October 2009 Archives

Concord Grape Juice: How To Make Grape Juice

concord 2

Making grape juice isn't difficult but if you're doing it without a press (as I must) then it does take some time because the straining process is slow.  You can use any grape varieties you like but if you want the classic grape flavor (like Welch's makes) the concord variety is the only grape to use.  They are a deep bluish purple color when they're ripe and the flesh slips out of the skin easily and has two sizable seeds in each one.

This is how you make grape juice but it isn't a recipe with specific amounts.  Use whatever quantity of grapes you have on hand and if you want to know exactly how many jars you'll need to heat in your canner you can measure the amount of juice you have before you reheat it to process it in the jars.  You won't know exactly how much you'll end up with until you've finished straining the pulp out of the liquid.

First step:

Put your grapes in a big enough pot that it won't boil over.  If you have more than will fit in one pot you can use as many as you need that will fit on your stove.  Don't add any water.  Before turning the heat on, crush some grapes with a potato masher or the back of a spoon.  This will keep the grapes from burning at the bottom before the juice is boiled out of the grapes.

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Second Step:

Bring your pot of grapes to a boil.  Boil the grapes for as long as it takes for the grape flesh to reduce to juice leaving mostly grape skins as pulp.  Look at the first picture in this post to see how they start out looking and then look at the picture below to see how your pot of grapes should look when they're ready to strain:

 grape mash 2

Observe how the slotted spoon brings up only skin and seeds.  There are no more globes of grapes left.  Also notice how the skins look more red than purple now as the pigmentation has been cooked out of them into the juice.

 grape juice drain 2

Third Step:

You need a large bowl or pot to strain your juice into, a strainer, and either double layer cheese cloth or butter muslin.  Place your strainer over the top of the bowl or pot and place your straining cloth over it, be sure to push it into the bowl of the strainer before ladling your juice into it.  Now you can fill the strainer to the top with juice and pulp you just cooked.  Let it drip until most of the juice has drained out.

 grape squeeze 2

Fourth Step:

Now gather up your cloth and squeeze all the extra juice you can out of the pulp.  You will be surprised how much you can get out of it- so don't skip this step for the best yield.  When you've gotten all you can out of the pulp, put it in your compost bin, rinse the cloth out well, and set it back into the strainer.  Rinsing the cloth each time is important because if you don't do it the fine sediment will make the next batch you ladle into the cloth drain even more slowly because it clogs up the cloth.

This is the part that can take a long time.  Just keep straining until all of it is done.  At this point you may wish to restrain it, this time through one extra layer of cloth to strain out even more fine sediment before canning it.  This is up to you.  Once you can your juice and let it sit for a week on a shelf you will see all the sediment sink in a layer at the bottom of your jars.  You can carefully pour your juice out of the jars, when you're ready to use it, leaving the sediment in the jar, or you can restrain it at that point.  One think I can tell you for sure is that the sediment is not pleasant to drink and kids especially don't appreciate it.

To Process the Juice:

1.  Heat up the strained juice to boiling point and then turn off the heat.

2.  Ladle the juice into hot pint or quart jars leaving 1/4" head space.  Adjust the two piece caps.

3.  Process pints or quarts for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner making sure to cover the tops of the jars with at least an inch and a half of water.

Special notes: Depending on the sweetness of the grapes and according to personal taste, you may need to add sugar to your juice.  Some years the grapes are sweeter than others.  There is no specific amount for me to recommend.  Taste the juice and add sugar a half a cup at a time to your entire batch, tasting after the sugar has completely dissolved into the juice.  I prefer my juice to be tart but my son has a sweet tooth so I add sugar to mine until it's sweet enough for him to enjoy, but only just.

You can also freeze juice.  If you freeze it in jars you need to leave a lot more head space for the expansion of the freezing of the juice- leave about two inches room.  You can also freeze in plastic containers.  Juice freezes exceptionally well so this is a good option for people who have room in their freezers.

wild spoils 2

What Autumn means to you is probably influenced by your climate.  Some people are already getting snow while others are still fanning the sun off their faces.  Here in Oregon it's turning cold and rainy.  While Autumn is not my favorite season (winter is) I do love this time of year.  The past several years I spent most of my autumn canning apples, pears, and the last of the summer tomatoes.

