Canning Berries in Syrup and Blueberry Bread for Lammas Day

blueberry-cake-bread_on-dish

Lammas or as it is known in Celtic Britain, Lughnasadh is a Northern European celebration of the “first fruits of the harvest” or beginning of the harvest season. It is still observed in England, Ireland and Scotland today, usually on August 1st. In modern times it is reserved for family reunions, bonfires and dancing. The Christian church has also established a ritual of blessing the fields on this day. In the past it was mainly a grain harvest festival, the name being translated to “loaf-mass” after the festival was co-opted by the Christians, but the festival also includes the harvest of berries. I decided to celebrate by bringing the two meanings of the festival together for this holiday and make a blueberry (berry) sweet breakfast bread (grain) to celebrate. As with most celebrations, even if it is celebrated one day, there are preparations to be made in the week or so leading up to it.

berry-picking_collage

Since this is a harvest festival, we needed to harvest our berries first, something I have been looking forward to all summer. Now that we live in Vermont, and have very obvious changing seasons, it is much easier to recognize and connect with the celebrations that were important to our ancestors. They lived more in tune with nature, marking the seasons by what was in bloom, and other events such as various livestock cycles. In our attempts to become more sustainable, and more in touch with natural cycles, we decided this year, to go berry picking. This way we are getting the freshest fruits, at their prime in our location, and then preserving those berries for fall and winter eating. We went to Fruitlands in Marshfield, Vermont to pick blueberries and raspberries. We picked 6 pints of raspberries and 12 pints of blueberries. We probably should have gotten more. We ended up freezing 4 pints of each, and the rest I canned in syrup.

*tip* to freeze berries, do not wash them (if they are organic and you know they are not sprayed with pesticides). Place them on cookie sheets in a single layer, not touching, and place in the freezer for an hour. Then you can bag them – this extra step prevents them from sticking together and freezing in one big mass.

We left 1 ½ pints of blueberries fresh – half a pint we ate on the car ride home, and the rest, we used in smoothies and to make this Lammas Day bread.

wild turkeys

We had a great adventure at Fruitlands – not only was it a beautiful and sunny day but it was picturesque – on the grounds of a quaint bed and breakfast, covered in various gardens. But we weren’t alone in our picking adventures, we were accompanied by some guinea fowl (which I thought were wild turkeys – thank you Darlene, for letting me know – I am still working on becoming a country girl)!  They weren’t too happy about me taking their picture and were screaming bloody murder, the whole time, but surprisingly didn’t run away! The lady doth protest? Methinks, not.

We brought with us a small cooler with ice packs to keep the berries nice and cool on the drive home. This is an important step during hot summer days.

makingberriesinsyrup_collage

I raw packed the berries in order to retain the most freshness. I will try preserving other fruits in honey or maple, but for my first time using this recipe, I made the syrup according to the directions, and used organic cane sugar. I normally don’t use cane sugar, but canning is more of a science than an art – there is acidity and pH levels to consider. All of these factors directly affect the ability of the jar to seal properly and prevent harmful elements from spoiling all your hard work.

As my friend Amber, from Adventures in the Pioneer Valley pointed out in the comments, here is a great resource. She says: “there are some helpful guides out there that can help you figure it out. If anyone’s interested, I think the National Center for Home Food Preservation has some of the best resources. They give details on what you can adjust in a recipe vs. what you can’t, amongst other helpful tips. The link: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html”

Thanks Amber!

*tip* after jars have cooled and before storing, rub your finger over the lid to see if the seal is down. For added security, I always remove the bands from the lids, and shake the jar upside down over a large bowl, to make sure they have sealed properly. If the contents fall out, then the jar is not sealed. If they have not sealed, you can try re-processing, or just storing in cold storage for more immediate use.

berriesinsyrup

Why can, when you can freeze? Sometimes in the country, and elsewhere, power can go out. If you have all your winter storage in the freezer, or fridge you could lose it all in a matter of hours. Which is why I chose to freeze some, but can the majority. Yes, you do lose some nutrients in the process of canning, but at least you are not in danger of loosing your entire food storage due to a power outage. There are other options such as dehydration, but that still requires the use of electricity. There is also sun-drying (not so useful during a rain spell – and berries are quick to spoil). I am certainly open to these other wonderful methods, but canning is still a good option in my book.

The blueberry breakfast bread was delicious. I am still trying new sourdough recipes and some have been delicious, while others have been dismal failures. This bread was an exception – sweet, and crumbly. It is wonderful served for breakfast or tea. Delicious with an ice cold glass of milk too as a quick snack! Read the rest of this entry »

Thistlemoon Meadows Homestead Update: Mid-July

It has been a few weeks, since I did a homestead update. Mostly because we have been busy with visitors and homestead projects, as well as our real jobs, and work on some other exciting up and coming projects for The Foodie Blogroll! If you would like to see what our visitors think of spending time up here, check out my mom’s blog, Travel Close Up where she has several posts already up about her visit here (and more to come)!

garden-july_collage

(black bean flower, tomatoes on the vine, lettuces fresh picked, un-ripe raspberries)

