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Several zucchini squashes got away from me last autumn. I harvested a few in September and the final one as frost threatened in late October. Until two days ago, all three were still with me.

I no longer think of zucchini as just a summer vegetable. I made a video to share my experience. What do you think? Are you ready to grow zucchini as winter squash?

the cookie shooter at Your Home Kitchen Garden

Cookie press, jerky shooter… in my mind, it has become a cookie shooter. This very affordable kitchen implement is a caulking gun for cookie dough.

There is nothing to do with gardening in my home kitchen garden these days. It’s all about staying warm and trying to enjoy the holidays. We’re very big on Christmas cookies, and my wife usually bakes more than a thousand cookies of a dozen or so varieties. I also bake some, specifically two types of cookies I loved as a child: Cut out sugar cookies with stained glass windows, and spritz cookies.

This year, I set up my computer on the dining room table and visited with many imaginary friends as I mixed spritz cookie dough, shot cookies onto cookie sheets, and added dusting sugar and other sprinkles as decorations. I got a few questions from imaginary friends, and I offered that I’d upload photos to answer some of them:

Why do they call it a Spritz Cookie?

I don’t know. I like to believe it’s because the inventor of these cookies was Hans Spritz, a young baker in the mountains of Bavaria who, except for these cookies, has been obscured by time. I Googled the name, and one web site, The Cilantropist (a name that I love), provided a lot of personal history and way too much detail… but all it added about the name “spritz” is that it’s short for “Spritzgebackenes” which, with my limited knowledge of German, I translate to mean, Cookies invented by a man named Spritz.

extruder plates at Your Home Kitchen Garden

A cookie shooter should come with several extruder plates that restrict oozing dough to specific patterns. The most seasonally-appropriate extruder plate for Christmas cookies creates little evergreen trees on the cookie sheet.

What is a Cookie Press?

While digging around the kitchen for my cookie press, I found a cookie press I couldn’t identify. Then I found the cookie press I’ve had for years, and I realized that the other cookie press was a “jerky shooter” that had come with a food dryer I’d used when I wrote my book, Yes, You Can to be published in the coming spring (the link leads to Amazon where you can order it now for delivery once it’s available).

A cookie press is a caulking gun for cookie dough. Instead of a rubber nozzle that squeezes caulk into a continuous snake or ribbon, a cookie press has interchangeable  extruder plates each intended to produce a unique design. Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill the tube of the cookie press with a soft, sticky dough.
  2. Put an extruder plate on one end of the tube and a pistol-grip plunger on the other.
  3. Pull the trigger on the pistol grip until dough starts to come through the holes in the extruder plate.
  4. Stand the cookie press on a cool, ungreased cookie sheet and pull the trigger once and then pause.
  5. After a second or two passes, lift the cookie press straight up. Extruded dough should stick to the cookie sheet.
  6. Decorate cookies as you wish before baking.

I Dub Thee Cookie Shooter

As a result of mistaking my jerky shooter for a cookie press, I decided that from that day forward, I’ll refer to my cookie press as a cookie shooter. Can’t help it, it just sounds right. You call yours what you like. If you don’t have one, look for them at department and cooking stores. One of my imaginary friends said she bought one last year for $9.99. This is a very low price to pay for a very useful kitchen implement. Amortized over the years I’ve owned my cookie shooter, it has cost about 60 cents per year. By the time they pry my cookie shooter from my cold, dead hand, I expect that number to be about 20 cents per year.

I prepared a video that shows how I work with a cookie shooter. Please have a look to get an idea of how this all works. As well, here’s the recipe I use when I make Hans Spritz’s famous cookies:

Ingredients

1 and ½ cups butter (Not margarine or shortening. Use butter or go home.)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon mint extract (the more traditional recipe calls for almond extract)

4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

spritz cookies from Your Home Kitchen Garden

Spritz cookies barely change shape when they cook, and they shouldn’t change color. If the darken in the oven, they’re likley to taste burned.

Beat the butter and sugar till they’re smooth. Add the milk, egg, vanilla, and mint extract and continue mixing. Stir the baking soda into the sifted flour and add it gradually to the butter and sugar. Continue mixing while adding and for a bit longer until you have homogenous very soft dough.

Divide the dough into four parts and add two drops of food coloring to each part—usually a different color for each. Use a strong-handled spoon to mush the coloring through the dough until each portion has uniform color.

Load your cookie shooter, shoot dough onto UNGREASED cookie sheets, decorate, if you like, and bake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cookies start to darken, you’ve cooked them too long.

Let them cool on the cookie sheets. Then pop them loose with your fingers.

CAUTION: If you make your spritz cookies minty like mine, don’t store them with other types of cookies. All the cookies in a container will pick up the mint flavor after just a day or two of storage. This isn’t a problem if you use almond extract instead of mint extract.

Here’s a video that demonstrates how to shoot Christmas cookies onto a cookie sheet:

 

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uncooked mincemeat from my Home Kitchen Garden

A pot of diced green tomatoes and apples with raisins and a chopped orange, spices, brown sugar, and vinegar will thicken into mincemeat as it simmers for about three hours.

Frost has finished off my home kitchen garden, and that’s OK. I was really tired of tomatoes after a prolific season, but I was still silly enough to collect the green tomatoes that remained after the plants died.

Those green tomatoes, and about two dozen apples from my tree languished in bowls for weeks until this weekend past when I finally got around to making mincemeat. With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, and expecting a small group of college students hailing from around the world, I thought a traditional mincemeat pie would be in order.

