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Sunday, July 24, 2011

made me some black raspberry syrup

homemade soda using black raspberry syrup and sparkling water
Last summer was my first shot at making home made jelly when I helped Greg preserve a batch of wild grapes. He was on a bike ride when he discovered tons of wild grapes growing on trees right along the trail he was riding on. He stuffed his backpack full of tiny little grapes and rode home with them. The idea of making jelly never interested me much (1: I don't really eat jelly. I'm more of a butter girl and 2: I always thought it was too time consuming and technically difficult for me) but the idea of Greg gathering berries on the road side as people drove past, gawking and giving him weird looks and then carefully putting them all in his backpack and riding all the home with them  strapped to his back just makes me smile. So when he asked me if I wanted to help him make wild grape jelly I just couldn't say no. I was intrigued by all the work he put into getting them. I mean, do you know how many tiny little wild grapes it takes to make just a few jars of jelly? A whole backpack full.

Anyway, That was the day I learned that jam and jelly making was not only easy, it was fun. I've made (and helped make) several batches since then.  I've made elderberry, concord grape, dandelion, and even wild violet jelly among others. My problem is that I like making jam and jelly much more than I like eating it and my family and friends no longer appreciate my jam gift giving as an alternative to real gifts. My cheapness wasn't fooling anyone.  So this year, instead of wasting all the wonderful wild berries I have access to, I have gotten the brilliant idea to make several batches of berry syrups. They can be used for all sorts of things; Flavoring drinks like lemonade, iced tea, and sparkling water, drizzling over pancakes, waffles and ice cream, even as base for sauces in savory dishes like chicken and pork. Its satisfies my canning itch and also happens to be useful rather than wasteful. Great!

The last few weeks I have been picking lots of wild black raspberries and made several jars of syrup. In one small batch I threw in a couple split vanilla beans to infuse into the berries while they were cooking. I later found that the vanilla was almost overpowering so next time I'll just use one or maybe even a half a bean. Black raspberries have such a wonderful tart, almost wine-like taste that its kind of a shame to hide it behind too much vanilla which is exactly what I did. Lesson learned.

The recipe I used for the black raspberry syrup was similar to the one at Food In Jars and that can be found here. I made two batches and modified it slightly when I added vanilla to one batch and a bit less lemon juice in the other. Just didn't have enough fresh juice so I only used about two tablespoons of that. I did follow her advice when she suggested adding vinegar to the strained berry seeds to make a berry infused vinegar. You also do not have to process or "can" the syrup if you you aren't ready for that commitment. The syrup can be stored in any container in your fridge for a month. You can also do this with any other fruit I'd imagine. Recipes are out there I bet.
this is the syrup boiling down after the seeds have been strained

pouring into jars
two batches plus two jars of raspberry vineger, which will make some kick ass vinegrette I think.
2-3 tbs syrup + 6 oz sparkling water or club soda = happiness!
Now this is the math I'm good at.
There are now lots of ripe blackberries out there. Unlike black raspberries, blackberry thorns are the approximate size of machetes so I am still contemplating risking my life to get enough berries to make a few, seemingly small, jars of syrup. Not only do I have to wear long pants and sleeves in this 90 degree weather to get to them but I also have to fight off crow-sized mosquitoes as well. For some reason, blackberry syrup doesn't seem so great at this moment in time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

i suck

I fell off the blog writing wagon. Summer has been hectic. Greg moved to Nebraska to farm much to my despair, I took a week off work to help him, then I came back and went to a week-long training for work, came back again a week later for a huge conference that my office hosted, moved out of my apartment, went back to Nebraska for the fourth of July and now I am trying to catch my breath before I head up to Michigan with Greg for a much needed break. I've done plenty of blog worthy activities-just haven't had time to write about them. This post is a desperate attempt at getting this darn thing updated. After this post I will try harder to get more regular posts up with recipes, how-to's and my usual musings and rambles but I am also going to try to enjoy my summer a little bit. 


