Hot Pepper Jelly

I’m just as busy as a bee today! My last post mentioned that I was going to start looking for ways to preserve the myriad of peppers that have been harvested so far and will be coming in rapidly in the future. It turns out that many of my reliable sources recommend merely freezing the cut up peppers rather than going thru the blanching process with them first. This was encouraging news since I have trays of large, California Wonder Peppers that look like this. IMG_4721

They say that peppers keep in one’s refrigerator for about a week after harvest before starting to deteriorate. That says something about the peppers one buys at the grocery, doesn’t it! So, I’ll process my peppers for freezing so that they get the best use in the coming winter months, (and I’m sure you will be reading about that in the future) but in the meantime, I was struck by one of the labels of my many Heinz cider vinegar bottles which read, ‘Pepper Perfect’. IMG_4731

The partner bottle of white vinegar read, ‘Pickle Perfect’,

IMG_4732So I guess someone has a seasonal marketing goal at the Heinz Company since an older version of this same vinegar is advertising ‘Easter Egg Dyeing’ and the role that vinegar plays in that process!

Nonetheless, the label for Pepper Perfect Vinegar caught my eye and I spotted a recipe on the back side of the label for Hot Pepper Jelly. The recipe called for green peppers and jalapenos combined with other sweet and sour ingredients in order to make a type of jelly. I’ve eaten this jelly on top of cream cheese on a cracker and it is pretty tasty, but I’ve never made the jelly until today. My mother agreed that she likes this pepper jelly served as an appetizer so what better endorsement than one from your mother? I confirmed that the Heinz recipe is similar to others one can easily find so I decided to follow the instructions from the cleverly marketed Heinz people.

So, here goes. Diced green peppers with Jalapenos……IMG_4723

Add vinegar, Sure Gel and cook until it boils and this is the result.IMG_4725

Then add some sugar and honey. This honey came from my Uncle Bill who lives in South Carolina. He gave it to my mom and she has shared it with me here. I’m sure he will be glad that it has found a good use!IMG_4727

Boil the heck out of it as directedIMG_4726

and you get a mess on the stove top!IMG_4728 Sorry in advance, Joyce!

But here are the results after processing the little jars!

IMG_4729I resisted the suggestion of adding food coloring, (either green or red) to the jars since I’m a natural kind of gal. If I weren’t, I guess I wouldn’t have grey hair and wrinkles to show for all my years of experiences!

Harvest Notes for July 27

What a gorgeous day to be out harvesting. The conditions could not have been nicer…bright blue skies, white puffy clouds, no humidity, with the high temperature in the mid 70s. There was a slight breeze and I could hear the birds chattering away as well as the not so distant sound of a small, twin engine airplane tooling around for fun.

I took Farley out to the fields with me this afternoon and he immediately started to investigate far and wide. I think the neighbors must get tired of me calling for him to get back to me but he loves to wander and investigate so I’m always trying to locate the little dickens before an owl or hawk locates HIM!.  He did not find any scat or deteriorating animal remains to roll in today – despite a determined effort on his part. Thankfully, this meant he will not have to be bathed in the laundry room sink which is often the case after one of his thorough snooping expeditions. IMG_3200

I picked all sorts of goodies: various tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, squash, scallions and cucumbers. It was daring to be out at this time of day since the Cicada Wasps are still very active and were buzzing around me the whole time. Dave tries to wait until later in the day when they seem to settle down, but I was on a mission and brazenly advanced my objective despite their presence. The only area that spooked me was the eggplant patch where it seemed they were a bit too active for my nerve so I did not venture over there despite sagging branches laden with fruit. Here is a pic of today’s harvest which totalled 6 pounds 10.25oz. Although Dave is the keeper of the Excel Harvest Weight File, I think what I contributed yesterday and today will raise the total for the year to over 324 pounds of produce so far. Had I done any potato or eggplant harvesting, today, this number would have likely been closer to 335 or 340 pounds.

IMG_4720Unfortunately, I also came away with a tomato picking rash which is mostly on my arms – but it was worth it to get all these goodies. My next order of business is to investigate some options for preserving the peppers. We have heavy load of California Wonders as well as spicy Nacho Muchos. I’m really waiting for more of the Garden Salsas to redden in order to make more of my Sriracha sauce which was very popular last year!

Trading Places…Dave Plays Hooky While Nancy Takes the Reins

Last week, while I was out of town, Dave fended for himself and kept the farm running in my absence. This wasn’t too much of a challenge for him since he does so much of the heavy work here anyway. But yesterday he took off for Maryland to attend his cousin’s wedding which puts me in charge of the farm. I’m sure he was a little nervous about handing over all the responsibilities to me, but as luck would have it, a light rain started to fall just as I returned from dropping him at the airport. Although the rain lasted several hours, the volume was fairly insignificant so I’ll be back to watering chores this weekend. The cooler weather we enjoyed for most of last week got even cooler over night and it feels like fall! Isn’t it ironic that our high temperatures this year (today is predicted to be high of 77) are lower than the low temps from last year!?! They are talking about a record low for tonight. Again, some of our plants will enjoy the cool and others will just sit and wait for the heat to return.