Anyway, things have been wonderfully busy. We have been eating greens, lettuces and radishes from our garden with regularity. We have enjoyed cocktails with the few currants our bushes produced this year (there may be a post on that)  and we are excited to see our potatoes, beans and tomatoes thriving – even a few fruits appearing on our raspberry bush.

garden-july_new-beds

We cleared two new beds, one for melons and one for winter squashes. We also cleared some more areas in the back of the garden for rutabagas, cabbage, more turnips, carrots, kale and chard.

chicken-july-collage

(our gimp, Non-Pengunio the possible rooster, and the flock enjoying the out of doors)

The peeps, or I should now call them chicks, are all thriving as well. Our runts have gotten their feathers all in, our gimp, is getting along just fine, eating, putting on weight and running around like the rest of them. Our possible rooster, is starting to look more and more possibly like a rooster as the days go by. They have been enjoying time outdoors in their Chicken Tractor and their new favorite treat is daily doses of greens – tops of carrots, radish and turnip greens – that we have an over abundance of. We are looking forward to getting started on their permanent home, the coop, when my dad comes for a visit in a few weeks. We have been really enjoying our Wyandottes and Rhode Island Reds, but all of our Barred Rocks, including the two former runts, have terrible personalities. They peck first and ask questions later, which is all well and good now, but when they are full grown may present a painful problem. So we are a bit bummed about that. But we will see how they mature.

Life is good in Northern Vermont – the heat wave seems to have come and gone, and we are enjoying temps in the 80′s, cool breezes and some summer rains. I am beginning to think that Thistlemoon Meadows is a very appropriate name, as we look out the window often and remark that it looks like we could be in Scotland! Which is not such a bad thing in my book.

Lacto-Fermented Pickles w/ Garlic Scapes

Fermented Pickles

I love pickles and I love all kinds of pickles, from cucumbers and onions to turnips, and everything in between. Last year I made bread and butter refrigerator pickles, which we liked, but needed some improvement to the flavor. I meant to make more, and experiment with the methods, but didn’t get around to it, until a few weeks ago.

I had purchased a Master Vegetable Fermenter from Cultures for Health a few months ago, in hopes that I would have a lot of garden vegetables this year to culture into things like sauerkraut, pickles, curtido and gingered carrots. Since we are still a few weeks away from harvesting any of these goodies, because we got a late start, I thought I would buy some cucumbers at the Farmers Market and get practicing. During that same Farmers Market trip I also got some garlic scapes, and decided to throw some in the mix as well. Just for seasonal relativity, I made these pickles about a month ago, right as garlic scapes were beginning to show up at the markets.

The process to making lacto-fermented pickles is easy because there is no cooking and so canning process involved. This food preservation technique goes back to a time where there was no refrigeration. You use sea salt or whey brine to inhibit the growth of un-friendly bacteria, and mold, until enough lactic acid is produced to keep the vegetables preserved for many months. In the old days, people kept these stored in their cold root cellars along with other winter storage veggies. These days, most people store them in their refrigerator. There are added health benefits to preserving vegetables this way as well, since the lactobaccili which produce the lactic acid enhance digestibility through supporting the growth of healthy flora and enzymes in our gut.

As with any recipe, starting with the freshest ingredients possible is very important. I used a recipe for pickles from Nourishing Traditions, and enhanced it with the garlic scapes, fresh dill from the garden, pickling spices and added raw apple cider vinegar after fermentation, since we do like the vinegar flavor of store bought pickles. My next batch, I am going to try a bread and butter version. Remember it is important not to add these other components until after the fermentation process.

This original batch was a hit. We had friends over for dinner last week, and they brought with them raw milk and fermented pickles to contribute to the dinner (we love our friends!) and we had a pickle tasting. I am not sure if they were just being nice, but everyone agreed that my pickles were the best. Think I am going to make a batch for them the next time we visit them? You betcha!

INGREDIENTS:

6 cucumbers

6 garlic scapes, chopped

1 TBS of pickling spices

2 TBS of fresh dill

2 TBS sea salt (or 1 TBS of sea salt and 1 TBS of whey)

1 cup filtered water

water

¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar

METHOD:

Wash cucumbers and garlic scapes well and place in the vegetable fermenter (or a large, half gallon wide mouth mason jar). Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover the vegetables. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for 3-7 days and transfer to cold storage. Once the culturing is complete, add the apple cider vinegar and mix.

I have not made this recipe using the mason jar method, preferring the master vegetable fermenter method, which has a glass jar that includes an airlock set up which facilitates gas escaping your fermented vegetables while keeping air out. This allows you to make pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables while greatly reducing and usually eliminating the threat of mold.

NOTES (paraphrased from Cultures for Health): Do not remove the lid from the jar during the culturing process. Removing the lid could introduce bacteria which can cause mold or scum. Check your vegetables through the glass every day to check for signs of scum or mold. If any is present just scrape it off the top, and obviously do not eat any vegetables that have mold on them.

