Fermenting, Uncategorized

Kombucha for Chickens

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Some of you will think I’m crazy.  But I’ve tested my theory several times, and each time I’ve found it to be true.  When I give my chickens a little kombucha several times a week, their eggs are almost completely clean. When the kombucha is withheld for several days, the eggs get poopy.

First off, some folks might not know what kombucha is.  Kombucha is fermented tea.  It’s fermented with some particular strains of bacteria.  You can make kombucha at home using raw, unflavored kombucha purchased in a health food store or obtained from someone who makes her own kombucha.  If you are interested in doing that, here’s the link I used to start my kombucha and SCOBY.  (The SCOBY is what grows in the kombucha.  The kombucha is the fermented tea that you drink.)  Kombucha is probiotic, very good for your gut.  And presumably, for a chicken’s gut.  Did you know they actually make probiotics for chickens? Yeah, that’s a thing. Some people buy probiotics for their chickens.  Some people feed them yogurt regularly.  I feed mine a little kombucha several times a week. And they love it.

I make my kombucha with green or white tea, mostly.  I have not ever given my chickens any kombucha made with black tea, because I want to keep the caffeine levels as low as possible.  Kombucha generally contains about a third of the caffeine in the tea it’s made from. Green or white tea contains less caffeine than black tea, thus the kombucha made from green or white tea contains less caffeine too.

Now, I’ve done a little research, and caffeine is apparently toxic to chickens (as it is to dogs). You’re not supposed to give them chocolate, tea bags, or coffee beans (I don’t know why anybody would, but nevertheless, you shouldn’t.)  However, many people do allow their chickens access to freshly brewed coffee grounds dumped in the compost pile, and these folks report no ill effects from the chickens eating the coffee grounds.  From what I understand from my reading, minute amounts of caffeine in things like spent coffee grounds doesn’t seem to hurt them.  I think small amounts of kombucha is probably the same. (You’re also not supposed to let chickens eat apple seeds, but mine ate windfall apples in the orchard all last fall. And when they eat an apple, they don’t leave anything but the stem.) So I think we can use an ounce of common sense here along with the kombucha.

I don’t give my four chickens a lot of kombucha at any one time, and I give it to them mixed with some scratch grains.  I put the scratch, about 1/3 cup or so, in an old pan, and pour on about a tablespoon of kombucha, or enough to just moisten the scratch.  I swirl and toss that around to coat all the scratch in the kombucha, and I let it sit for a minute to absorb the kombucha while I’m getting out their laying pellets.  I feed those separately.  They get the scratch/kombucha supplement about every other day.

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How was it that I began giving kombucha to my chickens in the first place?  In the summer of 2015, I was trying fermented feed for the chickens, for the probiotic effect, and I was using kombucha as a starter, mixing it in with their pellets and scratch and letting it ferment for 3 or 4 days before I gave it to them.  But with colder fall temps, fermenting the feed in the unheated pumphouse wasn’t working.  And it was another task when I really didn’t need another task. Then I thought, why bother with all that?  I have lots of kombucha, and it is easy to make more if I need it.  I could just keep a jar of it with their feed to mix with their scratch.

I did a little reading, noticing that many people reported giving their excess kombucha SCOBYs to their chickens, and I’ve done that too.  The chickens eat them like worms. No one reported any problems, and the SCOBYs retain quite a bit of kombucha in their layers. So I figured, why not?

I started noticing, a week or so after I began the kombucha regimen, that the eggs were clean.  Not just cleaner, but clean.  Rarely did I even get a little streak or smear of poop on an egg.  The majority of my eggs were pristine, like they’d been washed.  The change was noticeable, because they were pretty poopy before.  So I had nice, clean eggs all fall and into the winter.

In late winter, I came down with a bad case of influenza.  The old-fashioned stuff.  I was sick, really sick, for over a month.  During that time, Dennis took over feeding the chickens, and I hadn’t told him about the kombucha.  Didn’t even think about it until I was well enough to scramble myself an egg.  And then I noticed that the eggs were poopy again.

I told Dennis about the kombucha/scratch combo, and he started doing it.  Within a couple of days, the eggs were clean again.  No fooling.

