My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Henry Homeyer Says Don’t Can Your Tomatoes! 10

Posted on July 14, 2010 by crankycheryl

When I saw the Facebook ad for “Save Our Squash” and learned that there was a free food preservation class right here at Fletcher Allen, I was pretty excited to sign up.  And then it turned out to be with organic gardening guru Henry Homeyer, and I was totally sold.

So last night, crankyGreg and the boys settled in for some quality bizarre comic book creation, and I trundled up the hill to the Davis Auditorium, where a small crowd was gathering.  At the front was the featured speaker wearing purple high-tops and standing behind a table with a chinois, a food dehydrator, and other cool kitchen toys.

This was the way he introduced himself:

“I love to eat and am inherently suspicious of buying food in the grocery store.  I’ve traveled across the country and have seen how food is grown.  I want to grow as much of my own food as possible – and keep it as fresh and tasty as I possibly can.”

Cool.  Hard not to get behind that.

Then he looked around at that room full of gardeners, warned us he was going to go quickly and launched in, starting with gardening advice:

  • Get out there and pinch back those tomato suckers (the non-flowering/fruiting vines that are shooting out of the plants this time of year).  This lets the plant put more energy into fruit production, and will keep indeterminate varieties from getting monstrously tall.
  • Pick beans from pole bean plants often.  July is not too late to plant beans (or any plant that will mature within 60 days) in Vermont.
  • Thin carrots to 1″ apart or else he’s coming to your house to yell at you.
  • Want to successfully grow eggplant in Vermont?  Try a loaf-of-bread-sized dark stone next to the plant to raise the temperature around it and keep it a few degrees warmer at night.
  • He discovered and recommends happy rich greens, which he grows instead of broccoli raab because of raab’s annoying habit of instantaneous bolting.  He prefers the other because it’s much slower to go to flower, and also has tender stems and delicious leaves.
  • He grows rutabaga instead of potatoes because it can be mashed in much the same way but is not as susceptible to bugs or disease.
  • When it comes to peppers:  don’t fertilize, and pick the fruit young (don’t let everything ripen completely or the plant will stop producing more).
  • Both artichokes and broccoli produce what they should if their first central blooms get removed early.  (I took note because mine had just produced a bud.)
  • Mark your calendar for Labor Day, at which point he wants us to cut the tops off of Brussels sprouts and winter squash plants so they’ll work on their yummy parts instead of growing taller.

I was running out of room for notes, but he was just getting started talking about preservation.  I was shocked that he really doesn’t do much canning, relying instead on freezing, dehydrating, and the use of a root cellar he’s created in his basement, and storage in a variety of unheated spaces around his house.

He brought out a cool big insert, a “blanching basket” that was his prop for his blanching technique.  (Have I tired you out?  I have to tell you I was completely on the edge of my seat.)  Here’s what he said about the process:

  • Blanching is necessary for almost any leafy green in order to kill the enzyme that ages and toughens the leaves.
  • Most recipes call for twice the blanching time that’s required – 10 seconds for leafy greens, 1 minute for other things – just until there’s a color change.
  • The vegetables that require blanching before being frozen:  beans, broccoli & other cole crops, kale, chard, peas, summer squash.  He says (and I agree!) to skip the spinach since it wilts away to practically nothing.
  • The way to blanch vegetables to get the best result:
  1. Boil enough water in a kettle to cover completely.
  2. Fill a large bowl or 1/2 of your sink with water and ice.
  3. Blanch your vegetables for 10 seconds (leaves) or 1 minute (beans, broc, summer squash).
  4. Plunge into the ice water, then strain, spin in a salad spinner, dry in a towel, and place in a container or ziploc bag to freeze.
  • Tomatoes, leeks, peppers, and peaches can be frozen without blanching.
  • Freeze tomatoes by placing them in a freezer bag.  (And he demonstrated removing air from a freezer bag with a plain old drinking straw.)

And then he explained that he either freezes or dehydrates tomatoes because canning’s high temperatures kill the vitamin C in them.  Whoa.  And he doesn’t really like canning because of the time it takes and how hot it is and how scary botulism is.   (As I had just come from a batch of delicious gooseberry jam, I couldn’t really get behind the no-canning plan.)  But he then did admit to making a few jars of sauce every year.


He showed us his fancy dehydrator and talked about how he uses it for tomatoes and hot peppers (the latter of which he subsequently grinds to powder, incidentally).  And he talked about simple storage: how beets, carrots, and potatoes like to be somewhere cool and humid  like a root cellar, and other roots like to be somewhere cool and dry, and how winter squash and onions like it dry.

After more specifics and questions and answers, we all crowded forward to check out the cool stuff and talk.

And then, my head swimming, I went home to pluck that artichoke and plan this week’s preservation.

