Klee's Out on a Limb Acres

Recent Preserving.

I use the term "recent" loosely.  It was Monday when I finally got the jars I had my imagination set on completing, and it was Monday when I made the decision to ditch the second little batch of delicious honey-sweetened strawberry-thyme jam (from Food in Jars' latest book, Preserving by the Pint)  that had been waiting for me in my covered red leCreuset pot for 4 days.  (It smelled fermented, and sadly the berries did not have a pleasant flavor.)  Time with two little boys and summer and birthdays got the better of me; I remind myself that it's okay to let things go back to the Earth when time slips like that.  That's my Mom's quote, and I think of her each time I forget about some precious leftovers, or get too ambitious and forget to mind my real-life timing.

red & whitecurrants

Last Saturday, we went to Klee's Out on a Limb.  I discovered them last year, and make no qualms about calling them my personal orchard now.  It's maybe a 20 minute drive, but feels more rural than that.  This was the second time I've gotten currants, and not being within days of giving birth as I was last year, I was able to pick them myself (with Candy's help).  I tried every variety and since the blackcurrants weren't quite ready, I got red and white.  White currants.  I think I mentioned 50 times how beautiful those things are, making up for the flavor I felt wasn't quite as good as the red seeing as they weren't as tart.  After 5 lbs. in my bucket, I tried some pink currants too - and those had quite a lovely flavor.  I have to rein myself in from a currant only preserving season.  I think I love them that much.

white currants
Transluscent, they look like pearls or fish eggs.  My eager baby-eater liked them very much.   

Last year, I made cordials out of them.  Both were great, though I probably preferred the shrub that turned viscous and thick, a mouth-coating thickness from all the pectin.  I actually just finished off the bottle, only tippling tiny cupfuls here and there because it was so sweet.  Aged a year, it was still wonderful.  I agonize over investing in good rum to make more, and as I do, the extracted red currant juice ages in my fridge.  I should decide to can it or freeze it before typing any more, so it doesn't succumb to going back to the Earth too.

I also have a small amount of non-juiced currants left which I need to get into vinegar.  Red currant drinking vinegar was my favorite flavored vinegar last year, it barely lasted me a month!  I might try it with the white currants and see how I like it.  (Note to self: must also invest in another SodaStream seltzer cartridge.)

floating white currants

currant jam
Seedy currant jam.

Last year, I only made currant jelly - which is so easy I'm not sure there is an easier preserve to tackle.  Only slightly more work was currant jam, which uses mostly currant juice (I used red) and a pound of whole, stemmed currants.  For juice, you don't need to remove the stems so the process is truly efforless.  The 20 minutes spent gingerly plucking the white currants from their tiny green stems was worth it - and I thought the color contrast was beautiful even though I knew it would fade with the cooking.

The jam itself is nicely seedy, tasting tart like the currant jelly, but more interesting and maybe kind of nutty with the seeds.  I read that currant seeds are quite healthful too (especially in the blackcurrants, but I figure the other colors must be as well), so it seems like a worthy offset for a sugary preserve.

peach chutney

Nearly a week before the currants, I split a case of peaches with a neighbor.  It's the 3rd year I've had "peach truck" peaches, which come from Georgia and are dropped nearby at a number of locations locally.  (The service is Tree-Ripe.)  I feel like we hit the jackpot, since they harvested Berta peaches for the first trucks of the season.  They were some of the best peaches I've had in years, true "drip-down-your-wrist" fruits, with excellent flavor and color.  I made a half batch of Marisa's Honey Sweetened Peach Chutney, which I altered slightly to account for my extra spice addiction.  A friend gave me a jar of dried Piri Piri chiles last year, and I hadn't used too many of them.  I added 15 to the pot - which turned out to be pretty spicy.  I fished 4 of them out as I was tasting, but boy those have some good flavor.    I also added extra brown mustard seed, and probably more fresh ginger.

Another great thing about this recipe is Marisa's trick of removing peach skins.  Simply cut the peaches in quarters, remove the pit of course, and cover with boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain, and the skins slip right off.  Amazing!  I used the same method to make some fresh peach salsa for our tacos last night, I don't think I'll ever blanch a peach traditionally ever again.

peach chutney, toast.
This stuff is so good that I might use the last of the peaches to make another batch - maybe less spicy for gift giving.  I'm definitely hoarding the 4 jars for myself.