Goose Egg Vanilla Custard

Gooseegginhand

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, in a post about the ThinkFood project I am honored to be a part of, that I am a huge fan of eggs. They are a central part of our family’s diet, something we eat on a daily basis. One egg has 13 essential nutrients in varying amounts – including high-quality protein, choline, folate, iron and zinc. Eggs also play a role in brain function, muscle strength, healthy pregnancy, eye health and more. Eggs are an important part of a healthy diet, and do not have a link to high cholesterol, a common myth that has unfortunately been perpetuated through mis-information.

I love eggs not only for all all their amazing health properties, but because they are so versatile and delicious. I love them for breakfast, in omelets, crepes and pancakes. For lunch, hard-boiled on a salad, or made into egg salad. Sometimes even for dinner as a frittata, or the glue for a nice breaded, pan fried piece of meat or fish. They are perfect for dessert, be it clafoutis, creme brulee, pudding, ice cream, or custard. We probably could integrate eggs into every meal, and not even notice!

Living out in the country, we have access to many varieties of farm fresh eggs. White ones, brown ones, even green ones. You can also often times get eggs from other poultry, besides chicken as well. In our area, we have access to goose eggs, duck eggs, even emu eggs! A while back, at the Farmers Market, I got some goose eggs to try.

Gooseeggomlete

The first two I used to make a huge omelet, and I noticed that the goose eggs made the dish sweeter than chicken eggs. So I knew that with the third egg, I was going to make a creamy rich custard. I love a good, simple vanilla custard.

Vanilla Custard - goose egg

I went pretty basic here, wanting the flavor of the egg to really come through. I used this recipe from Evil Shenanigans as inspiration.  I don’t like my desserts super sweet, and I tend to cut the sweetener in any recipe by half, sometimes more. I figure that if it isn’t sweet enough, we can always add a drizzle of maple on top. But some desserts are so sickly sweet, and you can’t remove the sweetness once it is in. This is also a good way to make desserts if people in your family vary in the strength of their sweet tooth – this way everyone is accommodated!

We enjoyed the custard with a nice dollop of Frangelico-laced fresh whipped cream and a raspberry on top!

INGREDIENTS:

1 goose egg (or substitute 3 large chicken eggs)

¼ cup of pure maple syrup

1 TBS pure vanilla extract

2 cups whole milk

½ tsp ground cinnamon

METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 325F. Boil 4 cups of water. Whisk together the egg(s), maple and vanilla. In a sauce pan, heat up the milk until it simmers and remove from heat. Add the milk to the egg mixture at about ¼ at a time, whisking the entire time. Once half of the milk has been added in ¼ cup increments, pour in the rest of the milk, and whisk well. Add the cinnamon. Then pour the custard into 4 ramekins, or a small baking dish. Place the ramekins, or baking dish into a roasting pan, or larger baking dish. Carefully add the boiling water until it reaches ¾ of the way up the sides of the ramekins or small baking dish. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until custard is set, and jiggles in the middle. Carefully remove from the oven, and allow the custard to cool in the water bath for about 30 minutes. Then you can chill it in the fridge, or serve warm. However you like!

What Real Food Bloggers Really Eat

rfb eat

My friend Shannon over at Nourishing Days who blogs about real food, natural homemaking and sustainability features the food journals of bloggers who choose to make real food made from scratch and full of nutritious, wholesome, healthy and delicious foods. This week she is featuring my food journal. Thanks, Shannon! :) So if you ever wanted to know what a typical 3 days of 3 meals looks like in our household, please go check it out.

Fruits and Nuts of the Forest Kefir Ice Cream

Kefir Ice Cream

We have had some really scorching days lately! The past several of them have been in the 90′s! I thought I left Florida to get away from the heat, but it looks like it must have followed my mom up here. She arrived on the coolest day we’d had in weeks, lending credence to her idea that we live in The Great White North, but in less than 48 hours, it became an absolute inferno. She loves the heat, so she’s not complaining, but the rest of us are lethargic, even the pets!

So naturally this kind of weather calls for ice cream! But really, we love ice cream and have it quite often no matter what the weather. When I was in Italy, I fell in love with what I called my perfect combination of gelato – one scoop of Frutti di Bosco and one of Nocciola – “Fruits of the Forest” or mixed berries and hazelnut. Such a dreamy combination. Light yet rich at the same time. So I decided to make my own perfect flavor at home, using kefir, a fermented, probiotic dairy drink as the base. We make kefir here at the homestead fresh every day and I love finding new uses for it, beyond a glass straight up for breakfast! So I can now confirm it makes a really delicious ice cream! Next time I will probably add an egg or two to the mix, for a more creamy consistency. But there was nothing lacking in the taste department here! So if you are as hot as we are, or just looking for a different kind of ice cream flavor to cool off on a hot summer day, give this one a try! I promise you will love it!

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups of plain whole organic dairy kefir
1/3 cup of fresh organic heavy cream
¼ cup Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
½ cup of raw hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup frozen or fresh organic raspberries
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon

METHOD:

I have a Vitamix, so I placed all the ingredients, in order listed into the Vitamix and blended just until the nuts were pulverized. I was looking for a creamy consistency. Then I placed all of it, in my ice cream maker and made it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can serve it before placing in the freezer for a more “soft serve” texture, or freeze for a harder consistency. I have also found that adding a ¼ cup of alcohol also lends to better scoopability.