Green Tomato Mincemeat

Actually, traditional mincemeat pie contains meat and suet (fat). I’ve never liked the stuff, but can tolerate it. Several of our guests this year are vegetarians. They won’t eat the turkey or the stuffing I cook in the turkey, and they most definitely would not eat traditional mincemeat.

cooked mincemeat from my Home Kitchen Garden

This mincemeat has simmered for three hours and twenty minutes. While hot, it’s a bit runny, but as it cools it will thicken just like jam and preserves. A pie shell will hold about a quart of mincemeat, so I pack it into one-quart mason jars and cook it for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you’re about to make pie, let the mincemeat cool before filling a raw pie shell with it. Add a full top crust, and bake at 400F degrees until the top crust is golden brown – about 30 to 40 minutes.

Fortunately, green tomato mincemeat actually tastes good. Some recipes suggest that you add suet when you make it, but thank goodness you get an excellent product when you use only tomatoes and other fruits. I made a video that shows how to assemble the mincemeat and to can it. You don’t need to can the mincemeat if you’re going to use it right away; store it in the refrigerator for up to a week, and use about a quart to fill a pie shell.

Mincemeat Worth the Effort

As I said: I’ve never been a fan of mincemeat. I’m a fan of this stuff. I’ve actually filled a small bowl with it and snacked on it happily at my desk. I’m looking forward to having a slice of pie on Thanksgiving. Prepping the fruits for the mincemeat could take about an hour, and cooking takes another three to three-and-a-half hours. Canning, if you heat the water in the canning pot as your mincemeat finishes cooking, adds another 20 to 30 minutes to the cooking time (process filled jars for 20 minutes).

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make your own green tomato mincemeat:

  • 3 ½ lbs green tomatoes
  • 3 ½ lbs apples
  • ½ lb or more of dried blueberries (Optional. I had some I wanted to use up.)
  • 2 lbs raisins
  • 1 seedless orange
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 lbs brown sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar

The video runs just over 6 ½ minutes. If you make up a batch, please let me know how it comes out:

 

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New Potatoes & Peas from a Home Kitchen Garden

A bowl of hot New Potatoes and Peas goes well with just about any meal. As an omnivore, I especially like this dish with steak or pork—seasoned with onion powder, salt, and pepper and then grilled. New Potatoes and Peas can even satisfy as a main course.

Few meals I cook from my home kitchen garden excite me as much as New Potatoes and Peas. This is not a difficult dish to prepare, and it’s not a particularly brilliant assortment of culinary preparations. Rather, it’s a simple, traditional, hearty, and historical dish that I imagine gardeners have prepared for centuries.

My dad grew up eating New Potatoes and Peas, so my mom had to learn how to make them. Of course, I needed to learn how when I moved out on my own. I’m inviting you to participate in the tradition in hopes you’ll enjoy this fine dish as much as I do, and that it will provide you with further motivation to get gardening in the spring.

Red Potatoes & Peas from a Home Kitchen Garden

Use about a quart of new, red-skinned potatoes if they’re small, or, perhaps, five full-grown newly-harvested potatoes. Also, use about two cups of freshly-hulled peas. You’re not going to peel the potatoes, so scrub them thoroughly (I use a stiff-bristled plastic vegetable brush). Nothing spoils a serving of New Potatoes and Peas more than biting into a trace of residual garden soil.

Are There Peas in your Home Kitchen Garden?

I don’t grow a home kitchen garden for survival, though I love how homegrown produce decreases my grocery expenses. Mostly, I grow vegetables and fruits because they’re so incredibly better than their store-bought equivalents. Peas are among the most impressively better vegetables. In my hardiness zone 5b/6a neighborhood, these sweet, delicious garden pearls come ready in mid-to-late spring and last until early summer.

Sadly, my pea plants have given up, despite continued cool nights. That’s OK, because I need the space for winter squash and herbs, but I always lament the passing of the pea plants. For those who can still get garden fresh peas, please make up a batch of New Potatoes and Peas and tell me what you think.

If you’re using large potatoes, cut them into bite-sized pieces. I cut mine even smaller than traditional whole new potatoes which run an inch or two in diameter. Whether you cut them up or use whole potatoes, you must cook them before preparing the rest of the dish. Put them in a pot that is only half full with the potatoes in it; you’ll eventually finish the dish in this pot. Cover the potatoes with water and then, for the most authentic results, boil the potatoes until they soften but are not mushy. After the water starts to boil, I poke a cooking potato with a fork every three minutes or so. If the fork punctures the surface easily but the inner flesh is still firm, the potatoes are done. To be certain, lift one from the pot, cool it down quickly in water, and eat it. If it’s too crispy for your taste, let them cook a bit longer. To hold the potatoes until the rest of the dish is ready, pour off the hot water and leave the potatoes in the pot, uncovered.

The peas shouldn’t need much cooking. My mom usually didn’t cook them at all before adding them to the cream sauce (in a later step). I usually pour boiling water from the potatoes into a much smaller pot holding the peas and then boil the peas for three to five minutes. Don’t cook them really long or you’ll boil the flavor and character out of them. To hold the peas after cooking, pour off the hot water and fill the pot with cold water. Set the peas aside.

What Are New Potatoes?

Potato plants aren’t lovers of frost, but you can plant potatoes a few weeks before the last frost date in your area. If you do that, and you plant peas about the same time, the potato plants are likely to have made little potatoes by the time you’re harvesting peas.

These small potatoes would become full-grown potatoes if given the chance. However, when you harvest “new potatoes,” you sacrifice the plant (though I’ve heard that if you plant in a potato tower or box, you can harvest young potatoes from below and leave the plant to continue producing through the summer).

