Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Jam Making with Kids


Growing up on a hobby farm, the Fall months meant making ‘preserves’ for eating in  the long winter months.  We used fruits that we either grew or purchased from local farmers.  I learned at a very young age how to make jam, fruit butters, and jellies with my Mother.

In those days, that task was very labor intensive.  It involved long hours of simmering the fruit in a large pot, on top of the stove.  Mom used lemons or apples as a natural source of pectin.  Pectin is what makes the jam set.  After the jam thickened, Mom poured it into sterilized jars and then sealed each of the jars using hot paraffin wax.  My job was to cut   pieces of string and carefully place them into the middle of the hot paraffin.  Later it was used to pull the cold wax seal from the jar in order to access the delicious home made preserves.

Things have become a lot easier in our modern world.  Today we have two types of jam that we can make and both are very easy.  There is boiled, which is stored in glass jars with sterilized two piece lids and no cook jam which does not require any cooking.

Kids love being involved in the kitchen.   Today’s   conveniently packaged pectin, makes jam making easy with the little ones.  Even if you are a new cook you will be in and out of the kitchen within half an hour. Here is a simple recipe for quick and easy Strawberry Freezer Jam.  I chose strawberries because they are available year round at most grocery stores. 

For best results use your berries within 24 hours after purchase.  The kids can help out by counting the cleaned berries and putting them into pie plates. Let each child take a turn crushing the berries with a potato masher and measuring them into a glass measuring cup. Once you have added the sugar and pectin, let them help stir the mixture.     

Strawberry Freezer Jam

1 quart strawberries, cleaned

4 cups granulated sugar

1 pouch of liquid pectin specifically for freezer jam

2 tbsp lemon juice

1. Remove the stems and crush the strawberries one layer at a time using a potato masher.  Using a pie plate makes the mashing an easy surface to work on.  Measure 1 ¾ cups of berries into a large bowl.
2. Add the sugar to the fruit and mix it well.  Let it stand for 10 minutes.
3. Stir in the liquid fruit pectin and lemon juice.  Stir the jam until the sugar is dissolved.
4. Carefully pour ladle the jam   into clean plastic jars or plastic containers. Plastic is best if you are going to freeze your jam.  Glass can break once it is frozen.  A preserving funnel (a wide-bottomed funnel available at most cookware or hardware stores) will make the job easier.       
5. Do not over fill your containers. You want to make sure there is enough space to allow the jam to freeze properly without expanding and popping the lids off in the freezer. In order to have your jam set properly.   Use jars or plastic containers that hold approximately 1 cup.   
6. Let the jam set at room temperature until it sets.  That could take 24 hours.  Store in the freezer.  The jam may also be stored in the refrigerator if you intend on eating it within three weeks.   The recipe makes 5 cups.

While the jam is setting get your kids to design their own labels and decorative tops.  My kids liked to use store stickers, brown craft paper with twine for tying, bits of scrap fabric  also work with an elastic band holding it in place and then tied with a piece of string or ribbon.    My boys decorated paper lunch bags using markers and rubber stamps.  You can imagine how pleased their grandparents were to receive this gift.

Whether you keep it or give it away as a gift there is nothing quite like the taste of home-made preserves on a piece of toast.   Preserving with kids is a great family activity. 

*Tip:  Making jam is a great activity for a kid’s birthday party.  It is even more fun and educational for the kids to go to a farm and pick their own fruit.

*Check out ‘Beatrice and the Snow People’ a great chapter book for ages 9-11.  It's available online.  

Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward. ~Terri Guillemets

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Put the Hot into Chocolate!

I have always loved ice skating.  I was only four years old when I started.  I wore two bladed skates.  Eventually I graduated to figure skates.  It was around then that I went to an indoor arena with my friend Fran.  We are still friends now after all of these years.    