Since then, we’ve had chicken minders for a week or so, at least three times, while we were gone on vacation.  I never tell them about the kombucha or ask them to do it because I don’t want the chickens getting too much kombucha. You never know how well people are actually listening when you tell them how to do something. Each time when we’ve returned, the eggs are poopy.  And each time, after a few days back on the booch, the eggs are clean again when I gather them.

The last time we left, the neighbor boy who was minding the chickens put a half-pan of dry scratch in the run for the hens so they had 24/7 access to it, something I never do, but it proved one thing to me.  It’s definitely the kombucha, not the scratch, that’s keeping those eggs clean.  I’d had a slight, niggling doubt about that, but this time was the clincher. I had poopy eggs for two days after we got back, until those chickens got some kombucha back in their systems.

In the first picture below, you can see that the eggs are very clean.  I don’t wash my eggs until I use them, if I need to wash them.  (If you have backyard chickens, you know why, but for those who don’t:  the reason you don’t wash eggs until you want to use them is that when the chicken lays the egg, it comes out with a protective coating that seals the shell and prolongs the life of the egg inside.  Store-bought eggs are washed, and they have shorter shelf lives than unwashed backyard eggs.) In the second photo, I’ve tried to take a close-up of the only egg in this carton (gathered over about a week’s time) that has any sign of poop on it.  It’s just a faint dark smear (not the reddish speckles–that is just pigment in the shell), and might not even be poop.  It could just be a smear of dirt from a chicken foot.  This is typical for my eggs when the chickens are getting kombucha at least three times a week.

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Kombucha for chickens makes cleaner eggs.  I don’t know why.  I could speculate, but I don’t know enough about the anatomy or digestive system of a chicken.  I just know it works.

 

 

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Canning, Recipes

All-Natural Cinnamon Pears in Brown Sugar Syrup

Although my mother never canned her pears with cinnamon candies, I remember eating some that someone else had canned.  They were a pretty, rosy color, but awfully sweet.  I’ve never been fond of overly-sweet, and I’ve become less so the older I get.  I usually can my pears in a light syrup, and a couple of years ago, I tried a recipe I found online, pears in a brown sugar syrup with ginger matchsticks.  (You can find that recipe, and several others that I still like very much, on my Pears, Pears, Pears post.) Gingered pears sound good, right?  Well, they were, the first year.  Typically, home-canned fruit is good for years (and yes, I’ve eaten fruit ten years in the jar that still tasted good, so I know whereof I speak).  But after the first year with the gingered pears, I found that the ginger didn’t taste good, and I didn’t like the flavor of the pears all that much either.  But I really liked the brown sugar syrup for a couple of reasons that I’ll go into below.

I didn’t have time to go out and forage like I normally do, so I didn’t think I was going to can pears this year. But when I was gifted some pears by my brother and sister-in-law this week, I decided to try something a little different.  I already knew I was going to use the brown sugar syrup, and here’s one reason why.  I like the flavor of the brown sugar with the pears, kind of caramel-y.  But the other reason has to do with darkening of the fruit.

I always treat my pears before canning them, with either acidulated water (about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to a half-gallon of water), or with Fruit Fresh.  If I use Fruit Fresh, I use about a tablespoon to a half-gallon of water.  This works well to prevent darkening for a while, but I am so slow these days with any task requiring any manual dexterity (my hands are badly damaged by arthritis), the fruit still darkens a bit despite the pretreating.  Brown sugar syrup hides any darkening.  The fruit looks pretty in the jars, pretty in a bowl, and tastes delicious.  So, a brown sugar syrup it is.

At this point, I have to interject a comment about a tool.  Years ago, I found this little gadget in a box of kitchen tools in an antique store.  I’m always trolling through those, looking for old vegetable peelers.  (My favorite peeler is in the picture below.  The old ones are so much sharper than the kind you can buy now.)  I picked up the unfamiliar tool and looked and looked at it, wondering what it was.  And then the shape told me.  It is a pear corer.  Pears can’t be cored on an apple corer.  They are too soft, and the shape is wrong.  I’ve only ever been able to do it properly with a small paring knife like the one in the photo, and it is so hard on my hands.  I bought the pear corer and stashed it in a drawer and forgot about it.  I found it last winter when I was boxing up the kitchen cabinets and drawers in preparation for the kitchen remodel.  I made a mental note to try it if I did get any pears to can this year.  And I’m here to tell you, be on the lookout for one of these.  It worked beautifully!  After I cut the fruit in half lengthwise, the narrow end of the corer scraped out the blossom scar on the bottom and removed the strings that run down to the core from the stem.  (Canning books tell you remove them because they will darken in the jar and look unattractive.)  The large end scoops out the core like a melon baller.

