Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Putting Up The Sweets Canning Watermelon Jam


Watermelon Jam

My goodness this is so Good!! I'd been searching for ways to save and preserve for quite awhile as I've watched our watermelon patch go crazy this year. Watermelons are everywhere out there and my mind was racing with thoughts of making this a valuable food source during those winter months

Of course many of you have already heard about my Popsicle craze. Let me tell you tho...my Granddaughter absolutely loves them! I got even more creative and blended dewberries in them that I had put up in the freezer from some earlier spring pickings. Then I blended some Plain Whole Greek God Yogurt in them with a little squirt of Agave Nectar. 

Now I need to buy more molds! I know I could make my own, but the Grands love the sippy straws and frankly so do I because of the melt drips. What a easy fun way to preserve summers delights. 

Sweet Jubilee 

So I decided to go a step further with canning up the watermelon jam. I found a whole bunch of recipes for making it several places, but the most trustworthy one I found at Food In Jars. After reading how they made it and all of the comments that fans had posted I felt sure I could do this.

I did not find the need to alter it in anyway what so ever. Although I kind of chuckled when I read comments from people who wasn't looking for the Watermelon Jolly Rancher Candy flavor. All I could think was if I could actually achieve that candy flavor in a jar my family would be extremely happy. Who doesn't love Watermelon Jolly Rancher Candy in the South? 

I'm going to go ahead and give you the run down on the basic recipe, but I did do a couple of things to try to guarantee a decent good set for this jam. 

First, make sure you have a candy thermometer or even a meat thermometer will work as long as the temperature goes up to 220 degrees. That is the peek of perfection for the jam.

I still put two saucers in the freezer. The reason for this is to test the jam before you remove it from the heat. 

Once the jam reaches the 220 degree mark, grab a saucer out of the freezer and put a spoonful in the middle of the dish. Watch what it does, if it is really runny let the jam boil a little longer. Then test it again with your second saucer. If it begins to jell up it is done.

 This was also my opportunity to taste it while I stuck my finger in it on the saucer. YUM!!

Have some fun with varieties of heirloom colored flesh too!

The Basic Recipe
Makes 5 to 6 Half pint jars

6 cups pureed watermelon (remove any seeds prior to pureeing)
5 cups white sugar
6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
1 packet powdered pectin

Be sure to use the powdered pectin. After all the research I did, I had seen many caners having problems trying to use liquid pectin.

You really don't want to cut back on the sugar here. That is what helps it thicken and preserve it. I made mine in 1/2 pint jars because this jam is going to be considered a treat for special occasions. I can see it making an awesome dipping sauce combined with some other ingredients to use for dipping homemade egg rolls. 

Directions

Prepare your canning jars and lids. Canning jars should be boiled and bands and lids in hot water, just to before it reaches boil.

Crack open that watermelon and start in the middle section where there are less seeds. Cut out chunks and put them in a large bowl to get ready to blend it up in either a food processor or blender. 

Make sure you take out all of the seeds as you get nearer the rind where they are usually plentiful. After it is all blended measure out the 6 cups needed into your non reactive pot.

Note: Do not double this recipe and actually the wider your stainless steel pot is the better it will cook. 

In a large bowl whisk together the sugar and the pectin. Add this to your pot along with the lemon juice. 

Bring to a good rolling boil. It took mine almost 30 minutes to reach 220 degrees. It seemed as though it wanted to stay at around 117 degrees for quite awhile, but you can see the difference in the reaction of the boil when it reached the mark.Next time I probably won't need to use the thermometer after seeing what it does.

Do your frozen saucer test before you remove it from the heat. Do two saucer tests if need be. Once it has jelled on the saucer it is done. Fill your jars. Make sure you wipe the rims clean with a paper towel and then put on the lids and screw bands. 

Place the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Give this a chance to fully set. Sometimes it can take up to one or two weeks before it is fully set. So patients are needed while waiting.

Happy Gardening and Happy Preserving!!
Pammy

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fresh Amaranth Tortilla Flatbread


Yes, it's not the lighting or the camera, the tortillas are really pinkish red in color.

I call them "Indian Summer," which is not to far off from the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth that I used to prepare them. In a previous post I shared using Amaranth Seeds ground into flour to make homemade pasta.

