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Red Pear Jelly

The red pears are ready during the first part of September.  These early organic pears are delicious, fragrant and sweet, but they don’t hold long.  They must be picked when they are still a little crunchy and ripened under close monitoring.  In a couple days they can go from perfect ripeness to all brown on the inside.  The ones that survive my appetite for fresh pears are turned into jelly.

My pear jelly recipe was developed through trial and error and adapted from the apple jelly Sure-Jell recipe.  Pears have a similar pectin content to apples, but they contain more juice and are sweeter.  To make perfect pear jelly, select ripe fruit that is still slightly firm, not gone too mushy.  The skin and cores contain pectin, so they are retained.  The low sugar version of Sure-Jell reduces calories and allows more of the fresh fruit flavor to come out in the finished jelly.

Pear Jelly

4 lbs pears to make 4 cups pear juice

1 cup water

3.5 cups sugar

1 package low-sugar Sure-Jell

Wash pears well, remove stem and blossom end.  Cut the fruit, with the skins and cores, into approx. 1″ cubes.  Place in a large saucepan with the water.  Simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, until soft.  Mash the fruit, place in a jelly bag or within several layers of cheesecloth and drain off all the juice.  I like to put the juice in a covered pitcher in the fridge overnight so any pulp that makes it through the cloth will settle to the bottom.  Then I pour off the clear juice, leaving the sediment.  You should have 4 cups of juice.  Add up to 1/4 cup water if you are a little short.

Place the juice in a large stock pot that is at least four times the volume of juice to allow for expansion during cooking.  Mix the Sure-Jell with 1/2 cup sugar then add to the juice.  Cook on high, stirring, until the mixture boils.  Add the rest of the sugar all at once.  Continue to stir and return the mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam.  Immediately pack in hot containers.  Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Cool out of drafts.  Check for a seal before storing.  Makes about 6.5 cups of jelly.  Yum!

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Fancy Blueberry Cheesecake

When you really want to spoil someone, here is a recipe sure to please.  This cheesecake is light and fluffy, the no-bake variety.  It tastes sinfully rich, and it can be if made with full fat cream cheese, butter and whipped cream.  I substitute American neufchatel cheese (found with the cream cheese) or low-fat cream cheese and low-fat whipped topping to cut the calories, but save the flavor.  This is made with blueberries picked from our berry patch.  I think any berry or even cherries could be substituted for the topping and it would be successful with a bit of tinkering to get the sweetening and thickening just right.  I adapted this from an old Dream Whip recipe.

It is made in three steps.  The results of each step must be cooled prior to using and the entire cake should be chilled at least four hours before serving.  You will need a deep dish pie pan to contain all the deliciousness.

Fancy Blueberry Cheesecake

Preheat oven to 350F

Step 1 Crust

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg slightly beaten

In medium bowl cut butter into flour until well mixed.  Stir in other ingredients, mix well.  Spread evenly in the bottom of an oiled deep dish pie pan.  Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown around the edges.  Cool.

Step 2 Filling

16 oz cream cheese at room temperature

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipped cream

Soften cheese at room temperature in large bowl and cream until smooth.  Sift dry ingredients and add to cheese with vanilla and lemon juice.  Mix this well until very smooth.  Gently fold in whipped cream to create a light texture.  Spoon over the cooled crust in the pan, spreading evenly.  Refrigerate.

Step 3 Topping

1 quart fresh or frozen blueberries

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Save back one cup whole berries.  If using frozen, save them in the freezer, no not thaw.  In medium sauce pan combine the rest of the berries with water.  Cook over medium heat until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.  Combine sugar and corn starch in small bowl, mixing well.  Add all at once to the berry mixture.  Boil, stirring, until thick and clear.  Remove from heat, cool for 15 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and reserved whole berries.  Cool in fridge.

When the topping has cooled to lukewarm, spread evenly over the cream cheese layer.  Refrigerate at least four hours prior to serving.  Store refrigerated.  Serve topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream.  Yum!

 

 

 

Oxtail Soup

When we buy half or one-quarter of a grass-fed beef animal, the butcher shop always asks if I want any of the extras.  They mean do I want liver, heart, tongue, oxtail, soup bones or suet.  I always ask for 15 pounds of suet to feed the hungry winter birds.  Otherwise, no to the extras.  Yet, every time I collect my blast frozen beef, there is a free bag full of extras.  I must have 15 pounds of liver in the freezer, and only the dogs eat it.  Plus there is a heart, that I will have to thaw out and saw through (heart is a tough muscle) to feed to the dogs.  This last beef order came with a lovely package of oxtail, oh joy.

I thawed out the oxtail to feed to the dogs, then decided to make soup with it since it was a nice, meaty cut.  Tail meat can be stringy, it is long, well-used muscle.  It needs extended, moist cooking to be edible and makes very hearty soup.  Some cooks roast the tail before making it into soup, but that’s not really necessary.  It will be tasty and tender with this recipe.  People will not even realize the beef they are eating is from the tail, unless you tell them!

Oxtail Soup

3-4 lbs meaty oxtail, thawed or fresh, cut in half or thirds to fit a 6 qt stock pot

3 quarts water

1 quart chopped tomatoes with the juice

1 tablespoon powdered onion

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon each celery salt, black pepper, oregano, marjoram, basil

Place all in the stock pot, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat, simmer for 1.5 hours.  The meat should be starting to fall from the bone.  Remove the oxtail from the pot and set aside to cool.  While the meat cools until it can be handled, add to the pot:

4 large carrots, peeled and diced

4 sticks celery, diced

1 cup chopped spinach

1 cup pearled barley or farro

Remove the meat from the bones and cut into bite sized pieces.  Return the meat to the pot.  Cover and simmer for 45 mins to 1 hour until the veggies are tender.