You don’t need to grow your own to get good new potatoes. However, shop at a farmers’ market or a growers’ market if you want the best. For New Potatoes and Peas, look for red-skinned potatoes that are one- to two-inches in diameter. It’s OK to get larger potatoes; I do it all the time and have never been disappointed. Often it’s hard to find small potatoes, but if you find this year’s red-skinned potatoes of any size, they’ll make the dish authentic.

Melt four or five tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan while slicing up a medium-sized onion (or half of a large Spanish onion). I like big chunks, but feel free to dice your onion. Sauté the onion over medium-high heat until the chunks become translucent. You’re going to make roux (flour and butter mixed), so add one tablespoon of flour for each tablespoon of butter you melted in the first place.

Toss the onions in the flour and stir it around until the flour soaks up all the butter in the pan. If the flour and butter mixture is runny, add more flour until the roux is just shy of clumping… but don’t panic if it clumps; you’re fine as long as you can mix in all the flour that you’ve added.

Finally, add milk (traditionally, you use cream… and by all means go ahead if you don’t mind the fat), stirring constantly until the milk gets very hot and the mixture thickens. How much milk to add? Roughly, add three-to-four cups of milk. Start with less, heat till it’s thick, and add more milk if the mixture is too thick. The sauce should stick to the onion chunks and “give” like thin pudding; it shouldn’t run off the spoon when you scoop it out of the pan and pour it back in, but it shouldn’t be so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

Recipe? Sorry… No Recipe

I’m afraid I don’t have a recipe for New Potatoes and Peas. I make up each pot depending on how many diners I expect, how many peas I have, and how many potatoes. The illustrations show the steps with enough explanation that you should be able to improvise adequately. I followed my mom’s recipe once, and the results were nothing like what mom used to make. Follow the instructions in the figure captions, and you’ll know how to succeed every time.

Take the onion sauce off the heat and pour all the water off the potatoes. Put the pot of potatoes on the hot burner and immediately pour in the onions and cream sauce. Quickly strain the peas and add them to the pot. Stir it all together as it heats, and add salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Strawberries from a Home Kitchen Garden

Jam that you make from fresh-picked strawberries is noticeably better-tasting than store-bought jam.

Strawberry season is running out in my home kitchen garden; I may have berries for another week. As we do every year, we’ve consumed a lot of strawberries this spring… but it wasn’t enough. I want to extend my relationship with strawberries throughout the year. One way I do this is by making jam.

Jam is a combination of fruit, sugar, and pectin. Pectin thickens when you cook it, but it doesn’t impart color to whatever you add it to. Consider: if you thicken juice with cornstarch or flour, you create an opaque pie filling. If you thicken the same juice with pectin, you create jelly.

Pectin exists naturally in fruit… but rarely in great enough amounts to make the fruit’s juice jell. Traditionally, you add an enormous amount of sugar and extra pectin to fruit juice, cook it, and the juice gels. That’s what we’re doing in this blog post.

Read the instructions that come in the box. Follow them! Minor deviations won’t cause problems (an ounce here-or-there), but if you miscount cups of sugar or fruit, you may not like the results. The strawberry jam recipe that came with the powdered pectin I used called for the following: 2 quarts of washed and capped berries. ¼ cup of lemon juice. Seven cups of sugar. One package of fruit pectin. An optional tablespoon of butter. Also, note that you’ll need a large pot in which to boil jars, a small pot in which to heat lids, a medium pot (about a gallon capacity) in which to cook jam, a large spoon, measuring cups, a canning funnel (though you can survive without the funnel), tongs (to lift things out of boiling water), and a canning jar lifter (again, I managed without one for years). Oh, it’s wise to have a pot holder or a dry towel on-hand as well as a damp (but clean) dish cloth.

Before I start making jam, I rinse the jelly jars and put them in a large pot of water on high heat so the water will boil. I put a matching number of canning lids and bands in a smaller pot of water, and I heat that on low so the water gets very hot without boiling. It can take 30 minutes for the pot of jars to start boiling, so I often take a break while the water heats. The pectin I’m using claims to produce eight cups of jam… so I heat enough jars to hold ten cups, in case the estimate is low. Eventually, however, you need to mash the strawberries. I use a rusty potato masher, and I smoosh the berries into small pieces; large chunks are hard to spread on sandwiches.

Jelly or Jam?

Measure the sugar into a bowl before you start cooking the fruit! Ideally, use a bowl you can dump with only one hand; you’ll add the sugar to the cooking jam a bit later and it’s nice to have one hand free so you can keep stirring as the sugar goes in. The pectin I use calls for seven cups of sugar for a single batch of strawberry jam.

Often, people I talk with about jam and jelly ask, “What’s the difference?” Quite simply: you make jam using juice and chunks of fruit, you make jelly from juice with all the fruit pulp strained out of it. From the perspective of the jam-maker, jam and jelly are nearly identical: once you’ve prepared the fruit or the juice, you follow the same steps to cook it into jam or jelly.

The single greatest aide to success at jam-making is to buy a box of powdered fruit pectin, open it, read the instructions it contains, and **follow those instruction**. Until jam- and jelly-making comes automatically to you, don’t mess with the recipes. Using more or less sugar, changing the cooking time, or using too little or too much fruit all can affect the finished product quite noticeably. Too much sugar and over-cooking can result in jam that comes out of the jar in one piece. Too little sugar and under-cooking can result in jam that runs rather than spreading.

