Author: craig

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


  • 1 Steam Juicer


  • Cherries
  • Water


  • 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


  • 1 Large Pot


  • 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


  • 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

Making and Preserving Pumpkin Puree

Cans of pumpkin puree are something I generally don’t have on hand and when I set out to make something with pumpkin puree I typically completely forget to buy some when I’m at the grocery store.

What I do often have on hand, particularly in the fall and early winter, is pumpkins.

Making pumpkin puree is fairly quick and very easy. The end result is often on-par with what you’d find in the grocery store, though it may be a bit waterier, which may require adjusting the liquid in whatever recipe you’re using the puree in.

Before we dive in, please note that pumpkin puree cannot be canned in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner. If canning is your ultimate goal, your strategy is to pressure can pumpkin chunks and then puree the chunks when you need it for a recipe.

Choosing the right pumpkin

To start, you need a good pumpkin. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good for this—these pumpkins have been bred for carving purposes, not eating. While they are, of course, edible, they’re not as tasty or as tender as a pumpkin intended for eating.

When it comes to planting time in our garden in the spring, we always plant a few jack-o-lantern pumpkins so we have something to carve in October (though this year we had a pumpkin thief run off with our humongous jack-o-lantern pumpkin!) and we plant a bunch of sugar pie pumpkins. When selecting your pumpkin seeds to plant, if you’re growing these pumpkins yourself, read the description to ensure it’s meant for eating.

This year we ended up with about ten sugar pie pumpkins. We store them in my mom’s basement along with the rest of our squash. (For those new to the blog, I don’t have a basement or any sort of cool storage space, so I use a basement bedroom at my mom’s house as my food storage central. In return for using her space, she has free access to our harvest.) I often find pumpkins are the first squash to go mouldy and disintegrate. Quite often the butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash will last till about March or April—they seem to go mouldy when the weather outside turns to spring—but the pumpkin will go mouldy within a month or two. It’s currently December and most of our pumpkins have been thrown in the compost because they went bad before we could do anything. We still have a few hanging around.

Back to the puree…

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Cut your pumpkin in half. This can be tricky and potentially dangerous depending on the thickness, size, and shape of your pumpkin, and the strength and dexterity of your hands—so be very careful.

I typically find if I can break the stem off, that lets me put the pumpkin stem-side-down on the cutting board. The stem area is often very tough to cut through, but the bottom of the pumpkin is a little easier to cut. However you cut your pumpkin, the more stable it is on your cutting board, the less risk there is of injuring yourself.

There are two ways I’ve found for cutting pumpkins and other large squash:

  • Using a large and sharp knife—larger than your pumpkin, if you have one that large—press the middle of the blade against the peak of the pumpkin and see-saw the knife back and forth. The knife doesn’t slide back and forth, you’re just pressing down and see-sawing it (alternating between putting the greatest pressure on the handle end and then the tip end). You may want to drape a tea towel over the tip end of the knife so you don’t risk cutting your fingers/hand in this process. It’ll usually be a bit tough to break through the skin, but once you’ve done so, it’s fairly easy to then slide it down through the rest of the pumpkin. As you start to meet resistance when you get to the thick and tough stem area, stop.
  • If you don’t have a knife large enough for the above method, or if you find it’s not a method you’re comfortable with or capable of doing, the other method I’ve found is to take a reasonably large and sharp knife and carefully stick the knife into the pumpkin. Because you’re starting with the sharp tip, it goes in fairly easily. You should then be able to cut down one side of the pumpkin. When you meet the resistance of the thick and tough stem area, stop. Then turn the pumpkin around, slide the knife into the cut at the top, and then cut down the opposite side, again stopping when you meet that resistance.

Whichever method you’re using, remember to always be conscious of where your fingers and hands are and, whenever possible, cut so the knife is going away from you. I’ve come pretty close to chopping my fingertips a few times.

Now that you’ve cut through about 90% of the pumpkin, there’s still that tough stem part you didn’t cut through. Put the knife aside and break the pumpkin apart manually. To do this, slip your fingers into the cut you’ve made—the pumpkin should “give” enough for you to do this—so you’ve got a pumpkin half in each hand, and pull it apart. The pumpkin should break fairly easily.

The next step is to clean out the pumpkin. Using a spoon, fork, or your hands—whichever works easiest for you, though I often find I use a combination of all of these—scoop out all the seeds and the stringy stuff in the interior. You could filter out the seeds and make roasted pumpkin seeds. I find we generally don’t eat them when we make them, so for us, I throw all the pumpkin guts, including the seeds, into our composter.

Once everything is cleaned out, give it all a sprinkle of salt, and then place them cut-side-down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, give the baking sheet a light spritz of oil or non-stick spray so the roasted pumpkin doesn’t stick to the baking sheet.

Then roast it in the oven for about 45-60 minutes.

You’ll know it’s ready when the skin starts to look a little bit wrinkly and the flesh of the pumpkin starts to pull away from the skin. When done, remove from the oven and turn the oven off. Let the pumpkin rest until it’s cool enough to handle.

With the pumpkin I roasted for this post, I didn’t really get much of that wrinkly or pulling-away effect, so I let it sit in the oven for the fully sixty minutes. When I let it rest to cool down, it then got very wrinkly and the flesh was clearly pulling away from the skin—I could tell because the skin was sinking down and looked like it had no flesh supporting it underneath.

Now comes the pureeing step.

Using a big spoon or other kitchen utensil ideal for scooping (perhaps an ice cream scoop?), scoop the pumpkin out of the skin and place in a food processor. The empty skin can be composted.

If your pumpkin is large or your food processor is small, you may need to do this in batches. Turn on the food processor and let it run until the pumpkin is fully pureed and smooth. If you find there’s a lot gathering on the sides, you may want to turn off your food processor and scrape down the sides with a spatula. You may also want to stir the pumpkin in the food processor as I sometimes find the chunky bits get trapped at the bottom under the reach of the blades.

In previous years, I’ve also done this with a hand blender / stick blender with the pumpkin in a flat-bottomed pot. It worked just as well but took quite a while and the blender got quite warm in my hand. So, ultimately, I’d recommend a standard food processor, but a stick blender will do the trick if that’s what you have.

In the absence of both a food processor and a stick blender, you could mash the pumpkin with a potato masher.

When the puree has a smooth consistency with very few or no chunks of pumpkin, it’s ready. I find it’s difficult to avoid chunks entirely, but I look at that as part of the appeal of homemade puree—it’s a reminder that I made this from scratch from a pumpkin my husband grew in our garden.

Storing your puree

From here you have two options for your next step.

  • If you’re planning to use the pumpkin puree in the next day or two, transfer the puree into a container and place in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
  • If you’re not planning to use the pumpkin puree in the immediate future, the puree can be frozen in freezer-safe containers. I like to use one-cup (half-pint) mason jars; I fill them with puree and leave a bit of headspace in case the puree expands when frozen, and then put them in the freezer. Be sure that the jar you use does not have “shoulders” but is instead “straight-sided”. If it has shoulders and the puree expands as it freezes, it could push up against the shoulders and break the jar. Alternatively, you could put the puree into Ziplock bags and squeeze out all the air.
    • Most sources I see say that frozen pumpkin puree is good for about three months. However, I’ve had puree in the freezer for up to a year and it was fine when using it…so your mileage may vary on this.
    • The old adage of “when in doubt, throw it out” applies here. If you find pumpkin puree in the back of your freezer from an unknown date and it looks like it might be freezer burned or it’s crystallized a lot, you’re likely best to throw it in your compost.

Pumpkin puree cannot be canned in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner.

Using your pumpkin puree

You can use the pumpkin puree as you would use store-bought puree.

The only thing to be mindful of is that homemade puree tends to have more water to it, so you may need to adjust the liquid in the recipe you’re using so things don’t become too wet.


You could use this same method for pretty much any type of squash with a firm rind/skin.

My step-dad has made “pumpkin pie” using butternut squash before—you wouldn’t know it wasn’t pumpkin if he didn’t tell you—and he did it using one of our homegrown butternut squashes, so he would have followed this method or a variation of it.

