Swimming in Fruit

Author: Meera, July 12, 2017

Our cherry trees became so heavily laden with fruit this year I couldn’t work fast enough to make the fruit into cookies and pies and jars of jam, conserve, and chutney.

 

 

What fruit the birds and squirrels didn’t devour ended up drying on the trees and looking like ornaments. I’m heartened that at least the wildlife will have something to forage on through fall and winter.

 

 

Once cherry picking season is over, I can hardly face another  piece of cherry pie (no matter how flaky the crust).

Ripe cherries make a lovely filling for a delicious  pie

 

 

 

The apricot trees did a massive drop of their fruit and seemingly all at once. I made more jam than we’ll probably eat, dried some, and gave away more than a few full  buckets of cots to neighbors and friends. I also had to do a messy cleanup of fruit on the ground.

 

In the cycle now are the summer peaches; so, here I go again  . . swimming in fruit.

 

 

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

Ripe Elberta peaches are perfect for eating fresh or preserving

 

Next year, I’m going to get my act together early with  teams of backyard pickers who can help me remove the fruit, divide it, and distribute it. Right now, however, I’ve got peaches to pick and preserve. The summer pears and figs will be next.

 

 

Pick Bartlett pears before they get soft and ripen in a bag to get peak flavor

Pick pears and ripen in a brown bag to two days for peak flavor

 

 

I’m not complaining; I’m enthralled that all this bounty is due to the work of our industrious little honeybees. All this fruit and I haven’t even mentioned finding time to harvest honey. Yet, the bees don’t stop, so neither will I.

 

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics like keeping bees and chickens, caring for an orchard, or growing heirloom herbs and vegetables, check out my mystery series from Kensington Publishing (due out September 26, 2017).

 

 

These novels feature a whodunnit for you to solve and are filled with farming facts, trivia, and delicious recipes. The novels and my other books are available in traditional and online bookstores everywhere. Seehttp://tinyurl.com/yb42zd2d

 

Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

A mystery on a N. California winery

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available September 27, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

BEELINE TO MURDER, the first in a series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s Not to Love about Edible Figs?

Author: Meera, September 8, 2016

Many backyard gardeners start checking their fig trees this time of year for ripe fruit. Most figs grown for their fruit bear two crops a year (spring and fall). When figs are ripe, the globular fruit becomes soft and hangs downward from the branch. This fruit will not ripen on the windowsill or in a paper bag, so picking fruit while it is still firm is not advised.

 

ripe figs sm web

 

I grow White Genoa, Adriatic, and Brown Turkey figs on my farmette. One of my nearest neighbors grows the Mission fig, which is a very large tree taking up most of his backyard. This time of year, his tree is heavily laden with purple-black fruit. Throughout the fall, that Mission fig tree is frequently visited by the birds, squirrels, and raccoons that eat the fruit.

 

Cooks appreciate the versatility of figs for cooking. There are many ways to prepare them. Grilled figs are delicious when served on a crostini with a dollop of goat cheese and drizzled with honey. The pulp can be used to make fig bars and other types of cookies. Luscious, juicy figs may be made into chutney or jam, baked in cakes, paired with almonds in a tart, sliced into salads, grilled with lamb, or served simply with port.

 

Fig trees are easy to grow, too. They need full sun and good drainage; many cultivars are drought tolerant. Lightly prune as necessary in winter. Enjoy.

 

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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

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for professionals and readers who write reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simple Strawberry Jam

Author: Meera, June 1, 2015

I visited the Clayton Valley Farmer’s Market on Saturday and picked up six baskets of large strawberries trucked up from Watsonville, about a two-hour drive from my farmette.

 

Of the various cities claiming to be the strawberry capital of the world, Watsonville surely must rank as number one because it produces tons of berries to support its claim–California produces eighty percent of strawberries in America. Many, if not most, come from Watsonville.

 

Those berries in the green plastic baskets at the farmer’s market were huge and delicious and sweet. Perfect for making into  jam. Strawberry jam, seemingly, is everyone’s favorite, and this year I’m making some extra batches.

 

The recipe is quite simple, with only five ingredients.

 

 

Each jar will sound a pop when it has correctly sealed

Each jar will sound a pop when it has correctly sealed

 

 

STRAWBERRY JAM

 

Ingredients:

 

6 1/2 cups of washed, sliced strawberries (about 2 quarts, plus a little more)

 

1/4 cup thinly sliced lemon peel

 

7 1/2 tablespoons powdered pectin

 

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

 

6 cups granulated sugar

 

 

Directions for Preparing Jars:

 

Place nine jars in the dishwasher.

 

Simmer the rings and lids in a skillet on low heat.

 

Fill the hot-water canner with water enough to cover the jars by two inches. Bring the water to a boil.

 

 

Directions to Make Jam:

 

Slice the lemon peel off and remove any remaining white membrane from the peel.

 

Slice the lemon peel into thin strips.

 

 

Thinly peel lemon skin imparts its subtle flavor to the jam

Thinly peeled lemon skin imparts a subtle flavor to the jam

 

 

Place lemon peel in a small pan, cover with water, and boil for five minutes.

 

Drain the water off the lemon peel.

 

In a large pot, combine lemon peel, strawberries, pectin, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil.

 

 

strawberries (here, sliced, not crushed) marry with the lemon peel strips for flavor

The lemon peel enhances the strawberry flavor and helps preserve the intense red color

 

 

Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved and then bring the pot to a roiling boil.

 

Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to avoid the jam sticking to the bottom of the pan.

 

Remove the jam pot from heat and skim off any foam as needed.

 

Remove the jars from dishwasher and turn upside down on a paper towel. Before filling the jars, wipe around the jar mouth to remove wetness and turn upright to fill.