When we moved to the country there was nothing finer than going out to the field, where water had settled and froze.   Pools of water turned into huge rinks for skating.   We   lived down the road from  a forest and swamp.  Hidden inside the bullrushes and sassafras shrubs, was a nugget of a find, a natural pond.  Dad would test it, shovel the snow off  and we would skate to our hearts content.  After we were worn out from   the fresh air and exercise we would walk home to where Mom   had a nice cup of hot cocoa waiting.

In those days hot chocolate was always made with cocoa.  Eventually hot chocolate mixes came out that were very convenient but for me their taste was not the same.

During my days of working as a museum  registrar, I catalogued a chocolate pot.     It  was probably used in the 1850’s.  It had a hole in the top of its porcelain base and had a molinillo, a stirring rod.  A handle jutted from  the side of the pot so that the cook could hold it over the heat.  Chocolate in those days was solid and gritty and had to be melted to make it a tasty drink.  It was mixed with water.   

At one time in history hot chocolate was a more popular drink than coffee or tea.  The Cyclopaedia: or  Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature, says chocolate was “esteemed not only an excellent food, as being very nourishing , but also as a good medicine; at least a diet, for keeping up the warmth of the stomach , and assisting digestion.”  

 I contacted Éric Normand for some more information.  He is a chocolatier in Quebec City.  He has an amazing website and what fascinated me the most was his virtual museum  at . 

Chocolate used in beverages has a long and interesting history. It has been used medicinally and for feeding the troops during the American Revolution.   Many of the soldier’s diaries listed chocolate as a common provision indicating that they breakfasted on the chocolate beverage alone.

Whether you use a mix or cocoa everyone can agree that hot chocolate is a wonderful treat on a cold winter’s day.  Here is a great recipe for a party:

Gloria’s Hot Mocha Cocoa
1 cup of chocolate syrup
1/3 cup of black coffee
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 quart 2% milk
1 quart of fat free half and half
Combine all of the ingredients into a large pot.  Stir until well blended.  Cover and simmer on low until it is ready for serving hot in mugs.
*This recipe makes nine servings.

 At no other time has Nature concentrated such a wealth of valuable nourishment into such a small space as in the cocoa bean.  ~Alexander von Humboldt

Photo's courtesy of  Éric Normand .

If you need a freelance writer please consider contacting me for further info. Thanks for reading the blog.



Monday, 14 January 2013

Time for Haggis!

Once a year my parents would bring out the hand cranked sausage- maker to make hurka.  Hurka is a Hungarian sausage made from  organ meats such as pork liver, lungs, head meat, rice, and onions.   After encased and twisted into individual sausages, they were then boiled in water.  Mom   would later fry them  up.  I was pretty grossed out as a kid and refused to eat the hurka because it contained organ meat.   Later in life, I developed a taste for it.  For some reason hurka  reminds me of haggis, probably because when I was a child,  it too was  made using several different organ meats.   Things have changed regarding that usage today.   Since Robbie Burn's Day is approaching on January 25th, I contacted my friend Alastair Barnett to share his thoughts and recipe about this Scottish culinary treasure.  Here’s what he had to say:

When I first arrived in the US, many moons ago from  Scotland, I was regularly asked, “What exactly is haggis?”  Being young and full of nonsense I exacerbated the myth by telling everyone: “A haggis is a fat wee hairy beastie that flies low o’er the Scottish moors in January. The best way to catch them is in a net, but you have to be quick.”
I’m much older now — still full of nonsense — but I will tell you that this is not the case, they’re not hairy at all!

