Archive for the 'Jams, Preserves, Conserves' Category

Thanks to the drought-ending rain and the robust activity of our honeybees, my orchard has produced a phenomenal crop of cherries, apricots, and plums this year.


Apricots are plentiful this time of year and easy to dry for snacking when the season is over

Apricots are easy to make into jam or to dry for snacking




I picked some wild plums today. They’re unusually sweet so I will make them into jam this week. I think the apricots will be ready next week. Today, I’m getting ready for jam-making by taking down cases of canning jars from the storage shelf over the washer and dryer. I’ll need to get lemons, bags of sugar, pectin, and jar lids.



I made a test batch of the wild plum jam to make sure it tasted great before canning a lot of jars

Wild plums are small like cherries



The vegetable garden is also benefiting from bee activity. The summer Italian striped squash and the crooked neck squash plants are producing squash faster than we can eat them. The tomato vines are loaded, and I expect the corn to be ready soon, too.





Nothing beats fresh summer jams to brighten a dreary winter morning. This summer, I hope to make enough to last through 2017 winter into next spring. This past winter, I ran out of apricot jam because it is the one most of our neighbors, family, and friends prefer. But thanks to the rain and the bee activity, running out of jam won’t be a problem for next year.





Like my honeybees, I’ve been busy this winter/spring, writing two nonfiction books for readers who embrace the path of yoga, healthy living, meditation, meaningful ritual, and mindfulness. To be released this year: My POCKET MEDITATIONS (July 2017) and MY DAILY RITUALS (Christmas 2017).



Check out MY POCKET MEDITATIONS, the newest forthcoming nonfiction title from Adams Media/Simon & Schuster, at


My Pocket Meditations: Anytime Exercises for Peace, Clarity, and Focus by [Lester, Meera]



COMING SOON: My newest offering in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series,  A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (Kensington Publishing, Sept. 2017).




This cozy features a mystery to be solved, a hot romance, and delicious recipes

This cozy features a mystery to be solved, a hot romance, and delicious recipes







The second novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series comes out September 27, 2016

The MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE is the second novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series


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Pomegranate Seeds–A Sweet Explosion on the Tongue

Author: Meera, September 12, 2016

Strolling through our small orchard today, I cut into a pomegranate to check on the seeds–the edible part of the fruit. To my surprise, they had turned ripe. Inside, the seeds were gorgeous red jewels, plump and juicy. The sweet juice in the seeds carries a powerful antioxidant punch, too; it’s loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin K, fiber, potassium, protein, and folate.



pomegranate seeds  lg web



You might wonder about ways of cooking with pomegranate seeds. How about tossing them into citrus or a green salad, pairing them with goat cheese on a crostini, or sprinkling a few on poached pears dipped in chocolate, or incorporate them into a Mediterranean couscous with cashews or pistachios?


I think I’ll make some pomegranate jelly–it tastes great on toast, makes an excellent foil for goat cheese, and also creates a moist and delicious glaze for chicken.


The hardest part of making the jelly is separating the seeds from the white pith that holds the seeds in place inside the leathery peel.


The jelly recipe consists of few ingredients: pomegranate juice, sugar, water, and classic pectin. Here’s how I make the jelly.








3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice (well strained to remove all the particles)


5 cups granulated sugar


6 tablespoons classic pectin





Prepare boiling water canner and wash eight to ten half-pint jars in the dishwasher.


Place rings and lids in a pan of simmering hot water.


Cut one end of the pomegranate off to expose the membranes and seeds.


Section the pomegranate and scrape the seeds out into a medium to large bowl.


Repeat the process until you had several cups of seeds.


Rinse well and then run the seeds through a juice extractor.


Strain out the juice through a jelly bag or multiple layers of cheesecloth. Note: The juice stains, so take care to protect kitchen counters and clothing.



Ripe pomegranate

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin




Put the juice and pectin into a large pot and bring to a boil, carefully stirring to blend in the pectin.


Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved and boil for one minute at a roiling boil that cannot be stirred down. Ladle off foam, if necessary.


Ladle jam into clean, hot jars leaving one-quarter inch head space. Attach hot lids and then the rings. Tighten to finger tight.


Lower the filled and sealed jars into the canner. Process for 10 minutes at a roiling boil. Remove and let cool.




*          *          *




If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).




These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.



The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series


Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.





The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016


The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley ( for professionals and readers who write reviews. The book may be pre-ordered as well. Click on the link under the image.






