Dried Plums : To Crack or Not to Crack

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Crack, definitely crack (it’s not whack) your plums before placing them in the dehydrator. But first, please accept the fact that dried plums are not prunes. They are amazing; no weird texture or strong taste. Drying is an excellent way to preserve a bumper crop of plums for the long winter months. Sweet bites!

What is cracking? Basically, blanching but also known as checking. The intention is to break down the touch skins with a waxy-like coating to make for faster dehydration. Cracking is achieved by dipping or placing the whole fruit (such as plums, prunes, grapes, figs, cherries) into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds then place, run under or dip into cold water to stop any cooking. You might do this same thing when making tomato sauce and removing the skins. You do not need to or probably want to remove the skins for making sweet little dried plums. Cracking shortened drying time by at least 8 hours, for a total drying time of about 20 hours for plum halves.

Here is a pile of cracked/checked plums from the backyard destined for the Snackmaster

Other tip for drying plums (that I did not do) is to place them skin side down for easier removal. In addition, you can pretreat the fruit with lemon juice. I did not this time around to no apparent detriment.

Can you spot the uncracked plums?

Other Plum Ideas:

Tart Plum Pie Filling

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This year was a bumper backyard plum year. I still have plum butter and savory plum sauce left in the pantry, so in search of new recipes that use a lot of plum, stumbled across pie filling idea at the Local Kitchen blog. Thank you for the inspiration! Here is my execution of this easy preserved pie filling – hot water bath canning is optional. I think it will freeze wonderfully and I put a jar into my fridge for almost immediate use. Too tarty? Add sugar to your liking when ready to bake the pie. This will vary with plum variety etc. I used mostly sugar plums, but a few Italian and also yellow egg (I think).

Tart Plum with Cardamom Pie

Filling:

  • 7 lbs plums cleaned up and chopped (remove pits, stems, keep the skin!), very forgiving if a little over or a little under; use any kind
  • 1 lemon for zest and juice
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, love organic!
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom, could also use cinnamon and nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt

Crust

  • Premade pie crusts, top and bottom
  • 1 tablespoon cream or half & Half
  • 1 tablespoon sugar and two pinches of cardamom
  • Or make you own J

You will also need some cornstarch or thickener [e.g. ClearJel] to use when ready to bake the pie. I did not add before canning, although you can add ClearJel at this point, but not cornstarch. Just make a note on your label what you did or did not do.

Instructions – Filling

  1. Combine your prepped plums and sugar. Add them to the sugar as you chop to help keep their color and start the maceration process. I had the luxury of time and let mine macerate (such a on odd word on the tongue) overnight in the fridge. Try to let them mingle for at least an hour.
  2. Add lemon zest, ground cardamom and salt to macerated sugary plums. Mix to coat. Keep letting sit around if you have time. The longer it macerates the more syrupy/liquid.
  3. Get all your stuff ready if planning to can the filling [jars, lids, hot water etc]. Quart jars are the right size to make a full size pie.
  4. Pour off the syrupy liquid into a large non-reactive pot. Bring to a rolling boil for 3-4 minutes. It will start foaming, so be sure to skim the foam off.
  5. Add the plums. And bring again to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. The goal is soft fruit and a more thick consistency.
  6. When you are ready to fill the jars, keep it at a simmer and use a funnel to fill jars. Leaving an 1 inch of headspace. Seems like a lot but trust me you need it.
  7. Remove the bubbles and all the other proper canning techniques. Process in hot water bath for 30 minutes.
  8. OR you could freeze in quart bags/containers. This will make somewhere between 3-4 quarters so you might have a funny little bit left.

Pie!

  1. I am a believer in pre-made pie crusts – sorry if that lets you down. Buy a high quality, preferable organic pie crust and follow their directions. I am just not awesome at homemade pie crusts, unless doing hand pies or “rustic” versions [read: ugly]
  2. Heat up pie filling in a sauce pan and if you need to thicken it with cornstarch or other thickener like Clear Jel. Now is time to sweeten, adjust any spices etc. I also hade a few random plums on the counter that I chopped up really small and tossed into the filling while heating.
  3. I baked it with a double crust (bottom and top). Before putting in the oven coat the top crust with a little bit of cream and sprinkle with some cardamom and sugar. Make a few slits and bake at 425 for about 45 minutes. Halfway through you will need to cover the edges with tinfoil so they do not burn.
  4. If possible let it cool before serving. If you just can’t wait [like me], it will be a bit runny but still amazing with some ice cream or whipped cream!

