Author: craig

How to Pickle Garlic Scapes

One of the things I love about growing garlic is that you get two different harvests from them—the garlic, of course, but also the garlic scapes.

Backing up a bit—there are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck is more weather resilient and can overwinter, so we plant it in the fall and it’s one of the first things to pop up in the spring. Hardneck garlic grows a thick flower stem, called a scape, that can be harvested and used in various recipes. (For more on the differences between hardneck and softneck garlic, I found this webpage informative.)

There are many ways to use garlic scapes, such as barbecuing them, turning them into pesto, and even a garlic scape jam that I want to try next year. I’m also currently attempting a fermented garlic scape hot sauce that I’ll post about when it’s done.

One of the easy crowd-pleasing scapes dishes is pickled scapes.

How to harvest garlic scapes

At a certain point in the life cycle of hardneck garlic, the plant will shoot out its flower stem. It gets really tall and then circles back in on itself, sometimes creating several circular loops. Toward the end there will be a bulb forming—this will eventually become garlic seeds.

Garlic scapes must be harvested before a flower forms on the scape. If the flower is allowed to form, the garlic bulbs will stop growing, but if you harvest the scape before the flower forms, the plant will refocus all its energy on growing the garlic bulbs.

There are two schools of thought on how best to harvest the scapes. One is to use scissors or a blade to cut it off at the base of the top leaves. The second is to grasp the stalk and tug the scape; theoretically, the scape will break further down inside the plant and you get a longer scape.

I normally cut them, but this year tried to tugging method. There was no difference; it broke at the spot I would have cut it. However, it meant I didn’t have a pair of scissors or a blade in one hand, meaning I could move a little quicker since I had two hands.

Once you’ve harvested them, it’s a good idea to give them a quick rinse to get rid of any dirt or insects clinging to the scapes.

Scapes can be stored in the fridge for up to a few weeks. However, their firmness does reduce over time, so if you like the crispiness of a fresh scape, it’s best to use them as soon as possible.

How to make pickled garlic scapes

There are different flavour variations for garlic scapes. Last year I did straight-up normal pickled scapes, and this year I did spicy pickled scapes. Both variations are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post. An internet search can bring up a variety of recipes if you’re looking for a different spice combination.

The first step is to put the spices in the bottom of the jar.

Next, cut scapes to appropriate lengths and stuff them into jars. I generally find I’ll have jars of mostly straight scapes all standing upright, and jars where the curly scapes circle the inside of the jar and a handful of straight scapes will fill the centre void. I usually end up with lot of little bits of scapes from all the trimming, so I top off the jars with these. You can pack them in tightly.

The next step is to boil some brine, which is a combination of water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Pour the brine into the jars, leaving a half inch of headspace. Wipe rims and put on lids.

If you’re refrigerator pickling these you can put them straight into the fridge. If you’re canning these, they can be processed for 10 minutes, adjusting for elevation as needed. Refrigerator pickling will result in crisper pickled scapes that are a brighter green and have a bit more of a flavour bite to them. Canning them will result in softer scapes that are a muted green and the bite of garlic will be a bit milder since they cook while processing and that reduces the flavour a bit, but canning them will give you a much longer shelf life. Regardless of which preserving method you use, give the scapes at least a few days to fully pickle before opening a jar and enjoying them.

Pickled Garlic Scapes

Pickled garlic scapes perfectly preserve the scapes from the garlic plant in the form of a tasty appetizer with some zing.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Processing Time 10 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Pickles

Equipment

  • Canning Jars with Two-Part Lids, either 2x pint or 4x half pint sizes
  • Water Bath Canning Pot, if canning

Ingredients
  

  • ½ pound Garlic Scapes

Regular Pickled Garlic Scapes

  • 1 ¼ cup Water
  • 1 ¼ cup Vinegar, can be white, white wine, cider, or any vinegar as long as the acidity is 5% or greater
  • 1 ½ Tbsp Canning Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 2 tsp Mustard Seeds, 1 tsp per pint jar
  • 2 tsp Black Peppercorns, 1 tsp per pint jar

Spicy Pickled Garlic Scapes

  • 1 ¼ cup Water
  • 1 ¼ cup Vinegar, can be white, white wine, cider, or any vinegar as long as the acidity is 5% or greater
  • 1 Tbsp Canning Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes, 1 tsp per pint jar
  • 2 tsp Black Peppercorns, 1 tsp per pint jar

Instructions
 

  • Cut scapes to appropriate size and pack tightly in jars. Add spices directly to each jar (mustard and black peppercorns for regular scapes, red pepper flakes and black peppercorns for spicy scapes).
  • Create brine by bringing water, vinegar, salt, sugar to a boil, dissolving sugar and salt.
  • Add brine to jars, bringing up to ½ inch headspace. If you're short on brine, top up with vinegar. Wipe rims and put on two-part lids.
  • For Refrigerator Pickles
    Put jars in the fridge and let sit for at least a few days before consuming.
    For Canned Pickles
    Put jars in a water bath canner filled with hot water, with the jars submerged by at least an inch of water. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. (Adjust for elevation as needed.) Remove canner from heat and let sit for five minutes. Remove jars using a jar lifter and let sit undisturbed overnight. If jars are properly sealed, then they can be stored in a cool dark place for up to a year before quality (but not safety) starts to degrade. If any jars did not properly seal, they should be put in the fridge and consumed first. Allow jars to sit for at least a few days before consuming.

Notes

This recipe is intended for two pints of scapes, but can easily be divided or multiplied for smaller or larger quantities. I usually pack the jars first to see how many pints I get before figuring out the brine, and then I usually do a little extra brine just in case. (If you’re dividing or multiplying, ensure your math is correct so you get the correct ratios of ingredients.)
Feel free to add more spices to the jar if you want spicier scapes.
Refrigerator pickles will result in crispier and bright green scapes, but canned pickles will result in shelf-stable scapes that can sit in a cupboard for several months before opening (but refrigerate upon opening).
Keyword garlic scapes, pickled garlic scapes, refrigerator pickles

Garden Update: July 2024

Every year, my husband says something like “this is not a good year for the garden”. It’s either too hot or too dry or too cold or too wet, but usually it’s all fine in the end.

This year… is not a good year for the garden. We’ve had a combination of too cold and too wet. It’s already the first week of July and our garden is weeks behind compared to last year.

For the most part, this will likely be okay. Things might take a little longer and be harvested a little later in the season, but they’ll be fine. Other things that are harvested late in the season — like popcorn, for example — may not do that well. As always, we will see what happens.

One casualty already has been the black beans and kidney beans. Almost none of them have come up. We’re wondering if it was too wet and the beans ended up rotting. John has replanted a ton this past weekend. They might end up being harvested a little before they’re fully dried but in the past I’ve found I can just run them through a dehydrator and they’re fine.

The plants really enjoying this weather seem to be the underground vegetable crops, particularly the garlic and potatoes.

Potatoes and garlic growing in the back yard.

The garlic is about waist high, which I think is the tallest I’ve ever seen it. In this photo you can also see all the curly scapes growing out of the garlic in the front half of the photo. Scapes are the flower stem of the garlic plant. You want to cut or pull these off before the flower opens, otherwise the garlic will stop growing. I’m planning to harvest all the scapes tomorrow—I’ll pickle a bunch of them and the rest I’ll turn into some fermented garlic scape hot sauce.

Not loving the weather this year is the tomatoes, peppers, and corn. Normally this view would be lush and full, but this year it’s kind of depressing.

Small plants in the neighbour's yard.