In with my currants from Klee's, I had a handful (literally, 58 g.) of gooseberry.  I have never tried gooseberry.  I can't describe how excited I get to try new things, and at the orchard, I nibbled a bunch of different varities.  (I need to remember to bring a notepad and pen there, I can only remember choice things: like that the Newtown Pippen apple was Thomas Jefferson's favorite, and which tree was the mammoth Wolf River variety...)  The gooseberries will be on more by this weekend, so I made the tiniest batch of jam ever to see what I could expect.

handful of gooseberry
I used a 6 inch stainless saucepan for this jam.

On some reading, I let them sit around until they were pretty soft and had turned from their bright green to a more rosy color.  Then I topped and tailed them (that's a Linda Ziedrich term that seems to really stick in my brain), and weighed them in at a mere 56 g.  I added a tablespoon or so of water and steamed them a minute or two to get them softened before adding the same amount of sugar and cooking them down.  It was such a small batch that the whole process took less than 10 minutes.  The color and flavor were incredible.  I'll have to make time to get down there for more!

gooseberry jam

I really just couldn't get over the color, which I figured was about as close to watermelon-colored as I could describe.  The tiny seeds even look like melon seeds too - which I thought was interesting.  The flavor of gooseberry jam was different than I expected, though I'm not sure at all what I was expecting.  It has a tropical nuance to it, nicely tart but not as tart as the currant it seemed.  It feels pectin rich, and has a very firm set - I could have probably simmered it a little less.  My tiny batch filled half of a 4 oz. pimento jar, more than I expected, but definitely not enough to satisfy my new gooseberry obsession.

It's a good start to the season, which I have to remind myself is actually here.  It's a pleasantly cool summer,  with only a handful of 80 degree days so far.  It's filled with walks and bike rides (my older son just discovered how fun his first bike can be, and has developed an obsession of his own), fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants meal planning, and yet another year of a struggling garden.  I remind myself that it's not important right now to be cataloging what I do.  But, still I love the photographing, and if I seem quiet here, there are still notable things going up on my Facebook page and Flickr.  If you have some gooseberry ideas for me, shoot them my way.  We'll see what comes of them!

Of Yellow Transparents and Dolgo Crabapples...

The other day my friend Deena told me (that one of her friends told her) that with kids you could do all of the same things as you could do without kids — it just now takes twice as long, and is half as fun.  I'm not sure about the half as fun part, but boy does the twice as long ring true.  

Last Saturday, I bartered a pan of cinnamon rolls for some overripe (but still sauce worthy) Yellow Transparent apples from Klee's Out on a Limb Acres.  Standing out in the orchard, the baby resting in the shadow of an apple tree, chatting with Omer about things was just about the best way to spend a Saturday morning, and as I had suspected even before leaving home, I was inspired by the ripening orchard and came home with more than I figured on.  All in all I've been pretty good this year about not over-preserving especially the sweet spectrum of things.  But when my new orchardist friend was telling me about Dolgo crabapples, how beautiful the jelly is that they make, how he used to help his grandmother pick them for preserving and ate so many in their un-sugared tart state:  I just had to get some to play around with.  One smell of them sealed the deal.

dolgo crabapple

Then I ate one fresh from the tree.  Though super tart, once my mouth was accustomed to it I could really taste how they could be transformed into something amazing, if not just eaten plain as Omer did as a child.  They were beautiful looking as well, like near red balloons when freshly picked.  As they sat around my house for a few days, they seemed to deepen in color.  They infused the lot of my preserving this week with their cheerful bright pink.  

After getting home Saturday afternoon, I steamed down 4 pounds of them right away and let the juice strain for jelly.  I'm quite sure I've never worked with a fruit with such a good amount of natural pectin, the juice was silky and thick, bracing to taste on its own, but really not unpleasantly sour.  I got to making the jelly yesterday and got almost 4 half pints... I may have over cooked it just a little, but I'm not worried about it since the flavor is so good.

crabapple jelly
crabapple jelly.

I still had quite a few crabapples left over, and I remembered my Dad saying how much he liked whole spiced crabapples that his grandmother used to can.  Never having tried one, I tried not to remember the awful, fake red spiced apple slices that I'm sure I've eaten on more than one occasion at a Friday night fish fry with endless salad bar.  I looked in my Ball book to see about that, and settled on a recipe that looked pretty straightforward and old-fashioned.  I added ginger and used powdered allspice after there were no allspice berries to be seen at my co-op this morning.  The result was amazing, just like I knew it would be... and not at all like those garish nibbles on the side of a Friday night salad plate.

spiced whole crabapples

Whole Spiced Dolgo Crabapples (adapted from Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving)
yields 5-6 pints
  • 8 cups stemmed Dolgo crabapples, pricked with a fork (about 4 lbs.)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 T. whole cloves (place them in a tea ball, or tie in cheesecloth)
  • 1 t. powdered allspice
  • 2 fat coins of ginger, each about 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 c. water
  • 2 1/2 c. white vinegar
In a large preserving pot, combine spices, ginger, sugar, water and vinegar.  Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer the syrup for 10 minutes.  Add crabapples and return the syrup to a boil, stirring very gently once in a while.  Reduce the heat and just simmer the crabapples until nearly tender, about 10-20 minutes.  (They might try to burst along the seam where you pricked them with a fork if the heat is too hot.  I aimed for "al dente" apples...)