Enjoy this easy canning recipe! I will be trying with other fruits as well – pear anyone?

Pots of Potatoes : Container Gardening

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I did an experiment this year, planting some organic potatoes I had purchased that had sprouted eyes. Nothing to lose as though would be composted otherwise and not at risk of growing some weird GMO capsule, I put my sprouted potatoes in pots, and covered with dirt. Once the plants starting growing, I just covered up most the green leafy plant, repeating this until recently when the plants began to die back. When growing potatoes be careful to not over water and caution with free planting in a bed, you might have potatoes forever, they are harder to harvest and you risk slicing them with a shovel. Planting in a pot was really easy. I haven’t harvested them all, I could feel around in the dirt a few are still pretty small but so far, I have recouped at least the same number I planted and NO they aren’t the same ones. [sheesh!] I’d call it a win. Here’s an alliteration with more details -

Potato Process in Pictures

Sprouted potatoes, not all ended up growing

Big pot, layer of dirt and chicken supervision

Also planted them in a green ceramic pot, sprout/eye side up.

No, you do not need to use a cage for the plants, these are in the pots to keep the chickens out. They love digging up anything I just plant.

Now just wait…. And cover most of green plant with dirt. Wait. Cover. Water every now and then.

Viola! Not too shabby, although in total, not near as many potatoes as with real seedling potatoes. If it is potato planting time and I have some on my counter with eyes I will put them in the ground, but likely add in some official seedlings for greater yield. I am expecting about 3-5 lbs from about 1 lb of seedlings. Have you experimented with potatoes? There are so many ways to grow them….

 

 

No Bake Almond Apricot Chocolate Cookies

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Thank you Martha S. for the sweet treat inspiration and no-bake revival. I made a few tweaks just to be different and use up some items in the pantry. These no bake cookies are delicious and probably a touch better for you from a macrolevel but so good you will want to eat more than a responsible portion…. Enjoy!

Apricot Chocolate No Bake Treats

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond butter (smooth or crunchy)1/3 cup honey (more or less depending on how sweet you are)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (less if your almond butter has lots of oil or is more liquidy)
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked
  • ½ cup toasted almond slivers or chopped bits, reserve a tablespoon for topping
  • 1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Generous ¾ cup chopped dried apricots, figs, strawberries, cranberries or other favorite dried fruit; reserve some to sprinkle on top
  • ½ tsp coarse sea salt

Ingredients are flexible as this isn’t a precision recipe. Experiment!

Instructions

  • Toast the almonds. I use slivers, put them in the large saucepan you will eventually use for recipe, turn up the heat and stirred around until aromatic and lightly browned. Pour almonds into a bowl and set aside. You can also toast in the oven.
  • Prepare your pans, if making bars. Line bottom and sides of a 7 x 11 or 8 x 8 pan with large sheet of parchment paper. You could also make these as drop cookies. Still use a piece of parchment paper on cookie sheet so that the treats are easy to move once cool.
  • Melt honey and almond butter over medium heat. Stir often.
  • Turn down the heat and begin adding handfuls of chocolate chips to the mix, stirring to melt.
  • Start to add butter in tablespoon increments. Stop when it seems fluid enough to mix in salt, oats, almonds and apricots. You can add remaining as you go if it feels to thick.
  • Pour or scoop mixture into prepared pan and press out evenly or drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Top with reserved almonds and apricots. Chill for at least an hour.

  • Enjoy! These little bites are quite satisfying.

 

Easy Twine Wrapped Pot DIY

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All you need is sixty minutes, some sisal rope/twine, plastic pot liners and a hot glue gun to create these simple, inexpensive and eye-catching pots. Each pot cost less than $3.50 each and if you are able to recycle items around your home the cost would be even less. I used cuttings from plants I already own. Philodendron and spider plants are easy to propagate. Of course, you can adapt this method for all sorts of pots and containers. Try wrapping twine or rope around terracotta pots, tin cans, glass jars etc. From here you have yourself some beautiful vases, planters, pots or standalone deco items. I am also experimenting with making ‘rope’ or ‘yarn’ from scrap fabric. Have fun, try not to burn yourself with hot glue and share your results with me in the comments!

