The Best Jumbleberry Jam Evah

Jumbleberry Jam is my absolute favourite.  It is hard to come by and so when I do I stock up and make it last for as long as I can, scraping the very last skerrick out of the jar and even using my fingers to wipe up the last drip from the plate before putting the dirty dishes in the sink.  Why is it so hard to come by?  Because I make it myself, that’s why.  Truly, it is the best. My grandmother taught be how to make jam when I was very little.  I remember her melting wax in a small pot to pour over the top of the finished jarred jam to create an airtight seal for preservation and storage.  I use the 2 piece lids with the wax seal on the outside but otherwise our techniques are pretty much the same.  This is how we do it.

Step 1 – You’ll need to set up a hotwater bath canner, like this one, to process the jarred jam which will seal it and keep in shelf stable for up to (or even longer than) 1 year. image You also need some sterilized glass jars to put the jam in, and 2 piece lids to seal the jars.  I handwash my glass jars well in hot, soapy water before putting them in the boiling-water filled canner to keep hot and sterile while I make the jam. image It is important to put the hot jam quickly in to hot, sterile, jars and then back in to the hot water canner to keep bacteria at bay.  I find it easy to keep every clean, hot and easily accessed by doing it this way.  I remember my grandmother used to keep her clean jars in a low oven to keep them hot while preparing her jam, but she didn’t process them in the water canner the way I do (she used the melted wax to seal the jars, remember?) If you are nervous about using a hot water canner, don’t be.  Here is a link to some more info if you need to do some research before going any further.

Step 2 – Pick, wash, sort and crush your berries.  Any berries you like are fine.  I like to use a variety to make my Jumbleberry Jam normally strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  Today I used strawberries we picked locally from the most fabulous organic farm back in May, some of which I froze in preparation for today’s Jumbleberry Jam making event.  Yes, it is really so good I plan well ahead.

image    image

The blueberries are fresh from the farmers market.  The blackberries are boringly from the supermarket.  It is totally ok to mix and match. You’ll need 5 cups of crushed berries to make 5 large jars of Jumbleberry Jam.  What I do is put the cleaned berries in a large pyrex jar and use a potato masher to crush and measure the berries at the same time (clever, huh?).  Just keep adding different berries until you get to 5 cups of crushed berries. imageStep 3 – Once you get to 5 cups put the crushed berries in a large saucepan over high heat, add a packet of powdered pectin and 1/2 tsp of butter to the pan and start stirring.  Pectin is a naturally occuring substance found in ripe fruits that can be added to jams and jellies to help them set.  You can find it at the supermarket.  There is also a low sugar version you can try but I’ve only ever used the full-monty, regular version.


Not at all certain why this picture is sideways. My apologies.

Step 4 – Bring the berry mix to a rolling boil while stirring all the time.  A full rolling boil is when the bubbles won’t dissipate even when you stir it.

Step 5 – Use the large pyrex jug to measure out 7 cups of sugar.  I use regular white sugar but you can use organic, or even brown sugar if you want.  Understand though that it is a lot of sugar.  A LOT.  That’s the truth about jam and it will shock you and make your teeth itch just to look at it, but 7 cups of processed white sugar is what you use.  Pour the whole amount of sugar in to the pot and keep stirring.


Truthfully, this is a pic from when I made Strawberry Rhubarb jam a few weeks ago. I forgot to take a pic of my cooking Jumbleberry Jam today. Is much the same though – you can see all the sugar going in.

Keep cooking and stirring over high heat and bring the berry and sugar mix back to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute.

Step 6 – Pour cooked jam in to the hot, sterile, jars and put the filled jars back in the hotwater canner to keep hot.  I like to use a pair of rubber tongs to llift the jars in and out of the water, and a funnel to ladel the hot jam in to the jars. image Wipe the rim of the jar with a wet paper towel before fitting the 2 piece lid on.

