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How to Make Crispy Shiitake Mushroom Snacks

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops by to offer a delicious DIY snack – crispy shiitake mushrooms! I wish I had a batch to nibble right now! -Marisa

bowl fo shiitake mushrooms

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work alongside sustainable farmers and food producers here in southeast Pennsylvania. This community has changed my life for the better in more ways than one: it’s given me work, purpose, inspiration, and an education around food and agriculture.

And, of course, there’s the ability to share in the bounty that comes along with running a CSA or working a farmers’ market.

I’ve written about my friends at Primordia Farm before — they’re a first-generation clan of mushroom farmers and foragers, growing beautiful fungi high on Hawk Mountain in Berks County, right near the Appalachian Trail. And with them as my farmers’ market neighbors, I’m lucky to have access to delicious, immaculately grown mushrooms year-round.

While there are a million recipes you can make with the mushrooms they grow — shiitake, maitake (also known as hen of the woods), royal trumpet, lion’s mane — my favorite preparations tend to be the simplest, making the most of the unique textures and flavors that these fascinating organisms bring to the kitchen.

Sure, you can sautée or roast up a batch of just about any mushroom in butter, olive, or coconut oil and it’ll be tasty. But I’m the only mushroom eater in my household — so if I don’t have a specific dish in mind for my fungi, I tend to turn them into one on of my favorite kinds of food: crunchy, crispy, salty snacks.

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Mastery Challenge: Apple-Quince Fruit Cheese

Our intrepid contributor Alexandra Jones returns again, with a recipe for apple-quince fruit cheese. This homemade fruit paste (this month’s mastery challenge topic) is the perfect thing to make your holiday cheese board stand out from the crowd! -Marisa

Fruit for apple-quince fruit cheese

I confess that over the past few months, I’ve fallen off the Mastery Challenge train. The contents of my kitchen and the time I have to devote to preserving just didn’t add up. But I’m excited to finish out the year strong with December’s topic: fruit pastes, one of my favorite ways to preserve seasonal fruits.

I canned a spreadable version of the typically sliceable quince paste last month. I had a few more quinces than would fit in my Dutch oven when I made that recipe, and they sat patiently in my fruit bowl while I figured out what to do with them.

sliced fruit for apple-quince fruit cheese

Since I’ll be entertaining friends with a cheese-centric holiday party next week, I decided to combine my remaining quinces with a few apples and whip up a concentrated, sliceable apple-quince fruit paste that would combine both flavors, with this recipe as my framework. And since I’ll be serving this paste with cheese, I’m choosing to call it a fruit cheese, but it’s basically a pate de fruits.

The beautiful thing about fruit pastes is that they’re pretty forgiving. The thing you want to avoid when making jam and jelly — a firm, overly-set preserve — is exactly what you’re going for in this case. It’s also quite easy, as there’s no peeling necessary, thanks to a food mill or fine mesh strainer.

cooked fruit for apple-quince fruit cheese

But there is a trick to it: the goal is to cook down the milled fruit puree until it’s as stiff as possible while still being spreadable, but there’s even a trick for that — if you’ve got a programmable dehydrator or an oven that goes nice and low.

After cooking my fruit till it was thick and mounding, spreading the mixture into a pan, and letting it sit overnight, the paste was still soft and moist. Mine spent several hours in the dehydrator at 150 degrees F, which firmed up the surface quite a lot.

milled fruit sauce that will become apple-quince fruit cheese

However, because the paste wasn’t spread perfectly evenly, some areas were firm on top but soft underneath.  No problem: I put the pan in the fridge to firm up for a few hours, then simply pulled the block paste out of the pan by hand and flipped it over. The pan went back into the dehydrator for a few more hours until the paste achieved a more uniform consistency.

At this point, all that’s left to do is slice and serve with a wedge of something pungent. (You could also cut the paste into cubes or squares, toss them with sugar, and serve as a dessert treat.) I like to pair this paste a cave-aged cheddar, but Alpine cheeses, blues, tangy fromage blanc, and other cheeses will all work with its sweet-tart, slightly floral flavor.

cheese plate with heart shaped apple-quince fruit cheese

While you can simply slice the paste into cubes, batons, or squares, I think this recipe is a great excuse to bust out your cutest cookie cutter. It’s the holidays, after all.

Apple-Quince Fruit Cheese


  • 2 apples
  • 2 quinces
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Brush an 8" x 8" pan with a small amount of neutral oil and line with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper with oil.
  2. Core and roughly slice the fruit. Place slices and water in a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid.
  3. Cover and cook the fruit over medium heat for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the fruit is very tender and falling apart. (The quince will take a little longer to get tender than the apples will.) If the mixture dries out before the fruit is tender, add another splash of water and put the cover back on the pot.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat. Pass the mixture through a food mill or press it through a fine mesh strainer until skins are removed.
  5. Return the fruit puree to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for an hour or more, stirring frequently to keep the bottom of the pot from burning. Keep an eye out for when the mixture begins to mound up. You want the mixture to be as sturdy and thick as possible while still being spreadable.
  6. Once the puree has thickened, spread it into the prepared pan, doing your best to achieve a smooth surface and uniform thickness. Allow to dry overnight.
  7. The next morning, gently touch the surface of the fruit paste. If it's still wet or tacky and the paste is soft, put the pan into a 150 degree F oven or dehydrator. Check every hour or so and remove the paste when the surface is dry to the touch.
  8. Press gently around the pan, especially on any areas that may be thicker than others. If the underside of the paste is still soft and spreadable, put the pan into the fridge to cool for an hour or two. Once it's cooled, you should be able to gently pull up the square of paste and flip it back into the pan, soft side up. Return the pan to the dehydrator or oven, checking every hour or so. Remove when the surface feels dry and the texture has firmed up.
  9. Cut into shapes using a knife or cookie cutters and serve with cheeses, or cut shapes, toss in granulated sugar, and serve immediately as a sweet. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


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How to Brew Bracing Homemade Fire Cider

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alexandra Jones is dropping in today with a recipe for homemade fire cider. This invigorating tonic is said to help boost your immune system and keep you healthy throughout the winter cold and flu season! -Marisa

Ingredients for homemade fire cider

Where I am in Philadelphia, the leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler after a warm start to fall, and root crops are ready to harvest.