Pumpkin Puree

Make homemade pumpkin puree for pies, breads, soups, and more.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Course vegetable
Cuisine vegetable


  • 1 Pumpkin
  • Salt, to taste


  • Preheat oven to 400℉.
  • Carefully cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the insides. The scooped-out insides can be composted or discarded. Alternatively, you could use the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds.
  • Sprinkle a little bit of salt on the pumpkin.
  • Place pumpkin halves cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake in oven for 45-60 minutes, until the skin starts to wrinkle and the flesh pulls away from the skin.
  • Remove from oven, turn oven off, and let pumpkin cool until it is safe to handle.
  • Scoop pumpkin flesh out of the skin and transfer to a food processor. Depending on the size of the pumpkin and the size of the food processor, this may need to be done in batches.
  • Puree with food processor until a smooth consistency is achieved. Scrape down sides and stir pumpkin, as necessary, to achieve this smooth consistency.
  • Puree may be stored in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to three months. If freezing in jars, ensure the jars are freezer-safe and are straight-sided (and do not have "shoulders", as this can lead to breakage if the puree expands while freezing).
  • Homemade pumpkin puree is often a little waterier than store-bought puree, so when adding puree to recipes, adjust accordingly.
Keyword pumpkin, pumpkin puree

Two Ways to Dry Hot Peppers (and What to Do With Them!)

In summer of 2022, I tried growing hot peppers for the first time. We had a few jalapeño pepper plants, half a dozen banana pepper plants, a Carolina Reaper plant, and a couple plants with what looked like Thai chilis. I figured we’d get a bumper crop of hot peppers, perfect for pickling and exploring other possibilities with.

But our peppers in 2022 were a dud.

We did have some success. We got two to three peppers per plant with the jalapeños and bananas, and a bunch of little Thai chilis, but we got no Carolina Reapers. I made a handful of jars of pickled peppers but it barely lasted half a year before they were gone.

When 2023 rolled around, we decided to triple our hot pepper plants so we’d get a decent amount to work with.

Well…I don’t know if it comes down to the specific varieties of plants or if it was just ideal weather conditions this year, but we got a massive harvest of hot peppers. Each plant—we had jalapeños, bananas, Scotch bonnets, and cayennes this year—produced dozens of peppers. We were up to our ears in hot peppers.

After making a couple dozen jars of pickled hot peppers, a batch of candied jalapeños, and two types of hot sauce, and giving a bunch away…we still had hot peppers coming in.

I was at my wit’s end with hot peppers and wanted to just throw the rest in the compost, but my husband persuaded me to just try drying them so we can sprinkled hot pepper flakes on pizza and other things.

Thankfully, I listened to him.

I did some digging on the internet and found out about two methods of drying peppers and then two methods of processing them afterward. While it wasn’t super clear which method was ideal for which pepper, my guideline was this:

  • For peppers with thick walls, and thus lots of moisture, I went with the dehydrator to dry them quickly and fully, without the risk of things going bad. These peppers I ground into a powder that can be thrown into various recipes that need a kick. In my case, this included the jalapeños, bananas, and Scotch bonnets.
  • For peppers with thin walls, and thus not much moisture, I hang-dried them. These peppers were put in a food processor to turn into flakes for putting on pizzas and other dishes. In my case, this was with the cayennes.

Drying Peppers in a Dehydrator

With the bulk of peppers—the jalapeños, bananas, and Scotch bonnets—I chopped them up and threw them in the dehydrator at about 125 degrees Fahrenheit and just let them sit. The guide that came with my dehydrator said it would take about twelve to sixteen hours.

After twelve hours, they were certainly dehydrated, but I wanted them even drier. My goal was to grind them up into a powder so I wanted them as dry as I could get them. We left them in the dehydrator for three days.

At this point, they were so crispy that they easily broke if I touched them too hard. Perfect.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you could try doing this in the oven if your oven is able to go that low. But I’m not sure if I’d want to leave my oven running for 2-3 days. Alternatively, some folks can get by with just turning on the light in the oven and letting that heat build up and dehydrate food. This may take longer than three days to get the desired crispiness, but it’s a lot less risky than leaving the oven on for three days, and won’t heat up the house as much.

Be aware that dehydrating hot peppers in a dehydrator—and presumably an oven—makes the house smell like hot peppers. This can make it hard to breathe if it’s strong or if anyone in your house has any sort of medical condition that can make breathing difficult. It’s best to do this in a well-ventilated space, perhaps by cracking open the kitchen windows to clear out the hot pepper fumes and bring in some fresh air.

Once the peppers were fully dry—and you can see how they’ve shrunk in size with all the moisture gone—I threw them all in a blender and let the blender do its magic. In a few minutes, I had an orangey powder that is nice and spicy. (You may want to crack open some windows when blending them because it gets a little intense.)

I like to use this in soups to give them a kick. It also works great if you’re making a Spanish or Mexican rice and want to add some heat. We’ve also sprinkled this directly on pizza for a bit of a zing.

Drying Peppers With the Sun

The easier, though much longer, way of dehydrating peppers is to hang them in a window and let the sun do its work. This can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on how sunny and warm it is.

To do this, start by cutting a slit along the length of each pepper. This allows the moisture to escape and prevent mildew. Next, thread the peppers together. All I had on me was twine, so I tied the stems of each pepper so they all hang together nicely. If you have some sturdy thread (perhaps fishing line) and a needle, you could easily string them together by poking the needle through the tops of the peppers.

I’d started by hanging them in the kitchen where it gets a lot of ambient light and there’s good air circulation, but I eventually moved them to my husband’s office window. It has a southern exposure so it gets lots of sunlight, and it’s directly above an air duct, so it would get lots of ventilation from the air conditioning and then the furnace as we shift into fall.

Though there’s only one string in this photo, I eventually ended up with five strings of peppers. The nice aspect of the hang-dry method is you can just add strings of peppers whenever you’ve got them and just leave it all till they’re all ready; you don’t have to do everything at once like you would with a dehydrator.

After several weeks, I took them down. They were all nice and paper-crisp.

From there, I chopped off the tops and carefully looked over each pepper. I had one that had gone mouldy on the inside—the black and mottled colouring on the outside was my cue that something wasn’t right on the inside. The rest seemed to be fine.

So, into the food processor they went.

I chose a food processor over a blender because I wanted a different end product than the dehydrator-dehydrated peppers. For those ones, I wanted a hot pepper powder, so using a blender meant the peppers were continually pushed down to the blade and could be ground into a powder. For these cayennes, I wanted hot pepper flakes, like what you put on pizza, so I didn’t want the powder result of a blender. The food processor chops things wonderfully but since the blade doesn’t go right to the very bottom, it lets flakes sit there without being chopped to powder. (You may want to crack a window while processing because the smell can get a little intense.)

I had to do two batches because I had too much, and I couldn’t quite get the consistently-small flakes like you get in the store, but the end result looks gorgeous.

These will be great for sprinkling on pizza or any other dish that needs a colourful garnish that provides a kick.

Garden Update: October 2023

With an unusually warm October for Winnipeg, our gardening projects have continued a week or two longer than they normally do.

All of our vegetables and fruit are harvested and preserved (canned, fermented, frozen, and/or put in storage) and as I write the draft of this post, I’m currently drying the last of our herbs. Parsley is in the dehydrator right now and thyme will go in tomorrow. After that, I have to finish up the mustard seed—I have a few plants drying in large paper bags and I need to break out the seeds and filter out the detritus—and with that, make a batch of mustard. The ginger still needs to be dug up, though we’re undecided if we’re going to put it in a pot and turn it into an indoor plant or if I’m going to make candied ginger with it. In my September update, I’d mentioned the plan to dig up and remove the horseradish from the front yard—at this point I think we’re keeping it where it is for one more year.

As I’m typing the draft of this post, my husband is building a pergola in our front yard—a large wooden structure for the grape vine to wrap itself around. Previously he’s used a structure made of dried out sunflower stalks (which are surprisingly durable) held together by rope, but it really wasn’t a long-term solution. This September, a windy storm knocked the whole thing over.

This pergola has become a community endeavour. John (my husband) is one of those people that knows everyone in the neighbourhood. He got initial advice from our neighbour, who directed him to another neighbour across the street—and that fellow has become John’s co-worker on this project. John has little to no experience building wooden structures or woodwork in general, so this across-the-street neighbour’s help is greatly appreciated. In order to put the posts securely into the ground, John borrowed a post-hole-digger from another neighbour down the street, who similarly offered advice on the project.

