Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Caramel Apple Pie Filling

It's officially apple season in Iowa. All over the state families pack up the kids and head to the many apple orchards that are sprinkled around the countryside. Breezy cool fall days are the perfect time to grab a pole picker and head out to the orchard to pick your own apples, or stroll through the pumpkin patches that often accompany the apple trees. Grab some apple cider donuts or gourmet caramel apples and fudge, some hot spiced cider and celebrate fall!

Sherry Chapin Block picked this bounty
Not too far from where I live is Burr Oak Farms. Located near Winterset in Madison County, Iowa, Burr Oak is the kind of place I'd love to have all my own. They are a very young orchard, so while they do have 55 varieties of apples, as well as other fruit trees, they do have limited quantities at times. The apples they grow include a number of heirloom or antique varieties, including Grimes Golden, Newtown Pippen, Delicious, Arkansas Black, Empire, Early Harvest, Cameo, Gala and Honeycrisp. They also have yellow and white peaches such as Indian Cling, Alberta and Bell of Georgia, Bartlett and Keifer pears, plums, nectarines, apricots, sweet and sour cherries and blackberries.

Burr Oak Farms is open from June to mid-November.

Over the years my family has spent a lot of time at Center Grove Orchard. When we first started going there, it was little more than a very sparsely stocked store, a pumpkin patch and some apple trees. NOW it's a full-on family adventure spot with all kinds of animals, activities, a corn maze, hay rack rides, lots of great food options and of course, the orchard shop with apples, pies, freshly made treats like caramel apples, fudge and apple cider donuts. 

2015 is a great year for apples- the trees are loaded!
We love to go for the apples, but the grand kiddos love the animals, the corn pool, the Three Little Pigs' houses, the jumping pillow, giant slide- there is so much to do now.

Of course the apples are still fantastic. There are all kinds of varieties, for fresh eating and cooking/baking. The orchard currently has Paula Red, Gala, McIntosh, Cortland, Honeygold, Empire, Golden Supreme, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Jonagold, Idared, Lysgolden, Mutsu, Chieftain, Honeycrisp, and Granny Smith. Don't forget the pumpkins and all kinds of cute gourds for fall decorating. 

Center Grove Orchard is located near Cambridge, Iowa, in Story County. Just east of Interstate 35, it's easy to find and has lots of parking. They are open starting Labor Day weekend through Christmas.

North of The Little Lake House, in Greene County, is Deal's Orchard, near Jefferson. Like many other apple orchards, they have loads of family activities, a petting zoo, and a fantastic orchard shop with all kinds of delicious Iowa food products, apple items like pies, apple butter, and they even make their own cider and hard cider!

In the autumn I love visiting Deal's Orchard because they also have a fantastic selection of winter squash and pumpkins. As a home canner I love stocking up on winter squash such as butternut and Hubbard, and pie pumpkins. You just can't beat fresh squash for making amazing pies, and Deal's is always ready to give you a great price. 

I see a pie or six in my future.
Sometimes I really like a little road trip. Doesn't have to be a long drive, no need for a hotel. Hop in the car, and head over a couple counties to check out Three Bee Farms. Just off Highway 92 in Pottawattamie County, in Griswold, Three Bee Farms is not just an orchard it's a honey producing farm with honey bee educational programs and an observation hive.

The store at the farm features all kinds of honey and beeswax products and candles and all my farm store favorites- fresh produce, autumn produce like pumpkins, gourds and squash, apples, popcorn and more. Like many other orchard/farm destinations there is something for everyone in the family and offers group tours and activities.

In the Apple House Store you can choose from pre-picked apples including Lodi, Summer Treat, Zestar, Paula Red, Earliblaze, Lura Red, Gala, Early Jonathan, Jonafree, Jonathan, Ozark Gold, Jonadel, McIntosh, Jonagold, Macoun, Harelson, Grimes Golden, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Cheiftain, Secor, Edgewood, Arkansas Black and Idared, or you can head out into the orchard and pick your own. They also have raspberries, cherries and pears.

Cindy Davis' pie filling.
With this abundance of beautiful apples it can be hard to decide what to make with them. Apple pie is a given, and so is German Apple Cake- one of my family's favorite desserts. We are also big big fans of crunchy oaty apple crisp, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream- so decadent and so appropriate for autumn. I mentioned apple pie and naturally, when looking for ways to can apples and preserve this taste of fall for the cold winter season, a lot of home canners look to pie filling. While I am not typically a pie filling fan, preferring instead to make pies with freshly sliced fruit, tossed with sugar and spices and piled in a flaky crust, having pie filling on hand makes super quick desserts. You can use it not only to make pies but as a topping for cheesecakes or ice cream, or a filling for crepes and other desserts. 

