homesteads and okra.

Growing up, it was all about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I devoured the Little House series, and when I was finished I started back at book one.  I vividly remember the story of her dad getting stalked by a panther, and how the attic was her favorite place to play.

When I was sick, my mom and I would eat popsicles and watch Little House on the Prairie.

Perhaps I owe this desire to nest, to garden, to explore the idea of being a modern homesteader to Laura. There is something very romantic about building your life with your hands, learning how things grow. I realize that I live in this strange dichotomy, one foot firmly planted in the world of blogs, Facebook and Twitter while the other foot is barefoot, in the dirt.

I channeled my inner Wilder last weekend and pickled some okra.

The boy, sister and I took a trip to the HOPE farmers market. A tiny little market tucked in between an abandoned warehouse-turned-art-space and the railroad tracks.

Still 85 degrees, I found myself seeking shade and leaning on my iced coffee to keep cool. We are entering into the second growing season (MAGICAL) of the year, which means all things green are back in season. Beautiful bundles of kale, large stalks of basil and the last of the okra.

Okra requires quite a bit of heat to prosper, and these 80 degree days and 55 degree nights means it’s on its way out. Inquiring on how long I would be able to get it, the farmer shrugged, “I keep thinking it’s done, and it keeps producing.”

I didn’t want to risk it, so I bought a shit ton and knew that it was time to preserve.

I have experience pickling thanks to hot August afternoons with my grandma. We’d all crowd in her tiny kitchen, each of us given a task that would result in the best and hottest pickles this world has ever seen.

My mouth just started watering at the thought of them. Literally.

There isn’t much difference between pickling cucumbers and pickling okra. You wash and sanitize the jars, stuff them with what you want, pour over the brine and process.

And then you wait, which is really the worst part of the whole ordeal.

Having schlepped all of my canning tools from Seattle (my mom thought I was crazy when I demanded that I bring my canning pot with me… priorities, mother) it was easy as pie to whip these puppies out. Now I have cans of okra sitting in my cupboard, just waiting to be consumed.

I think Laura would have been proud.

Hot and Spicy Pickled Okra

  • 2 pounds fresh okra, washed
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 1/4 cup salt (SO MUCH SALT)
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
  • head of garlic
  • assortment of hot peppers (we used jalapeno, habanero and serrano… our mouths MAY explode later)

First things first. Prepare everything. Start your canning bath, as the water takes forever to boil. Wash your jars. Fill them with warm water and put them in the canning pot to sanitize. When the water in the pot reaches boiling, boil the cans for at least 10 minutes to make sure they are properly sanitized. Make sure you also boil and sanitize the lids.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, you can get your okra, garlic and peppers ready. Set them aside, and if you feel inclined you can take a picture.

Isn’t food the prettiest?

Once your cans are sanitized you can start stuffing them. Now, this was my first time canning okra so I wasn’t sure how to approach this. My method was to stuff them with as much as I could, and hope for the best. Tip for next time: stuff more. After I poured the brine in there, everything rose to the top of the jar and I saw how much extra room I had in there.

Bummer

What is in there will taste delicious, I am sure. But now I know for next time that I need to really fill all of that extra space with something. Perhaps more peppers? Who knows.

So each of my jars had about 10 pieces of okra, 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, the three types of peppers and a couple of sprigs of dill.
Next time, I will jam so much garlic, dill and peppers in there the okra will probably be inedible. What can I say, I like things spicy.

After you cut up the vegetables, you will want to prepare the brine. To do this you will want to bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil, and then distribute evenly in the jars, leaving about 1.5 inches at the top. After you have filled the jars with the brine, wipe the rims of the jars, pop on a lid and put back in the canning bath to process for 10 minutes. After processing, remove and wait to hear that magical pop. Now I will just have to wait and see just how much heat I can handle…

 

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Raspberries and the Universe

My oh my, how the universe provides.