I measure five cups of mashed berries into the cooking pot. Then I add a quarter cup of lemon juice (yes, I use the bottled stuff) and the packet of pectin. The pot goes on the stove on high heat and I don’t stop stirring until the jam is done. Cooking works like this: 1. Stir until the mixture boils. 2. Pour in all the sugar at once and mix it in. 2b. Add a tablespoon of butter if you believe it will help keep foam from forming. 3. Stir until the mixture starts boiling despite the stirring activity. From that moment, boil the stuff for exactly 60 seconds. Watch it carefully because it may want to boil over. On my electric stove, I turn off the burner after 15 seconds of boiling, and leave the pot in place. There is always enough heat in the burner to keep the jam bubbling for 45 more seconds. When that minute of boiling ends, remove the pot from the heat. In this photo, you can see the large (covered) kettle in which jars are boiling, and the smaller pot that contains lids and bands heated just below boiling.

The pectin box contains specific instructions for making jam or jelly from most common types of fruit. Harvest or buy fruit accordingly, and make sure you have the necessary equipment on-hand before you start.

Preserved from a Home Kitchen Garden

Jam made at home from fresh fruit, will keep for a year or longer when you can it properly. Heck, without canning, my mom stored jam on a shelf in a dark closet for a year, and it always tasted fresh. That was in the days when the FDA said it was OK to seal jars with melted paraffin.

Canning jam and jelly is stupid-easy: once you’ve screwed the band onto a jar, set the jar upright in a deep pot of boiling water for ten minutes. Then remove the jar to a towel on the counter and let it cool. With the high-temperature cooking and the ten-minute boil, your jam will be germ-free… and it already contained so much acid and sugar that almost nothing could have lived in it anyway.

I can 12 one-cup gift jars of each type of jam or jelly I make. We give the one-cup jars as gifts to teachers, hosts at dinner parties, golf professionals (at the course where I play), and other acquaintances. It usually takes at least two batches to make 12 cups, and whatever is left over, I put into pint jars for us to eat through the year.

Foam Snack from a Home Kitchen Garden

Even when I add butter to my cooking jam, the jam produces a lot of foam. I pull the foam across the surface of the jam and skim it off with the spoon. I didn’t get a great shot of that through the steam coming off the jam, but here’s what it looks like on its way to my mouth after it cooled down for a bit. It surprises me that no one sells jam and jelly foams in jars. It tastes great, and you could dramatically increase the amount of product you get from your raw materials.

When you’ve removed most of the foam, fill the hot jelly jars, put on the hot lids, screw on the hot bands, and set the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. The canning funnel helps keep jam off the rim of the jelly jars; if you get any jam there, wipe it off before you apply a lid. With the lid on and the jar upright, screw on a band.

To get a band “finger tight,” I pick up the jar by the lid (usually I can handle the lids and bands while they’re hot, but a jar of hot jelly would take my skin off) and quickly grasp the jar with a pot holder. Then I screw the lid down tightly – not bodybuilding flex tightly, but I take up all the slack I can while twisting with just my hands.

Upside Down Jars

As mentioned earlier: immediately after filling the jars, put them, upright, into a pot of boiling water so the jars are completely covered. Ideally, use a canning rack or a canning pot with a rack to keep the jars off the bottom. If you don’t have a canning rack, you can sink a cloth napkin or dish cloth in the water and pin it to the bottom with the jars. Leave the jars to boil for ten minutes, then remove them to cool, upright, on your counter. After the tops seal (you’ll hear them pop) and the jars are hot but not too hot to hold, flip them onto the bands and let them cool further until they are warm but the jam is still liquid. Flip them back upright to finish cooling. If you don’t flip the jars this way during cooling, the fruit will likely float making the top layer of jam very chunky while the bottom layer will be more like jelly.

Homemade is Best

We’ve been told that the strawberry jam we make is noticeably better eating than store-bought jam. What’s more, we usually have peach, pear, and black raspberry jelly; and strawberry, sour cherry, and fruit punch jams in the larder. Most of these are never available in our local grocery stores. When you have a lot of homemade jam and jelly on-hand, you find ways to use it that people don’t necessarily think of when you say “jam.” For example, I’ve mixed black raspberry jelly into homemade chutneys and marinades with great results. The delicate flavor of pear or peach jelly comes through when you grill it on chicken or fish.

From time-to-time, I’ll jot down ingredients lists when I cook with jam or jelly, and share the results on this blog. In the meantime, if you can still harvest fresh strawberries from your home kitchen garden… or you can buy them in your neighborhood, make some jam and extend strawberry season through the year.

I created a step-by-step video that shows how to make strawberry jam. Please follow this link to Your Small Kitchen Garden if you prefer video instruction over the written word.

 

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Rolling Pie Crust for a Fruit Pie Sure, this photo is out of sequence, but I liked it so much I wanted it at the top of the page. I hope you’ll be rolling out pie dough this way soon.

Don’t blink. Strawberries and Rhubarb are in season in my Home Kitchen Garden, but that won’t last for long. I have only two productive rhubarb plants, so I don’t eat much rhubarb in a season. I usually get three or four harvests before the plants stress out in summer heat. Thankfully, in the first few weeks of strawberry season, there is always enough rhubarb to make pie.

I used to make rhubarb pie, and it suited me just fine. In recent years, however, I’ve held out for strawberries and rhubarb… can’t say I like the combination better, but I like it as much… and more people are open to eating strawberries and rhubarb than they are to eating rhubarb alone.

Strawberry-Rhubarb from a Home Kitchen Garden Wash and cap the strawberries, and wash and cut the rhubarb to ¾-inch lengths. For the pies I made during this photo session, I used about five cups of prepared rhubarb and four cups of prepared strawberries.

