SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks











{September 28, 2014}   Applesauce Autumn

I don’t recall ever having store bought applesauce as a kid.  I never ate the soupy yellow slop in the school cafeteria that was touted to be applesauce. I’m spoiled.  I ate homemade applesauce.

I remember chunky, not too sweet,  applesauce in quart jars from Gram’s fruit room in the basement. Sometimes, she’d make a fresh batch to go with dinner, and I’d sneak chunks of apple from the dishpan. I wasn’t so slick – she knew exactly what I was doing. And I never saw her canning it, but she must have, because there were always jars downstairs, pretty and golden and full. These days, canning is too much bother and she freezes containers instead.

My absolute favorite was always Great Grandma Sweitzer’s pink applesauce. Was it sweeter? More cinnamon flavored? Or was it simply that it was an infrequent treat? And I may be the only one who really liked it. I never can get Gram to make it for me.

When the weather turns a little cooler, my comfort cravings arrive. I watch for good prices on acorn squash and roasts. And as apples go on sale, I walk through the grocery, Droid to my ear, asking Gram which ones and how many I should get for a batch of applesauce.

Honeycrisps are good for eating, but no good for applesauce, and too pricey by far, she advised yesterday as I strolled through my Brookshire’s.

So I purchased several McIntosh, a few Red Delicious, and some Braeburns.  It takes a variety to get a good flavor, according to Gram.

As forty lurks in the not too distant future, and I’ve been away from home over twenty years, one might think these phone calls unnecessary. After all, I’ve made applesauce, baked Mac & cheese, and acorn squash on my own hundreds of times now. And I probably don’t have to call her every time. (“Don’t you ever write things down, Katherine?” “Do you have your pencil and paper ready?” I always lie and say I do, and she always knows it’s a lie). By this point, I do it out of habit. It’s an extra excuse to call my grandma.  She’s getting older, and someday I won’t be able to call and bother her with silly kitchen questions that I can answer myself or Google. So I’ll do it as long as I can.

So here is the off the top of my head because I never really write it down instructions for easy applesauce:

Easy Applesauce
3-4 varieties of apples, totaling about ten pounds
Sweetener and cinnamon, to taste

Peel, core, and cut your apples into chunks. You can run through the blender, but you may as well buy it at the grocery for that.

Place your chunks into a good-sized pot.  Add some water till your chunks are just barely covered. They should not float.

Bring to a good boil for a few minutes. Turn down and simmer till soft.  I test mine once in a while with my potato smasher.

Once soft, you can mash them easily. Give a taste and start sweetening. With the right apples, it won’t take much.

I live hot applesauce on a little ice cream.  I like it chunky and tangy. You just can’t buy it like that.

We will eat some of it, but I’ll can the rest.  It’s one of my autumn routines.

What are some of yours?

~ Katie

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{January 2, 2013}   I Can….
Under Pressure

Under Pressure (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

Over the past few years, I have worked on becoming more self-sufficient.  It is often cheaper and healthier to do things “the old-fashioned way.”  In my mind’s eye, I am in Grandma Betty’s “fruit room,” grabbing jars of fresh water salmon and homemade applesauce for dinner.  I don’t think I had store-bought jelly till I was in Middle School.  At the time, these were reminders that we didn’t have as much money as the Westscott’s or Hurley’s.  I didn’t appreciate all of the work that went into picking and prepping and canning.  I dreaded the summer days picking green beans and berries.  Now I know that each of those jars was seasoned with love.

I love opening the door to my pantry and seeing all of the jars of sauce and jelly lining the shelves.  Very rarely do I share any of the things I make.  At Christmas this year, I did give away a couple of jars and at New Year’s I opened a jar of Blueberry Blush to share with the girls.  The problem for me was vegetables.  Chili.  Green beans.  Corn.  Potatoes.  My grocery would run great sales, and I couldn’t take advantage.  All of those low-acid foods you cannot can in a water bath canner.

Last Christmas, knowing I was in such a pickle with my canning journey, Dad and Jobeth bought me a pressure canner.  It’s the coolest thing, and I can cook dry beans and make huge batches of foods.

And it sat on top of the freezer for a year.

Because I’ve not been making time to can.

And I don’t know what I’d like to can.

And I know that it is time-consuming.

And I’ve not made the time.  Until today.

New Year’s Eve I made eight quarts of Magical Mystery Beans (and no, I won’t share the complete recipe).  I filled my biggest Pampered Chef pot to the brim.  And since it was a small gathering this year, we had plenty left over. And while I am all about leftovers, Grizzly and the Monkeys burn out really quickly.

“We sure have plenty of beans, Babe,” he tells me yesterday, with a not-so-excited look on his unshaven face as he examined the contents (lack of contents) in the fridge.  I could see his brain rewinding to the last time he made a brisket and nobody showed up.  How many ways can you use leftover brisket?  I came up with about seven before Grizzly started running to Little Caesar’s on his way home in the evenings.

No fear, Big Guy!  I’m getting adventurous and playing with the pressure canner today!