Step 7 – Once all the jars are filled lower the rack back in to the hotwater canner and bring the water back to a boil.  Process the jars in the boiling water for 5 minutes.  Remove them and let them cool on a wire rack. imageimage

As the jars cool you will hear the lids ‘pop’ as the changes in pressure create the airtight seal.  I’ve never had a jar fail to seal before but the way you test it is by pressing gently in the centre of the lid.  If it pops up and down then the seal did not work and the jam must be kept refrigerated and eaten first. image Step 8 – Voila!  The best homemade Jumbleberry Jam Evah!  Don’t forget to print up some cute labels for your jars.  Believe me, after a few months you will absolutely forget what kind of jam it is that you made and you’ll be glad you did. Homemade jam makes wonderful gifts (I think) for teachers, babysitters and friends who need a boost.  I hope you try it.  Making jam is easy, satisfying and a delicious treat.

Who’s Been Eating My Garden?!

I’m not happy.

I feel like the Three Bears who come home to find their house trashed and their porridge eaten.  ‘Someone’ has been munching on my garden and I’m not happy about it.  Normally I’m quite philosophical about sharing nature’s bounty with all creatures great and small but this time I say enough!

Just yesterday I was admiring my variegated hydrangea, noting its lush, bushy foliage and its obvious verdant health.  And then this morning I woke up to this:


image    image

Carnage and devastation.  All that lush foliage eaten down to sticks and nubbies.  Grrrrr.

And then I found my okra.  The same okra I had been admiring just yesterday for its lush, verdant foliage and cute baby okras it is starting to grow.  Which now looks like this:


More carnage and nubbies.  Grrrr.

My raspberries have fared no better …


… nor my peppers or tomatoes, although I suspect a two legged predator may have ‘harvested’ the later.  Grrrrrr.

And then, to add insult to injury, wanna see what I found in the mulch?


Hoof prints!  Grrrrrr.

Clearly I need better deer defences.

Last year I used these deer repellent stakes with much success and so I put them in again this year.  

This year they are not working.  Grrrrr.

I’m not happy.

How do you keep the deer away?  Short of filling them with lead I’m open to just about anything.

Grrrrr again.

And sigh.

“What is a Food Forest?”, You Ask?

Remember I was telling you about a local guy who takes note of all the publicly available fruiting trees that are in our area and he makes a point to harvest the fruit rather than let it spoil and go to waste?  Such activity is called Urban Foraging and I talked about it here.

So guess what?  I’m not the first one to be amazed by the idea that there is food, real food, literally hanging off trees all around us that we could, you know, eat.  Others have come across this notion too and have totally taken it to the next level.  Check this.

The city of Seattle has devoted 7 acres of land less than 2 miles from the city center to create a ‘Food Forest’.  “What’s a food forest?”, you ask?  I know.  I didn’t know either.  But it is a community partnership which will eventually create a true woodland ecosystem made up entirely of edible trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, nut trees and berry patches and fruit trees, and family vegetable plots from which anyone can harvest anything.  An urban forager’s delight!  What an incredible concept.  They broke ground early summer 2011 and now this is what the Beacon Food Forest looks like:

It is hard to believe that all this food is free for the taking.  Like, anyone can just walk in and pick whatever looks good to take home and eat that night.  Hard to believe, right?  Here is a recent news article that tells the story.  And for the more visually inclined, here is a great video by the founders of the Beacon Food Forest that explains it all.

I follow them on Facebook now and I love to hear all their news.  They hold monthly work parties that really do look like fun that I soooo want to be a part of!  They run summer camps for the kids, hold yoga classes, do seed swaps, provide lots of education on organic gardening and cooking from the food you’ve grown.  And they had rhubarb compote made from their own rhubarb at May’s work party.  Awesome.

All very 360 degrees and very well conceived.  I just love it and will (one day) definitely take a trip out to visit the Beacon Food Forest.

I think this is such an incredible community outreach project.  Wow, folks.  Just. Wow.

Urban Foraging

It’s funny the way some things happen, isn’t it?

I came across a post in my recent cyber travels about a fellow Charlottean, Mike Orell, who is (apparently) wild about the amazing tree canopy that we have here in The Queen City.  In case you didn’t know, Charlotte is known for having one of the finest urban forests in America and it is one of our most recognized and treasured natural resources.

The Charlotte Skyline. See all the trees? Amazing for a city of about 1 million people, right?