Pie Insights

My mom raised me on pies made with oil-and-milk pie crusts. Classic pie crust involves cutting shortening into flour and wetting the mixture with enough milk to make a heavy dough. Oil-and-milk crust involves adding milk to salad oil and stirring that into flour. I’m sure a trained pastry chef can argue the quality of the resulting pie crusts, but for the effort, oil-and-milk is just fine.

Unless you’re someone who struggles with rolling pins (I’ve known a few admitted rolling-challenged folks), making pie is a very easy task. It is time-consuming, taking minimally 40 minutes to go from fresh fruit to assembled pie… and another 40 to 60 minutes for baking. Here’s the motivation:

When you show up to dinner with a homemade fruit pie, for some reason you impress people. My guess is that those people have never made pie and have no idea how stupid-easy it is to do. Pie is a great dessert, so why not learn to make it and enjoy the enjoyment others express toward your baking?

I measured fruit by dumping it into empty pie plates. When I’d filled two plates, I had enough fruit so I poured all the fruit into a large mixing bowl. Here’s how to make pie filling. In this case, I put three cups of sugar in a bowl and stirred in ten tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Finally, I tossed the sugar and flour mixture together with the fruit. The center photo shows half the fruit/sugar/flour mixture in a prepared pie shell. The photo on the right shows a pie ready for baking.
To make dough, put two cups of all-purpose flour in a bowl and stir in about half a teaspoon of salt (left). Measure ½ cup of salad oil, and add five tablespoons of milk to it. Don’t stir the milk and oil (center). Pour the milk and oil all-at-once into the flour, and mix until you have dough… but no more. This is enough dough to make the bottom crust and the top crust for one pie. I almost always make two pies at a time, so I use my first batch of dough to make two bottom crusts and I make a second batch of dough to make top crusts.
When the flour has absorbed all the oil and milk (left), use your hand(s) to pull the dough into a ball (center). To make a bottom or a top crust, tear the dough ball in half. Leave half in the bowl and put the other half on a piece of waxed paper where you’ll have room to work it with a rolling pin.

Rules of Thumb for Fruit Pies

I haven’t followed a fruit pie recipe in more than ten years. I’ve learned the recipe for dough from making a lot of pies. After that, I work from three rules of thumb and constant experimentation. See the box titled Recipes for Pie (below) for the shorthand of what I did in the photos. Here are the important rules of thumb for making fruit pie fillings:

1. Think of apple pie filling as the baseline and make adjustments from there. For an apple pie, if you use four-to-five cups of fruit, sweeten it with one cup of sugar, and thicken it with three tablespoons of all-purpose flour.

2. Adjust the sugar according to the fruit’s sweetness. Apples are fairly sweet; rhubarb is not.

3. Adjust the flour according to the fruit’s juiciness. Apples aren’t particularly juicy; nor is rhubarb. Strawberries, however, are very juicy.

Cover the dough with another sheet of waxed paper, then roll it out roughly into a circle. The circle’s diameter should be the full width of the waxed paper. Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper and flip the dough (with the bottom sheet of paper attached) over onto an empty pie plate. Peel off the second sheet of paper (left), then work the dough down into the pie plate so it rests on the bottom and against the inner sides (center). Trim whatever dough hangs past the edge of the pie plate (right). Save the trimmed pieces to roll out with the next dough ball.
After lining the second pie plate and distributing the filling evenly between the two shells, make a second batch of dough, divide it, and roll half out as you did for the bottom crusts. To make a lattice, peel off the top piece of waxed paper and use a pizza cutter or table knife to cut the dough into ½ inch strips. I run five parallel strips across the pie (left), then turn the pie and run five more strips on a bias. Finally, I run a strip around the rim of the pie plate (right)… this helps hold the components together when I add fluting.
To add fluting and crimp together the lattice with the bottom crust, I use my index finger and thumb on one hand to push the dough against the end of the thumb on my other hand. So, I push in with my thumb and index finger while pushing down with my thumb. Pinch the next flute where the previous one ends, and eventually you’ll get back to where you started… but the pie will have an attractive scalloped edge.

Make a Pie from Your Home Kitchen Garden

The photos in this post demonstrate every key step of making strawberry-rhubarb pie with the exception of taking the pie(s) out of the oven. Oddly, we ate the baked pies before it occurred to me to take a photo.

Before the season passes you by, harvest some rhubarb, pick some strawberries, and make some pies! Oh, and if you prefer video instructions, please visit my sister web sight, Your Small Kitchen Garden, where I’ll post links to videos demonstrating how to make strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Recipes for Pie

Pie Crust for One Pie (top & bottom crusts)

  • 2 Cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ Cup salad oil
  • 5 Tablespoons milk

Stir salt and flour together in a medium-sized bowl. Fill measuring cup to ½ cup line with salad oil. Add 5 tablespoons milk to the salad oil; do not stir. All at once, pour the oil and milk into the flour and stir until it makes dough. Form dough into a ball and use half to make a bottom crust and half to make a top crust.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

  • 4 Cups prepared strawberries (wash and cap the berries)
  • 5 Cups prepared rhubarb (wash and cut to ¾ inch lengths)
  • 3 Cups sugar
  • 10 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Put strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and flour thoroughly. Then toss the sugar/flour mixture with the fruit. Evenly distribute the fruit and sugar into two pie plates lined with raw pie shells. Cover pies with lattice crusts and bake on jelly roll pans at 400F degrees for 45-to-60 minutes. Pies are done when crust is golden brown and filling is oozing thick, bubbly syrup.

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To harvest rhubarb, stand over the plant, grasp a single stalk, and pull with increasing force in the direction the stalk is growing until the bottom of the stalk pops out of its socket in the plant.

