it’s done right, and it’s tender and flaky.  And just a year or so ago, I’d finally found a whole-wheat crust I actually liked.  So, in a quest for gluten-free pie crust, I looked around on the internet and found some recipes for ground nut pie crusts which are suitable for custard-type fillings.  Well, that’s all well and good.  I do like custard pies, and Thanksgiving pumpkin pies would work with a nut crust.  But what was I to do about my cherished sour cream apple pie, and traditional apple pie, and peach pie, and apricot pie, and blackberry pie (and those filling packets I made up for the latter four and either froze or canned)?

I found some expensive flour blends.  By the time I paid the shipping on them, the price tag on one pie would be more than I could stomach.  Not an option for this thrifty gal.  More research, and I found some recipes for making your own gluten-free flour blends with which you can make a rollable pastry crust.  But where was I going to find things like potato starch?  I live in a very rural area of Northeastern California.  We do some of our shopping in Reno, and I’d managed to find almond flour in the bulk foods section at WinCo in Reno.  I’d look there for the ingredients for making a flour blend, I thought.

And to my great delight, in the bulk section at WinCo, I actually found a gluten-free baking flour blend that had many of the ingredients of the make-it-yourself flour blends I’d found recipes for online.  Great.  I bought a couple of pounds of it, brought it home, stashed it in a jar in the fridge, and then realized I had no idea how to use it.  What ratios, what additions, what liquids?  No clue.  I searched WinCo’s website and found many other recipes for the items I buy in bulk at WinCo, but nothing for this gluten-free flour blend.  It was a new product this summer, and I guess nobody has gotten around to posting any recipes for it.  So it was up to me.

I like experimenting, and I’ve been cooking long enough to know how to substitute similar ingredients, so I thought I’d be able to figure this out.  The first thing I did was to look up gluten-free flour blends from mass producers.  I wanted to see what the ingredients in their flours were, and what recipes they had posted.  I found a King Arthur gluten-free baking flour recipe.  The ingredients in the flour were not an exact match to the flour I’d purchased, but close.  So I decided to use that recipe in the same proportions, with the same additions, only substituting the WinCo gluten-free baking flour.  And it worked!  I really thought I’d have to tweak the recipe, experiment more, but it worked, first rattle out of the box.  I’ve made the pie dough twice now, and I have to say, it is easier to work with than traditional pie dough.  It rolls beautifully, and it bakes up nicely.  It does not taste good raw (I think it’s the fava bean flour in the mix that doesn’t taste good raw), and that’s going to disappoint my grandchildren next time they help me bake a pie, but it’s very good when baked.  It isn’t as flaky as traditional pie dough, but it is tender, and there’s no bean flavor at all when the crust has been baked.  And it is economical.  I can’t tell you now how much per pound I paid for it, but I remember how delighted I was to find a gluten-free flour that cheap, after the online research I’d done.

Gluten-Free Pie Crust

(makes one 9” crust, can be doubled for two crusts)

1 ¼ cup gluten free baking flour (from WinCo)

1 tablespoon sugar  (I’ve used white sugar and organic coconut palm sugar, both were good)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon xanthan gum (also available at WinCo in the bulk section)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons cold butter, cubed

1 large egg

2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar

Use a metal pie pan:  spray with cooking spray or lightly grease.  Whisk dry ingredients or combine/pulse in food processor (see note).  Cut/pulse butter into dry ingredients until crumbly. Whisk egg and vinegar together until foamy.  Add to dry mixture and mix until dough holds together in rough ball.  Add 1-3 T. cold water, if necessary.  (If I use large eggs, I find about 2 T. water necessary.  If I use an extra-large or jumbo egg, I need to use less water, maybe only a tablespoon.)

Shape into disk, wrap in plastic, and chill 1 hr. (or as long as overnight).

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Rest 15 min. at room temp before rolling.  Roll on plastic wrap or silicone mat, heavily floured (I used brown rice flour).  For top crust, brush with milk, half & half, or cream, and sprinkle with Demerara sugar (optional).

For custard pies, blind bake at 375 about 25 min.  Use weights (dry beans or rice) to keep crust from puffing.  Remove weights, bake an additional 10-15 min. or until lightly browned.  Cool before filling.