But here I am using the very young leaves of the Amaranth plant, also known as Indian Spinach. It is remarkably flavored just like normal green spinach you would grow in the garden. I do make the tortillas using regular spinach as well as using several other vegetables from the garden for different flavors.

Freshly harvested Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (Young tender leaves)

Most people who love to garden, also love to cook. I happen to love to bake and am always trying new and creative ways to use the harvest. 

In Texas we love our warm freshly made tortillas. I really began making my own out of desperation, and well, one thing led to another. The fact is you simply cannot buy lovely tortillas that are not made with lard or saturated fats, shortening, preservatives, artificial colors and the list goes on. 

It is indeed difficult to make them without all that bad stuff and to have them taste as good. But I searched and experimented and finally came up with a sure cure fix to an excellent homemade tortilla that frankly beats the socks off of any others. 

This recipe uses pure organic unadulterated ingredients and can be made plain or spiffed up to any flavor you desire.You won't believe how easy they are to make. This recipe makes 8 tortillas.

Ingredients

2 cups + organic unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp organic sunflower oil
3/4 cup organic whole milk (warm)
Steamed Chopped Spinach or Amaranth (to make one over sized cup after cooked)

A Nice Round Soft and Sticky Dough Ball

Directions

1. First, clean and wash your spinach, then chop it up. You will need to at least double up the amount used fresh, because once you steam it, it will of course shrink. Once steamed, set it aside to cool and drain of some its moisture.

2. Next, in a small sauce pan heat your milk on low, just enough to get it warm.

3. In your mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk with a wire whisk. Start with the 2 cups of flour. You may need to add a little extra once you add the rest of your ingredients. Add your oil and 1 good cup of your chopped spinach.

4. You can make this dough by hand or take it to your mixing stand and add the dough hook. Mix on the 2nd setting of your mixer and add the milk a little at a time. The dough will be sticky by should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it is still soupy add a little more flour. Start with just 1/4 cup a go from there.

5. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust the top of the dough and knead until a nice soft pliable dough ball forms. It should still be very soft and a bit sticky. Do not over work the dough. Doing so will cause your tortillas to become stiff instead of soft and fluffy.

6. Place dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl and turn it once to coat it. Cover it with plastic wrap and then place a towel over it. Set in a warm place and let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Dough Cut into 8 equal pieces

7. Once your dough has rested, turn it out onto your lightly floured surface. Form the dough into a tube shape of sorts and cut it into 8 reasonably equal pieces. Cover with a towel and let the pieces rest for 10 minutes. While it is resting get out your cast iron skillet, a metal spatula and rolling pin.

Rolled out dough just like a pie crust

8. The next step is to flatten out a piece with the palm of your hand, keeping it in a circle. Next begin rolling it out from the middle towards the outsides, much like you would a pie crust. Lightly dust with flour is dough becomes to sticky. Flip it over and roll from the other side. Do each piece and set them aside until they are all rolled out. The key here is roll them as thin as possible, but not so thin they become hard to work with.

9. Turn your stove top on high heat and begin to get your cast iron skillet hot. Once it is hot, you may turn it down to medium depending upon your stove.

It is fine to use a tiny bit of oil in the skillet, however I found no purpose for doing so. The cook perfectly without it. Place one of your tortillas on the skillet. Let cook approximately 20 to 30 seconds on each side.

The tortilla will puff just a little around the edges when it is done. Keep a close eye to be careful not to burn them. Set each one on a wire rack, just long enough for the next tortilla to almost be done.

 I keep a tortilla keeper handy and set each one inside stacking them while they are still just barely warm. When they are completed I put the lid on. Let them completely cool and then flip the entire stack inside the keeper to keep the bottom tortilla from getting soggy. This process keeps them soft.

 Tortilla Keeper

Of course I cannot share this recipe without a little Native American History. Since we are baking with Hopi Red Dye Amaranth in this recipe I must share. 

When a Hopi woman found a man in which she wished to marry, she would bake a special bread made of cornmeal and amaranth called Piki Bread. 

It would be a reddish colored bread. She would take her bread to the home of the man she wished to marry and leave it at the door step for the mother of the hopeful groom to be.

 If the mother brought the bread inside, then it meant that the marriage was approved. Many times a brother of the hopeful groom or a friend would bring the bread inside so the young woman would not be embarrassed. 