Unless you have a home kitchen garden, you probably aren’t familiar with rhubarb. Heck, plenty of kitchen gardeners miss out on this spring treat. If you have space to grow it, but you’ve never tasted rhubarb, I suggest restraint: don’t plant rhubarb until you know you’re going to use it. I can tell you it’s delicious, but you should decide for yourself; most rhubarb enthusiasts grew up eating it, and I can’t think of a familiar flavor to which I can compare it.

There must be thousands of people who acquired rhubarb by buying a house with rhubarb plants in the yard. If you’re one of those people, you may wonder how to prepare the stuff… at least so you can try it once and decide whether to maintain your rhubarb patch. On the other hand, if you have a home kitchen garden without rhubarb plants, and the idea of harvesting your first significant crop in early-to-mid spring is compelling, you should sample some rhubarb and decide whether to add some to your landscape.

If you pull in the right direction, a stalk comes loose with a fan-shaped scoop at its end as you see on the left. If you twist or bend the stalk, it may snap off, leaving a stump in the ground and at the end of the stalk (right).

From Garden to Sauce

In case you’ve never seen it done, here’s how to harvest rhubarb and cook it into a delicious sauce to serve as a side dish, or as a topping for cottage cheese, yogurt, cereal, or whatever else you eat with a fruity topping:

1. Harvest rhubarb stalks. To pick a stalk, pull it directly away from the rest of the plant in the direction the stalk is growing. It should come free as though popping out of a socket. The bottom of the stalk should end in a pink, fan-shaped scoop. Try not to break the stalk off when you pull it.

I like to cut off the leaves and clean up the bottoms of the stalks before I take them into my kitchen; the leaves go onto my compost heap.

2. Cut off the leaf, and pull off any dry, leaf-like material near the base of the stalk.

3. Rinse off soil, insects, and any other foreign materials you’d rather not eat.

To prep a stalk for the sauce pot, I cut off blemishes and dry spots, wash the stalk, and cut it into segments about an inch long.

4. If there are ugly blemishes or dried out spots, incise them from the rhubarb stalks.

5. Cut the stalks into ¾- or 1-inch sections and put the sections in a sauce pot.

6. Add an eighth of an inch of water or less to the pot; just enough to cover the bottom.

After at least 45 minutes of slow cooking in a lidded pot (and with some sugar added), the rhubarb becomes a tangy, sweet, viscous sauce with a vaguely stringy texture.

7. Cover the pot and set it on very low heat; it will need to cook for 45 minutes to an hour at that setting.

8. While the sauce is hot, add sugar to taste and stir till it dissolves. Rhubarb is very sour; I add about one cup of sugar to every quart of sauce.

9. Refrigerate the rhubarb sauce and serve it cold.

Please visit my blog post Small Kitchen Garden Rhubarb for a discussion about planting and growing your own rhubarb.

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A platter of crackers and cream cheese topped with a half cup of red pepper relish makes an attractive presentation on an hors d’oeuvres table.

If you grow bell peppers in your home kitchen garden, please try this; it’s astonishingly simple, and crazy delicious: Make and preserve red pepper relish to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at dinners throughout the coming year.

My garden is long abed, but I scored some inexpensive red peppers at the local Mennonite grocery store, so I just made up a batch of red pepper relish. While it takes about six hours from start to finish, your actual involvement will be closer to one hour: 30 minutes to prepare the peppers and start them cooking, and 30 minutes to prepare canning jars and can the finished relish.

Red Peppers in a Home Kitchen Garden

From what you see in a grocery store, you’d think there are bell peppers, and red bell peppers: two varieties. Truth is, a bell pepper is a bell pepper, and red ones have simply remained on the plant longer than the green ones have. If your growing season doesn’t provide three and a half months of consecutive warm days, start plants indoors and transplant them when your garden’s soil warms up past 65 degrees… green bell peppers want to be red, but they need a lot of time to get there.

Ingredients for red pepper relish are few: 12 large red peppers (I used 14 cuz mine were small), a tablespoon of salt, 3 cups of sugar, and a pint of cider vinegar.

A Bit More About the Relish

Red pepper relish is a mash of ground-up, sweet, sticky, pickled red peppers. The uninitiated may wonder: how can that be tasty? If you’re skeptical, please take my word for it and make one batch. When you decide you don’t like it, send me your spare inventory and I’ll reimburse you for the shipping cost. Better still, serve it at a dinner party, watch who hangs around the relish tray, and give a jar to that person as a house gift the next time you visit them.

My mother-in-law introduced me to this delicacy, and the recipe I’m sharing here is the one she gave me; I don’t know where she got it, but I’m glad she did. Here’s how to use your red pepper relish:

You’ll need 4oz canning jars… 8-to-12 of them along with canning lids and the screw-on rings that hold the lids on. You can’t be certain how much relish your peppers will produce, so have extra jars on hand.

You’ll need an 8oz block of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese and a box of savory crackers such as Ritz, Club Crackers, Triscuit, or something hoity-toity (involving crackers, I’m a simple man). An hour or so before you plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, set the block of cream cheese on a serving plate large enough that you can later surround the cheese with a ring or two of crackers. Open a four-ounce jar of red pepper relish, and scoop its contents onto the cream cheese, distributing it evenly on the top. Some relish may drip down the sides of the cheese onto the plate.

When your guests arrive, surround the cream cheese and relish with crackers, add a table knife or a butter knife, and set the plate out with your other hors d’oeuvres. A guest can cut off a chunk of cream cheese with its associated patch of relish, and scrape it off the knife onto a cracker.