For fruit pies:  Bake at 425 on bottom rack for 20 min., then move to middle rack and lower heat to 350; bake until crust is browned and filling is bubbling.

For meat pies (like chicken pot pie):  Omit most or all of sugar.  Try adding a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs or a teaspoon of finely crumbled dry herbs to dry ingredients before mixing.

Note:  If you have a food processor, use it!  It makes the whole process much faster and easier.  Just makes sure your butter is really, really cold.  You can cut it into cubes and then stash it in the freezer for a few minutes while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.  If you are using a food processor, with your finger on the pulse button, add the liquid ingredients as the motor is running.  Stop mixing when the mixture rolls up on itself in a ball.  Don’t overmix.  You’ll heat up the butter and your dough won’t be as tender. The flour will absorb the liquids as it rests in the fridge.

With the one 9-inch crust, I made 8 pear mincemeat-filled turnovers (click link for the pear mincemeat recipe in a previous post).  I think they look beautiful, and they taste so good.  This is definitely a Thanksgiving-worthy recipe.

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Canning, Desserts, Recipes

Pears, pears, pears!

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I’ve done it again.  I’ve scavenged too much of a good thing.  (For more on my scavenging habits, see the post “Scavenger.”)  This time, it was pears.  I haven’t canned pears in years; now I remember why!  But I was inspired by some recipes I saw made up online, so I put the word out on my community Facebook page that I was looking for pears to can.  And folks generously responded.  Three people, and later a fourth, let me know I could pick their pears.  As I always do, I’ll be bringing something back to them when the pear craze has left me.  As of this writing, I have spent four days working with pears.  The photo below shows some of the pears sitting underneath the dining room table (which is covered by my husband’s grandmother’s hand-crocheted tablecloth).

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The first recipe, pear mincemeat, comes from Tina Harrington’s Facebook page, Cooking on the Sagebrush Sea.  I don’t know where she found it.  I found a similar recipe in my 1981 Ball Blue Book, which my mama gave me when I was married (along with a water bath canner and pressure canner).  The Ball recipe, however, calls for vinegar, and Tina says she doesn’t like the vinegar-based mincemeat.  I was so glad she talked me out of the vinegar, because after I made her recipe, I found it hard to imagine how adding vinegar could improve it.  The beauty of pear mincemeat is that you don’t have to peel the pears.  Simply core them and chop them in the food processor.  This is the perfect recipe for very ripe pears that wouldn’t peel and can well in halves, or for too-green pears that wouldn’t have enough flavor to can.  I made pear mincemeat out of the first box of ripe pears.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Day One

Pear Mincemeat
7 pounds pears
1 pound raisins
1 whole lemon
1 T each of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
6 3/4 C sugar  (or less, to taste: for a double batch, I used 9 ¾ cups)

In a food processor with a blade attachment, chop the cored and quartered pears, the raisins, and the whole lemon (ends and seeds removed). Add the spices and sugar and cook about forty five minutes until it’s thickened. Process in water bath canner for 25 minutes, leaving a half inch headspace.  This can be done in pints or quarts.  A quart is enough to make one nine-inch pie.

As usually happens when I decide to make a recipe I’ve never made before, I didn’t have enough of something I needed, in this case, raisins.  I live 14 miles from town, and I didn’t have time for a raisin run, for crying out loud!  So I taxed my brain and came up with a substitute.  Last year, I dehydrated some prune plums I was given, and I left them in the dehydrator too long.  They are so dry and hard, it would take teeth and jaws of steel to chew them, and even then, I’m not so sure.  I stuck them in the freezer last fall while I tried to figure out what to do with them.  Ta-da!  I got those babies out, rehydrated them in some warm water while I cored pears (and yes, rehydration was necessary because even the food processor blade couldn’t chop them otherwise; I’d already tried that) and then drained the prunes and added them to the mix in the food processor.  The flavor is excellent.  If I make this recipe again, I might sub in prunes for half the raisins on purpose.

Day Two

Pears in Dark Ginger Syrup, and other good things

The next batch of recipes comes from Rebecca, the Foodie with Family.  With twenty pounds of pears, I made her three-in-one pear recipes.  It took me all day to peel that many pears, and I worked in batches because I didn’t want the pears I’d already peeled to darken.