I love the change in seasonal produce, seeing the winter squash get piled in my local produce sections and in the farmer's market stalls for the last couple weeks of market.  I love cooking with potatoes, celery root, and cauliflower.  Soon my local market will have giant stalks of locally grown brussels sprouts and I'll want to buy more than I can cook.  My CSA will have them too.  Soup is my favorite food and there are endless varieties of soups to make with the produce on hand.

In your garden you are probably harvesting the last of your tomatoes, squash, and beans.  What now?  Here are some things you might do in your garden:

  • Spread compost on your vegetable beds to overwinter.  The fall is the best time to amend your soil because then it is ready for you to use in the spring.  If you have chickens and some beds you won't be planting in until spring, cover the beds with the hay you clean out from your chicken run.  Chicken manure is excellent for the garden but needs a few months (preferably six) to mellow because it 's a "hot" manure and spreading it on a bed with plants could cause the plant roots to burn.  Overwintering your chicken waste gives it plenty of time to mellow and will be safe to plant in by spring.
  • Rip out all the dead vegetable plants from the garden.  I never do this because I'm too lazy but fall is a great time to tidy up your garden and tuck it in for the winter.  Just be sure not to prune anything unless you have extremely mild winters.  Prune in the spring when most of the winter frost damage is done already and you can prune to the undamaged parts.  If you prune now you could lose more of your plants.
  • Winterize your more tender perennials if you live in a climate with a hard winter such as wrapping your roses or your potted fruit trees in insulation or with burlap stuffed with mulch to keep them warm.  In my climate the winter damage is usually pretty mild and fruit trees don't need to be wrapped.
  • Bring in any tools or garden furniture that might get ruined by the weather.

I don't do a lot with my garden during the fall but I live in an old house and one of my concerns right now is winterizing my house so that it will retain heat longer and use less energy to keep comfortable.  Last winter we had our kitchen door constantly opening and closing for our dog and cats and often it was simply left open for hours at a time.  We don't mind a fairly cold house but every late afternoon the temperatures would drop and we'd put the heat on.  This summer my husband installed a dog door and we've been training our cats and dog to use it.  It's harder for the cats to use it because it had to be installed fairly high off the floor level, yet they learned to use it faster than the dog.  Chick was really frightened of it for the last two months.  At last, just this week, all the animals are using it without coaxing and we're practicing keeping the kitchen door shut. 

Just in time too because this morning was so cold I had to put the heat on for the first time in months! One of the things people with old houses often do is replace old windows with new ones.  Unfortunately the old wood windows are almost always replaced with vinyl or aluminum windows and though these supposedly come with a warranty far exceeding wood windows I have known fewer old wood windows to leak than vinyl or aluminum.  If you have to replace your windows, consider replacing them with new wood windows.  They cost a lot more but look a million times better and with just a little care I promise they will last longer than your other choices.  I believe in maintaining the integrity of the old homes in our country so I'm passionate about this. There are other things you can do to reduce the energy use in your house during winter:

  • Curtains.  A lot of people have thin curtains if they have curtains at all.   Consider making or buying lined heavyweight curtains to put up during the winter months.  Even a sturdy cotton will keep out a surprising amount of cold.  Just be sure the curtains completely cover the window when they're closed.  You can open them during the warmer hours during the day and close them near evening as the temperatures outside drop.
  • Storm windows.  Around my town many old homes have storm windows as an alternative to replacing antique windows.  If installed correctly they serve to make your old single paned windows double paned.  It creates an extra barrier between the wet weather and your windows as well.
  • Weather stripping.  Check all the outside doors for gaps near the floor.  Weather stripping is inexpensive to buy and easy to install.  Our kitchen door which leads outside has gaps so big at the floor that light can be seen to flood through the openings in the morning.  I bought some weather-stripping  for it.  The door is fairly narrow so I'll either need to cut it down to size or see if my hardware store carries the correct size.
  • Put insulation around any exposed water or sewage pipes if your area gets cold enough to freeze water.  It doesn't always get that cold here but last winter it got cold enough to freeze one of our pipes and we were without kitchen or bath water for two days.  (This won't actually reduce your energy usage but is simply a good thing to do before it's too late.)
If you have the time, now is also a good season to clean your house and get it really well organized.  During the wet and cold months all the little things that irritated you all summer will become more irritating when you're also having to worry about mud, coats and scarves everywhere, the holidays looming up, and when so much more of your time is centered around indoor activities.  This week end my husband and son agreed to clean up our living room and put everything away.  It was such a huge relief!  We have so far to go getting things around here running smoothly but that is what I'm thinking about now.  Putting things away, making more counter space, cleaning off high piled surfaces, solving little house problems that aren't a huge deal but add a little constant irritation to my life.

