Berry Juice

I am up to my elbows in berries. I am not complaining. I don’t know what things are like at your house when it comes to berries, but at my house, we love them. We grow strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, and have access to local blueberries. I do freeze a lot of berries for winter use (It is super easy — click here to see how!) . I also make jam, conserves, and preserves. One more method of preserving berries is to make juice. Berry juice (especially blueberry juice) seems to be a hot health food item again. Berry juice is full of antioxidants and vitamins. However, if you purchase it in a store, it may also be full of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup.

Once you make the juice, you can freeze what you are not going to use immediately. There is no sweetener added when you first make the juice, so you can sweeten to taste, depending upon the sweetness of the berries using you sweetener of choice!

There are many “camps” when it comes to sweeteners and overall health. Most people agree that refined sugar is not very good for you, but what to use and alternative? There are as many options as there are opinions. As I always say, do your research and make an informed decision based on what seems best to you.

The Method

  1. In a large non-reacitve pot, put equal amounts of berries and filtered water.
  2. Bring the water up to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, mashing the berries as much as possible. Turn off the heat.

Straining Techniques

Using a funnel:

  • Put a large funnel over a container large enough to hold the amount of liquid in the pot.
  • Line the funnel with a coffee filter, multiple layers of cheese cloth, or a clean piece of old cotton sheet (I have several pieces from old cotton sheets that I use for this purpose).
  • Using a ladle, transfer the contents of the pot to the container. As the funnel empties, add more liquid. You may need to change the coffee filter/empty the berry mash from the cloth periodically.
  • BE PATIENT! This takes a while. Do not press the contents of the funnel. You could end of with bits of berry in the juice and may result in a cloudy final appearance.

Using a Sieve (mesh strainer):

  • Put a sieve over a container large enough to hold the amount of liquid in the pot.
  • Line the sieve with multiple layers of cheese cloth, or a clean piece of old cotton sheet (I have several pieces from old cotton sheets that I use for this purpose).
  • Using a ladle, transfer the contents of the pot to the sieve.
  • BE PATIENT! This takes a while. Do not press the contents of the sieve. You could end of with bits of berry in the juice and may result in a cloudy final appearance.

Finishing

Once you have strained out the mash, you have concentrated juice. It is all berry juice, and since most berries are tart, you need to taste it and adjust the sweetness. If you are going to use the juice right away, sweeten with your preferred sweetener.

If you are going to freeze the juice, choose containers of a size that will allow you to use all of what you are defrosting (for example, if you want to have enough juice for four servings at a time, choose a quart sized container rather than something larger). Be sure the containers you are using a freezer-safe. Label the containers with the contents and the date you are putting it in the freezer. Distribute the juice among your containers and be sure to leave 1 inch of headspace at the top of the container. DO NOT OVERFILL! When you defrost the juice, add sweetener to taste.

If I have a little more juice than will comfortable fit in the containers, I make ice cubes out of it and add them to smoothies, and sometimes sauces. But that is fodder for another post!

Using the Juice

Some people like the juice in this concentrated form. If that is you, go for it! If you are like me, I think it is a bit much and prefer it diluted, so I add water or seltzer.

The juice can also be used to make jelly, following the instructions on your preferred package of pectin.

Canning Tomatoes

If you’ve read my book, Ditching the Drive Thru, you know that the very first thing I ever preserved was tomatoes.  Every year, I spend quite a few mornings canning tomatoes.  I used to go through the tedious process of peeling all of the tomatoes, which is very time consuming and I would end up with pruney fingers that don’t go away for like a week.

One year, after canning something like 30 quarts of peeled tomatoes, I stood in the kitchen watching my husband squash up the canned tomatoes.  Every dish he made, he was squashing up the tomatoes that I had so painstakingly peeled and gently placed in jars.  It made me furious.  I finally asked him how many recipes he used that called for whole tomatoes.  He replied that most of them do, and the directions say to break them up.

Squeezo

Well, the heck with that.  The next summer, all of the tomatoes went through the Squeezo, that removes the skins and seeds and speeds up the whole process.  I mean no disrespect to the recipe writers, but if you are instructing people to break up the tomato in the directions of the recipe, what was the point of using a whole tomato in the first place?

Canning tomatoes is pretty easy, and since they are cheap this time of year, and they don’t really have a texture change if you have to re-process them, I feel as though tomatoes are a great place to begin your canning career!

