Tuesday, September 26, 2017


A few weeks ago, I made the labor intensive zucchini relish recipe that is a favorite among many of our family and friends. One huge zucchini from Val's garden yielded eight cups of finely chopped green and white cubes. Add four cups of diced onions, a red pepper, some green peppers, that's a lot of chopping. Who knew such a concoction mixed with celery seed, sugar and salt could be so lipsmackingly delicious?  It brightens up grilled chicken, tuna salad on thick white bread and makes a grilled hot dog into something out of this world.  But to be able to have a jar on the dinner table in January means putting in the hard work in August when all I really want to do is spend the last few days before school starts again, on the beach with my feet in the sand and my chair directed toward the tide coming in and out.  Waiting for September doesn't help.  Less people in town make the beach and other outdoor activities even more inviting.  The few hours I have to myself while the kids are in school are often spent doing the usual household chores but if I'm lucky, I might fit in a walk along the bike path in blissful silence or take in the view at Falmouth Harbor.  But the harvest awaits!
  The cucumbers won't stop this year, either.  They are growing long and green to the point where there are too many to eat in salads or used as vehicles to scoop up blue cheese dip.  So, mother nature has me back in the kitchen again, firing up the canning pot to make two batches of dill pickles. Val's dill plant is more like a "tree" with many "branches" of dill flower heads.  The garlic from the farmer's market is pungent and strong, and tastes so much spicier than the dried up heads I get at the supermarket.  A few slices of bright red chili peppers make a nice looking contrast in the jars full of  sliced green pickles.  All together it tastes of a vinegary, spicy, sour bite.
  There are a lot of recipes in the repertoire that I won't get to this year before the time for freshly picked fruits and vegetables has gone by.  But I am putting in an extreme effort to make at least one batch of jam before the leaves begin to fall.
  Val's Heavenly Peach Jam is actually a recipe given to her by the late Mrs. Eastman.  Mrs. "E" commissioned Val to make numerous batches of this sweet concoction to be sold in the back section of Eastman's Hardware.  The part of the store was called "Fannie's Corner" and displayed all sorts of delightful knick-knacks, Christmas ornaments, fancy candies in decorative tins and my favorite: an assortment of very large stuffed rabbits wearing knit sweaters.  I could browse around that shop with it's creaky, lacquered wood floors for hours on end looking at all the treasures that Mrs. Eastman carefully curated.  Her taste was impeccable, her style on point.  Although I admired all the things that Mrs. Eastman displayed in her shop, this jam was not exactly a favorite of mine.  Mostly because I preferred sweet jellies and jams along with peanut butter in a sandwich packed in my lunchbox for school.  The peaches and the peanut butter just never seemed to make a good match to me and I longed for red raspberry or strawberry jelly in my sandwiches, instead.  Perhaps it was the color.  Bright orangy/yellow alongside the light brown peanut butter on white bread.  Reminds me of the popular color scheme in the 1970's of burnt orange, brown and yellow, which then reminds me of shag carpeting and polyester leisure suits, ideas better left in the past.  So, I am not sure why I am feeling so strongly about putting in the effort to make this jam.  Perhaps because my palate has matured and I know how delicious, sweet and juicy a fresh peach can be.  I want to be able to enjoy that burst of early Autumn flavor in the dead of winter on a piece of buttery toast while the snow falls outside my window.
  I've gathered my ingredients and found the jars and lids.  All that is left now is to let the peaches soften up a bit.  When I'm finished, I'll stash the jam in the cellar with my other preserved pantry items.  Call me in January, when the snow is falling.  I might just invite you over to enjoy the bounty from summer 2017.

Heavenly Peach Jam

3 pounds peaches
zest of 1 orange
juice and pulp from 2 oranges
1 small jar maraschino cherries with juice (no stems)
2 packages pectin

Peel peaches and slice into a large pot.  Smash peaches leaving some larger pieces.   Zest one orange and add it to the peaches.  Peel and section oranges into the pot (discard connective membrane).  On high heat, bring mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Quickly stir in pectin and return to a full rolling boil for one minute while continuing to stir.  After one minute, remove pot from heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.  Ladle into prepared (sterilized) jars leaving 1/8" head space.  Wipe jar rims and threads with a damp towel.  Top with prepared lids and bands.  Process in a canner for 10 minutes in boiling water.   Remove from canner and allow to cool.
After jars have cooled, test the seals making sure that they are tight.  Tightly sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months.  If the seal is not tight, refrigerate and use the jam within 2 weeks.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


  Instead of the usual humid days- heat, heavy air, the kind that according to Val's sister, Nancy, "covers you like a blanket.", September has already proven to be cool, crisp and a true harbinger of fall days.  And school days. The weather this week heading into Labor Day has been cool and crisp every morning, sweatshirt worthy at night.  The kind that makes you think about backpacks, homework and an apple for the teacher.  Melancholy is the the feeling in the air at our little house at the end of a busy, exceptionally fun summer full of beach days, jumping off the dock, wiffle ball games, sleepovers, ice cream sundaes and toasting marshmallows in the backyard.  I used to become incredibly happy about back to school, the excitement of the kids meeting new friends, more freedom during the day for me, a rest from the kids bickering over the t.v. remote.  But now I am already sad for the loss of summer fun and the long days spent digging my feet in the sand, sitting in my beach chair while watching the kids run back and forth from swimming to huddling for a brief moment in their sandy towels before they took off again with their friends.  Out of earshot but not out of sight.   I've felt this way since about the middle of August, knowing the end was coming near and here it is just a few days away.
  But all is not lost.  September brings it's own schedule of busyness.  Meeting the teachers, making new friends, soccer and dance schedules begin, again.  It is a time to renew, recharge, refresh, something to look forward to.  It is however, a little more bitter than sweet.  That is why I am now adopting a new phrase for this feeling that hovers near my heart in anticipation of next Tuesday morning.  A few days ago, an adult asked Declan how he was feeling about getting back to school, Declan paused for a moment, likely reflecting on his summer of fun while projecting himself into his upcoming soccer season and daily after lunch recess basketball games that he will play with his friends, he replied, "Bitter/sour".  Exactly.  Leaving summer behind is bitter and school is, well, school is likely more sour than sweet but nonetheless, sour is still a flavor that even though it can torture our taste buds at times, most of us like it, at least a little bit.

   While this ice cream recipe is not at all bitter and not even remotely sour, it does soothe a lot of those feelings.  Declan's favorite flavor is mint, so this is a summer staple in our home.  The flavor is earthy and naturally cool and minty, reminding me of nibbling a few leaves off the plants near the spigot, where the hose drips in Val's yard, on the side of the house where the sun shines bright. I make a few batches and stash them away in the back of the freezer to savor during those times when we are really missing warm, sunny days that last into the evening full of friends and endless summer fun.

mint ice cream

Backyard Mint Ice Cream
(from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream's at Home)
makes about 2 pints

*You will need an ice cream maker to spin the ice cream at the end of this recipe.

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
a large handful of fresh mint cut straight from the backyard, leaves torn into smaller pieces

Set aside 2 tablespoons of the milk.  Whisk the cream cheese and the salt in a medium bowl until smooth.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat. Boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Mix cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of reserved milk to make a slurry and add to saucepan. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium high heat while stirring until slightly thickened (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat.

Gradually mix hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the mint.  Pour entire mixture into 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge in the ice water bath.  Let stand for about 30 minutes.  Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.  

Mix ice cream:  Strain out mint.  Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick, aerated and creamy.  Immediately scoop into pint size containers.  Press a small piece of wax paper to the top of the ice cream and cover.  Freeze until firm, about 4 hours before serving.