That means it’s time to start a batch of homemade fire cider.

This spicy, bracing infusion has been used for centuries as a way to preserve herbs and vegetables that also have medicinal value. Whipping up a big batch at the end of the growing season means that you’ve got a tasty tonic to sip on or use in recipes like sauces, marinades, and salad dressings.

I first tried making this recipe years ago, when I was a CSA manager tasked with finding with a handful of new and interesting recipes to include with each share of vegetables. One week, we included horseradish in the boxes, and I came upon the now familiar recipe.

I loved the ritual, the acidic flavor, and the kick — a powerful whoosh of horseradish, garlic, and onion straight to the nose. I’m not sure whether it was thanks to the homemade fire cider or something else, but I didn’t get sick that winter.

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Hot Pepper Hoagie Relish

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops in this week with a recipe for sweet and spicy pepper hoagie relish (for those of you not in the Philadelphia region, hoagies are our version of a sub sandwich). I can imagine lots of delicious ways to serve up this spread! -Marisa

Egg sandwich with hoagie relish

As a kid, I was weird about sandwiches. I didn’t like mayo, and I didn’t like tomatoes. My sandwich of choice in middle school was wheat bread, yellow mustard, and Tofurky slices, with nothing else.

Fast forward 20 years and my tastes have changed — partially, I suspect, because I now live in a city with a strong sandwich culture. Hoagies, whether you get them from Wawa or the corner store, are standard fare here in Philly.

And while I’ll still pick off (or ask my sandwich artist to omit) slices of sad, pink, industrial tomato from my sandwiches, I’ve come to appreciate the components of a good hoagie: slices of tender turkey and cheddar cheese, sweet onion, a ruffle of lettuce, just the right amount of tangy mayo. And those juicy sweet and hot peppers, which add a ton of flavor and set off the other ingredients perfectly.

When a whirlwind of late summer travel meant that I had three weeks’ worth of sweet and hot peppers from my Taproot Farm vegetable CSA stashed in the fridge, I knew I wanted to make something that would help recreate my typical sandwich order without walking the 200 feet to my corner deli.

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Roasted Seedless Grape Jam

Our intrepid contributor Alex Jones is back with a recipe for roasted grape jam. Just reading this post makes my mouth water!I can’t even imagine how good her kitchen must have smelled during the roasting process! -Marisa

I didn’t taste a Concord grape until I was in my late 20s and buying them from local Pennsylvania farmers to share with members of the Greensgrow CSA. And once I had — while I finally understood what “grape” flavor is meant to emulate — I just couldn’t get down with the seeds. They were too much work to snack on compared to the fat, juicy table grapes I’d grown up with as a kid in California.

So imagine my delight when I found out that when Lem Christophel, a Mennonite who runs Eden Garden Farm in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, brings grapes to my local farmers’ market, they are completely seed-free.

I love them for snacking (these days, I try to leave the California produce as a special treat to help me get through the depths of winter), and last year, I made possibly the most delicious raisins I’ve ever had by steming a few bunches and throwing them in the dehydrator. But I’d never canned them before.

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How to Make Fresh Tulsi Tea

Even though 2017 isn’t over yet — and it’s been a pretty big year already — I know I’ll remember it as the year I met tulsi.

I was introduced to this mesmerizing plant through the yearlong monthly herbal medicine class I’m taking with a clinical herbalist and teacher here in West Philly, Kelly McCarthy of Attic Apothecary.

I meet with her and around 15 other students one full Sunday per month at historic Bartram’s Garden, where we also maintain raised beds and learn to grow herbs from wilderness gardener (and herbalist) Mandy Katz from seed to harvest.

I think it was the second class, sitting outside with our notebooks on a balmy day this April when we studied the nervous system. We learned about adaptogens, plants that contain compounds that can help the body and mind deal with stress.

There are several, like ashwagandha root, as well as some fungi, like prized reishi mushrooms. But tulsi — also known as holy basil — piqued my interest, since I already dry and brew my own blend of culinary basil varieties for tea.

Kelly has said that if she could recommend one herb to everyone, it would be tulsi — that if everyone just got their daily dose of heady, stress-relieving tea, we’d all feel a little better.

And after taking it daily as a tea made from the dried herb (purchased through Mountain Rose herbs), I have to agree with her: during difficult, stressful times, my regular tulsi habit did seem to help make life a little brighter, a little easier to deal with.

However, tea made from dried tulsi, while pleasant to drink, is somewhat unremarkable: dark in color, earthy and tannic, and only slightly reminiscent of the pungent, bubblegum-sweet essence of the fresh herb.

It wasn’t until I was regularly harvesting it from my garden this summer that I really got to know this herb — and I had to learn to remake my daily tea all over again.

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