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Now, back to the syrup.  As I was looking up the processing time for pears in my old Ball Blue Book, my eye lit on that old recipe for Cinnamon Pears using the cinnamon candies.  I’m not a fan of adding artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives to my home-canned foods, but cinnamon pears sounded so good. And then a light bulb flashed on above my head.  Why not add cinnamon sticks to my brown sugar syrup?

But, here’s the thing.  You can’t can cinnamon sticks in anything in a hot water bath process, and I’m not even sure it would be safe to can them in a pressure canner.  I knew that if I was going to infuse any cinnamon into my syrup, it was going to have to simmer for a while.  So I made up my light syrup (2 cups of brown sugar, light or dark, to 1 quart of water), added five whole cinnamon sticks (unbroken, to keep any small pieces out of the pears), brought it to a boil, and then simmered it until I was ready to add the pears to briefly cook them for a hot pack.  My syrup ended up simmering with the lid on for at least an hour.  When I needed to make another batch of syrup, I just reused those same cinnamon sticks.  (And I saved them and put them in the freezer to add to a batch of chai kombucha I’ll be making in a week or so.)

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The pears I was canning looked green but were sweet and tasty, and I think I could have gone with an extra-light syrup (1 cup of brown sugar to 1 quart of water). And before you wig out too much about the sugar in the syrups that you can fruit in, remember that sugar is a preservative, and if you are canning enough fruit to last for a couple of years (I usually do), it’s better to use a light, rather than extra-light, syrup.  If your fruit is tart (like the red plums I did last year in extra-light syrup), a light syrup is better.  As a young friend of mine recently found out, canning fruit in water results in a not-so-tasty product that has a much shorter shelf life.

Here they are:  pears in brown sugar and cinnamon syrup.  I’ve already opened the little jar to taste, and need I say it?  Well, yeah, I have to. YUM! Sweet, but not too sweet, with that caramel flavor of brown sugar and the warming spice of cinnamon. As for the cinnamon, five sticks gave a cinnamon flavor, but not very strong.  Next time, I might put in a couple more.  If you do, let me know.

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Oh, and don’t throw away that delicious syrup.  You can add it to selzer water for a fabulous spritzer.  (That’s what I did last night, after my canning session.) For a cocktail, I think a shot of rum with a little of that syrup might be really good.  You could add fizzy water to that, too.  Or you can reduce the syrup and put it on pancakes or waffles.  Mmmm.  I might do that with the syrup I saved from the little jar.

As a bonus, I saved the pear peelings and cores for a small batch of pear vinegar.  I made some a few years ago, and it was one of the best vinegars I’ve ever made.  If you’re interested in vinegar-making, see my Waste Not, Want Not post.

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Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes, Uncategorized

Mediterranean Farro Salad

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Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is an ancient grain.  I bought some organic farro a while back, and have been developing the recipe for this salad through trial but not error—all iterations were delicious. Farro is high in fiber, protein, some minerals, and B vitamins. While it is lower in gluten than other types of wheat, it does still contain some gluten. (If you want to try a gluten-free version, I think quinoa would work nicely with the salad ingredients. Brown rice would probably also be delicious.)  Farro is nutty, with a firm, slightly chewy texture. For more about farro’s nutritional value, here’s a link:  https://draxe.com/farro.

I really like this salad for several reasons.  It’s one of those dishes that’s really versatile and can be served cold or at room temperature, so it’s perfect for potlucks and outdoor summer  suppers. The recipe below has Greek influences, but I’ve also made it with Italian flavors, and it’s equally delicious that way.  I also like the fact that it is can be a cold, main vegetarian dish or a side dish.  This variation is meatless, but it would be easy to add some cold roasted chicken or lamb, or even a bit of grilled flank steak to increase the protein (in which case you’d want to chill it and keep it cold until serving).  Add some baby spinach for more veggie content.  Or how about some grilled or roasted marinated eggplant?  Fresh zucchini cubes or slices?  Grilled zucchini planks, ribboned? So many possibilities!

