Fig jam

The frost and then the yard man’s weed wacker have hindered my fig production. Honestly, it reduced the number of fig bushes from six to two and those two are limping along. So, I tried to barter honey from my summer robbing for figs. I asked my fellow local gardeners through Facebook but I missed the summer figs by a few weeks. The I walked into Publix and they had black Mission and brown Turkey figs BOGO. Wining!

Fresh figs

So I stemmed and quartered thirty figs, I added two cups of white sugar and one whole vanilla bean, split. I put it all in a heavy LIDDED Le Creuset Dutch oven and cooked it on very low heat until all the figs were soft and brown. I used a pastry knife to chop any remaining pieces into smaller chunks. I removed the vanilla bean and scraped out the bean paste, returning it to the slow boiled jam.

Cooked vanilla fig jamThe outcome was six half pint jars and a small quarter pint remnant that goes into the fridge for me to eat now on toast or with cheddar cheese on crackers.

Fig jam in jars



All’s Pear in Love

Yesterday morning it was cool by July standards and foggy. A good time to attend to the pear trees. This is their second fruit season and I am blessed with an abundance of fruit on such small trees. Calling them trees exaggerates, embellishes. The Biscamp pear, a self-pollinating variety bore the most fruit; its reed thin branches heavy laden with large man-fist sized fruits.

Biscamp pear

The Pineapple and the Sug variety, more old-fashioned sand pears are meant to cross pollinate. It is unclear if these two trees even like each other. They had some kind of tree-sex because they each had one pear. One. Their fecundity is yet to be determined.

Sug pear Pineapple pear

I had hoped that planting the pears close to the Carolina Redbuds, the bees would work the five trees indiscriminately. I will have to consider better protecting these trees and their early spring buds from late freezes.

The pear trees needed a spa day. I shoveled a ring around each base, hand troweled the grass runners crisscrossing the ground and stealing the trees’ vital nutrients. I added six double hand-scoops of Black Kow manure to the base and worked it all in.

Weedy pear Neat pear

I then re-attached biodegradable twine and staked the branches wide to open up the inside of the trees. It is not meant to be a true espalier.

Biscamp staked Sug staked Pineapple staked

Then it was time to make my Granny’s conserve. By my Granny’s definition, a conserve was two (or more) fresh fruits cooked with sugar. The traditional culinary definition is cooking dried fruits and nuts which I think of more as a chutney. A conserve is slow cooked, chunky, sweet and has no added pectin. The literature on the Biscamp, the majority of the fruit I have to make my conserve, is said to be a “soft eating pear” supposedly like a Bartlett. After peeling and slicing…that is a liberal assertion. And thank God for it. I didn’t want a soft, fine grained eating pear. I wanted SAND pears.The Biscamp is as gritty as coarse sand paper but it is very juicy, even with still-green skins.

I have an Apple-Mate 3 that attaches to my kitchen counter and peels the pear skins. These pear skins have a tannin in them and hand peeling turns your fingers and nails brown for days. Plus the skins are TOUGH and attached to the flesh of the fruit. The Apple-Mate scratches the peels off perfectly. Final touches are made with a very sharp paring knife before chopping off the core and mincing in a Cuisinart. I am all about the gadgetry.

Peels20150719_091212In the pot

I embellish my Granny’s recipe which used canned pineapple, sand pears and sugar. Instead, I use fresh pineapple, sand pears, sugar, a split vanilla bean and a stick of cinnamon. The outcome is a conserve perfect on English muffin, bagel, sour dough toast, warmed and poured over ice cream, served over warm gingerbread cake or bread pudding or in a spoon: plain and simply perfect.

Eight jars

Jeweled pearfection


Christmas Oranges

My parents told stories of getting oranges in their Christmas stockings. I have friends in Canada that frame oranges and citrus as a winter treat. Having lived my whole life in Florida with the exception of brief interludes in DC and Charleston, oranges are part of my fundamental lexicon. My parents lived in Homestead when Hurricane Andrew struck. They had acres of citrus groves: ranges, tangerines, grapefruits. They had many heirloom varieties. The hurricane’s winds pushed every single tree out of the ground; the whole grove was uprooted and falling to the west. My father paid a man to “upright” the trees and stake them, hoping to save the orchards. When he returned home from work that afternoon, the worker man he had hired had take a chainsaw to the entire grove and chopped every tree to a stump. I always thought that event was far more devastating to my father’s will than the actual hurricane.