Makes about 3-4 quarts.

Oxtail can be a fatty cut.  If it is desired to remove the fat, cool the soup in the fridge overnight and remove the hardened fat from the top.  Serve hot seasoned to taste with salt.

 

Mushy Peas

The first time I tried mushy peas was in England at a Harry Ramsden restaurant in Bournemouth, something I wrote about in March 2015.  The flavor was very similar to green pea soup, except the concoction was much thicker than soup.  Mushy peas served with fish and chips, lamb or meat pie is a traditional favorite in the British Isles.  My last blog about mystery peas inspired me to try my hand at making this British staple.

There are various schools of thought surrounding the preparation of mushy peas.  Some cooks feel any peas will do and they use frozen garden peas, adding cream to thicken.  Others staunchly maintain that only marrow fat peas soaked in soda water will result in the authentic dish.  Marrow fat peas are not well known in the US.  These are merely regular garden peas that have been allowed to ripen on the plant until the pods dry.  The peas are large and starchy by that stage of maturity.

For my recipe, I tried to remain authentic by using dried whole organic peas that, when rehydrated, do taste a bit past the picking prime.  Mushy peas are not difficult to make, but they require at least two days to prepare.  Leftovers can be refrigerated for a day or two, or frozen.  They are the true inspiration for the Pease Porridge nursery rhyme.  This dish is also known as pease porridge in the UK.  Here is my recipe, adapted from various versions.

Mushy Peas

One pound dried green peas, preferably mature peas

1.5 quarts water

1 tablespoon baking soda

Place soda in a 2 qt glass container, add water and stir to dissolve.  Sort and rinse peas, add to water, assure the peas are well covered with water.  Let set overnight, or at least 12 hours, uncovered.  I let them set in the refrigerator.  Check after about 8 hours and add more water, if necessary to allow the peas enough fluid to properly rehydrate.  Some cooks recommend adding the water hot, I don’t find that necessary.

After the peas have absorbed enough water to be soft, drain, rinse and place in 3-4 qt cooking pot.  Add enough water to cover the peas.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, periodically stirring gently to prevent sticking to the bottom.  The idea is to soften the peas, but still maintain at least some of the seed shape.  The peas should be partially turned to paste with plenty of whole pea lumps.  Toward the end of the cooking time, monitor closely to prevent burning.  During the simmering, add a small amount of water from time to time, if the porridge seems too thick.

Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Some also add a little sugar and/or fresh mint.  Make various additions as desired, including onion, chive, garlic, etc.  This dish is versatile.  Serve the mushy peas hot.  They can be enjoyed as a vegetable or as a starch serving.  Makes about 6 cups.

Just a quick personal note:  I’ve found it necessary to use Beano when eating a good serving of mushy peas.  Otherwise, my body has a rather unfortunate reaction to large quantities of legume.

 

 

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Surprise Pancakes

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What to do with those bananas that get over ripened if you don’t enjoy the flavor of banana bread?  Why, make Surprise Pancakes, of course!  The surprise is these light, fluffy cakes are made with banana and the taste is almost imperceptible.

We love them hot, slathered with butter and drowned in the thick maple syrup we produce here at the farm.  I also enjoy the pancakes reheated in the microwave and stacked, with a liberal coating of homemade apricot jam between the layers.  Because the recipe effortlessly incorporates a good dose of dietary fiber, it feels like eating these pancakes is actually good for you!

If you have more ripe bananas on hand than you can manage, bananas freeze very well whole in their skins.  The skin will turn brown, but the fruit inside will stay as it was when fresh.  Defrost the banana until it is pliable before peeling.

Surprise Pancakes

1 large ripe banana mashed

1  1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups milk

2 eggs

1/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

In a large mixing bowl mash the banana.  Sift in dry ingredients.  Make a large well in the middle of the dry ingredients and place the wet inside.  Whisk the wet ingredients until the eggs are beaten and combined, then continue whisking all together until the batter is smooth.  Any desired fruit may be folded into the recipe at this point, for instance 3/4 to 1 cup blueberries, chopped strawberries, crushed pineapple or diced apples.  Cook on medium high, 350F on an electric griddle, turning once to brown both sides.  Serve with butter, maple syrup, berry syrup, jam or preserves.  Makes 12 to 15 cakes.

 

Way to His Heart Meatloaf

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When I want to make my husband happy with one of his favorite meals, I cook up my special meatloaf.  It always warms his heart.  I have a secret to keep the meatloaf juicy and tender:  beef bouillon.

My Meatloaf

2 lbs lean ground beef, I use grass-fed ground round

1 egg

1/4 cup ketchup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup warm water

1 cube beef bouillon

2 drops liquid smoke, optional

Put the bouillon cube in the warm water to dissolve.

Place beef, egg, ketchup, spices and onion powder in a mixing bowl.  Add a couple drops of liquid smoke for a barbecued flavor, if desired.  Mix together with nice clean hands until all the ingredients are well blended.  Pat the meat into a greased loaf pan.  Pour the bouillon over the meat.m2m3

Bake for 1.25 hours at 350F.  Drain off the liquid and thicken with flour to make gravy.  Serves four.   Meatloaf also is great in leftover sandwiches.m4