Tart Cherries, My Cookbook.

tart cherries

During the last month of my pregnancy, I was obsessed with the idea of tart cherries.  As I mentioned before, last year was a wash for finding any and I was hungrier than ever to find some.  Just after my new addition, I got several pounds of fruit from neighbors, and just last week I had the opportunity to buy a bulk quantity of Door County tart cherries as I did two years ago from Cherryland's Best.  Perhaps the best thing about buying a pail of tart cherries from them is that they are already pitted, and swimming in their own juice.  I appreciated that extra bit of work was already done, especially since it seems that whenever I try to tackle something that could require some attention, one very small, fairly new human being seems to need my undivided attention.  And I am the mama who will stop everything to oblige.

Fortunately, the day of the cherry drop off I was blessed with a sleepy boy who napped away the afternoon as I worked my way through the 27 lb. pail.  I broke 2 quarts in my haste of getting the quarts of whole cherries into the hot water bath (but to my defense, those cherries were chilly!), but somehow I was also blessed with both the patience to clean up my mess of epic proportions and the perseverance to continue on to the bottom of the pail.

That day yielded 6 quarts canned in extra light syrup, and one small and very sweet batch of a Black Forest sauce I found in the Ball Preserving book and added some almond extract to.  It is going to be very good on some chocolate cake or vanilla ice cream.  It didn't really gel up like I expected, but it is great as a medium thick sauce with chocolate and unsweetened coconut, and some of the cherry brandy that I made last month with neighborhood cherries.

I started to turn 2 lbs. into drinking vinegar, which when mixed with selzer water is my favorite cocktail these days.  It is sweetened with the same sugar I'm trying to reduce my consumption of, but I make concessions for it because I'm not drinking kombucha right now - and the vinegar fools me well enough.  Vinegar is also a detoxifying agent, but I suspect not in the same way as kombucha (let me know if you know otherwise)...  It appears I do crave some fizzy drink with tart/sour kick almost every afternoon.  At least it is something I've made myself.

tart cherries, vinegar.

soaking in vinegar.

To make tart cherry drinking vinegar (or any fruit flavored vinegar), I combine the ratio of 1 lb. fruit to 1 cup raw cider vinegar (Bragg's).  Let it steep for 5-7 days, strain it, then measure the liquid.  For every cup of strained vinegar, add 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar depending on taste.  I heat it very gently so the sugar dissolves, but well below the temperature of pasteurizing the raw vinegar, then cool and store in re-purposed glass bottles.

I cheated somewhat and froze the remaining cherries in 1 1/2 lb. bags with some of their juice.  I then tucked the remaining near-quart of cherry juice in the fridge - with the consideration of making cherry jelly, but then noble declination when I'd realized I'd already exceeded the number of jars of sweet preserves I want on my shelf this year.  I'll just drink it, or maybe freeze it in ice cube trays to keep other drinks cold and pink.


I spent the weekend out at my Parents farm, both boys and husband in tow.  Just before I left the city, the day of the cherry drop off in fact, I got the first copy of my cookbook in the mail.  It hit me as being real - that I wrote and photographed a book that was actually going to be for sale.  And even better was the feeling that came when we found my name on Amazon, and I found out my husband was checking it twice a day every day since, checking up on my "rating" which is in the hundreds of thousands, but it doesn't matter because him being so proud of me is the best feeling ever.

the cover.

The book is a small thing, almost pocket sized, but very readable with some of my most favorite concoctions in it.  Some are recipes that have appeared on my blog, but some are new things I developed especially for the book.  I was happy to also include several lacto-fermented recipes, like this Cilantro-Raisin Chutney which could be my favorite thing ever.  Or one of my favorites, anyway.

It will likely be available in September, but is already available for preorder on Amazon.  I will also have copies for sale on my site, or you can order directly from the publisher, Peter Pauper Press. I will update this site and the CakeWalk Facebook page when I know more!

As I hold that little book in my hands, I keep thinking that if I never had kids I wouldn't be looking at it.  I may still be working 60 hours a week somewhere, having never discovered the mysteries of sourdough, bubbly ferments, long cooking slow food.  I might never have owned the preservationist title, and instead rested on the laurels of my Mom and Gram rather than embracing the lifestyle I now have:  one of hard work at home that was definitely inspired by them and their love of taking care of family.  

