Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The recipe for these cookies came from Betty Crocker's 1970's Sphere Magazine via my sister.  They're a Christmas favorite, but are suitable any time you need a really festive cookie


3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, vanilla and milk and mix well.  Add flour mixed with baking powder and mix well.  You can also just dump all the wet ingredients in a mixer and let her rip.  Very forgiving recipe.  Add the flour in two or three batches.

Form the soft dough into round 3/4 inch balls, and place on an ungreased baking sheet 1 inch apart (they don't spread a lot in the oven).  Each ball will flatten slightly and form one half of each peach.  Bake on the center oven rack until they cookies are slightly brown on the bottom, 15-20 minutes.

Remove to a wire cookie rack to cool.  While still slightly warm and soft insert the tip of a knife into the bottom of the cookie, and rotate the cookie to remove some of the interior, reserving the crumbs.  If you wait until the cookies are completely cool it's more difficult to do this and the cookies are more likely to crack.


1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces, melted
2/3 cups apricot jam 
1/3 cup chopped filberts, walnuts, or pecans
2 teaspoons rum or sherry
1 and 1/2 cup of the reserved crumbs

Melt the chocolate and mix all the filling ingredients together.  I used blackberry jam and a little raspberry flavoring today instead of the apricot jam, as the cookies themselves are rather bland.  I typically use apricot brandy instead of rum or sherry.  Match up the cookies so they are in pairs that fit together well. Fill the hollows in the cookies to just about level, and put two cookies together to form the peaches. The filling needs to protrude just enough so the filling in one cookie will adhere to the filling in the other cookie.


Measure 1/3 cup sugar into a shallow ovenproof dish and add a few drops of red food coloring.  Rub color through the sugar with the back of a spoon until the coloring is even.  You are looking for the color of the blush on a peach.

Measure 2/3 cup sugar and add first a couple of drops of red food coloring and then enough yellow to give you a pleasing peach color.

Dry out the sugars in the oven, or, preferably, make the sugar a day before you make the peaches and let them air dry.


Brush each peach very lightly with water, and roll part of one side in the red blush.  Roll the whole peach in the peach sugar, or sprinkle the sugar on.  Insert the stems and leaves if you haven't already done so.


Remove shards of cinnamon stick from a roll of cinnamonThey need to be about 1 1/2 inches long.
With green gum drops, or spearmint leaves, or green fruit slices, cut leaf shapes and roll them in sugar on the cut surfaces.  Make a small slit in one end of the leaf with a toothpick - just to make it easier to insert the cinnamon stick.  Insert the shard of cinnamon into the crack between the filled peaches.  I like to have these ready to insert before the filling has hardened, as sometimes the stick will force the halves to separate.  But the sugars really need to be put on the peaches after the filling has hardened, so you can handle them without their falling apart.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The difference in taste between homemade and commercial apple jelly is more pronounced than in any other preserves I can think of.  You can choose the apples and therefore the flavor.  You don't need any specialized equipment, though you'll see that I use a foley food mill to get rid of the skins, so I can use the pulp that's left over for making apple butter.

I made this jelly from empires, and I haven't seen such a red jelly from apples other than crabapples.  The taste is wonderful but lacks a little character, and I think I'll mix northern spies into my next batch.  I usually make jelly from cortlands, (which give a beautiful golden jelly), but I didn't get to it before they had all been used up.  I got these apples from the farm stand a week ago, but I'm confident you can make jelly from store bought apples.

Many jam and jelly recipes will tell you to mix in some underripe fruit, but apples have so much pectin you don't need to do that.


3 pounds of apples, washed, quartered and cored, but not peeled
3-4 cups of water (see note)
3/4 cup sugar for every cup of extracted juice.

How's that for a list of ingredients?  Cut the apples into one inch pieces, and add water.  You've apparently got some latitude here.  Many books will say 1 cup of water for every pound of apples.  Some say to just cover the apples with water.  The old Fannie Farmer cookbook says to use 4 cups of water for 3 pounds of apples, and that might be the best advice.  I used about 3 1/2 cups of water.  Because you're going to cook the apples there will be some evaporation.  It's not as exact a science as it seems like it ought to be, and it's a pretty forgiving process.