What I am going to do today,  right now,  the second I get done posting:  Our under the sink cupboard, where we keep our kitchen garbage can, doesn't latch shut.  For months now our dog has been rooting around in it daily for any tasty little crumbs she might find.  She drags empty cracker bags to the already ratty looking lawn and shreds them up and comes back for whatever else she can find.  I've been in such a flurry of work and scrambling to get other bigger things taken care of that I have continually put off taking care of this problem.

The funny thing is that it's a simple fix.  I bought the magnetic hardware already.  It is ridiculous that it's taken me this long to get around to it.  So I will do that today and not have to get angry when I see this week's trash spread out across our yard.

What are you doing to winterize your home and garden?

Cooking For Beginners: Cookbooks and Equipment

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Joy Of Cooking 2

If you are a real beginner cook you may not know yet what cookbooks are appropriate for you and what equipment is essential.    When I first started learning to cook on my own I had very little kitchen equipment, and in truth you don't need a ton, but I found that my equipment grew as I read my two cookbooks and decided on things I wanted to make.  People who love to cook tend to collect kitchen gadgets that they really don't need and I'd like to present here two lists of what I consider the first tier of necessary equipment and then if you become a proficient and passionate cook the second tier of essential equipment.  You should always buy the best quality equipment that you can afford.  Don't be afraid to look for things you need in thrift stores and in used restaurant supply stores.   Good cookware will last a long time.   Look for 5 ply stainless steel or cast iron (enamel coated or not) for the very best quality pots and pans.

The most necessary items:
1 saute pan: if you only have one make it a 12" size.

1 medium size sauce pan: a 3 quart size is good.

1 soup/stock pot: 8 quart is perfect.

1 cookie sheet: if you can get one from a restaurant supply place, those are the best.

1 casserole dish: I suggest a glass or ceramic one (Corning makes really good ones).

2-3 wooden spoons:
these should not be expensive.  Have one short-handled one and a long-handled one.

1 spatula: I prefer metal ones but either metal or plastic will be fine.

1 colander: any  metal style, don't buy a plastic one because one of the main uses is for draining hot pasta.  I have one I bought 20 years ago from Cost Plus.  It's dinged up and still working hard.

1 set mixing bowls: no need to get fancy if you're on a budget, plain glass ones aren't hard to find in thrift stores.  Stainless steel mixing bowls are also excellent.  Don't buy aluminum bowls because some food reacts with aluminum.  It's very useful to have three bowls in different sizes.

1 set measuring spoons: any kind will do.

1 (2 cup) measuring cup: I suggest glass Pyrex if you only have one.

1 folding steamer basket for sauce pan: these fit into the bottom of your sauce pan allowing you to steam vegetables.  They're cheap and very handy.

1 pie pan: I suggest you get a glass one.

1 loaf pan: if you can get one from a restaurant supply place that would be best but if not, just get any kind you find, average loaf size.

1 decent knife: don't worry about fancy.  My favorite knife is one I bought 14 years ago from a health food store.  I sharpen it regularly and it still works perfectly.  You want your main knife to be a chef's knife.  Shop around and hold the different styles to figure out which kind is comfortable for your hand.

1 paring knife: any kind will do.  I use cheap ones because I lost my nice one.  I have to sharpen them more often but they work fine. Sharpening steel: whether your knife is cheap or expensive you need to sharpen it regularly.  I didn't know how to do this for years and chopping with a dull knife is not only more dangerous but much harder.

1 good quality food processor: 11 cup capacity is best for a family but smaller is fine for an individual.  I bought the best Cuisinart processor I could afford almost 12 years ago and it is still working wonderfully well, though I could stand to sharpen or replace the blades.  At the time it really stretched our budget but it has been essential to me in my cooking.

Less necessary appliances that you may want to get eventually:

Stand Mixer: I bought a Kitchenaide (professional series) and I have used it so much over the years that it was worth the expense.  I bought the pasta attachment which I love and use often.