Those little boys that entered my world, they made so many things crystal clear for me, but there is more to come that is still hazy.  Where I'm heading next with an infant in tow, I do not know.  It's a good feeling to provide for them in tangible ways, and what an amazing feeling to write things into existence that I hope people use and are inspired by!

Hot Lunch and Vinegar.

I feel like it's been months since I've eaten lunch. At least, the lunches I was used to eating before my Kiddo went to full-day Kindergarten. While most of the time I do make a point to carve out a proper lunchtime for myself, the past month or so has been bread and cheese eaten on the fly type lunch, or cold whatever I had for dinner last night lunch. I was just telling a new friend how the school lunch time for my son is only about 15 minutes long, and how important meal times are to us. Before the Kiddo went to school, we would frequently sit for an hour around the table for lunch, chatting and lallygagging over a proper meal. How is it I've reduced myself to 10 minutes of cold food?

taco fillingtaco lunch.

This past two weeks, I have been swamped in sugar. I haven't really tried to eat my fill, but it seems that in testing (and you do need to taste things, just to make sure they are good, right?) multiple sweets many times during the morning, my belly was just aching for some real vegetable food. When half of a sweet potato fell out of the Tetris of my refrigerator around lunchtime today, it was as if I was being beckoned to cook for myself. A hot lunch of vegetable drawer items, sauteed in olive oil and finished off with a bit of hot, home-canned jalapeno brine. Lucky for me, I had a couple of pinto bean tortillas hiding in the freezer that quickly came back to life under the steam of the skillet, and the remains of some cotija cheese I found buried in my cheese drawer. I felt lonely at the table by myself, but fortunately, my eyes wandered across the room to the cider vinegar that I've been putting off for a while now...

Satiated with my wholesome, non-sugared lunch, I started my afternoon by tasting the jars of vinegar. The larger of the two jars I started first, just after pressing the apples for the first time this fall with my Parents. It was pleasantly floral, vinegary but still gracefully reminiscent of the apples we picked. Since I plan to use these vinegars to cook with or dress salads (or drink with seltzer), I am not worried so much that they aren't very strong, not nearly as strong as Bragg's cider vinegar. The smaller of the two jars was considerably weaker but still a bit acidic. I figured it could benefit to stand longer, but I decided to use some right away in my fermented hot sauce I had all but forgotten about.

apple cider vinegar

The vinegar mat that formed on the tops of the smaller diameter jar was much thicker than the larger, shallower jar. I'm not sure if the type of jars I used contributed to the time frames that the vinegars took to complete. I almost suspect so. I saved my "mothers" (if you are local and want some, let me know...), and I'm saving them not quite sure where my vinegar adventures will take me going into the new year. I have taken a break from kombucha brewing, in part because I don't have a huge space to store all my projects and I was a bit worried about cross-contamination. I'd like to get back to daily kombucha consumption, especially since I have quite a cache of tested fruit syrups that have made their way to my freezer!

the mothers of vinegar.

I had quite a time finding jalapenos this summer, which I remembered when I was eating my taco lunch devoid of any additional peppers. I was able to find an ice cream pail of mixed hot peppers, and I got to pick them alongside an Amish man as we talked about his family and who in it liked hot food. The Amish, for the most part, like spicy things which is kind of surprising to me. I didn't get to make as many candied jalapenos as I had hoped this year, instead I got a pint of wicked orange pepper paste. It was much too hot to eat a spoonful on anything (and I can handle things pretty warm, mind you), so after I fermented it I left it in the fridge for months where I nearly forgot about it. (You can read more about my search for peppers this year over here. The recipe link that I loosely followed to lacto-fermenting my hot sauce is there as well.)

fermented hot peppers

I transferred it to my VitaMix, and added some of the mild vinegar to taste. Taste testing hot sauce is a difficult thing, but I did my best. I threw in a casual soup spoonful of honey and added more of the mild vinegar. This is a pretty hefty heat, but one that hits the front of your tongue first and then moves on fairly quickly. It's not the lingering, throat coating heat of a jalapeno, and it's a good thing, since it's maybe 10 times hotter. I think I got my sauce to a good flavor, but it's nearly water in consistency. No matter, since just a few drops of this stuff will enliven anything I can throw at it for the next year or so. I got one old Frank's Red Hot bottle full, plus two small 8 oz. vanilla extract jars. Even though they were washed thoroughly, I wonder if a nuance of vanilla will be found in the sauce after it sits, or if that hot sauce will just eat its way through any residual vanilla perfume. Time will tell.