If it were me doing this, I would have just hired a company, LOL. But, John being John, this has turned into a more-affordable project that is almost community-driven. (On the plus side, when John sent me to the hardware store for the washers he forgot to buy, I noticed another neighbour down the back lane had put their old barbecue out with the trash—so I got a new-to-me barbecue that’s a definite improvement over our old one, which I would have missed out on if John hadn’t taken on this project.)

The pergola is done now!

Our grape vine is certainly going to love this! These are red wine grapes. In the spring, we might buy a white wine grape vine to plant on the other side of the pergola. Hopefully in a few years we’ll have enough grapes in a summer to make small batches of wine.

Speaking of wine…

The garden wines, also from the September update, continue to ferment. (If you’re looking at making garden wines at home, check out my Rough Guide to Making Country Wines post.)

To sum up, the following are still fermenting:

  • Chokecherry wine (this might be almost finished)
  • Beet wine (does not taste like beets)
  • Honeydew melon wine
  • Corn cob wine (does not taste like corn)
  • Grape wine (this might be almost finished)
  • Rosemary wine

Since the last post, the sour cherry wine completed its thing and I bottled it up. It is amazingly delicious! I got seven half bottles (375 ml)—we drank two of them pretty quick, we shared two with the person whose cherry tree we raided, I put two in storage for next summer (my step-dad lives out-of-country and will be back in the summer, so I’m saving a handful of different wines to share with him), and I have one bottle left that John and I will likely pull out soon. We like to share some wine when we’re watching a season premiere or season finale of a show, so we’ll likely share it this week when we start season three of What We Do In The Shadows.

The sour cherry wine retained much of its cherry taste, which was a nice surprise. (Some wines like beet, parsnip, and corn cob lose their original taste—thank god.) And now I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I have a big bag of cherries sitting in my freezer, waiting to be used for something…and I don’t know if I should make more cherry wine, more cherry gin (which tastes phenomenal with simple syrup and lemon juice), or more cherry liqueur (which is also phenomenal). I’ll have to do a survey with friends and family to see which they liked best.

Levelling up

Because of the magic of the Instagram algorithm, the app shows me content from food preservers and homesteaders. Around this time of year, they’re all showing off their pantries filled to the brim with canned and preserved goods.

I think I’m almost at that level. At least for us, a family of two, I’m at that level. (Quite often these social media posts come from content creators who come from families of four or more—they would need to produce and preserve a lot more food than we would.)

Because our house is tiny and doesn’t have a basement, we’ve been using my mom’s place for food storage. Unfortunately, it’s always been a bit of a mess that my mom has thankfully put up with. This year, John got in his organizing mode and decided we needed to treat my mom better. We got a bunch of metal shelving units from the hardware store and lined them along the walls in an unused bedroom in my mom’s basement. It’s now our food storage room. We keep all of our jars of preserved food in there, our wine-making equipment, and the squash.

We keep the potatoes in a separate room in my mom’s basement, one that does not have a window and where the door is rarely opened. The total darkness keeps them fresher for longer.

As usual, we filled up my mom’s chest freezer, mostly with rhubarb. This year we bought a small chest freezer for our house…and quickly filled it up. So we bought another small chest freezer for my mom’s basement…and it’s half full. (And in case you’re wondering, the freezer attached to our fridge was filled to the brim with veggies back in June.)

We clearly have a year’s supply of vegetables.

As a thank-you to my mom for letting us take up so much space at her house, she has free access to any and all food stored at her place. She’s been enjoying the pasta sauce, salsa, and beets that I canned this year.

Celebrating the harvest

Every year as the garden wraps up, I host a Garden Harvest BBQ, where most of the dinner ingredients come from the garden.

This year the dinner included:


  • Pumpkin sourdough bread
  • Grilled baguette slices
  • Basil pesto
  • Pickled banana peppers
  • Cowboy candy (candied jalapeño peppers)
  • Pickled beets
  • Toum (a fluffy garlic spread)
  • The pumpkin, basil, peppers, beets, and garlic all came from our garden.

Main Course:

  • Garlic and rosemary grilled pork chops
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and potatoes
  • The garlic, rosemary, Brussels sprouts, squash, and potatoes all came from our garden.


  • Black bean brownies
  • The black beans came from our garden.


  • Mint tea
  • Rhubarb wine
  • The mint and rhubarb came from our garden.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures to share with you… but it was delicious!

Looking ahead to November

Gardening is really a year-round activity, especially when you go all-in on food preserving and homesteading (even just urban homesteading like we’re doing). While things certainly slow down in November, they don’t cease.

In early November I’m going to treat myself to a steam juicer—this one, I think—as it will make juicing apples, rhubarb, cherries, and tomatoes so much easier. I’ll have to test it next year to see if it works well with cucumbers; my concern is the heat of the juicing process might dampen the freshness that’s associated with cucumber juice.

When it arrives, my first project will be juicing that bag of sour cherries, provided I figure out if I’m making liqueur, gin, or wine.

Buried in the back of my freezer, I also have pincherries. This is something my stepdad harvested when he was here this summer. I’ve never worked with them before, so I’m not sure what to do. Since I don’t have a ton of them, maybe I’ll soak them in some gin and make pincherry gin. (If I do that, then I think that reduces my options with the sour cherries to liqueur or wine.)

Sometime in the next month or so, our popcorn—what little of it we were able to save from the squirrel—might be dry enough to pull from the cob and start using on movie nights.

The squirrel story: We had somewhere around 60 cobs of popcorn, which would have easily been enough for a year’s supply. In half a day—half a day—the squirrel either ate, partially ate, or absconded with 54 cobs. Yes. Out of 60, we’re down to 6. We harvested them right away, but they’re supposed to fully dry on the stalks before harvesting and then dry further in the house, so I’m not sure if the early harvest will affect the poppability of the popcorn.

Looking ahead to next year

We’re always thinking of what to do next year. What do we want more of, what do we want less of, and what do we want to introduce?

There was some concern that the neighbour whose yard we use would move, but he’s committed to staying at least another year. To sweeten the deal, my husband offered to help him tend to his flowers all of next summer.

We definitely want our lengthy list of usuals: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, onions, cucumber, peas (for canning), sugar snap peas (for snacking), potatoes, squash (pumpkin, spaghetti, butternut, acorn), bell peppers, hot peppers, popcorn, sweet corn, tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, garlic, celery, mustard, green onions (I think they’re also known as spring onions), sunflowers, Saskatoons (AKA June berries or service berries), blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb, horseradish, basil, rosemary, parsley, mint, dill, and thyme. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two things.

I know we want to increase our mint (John has a renewed love for mint tea) and our fruit. Part of increasing fruit means buying more blueberry plants and possibly getting another grape vine. But it also means figuring out what other fruits we want and figuring out if we can grow them in our climate—I definitely want to try watermelon again (we’d tried it this year, but the squirrel…), and if this honeydew melon wine is tasty we’ll want more of that.

Another thinking project for next year is figuring out where we want to plant things.

Part of this means where in the yard. Mustard is better in the back yard because it gets covered with insect eggs in the front yard. This year we moved the celery from the front to the back and nearly the whole crop was destroyed by slugs.

Very little celery was salvageable.

Part of this also means which property. We been invited to use up some of the garden space at a meditation retreat centre just outside of Winnipeg where—(wait for it…)—they do not have a squirrel problem. Our popcorn is definitely going out there.

John may move both our sweet corn and popcorn out to this rural garden, which frees up a ton of space at home. Ideally, corn is alternated with beans year after year—corn uses nitrogen and beans replenish nitrogen—so we will likely be growing beans in our corn patch next year. We can only eat so many beans, so we also need to figure out which beans to grow and at what quantities and what to do with them. We definitely want more black beans as we’ve almost used up this year’s supply already (I made a batch of black bean brownies and today I made a batch of black bean tofu).

As well, it’s gotten me thinking…if we’re looking at alternative protein sources like beans, should we be expanding our meatless meal options? Both John and I don’t eat a lot of meat and we like the idea of being friendlier to the environment, so this is leading me to wondering if chickpeas and possibly lentils could be grown in our climate. As well, we don’t consume a lot of dairy, so can we look at homemade non-dairy milks and cheeses made from legumes? Those are questions to explore over the winter.