Things can be really stupid some days. Like those days that you step on a piece of glass at 4:30 in the morning, and then proceed to have a 1.5 hour commute to work. You can have those mornings where you are anticipating your morning iced coffee only to find it exploded all over you bag.

Those are the worst.

But then you have the days spent berry picking and gathering freckles on your face. The days where you catch up with old friends and stumble into something that might just shake up the entire foundation of who you are.

Those are the best.

With seven pounds of raspberries, I spent an afternoon canning. With a sun drenched hound dog at my feet and This American Life on the radio, I had a moment of perfection.

There are all kinds of changes in the air. At this point in time my world is saying, “Yeah, I got you. Go for it.”

And I am going to listen.

Raspberry Jam sweetened with Honey

Adapted from Mountain Mama Cooks

16 half pint jars (for those who haven’t canned, you can’t reuse the lids.. just the rings)

8 tsp Pomona’s Universal Pectin (because of the calcium powder, you don’t have to use an insane amount of sugar… just honey, so delish)

8 tsp calcium powder (follow directions on how to prepare the powder from the directions in the pectin box)

16 cups raspberries

6 tbsp lemon juice

3 tsp lemon zest

1.5-2 cups honey (Depends on how sweet you want it!)

  1. I use a canning pot, as it makes everything so much easier in my life. If you don’t have a canning pot, you can use a big soup pot and MacGyver a contraption that will work. I have friends that do that, I just bit the bullet and spent the $20. So happy I did, that bad boy is going everywhere with me.
  2. First things first. Sterilize. No one wants to get food poisoning from your jam. That would be the worst gift ever. The steps to sterilization are easy; fill your canning pot with enough water so the jars are covered by at least two inches oh H20. Bring this water to a boil—while the water (which takes forever) is coming to a boil, hand-wash the jars and lids with soap. Fill the jars with hot water so they won’t shatter when they are placed in boiling water. Boil those suckers for 10 minutes, and then leave them in there in the hot water while you prepare your jam. You will also place the lids in a little sauce pan and boil them, so they get nice and clean too.
  3. You will want to have the following things near you: a clean towel to lay out the jars. Tongs wrapped with rubber bands to grab the jars, or canning tongs if you have fancy pants. A ladle for filling the jars and a wet cloth or paper towel for wiping the rims of the jars. I also have a magnetic lid getter (that is the proper name for it… ?) because I don’t want to get my grimy hands all over the lids.
  4. To prepare the jam, wash the raspberries and put them in a pot. Spend some time mashing them with a potato masher, your hands, a contraption you made yourself.. whatever. I know some people who then run said raspberries through a sieve to reduce the amount of seeds. I say that is bull honky. Eat the seeds. They are cute and tiny and add some texture. After the berries are mashed, add the honey, lemon juice, lemon zest, pectin powder and calcium solution. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir for 1-2 minutes until the honey has dissolved. You can then remove it from the heat and start canning.
  5. You remove your hot jars from the pot, dumping the water back into the pot and bring the water in the pot back to a boil. Place the jars on the towel and ladle the jam into the jars, leaving ¼ inch at the top of the jar. Wipe the rims of the each jar, pop a lid on it and adjust the ring so it is just a finger tight. Then, place the jars BACK into the canning pot (where the water should be boiling again), lower those puppies in, making sure that they are covered by at least one inch of water. Bring it back to a boil and let them process in the hot bath for 10 minutes. Make sure the jars aren’t touching. I got cocky this year and put in ONE too many jars, which resulted in one jar breaking (NOOOOOOOO) because it got too frisky with the jar next to it.
  6. You then remove the jars, and don’t wiggle, jiggle or shake them for at least 12 hours. After 1 hour you can check to see if they lids have sealed by pressing on the center of the lid. If it can be pushed down, it means if hasn’t sealed—which is no big deal, just use that jar first and eat it up so it doesn’t go bad. All those that DID seal can be stored in a pantry or cupboard for about a year.

Yum. Summer in a jar all year-long.