I have to admit that I love the trees, too.  One of my favourite things about Charlotte is the abundance of green and the trees are definitely a big part of that.  Sadly, our urban forest is old, fragile and depleted and is at risk of being irrepairably lost if action is not taking to better preserve it.  Fortunately in 2010, our city council recognised the canopy’s importance and launched a bold public/private collaborative, TreesCharlotte, whose task was to assess the condition of the canopy, support and protect the existing trees, and set a goal of planting over 500,000 trees over the coming decades.  It is largely volunteer driven and has been very successful to date.  A truly wonderful community project with a lasting legacy. Trees are important.  Trees are beautiful.  And they increase our land values.

Typical tree lined suburban Charlotte street.  Gorgeous, right?

Typical tree lined suburban Charlotte street. Gorgeous, right?

Anyway, I came across this post, via Trees Charlotte, written by Mike that talks about Urban Foraging.  Have you heard about Urban Foraging?  That is, going out into our public urban environments to find, harvest, and eat fruits (or veges or whatever) that are publicly available, are ripe, and would ordinarily rot on the vine and go to waste if folks weren’t out there collecting them.  What a notion.  Mike talks about the different fruit trees that he’s noticed around his/my areas, when they are fruiting and how often he beats the critters to the bounty 🙂

And then I realised that *I* am an Urban Forager, too.  Well, in that there is this amazingly enormous fig tree along one of my running routes that is simply ladened with fruit in the Autumn, and that I have been known to slow and enjoy a fresh sweet fig or two from its offerings as I pass.  My running buddies think I’m mad.  I’m ok with that.

And then I thought of the people I see walking along the walking paths in Florida carrying the fresh coconuts home that had fallen the night before.  And I realised that *they* are Urban Foragers, too.

Florida coconuts

Florida coconuts

And I remembered the NPR segment I heard months ago about a global (global!) online project called Falling Fruit that crowd sources locations of publicly available fruits and maps them, so you can go and be an Urban Forager in your own piece of the world.  Amazing!

And then my friend, Sarhn at GreenerMe, posted just yesterday about her adventures collecting wild Slippery Jack mushrooms.  Turns out that she’s an Urban Forager, too!  And I remember going ‘mushrooming’ after a rainfall in the Autumn months as a child so I guess I’ve been doing it for a long time, afterall.

It is just all around me right now.  Funny how sometimes things like that happen, right?  All at once?

But what does all that meeaaaannn???  I dunno.  But I like the advice Mike gives: To “pick your head up and start to really see what’s around you”.  Good advice for life, really.

Are there any other Urban Foragers out there?  Perhaps you are an UF and just never knew it (like me)?

Keep Calm and Carrot On

Carrots are in!  I know you’ll all be so relieved to hear it but I finally got them planted yesterday.  As I type this my thoughts go to my gardening buddy Dan from vegetablurb who always seems to be conducting (and enjoying) different gardening experiments as this year my carrots are a bit of an experiment, too.  You see, I am totally living on the wild side and am using … technically … expired seeds (audible gasp!!).

carrot package carrot seeds

I know I know.  They were supposed to have finished being planted in 2013 but who can use so many teeny carrot seeds that come in the one packet?  There must be hundreds and hundreds in there!  I know the traditional planting method is to dig a furrow and then sprinkle all of tiny seeds in with the plan to thin 98% out once they grow but I feel like that is just so wasteful, don’t you?  And I know a packet of seeds costs just pennies but … I’m not certain that is the point.  Waste is waste and we are all supposed to be mindful of minimizing our waste, right?

I use the square foot gardening technique where the advice is to plant 2, maybe 3 seeds per hole with a view to eventually thin to one carrot per hole, so we are still thinning 1/2 to 2/3 out but it is far less wasteful than traditional methods.  And since I have such a small vege patch my carrot patch is also very small which means I always have lots of seeds left over once planting is done.  What to do?

In response I have started cold storing my seeds in the fridge – I blogged about that here – and have had much success. Although each year that goes by I feel like it is really just an extension of the experiment.

Cold stored seeds waiting for next planting season.

Cold stored seeds waiting for next planting season.

Surely there will come a time when germination rates will drop and there will come a point of diminishing returns.  My hopes are that won’t be this year.  I did add an extra seed per hole as insurance – hehehe.

