Homemade fixin’s for family

Are you busy yet? This season of the year comes on with such a rush that it is hard to take time to enjoy it! Those who can and/or freeze food for the coming months are counting jars to see if there is enough of each fruit or vegetable to last the winter. It would be easier of one had a menu for each meal for the coming months – just count the number of the ingredients – but who in the world has the time or energy to do that! So, we estimate or just can and freeze everything in the garden until it is gone or frosted, whichever comes first or we get tired of messing with it all. Food put up at home is better for one’s family but it does have a heavy labor price. At least, one knows what is put into each jar and there is nothing one cannot pronounce and it is not loaded with preservatives. If we eat store bought food all our lives, I really see no need for embalmment when we pass on! We shouldn’t rot or mold!!!!

When one grows up on a farm, she learns early on about canning. Grandma must have thought she had died and gone to heaven when freezers came out and putting up food was so much easier! There were still a number of things that had to be canned but the beans, corn and even tomato supplies for the year could be finished in much less time – of course, until one ran out of room in the freezer! Housewives learned how to make sauerkraut in canning jars instead of in a deep crock in the basement and the stuffed peppers went into jars, too. Meat was moved from canning jars to freezing. One item that I missed as a kid was the jelled broth that formed in the jars of canned chicken. We called it “shivery” and it was a special treat to get a spoonful of it when a jar of chicken would be opened.

When presser canners came out, Mom got one and used it, especially for meat. I grew up scared of it and never did learn to use one! We had an old, steam canner called a Conservo. I still have two that I found at farm auctions. I use them for a big batch of tomatoes or beans as they hold 15 or 18 jars each, (to check for sure since I don’t remember, I would have to climb up to where they are stored!), on two racks. I never had any trouble with them although one had to be careful not to get burned by the steam. There is a reservoir for water in the bottom and the jars set on racks above it as the water boils. Steam is hotter than water, so it is better than a hot water bath canner. I use the hot water bath for small batches of canning.

I never have canned meat but I know folks who still do, especially deer meat. As a kid, I ate plenty of it since butchering was twice a year – once for beef and once for hogs. Much of the hog meat was cured and smoked (sausages, hams and bacon) and the sausage patties were either canned or preserved in a crock in lard that was poured over the patties and thus sealed from the air. The lard was rendered out (cook the fat until it melts out of the connective tissue that becomes cracklings when the lard is pressed). Cracklings were used in such foods as cornbread for extra flavoring. A lard can was bought new each year and that was the shortening for frying and baking. It still makes the most tender pie crust but isn’t used much now because of the unhealthiness of the fat.

Pickled vegetables were usually put up in tall stone crocks. A plate with a rock would hold the veggies under the pickling juice. Mold might form on the top of the liquid, but never got on the vegetables. Now, someone sees a little mold on the top of pickle juice and goes berserk. Before electricity was available to folks, pickling in crocks was a good way to preserve foods. I wonder how many of us could, or would, be willing to live as our forefather did without all the conveniences and utilities we have now. Most farmers made wine and brandy – best way to preserve fruit juices!

Rumtopf was one way to preserve fruit for special desserts. One would start with the first fruit of the season, such as strawberries, and add each fruit as it ripened. The preservative for this would be some form of alcohol, such as brandy. It would be ready for consumption about Thanksgiving for those special desserts for the holiday season.

Apples were canned, dried, made into jelly or juiced for cider. Hard cider was a very common beverage and is one still made today by many. It is not a beverage for children!!!!!! Most old-time farmers made their own beer and brandy. Before glass jars were available for canning, stone jar were used and had stone lids, sealed on by a sealing wax. If you can find any of those today, they are quite valuable as antiques. Now, some folks grab up the green canning jars as antiques. It makes me feel old to think some of my canning jars are now considered antiques!