fermented hot pepper sauce

I sat down last night to make a quick label for some Blueberry Vinegar, this was the only vinegar success I had after obtaining my original mother of vinegar from Lizzy, my Parents neighbor. I had 3 half pint jars, plus this little re-purposed vial:

blueberry (apple) vinegar
I clarified this vinegar by bringing it up to 140 degrees. It's no longer raw, but very pretty!

Since my Husband has been working more evenings, I have lately felt ravenously hungry by the time 5 o'clock hits, too hungry to wait for him for supper. But not so much today. Hot lunch is something I'll have to implement for myself again on a regular basis. I've talked before on the pleasures of cooking for one, and it is such a good feeling. I had no idea what would become of throwing vegetables into my cast iron skillet, and then miraculously tacos appeared. Even eating alone didn't feel quite so lonely when contemplating the vinegar and all of its complexities, though I still felt the pangs of aging as I remembered the solemn fact that my son is now going to be in school, unable to spend the lunch hour with me for most of the year from here on out. I suspect I'll be making labels now for my hot sauce, provided I can think of a clever name that isn't too trite. Maybe I'll ponder that over tomorrow's lunch.

vinegar creations.

Updates: Pre-Thanksgiving

Given the state of my "unemployment", I sometimes feel the need to justify what I do with my time. I shouldn't feel this way, I know. Almost 6 years into my homemaking career, I haven't forgotten what it's like to put in a full 40-65 hours a week outside my home, and I also know what challenges that brings to the dinner table. I have been so tired getting home from odd-hour jobs that I've made the choice to sleep instead of eat. Now any bleary-eyed mornings are due to reading too late into the night, knitting, or getting up to attend to doughs, and I can't say that I'd like it better any other way. I continue my projects, though many of them secretive, since the cookbook recipe testing is still underway - and that actually generates quite a lot of food that must remain discreet. This post will give you a peek at what is going on around here pre-Thanksgiving, the things that I am thankful for and excited about.

alcoholized apple cider and innoculated cider for vinegar.

It appears that I have finally attained relative ease in the vinegar-making department. Using almost all of the beautiful cider I pressed with my Parents, I left it open to open fermentation under written affirmation from Peter's post on how good, non-treated apples will naturally do their best to become vinegar. After the open ferment appeared complete (and I tasted it, and it tasted beery), I inoculated it with vinegar mother that I had stored. The pictures here are from two weeks ago, but you can see the mat on the top of the jar on the right: it's now a full 1/4 inch thick. The photo below is the active fermenting cider. After the success of the first jar, I started another half gallon. I am happy to announce that I'll get my gallon of homemade cider vinegar, which was seriously one of my goals for the cider press. Mission (almost) accomplished!

alcoholized cider

This week, I have also bottled my Bachelor's Jam. I started it back in July when I got my strawberries, and I added throughout the Summer a number of fruits, a pound at a time. Bachelor's Jam, also called Rumtopf, piqued my interested when I first read about it last year. I made mine using the methods outlined in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, a pound of fruit and a cup of sugar at a time until it was full.

Since I am in Wisconsin, the brandy consumption capital of the world, I opted to use a brandy base for my liqueur. I'm actually not all that fond of brandy, cognac yes, but that would be my famous "Champagne Taste" talking. I thought using brandy would help me to appreciate it a little more, and I may just be right about that. When I stirred up the pot, strained out the bleached and boozy fruit and tasted a little, it completely reminded me of Christmas: Wintery and warm, fruity and sweet - just the thing to drizzle over some ice cream, since we Wisconsin folk eat just as much ice cream in the Winter as we do the rest of the year...

bachelor's jam fruitbachelor's jam, liqueur
it's such a pretty color, too.