What do you do with your left over seeds?  Throw them out and eat the cost?  Has anyone else tried storing them year over year?  How long will that work?  I’m up to my 3rd year running now.  Hmmmm.

Keep Calm and Carrot On

The Answer’s in the Dirt, People

I love these words- Childhood in the Garden – from Kelly at Little Fall Creek.  They remind me of another recent post Teaching Your Children to Grow Food from a friend, Sarhn at Greener Me that echo the same sentiments.  Both women speak of how gardening, and particularly growing their own food, has connected the generations in their families in such delightful ways they (perhaps) had not expected: from their grandparents, to themselves, and on to their sweet toddlers. That both women have chosen to blog this week about how their gardens sustain and facilitate the intergenerational connections in their lives kinda spoke to me.

Cute kid stuff in the garden

Cute kid stuff in the garden

Gardening is definitely not a ‘cool’ thing to do.  Growing kale never gets the same attention as the latest i-Product release or as many hashtags and retweets as Kimye’s latest escapades.  And yet there is something so very grounding and real about it, something that is definitely lacking in our modern cyber-world.  I can completely relate to the feeling Kelly and Sarhn describe when you see your kids getting involved and learning in the garden as I did by my Grandmother’s side so many years ago.  The connectivity.  The realness.  The *feels* of it all.

I’m starting to think that instead of Lexapro it is gardening that is the ultimate counter-balance to all the stressors of our digital world.  Studies have proven the therapeutic benefits of gardening – see here – and now there is a whole thing about horticultural therapy and how gardening can help cure depression.  All stuff our grandparents innately knew that we seem to have forgotten.

‘Coz let’s face it.  You can’t get more real than planting a seed, watering it, nurturing it, watching it sprout and grow, finally harvesting the fruit and then composting what remains to be returned to the soil for the next cycle.  You have to put time and effort in to get a result.  You have to try again when the bunnies eat all your lettuce seedlings.  You have to take a long term perspective and not get hung up on small stuff.  Definitely none of the instant gratification we are all so accostumed to these days.  All very Circle-of-Life and a poignant reminder about what is real, what is important, what really matters in this crazy world we live in.  Family.  Food.  Love.  Persistence.  Kindness.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow - Audrey Hepburn

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow – Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn said “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.  Sounds corny but I think she’s right and this sentiment touches on what we are trying to get at here.  That our gardens are not just about growing veges.  That  they are bigger than that.  That they somehow feed our souls, nourish our families, and create memories and legacies that will persist long after we are gone.

I wish I had had a garden when my boys were very small.  Now they are bigger they are not quite as entranced by yellow sour grass flowers as they once may have been.  Yet my hope is that digging in the garden will help to instill in them valuable life lessons, lessons about sustainability, stewardship, and love, and that they find the same renewing, restorative, therapeutic benefits that I have found amongst the leaves.  As well as some awesome heirloom tomatoes.

Potato – Potahto

I like to grow potatoes.  Have you ever tried?  I’ve found them to be the easiest, most low-stress, set-it-and-forget-it vege to grow and for that reason alone I will always have potatoes growing in my garden.  Truly, potatoes are da bomb!

The weather this weekend was so gorgeous I was able to get out and plant some stuff.  Onions, garlic, broccoli – and potatoes!  But there is a technique of sorts to planting potatoes that may not be obvious so I’m going to show you.  It is super easy and will produce more potatoes than you would typically get if you just stuck the seed potatoes in the ground.  Here goes.

First, you need a deep pot or container in which to grow your potatoes.  My raised vege garden is only 6″ tall and is nowhere near deep enough for lots of potatoes so I went out bought one of these Smart Pots.

Smart Pot.  Source: Amazon

Smart Pot. Source: Amazon

I’m OK admitting it isn’t the pretties of pretties but I have found it to be affordable, reuseable, perfect for growing my potatoes and easy to add an extra drip irrigation line for easy watering.    The sides and base are porous which allows water to drain well and for the air to get to the roots.  Potatoes like water but don’t like to be soggy so having a well draining pot hooked up to drip irrigation made it all very automatic with no further intervention from me – perfect!

I bought my seed potatoes from my favourite local nursery, Pike Family Nursery in Ballantyne.  I love the people in there.  So helpful and friendly.  And they sell the organic seed potatoes I like.