Haggis is a tasty mix of   lamb, beef, oatmeal, onion, seasoning and spices in a natural casing. The haggis is usually fully cooked when you buy it and needs only to be baked, steamed or micro waved to piping hot. I never boil mine.  Maligned or not, in every country around the globe where Robert Burn’s birthday is celebrated, haggis is proudly served.
Alastair’s Haggis Stuffed Mushroom Caps with Drambuie Sauce
2 Portobello mushrooms
2 medium ice-cream scoops haggis.
Mashed potato or potato and turnips mixed. 
Your favourite shredded cheese.
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 strips of smoky bacon
Brush or wipe the mushrooms. Fry two strips of bacon remove from pan and dice and mix into warm haggis. Sautee mushrooms on both sides until just barely tender. (about four minutes each side.  Don’t overcook. Mushrooms should be firm. Remove and place in ramekin hollow side up.  Spoon haggis into the centre. With a pastry bag, pipe around the edge of the dish with the mashed potato or turnip and potato mixture.  Brush with melted butter. Pour two tablespoons of Drambuie sauce over haggis. Lightly sprinkle your favourite cheese on top of haggis and bake in 425° oven for about 10-15 minutes until potato is lightly browned and haggis is heated through. Don’t allow the haggis to dry. Remove from oven. Spoon the remaining sauce over haggis just before serving. 

Drambuie Sauce
150ml. double cream 
100ml Drambuie
 1 teaspoon runny honey
 Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the Drambuie in a small saucepan, and reduce by half.  Turn down the heat slightly   and stir in the double cream and honey. Continue to stir, and cook on low heat until combined and thickened. Don’t singe it.  Add a wee pinch of salt and pepper to taste. If it fails to thicken because the cream is not heavy enough, throw in a knob of butter mixed with a spoon of flour.   *Stir in a small amount of honey to the sauce at the end to lift the flavour of the Drambuie, taste as you go, stir in an extra dash of Drambuie just before serving.   

Address to the Haggis
Opening stanza: The beauty of this poem is, if you make a mistake when reciting it — nobody knows!

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm :
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm…
Robert Burns

NB: My thanks to the villagers of Fearnan in the Perthshire Highlands (where I grew up) who contributed: Why not pay them a visit and say hello?

Thanks also to McSweens of Edinburgh: “Guardians of Scotland’s’ National Dish.”

Check out the formalities of a Burn’s dinner here .  
For more info on Alastair check out

Monday, 26 November 2012

Spuds & Soup!!!

When I was growing up there were two things that were certain.  We ate potatoes and soup daily, year round.  My parents grew enough potatoes to sell and the rest we stored in our root cellar.  I remember my mom giving a friend a fifty pound bag of ‘spuds’ every October.  They were very poor and there were seven kids to feed.  There was always a place at their table for me and I’ll never forget going there for supper on many occasions where we ate potatoes and gravy.  That was it.  The best potatoes ever! 

There was a lesson to be learned and that was that giving is better than greed.  Mom saw a need and without a word gave this family something they desperately needed in order to survive.  It also taught me to never look down on anybody because you never know what is really going on in someone else’s life.  At this time of the year open your heart and donate to your local Food Bank.  Many people are still going without.

Potatoes were never that exciting for me.  They involved a lot of work.  In March I had to help my mom cut the potatoes in the root cellar into quarters.  Each piece had to have an ‘eye’.  Then after dad ploughed the field, we had to drop a potato quarter into the rows about a foot apart.  Later we covered them with dirt and watched them grow.    In the summer I had to walk along the rows and squish potato bugs.  It sounds gross but it was a lot safer than using insecticides. 

I was thrilled the year that ‘Mr. Potato Head’ came out. In those days we used real potatoes.  I loved pushing   plastic feet, hands, hats, eyes, moustaches into them. 

Now that I am  older I can take potatoes or leave them.  I still make a lot of soups though, that require them.  Here is a hardy recipe that will fill you up on a cold day.  Enjoy! 

Potato-Vegetable Soup

6 cups chicken broth or vegetable
3 potatoes cubed
2 carrots diced
2 stalks of celery sliced
2 cups broccoli, in small florets
 1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
to taste salt & pepper

In a large pot combine broth and potatoes. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add carrots and celery, cook 5 minutes. Add florets of broccoli and simmer until all vegetables are tender crisp, about 5 minutes. In medium saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup (250 ml) of broth from the soup. Cook on low heat until slightly thickened. Blend into rest of broth. Heat to serving temperature, but do not boil. Season with salt and pepper if desired. * I like grated cheese on mine.