Today at the farmer’s market, I was in search of oranges. I was gifted some heirloom oranges by a patient but their rinds were too thick for marmalade. They make great juicing oranges, though. And Miss Sue brings me two dozen every year the week before Christmas. I bought Ambersweets, Red Navels and Hamlins to add to Miss Sue’s oranges.

Four native varietiesThe Hamlins had a few seeds but otherwise, the varieties were seedless. I then pressed the juice out of four oranges to get 4 cups of juice. I sectioned five Hamlins removing their fresh and then separating the sections.

Rinds without fruitI pulled the pith and membranes from between each section of the orange.

Orange sectionsI added the fruit and the juice to a large 8QT stock pot. I then sat down to the labor intensive task of slicing the white pith from the backs of the sections.

Removing the pithSome recipes advise placing all the pith and membranes up into a cheese cloth to provide the pectin for the marmalade, but since I use 4 cups of freshly squeezed juice (with the pulp) instead of 6 cups of plain water, I find this to be unnecessary. Then I julienned the rinds.

Sliced rindsI added the rinds to the pot along with another 2 cups of water, 8 (yes, EIGHT) cups of sugar and 1 cinnamon stick. I brought the mixture to a rolling boil and stood stirring it for 5 minutes. I turned the heat off and went out to do my first bit of Christmas shopping. Four hours later, I restarted the mixture on a medium heat simmer. I attached a candy thermometer and waiting until it registered 220F. I had 4 plates stored in the freezer and when I reached that jelly stage when you drop some of the boiling liquid on the frozen plate and in 30 seconds, you can draw your finger through it…..and the single dot becomes a cleaved two dots…..the marmalade is ready to can. Did I mention I then licked that plate clean. I had to test it 3 times to be sure it was ready.

Florida Orange MarmaladeIt is perhaps the best orange marmalade I have ever made.


Pear conserve

name tags

I planted three pear trees back in the winter. All I really want are the sand pears which some people also call Asian pears or pineapple pears. Sand is the best adjective, because they are gritty and coarse. I lost all the blossoms to freeze so had to buy pears at the farmers market. I bought 2 baskets last week and two more this week.

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Peel and core the pears and add a whole, fresh pineapple putting all of it through the food processor. Add 4 cups of cane sugar.

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Bring it up to a rolling boil, add cinnamon and nutmeg if you like, or a whole vanilla bean, and continue to boil for 20 minutes, stirring constantly. The pears and pineapples will become glassy and glossy. Can it all like jam following the standard water bath canning instructions.




Garden plans

An inaugural year but not enough to yet designate me a gardener. I planted a garden. Initially I planted seeds. I was ambitious or rather, I planned for contingencies. I planned for a sizable percentage of failure. Instead, everything sprouted and I was looking at having enough seedlings for a acre garden.

seeds for tomatoes, basil, lettuces, onions, carrots, and cucumbers

seeds for tomatoes, basil, lettuces, onions, carrots, and cucumbers

I didn’t plan for a hard freeze killing everything.

Frost covered Genovese basilPredictably, I restarted and replanted but I only had the lesser preferred seeds. I planted things too close and the crowding led to pests. I didn’t spray for the pests quickly enough and so I lost much of what grew to aphids. Then the rains started and I lost much to cracking and splitting. The white cucumbers were prolific but I lost all the green miniature cukes. I made lime pickles with what I grew and they’re tasty.

Sealed jarsI planted calliope eggplants and I’ve had a nice outcome. They’re still producing. Next year I think six plants will be enough. I even ate the eggplant, which was a first. I’ve always declined eggplant because of the texture, but finely chopped baby eggplants are indiscernible when added to spaghetti sauce. As I watch and learn from the local gardeners, they are all pulling down their gardens. I still have tons of tomatoes on my bushes, so I delay. But, thoughts shift to the fall and what and when I should start seeds for the fall. What can I grow? I should get my soil tested and see what amendments need to be made.