Organic Russian Banana potatoes - my fav kind

Organic Russian Banana potatoes – my fav kind

I had so much luck last year with this variety.  I planted just 3 of the seed potatoes in the Smart Pot and grew pounds of potatoes.  They were so yummy roasted alongside roast chicken but would have been perfect for potato salad, too.  Kids loved harvesting and eating them.  Win-win-win all around.  So I’m planting them again this year.  This is what the seed potatoes look like.

This is what the seed potatoes look like.  See the shoots coming from the eyes?  I could actually cut this one in half and make two plants if I wanted to - just make sure there are at least 2 eyes per potato piece when you plant.

This is what the seed potatoes look like. See the shoots coming from the eyes? I could actually cut this one in half and make two plants if I wanted to – just make sure there are at least 2 eyes per potato piece when you plant.

Next, take your Smart Pot and fill it about 1/3 full of soil.  Then place your seed potatoes in a circle towards the outside, maybe 2″ in from the edge (you can cut them in half if you want so they go further), then cover them with more soil.  Kinda mound it up a bit, and then water well – but not so it is soggy, although the Smart Pot wil drain away any excess so there is less of that to worry about here.

Planted seed potatoes.  See how the bag is not full?

Planted seed potatoes. See how the bag only has a few inches of soil in the bottom?

Then after a week or two you’ll start to see green shoots appearing through the soil.  Let them grow a bit more, and then cover those new green shoots with more soil, allowing just the top green leaves to poke out of the top.  Then wait another week or so for the shoots to grow some more, then cover those new stems leaving just the top leaves poking out the top … and so on and so on until your pot is finally full.

What you’ll find is that all those shoots you have buried will produce more potatoes, potatoes you would not have grown if you had just put the seed potato in the top of the filled Smart Pot.  Clever, huh?  Late spring your pot will start to look like this.

Potatoes starting to grow, early May 2014

Potatoes starting to grow, early May 2014

By late summer you’ll be able to start harvesting.  You don’t have to dig them all up at once, just take the ones you want to use right now and leave the others alone to keep growing/store underground for a little longer.  They do fine just sitting there waiting for you to do something with them.

Some of our 2014 potato harvest, late August 2014

Some of our 2014 potato harvest, late August 2014

I didn’t bother peeling them to eat as the peels were so thin and tender.  We mainly ate them roasted after tossing in olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook at 400*F for 20-25mins or until golden brown and a little crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Chicken schnitzel dinner made with homegrown potatoes and carrots.  Broccoli was roasted along with the other vege - yum!

Chicken schnitzel dinner made with homegrown potatoes and carrots. Broccoli was roasted along with the other vege – yum!

I’m already looking forward to more potatoes from my garden.  Do you grow potatoes?  Any tips you’d like to pass on?

Ready – Set – Grow! Onions

I planted my onions this week – so excited!  I like to use onion starts instead of sets. Have you tried the starts?  Onion sets look like little onion bulbs and I don’t know why they don’t like to grow in my vege patch.  It is quite the mystery.  The starts are like baby onion plants grown from seed over the winter months and then made to go dormant through refrigeration until I buy them and plant them up.  The starts are definitely harder to come by but I saw some being advertised at one of my fav gardening stores, Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, so off I went to pick some up.

They come in bundles of about 75 little plants and look like this.


Bundle of onions starts

The little onion start itself looks like this:


Baby onion start – so sweet

But I couldn’t really tell what kind of onions they were.  I took a picture of the box thinking it might help…

Details of the farm where the onion starts started - Bragg Farms, Georgia.

Details of the farm where the onion starts started – Bragg Farms, Georgia.

…but when I got home I couldn’t find anything about ‘sweet onions’, so I decided to call the actual farm where the plants grew and find out what they were.  See the name, address and phone number right there on the box?  Bragg Farms, Georgia.

I was kinda nervous though.  I mean, who calls random strangers to ask about the onions they bought retail many states away?  But I needn’t have worried as a lovely lady named Lou answered the phone at Bragg Farms and we had a lovely chat.  Now, Lou is a lady who knows about onions.  She gave me all kinds of information that I am going to pass on here.  Ready?