Worries go down better with soup. 
~Jewish Proverb

Sunday, 28 October 2012

From Pumpkins to Pickles...

When I was a kid I could hardly wait for Halloween.  I was especially excited about   all of the candy that I would get when I went Trick or Treating.    In those days I wore home made costumes and   carried a six quart basket for all of the loot.  Some people gave out apples and those got tossed into the ditch to make room for more candy.  It was such an enjoyable time. I remember dumping my candy onto the living-room rug and sorting it into different categories like toffee, chips, liquorice etc.  I was allowed to eat a few things but the rest was put away for another day.  I am certain that the minute I went to bed my parents nibbled away on some of the sweets.  OK, I confess that I did that with my own kids.  

When my own kid’s were small we decorated our house with lots of Jack-o-lanterns, scary music, spider webs etc. The next day we tossed the Jack-o-lanterns into the compost bin.   If I had a particularly large pumpkin I would salvage what I could and bake the section that wasn’t burnt by candle wax.    The pumpkin got scraped from its outer shell, mashed and was used   to make pumpkin loaf or muffins.  It freezes very well.

 In one of my local cookbooks I found a recipe for ‘Pickled Pumpkin’.  Since I like to try unusual recipes when canning and preserving, this one fits the bill perfectly. 
Pickled Pumpkin
5-6 lbs. pumpkin pared
1 pt. white vinegar
3 lbs. sugar
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tbsp. cinnamons stick broken
2 pieces crystallized ginger

Cut the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes.
Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil and shimmer until the sugar is dissolved.
Place the cloves, cinnamon, ginger into a small piece of cheese cloth and tie.
Add to the syrup and boil for 5 minutes.
Add the pumpkin and bring the mixture back to a fast rolling boil
Boil over low heat exactly 25 minutes, stirring often.
Remove the spice bag.
Place the pumpkin into sterilized jars, pour the vinegar syrup on top to completely cover and seal.
This makes about 5-6 pints. 

I make this recipe now, when Halloween pumpkins are in abundance.  This recipe is a delicious and unique gift to give at Christmas as a small hostess gift. It’s tasty with pork and poultry.

When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween.
~Author Unknown

*I grew up outside of a small town called Waterford.     The town has created a major tourist attraction every year close to Halloween called ‘The Waterford Pumpkin Festival’.  You can read all about it .  In view of the fact that Halloween is coming up next week I would strongly recommend the following site .   It’s safe for kids and has lots of great ideas.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Joe's Apple Pie

 When I was a kid my parents owned a restaurant called ‘Joe’s Lunch’.  My dad had learned to cook during the war and he ran   the kitchen of our restaurant. I was pretty young then but I do have some fond memories from that time in my life.

One thing my dad taught me, when I was quite young was to make pie pastry. At the restaurant, he made about thirty plus pies per day.  He never used a recipe but I remember to this day what he said, “That all of the ingredients had to be really cold to make the best pastry.” My father used lard for pie dough. I think that it still makes the best crust, flaky and tasty.  Aside from the fat content and calories eating it once in awhile is a treat.

I remember my dad and me standing in our kitchen.  We both wore white aprons.  Dad pulled a large pottery bowl down from the cupboard. In it, he mixed the pie dough ingredients quickly. We had a large wooden pastry and pasta board. My father put that onto the kitchen table to roll the dough out.  I got to have the bits and pieces that were left over to roll and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Since apple is my favourite pie, here is my dad’s recipe:

Joe’s Apple Pie
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, chilled  
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled natural lard
1/3 cup ice water
In a large bowl using two table knives, cut the cold lard into the flour and salt. The mixture should end up being the size of   peas. Divide the dough in half and shape both halves into thick disks.    Refrigerate the pastry in a bowl covered with a damp towel while you make your filling.

