July is slipping away fast. Get all those July plans out and look at them. If you are behind in your schedule, you have to hussle to get everything done that you planned. Life just runs by too fast, doesn't it? We keep telling ourselves to slow down and enjoy everything around us, but we just keep going and going and forget to slow our living pace. We should enjoy each day - we never know if we have another one - but here we go, as fast as we can (or our bones let us). At least, Mother Nature has been helping us here on the hilltop and watering our plants enough that we don't have to as much. Of course, the hay is having a hard time drying out so it can be baled without molding. What helps one doesn't always help others.
Did everyone see that big beautiful moon last weekend? It took a lot of everyday stress away, just sitting on the deck and looking at it. Of course, staying up late looking at the moon and not getting much sleep does cause one to be apt to need a nap the following day.
That made two enjoyable interludes. If you missed the big moon, it is supposed to be big in August, also, so you have another chance to "moon-gaze."
The veggies are coming on, right on schedule. Time to get out those directions you forgot on how to freeze and can them. I have been doing it all my life, yet I still like to refresh my memory on how many minutes for certain things. (Vegetables to be frozen are supposed to be blanched, not cooked.)
Now, I know some things around here are not in perfect order, but I feel like I should be able to put my hands on my canning books. So far, they have remained hidden. I don't remember loaning them to anyone, and where I thought they were stored shows no sight of them. I keep calling them by name, but they haven't appeared so far. I have the old recipes, but I thought I might try something new this year from one of those books. The project for the next two weeks is find those books. I keep telling husband Norm that I need a bigger house, but he just says throw out some of my stuff and I will have lots of room. That seems to be an ongoing discussion.
The blackberries are starting to ripen now. It looks like they will be a nice size this year. (I do have the directions for a Blackberry Cobbler, so I will make one later today, putting it in one of my cast iron skillets, old-fashioned style. That, with cold milk on it, will be today's supper. Norm will probably put vanilla ice cream on his bowl of cobbler.
Years ago, I lived on the Latta Plantation, just north of Charlotte, N.C. There were wild blackberries on a large part of it and the berries were large, too! In fact they were the size of one's thumb and so very sweet. I froze blackberries, canned blackberries, made jar after jar of jam and jelly, and the berries were still all over. So, I got out the old wine recipe and tried reducing it from a 55-gallon barrel recipe to a size I could handle. Everything was going great - just as it was supposed to do, until it was drained off and put into bottles. I left the corks loose, just like I was supposed to do, but I guess some of them sort of sunk down into the neck of the bottles too far. They were placed in the old hall area that we had made into a pantry and put up shelves to hold the fruits and veggies that I had canned. In the middle of the night a few days later, we heard an explosion. Then, a few more. For several days, we could not safely enter that hall. They finally settled down and we could go in to clean up the broken glass and spilled wine that was all over the area. About half of the bottles made it through that portion of the wine-making, and that was definitely enough for us and our friends.
That wine was the crystal color of a beautiful amethyst and had a wonderful taste. We had to warn everyone who came to see us and sampled that wine that one small glass was sufficient. The road and our mailbox was one mile up the lane from the house and more than one sampler slid over and let his wife drive before they got to the mailbox. The wives listened to us, but not all of the men did.
Several years later, I took my two granddaughters to see the Plantation were we had lived. By then, Duke Power had sold it to the city of Charlotte for a recreational area. The docents were showing us through the house and asking me questions about the origins of it. They said that one mystery of the house was what had caused the purple stains on the wall in the hall, away back then. It sort of destroyed their mysterious wondering when I explained that the purple stains were much more recent, and were from my wine-making attempts when I lived there.
That was one of the nicest places I ever lived. The house was on the back of a 500-acre tract with the Catawba River on three sides of it. There was a nice sandy beach and a pier below one side of the house, huge areas for gardens, outbuildings from colonial times, and many wild fruits like the berries and small plums (Mirabelle's -sp). The sign for the Latta Plantation is on I-77, below Lake Norman.