I ran several quart jars through the dishwasher as I read the instruction book for the canner. I filled and cleaned rims and all that jazz till I had 6 jars in the canner.

And we’re down to 19 minutes still on the timer.

"Home Canning Vegetables Out Of The Press...

I’m excited because I love to make chili and some different convenience foods like that and don’t necessarily like freezing everything.  So if this works well, there will be more pressure canning in my future. It’s more time-consuming than I’d like but I think it is worth it in the end to have those jars full of love in my pantry.

~ Katie



{December 12, 2012}   Getting Sauced (Reprint)

Last summer,  I discovered the Shreveport Farmers’ Market.  There is nothing like sampling blueberries and local wines by the river at 7 on a Saturday morning.

My major investment last summer was bag after bag of tomatoes.  I had seen @Teresa_Giudice’s family making red sauce on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I knew I couldn’t do anything on that scale, but didn’t see why I couldn’t make sauce from scratch.

I googled for a basic recipe.  The kids and I blanched, peeled, cored, and seeded a bazillion tomatoes. Yield: 2 gallons of sauce in my freezer.

For Christmas this year, my stepmom got me a boiling water canning kit. So as soon as the market opened,  I was there with my reusable shopping tote!

My first batch took all day and produced 4 quart jars of sauce. I spent $13 on tomatoes,  not to mention whatever else went in there, so it probably wasn’t too cost effective.

Since then, I’ve begged everyone with a garden for tomatoes! I have 12 quarts canned in the pantry and would like to do a bunch more. The actual canning is under an hour. I’m getting really good at peeling tomatoes and it’s pretty much a morning project.

Apples are really expensive still, so I may try my hand at jelly next. Who knew getting sauced would be such fun?

*****

I was browsing some old posts I’d made on a blog I’d started about organizing and came across this one.  I can’t help but think how far I’ve come since that first canning attempt (Thank you for your invaluable knowledge and guidance, Mother Earth!)  my pantry is full of jellies, long emptied of apple sauce, and I (Stingily) have only one jar of red sauce left.  And I’m still willing to share the recipe.

I really think that canning kit and trip to the Farmer’s Market helped start me on my search for ultimate cheaptitude.  I figured out that I could make things instead of buying them.  I won’t lie, sometimes the up front cost has been higher than just purchasing a can of Hy-Top 4-cheese pasta sauce.  But when you really start crunching the numbers and consider the peace of mind, knowing what went into those jars in the pantry?  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

When I share my stories with Rhonda-Belle (because I talk to her pretty much at least once a day without fail!), she tells me what valuable lessons I’m teaching my kids.  Of course, hearing the eight year old monkey say, “No, The Dora cereal is not on sale and we don’t have a coupon so we are not buying it” just makes me laugh.  But maybe the monkeys will be better with money earlier than Grizzly and I were.  Maybe they’d prefer to make their own jelly and sauce than spend ridiculous money for chemicals at the grocery.  Time will tell.

~ Katie



{November 24, 2012}   An Explosion of Flavor

Growing up in Michigan, my great-grandmother had a farm with berries, beans, and I don’t even know what all else.  Summertime meant trips to Grandma Z’s to pick whatever was in season.  And pick.  And pick.  Tipping and tailing green beans is not the way a pre-teen wants to spend her free time, but I realize now those were invaluable lessons.  I’m not going to jump up and down in excitement over a day in the summer sun in someone’s garden, but I can do it.  I’m not afraid of hard work.

The monkeys have not had this experience.  Berries and popcorn come from the grocery, not from Grandma Z’s acreage.  Tomatoes are picked by someone else and bought at the Farmer’s Market.  They live in a world of instant gratification.  And I think it’s time to change that.

My cheertastic friend Peggy and I took the monkeys to a Pick-Your-Own farm back in June.  Blueberries ripen early in Louisiana and I wanted them to have a taste of my childhood.

Not the greatest plan ever.

We got a later start than I had wanted and it was hot as Hades.  After barely covering the bottom of a berry bucket, Monkey 1 decided it was time for a break.  Monkey 2 kept telling me how hot and tired she was.  I had sweat in crevices I didn’t know existed, but I was going to tough it out and show them.

We ended up with about 5 pounds of blueberries by the time we gave up for the afternoon.  Blueberries and three lemonades cost me about $7 and lunch at Pepe’s.  I consoled myself with the idea that it would have been so much more expensive at the grocery.

That weekend, my little family would be heading to Michigan, so I stuck the bag of berries in the freezer, with the idea I’d use them for something later in the summer.

Fast forward 5 months.

I’ve been doing some cleaning and reorganizing and those blueberries are taking up real estate.  Yesterday I had made some jelly and I started thinking – why couldn’t I use the blueberries for jelly?  My canning cookbook did not have a very doable blueberry recipe, so I’d have to get creative.

Have you ever heard of Champagne Blush jelly?  Here is a link if you’re interested: http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipe.aspx?r=193. Yum.  It calls for bottle raspberry juice, but why couldn’t I use blueberry juice?