With the success of my vinegar, and having a number of flavored "cheat" vinegars that I made this Summer on hand, I wanted to purchase some bottles for packing some up as gifts. I found some nice ones, inexpensive and perfect for my needs (both vinegar and hot sauce bottles), but after I had them in my online cart to check out, the shipping was as much as the bottles, and I couldn't take that leap. Instead, I'm revisiting my collections of jars and bottles in the basement that I've obsessively collected for some time now.

I am using far less purchased bottles of *whatever* lately, but when I do buy something, I pay special attention to the jar or bottle it comes in. I wash them out thoroughly (even taking several days of repeated washing recentely to try and get an olive oil bottle with a nice cork stopper perfectly clean...), glean every last smidgen of label adhesive from the exteriors. If I've been to your house and you have an interesting jar, I've probably asked you to save it for me too. It's a habit, and one day, someone will probably clean out my basement and wonder what in the world I saved all the glass jars and bottles for.

I don't usually fuss too much over cool labels, but an ancient Cointreau bottle with only a teaspoon (really, that was it) left was just about falling out of my cabinet the other day and I decided that I had to clean it up and repurpose it for my Bachelor's Jam. I'll bring this out when my "Christmas Company" comes, so I did fuss a little - trying to do my artistic best to match the font and content of a Cointreau label. I used to do a lot of pen and ink drawings, and sitting for 20 minutes to concoct this makes me want to illustrate all kinds of little bottles taking up space in my house. Maybe one will make its way to you.

reusing a bottle...
believe it or not, I even Google Translator-ed the French on the front of the bottle...

On Monday, I finally went to the new Glorioso's location on Brady Street, just across the street from their charming old location. Part of the reason I took so long to check it out is that I feel bad when tiny hole-in-the-wall groceries are replaced by bigger, more luxurous digs. The souls of the ancient tiny establishments whisper to me in thunderous voices, and usually bigger never means better to me. The new Glorioso's is beautiful, you definitely won't turn around and hit someone like you could in the old place. I won't forget the wood floors and miniature space it came from, but wandering around was just as inspiring. A whole aisle of panettone, reminding me that I need to try my hand at that this year. I went there specifically for these bright green Castelventrano olives, some that I'd never tried before, for testing a recipe. I am smitten. They are soft and almost herby, not too salty and the most beautiful shade of green:

castelventrano olives.

I also came home with Italian "00" flour, some cheese, a pound of lupini beans, and advice from an old man in the deli on how to prepare them. "Oh, just try it honey, you'll do just fine", he encouraged as he concluded, his arm resting on the gleaming case of prepared Italian deli foods. I am so glad I asked about them, since the process is time-intensive, and completely different then I would have thought. The beans need to soak, with a daily water changing, for at least 5 days, maybe longer if they still remain bitter. When I looked them up online, every source confirmed that, and also that they are worth the amount of time you spend since they are some of the highest protein beans other than the soybean.

When the man told me the lupini beans are bitter, I couldn't have been prepared for just HOW bitter they were. One bite of an undone lupini bean leaves a bitterness that extends all the way down your throat, and it stays there for 10 minutes; they are the very definition of bitter. When that bitterness is gone and the beans taste sweet, the beans are complete - and I'm on day 4 now, so I hope that will be soon. After the first 48 hours of soaking, I brought them up to a gentle boil for an hour or so and then let them cool back to room temperature. I continue to replace their water daily, tending to these chubby beings, these blonde Chicklets of supreme health, and I dream about eating them one after another, fully addicted. I should listen to an old Italian guy when he said to just eat them plain, but I may have to marinate them in oil and vinegar, since that is the way I've eaten them on occasion at overpriced deli-per-pound sections of other nameless luxury grocery stores. For under 3$ a pound, it's been cheap entertainment around here.

lupini beans

Cold wind has been blowing, along with a fair amount of rain lately. It makes me add layers, consider upping the thermostat and then deciding against it, and take up my knitting once again since working with warm fiber seems to warm you like nothing else. I finished up 3 small felting projects that were on the needles since last Spring, some potholders and an oven mitt for myself that I've already been putting to good use. My old oven mitt was burning me as I shoveled bread pots in and out, and I was ignoring the fact that I could really be seriously burned. I doubled the strands of wool so there is plenty of insulation, and wool is naturally fire retardant as well - not that I'm planning on being careless. The patterns I like best for kitchen felts are in this book by Beverly Galeskas.

good weather for felt.

