Category Archives: Simple Pleasures

Making Jams: Fun for Profit

Well, perhaps not for commercial profit, but certainly for personal profit, since you can make jam for a lot less than it costs to buy it (if you buy the fruit on sale at peak season), and you can be sure that homemade is fresher and more wholesome, particularly when contrasted with jams that contain preservatives or a lot of sugar.  For instance, in the last two weeks, I’ve caught a sale on raspberries for $.77 for 6 oz., another on 6 oz. packages of blackberries at 2 for $1.00, and quarts of strawberries at 3 for $5 (all nicely under $2 per pound). Without much work, I now have a winter’s supply of berry jams—some “canned,” some stored in the refrigerator, and some in the freezer—with enough to give away too. I don’t take a very conventional approach, and I used three different methods, but let me tell you what I did, and if you don’t already have a tried-and-true method, I hope it will inspire you to experiment!  I always keep one shelf in one cupboard for a stash of glass bottles with lids, which I use for food storage (on the theory that glass is better for my family than plastic, and—of course—the jars are free, since I just wash up empty glass jars left over from foods I’ve bought from the grocery store). Actually, canning jars with lids are my favorite (since they usually seal nicely without much effort), but you can use any jar with a lid that seals securely. I’m going to tell you what I did (and like), but I’m hoping this just inspires you to try making up your own recipes to get just the right tang, sweetness, and consistency for your own personal taste!

First, start by washing and drying 4-6 small jars and lids. Make sure you have the right tops and that they fit snugly, with no dents or flaws. Set them on top of a cutting board (or other surface that can take a lot of heat).

Mouth-watering Blackberry Jam

48 oz. fresh blackberries
1/3 cup water (just enough to keep anything from burning before the berries and sugar break down and melt)
1.5 cups sugar
1 package (1.75 oz or 49 g) fruit pectin (for making jam)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat in a heavy saucepan, stirring faithfully and pretty often until all the berries break down (which takes quite a while for blackberries), the sugar and jello totally dissolve, and the jam starts to thicken slightly. It took me half an hour on medium-low heat, but I’m quite sure it will depend on how hot your stove is, the type of pan you use, and how juicy your berries are, so go by the changing consistency rather than just time. It’s a pretty subtle but distinct difference, but it’s not “thick” at all, just no longer watery.  Once the jam is done, ladle it out immediately into the dry glass jars, almost to the top. When you actually can jams, you have to leave a little head room (like 1/2  inch), but I fill the jars almost to the top, which makes them more likely to self-seal. Make sure there are no traces of jam that will keep the jars from sealing properly, and then screw on the lids as tight as you can. Afterward, give the tiniest turn to the left just so air can escape if need be. When I do this with canning jars, almost all of them seal on their own within an hour, just left on the kitchen counter.  Any jars that don’t seal must be kept in the refrigerator to preserve them, or else you can open the tops and add a layer of sealing wax, but I’ve stopped doing either the official canning (which darkens the jams and I suspect causes loss of nutrients) or the wax. Suit yourself but please don’t sue me if you get sick. In my experience, you’ll see mold if anything is amiss, so you’ll know there’s a problem. Of course, if you’re willing to give up some refrigerator space and share with your friends, you won’t have any problem finishing it all off before it goes bad.   🙂

Rich, Ruby-red Raspberry Jam:

48 oz. fresh raspberries
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 large package (6 oz) raspberry jello

An alternate method for making jam is to use flavored jello (gelatin) instead of pectin, and I actually prefer it. I’ve found that one large package of jello replaces one package of fruit pectin, tastes a bit brighter (without needing to add lemon juice), and is less expensive (particularly if you catch it on sale!).  Follow the same instructions as for blackberry jam. However (of course), take particular care not to let it cook too long, or the jam will darken! If you do it just right, your jam will continue to be bright red, even after it’s finished and on your bread!

