This is a great fresh jam to eat fresh. It also freezes well, so is a good freezer jam.  Since the berries are not cooked and there's not enough sugar to help preserve it, its fridge life is fairly short.  If you're keeping it in the fridge, try to use it within about a week.  If left too long, it will get moldy (you'll know if it does!)   But it's SO GOOD fresh!  My eight-year-old made a batch two nights ago; we ran out yesterday.  I made another batch this morning, and between spreading it on our pancakes at breakfast, and using it on warm bread this afternoon, it's gone again!

Pectin-free Strawberry Freezer Jam
1 pound strawberries, washed and hulled (green parts pulled off)
2 Tbsp. honey (or to taste; use any sweetener you prefer)
2 Tbsp. chia seeds, OR 1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds

Mash the berries with a fork, or chop in a blender until they're the consistency you want.  Stir in the honey (or other sweetener) and the chia.
 After this sits for about half an hour, the chia (or flax) will gel as they absorb the extra liquid.  Keep refrigerated or frozen.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Come to think of it, a drop or two of orange essential oil would be really, really goo
 
 
Elderberry syrup is known as a wonderful immunity booster and antiviral- which means it'll help knock down the flu or any other virus-caused illness.  It's also really, really delicious on pancakes.  Or a splash added to desserts or fruit salads.  Or brushed on a spice cake.  Or mixed with chilled sparkling water.  Or... you get the idea.
 Now that there's a jar in my fridge, I may have to watch to be sure my children don't sneak in and use up all my 'medicine'.   Just for that reason, I wax-sealed the lids on the jars I plan to share with others.  

I've already used it.  My family has had a nasty cold or flu this week; we've had missed school days and work days from it.  Yesterday it hit me hard, and felt like it was on the verge of turning into bronchitis or pneumonia.  I've been taking either elderberry infusion (tea) or the syrup at least three times a day since feeling it come on a couple days ago, and today I feel much better.  I suppose that may or may not have anything to do with the elderberries... but I'm keeping the routine up until I'm better!  Yum.

I started with 2 pounds of berries, used a steam juicer, and the first 2-3 cups of juice were nice and dark; strong enough to use without boiling to condense it.  The longer the berries steamed, though, the lighter the juice got, so I boiled down the last three cups to yield about 1 1/2 cups.

You'll notice in the photos below that some of those berries don't look exactly the same as the others... I have a young hawthorn tree.  It produces berries, but not yet enough to make a batch of anything yet.  The haw berries are said to be good for reducing inflammation (as well as normalizing blood pressure and helping strengthen and regulate the heart)- so I threw them in with my elderberries.  Honey is used in this instead of sugar because of its soothing, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties.

If you want to make a wax seal, paraffin works great.  I had a small ball of red cheese wax I'd saved, and used that.

Elderberry Syrup
Start with 2-3 cups elderberry juice (depending on strength)- if not strong, boil to reduce to 2 cups.  To the warm, NOT hot juice (if you want to preserve the enzymes if using raw honey), stir in these ingredients:
2 cups honey
5 drops ginger essential oil
3 drops cinnamon essential oil
2 drops clove essential oil


Store in the refrigerator.  Probably best used within a couple months- though I've had syrups stay nice for a year, refrigerated.  You could store them longer if you seal them in sterilized jars. 

To use medicinally, take a tablespoon straight or mixed in 6-8 oz warm water, every 3 hours if you're sick and an adult, or take once a day as a general immunity booster.  See the label below for more details.  

If you want to start with berries but don't have a steam juicer, and want to use the spices themselves instead of essential oils, combine 4 oz (2/3 c.) berries in 3 ½ c. water, a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and ½ tsp. cloves; Simmer until water is reduced by almost half; strain, pressing on the berries.  Cool until just warm, stir in honey.

On a related note, you can use jelly to make gourmet pancake syrup:  see here.
 
 
Have you heard that you can bottle butter at home to store for later, without refrigeration?  

The first time I heard about it was from my aunt a few years ago.  Then I kept hearing about it, here and there and everywhere!

It sounded kind of strange.  And scary-- what about botulism?  So I did some research.

The FDA discourages canning butter, as do the USU Extension offices around the country, because of the risk of botulism growth in canned butter.  HOWEVER, it looks to me that this is a case of erring on the safe side.  They, as government entities, are very averse to any kind of risk.  Botulism has about a 10-17% death rate in those who get it, though with the low incidence of this kind of food poisoning, it translates to 2-4 deaths in the US per year. Lightening kills way more people (about 55-75/yr).