Firstly, Lou told me they are a variety called “Sweet Harvest”, and then she asked me if I knew how to plant the onions.  Ahhhh, sure…  I think so…  How hard can it be?  But instead of being cheeky I asked her to tell me how she likes to plant her onions.  And you know what?  I’d been doing it wrong all this time which is probably why my onions have been such a failure!  There is actually far more to planting onions than I ever imagined.  What the wha??!!  I know.  Here’s what she said.

If you want onion-onions, like bulb onions that are round and you cut up to saute with carrots and celery, you only plant the starts 1/4″ in the ground.  1/4″ – no more!  They will look like this, all falling over like they should be buried more deeply, I know I know.


They look pathetic but that’s what you do.  In time once they start growing the onion bulbs will push their way to the surface and end up sitting kinda on top of the soil with their roots underground – like this:

Onions ready to harvest Source: SMC Organic Garden

Onions ready to harvest Source: SMC Organic Garden

See how they protrude out of the ground and almost sit on top?  That’s what they are supposed to look like.  The onions will be ready to harvest once most of the leaves have died back and turned brown.

If you want green onions, like spring onions that you use to sprinkle on the top of chicken and sweet corn soup, you plant the same starts 2-3″ in the ground.


See, all the red parts are buried underground?  Same plant, very different planting techniques depending on what you want to grow.

A-HA!  Such a lightbulb moment for me.  No doubt I’d planted last years’ onions far too deeply and I grew lots of beautiful spring onions thinking I was waiting for onion-onions to form.  Lesson learned.

I use the Square Foot Gardening planting technique so I went out and planted 3 squares of onions (16 per square) and 1 square of spring onions (36 per square).  I’ll be very happy if I can get 48 bulb onions and 36 spring onions out of my 4 sq ft of garden space.  Awesome!

Lou also recommended using Miracle Grow on them once a week as onions are heavy feeders and “…you can never over-fertilize onions.”  Now, I’m not a fan of MG and other synthetic fertilizers as I’d rather just use my own homemade compost but, in the interests of full disclosure, I am passing on all of what Lou told me.  And that’s what she said.

Lou also said she was going to mail me more growing information and instructions and that I should call back with any other questions.  AND that she wants to hear how my onions grew in a few months.  So lovely.  So helpful.  So unexpected!  Onion peeps are the best 🙂

Do you grow onions?  Did you know about the different planting techniques for the different kinds of onions?

Waste Not Want Not. Right?

I came across this blog and her ideas about accepting personal responsibility for our food consumption AND WASTE is compelling. I have heard the stat that she quoted before: that 50% of food produced in US ends up as waste (!!). Extraordinary!  And truly shameful.

I know I am guilty of not planning meals out properly and allowing veges to mould in the back of the fridge before I use them. I have over ordered at restaurants, maybe even taken the leftovers home but left them on the counter instead of refrigerating them, thereby allowing them to spoil. My kids pour too much cereal into their bowls and don’t finish it. In my weaker moments I allow them too many afternoon snacks which ruins their appetites for dinner.  My sorry list of wasteful confessions could go on and on.

I think being more mindful and aware of how much we really do waste is a good step in a sustainable direction.  But it takes commitment, right?  Being mindful is one thing but following through with action is what really matters.  And firing up the compost heap! I do feel like the spoiled cucumbers aren’t a complete loss of they go back into the garden at some point … right?

Hmm, this post has got me thinking.  What do you do to minimize food waste at your house?

Small Town Soul, Big City Brain

Ever since I watched Dive! ( a few years ago, I have been ultra-concerned with the amount of food we waste. I learned that about 50% of all the food produced in the U.S. ends up in the dump. When students approach me about writing on GMOs “because they are going to save the world,” I’m the (annoying) teacher who challenges their thinking by forcing them to consider the amount of food we waste as a potential solution to the food crisis. My request is logical: Do not overstate the impact of any one solution on world hunger. I must admit that my ulterior motive is to save myself from reading another paper on the GMO debate, primarily because the issue is a confusing mess from which no one has derived a clear definition that distinguishes genetically modified from hybridized organisms. After all, humans have been hybridizing crops since agriculture began. Only one of my students has addressed how…

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