Friday, August 26, 2011


We managed to hit huckleberry season perfectly two years in a row.  Just returned from our second trip up Graves Creek to pick huckleberries.  We hit the jackpot today.  Just look at these loaded bushes!

Today's huckleberry team consisted of my niece Elsie,

Christian, Anna and me.

Found this beautiful mountain spring along the way.

Elsie, Anna and I made a delicious pie from the huckleberries we picked on Tuesday.  I'm thinking about making some jam with the ones we picked today.

Elsie's Simple Sweets: Chilled Fresh Huckleberry Pie

On Tuesday, our huckleberry-picking crew (Ehren, Christian, Anna, Elsie, Ethan and I) picked plenty of berries for a pie.  Elsie and I found this absolutely delicious blueberry pie recipe in an old Betty Crocker cookbook and made it with our fresh Montana huckleberries.  I don't even like blueberry pie, but I loved this recipe!

Chilled Fresh Huckleberry Pie

1 empty 9-inch pie crust (bottom crust only) baked
2 c fresh huckleberries (or blueberries)
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c water
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 c grenadine syrup
whipped cream

Pour the fresh, cleaned huckleberries into the empty pre-baked pie crust.  In a saucepan, mix together the sugar, water, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt.  Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and grenadine syrup.  Pour the mixture over the blueberries and chill for one hour.  Top with whipped cream and serve.

Did I forget the most important step? 
Sneaking a few berries before you make the pie.

While baking, Elsie and I were discussing the fictional bakeshop called "Nellie's Simple Sweets" from the Courtship of Nellie Fischer, a series of books by Beverly Lewis.  We both recently read this series.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

This spring, my dad bought a few packs of sweet orange bell pepper plants. It turns out they were mislabeled. They were actually hot banana peppers.

Since my parents do not eat hot peppers, guess what?  Their loss was my gain.  Here's Anna stripping the plants of their bounty.

I've been pickling hot peppers on and off for about ten years.  It's actually quite easy.  Pickling is safer and easier than other types of canning.  The high acid environment of pickled products inhibits the growth of botulism-causing bacteria.  Therefore, you don't need a pressure cooker for processing.  My small batch took just over an hour from start to finish.  If you want to try it, here's what you'll need:

Pickled Hot Banana Peppers

7 pint jars
7 sealing lids
7 jar rings
hot banana peppers (about an ice cream bucket full), washed and sliced into rings (stems cut off)
7 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cleaned
6 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar

First wash your jars.  You can wash and sterilize your jars in one easy step in your dishwasher.  However, I never seem to time my dishwasher cycles right, so I just sterilize the old-fashioned way in boiling water.  I don't have a proper canner, so I use my big stockpot for sterilizing and processing.  Put a few inches of water in the bottom of your pot and flip the jars upside down.  Cover the pot and boil for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, start washing and slicing your peppers.  Warning:  Do not rub your eyes!  Ever!  You may want to wear gloves while slicing hot peppers because the oils get in your skin, and you can end up with burning skin for a few painful hours.  I usually take my chances, but one year, my hands were in so much pain I could hardly sleep.  Now I just try to avoid touching the seeds and juice as much as possible.  Frequently rinsing your hands also helps.

When the jars are sterilized, turn them upside down on a clean towel to dry for a bit.  Add more water to your canner (or stockpot, as the case may be), and bring it to a boil.  At this time, mix your brine in another large saucepan (6 cups white vinegar, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt, 1 tablespoon sugar), and bring it to a boil.  In a small saucepan, bring an inch or two of water to boil and then remove from heat.  Submerge your sealing lids in this hot water (the heat will help them seal better when you put them on your jars). 

When you are ready to pack your jars, add one to two cloves of garlic to each jar (depending on how big your garlic cloves are). 

Spoon in the sliced peppers.  Use the spoon to pack the peppers into the jars as tightly as possible.  Don't be afraid to press them down!  Leave about a half inch of head space at the top of each jar.

Pour boiling brine into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch head space in each jar.  Use tongs to remove the sealing lids from their hot water bath one at a time and place a lid directly on each jar.  Screw a ring onto each jar and tighten.  Place your jars into the boiling water in your stockpot and cover the pot.  Process the jars for 10 minutes (in altitudes above 6,000 feet, process for 15 minutes).

After processing, remove jars from the boiling water and allow to cool.  After the jars have cooled, check the lids to be sure each one has sealed.  Push down on the lid.  If it pops, it did not seal.  Jars that do not seal must be refrigerated and used first.  For best flavor, store jars for six weeks before using. 

Safety Tips for Pickling
- The level of acidity is essential for safety.  Never alter the vinegar/water quantities in a recipe. 
- Do not under-process your product.  Adhere to the processing times in a trusted recipe.  If you live at a high altitude, this will increase the required processing time.
- Cleanliness is very important.  Make sure everything you use has been washed thoroughly -- the counter, your tools, the produce, and of course all the jars, lids, and rings.  Sterilize your jars and keep the lids in hot water until the moment you put them on the jar.
- If you find a jar that lost its seal (the lid will "pop" when pushed) after it has been in storage, throw it out!