The weather seems to be taking a turn for the better, though. Today is supposed to be hot and sunny, as is much of next week, so hopefully we’ll see a growth spurt in these plants.

Small tomato plants.

Food for a year

Really, a few plants not growing isn’t that big of a deal — I go grocery shopping every week, so I can always pick up a can of beans if the crop at home isn’t successful. But we like the challenge of eating only what we grow.

We haven’t had broccoli since, I think, January, when our frozen harvest ran out. We just harvested a little bit this weekend and I’m so excited to have broccoli again.

We’re at the low point in our food cycle. This is the food storage room in my mom’s basement. (We use her place since we don’t have a basement, and in return she has free access to whatever she wants.)

While we’ve got a few things left, it’s quite empty. The freezers are mostly empty too.

In a few months this will be FULL of jars and boxes and the freezers will be stuffed to the brim as well…provided the garden picks up some speed with all the growing. Then we’ll eat well until the spring when our choices narrow as things run out and we’ll start dreaming of the upcoming harvest and new round of amazing food.

Mushroom beds

The BIG new project this year are our new mushroom beds!

We’ve been wanting to grow more plant-based protein, which is partly why we’re upping our beans this year, and mushrooms were part of our plan. We weren’t sure if we were going to get it off the ground this year or not.

I received a great mushroom book for my birthday back in March—Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation by Tradd Cotter—which gives great instructions for how to set up mushroom beds on your property. (Despite the complexity of the title, it’s a remarkably novice-friendly book.) But… I was overwhelmed and decided to make this year the research year so that next spring I’d be ready to go.

In the meantime, I follow a local mushroom spawn producer on Instagram and saw a post about mushroom spawn kits that would be great for a garden. After a few DMs to get my nervous questions out of the way, I picked up the kits and we created our first mushroom bed for black pearl king oyster mushrooms.

Bags of mushroom spawn and sawdust pellets.
Mushroom spawn and sawdust pellets.

With how easy it was to set up—and it’s still to early to see how productive it is—we hit up the mushroom guy for some more, and we’ve set up a second bed for white oyster mushrooms.

I’ll do a full post on at-home mushroom production later this summer. A friend of ours has done an in-the-house mushroom set-up that’s quite impressive, so I’ll take some pics and grab some details from him to share in my eventual mushroom post.

Pride season

For many parts of the world, including Winnipeg, Pride happens in June.

As a fairly-masculine cisgender white gay man, I realize that I have a lot of privilege in society. Folks who have different gender and attraction identities or different gender expressions, or have different intersections with skin colour, socioeconomic status, and disability do not have as easy an experience as I do just existing. I don’t experience much homophobia and discrimination, though it does occasionally come up.

When I started this blog, I made a conscious decision to be openly queer here. I want this website to be a place where absolutely everyone is welcome.

Most homesteading sites would make the same claim, but then they also post Bible verses, make explicit statements about the importance of family and children, and often express a distrust of society. While all of these are perfectly fine to find important and have on one’s site, it does not create a welcoming space for 2SLGBTQ+ people who are interested in homesteading. And when I’ve gone onto some of these homesteaders’ social media accounts, I’ve been further alarmed by the content I’ve seen. Unfortunately, most homesteading sites and folks are not welcoming to queer people—they might in theory be, but not in practice.

I imagine some future people reading this section of this post and demanding what someone’s bedroom activities has to do with growing tomatoes. And, really, if that’s your question then that highlights the problem. If a straight person can post about their spouse and kids and importance of family in their post, then why can’t I post about my husband and the importance of Pride in my post? It’s that old double-standard that continually oppresses queer people and their identities.

If you’ve read some of my posts, you’ve likely seen references to my husband. I don’t hide it.

I’ve decided to take a tiny step forward—I’ve updated the banner graphic at the top of this site to include a progress pride flag.

There may be future inclusive changes and posts, once I figure them out. I know one thing I’d like to do is compile a great list of queer homesteaders and farmers. I follow a great account on TikTok, but a list need to be more than one item long. 🙂

Garden and project photo dump

Here are random photos of the things I’ve been up to the past few weeks!

We’ve added chamomile to the garden this year, so I’m working on plucking these flowers and drying them for tea.

Chamomile flowers.

The saskatoons are ripening; when they’re a dark purple, they’re ready. The challenge is to get them before the birds do. Last year on a Saturday evening I looked at the saskatoon bush and thought These look ripe, I’ll harvest them tomorrow morning. Twelve hours later, Sunday morning, the birds had completely decimated the bush, eating every single saskatoon. As I walked up to the bush to take this photo, a robin gulped down a berry and flew away.

Unripe saskatoon berries.

In the realm of preserving projects, I finally tackled the chicken broth. I’ve had a few chicken carcasses sitting in the freezer for months and they needed to get used up before this year’s harvest started filling the freezers again.

I took the carcasses, covered them with water, and added dried herbs and seasonings from last year’s garden. Piled on top here, you’ll see parsley, thyme, and a powered seasoning made from dried onion and garlic peels.

A pot of chicken broth with seasonings on top.

Once it’s boiled and then simmers for an hour or two, everything gets strained and the broth is then canned using a pressure canner. I ended up with just over eight litres of broth.

A jar of chicken stock.

I also made a batch of chive blossom vinegar for a friend. It’s normally made with white wine vinegar, but this batch is made with unseasoned rice vinegar. It has a lovely chive flavour and smell, and a gorgeous pink colour. Over the next few months the colour will fade and turn brown, but the taste and smell will stay the same. I’m hoping to get the recipe up on this site soon.

A bright pink bottle of chive blossom vinegar.

A new-to-me recipe this year is fermented chives. Chives are ridiculously difficult to preserve. Drying or freezing them diminishes their flavour pretty quickly, so it’s very much a use-it-fresh type of plant…which is disappointing because they produce so much chives and you can only eat so much in a meal. These fermented chives turned out pretty nice. If anything, it intensified the chive flavour and smell, and the fermenting has added a bit of a sauerkraut flavour to it. Fermented foods usually last at least a few months in the fridge.

A small jar of fermented chives with a spoon sitting in it.

I’ve also got my annual batch of dandelion wine underway. It’s really cloudy right now, so it’ll take at least a few months to settle and clarify. Normally dandelion wine is made with orange and lemon juice, but I stumbled across a recipe that used lemon juice and ginger and couldn’t resist. So this will be my first batch of dandelion ginger wine. Fingers crossed it tastes good!

A big carboy of golden-coloured dandelion wine

And, lastly, we almost have a gazebo on our deck!

We host a lot of barbecues in the summer but the mosquitoes and wasps make it incredibly unpleasant. We usually have a big mosquito net that drapes over the patio umbrella, but it tears so easily that it barely lasts a summer before we need a new one.

We’ve been talking about getting a gazebo, but we were always put off by the cost…until my mom and step-dad found this abandoned gazebo frame sitting in the middle of a field on public property outside the city. John and my step-dad went back to take it apart and bring it home and they put it together on the deck.

We’ve ordered mosquito screen siding. We couldn’t find the right gazebo canopy since each make and model is different and we have no idea which one this is, so we ordered extra mosquito netting so we can at least wrap the top of this with netting and prevent the bugs from coming in. In a future year we can look at a more formal canopy. All the netting arrived yesterday, so we’ll have it put together this weekend.

A gazebo frame on our deck

And that’s about it for this month’s round-up!

How to Make Dandelion Capers

It was only a few years ago that I discovered just how truly versatile—and tasty—dandelions can be.

