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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Concord Grape Syrup

-->The colors of fall are deep and rich, golds and bronzes and deep russet reds. And then there are the rich purple colors of Concord grapes. Throughout my childhood, baskets of these grapes were part of the fall harves, and the smell of my mother's simmering grape juice often met us as we burst home from school on increasingly chilly afternoons. When I had the opportunity to pick more than five pounds of grapes on a trip out of town, I was enthralled. Trying to find a way to bring them home in my Amtrak luggage was challenging, but so worth it!
Now that I had the grapes home, I had to get them preserved. Not grape juice or jelly--these are products that are readily available, even if the purchased kinds would never stand up to what I could make myself. No, I wanted to make something more unique, special, and still stretch it beyond just a single pie or two.

With a little research I found some promising recipes for grape jam (not jelly) online and thought I’d try that. Unfortunately, I made an early mistake.

After washing and stemming the grapes, I put them into a large pot, mashed them as directed, and, then, almost without thinking, added about a cup or two of water. Wrong. 

Diluting the fruit in this way meant that the amount of pectin available for jelling was going to be compromised, so jam was also out of the question. Still not ready to drop back to grape juice, I began to consider what to do to redeem the mistake, something that would still be "special." There seemed to be only one option still open to me.

Grape syrup.

A little more research, some trial and error, and I ended up with an incredibly full flavored syrup that brings back the flavor and aroma of fall whenever I open the jar. Still, what was I going to do with pints of grape syrup? 

Actually, this is a pretty versatile liquid, with the following as examples for its use:

  • Grape yogurt:  In fact, I put a cup of yogurt into the cup I had used to ladle the syrup into canning jars, and the result was incredibly flavorful.
  • Grape sherbet/sorbet:  There are so many recipes on line for either of these desserts, and I see them as easily adaptable to this syrup
  • Smoothies of all kinds
  • Syrup for pancakes and waffles—probably will want to mix with honey or add a little more sugar and boil briefly to reach a more syrupy consistency—or maybe a bit of cornstarch?
  • As an ingredient in an autumn marinade for roast pork or even chicken thighs
  • In a dressing, similar to a raspberry vinagrette

So here is how I made the syrup:

Grape Syrup

2 quarts stemmed and washed Concord grapes (see NOTE about NOT increasing the size of this recipe)

1 to 2 c water

6 cups sugar

¼ c lemon juice (I used ReaLemon)

1.  Place the grapes in a large pot. Mash with a potato masher to crush most or all of the grapes. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat slightly and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the grapes are very soft.

2.  Scoop the grape mixture into a food mill and press the mixture through the mill. (If you do not have a food mill for food preservation, you can use a colander with small holes or even a relatively coarse sieve.) You will want to get pulp as well as juice to give the syrup a nice body.

3.  Compost the thick parts left in the food mill or colander and then return the strained grapes to the pot. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and heat the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat a bit if the grape syrup begins to splatter.
4.  Continue cooking the mixture for about 30 to 35 minutes, allowing it to thicken somewhat. If foam forms on the top of the syrup, you may choose to ladle this off into a bowl. (The foam is a wonderful way to "test" your syrup; stir a little of it into plain yogurt or save it for tomorrow morning's pancakes or French toast.)

5.  While the grape syrup is cooking, wash four or five pint jars and lids and keep warm in a pan of hot water at the back of the stove. Heat more water in a water bath canner or pot large enough to immerse your jars in water about an inch over the top. Have a wood cutting board or a thick towel laid on the counter for protecting the hot jars from coming into contact with a cold counter. 

6.  Ladle the syrup into the jars--I use a large coffee mug for this rather than an actual ladle. Wipe the edges of the jars if needed to avoid any drips that could keep the jar from sealing.
7.  When all the jars are closed and the water in the water bath canner is boiling, put the jars into the canner and begin timing when the water has returned to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

8.  Turn the heat off and remove the jars from the hot water, again placing them on a wood cutting board or towel. Allow to cool thoroughly before labeling.

NOTE:  This recipe made about 3 1/2 pints. Since I had another 4 cups of grapes, I made a second, smaller batch (cooking it only about 25 minutes after adding the sugar) and then processed all five jars at once. It is better to do a couple of smaller batches rather than trying to increase the amount made at once, because the extended cooking time for larger amounts will decrease the fresh flavor that you want to preserve here.