When you really want to be decadent, you add a little booze, right? My version of pie filling contains a little hint of rum with the spices and brown sugar to give it a caramelly delicious flavor that's so much better than the stuff in a can. The extra kick of rum also turns your apple pie and apple crisp into something really special- after spreading the fruit filling in your pastry shell or baking pan sprinkle it with cubes of cold butter before topping with pastry or the crumb topping for a Butter Rum Apple Pie or Apple Crisp that will be a new favorite for your family too. You can substitute rum extract instead of the booze if you prefer.

Pie filling made by Patty McDaniel Reyling
One more note- this canning recipe uses a product called ClearJel or Permaflo. You can find this modified starch at Amish markets or online at Amazon. DO NOT substitute cornstarch or other conventional thickener in a canning recipe. If you can't find it, you can also can the filling unthickened and use cornstarch to thicken immediately before using it.

Apple Pie Filling with Rum

25 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples 

10 cups apple juice
5 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups lemon juice
1 3/4 cups ClearJel
1/2 cup rum

Peel, core and slice the apples, adding to a large bowl of water with lemon juice added to prevent browning. When all apples are ready bring a large pot of water to boil. Add batches of apple slices and poach for about 1-2 minutes; remove with slotted spoon to large pan. Cover and keep warm.

In large stockpot whisk together the apple juice, sugar, spices, and ClearJel. Heat until thick, whisking often to prevent lumps. Whisk in the lemon juice and rum. Fold in the apple slices. 

Always adjust your processing time for your altitude
Ladle the hot filling into hot quart canning jars. Remove air bubbles, wipe rim and fix lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. Allow jars to cool 12 to 24 hours before removing rings and checking seals.

A final note about apples- make sure you choose an apple variety that is suitable for baking, like Granny Smith or Braeburn. Most fresh eating apples will break apart during cooking and processing and don't work well in pies or pie fillings. 

Now that you've got the pie filling tucked away on the shelf, you have some delicious homemade desserts on hand in minutes. Just pop the top off a jar of your own homemade, and boozy, apple pie filling and use your imagination.

NOTE: This recipe has been adapted from a recipe shared on www.foodpreserving.comFor more home canning information including complete canning directions and hints, visit the NCHFP website.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Sweet Pepper Relish

It's the time of year that I love- time to use up LOTS of stuff as our gardens all come to an end for the season. If you remember, I love going to a local you-pick farm and loading up on the beautiful vegetables they grow every year- cucumbers for pickles, tomatoes by the ton and sweet Gypsy peppers. I never had a Gypsy pepper until I tried them from the farm. They are a sweet pepper, not as big as a bell pepper, but very similar in flavor. Ripe peppers are usually yellow but if you can leave them on the plant long enough they turn into gorgeous orange and red tones. I love spending time in the fields (they really are farm fields filled with vegetables there) picking peppers and tomatoes in the sunshine. 

Last year I lugged home a good forty to fifty pounds of gypsy peppers. I spent my evenings dicing and spreading the little pepper cubes on dehydrator trays and ended up with several quarts of dried diced peppers. Throughout the winter months, when a single bell pepper can cost as much as two dollars in the grocery store, I can just rehydrate a couple tablespoons of diced pepper and continue with my recipe. No worrying about keeping fresh peppers in the veggie drawer, no cleaning, no prep- just open a jar. They are so handy! 

Another great way to preserve those beautiful garden peppers is to make relish. Sweet peppers or hot, the choice is yours. Relishes are easy to make, don't require a pressure canner, and make great gifts during the holiday season. Bell peppers, and gypsy peppers, are always available in a variety of colors and have such a delicious sweet flavor they make a great condiment for sandwiches, cold meat plates, and more.

This pepper relish recipe comes from the NCHFP website. If you aren't familiar with this website I encourage you to check it out. There is so much information housed there, from safety to basic recipes to salsas, sauces and soups plus complete and detailed instructions on how to safely can foods at home. In this recipe you will see the peppers broken down by color. You can use any combination of bell peppers or other sweet peppers as long as you do not exceed the total number of cups of peppers. Throw a hot pepper or two in there if you like a little heat. 5 cups of peppers is about 7 or 8 large bell peppers, or about 3 or 4 pounds before grinding (remove seeds and stems!!) If you use Gypsy peppers you will need......a lot more. These pictures come from the kitchen of Suzanne Ledford, a home food preserver from Canton, North Carolina, who has done a fantastic job. Her relish is made with yellow bell peppers and looks flawless and beautiful in those jars.  Let's make some relish!