It started with one project: dandelion wine. I’d just recently gotten winemaking experience under my belt and was eager to try something that wasn’t an expensive store-bought kit. I soon found dandelion wine, and looking out at the dandelions in our then yard (we have no yard space now, only garden), I knew it wouldn’t be hard to collect what I needed.

While the end result wasn’t perfect, I knew the mixed results were largely due to my limited winemaking experience. Every year since I’ve worked on perfecting my dandelion wine and it’s now a year-round staple at our place, and one of the first projects every spring is a new batch.

From there, I started to explore the other offerings of this “weed” that people were so desperate to get rid of.

  • There was dandelion green pesto—which wasn’t quite our thing but was well-liked by some family members.
  • Then there was dandelion cordial—which is nice and tastes quite refreshing served over ice.
  • Soon following was dandelion jelly—or poor man’s honey, as it’s sometimes known. While my husband and I generally don’t eat jelly, this was indeed tasty and it’s an easy giveaway gift.
  • This year I ventured into dandelion root coffee to great success.

And the remaining dandelion recipe in my arsenal is dandelion capers.

What are capers?

For the longest time, I thought capers were seafood. I didn’t know exactly what they were, but I’d always believed they were from a fish or a clam or an oyster or something. Maybe it was the slightly salty taste they sometimes have.

So when I first heard about dandelion capers, I was beyond baffled.

Regular capers are pickled and seasoned flower buds—nasturtium flowers, to be specific. Suddenly this food that I typically avoided at all cost were mildly intriguing.

And when I learn of a new canning recipe, especially a unique one, I have to try it.

Picking dandelion buds

To start, you want to pick dandelion buds. Not soon-to-bloom buds on the end of long stems. You want the buds that are tightly nestled at the centre of the leaves. Sometimes after you pinch off a bud, there are even smaller ones beneath that.

(This year my step-dad picked all the buds for me, so I don’t have a picture of what this looks like, so you’ll have to use your imagination! I’ll try to remember to update this page with a pic next year.)

The quantity needed is entirely up to you. You can pick just enough for one jar or go bananas and make gallons of capers.

It’s best if you process the buds the same day. However, we couldn’t work that timing out this year so my step-dad froze the buds and I used them within a couple weeks. There does not seem to be a reduction in quality for having been frozen, but I’d recommend not letting them stay frozen for long—ice buildup and freezer burn will certainly degrade the quality of the final product.

When sorting through what you’ve picked, you want to keep the tight bugs that likely don’t have any petals formed yet. A bud that’s close to opening or which you can see hints of yellow poking through are too mature and should go in the compost. Ideally, the buds you want are about the size of a pea or smaller.

Once the buds have been picked, rinsed of dirt and bugs, and sorted so you have all the best buds, you can begin the process of pickling them. From here you can look to the recipe card lower down for the full directions, which include boiling water, vinegar, and salt to create a pickling brine.

You can choose to refrigerator pickle them or water bath can them. Processing in a water bath canner will get you a longer shelf life since they’ll be properly canned, but refrigerator pickling them (just sticking the jar in the fridge and not processing them) will likely result in a crisper texture since they’re not being boiled.

How to use dandelion capers

You can use dandelion capers any place where you’d use regular capers. Which, I must admit, I rarely do. Given my earlier aversion to capers, caper recipes are not in my personal stash of dinner recipes.

With a quick google search you can find some great recipes that use capers.

Personally, with my wide variety of pickled and canned goodies, I often serve them at a barbecue. I’ll have a “choose your own appetizer” spread set out with a baked brie and crackers at the centre, dandelion capers, pickled beets, pickled garlic, and whatever pickled or fermented produce I have in my fridge. It’s a great way for people to taste test a bunch of projects and also a great way to use up something I don’t often personally eat.

Dandelion Capers

Turn dandelions from your yard into tasty, tangy capers.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes

Equipment

  • Mason Jars

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups Dandelion Buds
  • cup Vinegar, either regular or cider, as long as it's at least 5% acid
  • cup Water
  • 1 tsp Salt

Instructions
 

  • Clean dandelion buds and discard any that are too large, close to opening, or in bad shape. Pack dandelion buds into mason jars.
  • Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil, ensuring salt is dissolved.
  • Pour brine over dandelion buds, leaving a ½ inch headspace.
  • Refrigerator pickles:
    Put lid on and place jar in the fridge. After a week or so, they will be ready to eat.
    Water bath canning:
    Wipe rims and screw lids on to fingertip tightness. Process in a water bath canner for ten minutes. When the ten minutes is over, remove pot from heat and let sit for five minutes. Carefully remove mason jars and set on a towel on the counter to sit overnight. In the morning, check that the lids have popped / sealed; if they have, they can be stored in a cool dry place, if any jars haven't sealed, refrigerate them and consume them first.

Notes

Any size mason jar can be used. I tend to use one-cup or half-cup jars.
If you have more or less dandelion buds, this recipe can be easily multiplied or divided as needed.
If you find you’re short on brine, top off jars with vinegar.

How to Make Chive Blossom Jelly

It seems like every food gardener has an arsenal of jam and jelly recipes. After all, it’s a sweet, tasty, and easy way to preserve fruit and, in some cases vegetables and herbs, for the year ahead.

The problem is that my husband and I rarely eat jam or jelly, so most of these recipes don’t appeal to us since they’d just sit on the shelf. I still have some dandelion jelly from two years ago that I’m unlikely to ever eat.

Every once in a while, though, I come across a jelly recipe that does appeal to us. We tend to like savoury jellies, partly because they have wider uses than “spread it on toast”. Later this year I’ll do up a batch of hot pepper and wine jelly, which goes phenomenal on a baked brie.

My discovery this year is chive blossom jelly.

The first harvest of spring

Dandelions and edible weeds aside, chives are often the first produce to come up in the garden and the first to be harvested.

So in the spring our garden looks like this…

…with the ground mostly barren and the only plants showing life being the perennials, trees, and bushes.

But the chives are quickly growing and very soon look like this…

They’re the first burst of colour in the spring. And they bring with them a tantalizing aroma that you can sometimes smell just being in the vicinity of them.

There are two common types of chives — onion chives and garlic chives. These are onion chives. (We bought some leek seedlings and planted them and our neighbour says he thinks the plant was mislabeled and we bought garlic chives instead. So now we might have both?)

Onion chives have a green onion taste to them — oniony and fairly strong, but without the harsh bite that green onions can sometimes have in the bulb area. Both the green stalks and the purple blossoms are edible.

The only problem with chives is that they are difficult to preserve. You can freeze them, but they lose their flavour pretty quickly. You can dehydrate them, but they lose their flavour even faster.

I’ve got a batch of chive blossom vinegar on the go as a way to preserve the flavour and I’m attempting a fermented chives recipe I found (and I’ll report back when they’re done). Chive blossom jelly is a new preservation method added to my arsenal.

Frankensteining a recipe

I sort of Frankensteined this recipe together.

There are chive blossom jelly recipes out there, but they all call for low-sugar pectin which, to the best of my knowledge, is not easily found in Canada. The grocery stores don’t have it, Amazon has it for super expensive, the nearby department stores with canning supplies (Canadian Tire, Walmart), don’t have it. I couldn’t find an easy way to adapt a low-sugar pectin recipe to a full-sugar pectin recipe, so I half-invented this and half-adapted this to work with regular pectin.

You start by boiling and then simmering chive blossoms in a mix of water, white wine (optional, you can use additional water instead), and cider vinegar to leech out the flavour and some of the colour from the blossoms. I had some chive blossom vinegar from last year on hand, so instead of using cider vinegar I used the chive blossom vinegar for some extra chive-y taste. After it simmers for a while, you strain out the solids and let the liquid cool to room temperature.