So, never a dull minute really. Odds and ends come into place, my craftiness starts to run rampant now that I feel I have more time and Christmas to prepare for. The cookie list is beginning to form in my brain, and so are the details of things to make for others, bready experiments that will hopefully hold up well, and lots of things that I'll likely be excited to share. You can be sure that if those lupini beans turn out as well as I hope I'll be telling you all about it soon. My days are full, I fall asleep quickly, often mid-page, and I remember all the while that my Mom told me once her 30's came in "clumps". The days do fly by, but yet I appreciate each one and what it brings. I try to hold them still a little longer by making good use of my time.

Apples: Pressing, Cider, Vinegar, Pectin, Crisp.

cider apples

Last Thursday, my Parents, Kiddo and I went to Weston's Antique Apple Orchard. I have been buying apples from them at the West Allis Farmer's Market for several years; they have been a vendor there for 45 seasons. I never thought of looking to see if they had a website until I learned that I inherited my Gram's apple press, and I needed a good urban source for great apples. I called and spoke with a older man, who informed me good-natured-ly that I'd interrupted his nap, "Since I'm retired!" he'd said. I told him it was our first year with a press, and we just wanted to do a couple of bushels of apples to see about approximate yield and ease of the workload. We negotiated a price for windfalls, and I figured that any price would be worth seeing the land where some of the most exotic apples I've ever tasted have grown for generations.

Even though I'd called back the cell phone number he gave me, I wasn't entirely certain that we would find anyone at this antique orchard when we drove out in my Dad's truck on Thursday. But fortunately we found a sole worker: a middle-aged man in heavily patched pants and a lifting belt who had been debriefed about me and my desire for 2 bushels of apples. A talkative man, he explained that the orchard's brother and sister team worked 7 days a week with just a few helpers like him. He mentioned they were both notoriously difficult to get a hold of, and that we could pay him and then just walk around in the orchard and see which trees had fresh fallen apples. "If you wonder what they taste like, just find one on the tree, shine it up on your shirt, and try one," he reminded us. And we did. Some hard, yellow and tart, leather skinned and bursting with autumnal dryness, others as sweet as honey, plum colored and snowy white inside - the apples the witch likely offered the gullible Snow White.

We spent a hour or so wandering around collecting the bounty of fruits under some trees that seemed perfectly perfect, reminding my Kiddo to show us each apple before tossing it in the bushel basket in case it was buggy or bruised. I had wished the whole while I hadn't already done my applesauce with budget (but perfectly serviceable) apples from the farmer's market. My Mom was more excited that I was, we tried many types and each one distinct and almost unreal. Antique apples are the way to go. If you have a few minutes, just read about some of the unusual varieties that are grown at Weston's Orchard.

<span class=

My Dad had brought baskets for us to use, those mysterious things that never seem to wear out and have appeared from nowhere. My Parents have all sorts of gardening baskets like that, old wired things with history that just seem immortal. The press was really something too. My Gram had an apple tree in her yard that was extremely prolific most years. We never knew which variety it was, but it was on the tart side and made the best sauce. There was always enough fruit for anyone who wanted any. She hadn't had the press for that many years, but my Dad cleaned it up thoroughly and carted it down here just so we could try this experiment that none of us expected to be so life changing.

apples in the truck

In less than an hour, we had pressed our 2 bushels (less the amount my Mom took home for pies, and a couple of pounds that she left me for eating). My Mom washed each apple in the kitchen sink, her nurse's credo preventing her from just hosing them off outdoors like my Dad and I figured would be fine. The press is amazingly efficient, and when we weren't even half done, we had agreed that next year we have to have a family pressing out at the farm. The mess was actually minimal compared to what I thought, we hauled most of the expired, squeeze-dried fruit to my compost bin and I saved one 8 quart bucketful to make pectin with. I am letting it drip now as I write, and will pick up some rubbing alcohol later this morning to see if it gels. To test if the pectin is developed, you mix 1 t. of pectin with 2 t. rubbing alcohol. If it forms a solid mass that can be lifted up with a fork, the pectin has enough gelling power.