Suzanne's relish looks beautiful made with yellow bells.

Sweet Pepper Relish
adapted from the NCHFP 

5 cups ground green bell peppers
5 cups ground red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups ground onion (about 3 medium)
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar or white vinegar-5% acidity
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons pickling salt
4 teaspoons mustard seed

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and pint or half pint jars. NO quarts !!!

Combine relish ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking and scorching.

Suzanne has her jars ready and heated, relish simmering away,
and look at the time- that was P.M.!! 
Ladle the hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims, fix lids and rings, and place in boiling water bath canner. Process for 10 minutes. Allow the jars to cool undisturbed 12 to 24 hours before checking the seals and removing the rings.

It's a little bit bittersweet to know that this year's garden will be my last garden at The Little Lake House. This year we had terrible luck with our plants so maybe it's just as well. My adventures as a small town resident are drawing to a close as I prepare and pack up and get ready to head back to the city after nearly five years as a small town girl. It had it's ups and downs for certain, but I'm glad I was able to have the experience.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Country Life: Greene County Iowa Part 1

Here is another installment from the west central Iowa tourism project blog I worked on a couple of years ago. In this post we are visiting Greene County, Iowa, on a cold and windy autumn day.

Let's face it, some counties are just too big and have too many places we could spend all day visiting- we can't get it done !! Jefferson proved to be just that. After a quick stop at the Chamber of Commerce office, we were joined by Barb Watson as our official tour guide. 

It truly is all about who you know. The Mahany Bell Tower is normally closed BUT..........Barb has the key so...... it's all about who you know !! The bell tower is located on the Jefferson town square and is  a fourteen-story carillon. 

Don't look down !!

The structure is built of glass and ceramic cement. After taking a ride on a glass elevator to the 120-foot high observation deck, visitors can view the city and its surrounding countryside. 

The windows on each side tell you what towns are in the background. The fourteen cast bells chime the time of day every 15 minutes; concerts are also offered daily at 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.

After exploring the bell tower we made our way over to RVP~1875. We could have spent all day here. Angie and Robby Pedersen have built a furniture/performance dynasty in their fantastic building. The front is a showroom highlighting most of the pieces built by hand by Robby.

Robby is known for his 1875 lifestyle, dressing in period clothing and using only tools and techniques that were used at that time. No power tools, no glue, only antique tools and construction techniques are used.

In addition to the furniture they build, they also house an artists' colony within the building. Artisans from all over the country, sculptors, tinsmiths, textile artists, and many more have booths in the colony.

Also in their building is a theater, in which the Pedersens and others perform plays, musicals, concerts, and so on. The theater stage is multi-level and the mezzanine floor above is also used in some performances. They plan to add balcony seating as well.

If you're lucky, and you probably will be, you might find Jackson wandering about the workshop. Jackson is the family's cat who loves spending time among the wood shavings doing all sorts of cat things.

Even though it was hard to tear ourselves away, we knew we had other places to visit so we headed to the Deal Apple Orchard. 

They are preparing for their upcoming fall festival and had huge piles of pumpkins and gourds everywhere. 

Scarecrows and metal yard sculptures are scattered about. 

The orchard's shop offers a wide variety of decorating and gift ideas, several types of apples, pies, cider and much much more.

The apples !!!!  They have several varieties in the orchard, it's so hard to make a choice.

Outdoors there are loads of activities for the whole family, games, a jumping pillow, animals and an apple slingshot. Plus the pumpkin patch, and farm cats everywhere. What a great way to spend a fall afternoon !

We got to peek inside the pressing room, and on the day we visited
they were pressing apples to brew up some hard cider

We were unable to visit the vineyard today but we did head over to Country Blessings, a cute little store just off the highway to the north of Jefferson. Antiques and cute fall and holiday decor fills the shop.

We finished off our visit to Jefferson with a stop at Angie's Tea Garden.

This quaint little spot offers lunch and catering and other tempting treats. Today the cheesecake of the day was caramel apple and the cappuccino flavor was pumpkin spice. Sooooooo delicious !!  You should never make a trip to Jefferson without stopping here.