Set of Three Wrapped Pots – Supplies

  • 8 inch plastic plant saucers
  • 100 feet 48 lb ½ inch sisal rope
  • Hot Glue Gun/Sticks
  • Indoor plants/soil
  • Scissors
  • Sixty Minutes

Instructions:

  • If your plant saucer has a lip, you can trim this off with scissors if you like. I did them both ways and it turned out just fine but I think cutting it off is easier and was less likely to create gaps around the top. You can also trim the plastic saucers to a custom height.
  • Decide if you want to cover the base of the pot. I covered the base on one of the three but not the others, in part because I would have needed more rope and it is not visible in the area I am using.
  • Do NOT plant the saucers first, like I did. ……. I dilly dallied around and need to pot the plants and couldn’t quite decide how to spruce up the bathroom initially. It made the process a bit more challenging but I still made it in an hour.
  • If wrapping the bottom, trace out a pattern on some paper and then start wrapping up the rope gluing a lot in the beginning and then less, little dabs every few inches until the circle of rope is one rope wrap larger than then the base. I put some additional glue all over the top to hold together and then stuck the sauce down on top. Now keep wrapping and gluing intermittently all the way up the pot.

  • To wrap the sides, glue down the end of the rope to the pot then start wrapping. I overlapped the rope slightly when all the way around the first time to hide the start. I glued a lot more at the base to get is secure so that I could wrap it tighter and quicker going up. Do not overdo the glue, you don’t need every inch attached. Wrap and glue. Wrap and glue.
  • To end the wrapping I overlapped about a ¼ inch and then cut a 3 -4 inch tail and tucked it down into the pot, gluing it inside. You could also tuck it under itself or just stop when wrapped and cover the end with some buttons or other doo dads.

Done!

 

Preserving Figs: Jam and Boozy

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Fresh figs are a fine treat and preserving them opens up many more possibilities, from dried to newton to jam to pudding. I covet (yes, I know) my neighbors majestic fig tree and this year made it out in time to harvest about 10 pounds of green figs in 10 minutes. I am not sure of the exact varietal but think it might be a Kadota, Desert King or lattarulla (Italian honey fig) based on climate and description. I honestly hadn’t put much thought to figs (a flying fig?), other than I loved to eat them in any presentation but especially as a jam with cheese. Do some research for your self about this complex inward blooming druplet. Now let us get down to figgin’ business [groan].


Sultry Fig Jam

This recipe is made a tad bit sultry by adding balsamic vinegar. Inspired by Put Em Up by Sherri Vinton

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of figs, any edible variety
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup nice quality balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup commercial lemon juice
  • ½ orange for zesting

Makes about 4 cups and doubled well, just increase time to reduce.

Instructions

  • Prepare the figs by trimming off the stems and halving or quartering the fruit.
  • Add them to a large nonreactive pot, add the water and heat it to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until the fruit is really soft. You then can mash up by hand (potato masher) or use an immersion blender, on low, pulsing.

  • Add the sugar, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Keep it at a simma’ and stir frequently for 20 to 30 minutes, until it becomes thicker than honey. You can use the gel test or my favorite, guessing. About 10 minutes before done, zest in your orange peel.
  • Ladle into jars (smaller is better for sharing), leave about ¼ inch headspace and process using a hot water bath method for 10 minutes. If you have never canned please take a class or do more research on safe canning practices, as I do not expound on them here….

Enjoy this sophisticated jam served alongside cheese, on buttered toast or stirred into yogurt. You could even use as a marinade or filling for cookie (think jam thumbprints!)

Options: add in candied ginger, simmer a 2 inch cinnamon stick (then remove), fresh or dried apricot or really play up the orange flavor.

Boozy Figs in Honey Syrup

Boozy is optional but figs packed in honey syrup is a must. Inspired again out of Put Em UP! I cannot wait to try these out. I am thinking to smoosh and spread on a cheese plate or warmed up and served over ice cream. Black Mission figs are in the stores right now and for color/interest I used them in combination with my green figs. If all else fails, they look pretty in the jars.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of figs, stemmed, washed
  • 1 cup of honey
  • ½ cup Cointreau or other favorite liquor (thinking brandy or bourbon)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Commercial lemon juice, enough to put a tablespoon in each pint jar
  • 2 cups water plus more for initial simmer
  • Optional orange zest

Makes 3-5 pints, depends how good you are at packing the jars and how much syrup you have.