Bring the apples to a boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes.  You want the skins to have pulled away from the pulp, and the pulp to mash up easily with a spoon.  Let cool somewhat.  Put the cooked apples through a foley food mill if you want to make apple butter from the leftovers, but all you really need to do is mash the apples against the sides of the pan with a spoon (you could try pushing the pulp through a colander if you want to use if for apple butter). The picture below is of all the skins that are left over from 3 pounds of apples.

Make a way for the juice to separate from the pulp.  The simplest thing to do is to line a colander or nonreactive sieve with wet cheesecloth (or washed cotton flannel or a washed white cotton tee-shirt- no fabric softener!!).  Cheesecloth needs to be in 3-4 layers if you want crystal clear jelly.  One layer of the flannel or cotton tee will be enough.  You can also buy a nylon jelly bag, not that's not necessary.  Pour the pulp into the colander and let it drip into the bowl for a few hours or overnight, until it's not dripping very often.  DO NOT press on the pulp to get more juice out if you want a nice clear jelly.

You should have collected 3-4 cups of juice.  Measure into a nonreactive saucepan - at least 2 quarts in size and preferably bigger.  Add 3/4 cups of granulated sugar for every cup of juice.  Heat on medium high until it starts to boil, and then pay very close attention to it, both because you want to catch the jelly point, and also because as it nears the right temperature it will boil up and double in size, and maybe boil over and make a real sugary mess (not that I've ever done that). Be prepared to pick up the pan if the jelly climbs too high up the sides. This is why you need a big pan.

If you've got a candy thermometer then do use it.  Attach it to the side of the pan, and watch as it approaches 220, which is theoretically the jelly point.  But you also need to do the "jelly test," which involves swirling some juice in the spoon until it cools for a few seconds, holding it up and watching as the juice drips off the spoon.  At first it will drip in single drops.  As you approach the jelly point it will come off in two drops (isn't that weird?).  Then very soon it will come off in a little sheet that will break away from the spoon.  Take it off the heat immediately.  I decided this jelly was ready to come off the heat at about 216 because of the way it was starting to sheet from the spoon.  It is very tender jelly and took a full 24 hours to jell.  It would have jelled sooner if I'd let it cook to 220, but wouldn't have been as tender.  What this means is that you don't really need a thermometer - you can just use the jelly test.

As soon as you take it off the heat skim the foam that has collected on the surface. You can skim while you're cooking if you want, but there will be some at the end, too (the skimmings are edible - in fact my favorite).  If you don't skim it the foam will mix in with the jelly and look really odd, suspended in spots all through the jelly.  Of course if that appeals to you...

You should have already washed jars.  It's a good idea to sterilize them (run through the dish washer or fill with water in a pan and bring to a boil), and it's a good idea to process the jars of jelly if you want to keep them at room temperature, but I'm not giving directions for that because it's more complicated and making the jelly is really simple.  Pouring the very hot jelly from a clean cup into the jars and putting in the fridge will keep the jelly as long as opened jelly will keep.  If you're using canning jars you can cover with a new lid, screw the band on tight, invert the jar briefly so the hot jelly will kill any bacteria or mold on the lid, and the lid will seal and probably give you a little longer life.  Still a good idea to keep in the fridge.  Chances are the jelly is going to disappear long before you have to worry about it.

This batch made 3 1/2 cups of jelly and should have made a little more than that.  Probably could have used a little more water in the apples originally.  No problem.