From there it’s a pretty standard jelly recipe involving pectin, boiling, adding sugar, hard boiling, and canning. All instructions are in the recipe card below.

For an extra splash of fun, I picked apart some chive blossoms and added them to the jar before pouring in the hot jelly.

After canning, this is the final result…

Uses for chive blossom jelly

Chive blossom jelly has a very vibrant chive taste and even though it’s a full sugar recipe, it doesn’t seem too sweet to me, which opens it up to several different uses.

There’s, of course, the obvious use of spreading it on toast, but here are some ways I’m looking forward to using it:

  • As a topping on sandwiches. I make an excellent bagel breakfast sandwich with mayo, cheese, egg, and bacon, and I find a thin layer of savoury jelly often caps it off perfectly.
  • As a topping on a baked brie. During BBQ season I love to bake brie cheese on the grill and putting a thick layer of savoury jelly on top just adds a little something special to an already delicious appetizier.
  • As a side for a charcuterie or a cheese board. A little slathering of jelly on a cracker served alongside sharp cheese or cured meats would be heavenly.

Chive Blossom Jelly

Savoury, chive-y, and slightly sweet, chive blossom jelly looks gorgeous, tastes delicious, and can be used for savoury breakfasts, charcuterie boards, and baked bries.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Appetizer, Breakfast

Equipment

  • 1 Strainer
  • 1 Water Bath Canner
  • 4-5 1-Cup Canning Jars with Lids (Or 8-10 Half-Cup Canning Jars with Lids)

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups Chive Blossoms, plus a few extra for garnish
  • cups Water
  • 2 cups Dry White Wine (cooking wine is fine)
  • ¼ cup Cider Vinegar
  • 1 box Powdered Pectin (57g)
  • 4 cups Sugar

Instructions
 

  • Clean blossoms. Be sure they're free of insects, dirt, and debris; wash/rinse if necessary.
  • Place blossoms (except the few saved for garnish), water, wine, and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for twenty minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Strain to separate blossoms from liquid. Leave to drip for 1-2 hours. Discard solids. Let liquid cool to room temperature.
  • Measure sugar and put aside so it can be added quickly when needed. Prepare canning jars by ensuring they are clean and warm. Pick petals off the saved chive blossoms and drop into the jars. When jelly is added later, the petals will float to the top and be part of the jelly.
  • Put three cups of liquid in a large pot. A larger pot is necessary as the jelly will foam up in the next few steps. Whisk in powdered pectin until it dissolves.
  • Bring to a boil. Whisk in sugar and return to a boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
  • Working quickly, remove pot from heat and skim off any foam. Immediately ladle into the jars, leaving a ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rims. Put on lid and screw to fingertip tightness. Place jars in canner and cover with an inch of water.
  • Process in canner for ten minutes. The ten minute timer starts when the water is brought to a full boil.
  • Remove canner from heat and let sit for five minutes. Carefully remove jars using a jar lifter. Let sit undisturbed on the counter overnight.
  • In the morning, test if lids have "popped" — they bend downward, indicating a seal was made. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool dry place. Unsealed jars (ones that did not "pop") should be refrigerated and consumed first.

Notes

If you’re located at more than 1,000 feet above sea level, you’ll need to adjust the processing time. This chart will help you figure it out.
If you’re avoiding wine, you can use water instead.
Cider vinegar can be replaced with any vinegar that has a mild or complementary taste, such as white wine vinegar. When I made the batch pictured here, I had chive blossom vinegar on hand, so I used that for an extra burst of chive-flavour.
Keyword chives blossom, jelly

How to Make Dandelion Coffee

Several years ago, a strange plant appeared in our garden.

We have a habit of letting these things grow, to see what nature has inadvertently given us. That strange plant ended up being wild mustard. With a little bit of googling, I learned how to harvest mustard seeds and then how to make my own mustard.

In the years since, we learned that wild mustard is an noxious weed in the province of Manitoba (because it will invade canola crops), so we acquired seeds for a different variety of mustard and now grow that. Mustard is an annual crop for us and friends and family look forward to my homemade mustard.

Since then, I’ve always been on the lookout for other edible plants in the garden, especially ones that we haven’t planted ourselves.

That’s when I focussed on the dandelions.

Dandelion Uses

Dandelion has several different uses and every part of the plant is edible. And while there are multiple varieties of dandelion, they are all safely edible, and there are no dangerous look-alike plants, so you can be confident in using the dandelions in your yard without giving it too much thought.

The uses of dandelion are surprisingly extensive. They include:

  • Dandelion wine
    • This is really good and I make a big batch every year
  • Dandelion jelly, sometimes known as “poor man’s honey”
  • Dandelion leaf pesto
  • Roasted dandelion roots
  • Medicinal salves

The list really does go on. I recently came across a recipe for “dandelion root fries”.

This year I tackled one I’ve been eyeing for a while — dandelion root coffee.

I’ve had dandelion root coffee a few times before, which is sometimes marketed as dandelion root tea. It has a surprisingly robust flavour that is quite similar to coffee. Sometimes it seems to have a hint of mocha flavour too. As someone that can’t have much coffee (I react poorly to it if I consistently have too much), I’m always on the lookout for good-tasting alternatives — and this is it!

Dandelion Root Coffee

The “how to” is surprisingly simple.

You dig up roots.

You wash them, dry them, and trim blemishes and straggly bits off. And chop them into small pieces.

You roast them. You can do them in the oven at 400 F for about 30-45 minutes; put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and give it a shake every 5-8 minutes. Alternatively, I used the air fryer with the same method — 400 F for 30-45 minutes, give it a shake every 5-8 minutes. The only difference is I lined the air fryer basket with foil instead of parchment paper.

Let it cool completely. Then store in a cool, dry place, in an airtight container.

To make coffee, you can either use the small pieces and steep them like tea, or you can grind them and use them in a French press, or any other coffee-making appliance. I used the same amount of ground roots as I do coffee.

The result? Delicious.

Even better — it costs nothing and it’s caffeine-free.

Dandelion Root Coffee

When roasted and ground, dandelion roots make a very tasty coffee substitute, with a full-bodied flavour and just a hint of mocha.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine Coffee

Equipment

  • Oven or Air Fryer

Ingredients
  

  • Dandelion Roots

Instructions
 

  • Wash dirt off dandelion roots and trim off any blemished areas or thin strands.
  • Chop roots into equal-sized small pieces.
  • Roast at 400° F for 30-45 minutes. This can be done on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven or in an air fryer lined with foil. Check every 5–8 minutes, shaking each time. If some roots are roasted and dried before others, they can be removed.
  • Allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
  • To make dandelion coffee:
    Roasted dandelion roots can be used in chunks or ground with a coffee grinder. If using chunks, use them like tea, steeping until desired taste is achieved. If using ground roots, use like ground coffee in a French press or other coffee maker, using similar number of scoops.
Keyword coffee alternatives, dandelion root coffee, dandelions

Garden Update: June 2024

After getting through the garden hibernation period—AKA winter—life is starting to appear in our yard again.

Many, many years ago, I knew a newcomer family that came from a very hot part of the world. Their first winter here was their first experience with below-zero temperatures. When the plants died off and the trees shed their leaves, they thought that everything was dead. By mid-winter, one of them asked a mutual acquaintance why no one was cutting down all the dead trees. It amazed and delighted them when spring rolled around and all of those supposedly-dead trees came back to life.

