Book Review – The Hands-On Home

Today’s post is a review of a great book on keeping a natural, healthy home. I’ve already bought 3 copies of it – for myself, my mom, and my sister, and wanted to give you a peak into the book!

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The Hands-On Home is written by Erica Strauss, the author of my favourite blog – NW Edible Life. If you love food preservation, growing food, or eating food and are not reading this blog, you are missing out. Erica writes about all sorts of gardening, food preservation, and urban homesteading topics, and is always my go-to resource for when to plant my garden (she’s just north of me in Seattle), and she’s always good for a fun cocktail recipe too. I love the blog because her posts are not only educational, but she injects humour, and I feel like we would get along if I knew her in “real life.” Her book is extra special to me because I heard about it long before it came out, and tested some of her recipes in the early stages of book writing. I actually managed to get my name in the acknowledgements for the tiny bit of work I did! Fun! So I may be a bit biased in my love for this book, but here is my take, and a little bit more about what I like about the book.

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The Hands-On Home is organized by season, and by topics within each season. Within a season it features seasonal recipes for cooking, preservation, home care, and personal care. It also features some great year-round information like recipes that are great for all seasons, cleaning techniques and recipes for natural cleaners, food preparation and preservation techniques.  I like the seasonal organization of the book, because I can flip to winter, and make a dish that features ingredients that are actually in season in the winter, or get an idea of a food preservation idea for the winter. The personal care products are nicely organized by season as well, like a summer after-sun gel, or a winter lip balm, although many are also great across seasons.

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The contents for the summer preserving section.

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The Hands-On Home is also very well illustrated. The pictures are gorgeous and will leave you wanting to make every recipe in the book. So far all the recipes I’ve made have been delicious! From a Kamut salad with delicata squash and dried cherries, to homemade granola, or oven-roasted herb confit tomatoes, this book has recipes for everyone.

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One of the recipes I actually tested in the early stages that ended up in the book was this delicious shrimp dish with a fresh basil, corn, black beans, and avocado salad. So good!

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I’ve also been really into homemade personal care products lately, and I’ve enjoyed making many of the home and personal care recipes. So far I’ve made Erica’s lip balm, bath bombs, bath salts, laundry detergent, and bar soap. See my bars below! I’ve actually been making a lot of soap recently, and this was one of the favourites when my family tested my bars.

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So if you are looking for a great book with everything from DIY hair-styling wax to recipes for preserved mustard or lacto-fermented pico de gallo, you’ll love this book. I can’t wait until canning season rolls back around to try some more of the canning recipes!

*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

Ball FreshTech Canner – Not Just for Canning Anymore

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When Ball put out their FreshTech electric water bath canner this year, which I previously reviewed here, they also advertised it with some additional uses, beyond just using it as a canner. I thought I would probably just use it for canning, and those other uses were just a good marketing idea, but I’ve actually come to use it for quite a few other things so thought I’d share some of them with you in case you’ve been on the fence about buying one. Ball’s suggestions mostly revolve around making a big batch of something – which makes sense, a lot of us don’t have another pot this big, so it is good for a big batch of whatever you are making. It also comes with a steaming rack for steaming vegetables, but to me unless you are steaming a whole lot, using this giant pot maybe isn’t ideal. My ideas for it mostly revolve around the fact that it’s very easy to get the canner to stay at a set temperature. Unfortunately the dial doesn’t have temperatures on it, so if you want to know the exact temp you need a thermometer (this is the one I use most often), but it does maintain pretty much whatever temperature you are interested in. So here are some of my uses for it!

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BEER!

Now if you are a pro, making all grain beer and being all fancy like, you probably won’t agree with this one, but I think the canner is awesome for making beer. Why? Well if you are making beer from malt extracts and a smaller amount of specialty grains, usually what you do is first steep some grains at around 170 F, then add the extract and bring your wort to a boil. Using my electric stove top, I often find myself overshooting the steeping temperatures, but using the canner has been much easier. Why? Because of the way the canner burner pulses on and off to maintain the temperature. Additionally, I just left the canning rack in the canner, and set my grain bag full of grain on top of it so I didn’t have to worry about it touching the bottom and melting or burning. Once you get your wort to your steeping temperature, turn the heat down until you hear the burner turn off, then it will just come back on in short bursts necessary to maintain that temperature. Worked like a charm. Then you have two options when you are done steeping. Either boil the wort also in the canning pot, or if you want to use your larger brew pot simply put it under the spout of the canner, open the spout and sparge your grains. Either way works great! And many of the “mini-mash” recipes that I have followed actually only tell you to boil about 3 gallons of the wort and top it off at the end anyways, so this is a great option for those recipes and for beginners not ready to invest in more equipment. Last time we brewed, we actually made one batch in the brew pot we have, and one in the canner because there is very little active time involved it was great – two brews in the same amount of time as one!