The big unknown for next year is the sour cherries. The couple that owns the property where we pick cherries has pointed out that the tree is dying and might not last much longer. If it does die, we’ll have to find a new source of cherries. (I think a house across the street from us has a cherry tree—the strategy might be to send John over there to make friends with yet another neighbour.)

Enjoying the harvest

The big task over the next eight months or so is to simply enjoy the harvest and the months of effort put into food preserving.

We have a full year’s supply of vegetables—we’ll run out of broccoli pretty quickly, since we didn’t get a big harvest, but that’s easily made up for by our over-abundance of bell peppers—and we easily have a year’s supply of lots of canned goods. As the wine fully ferments and gets bottled, we’ll likely have a year’s supply of it. Grocery bills dip in the winter due to all this, but more importantly, quality of life skyrockets with all this gourmet homegrown produce.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how we expanded into our other neighbour’s yard this year with just a strip of their property along our shared fence. We may or may not expand beyond that strip in their yard next year. I think they want us to expand so they don’t have to mow the lawn, but it’s also a lot more garden work for us, and we’re realizing we do have limits. This neighbour is a group home with a couple residents and a few regular staff. One of the absolute joys this year was to show up at their doorstep and give them bags and boxes of vegetables, most of which were grown on their property. We’ve learned that one of the residents there absolutely loves fresh corn on the cob, carrots, and potatoes. Whether or not we expand further in their yard next year, I think we’ll be sharing more of our over-abundance with them. It helps build neighbourly relations, but more importantly, my husband loves knowing that someone is truly enjoying the work he puts into gardening, and he definitely has a very appreciative fan next door.

The only appreciative fan my husband dislikes is the squirrel.

How to Make Butter Chicken Sauce (with Canning Instructions!)

Tomatoes are always a problem in our garden because we always have too many.

In summer of 2022 we somehow ended up with 49 tomato plants. This year, we swore not to do that again…and ended up with 60. It’s partly a “too many cooks in the kitchen” kind of thing—we buy tomato plants and then our neighbour who we share garden space with will surprise us with tomato seedlings he grew at the end of winter. We gave away a handful of plants, but still had an over-abundance this year.

But after making lots of salsa, pasta sauce, and tomato juice—and given that we still have leftover ketchup, green tomato chutney, and tomato soup from last year—I needed more recipes.

The Idea…

One way we like to think about gardening and food processing is to look at what we buy in the grocery store and ask ourselves if we can do that ourselves at home. We landed on butter chicken and curries.

I tried looking for butter chicken canning recipes and came up with nothing. Absolutely nothing. There appear to be no lab-tested recipes. Further, people who cook butter chicken and curries from scratch often write about how the freshness of the ingredients is what makes it really good, and canning would dampen that freshness.

If I were to make it from scratch, though, I’d be using dried spices since I’m not going to find a lot of fresh Indian spices in Winnipeg unless I perhaps go to very specific grocery stores.

So… my determination to do this project in hand, I set off in new directions.

In the strictest of senses, this would be considered “rebel canning”, which are canning recipes that are not lab-tested and thus can’t be guaranteed for safety. However, I decided to work within the canning rules and I’ve come up with something that works. You are allowed to swap out dried spices in a recipe or adjust the dried spices, provided you’re not putting in huge gobs of dried spices and turning a sauce into a thick paste.

With that in mind, I looked at my super easy canned pasta sauce recipe. Really…butter chicken is a tomato-based sauce with Indian spices. There’s a bit more to it—like adding butter, which is a no-no for canning—but a good sauce base would give me what I need to make a super convenient dinner.

Finding a standard butter chicken spice mix was my next challenge. There does not seem to be a standard.

I eventually settled on this:

  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

This make more than you need—which is just two or three tablespoons—but if you’re like me and you’re swimming in tomatoes at the end of the season, you’ll likely be making multiple batches.

This year when I was looking for something in the spice aisle at Safeway, I discovered they carried a premixed butter chicken spice. After quickly checking there was no cornstarch in it (which is sometimes added to prevent caking, but is a strict no-no for canning), I bought a couple bottles and used this rather than the homemade spice mix.

(If you don’t have a lot of spices at home already, buying a premixed spice mix is way cheaper than buying half a dozen individual spices.)

(I fully recognize that as a person who does not share this heritage, I am basing my tastes on Western ideas of what butter chicken should taste like. If you have a more authentic spice blend, I would love to hear about it!)

Making Butter Chicken Sauce

Maybe “sauce base” is more accurate, since during the dinner-cooking stage, you can add coconut cream and/or butter.

Anyway, it’s fairly straight forward, so I won’t write out the whole thing in this post. (It’s identical to the pasta sauce recipe, just with different spices.)

In a nutshell, you put the tomatoes in your slow cooker. If you’ve got oodles of cherry tomatoes, just wash and de-stem them and load them into the slow cooker. If you’ve got bigger tomatoes, chop them up a bit and perhaps de-core them if they’ve got dense cores.

Throw on some of your seasoning—I used about two tablespoons for a 12-cup slow cooker’s worth of tomatoes—and let it simmer on high for about two and a half hours or on low for about five hours.

Once everything is cooked, blend it all up with a handheld / stick blender. Give it a taste and add more seasoning if you feel it needs more.

From here you can either use it fresh if you’re using it in the next day or so. You can freeze it in dinner-size portions. Or you can can it in a water bath canner.

I find one-cup / half-pint jars make enough sauce for two people, so I do them all up in this size. You’ll want to add half a tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar (or a tablespoon to a pint jar, or two tablespoons to a quart jar) and add in sauce, leaving a half-inch headspace. Wipe the rims, put on the lids to fingertip tightness, and process for 35 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary).

Using Your Butter Chicken Sauce

When it’s dinner time, I fry up some chicken and veggies in a pan and then dump in a jar of butter chicken sauce. If I feel it needs a little more “sauciness”, I might add in a small can of coconut cream. And since it’s butter chicken, I add a dollop of butter and stir it until it melts and fully incorporates. Serve over rice and with a side of naan.


Butter Chicken Sauce

A tasty and highly customizable sauce that makes for easy weeknight dinners. Plus, it can be canned so it's shelf-stable until you're ready to use it. This recipe is more of a template without exact quantities, but safe canning instructions are included.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Canning Time (if canning) 35 minutes
Course dinner
Cuisine Indian


  • Slow cooker (See notes for alternatives)
  • Hand blender, blender, or food processor


  • Cherry tomatoes (Can use regular tomatoes. See notes for more details.)
  • Butter chicken spice mix (See notes)
  • Olive oil (Or a neutral oil like canola oil)
  • Lemon juice (If canning the sauce)


  • Wash and de-stem tomatoes. If using tomatoes larger than cherry-sized, chop them into halves or quarters, depending on their size.
  • Fill the slow cooker with tomatoes. Add a drizzle of olive oil, no more than a few tablespoons. Add in seasonings (see notes for details). Stir.
  • Cover and set slow cooker to high and let cook two and a half hours, or until everything looks fully cooked (the juice has released from the tomatoes, cherry tomatoes have popped, etc.). If you prefer to use the low setting, let it cook for five hours.
  • Using a hand blender / stick blender, blend everything until a smooth consistency. If using a regular blender or a food processor, process in batches until everything is a smooth consistency.
  • Sauce can be used immediately or refrigerated for next-day use.
    If freezing, put sauce in meal-size portions in ziplock bags or jars. If using jars, be sure to use jars that do not have "shoulders", and leave some headspace in case the sauce expands while freezing.
    If canning, add a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint jar or two tablespoons per quart jar. (Do not use a larger size. If using half-pints, add half a tablespoon of lemon juice.) Leave a half-inch of headspace. Wipe rims clean and put on two-part lids, fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary, see notes for a link). After processing, let sit in canner for 5-10 minutes, then remove jars from canner and place on a towel on a level surface and let sit for 12-24 hours. After this time, check that jars have sealed—unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used within a few days, sealed jars can be stored for up to a year and a half (after which point the flavour quality may degrade, but the safety remains indefinitely). See notes for more information on canning. I find one cup / half pint jars the ideal size for two servings.
  • See notes for suggestions on how to use this sauce.