I made my pectin according to Linda Ziedrich and several other concurring sources online. For every pound of fruit in a large, covered pot, add two cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, then drain through a jelly bag for at least 4 hours. Return the juice to the pot, and boil it rapidly to reduce by half. It can be stored in the freezer, or water bath processed for 10 minutes for shelf stability.

cider pressapple grinder

pressed apple pulp
pulp, for pectin.

ground apples
ready to press.

I also threw together an apple crisp this morning. I seem to never follow the same method twice when making fruit crisps this year. I didn't skin my beautiful apples, I added perhaps too much ground ginger, a tablespoon each of flour and brown sugar, and topped it off with a crisp topping which I had leftover in the freezer. I like a lot of different crumble toppings, but this one was fairly exceptional. It could be because it has a fair amount of butter in it, but I mix it up in a snap, adding everything including the yogurt to the food processor. Unlike Heidi, I don't even melt the butter, I just pulse it with the flour a few times before adding the oats. I also like to add about 1/2 c. of nuts - walnuts are a favorite of mine with apples. I usually mix up a double batch, and eyeball how much I want to include on top of a makeshift crisp. It does also freeze well.

unpeeled apple crisp

Crisp Topping (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
  • 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour, AP flour, or whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 3/4 c. rolled oats
  • up to 1/2 c. brown sugar or cane sugar
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, or other (optional)
  • 1/2 t. or more cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 c. plain yogurt
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and butter. Pulse several times until the butter is the size of tiny peas. Add the rest of the ingredients except the yogurt and pulse to combine into a uniform texture. Add yogurt, pulse once or twice to incorporate. Use right away, store in the fridge for a day, or freeze for impulse baking.

fresh, unfiltered apple cider

As soon as the amber colored cider made it's way down to the waiting bucket, we all stood mesmerized, as if we had no idea that apples under pressure would indeed give up their juice. It's silly really, all of us so excited that we took little cups and stood in the crisp air drinking the best cider we've ever tasted - probably the best since we went through so much work to get it. It was so sweet, thick, tart and refreshing. We got about 4 precious gallons of cider all accounting, and we split it up pretty evenly. We let it sit to rest for several hours, and then I ladled it into jugs and canning jars - setting some aside a little more than a half gallon right away to try and open ferment for eventual vinegar. We didn't filter it into oblivion like we had seen recommended - all of us agreed that having a little sediment was perfectly fine with us.

bottling cider

I have had my issues with vinegar. Making "mock" flavored vinegars (out of Bragg's cider vinegar) this summer made me feel a little better, but like I've said before I felt like I was cheating. This easiest thing seems to be a great challenge for me, and I suspected that I could easily waste my good-as-gold cider trying to ferment and then vinegarize it. Fortunately, yesterday morning, I saw the bubbles of fermentation first appear. This morning, the foam is about a half inch thick, and I suspect in a couple of days I'll be able to strain it into clean jars and inoculate it with mother. Meanwhile, my other quarts of cider are in the fridge waiting to see if their fate will also be vinegar. It is my sincere hope that I can get at least a gallon of homemade cider vinegar, and I don't want to jinx myself, but it looks as if I may be on my way toward that goal.

fermenting cider

Every time we visit, I remember how insanely lucky I am to have such amazing Parents. They get every bit as excited as I do for good food and hard work, experimenting and being together with family. As I helped my Dad hoist that press back up onto his truck (and I didn't think that I'd be able to lift it, maybe I need to start a weigh lifting regimen...), I knew exactly where I get all my quirky obsessions and experiments from. The press traveled 500 miles to my house and another 180 back to the Farm, where it will over-winter in their ample garage or outbuilding until next apple season when we will meet there and be as excited again to see such an amazingly simple thing as cider drip casually from an iron and wooden press directly into our waiting cups. In those moments of simple pleasures, I feel so full up with appreciation for life and the sweet tart of it that I can not really express it. What an amazing way to enter the Thanksgiving season.

Everything's Rosy.

About a year ago I read somewhere about a woman who said that she likes to wake up at least a half hour before her household. Thirty minutes hardly seems like enough time to accomplish anything, but recently I have successfully implemented this myself - even if it requires me to be ripped from my sleep and dreams, and even if it makes me feel blurry eyed for several minutes before actually getting out of bed.