There will definitely be a Greene County, Part Two, as we just didn't get to see all the sights we had planned, so stay tuned !! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Canning Cookbook- Getting A Head Start On Soup Season

The calendar still says summer but we all know it will be autumn and then, yay! winter shortly thereafter, and that means SOUP SEASON! Chili, lentil soup, hearty vegetable beef, and chicken noodle when you're under the weather, cooler weather definitely calls for a steamy warm bowl of soup.

Here in Iowa it is Corn Country. Sweet corn is plentiful at the end of summer and when you've had your fill of corn on the cob it's time to start looking for ways to use it. Soup fits the bill perfectly. Corn chowder is pretty popular and this version adds hearty potato, chunks of chicken and a hint of heat with peppers to amp up the flavor and fill your belly with homemade goodness. Chowders are creamy soups, but we don't can dairy products at home, so swirl in some heavy cream when you're heating this up and enjoy with a wedge of cornbread or a nice hunk of crusty bread.

To make Iowa Corn and Chicken Chowder, you will need-
  • 8 cups corn
  • 4 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 4 cups cubed potatoes (red skinned potatoes are best)
  • 2 cups diced green chilies *See Note
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 12 slices bacon, diced and cooked
  • chicken broth or stock, heated to boiling
Using clean, hot pint jars, equally divide all the ingredients among the jars. Fill jars to 1 inch head space with heated chicken broth. Clean rim of jars completely, fix lids and rings, place in pressure canner. 

Following your canner's directions, process for 75 minutes for pints, at the correct weight for your altitude.

When you get ready to serve, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream to each pint.

*Note- Now, let's talk about those chilies. This is where you make this soup as spicy or as mild as you like it. I will be using jalapenos or serranos for my soup because that's what's in my garden. I'll mix my hot peppers with mild bell peppers to equal 2 cups. You can also add a shake or so of dried cayenne pepper if you like, or a drop or two of hot sauce before canning or after reheating later.

This soup is a wonderful way to use up leftover roast chicken or turkey. You can use fresh corn cut off the cob or frozen whole kernel corn (thaw first!!) to make it easy. I prefer red skinned potatoes over russets because of their waxy texture- they don't fall apart as much as russets and work better in processing. Also, I prefer NOT to peel them, which some people consider a no no in canning, but I scrub them very very thoroughly- it adds the necessary heartiness to the soup. One final hint- wide mouth jars are great for canning soups because you don't have to struggle to get the food out. 

I think a nice fat wedge of cornbread would be perfect with this soup, with a crispy tossed salad and a wedge of warm pie for dessert- we're talking total comfort food here. Try it!!

And speaking of soup, it's time to start thinking about vegetable soup, chili, chicken soup (add the noodles before serving) and all the other ones we love so much on a cold, blustery day. What are some of your favorites?

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one. For home canning information, visit the NCHFP website.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Short and Sweet- Making and Using Balsamic Reduction

So simple. So easy. So luxe.

Get one bottle of balsamic vinegar. Don't spend huge amounts of money but don't buy the cheapest grocery store balsamic either. Pour entire bottle into heavy saucepan. Add about 1/4 cup honey. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Allow the balsamic to reduce to the desired syrupyness (I made that word up but it totally describes what you're looking for). Stay a little on the thin side because it will thicken more as it cools. Store in the fridge.

What do you do with it? Everything! Drizzle over a dressed salad or an entree as a finishing touch. Use just a touch in pan sauce to brighten up the flavor. Drizzle the teeniest wee bit over fresh strawberries and serve with whipped cream or sour cream. Slice ripe juicy tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, drizzle with balsamic reduction and sprinkle with torn fresh basil leaves. Prosciutto-wrapped melon is so delicious drizzled with reduction. Drizzle over a juicy steak. Add to gravies and sauces.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Country Life: Iowa Summer in Guthrie County

Another installment from the tourism blog I wrote for the four county region I live in.

Summer in Iowa can be quite a HOT experience. Hot and humid to be exact. Why my friend Sarah and I decided to start our tourism visits during the hottest part of the year, usually to primitive/historical buildings and sites with no air conditioning we will never know, but we did....... and in spite of our suffering, you get to enjoy our day from the comfort of your home or office.

With so many interesting places to visit in Guthrie County it was hard to fit much into one day, especially when we started out with one of the biggest attractions early in the day. But anyway, we started off the morning with a drive through Nations Bridge Park.

