I Bet You Think This Is An Egg Slicer? Not Today!

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While Grace and I were out in Romeo on a farmer’s market tour to start our long weekend, we came across a half bushel of beets that we couldn’t pass up.  With so much to can already on my to do list, I needed a quick and easy way to slice this 1/2 bushel for canning.

Rummaging through my granny gadget drawer, I pulled out my egg slicer.  Rarely have I ever used this for eggs.  I’ve used it for mushrooms, boiled potatoes, and strawberries, but only a few eggs.  Looking at the wire blades, I figured trying this with beets was worth a shot.

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It worked!

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Seven quarts and 12 pints of fresh packed jars are now in the pantry with perfectly sliced beets.  I just love granny gadgets, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Mop-Bucket-Pressed Apple Cider – A Taste Of Fall

I know this might sound a bit crazy, but yesterday Zeb and I made fresh pressed apple cider using a mop bucket!

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Last year I found several people offering free apples on Craig’s List.  Because apples are so expensive to pick at orchards, typically around $46 a bushel, I knew it was out of the question for me to buy apples to try pressing my own cider.  Finding them for free was perfect.  The only trouble then was how to make my own cider without a press.

There are several ways to extract juice from apples, but most of the ones I found required cooking.  I didn’t want pasteurized cider.  I wanted fresh, unaltered cider.  Continuing my search on the Internet I found a video where a man used a mop bucket to press cider.  Sure a traditional cider press would be wonderful, but although Hubby has the skill to make one, finding the time and desire to make one is another matter.  They cost around $200 to buy, so when I found a brand new mop bucket with wringer on Craig’s List for $7.00, I couldn’t pass it up.

I was skeptical at first, but after the first couple gallons of cider, I was sold.  It takes a bit of muscle and time, but is well worth the effort.  Here’s how you do it.

First, get some apples.  I found some seconds at a fruit stand this weekend for $8 a half bushel.

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Next, quarter the apples.  No peeling or coring necessary.

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Then put the apples into a food processor.  I am so happy I have my new one from my mother-in-law.

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Process the apples until they are chopped fairly fine.

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Continue until all the apples are turned into pulp.

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Notice all the cider already collecting in the bowl.

Once all the apples are chopped, line the mop bucket with a clean plastic bag.

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Next, take a clean pillow case and dump about 1/3 of the chopped apple into it.

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Twist the pillow case closed and put in the wringer section of the mop bucket.

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Then start pressing.

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The pressing takes some muscle so be sure not to load the pillow case too full.  Also, the smaller the load of chopped apples in the wringer, the easier it will be to get the most possible cider extracted.

Once the cider stops flowing from the pillow case, remove the mash and start the process again until all the chopped apples are pressed.

After the cider is pressed, remove the plastic bag full of cider and place in a pot, just in case the bag should break — yes I am talking from experience here.  I lost nearly a whole gallon of cider last year when one of my plastic bags broke.

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Finally, strain the cider into a container.  I strain it only because on occasion I drop small pieces of pulp into the bucket when transferring the chopped apples to and from the pillow case.

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This cider will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, if it lasts that long,  but can be frozen up to a year.

The half bushel of apples yielded a gallon and a half of cider.  We are drinking it now, but when I make more in the coming weeks, it will go into recycled gallon milk containers that I’ll fill 3/4 of the way and freeze.

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There is nothing like the taste of pure, unaltered apple cider.  It might be a bit murky, but it is pure as pure can be, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Putting Clear Jel To The Test

Blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to work with when it comes to canning.  Basically all you have to do is wash, sort, blanch, and can.  There is no peeling, cutting, coring, or pitting.  They are even easier to freeze because prior to freezing you should not even wash them.  Just bag ’em, label ’em, and freeze.  It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Homemade blueberry pie has always been a bit of a thorn in my side.  For some reason, no matter how much flour or corn starch I used, the pie was runny.  After the first piece of pie was removed from the pie plate, all the blueberries would fall into the open section and the amount of juice that was produced when baking would overflow the dish.  My pies looked nothing like those beautiful magazine advertisements for “Perfect Blueberry Pie.”  My pies were anything but perfect!

