Canning Tools For The Hot Water Bath Method

Several of my next posts will be about canning and preserving the produce that we are harvesting from our gardens. I think we should start with talking about some of the canning tools that will help you to successfully can and preserve your produce. Just like a carpenter uses certain tools to build with, there are tools that are very helpful when it comes to canning.

Now, first of all, do not get scared and think that you can not do this! It is much easier than you might think. I will be giving you some ideas on what to do in the weeks to come. First, let’s look at what you will need. Most of the canning that I do is using the hot water bath method. So what canning tools do I use?

  1. Large Stockpot. It should hold at least 12 quarts of water and should be tall enough to cover the jars completely while processing your fruits, vegetables, jams and jellies.
  2. Ladle: It allows you to pour the hot mixtures into the canning jars
  3. Jar Funnel: In order to fill the jars without spilling and making a mess and wasting what you have cooked a funnel should be placed in the mouth of the jar
  4. Magnetic Jar Lifter: This is an option but a good one. When you heat your jar lids and rings it allows you to remove them from the hot water without burning your fingers. Tongs work for this, too.
  5. Headspace tool: Sliding this into a filled jar will remove air bubbles and measure your headspace for you.
  6. Jar Wrench: Assists in turning those sometimes sticky and often time stubborn jar lids.
  7. Tongs: Safely lift foods during the canning and cooking process. Coated handles work the best for these.
  8. Jar Lifter: Allows you to lift the hot jars from the boiling water over to the counter for the rest of the canning process.
  9. Glass canning jars, lids and bands: Have a variety of sizes of the glass jars. The lids can only be used once but are replaceable and the bands or rings can be re-used.

Easy Way To Obtain The Necessary Canning Tools

You can purchase these items separately if you want but you can also get a starter set of these canning tools for yourself. This is great if you are just starting to can. You can get sets at your local stores like Tractor Supply, WalMart and other places or you can order one online. Here is a set that is available on Amazon.

canning tools set
Granite Ware Enamel-on-Steel Canning Kit with Blancher
(paid link)

What I like about this set is that it has just about everything in it. There are no tongs but you can pick up a pair of those easily enough. It also has a handy rack that keeps the jars from sitting directly on the hot pan bottom and make it easier to remove several jars at once. You will also need to get a supply of jars, lids and rings but that is good because you will need to decide what size you want anyway. I suggest that for vegetables, salsas and pickles that you get 1 quart jars (paid link). Jellies, jams and preserves should be in pint or half-pint jars. A magic marker is good for marking what the canned product is and the date you canned it on the lids. You can buy labels but you don’t have to. Always mark the date of the canning so that you will know whether the safe time has passed before consuming an older jar from the pantry.

Just in case you do not understand what the hot water bath method is, it is a simple method where you put your cooked food in the jars, place the lids and rings on the jars and submerse them into hot or boiling water. After a given amount of time (it varies per food item) you remove the jars and let the lids seal. You know they are done when you hear a ping or pop.

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Strawberry Jam Recipe To Make In Your Kitchen

Strawberry Jam Recipe To Make In Your Kitchen

I have tried other Strawberry Jam recipes in the past but I always return to the easiest one I have ever made because it really does taste the best. I learned to make this easy strawberry jam way back in my middle school years from a Better Homes and Garden cookbook that I was required to have for Home Economics class. It just goes to show that sometimes it is just better to stay with the simple and tried and true recipes that have been handed down from generations. And if this is going to be your first adventure in canning and making a jam then try the easy recipe first. Once you have the hang of it, you can get a little fancier if you want.

strawberry jam supplies

supplies for making strawberry jam

What you will need to make your Strawberry Jam

Preparing the jam:

Wash your strawberries and remove the stems, slice them lengthwise or quarter the larger ones. Place 4 cups of the berries in a large saucepan and add 1 cup of the sugar. Mix it carefully and let it stand for 15 minutes.

Now add your remaining sugar, mixing it well. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil and boil hard for a full minute. Stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat and stir in the pectin. For 5 minutes alternate from stirring and skimming the foam off. (This prevents fruit from rising to the top or floating.)