The garden is much the same.

When the snow first melts, all we’re left with is dead plant matter and barren soil. But when the spring sun finally starts to warm things up, then life comes rushing back.

While garden season in Winnipeg usually starts in late May, we’ve had a rainy late spring / early summer, pushing us into June. We’ve almost got everything in the ground now.

The Early Risers

There are a few very early signs of spring in our yard that mean the season is finally starting:

  • The double-flowering plum tree blossoms
  • The garlic we planted in the fall springs up
  • The rhubarb comes rushing back
  • The chives sprout straight up

The double-flowering plum trees covers itself in bright pink blossoms for about a week, then they all fall off and suddenly this seemingly-barren bush is covered in lush green leaves.

The plum tree, at least in this climate, doesn’t produce any fruit. It’s purely an ornamental tree. When I was researching that a couple years ago, amateur gardeners said it’s likely because the blossoms come and go before pollinators arrive, so it misses out on its chance to produce fruit.

I happened to catch a bumble bee happily working away on the blossoms while they were still in bloom. If that amateur gardener theory is correct, well, this early bee might mean we get a plum or two. If anything happens, I will report back on that progress here.

The garlic is always one of my favourite crops. I think it’s because we get two harvests out of them. There is, of course, the harvest of bulbs in mid to late summer—most of which I pickle—but in early summer come the garlic scapes.

Scapes are basically the flower stem of the garlic plant. They shoot up nice and high and then do several twists and turns. You let them get nice and big, but just before they start flowering, you yank them off the garlic plant. These scapes taste fantastic roasted on the barbecue or are a nice little treat if they’re pickled. There’s a vendor at the local farmers market who makes a mind-blowing hot sauce from garlic scapes, an idea I might explore this summer.

The dwindling pantry

This time of year is also where the shelves start to look a little bare.

We still have a lot left from last year, especially frozen chopped bell peppers and frozen chopped squash, but we’re down to our last few jars of apple juice and tomato juice, and we’ve long run out of things like frozen broccoli and salsa.

We really don’t like to buy what we don’t have to, so we haven’t had broccoli in months now and we’re eating a lot more bell peppers than we normally do. Our goal is to see if we can go a whole year without buying vegetables—and except for a few exceptions (like mushrooms and the occasional potato), we’ve managed to do that.

Although it’s a massive amount of work, I can’t wait for the preserving season to hit full-swing and I get to stock all of these shelves again. I always look forward to a year of great food.

Planning for a new year

As successful as the challenge has been, we’re always looking at what changes we need to make to do better next year. For us, this means increasing broccoli, paying attention to what tomato products lasted and what we ran out of, and figuring out how to massively increase our fruit production (because we don’t preserve or utilize much fruit, mostly because we haven’t grown much). A new challenge for us is to also expand our protein production with beans and the eventual crop of mushrooms, though the mushrooms might not happen till next year.

Oh, and we might be expanding our garden space yet again.

We do our whole property, the backyard of our west neighbour, and a strip along the fence of our east neighbour, but this year we might add some garden space at a retreat centre just outside of town. We’ve been offered some space there and John, my husband, AKA the gardener, has been out there to turn some soil over. It’s a great plot of land, but it’s a bit of a drive to get there, and on his first trip out there he came home with 19 ticks crawling all over him. So, we’ll see.

John determines which crops go where and there is a draw to the out-of-town garden. One possibility is moving our popcorn crop out to the retreat centre—they apparently do not have a squirrel problem. Last summer when we had popcorn in our neighbour’s yard, a solitary squirrel decimated our entire popcorn crop in less than half a day.

This Year’s Crop

If I’m remembering everything correctly, here’s what we’ve got ahead of us this year…

Perennials that come up every year:

  • Saskatoons (AKA service berries, June berries)
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Horseradish
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Rhubarb
  • Flowers — I’m not sure if I’ll do anything with flowers this year, but in the past I’ve done lilac jelly and lilac wine, as well as peony jelly
  • Dandelions

Perennials from other people’s properties (not our neighbours) that we harvest:

  • Apples
  • Tart cherries

Things we’re planting, either as seedlings or as seeds:

  • Sweet peas
  • Peas for canning
  • Sunflowers
  • Corn
  • Popcorn
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Chamomile
  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Black Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Scarlet Runner Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Hungarian Wax Peppers
  • Habanero Peppers
  • Kohlrabi (for our neighbour)
  • Cabbage (for our neighbour)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Mustard
  • Ginger
  • Cucumber
  • Sweet Potato

Whenever I do a list like this, I always forget something, so there’s likely more than what’s listed here.

As well, tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary, and a tradition we fell into a few years ago is to go to a greenhouse on our anniversary and buy something new for the garden. We’re going to head out and look for a new fruit for the front yard. I’d love to get a cranberry bush, but they didn’t have it last year, so perhaps a haskap berry bush (which look like oblong blueberries).

I look forward to the summer and fall ahead as I start really filling this blog with recipes, updates, photos, and more. Thank you for tagging along on this journey.

How to Make Sourdough Bagels (with Three Flavour Variations!)

Over the last few years I’ve fallen in love with bagels for breakfast again.

I remember when the bagel craze hit Canada in the 1990s—there were bagel shops popping up all over the place. There was one near church and every Sunday after church my mom, my sister, and I would go there for lunch, and then on the way out we’d buy a dozen bagels and cream cheese so I could have breakfast for the coming week.

My favourite bagel at the time (and perhaps still is) was chocolate chip. That particular bagel store also made chocolate chip cream cheese. So every Sunday I’d head home with a dozen chocolate chip bagels and chocolate chip cream cheese.

I remember one particular Sunday where we decided not to have lunch, but rather my mom just sent me in to get my bagels for the week. The girl at the checkout counter packing my order seemed to hesitate when I said I wanted a dozen chocolate chip bagels. And when I also asked for two containers of chocolate chip cream cheese, she said, “Do your parents know you’re buying only chocolate chip?”

I think there was some implicit bias that chocolate shouldn’t be for breakfast. However, if a little dash of chocolate is going to make me eat a bagel and cream cheese and keep me full until lunch, what’s the harm in that?

So when I started creating a sourdough starter last year, one thing I was particularly interested in was making my own bagels—especially chocolate chip ones.

The Basic Sourdough Bagel Recipe

The first thing to master is the basic sourdough bagel recipe, which is not all too different from a basic sourdough bread recipe.

The full recipe is below, but in a nutshell, you mix up the ingredients the night before, let it rise overnight, form into bagels the next morning, and then boil and bake them to golden brown perfection.

Flavour Variations

Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe and done it once or twice, then the door opens to tweaking with flavour and toppings to get what you most desire. This can include mixing ingredients in with the dough the night before, or mixing ingredients in the next morning, or sprinkling something on top before baking them.

Here are the three that I’ve tackled:

  • Chocolate chip sourdough bagels
  • Cheddar and hot banana pepper sourdough bagels
  • Sun-dried tomato and basil sourdough bagels

All of them turned out super delicious. Chocolate chip is great with a thick smear of cream cheese, and the cheddar/pepper and tomato/basil ones make great breakfast sandwiches (with egg, bacon, mayonnaise, and a marmalade or hot pepper jelly).

How to Make Chocolate Chip Bagels

When tweaking the basic bagel recipe, the question I always have to ask myself is: When is it safe to add ingredients to the dough?

Since chocolate chips are stored at room temperature and shouldn’t spoil being in the dough overnight, I added them in during the initial mixing stage.