Wash the peppers, remove their stems and seeds, and cut them into 2-inch pieces.

Chop the peppers up fine—each piece should be roughly the size of a thick piece of dry oatmeal. You can use a knife to do the chopping, but it goes a lot faster if you use a food processor. Mine held half the peppers. I used 2-second pulses totaling 20 seconds of run-time, scraped down the sides of the bowl, and then did 20 more seconds of 2-second pulses.

In a cooking pot, mix one tablespoon of salt through the ground peppers and let them sit for two hours. Then put a strainer over a pot or bowl, and dump the ground up peppers into the strainer. Let them sit for at least a half hour… more then three cups of liquid will drain out of them. (My mother-in-law tosses the liquid; I’m going to use it to make jelly… I’ll let you know how that works out.)

Return the ground up peppers to the cooking pot, add 2 cups of cider vinegar and 3 cups of sugar, and stir it together. Simmer the mixture uncovered for three hours, stirring periodically. For the first 2.5 hours, you don’t need to stir often, but in the last half hour, make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot (also, heat your canning jars—see below). I start my relish on high heat for about seven minutes, and then set the temperature to low for the remainder of the cooking time.

The cooked relish is thick, sticky, dark, and delicious.

With a half hour of cooking to go, make sure the canning jars are clean and put them in a large pot (a canning pot, if you have one) to heat on the stove. I used a 4-gallon stock pot with enough water that the tops of the jars would be two inches beneath the surface. I put two cloth napkins in the pot, and placed the canning jars bottoms down on the napkins… the water is going to boil, and the napkins protect the jars from jostling against the metal (you can use a dish towel instead of napkins). Also, put the canning lids in a sauce pot of water and set it on low heat; the water should get very hot without boiling. When the relish is ready, fill jars as follows:

  • Remove one from the boiling water (I use tongs for this) and empty the water back into the canning pot.
  • Spoon relish into the jar, leaving a half inch of clearance from the top of the relish to the top of the jar.
  • If you’ve splashed relish on the threads or top of the jar, wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Fish a canning lid from the hot water and place it on the jar.

  • Screw a band snuggly onto the jar. Don’t bust your gut tightening it, but neither should you be gentle.
  • Lower the jar back into the canning pot, making sure it comes to rest lid-side-up on the cloth napkin or towel.

Boil the jars for fifteen minutes, take the jars out of the canning pot, and set them on a dry dish towel to cool. My batch produced exactly 10 jars of relish.

Red Pepper Relish Recipe:

12 large red peppers

1 TBS salt

1 pint cider vinegar

3 Cups sugar

Core, de-seed, and chop up peppers into meal-sized pieces

Stir in salt and let stand for 2 hours

Strain off liquid for about a half hour

Put peppers in sauce pot along with vinegar and sugar; simmer for 3 hours.

Spoon into hot canning jars leaving a half inch of head space. Process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Yield: 5-6 Cups (10-12 half-cup jars)

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A late planting of lettuce and dill are all that remain viable in my home kitchen garden after two frosts. This bouqet of dill contributed to my first batch of pickled vegetables.

If you’re in hardiness zone 5, 6, or 7, your home kitchen garden is running out of time. Mine, in hardiness zone 5b (or 6a or b depending on whose map you consult), has seen two nights of frost nearly two weeks apart. It hasn’t been enough to kill of the cool weather plants, but their days are numbered.

The most dramatic crop left in my home kitchen garden is a two-foot row of dill weed that I planted from seed in August; it’s now more than knee high, and is as beautifully wispy green as anything I’ve ever grown.

My wife has always wanted fresh dill to make potato salad, but for five years my home kitchen garden hasn’t obliged (see box: Dill Weed Wonder). Finally, I have a gorgeous profusion of the stuff, and she’s no longer in charge of the kitchen; I’m the resident cook, and I don’t use dill in my potato salad.

So, given this awesome patch of fresh dill standing stalwart against the frost, what was I going to do? Make pickles!

Home Kitchen Garden Pickle Planning

I’ve never made pickles, but I’m pretty confident when it comes to cooking and food-preservation. I can a lot of jams, jellies, and tomato sauce, and have canned pears, peaches, and fruit salad. Oh, and I’ve made and canned ketchup and chili sauce (mom had a recipe for chili sauce that I **need** when I make meatloaf). So, while I’ve never made pickles, I figured I could handle the job if I tried.

I Googled pickle recipes. Not surprisingly, the words pickle and recipes appear together on more than 300,000 web pages. I must have speed-read three dozen of those pages, and it became clear: there’s no right way to make pickles.

Dill Weed Wonder

Dill has been the problem child of my home kitchen garden. I planted some years ago at my wife’s request, and only one or two plants grew–not enough to hold my attention. The next year, I planted dill from commercial seeds and got similar results. This time, I ignored the few plants and let them do their thing. Apparently, their thing was seeding because the next year I had a couple of volunteer dill weed plants in my garden.

Still, there wasn’t enough dill to be useful, so I ignored it again. This season, I had a few more volunteer plants in my garden–never enough for my wife’s potato salad, but always enough to make seeds for the next season’s volunteers. The dill plants matured by late spring and went to seed. In August, I harvested two large hands full of seeds, stored some in an envelope on my desk, and planted a two foot row in my garden with the others. Mother load!

It seems that every seed in the August planting sprouted and is maturing. I have a thick, low hedge of dill; enough to make many gallons of dill pickles and potato salad to last the winter.

I don’t know whether packaging and shipping dill seeds somehow weakens them, or I just got unlucky for a few years planting commercial seeds. But given my drothers, I’ll always start my dill planting from home-grown seeds.