There are many recipes for making jam, but in the end, it depends on your taste. I started out with equal amounts of berries and sugar, reduced the sugar, switched from pectin to jello, stopped canning…etc! My theory is that cooking should be a growing, learning process whereby we develop our tastes and improve our nutrition as we go!

Unbelievably Yummy Strawberry Freezer Jam

If you haven’t already discovered this world-class jam, try making freezer jam:

Step One: Clean and mash 4 quarts strawberries. Place in large mixing bowl.  Step Two: Pour 1 cup boiling water in a separate bowl, to which you add:
1 large package of strawberry jello
1 large package of orange jello
Stir faithfully until all the jello has dissolved in the boiling water. Set it aside to cool a little. Step Three: Combine 1 package fruit pectin for freezer jam (1.59 oz) and
1.5 cups sugar. Mix the pectin and sugar together, add to the mashed berries, stir thoroughly, and allow to rest on the counter for 15 minutes

Step Four: Add the tepid (not hot or cold) jello solution to the freezer jam mash. Pour immediately into bottles or plastic containers for the freezer. (If you’re using glass jars, make sure you do give at least 1/2 inch head room so the bottles don’t break when the jam freezes. Actually, I don’t think there’s an issue with plastic for freezing; the problems come with heating plastics. Theoretically, there shouldn’t be any problem with freezing jam in plastic containers.)

Step Five: let the jam rest on the counter for half an hour before storing in the refrigerator or freezer. This jam is quite a bit softer than regular jam, and if you don’t like the consistency, try adding another 1.59 oz. of freezer jam pectin. Also, some people like more sugar, so you could try adding another package of jello. If you don’t like the results…try, try, and try again!!

(P.S.—The recipe for cooked jam also works well with blueberries or any other type of berry. Whatever you happen to have on hand and like to eat!)

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” (Psalm 34:8)

 

Flaky Crusts for a Perfectly Peachy Pie

Have you mastered the art of melt-in-your-mouth flaky pie crusts? It took me years, but I think I’ve got the recipe down for fork-tender crusts, learned from my foremothers!  My father used to tease that the reason he married my mother was for her fried chicken and cherry pie, and when I was little, I thought my mother made the world’s finest cherry pies.  However, when I married Alan, I discovered that his mother made the world’s best apples pies, so one day I asked if she could teach me how. She invited me  over to join her while she made some pies for a grange dinner. Unfortunately, she didn’t measure anything and did everything by feel and look. I watched carefully, and it was helpful to see the way things were “supposed to look,” but it took me a few years to perfect my apple pies. Alan’s older brother was the best critic, and his advice went like this, “More sugar…more butter.” Forty-five years later, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to make a flaky pie crust and a yummy pie, so I want to pass along what I’ve learned with photos, so you, too, will have an idea of how a flaky pie crust looks in the making, and how to make a scrumptious fruit pie.

2 Crusts for 1 Ten-inch Pie:
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups Crisco (or other vegetable shortening; you can use butter, which tastes a lot better, but the crusts aren’t as flaky)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold (refrigerated) water
Mix in blender until a soft ball forms (but then stop immediately, even if a few crumbs are left; it’s really important not to over-process the mixture). Set in refrigerator while making the filling so that it’s cold when you roll it out.