Uses for Pickled Hot Peppers
These pickled hot peppers are great in pasta salads and on pizzas.  I also use them in smoked salmon and cream cheese appetizers (take a Wheat Thin, spread cream cheese on it, add a piece of smoked salmon and top with a hot pepper slice).

Notes on Canning Jars
I don't buy canning jars.  I have inherited some from my mom.  Others were saved from foods I bought at the store.  If you have sealing lids and rings in your pantry, you can try them on an empty food jar before tossing the jar in the recycling bin.  For pint size jars, I have reused the jars from mayonnaise, sauces, salad dressing, and certain brands of jams and jellies.  Remember, you can reuse jars and rings, but sealing lids can only be used once. 

The pickling process I have been using for the last ten years comes from the Colorado State University Extension office.  I don't use the same varieties of peppers they describe, but otherwise I follow their pickled pepper recipe.  Also, they say that the pepper recipe will make 7 or 8 pints, but I consistently find that the brine is only enough for seven pints (and there is no extra!).  They also have an excellent list of food safety FAQs here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Cherry Tomatoes and Dirty Fingers

Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from our garden.  
What kind of real gardner doesn't have dirt under his nails?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cool Cukes

Along with tomatoes, squash and other goodies from the garden, we eat a lot of refrigerator pickles this time of year.  I make them just the way my mom taught me (thanks, Mom!).

6-8 medium slicing cucumbers
1 onion
ice cubes
1/2 cup vinegar (either white or cider)
1/2 cup sugar
pepper (optional)
celery salt (optional)

Slice the cucumbers and onions into a large bowl.  If the cucumbers are fresh and have thin skin, leave the skin on (more vitamins!).  Sprinkle the top of the cucumbers with a generous amount of salt (3-4 tbsp).  Put 6-8 ice cubes on top of the salt.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or longer, up to 24 hours).  Drain all the liquid from the bowl.  In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix equal parts vinegar and sugar.  Shake the mixture well until the sugar is dissolved (or nearly so -- sometimes it's hard to get it all completely dissolved).  Pour the mixture over the cucumbers and stir.  You can eat right them away, but it's better to let the cucumbers marinate in the vinegar mixture for at least an hour before serving.  You can also add pepper and/or celery salt to taste.  Be careful not to oversalt the pickles if you use celery salt.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, but they never last that long at our house.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sizzling Squash

With all the squash coming out of our garden right now, I keep hearing this quote from Forrest Gump in my head:  "You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There's, um, shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried...." 

We've eaten squash almost every day now for a few weeks. We are growing zucchini, yellow summer squash, round zucchini, and patty pan squash.  So far, we've had squash kebabs, zucchini bread, zucchini soup, and sauteed squash.  I'm still looking for new ways to eat it (squash gumbo, anyone?), but the garden saute is an easy favorite. 

1 round zucchini
1 yellow summer squash
1 patty pan
1 clove garlic
1 mildly hot banana pepper (seeds removed)
1 corno di toro pepper (or any sweet pepper)
Italian seasoning
olive oil
sea salt
Parmesan cheese

In a saute pan (I love my new ceramic non-stick pan), heat a few tablespoons of olive oil on medium high.  Dice the squash, peppers and garlic.  Toss vegetables into the hot oil and add Italian seasoning and salt to taste.  Saute for about 10 minutes (or shorter if you like your veggies somewhat crisp).  Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is also good with onions.  For a richer dish, replace some or all of the olive oil with butter (this browns and caramelizes the veggies a bit more).  I also highly recommend the Tuscany Blend of herbs and spices from the Oil and Vinegar store for this recipe (but unfortunately I'm out at the moment!).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's a Beauty

Ehren has been keeping close tabs on the carrots in the garden.  We've been having this conversation almost daily for a couple of weeks:

Ehren:  Can I pick a carrot, Mom?  This one looks ready.
Mom:  You could eat that one now, but we want to let it get bigger.

Finally, today, he said, "Mom, you have to see this carrot.  It's ready."  And it was. 

In Ehren's words, "It's a beauty."

It was tasty too.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  Luke 12:27

One morning last week, I was looking around the house trying to locate Christian.  I wanted to let the kids know I was running out to the garden for a minute.  In the early morning, the squash and pumpkin blossoms open wide and bright.  I just had to go out for a closer look.

It turns out that Christian had the same idea.  When I went out to our tiny pumkin patch, I found him barefoot in his pajamas crouched down among the blossoms watching the bees doing their work.

Pumpkin blossoms as big as my hand, their radiance stunning in the soft morning light and shadows.