And now, to the recipe/s!

Mediterranean Farro Salad

3-4 cups cooked farro (approximately)

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 red, yellow, or orange pepper, diced (or a combination of all three colors is pretty)

¼ cup red onion, diced

½ cup sliced Kalamata olives

½ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes (or fresh grape tomatoes, halved, or diced Romas)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

1/3 cup Greek salad dressing (see link below)

First, cook the farro.  What follows are the package directions for the farro I bought.  There are different varieties of farro, so be sure to follow the directions on your package if they are different than these.

1 cup farro grains (makes 3-4 cups of cooked farro)

3 cups lightly salted water (1/2 teaspoon sea salt is what I used)

Bring water to a boil, add the farro, bring back to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and partially cover with a lid.  Cook farro, stirring frequently, for approximately 30 minutes, or until all water has been absorbed.  (At my altitude, it takes 40 minutes.) Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Stir occasionally while cooling.  While the farro is cooling, prepare salad dressing and salad vegetables.

I used this simple recipe for Greek salad dressing, and I really liked it:  http://www.simplyscratch.com/2010/11/my-big-fat-greek-dressing.html. You’ll probably have all the ingredients you need already in your pantry.  A garlic clove, dried oregano, salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil.  Delicious!

Combine the cooled farro (it doesn’t have to be completely cool, just cool enough to avoid wilting or cooking the veggies), vegetables, feta, herbs, and salad dressing.  Mix thoroughly, cover, and cool completely in fridge.

Before serving, stir salad up from bottom to redistribute any dressing that might have drained to the bottom of the bowl and taste.  If you want, you can add more salad dressing, but you don’t want your salad to be oily, so don’t go overboard.

For an Italian variation:

*Omit cucumber.  Add a cup of roasted or grilled eggplant cubes.  (This can be marinated in Italian salad dressing after cooking for more flavor.)

*Omit feta cheese.  Substitute cubed fresh mozzarella.

*Omit mint.  Add a bit of fresh snipped basil instead.

*Omit Greek salad dressing.  Use Italian salad dressing instead.  My Italian dressing is essentially the same as the Greek dressing, except for acid I use red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, and I use dried basil along with the oregano, and pinch of dried thyme.

*Omit sun-dried tomatoes and use fresh grape or cherry tomatoes, halved, or seeded and diced Roma or Italian tomatoes. Any fresh tomato would be fine.

*Omit Kalamata olives.  Substitute sliced or halved ripe black olives.

*Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for that quintessentially Italian flavor.

Happy summertime eating!  If you come up with any variations of your own, I would love to hear about them.

 

 

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Recipes, Side dishes

Wheat-free Cornbread, Improved!

8/14/2016:  I just discovered the unpublished draft below in my posts folder.  This is the recipe I have used for the past couple of years, and I like it very much better than the previous one, which included coconut flour.

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I’ve been tweaking my wheat-free cornbread recipe. Corn contains gluten, and if you have celiac disease, you may be sensitive to corn gluten. That’s why I’m no longer calling this cornbread gluten-free. I am not sensitive to gluten; I simply have cut way, way back on the amount of wheat in my diet. I am still not completely wheat-free, but I’m getting closer all the time. When I decided to cut out wheat, there were many family-favorites I was afraid would fall by the wayside. Cornbread was one of them. Cornbread is woven deep into the food history of my family, so it was not something I was willing to give up. I just had to learn how to make it without wheat flour.

In a previous post, I shared my wheat-free cornbread and cornbread stuffing recipes in a Thanksgiving dishes post. Here’s an updated version of the cornbread recipe. I’ll be using this version of wheat-free cornbread in my cornbread stuffing this year, along with cubes from a new bread recipe I’ve been using and will share after Thanksgiving. For now, wheat-free cornbread.