After the rain ended yesterday I went out to harvest more cukes. Here is what the patch looked like after the nice rain.

IMG_4691I found many nice bees working to keep up with all of the pollinating.

IMG_4692As well as an over load of Cicada Killer Wasps. I wonder if they do any pollinating as well.

IMG_4705I brought in 5 pounds 6 3/4oz of cucumbers. I added these to a refrigerator full of cukes from the last couple of days and weighed them all in order to devise a plan for pickle making today.  There were more than 22 pounds waiting to be processed!

IMG_4710So, I got to work early this morning and made two more batches of sweet pickles using 10 pounds of produce that produced 12 more pints.

IMG_4712So far this year I’ve made 45 pints of pickles…all in the last two or so weeks and the season has barely started. Here is what my pantry pickle shelves look like after this morning’s processing. Remember, all but the bottom shelf in this photo has jars that are two deep.

IMG_4714While I was harvesting last night I found that the melons have set on and are growing cute, hairy, little fruits.

IMG_4702Here is a pic of that patch. IMG_4701

I see that I will have plenty of tomatoes to harvest this weekend to add to the bounty that is already waiting for consumption. IMG_4709

This is one of the ways that we prepare a summer dinner. I slice up a green and a yellow squash, an eggplant, some green peppers, onion and whole cherry tomatoes and drizzle this mixture with really nice olive oil, a grind of sea salt and fresh black pepper. I often will add a chicken breast or two to the center of the pile and recently have added one hot pepper, sliced, for some zing.

IMG_4686I pop this into a hot oven for 45 minutes or so, checking on it and giving it a stir a couple of times, add some balsamic vinegar towards the end and and add our fresh basil leaves when it is done. It comes out looking like this.

IMG_4687Nothing could be easier or more healthy than this. Sometimes we serve this on a starch, like rice or pasta but it is also easy to slice the roasted chicken and wrap it all up in a flour tortilla….healthy and tasty!

That said, we are experimenting with a new device this year. We did some research and purchased a special kind of juicer. This juicer is considered a slow, or cold juicer since it does the work of juicing at a slower pace and therefore keeping the heat of a faster motor away from the product. Here is the one we bought when there was a 20% off sale and free shipping.

IMG_4715Look for more posts about our experiences in the world of juicing! In the meantime, I’m off to pick blueberries which are nearly at the end of their production. Next up, I will try to figure out how to best preserve some of the other abundances that are in our prep refrigerators. I think I’m going to attempt to do something with the green peppers this afternoon, but I must harvest first.IMG_4689

Waiting for Rain, More Pickle Making and the First Peach Picking!

We have switched gears here. After endless rain in the spring and early summer, we are now anxious for some good ole rain. We had a 30% chance yesterday and got an unmeasurable sprinkle in the morning and then nothing for the rest of the day. The weather folks were predicting rain for today but we’ve had cloudy skies and some thunder – enough to make Farley anxious – and nothing but a random drop or two. I think our chances are slim for getting any precipitation after tonight and they are not predicting any additional chances for it until next weekend. Oh boy, back to watering, watering, watering!

I may start to sound like a broken record very soon, but I’m determined to keep up with the harvest that comes in the door these days. I figure if I can nibble away each day with a batch of preservation (freezing or canning for now, but I’m reading up on drying as well as vacuum packing too!) then we will appreciate the usage during the winter.

So, I had lots of cucumbers staring me in the face this morning despite the fact that I used 8 pounds in pickles just yesterday! This morning I dug out the recipe we really enjoyed from last year’s sweet pickling. This recipe called for 4 quarts of pickling cucumbers so I weighed up 5 pounds and sliced them and then measured them in a 2 quart container (X 2)  in order to try to get a handle on how many pounds would equal that which was called for in the recipe. It seemed that 5 lbs was just right for a 4 quart measurement. This recipe also called for sliced onions and green peppers the last of which also came from our fields. (We have onions, but not enough volume to add to this recipe or else we wouldn’t have enough for salads, etc.)

This recipe used a cold brining process where one is instructed to add pickling salt and crushed ice to the freshly sliced fruits and let sit for 3 hours to brine, which I did. This reminds me of making ice cream, where the process of adding salt to the ice makes the outcome even colder and that was what was happening to my marinating pickles today.