Meanwhile, ready a hot water bath and heat freshly washed pint jars.  (I like to hold them in a 250 degree oven, and pull them out just prior to filling.)

When crabapples are tender, use a slotted spoon to pack them into hot jars, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.  Ladle hot syrup into the jars to cover the apples, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Release any air bubbles and adjust syrup level accordingly. 

Apply lids and rings, and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.  Remove the canner from the heat and let the jars stand in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing to a towel lined counter to cool completely.

spiced whole crabapples

Before I had even tackled the crabapples, I made my year's supply of applesauce.  Before a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of a Yellow Transparent apple:  so named for the pale yellow skin that looks nearly invisible.  I found a website, Orange Pippin, that lists apple varieties, tasting notes, and other attributes, and found that the Yellow Transparents are a good bet for sauce.  When I finally saw the apples in person, Omer explained that they are notoriously short lived, and when overripe, they can pop almost like a kernel of corn.  First, he had me taste an overripe apple, which was mealy and lightweight for its size.  Despite the negative marks against it, it did have good flavor, and when I then tried a perfectly ripe apple, I could see why people seek out this gem of a fruit.  

yellow transparent apples
Overripe on the left, perfect specimen on the right.

Fortunately, even the overripes were excellent for sauce. I added several crabapples to the pot as I started cooking them down to infuse the sauce with a little pink color; the extra pectin in the crabapples was just a bonus, and the finished sauce was sweet-tart and silky.  I added no sugar.


All told, I got 17 pints of applesauce, which I was very thankful for after not making any at all last year.  Not bad for a pan of cinnamon rolls!  I had my older son help me turn the crank on my Gram's old Victorio strainer, and after all of the sauce was finished and resting we helped ourselves to big bowls full of still warm fresh pink sauce.

So it's true it took me 4 days to work through what normally would have taken me about 32 hours or less, but it was still pretty fun.  Estimating the newest boy's sleeping pattern sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, and having an extra pair of hands to hopefully learn a bit about preserving and to help in the kitchen was nice too.  I sure hope both of my boys will grow up and be as excited as I am to see things growing and have the pleasure of preserving it!

Currently, Currants.

red currants.

Well, yesterday's doctor visit confirmed that baby number 2 will likely be late, like baby number 1 was.  Am I such a good hostess that my children just don't want to enter the world?  As I look past my tomorrow due date, I try to remember to be patient and also try to remember that there will still be a good amount of summer left after I get back to feeling normal.

Part of my impatience has to do with the normalcy that I crave.  Ordinarily, as soon as the weather warms I find myself interested in searching out new and different things to preserve and then beyond excited to take their pictures and write about them.  My new normalcy is the feeling that I can't really plan anything, go anywhere too far away, and certainly not to wait around on ripening produce.  It's frustrating for me because I'm not a good idler, I prefer my old spirit of juggernauting forward, that always propelling forward motion that feels so good, especially in the summertime.

When I woke up early on July 4th (every day, I wake up at exactly 5:22, don't ask me why...), I found a message from a localish orchard; the currants I'd been looking forward to experimenting with for the past 2 years were finally ready, and the farmers had two ice cream pails already picked and waiting for me if I was still interested, and hadn't had my baby yet.  For a brief moment, I felt my old self return.  I hopped out of bed and immediately searched my sources to see about how many currants I'd need to do the few things I had in mind.

I'm not  used to depending on others to do what I'd like, especially when it comes to climbing behind the wheel of the car and taking off on a whim.  In our family, I'm the usually always the driver, in part because I just love the road (and in part because I'm a terrible passenger).  But this close to a delivery date, I'm not driving much - and not very far.  I was actually surprised that my Husband offered to drive us down to the little farm where the currants were, even more surprised that he tried different varieties of currants and gooseberries, and was interested in the workings and stories that the husband and wife team running Klee's Out on a Limb Acres had to offer.  It was a perfect afternoon, and even though the journey wasn't actually so far away, it was was just rural enough to satisfy the summertime longings for the country that always plague me - and it was even better that my boys were both appearing to be enjoying every minute as much as I was.

red currant jelly
Last year, our whole state was devastated by a strange and early spring promptly followed by a killing frost.  Sadly it left us without many cherries, apples, and other orchard fruits, and when you could find them, they were almost prohibitively expensive.  The entire season was decimated for small timers like Klee's - they had no crops for sale last year at all - and that was the year that I read about them and found that they grew old-timey things I was looking for like gooseberry, quince, and currants.

