Jelly from Wild Grapes

I couldn’t get my hands on any Concord grapes this year.  But it was a good year for the wild grapes and I came across a nice cluster of vines attached to a fallen tree which made them very easy to reach!  I’ve always wanted to try making jelly from wild grapes and this was the year to do it.  I ended up with a peck basket full.

They are small, but mighty!  Wild grapes look a lot like your regular Concord grapes, but they are much smaller.  Their seeds are still large and there is very little flesh to the fruit.  All their flavor is contained in the skins.  They have a deep, wine-like flavor.

Here is a cluster beside a few store-bought seedless red grapes for size comparison.

Once I got them all plucked, I was surprised how many grapes I actually had.  They filled my 8 quart stockpot about 1/3 of the way full.

I prepared the juice as outlined in the Ball Blue Book, adding just enough distilled water to cover them by about half an inch.  This was brought to a boil and simmered gently for an hour or so, until the fruit was well-cooked and soft.

I allowed that to cool enough to handle, then poured it into about 8 layers of cheesecloth.  I like to tie the bag from the handle of a cabinet and let it drip overnight.

Now this is something the Ball Blue Book will not tell you and I learned from my mother-in-law.  You must allow the juice to passively drip from the bag.  Do not squeeze it!  If you do, you will cause your juice to become cloudy.  You can put the pulp back into the pot with a little more water and repeat the process to get some more juice out of it if you want.

Isn’t that a pretty color?

Now, yet another thing the Ball Blue Book will not tell you:  for the clearest possible juice, you should let the pitcher of juice sit undisturbed in the refrigerator for 24 hours or so.  This allows the tartaric acid crystals to settle out and they will form on the bottom and sides of your pitcher.  Do not stir or disturb at all.  When you gently pour out the juice, they will stay behind in the pitcher.  Tartaric acid is very sour.  This is the same compound from which cream of tartar is derived.

I made my jelly following the Ball Blue Book recipe.  The first batch I did was with pectin.  It made a gorgeous, burgundy colored jelly.

I had enough juice left over to do a half batch of grape jelly without pectin (also in the BBB.)  It came out very nicely too.  I think next time though, I will dilute the juice by one-fourth.  The no-pectin recipe had a stronger, purer, wild grape flavor as a result of being boiled down.

The flavor of this jelly is so much more complex than that of regular grape jelly.  I like that it has a little extra punch of tartness.  It has a deeper flavor and I’ve thought hard about how to describe it.  I would say it has a lambrusco grape/tart red cherry flavor.

I ended up with 5 pints and was very pleased with the results for my effort!

Hot Pepper Mustard

Ok, I’ve been canning for 2 weeks straight!  I put up lots of goodies for winter and I’ve lost count now how many batches of this sweet/hot pepper butter I’ve made.  I’ve given away a few jars to friends and family and have had several requests for the recipe, so here it is…

You won’t find this recipe in the Ball Blue Book.  My guess is that they don’t approve of it because it contains flour as a thickener.  I’ve made hundreds of jars of this and have yet to have had any go bad.  My dad loves this stuff and if you could can it in gallon jars, he’d be all for it!

It is the perfect dipping mustard.  We like it with cheese and summer sausage, on ham or turkey sandwiches, for dipping pretzels and it also makes a great glaze for a baked ham or venison roast.

I originally got this recipe from a lady at my dad’s church.  My dad then ran over to Ohio and bought a bushel of U-Pick hungarian hot wax banana peppers and begged me to make him a lifetime supply of mustard.  The original version was a little too flaming hot and salty for our tastes, so I’ve tweaked it a bit and clarified the directions a little.  Here’s my version…

Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter)

(yields about 7 pints)

  • 4 quarts chopped hot and/or sweet banana peppers (3.3 lbs or about 36 large peppers)
  • 1 qt. vinegar
  • 1 qt. prepared yellow mustard (don’t go cheap, get a good quality mustard)
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 tbsp. salt (optional; I use 1 tbsp.)

