Monday, June 14, 2010

In a Pickle, In the Jam!

Oh my... summer is here and the fresh food is rolling in.  First up on my plate is the strawberry.  The most luscious, delicate and reddest of fruits. Can you think of a better way to enjoy them than to pick them yourself?   Thankyou Urka Farm in Traverse City.

There are a million things that you can do with strawberries, and I like to eat them fresh, first and foremost.  But, when you've tired of strawberries on your cereal, your ice cream, your smoothies and your shortcakes, and you've picked 20 lbs. and you have 18 left over and you find yourself in "quite the pickle", the obvious solution is fresh, homemade strawberry jam, withOUT packaged pectin.  Having failed previously at my attempts to make a natural pectin jam, I decided to consult the books and the blogs again, to see if I could solve my problem.  I found a wonderful discussion about Strawberry Jam without boxed pectin from MothersKitchen.  I also found a simple remedy in a book about preserved foods called Preserved written by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton.
So, I sat down on a rainy Saturday morning and came up with my own recipe.  I made the jam in the simplest way that I could.  I made a natural pectin from 5 chopped up granny smith apples combined with 1 large lemon also cut up into little pieces.  I boiled this concoction for about 15 minutes, until the fruit turned to mush. This was the technique noted in MothersKitchen.
In the mean time, i LIGHTLY boiled 16 cups of whole fruit strawberries with the juice of one large lemon.  In Preserved, the authors contend that the juice of the lemon extracts the pectin from the seeds of the strawberries. I boiled twice as many  strawberries with the juice of one lemon  for one hour (very light boil).
In the mean time, I pushed the apple and lemon pulp mixture through a sieve in order to have 2 cups of this mixture that would also serve as a pectin.  The strawberries slowly turned to mush and did not boil over into a foamy mess.
Then it was time to add the sugar.
  I try to limit my sugar intake, so even though both recipes recommended about twice as much sugar, I opted to use about half, or 7 full cups of sugar to the 16 cups of now boiled down strawberries.  I also added the apple mixture to the pot. In essence, I combined the recipe from Preserved with the recipe that I found on MothersKitchen. I boiled this new mixture for about 30 minutes, stirring constantly and slowly coaxing the mixture to rise up to 220 degrees, the magic number for the sugar to reach a setting point.  After testing my jam to see if it was ready by dropping a dollop onto a saucer, chilling it to see if I could coax a wrinkle, I was ready to jar up my jam.
Okay, I'm not an expert cook- but I managed to make some incredible jam.  Into the sterilized Ball jars they went. And my leftover pounds of berries will be gracing the insides of PB&J sandwiches and the tops of crusty pieces of toast for at least another year.

Bo Yummee!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Which came first? the chicken or the CHICKEN FARMER!!!

Oh my gosh.  What fun!!  Raising chickens in the back yard.  So, what came first… the chicken farmer or the chicken??
most likely the backyard came first!!

Meet the Casey family, urban chicken farmers (along with other various callings!) from the inner city of Traverse City, Michigan.  They aren't your typical chicken farmers, since this is somewhat of an experiment for the young family who has taken to loving and naming the chickens such affectionate names as "Butter", "Sweetheart" and "Owlie".  But their flock (i mean progeny) is delightfully diverse, a very progressive notion for the contemporary urban farmer.  And don't be mistaken, these chickens are loved.  They have the best coop, the best compost and more freedom than "ButterBall" from Pilgrims Pride could ever imagine!  I don't think that these gals will ever end up on somebody's plate. I hope not.  They are individuals... with their own personalities... i mean chickenalities...

What's going on??? What does this all mean?

Welcome to 2010 and the new Michigan economy!  
Where else could you live on an urban farm inside the city limit???  
(answer; Detroit)
Maybe the Casey family is setting a new trend or maybe Traverse City is just a small step behind Detroit.  In any event, urban farms are springing up all over Michigan and the country. The notion to return to our roots and to live more sustainably entices us.  We're tempted to grow our own herbs, gather our own eggs and even if it is on a 50x100 foot city plot, we're reconnecting. Nature beckons us. She is our faithful friend.  
It is the way forward.
To love the chickens...