If you've put the pulp through a food mill or a colander and the pulp looks good, you can turn it into apple butter. I like my apple butter to taste of apples, so I just add sugar to taste and a dash of cinnamon (1/4 tsp for this batch) and bring it up to as hot as I can before it starts to explosively bubble (190-200 or so), put in jars and refrigerate.  The apple butter is relying on the thickness of the pulp as well as the residual pectin to give you a pleasing spread.  But you're not counting on the science of the jellying point, so you can vary your recipe, add more spices, add vinegar, cook it for a long time until it's dark and deep in flavor.  You can also use noncaloric sweeteners instead of sugar, which is not something you can do with the jelly, where you're relying on the interaction of the sugar, acid, and pectin, to create a jell.  With apple butter the flavor and the thickness are all up to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


But just barely.  I'm posting a picture now because the Weekend Cook and Tell challenge at Serious Eats ends today, and I said that I was going to start lettuce to chase the winter veggie blues.  I'd hoped they would be up by Monday, showing their two little cotyledons by today, but perhaps the 3 year old seed is pushing its limit.  Sometimes as seed gets older it is technically viable, but may germinate more slowly and give plants that aren't as vigorous.

What you see is the little upside down u of the emerging stem, with the seed coat still partly submerged in the soil (looks like they could have been buried a little deeper).  The soil will catch and hold the seed coat, allowing the green first leaves (cotyledons) to unfurl.  Pictures of that when it happens.

The top picture shows how close I actually have the pot to the underside of the light (about 2 inches).  The black panel is the exterior of the fixture's hood. The cool flourescents give some heat, so it's just as well the pot is in a cool room. There is greater intensity to the bulb toward the center, so that's where I have my little lettuce seedlings.

I'll show weekly pictures of this lettuce as it develops.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Whether to choose hybrid or heirloom seeds is one of several choices to make when buying seeds.

Hybrids are created by crossing two varieties, sometimes by hand,  manually placing the pollen from one variety onto the stigma of another variety. This is very labor intensive, so hybrid seeds are more expensive than non-hybrids. They are often worth the added price because they are more vigorous, more productive, and often more resistant to diseases.  There wouldn't be any reason to go to all this trouble if there weren't an advantage. The seeds from hybrids won't reliably produce the same plant again, so you need new seeds each time you want to grow the hybrid. 

For commercial growers one of the advantages of hybrids - in tomatoes, for example - can be increased resistance to bruising.  Good for shipping long distances and enduring squeezing in the produce aisle. Not necessarily a great trait in the home garden, where a tender juicy tomato is prized.  For other vegetables hybrids may produce a heavy crop all at once - so the beans, let's say, can be picked in one mechanical pass and then torn up and the ground replanted with something else.  Saves a lot of labor at harvest.  This might be an advantage if you freeze or can and want a lot of one vegetable at one time.  Most of us would like an extended harvest so we have beans over a long time with one planting.

Heirloom is the current (fashionable) name given to open-pollinated varieties, also sometimes called "standard" varieties  These produce the same variety each year from saved seed. These means you can save the seed yourself and save that expense.  Most of us value taste over all other traits in our home garden, and heirlooms usually (but not always) have great flavor, which is why someone has bothered to save the seed for so many years.  They often aren't as productive as hybrids.  Brandywine, for example is a tomato with a reputation for outstanding flavor, but when I grew them I was disappointed by how few tomatoes I got.  So breeders have tried to create hybrids that taste nearly as good but are more productive.  Burpee's version is Brandy Boy, which I've grown several times.  For a long time I thought Rose was Johnny's hybrid version of a Brandywine, but then I noticed they say it's an heirloom (but they don't list it with the heirlooms. hmm).  It tastes like a brandywine and has hybrid vigor.  Perhaps they aren't eager to point out you can save your own seed.  Lots of people say they miss that "old time tomato flavor."  They might very well miss Rutgers, a standard (heirloom) variety bred at Rutgers University, that at one time accounted for 75% of tomato production in this country.  The seeds are still available and very inexpensive, and I often grow Rutgers.

