sour cherry jam with brandy

IMG_6857Remember those cherries I posted about a few weeks ago?  When I made the drunken cherries, I took two baskets of the four that I had purchased and turned them into jam.  My mother in law sent me the cutest little book on jam making, Seasons of Jam by Jeannette Habit and I decided to try the recipe for cherry jam.

IMG_6861To make the jam, rinse, dry and pit 3 pounds of red tart cherries.  Combine the cherries with 2 cups of sugar and the juice of 1 lemon in a bowl and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Pour the mixture into a stainless steel or enamel pot and simmer for 30 minutes.  Be sure to stir it frequently and skim off any foam that forms.  Pour into a heat proof bowl, cover with parchment and chill overnight.

The next day, return the jam to the cleaned pot and boil on high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and again, removing the foam as necessary.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  It will get darker and the liquid will look more like a syrup.  Add 1/4 cup of Kirsch, Brandy or your favorite liqueur and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Cook until it reaches 210F, the jam should set properly.  Ladle into prepared canning jars, and you can process them as you wish.  For mine, I used the water bath method.  It will make 5-6 half pint jars.


amarene sotto spirito; drunken cherries, Italian style

IMG_6581My husband often teases me and calls me a hoarder.  It is no secret that I am a collector of things.  Vintage pottery and glass tableware, cookie cutters, cookbooks both old and new, bundt pans and baking tools; I have all of these things in larger quantities than I probably need.  Each time he says something, I politely remind him that while I may own more than he prefers, we are in no danger of being buried alive by my things.

Even so, he may have a point when it comes to individual recipes; in this instance and thanks to Pinterest, I may be a hoarder of recipe pins.  To further complicate things, I also have a habit of clipping recipes out of the newspaper and from magazines and for now, we will leave it at that and not discuss the scraps of paper and index cards all over the kitchen…

On a recent Wednesday morning, I flipped open the paper to the food section and within the pages, I found a recipes for Amarene Sotto Spirito, Italian style drunken cherries.  Immediately, I was smitten with the idea of making them.  However, Coastal Virginia is not known for sour cherries and I knew that this recipe was headed for the pile of things I would love to try making some day.  That day came sooner than I could have ever expected when I made a trip to the grocery store a few weeks later.  As I wandered around the produce section looking at the fruits, I suddenly found myself standing in front of quart sized baskets of sour cherries from New York.  Of course there was no price posted, I grabbed 4 baskets and went in search of someone for a price check.  While I was willing to buy them, I was not willing to bankrupt myself!  And much to my surprise, they were only $4.99 a piece.  Yes, it was a bit pricy, but I was expecting them to be nearly double that amount!

IMG_6586With 4 quarts in my cart, I finished shopping and headed home.  Aside from the drunken cherries, I was going to make a tart and some jam!  Cherries are not my favorite fruit, but they are definitely close to the top of the list, especially sour cherries.  As much as I enjoy them, I prefer to eat sour cherries cooked into something.  To surprise my husband, I made a lattice topped tart, which we proceeded to devour over the course of a couple days.  The cherries I used for jam are now sitting in little jars and will most likely be given as gifts during the holiday season-yes, I try to get an early start if I can.

IMG_6590The recipe I followed was written by Domenica Marchetti for the Chicago Tribune and in the article that accompanied it, she spoke of the cherries her nonna (grandmother in Italian) would make.  How she would lay the cherries out to dry in the sun in her native Italy but unfortunately, here in the Washington DC region where Ms. Marchetti lives, it is far too humid for them to dry before molding.  Well folks, trust me when I say this, it ain’t any better here in Coastal Virginia, three hours south of DC!!!  To make the cherries, she came up with a compromise; lay them on racks and place them in a warm oven for 10-12 hours.  The cherries, with their pits in place for the extra flavor they contribute, the cherries dry out but do not get leathery.

IMG_6601The instructions call for drying them to “about 1/3 of their original size,” and since these cherries were so small, I almost think I should have stopped them when they were half their size.  To me, they still felt pliable and soft but the pit was a lot of the volume in each cherry.

IMG_6605Once they are ready, the cherries are placed in a jar with superfine sugar to macerate for a few days.  Because my cherries were so small, and I think I may have dried them a little too much, they never produced any juice to dissolve the sugar.  After 4 days, I went ahead and added the alcohol to the jar and returned it to the pantry.  While the recipe calls for mostly grain alcohol and a small amount of brandy, I used Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka that is actually only 80 proof rather than 100 proof and for the brandy, I broke into a bottle of Asbach Uralt that Darry brought back from Germany last year.  Each day for over a week, I would shake the jar several times to help the sugar dissolve.  After about 10 days, most of it had dissolved.  IMG_6685By this point, the syrup was thick and had picked up a pink tint.  The alcohol flavor had also mellowed but the cherries, which had begun to plump up, were still a bit tart.  Knowing that they will continue to sweeten and take on the flavor of the booze is something I look forward to tasting in a month or so.  These will make wonderful cocktail cherries and the syrup, I have some plans for that!