For the past 5 years, I have not really set an alarm. We got up when we woke up, I got up actually when the Kiddo woke up since I am rather night-owlish. But getting up at the crack of dawn isn't really so bad. This morning, I had already thrown in the first load of laundry and prepped some beets to roast before my son was even poked gently awake. My entire morning seemed rather pink after dropping him off at school. I walked in the door, (washed my hands), and took the roasted beets out of the oven. It's our last hot day, and I had the oven on early so I could welcome Fall tomorrow with beety fresh baked goods.

When they were cooling, I ran the Watermelon Jellies down to the basement shelves. I made two batches over the weekend using Marisa's recipe, one plain and one with fresh cayenne peppers. I have never made watermelon jelly before, but I have to say that it has grown on me. Especially the cayenne version. I am most excited to make some crackers, get some good sheep's milk feta, and enjoy this warming sweet melon flavored jelly to it's full capacity. I tried the skimmed off foam on frozen scones, and was appropriately amazed. Watermelon Jelly is completely worthwhile and deserves a place on the jam shelf, and don't let anyone try and convince you otherwise!

I also strained out the elderberry vinegar. It had been sitting for several days (I've lost count), but tasted well rounded and earthy so I figured it was time. Using the workhorse nut milk bag, I let it hang for about a half hour before squeezing the pulp nearly dry. My hands briefly stained light purple, I measured the finished vinegar at 4 cups. Using the same method as the Cherry Vinegar (which was adapted from Pam Corbin's Raspberry Vinegar), I added 1 c. of sugar for each cup of vinegar and warmed it just enough to completely dissolve the sugar so that my cider vinegar remained raw. It is lovely. I have the jars bottled, labeled, and transferred to the basement shelves. I just drank a couple of tablespoons over ice, diluted with seltzer water, and it is fantastic. But since elderberry seems to be more in the medicinal family than the gustatory one, I'll be sure to curb my consumption. However, drinking 2 T. a day throughout cold and flu season seems like it could be very easy to do.

I peeled the beets, and pureed a couple of them. When looking up the link for the Ground Cherry Hot Sauce I made last week, I ran into a beet doughnut recipe that Sarah Nett posted. They were baked doughnuts, and I have not made dessert over here in what seems like forever (in reality, it has only been a week or two). In the back of my mind I thought perhaps I could make these camouflaged enough that my boys would both eat and love them, but after trying them, I'm not completely certain they would be fooled.

I love the flavor and color, but the texture needs some work. Had I baked them in a doughnut pan (I don't have one), I think they may have worked better actually, since the texture did remind me of doughnuts. Making them as muffins instead left the bottoms slightly gummy - and I suspect I should have added a bit more flour or leavener.

If you are a baker, will you take a look at my recipe in progress and give me a couple of suggestions? I have a feeling these could be fantastic with a tweak or two...

WORK IN PROGRESS Beet Muffins (adapted from My Culinary Sanctuary)
  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. pureed beets
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. yogurt
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 T. vegetable oil (I eyeballed)
Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin tin with papers, or grease them well.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

In a medium sized bowl, beat eggs with brown sugar for several minutes, until the sugar is partially dissolved. Mix in yogurt, vanilla and oil, and beat well.

Scrape the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix well by hand, but do not overmix. Portion into the waiting muffin tin.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

slightly gummy.

I am not about to give up on these beet muffins. On looks alone, they have captured my Autumn-ready heart. I glazed them using a quick doughnut glaze that I remembered loving from the Daring Baker Donut Challenge a while back. I eyeballed small amounts into a little bowl and stirred it with a spoon. After dunking the photographic one, I just spooned a little over each. (I am frustrated with my favorite muffin papers. They used to be amazing and non-stick and now the only thing they have going for them is that they are compostable...)

So I feel productive and maybe a little less lonely on this second Monday of the school year. I'm saving my yard work for tomorrow when our weather will quickly turn to more Fall-like temperatures. My morning went fast, which I know is how these school years will go.

Please remember if you have an idea for these muffins to let me know. Could it be that they need a stick of butter? When I'm so tired tonight from getting up so early, I'm sure I'll be wide awake thinking about how to fix them.