Ladle into hot scalded jars and seal at once. There is no need to do the hot water bath because your jars were already hot. Store in the pantry until you are ready to use. Refrigerate any opened jars of jam.

strawberry jam

My latest batch of strawberry jam

About jelly, jam and preserves

Jellies are made from fruit juice with no whole or partial fruits in them. They are smooth and clear. A marmalade is a jelly that has tiny bits of fruits added to it.

Jams are made from the pulp of a fruit or crushed fruit. They will not be as firm as a jelly but will have a nice bit of pulp and texture to them. A conserve is a jam that has two or more types of fruit and nuts or raisins.

Preserves have chunks of fruit in a syrup or jam. They are a thick spread with pieces of the fruit visible in the mixture.

I think if we get technical on this recipe it is more of a preserves than a jam because the cooking process gives some pulp but there are some nice chunks that remain of the berries, too. We love putting it on toast but have also been known to put some on ice cream from time to time. So, you can call it Strawberry jam or Strawberry preserves but I think what you will mostly call it is delicious! Give it a try and come back and let me know if you liked it or not.

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Spinach Salad Recipe Ideas For Your Table

Spinach Salad Recipe Ideas For Your Table

June in Indiana brings us fresh spinach if we planted it and if not we can find some nice fresh leaves at the local farmers markets. I love fresh spinach to eat in salads or to cook with!  A nice spinach salad is often my choice at lunch time. As a kid, I had to eat a lot of spinach because I was anemic and it was a great natural source of iron. My Mom (bless her heart) was not so great with her cooking creativity and usually gave me canned spinach which was pretty awful. As I began to mature and started creating my own meals, I found that fresh spinach was awesome in a salad. I actually prefer it over lettuce most of the time.

So, with that in mind and it being ready to harvest, I thought I would share some ideas for having a spinach salad on your table. The following is one of my new favorite ways to serve it:

Spinach Salad with Mushrooms And Avocado

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 Tbs rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce (paid link)
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 cups sliced button mushrooms
  • 8 cups baby spinach leave
  • 1 cup corn kernels (frozen works best) be sure to thaw them
  • 1 cup avocado (peeled and diced)
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup green onions thinly sliced
  • 3 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Putting it together:

  1. With a whisk mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, chili garlic sauce and oil in a bowl. Add the mushrooms and toss them to coat them with the liquid. Let them marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.  Toss it a few times while it is marinating.
  2. Drain the mushrooms and save the marinade. Toss the spinach, corn, avocado, carrot and onions in a bowl. Now add the marinade and toss it again to coat everything.
  3. Serve the spinach in individual bowls .  Top with extra mushrooms and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.

A Spinach Tip

Place your fresh spinach in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. You should plan to eat it within three days. Fresh spinach is usually kind of gritty so rinse it thoroughly before you use it. Do not rinse it before you place it in the bag, though.

Spinach Salad With Strawberries …. YUM

spinach salad Another thing that is or will be soon ready to harvest in our Indiana Gardens is strawberries. Have you ever had a Spinach salad with strawberries? Oh my goodness it is so good!  The recipe that I like the most right now is the one that Rachael Ray has on the Food Network. Rather than trying to recreate the recipe, I am just giving you the link to their page because I can’t improve on her recipe. I just know that I really like it. The image to the left is her picture of her recipe, too.

Grow your own or buy from the local Farmers Market

June is the beginning of being able to harvest some of our garden plants and I think it is so exciting every single year. There is just something so rewarding from being able to cook with the items that you have grown yourself. Also, we know for sure what was used or not used on those plants and do not have to worry so much about harmful chemicals and agents that someone else might have used. If you do not have a large garden or use containers for your gardening and there are plants that you just couldn’t grow because of limited space, do not fret. Visit those local farmers markets that are usually open on Fridays and Saturdays. They will begin to have produce that has been locally grown and ready for you to take home to enjoy with your family. Never be afraid to ask where the food was grown and if they know whether it was grown organically or not. My rule of thumb is that if they say they don’t know or they hesitate in giving me the information, I can decide to go to the next stall and purchase from someone who is willing to tell me.