Rebecca’s recipes are so smart for several reasons.  First, they use up all the ingredients you use to prepare the pears.  How many times have I looked at the water I’ve used to treat the fruit for darkening and thought, look at all that good juice going to waste!  Well, with Rebecca’s recipes, it doesn’t.  It’s turned into “juice” and canned, and it tastes really, really good!  Her pear halves in dark ginger syrup recipe is smart because even though you dunk the pears in a lemon water bath (which becomes “juice” when you’re done), if you are slow, like me, your pears will still start to darken a little before you have enough ready to can several jars.  The dark ginger syrup takes care of that.  It’s made with raw sugar (or light brown sugar if you don’t have any raw or prefer not to buy it) so it’s dark, and it hides the little bit of browning that would otherwise show through a clear syrup made with white sugar.  And the ginger is delicious.

That syrup is so good, you just have to can up what’s left over after you’ve canned your pears.  I usually have syrup left over after canning fruit.  I save it and use it again if I’m going to can more of that fruit, or sometimes I use it in a different fruit (like using the syrup left from canning Purple Prince plums to give a little color and more flavor to white peaches), but sometimes it sits in the fridge and spoils.  Now I have two sealed jars of dark ginger syrup which I can open up and further reduce, if I so choose, for pancakes and waffles, or I can add it to any number of fizzy drinks or mulled wine, or I can drizzle it over ice cream or pie.  So smart!

And finally, the “juice.”  I made a double batch of pears in dark ginger syrup, so my acidulated water was extra juicy.  I had a few pears that were really darkened, so those were the ones I left in the water to cook up the juice.  I saved the pulp from the juice for pear butter, which I was making the next day with the pears that were too ripe or too compromised by bruising and bugs to can in halves.  I got a quart and a pint of juice, beautiful stuff, and a cup left over to start off my pears for pear butter.  For somebody like me who has a thing about cutting down on waste, Rebecca’s recipes are so welcome.  I hope you’ll check out her Three-in One pear recipes.

I would add one thing to Rebecca’s three-in-one pear recipes to make them four-in-one.  Pear vinegar!  Yes, save those pear peelings.  Let them age and brown in a bowl (covered if you have a fruit fly farm in your kitchen like I currently do) while you work with the pears.  Then, when you’re done with everything else, put your pear peelings (and cores if they aren’t wormy) in a large, clean jar, and cover the peels with distilled water.  Don’t overfill the jar! Pears ferment quickly, so leave several inches of head space.  Put the jar on a plate in case of spillage while fermenting.  Cover the mouth of the jar with some breathable fabric, secured with a rubber band or twine, to keep the fruit flies out, and stir every day.  In 6-8 weeks, you’ll have pear vinegar.  See my previous post, “Waste Not, Want Not,” for more instructions for making fruit scrap vinegars.

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Finally, pear butter, which took two days.  My hands were so tired, and the right one so swollen from canning three-in-one pears the day before, that the final box of very ripe, bruised, and worm-damaged pears had to be processed simply.  Pear butter was the answer.  It could have been pear sauce, but I knew that I would be so slow in getting the pears cut up that they would darken more than I’d want for sauce.  So butter it was, since it cooks for a long time and darkens as it cooks.

I had to core most of these pears because they were wormy.  I think the best way to do this is to quarter them; then, with a paring knife, it’s easy to cut out the core and any bad spots.  For pear sauce or butter, there’s no need to peel if you’re going to run them through a strainer.  If you have perfect pears, no worms, there’s no need to core, either.  Just quarter them (or cut them in chunks if they’re very large pears) and get them into a large pot with either water, apple cider or juice, or pear cider or juice, about half an inch, in the bottom of the pot.

I had some of the pear “juice” left from processing pears in dark ginger syrup the day before, about a cup of it, and that went in the bottom of the pot to keep the pears from sticking until they started to render their own juice.

Don’t turn the heat under the pot on high.  The pears will scorch to the bottom.  Use a medium heat and stir frequently, as in about every five minutes.  If your pears aren’t juicy, you may need to add more liquid, but don’t add any more than is absolutely necessary to keep your pears from sticking, because for pear butter, you’ll have to cook out all the liquid you add, and then some, to get the thick, rich consistency of a fruit butter.