1. Wearing vinyl gloves, cut up and deseed/devein the peppers.  Remove stem and blossom ends and cut into large chunks.  You can toss in some of the seeds if you want it really hot.  I go about 50/50 on the ratio of hot and sweet banana peppers.  This gives it a kick without burning your tongue off!

     I also like to take a few dark red peppers aside and chop them by hand before adding to the pot.  They look really nice suspended in the golden yellow of the mixture.

2. Puree the peppers in a blender using some of the vinegar.

3. In a large pot, combine all ingredients except the flour.

4. In a small bowl, add enough water to the flour to make a smooth paste.  Be sure to work all the lumps out.

5. Add flour paste to the mixture.

6. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

IMPORTANT — Try not to let the mustard boil as this will incorporate air bubbles into the mixture.  Air bubbles are the number one cause of the mustard boiling out of the jars in while in the water bath.  If you think it looks bubbly, let it sit awhile on the lowest heat setting until they are gone.  Stir gently.

7. Pour into hot jars leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Wipe rims and place lids.  Hot water bath 15 minutes for pints and half-pints.


I made a bunch of half-pints to give as Christmas gifts.  I try to can something special every year just for that purpose.

Well, now I am on to green beans.  I picked 5 gallons this week.  I am loving my Nickell heirloom pole beans I got from Sustainable Mountain Agriculture, Inc.  They are so tender and flavorful.  I am saving seeds for trading and may do a giveaway later on. 

The garden is close to finishing up.  I have a few fall crops to put in yet.  I am getting ready to till the main garden up and plant it to buckwheat for my bees (who are doing great, btw.)  August is really my busiest time of year!

Guess what I’ve been doing all day?

Making salsa!

I knew when I did it that I had planted way too many tomatoes… But I do that every year.  I can’t stand the thought that by some cruel twist of nature (deer, drought, blight) that I might not have enough tomatoes, so I usually end up over-planting to compensate.  It does eventually get to the point where you can’t even give them away and I end up hurling tomatoes at people as they try to flee from my home.  Funny how most of the summer you desperately long for that first vine ripe tomato, then very quickly you become almost sick of them and can’t force yourself to eat another bite.  That’s when I break out the canning jars…

My little tomato-munching monster stands ready to jump in the second she thinks I’m not looking and start poking holes in their shiny, tender skins.  She is more of a threat to my tomato harvest than an army of hornworms or a flock of chickens.  Daily she left behind juicy, seedy piles of devastation on my porch last year.

Ava doesn’t get sick of them.  She could eat four or five at a stretch.

Last year I made some good salsa using the Mrs. Wages’ spice packets.  At nearly $3.00 a packet, I didn’t find that very economical though, so this year I tried to grow most of the ingredients myself.  I used the Ball Blue Book recipe for Zesty Salsa, but after spending all day chopping vegetables I am not really happy with the results.  It came out with way more onion and pepper than I’d like.  And also hotter than I like.  I have a few ideas where I might be able to tweak it–which tomato types to use and definitely less Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers or maybe use a chili pepper next year.  You can use less peppers/onions than called for, but certainly not more.  😛  I’ll find some use for it either way.  Maybe it would be good in chili…or to marinate a roast.

I’m working with a better canning set-up this year…


I moved everything out onto the porch, which frees up a lot of counter space and keeps the kitchen from getting quite so hot. 

I bought two 6′ x 2.5′ folding tables at Ollie’s for $35 each.  They’ll be handy for a number of things…cookouts, yardsales, butchering chickens.  And I also bought a Coleman Outdoor Grill and Stove which is a really useful thing to have.  When I decided to get a new ceramic cooktop stove, I realized I couldn’t use my waterbath canner on it without risk of damaging it because the bottom of the canner is fluted and wouldn’t make for good heat conductivity and the heavy weight of it could crack or scatch the stove.  I’ve wanted a camp stove for a while anyway.  It will also be useful for butchering chickens to boil the scalding pot and also a good thing to have on hand if the power goes out or for going camping (if I can ever talk my husband into going tent camping again).