Alternative Methods to Cook the Tomatoes:
This can be made in a slow cooker or in the oven. If using the oven, lay out an even layer of cherry tomatoes in a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes at 450 F, until the cherry tomatoes are wrinkly and bursting. You may want to line the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. This can create a nice roasted flavour. I’ve also done a large batch of pasta sauce (which is the same as this, just different seasonings) in my dutch oven—all the steps were the same as the oven directions, but in a dutch oven rather than a rimmed baking sheet.
Butter Chicken Spice Mix:
The first year I made this, I whipped up my own butter chicken spice mixed based on some recipes I found online.
To make your own butter chicken spice mix:
  • In a bowl, combine:
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika
    • 3 tsp garam masala
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cardamom
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 2 tsp ground turmeric
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
If you’re buying a pre-mixed package of spice, read the ingredients to ensure there is no cornstarch in the spice mix.
Whether using pre-mixed spice or home-mixed spice, add one to two tablespoons to the tomatoes. After blending the fully-cooked tomatoes, take a taste—add more spice and blend, if necessary.
General Tips:
While the recipe works great for cherry tomatoes, this works equally well with larger tomatoes, cut into either halves or quarters, depending on the size. If the larger tomatoes have a thick/firm core, you may want to core the tomatoes as well.
This sauce tastes super good fresh, and just as good frozen or canned. The first year I did this, I froze all the sauce, but for the second year I did this, I canned the sauce. There’s really no difference in quality or taste either way. I prefer canning because freezer space is limited, but if you have freezer space and/or canning intimidates you, freezing is an excellent option.
If you are new to canning, click here for a Canning 101 to understand some of these terms and steps. If you have to adjust for altitude because your elevation is greater than 1,000 feet, click here for more information.
Please note that this recipe has not been lab tested and in the strictest sense would thus be considered rebel canning. However, when canning it is acceptable to swap out dry spices without affecting food safety. This recipe is based on safe pasta sauce recipes, just with different seasonings.
How to Use the Sauce:
When cooking your protein and vegetables together in a large pan, simply pour the sauce on top and let simmer until fully cooked, hot, and fragrant. Butter chicken usually has butter mixed in, so feel free to add a good dollop of butter to the pan and stir as it melts and mixes with the sauce.
If you prefer the sauce to be a little creamier, feel free to add a small can of coconut cream to thicken it up. Alternatively, you could create a slurry of one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon of water and then add this to the sauce in the pan.
Do not add coconut cream or cornstarch to the jars before canning as this is unsafe for canning. These ingredients can only be added in the final cooking stage.
Serve the protein, veggies, and sauce over a bed of rice and a side of naan.
Keyword butter chicken sauce, canning meals, curry sauce, easy dinner ideas

How to Make Pasta Sauce (with Canning Instructions!)

When the tomatoes first start ripening in the garden, it’s a time of joy. Nothing beats a fresh tomato!

But a few weeks later when they all start ripening, it becomes a time of great distress—because how on earth am I going to use up all these tomatoes???

We have a tomato problem.

Two years ago, we had a decent amount of tomatoes and I was able to preserve everything and we enjoyed it throughout the year.

Last year, I got in a bit of a panic that we wouldn’t have enough tomatoes, so I bought extra plants. While I was doing this, our neighbour whose passion seems to be growing tomato seedlings for our shared garden, brought out dozens of tomato plants for us to have. We ended up with 49 tomato plants last year.

When the first frost hit in early October 2022, we panicked and harvested all the remaining tomatoes. Before this frost-harvest, I was already overwhelmed with tomatoes—there were just too many! But once that emergency harvest happened, our kitchen was filled with crates and crates and crates of tomatoes. I couldn’t go through them fast enough, so some started rotting and our kitchen was filled with fruit flies. We ended up throwing out hundreds of tomatoes, if not thousands. We swore to never repeat that.

When we started the garden this year, we decided to limit our tomato production, so we only bought a few plants. And then our neighbour brought out the 40—yes, 40—that he’d grown in his house. We suddenly had somewhere around 60 plants. We gave some away, but planted most of them in our garden.

So… what does one do with a million tomatoes?

One of the easiest answers is pasta sauce.

There are a million pasta sauce recipes out there—some safe for canning and some not. Some take a lot of work, and some are fairly easy.

Last year, I stumbled across a cherry tomato pasta sauce recipe (as we had a dozen cherry tomato plants last year) and it quickly became my go-to pasta sauce recipe because of how darn easy it is. It’s also highly adaptable to what you have on hand and how you want to do it. Further, it works perfect as a fresh sauce, a frozen sauce, or a canned sauce.

The best part is that you don’t have to peel the tomatoes—a laborious step in nearly every other pasta sauce canning recipe! Nor is a food mill required at any point. Tomato peels are safe for canning, there are recipes that use unpeeled tomatoes after all, but they’re usually peeled in the case of pasta sauce because they can sometimes turn bitter in the canning process. I’ve never noticed any bitterness with this recipe, so I’m never going back to one where you have to peel them.

Step One: Tomatoes

The recipe I was following was for cherry tomatoes, but a little note said that it was good for all types of tomatoes, but you might want to chop them up if they’re too large.

When I did the batch of sauce where I took photos for this post, I had an abundance of plum tomatoes. Since they’re not much bigger than cherry tomatoes, I left them whole for this recipe.

The first step is simple—wash and de-stem the tomatoes. If they’re large, cut them into chunks. (And if they have a tough core, de-core them as well.)

Then just dump it all in your slow cooker.

(If you don’t have a slow cooker or don’t like using it, I’ve got oven adaptations in the recipe notes at the bottom of this page.)

I have a 12 cup slow cooker, but the beauty of this recipe is that it can be adjusted to any amount. In terms of canning safety, if you choose to can it, we will be adding lemon juice directly to the jars before canning, so there’s no need to worry about acidity levels and how much acid to add to the slow cooker.

Step Two: Add Seasonings

This is rather vague. The recipe I based this off was rather vague too. I tend to be a cook that’s comfortable flying by the seat of my pants, but I know that’s not everyone’s style. (My mom panics if there aren’t super-specific quantities listed in a recipe.)

If you’re the super-specific quantities type, this works for an 8-cup batch:

  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

If you have a 12-cup slow cooker like myself, filled to the brim, that would work out to 1.5 Tbsp onion and garlic and 1.5 tsp oregano and basil.

Nowadays, though, I just open the seasoning packets and dump in whatever looks good. You’ll see in the photo below that I used fresh garlic, which the original recipe indicated could be done and still be safe for canning. I generally prefer garlic powder, though, just to be on the extra safe side.

Step Three: Add Oil, Stir, and Cook

Add a healthy drizzle of olive oil or a neutral oil. (Have you seen the price of olive oil lately? I used much-cheaper canola oil.) Give it a good stir, if you can. Mine was a little too full to stir well, so I just kind of nudged things around a bit.

Put the lid on, set it to high, and let it cook for a few hours. If you prefer to set it on low and let it cook for half the day, that’s fine too.

What you’re looking for, regardless of how you cook it, is that the cherry or plum tomatoes have burst and their skins are wrinkled and the juice has been released. If you used big chopped up tomatoes, you’re similarly looking for them to look fully-cooked.

Step Four: Blend

If you have a handheld blender / stick blender, stick it in and blend it up. Make it nice and smooth.

If you’re using a food processor or a traditional blender, you can do this in batches, but be careful not to burn yourself as the sauce is quite hot.

(I forgot to take a picture of this stage.)

I’d suggest taking a taste because if you want to add more of any seasonings, now is the time to do so.

Step Five: Choose Your Storage Method

If you’re using this the same day or the next day, it can be refrigerated until ready to use.

If you’re freezing it, separate it into dinner-size servings in Ziplock bags or jars. The first year I did this, I froze it and it was wonderful when I thawed and reheated it. I normally don’t care for freezing, but this works just fine. If you’re using jars, try not to use jars that have a “shoulder”, and be sure to leave some headspace in case the sauce expands as it freezes. I don’t know how long things keep in the freezer, but the other day I found a frozen jar of sauce from last summer (so about a year ago), which I used it up and it was perfectly fine.

