Gimme Some More…Jam

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

Just when I thought I was done making jam for the season, we discovered blackberries and a cherry tree on our property. I had noticed the fruit on the cherry tree about a month ago when we were clearing wood from the front of the yard. We wondered if the fruit was edible, but didn’t want to take any chances. When our friends visited us this weekend, they identified it immediately and ate a few of the cherries. When they didn’t die or tax our sewer with explosive diarrhea, we picked the rest of the fruit and started drying and canning it.

We’ve since identified the trees as Rainier cherry trees. Our trees are older and well established, and the fruit is sweet. Apparently Rainier cherries are the sweetest of the cherry varieties, which is great because I used less sugar in the jam recipes, saving money and my pancreas.
The thorny bushes around the perimeter of our property are blackberries—rich, delicious blackberries. Although the berries are a pain—literally—to pick due to all of the thorns, the bushes produce a shit-ton of berries. We spent 20 minutes picking the berries within arms-reach and came out with a huge basket of berries. And there’s more where that came from.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!

 

I had thought they were wild roses, and thought it was odd that they never produced flowers. Now I’m wondering how many of the prickly vines that I’ve ripped out around the property have been roses and which have been blackberries.

 

 

 

4 Things to Do When You Have a Bounty of Fruit

1. Dry them. Our food dehydrator has gotten a workout over the past few days as we’ve been drying about 10 pounds of cherries. (If you’re a fan of sour candy, drying cherries is for you.) We’ve dried everything from apples to kale in the dehydrator. Drying time varies by fruit—more watery fruits may take longer—but the result is delicious. Although dried fruit will last a fair bit of time, it will probably be eaten within a week.

2. Jam them. Jam is the easiest thing to do with fruit. Find a great recipe either online or in a cookbook, but don’t be afraid to tweak the recipe a bit. I love adding cinnamon to everything—it gives the recipe a spicy little kick. While some things in jam recipes should remain balanced (e.g., the fruit, sugar and pectin proportions), experiment with adding spices that you think will add to the finished product.

3. Freeze them. While I haven’t done it yet, freezing excess fruit is a great way to have fresh fruit year-round. This is a neat guide to help you if you want to find out more. http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_freeze_fruit.pdf

4. Give them away. Many food banks will accept excess fruit from private citizens. While sometimes they’ll send out gleaners to take the fruit off of your hands, other places may allow you to drop it off at their facilities. Check with the food bank near you to learn more.

jams august

What’s going on in the garden?

July is a great time to see the rewards of what you planted in the garden a couple of months ago. Many of the plants that take a while to grow, bloom and fruit are reaching their potential. When I was planting the seeds and starts in my garden, I remember worrying that I wasn’t planting enough. Looking at my garden now, I realize that I should have given some of my plants a wider birth (I’m looking at you, borage).

The garden this week.

The garden this week.

Tilling is a great workout. After two months of being covered by old carpets, the soil in the garden next to my current garden has fewer weeds and was ready for a good tilling. I used a digging fork to get deep into the soil, which was much easier to break into than it was a few months ago, to unearth rich soil. It took me most of the afternoon to double-dig the 8’ by 10’ plot, pulling up rose and weed roots as I went. Then, on Monday, I planted some snap peas, sunflowers, beans, radishes, cilantro, parsley and transplanted some strawberries. Eventually, most of the garden will become a strawberry patch, but for now I’ll grow some yummy vegetables.

 

Forget plain ice cubes. Since my borage began to flower, I’ve been cutting the best buds and freezing them in the ice cube tray. They add some life and color to regular water and make me feel a bit fancy. Since the cilantro I planted is growing like gangbusters, I cut them back to encourage more growth and then chopped and froze the leaves of the clippings in an ice cube tray. Fresh cilantro from the garden all year round!

That’s plum crazy! I finished up the plum preserves the other day. One full tree of plums has yielded 9 half pint jars of plum butter (with an assist from 5 Granny Smith apples) and 8 half pint jars of plum jam (with an assist from 3 Granny Smith apples). While the butter has a wonderful tartness with a sweet aftertaste, the jam is smooth and not too sweet.

All in all the jam was easy to make. While it did involve a lot of stirring, it wasn’t as labor intensive as I feared it would be. I was worried that it wouldn’t set well—while I was ladling it into the jars, I was worried that it wasn’t thick enough. After it had time to set, it did so perfectly. It’s my new favorite jam.

Jam Jam Jammy Jam

Last week it rained for two full days, much to the relief of my garden and trees. It’s been so dry here recently, and although we’re in slightly better shape than most parts of California, it has been one dry year. As a result of this liquid boost, the snap peas and sunflowers are climbing and the next round of lettuce seeds has broken the surface.