Wheat-free Cornbread

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (I use Bob’s Red Mill in bulk from Winco)

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

1/3 cup sugar (I’ve been using organic coconut palm sugar)

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

4 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup oil (any oil you would use for baking is fine)

1/3 cup milk or buttermilk

 

Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients; mix into dry. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet, pour in batter, and bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Or grease 12 muffin cups, fill half-full, and bake for 13-15 minutes at 425 degrees. Remove from oven and cool five minutes, remove from muffin pan to rack (or from the skillet to a plate on a rack) to finish cooling. May be served warm.

I’ll be making a double batch of cornbread so we can have some with a bean soup for dinner on Wednesday night. The leftovers will be set out to dry overnight and then will go in my cornbread stuffing. And yes, the stuffing goes right inside the turkey, despite what the Food Network people say! It’s my family’s favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal.

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Desserts, Gluten-free, Recipes

Blackberry Cobbler

Update 8/19/2016:  For a delicious gluten-free version, scroll to the end of this post.  Dennis agreed with me that the gluten-free version was as good or better than the original!

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I rediscovered this old recipe, written down more than thirty years ago, when I unpacked some of my cookbooks and recipe files from the box I’d packed them in at the start of the kitchen renovation.  This dish was a potluck staple of my former pastor’s wife in Klamath, Joyce Fleshman.  I’ve tweaked it just a bit, substituting butter for margarine (we all baked with margarine back then before we knew how bad for us it was), and adding a splash of my homemade vanilla.  I also substituted organic, whole-wheat pastry flour for all-purpose flour.  And this coming week, after I pick berries again, I propose to make this recipe with the Bob’s Red Mill bean-based gluten-free flour that I use so often.  I’ll let you know how that turns out, but I’m sure it will work, as I’ve subbed it for all-purpose flour in other recipes like this.

Usually when I make cobblers, I make a soft, sweet biscuit dough to top the hot fruit, which has been mixed with sugar and some kind of thickener, cornstarch or tapioca.  I made one of these a couple of weeks ago, and it was good, as always.  But somewhere in the back of my mind was the memory of this other cobbler that I always loved when Joyce made it all those years ago.  When I found the recipe, I was really eager to try it, and the dish lived up to my memory.  The batter for this cobbler produces a more cake-like texture, and as it bakes, it makes layers in the pan, with the berries in the middle layer, separating the two cake layers.  The fat in the pan produces a crisp, shiny surface.  It’s really good.

Joyce’s Berry Cobbler

½ cup (1 stick) butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups milk (whole is best for baking)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4-6 cups of ripe blackberries (Use lesser amount if your blackberries are super ripe and rendering juice.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put the butter in a 9X13 inch baking pan and place in oven to melt.  While butter is melting, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Beat in milk, eggs, and vanilla until mixture is smooth.  Pour batter over melted butter in pan, mix in slightly, swirling batter through butter with a spoon.  Sprinkle berries on top of batter evenly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, or until bottom layer is set when tested with a sharp knife.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Note:  The berries sink to the bottom or middle as the batter rises and the cobbler bakes.

The cobbler may need more baking time if your berries are very juicy, or you use the larger amount of berries.  I live at about 4500 feet, and it took about 50 minutes in the oven at 350 to get the bottom layer of the cobbler set.  Baking this at a lower altitude will probably take less time, so keep an eye on it.

We ate this warm out of the oven with ice cream the first day, and oh, baby.  It was very good cold with whipped cream the next day.  My granddaughter, who loves to bake, helped me pick the berries and make the cobbler, and she was a fan after she tried the dish.  For me, eating it brought back a lot of memories of church potlucks with good friends when my kids were little, and of Joyce, whom I loved.

Gluten-free version:

For the wheat flour, substitute same amount of gluten-free flour  (I use the bean-based flour from the bulk bin at Winco, which is Bob’s Red Mill).

Add 2 teaspoons xanthan gum to dry ingredients.

Follow directions as above.

This version might take an extra 15 minutes or longer to bake.  The texture is slightly different, more like a sponge cake crumb.

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Canning, Recipes

Jailhouse Jam

Dennis and I picked apricots last weekend, and I’ve been making jam, pie filling, and canning apricot halves.  This is a good fruit year for our high desert valley, and all the old apricot trees around town are just loaded.  The fruit is small, because these trees are neglected, but it is good.