I prefer using mini chocolate chips, but if all you can find is regular size, roughly chopping them with a knife can make a wonderful difference. As for what kind of chocolate, I go with semi-sweet, but choose your favourite. Something tells me dark chocolate would go great with some butter and served with black coffee.

I went with 100g of chocolate chips, but if you like it a little sparser or a little denser, feel free to adjust to your taste.

How to Make Cheddar and Hot Banana Pepper Bagels

This is again a recipe variation that you can change to what you find locally and what your specific tastes are. If you prefer hotter peppers like jalapeño, or if you prefer fresh peppers (whereas I used pickled), go with the one you like best. I use cheddar because I always have it on hand and it’s the cheapest cheese at the store, but if you’ve got a nice sharp dry cheese in your fridge looking for a use, this might be the one.

I was again faced with the question of when to add my ingredients. Since my banana peppers are pickled, I chopped them up a little more and tossed them in with the dough the night before. If I was using fresh peppers, I likely would have mixed them in the next day.

For the cheese, I definitely did that the next day. Cheese at room temperature in a moist environment does not sound like good news.

How to Make Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Bagels

That eternal question of when to add the extra ingredients arises here again.

My tomatoes technically aren’t sun-dried, they’re dehydrator-dried, but they would work pretty similarly. A dehydrated / dried food in a moist environment will absorb the moisture, and you don’t want anything taking moisture away from your dough or else it might not rise properly. Additionally, now-moist tomato pieces at room temperature overnight does not sound good. So, I added these the following morning.

Since I was using dried basil from our garden, it was a similar issue, so I added it the next morning.

Stocking Up On Bagels

Much like when I went to that bagel store after church and stocked up, back in March I had a couple weeks off work and decided to stock my freezer with bagels. The batch makes eight bagels and I managed to get six batches done—48 bagels—so I enjoyed them for quite a while, and I think I still have a few kicking around in the freezer.

If only I could get some of that chocolate chip cream cheese, then my morning routine would be perfect.

Sourdough Bagels (with flavour variations!)

With a little bit of planning and patience, you can bake up some soft and delicious sourdough bagels to bring some sunshine to your morning breakfast!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 hours
Cook Time 25 minutes
Course Bread, Breakfast
Servings 8

Equipment

  • Kitchen Scale (measurements are provided if you don't have a scale)
  • Large Bowl
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Large Pot
  • Baking Sheet
  • Parchment Paper

Ingredients
  

  • 150 g Active Sourdough Starter (about 3/4 cup)
  • 250 g Warm Water (about 1 cup and 2 Tbsp)
  • 24 g White Sugar (about 2 Tbsp)
  • 500 g Bread Flour, or All-Purpose Flour if you're in Canada (about 4 cups and 2 Tbsp)
  • 9 g Salt (about 1 1/2 tsp)
  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 Tbsp Honey (optional)
  • Toppings like sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and bagel seasoning (optional)

Instructions
 

Making the Dough

  • In a large bowl with plenty of room for the dough to rise later, whisk together the sourdough starter, water, and sugar. I find it best to whisk with a fork.
  • Add flour and salt. Whisk with fork until a rough dough is formed, then mix by hand until no lumps remain. The dough will be fairly dry at this point.
  • Cover the bowl / dough with a damp towel and let rest for an hour.
  • Work the dough into a smooth ball. I find it easiest to pick up the dough and smooth it with my hands, rolling it over frequently in my hands. Only do this for about twenty seconds so you don't overwork the dough.

Bulk Rise

  • Spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and use it to cover the bowl. The sprayed side is down so if the dough rises and touches the plastic wrap, it won't stick. Let rise 10-12 hours at room temperature, or 8-10 hours if you're in a warmer climate or keep your house warm.
    Sourdough is as much an art as it is a science. The more you make sourdough, the better you'll be at recognizing when it's ready. Because my climate is dry, I let it rise the full twelve hours.
    Since I do a full twelve hours, I do this as an overnight rise. If you're in a warm and humid environment and your dough takes about 8 hours to rise, you could do this as a same-day project.

Shape the Bagels and Second Rise

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Give it a quick spritz of cooking spray.
  • Divide the dough into eight even balls. You can do this with the scale for a more exact measurement; I usually eyeball it. Roll each piece into a ball and let them all rest on the baking sheet for about fifteen minutes.
  • Shape the bagels. I poke a hole through the ball of dough and then insert a finger from the other side, twirling my fingers around each other to stretch out the bagel hole. I find the bagels "close up" the hole, so if you like a hole in your bagel, make it a little large knowing it'll get smaller in the next few steps.
  • Cover bagels with a damp towel and let rest at room temperature for twenty minutes.

Boiling Bagels

  • While the bagels are resting, fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Stir in the honey. This will give the bagels a bit of color. (If you're vegan or allergic to honey, you can omit this.)
    While doing this, preheat the oven to 425 F.
  • When bagels have rested and water is boiling, add the bagels (two or three at a time) to the pot. Boil for thirty seconds on each side. The bagels usually float, but if they're at the bottom of the pot, give them a nudge with a slotted spoon to ensure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
    This step gives the bagels a thin crust, which prevents it from ballooning like a loaf of bread when baking.
  • When boiled, transfer back to the baking sheet and boil the next batch.
  • Optional: When the bagels are cool enough to touch, you could dip them in bagel toppings like sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or bagel seasoning.
    I usually do not do this as plain sourdough bagels are quite nice.

Baking the Bagels

  • Place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.
    Optional: After removing them from the oven, you can flip the bagels over and bake for 2 minutes more. This will give colour to the bagel bottoms. I don't always do this because when I flip them sometimes they look toasty on the bottom already.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Notes

Flavour Variations:
Chocolate Chip Bagels
Add 100g of mini chocolate chips to the initial stage when adding flour and salt, so they get worked in nicely. If you don’t have mini chocolate chips, you can roughly chop regular sized chocolate chips. I use semi-sweet, but use any sweetness you prefer. You can also add more or less chocolate chips, to your preference.
Cheddar and Banana Pepper Bagels
This is a surprisingly good combination! You can use any amount of peppers and cheese to your preference. You can swap out banana peppers for any hot pepper you prefer. If using pickled peppers, chop them finely and add them in the initial step with the flour and salt. If using fresh peppers, add them the next day when working the dough into eight balls. Work the dough a little more than usual to work the peppers in. If adding cheese, add a little bit when dividing the dough into eight balls, again, working the dough a little extra to work the cheese in. Reserve some cheese to sprinkle on top of the bagels right before baking.
Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Bagels
Add sun-dried tomatoes and basil the next day when working the dough into eight balls, working the dough a little extra so the ingredients mix in. You can use any amount of tomatoes and basil to your preference.
Keyword bagels, Sourdough, sourdough bagels, sourdough starter

How to Juice Cherries Using a Steam Juicer

After hearing multiple times on food preservation blogs about the convenience of a steam juicer and how passionately people appreciate having them, I finally purchased one in late 2023. (This one, to be specific.) It ended up just sitting in its box on a chair in the kitchen for months.

I had several bags of cherries sitting in my freezer waiting to be juiced, but I kept putting it off thinking that, despite what people say online, it would be a messy, exhausting process. My traditional electric juicer is messy and exhausting to use with big batches—it’s the kind with the spinning grater that grinds up the fruit/veg and separates the juice from most (but not all) the solids. Whenever I would use that, I’d end up with bits and pieces of fruit/veg all over the kitchen, no matter how careful I am with being neat and tidy. And it’s a process that requires a ton of work, from prepping the fruit/veg, to manually pushing it through the juicer, to having to stop and clean out the solids every so often.