So much of what we grow can be used in a salad like the spinach that I have talked about here in this post. Since our harvesting is just beginning you might like to get yourself a good cookbook that has salad recipes in it. I recommend the Super Salads: More Than 250 Super-Easy Recipes for Super Nutrition and Super Flavor. (paid link) It has so many wonderful recipes to try and covers virtually every kind of plant that is grown in a garden.

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Mothers Day Gift Ideas For The Gardening Mom

Mothers Day Gift Ideas For The Gardening Mom

Are you looking for some gift ideas for Mothers Day to give to your Mom who loves to garden? When my girls were little, they would give me little plants that they bought at a fundraiser at their schools. They were some of my most favored gifts. It was fun to see what plant they picked and the love that came with each one just touched my heart so much! They knew how much Mommy loved her flowers and my husband said they really took their time picking out just the right one to give me. Sweet, sweet memories!

mothers day gifts

I am here to tell you that it does not matter whether you have no money for a gift or you can spend $50 or more for her gift, she is going to love whatever you give her. So let’s address the no money, first. You can take some simple paper and crayons or markers and make a card for her. Draw some flowers or plants on it and she will treasure it forever! Another inexpensive gift idea is to give her a packet of seeds that she can plant.

If you have less than $50 to spend, consider a hanging basket that you can find at a local garden store. An even better idea is to let Mom go with you to pick it out. She will love the time spent with you along with the basket!

bird bath

A fun idea for a gift for Mom on Mothers Day is a Birdbath. (paid link) She can place it in her garden and enjoy watching the birds visit her yard and appreciate the plants that she has provided them to dine on and perch on. There are so many styles to choose from so you should be able to find something that you know that your Mom will love to place in her garden. Each time she sees a bird land in the bath, she will think of you. There are birdbaths available for as little as $25 or you can spend more if your budget allows.

If Mom has a smartphone or tablet that she uses regularly, give her a gift card to purchase an app. There are some really cool garden apps available. She might also be able to use the card to purchase an e-book to download, also. Speaking of books, spring is a time that many new books on gardening are published so you could buy her a hard copy of a new book for her to read.

One of the best gifts to give Mom is one of your time. I’m serious! Maybe you do not have much money to spend for a gift this year. So, give Mom some time in her garden for her Mothers Day gift this year. You will be personal assistant by doing some tasks for her. I’m sure that she will have some ideas on how you can help. Be prepared to get your hands a little dirty and help Mom in her garden. She will love the time spent with you and she will really appreciate the help. She will get some chores done but the best gift of all is the memory that you have created of the time you spent together. I am a firm believer that the memories that we create with each other are the best gifts of all.

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Horseradish And Its Benefits

Horseradish And Its Benefits

Horseradish has been found to be a great source to aid in digestive disorders. It gives a nice boost to the immune system by giving the liver more power to filter out substances that might be harmful. It is also low in fat and a good choice to include in your diet when you are trying to loose weight. This spicy little root also has some medicinal uses that you might not know about. So, lets look at why you should think about growing some horseradish in your Indiana garden and include it in your diet. Besides having benefits to our health, it is also just down right tasty when used with vegetables and meats.

Some Facts About This Spicy Root

Horseradish is a perennial plant in the same family as mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbage. The root of the plant is what is commonly used.

It ranks well in nutritional value as it contains potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. The mustard oil in horseradish has antibacterial properties that actually can help in food preservation.

A favorite addition to many recipes around the world and as a condiment on sandwiches, particularly roast beef.

There are some diuretic properties in horseradish and the roots have been used to treat various minor health problems, including urinary tract infections, bronchitis, sinus congestion, ingrowing toenails and coughs. Compounds found in horseradish have been found to kill some bacterial strains. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends using this root when you are trying to lose weight due to it’s low fat and high flavor content.

Why Is It Called Horseradish?