There's no precise definition of an "heirloom," but it's often reserved for varieties that have stood the test of time and been around for 50 years or more.  It's a romantic term that is to some extent marketing language.  But new open-pollinated varieties are being created too, by cross-pollinating either intentionally or just letting nature take its course and then growing the results for several genertions and seeing what the consistent results are (whereas an F1hybrid is the first generation of a cross). One year some tomatoes sprouted in my garden in the spring and I didn't pull them up.  I got a very short plant with tomatoes that sure tasted like sun golds.  I ended up pulling up the plants, which was really stupid, because a patio sun gold tomato would be a really great thing.  Not having been produced by hybridization, the seed might have come true in succeeding years.

Most tomato plants for sale are hybrid, while many pepper plants are standards, and that's okay.  When you're buying seeds look for words like: vigorous, extended harvest, early, productive, great flavor, disease resistent, and match them to your needs in your garden.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I said a couple of posts ago that I'd probably wait until January 1st to start my winter lettuce seeds, but over at Serious Eats the weekend Cook and Tell challenge is to tell "how you are coping with your Winter Vegetable Blues."

I'm hoping to cope by growing lettuce for the next couple of months until I need the lights for tomatoes and peppers. So I started some seeds this evening.  Planted rather liberally in a 4 inch nursery pot, in potting soil.  Just barely covered and watered a little.  I'm hoping they'll be up by Monday.  I'm starting them in the kitchen because the room I would usually grow them in is about 50 degrees, and although the lettuce wouldn't mind the cold I would.  They will probably start a little faster in the kitchen.

The picture above (from the summer garden) is probably the lettuce mix (in fact, probably from the same seed packet) that I'm starting: Johnny's Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix. It's a 2007 seed packet, but the "usual" seed life for lettuce is 3 years.  The Territorial Seed catalog has great cultural information, and the usual seed life is one of the pieces of information they give.  Not on the website though, so you'd need to order the catalog, and that's a good thing to do.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Had a hankering for a toasted cheese sandwich and the only bread in the house was cinnamon raisin from La Panciata in Norwich.  So I figured I'd go ahead - how bad could it be?  I made it with mild Cabot cheddar [ sharp, actually, which is milder than some of the other cheddars. the one in the green box  Forgotten how good this is]. Best toasted cheese sandwich I've had in a long, long, time, and cinnamon raisin with cheddar will be my Go To cheese sandwich for quite a while.  So much fun to make a discovery this way.  The little dark spots on top are the raisins.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I've been thinking about starting cutting lettuce for the winter under lights.  Will probably start Outredgeous, a favorite red romaine, and maybe just a lettuce mix.  At this point it might be January 1 before I start.  The lettuce in the picture (currently in the header) is Summertime, an iceberg that grows very well here in the North.  This is a true iceberg (crisp head), but it is so superior to what you'll find in the stores, because the wrapper leaves have color and substance.  Although it heads up, I usually pick the outer leaves like a leaf lettuce until it becomes clear that it's going to head up.  The red might be Outredgeous.  I started these sometime in March, as I recall.  The great thing about starting lettuce to transplant to the garden is that they can spend nearly half their life in a pot before they get transplanted.  And although I germinated them inside they spent most of the first few weeks outside, at least during the day.  Sometimes the back shelf in the car serves as a greenhouse during the coldest days. Even if you only have space for a few old one gallon nursery pots lettuce makes a lot of sense to grow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I ended the gardening season promising myself I was going to cut down on the number of tomato varieties.  This is what I usually do, and sometimes I've succeeded.  I used to plant about 25 varieties, and was down to about 12 this year, but then the catalogs came.  I'm a sucker for new varieties, even though I've discovered over the years that when a new vegetable is introduced the descriptions of its flavor, size, vigor, disease resistance are all a little more optimistic than - over time - the plants can live up to. There's a reason the old vegetable varieties are still around.  They taste good and generally yield well and tolerate less than ideal conditions. Nonetheless, I try out some new ones every year and I probably always will.  Hope springs eternal in a gardener's breast, or she probably wouldn't be gardening.