IMG_4662While they sat for 3 hours, I did some knitting. More on that later. Here are the slices in the salt and ice. I also read up on things that can go wrong with ones pickles in a way that makes them still edible but not so pretty. It is good to know these things. Heads up for darkened pickles which means you have too much iron in your water. Also, shriveled pickles mean that you’ve plunged your cucumbers into a solution of salt, vinegar or sugar that is too strong for them to absorb in one session. This was interesting to note since I was using a two stage process of brining today…the first 3 hours in salt and ice before the sugar and vinegar part which came later. Thank goodness for the internet!


After they sat in the brine, I drained them and added them to a large pot on the stove that contained a hot mixture of the typical sweet pickle ingredients: sugar, cider vinegar, turmeric, mustard seed, and celery seed. The turmeric gives the pickles that wonderful yellow/orange color that we expect to see in a sweet pickle jar; that was one item missing in the sweet pickles I made up yesterday. I brought this mixture to a boil and filled the house with the aroma of PICKLES, which brought Dave out to the kitchen in admiration. If he didn’t love pickles on his daily sandwiches so much, I’m not sure I’d make quite so many jars!

IMG_4664The recipe said it would make 8 pints but I only got 7 from this one. Hmmm, not a problem, but I greedily wish I had one more jar! I popped them into the boiling water bath for 5 minutes and they came out just lovely. The sound of the popping of the lids is just music to my ears and these all popped within moments of coming out of their bath.

IMG_4665So, during the three hour break in the action, I worked on one of my projects from the knitting conference. I had taken a class from a great instructor and we were supposed to produce a Fair Isle, Steeked,  Wristlet during our class as a learning project. I produced one during the class but was not 100% satisfied with it so since we had enough materials to make a ‘pair’, I decided to knit the other one this morning while I waited for the pickles to brine. What is a Wristlet? Well, I guess some people have cold wrists and wear them both for warmth and also for a fashion statement? He is my wristlet before adding the buttons.

IMG_4659I also worked on a couple of other knitted project swatches for my program requirements but did not produce satisfying results on them yet. The final year of the Master Hand Knitting program is challenging and it will be something that I’ll be focusing on during the upcoming winter months when the farm is less demanding.

I was about to publish this post when we went out to the fields to do the day’s harvesting. We found lots of goodies out there but most importantly, we decided to bring in the few peaches that we had in the orchard this year. We had been instructed to reduce the stress on the young orchard trees by eliminating much of their fruit in the first couple of years but it has been pretty tempting to allow a few, select fruit to ripen here and there. So, here was what I brought in this afternoon for the 2013 peach crop.


Of course, while out in the field, I could not help but snap another pic. This was of Dave standing next to one of our European Hornbeam trees that were planted two years ago in the allee as a signature of the property.


We think they have grown leaps and bounds since the initial planting on a very, very, cold, wet day in early March of 2011.  This is what we did that day as far as clearing out the old horse paddocks and planting the new, young trees.  This is what they started out looking like:

Image 11

And this is what we are expecting them to look like in the future:

Image 10

Beauty and Bounty Galore

This is the modest harvest for one summer day at Seven Oaks Farm. It does not include fruits and herbs!

Although it does not approach our record harvest last year of over 100 pounds in a single day, this group of veggies weighed in at 15 pounds and was so shiny and gorgeous that I just had to post it! We are hearing thunder now and with storms predicted, we are hoping for the best in terms of watering and temperature relief!


Pickles, Pickles Pickles!!!

I got home last night from Indianapolis (where I was attending my first TKGA knitting conference) to find that Dave had a refrigerator full of produce (with the exception of the tomato harvest which he had plenty of but also which should never be refrigerated!) that he had harvested while I was away. We have been anticipating that the harvesting would get serious and it finally has started to come in!

Dave was ready to cook up a wonderful dinner for me when I got home but despite being tired from knitting all week (huh, tired from sitting and knitting?), I jumped in and contributed with my end of the cooking chores. Dave grilled some chicken breasts on the Big Green Egg, while I had garden goodies cooking on the stove top…green beans, summer squash, and Yukon Gold potatoes with basil from our herb garden as an accent. Yum!

IMG_4633Although we are finally in the throes of summer – with the typical heat and watering demands – at least there are results which now show up in the amount of produce we are pulling in. For instance, Dave picked over 12 pounds of pickling cucumbers in the three days (among other items) while I was away and I am determined to keep up with the volume and make plenty of pickles this year. I thought I had made an over abundance of them last year but I guess we eat a lot of pickles since we seemed to have plowed thru them!

Last year I made three types of pickles: sweet cucumber, sweet zucchini and kosher dills plus lots of sweet pickle relish which was made using cucumbers. This year we knew to plant the type of cucumbers that are preferred for their pickling qualities so we selected the ‘Burpee Pickler’ for this purpose. They are described as “black-spined, medium green, warted fruits” that mature at 3-4 inches. We also planted the Burpee Supremo Hybrid (which have a similar size for pickling) as well as the Burpee Bush Champion which are larger and would be used more for slicing on salads.