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We picked at three places in Susanville this year:  the old, historic Lassen County Jail, the old Superior Court building, and at a private residence.  We had picked at the old courthouse and then moved to the old jail and were picking there when a passerby told us about a house that had been foreclosed on a month before which had an apricot tree hanging over into the alley.  “I’ve been picking every day,” she said, “but there are just so many!  You should come over and pick there.”  How nice!  We thanked her and said we’d check it out.  And we did end up picking a few there because they were easy to get to and nice and ripe.

We had one other interaction with a passerby that was amusing and dismaying at the same time.  When we were picking at the old courthouse, a group of three young people, perhaps in their twenties, walked by.  One of the young men stopped and asked quite politely, “What is that in that tree?” The fruit was all over the ground, and if you’ve ever eaten an apricot, it was obvious what it was.  But I told him, and I told him how good they were.  “Huh,” he said, and looked a little mystified, as if the idea of picking food off a tree, as opposed to picking up a package of it in a grocery store, were a new one to him.  That might not have been what he was thinking, but I have encountered that sort of perplexed attitude in the young toward foraged food.  But just maybe he’d never actually eaten an apricot before.

We came home with about 40 lbs. of apricots.  I want to share my apricot jam recipe in hopes that others will be inspired to pick and preserve this abundant fruit.  (If you’re not going to make it yourself, I have some for sale to local buyers.  You can see all the varieties of jams and jellies for sale at www.gardenforestfield.com/jeanies-jams.)

This recipe was adapted from one in Lisa Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation, a canning book I highly recommend.

Ingredients:

3 lbs. of fresh apricots

1 ½ cups sugar

3 tablespoons lemon juice

For a small batch, start with 3 lbs. of fresh apricots.  This will make about 5 half-pints of jam.  If you want to make a larger batch, double everything in the recipe, but make sure you use a larger enough pot to prevent boiling over.  Get your jars washed first and heating in your water bath canner while you work on your apricots.  The jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in boiling water before you add the jam and process them, and it takes a while to get a big canner full of water to the boil.

I love making jam with apricots because it is one of the easiest of stone fruits to work with.  You don’t have to peel them, and they are freestone, which means the pit doesn’t cling to the flesh but comes away easily when you halve them.  So the first step to making apricot jam is to wash, halve, and pit the fruit.  Also cut off any dark spots from skin or flesh, because this jam is such a pretty color, you don’t want any dark bits to spoil the look of it.  Always cut away any moldy spots from the skin, if there are any.  If you find mold inside the fruit, around the pit, discard that piece of fruit, for it will taint your whole batch.

The next step is to dice the fruit.  You can do this by hand, but my hands don’t work very well anymore, so I do it in a food processor, pulsing until the fruit is chopped.  Don’t puree it.  The apricots cook down a lot, so a few bigger pieces are fine.

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Put the chopped fruit into a large, stainless steel or enamel-coated or porcelain pot and add 1 ½ cups sugar and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.  I usually use freshly squeezed lemon juice, but I have used bottled in a pinch, and it doesn’t seem to change anything, so it’s your choice.  Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly, then reduce to medium and continue to cook for about 25 minutes.  Stir frequently to prevent sticking, but you can walk away from this for a few minutes at a time.  As the jam thickens, I start reducing the heat bit by bit so it doesn’t blurp all over me, the wall, the counter, and stove.  It really burns if it blurps on your skin, so wearing clean oven mitts while stirring is a good idea.

The trickiest part of making this jam is how to tell when it has cooked enough.  Apricot skins contain enough pectin to make a soft-set jam, but it won’t set hard like a jelly.  I use the plate in the freezer method to tell if the jam has cooked enough.  At the beginning of the cooking time, I put a small plate or saucer into the freezer to chill.  When the cooking time has expired, I start testing the jam by dropping a small dab from a spoon onto the chilled plate and putting it back in the freezer for one minute.  After that minute, I test the dab of jam by pushing it with my finger.  If it feels thickish and has a bit of wrinkle on the surface when it’s pushed, it’s ready.  But that’s not the only thing I look for.  When jam is ready to jar, it takes on a very glossy look.  It thickens, of course, but the glossy surface is a key for me.  As you watch the jam cook, stirring it frequently, you’ll see this glossiness develop.  The gloss in combination with how it behaves on the plate tells me when jam is ready to go in the jar.  Reduce the heat to low and keep the jam at a simmer while you fill the jars.

