Blackberry Jam

blackberries in field

People in the Pacific Northwest take wild blackberries for granted. In fact, they’re something of a nuisance, lining highways and filling empty lots (my dad once had to rent a backhoe in order to clear the brambles from the lower half of our yard). In August, it’s easy to freely pick gallons of blackberries (you may sacrifice a bit of skin in the process – wild blackberries have very sharp thorns) at local parks, nature reserves and backyards. Just make sure to watch where you’re picking, last summer my parents got scolded after accidentally wandering onto someone’s property while picking berries at the very furthest most point of a dead end road.

blackberries in strainer

Out here in the Mid-Atlantic area of the country, blackberries are a little harder to come by. In fact, I’ve yet to find any wild fruit growing here in Philadelphia. However, I’m lucky to have a few good u-pick farms in the area. They’re not free, but they’re pretty cheap (two weekends ago, I paid $1.10 a pound) and when it comes to blackberries, the cultivated patches come with far fewer thorns than the wild ones.

mashing berries

Blackberry jam is one of my mom’s specialties, so this recipe is more hers than mine. She’s the one who taught me to mash the berries through a strainer to remove the seeds before turning them into jam (it’s a necessity with wild berries, as they tend to be seedier than cultivated berries. If you have more civilized berries, the deseeding process is optional). She’s also the one who showed me how wonderful a smear of blackberry jam can be on a slice of peanut butter toast mid-February.

blackberry pulp into pot

And, because I like to share my bounty, I do have a half pint of this luscious jam to give away. It’s a deep, deep purple color, is almost entirely seedless and is particularly amazing on pancakes (I had friends over for brunch the day after I made the batch and we couldn’t believe how perfect it was in place of maple syrup). Leave a comment by Monday, August 31st at 11:59 p.m. eastern time to enter.

So, on to the recipe we go.

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Catching Up + Desserts in Jars

half-bushel of kirbies

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve made blackberry jam, three kinds of plum jam, peach butter, nearly three gallons of cucumber pickles, five quarts of canned tomatoes and a double batch of honey-cinnamon granola. Problem is that after all those hours in the kitchen, I’m a little addled. I’m heading to bed early tonight in the hope that I’ll wake up with a clear enough mind tomorrow to get a recipe or two posted.

In the mean time, check out this wonderful example of food in jars. I love the idea of baking cupcakes in jars (I’m only just a little jealous that I didn’t think of it first). It’s almost as good as the pies in jars that Lauren made last year.

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Microplane Winner

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It’s just after midnight and entries for the Microplane Ultra Coarse Grater giveaway are closed. The Randomizer has picked a winner and it’s lucky number 88, Carolyn! Congratulations (I’m sending you an email for mailing info).

For the rest of you who are overwhelmed by zucchini (and other summer squash), make sure to take another peek at the comments section on the giveaway post, there’s a ton of wonderful advice there. I’m also thinking that this Chocolate Zucchini Cake might just be another good way to make use of a zucchini surfeit.

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Preserving Zucchini + Giveaway

shredding zucchini
Had it not been for the destructive maws of the squash vine borer, my fridge would be bursting with zucchini at the moment. Sadly, all of my squash plants (zucchini and patty pan) succumbed to the evil ministrations of that pesky bug, so my entire summer yield was just a single, 12-inch zucchini. However for those of you who are currently awash in squash, let’s talk a bit about how to preserve that which you can’t possibly eat right now.

This might shock you, but my favorite way to “put up” squash does not include a jar or a trip through a boiling water canner. Nope, when it comes to the summer squashes, I turn to a sturdy grater, zip top bags and my freezer. I roughly grate the zucchini, press out a bit of its liquid and measure it out into two and four cup portions. Packed into bags and labeled, that squash then becomes part of quick breads, soups, pasta sauces and even zucchini fritters all throughout the year.

I’ve always relied on a basic box grater for this type of task, but recently, the nice folks at Microplane got in touch to say that they were making a new Ultra Coarse Grater and did I want to try it out. I said yes, as I’ve been enamored of Microplane products since I first tried their basic rasp about six years ago. They make the best graters and zesters I’ve used.

Almost immediately upon arrival in my kitchen, this new coarse grater became my favorite tool for squash shredding (it also works nicely on potatoes, harder cheeses, carrots and apples). It’s easy to use (a rubber strip keeps it stable on the cutting board), it’s super-sharp and its flat design makes it so much simpler to clean than the box grater. I am in grater love.

Happily, I have one of these Ultra Coarse Graters to give away. Leave a comment by Friday, August 21st at 11:59 pm to enter. I’d love to hear your zucchini recipes and preservation tips if you’ve got ’em!

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Seattle Canning Class Update

multi-colored beans in jars

About a week and a half ago, I mentioned that I’m headed out to Seattle for the Canning Across America weekend on August 29th and 30th. One of the reasons I’m going out there is to teach a canning class at Starry Nights Catering and Events on the 30th. I’ve been really excited about this class, but right now, it looks like it may not happen as there’s only one person signed up for this class.

In order for this class to go forward, I need more people to sign up for this class. I’ve set up an event registration page at Brown Paper Tickets to make it easy for folks to sign up (tickets are now available for purchase online! except that it’s not yet live, feel free to leave a comment if you want to sign up and I’ll follow up with you). I would so love and appreciate it if you could all help me spread the word (many thanks to Shauna who included my class in her preserving post last week). Tell your Seattle-area friends and family to come and spend an afternoon learning about canning with me! All the details are after the jump.

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

tomatillo composite

Just after I graduated from college, but before I moved to Philadelphia, I spent a period of four months working as a personal assistant for a very wealthy woman who lived in Portland’s west hills. I sort of tumbled into the job, in the synchronous way that I typically do (true thing, I rarely look for jobs, for better of for worse, they just appear) and while it wasn’t always a rousing good time, I picked up a slew of useful life lessons. One thing I saw demonstrated again and again was the fact that money is rarely the key factor in a joyful life.

My boss, who lived in a gorgeous home, had a doting husband and everything she could possibly want (in the material sense) spent her days in misery. When she wasn’t actively unhappy herself, she was doing everything she could to stir up dramas among her friends and spread a sense of unease and insecurity in others. In stark contrast was her maid. Teresa was working for her on a tourist visa from Mexico and spend her days scrubbing that 7,000 square foot house from top to bottom (about every third day, she came to the end and then turned around to start the process again) and cooking food for my boss and her husband. In the evenings, she sat alone in her room, watching TV and working on needlepoint.

And yet, she was never anything but completely cheerful. We spent a lot of time together during the four months I was there. She didn’t speak any English and all I had to offer was my high school Spanish. And yet, we became friends. She taught me how to find my way around the house, a handful of new words and how to be happy no matter what the situation. And she taught me how to make this tomatillo salsa.

Sometimes she blanched the tomatillos and sometimes she roasted them. I liked the roasted salsa better. We’d eat it quesadillas, with a bit of shredded chicken and pepper jack cheese. So delicious. She never used exact proportions for the salsa, instead she just cooked by feel and adjusted the seasonings at the end to make sure everything was balanced.

With tomatillos showing up in abundance at my local farmers markets lately, I thought this might be a good recipe (and story) to share. I also thought we could all use a break from the boiling water canner (I know I need a short rest from chopping, picking and jamming).

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