 

 

Here is my method:

  1. Wash off the tomatoes, to remove any dirt, little bugs, etc.
  2. Fill a large pot about three quarters of the way full with tomatoes and cook until they are soft enough to put through a food mill.
  3. While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare your jars following manufacturer’s instructions. I keep my jars hot in the canner. Be sure to check the top of the jars for nicks.  I have found nicks on new jars, which was disappointing, but this important step can mean the difference between a jar sealing or not.
  4. When the tomatoes are ready, put them through the food mill. Do NOT put the seeds into your compost, or you will have volunteer tomato plants all over your garden! Put the pulp back on the stove and heat to a simmer. At this point I add ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes, to insure they are acidic enough.
  5. Put the tomatoes in the prepared jars and process in a hot water bath, according these guidelines from Viriginia Extension Office.

Awesome Okra

I love Indian food.  And when my family got me a DNA test from Ancestry.com for my birthday a few years ago, imagine my surprise to find out that I came up 1% Indian.  So, when a student of mine, let’s call him Neel, was going to visit his grandparents in India over our winter break, he asked what I would like him to bring back for me.  I said, “Your grandmother’s recipe for garam masala (a mix of spices, with no one set recipe, so I was looking for a genuine family recipe).”

When he got to his grandparents’ home, he asked his grandmother for her recipe, explaining why he wanted it.  She was so excited to pass the recipe along, she made him escort her to the local market to purchase all of the spices that I would need to make it.  But it doesn’t end there.  Timing is everything: We were in the just-post-9-11-high-alert security mode.  Neel hadn’t bothered to shave while he was in India, and had grown a full beard.  He had a stop-over in Paris, and when he was going back through customs to get on his flight to the US, he was pulled out of line and interrogated because he looked suspicious.  The interrogators opened his bag and out spilled a dozen or so little unmarked packets of seeds and powders.  All of the powders were opened and tasted.  Guess what? None of them were drugs or explosives!  They were the spices I would never get to use, one of them a very hot ground red pepper.  Karma.

My passion for Indian food did not wane.  One night, we were out at an Indian restaurant and we ordered the full dinners that came with an assortment of sides.  I particularly loved the vegetable and asked what it was.  I was told it was bhindi.  When I got home I looked up bhindi and found out it was okra!  Okra generally made me gag – the slimy texture just got stuck in my throat.  But this was dry and crispy and delicious.  I looked up a recipe and started making it at home, tweaking and tweaking until I came up with the recipe that follows.  It is an easy recipe to make, but there is one must-have ingredient that you may need to get from an Asian market: asafetida powder.

People say that you can substitute garlic and onion for the powder, but I think it changes not only the flavor complex, but the texture of the dish.  When I didn’t use the asafetida, the okra didn’t crisp up as nicely.  It’s pretty inexpensive, so try and add it to your spice rack!

Bhindi Masala (Indian style okra)

  • 3 T ghee, for frying (if you don’t have ghee, you can use any oil)
  • 3-4 cups of okra, cut cross-wise
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 1” piece of ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
  • 1 t fennel seeds, toasted
  • ½ t red chili powder
  • ½ t turmeric powder
  • ½ t asafetida powder
  • ½ C water
  1. Grind the toasted whole spices together and combine with the powdered spices.
  2. Heat about 1 ½ T of the ghee in a heavy skillet. When it is melted, add the okra and stir until it is fully cooked, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the pan.
  3. Put the remaining ghee in the pan and when it is melted, add the ground spices and fry them until they are fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic, and stir around for a minute until that is also fragrant.
  5. Pour in the water and scrape everything up off the bottom of the pan. The spices will thicken the water.  Add the okra back to the pan and toss to coat.  I usually cook this a little longer, stirring constantly until it is at the dryness I want. I don’t like this overly sauce-y, but that is my personal taste.

Zucchini Parmesan

Looking for something a little different to do with your zucchini or summer squash?  Here’s a recipe that can hold you over until the eggplant starts arriving at the Farmer’s Market.  You can prep this in advance and bake it later.

