July 22, 2016

International Can It Forward Day and a Give Away

A load of cherries comes in all at once, which means a few busy days of canning. Today, Friday July 22 is International Can-It Forward Day. Ball canning company asked if I would participate and help promote their new book on home canning.

If there is one thing that I remember that my mother used to tell me, was that when it was canning day, it would always be the hottest day of the year. Today, it was near 99 degrees F here in central Massachusetts, full-on cherry season, and of course, canning day. International Can-It Forward Day, to be specific. A couple of months ago, the fine folks at Ball Canning company contacted me to see if I would be interested in participating, and I gladly accepted - even though I try not review too many products or participate in too many partnerships, there are one or two a year which come along that are a good fit - an believe me, this was a good fit. This kitchen, which was my moms from around 1940 until her death in 1997 was canning central. Anyone who knew her, knew that canning was her passion. Our cellar was full of canned goods from my parents huge garden, if you don't believe me, look at the list below. I really wanted to help the home canning movement with #CanItForwardDay. TO make the whole thing sweeter, Ball Company is donating a dollar for every like or hit, on the posts we did for them, on their website. Good people.


Needless to say, my brothers and sister always joke that we felt like slaves. Really. Most of our summers were spent weeding, picking tomatoes, peeling and prepping produce for canning which my mom called "processing'. She was a depression-era mom, and even though I was late (OK, an accident), I was able to appreciate her later years when she still canned actively. In fact, she canned nearly up to her death from Pancreatic Cancer - that summer, we helped her pick black wild raspberries and carefully cut pickling cucumbers for her well known and loved Bread and Butter Pickles. 

She was one of those women used the pressure cooker with which to can. Such pressure is needed for wild mushrooms, string beans and other low acid crops - but I, like many younger people just rely on hot water bath projects - at least for now. The old pressure cookers were plain, old scary. Mom loved her old Ball Blue Book - the circa 1960 or 1970 canning guide which the Ball company produced. The canning jars in our cellar, in our 'store room' range from versions made from around 1910 when our house was built by my grandparents, to the 1990's. So to make a long justification shorter, the Ball company logo probably should have been my first tattoo.



The folks at Ball sent me their their new canning book, The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving - which we (Joe and his nephew who is spending the summer with us) spent hours looking at. We're all guys, so food is central to our being - and it only took a day for post-it notes to appear on the pages, marking recipes such as Bourbon and Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce, or Smokey Sour Cherry Tequila Salsa. 


OK, I went a little overboard. Seven different cherry recipes ranging from BBQ sauce, to salsas, syrups, jams and pie filling. Get ready, you are about to be cherry-ized.

Ball also sent me some of their new blue- glass canning jars, similar to their vintage blue jars ( of which, we have hundreds of in the cellar, but they are the really old ones, with the glass lids.


Joe's nephew Curtis was a big help - pitting many pounds of cherries. Yes, you will need a cherry pitter. This is the most laborious part of making anything with cherries.


Cherries are guy food. I decided to participate in Can It Forward Day, even though I am not a huge social media rat (getting there - my Twitter account is growing fasssssttttt), and I was not about to try an create a Facebook Live production - )at least not yet, maybe next year - our kitchen is surely perfectly designed for it).


The new canning cookbook from Ball company is well worth getting. It's full of contemporary recipes, things you and your kids really want to can and eat - believe me. It's hip, relevant and you may want to make everything in it. All the recipes sound so good.

I decided to just choose a rather large selection of recipes from this new book - which is pretty awesome - and then do a give away - so yes - YOU could win this book!  Leave a comment here on this post, and then visit the Ball Facebook Page for #Canitforward - and leave a nice post on any post on that page. I will choose a winner Sunday night at 9:00 PM and post it on a new post. Look for it - since I sometime don't get a response! Try to use your real name too.


Cherry Pie Filling is something we usually freeze, but there is a very easy, and simple tart cherry recipe in the book which inspired me to can a dozen quarts of tart cherries. It was so good, that we decided that next year, we will can ALL of our cherries as pie cherries.

Sour Cherries and Sweet Cherries are different remember. Sometimes hard to find, one usually must grow their own tart or sour cherries, as their season is short, and regional. Thankfully, here in central Massachusetts there are a few large cherry farms which offer pick-your-own cherries (both sweet and tart), so I am able to stock up on so many tart cherries that we don't have to worry. Our cherry tree (a new North Star tree bears fruit, but the birds get them before we can). The farms here use netting, and the trees are dwarf, trained in cordons, which makes picking much easier.

OK look, this is a bit crazy and perhaps obsessive, but I (we) chose all the recipes in the book which use sour or tart cherries because they are hard to find, but also one of the favorite fruits of men - really. Second perhaps to lemon meringue. But come on -  cherry pie? yeah.



Sour Cherry Pie today was still warm and well, luscious.

The pie filling recipe from the new Ball cookbook calls for only sugar and fruit, which is then canned in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. When you want to make a pie, you only need to add cornstarch. I added the cornstarch and heated the filling first which the recipe doesn't advise, but it seemed too liquidy if I didn't thicken it first. I chilled the thickened filling, and then added it to home made crust. Home made is better for this type of pie - as I wanted a lattice top. Half shortening, half butter in case you are wondering.

