Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell to 2011 - Hello 2012!

I want to wish everyone a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year! I for one will be happy to say goodbye to 2011. Life has its ups and downs and this year had an abundance of complications, illness, and a loss of a loved one.  Hopefully we can shed the gloom from 2011 and move on to more cheerfulness in 2012.

One bright spot in 2011 was the garden. It produced very well for us and we are still enjoying so much preserved bounty. Although I failed to compile a garden overview at the end of the year like I usually do, let me assure you that our basement and chest freezer are full of preserved produce grown in the garden. I am quite thankful for all that the garden spot provided for us.

Jars of canned tomato sauce, zesty salsa, grape jelly, applesauce, and string beans are stored on shelves in the basement. Also stored in the cool basement are two boxes of potatoes; several Delicata, Spaghetti, Butternut, and Pumpkin squashes; a basket of garlic, and a large bag of onions.

Our chest freezer holds some tomatoes frozen whole that can be used in soups, stews, or made into more tomato sauce or salsa. Other frozen produce include basil pesto, garlic scape pesto, Concord grapes, chopped onions, sliced celery, chopped leeks, pureed pumpkin, grated zucchini, julienned peppers, and sliced eggplant.

2011 was my second year growing from seed and I have found that I really enjoy growing and caring for seedlings in the early spring while snow covers the garden beds outside. Previously, I had purchased seedlings and the gardening season began around Labor Day. There is also much more variety to choose when growing from seed.

I am so eager to sort through my seed box and begin planning the garden for 2012.

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gifts from the Garden

It always ends up as a mad rush to Christmas. No matter how I plan or how early I begin, there is always something that I am scrambling to accomplish before the big day.

I was thrilled to be able to share jars of homemade goodies from the garden as gifts this year. I dressed up jars, made some simple labels, and presented them in gift baskets along with some small bags of tortilla chips and homemade English muffins.

In the week before Christmas, a plethora of fruit gifts graced our household. We had an abundance of Florida oranges so I thought I would can some homemade marmalade to include in some gift baskets.

I had never made marmalade before and used Janet Chadwick's recipe from The Beginner's Guide to Preserving Food at Home:
Orange Marmalade
Makes about 7 half-pint jars 
6 large oranges
2 medium lemons
6 cups water
About 6 cups sugar 
1. Wash the fruit. Remove the peel from the oranges and thinly slice. Chop the orange pulp. You should have 4 cups of thinly sliced peel and 4 cups of orange pulp. Thinly slice the lemons. You should have 1 cup of slices. 
2. Combine the fruit, peel, and water in a tall, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat to a simmer and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 12 to 18 hours. 
3. Return the mixture to the stove and cook over medium heat until the peel is tender, about 1 hour. 
4. Preheat the canner, sterilize the jars, and prepare the lids. 
5. Measure fruit and liquid. For each 1 cup of fruit mixture, add 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil, then cook rapidly until marmalade reaches 220°F or sheets off the spoon, about 25 minutes. 
6. Pour hot marmalade into the jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp cloth. Adjust the lids as the manufacturer recommends. 
7. Place the filled jars on a rack in the preheated canner. Process for 10 minutes once the water has returned to a boil. 
8. When the processing time is up, carefully remove the jars from the canner using a jar lifter. 
9. Cool sealed jars. Check seals. Remove screw bands. Label. Store.
I had some difficulty getting the mixture to reach 220°F and even used two different thermometers because I worried that one was faulty. However, the mixture did thicken up and dropped off a chilled spoon in a sheet. In fact the final marmalade ended up a bit too thick. I will know next time to trust the spoon test.

I opened a jar to give the marmalade a taste before packing it up as gifts. The flavor was very good, both sweet and bitter as marmalade should be. I was pretty satisfied from my first try and deemed the jars gift worthy.

I hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas filled with family, friends, and food.

Join others at “Thursdays Kitchen Cupboard” at The Gardener of Eden and share a what you've been baking, cooking, canning, drying, or how you have used some of your preserved garden bounty.