If you’re canning it, the instructions are fairly straight-forward:

  • Add one tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar or two tablespoons to each quart jar. Do not use larger sizes. If you’re using a smaller size, do the appropriate ratio (like, a half-pint jar would require a half-tablespoon of lemon juice).
  • Wipe the rim, then put on a two-part lid to fingertip-tight.
  • Process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary).
  • After processing, let sit in the canner for 5-10 minutes and then carefully remove jars from canner and place on a thick towel and let rest for 12-24 hours. After this time, check that the seals have popped, if any haven’t put them in the fridge and use within a few days (or just throw them in the freezer and have them whenever).
This jar looks a little on the orange side because it was made with a mix of orange and red tomatoes.

Step Six: Using Your Sauce

Use this how you would use any pasta sauce.

I like to make this a little more substantial when I make it part of dinner, so I usually fry up a little bit of ground beef, throw in some onions and mushrooms, and then add in the sauce. This goes perfect on top of pasta and served with your favourite cheese and a side of garlic bread.

Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce

A tasty and easy pasta sauce with a lot of versatility, perfect for using fresh, frozen, or canned. This recipe is more of a template without exact quantities, but safe canning instructions are included.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Canning Time (if canning) 35 minutes
Course dinner
Cuisine Italian


  • 1 Slow cooker (See notes for alternatives)
  • 1 Hand blender, blender, or food processor


  • Cherry tomatoes (Can use regular tomatoes. See notes for more details.)
  • Dried seasonings of your choice (Suggestions include onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and pepper. See notes for more details.)
  • Olive oil (Or a neutral oil like canola oil)
  • Lemon juice (If canning the sauce)


  • Wash and de-stem tomatoes. If using tomatoes larger than cherry-sized, chop them into halves or quarters, depending on their size.
  • Fill the slow cooker with tomatoes. Add a drizzle of olive oil, no more than a few tablespoons. Add in seasonings of choice (see notes for details). Stir.
  • Cover and set slow cooker to high and let cook two and a half hours, or until everything looks fully cooked (the juice has released from the tomatoes, cherry tomatoes have popped, etc.). If you prefer to use the low setting, you'll want to let it cook for five hours.
  • Using a hand blender / stick blender, blend everything until a smooth consistency. If using a regular blender or a food processor, process in batches until everything is a smooth consistency.
  • If using fresh, serve on pasta or dish of choice. Sauce can be refrigerated for next-day use.
    If freezing, put pasta sauce in meal-size portions in ziplock bags or jars. If using jars, be sure to use jars that do not have "shoulders", and leave some headspace in case the sauce expands while freezing.
    If canning, add a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint jar or two tablespoons per quart jar. (Do not use a larger size. If using half-pints, add half a tablespoon of lemon juice.) Leave a half-inch of headspace. Wipe rims clean and put on two-part lids, fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary, see notes for a link). After processing, let sit in canner for 5-10 minutes, then remove jars from canner and place on a towel on a level surface and let sit for 12-24 hours. After this time, check that jars have sealed—unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used within a few days, sealed jars can be stored for up to a year and a half (after which point the flavour quality may degrade, but the safety remains indefinitely). See notes for more information on canning.


Alternative Methods to Cook the Tomatoes:
This can be made in a slow cooker or in the oven. If using the oven, lay out an even layer of cherry tomatoes in a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes at 450 F, until the cherry tomatoes are wrinkly and bursting. You may want to line the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. This can create a nice roasted flavour. I’ve also done a large batch in my dutch oven—all the steps were the same as the oven directions, but in a dutch oven rather than a rimmed baking sheet.
Seasoning Tips:
The seasonings are flexible. For canning safety, as long as you’re not adding immense amounts of dried seasoning so that it becomes paste-like, it should be fine. If you’re using the sauce fresh or freezing the sauce, feel free to use fresh onion, garlic, and herbs, if you’d like.
I generally eyeball the seasoning to whatever feels right, but if you’re the type that needs a recipe to follow, for every eight cups of tomatoes, use 1 Tbsp of onion powder, 1 Tbsp of garlic powder, 1 tsp of oregano, and 1 tsp of basil. My slow cooker holds 12 cups, so if I were going by this formula, I would use 1.5 Tbsp onion powder, 1.5 Tbsp garlic powder, 1.5 tsp oregano, and 1.5 tsp basil. For any amount of seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste.
If you’re using fresh ingredients for fresh or frozen sauce, you could switch these out with a medium onion, two cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of oregano, and a few sprigs of basil. If you are using fresh oregano/basil and you are oven-roasting the tomatoes, add the herbs during the blending step, not the roasting step, otherwise you’ll have burned herbs (but be sure to pull the oregano leaves from the stem so you don’t have chopped up stem in your sauce).
General Tips:
While the original ingredients and recipe called for cherry tomatoes only, this works equally well with larger tomatoes, cut into either halves or quarters, depending on the size. If the larger tomatoes have a thick/firm core, you may want to core the tomatoes as well.
This sauce tastes super good fresh, and just as good frozen or canned. The first year I did this, I froze all the sauce, but for the second year I did this, I canned the sauce. There’s really no difference in quality or taste either way. I prefer canning because freezer space is limited, but if you have freezer space and/or canning intimidates you, freezing is an excellent option.
If you are new to canning, click here for a Canning 101 to understand some of these terms and steps. If you have to adjust for altitude because your elevation is greater than 1,000 feet, click here for more information.
Keyword canning recipe, cherry tomato, pasta sauce

Garden Update: September 2023

As the height of summer passes and we inch our way slowly toward fall, we find ourselves entering the busiest part of the year for me. While my husband is the primary gardener, I’m the primary food preserver—and everything needs to be preserved in the next few weeks.

Harvesting and Preserving

We learned our lesson last year. We used to like keeping things in the ground as long as possible, meaning that when we get the notification that frost is coming (usually in mid- to late-October), we then hurry to harvest everything all at once. And that means having to preserve non-stop for days or weeks to make sure nothing goes rotten.

I think I really burned myself out last year.

This year, we’re harvesting things when we think they’re ready rather than leaving them as long as possible. Really, an extra couple weeks won’t make much difference.

This means that this past weekend we harvested all the beets—53 pounds—and I pickled 26 pints / half-litres. We also gave some away to both our neighbours, my mom, and some friends of ours. We still have a small pile left. If I can find the motivation, I might try turning them into beet chips.

This past weekend also saw our potato harvest—234 pounds of Yukon gold and red-skinned potatoes. Thankfully, these don’t need anything done with them, at least not right away. In the past, a restaurant has taken some of our Yukon gold potatoes off of us, so I’m hoping they’ll be interested again this year. The red-skinned potatoes are good for canning, so once things settle down in November/December, I might look at canning some potatoes. These make great last-minute additions to dinner (fry them up like gnocchi) or breakfasts (fry them up like hash browns)—and since canning fully cooks them in the process, adding them to dinner or breakfast just takes as long as heating them up and maybe getting a little crispy on the outside. I’m hoping to convince a coworker to teach me how to make gnocchi, as I’d love to have bags of homemade gnocchi in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for dinners.

The tomatoes are ripening at a nice pace. They keep me busy but don’t overwhelm me. I just finished canning a batch of salsa and I’m stewing up a batch of butter chicken sauce that’ll be canned later today.

Looking ahead, I think this next week or two is going to be the herb-harvest period. We’ve got lots of basil that I’ll turn into pesto, lots of oregano that I’ll dry for kitchen use, some mint I’ll dry for a friend for tea, and rosemary that I’ll likely turn into a batch of rosemary wine. We also have some thyme, but I don’t know if I have a use for it—I could dry it, but it’s not really something I cook with—so I might just leave that one in the garden.

A lot of the other remaining things can wait till I have time. The peppers are slowly ripening but they’re fine sitting on the plant until I’m ready; the carrots and parsnips can wait till we have time; and the black beans and kidney beans are slowly drying and I’m in no rush to harvest them.

Legal Mustard

A few years ago, a wild mustard plant took root in our garden and we decided to let it grow. Though mustard leaves are edible, we never really came to like them. The seeds, though…I taught myself how to collect mustard seeds and make homemade mustard.

The first batch was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I threw it in the back of the fridge and forgot about it. And when the following spring rolled around and we were doing our first barbecue, I pulled out that mustard with a wary look. We gave it a try and ohmygod it was delicious. The flavour clearly matures over time.