 

 

The canning process last for 15 minutes boiling time

Steam rises off the jars during the 15-minute boiling period to process the jam

 

 

Ladle the hot strawberry jam into each jar, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe any jam spilled on the jar lip that might void a good seal. Then set the two-piece caps in place and screw tight. Process in the hot-water canner for 15 minutes.  Makes 9 jars.

 

 

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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

 

 

 Ingredients:

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

 

 

Directions:

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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Crafts You Can Make from Your Backyard Garden

Author: Meera, May 12, 2014

Invariably, when fall and winter holidays roll around each year, I find myself wishing that I’d planned ahead and utilized more raw materials from the garden for gift-giving. If you have had a similar experience, here are some ideas for turning what you grow into heart-warming gifts.

 

 

Seeds from your picture postcard-perfect giant sunflowers can be gifted

Seeds from the heads of giant sunflowers make great gifts

 

 

At summer’s end, harvest the seeds of your favorite flowers like cosmos, sunflowers, nasturtiums, zinnias, and even vegetables. Dry and re-package into paper envelopes that you hand-stamp, emboss, or otherwise embellish for gift-giving. Be sure to include information about how to grow the plant.

 

 

 

Rose petals, Spanish lavender, and French perfume lavender can all be used to make a flower essence

Rose petals, Spanish lavender, and French perfume lavender can be used to make a flower essences or potpourri

 

 

Flowers and herbs, picked at their zenith, can be turned into potpourri, fragrant soaps, soothing lotions, and skin moisturizers.

 

 

If you keep bees in your backyard garden, consider using the extra wax for dipping candles. Of course, honey is highly prized for its healthful properties, so be sure to jar up plenty of honey for gift-giving occasions.

 

 

Vines, berries, and pine cones are easily transformed into wreaths and dry arrangements.

 

 

A bottle of vodka, gin, or other spirits can be transformed into a gourmet gift by the addition of sun-ripened berries, herbs, vegetables (such a cucumber), or fruits and then stored in a dark, cool place for at least six weeks.

 

 

Gourds make lovely bird feeders and bird houses.

 

 

California chili turns red when ripe

Dried chilies can be made into wreaths

 

 

Just imagine the delight a dried-pepper wreath, a garlic braid, or jars of dried beans and seeds might evoke.

 

 

Make sheets of homemade paper, incorporating  colorful rose petals, lavender, or pansies. Making paper is easy if you have a blender, some scraps of paper (junk mail works), and water.

 

 

Seed cakes, created from crunchy peanut butter, seeds, nuts, and dried fruit, make great gifts for bird lovers who can place them near feeders during the cold months when the bird must vigorously forage for food.

 

 

A Shropshire Lad adds color to the back yard

Re-potted cuttings of your garden favorites make lovely gifts for other gardeners in your family or circle of friends

 

 

 

Take cuttings in fall or early spring from your roses, dip the cuttings into root hormone, and plant the cuttings into a pot of soil that you keep damp until the roots have formed.  Or dig bulbs (bearded irises, for example) and place in a tin for gift-giving.

 

 

Preserve jars of pie-filling, do up crocks of pickles, or create mouth-watering chutneys and special relishes. Wrap the jar lids in gingham and ribbon. Use hot-water canning of fruit and citrus into jam, jelly, and marmalade. Place jars of these items into a  food basket, made festive with the addition of colorful tea towels or tissue paper and ribbon.

 

Use clean, dry corn husks for tamale-making, or craft them into corn husk dolls.

 

 

With a little forethought and advance planning, you’ll have plenty of backyard bounty to harvest and turn into gifts for almost any holiday or special occasion.

 

 

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Divine Desserts and Holiday Cheer

Author: Meera, December 25, 2013

 

The baskets are filled with fudge, jams, honey, fresh fruit, and other treats

The baskets are filled with fudge, jams, honey, fresh fruit, and other treats

 

 

We decorated festive holiday baskets for family and friends this year, filling them with tangerines and oranges from our trees, juicy apples, jars of summer fruit jams, and honey. Of course, no holiday basket would be complete without a batch of homemade fudge, some sugar cookies, and bottle of apple cider or a favorite cordial.

 

The coconut cream pie piled high with whipped cream and toasted coconut is always a hit for Christmas dessert

The coconut cream pie piled high with whipped cream and toasted coconut is always a hit for a Christmas dessert

 

 

Some of our baskets were delivered on Christmas Eve; others we took with us to a family gathering on Christmas day. I’ve been told that the baskets are much appreciated, more so, since they include homemade treats made with love.

 

 

Holiday cookies are always fun to decorate

Holiday cookies are always fun to decorate

 

 

Christmas Eve day my son and I spent most of the day in the kitchen, baking and decorating the cookies, toasting coconut for the pie, and assembling the trifle for our Christmas day dinner.

 

 

The trifle bowl went missing this year (we think it was mistakenly taken home by someone after our Thanksgiving feast). But it didn’t really matter since we could make the trifle and put it in any glass bowl that might be deep enough to hold the layers of pound cake and seven cups of various fruits and berries.

 

 

The trifle still looks pretty, even if the trifle bowl went missing this year

The trifle still looks pretty, even if the trifle bowl went missing this year

 

We didn’t cook the Christmas dinner this year–my daughter did. But we supplied some a few desserts and a lot of Christmas cheer. Some might say we were blessed with beautiful weather (hovering close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), but I’d say it’s a mixed blessing–those high, firm peaks of whipped cream in on the trifle and pies will surely soften and sag during transport. But the desserts will still taste divine.

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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.

 

RECIPE FOR ORANGE MARMALADE

 

Ingredients:

 

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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