That juicer works terribly with cherries. I think the fruit is too soft and light and it ends up throwing the fruit around rather than truly juicing it. As well, to use that juicer I have to stem and pit all the cherries first.

I had five bags in the freezer, weighing somewhere around 30 pounds. I wasn’t going to stem and pit them all.

So, I finally pulled the steam juicer out and…what a revelation!

What is a steam juicer?

Steam juicers are a specialized piece of kitchen equipment consisting of three pots that fit together.

The bottom pot is filled with water and when the stove is turned on, this boils and releases steam into the system, which allows all the juicing magic to work.

The top pot is really a colander—the bottom and sides of it has dozens and dozens of holes. The fruit or veg gets put in this pot. The steam rises, releases the juice from the fruit/veg, and the juice drips through the colander holes into the middle pot.

This pan can fit a lot of fruit. It took only three run-throughs to process all my cherries.

The middle pot is almost bundt-pan like. There’s a hole in the centre for the steam to rise and make all this magic happen. The juice collects in this pot and, when you’re ready, there’s a hose and clamp attached to it so you can drain the juice into jars.

How to juice cherries using a steam juicer

Fill the bottom pot with water. If the instructions specify to fill it to a certain level, always follow these instructions. Mine did not have a specific level required, so I just filled it up to near-full.

Place the middle pot on top. My bottom pot has a little half-circle cut out of its top lip to accommodate the hosing from the middle pot, so if yours has that too, ensure these are properly aligned as it’ll mean the pieces are all fitting together properly.

Place the top pot on top.

Wash/rinse cherries and remove any with blemishes, underripe fruit, or anything else that looks less-than-ideal. I read through a handful of instructions online and it seems to be mixed on if the cherries should be pitted and destemmed first, so I did not bother with this.

Fill the top pot with cherries. In the photo below, mine are still semi-frozen. If you have frozen cherries, you don’t need to thaw them first.

Put the lid on.

Set the burner to high until the water boils, then reduce the heat so it continues to simmer.

Let the steam juicer do its work. I found it took about an hour for a potful of cherries to fully juice.

Every once in a while, carefully lift off the middle and top pots to check on the water level in the bottom pot. If needed, add hot water (or boiling water fresh from the kettle) to top up its levels. I also regularly checked on the volume level in the middle pot since I wasn’t sure how much juice was going to be pulled from the cherries—I didn’t want to run the risk of it overflowing and that precious juice falling down into the water pot. You can also check on the cherries in the top pot to give you a sense of how far along you are—once the volume had decreased about 75%, that was my cue that I was just about done. Please use oven mitts as the handles can get very hot.

When everything is fully processed, carefully remove from heat and use the hose to drain the juice into jars or whatever storage vessel you’re using. Once the majority of the juice has drained, you’ll want to carefully tip the pot forward a little bit to pool the remaining juice in front of the hose. To be safe, you might want to remove the top pot and put it aside, so the unit isn’t top-heavy and at risk of completely tipping.

Alternatively, to get the last of the juice, you can lift the middle pot right out and pour the juice directly from the pot into the jar, while being very careful not to spill hot juice on yourself.

How to preserve cherry juice

My attempt at juicing cherries resulted in about three gallons of juice. With this I set up three one-gallon batches of cherry wine and was left with a litre (four cups) of cherry juice. I just stuck these in the fridge so my husband and I can add it to our kombucha.

However, there are several options here:

  • If you don’t have a lot and will use it soon, put it in an airtight container and store it in the fridge.
  • Juice can be frozen in jars or plastic containers. When I freeze juice, I try to use straight-sided jars that don’t have shoulders—sometimes juice can expand when freezing and you don’t want to risk the jar breaking—and I leave about an inch of headspace. You can likely store it for several months before quality starts to degrade.
  • Cherry juice can also be canned! (This site has some instructions)
  • There are endless other options, including cherry wine, cherry jelly, popsicles, and more.

How to Juice Cherries Using a Steam Juicer

With the use of a steam juicer, juicing cherries is easy, quick, and clean, giving you pure cherry juice.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Beverage

Equipment

  • 1 Steam Juicer

Ingredients
  

  • Cherries
  • Water

Instructions
 

  • Wash and drain cherries. No need to de-stem or de-pit them. Remove any cherries that have blemishes or are damaged.
  • Set up the steam juicer as per the instructions that came with your juicer. If you don't have instructions, fill the bottom pot with water till nearly full, then place the juice collector pot on top, and then the colander pot on top.
  • Fill the colander pot with cherries and cover with the lid.
  • Turn on stove to high until the water in the bottom pot is boiling, then reduce heat to medium and keep water simmering.
  • Let simmer for approximately an hour, until cherries have been juiced.
  • Turn off the stove and remove the pot from heat. Being careful since things are hot, release the lamp and drain cherry juice into jars or other storage containers. Cherry remnants may be composted or discarded.
  • Juice can be used immediately in recipes that call for cherry juice. If you're planning to use or consume it in the next few days, juice can be stored in the fridge. For longer storage, juice can be frozen in mason jars or other freezer-safe containers—but leave some headspace and avoid jars with "shoulders" in case juice expands when frozen as this can shatter a jar. Juice can also be canned using a water bath canner (this site has some instructions).
Keyword cherry, cherry juice, juice

Garden Update: December 2023

It’s been an unusual winter so far for Winnipeg. We’ve had very little snow.

For quite a while, it was looking like we’d have a brown Christmas, something we haven’t had since the mid-90s. But the days leading up to Christmas saw some snowfall. It wasn’t a lot, but it was some. Normally at this time of year we’ve got maybe a foot or two of snow, but so far this year we’ve got about an inch.

While it has been nice not having to do any shovelling, it has left us a little concerned about the garden.

We plant our garlic at the end of the summer and rely on a cold winter to keep the cloves in stasis until the spring warmth brings it to life and growth begins. Our winter so far as been hovering around 0 Celsius / 32 Fahrenheit—some days it’s just below freezing and some days it’s just above freezing. While I haven’t uncovered the garlic to check on it, my fear was that the warm days might’ve encouraged the garlic to grow. However, we’re fully past freezing now, so what’s done is done and we’ll see what happens in the spring.

The garlic patch is covered by garden debris to help insulate it over the winter.

The other risk we run with very little snow is water supply. While we prefer to water the garden with rain water, when we go through dry spells we rely on the city supply of water. This past summer was quite dry, which required a lot of city water. A handful of years ago, lakes in various parts of the province were low and water rationing was put in place. A dry summer followed by a low-snow winter might find us in that situation again. Here’s hoping we get several feet of snow in January through March.

But that’s enough worrying about things I can’t control.

Alcohol Projects

The honeydew melon wine finished a couple weeks ago and I bottled it up. I haven’t tried it yet…but I’m a little hesitant.

For background for folks new to the blog, I really dislike honeydew melon and John, my husband, is not really a fan of it. We grew it because our neighbour gave us some seedlings, and when we realized that neither of us want to eat it, I happened upon a recipe for honeydew melon wine.

Sometimes wine tastes like what it’s made from, like grape wine, dandelion wine, and cherry wine. But sometimes it doesn’t taste at all like what it’s made from and instead just tastes like a nice wine, like beet wine, parsnip wine, and corn cob wine. I didn’t know which type of wine honeydew melon would produce, but I certainly hoped for the kind that tastes nothing like what it’s made from.

Unfortunately, with the tiny spoonful taste I had, it was very melon-y. And it has an extremely intense melon-y aroma. Blech.