Mustard plants grow millions of seeds and no matter how hard you try to collect them all, some always scatter. Year after year our mustard harvest grew as the plants spread. We never had to plant them ourselves—nature took care of it all.

Then, last year, we got a letter from the city about property maintenance bylaws. The letter was very unclear but mentioned tall grass (we have about two square feet of grass that got a little long) and noxious weeds. After researching it, wild mustard is a noxious weed. We had to tear it all out.

Turns out, after we tore it all out and contacted the inspector to verify we’d done everything right, he told us he hadn’t even noticed the wild mustard. The letter was just about the tall grass and the generic language included noxious weeds even though that wasn’t what he flagged for our property.

(Wild mustard is a noxious weed because it resembles canola and can infiltrate canola fields. If a canola harvest has too much mustard in it, the whole lot has to be dumped.)

We’ve still got half a jar of now-illegal mustard in the back of the fridge that I pull out when friends are over.

This year, we discovered the seed catalogue we order from has mustard—a legal kind!

The mustard plants are slowly dying off now—the seeds are harvested when the plant is brown and brittle—and I’m throwing the plants in one of those large paper lawn bags. In a few weeks I’ll work on harvesting the seeds and then set out to return to the world of mustard-making.

Since this is a new variety, the heat level of the seeds might be different. Wild mustard was black and dark brown seeds, which are the hottest. I’m not sure what colour these seeds are yet. But I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Looking Ahead to 2024

We’ve been gardening at this scale for a few years now, but we always learn new things and make new plans.

Next year our front yard will fully be fruit-only. My husband is planning to take out the horseradish plant before the summer is over, which is the only non-fruit/non-flower plant on that part of the property.

In the past, our neighbour who lets us use his yard has talked about moving to somewhere that requires less work and upkeep, and he’s talking about it again. This means we have to start coming up with contingency plans in case he does follow through on the idea of moving. (Given what’s been going on in this part of the city, if our neighbour moves, his house will be torn down, his property divided, and two or three new houses will go up in their place. The garden will be gone.)

This year we started gardening a little strip in our other neighbour’s yard. I think they don’t like mowing the lawn, so they’re eager for us to convert their whole property to garden space. If we lose our big space, this could be the route we go.

We’ve also talked about how we could downsize things and do it all on our property. (Do we really need 234 pounds of potatoes, 130 ears of corn, and 53 pounds of beets?)

Lately, my husband has been connecting with a meditation retreat place just outside the city and has volunteered some of his time to help out in their garden. They’ve offered to let us take some of the space for our own use. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s a big space and it could be ideal for things that don’t need lots of attention (since we can’t get out there everyday), like onions, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.

Of course, for all the talk of moving, our neighbour with the giant garden might end up staying there for several more years. But it’s always good to talk about these things so that if and when it happens, it’s not a disaster and we already have a plan in place. It also gets us thinking of what we’re growing and why. Like, this year we grew honeydew melon and realized that neither of us really like honeydew melon. If we’re crunched for space, that’ll be the first to go.

Update since I wrote the draft of this post: I decided to give honeydew melon wine a try—and I had just enough melon!

Honeydew melon wine (green) and corn cob wine (yellow).

Wine Failures

In my recent post about winemaking, I listed the country wines / garden wines I’ve made and the ones that are currently in process.

Well, I’ve had two disasters—one is salvageable and the other, well, we’ll see.

I noticed the airlock on the chokecherry wine wasn’t bubbling. This is concerning as it means that the yeast might not have taken hold and might’ve died off. If that’s the case, then I don’t have a bucket of wine, but rather a bucket of sugary juice that runs the risk of going mouldy.

I do these big batches of wine over at my mom’s place where there’s more room, so I’ll head over there this weekend and see if it’s salvageable. It’s certainly possible that the lid isn’t airtight and the excess gas is escaping elsewhere (and it is indeed fermenting), which is why the airlock isn’t bubbling. We’ll see.

Edit since I wrote up the first draft of this post: The chokecherry wine is indeed fermenting. It smells alcoholic and there have been some positive changes (like there’s no longer a layer of sugar on the bottom). I’m not sure what’s going on with the airlock not bubbling, but wine is certainly being made.

That seems to be the exact problem I had with the Saskatoon wine, though that one is salvageable.

The Saskatoon wine did actively ferment during primary (the first stage of fermentation where the yeast is most active), but after moving it to a new jar (called a secondary), the bubbling seemed to have died off quickly. I left it like that for a few weeks to see what would happen…but no bubbles ever came.

Well, it had certainly fermented earlier, so I knew the yeast had taken hold and survived, so maybe this was a wine that just finished early for some reason? It could have a low sugar content and the yeast ate up all their food quickly.

Anyway, I bottled it and let it sit around for a few weeks. I started to worry, though, that I might’ve bottled it too early. Maybe the lid wasn’t tight enough and gas escaped that way rather than through the airlock?

It didn’t take much convincing my husband when I said we should try a bottle of Saskatoon wine to see if it turned out.

I opened the first bottle…and it shot out like a geyser. There was wine everywhere.

Clearly, I had my answer. The wine had not finished fermenting before I bottled it and it continued to ferment in the wine bottle. This creates a safety hazard because if the pressure builds up too much, it could shatter the bottles. Not only would that be messy, but it’s potentially dangerous.

We opened two more bottles to see if they were the same. They did not shoot out geyser-like.

Anyway, now we had three open bottles of wine, though one was half-empty after the geyser. These are 375 ml bottles (half the standard wine bottle), so collectively it was just shy of a litre of wine.

We got some snacks, poured out the wine, and settled in for the first couple episodes of The Enfield Haunting.

The wine was great! I definitely want to try it again next year and see how it tastes when it’s fully and properly fermented and aged.

There were still three more bottles of Saskatoon wine, but we didn’t want to drink that all in one night. We have a friend that was really interested in trying this wine, so we wanted to save it for our next hangout.

To be safe, I put the three bottles in extra-large Ziplock bags, hoping that this would prevent glass shards and massive spills if they shatter, and then put them in the bottom of the fridge, as the cold air will slow the fermenting if it’s still occurring. When we bring it to our friend’s place, we’ll tell him to put on rubber gloves (in case the bottle shatters in his hand…which has happened to my husband once and required a hospital visit) and do it outside (in case it’s another geyser).

Preparing for Winter

Though Winter is still a few months away, we’ll soon be in fall and then very quickly the snow will fly.

The next month or so will see me harvesting the last of what we’ve got (which is still a lot) and finding ways to preserve it. Last year, we managed to grow enough veggies to last us the year, except for mushrooms, which we don’t grow. I’m hoping this year is the same. Although I’m soon going to an indoor mushroom growing workshop, so mushrooms might soon be off our grocery list.

The only thing we buy in the produce section at the grocery store are mushrooms, apples, oranges, bananas, and ginger (which we’ve got in our garden this year!). That’s it. The rapidly rising cost of fruits and veggies hasn’t really hit us.

As the food preserving winds down in October, I hope to get back into baking bread and bagels. I’ve been maintaining my sourdough starter but haven’t had time to use it to make anything.

I’ve also got other projects I’ve been long neglecting because of the garden. Outside of this, I’m an author and a publisher and while I’ve managed to keep the publishing going, I really need to get back into writing. My favourite part of winter is the slower pace and just enjoying all of the food and drink that we’ve grown and preserved. It tastes so much better when we know we did it all ourselves.

For my husband, preparing for winter means slowly clearing out the gardens and planting the garlic so they come up right as the spring rolls around. As the snow falls, he wedges tree branches in our chain link fence and strings Christmas lights through them, giving it all a sort of enchanted forest look.

And as we get into the real depths of winter, well, that’s when the seed catalogue arrives in our mailbox and we start preparing for the upcoming spring.

A Rough Guide to Making Country Wines

Country wines are generally wines made with fruit other than grapes. Considering these wines are usually the output of my garden and I’m not located in the country, I sometimes refer to these as garden wines.

But whether you call them country wines or garden wines or something else, the process is still the same and the output is usually delicious.

I’ve learned over the years that fermenting—wines, kombucha, fermentation as preservation—is as much an art as it is a science.

Yes, there’s the obvious science stuff; fermentation is the process of using beneficial bacteria and yeast to produce a desired effect on foods. In winemaking, fermentation involves yeast turning sugar into alcohol.