Fill the sterilized jars with simmering jam to within ¼” of the rim.  (Do use a canning funnel and a good ladle.  It will make your life so much easier.)  As you fill each jar, wipe the rim with a damp cloth or paper towel, and put the flat and ring on, tightening the ring only hand tight.  Place the filled jar in the boiling water bath and move on to the next jar.  This ensures that your jam doesn’t cool off too much before you start your processing time.  When all the jars are full and capped and in the canner’s rack, lower them completely into the boiling water and put the lid on the canner.  You should always have enough water in the canner to cover the tops of the jars by at least an inch when they are completely submerged. It will probably take a couple of minutes to bring the water back up to boiling.  Don’t start timing until the water is boiling.  At sea level, this jam only needs to process for 5 minutes.  I add processing time because my elevation is over 4000 feet.  Always adjust your processing time for your altitude.  There’s a handy altitude chart at https://www.freshpreserving.com/altitude-adjusting.html.

When the processing time is finished, use jar tongs remove the jars to a towel-covered surface to cool and do not touch them until they are completely cool.  Don’t push on the lids.  You’ll hear pings and pongs as the jars seal, but when they are completely cool, it’s a good idea to remove the rings, wash away any spillage, and test the seal on each jar by prying gently with your fingertips.  If the lid didn’t seal, refrigerate that jar and eat it first.  If you fill the jars to the correct level and clean the rims thoroughly before adding the flat and ring, you shouldn’t have any problems with failure to seal.

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This jam has no commercial pectin or preservatives in it, other than the sugar and lemon juice (both of those are somewhat preservative), so it should be enjoyed within a year or so.  It will be good longer than that, but I’ve noticed that mine tends to darken a bit on the surface of the jam after a year.  It still tastes fine, but just isn’t as pretty in the jar.  I always, always write the date on the top of the jar flat with a Sharpie before I put the jam away.

I hope somebody out there will go pick apricots and make some jam!  As for me, I’m on to making pie filling for the freezer, canning apricot halves in light syrup, and dehydrating some halves for quick snacks.  I do love apricots!

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Main dishes, Recipes, Travel

Fresh Abalone

I usually like to write up my wild culinary adventures right away, but when you’re camping, you’re not likely to have an internet connection capable of handling a big upload (or is download?).  That was the case with our five days in Cleone, California, a tiny hamlet just a couple of miles north of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.

We go to Mendocino County (and camp in Cleone) at least once a year, twice if we can manage it, so Dennis can dive for abalone.  For those who don’t know, abalone is a shell fish, but not a fish.  It’s basically a big sea snail.  They look disgusting and taste divine when prepared properly.  So today’s post is about preparing abalone the way we like it best, and we’ve tried many different methods.

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For the past couple of years, we’ve been camping in April with our dear friends, Karen and Louie Fortino, as a birthday celebration for Dennis and Karen, whose birthdays are only days apart.  It’s a good excuse to get together with friends we don’t get to see that often.  They live within two hours of the coast.  For us, it’s an eight-hour drive, but the haul is worth it.

Many years ago, Louie taught us a method for breading and cooking abalone.  It’s the best.  Louie’s a fabulous Italian cook, and this is the way he prepares squid for calamari.  It works equally well with abalone.  But before you get to the breading, there are some essential steps to take to make sure the abalone is tender enough to chew.

First, Dennis pries the abalone out of the shell, cleans away the gut (full of ground kelp), and trims off the black “lips” around the edge of the creature.  These lips are actually the abalone’s feet.  They help it move around on the rocks on which it lives under the surface of the sea.  The meat is pounded a few times with an ab iron (the tool used to pry the abalone off the rock) or a mallet, or even a two by four, if that’s all that’s handy.  This helps that incredibly strong muscle to relax.  Then the meat is rinsed clean, sliced thin into steaks, and pounded again, this time with a meat mallet, bumpy side down.  It’s necessary for the abalone steaks to be tenderized this way, and Dennis usually pounds them until he can see the muscle fibers breaking down.