Barley with Butternut Squash, Apples, and Onions


With an extended Indian Summer season this year, it is hard to believe that we are well into the last half of October. But the leaves--more brilliant than even the beautiful normal here in the upper Midwest this year--are quickly showering down, glowing in the sun, making colorful confetti against the clouds of the drearier days.  

I brought home almost ten pounds of Concord grapes from a trip to Wisconsin, so a batch of grape syrup is right now simmering on the stove. That is a new experiment for me, so I won't be putting the results on this blog until I know that I have something that will work. Meanwhile, another quart of raspberries is in the refrigerator, to be made into a raspberry apple crisp for guests later this week. Sheltered as I am here in town, killing frost has still not hit the everbearing raspberries, but I know that each picking could be the last of the season.

Meanwhile, a visit to Sekapps, my favorite orchard right here in the city, is bursting with other fruits of fall. Beyond the piles of pumpkins and rows of mums, there were bins with dozens of varieties of squash, bags of as many kinds of apples, bushel baskets of fat burgundy beets, and a grocery cart full of the largest imaginable cabbages. I brought two of these home for a total of just $5 and found they each weighed almost 15 pounds. Even at that size, the flavor is sweet, and a giant recipe of Overnight Coleslaw used only a third of one head. There will be more cabbage recipes here soon too!

Along with the cabbages, I came home with a bushel of squash, another of apples, a 50 pound bag of red potatoes, and a fat pie pumpkin that will be decor now, dessert later. With all of this bounty, it was time to get busy in the kitchen. 
Squash. Onions. Apples. This trio of flavors may seem a little unusual for many of us here in the US, but it is a great triumvirate, and today's cool cloudiness was just the weather for some nice warm comfort food. While I often make curried vegetables with squash, today I wanted to just focus on the basic flavors of these key ingredients. Searching the web, I found an idea to combine them with barley, and a little tweaking ended up with a great vegan main dish that would also be good as a side with a  kielbasa or other smoked sausage. 

Maybe just the right kind of dish for the family that has both meat eaters and vegetarians. If you are trying to introduce new grains like barley into your menus, this combination could be a good place to start. It is inexpensive, and, by using pearled barley, the entire dish can be made, start to finish, in barely half an hour.

Barley with Butternut Squash, Apples and Onions 
1/2 c pearl barley
1 1/2 c water
1/2 t salt
1 T olive oil
2 c butternut squash, peeled and cut into about 1 inch cubes (9 ounces)
1 c onion, diced (1 medium onion, about 5 ounces)
1 1/3 c coarsely chopped apple (1 large apple, about 7 ounces)
1/3 c water drained from barley
2 to 3 minced cloves garlic, to taste
1 to 2 t chicken broth powder, to taste (OR 2 chicken or vegetarian bouillon cubes)
1/2 t dried thyme
freshly ground pepper, to taste

1.  Combine barley, water, and salt in a small saucepan; cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer until barley is just tender about 30 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, squash, and onion in a heavy skillet--I prefer cast iron. Saute over medium high heat until the vegetables are golden brown and the squash is just barely tender. Stir frequently to avoid sticking and to be sure that the onions and squash cook evenly.

3.  Stir in the apple, garlic, thyme, broth powder or bouillon, and liquid drained from barley. (If the barley has absorbed all the water, just add tap water to the vegetable mix.) Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 3 to 5 minutes, until the apples are just tender.
4.  Stir in the barley and mix well.

Serves two to three as a main dish or four as a side.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apple Butter Bread

This has been a busy week, with two large batches of raspberry apple jam and one even larger batch of apple butter finished and ready for winter. While apple butter is wonderful on toast, French toast, and pancakes, I wanted to try using it in some baking as well.

The following bread has a lot of nutrition and flavor, and the use of oil rather than butter (common in this kind of loaf) reduces the cost and ups the value of the fat used. While an alternative set of ingredients is listed after the main recipe if you don't keep nonfat dried milk on hand, I strongly suggest keeping it as a staple. Depending on your part of the country, it can be cheaper than fresh milk, but, even if the cost is similar, it is a great way to up the calcium and protein content of baked goods. The amount used in these loaves is equivalent to more than a cup of milk, even though only three quarters of a cup of liquid can be used to keep the overall balance of liquid and dry ingredients right. Finally, the overall heartiness of the other ingredients makes the whole wheat flour barely distinguishable, even for those who turn their noses up at anything but white bread.