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How to Make Marmalade from Blood Oranges

Author: Meera, December 29, 2014



Jars of blood orange marmalade in a festive red currant color

Jars of freshly made blood-orange marmalade are a festive red currant color and perfect for holiday gift-giving



On Christmas Eve this year, I made marmalade from our blood oranges to tuck into our holiday gift baskets.


Our citrus trees are still young and the crop, though ripe, was not yet bountiful. I used almost our entire crop of 20 oranges to make 8 jars (4 ounces each) of the blood orange marmalade.


My recipe is straightforward and the steps are simple. The finished marmalade is a lovely currant color, has a sweet/tangy taste, and possesses an interesting texture made so by the inclusion of rind.



Oranges and blood oranges combine with sugar to give a sweet yet tangy marmalade

Lemons and blood oranges combined with sugar render a sweet yet tangy marmalade




2 cups orange peel (washed and thinly sliced); roughly 10 medium oranges

1 quart of chopped orange pulp; about 10-15 medium oranges

1 cup lemon (cut into thin slices and seeded); roughly 2 medium lemons

7 cups granulated sugar (the amount of sugar depends on how many cups of citrus mixture you have)

5 Tablespoons of classic pectin

Water to cover the jars by 2 inches for hot water bath processing



A large pot and a wooden spoon work well for cooking the marmalade

A large pot and a wooden spoon work well for cooking the marmalade




Place oranges and lemon into a large pot and simmer for 5 minutes.


Remove from heat, cover, and let rest for 12 to 18 hours (I place my citrus mixture in the refrigerator overnight).


Measure by cupfuls the amount of fruit mixture. Add one cup of sugar per cup of fruit mixture.


Over high heat, boil fruit and sugar for approximately 20 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.


Turn down heat and stir in 5 Tablespoons of classic pectin. Return to boil and stir until mixture thickens and gels when a small amount in placed on a frozen plate.


Remove freshly washed heated jars from the dishwasher.


Simmer lids and rings in shallow pan until ready to use.


Remove from heat and skim off any foam from the jam and then fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space in each jar.


Attach the lids and rings to the jars with a finger tight seal before submerging in the hot water canner of boiling water.


Process jars for 15 minutes before removing them to a place where they can sit undisturbed to cool.




Have freshly washed, heated jars ready for filling with the sweetened fruit

Have freshly washed, heated jars ready for filling with the sweetened fruit






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Stealing Away to Visit the County Fair

Author: Meera, July 5, 2014

My daughter dropped by for a girl’s day out at the county fair. Summer chores are endless so taking a day off riddled me with guilt–and guilty pleasure.


We strolled under ancient, white bark sycamore trees that towered 50 to 100 feet above us. The first thing we saw as we entered the arched fair-grounds gate were goat pens. The cute little milking goats drew us over, but the odor of mounds of fresh horse manure turned us away. We kept on walking.


We moseyed over to see the sheep with their docked tails (apparently sheep like to chew on the tails of other sheep, so docking the tails eliminates pain and suffering and is more hygienic). We thought the baby goats were adorable. We marveled at how the pigs appeared so pink, healthy and robust. We couldn’t help but stare at the massive bellies and large bags of the dairy cows.


Embarking on the path to the exhibit halls, we relished how cool it was inside, a veritable respite from the heat. We strolled down aisles of quilts, art by high school students, and displays of jewelry. Then it was time to check out the jams. The entries of strawberry dominated the competition, but some included jam made with fig, plum, or rhubarb.


During the dessert competition, pies, brownies, and cakes beckoned us to peer into the glass display shelves. My daughter lamented that she wished they were for sale, reminding us it was time to eat.


We passed on the roasted corn on the cob and cotton candy, choosing simple tacos and Pennsylvania Dutch-style funnel cakes. I washed my meal down with the hibiscus-flavored drink sitting next to a dispenser of white horchata while my daughter stuck with water.


Before we left the exhibit halls and animals, I wanted to see the chickens. That competition must have happened on a different day, so I wandered over to the peacock pens next to the pigeons, finches, and parakeets. The peacocks were lovely but there were no peahens.


We checked out the bunny cages (I didn’t know there were so many kinds of rabbits) and decided against even looking at the reptiles (I tend to dream about them once I see them–and snake dreams aren’t usually pleasant).