I don’t recommend peeling your pears before you cook them because the pectin in the skin helps give the butter a glossy look and thicker consistency.  It’s best to buy a strainer or simple colander and pestle (this one came from an antique store for $8!) and rub them through to remove skins and cores.  It doesn’t take long, and it’s a good workout for your arms.

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I had the best help with this one.  My grandkids came over after school and helped run the cooked pears through the chinois (or cone colander, as I grew up calling it).  They enjoyed a bowl of pear sauce as a reward while I added the sugar and spices and put the sauce on to cook down into butter.  (Then we went out to the garden and picked apples, so you can guess what the subject of a future post will be.)

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Day Three

Pear Butter

11 lbs. ripe pears, cored if necessary, quartered, cooked until soft, and strained to remove peels and cores. (I had about 6 qts. when cut up and cored, 4 qts. sauce after cooking and straining.  If you want to stop at this point and can pear sauce, simply follow the directions in any canning book for canning applesauce.  For pear butter, keep going!)

To strained pear sauce, add:

2 cups sugar

1 T. cinnamon

2 t. nutmeg

1 t. cloves

1 t. allspice

1 t. fresh grated ginger (or ½ t. dried, powdered ginger)

The amount of sugar and spice you add is really according to individual taste.  I don’t like things very sweet, and I do like them spicy.  Taste your sauce/butter after a few hours in the oven or crock pot.  If it isn’t sweet enough, add more sugar.  For this recipe, I started with one cup of sugar and added another cup about halfway through cooking.  That was perfect for my taste.  But you might like things sweeter or not as sweet as I do, so start with less and add more as you go.  The same with spices.  If you don’t like a lot of spice, reduce the amounts given here and taste, adding more if you want it spicier.  Be careful with cloves.  It’s a powerful flavor, and one that I love, but if you use too much, it will overpower the pears and the rest of the spices.

Bring all ingredients to a simmer over medium heat in a large, oven-safe pot.  Bake in 300 degree oven until thick and reduced by one-third to one-half.  You can do this in a crock pot; many people do, but I don’t think the crock pot gives the same flavor that roasting in an open pan in the oven does.  But it’s up to you which way you want to cook your butter down.  I don’t recommend boiling it down on the stove; both pear and apple butters are prone to scorching when cooked on the stove top, although it is faster.  Typically, I cook my butters down for about 18 hrs, part of that time overnight, when I’ll lower the temp on the oven to 225 degrees.  Then when I get up in the morning, if it’s not quite ready to can, I’ll raise the temp back up to 300 while I get the canner and jars ready.  Usually, it’s ready by then.  When the butter is thick and dark and tastes rich and spicy, and it will mound in a spoon, it’s ready to can.

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Wash jars and start water bath canner heating.  You will need about 5 pt. jars for this amount of pears, if you have reduced the butter down by one-third to one-half.  I always prepare a few extra jars, just in case.  Some fruits are larger, heavier, and juicier than others, and some people get impatient and don’t reduce as much as they should!  Always sterilize your jars in your boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes before adding the butter to the jars.  Bring the butter up to boiling on the stove top.  This is a thick product, so leave ½ to ¼ inch headspace in the jar.  I leave ½ inch.  Seal with heated flats and rings and process in boiling water bath for 10 min. if below 2000 ft. elevation.  Consult an altitude chart for adding time for higher elevations.  This recipe makes about 5 pts.

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The flavor profile of this pear butter is very similar to that of the pear mincemeat, but without the lemon of the mincemeat, and with a smooth, buttery texture.  Spread this stuff on homemade bread or biscuits, and it’ll be heaven in your mouth, honey.  I guarantee it.

Altogether, I spent 4 days processing about 40 lbs. of pears.  There are still a few green ones left that will slowly ripen in the box.  I might make a pear crisp if we don’t eat them all out of hand.  But not right away.  For now, I’m just going to gaze at those jars of pear mincemeat, pears in dark ginger syrup, dark ginger/pear syrup, pear juice, and pear butter, and anticipate all the pear goodness we’ll get to eat this winter.

All original text, photos, and the pear butter recipe are the author’s own work and are copyright protected.  You may not copy or reproduce in part or in whole without the author’s permission.  

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