But, back to the present - there are some more "putting-up" recipes today. I have already made one trip to the Chesterhill Farmers' Auction for produce and plan to go back as soon as canning tomatoes are plentiful. My beets and beans are in the freezer so far, but may have their numbers increased (if the spirit moves me). Zucchini is plentiful, even in my late-planted garden. It is sooooo good on the grill, and, also, in breads, cookies, and cakes. Freeze the shredded zucchini in amounts needed for each recipe and you don't have to thaw more then you need at one time.
Enjoy this time before school starts with your young ones and make some memories. Try your hand at canning or making jam, if you have never done it. Keep the iced tea pitcher full and the swing in use. God protect and bless us all.
FRESH BLACKBERRY PIE
One quart fresh blackberries, washed and drained
One and one-half cups sugar
One-eighth teaspoon salt
One-fourth teaspoon cinnamon
One and one-half tablespoons flour or pie tapioca
Pastry for a two-crust pie
One to two tablespoons butter
Mix blackberries with sugar, salt, cinnamon and flour or tapioca. Fill pastry lined pie pan. Dot with butter. Add top crust. Brush with egg wash, cream or milk and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for ten minutes. Reduce heat to 350-degrees and bake for another twenty-five minutes longer.
* SPAGHETTI SAUCE
Twelve quarts tomatoes, finely chopped or pureed
Six cups onions, finely chopped
Three cups green bell peppers, finely chopped
Three bell peppers, finely chopped
One and one-half cups sweet banana peppers, finely chopped (any sweet peppers)
Three cups celery, finely chopped
Nine cloves garlic, minced
One-fourth cup pickling salt
One and one-half tablespoons celery seed
One and one-half tablespoons mustard seed
One and one-half tablespoons dried oregano
One and one-half tablespoons dried basil
One and one-half tablespoons Italian seasoning
Three cups sugar
Four cups vinegar (cider)
Peel tomatoes, quarter, and let drain in colander. Do not use juice that drains off tomatoes. Chop tomatoes and put through food mill to remove seeds. (To make chunky style, do not put through food mill.) Put tomatoes into 18-quart electric roaster with all other ingredients, and cook down to desired consistency. Hold back some of the tomatoes until all other ingredients are in to make certain you have room in the roaster. If all the tomatoes won't fit at first, add remaining tomatoes as it boils down some. The cooking down process normally takes about three hours, but may take less if the tomatoes are drained well in the first step. Fill hot, clean jars, seal, and process in hot water bath for thirty minutes after water returns to a boil.
To peel ripe tomatoes, plunge tomatoes into boiling water for one minute, then immediately plunge them into cold water. The skin will come off easily. Do not use any tomatoes that have bad spots on them for any canning - whole, juice, sauce, etc. The bacterium from a bad spot goes through the whole tomato, and will ruin the entire batch of whatever you are making.
This recipe is very much like the Salsa recipe, and either one can be used for spaghetti, etc.
* TOMATO SAUCE
Eight pounds tomatoes
One cup chopped green bell pepper
One chopped medium onion
One teaspoon celery seed
One-fourth teaspoon cayenne pepper
Two tablespoons white vinegar
One tablespoon sugar
One teaspoon pickling salt
Wash tomatoes and remove stem ends and quarter. Let tomatoes stand in colander to drain off excess liquid. In large pot, combine tomatoes, green pepper, onion, celery seed and cayenne. Bring to a boil and cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Put this pulp through a food mill or coarse sieve. Add vinegar, sugar, and salt to the tomato puree. Return to the kettle and bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes or to desired consistency. Stir to prevent sticking. Pour hot sauce into hot jars, leaving -inch headspace. Seal and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes, after water returns to a boil, for pints.
NOTE: For all tomato recipes, I add lemon juice since the new varieties of tomatoes don't have the acid content of the older varieties. If the recipe has lots of vinegar, it doesn't need the extra acid of lemon juice. Vinegar does the same trick as lemon juice.
(From the kitchen of my friend, Sarah Jalbert)
Eight cups zucchini, peeled, seeds removed, and ground
Six cups sugar
One-half cup lemon juice
One can apricot juice
One 6-oz. package apricot Jell-o
Cook zucchini and sugar until clear. Add lemon and apricot juices. Cook gently until thick. Remove from heat and add apricot Jell-o. Stir until dissolved. Freeze.
Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.