I’ll fertilize the fruit trees and wait to see if the figs yield enough for a small batch of pure Biddan Ridge jam. I am thinking mostly about flowers and my bees. What flowers shall I plant and where so as to maximize their happiness and honey production? They seem to like the cosmos, zinnias and the oregano that has bolted. I want to trim it back, but the bees and butterflies are having a hay day. I have two large seed packets of dill, which I’ll plant just to please the swallowtail caterpillars. And I’ll spend the off season relocating and trying to domesticate the blackberry volunteers that keep returning to my flower bed around the river birches. I promised to ship some of my blackberries to a friend in Texas so she can give them a try in her yard. She has a much greener thumb than I have; I’m sure she’ll do well. I must admit that summer gardening is hard due to the heat. I weeded a flower bed this morning between 9 and 12 in full shade and I sweat like a prize fighter. But the bed is cleared and the irrigation fixed and all the drip lines are functioning. All that’s left to deep weed is the back daylily bed and the river birches. I’ll tackle them this week while I am off. Keep the body busy to keep the mind distracted.


Cherry Blackberry Jam

I bought a bag of cherries at Publix. I like to fill a bowl with the cherries and cover them with ice when I am working in the yard. I then nibble on cold cherries as a refreshment. The cherries lose their freshness and crispness after about a week in the crisper. I dislike that they might spoil and end up in the compost pile so I decided to take the blackberry juice I harvested from the last four cups of wild blackberries I picked and mix it with the pitted cherries. I added four cups of

sugar and a teaspoon of butter. I brought the whole thing to a rolling boil and skimmed off the foam. I stood and stirred the boiling jam for 30 minutes. The house lost power in a huge thunderstorm, but my gas Kenmore Pro range kept on trucking. I now have six half pints of Cherry-Blackberry jam. It will go perfectly on my fresh baked whole wheat bread tomorrow morning. I’ll scramble some eggs and make coffee….perfection!

Cherry Blackberry jam


I woke before the sun and set coffee to brew and then headed to the southern property line just as the sun crested the distant eastern horizon. Blackberries destined for my Le Creuset kettle and a fancy half pint Ball jar needed picking. The season for berries is early. For every small cluster of black berries, there was an adjoining cane full of red and ivory berries. The season will be long and if the rains keep coming each afternoon, the berries will get bigger. I put up 7 half pints of pectin free seedless blackberry jam. I bought a Roma food mill two years ago; the hand cranked device makes a quick transformation of 10 cups of berries into seedless juice. I will repeat the berry collection and put the seedless juice in the freezer.

Then off to the farmers’ market I ran to get eggs and a whole organic chicken, orange juice ambrosia and to peruse the other fare. I bought four pints of blueberries, some chevre (not for human consumption), purple onions, agapanthus, sweet shrubs and a few butterfly bushes. The sweet shrubs are a special find and I am so happy to add them to my garden. They will die back in the winter, send out runners and spread out over the years. Evie likes the agapanthus; he calls them fireworks flowers. He has an affinity for blue and indigo flowers in the garden and I will indulge him.

Tomorrow we will rob the hive. I am excited to see what my bees have produced in the last 10 months. I have recipes collected to use with my honey and may start with a honey challah tomorrow to eat with my black and blue berry jams.

Wild blackberries


Totally Homemade

I picked the first growth of our cucumbers, grown from seeds for Ellen’s Family white pickling cucumbers.

Ellen's Family white cucmbers

The cucumbers look like yellow squash but smelled strongly like cucumbers. I used the recipe on the back of Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime and made Old South Cucumber Lime Pickles. I make my own pickling spice as a variation from the Rodale’s whole pickling spice. Mrs. Wages’ recipe calls for a lime brine instead of a salt brine. It was far more labor intensive with lots of soaking, rinsing and steeping.

Vinegar sugar syrup with spices

I will be pulling cucumbers off these vines for many more weeks. They are fat and healthy and seem very resistant to borers and pests plus the bees have loved the blossoms. I bought the seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Hot jars with pickles

Sealed jars