This set-up worked really well and was very efficient.  I like that my kitchen is not so cluttered and I don’t have to work around rows of jars that must sit undisturbed for a day.

I’ve had a pretty good harvest so far and I have many days of canning ahead of me yet.  Today I’ll work on finishing up the rest of the tomatoes as plain canned tomatoes, which is pretty easy.  Then I’ll move on to making Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter) which is mostly for my Dad because he really loves it.  I made sauerkraut a couple days ago out of a dozen cabbages that I just harvested and it still has a few weeks of fermenting in the jar, then I’ll can it.  I froze my blackberries for now, waiting until I had enough to do several batches of jam.  Then it’s on to apple sauce, juice and jelly…and somewhere along the way I’ve got to find some place to buy a couple bushels of peaches because ours didn’t do well this year (mildew/disease).

Here’s what’s left of my storage onions after making salsa.

That should get me to November perhaps.  I planted a lot, but seemed to use them daily right from the garden once they started to get up to size.  The reds aren’t good keepers.  They were very determined to flower, which messes up the integrity of the bulb even if you do pinch them off.  This was the first year I did well with onions because I actually took the time to study up on when and how to plant them this time.  The earlier the better!

We’ve been eating fresh watermelon and canteloupe daily too…

I planted five vines on the spot where I had penned my Cornish X broilers last year and they LOVED IT.  I harvested 17 Crimson Sweet watermelons so far, two were huge–over 20 lbs each and most of the rest were 15 lbs!  Unfortunately with canteloupe and watermelon, they all seem to turn ripe at the same time, so I’ve been giving a bunch away.  As with the tomatoes, you can only eat so much watermelon…then you’re done!

Winning the War

Last night I enjoyed a significant victory in the battle over picky toddler eating habits.  11 o’clock at night, my darling three-year-old finally ate her chicken leg.  The whole thing.  And she even found out that she likes chicken.

Yes, I take it a little bit personal.  Not only for having slaved over a hot stove, but because I personally raised, butchered and processed that little chicken leg.

There’s no tossing it in the trash.  Even the dog is not worthy to eat it.  Prior to developing my winning strategy, the best I could do was eat it myself or pack it in daddy’s lunch for tomorrow.  It places a whole other aspect of value on your food when you raise it yourself.  I know how many hours it took, the sweat, the effort.  I knew that chicken personally.  Sure…I could buy it cheaper in the store, but it wouldn’t taste as good or be as clean and healthy.

Nope, picky eaters will not be tolerated in this house.  I am laying down the law.  If you don’t eat your dinner, then there will be no snacks!  I will wrap your plate and put it in the fridge.  Just let me know when you want me to heat that up for you!

Strawberry Freezer Jam

It’s Heaven, in a jar.  And ridiculously easy to make.

My twenty-five poorly attended junebearing strawberry plants of the Sparkle variety have turned into a strawberry jungle.  There are surely one thousand runners in there.  But that’s ok, because junebearers yield better on last year’s runners anyway.  So I am up to my eyeballs in strawberries.  Every two days I get about 3 pints.  They are just getting started!

Ava is in pure bliss.  Strawberries are her favorite fruit and between the junebearers and the everbearers, we’ll have strawberries most of the summer except for the hottest part.  Ava won’t help me pick them, but she likes to eat them.  Think of the story “The Little Red Hen”.

If you’ve never made strawberry freezer jam before, you should give it a try.  It’s very easy and it doesn’t require any special canning equipment.  I use wide mouth pint jars, but you can also use those plastic freezer containers.

The U-Pick strawberry farms will be opening here very soon and usually run for about a month.  They also sell already picked berries by the pint or gallon, but you’ll pay a little more than if you pick them yourself.  Store bought strawberries will work too, but are not nearly as good as fresh picked berries.

This is a time tested recipe.  It is included with any box of dry fruit pectin, but in case you don’t have it, here’s the recipe:

  • 2 cups crushed strawberries
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 box of dry pectin
  • 3/4 cup of water

1)  Crush berries, one cup at a time, using a potato masher.  (Do not puree.)