Apple Truckload Saturday 2

Posted on October 17, 2009 by crankycheryl

applepicking 006

Today was Shelburne Orchard‘s Truckload Saturday, and some neighbors and I went to load up – $50 for two carloads of Macs, Galas, Liberty’s, and Empires.  These neighbors, in fact:

applepicking 021

CrankyGreg says we looked like a bunch of hip, radical nuns, which I can live with.  We took our blessed selves and went and scavenged the “falls,” and jostled the last attached ones out of their branches.  And I’m wildly pleased to report that I climbed a tree to chase down some high-hanging Galas.

After a couple of hours we had two cars full of apples and were hungry, so we went up to the Orchard’s store and food area, where we found an enormous apple pie,

applepicking 019and these nice people frying up onion rings made with Ginger Jack in the batter,

applepicking 025

and sausages roasting inside their brick oven.

applepicking 028So now I’ve got 4 bags (about 2 bushels) of apples hanging around.  I’ve taken the first batch and started some Crock Pot Apple Butter.  With the rest, I’d like to can Apple Pie Filling, but can’t seem to find the Clear Jel I’d need.  Maybe more applesauce, maybe something else, whatever it is I’m sure E. & Z. will be tired of it long before it’s gone.

Blueberry-Lavender Jam 3

Posted on July 30, 2009 by crankycheryl

At last we got it together to organize a summer playdate with some friends.  Though the weather report on Sunday was threatening something torrential, the skies were clear as the day went on and so we rallied our various troops and headed off Straight from the pick blueberries.

It was a sticky day and we were hot and crabby.  Still, in between refereeing various fights (all involving my children) and stopping for snacks and water refills and bouts of whining, I had a moment or two to appreciate the act of picking itself.

After two grueling strawberry picking sessions, blueberries feel like a gift.  They’re easy to spot and grow in friendly little clusters and are a comfortable height for picking.  If your place to pick is like ours, your kids, when they’re not busy trapping each other inside the hammock that the farmer is nice enough to provide, can run up and down the rows like the wild baboons they are.

And after three hours of that, after reducing my children to plaintive cries of, “home … home,” we went home, and this is what I made the next day, while the boys loudly channeled Cain & Abel as I shrieked, “THESE POTS ARE HOT!  GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!”  It was a good time.  Well, no, it really wasn’t.  But when I served this on homemade bread for breakfast the next day and all was silent except for the happy little noises they made, sounding like content little nursing babies, it was very nearly worth it.

Blueberry-Lavender Jam
4-5 cups

  • 4 c. berries, rinsed and picked over to remove stems and “squishers,” then mashed
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 3 t. Pomona’s Pectin powder
  • 2 t. calcium water made according to Pomona’s directions
  • 1 flower sprig from fresh organic lavender
  1. To read about canning safety, equipment, and much more, visit Canning Food Recipes.
  2. Make calcium water if you haven’t, according to directions enclosed with pectin.
  3. Wash and rinse jars, and let stand in hot water.  Bring lids and rings to boil, turn down heat, and let stand in hot water.
  4. Put mashed berries into pan with lemon juice.  Add the calcium water and stir well.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and pectin very thoroughly (a whisk works well).
  6. Place lavender sprig into berries and then bring to a boil.  Add the pectin-sugar mixture.  Stir vigorously 1-2 minutes to dissolve the pectin completely.  You can use a slotted spoon to look through the berries to make sure you don’t have clumps of pectin hanging around, which would prevent setting-up.  Return to boil and remove from heat.  Remove lavender.
  7. Fill jars to 1/4″ of top.  Wipe the rims clean with a clean dish towel or cloth napkin.  Place a lid and a band on top, screwing band on firmly.  Place in boiling water deep enough to cover, and boil for 5 minutes (adding 1 minute for every 1,000 ft. above sea level).  Remove from water.  Let jars cool and listen for the satisfying snapping sound as the lids form a vacuum seal.  Verify the seal by pressing down in the lids’ centers to check that they don’t move.  (If they do move that’s ok, just put the jar in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks.)

Strawberry-Honey Jam 9

Posted on June 15, 2009 by crankycheryl

bread and jelly 002Allow me to start with what is not included in this post:

  • How I brought my children to a hot field on a sunny day with milk in sippy cups, but no water at all.
  • How Z. clung to my leg and whined and pleaded to go home, insisting we hold hands every time I took a step.
  • How I went to pick a week too early, knowing we’d be away for the peak berry-picking weekend, which resulted in twice as much work for half the results.  And a sunburn.
  • The growing awareness of how so many of these allegedly golden, wholesome childhood moments I seem so hellbent on providing are like this.  Sigh.