All that walking and sensory stimuli wore me out. By the time we arrived home in the late afternoon, I needed a nap. I thought a day off was supposed to rejuvenate you. Instead, mine had done me in, but the trip to the fair gave me gobs of ideas for my cozy mystery series.




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Easy Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

Author: Meera, July 2, 2014




rhubarb takes up a lot of space because of its big leaves

Rhubarb takes up a lot of garden because of its big leaves but the canes pair well with strawberries



Rhubarb and strawberries just seem to go together. Their flavors blend nicely, whether in a compote, trifle, pie, or jam. The following is a simple recipe for strawberry-rhubarb jam and uses the boiling hot water bath to preserve the jars of jam.


Make extra to tuck into holiday gift baskets or for gift-giving throughout the year.



Luscious strawberries, big, red, and ripe means it's time for strawberry jam

Luscious strawberries are easily made into  jam




2 cups strawberries (washed, hulled, and crushed)

2 cups rhubarb (roughly four stalks, chopped)

1/4 cup lemon juice

6 Tablespoons Classic Pectin

5 1/2 cups sugar




Combine the first four ingredients (strawberries, rhubarb, lemon juice, pectin) in a large pot.

Bring to a boil.

Add the sugar, stirring to blend completely.

Return the mixture to a roiling boil.

Time for one minute, stirring constantly.

Remove the pot from heat.

Skim away the foam.

Ladle the jam into hot, clean jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Apply and tighten the two-piece ring/lid caps.

Place jars into the boiling water bath canner.

Process for 10 minutes.


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Fixing Jam that Won’t Jell

Author: Meera, June 19, 2014


Apricots from the local farmer's markets arrive in late May in N. California

Apricots from the local farmer’s markets arrive in late May in N. California


It happens in jam-making. You do everything right and the jam has a lovely color, flavor, and texture but remains runny long after the jars have cooled following the boiling water process. What to do?



Apricots lmake great-tasting jams, jellies, and leathers

Apricot jam tastes great on almost any type of toast



Reprocess  the jam in small batches (a quart at a time). A quart of jam fills four (8-ounce jars) or eight (4-ounce jars). Jam needs sugar, pectin, and lemon (acid) to properly jell. A batch I recently made turned out runny and I figured the fruit probably didn’t have enough pectin.



Overripe fruit has lower amounts of naturally occurring pectin whereas unripened fruit has higher amounts of pectin. Go figure!


If the fruit is super ripe (like the lug of apricots I used), the jam will need more pectin to properly jell. It should be reprocessed within 24 to 48 hours. Beyond that time frame, consider other options like using the runny jam as ice cream topping.



Emptying jam back into a cooking pot is the first step in repairing a batch that didn't jell

Emptying jam back into a cooking pot is the first step in repairing a batch that hasn’t jelled



The initial step in the reprocessing is to remove the rubber-seal lids and pour all the jam into a pot. Rewash the jars (they will need to be hot when you put jam back into them. You’ll want use new lids, but you can reuse the rings. Heat the rings and new lids with rubber seals in a pot of simmering water.



Rings can be reused when remaking the jam, but the lids with rubber seals must be new

Rings can be reused when remaking the jam but its recommended to use new lids to ensure good seals



When the jars are ready to come out of the dishwasher) and the lids are simmering under water in a shallow pan, then prepare the sugar/lemon juice/pectin mixture. Also, place a metal spoon into a glass with water and ice cubes to test the jam after repairing it.



For each quart-size batch of jam, you will need 1/4 cup of sugar, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, 4 teaspoons of powdered pectin and about 1/4 cup of water to dissolve everything. Stir well.



Add the sugar/acid/pectin mixture to the runny jam and cook until it reaches a roiling boil, stirring with a long wooden spoon. Boil for one minute. Remove the jam from the heat.



Jam is the right consistency when it coagulates rather than runs off the spoon

Jam is the right consistency when it coagulates rather than runs off the spoon



Test the jam for right consistency by placing some onto the stainless steel cold spoon. If it clumps and hangs, not running off, it will jell correctly.



Pour the jam into the hot jars. Wipe the mouths, if necessary to ensure a good seal. Cap each jar with a lid and ring. Process the jars submerged in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, or according to your recipe.


I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve tried this process and how it worked for you. Don’t forget to tell me what kind of jam you repaired.




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Preserving Backyard Fruits and Vegetables

Author: Meera, April 23, 2014


With oranges in abundance, can jars of orange marmalade now

What country breakfast would be complete without a citrus marmalade that you preserved yourself?