If you are like me, you sometimes wonder why things are named what they are. In the case of our spicy little plant known to us as horseradish it is a little odd. Apparently the Germans called (and still do) this plant meerrettich. When the British discovered this plant they pronounced it “mare radish”. I am only going to assume that once it was brought across the big pond to America our reasoning was that a mare was a horse and somehow we decided we liked it referred to as horseradish. Who knows for sure, I’m just glad it was brought over and introduced to our gardens and our diets!

How do I grow this in my garden?

Actually it is a really easy plant to grow in an Indiana Garden. In fact, you have to be careful because if not watched this plant can take over a spot. Here is a video that tells you how to grow it:

Add horseradish to scrambled eggs, omelets, and hash browns to perk up your breakfast meals. It does not just have to be on a good steak.

horseradish plant
Horseradish Plant

You can actually get a plant now and start to grow it indoors during the winter months and then transplant it outdoors when the temperatures are warm enough for the plant to begin to thrive in a new environment. Just think, fresh horseradish to use now instead of later.

In a later post, I’ll give you some recipes to enjoy using horseradish that you have grown in your garden. How much fun is that?

Horseradish Recipes To Enjoy

Horseradish Recipes To Enjoy

In an earlier post I talked about the horseradish plant and the benefits that this spicy root can have when added to our diets besides it just tastes so darn good. I had promised that I would give you some recipes to use once you have harvested some of the roots. So, here I go giving you some ideas on how to use the root other than buying it in a sauce in the grocery store. (Which by the way there is absolutely nothing wrong with!).

And now without further ado….the recipes.

Apple Horseradish Sauce

Perfect for pork dishes!

Ingredients:

4 Granny Smith apples
2 fluid ounces cider vinegar
2 ounces fresh horseradish, grated
1 teaspoon paprika
1 fluid ounce white wine

Preparation:
Grate the apples and moisten them with vinegar. Add the horseradish and paprika. Thin to the desired consistency with the wine.

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

8 large red potatoes, diced with peel on
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon Horseradish

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Boil potatoes until tender. Drain well. Add butter, cream, and horseradish, then mash well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make Your Own Sauce – It is really easy!

The guy in this video shows us just how to do it!

You can also use horseradish as a topper on vegetables and in salads as a substitute for butter and salt.

There are really many ways to prepare and use horseradish in our meals. For some really great recipes, try this cookbook:

horseradish cookbook
Horseradish Greats: Delicious Recipes, The Top 100 Recipes
(paid link)

I think you will have fun and really enjoy these recipes using the horseradish that you grew in your Indiana garden or purchased in the produce section of your local grocery store. Of course, being a gardener, I prefer growing my own but if space for you is limited there is nothing wrong with buying a root and using it in your recipes.

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Bees And Your Garden Crops

Bees And Your Garden Crops

It is time to continue with my short little series of attracting bees to our gardens whether we grow flowers, edible crops or both.  Today we will cover the edible variety of plants. Maybe you hadn’t thought about fruits and vegetable attracting bees. Many of them do get a little blossom on them that eventually becomes the food we are growing. The flowers can have nectar, pollen or both and some even need to be pollinated by the bee in order to produce.

bees on cherry blossoms

Sun loving plants do the best to attract bees. Areas that get close to 5 to 6 hours are the best. That doesn’t mean that you will never see a bee visit a plant that is in the shade.  They are just more likely to go for those in the sun.

Indiana Corn Postcard
Indiana Corn Postcard by Mamajo3304 at zazzle.com

Agricultural plants for bees in the garden:

  •  Strawberries bloom in May and June giving each bee both pollen and nectar
  • Sweet Corn blooms in June and July providing pollen for the bees
  • Cucumbers (that can be made into pickles) bloom from June through August giving nectar and pollen for a bee to feed on
  • Pumpkins produce blooms from July to the first frost and have both nectar and pollen
  • Melons bloom from June to the first frost and also have nectar and pollen for bees
  • Watermelons give a bee nectar and pollen during June and July
  • Herbs are really great to have and each type provides nectar during the season

We do not cultivate these plants but dandelions and clovers are especially loved by bees. They do not seem to care that us humans consider these plants both invasive and a weed. They like the nectar and pollen that are produced by them.