I was so happy to find our lattice cutter but I couldn't find a ruler, so I use a tart pan.  It worked fine.

It was a hot day, as I said, so I brushed the chilled dough with milk like my mom did, and dusted it with sugar, and placed it in a very hot oven (425 degree F.). for only 20 minutes.

The result was rather perfect. It sliced nicely, even when warm.

Smokey Cherry Tequila Salsa - Oh yeah. Chipotle paste, fresh chili's from the garden and sour cherries topped off with cilantro, lime and onion.


The second recipe I attempted was the Bourbon Cherry  Barbecue Sauce -right? I know. It didn't feature fresh cherries, but dried ones - so this is one recipe from the book that could be made any time of the year.

The ribs made with the Cherry-Bourbon BBQ Sauce were insanely yummy! My only complaint is that the recipe only made 1.5 pints ( as many of the recipes in this book do). Hey, I get it - folks today don't have the time or energy to can 165 quarts of tomatoes, but one can always use a little math to double, triple or quadruple a recipe.

Next, it was Spicy Pineapple and Tart Cherry Preserves. A sweeter jammy concoction with a hot yet light afterburn. Delicious with sweet bread, or savory. I even tried it like a chutney on mashed potatoes but it is more sweet, than savory.


By far, my favorite recipe in this book was the Nectarine Sour Cherry Jam. Oh my gosh. I don't know where to begin.
I'm always surprised at how much sugar one must use for jam. We bough 25 lbs., and use about 6 cups per recipe.

SO here is something new - powdered pectin. Mom swore by liquid pectin, but the new Ball powdered pectin worked so well, and it is easier to use. One only needs to measure out the pectin powder by tablespoon full. One jar will go much further than a box of liquid pectin.

Jam is easy, especially when you use pectin. I still use the copper confiture but I have to admit, pectin makes the process much easier. Sometimes, mom is right.

I made 7 half pints of this Nectarine Sour Cherry Jam, but only have 4 jars left. I need to hide them for winter mornings.


I wasn't going to make this recipe, but I found it by accident hidden on a page for peaches in syrup. Sour Cherries in Ginger Syrup preserved fresh, tart cherries in sugar syrup and fresh ginger root. They mention that it is good on warm oatmeal.


Uh....yeah. It is.

After canning for the proper time, the screw tops are removed, and the jars are located to our store room in the clear - the old room with the cork door. The room smells the same as it did in 1960, 1970, 1980, etc. Keeping the tradition, going - since 1910.
I may never get the room this full as it was in 1949, but maybe I can fill one shelf! Clearly, my parents were busier beavers than I am!



July 17, 2016

My Lathyrus Species Project - A Rainbow of Rare Flowering Peas

Lathyrus annuus var. annuus, or 'Fodder Pea' has a flower color highly sought after by plant breeders looking to expand the palette of cut flower sweet peas - yellow. This species has a tiny flower, so will remain rarely cultivated, but it does have interesting foliage.

OK, arguably, the many species of Lathyrus or sweet peas are less exciting then their cousins, the hybrids and many selections of L. odoratus which we all adore. But, last February, when I announced my 'special projects' goals for the year, I mentioned that I wanted to grow a collection of Lathyrus species, and I felt that I really have to follow through. It's been a fun little project, and one which I may continue next year with even more species to trial. I've never seen a collection of peas raised in pots, in fact, I wasn't even certain if the pea species would like growing in pots, but I proceeded anyway, with my project goals (along with most of my other projects such as Phlox in pots, a collection of gooseberries and currants, and Mignonette (the Clematis in containers project was postponed for another year - Hey, I can't do it all!).

Lathyrus belinensis is a very short-vine, no more than a foot long, which I was prepared for. It makes a very nice small container plant, but it is short lived. Named n 1988, it's one of the newer species, and one I feel is the most garden worthy. It is short lived though, like most peas.

A collection of wild peas or pea species grown for their flowers seemed interesting enough, but I discovered,  seed was somewhat hard to find - so I am on the hunt for more interesting species - if you have a source, let me know. Most of these came from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas in the UK, but if you know of a better source, please share . This made the project even more desirable for me, as now I had to track down some rare species, as well as some named selections of species.


July 6, 2016

Sweet Luscious Sweet Peas - Confections on a Stick

The current craze for sweet peas might have started because of my blog, at least so I have been told, but the truth is, they are due for a resurgence with the slow flower movement. These are flowers one will never see at the supermarket or nursery due to their short life and special needs, but that shouldn't stop you from raising your own at home.

My obsession for growing Sweet Peas should come as no surprise to many of you. After all, I have grown so many over my lifetime. My long history and fascination with sweet peas in some way, began before I was even born - as my parents and grandparents raised them here in our garden. It's kind of comforting and nostalgic to think that the old soil here still contributes to the same, old vases around the house, some since 1915 or so.  Even this past Saturday, I found a bud vase which triggered a memory of my mother using for sweet peas back in the 1960's, and surely long before that as she married my Dad in 1942 and moved in with my grandparents. It was sitting along side some old canning jars inside of a storage crate under our back porch, a nice reminder and one I hadn't remembered until now.


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