2)  Measure exactly 2 cups of berries after crushing and pour into a large bowl.

3)  Measure and add exactly 4 cups of sugar and stir well.  Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (Reducing the sugar or using sugar substitutes will result in failure of jam to set.  (Try “Sure-Jell for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes Fruit Pectin for no- or low-sugar jam.)

4)  Meanwhile combine water and pectin in a small sauce pan.  Heat over med-high and bring to a boil.  Continue boiling for one minute.

5)  Pour pectin mixture into strawberries and stir for 3 minutes until the sugar is mostly dissolved.  Skim foam if needed.

6)  Ladle into clean jars.  Wipe rims clean with a damp cloth and put on the lids.

7)  Allow jam to stand at room temperature for 24 hours until set.  Keep in the refrigerator for up to a month or store in the freezer for up to a year and thaw in the refrigerator as needed.  Yields 5 half-pints.

Don’t say one word about all that sugar.  It’s worth every calorie.  Just don’t eat the whole jar and you’ll be alright!  (Although it’s very likely you’ll want to.)

Toddler Eating Habits

I baited Ava to eat her salad last night by cutting up strawberries and mixing them in.  They say if you present a certain food to your baby/toddler repeatedly that they will eventually accept it.  We have salad almost every day.  She still has not accepted it.  Twice she ate her whole salad because she was very hungry and I gave it to her while she was waiting for dinner to cook.  That only worked twice, never again.

Here she is nearly finished picking out all the strawberries.  Then she asked me for more.  I said no, so she moved on to the cucumbers (pickles, as per Ava).  When she’d finished hers, she decided to pick all the “pickles” out of Daddy’s salad.  Occasionally a piece of lettuce would cling to the cucumber and make it down the hatch unnoticed.  Once the strawberries and “pickles” were gone, she pecked around on the cheese for a bit and dipped her fingers in the salad dressing and licked it off.  And that was that.


This is how she eats her eggs.  EVERYTHING must be dipped, even scrambled eggs.  Once all the jelly is gone, she’ll eat the toast.

But not the crust.  Of course…

The chickens will get the leftovers.

This is how she eats french toast.  This was the first (and last) time I made it for her.

She systematically licked all the syrup and powdered sugar off the toast.  Not a bite of toast passed her lips.  Then she bounced off the walls until nap time.  I put her in the bed and she continued to bounce until she finally passed out.  No more french toast for this girl.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that while she likes oatmeal, she prefers to eat it dry.  Plain, dry, rolled oats.  She will come back repeatedly and beg for more.

Every so often, when I make something she actually likes (or if she senses that I am about to give up and cry) she will look up at me sweetly from over her plate and say, “Mommy, you’re a good cook!”

Foolproof Dark Chocolate Fudge

Ok, how about another recipe!  Dark chocolate fudge with black walnuts–I made this the other day and although I set aside a baggie for my mother-in-law (also a great lover of dark chocolate), there is very little left now.  This might even be something you fellas could do to surprise your sweetie for Valentine’s Day.  As the title says, I promise you it truly is foolproof!  And when she says, “oh honey, you really shouldn’t have” (interpret–“you’ve just gone and ruined my diet”), you can point how how heart healthy dark chocolate and walnuts are.  You know, antioxidants and omega-3’s and all that good stuff.  🙂

Foolproof Dark Chocolate Fudge

  • 3 (6 oz.) pkgs of bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips (equals 3 cups)
  • 1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
  • a dash of salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped nuts
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan over LOW heat, melt chips with condensed milk and salt, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Spread evenly into a wax paper lined 8″ or 9″ square pan.  Chill 2 hours or until firm.  Turn fudge out onto a cutting board and cut into squares.

See?  Easy!  I had some black walnuts I had collected from a tree on my mother-in-law’s property last year and had been saving them for something special.  They were perfect in this fudge.  I lightly roasted them at 300 degrees for a couple minutes which adds a smokey flavor to the nut and I hear also makes them even healthier. 