To remedy this faux pas with blueberry pie, I decided to give Clear Jel a real test.  Although I have been using it for several months with great success, all the fillings that I have made were ones that had never caused me the type of grief blueberry pie has.  This was the first real test to see if Clear Jel could live up to all its hype.

Blueberry Pie Filling

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  • 6 Pints Blueberries
  • 2 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Clear jel mixed in 1 Cup of water
  • 2 Cups Additional Water
  • 1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

Wash and drain blueberries.  Blanch fresh blueberries in boiling water for one minute.  Drain and set aside.  Combine sugar, Clear Jel slurry, and water.  Cook on medium-high heat until thick and bubbly.  Add lemon juice and boil one minute more.  Remove from heat and immediate add blueberries and stir to combine.  Ladle hot filling into hot jars leaving 1″ head space.  Wipe rims, set lids and bands, and process in water bath for 30 minutes at full boil.

Once I’d made a batch of this and let it set overnight, it was time to give it a try.  Seeing as if the pie filling were baked in a pie and then cooled it would no doubt be the same consistency as what was in the jars, I decided to use a jar of filling for blueberry shortcake.  The filling was thick and very tasty.  It was not runny in the least, and the flavor — well lets just say I’d have a hard time telling the difference between eating a handful of blueberries and eating a spoonful of filling.

A lot of times what sounds or looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily translate into something that will work in the real world, thankfully this was not the case today.  Clear Jel certainly lived up to my greatest expectations, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Leather — And We’re Not Talking Cow Hides Here

One of my favorite ways to use up extra melon, leftover pulp, and over-ripe fruit is to make fruit leather.  It started about a year ago with tons and tons of plum pulp, continued with pineapple and berries, and finally evolved into peaches (with the skins on, of course).  This is a great way to make a sweet snack that is nutritious and healthy that I don’t mind the kids eating whenever they want because I control the amount and type of sweetener used.

Pretty much all the fruit leathers I make require only two ingredients:  Fruit pulp and honey or sugar.  Some of the fruits don’t need a sweetener, while others need just a small amount.

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Peach (with peel) pulp with sugar to taste.

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Blueberry with honey to taste.

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Pineapple – pureed, no sugar.

Almost any fruit can be used for fruit leather as long as the water content is not extremely high like watermelon.  I know some people have made fruit leather from watermelon juice, but I have not had much luck with that.

Using up all the fruit remnants from my canning is important to me because I hate to throw anything out.  Dehydrating fruit pulp is one quick and easy way to do this and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Peachy-Keen Concentrate

I am not a lazy person by nature, but when I can find a way around doing “a lot” of work, I am most definitely going to do it.

The Michigan peaches that I was fortunate to find were semi-free-stone.  When I asked what this meant, they explained that the pits might not just pop out as with free-stone varieties, but that they were still fairly easy to pit.  The moment I arrived home, I washed one of the peaches, took out a paring knife and cut into it.  The juice ran down my hand and the sweet, undeniable peach aroma engulfed me.  Making another slice in the peach, to form a wedge, the piece of peach easily pulled away from the pit and I popped it into my mouth.  Delicious!

Seeing how easily the peach was able to be pitted, I fell into a false sense of security thinking that working with these peaches was going to be quick and easy.  What I didn’t take into consideration was how they were going to peel.  That was an entirely different matter.

When I boiled up a pot of water and began dipping the peaches and then removing them to an ice bath, it became apparent that the skins on these peaches were not going to release without a fight.  The process of making pie filling was arduous and disheartening.  So disheartening that I began to wonder if I really wanted to can anymore than the 7 quarts and 7 pints I spent several hours working on.