Sour cherries are hard to come by here and I may experiment with using some frozen ones, of course, they will not have the pits, but my options are limited!  Now that we have a dehydrator, I may experiment with that as well since I can set the heat temperature, I can control the process.  Either way, I look forward to making these again.  Visit Domenica Cooks for more Italian recipes or to find her cookbooks.


if the garden gives you cukes, make pickles, lots and lots of pickles

IMG_6646When I was plotting the garden earlier this year, I planned on using a large amount of space for cucumbers because I think nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber when making a salad.  Whether it is a bowl of lettuce topped with tomatoes and cucumbers or a bowl of slices in a hot-sweet, vinegar marinade, cucumbers are one of my favorite guilt-free pleasures.  This year, I made sure to plant plenty of them so that I could have them all summer long.

In the past, I have tried to grow pickling cukes too but haven’t had much luck with them.  While at the feed store stocking up on chicken scratch, I came across a package of pickling cucumbers from Livingston Seeds and appropriately titled, Homemade Pickles.  According to the website, the vines only grow 2-3/4 feet, mine grew vertically on a trellis and I can assure you, they went at least 6 feet a piece!  Allow them plenty of space and if you go vertically, give them a sturdy structure with plenty of surface space to grab onto.  Since I pick them regularly, almost daily, they have continued to produce a pretty good amount for over a month now and my pantry is beginning to look like a pickle shop!

When I am going to can pickles, I like to boil the jars and lids to sanitize them.  My canning pot holds a lot of water and can seal about a dozen jars at once.

IMG_6661The light in the kitchen is beautiful in the morning.  It is one of the things I like most about our home.  The windows allow a lot of light in and in the summer, we can go most of the day and into evening without turning on lights in the kitchen.

IMG_6665These cucumbers have good flavor, soft skin and did not get bitter even when left on the vine too long-a few got missed in the leaves, swelled up and still did not turn bitter.  These have been soaked overnight in a brine and are draining while the jars boil and the vinegar mixture is prepared.

IMG_6669When I make dill pickles, I like to add a few mustard seeds and a pinch of dill seeds.  Fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, black peppercorns, dill from the garden are added to a boiled mixture of cider vinegar , water and salt.

IMG_6671If you like to can, I highly recommend picking up a pot that comes with a basket.  It makes putting the jars into the pot and removing them so much easier and safer.

IMG_6672The other tool I recommend, a pair of canning tongs, seriously, if you do not have them, buy them.  Too many times I have tried to use regular kitchen tongs and have scalded my hands on more occasions than I can count!

IMG_6673The pickles are packed into the jars with the spices and herbs and then the boiled vinegar mix is poured over them leaving about half an inch of space.

IMG_6677When the tops are put on, be sure not to screw the bands too tightly.  Nothing is worse than removing the jars from the water bath only to see that they have crimped and buckled because the bands were too tight!  Load them into the basket and then lower it into the boiling water.

IMG_6689After a boil of 10 minutes, raise the basket and remove the jars to a rack to cool.  Listen for the lids to pop as they cool.  If you find that some haven’t popped and appear sunken in the middle, put those in the fridge and use them first.

IMG_6690The recipe I used recommended allowing the jars to sit for 3 weeks to age and allow the flavors to develop.  Since I have been making these pickles a few jars at a time, I decided to open one today and taste them.  They did not disappoint!  One thing about this recipe, no alum was used and despite that, they were pretty crispy, for a pickle anyway.

IMG_6692The color has changed dramatically over the weeks.  These will be enjoyed with many sandwiches…

IMG_6678Sandwich-Sliced Dill Pickles

(not sliced, speared)

adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich

makes 6 -8 pints

5 pounds pickles with blossom ends removed-I only had 3.5 pounds but used the full recipe and yielded 5 pints plus one half pint

6 tablespoons sea salt, divided

2 quarts plus 3 cups cold water

2 cloves garlic jar each jar

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar

4-8 peppercorns per jar

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds per jar

pinch of dill seed per jar

1-2 sprigs fresh dill per jar

2 3/4 cups cider vinegar

Quarter the pickles into spears or cut into 3/16 inch slices, make sure to cut the blossom ends off and remove the stem end as well.  Place into a large non-reactive bowl.  Dissolve 3 tablespoons of the salt in 2 quarts of cold water.  Pour over the cut pickles, cover loosely with plastic and place a plate on top to weight them down.  Allow them to sit at room temperature for 12 hours.  When ready to can, dump the pickles into a colander in the sink and allow them to drain completely.