Immersion Blender:
Mrs. C had to convince me to get one of these and I resisted for a long time but I can't imagine making salad dressings without one now.  Though seriously- don't worry about having one of these if you are just beginning.  I made great dressing before, the thing this does that I love is allow me to make a creamy vinaigrette.    It's also very handy for pureeing soups and sauces.

With all of the equipment I've listed above you should be able to make anything you find in a cookbook.  There are plenty of other things you can add to your kitchen like graters and peelers, for example, but if you have the food processor it will come with a grater function and a paring knife works perfectly well for peeling fruits and vegetables.  I have merely listed the essentials here.  What you need to start off with.


I love cookbooks.  I have over 40 of them on my bookshelves and that is only half of what I would probably have if I didn't edit and choose carefully.  I can't afford to buy them often but I have been collecting them since I bought my very first two cookbooks when I first learned to cook.  Now I rarely use cookbooks for actual recipes but for inspiration.  If I'm in the mood for something Mediterranean I look in my Greek, Italian, and French cookbooks for ideas.  For baking, however, I do follow recipes exactly.  Anyone can learn to cook using just one cookbook provided that cookbook is an excellent all-purpose one.  I am going to recommend the two cookbooks I have used the most, learned the most from, and found to have infallible recipes.  As a beginner you can't judge whether recipes are infallible or not because you're own initial lack of skill can make a mess of recipes that are quite good.  As you become more experienced you'll be able to tell if the reason why your meal didn't turn out well was because of you or a poorly written recipe.

The Joy Of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer:
this is, by far, the most reliable, useful, informative, and complete cookbook in print for cooking everything.  My copy is from 1948 which I love because it has a lot of old fashioned recipes in it, but there are many recent editions that reflect our more modern sophisticated palate.  Ultimately it doesn't matter which edition you choose, they all have the basics in them such as how to cut meat, how to saute food, and include basics such as pie crusts, measurement conversion charts, and all the essential kitchen methods you might need to reference.  If you only get one cook book, get this one.

Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, by Deborah Madison:
I am a vegetarian and if you can have two cookbooks, this is the other one you should have.  Like Joy Of Cooking, she covers so much basic information for the beginner cook (but her recipes don't include meat, obviously)- you will have access to information on how to cook all vegetables and grains exceptionally well with her book.  Her directions are clear, her recipes are solid.  If they don't turn out well I guarantee that it's something you did wrong, not something wrong with the recipe.  This isn't just a good book for vegetarians, this is the best resource for everyone when it comes to cooking with produce- because even meat eaters need vegetable sides.  Many of her recipes are vegan or she explains how to make them vegan.

Those are the two best cookbooks I have ever used.  Everyone who cooks has their favorites but here at the Farmhouse Finishing School these would be my textbooks if the school was brick and mortar.

Don't forget to make good use of your public library's cook book section.  You can try a lot of cookbooks without having to buy them.  Or you can try cookbooks to see if they're worth buying.  All of my recommendations below are for vegetarian books.  If you want to find some books that include meat, try out the following well respected cook book authors:  Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Mark Bittman.

Mrs. W recommends:

Great Breads, by Martha Rose Shulman:
I learned to bake bread with this book.  I tried a number of other books before I found this one and though the others were prettier and full of pictures, this is the one that has proved the easiest and most reliable to learn from.  No one learns to bake breads without some failures but you will have fewer of them if you carefully read and follow Martha's instructions.  Two of my closest friends also learned to bake bread using her instructions.

"The Vegetarian Table" series: This series is published by Chronicle Books.  They aren't big books but each one really captures the foods from different countries, both traditional and more modern.  The instructions are clear, each book contains plenty of recipes appropriate for beginners, and they are full of pictures which I find inspiring.   I have The Vegetarian Table France, America, Italy, Mexico, and India.  There is also one for Japan.  Some of my long time meal staples come from these books.

The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, by Jack Bishop: He has amazing basic Italian recipes such as fresh pasta, almond biscotti, and sauces.  I have used his book for years and his recipes always turn out well for me.

This Good Food, by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette: He has written a few cookbooks and I recommend them all.  The dishes in this book are simple, flavorful, and healthy.  They are arranged by season because that's how monks in monasteries usually eat and it's really how most of us should be eating too.  This is not fancy French cooking but simple French cooking (many Americans don't know there is such a thing) and that means that the ingredients are usually easy to come by and not especially costly.


Jump to the second lesson in the "Cooking For Beginners" series: Cooking For Beginners: Shopping For A Recipe

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