California urban farmers and backyard gardeners often find themselves with an abundance of leftover fruits and vegetables since California’s harvest season spans the whole year. What to do with all that produce?



Leftover produce can be donated to a food bank or preserved through various means, including boiling water canning, pressure cooker canning, freezing, or drying.



Canning supplies (and often, dehydrators) for preserving the bounty of fruits and vegetables are available year-round at local DIY stores, Walmart, K-Mart, Sears, kitchen and cooking supply outlets, hardware stores, and natural food markets as well as specialized container stores.



Last of the batch of strawberry jam gets canned even if the jar isn't full

Strawberry jam, pictured here in a typical canning jar, tastes great on peanut butter sandwiches and toast



Boiling water canning (in which sealed jars are submerged in boiling water for a specific period of time) preserves high acid foods, including fruits, jams, jellies, tomatoes with added acid, pickles, applesauce, relishes, condiments, chutneys, sauces, fruit butters, sauerkraut, and vinegars.



Apricots lmake great-tasting jams, jellies, and leathers

Apricots are easily turned into great-tasting jams and jellies in a boiling water bath canner or dried into leathers



The 212 degrees Fahrenheit of heat in boiling water coupled with the high acid content of the food prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the organism that can cause botulism.



For preserving fresh garden vegetables, meat, seafood, and poultry (low acid foods), you’ll need to process these in a steam-pressure canner at a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit for the established time (times are listed in many canning books and university websites for food preservation) to safeguard against Clostridium botulinum and other microbes. See,



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has produced a nifty home food preservation guide that is free and downloadable from



Succulent, sweet, and juicy, these hachiya persimmons are worth waiting for

Succulent and juicy Hachiya persimmons ripen from September to November in N. California



The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) is a veritable treasure trove of information about how to safely preserve fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meat. The site also offers a self-study course and publications as well as many other resources. See



If you like dried fruit and fruit leathers, check out the NCHFP’s section on homemade fruit rolls (also known as leathers). See,



When you take the time to preserve the organic fruits and vegetables you grow and harvest, you can be sure of the quality and nutrient value of the food you and your family consume.






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Easy Orange Marmalade

Author: Meera, December 8, 2013


Jars of orange marmalade make lovely holiday gifts

Jars of orange marmalade make lovely holiday gifts



Who can resist the flavors of homemade jams? Whether it embellishes an appetizer of grilled fig and melted goat cheese or is spread upon a fat slice of fresh-baked bread, jam has power to elevate any meal to another level.


Using the seedless oranges growing on our farmette trees, I’m making marmalade. Marmalade made with the oranges ripening this time of year make great additions to holiday gift baskets. I like to add jars of honey, fresh tangerines, nuts, summer jams, and homemade treats.






4 large oranges (preferably a seedless variety)


2 medium lemons


1/2 teaspoon butter (to reduce foaming)


1/8 teaspoon baking soda


6 Tablespoons dry classic pectin


5 1/2 cups sugar


Directions for Preparing the Jars and Canner:


Wash pint jars in the dishwasher or wash the jars and screw rings in hot soapy water, rinse, and drain upside down on paper towels.


Remove the wire rack from the canner and set aside; then, fill the canner half full of water and bring to a simmer.


Directions for Making the Fruit Mixture:


Wash the oranges and lemons.


Peel the fruit, using a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife. Discard any seeds and the pithiest parts of the inner peeling as the pith tastes bitter.


Cut the peeled skins into narrow strips.


Pour water into a saucepan.


Add baking soda and strips of peel.


Bring to boil and then reduce the heat, simmering for 20 minutes and stirring as needed.


Cut the fruit into thin quarters.


Add the fruit and juice to the saucepan of simmering peelings, cover, and allow everything to simmer for 10 minutes.


Remove 4 cups of the fruit/peeling/juice mixture  and pour into a large saucepan (6 or 8 quart) or stock pot.


Stir in the pectin and add the butter and sugar, mixing well.


Bring to a roiling boil, stirring constantly, for a full minute and then remove from heat, skimming off any foam.



These jars are filled with hot fruit mixture, ready for lids and canning

These jars are filled with hot fruit mixture, ready for lids and canning



How to Can the Marmalade:


Ladle the fruit mixture into the warm, clean jars, leaving between 1/4 and 1/8 inch space from the top.


Wipe the jar rims before placing the jars on the wire rack of the canner.


Lower the wire rack of jars into the simmering water in the canner.