Plums!

Plums!

But, even better are the plums that are ripe and ready to pick from the two trees on our property. The seller had told us about these trees when we were looking at the house, but as of a few weeks ago, we only saw a few green plums. This weekend, when I was moving the lawn, I looked up and saw tons of red and pink plums in the trees. I picked as many as I could from my tippy toes and plan to go back with a ladder in the next few days to get more to make plum jam.

The recipe I found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preservation calls for plums, 5 tart apples, a lemon, water and sugar. Apparently the apples have natural pectin in them that eliminates the need to buy a separate fruit pectin. Of all the jam recipes I found, this seems like the least finicky one.

Now, if only the apples were ready so that I could make jam using only ingredients found on our property…

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

So much for the saying “Good fences make good neighbors.” We arrived home last night, after going to dinner with my parents, with a note on our gate from a neighbor who saw the fence and gate we have erected in the last month as a sign of hostility. She took offence to the “No trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” signs on the gate, accused us of turning the previous owner’s garage into a grow space (“I hope you’re not growing weed in Hoyt’s garage.” Um, we own the property. It’s our garage) and threatened to call the sheriff to report us (For what? Growing our own vegetables? Pruning the overgrown rhododendron? I know, she’s going to report us for killing the ivy that’s infested the tree stump in the driveway.) She also accused us of being from Los Angeles or West Oakland (Not sure what these cities ever did to her, but apparently she had a really bad experience with them that she wants to project on us) and said that we’re paranoid.

Part of the offending fence. Obviously, we're trying to hide something here.

Part of the offending fence. Obviously, we’re trying to hide something here.

But, the best part—my favorite, really—was when she wanted to “Put you on notice that this is a friendly place that reacts poorly to signs of hostility.” Yes, like writing a passive-aggressive note and leaving it on the gate instead of having the courage to knock on the door and chat with us about it? Oh, bless your heart, thanks so much for the faux concern and hostile warning. What would we do without it? Consider us “on notice.”

In our very small community, word travels fast. As we’ve fixed up the property, which fell into disrepair when the previous owner slowly succumbed to cancer, we’ve had people drive down our busy road, craning their necks to see what we’re doing. We’ve cleaned the gutters and removed the moss from the roof, cut back overgrown shrubs and mowed the grass, pulled up weeds in the front gardens and planted lavender, thyme, marjoram, peonies and roses. We’ve scrubbed the windows and removed spider webs and grime from the sides of the house. We’ve cleared scrap wood, ash, car parts, RV parts and other junk from the property, and put up a horse corral. Everything we’ve done enhances the value and curb appeal of the home.

Many people in the community have fences around their property. Like theirs, ours is unobtrusive—you can see right through it. We put it up to keep our menagerie of animals, which include a horse, a cat, a dog and chickens, as well as our toddler inside our property and prevent them from running out onto the busy street.

When we noticed that our driveway was being used for u-turns several times a day, leading to an RV getting stuck in our driveway, we put up a gate to prevent this from occurring. Before we put up the gate, we had posted No Trespassing signs, only to have them ignored. The gate was put up to keep people from using our driveway as another road. It’s not an act of hostility; we’re property owners trying to protect our investment.

My husband and I are unsure whether to laugh at this person’s lunacy or to be upset that she pegged us all wrong. We’re among the few people up here who don’t grow marijuana. We didn’t buy a home to turn it into a grow house; we bought a home so that we could fulfill our dream of living self-sufficiently. We moved up here so that we could buy a house with land (without undertaking a ton of debt) so that we could house our horse, have chickens, have a huge garden to grow all of the produce we wish to consume, and give our son a good life. We want him to grow up getting his hands dirty in the soil and learning responsibility through taking care of the animals and the garden.

My grandfather had a saying, “If you don’t like my house, don’t swing on my fence.” Our house was in a family for two generations, until it was put on the market as a short sale when the previous owner died. In a small community, we understand that people are going to be critical of the changes that we’re making. However, keep it to yourself. Taping an anonymous note to our gate isn’t neighborly, and giving us a faux warning that the community won’t stand for the “hostility” of a fence, a gate and ‘no trespassing” signs is disingenuous, especially when other folks on the street have the same features.

We’ve met the neighbors that live next to us, as well as some nice people who have passed by, ironically to tell us how nice they think the fence looks and how they like what we’re doing to the property. You can’t please everybody. While some would say that we should make peace with the anonymous letter writer, I don’t see much point. She’s not the kind of person I want to associate with, so why even speak to her? In paraphrase my grandpa, “If you don’t like my house, don’t tape hate notes to my gate.”