Botulism does not grow if the water "activity level" is below .94; salted butter has a water activity rate of .91-.93.  The added salt helps 'tie up' the water, making it unavailable.  That should be in the perfectly safe range, but is apparently too close to comfort for the FDA, who require a water activity rate of .85 in commercially-sold foods. I would not can unsalted butter; its water activity rate is .99 or higher. Another option is to make the butter into ghee before canning, well-made ghee has no water remaining in it. I wasn't able to find what the water activity rate of ghee is, but logic leads me to believe it is under even the FDA comfort range.  I've canned both salted butter and ghee.  I'm more comfortable with the ghee.


If you'd like to read more about it to decide if canning butter or ghee is okay with you, here are some of the sources I learned from:

http://www.ecolab.com/our-story/our-company/our-vision/safe-food/microbial-risks/c-botulinum    

http://books.google.com/books?id=ylWey_KBv7UC&pg=PA337&lpg=PA337&dq=%22water+activity%22+of+%22salted+butter%22&source=bl&ots=18uZLS840j&sig=W8RCozWeTS_FcDIa-MkuRJPJu6I&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jeYFUcTWEc6tygHixICQDA&ved=0CEQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22water%20activity%22%20of%20%22salted%20butter%22&f=false     

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK50952/ )


 
 
Do you want something simple to give to friends and neighbors?  Here are some quickies; if you have more time you might like Candy Cane Bread, shaped and decorated like a candy cane.  
Recipes for the fudge and the gingerbread syrup are below.

For the jars to pour syrup in, I save jars through the year: spaghetti sauce jars, pickle jars, jelly jars,baby food jars, peanut butter containers (don't use those for anyone with peanut allergies!)...
After Christmas, anything that didn't get used gets put in the recycle bin, and I have cupboard space once again!
Cherry-Almond Fudge

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
7 oz. marshmallow creme (may use 7 oz. marshmallows instead)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cherry flavor  (I used wild cherry, and it was amazing!)
1/4 c. dried cherries or cranberries, finely chopped
1/2 c. almonds, chopped

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment or foil; butter well if using foil.  Set aside.  Combine the sugar and milk in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring often, then boil for 3 minutes.  Pull off the heat, then add marshmallow creme, chocolate chips, almond and cherry extracts, and dried cherries.  Stir until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.  
Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm, then cut into squares.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Makes just over 2 pounds.


Gingerbread Syrup 
(notice this recipe is basically the same as above, only without the marshmallow, and with extra milk to make it pourable)  If you don't have cinnamon chips, use white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, then add 1-2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, to taste.


2 c. sugar (can use brown sugar for deeper flavor, or add 1 Tbsp. molasses)
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. milk
12 oz. cinnamon chips (I used Hershey's brand)
1 tsp. ground ginger OR 1 drop ginger essential oil
1/2 tsp. ground cloves OR 1 toothpick of clove oil
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and milk to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.  Stir in cinnamon chips, ginger, cloves, salt, and stir until smooth.  Stir in pecans, then pour syrup into jars.  Store in the refrigerator.  Warm before serving.  (If too thick, microwave briefly.)

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.




 
 
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There are some shade-loving, spiny-leather-leaved shrubs known as "Oregon Grape" (Mahonia).  At least one variety is native to the Rocky Mountain area, but nurseries sell different, -bigger- ones for use in landscaping. 

The berries ("grapes") are very tart but make delicious jelly.  They're free, too!

Pick the berries when they're completely blue.  They'll have a greyish-blue coating on them that will rub off, this is normal.  You don't have to rub it off.  For this size batch of jelly, I had about four cups of berries.

Rinse them, then put them in a pan.  Mash them, then add water, 1" deeper than the berries.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes, until they're very soft.  Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a single layer of cotton fabric.  Let it drip for ten minutes or so.  You can press down on it with a spoon to get more juice, but this will squeeze more solids into the juice, yielding cloudy jelly.

Follow the directions for grape jelly from your brand of pectin, or use these quantities:

Combine 5 cups juice with 7 cups sugar, bring to a full boil for two minutes.  Stir in one box of pectin (THIS WILL FOAM UP!- use a bigger pan than you think you'll need.) and return to a full boil. Let it boil 2 minutes more, then pour into your sterilized jars.  Top with new lids (warmed in water), screw on the bands.  Process for 10 minutes.  This makes 7 tp 8 half-pints of jelly.   If you used a big enough pan, you can scrub it out, put 1" of water in the bottom, bring it to a boil, put the jars full of hot jelly into this pan, cover with a lid, and let it steam (simmer) for the ten minutes of processing time.  Lift out carefully and put them on a dry dishtowel on the counter.  Cool completely.

When the jelly is completely cool (usually the next day), wash the jars and remove the rings.  Dry the tops, label with the year and what's in the jar.

For more detailed instructions, see a post at one of my favorite websites, http://www.pickyourown.org/grapejelly.htm 
 
 
Have you ever looked at the gourmet syrups on the store shelf?  Have they sounded delicious, but cost more than you're willing- or able- to spend?