Pie filling:
In a large bowl, stir together:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Add:
6-8 large peaches, ripe (Hale Haven are great, but there are lots of good varieties) peeled and sliced (I only used 6, because I was making it for an older lady, but 8 would fit and is better for a family who can eat whatever you make!) Toss the peaches with the flour mixture until all the peaches are well coated (You can use the same basic recipe for almost any fruit pie, like apple or cherry [pitted, of course, but dark cherries also make yummy pies, just FYI]. For smaller fruits, like blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries, use 2 quarts.)  Roll out the bottom crust. I wet down the surface and add a sheet of saran wrap, then spread some flour on the top. At this point, turn on your oven to 450°F. so it’s piping hot when you’re ready to slide your pie into the oven.                   And add half of the pastry (about the size of a man’s fist).  Be careful to handle it as little as possible, but shape it into a ball, flour, pat it down, and roll it out. I flip the whole crust over a time or two and add flour as needed. Over the course of rolling the crusts, you will probably add as much as another 1/2 cup of flour.              (You can only flip the crust at first while the pastry is still quite thick.)                                       Smooth it out with a rolling pin                 until it looks like it’s about 2 inches bigger than the pie pan.  Place one hand under the saran wrap, and quickly flip it onto the pie plate.  (Use your left hand to hold the pie tin…unless you need it to take a picture!  🙂  ) Make sure there are no cracks visible. Repair any as needed. Truly flaky crusts are hard to roll out and will have cracks; if it’s too smooth and easy to roll, it will be tough! Prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork. (This keeps it from bubbling anywhere in the baking process.)  Arrange the fruit mixture in the pie plate.  Add: 1/4 cup butter in small slices all around the pie. This is one of the secrets to a great pie in my book, so don’t forget this step!  Repeat the process of wetting down the counter, spreading out the saran wrap, topping with flour, and molding the pastry into a ball. Roll out the rest of the dough (plus any that was trimmed off the edge of the lower crust if you had way too much on one side or something).  Carefully (but quickly) flip the top crust on top of the pie.  Even out the crust. You can add a little here and subtract a little there as needed. Form a little ridge around the top.  (If you’ve done it right, you won’t have many crumbs left over, but I usually have a few, and I don’t like the crust too heavy.)There are several ways to finish the top. Some people use a fork to make tiny ridges all the way around. There are pastry tools to make special designs. I use my mother’s method of alternately pinching a small piece together gently between my left thumb and left forefinger while pressing gently down with the forefinger of my right hand on the crust next to it on the right. If you do this around the entire edge, you’ll have a fluted crust like the one above. Our family tradition is to put the letter of the type of pie (“P” for “peach” on this one) and some little “stalks of wheat” on each side by cutting tiny holes with a paring knife. This gives the pie some “air vents” for releasing pressure as the pie bakes. We also sprinkle sugar on top. Some people brush the top with well-beaten egg for a glossy sheen. Bake your pie in a pre-heated oven. Start at 450°F for 15 minutes. This seals in the juices and insures that the crust will brown by the time the pie is baked. Turn the oven down to 375°F. for an additional 45 minutes or until golden brown. (Check at about 35 minutes and then keep an eye on it, since elevation and various types of ovens heat differently. I use a traditional oven, but convection ovens bake faster, of course.)Let it cool on the counter for at least 10-15 minutes (or while you’re eating dinner), and serve up for dessert! We usually add vanilla ice cream, but I was out, so this time I used “Triple Peanut Butter,” but people liked it anyway! Enjoy!

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing:
then said they. ..The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
” (Psalm 126:2-3)

The Beauty of Little Flower Girls

One of the things I love about country living is there are always wildflowers free for the picking pretty much spring through fall, and I have two little grand daughters who have been keeping me in flowers!Almost every day they bring me flowers…even enough to adorn such things as cupcakes that we baked to take to our new neighbors! A couple of days ago the baby slept so poorly that we sent Mama back to bed for a tiny rest while the baby had her morning nap, and while she was sleeping, the girls and I decided to make some bouquets for Mama! We walked up and down the lane, and even past our garden down to the lake, and picked some of all the different flowers we could find, and then the girls took turns choosing flowers to put in the vases. I think it was one of the happiest morning activities we did all month, and after we finished arranging the flowers, the girls worked very hard at writing cards just to tell their mother how much they loved her! (No prompting; this was all their own idea!)Parenting is such hard work, but it’s also one of the world’s most rewarding occupations! After all, where else can you get a zillion enthusiastic hugs and “I love you!”s  every day? Praise God for children…and flowers!