As with most breads of this type, this is even better the second day, but you may find that the fragrance filling the house while it bakes will make it hard for anyone to wait that long to try this out. Spread it with a little butter or cream cheese that has been softened and mixed with a bit of orange juice and grated orange rind or just eat it unadorned. Good enough for dessert and not just as a bread.

Purchased apple butter should work fine for this bread, but I have not tested it with anything bu my own, homemade and wonderful, stuff. You can find my apple butter recipe (actually my sister Merry's recipe) at

I did decrease the cloves a bit when I made this batch, since our family prefers a little less of that very strong spice. One more nice thing about making your own--you can adjust the spices to match your own preferences!

Apple Butter Bread

1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup water
1 T lemon juice
1/2 c nonfat dried milk powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 cup apple butter
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried cranberries

1.  Put the cranberries in the water and microwave about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2.  Combine oil, brown sugar, egg, lemon juice, apple butter, and dried milk powder. 
3.  Sift together dried ingredients.
4.  Alternately add the flour mixture and cooled cranberries and water to the egg and oil mixture. Stir just to blend. Fold in the nuts.
5.  Pour the batter into two well-greased 8 ½ X 4 ½  inch loaf pans. This might be a good time to use a baking spray like Pam, to be sure that the breads will not stick to the pans when done--an all too common problem with some of this rich breads!
6.  Bake at 350 degrees (325 if in a glass pan) for about 35 to 37 minutes. Allow to cool in the pans for 10 to 12 minutes before turning out on to a rack. If storing for more than a day, these are best kept tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.


If you do not have dried milk available, make the following changes:

Use 3/4 c skim or 2 % milk instead of water.
Do NOT heat the cranberries in the milk. Instead in step 4, add the milk alternately with the flour mixture. Then fold in the dried cranberries with the nuts. 

 (NOTE: Okay, so the recipe calls for using two 8 ½ X 4 ½  inch loaf pans, but you may have noticed the photo shows two differently shaped loaves. I only have one of these pans in my cupboard, so one of the loaves was baked in a 9 X 5 inch pan. It just makes a little broader slice, which may be your preference anyway!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apple Raspberry Jam

As the end of the raspberry season approaches, I wanted to use some of the last pickings to make some Apple Raspberry Jam. I have been making No Pectin Raspberry Apple Jam for several years, but this time I wanted to up the ratio of apple to raspberry, in part to see if I could come up with a jam that would not be too expensive for those who have to buy the berries rather than have lavishly producing plants right in the back yard.

I am doubly blessed on costs because friends have shared a couple of bushels of totally organic apples from their own trees, so the cost of this jam for me is the sugar (purchased on a loss leader sale for 22 cents a pound), the lemon juice, and the jar lids that can't be reused. A really frugal treat!

Here is the recipe for today:

Apple Raspberry Jam

8 c raspberries
8 c sugar
4 c diced apples
1/3 c lemon juice (use reconstituted, bottled juice, like ReaLemon brand for most consistent acidity)

1.  Combine the raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large (non-aluminum) pot and stir.

2.  Cut the apples in quarters, remove the cores and spots and dice finely. To keep the apples from browning, cut a cup of apples, stir in to the raspberry mixture, cut another cup, and repeat. (Dicing the apples is the most labor-intensive part of this recipe. A food processor could be used to roughly chop the apples instead, but you don't have to have a processor to make this jam.)

3.  Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan. You may cover the jam early in the process to speed up the cooking, but be warned: The mixture is VERY prone to boiling over, so you will want to watch it closely and take the cover off when the jam is boiling well.

4.  Cook until one or more of the following tests shows the jam has jelled:
  • A thermometer reads 215 to 220 degrees
  • A few drops of the jam on a chilled plate will keep their shape when you run your finger through the center
  • The jam "sheets" off the spoon
My preference in all of these is the cold plate test. Especially with this much apple, the jam will be quite stiff if you wait all the way to the 220 degree level.

5.  While the jam is cooking, wash jars and lids well and place the jars upside down in a pan with an inch or two of water in it. Turn this on a low heat so that the water is just simmering.