I have had currants on the brain for two years.  It's been more than that long since I first had a tipple made by friends Paul and Lori of the Burp! blog, and I was really smitten.  Their liqueur had been aged for quite some time by the time I tried it, and it was earthy, complex, and just plain lovely.  As I'd never even seen currants growing, and never picked or tasted one, I longed to find a source so that I could anticipate tiny cupfuls of that delicious liqueur of my own making - and experiment with other things as I usually do when I get too excited over a new best friend and overbuy considerably.

crème de cassis
I double checked with Lori to be sure the drink I had tasted so long ago was made with red currants and vodka, because as I recall it was dark in color and so deep and raisiny tasting I couldn't imagine the jewel red berries resting out so much.  I made the recipe exactly as they suggest, not adding or subtracting a single thing... and I plan to age it until at least Christmas before trying it.

I had just enough Mount Gay rum left in the bottle (given to me so I could make flourless chocolate rum cakes for a friend's birthday in January) to do a batch of Pam Corbin's Currant Shrub.  I was under the impression that shrubs were usually non-alcoholic, sweetened vinegar bases that were mixed with seltzer.  But, in her book The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, she details this one made with red currant juice and rum (or brandy).  Also taking several months to mature, I figured another thing to try around Christmastime would be welcome.

Pam Corbin "shrub".

Pam's shrub is so easy to make.  I knew I was already doing a batch of currant jelly and simply steamed enough extra currants to allow for the 1 1/4 cups for this recipe.  Given my state of pregnancy, I steamed the berries on July 4th, and made the jelly and liqueurs the next day.  For every pound of currants, I used Linda Ziedrich's advice and added 1/2 cup of water.  (I did 4 1/2 lbs of currants and 2 1/4 cups water, and had more than enough juice for this recipe and a batch of jelly.)

Pam Corbin's Currant Shrub
  •  1 1/4 c. red currant juice
  •  2 1/2 c. rum (or brandy)
  • finely grated zest of one orange
  • 1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
Mix the currant juice with rum (or brandy), orange zest, and nutmeg.  (Currants are naturally high in pectin, and adding the juice to alcohol may cause it to form a gel, as it did for me.  Corbin says it will turn back to a more liquid state after the sugar is added.)  Let this mixture stand for 7-10 days well sealed and in a dark place.

Transfer the mixture to a pan, add sugar and heat gently just to dissolve sugar, about 140 degrees.  Strain the mixture through muslin or cheesecloth, decant into a sterilized jar (I saved the rum bottle), seal tightly, and let age for several months (again, in a cool, dark place) before enjoying.  Drink within 2 years.

The way the currant juice gelled with the alcohol and suspended the orange zest within the jar was absolutely mesmerizing.  As was the intoxicating (literally) scent of warm orange, nutmeg, rum, and currant.  It was hard to stash this one away in a dark place, I can tell you that.

red currant jam pot.

After I had my liqueurs underway and tucked away, I tackled the jelly - which is so simple.  Both Linda Ziedrich and Pam Corbin  had methods that used equal measures juice and sugar - so I used 4 cups juice and 4 cups raw sugar.  I thought maybe I'd like to add something "unique" to the jelly, but once the sugar dissolved and I tasted it, I couldn't bear to mar the clean flavor.  It is simple and delicious, and though I've pledged not to overmake in the preserves department this year, the 5 half pints of jelly are very welcome on my shelf!

quince & red currant on scones
Sugar preserved quince, and fresh currant jelly.

I couldn't be happier with this 4th of July, and even though my spirits were dampened a bit with the thoughts of an overdue baby, I have to say the currants broke me free of feeling a bit sorry for myself.  If you are local and looking for a nice little farm to pick your own currants, gooseberries, quince, elderberries and other old-fashioned orchard fruits, check out Klee's!  They have a webpage, and update a Facebook page (and are quick to return questions if you give them a call.  Give them a "like" to stay updated, and take a little drive.  Candy shared with me a little jar of quince, which was also a first taste for me.  If I'm feeling up to it, I plan to get some to play around with... just as soon as it ripens, and this baby comes!