A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My mission, gladly accepted

As it is with most folks, money is tight in our house this year.  I have made it my mission to preserve as much of the harvest as possible so that we may eat "fresh" year 'round.  This means I am canning and freezing more this year than ever before.  I will also be dehydrating what I am able and getting creative with what I keep and put up.  I made the decision to take full advantage of the local orchards and u-pick places in addition to our own growing capabilities.  There simply is nothing like have peaches in the middle of winter that taste fresh off the tree because they were canned at the peak of ripeness at home.  Our strawberries did not produce like they have in the past because we relocated them.  They gave a nice crop just sufficient enough for fresh eating, but none extra for storage.  SO, I turned my attention to the next crop available for picking and preserving, CHERRIES! The first to come into season were the Sweet Cherries.  We went to a local favorite, Kapnick Orchards, to pick them ourselves.

Once we learned when the opening day was, we decided to get ahead of the crowd and pick then.  When we arrived, there was no one else in the orchard.  The clerk weighed our containers and we set to work.  With us, we took our little step ladder from the house, thinking that should be sufficient to reach the trees.  On the contrary, most of the cherries were high up in the trees that were easily near twenty feet in the air.  Oops.  Consequently, it took us longer than we hoped to pick our share.  We moved the ladder a lot and worked for our 16+ pounds of black sweet cherry goodness.  It was worth it! They were absolutely divine eating out of hand and we have put up a fair amount in various forms as well.  

Mom pitted the vast majority of the haul, with Shane finishing them off at the end.  A word to the wise, be very careful where you pit your cherries, the juice leaves the area looking like a crime scene!

I planned multiple ways to preserve these sweet beauties.  I froze a fair amount by laying them on cookie sheets to freeze separately and then into freezer bags.  They are fantastic eaten frozen for a sweet treat on a hot day.  They will also be wonderful if we should want to work with them later, as in baking or the like.  

My first project was a plain cherry jam.  It calls for lemon juice (to help it set), and I thought at first taste that the lemon overpowered the jam.  After a day or two of setting, the jam really developed a nice flavor and I am happy with it.  Will I make it again?  Not likely.  Why?  First, because there are so many other awesome things to make with cherries.  Second, I have since learned that tart cherries are the way to go for most recipes and these decadent sweet cherries are best for eating out of hand.  My next cherry foray was called Cherry "Under the Influence" Jam.

Before I get into that, let me just say, I found an absolute treasure trove of canning recipes, tips, tricks and all around education at www.sbcanning.com!  This website is a one stop shop for canning enthusiasts.  She talks about equipment, process, preferences and recipes.  This recipe and the next came from SB Canning.  (I also liked her on Facebook).  It includes a helping of Brandy, so it is not one for the kids.  Granted, the initial amount added likely cooks off most of the alcohol, there is a nip added at the end that keeps the cherries potent once canned.

You can find the recipe here: http://www.sbcanning.com/2011/03/jamming-on-sunday.html

The last jam I made with the sweet cherries was also from SB Canning, Rhubarb Cherry Vanilla Jam.  Oh, my, goodness!  There is no better jam as far as I am concerned.  This is absolutely amazing.  Since my rhubarb was relocated in the garden this year, it did not produce as heartily and I did not have enough for this recipe, so a trip to the farmer's market was in order.  As luck would have it, they had none as well, so we considered ourselves lucky to find it at Meijer.  I underestimated a little with the number of stalks needed, so I supplemented the amount with cherries instead.  I used a fresh vanilla bean and scraped out the delicious and potent insides to include in the recipe as directed.  That part is worth the effort and expense, without a doubt.  The combination was absolutely beautiful in the pan. 

Once everything was cooked down, I used an immersion blender (as suggested) to finish breaking up the rhubarb and created a wonderful consistency.  

The recipe does not call for pectin, as rhubarb has a tremendous amount of natural pectin in it.  Given that I did not have the full amount of rhubarb in the recipe, I sprinkled in a touch of Ball Flex Pectin for good measure and am glad I did.  Mine was a bit of a soft set, but tasty, nonetheless.  Decadent is a good word for the rich flavor of this jam.

The last thing I made with the sweet cherries was a cherry upside down cake.  This was a bit of an experiment for me as I have not often had to beat eggs to a certain point of firmness, as in this recipe.  I used a springform pan, since I did not have a 3 inch deep round cake pan in another form as called for.  This meant that some of the butter and brown sugar that lines the bottom of the pan began leaking out and burning in the oven.  Thankfully, I keep a pan beneath all the things I bake to catch things like that.  As a solution, I also wrapped the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil to contain the leakage and hopefully keep as much of the butter and sugar in as possible.  I realized after I put the cake mix over the cherries that I had forgotten the second portion of vanilla, but it was too late.  By taste, you would not know it.  After much fretting and fussing, the cake came out, cooled and when turned onto the pan, came out beautifully.   I was pleased with the flavor and texture both.  It was a bit of a heavier cake, dense and tasty like pound cake.  

After all the canning and baking, all that was left was the pits with some cherry bits left on them.  Not one to waste, I wanted to do something with them.  So I made a plan....  You can read more about what I did with these in my upcoming post "Waste not, Want not."

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