However, once the basic science stuff is accommodated, art comes in. For winemaking that could mean tweaking a recipe to get a desired taste, upping the sugar content to increase the alcohol content, paying attention to the wine to get a sense of the fermentation stages and process (since I often find with country wines that the fermentation period varies wildly from the recipes I follow), and more.

So far I’ve tried:

  • Dandelion wine (now a regular summer project for me)
  • Lemon wine (a bit lemony, which I guess is to be expected, but it received mixed reviews)
  • Parsnip wine (surprisingly very good)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of mine)
  • Apple wine (delicious and will definitely be making more)
  • Lilac wine (unbelievably good)
  • Saskatoon wine (recently bottled, haven’t tried yet)
  • Cherry wine (going to bottle soon, haven’t tried yet)
  • Grape wine (going to bottle in a couple weeks, haven’t tried yet)
  • Chokecherry wine (currently fermenting, haven’t had it before)
  • Corn cob wine (just started this batch yesterday, haven’t had it before)
  • Beetroot wine (just starting this batch today, haven’t had it before)

The Equipment You Need

While country wines are dirt cheap to make—the ingredients are often fruit, sugar, water, yeast, and a few additives—there is a start-up cost with the needed equipment. Even then, there are things you need, and things you can get by without.

Country wines are often small one-gallon batches, which means you’re using smaller (and cheaper!) equipment than if you’re making full five-gallon batches from winemaking kits. (There are even mason jar micro-batch wine recipes if you search the internet enough!) However, if you like a garden wine and have enough fruit, you can always quintuple a recipe and use the traditional five-gallon equipment.

Everything I’ll list here is on the assumption of equipment needed for one-gallon batches:

  • Fermentation vessels, which are a fancy term to mean jars or buckets. Ideally you have two because you have to transfer the wine from one to the other a few times to remove sediment, but you could get by only having one of you transfer the wine to a temporary vessel (like several jars or jugs) while you clean out your vessel, then return the wine to it.
  • Airlocks / waterlocks, which are important to control the flow of air and, more importantly, any unwanted yeasts in the air that could spoil a batch of wine. (There’s yeast all around us!)
  • Bottles and corks. Since country wines are typically small batches, I like to use 375ml bottles, so the wine spreads out a little better. 375ml is half a standard wine bottle. You’ll also need corks and a corker (a device to put the cork in the bottle). Bottles can be reused, corks cannot.
  • Siphon, to move the wine from one vessel to the other.
    • Here’s one on Amazon, and it’s made for one gallon vessels. If you’re doing bigger batches with bigger equipment, you’ll need a longer siphon.
    • I actually don’t use this. I have a siphon but it’s for the big 5-gallon jugs, making it quite oversized for a little one-gallon jar. I usually use a clean ladle and carefully ladle the wine from one vessel to the other, leaving most sediment behind. If I also have to filter out chunks of fruit, I set a fine-mesh wire strainer over the empty vessel to catch the fruit as I transfer the wine. When transferring the wine to bottle—usually done by siphoning directly into the bottles—I use a funnel and ladle the wine in. It’s not the best, but it does the job.
  • Yeast. There are different yeasts meant for different types of wine. To be honest, I’m not the best with planning ahead so I often just use the one I have on hand. **Do not use bread yeast as you’ll get off flavours.**
  • Pectin enzyme, which is needed to break up naturally occurring pectin that comes on some fruits. Pectin is what sets jam and jelly nice and solid, not something you want in your wine.
  • Acid blend, which is needed to acidify some wines.
    • Here’s some on Amazon.
    • Alternatively, you can use lemon juice at a ratio of one tablespoon of lemon juice in place of one teaspoon of acid blend. I use lemon juice.
  • Tannin powder, to add tannins to some wines. This gives the mouth feel we associate with wine.
    • Here’s some on Amazon.
    • Alternatively, you can brew a cup of black tea / English Breakfast tea, let it cool, and dump it in. I always go with the tea option.
  • Yeast nutrient, as not all fruits give the micronutrients yeast needs to thrive.

The Stages of Winemaking

Once you get all the ingredients (which may include fruit/flowers, sugar, nutrients, acid, water, yeast, etc.) into your fermentation vessel, these are the general stages:

Primary Fermentation

Fermentation at the stage can be fast and furious, and sometimes the contents can shoot up the airlock and spill over.

The yeast is hungrily and greedily consuming the sugar and converting it to alcohol.

The fermentation vessel used here—even if it’s the same vessel you use throughout the process—is often called the “primary”. So if a recipe calls for stirring your primary or putting everything in your primary, it’s referring to the stage.

Secondary Fermentation

After a while, usually a few weeks, the speed of fermentation slows. The bubbles in the airlock are slower-paced.

At this point, you’ll usually rack the wine into your secondary. This is a fancy way of saying to move the wine into a new vessel, leaving sediment (or even fruit or flowers) behind.

This is typically done by siphoning the wine from one vessel to the other—or using a ladle like I do.

If you move the vessel before racking it—I usually keep mine in the corner of the counter and have to move it closer—it’s a good idea to let it sit for half an hour or more before racking. Moving can stir up the sediment, so you want it to settle before you rack it.

Racking and Clarifying

Recipes will often have you racking the wine—transferring it to a new vessel—a few times. As the yeast continues to work, sediment continues to accumulate. Some wines produce a lot of sediment (like dandelion wine) and others not so much (my saskatoon wine, currently fermenting, seems to give little sediment).

Bottling and Aging

Eventually the wine will finish fermenting. Regardless of the timeline given by the recipe, figure this out for yourself. Watch the airlock closely; if there are no bubbles in a five to ten minute period, the wine is likely done and the yeast has died off.

The risk of bottling too early is that if the yeast is still active and producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct of fermentation, pressure builds up in the bottle and it could explode. I once bottled a batch of dandelion wine too early—it ended up coming out sparkling like a moscato, but could have easily exploded. I was lucky!

Transfer to bottles, either with a siphon or a ladle and funnel, and then insert a cork.

Most wines need to age, which means just sit around in their bottles, for anywhere from a few weeks to a year. You can certainly drink it before it’s done aging, but the taste might not be as good. The difference aging makes can sometimes be drastic. I tasted my apple wine while bottling, opened and drank a bottle midway through aging, and enjoyed some fully-aged—and each of these three tastes were wildly different.

Learning the Process

Learning to make wine feels intimidating. However, the way to learn is to just dive in and do it.

If you can invest in the equipment necessary, a good starter is a full wine kit from a wine store. Those have easy to follow instructions and very little goes wrong. That’s how I got my start, and it gave me the confidence to move on to country wines. (The downside is that these kits are made for five-gallon equipment, not the one-gallon equipment you’d be buying for country wines.)

If you’re a first timer or have never been comfortable with the process, but want to try it, find a country wine recipe with clear instructions and that tells you how to identify the steps, such as knowing when primary fermentation is over and it’s ready to rack into the secondary. The resource section below will help you find such recipes.

Country Wine Resources

This website will be a resource as I get recipes uploaded. Click on Recipe Index in the menu and look for the wine section. (As of writing this, the wine section doesn’t exist yet… but it will!)

Practical Self-Reliance—this is my go-to homesteading resource and highly recommend it. Ashley has several wine recipes with clear instructions, including information on substitutes for special ingredients and what to do if you don’t have all the equipment. Her Dandelion Wine recipe was my first country wine.

I now do five-gallon batches of dandelion wine because it’s so well loved.

Jack Keller’s archive—Jack was a leader in the country wine community online and wrote a very popular blog filled with recipes. After his passing, his community archived all of his country wine recipes in a downloadable PDF meant for sharing widely. I’ve got a copy saved here that you can download for yourself. These are more for the experienced winemaker, or at least for the brave soul that likes to experiment, because some of them feel like fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants directions.

Tasty Experiments

Country wines don’t usually taste like store-bought wines, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less enjoyable. You’ll find out which ones you love and which you don’t care for. My husband loves my dandelion wine and a friend of ours loves my rhubarb wine.

But it’s the experimenting that makes this extra fun and the final product extra rewarding. It’s looking at something in your garden and six months later pouring it into a glass to impress your friends. It’s about making something special and unique, something you can’t buy, something that can only come from someone putting in the time and effort to create something delicious.