Start with one jar-- any size-- of jam, jelly, or preserves.  Scoop into a bowl, then fill the now-empty jar about halfway full with water; use a little less if the jam was runny, a little more if it's very thick.  Add about 1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice for each 1-2 cups you now have, to perk up the flavor (optional but good).  Whisk together until evenly mixed.  Serve warm.

18 ounces of jam will yield 26-28 ounces of syrup.

You can use any kind, homemade or storebought, including the ones made with no added sugar.  It's a handy way to use up jam or jelly when you've made/bought way more than y

We've tried blackberry, rhubarb, apricot, elderberry, black currant, blueberry, cherry... 
next maybe I'll pull out a jar of lemon-honey marmalade.  That should be fantastic with blueberry pancakes!

 
 
My vivacious 86-year-old grandmother bottles pineapple on a regular basis- has since before I was born- since she lives near a plentiful source.   She is one of those people who knows how to make anything  out of anything  and waste precious little to none of it.    As she ate some of my fresh pineapple salad earlier this week, she related how she'd been teaching my cousin to bottle fruit.  I was intrigued with what she told me about using the peel and cores.  Growing up, we kids used to always chew up the cores, which are admittedly tough and less flavorful, but we could only handle a few before the acids started hurting our mouths.  See the slideshow above to learn what she does with them.

Once you've cut the pineapple  into wedges, free of cores and peels, it's ready to cut into whatever size you want.  You can then bottle it, freeze it, or use it right away.  Like all cut fruit, it has a relatively short refrigerator life.
 
 
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Does the thought of canning make you cringe?  Do you think it is an all-day project?

Well, sometimes it does take all day. If you're canning 100 jars of apricots, you know it's going to take a while.

If you have just  a little bit of fruit, though, it can be a little project.

Part of the simplicity of this is that this fruit already contains enough pectin to gel; it just needs sugar and cooking.  Other fruits high in pectin are apples (and things in the apple family, including rose hips), citrus (see Easy Orange Marmalade), and berries.

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I have two black currant bushes in my front yard.  The berries have been ripening at different times, so my kids and I have picked them each week, for three weeks.  Each time we've only ended up with 3-6 pounds of berries, not enough that I felt like breaking out my water- bath canning pot.  So I didn't.  This small amount of jars fit pretty well in one of my cooking pots. 
I started with 6 pounds of washed currants, then pureed them in the blender.

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Then I added sugar; one cup sugar for each cup of puree.

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Stirred it over medium-high heat...

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and kept stirring every now and then, until the mixture coated my spoon; a good sign that it would set up as a gel.  Another test is to drip a little on a cold plate (or granite countertop!), wait about ten seconds, and see how it set up.  It doesn't need to be very thick.

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I poured it into sterilized jars.

The easiest way to sterilize them, if you remember ahead of time, is to run them through the dishwasher on the "sanitize" cycle.  Since I didn't think of that in time, I used bleach- about a teaspoon of bleach in one jar, with 1/4 c. water.  I put a lid on the jar, shook it well, then poured the bleach water into the next jar and repeated until they were all done. I let them sit for five minutes, then drained and rinsed them.

So do you HAVE TO sterilize?  No, but there may be microorganisms in your jars that cause mold to grow in your jelly.  I haven't found that to be an issue when I'm sealing jars, but it shortens the fridge life of unsealed jars.  If the jars are sterilized, I can get a good year out of unsealed marmalade (sometimes longer), but usually closer to 4-6 months if the jars were not sterilized first.

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The pot on the left is deep enough to hold these half-pint jars- they have to be covered by at least 1/2" over the top.  I filled it about halfway with water, and brought it nearly to a boil.

Meanwhile, I prepped the sealing lids by putting them in almost-boiling water, then letting them sit 5 minutes to soften the sealing compound.

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I brought it to a full rolling boil, adjusted the heat so it would maintain that, and set the timer for ten minutes.


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When the timer rang, I turned off the heat and let them sit a minute.  Normally I use a jar-lifting tool to retrieve them, but it's kept with my water-bath canner...

So I dumped half the water out of the pot to expose the jar tops, then lifted them out using a pot holder.

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I put them on a dry dish cloth to cool, with a little space around to help the air circulate. 

Then I cleaned up while occasionally hearing that musical "pop" that announces a jar has sealed.

The whole process took less than one hour.


After they cooled, I took the rings off, washed them, and labeled them with contents and date.

Some of them got an extra label, since I found one for nutritional content of black currants:


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OK, so this is the nutrition for the actual fruit, not fruit with sugar.  It gives me something to work from, though. 

Those currants have some good stuff in them!

Part of the carbohydrates listed is pectin- a soluble, nondigestible fiber.  It helps you feel full longer, and not only helps scrub out your insides, but helps make it hospitable to friendly bacteria (probiotics).  This last feature makes it a "prebiotic". 

Cool stuff.