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Then it’s time for breading.  When we’re camping, we set up the breading station as follows:

*Put a cup of white flour in a paper plate and spread it out (for gluten-free abalone, I use brown rice flour here and homemade gluten-free breadcrumbs, seasoned the same way I season wheat flour breadcrumbs).

*Beat 3 eggs with a 3 tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl (or large paper plate) Mix with a half cup of chopped, fresh parsley if you have it.

*Pour a cup of Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs into another paper plate and spread them out (my recipe below).  If breadcrumbs are store-bought, add ¼ cup of grated Parmesean cheese and mix well.

This is enough breading for two medium abalone, which is enough abalone, with sides, for four hungry adults. The abalone steaks are dipped first in flour, then in the egg-parsley mixture, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.  After breading, they should be laid out in single layers on paper plates, waxed paper, plastic wrap, what-have-you, so that the breading doesn’t get soggy.

We usually have two people working the cooking process, one to bread and one to fry.  (Louie did the breading this time, and Dennis did the cooking, while I sat by the fire and drank wine with Karen!) As soon as breading starts, the cook should start heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  (Regular olive oil, not extra-virgin, is best for frying because it has a higher smoke point, but all I had this time was EV, and you just have to watch the temperature of the oil and clean the pan between batches.)  When the oil is hot but not smoking, it’s time to fry.

It only takes a few minutes to fry breaded abalone steaks.  By the time the breading is browned, the meat is tender and done.  It’s ideal to put the cooked abalone on a cooling rack and cover with paper towels to keep it warm, but when we’re camping, we just put it on paper towels in a paper plate and cover it loosely with foil to keep it warm.  If done right, the breading won’t become soggy while the rest is cooking.

Abalone is best fresh out of the ocean, but it can be removed from the shell, cleaned, and frozen in water (or a mixture of water and milk, Louie says) in freezer bags and eaten later.  We don’t bring it home any more.  It’s eaten on the spot!

We’ve tried other ways of preparing abalone.  It doesn’t have much flavor on its own, so it needs the seasoning in the breading, in my opinion, for best taste.  Dennis used to bread it in cracker crumbs, but the Italian bread crumbs are much better.  We’ve tried it sautéed in garlic and butter.  Blah.  We’ve tried it rolled in a flour and cornmeal mixture like fish.  Blah.  We’ve tried it in panko.  Blah.  We’ve tried it grilled.  Blah and yuck.  Basically, we’ve tried every way anybody who dives for abalone has said it’s good, and we’ve always come back to Louie’s calamari method.  It’s simply the best.

My apologies for the lack of photos with this post, but when you’re about to eat a once-or-twice-a-year delicacy, photos are the last thing on your mind!  I had to jump up and grab my camera just as we were ready to dive in, and I didn’t get pictures of the breading and cooking process because I was drinking wine with Karen.  🙂

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Homemade Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs for Abalone Breading

*4 cups dry breadcrumbs

*1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I do use the fine stuff in the green container for this)

*1/4 cup crushed, dried oregano

2 tablespoons crushed, dried basil

2 tablespoons crushed, dried parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon paprika (optional)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Store in cool, dry place in airtight container.  Can be stored in fridge or freezer if tightly sealed.

I save heels, stale bread, hot dog and hamburger buns, dry ends of French bread—whatever I have—in the freezer until I have a gallon bag of it.  Then I dry it in the oven at 170-200 degrees.  I cool it, then run the pieces through the food processor with the blade in place.  I store this in ziplocs in the freezer and make up a batch of seasoned bread crumbs before we go to the coast.

For gluten free breadcrumbs, save the heels and stale pieces of bread and dry and grind them as above.  Then season away!

Earlier in the day, we stopped at Cowlick’s Ice Cream Parlor in Fort Bragg, and I had a scoop of Candy Cap Mushroom ice cream.  It sounds weird, but oh my, was it good!  It tasted like Butter Pecan or Butter Brickle ice cream.  I could have used another bowl of it for dessert!  (Not that we were lacking desserts, with homemade blueberry-topped cheesecake and homemade pineapple upside-down cake, neither of which were photographed!  We ate the evidence!)

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