But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me,
and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God
‘” (Luke 18:16).

 

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting on Top

I think sweet teeth are genetically transmitted…or at least our grand daughters seem to have inherited the Armstrong family’s love of all things chocolate.  I used to make chocolate cake from scratch, but I can’t compete with the moist, tender, lightness of commercial cake mixes, and so I have given up trying.  However, my family still likes homemade chocolate frosting better than what you can buy at the store, and it’s simple. Here’s how:

Creamy Chocolate Frosting

6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (can melt 12 oz chocolate chips, but that costs more and isn’t necessary)
1 stick softened butter (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 tablespoons of milk (depending on how soft you like it; experiment)

Start on the slowest setting, but whip all the ingredients together in a blender until they form a creamy, smooth frosting with a sheen. Frost immediately, and if you have any little helpers, let them lick the spatula when they’re done!For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18).

Keeping It Down to a Dull Roar

I am the youngest in a family of five children, and when we were growing up—in the spirit of Cheaper By the Dozen—my father used to remind us fairly often that we needed to “keep it down to a dull roar.” If he can see what’s going on down here from his heavenly porch swing, I suspect he’s shaking his head every once in a while, wondering what all the hubbub’s about around our house.Elanor is the youngest of our 16 grand children, and things can get very chaotic when we have a quorum together for the holidays! However, I’ve noticed that when she’s sitting on her mother’s lap, staring into her mother’s eyes, she is usually the picture of contentment!

Oh, to be like that with my heavenly Father—oblivious of everything around me and able to take delight in Him, simply resting in His love and care!

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child (Psalm 131:1-2).

Anybody for a Watermelon Cake? How About a Wedge Salad?

My grandson Reid asked his mother for a watermelon cake for his birthday. Apparently they’d seen a picture on Pinterest. Carlie says it tastes like a cold wedge of fruit salad, and everybody who tried it liked it, although there was some dissension over whether or not it really qualified as a “cake.” So, I think this might make the perfect “wedge salad” to serve for the Fourth of July. If you bill it that way, don’t you think the kids will love it? Think how (relatively) healthy it is as a dessert, too…just watermelon frosted with sweetened whipped cream. I’m definitely going to try it on my grand kids. If you try it, let me know what you think, and I’ll  do the same!BTW, here’s an earlier fruit extravaganza that Carlie made some years ago to help feed our youth group! Talk about talent and good taste!  🙂  Thanks for being such a stellar daughter-in-law, Carlie! You’re a doll. (Actually, I have to say, I’ve got five of the best son and daughter-in-laws in the world!!! No prejudice!!!)

Manpower

It seemed like it should be a snap to get that last fastener hooked under the seat, but Linda spent about 15 minutes trying to get our three car seats fastened into the back seat of our car properly, and then I tried for another 5.  Where were our husbands when we needed them? (On the road, being heroes, of course, but sadly not at home at the moment.) How in the world do women without husbands manage?? Thankfully, I had a stroke of brilliance: Joel works just a few minutes from our home! I drove over, and in about 30 seconds, he was able to fasten the last latch for me…first try…no groaning, straining, or having Amelie grab our legs and try to help by adding her little 5-year-0ld frame on our side of the tug of war with the strap.  There are just a lot of things that men can do easily that a woman really can’t do!

Thanks to Joel’s rescue, we were able to take the girls to the cherry orchard for a lovely time picking cherries! I know there are also things that—no matter how much I stress and strain—I cannot do! But, God can!  Godpower is beyond manpower. Needing help? If you just can’t get it done “by self” (as my kids would say when they were little), why not ask God? He’s just a prayer away, and He promises to help us if we’ll ask!

Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.” (Psalm 89:13) 

PS—God doesn’t always give us everything we want, but He promises to give us what we need and to provide grace to accomplish his good and perfect will: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

PSS—If you feel like God isn’t answering your prayers, you might also consider the condition of your heart: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).