Place the canning jars and lids into the basket and lower it into the canning pot.  Fill the jars with water and then fill the entire pot so that the jars are covered by 2-3 inches of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil and allow the jars and lids to boil for a few minutes.  Raise the basket and using canning tongs, carefully lift and drain the jars one at a time.  Place them upside down on a rack to drain and dry.  Do this for the lids as well.  Keep the water at the boil, adding hot water if much has evaporated.

In another smaller, nonreactive pot, bring the vinegar to a boil with the remaining 3 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of salt.  Stir to dissolve the salt and then turn off the heat and keep it on the stove while you pack the jars.

Place the spices and herbs into each jar.  Fill the jars so that the spears are snug but not so tight that they are crushed against each other.  Pour the hot vinegar mix over the pickles, leaving about a half inch of space.  Wipe the rims, place the lids on and screw the bands so that they are secure but not tight.  Make sure the water in the pot is at the boil.  Load the jars into the basket and carefully lower it into the pot.  Boil for 10 minutes, raise the basket and remove the jars with the tongs.  Place them on a rack and allow them to cool completely before storing in a dark, dry place.  Check the lids, if any have not popped and inverted, place them in the fridge, allow them to age for a couple weeks and use them first.  The remaining jars should be ready to use in three weeks.

gratitude and tomatillo jam

Every year at Thanksgiving, as we gathered around the table-our family and my cousin’s family together, we would ask each other to share what we were grateful for that year.  Kids being kids meant that some of the answers were comical, but in the end, we were grateful for each other and the time together.  This year, Darry and I found ourselves on our own, one of the downfalls of relocating.  We didn’t let that stop us from having a lovely dinner and yes, it included the traditional trashcan turkey.  We also had the pleasure of cooking some vegetables that we grew ourselves.

The weather was unseasonably warm this year and we spent much of the day working in the garden.  We pulled out the frost damaged plants, mulched leaves with the lawn mower and layered the beds with straw, coffee grinds, compost and the leaves we had gathered.  When we sat down to dinner, we were grateful to have sweet potatoes and greens from our garden on the table.  It was also pleasing to know that cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli as well as brussel sprouts and collards are growing in the beds and will be on our dinner table soon as well.

One of the plants we pulled out of the bales and cut up for composting was a cluster of tomatillos; one purple and two yellow.  Tomatillos are one of those things that you either love or wonder why anyone would want the stupid things.  They are sticky when you peel the husks off and unless you are making salsa or green sauce, they aren’t very appealing.  Even so, each year as I plant my garden, I almost always sow a few tomatillo seeds.

A member of the nightshade family, tomatillos are related to tomatoes but at the same time, they are so different that you will wonder if they really are relatives.  While tomatoes do not need a companion plant to pollinate them, tomatillos do so if you plant them in your garden, be sure to plant more than one.  Tomatillo vines will sprawl so be sure to give them a sturdy structure to lean on.  They will also produce over a long season and right up to the first heavy frost which means you can have them throughout the summer and into early fall.

As we gathered all of the fruits, we realized we had enough to make a batch of something and I chose turn them into a sweet jam rather than the typical salsa.  My triple batch of jam cooked up quickly and is now sealed in jars ready to be shared with friends and family, a token of our gratitude.


Tomatillo Jam

Makes 1 pint and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled

1 pound tomatillos, washed with the husks removed

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes or 1 small fresh chili, finely diced

juice and zest of one lemon

1 1/4 cup sugar

Cut the tomatillos into quarters and place them in a heavy bottomed sauce pot with the remaining ingredients.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to prevent sticking.  Allow the jam to simmer until the tomatillos soften.  Using a hand held masher, press the tomatillos to break them up.  Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 210 degrees.  Pour the jam into sterilized jars and seal in a water bath or place it into a storage container and keep in the refrigerator.


This post is one of a series that Melissa of Corbin in the Dell and I are publishing simultaneously.  To read her post, visit her blog.




stop-light tomato pickles

IMG_4797Having a garden means you have a tremendous amount of patience.  How else can you explain the process of waiting for the right time to put seeds in the ground, waiting for them to germinate, waiting for the plant to mature; wait, wait, hurry up and wait.  Participating in this process also makes you an optimist.  Gardeners are always looking ahead to the harvest, convinced that they will be blessed with an abundance.