Instructions

  • Place the prepared figs in a saucepan and cover completely and then some with water. Bring this to a boil and then just simmer for 2 short minutes. Drain.
  • Combine the honey, sugar and water in small pan and bring to a quick boil. Pour syrup into larger pan with the figs, add the booze and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Do not over cook them or they will be even more fragile. Turn off the heat but you can leave the pot on the burner.
  • Have your pint jars all prepared (clean hot and ready) and add a tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar and the orange zest if you like. I used my wire egg yolk separator to scoop up each fig and place into the jars. Ladle or pour in the syrup into each fig filled jar, leaving about ½ inch of headspace. Put the lids on and swirl and invert to make sure that there are not air bubbles lurking. Take the lid off and remove bubbles as needed. You might need to add more syrup too. I poured the warm syrup into a large glass measuring cup and then poured. It was easier than ladling with this recipe.

  • Process the boozy figs for 45 MINTUES (yes, fourty five) in a hot water bath. Why so long? Do not question; just figgin’ do it… because you are packing lightly cooked whole fruit and figs are really low acid.

Some Figalicious Resources

  • Seattle Can Can: recipes, classes, references
  • No post on figs would b complete without mentioning the world renowned fig knowledge repository – www.figs4fun.com
  • Wikipedia – for lots of big words and interesting facts
  • Excellent overview of the canning process

Sorry for the fig puns….

National Honey Bee Day!

Out celebrating National Honey Bee Day this morning…. Here are some photos and quick videos. No stings either!

Happenings at the hive entrance (video clip, complete with buzzing)

Quick video clip of my honey bees being busy on the inner cover. Note: this is actual bee speed. It was a warm day and they had some fanning and communicating to do (about me entering the hive). They slow down more when I starting working in the hive (read: smoked). This year I have really tried to be light with the smoke. I think that some of my stings last year were from over smoking and really angering the girls. Fight the urge! I use cut up coffee bean burlap bags for fuel.

Another video of two of my girls gather some pollen and nectar off of one of my lemon queen sunflowers (photo above, part of the Great Sunflower Project). It is so interesting how the wings showed up.

Lastly – sweet reward for everyone. I cleaned out some burr comb that had honey it before adding a new box (I think the honey harvest will be a good one this year). Had a sweet snack for myself and put the container back out later for the girls to clean out.

 

Other fun bee and hive posts:

 

Quick Upcycle Ideas: Glass Mulch and Beehive Planters

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Here are two quick ideas to spruce up your yard or garden or balcony.

Recycled Glass Mulch

Taking a boring little step from weedy and drab to cheerful, blue and weed free. We have this great step down into the back yard that originally I grew thyme in as a steppable ground cover. That was until we got chickens, who massacred it. It has sat empty, save for the weeds, for quite some time now. The hubs threatened gravel, but that just would not have added anything to the area. Marbles? Too perfect and round. Finally, came up with idea of glass. Actually, I really wanted sea glass or tumbled vintage blue and white porcelain pieces BUT after pricing that out, decided shades of blue and green glass would be fabulous. Naturally, I wanted to DIY the tumbling (why must you make it so complicated!) but again it would have taken eons and/or required acquisition of a cement mixer or an ocean. Enter internets and recycled fire pit or landscaping glass. Click, ship and happy hubs! You can also find at landscaping supply stores. Note the varying types of sunlight and angles I used – violating good bloggy DIY photo etiquette.

I am quite pleased with the results. It is easy to pick out debris and the chickens have ignored it so far. I do wish that more of the pieces where larger than ½ inch, but I can add those in over time along with sea glass I collect when beachcombing and other durable lovelies.

Recycled Beehive Planters

I absolutely love beekeeping in top bar hives: bees seem calmer (or is it me?), no stooping (over a fiery caldron of pissed off ladies), no heavy lifting…. However, I just seemed that my particular version, while aesthetically pleasing, lacked sufficient volume for the bees to thrive. The first few pictures are right when they were new, not weathered. After a few years of failing to make it through the winter, I stopped using them. Not wanting to discard them and not feeling right selling them and enjoying upcycling and repurposing, I turned them into planters in two steps. Add dirt and add plants. Actually I had to remove the stand and added some packing peanuts to the bottom for some drainage and to keep it a little lighter for moving. But it was really that simple – left remnant honeycomb and propolis, for authenticity.

No empty top bar beehive hanging around? Do not fret! You can check Craigslist or simply look at other things that could hold dirt, maybe drain a little bit (or hold some rocks in the bottom for drainage) and just try it out. Think, wine crates, drawers, tin coffee cans, wheelbarrows, wagons etc….. A simple can of spray paint can transform a lot. Here is a link to simple transformation we did a few years ago on some IKEA pots.

