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How to Make Homemade Maple Cream

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to share her family recipe for homemade maple cream. She transforms some real maple syrup into a gorgeous, spreadable cream that is perfect for your morning toast or a holiday cheese board. If this post doesn’t want to make you leap up and head to the kitchen, I don’t know what will! -Marisa

A can of real maple syrup for homemade maple cream

I have a confession to make: I’m a maple snob.

Growing up, my house always had real maple syrup to top pancakes, French toast, and ice cream. I didn’t even know that “pancake syrup” (typically an artificially flavored, corn syrup-based imitation of the real thing) was different from what my family used until I was a teenager, when I unwittingly poured it all over my breakfast at a friend’s house after a sleepover. Imitation just doesn’t compare.

We kept real maple syrup in the house not just because it’s incredibly delicious and we could to afford it, but because my mother’s family in Quebec would have disowned her — or sent a care package — if we hadn’t.

As an American-born cook with Canadian dual citizenship, maple syrup is part of my culinary heritage. My gaggle of aunts up Quebec, whose preserving habits and big gardens I’ve written about before, always give me a can of sirop d’erable pur to take home on my visits — if not a coveted bottle of homemade maple syrup, the really good stuff boiled down over a wood fire in my uncle’s sugar shack.

And just about the only thing more delicious than maple syrup is maple cream, a spreadable, velvety smooth maple reduction with a super-concentrated maple flavor. When I spied a spare can of syrup in my pantry while hunting for another ingredient, I decided to try making this pricey, hard-to-find treat myself.

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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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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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How to Make Your Own Tonic Water

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here to with a how-to post designed to help you make tonic water syrup! A fun DIY project for an August weekend. – Marisa

When hot weather comes to Philadelphia, that’s my cue to pick up a bottle of gin — because there’s no better quencher at the end of a long, hot bike commute or gardening session than a bright, herbaceous gin and tonic.

In recent years, I’ve started investing in better, locally produced gins to make my favorite summertime cocktail: bottles of Philadelphia Distilling’s Bluecoat and Palmer Distilling’s Liberty Gin are made in the city; Manatawny Still Works’ Odd Fellows Gin is produced about an hour outside Philly in Pottstown. All three are delicious in a crisp G&T.

With quality craft gin, homemade seltzer (thanks to my secondhand SodaStream), and fresh-squeezed lime juice, I found myself just one ingredient away from a truly bespoke cocktail: homemade tonic water.

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July Mastery Challenge: Pickled Blistered Shishito Peppers

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here to with a recipe to preserve delicious shishito peppers. They’re one of my summer favorites! – Marisa

One of my favorite moments of summer eating doesn’t involve handfuls of blueberries, icy-cold slices of watermelon, or peaches so juicy you have to eat them over the sink. (Although those firsts fruits are up there on the list.) It’s when I spy the first shishito peppers at the farmers’ market.

When I first see those wrinkly, electric green peppers heaped in a basket or bursting out of a fiber pint container, I know I have to have them.

Back my kitchen with my market bounty, I’ll get my cast iron pan ripping hot with a glug of grapeseed oil and add the peppers, cooking for a few minutes on each side until the skin is blistered deep brown and the flesh is just tender. Then, they go into a bowl with a big three-finger pinch of flaky sea salt. A few flicks of the wrist to toss, and then I’ll sit down and eat them all, one by one.

But inevitably, shishito season ends, and it’s rare to find them off-season in supermarkets, so I have to wait for that smoky, salty experience until next year’s pepper feast…unless I can preserve it.

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June Mastery Challenge: Foraged Berry Jam

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back to share the tale of a tiny batch of jam made from fruit grown right in her West Philly neighborhood. I do love a good forage! – Marisa

When it comes to gardening and foraging, I do my best to hit enough planting milestones in early spring so that I’m not missing out on a particularly delicious spring or summer crop. And I keep an eye on ripening berries and fruits in my neighborhood so I can forage goodies to enjoy and preserve, too.

This spring was a little different. It was my first working as a freelancer, and any hope that I’d have extra time and flexibility to spend on these pursuits quickly vanished — I felt busier and less in touch with what was growing around me than I had been when I was employed full time.

For example, I missed planting peas this year. On the other hand, I got in two good harvests of elderflower during a particularly busy May, a first for me. And yet, I just missed the height of my West Philly neighborhood’s flush of juneberries, mulberries, and sour cherries, which hit a little earlier than usual this month.

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