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Mmmm wort.

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 Making Stock

After thanksgiving I froze the turkey carcass to make stock with, and decided to do it with the canner this year. I am quite happy with how it turned out! I was a little concerned with whether anything would burn to the bottom (which it didn’t at all) so to be safe I actually left the rack in the canner, filled it with my bones and bits of meat, carrots, onions, celery and spices, and covered with water. Similarly to the way I’ve made stock in the crock pot before, I actually didn’t boil a ton of the water off, but rather let it just cook on a hot but not boiling temperature. I made sure that there was a ton of water in there so there was no chance of it cooking all off, and left it cooking for a full 24 hours. Turned out super well!

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Pasteurizing milk

Another possible use for the canner is pasteurizing milk. Weck actually markets their canner as a “pasteurizer.” If you have access to raw milk, and want to pasteurize it at home, you could do a nice big batch in the canner. Again, the pro here of the canner is the same as many of the other uses – I find it much easier not to overshoot the temperature. Use your canner as a double boiler with your largest pot. For pasteurization,  you want to either heat to 145 F for 30 minutes (reference here) or to 165 F for 15 seconds (reference here). The canner is large enough that you could easily use it as a double boiler for most sizes of large pot. Pictured is my 4.5 quart pot, but my larger stock pot is the same diameter and fits nicely also if I wanted to do a larger batch.

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Mulled Wine (and other hot beverages)

This one was inspired by Ball’s suggestion of apple cider, but the canner can be used for mulled wine too. The thing I like again is that you can just leave it on low and it will keep the wine warm, and you don’t have to worry about having a burner on. Plus it has a spout for serving!

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Do you have the new Ball canner? What creative ways have you used it? Interested in purchasing one? – They have had a couple sales on amazon so keep your eyes peeled for after Christmas sales, or buy one for the canning junky in your life!

*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information (Yes, if you buy the canner from amazon I will receive a small profit, but I would never recommend a product I don’t love just because of that!!)

 

Plum Sauce

mmmm plums. Last year I posted another plum sauce recipe, which was also delicious, but keeping with my desire to make every recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, I decided to try their recipe this year. The only thing I changed from what’s in Ball is to add allspice, and remove some of the sugar. Make it with a mix of plum varieties for extra fun sauce!

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10 cups chopped pitted plums
3/4 cups finely chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped seeded chili pepper
1 cup cider vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar (optional in my opinion)
2 tbsp mustard seeds (I used 1 ish tbsp ground)
1 tbsp salt
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped gingerroot
1/2 tsp allspice

To make it:

Dice the plums, pepper, onions, ginger, and garlic finely and combine everything except the plums in a large pot and bring to a boil. I thought 3 total cups of sugar sounded like too much, so left out the white sugar and decided I’d taste it and add in later if I wanted it sweeter. I didn’t end up adding in though, it’s plenty tasty without, so consider reducing it if you want a less sweet sauce; Ball tends to make things quite sweet.

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Add the diced plums and return to a boil. Reduce heat and continue to simmer for a few hours, until it reaches a good plum sauce consistency. When you are getting close, prepare 4 pint jars, or 8 half pints.

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Here it is reduced by about half, a few hours later.

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Fill hot jars, leaving a half inch head space. Wipe rims, apply lids, and tighten finger tip tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner, covered by at least 1-2 inches of water, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off heat, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, and remove jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool, check seals, label, and store.

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Gorgeous!! And tasty.

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*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

Packing that Perfect Pickle Punch – Ten Tips for Firm Quick Pickles

There is nothing worse than opening a jar of homemade pickles, biting into one, and finding that they are all soggy and nasty. Blech! OK, nothing worse might be slight hyperbole, but you know what I mean. Many MFPs I know don’t even like making homemade pickles because they get so soft. But alas, I am here to help! Here are my top ten tips for keeping pickles firm and crispy – from the least, to most useful (in my humble opinion – I did reorder quite a few times). This is the publication where I got some of this info – here.