You can also use Langstroth hive boxes to make beehive planters – perhaps some boxes that are pretty beat up or maybe boxes from a diseased colony. I used a few to make dirt bath areas for the hens….not that they use them.

How do you recycle your beehive boxes?

Reach & Read: Saving the World

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Book Review: Saving the World By Julia Alvarez

As promised by my co-worker, this is a beautiful story. What impressed me was how different of plot and approach this book was than her other book I have read, In the Time of Butterflies -still some ‘Latin flare’ but decidedly different. Julia weaves her two parallel story lines (love!) set hundreds of years apart to illustrate the innate need to belong and make a difference in the world around us. Learning about Balmis and his application of Jenner observations and the scientific method to spur the eradication of small pox was refreshing and always tickles that pharmacy geek in me. As always seems to be the case, there is some bee or chicken reference, Saving the World is no exception.

1880s: “I had scooped the honey from the hive, tasted its sweetness, but now the worrisome bees were after me. My mind was full of unease.” [p.65] Worrying is a family trait and this really describe that visceral feeling as you slowly build your mountain out of the proverbial molehole.

Modern day: “We belong to the people who love us.” [p.89] Alma lives this to the bitter end in her half of the book. Not much more can be said about this – now just ponder.

Consumed this book on vacation at our lakeside cabin. The adorbs bee flower pot features my nephews foot print. I could just eat him right up!

Reach & Read: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures – By Anne Fadiman

Remember my list of great books from my law professor? Here is another off the famed book list (see the December review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).

Anne Fadiman pens an eye opening book taking a mile deep plunge into Hmong culture, with intense focus on its intersection and collision with Western Medicine. This book should be a graduation requirement for ALL working in the health care industry. Beyond the exemplifying the Swiss Cheese model, the book highlights the immense impact culture beliefs and norms bring to definition and pursuit of health. Anne provides a very detailed desscription of Hmong culture and belief, all of which was new information for me, despite some misdrawn parallels between Hmong and Vietnamese (the hub’s story). She also provides a different view of several social issues that should be extrapolated beyond Hmong including foster care, child protective services, end of life, literacy, race, discrimination, family and immigration.

From personal experience, it is challenging to incorporate different ideas and cultures into Western Medicine, in part because of rules and regulations that make accommodation challenging if not a liability but also due to lack of scientific “rigor” around long held belief systems and practices, especially when they are so difference from our own. This book will definitely challenge your thinking and while I could wax poetic on the subject, I will spare you. Short of it: I still believe in the need and practice of evidence based medicine, in fact more scrutiny and value and less industry and money is needed, however, we as a system need to find a way to allow for some art, take time to step back and reflect if a plan/practice makes sense (example: antiseizure regimen for Hmong child) or if there is another way to achieve the same end and continue to work to meet closer to the middle with patients.

This book does have themes of handicrafts, urban farming and chickens, albeit as sacrifices, but as per usual, lead me to wonder what connection might be out there between the Hmong and bees? Well the internets do not disappoint, granted I was looking more for a legend. I came across the “Yellow Rain”. In the early 1980s, the US accused the then Soviet Union of supplying chemical warfare agents (t-2 mycotoxin) to Vietnam and Laos. Refugees from these countries, which include Hmong, reported a yellow liquid falling from the sky, presumably planes, hence yellow rain. The US purported thousands have been killed, yet the Soviets denied the allegation and the UN found it inconclusive evidence. Eventually samples made their way to some independent scientists who deduced that Yellow Rain, was in fact honeybee poop. Honeybees do not defecate in their hives, so some of the first days they are out and about, in particular after an extended stay in the hive, they take much needed “cleansing flights”. As a result, with my bee jacket to prove it, yellow rain falls. It is plausible that a large number of bees flying overhead could generate Yellow Rain and panic, consider the effects of warfare in Laos and Vietnam at the time.

Resources to learn a little more:

There is also mention of honey and beeswax as part of the funeral ceremony, a passage describing how the deceased is leaving this world.

[…]When the columns of life crumble, my veins and vessels sever.

My flesh disintegrates, melting away like honey and bee wax;

My bones decay, becoming as fragile and brittle as the stalks of dry hemp.

In this way, the road has opened up for me to be on the way.

Her V. Hmong Cosmology: Proposed Model, Preliminary Insights. Hmong Studies Journal, 2005, 6: 1-25.

 

So what else is on this great medical law and ethics reading/viewing list?

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