This morning I made two batches of sweet pickles using 4 pounds in each batch. Here is what one, 4 pound batch looked like before slicing.


My only complaint in the processing is that cucumbers have tiny little spines on them that can be embed themselves like a splinter in your hand or fingers if you are not careful. Ugh, I got pricked by one this morning. The cost of doing business with cucumbers, I guess. Here they are all sliced up.


I decided to try a new recipe called ‘Sweet Pickle Chips’ from a book I got for Christmas entitled “Putting Food By”.  This recipe has a very simple and quick brining process on the stove top. I cooked the slices in a brine, which was made up of vinegar, pickling salt, sugar and mustard seeds, until they had turned from bright green to a dull green and drained them.


Then I ‘hot packed’ the sliced pickles into their sterilized pints and then topped with a hot syrup that I had simmering on the stove top.


The syrup was made with sugar, vinegar, whole allspice and celery seed. I then capped the the jars and popped them into a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.


Viola…pickles! I think I cooked the first batch of syrup a little too long but the second batch was just right. I used an entirely different sweet pickle recipe last year and will employ that one tomorrow so I’ll be able to get a good comparison when the eating period begins!


In addition to the fun of making pickles, when I arrived home, the package I had ordered was waiting for me. It may seem crazy, but I now order Coleman’s Dry Mustard in volume which is a great price advantage since I can get 3, one pound containers for not a whole lot more than what it would cost to get 3 four ounce containers that one can buy at the grocery! Since I need to make mustard again, look for that process in the next post! Call me a girl of German heritage when vinegar is a common ingredient in almost everything I make!

BTW, I popped up unexpectedly on the blog of a well known yarn producer recently. Here is the link:


Nancy Plays Hooky from the Farm and Dave has Anniversary Alone

This post should really be one of those that they have in the comics section when the cartoonist is on vacation and the child writes the comic strip for him/her. Those are always pretty cute but they are usually done in a chicken scratch font. This is as close as I can come to that…italics. Also, if that were the case, Dave would be writing this post and it would be carefully edited and constructed with no flourish at the end of each sentence and there would be no quibbling about the exact size or weight of any measurements since it would be scientifically produced in an excel file with a bar chart to compare the statistics of this year vs. last year, etc., etc.,… snore. It would be the most understated and modest of reads that you might just as well go to a scientific magazine to look up the size of Saturn’s moons. 

That is not to say that Dave is not a comedic genius with apt skills at entertaining. But, he would blog or ‘draw’ in a slightly different way than I have done here, which, in the end, makes this truly my blog.

So, I’m playing hooky from the farm – as well as my day job – right now. Although I have not yet mentioned here anything about one of my other passions, most of my dear readers know that I am also crazy about everything in the knitting world. I somehow managed to sneak away to a knitting conference in nearby Indianapolis, Indiana. (Not so nearby as I thought, since I-70 had constant construction between STL and IND, the 4 hour drive took 5.5 hours at a crawl of 45mph! Color me exasperated by the time I arrived at 10pm last night!)

Coincidentally, it was this the very same block of time last year that I was scheduled to go to Germany on a knitting adventure with my friend from Baltimore, Abby Rammelkamp, until that trip went awry. 

Well, it was one year ago today that Dave started having horrible pain and was admitted to the hospital with an acute case of kidney stones. Poor guy, it was not much fun! So I forfeited the knitting trip to Germany and stayed home to help get him well. I think Abby may have forgiven me by now but Dave was glad to have me be here for both him and the farm chores.

He and I have both had this on our minds as I scampered out of town late yesterday afternoon to attend another knitting conference. Although it was not 105 degrees (or whatever the temps were last year at this date) and we are not approaching the single day record harvest last year of over 100 pounds of produce, (thanks to friends Joan and Joyce who helped me bring in that harvest on that very hot day!) Dave was pleased to report that he harvested the first 4 pounds of the pickling cucumbers today and he sent me this pic.

Image 6I’m sitting in a very nice hotel room in Indy at the end of a long day of knitting classes in the hotel conference rooms. I have to say that although I was surrounded by wonderful fellow knitters today (while continuing to explore my Master Hand Knitting program) I couldn’t help but look out the window every so often to see what the weather was doing outside. This was probably the first day I have spent entirely indoors for a very long time! And, one of the first days I have without any pics to show for it. I guess I should have taken some knitting pictures! Since I am here for two more days, perhaps I’ll manage that tomorrow.

Thanks Dave for sending the harvest update!
Shout out to our son, Peter! Happy Birthday! XOXO from MOM!