The garden has been doing okay despite the late and rainy start. My snow peas were basically a bust. It was too wet early on and got too warm too quickly for them to produce more than an few handfuls of pea pods, which I ate immediately after picking. My radishes were ready about the time I went to Nebraska with Greg and the ones I did pull up early enough were really peppery and bitter. I don't know if it was the seed stock, the weather, or me just getting to them too late but they sucked.

garden pot at my parents' house
a couple of my zucchini

my fancy expensive organic heirloom squash...doing nothing

my one and only lonely patty pan

There are dozens-I mean DOZENS- of cherry tomato plants that were planted and there are several varieties. Black ones, green ones, yellow ones, striped ones etc., and it seems like its taking forever for the fruit to ripen. But when the do-we will probably drown in them. In addition to the cherries, there are several other tomato varieties I tried out this year. Amish paste, Mr. Stripey (really, that's the name) Cherokee Purple, Brandywine. We haven't gotten a single ripe tomato from those plants either but there are lots of flowers and green tomatoes.

My heirloom patty pan and round squash aren't producing well. The plants are small and stunted and have hardly produced any female flowers (the ones that produce the fruit) so I have harvested one tiny patty pan and no round zucchini. Those of you that read this and are in my zucchini contest should know that my mom's zucchini has so far produced over a dozen zuccs and there is no end in site. I have been trying to think up some creative ways to use them up so they don't go to waste. I've even tossed around the idea to pickle and can some of them. I've picked 6 off of my plant so far but I'm not too upset because they would probably go to waste anyway, what with my mother's zucchini glut and all. I've heard from a few of you that your zucchini isn't doing so hot either. I think its just that we went from extreme rain to extreme heat and hardly any rain too quickly and its stressed the plants. We can try again next year!

My eggplants look good, despite that only 4 of the dozen or so seedlings I planted survived. They are all beginning to flower so maybe I will have me some eggplant parm in a few weeks? I guess 6 plants is enough. Just like zucchini, you can only eat so much before you get bored with it. My herbs all look good except for the peppermint. I have no idea what's wrong with it. Its leggy and sparse and looks like it is in desperate need...... of more of something. I was hoping to dry lots of it for tea but I don't think that is going to happen. Ironically, mints are notorious for going crazy and taking over your lawn. My luck.

The most exciting thing about my gardening endeavors this year is that my mini watermelons are doing fantastic! There will be some ripe ones in the next week or two and the plants are loaded with them. My only fear is that they will all be ripe at the same time and I will have to find homes for most of them so they won't go to waste rather than eating them here and there as they ripen. My cantaloupes are also doing pretty well. The fruit seem to double in size every day!
the day I discovered the plants had fruit
2 days later
two days after that. I swear my hands are much daintier and feminine than what this picture shows.


The bees are awesome. All three hives are doing well. One is doing even better than the other two and the colony has filled an entire honey super (medium sized box) with honey. I think there will be a lot more honey to harvest this year than last and I am excited. Greg is coming back for a short time late next week and we will do a complete inspection together and probably harvest a good portion of the honey. Now the struggle will be how I am going to get my hands on all the jars needed to fill with honey. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit. I can probably come up with enough jars, but nonetheless there will be a lot more honey than last year. The extra wax will be saved and used for candles, lip balm, homemade furniture polish, etc., for winter projects.

this is the healthiest of the three hives. I went out one hot day to watch them and this is what I found. I panicked and thought that they were swarming. Turns out they do this a lot when its hot. They fan the hive and spread out to cool off.

two honey supers on top. The unpainted one is full of honey and they are working on filling up the other one. Yea! Pay no attention to the straw mess. Its a mulching job in progress to keep the weeds down. Bees don't like lawn mowers.
 In a day or so I plan to put a post up about my raspberry canning projects. So now that we're caught up, how are your gardens doing?