Composting is a vital part of gardening.  It enriches the soil and replaces what is removed every time we harvest food from the beds.  As a gardener, I cannot imagine not having a few piles aging for future use.  One important rule of composting is not adding seeds unless you want those seeds to sprout and grow in your garden.  We do our best to follow this rule and I always compost weed plants in a pile by themselves.  Usually, the only seeds that make it into the compost are from foods we eat or grow.

My love affair with cherry tomatoes falls into this category.  As a devoted salad eater, I always have cherry tomatoes on hand and when they are not ripening in my garden, I pick up the little plastic containers from the store.  My favorite pick is the miniature heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s.  A rainbow of color ranging from green to yellow and orange to brown, these beauties actually taste like tomatoes when compared to the large ones.  Sadly, I usually end up with more than I can eat and some end up taking a trip out to the compost pile.

IMG_4800As a result, we have an endless stream of tomato seeds germinating in our compost piles.  We always let a few of them grow and because we never know what they are, we generally call them surprise tomatoes.  This year, we had quite the haul: miniature plums, red cherries, full sized plums and brown kumatos.  As the frost approached, we made the decision to pick as many as we could.  Actually, the first real frost came late here, and on November 20th, we finally had the full freeze to kill the vines.

With the holidays approaching, we decided to pickle a large quantity of the cherries so that we could give them as gifts.  It was a fun way to spend a Sunday in the kitchen with Darry.  With this easy recipe courtesy of my good friend Melissa of Corbin in the Dell, we gathered the ingredients and supplies.

IMG_4805Darry is a reluctant hand model but he also likes to humor me.  Here he is peeling cloves of garlic to place in each of the jars.

IMG_4811We picked and sorted the tomatoes by color so that we could pack each jar with a variety of colors, just like a stop light.  (Sounds better than traffic light)

IMG_4813Each of the jars has fresh basil leaves, lemon peel, pepper corns, chili flakes and mustard seeds to flavor the pickles.

IMG_4814Vinegar and water are heated with salt and a little sugar and then poured over the tomatoes.  The jars are topped off with a little olive oil and then heated in a waterbath to seal them.  Ours are ready to go and we are hoping that  we have enough for everyone on our gift list!

toast and jelly; using juice to make jelly at home

 wasting food is something i try not to do.  blame it on my upbringing, blame it on my profession; either one is true.  as a result, i recently became a hoarder of juice.  making cobbler by the bucket meant using lots of fruit.  to keep it consistent in such large quantities, i used frozen fruit.  don’t wrinkle your nose at me; frozen fruit can be better quality than what many supermarkets or produce suppliers have on hand.  well, at least for something like a cobbler if you happen to be mixing up 40 pounds of it…

if you read the serving instructions, they tell you to thaw the fruit and discard the juices.  can somebody tell me why you would want to do that?  in reality, the freezing process destroyed the cell walls and as the fruit thaws, all of the liquid once held in place by those walls is now separating from the solids.  as it is released, it takes a lot of the flavor with it!  so when i began noticing that 25 pounds of frozen blackberries produced too much liquid for my cobblers and it looked more like soup, i began to reserve some of the juice that wept from the thawing fruit.  to make it easier on myself, i would thaw the fruit in two separate pans; one pan of 15 pounds and one pan of 10 pounds.  the juices that collected in the 10 pound pan were strained off and set aside.  thus began my hoarding of juice.

my husband began to wonder about me.  “what are you going to do with all of this juice?” he asked, repeatedly as my stash in the fridge grew and grew.  ten pounds of thawed blackberries produces about 6 cups of juice.  so began my experimentation with juice.  first i made some vinegar.  then some sorbet, followed by jelly and syrup and more jelly and even more jelly.  as the containers of juice collected in the fridge, i made jelly and gave it to friends and neighbors.  we also began to eat lots of toast with jelly.

now that i have landed here in virginia, i am eating toast with jelly on a daily basis; it is so much easier than trying to cook in a toy kitchen.  we close on our new home tomorrow afternoon and the movers are supposed to arrive on tuesday.  my days will be full of unpacking boxes and putting things into new places.  toast and jelly will be on the menu for a while, and as soon as i can, i am going to make a loaf of homemade bread to eat with it…

to make some jelly, you can produce your own juice or buy it.  if you buy it, go for the better quality pure juices that do not have added sugar or artificial ingredients.  kraft foods has a great chart on their website to help you figure out how much pectin, juice and sugar you need as well as instructions on how to make jelly.  this is such an easy thing to do that i may never buy jelly again!

disclaimer:  i was not compensated in any way by kraft for this post, nor do i suggest you use their pectin.  however, the chart is very accurate and easy to use and if the directions on it are followed, you should be successful.