Um, how do you get blueberry juice?

My five pounds of blue yummy came out of the freezer to thaw.  I dumped the entire mess into a colander in a big mixing bowl and started sorting.

Instead of using a potato masher, why not process in a blender?

I understand that you can squish the heck out of berries with a potato masher.  I’m a little lazier than that so I busted out the blender.  Then I cut a pair of panty hose and pulled them across a mixing bowl to strain the pretty purple juice for the jelly.

Except the hose had a hole in the toe.

So my smushed berries mixed back in with the juice.

And I decided it would be ok.

This is the modified recipe I used:

  • 3 cups blueberry juice – or, if your straining backfires, mush
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pectin
  • 1 1/4 cup champagneEnglish: Making blueberry jam. Blueberries (wi...

I combined my mush, lemon juice, and pectin, stirring constantly, and bringing to a boil.  After it reached a hard boil, I added the sugar.  Return to a boil.  After the concoction has been at a hard boil for one minute, remove from heat and stir in the champagne.  Skim any foam – the air bubbles are bacteria magnets.  Fill your jars and process in a Waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

The original recipe says it will make 6 half-pint jars, but with my mush, I ended up with 7.  Also, when blueberry mush starts to boil, it spatters.  Everywhere.  My kitchen currently resembles a crime scene.

Blueberry spatter is all over my stove, microwave, and walls – but boy, does this mess taste good!

And when DH came in from the woods, he asked me “Did you have some trouble with the blueberries?”

Wisacre.

I’m a rule-follower from way back, so modifying a jelly recipe is a little out of the norm for me.  I’m excited about the outcome, though!  The berries were not super-sweet Michigan berries, but the champagne really brings the flavor out.  I already have visions of serving this with cream cheese and crackers at my next Bunco.

Again, I had all of the stuff I needed on-hand so no extra out-of-pocket expense – yay, me!  And I’m using up stuff that has been taking up space.  With these 7 jars, I’m thinking it was under $1/jar, but there is a reason I teach ELA and not math!

Do you ever experiment with jelly recipes?

~ Katie



{November 23, 2012}   Making Do With What You Have

a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, top slice ...

I don’t know too many kids who don’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  With droughts, salmonella outbreaks, flooding, freezes, etc., the price of peanut butter in my local grocery has gone up almost two dollars a jar in the past year, and jelly is steadily increasing.

Thankfully, my Rhonda Belle thinks ahead.  2 years ago for Christmas, she and Papa Mac gave me a Ball Canning Starter Kit.  She wants me to be more self-sufficient.  I started out with red sauce and moved on to a variety of apple products.  Rhonda Belle’s friend “Mother Earth” has been an invaluable resource as I’ve been learning to can.  Not only does canning save me money, but this way I know what is in the products in my pantry.  I definitely prefer chemical-free, preservative-free foods in my pantry.

Part of being self-sufficient is making do with what you’ve got.  And I am running low on jelly.  Thankfully, one of my sweet 8th graders and his mama gave me a pretty container full of Satsumas (thank you, Jamie, for the identification!) and I realized there was a good chance they’d spoil before the monkeys ate them all.

Using my handy-dandy Pampered Chef citrus juicer (not the best option, as much as I love a Pampered Chef gadget!), I spent over an hour on Monday juicing and straining my little orangey friends.  They are chock-full of seeds, which I have saved to replant at some point.  And I put the juice in the fridge till I knew what I’d do with it.

Motivation visited me today.  I ran jelly jars through the dishwasher and got myself together.  I found a recipe online, got my supplies situated, and got to work.  This is the recipe I used:

Easy Satsuma Jelly

  • 4 cups Satsuma juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar – I’m going to try to decrease the sugar next time
  • 1 package Sure Jell

Combine your juices in a pot.  Slowly add the Sure Jell, stirring constantly.  Bring it to a rolling boil.  Boil for one minute, continuing to stir.  After one minute, add the sugar and bring it back to a boil.  Again, boil one minute and then remove from the heat.  Fill your jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Easy peasy!  I already had most products on hand, so I spent no extra money on this project.  The jars I use again and again.  The orangey things were a gift.   The pectin I purchase by the jar, and actually got it free at Kroger with a coupon.  Sugar was under $2 for a 4 pound bag.  I’m not a math person, but I think I’m under $1/jar.

And I love all of those pretty jars lined up in my pantry.

I still have blueberries in the freezer from a berry picking trip in June.  I’m thinking blueberry champagne (still got a bottle from New Year‘s!) jelly.  What do you think?

If you’re new to canning, I highly recommend the Ball Canning Discovery kit, or the Ball Fresh Preserving Kit.  Also, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is great for beginners.  Follow the recipes or you’ll have a bit of a mess on your hands.  I’ve had to remake a few batches of jelly because I used recipes that looked great online but didn’t work out.

I’d love to hear your experiences!

~ Katie



et cetera
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