The mother would then taste the bread as well as the mothers sisters, aunts, grandmother...all the women would decide if the woman's bread was worthy to marry. 

There is much more to the tradition and the story but for now, perhaps for the single ladies, we should begin to bake!!  


We that with like hearts love, we lovers twain,
New wedded in the village by thy fane,
Lady of all chaste love, to thee it is
We bring these amaranths, these white lilies,
A sign, and sacrifice; may Love, we pray,
Like amaranthine flowers, feel no decay;
Like these cool lilies may our loves remain,
Perfect and pure, and know not any stain;
And be our hearts, from this thy holy hour,
Bound each to each, like flower to wedded flower.
~Joachim du Bellay "A Vow To Heavenly Venus," ca. 1500 



Happy Gardening!!
Pammy

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Canning Crispy Deli Style Claussen Pickles


These are MY Favorite Pickles!!!

Please remind me to not skip growing pickling cucumbers ever again!! The reason they make such great pickles is because the seeds are very tiny and the skins are a little tougher than a lot of other types. This keeps them much crunchier and the flavor is perfect!

This is an older post from me that I thought needed a little updating. I actually use a pinch of Stevia to replace the tiny bit of sugar that went in the original recipe. You might find me doing this a lot with many of my recipes. :)

My new Heritage Green Vintage Mason Jars

With the fact that I still actually have fresh dill growing in our hot Texas garden and I even have some of our garlic left that we grew last fall makes this recipe all the yummier.

The problem is I have to wait at least 7 to 10 days before they are good and ready to eat! But that's okay, these are so easy to make because they go straight to the refrigerator. 

I hope you've saved some nice big pickle jars to make some of your own. If not just use some good old fashion wide mouth quart canning jars.

I'm excited, because I just got the Heritage Green Vintage Mason Jars. I thought they might make my pickles a little prettier. The important thing is to make sure you have the space in your fridge for the jars. I had to clean mine out, HA!! That's right...and not a huge surprise that it needed it too!

If for some crazy reason you have never eaten a deli style pickle...just know this...they make the most excellent pickle to go with a homemade sandwich. And since I love making my own bread, especially my French Sesame Buns, a healthy hearty sandwich makes a delicious meal with an excellent pickle..

 Ingredients

For The Brine
(I've broken this down for you, so if you need more brine just increase the amount you are making) Remember the brine will stay good in the refrigerator for a long time to be used later as well. So if you end up making to much its really not a problem. You may also chose to use Canning Salt, but I say why? when your making kosher pickles!
3 Parts Distilled Water, 1 Part 5% white distilled vinegar and 2 Tbsp. of Kosher Salt

For The Spices and The Goodies. 
This list is for quart size measurements that would be placed in a single quart size jar. If you are using larger jars for your pickles, just adjust it accordingly.

1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. fresh peppercorns
1/4 tsp. fresh mustard seed
1/4 tsp. whole allspice, or 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 dill seed head, include some weed and some stems (dill seed alone can be substituted) 
A pinch of turmeric
1/4 tsp. sugar
Pickling Cucumbers, small whole or larger halved or quartered

Directions

Combine the ingredients for the brine and bring to a boil. Be sure to use a non reactive type of pot for this. Something like a stainless steel or enameled pot works great.

Put all the spices and goodies in your jar or jars. Fill them tight with your pickling cucumbers. Make sure to leave at least 1/2 inch head space from the top of the jar. Pour your hot brine into the jars. Wipe the rims and put on the lids. Let cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator. The pickles will keep for up to 8 to 11 weeks in the fridge. Ours never last that long and I bet they will keep much longer than this!

To get your pretty Heritage Green Mason Jars, take a peek in my Homestead and Garden Store. I have them in both Pints and Quart sizes. Just use the link at the top of this page. Click on Jars and Bottles: Canning & Preserving and go to pages 22 through 24!

Happy Gardening!
Pammy

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Making of Wildflower Mulch


Small Larkspur Patch Makes A Whole Lot of Mulch!

The reasons for letting many Wildflowers, Herbs and many other crops naturalize in the garden, is not just for all the beneficial insects and pollinators they feed and attract. It is a completely natural way to complete the cycle of needs for the organic gardener. We are giving back to the earth what it requires, improving the soil and mulching our garden.