John thinks it’s all right.

We’ll leave it for a month or two before we crack open a bottle and see if ageing it changes the flavour and aroma. I found apple wine changed drastically over time, so here’s hoping the same is true of honeydew melon wine.

I’ve taken on a few other alcohol projects in the last couple months:

  • I did up a batch of rhubarb ginger gin. Normally this takes on a nice golden hue, but this time around it turned a bright, gorgeous pink.
  • As a bit of an experiment, I tried a lemon-lime soju, based on my recipes for grapefruit soju and orange soju. It has a lovely citrus taste and could easily be drunk as-is, but would likely taste wonderful mixed with a splash of sparkling water for a sort-of alcoholic Sprite.
  • Back in the summer when I was utterly exhausted from juicing apples and canning the juice, I’d sliced up a bunch and bagged them for alcohol projects. The first I’ve taken on is an apple whisky with a hint of cinnamon.
  • In addition, I’ve started a batch of apple liqueur. This one takes a couple months to make, so I’ll be sipping these summer flavours in the deepest depths of winter.
  • My mom had some leftover cranberries and rosemary at Christmas, so I threw those in a jar and topped it off with gin. I’ll let it infuse for a couple weeks, strain out the cranberries and rosemary, and see what flavour adventure I’ve created. At present, the gin has turned a brilliant red.

The sugar shortage continues

As I mentioned in passing in my recent pumpkin butter post, there’s a sugar shortage going on in Western Canada. Apparently all, or nearly all, of the sugar in Western Canada is supplied by one company that’s been on strike since September, which resulted in the shelves going bare in the grocery store as we were leading up to Christmas baking season.

That also meant I needed to ration my sugar supply. By making kombucha, I require a cup of sugar every eight to ten days to start a new batch—and with no end to the strike in sight, I can’t risk running out…which means not taking on extra projects.

However, a friend visited from Ontario, a part of Canada not experiencing a sugar shortage, and she brought us a 10 kilogram bag of sugar as a Christmas present!

This means I finally get to try out the new steam juicer I bought (CA Amazon, US Amazon). I’ve got three large ziplock bags of tart cherries in my freezer just begging to be turned into wine or liqueur. I normally find it a bit of a laborious process because of the juicing step, so I’m looking forward to using the juicer to easily create sediment-free juice—and then add a TON of sugar to turn it into wine.

When I try the juicer, I’ll post a review here on the site.

Planning for 2024

It seems the garden truly is a year-round project, even in a climate where half the year sees the garden frozen solid and buried in snow.

John and I are already having conversations about what we want more of, what we want less of, and how we might rotate the crops to get a better yield. Some areas of the garden are sunnier than others, the local ecosystem of certain patches can lead to higher yields, and some plants produce more when planted next to each other—all factors we consider when we plan for the summer.

But until then…

While we’re certainly thinking about the 2024 garden, it’s still months before we actually have to do anything. We unfortunately don’t have the space to set up seed starters indoors, so we rely on planting seeds directly in the ground and buying seedlings from the garden centre.

Our neighbour, whose garden we use, also provides seedlings that he starts at his house. Normally this is in the form of tomato plants—he provides us with several dozen seedlings of a whole variety of tomatoes—as well as a few other veggies. This year, after seeing how much we love bell peppers, he’ll also start a bunch of pepper seedlings for us.

But until that time of year rolls around…we just have to enjoy eating all our preserved produce and toasting with our garden wines.

How to Make Pumpkin Butter

For fans of pumpkin and all things autumn, pumpkin butter is a treat. I made a batch last year and took it along to work with a fresh loaf of homemade sourdough bread and a colleague described it as “a warm hug on a cold day”.

I’ve taken to gifting pumpkin butter to friends and family. It’s one of those things that feels luxurious and special, but it’s ridiculously easy to make. Given that pumpkin butter is something not found in stores—at least not around here—it doubles as a gift for those hard-to-buy-for people in your life.

Despite its name, there’s no butter or any kind of dairy in pumpkin butter. It’s basically pumpkin cooked to the point where it’s spreadable like butter.

Making pumpkin butter

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, dump in a 15oz can of pumpkin puree—or if you make your own pumpkin puree, put an equivalent amount in the pot. For us metric system folks, 15oz is just shy of two cups, so you could just put in two cups and not worry about the 1oz extra.

To this, add half a cup of apple juice—I used my own apple juice that I canned from a friend’s apple tree this past summer—two-thirds cup of brown sugar, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, and an eighth of a teaspoon each of ground cloves, ground ginger, and salt.

When I got to the brown sugar part of this recipe is when I discovered I didn’t have any in the house. John had done some baking a few weeks ago and must have used the last of it. Unfortunately, we’re in the midst of a sugar shortage here in Western Canada. Most (or all?) of our sugar comes from Rogers / Lantic, and they’ve been on strike since sometime in September. Nowadays you’re lucky to find sugar in the grocery store…right as we enter into Christmas baking season. All of this is to say that I didn’t bother heading down to the grocery store to pick up a bag of brown sugar since I knew chances of me finding some were slim to none.

Thankfully, there’s an easy fix for this—I had white sugar and molasses on hand, and brown sugar is literally just white sugar and molasses combined.

Since pumpkin butter isn’t a baking recipe that requires exact ratios of ingredients, I didn’t get too exact with the white sugar and molasses ratios. I put in the equivalent amount of white sugar, two thirds of a cup, and then poured in several tablespoons of molasses.

Once everything is in the pot, give it a big stir to mix it all up, then turn on the stove, bring it to a boil, and then partially cover it, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for about twenty minutes until it’s thick and glossy. You’ll want to stir it regularly with a rubber or silicone spatula so you can scrape the bottom of the pot to ensure nothing is sticking and burning.

Once you’ve reached your desired consistency—and do feel free to let it cook a little longer if you find it’s not thick enough yet—remove the pot from the heat and let the pumpkin butter cool. Once it’s fully cool, you can transfer it to containers or jars for storage. I like to use one-cup mason jars as this allows me to put one jar in the fridge and the rest in the freezer, so I don’t have to worry about a big jar of it going bad before I can finish it all.

In the fridge, pumpkin butter should last a few weeks. In the freezer, you’ll get at least a few months.

Enjoying pumpkin butter

I find that pumpkin butter tastes like pumpkin pie filling, which shouldn’t be too surprising—after all, it’s made with pumpkin, sugar, and some of the spices found in pumpkin pie.

I like to eat it on my morning toast or on a bagel. It’s nice enough that it could be part of a mid-day snack or even a dessert. A scoop of pumpkin butter on top of a flaky buttery (but plain) pastry would be lovely.

Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin butter makes a wonderful autumn spread for toast and bagels, tasting almost like pumpkin pie.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Breakfast
Cuisine American

Equipment

  • 1 Large Pot

Ingredients
  

  • 1 15oz Can Pumpkin Puree (or homemade pumpkin puree)
  • ½ Cup Apple Juice
  • Cup Brown Sugar (Packed)
  • ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • tsp Ground Cloves
  • tsp Ground Ginger
  • heaping tsp Salt

Instructions
 

  • Combine all ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot.
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Reduce heat and partly cover. Simmer, stirring regularly to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom and burning, for approximately twenty minutes until mixture becomes thick and glossy.
  • Remove from heat, let cool. Transfer to jars or other fridge- and freezer-safe containers.
  • Pumpkin butter can be stored, covered, in the fridge for a couple weeks or in the freezer for a few months.
Keyword pumpkin, pumpkin butter