Make sure the jars are covered by 2 inches of water (add boiling water if necessary).


Cover with lid and boil for 15 to 20 minutes.


Turn off flame, remove the jars of marmalade, and set them onto a towel to cool.


Listen for the popping sound that signals the lids have sealed. Check lids for seal once the jars have cooled by pushing against the center of the lid. If it springs, the jar has not sealed and must be refrigerated. The marmalade will still be good to eat.


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Fresh Peaches Make Yummy Upside Down Cake

Author: Meera, July 17, 2013


Fresh Elberta peaches are firm and juicy, perfect for summer dessert

Fresh Elberta peaches are firm and juicy, perfect for summer dessert


When our Desert Gold peach trees produced a few peaches at the end of May, we picked and ate all of them.


Now it’s the middle of July, and the Elberta peaches have ripened. Many have fallen from the tree. Over the last week, I picked most of those yellow-fleshed, honey sweet fruits and made peach preserves. With the remaining peaches hanging on the tree and about to drop, I am going to make a peach upside down cake.


The recipe looks long, but it is easy to follow and the cake is reminiscent of the upside down cake my grandmother used to make on her farm, located between Columbia and Booneville, in central Missouri. She always served it with homemade ice cream, made from fresh (cow’s milk) cream. For a quick substitute, you can use a quality vanilla ice cream to complement the taste of the warm peach cake.


Peach Upside Down Cake


Three to four large peaches, peeled, stone removed, and sliced to produce 2 cups of fruit
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 Tablespoons butter
1 ¾ cup all-purpose white flour
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter (room temperature)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup milk



Preheat oven 325 degrees Fahrenheit
Grease a 9-inch square cake pan with butter.
Wash, peel, and remove pits of peaches; cut peaches into thin slices.
Combine brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 3 Tablespoons melted butter.
Add the peaches and toss to coat.
Arrange the peach mixture in the prepared baking pan.
Directions for making the cake batter:

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl.
Cream butter and sugar in a separate bowl and add eggs, vanilla extract, and almond flavoring.

Beat until well mixed.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the milk, beating after each addition to blend.



Spoon the cake batter over the peach slices taking care to spread evenly until peaches are all covered.
Bake for 55 to 65 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean.
Remove from oven and invert onto a cake plate. Allow 5 minutes for the cake to pull away from the pan and drop onto the plate. Then gently remove the cake pan. Scrape any peach slices stuck in the pan onto top of cake.
Serves six.


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Farming Prerequisite: Muscles

Author: Meera, June 7, 2013
Ripe cherries will be made into preserves or mixed with oranges for a marmalade

Preserving luscious stone fruit can involve hours of work, even when the process of canning is simple




Preserving the bounty of the orchard, garden, and hive is necessarily labor-intensive. The kitchen work is especially hard on the shoulders, back, and legs during stone fruit season because it requires hours of standing, washing, cutting, pitting, stirring, wiping, boiling, bottling, and labeling.



Apricot jam is easy to make but the fruit must be washed, pitted, and quartered first

Apricot jam is easy to make but the fruit must be washed, pitted, and quartered first



Still, I love seeing my pantry shelves stocked with jars of jam, marmalade, conserve, and honey. At last count, I’ve made (so far this season) 70 jars of apricot jam and 12 of cherry-orange conserve.



Spring honey for our family has been drained from a frame, strained, and bottled

Spring honey for our family has been drained from a frame, strained, and bottled



Harvesting honey from a hive is not exactly easy work either. My beekeeper neighbor and I removed a few frames of honey for ourselves in late May. From that work, this much I know: lifting a honey-filled super isn’t exactly for the faint of heart.



Supers full of hone are heavy to lift

Supers full of honey are heavy to lift and carry



When the hive has a second or third super on top, lifting (not moving, just lifting) the whole shebang requires a lot of upper body strength.




pile of weeds lg em




Weed pulling is another job that requires muscles. This morning I weeded for a couple of hours before I’d had enough. Some weeds can grow tenacious roots up to a foot long and the roots can also have many branches. While I use a spade or shovel often as an aid to weeding, there’s something satisfying about leaning over and pulling out a weed. It’s a compulsion I share with many gardeners.




I didn’t know when I was in my twenties and off on a pilgrimage to India that the yoga I learned there and have done ever since would pay big dividends in the farm work I do today. Joint flexibility and strong muscles are absolutely necessary for the labor-intensive work of  farming.

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