 If I had succeeded in paring down for next year I would have grown just 5 varieties: 
Sun Gold cherry tomatoes
Big Boy
Lemon Boy
Orange Jubilee
Big Mama

If I had to choose one it would be, strangely enough, the sun golds (pictured above).  From mid-July to mid-October hardly a day goes by that I don't walk by the plants and eat a few of the fruity little jewels.  After trying lots of varieties of red tomatoes I've settled back in to Big Boys as the bulk of my reds.  The aroma as well as the flavor really mean tomatoes to me, as we mostly grew Big Boys through my childhood.  The Lemon Boys have a nice mild flavor even when Septoria Leaf Spot has stripped most of the leaves from the plants.  They keep very well on and off the vine, and are tasty over a long period of time, unlike lots of tomatoes that have to be picked and eaten at the peak of ripeness.  This is also somewhat true for the Orange Jubilee, an underused orange that I have a hard time finding now (totally tomatoes calls it golden jubilee - I hope!)  I like to make an orange tomato/orange marmalade, and these are the ideal tomatoes for that.  Big Mamas are very large paste tomatoes that ripen all the way through and stay on the vine well, which is not as true of San Marzanos, which really set the standard for flavor for paste tomatoes.

The other tomato varieties I grew this last summer were:
Golden Mama (yellow paste. insipid tomato, but very productive and they resisted the blight)
Big Beef
Supersonic (good flavor, about the size of a Big Boy)
Rutgers (at one time 75% of tomatoes in this country were Rutgers, and if you miss that old time tomato flavor this is the tomato for you.  Not a hybrid and not as disease resistant as some.
Costoluto Genovese - a neighboring gardener grew them and gave me some plants.  They succumbed to the blight, so I only got a couple, but the flavor was very good
San Marzano
Brandy Boy - Burpee's hybrid version of a Brandywine.  Outstanding tomato, but last year they didn't ripen well for me.  Johnny's version or a hybrid Brandywine is called Rose, and I may go back to them.
New Girl - Johnny's seeds.  An early girl but much better flavor than Early Girl.


It used to be that the first seed catalog for the new year arrived the week of January 1st -  something to look forward to, to bless the new year.  Then they arrived just after Christmas.  Now I've gotten my first seed catalogs a few days before Thanksgiving, and a friend got her first one a couple of weeks ago (from High Mowing seeds)Johnny's seeds have been sending me emails with news of the new seed crop for a month or more.

The catalogs that come earliest seem to be the ones from small companies, eager to get a jump on the big guys.  I like to support these suppliers of unusual seeds.  The number of varieties available to us seems to diminish each year, and the number of breeders - especially breeders who are intentionally creating varieties for the home garden - shrinks each year too.  Home gardeners generally want vegetable varieties that spread the harvest over several weeks, while commercial operations are happy to harvest all at once, so they only have to make one pass with equipment or pickers.  This makes it important for us to continue to have breeders willing to meet our needs, and I look for that in each catalog.

The first catalog this year was an old favorite, Pinetree Gardens in Maine.  My very favorite tomato ever came from them - Yellow Bell.  They have discontinued it and I haven't found it anywhere else .  Over the years I've discovered varieties here that only later appeared in other catalogs (such as Kellogg's Breakfast, a large orange tomato).  They also have a section called "around the world," where they separate out Asian, Italian, etc. varieties.  Great selection of books, too. 

This week I got a catalog from Vermont Bean Seed (with a Wisconsin address now) with colored pictures.  For many years their catalogs were pretty modest.  They've got a few things I think I'll be getting.

I also got Totally Tomatoes, largely a tomato and pepper catalog, and with all these varieties it's very hard to resists trying some that are new to me.  More catalogs will follow in the next few weeks.  Most of my order goes to Johnny's seeds, but I order from these other catalogs too, and Territorial as well.  Otherwise, I get some Burpee's seeds 50% off in the local stores (their seeds have gotten too expensive to order).   I'll also pick up a few other seeds locally from a few other.  For the time being I'll look through the catalogs or peruse the web sites.

Two catalogs are well worth ordering paper copies of, because of the wealth of infomation about growing each kind of veggie (called cultural information):  Johnny's seeds and Territorial seeds.  You can order catalogs from the web site, or call.