The park had several campers spending the weekend but we went through pretty early- there weren't too many people out and about just yet. But it is a very nice campground with fishing, hiking, a playground and lots of other activities to keep a family busy. They even have wifi in case you can't imagine your life unplugged.

After the campground we moved on to the city of Panora, and our first stop was the Raccoon River Valley Trailhead. The Raccoon River Valley Trail covers over 50 miles of bike and walking trail from Jefferson in Greene County to Clive in Dallas County. Lots of fun events take place along the trail during the year such as the Baccoon Run, a bacon-themed bike ride, and winter rides.

The trailhead in Panora is close to the halfway point. The day we visited, in spite of the heat, there were several riders on the trail, braver than us, that's for sure! I am a firm believer in air conditioner when it's 99 degrees outside.

After leaving the trail we stopped at the Historical Village in Panora. It was as if we were transported back in time.

There is a main building where you check in and serves as a museum itself and can walk around and view amazing displays from preserved animals to old Fords to Civil War registries.

Just one of many stunning preserved animals  on display
This Civil War Registry listed Iowa soldiers serving.

Antique "rooms" are set up throughout the building that are built around a theme- a canning kitchen, a ladies dressing room, a switchboard where a phone operator once worked, military tributes, an old dental office, and a courthouse display, just to name a few.

What a kitchen might have looked like 100 years ago

Antique canning supplies

Old court docket books line the walls of the courthouse display

Primitive dentistry- scary!

This was like a War Yearbook- very interesting
Can't imagine how this poor operator managed, and what she
would think of today's cellphone world
Stones, broken pottery and gemstones native to and discovered in Iowa are also on display. Antique items of all kinds fill this main building. But it's the village that proves to be a real treat.

Gemstones native to Iowa

Different rocks and pottery pieces

Moths and butterflies native to Iowa are on display

I thought he looked pretty cuddly!

A large building houses a huge variety of antique farm implements, old vehicles, a coal mine display,

and a covered wagon as west-bound settlers would have traveled in.

Next door is the Blacksmith Shop. One look around the perfectly recreated workshop made me glad I never chose that as a profession.

Next door is the village General Store. The store is filled with everything a family would have needed, some basic appliances, foodstuffs, gardening items, a post office counter and equipment for canning and preserving food. Baskets, cookware and all sorts of kitchen tools are also displayed.

The general store had everything needed for the "modern kitchen"

Home canning was a necessity in those days

The old pressure canners were MASSIVE

The village's attorney and abstractor's office is next door, and it looks much like I expected.

Docket books, tract books and registry books line the bookshelves. An impressive wooden desk serves as the work area for the attorney who once owned this practice. Even still, the desk had a small stack of old business cards.

Sarah Gomez, Esq.

The building is an original, as are most of the buildings in the village, and a photo album is there so that you can see how the building was prepared and moved to its current location in the Historical Village. I really enjoyed this building, as an abstractor for many years during my city life, it was like visiting an old friend.

Moving around the corner we came to the Newspaper Office. Like all offices of it's time, it is sparse in furniture and had drawers and drawers of printing stamps. Stacks of old newspapers are displayed as well as a plaque describing the history of the building.

The oldest building in Panora is the next building in the village.

It was surprising to see how much function a pioneer family fit into a one room house. Heated by a massive fireplace that also served as a heat source for cooking, the furnishings were again sparse, and multi functional. It was interesting to see that this house had been sided with modern siding at one time, and all that was removed before the house was moved to the village.

The massive stone fireplace provided not only heat but
a place to cook and prepare meals

Across the park from the house is the Train Station.

Actual railroad tracks are placed in the village to allow the display of railroad cars and repair/maintenance equipment. In the freight area of the station, luggage and trunks and crates stand floor to ceiling, waiting to be loaded onto a train.

A large seating area lined with benches and heated by a wood burning stove would have been bustling with passengers decades ago.

Across the tracks from the train station is the village church, and as expected, it is a sparse building built for the purpose of worship and little fanfare. It's currently displayed with a wedding theme, and bride and groom mannequins at the altar.

The old one room school house is the last building in the village. If you've ever seen the movie "A Christmas Story" this room is just like that. There is an outhouse directly outside the door (complete with a bucket of corncobs) and an area for washing up right inside the door. Old school books, toys and chalkboards line the room. Old canning jars full of marbles and jacks sit on shelves filed with old books.


The historical village is a fantastic glimpse into Iowa's small town past. Growing up in the city you really don't get to see how difficult life must have been for folks who worked hard on farms and what the life of the farmer's family was like. This village answers all those questions and more.