Pesticides and Insecticides Are Harmful To Bees

When it comes to planting plants in our gardens and taking care of our lawns, we often are encouraged to use pesticides to keep down the growth of weeds and to get rid of unwanted insects. It really is not a good idea. So many cancer causing agents have been linked to the ingredients used in pesticides and insecticides that we should not do it for our own health.  When it comes to bees they are really bad. The product may kill the bees and often times kills plants that they feed on. Look for natural products that can do the job without those nasty ingredients that are on the shelves today.

Our gardens in Indiana can produce luscious foods for us to eat and lovely flowers for us to enjoy while at the same time encouraging bees to survive and thrive in our areas. It is really important to keep a balance in the overall eco systems that are present in our living spaces and bees are an important part of that.

One last thought before I conclude my little series on bees in the garden. Not all bees produce honey but those that do provide a great food source for us to enjoy. Honey is a very healthy choice to have in our diets. Purchasing honey that has been produced locally is the best choice when choosing honey at a grocery store, the farmers market or wherever you make your honey purchases. I have to tell you that the best honey that I have ever tasted (and I buy exclusively now) is made just 5 miles from where I live. Try some local honey, you will not be disappointed!

Indiana Flowers Bees Love

Indiana Flowers Bees Love

coneflower If you have been following this blog, you know that a while back I started talking about Bees In The Garden and introduced you to some trees and shrubs that attract bees which are probably the most welcome of all wildlife visitors to our gardens. I promised to continue with other plants that you can have in your garden that promote the coming of the bees. I will concentrate on the Indiana flowers that bees love since that is what I am most familiar with. Remember the bees help pollinate your pretty flowers, fruit plants and vegetable plants so we want them to buzz around the garden with wanton abandon.

Today we will talk about the Indiana flowers that bees love to land on to get both nectar and pollen. They do need both for a balanced diet, if you remember and not all plants give both. Placing these plants in a sunny spot will work the best because the bees like the warmth of the sun. They do not care much for windy areas so keep that in mind, too. Oh, and another thing to keep in mind. Hybrid plants might be pretty with those blooms that are to die for but bees get no nourishment from them at all. Hybrids are bred to produce awesome blooms and in the process they loose the nectar and pollen that they would have naturally produced if they had been left alone. Now, don’t get me wrong I am not against those lovely plants, they just are not great for getting bees to your garden.

Purple Coneflower Notecard
Purple Coneflower Notecard by knotaway at Zazzle

Indiana Flowers To Plant For Bees:

  • Asters are great looking in a flower garden and produce nectar and pollen for bees from September to frost. They are also native to our area.
  • Black-eyed Susans bloom in June and July and provide nectar for the bees
  • Brown-eyed Susans bloom later in July and August giving more nectar
  • Candytuft shares their blooms in May and provide nectar
  • Cosmos provide pollen in August and September
  • Creeping Phlox looks so lovely in a rock garden during May and June and gives the bees some sweet nectar
  • Grape Hyacinth gives nectar while Hyacinth produces nectar and pollen, both bloom in April
  • Lavender produces nectar from June through September
  • Purple Coneflowers are native to Indiana and produce nectar in July and August
  • Salvia blooms in May and June giving the bees some nectar
  • Sunflowers bloom from June through September and the bees get both nectar and pollen from them
  • Zinnia plants give us color from August through October and the bees get nectar
Black-Eyed Susan and Wagon Wheel Photo Print
Black-Eyed Susan and Wagon Wheel Photo Print by NancyTrippPhotoGifts at zazzle.com

There are other flowers that will grow here in Indiana that also attract those precious bees but I did not include them on the list because they are difficult to find, at least in my local area. That is one of my pet peeves when it comes to shopping for plants or seeds. I’ll see this gorgeous plant in a magazine and I want it but find that it is not available. Well, then don’t temp me with it! I’m saving you the frustration by not even going there.

Another thing to remember is that bees can actually see color. The colors that they seem most attracted to are bright white, yellow and blue. That doesn’t mean they won’t go to a pink or red flower, they just like the other colors better.

In a later post we will talk about garden fruits and vegetables that bees love.