Zucchini Parmesan

  • 1 quart tomato sauce (see recipe here: http://tradsnotfads.com/the-tomatoes-are…atoes-are-coming/)
  • 4-5 medium zucchini or yellow squash, cut into ½” planks or oblongs**
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 4 cups corn flake crumbs (if you are not gluten free, you can use bread crumbs)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Olive oil, to drizzle
  • 1 1/2 pounds mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 pound provolone cheese, grated

 

  1. Line a baking sheet with paper towels or tea towels. Place the squash planks in a single layer on the toweling and sprinkle with salt.  Put more toweling on top and then another baking sheet.  Put something heavy on top of the baking sheet and leave it sit for 15 -20 minutes.  This will squeeze out excess moisture.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F
  3. Put the flour on a flat dish and mix in a few grinds of pepper.
  4. Combine the milk and egg in a wide bowl.
  5. Mix the crumbs, oregano, and thyme and place on a dish.
  6. Remove the squash from the baking sheets and line the sheets with foil.
  7. One at a time, take a squash plank, dip it in the flour, shake off the excess, dip it in the egg, and then the crumb mixture. Place the plank on the foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all of the planks have been dipped.
  8. Drizzle the planks with olive oil and place in the oven. After 10 minutes, take them out of the oven and flip them over, and put them back in for another 10 minutes.  You can skip the flip by putting the planks on baking racks rather than directly on the baking sheet.
  9. Reduce the oven to 350 F
  10. Assemble the casserole:
    1. In a greased 9×13 baking dish, place about 1 cup tomato sauce in the bottom and spread evenly.
    2. Place a layer of squash on the tomato sauce, as close together as you can. It is ok to overlap the pieces.  You want to use half of the squash.
    3. Sprinkle with ½ of the parmesan cheese and then using half of the other cheese, place a layer of mozzarella on top and then the provolone.
    4. Make a second layer of squash, top with about 1 cup of tomato sauce and then the remaining cheeses.
    5. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for another 10 minutes.
    6. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

 

**If you are using a “baseball bat” of a zucchini, cut it in half length-wise and scrape out the seeds.  Then cut it into the planks.  I usually trim the pieces to fit short-ways in the baking dish.  One huge zucchini is usually enough for this recipe.  However, it does freeze well, so you could make one for now and one for later!

Blueberry Conserve/Preserve

It isn’t every day and anyone ends up with more blueberries than she ever imagined would be sitting in her kitchen.  But that is where I found myself this year after having the excellent luck of a friend offering for me to pick at his family’s blueberry patch because nobody else would be using them.  I froze many for the winter.  I dried many more for the winter.  I then decided that maybe I would make some preserves and I tried a little experiment.  This takes a lot of blueberries and does not yield a lot of preserves.  However, the upside is that it uses only enough sugar to balance the tartness of your blueberries.  This is more of a technique than a recipe, and you can substitue any type of berries, or blend of berries.

The Technique

Put enough blueberries in a stainless steel (non-reactive) pot to fill about half way. Add about an inch or two of water and the juice of one lemon.  This will help prevent scorching as you begin to cook the berries.  Over medium heat, bring the berries up to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to low simmer, stirring frequently, until they have decreased in volume by about a third.  The fruit will be mushy and the mixture will look runny.  Add more blueberries until you have a little more than the original volume in the pot.  Cook these down until the volume decreases by one third.  Repeat the process until you have use all of your berries.

At this point, you need to watch the berries carefully and stir the pot a lot to prevent scorching.  Continue cooking the berries until mass becomes thick and spreadable.  If you are using honey to sweeten this, remove the preserves from the heat and add the honey to taste.  If you are using sugar or other sweetener, add it to taste, and continue stirring until all of the sweetener is dissolved.

Put the hot preserve into freezer-safe jars*, and cap it.  When it has cooled, put the preserve in the freezer, or store in the refrigerator, where it generally keeps well for 3-4 weeks.  Once it is defrosted, the jam keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.

Freezing Jars

Glass jars may crack in the freezer, so take some precautions:

  1. Use freezer-safe jars! These have straight sides (“jelly jars,” regular mouth half pints, wide mouth half pints, wide mouth pints).
  2. Leave more “head space” at the top of the jar.  When liquids freeze, they expand — the reason ice floats in your drink is because between the temperatures of 34 F and 32 F, water actually expands as its structure changes from liquid to solid.  Therefore, whatever you are freezing will take up more space in the jar than it did as a liquid.  If you do not give the liquid room to expand, it will break the jar as it freeezes.
  3. Be sure that the jar is completely cooled before moving it to the freezer.  I do this by allowing the contents to come to room temperature and then putting it in the refrigerator overnight before moving it to the freezer.

*Not all canning jars are freezer safe, so read the label of the case to be sure.