The most bizarre page I read offered instructions for Pickling Cukes in a Jiffy. Step 1 of the procedure was to soak cucumbers in salt water for 12 hours. Had all other pickling recipes demanded 48 hours of soaking, 12 hours would have been a jiffy. But many recipes simply instructed me to put pickles in jars, cover them with brine, and can them in a boiling water bath.

Between seasonalchef.com, Strub Pickles, Cooking Cache, The Self Sufficient Urbanite, and others, I “made up” a recipe; a kind of average of what so many of them instructed.

How I Made Pickles

I had a giant head of cauliflower, a more modest head of broccoli, a pile of carrots, a few cucumbers, a quart of small hot peppers, and a very large onion that I wanted to pickle. I buy such a mix of pickled vegetables about once a month when I make sweet-and-sour meatballs; I get the sweet from canned pineapple, and the sour from the pickled vegetables. By pickling the vegetables myself, I figured to reduce the cost of making sweet-and-sour meatballs.

Here’s the basic procedure:

I peeled three very large carrots as well as one very large onion. I cut the stems off the peppers, cut the peppers into thirds (making two rings and a thimble), and scraped as many seeds as I could from each section. Then I cut the carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, and onion into bite-sized pieces.

Broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and onions cut into bite-sized pieces made up the mix of vegetables I pickled to use later when I make sweet-and-sour meatballs.

I heated five quart-sized canning jars and three pint-sized jars in a boiling-water-bath canning pot.

I mixed brine using the following proportions:

  • 1 unit of canning salt (salt without iodine apparently makes a clear brine)
  • 4 units of white vinegar
  • 8 units of water

Because I didn’t know how many jars I’d fill or how much brine each jar would require, I wanted a simple formula that would scale easily should I need to mix a second batch. The first pot of brine contained 1/2 cup of canning salt, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 4 cups of water. I heated the brine to boiling, then cut the heat but kept the cover on the pot.

I put a teaspoon of pickling spice in each jar, and then two sprigs of dill.

I filled each (hot) jar with mixed vegetables to about ¾ inch of the top… fitting chunks closely to fill as much of the space as I could.

A jar of freshly pickled vegetables catches the morning sun on my dining room table.

I poured enough (hot) brine into each jar to cover the vegetables—to about ½ inch of the top of the jar. I ran out of brine before I ran out of vegetables, so I mixed and heated a second batch; the same amount as the first batch.

I covered each jar with a canning lid and band, and boiled the jars—20 minutes for the quarts, and 15 minutes for the pints.

The Pickle Verdict

Some pickling instructions say to wait four or more weeks before opening a jar. Some say the pickles are ready when the jars are cool. I’m not always patient, so I opened a jar after it cooled.

I’m pleased. The pickles are a little saltier than I’d like, but that’ll work OK when I cook them in the sweet-and-sour sauce. Also, the pickling spice imparted a delightful flavor that I associate more with sweet pickles than with dills… but it’s a nice touch and if it holds up in the sweet-and-sour sauce it should complement the other flavors there.

Economy of my Home Kitchen Garden

I added up my costs of pickling vegetables using prices from my grocery store and the local farmers’ market:

  • Carrots $0.80
  • Broccoli $1.50
  • Cauliflower $2.00
  • Onion $0.33
  • Peppers $2.00
  • Vinegar $1.30
  • Salt $1.12 (but after I bought pickling salt, I found it at another store for half the cost)
  • Spice $1.18 (very low price at a local whole foods store)
  • Canning lids $1.79
  • Fresh dill (didn’t price it, sorry)

I already had canning jars, but if you have to buy them, you’ll pay about $10. They’ll come with lids, so for the cost analysis, we’ll say they cost $8.

The grand total, then, was just over $20. For that, I canned 16 pints of pickled vegetables. The same pickles would cost at least $76 at the farmers’ market (I’m pretty sure it’s more; I’m always taken aback when the pickle dude tells me how much he charges). So, making my own year’s supply of pickles has saved close to $56, and it has provided a fine adventure to share.

I’ll prepare a more detailed, illustrated, step-by-step guide to making pickled vegetables for an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more, please consider the following articles:

  • Pickle Recipes – Last week Meadowlark asked for some recipes in this post. I’m not feeling up to writing up a whole ton of recipes so I cut and pasted some pickle recipes I sent to Erikka in August. Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles 17ish pounds Cucumbers …

  • Spicy Pickle Recipe – Carrot Pickle Recipe – Carrot pickle recipe ingredients:. 2 kilograms carrots, shredded; 100 grams chili peppers, chopped; 1 big garlic bulb, cleaned and minced; 400 ml oil; 2 tablespoons salt; 1 tablespoon sugar; 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped …

  • Pickle recipes :: Indian Pickle recipes – Amla Pickle Beetroot Pickle Cabbage Pickle Capsicum Pickle Carrot Pickle Cauliflower Pickle Garlic Pickle Lemon Pickle Lime Pickle Mango Pickle Tindora Pickle.

  • CSA Newsletter: Week 21- October 6, 2008 – Both of these pickle recipes are delicious with plain while rice. Dried Dill. Divide your bunch into 2 or 3 smaller bunches and hang inside of a small paper bag. Use a rubber band to cinch the dill stems at the opening of the paper bag. …

  • Pickling How-To – These days, almost all store bought pickles and contemporary pickle recipes are vinegar-based. Lacto-fermented pickles contain no vinegar at all. In lacto-fermentation, salt is added to vegetables, either by covering them in salty water …

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