Before the Wildflowers went to seed

Once Wildflowers seed out they lose their beauty as they begin to fade. But I have enjoyed them so very much. They have fed hoards of butterflies, bees and birds. 

The next step is easy and very rewarding. Once to seed we simply lay them all down into a nice thick mat. Underneath were Canna Lilies and Cape Honeysuckle patiently awaiting their day in the sun.

Next we bring in wheelbarrows full of compost and spread it directly over the Wildflower Mulch where the new beds are to be formed. Leaving only the mat of Wildflowers for the path that will keep the unwanted weeds at bay.

We then plant all the way down the garden path with Peppers, Eggplants and Beans.A few Heirloom Marigolds and Zinnias were added as well for a spot of extra color.

Once everything is planted, we then come in with a nice heavy organic hardwood mulch that is free of harmful dyes and chemicals. 

All that is left to do is to give it all a good soaking and let nature do the rest.

Soon we will feast our eyes on many more beneficial insects and wildlife as we wait for some lovely organic garden produce to fill our kitchen.

When spring returns the following year, the entire process will begin again. Loads of beautiful Wildflowers for you and them!

Happy Gardening!
Pammy



Friday, May 16, 2014

Summer Savory: Health Benefits in the Southern Garden


I think summer savory is one of those herbs that many folks haven't tried. Many have never heard of it. After growing some a few years back, we've found ourselves hooked on it. 

Maybe getting hooked might be one of the reasons it is known as the "Herb of Love."

I just didn't grow enough that first year! I saved what I could by drying it. My main purpose at that time was to use it in cooking. 

We cook and eat a lot of beans. Pintos, White Beans, Black Beans and really, whatever Bean we can grow! Summer Savory has this delicate way of completely changing a pot of beans into a whole new experience. 

Once you've tried it you simply cannot get enough of! It is absolutely Delicious with a light peppery flavor.

These days, I make sure I grow tons of it. My favorite places to plant it is all in and around my bean plants. Not only is summer savory great to eat in a pot of beans, the herb is actually a companion to beans in the garden.

The summer savory helps improve the flavor of your beans immensely, by growing next to them. It also helps repel insects away from your bean plants, like the bean beetle. It's said to help improve the overall growth of bean plants. It's a companion to onions and garlic too.

I've come a long ways with this herb in using it in the kitchen. These days, I love it with so many things. Adding it to my salads, salad dressings, soups, stews and sauces. 

I've found it awesome to add to marinates for my Poultry and Fish dishes. And of course you know how I love to make bread! This herb is wonderful in my herbal baguettes!

I'm just beginning to learn of the health benefits that come with eating summer savory. More than that, I've discovered its benefits by adding it to tea.

I've listed just a few of Summer Savory's health benefits up above. For more details you might want to visit the website Nutrition-And-You

Happy Gardening!
Pammy





Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Poor Man Rich Man Canna Lilies Of The South


Sometimes you just never know the hidden treasures that can be found in what is considered a lowly poor man's plant to be found in many southern landscapes.

This is one plant that a person can dig up and toss out and it won't die. I know, because before I discovered its value I did a whole lot of tossing.
When you really get your eyes opened to the simpler aspects of what is considered valuable for growing a healthy organic garden ecosystem, you begin to notice the obvious more often. For some of us it takes a little longer to see it. A perfect example of this is me.
The most important thing every garden needs first and foremost is healthy thriving soil. Every time I dug up the Cannas Rhizomes I noticed what a beautiful texture the soil was where they were growing. 
In the Houston and surrounding areas we are prone to have a whole lot of hard clay soil and more time than not you hit clay very quickly once you dig your shovel in the ground. This is very true on our existing property. It can be very hard to work and takes an enormous amount of organic matter to make a simple garden bed. 

Luckily there are many plants and trees that will tolerate a certain amount of clay soil. The problems are that with clay soil you ultimately have very poor drainage and root systems get bound up with no place to go because the ground it to hard..Basically one is trying to grow in muck when it's wet and stone when it is dry.

What the rhizomes of Cannas contain is very high levels of starch enzymes. What these enzymes do for the soil is create soil aeration that reduces soil compaction. In other words the soil becomes a soft loose loam that is perfect for growing most garden vegetables, herbs and flowers.