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10. Always use cucumber varieties meant for pickling – a pickling cucumber and cucumber for your salad were bred for different purposes.

9. Don’t bother with alum. OK this one is more of a tip of what not to do, but some recipes you will see, especially online or in older pubs, still call for alum. It actually doesn’t do much for your quick pickles, but may be somewhat useful in fermented pickles. So skip the alum and try #4 instead if you want.

8. Pickling lime.  The calcium in lime will help firm pickles. However, lime also lowers the acidity, so you have to soak cucumber in water multiple times following the soaking in lime to remove the excess lime for safety. It does really work, but to me it’s too much work.

7. Soak cucumbers in ice water. This helps firm the veggies as well, I could postulate on why but couldn’t find a good source for why it works. Perhaps it hydrates them, and the cooling keeps them firm somehow too. Ahem, because science.

6. Grape Leaves. Some people swear by using a grape leaf in each jar of pickles for keeping them firm, but apparently a grape leaf’s tannins keep the cucumbers firm by counteracting the enzymes found in the blossom end (see number 5). Thus, if you removed that the grape leaf may not add any more. But maybe you missed a blossom end, who knows.

5. Remove the blossom end. When your cucumber is growing, the bottom end of it is called the blossom end (where the flower was). Trim this end off of your cucumbers, as it contains enzymes that soften pickles. Just a little sliver off the end takes care of those enzymes.

4. Pickle crispPickle crisp is a Ball product, but I’m sure others make it too, as it is simply calcium chloride. Pickle Crisp helps keep pickles firm because the calcium helps firm the pectin in the cucumber, the same way lime does.

3. Don’t pickle over-mature cucumbers – start with a good quality veggie. Yes, sometimes the garden gets away from us and there are suddenly some big ole cucs on the vine and we are tempted to pickle them anyways. Don’t bother, unless you like mush. Big cucumbers may be hollow, or just be softer in the middle where the seeds are growing. Chop those up for your salad. Yes, I realize what I said in #10, but it works in this direction.

2. Pickle immediately. If you have your own garden this is easier, but do your best to pickle cucumbers as soon after picking them as you can. If buying them, ask the farmer when they were picked, or at least process them as soon after buying them as you can. Cucumbers will lose their firmness the longer you wait. Within 24 hours is ideal.

1. Low temperature pasteurization. To me this is the number 1 way to keep pickles firm, and often one overlooked because a lot of people don’t know it’s a thing. It might not be more important than using a good quality cuc to start with, but I put it first because so many people don’t know about it. Basically, overprocessing pickles can cause them to become soft. With low temp processing, you can process the recipes from this publication PNW 355 at 180-185 F instead of a full rolling boil. It works, it really works. For more on that see my experiment from last year – here.

Get picklin’!

Blackberry Raspberry Pie Filling

When I saw a recipe for raspberry pie filling in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, I have to admit that I was fairly skeptical as to how well it would turn out. It’s a recipe with ClearJel, and if you’ve ever used ClearJel, you know what a gooey mess it can become. I was unsure how well I could maintain the integrity of such a delicate berry, but of course, that didn’t stop me – challenge accepted. So I thought what I’d try was just making one jar at a time. Since I had picked raspberries and blackberries on this particular day, I made a jar of raspberry, a jar of blackberry, and a jar of half and half. I am actually pretty happy with how it turned out! For the recipe I ended up following the extension publication, which was pretty much the same as Ball, but it gives amounts  for 1 or 7 quarts – Fruit Pie Fillings extension pub linked to here.

Ingredients (for just one quart):

3 1/3 cups raspberries or blackberries (or a combination)
1 cup sugar (I reduced to 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp ClearJel
1 1/3 cups cold water or fruit juice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp bottled lemon juice

Here’s how it’s made:

Prepare your canner, jars, and lids. Combine the sugar and ClearJel in a large pot and stir. Remember, you can safely reduce the ClearJel or sugar, if desired, so make one jar, see how you like it, and adjust accordingly next time. The lemon juice (added later), should not be reduced.

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Add water or juice, and cook mixture over medium high heat. It will initially get thick in chunks, and will smooth out to look how it does below. For a few more pictures check out my Cherry Pie Filling recipe.