I must tell you a family story about cider. Our family always made a barrel of cider each year and it was usually helped along in the fermenting stage by additives. (My grandparents got their vinegar from the former years’ cider.) The last year cider was made on this farm, my two youngest brothers made it and everyone declared it as the best ever made here. Mother had invited her widowed younger sister to come east and live with her. That sister started tasting the cider, and continued until it became a problem! Thank goodness they lived out here in the country, or it would have been a problem right away. Anyway, she started to be a little nasty to Mom, so my brothers decided something had to be done. They emptied that entire barrel over the hill, crying all the time, to give Mom peace. To the day they each left this earth, they mourned that barrel of cider! Maybe St. Peter siphoned some of it up there for their communion wine with the other heavenly bodies!

Enough thoughts and memories from the past. The recipes today are some you might like to try if you don’t already have a version of them. I think experimental cooking is fun – just like being turned loose in a chemistry lab! Hope you feel the same way. Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life, so enjoy it and hope for many more to come. God Bless you in all you do!

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HOMEMADE BRANDY

Boil three gallons water; add thirteen pounds sugar and stir. Add juice from three lemons, three packages yeast, one gallon of any kind of fruit, and stir each day for seven days. At the end of the seventh day, put three packages of white raisins to soak. (Use liquid from mixture.) On the eighth day, add raisins and stir. Cover and let set for twenty-eight days. Then siphon off or filter and drink. Makes about four and one-half gallons brandy.

Note: For peach brandy, use skins and a few pits, but not the pulp. Use that for canned peaches or jam and jelly.

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HOMEMADE HOT MUSARD

Thirty-six hot peppers

One quart prepared mustard

One quart white vinegar

Six cups sugar

One tablespoon salt

One and one-half cups flour

One cup water, if needed

Grind peppers. Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and stir until boiling. Add water if needed. Boil five minutes, stirring constantly. Immediately pour into hot jars and seal. Process in hot water bath for ten minutes after water boils.

Hint: Combine this with Ripe Cucumber Relish for a fantastic hot dog sauce!

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RIPE CUCUMBER RELISH

(A repeat from 8-4-13)

Ten large ripe cucumbers

Twelve medium onions

One sweet red pepper

Three sweet green peppers

Two pounds brown sugar

One teaspoon celery seed

One teaspoon turmeric

Pickling salt

Vinegar

Peel, seed and scrape cucumbers. Chop all other vegetables fine. Mix and sprinkle with salt – about three or four tablespoons – and let stand one hour. Drain well, mix in turmeric, celery seed and sugar. Add vinegar enough to just cover. Cook twenty minutes after mixture comes to a good boil. Seal in hot, sterilized jars.

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GRANDMA SEMON’SGRAPE

BUTTER

Take equal amounts of grapes and sugar – no water. Boil for five minutes. Rub through colander to get pulp. Put pulp on stove and boil for five minutes more. Pour into hot, sterilize jars and seal.

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CORNBREAD WITH CRACKLINGS

(from Grandma Semon’s cookbook)

One cup flour

One cup cornmeal

One level teaspoon baking powder

One level teaspoon baking soda

Pinch salt

One cup sour milk (or buttermilk)

One cup cracklings

One heaping tablespoon grease (lard or bacon grease)

Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder together. Put baking soda on top and pour on milk and add cracklings and grease. Bake in moderate oven until lightly browned (preheated 325 – 352-degrees for about thirty minutes).

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CABBAGE FILLED CHERRY PEPPERS

One-half medium head freshly cut cabbage

One and one-half teaspoon salt

One tablespoon yellow mustard seed

Two cups cider vinegar

Red and green cherry peppers

Chop cabbage fairly fine using a food processor or blender. Combine salt, mustard seeds and vinegar. Mix into cabbage and set aside. Cut out stems of peppers as if making a Jack-o-Lantern and discard seeds. WEAR RUBBER GLOVES!!! Stuff peppers with cabbage mixture. Pack in hot, sterilized jars with cabbage side showing so that it looks like flowers. Cover with hot pickling syrup. Seal.

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PICKLING SYRUP

One cup vinegar

Two cups sugar

Two cups water

Cook until light syrup.

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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.