6. To process the jam, you will need a "water bath" or other large kettle or pot that is big enough to hold the jars AND have water at least an inch above the tops of the jars when they are processing. Fill this pan at least half full of water and begin heating it, also while the jam is cooking. (Yes, three burners all going at once. It will make you feel like a real home preserver!)

Side note:  Other equipment that will be handy to have: a wide-mouthed "canning funnel," tongs to lift the lids from the hot water, a mug for scooping the jam into the jars (I prefer this over a ladle, but that will do too), and a jar lifter to get the hot jars in and out of the water. If you don't have one of these, you can still make jam, but you will probably want to have a ladle handy to take some of the water off of the jars when they are done. You will then be able to use a hot pad to grab out the jars above the water line.

6.  When the jam is finished cooking, turn the heat off and stir the jam again. The apples have a tendency to come to the top of this mixture all through the cooking process, so you will want to continue stirring as you begin putting the jam in the jars. Using a clean cloth, wipe the jar rims to be sure there is no jam there to impair a tight seal all around.

7.  Put the lids and rings on; while you want the covers closed, don't tighten too much at this stage.
Place the jars in the pot of boiling water, making sure you have enough to cover the jars to about an inch above the tops. (I like to have a tea kettle of water heating at the side, just in case there isn't enough water in the pot to cover. If you end up with too much water, you can just ladle a little out. It really can be a little tricky to decide how much water to heat until you have the jars actually in the pot!)

8.  For half pint or pint jars, bring the water back to boiling and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the time is complete, remove the jars from the water and place on a wood board (to prevent major temperature changes that could break the boiling hot jars). Allow to cool completely before labeling and storing.

With modern canning lids, you will hear a cheery click each time one seals, and you can test if a jar is sealed by pressing lightly on the center. It will not spring back up if sealed. Any jars that do not seal can be refrigerated and used within the next few weeks.

One final step:  After you have scraped the pan, the spoon, and the cup that served as a ladle, there still will be some wonderfully fresh jam left. Scoop some plain yogurt into the cup and stir with the jam spoon. Instant raspberry yogurt, a treat for the hard working cook!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Applesauce Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Topping

Don't laugh at this really long name for today's cake. I often end up with a few bananas at the end of the bunch that get too soft to eat, and applesauce and peanut butter are staples in my pantry, so the ingredients are all right here for a relatively healthy dessert.

Another advantage? If you are old enough to remember when most cakes were made "from scratch," there was always a whole section in cookbooks called "one bowl cakes." This one is a "one pan cake," quick to stir up without a lot of clean up.

It may not be the prettiest cake in the world but it has a nice home-baked flavor that will win over the toughest of critics...and it really is easy.

The method is just a little out of the ordinary, but follow the directions closely and you'll be glad you tried this quick dessert.

Oatmeal Banana Applesauce Cake

1 1/4 c quick or old-fashioned oatmeal (NOT instant)
1 1/4 c water
1 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c mashed banana (about 2 medium)
2 T  butter
1 egg
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2  t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg

3/4 c sugar
1/3 c water
3/4 c crunchy peanut butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 350. Start the oven heating before you start mixing the cake, as you will want to get the cake into the oven soon after the batter is mixed. Oil well a 9 X 12 pan.
2.  In a 2 quart (or larger) saucepan, bring the oatmeal and water to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, about a minute. 
3.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the applesauce, bananas, and butter. Stir well, until the butter is melted and blended evenly into the mix. Kind of looks like your standard breakfast oatmeal at this point, doesn't it? Not too worry, this reeally is going to be cake!

4.  Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the egg to the oatmeal mixture and then immediately stir in the dry ingredients.
5.  Spread the batter in the pan and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until the top is golden. The cake should spring back when touched lightly, or a toothpick inserted in the center will come out without batter clinging to it. (Remember that the cake will be in the oven for about five minutes after the topping is added so don't overbake at this stage.)

6.  While the cake is baking, rinse the pan that the batter was mixed in and add to it the sugar and water for the topping.  Bring the mixture to a full boil and boil for about 2 minutes.
7.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the peanut butter. (You will need to stir the mixture again right before spreading it on the cake, as it separates quickly.)


8.  When the cake has reached that golden and almost done stage, remove it from the oven and gently spread the Topping over the cake. If desired, you can use a fork to "poke" the mixture into the cake a bit more--just be gentle if you do this!
9.  Return the cake to the oven for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the topping is bubbly all over.
10.  Allow the cake to cool before cutting.