Once the mixture is thick and bubbling, add the lemon juice and boil for one more minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning.

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Remove from heat, and gently fold in the berries.

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Doing just one jar I was able to keep the berries fairly unsquished, but if you go for the full canner load of 7 quarts, I make no guarantees. I have done a full batch of blueberries though, and with their firmer texture it works beautifully. The blackberries might be ok too, but I have my doubts on the raspberries. However, mushy would still be tasty!

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Immediately fill the hot quart jars, leaving a full 1 inch headspace, or perhaps even slightly more. ClearJel will expand a bit and you don’t want to risk jars not sealing over cramming in a couple extra berries. Wipe rims, apply lids, and tighten bands finger tip tight.

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Process the jars in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes (0 – 1000 feet elevation).

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After processing, remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes, and remove the jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool 12-24 hours, check seals, label, and store. Below I have the raspberry on the left, blackberry on the right, and the 50:50 combo pie in the middle. Can’t wait to make these into pie!!

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*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

Chocolate Raspberry Sundae Topper

Raspberries are, in the view of many people I know, so precious that it’s hard to even want to preserve them; it’s best to just gorge on them until your tongue hurts, and eat them fresh while they are in season. I can totally understand that perspective since it’s hard to preserve the delicate texture and the amazing fresh taste of raspberries, but since I picked few buckets full two weekends in a row, I wanted to preserve some of them. I made some homemade raspberry ice cream following this recipe from the blog the view from great island, and made this chocolate raspberry sundae topper from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to go on top. It is deeeeelish and a great treat for chocolate lovers.

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Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 package regular fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups crushed raspberries
4 tbsp lemon juice
6 3/4 cups sugar

Here’s how it’s made:

Prepare your canner, jars, and lids. This recipe yields 6-7 half pints. Combine the cocoa powder and pectin in a bowl and set aside.

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Mash the berries and measure into a large pot. Add the lemon juice and stir.

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Whisk in the pectin/cocoa mixture.

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Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once at a full boil, add the sugar all at once, return to a boil, and boil hard for one minute.

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So lovely, and delicious.

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Fill your hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and bands, and tighten finger tip tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner, covered by at least an inch or two of water for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, remove jars, cool, and store.

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This sundae topper makes a delightful gift for the ice cream lover in your life. I bet it would also be really good on a light cake – I think I need to try it. The only thing I may change if I did this again would be to potentially reduce the pectin. It sets pretty firmly, which for a “sundae topper” seemed sort of unnecessary. Next time I might halve it for a less firm set.

Have any raspberries you’re wanting to preserve in a unique and interesting way? Try this out and let me know what you think!

 

 

Blackberry Cabernet Jam

Last weekend after picking a ton of blackberries I was thinking about what delicious blackberry creation I could come up with, and was reminded of the strawberry Pinot Noir jam that I made two summers ago. Blackberries and wine? Yes please! That sounds like a great idea. Blackberries are bold though, I thought to myself, they need a bolder wine, thus was born the blackberry Cabernet jam. This jam is a real time commitment, as it is pectin free, and has an entire bottle of wine in it. However, if you’re feeling slightly more impatient the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving does have a berry wine jelly using liquid pectin that you could whip up faster. Alternatively, make a half batch and drink the other half of the wine.

Ingredients:
15 cups blackberries
2.5 cups sugar
One bottle of your favourite Cabernet Sauvignon or other bold wine
1 tbsp of lemon juice

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Here’s what I did:

Prepare the canner, jars, and lids (and by prepare I really mean start pondering it, because you actually won’t need to prepare for like 4 more hours). Depending on how long you cook this jam, it will yield about 6-8 pints. Mash the berries to your preferred level of mashiness in a large pot, and add the sugar, wine, and lemon juice. Leave a small amount of wine in the bottom of the bottle to sip on while you bring the jam to a boil.

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Bring to a boil over medium/high heat. Reduce and maintain a gentle boil for a good many hours, stirring occasionally. I think I ended up cooking this for nearly 5 hours. Be patient, or play with adding some liquid pectin of you want a firmer set. Near the end of the cook time, pay close attention to avoid any burning on the bottom of the pot.

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Fill hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims, apply lids, and tighten bands finger tip tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

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Deeeeelicious. And oh so pretty. Now who wants to host a cocktail party or wine night so that I can bring some of this jam? 😉

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