Regardless, we are completely out of last year’s jam, and I heard that the call had gone out that strawberries were ready.  So off we went to Adam’s Berry Farm in Burlington’s Intervale, at which we can pick our own organic strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.  (For blueberries, I’m also especially fond of Owl’s Head, which has an astonishingly beautiful hillside setting and live music, even if its berries aren’t organic.)

june 007One double bedtime, some serious lolly-gagging, and seven pounds of berry-cleaning later, I was getting ready to can.  Well, truth be told, I was trying to talk myself out of canning because it was 11:00 and I wanted to go to sleep.  But I had washed the berries and couldn’t trust them not to spoil, and there was no way I was letting all that suffering be for naught.

I pulled out the Pomona’s, a citrus pectin that’s activated (i.e., is able to gel your preserves) with the addition of the calcium powder that’s included.  I know some serious jam-makers who don’t like its texture, but I think it makes great stuff.  Plus it doesn’t require a crazy amount of sugar (in fact, you don’t really have to use any), and you can double or triple batches, unlike with many traditional recipes.  Isn’t flexibility nice?

strawberries and chicken 002Strawberry-Honey Jam

About 5 pints

  • 8 cups of strawberries, cleaned, with stems removed, and cut into halves or quarters, depending on how chunky you want the results.
  • 1 cup honey
  • peel from 1/2 organic orange, or 1/2 t. dried
  • 4 t. Pomona’s pectin
  • 4 t. calcium water made from packet included with pectin

Wash and rinse jars, lids and bands.  Some boil everything, and some say this isn’t necessary.  Whichever way you decide to go, do that and then keep in hot water until ready.

Place water in boiling water canner deep enough so that it will cover the jars you’re going to fill once you put them in.

Mix calcium water according to package instructions and set aside.

Put berries, orange peel, and calcium water into stockpot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Stir pectin into honey.  As berries are approaching a boil, look at the texture and either leave as is, or use a potato masher to smooth out chunks as desired.  When berries are at full boil, vigorously stir honey-pectin mixture in for 1 – 2 minutes, being sure to stir hard enough to dissolve the pectin.  Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Remove orange peel if using large pieces.

Fill prepared jars to 1/4″ of top, wipe around the rim with a wet cloth, then place on lids and bands.  Carefully strawberries and chicken 007place jars into boiling water, and boil for 5 minutes.

Place on a rack to cool.  In the next little while you should hear the slight snap of the lids sealing completely, which will let you know that they’re ready to store.  To test the seal, tap on them.  If they move or wiggle at all, just keep in the fridge and use within three weeks.

This jam is delicious.  Like fresh strawberries themselves, bright and sunny and not overly sugary.  My mom (and you know how moms are always the most objective of critics) said it was the best strawberry jam she had ever had.  It may be immodest, but I agree.  What a treat it’ll be if that taste lasts into the depths of winter.  And by then, I’ll have forgotten the rest.

Makin' It 0

Posted on December 23, 2008 by crankycheryl


Like everyone, I’m looking to be extra-thrifty this year.  And like almost everyone, this means homemade love for those on the gift-exchange list.

I’m always wanting things to make that are relatively simple, have broad appeal, easy to make in big batches, and are somewhat showoff-ish and delicious.  I also like to give things that don’t have to be consumed immediately since nearly everyone is overwhelmed by all the sugary treats that appear in their lives.

So this year (spoiler alert if you’re a gift recipient of mine), I’m giving Chocolate-Raspberry Jam and Mocha Walnut Scone Mix.

Here’s the recipe for the scones, adapted from Recipezaar:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (for God’s sake don’t use bleached, 0kay?)
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 t. instant coffee
  • 1 t. cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. chopped walnuts (I substituted pine nuts – actually a seed, not a nut – for the nut-allergic people on The List)

You can get the bags that you grind your coffee into free in some places, which is what I got for packing it all up.  You, I’m sure, would have commandeered your delightful,obedient children to decorate the bags with festive holly sprigs and clever snowflakes.  Since mine were busy arguing over whether or not to watch Polar Express (they did), I took a black Sharpie and wrote what was inside the bag.  Then I found some free winter-ish stickers in the mailroom, and cunningly added those.  Tomorrow I’ll print out the instructions for how to turn the mix into baked goods on full-sheet stickers and put ’em on the back:

To make these Mocha Walnut Scones, you’ll need:

  • 1/3 c. butter
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 3/4 C. milk, plus 1 T. (optional)
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Empty jar into bowl
  3. Use pastry blender or fork to mix in butter until mixture looks like fine crumbs.
  4. Mix lemon juice and milk together and stir into batter.
  5. Place dough on lightly floured surface, and turn to coat.
  6. Knead lightly 10 times.
  7. Pat or roll into 9 inch circle on ungreased baking sheet.
  8. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar; if desired.
  9. Cut in 8 wedges, but do not separate.
  10. Bake 12-15 minutes till golden brown.
  11. Immediately remove from sheet; carefully separate wedges.

All right:  I haven’t given ’em a test run.  But I’ll have them done before December 25, unlike the scarf I’m excruciatingly
knitting for my father.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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