It takes a long time to hull out and crack black walnuts with a hammer.  The effort is well worth it.  Their flavor cannot be beat and the regular walnuts you buy at the store for cooking cannot compare.  I feel sorry for people who don’t have black walnut trees where they live.  They don’t know what they are missing!  They literally grow like weeds around here, but it takes a little time to locate a tree that produces good quality, large nuts.  Like I said, it is a lot of trouble to crack them, so you hope to get a lot of nutmeat out of them.  One of these days I am going to invest in a heavy-duty nut press for these types of hard shelled nuts.

So this fudge is so easy you have no reason not to give it a try.  Pecans or hazelnuts (filberts) would also be great in it.  If you surprise your sweetie for Valentine’s Day, drop me a comment and let me know how it went.  🙂

Vinegrette Tuna Salad Sandwich

Well, since there is not much going on in the garden this time of year, I think I’ll share some recipes.  This is what we had for dinner tonight.  I got this recipe for tuna salad from the coffee shop I worked for in college.  Well, they didn’t give me the recipe (they were very secretive with their recipes).  I played around with it until I got it right. 

It is very good for you!  Tuna is of course pure protein and an excellent source of Omega-3’s.  The onion and olive oil are very heart healthy, parsley is very high in iron and bell peppers are chock full of antioxidants.  This would be good for “diet food”, but definitely fills you up and gives your body good fuel for the day.  I prefer this version over any of the mayo-based tuna salads.  The cider vinegar gives the tuna a clean taste, not fishy at all.

Vinegrette Tuna Salad

  • 4 regular size cans of tuna in water, drained well
  • 1/2 of a large red onion, diced
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine all and mix well.  The flavor is best if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to blend.  I like to serve it up on either a hard Jewish rye bread or in a whole wheat pita pocket with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese and toast it on my George Foreman grill.  Then I add alfalfa sprouts, but lettuce would be good too.  Yummy!  And very satisfying.

Definitely a soup day.

Ava and I got chilled to the bone trying to hurry up and plant some thornless blackberry starts ahead of the rain.  After stoking up a good fire, I decided soup was definitely on the menu for the evening!

I planted 16 Waltham butternut squash vines this summer and they were very prolific.  I ended up with a stockpile of nearly 100 squash heaped in a dark corner of my basement.  Certainly enough to last through winter.  Don’t be surprised if I give you squash for Christmas!

Butternut Squash

Potato soup has long been my favorite, but last year I came up with the following recipe for butternut squash soup, which in my book far surpasses potato.  This is my own version and after a several batches, I believe I have finally reached perfection.  The coffee shop I used to work for in college served homemade butternut squash soup and I was always too picky to try it.  I did not realize what I was missing out on!  It is creamy and savory, slightly sweet and the ginger makes for a pleasing accent.  Serve it up with the firmest, crustiest bread you can find, like a chewy french or artisan bread, lightly toasted and buttered.  Good stuff! 

Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 large or 2 small butternut squash
  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans of chicken broth
  • 1/2 stick of butter, plus 2 tbsp.
  • 1 tsp. of ginger (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  1. Using a veggie peeler, remove all skin from squash, cut into 1-2″ cubes.
  2. Place squash in a large soup pot and add just enough water to barely cover, toss in a little salt, cover with lid and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until squash is tender.
  3. Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt 2 tbsp of butter and saute onion until caramelized.
  4. Drain squash, reserving the water.  Add in carmelized onion and puree in blender until completely smooth.
  5. Return puree to pot and add the chicken broth, 1/2 stick of butter, ginger, salt and pepper.  Add enough of the reserved cooking water to reach desired consistency.
  6. Over medium-low heat, slowly bring the soup back up to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream.  Serve with bread and enjoy!

Also, I recently learned that you can eat butternut squash seeds, just like pumpkin seeds.  (They are related.)  Wash your seeds, drain and spread out on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with a little melted butter and salt to taste.  Toast in a 325 degree oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted.  These are great just to snack on or would make a crunchy addition to a salad.

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