6 pie apples
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon flour  
Peel, core and slice the apples. Dad used Spy’s but other varieties like Granny Smith also taste great. Sprinkle the apples with about one teaspoon of lemon juice.  This not only adds to the flavour but also keeps the apples from turning brown. Sprinkle the apples with 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir the apples so that they are covered with all of the ingredients.    

Flour the pastry board generously as well as the rolling pin.  Roll one of the pastry disks 2 inches larger than an inverted pie plate with a floured rolling pin. Roll from the centre out. Don't use the rolling pin to go back and forth, move counter-clockwise, repeat. You want the crust as evenly rolled as you can.

Fold pastry into quarter folds and ease into pie plate, pressing firmly against bottom and sides of pie plate.  Take the apples and mound them into the pie plate, dot with butter.  Roll the top dough and follow the same instructions as for the bottom.  Place over the top of the pie making sure to seal the edges.  Use a fork to pierce various holes into the top of the pie. 

Bake at 350 degrees F. for about an hour.  Each oven will vary so make sure that it is a golden brown colour and that the filling is bubbling and thickened. Let cool on rack.  Serve with vanilla ice-cream.

This recipe for an apple pie is not that unique.  What makes it special for me is that my dad and I made them together.  My dad passed away last week on October 11th, 2012 in his 86th year.  It’s the little pleasantries in life that we remember.  I love you dad and miss you!

In Loving Memory of Joseph Vegso

Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories.  Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart. 
 Thomas Fuller

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Pantyhose and Cake!

My Mother passed away almost three years ago.  We shared a lot of interests and one of those was cooking.  Mom was a great letter writer and I am happy that I saved the correspondence she had sent to me.  She wrote about her day to day cooking, canning and baking.  She always included clippings of recipes, and articles that interested her.
Since Mom grew up in the depression she never wasted anything.  An example of this is a recipe she sent to me for her version of ‘Cottage Pudding’. She had written it on the cardboard that a new pair of pantyhose had been wrapped around. 

As a kid I loved ‘Cottage Pudding’.  When the weather was getting cooler, it was one of those comfort foods whose aroma of maple syrup combined with cake, greeted me after school. The smell of it still reminds me of home.

 The word’s maple syrup and maple sugar kindle fond memories of a quieter, more relaxed time in the past.  Maple syrup is a pure product that results from the efforts of many labour-intensive and time-consuming hours.  Although laborious to produce, the finished product is well worth the effort.

The first time I read about maple syrup was in a letter written by William Jarvis (secretary and registrar of Upper Canada) in 1793.  He wrote to his father-in-law from Niagara, “…My cellar is stored with 3 barrels of wine, 3 of cider, 2 of apples (for my darling), and a good stock of butter.  My cock-lift contains some of the finest maple sugar I ever beheld, 10,000lbs. was made in an Indian village near Michellemackinac.  We have 150 lb. of it…Also plenty of good flour, cheese, coffee, loaf sugar…”

It doesn’t matter at what stage in life you are; this is a dessert that anyone can make.   There are many versions of this recipe. Sometimes the cake is served warm with a lemon, chocolate or butterscotch sauce.  I use my mother’s recipe. 

Mom’s Cottage Pudding   
Oil a 9 inch square baking pan.
Add ¾ cup of maple syrup with ¾ cup of water into a small saucepan.  Bring this to a slight boil and pour it into the prepared pan.  

Beat together:
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup of granulated sugar  
2 eggs  
1 teaspoon of vanilla 
Gradually add ¾ cup of milk to the above and mix well.  Spoon the cake batter over the maple syrup, and bake it at an oven temp of 350 for 55-60 minutes. Serve it warm spooning the sauce over the top. Yum!

Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.   
John Ed Pearce

I am  a Professional Freelance Writer.  If you require a writer please contact me at:  .