What you will find throughout our garden is clumps of Cannas growing here and there. You will see flowers blooming brightly of either yellow or orange. Other common colors for Cannas are red or white as well. 

In each clump beneath the soil are starch filled enzymes amending the soil structure naturally and healthy micro-organisms teaming in the soft loam.

The Canna areas are also harboring my Anole Lizards, Toads, Garden snakes and spiders that create the perfect habitat for them. These beneficial preditors will protect my garden from harmful pests.


 This simply is not the end of the story for the rich man's Cannas. By harvesting their leaves and adding them to your compost pile, the plants extracts are working to help break down your compost heap faster that most other plants will do. 

This is a perfect scenario for the winter compost pile. Because the extracts are causing natural aeration it is aiding in heating the compost up. By keeping your compost nice and hot in the winter months you will be multiplying the healthy micro-organisms that keep the compost alive.

So to sum this story up, not only do I never ever toss them out, I cherish them and nurture them and promote their growth everywhere I possibly can! It is a good time to move them around this month as they are just beginning to sprout. Place them in new areas where future plans are to be made for new garden beds. Your soil will get a head start to health and in the end you will not need to purchase or add quite as much organic matter.

Happy Gardening!
Pammy


Friday, May 9, 2014

How To Grow Loofah Sponge Gourds


Basket of Loofah By Pamela Kimsey
I often think on our Native Americans and all the uses they had for different types of gourds. Gourds date back centuries throughout the world. Most of them require warm and even tropical growing conditions from countries such as Africa, South American, Asia and India just to name a few. So how did so many types arrive in North America for the Indians to use?
I recently discovered some interesting facts about gourds. It is said that a gourd such as the bottle neck can actually float for up to two years in the ocean without damaging the seeds. I’ve seen photos since I was a young girl of the Native Americans using gourds for everything from spoons, containers, bowls and various vessels.
The Loofah Gourd (Luffa, spp.) is said to have originated from Asia or India. Being only familiar with the sponges as a bath and beauty product for exfoliating the skin, I am only now beginning to discover for myself all the uses and possibilities of this sponge gourd.
The sponge is basically the fibrous material found inside the fruit of the gourd once it is dried. The fibers seem to be tightly woven, strong and very sturdy. What I found even more interesting is how naturally soft they feel when I squeeze them. This makes them great for use in the kitchen as non abrasive scouring pads when cleaning.
I also see vast possibilities using the Loofah in some interesting and useful craft projects. Possibly even as a tool for straining and filtering things from water to oils. Only time shall tell as I continue my discoveries of such a natural and eco-friendly resource as it continue to grow it in the  garden.

Loofah on the vine

Growing Requirements

The Loofah requires a long growing season to reach maturity. They can take anywhere from 120 to 180 days to become ripe and begin to dry. One vine alone can produce up to a dozen sponges. My first and longest fruit measured in at 16 inches long, but it is said they can reach up to 24 inches in length and 3 1/2 inches in diameter.
The gourds are very heavy when growing, so require a sturdy trellis. I grew mine just as I would my cucumbers.They loved our sandy soil that is rich in organic and composted matter. Be sure to plan on growing them where they will not touch the ground. This can cause them to become moldy and begin to rot.

Harvesting

Once they begin to dry however you notice them becoming much lighter when lifting. The outer shell begins to turn yellow as it ripens. In many climates they will dry just fine right on the vine as the skin turns brown. But I must warn in highly humid climates such as ours they can begin to turn moldy, so they should not be left outdoors in wet conditions.

Saving Seeds

Each loofah sponge contained a mountain of seeds. One thing good for seed savers to know is that the loofah will not cross pollinate with other species in the Cucurbitaceae family, such as pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and squash. But after some investigation I discovered that there are at least four different varieties of Loofah and they will cross pollinate within themselves.

Cleaning

After the Loofah is completely dried the papery shell is quite easily peeled off to reveal the sponge inside. While most commercial growers soak the sponges in a chlorine bleach solution to turn them whiter and kill any bacteria, I haven’t found it to be necessary when dried properly. If I were to soak them, I would suggest using a mild herbal vinegar solution which is much more appealing. Many herbs have natural anti bacteria properties as does vinegar and citrus peels.
Happy Gardening!

Pammy