With more peaches still to contend with, I sought out other avenues to use up what I’d bought.  My recipe binder had several recipes for peach concoctions that sounded wonderful, but they all required the peaches to be peeled.  Being tired and a bit cranky by this time I asked myself, What is the worse that can happen if I don’t peel them?  I mean the peel is where most of the nutrients are anyway, right?  Peeling them just wastes all those nutrients and a good part of the fruit.  (Yes, I could easily justify what I was about to do next.)

Pulling a recipe from my binder, I decided an experiment was needed.  Taking a handful of peaches I washed them to remove all the fuzzy white film on them.  Not sure why store-bought peaches don’t have this fuzzy stuff all over them, but it is one sure way to tell the difference between a fresh peach and a grocery store version.  Once washed, I pitted the peaches and put them in my new food processor.  It’s not really new, but it is new to me.

My food processor seized up when I made some fresh peanut butter a few months back so I have been muddling through with a small one-cup chopper since then.  A few weeks ago I mentioned to Hubby that apples were going to be ready in the next couple of weeks and cider-pressing was going to be on the agenda.  In order to do this, I first need to run the apples through a processor and doing this with a little one-cup chopper was going to be a little inconvenient.  He suggested borrowing his mother’s or perhaps using a meat grinder.  I was open to both options and told him I’d let him know when the apples were ready.

The next day after a visit to his parents, Hubby came home with a huge box.  I looked at it and it was what looked like a brand new food processor.  He explained that his parents had this on their counter when he got there and couldn’t figure it out.  They’d had it for several years and had never been able to get it to work.  Of course they’d thrown out the instruction booklet, but Hubby gave it a shot.  Within minutes he had it working.  Still, however, his mother, being in her 80’s now, decided it was not something she wanted to work with.  She had a smaller unit she’d been using for years, and was quite content with it, so home it came.

Now, I have never “shopped” for a food processor.  The ones I have had were either handed down from my grandmother and father, or found at garage/estate sales.  So, when this huge thing was removed from the box, I admit, my heart leapt.  I couldn’t believe how big it was and the features on it.  It chops, shreds, slices, has a bread dough attachment, and even has a timer.  Could this get any better?  Well, yes, yes it could!  There was also a double shoot on the top that allowed for big chunks of whatever you are processing to be added.  Big chunks like say whole apples or perhaps only halves, but that is far better than having to section them into six or eight pieces.  I was thrilled.

As I pitted the peaches, I put them in the food processor, filling it about half-way.

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How nice it was not to have to process after each peach like I would have had to do in my little chopper.  Placing the lid on, I set the timer for 30 seconds and hit the chop button.  Quickly and quietly this machine-made little work of the peaches.  The skins seemed to almost dissolve as the fruit pieces became liquid and turned the golden-yellow a pretty shade of orangish-pink.

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Still, I wasn’t sure if the puree would be smooth enough for what I wanted to try — Peach-Lemonade Concentrate.

Beginning last year with plums, making fruit flavored lemonade concentrates has become an almost obsession.  The kids absolutely love them and when we have company over, it is always a great alternative to serving pop.  Although peach-lemonade didn’t sound all that appetizing to me, Gracey convinced me to give it a shot.

Pouring the peach puree into the stock pot, I added the lemon juice and sugar and began to cook it.  The kitchen smelled like fresh peaches as the liquid quickly came to a near boil.  Not sure this was going to be a keeper, I spooned out a few tablespoons of the concentrate into a glass, mixed it with water, added some ice and gave it a stir.  My official taste-tester wasn’t around, so I had to try my peach-peel-and-all-concentrate myself.  The peach flavor was so intense that biting into a fresh peach wouldn’t have been much different.  The lemon gave it a bit of zip, but for the most part, it was all peach.  Success!  And I didn’t have to peel the peaches.  The skin had dissolved into the liquid nearly completely, and with just a quick whirl of my handy-dandy stick blender, the concentrate was smooth and silky.

When Grace finally returned to the kitchen, after she was sure there were no dishes left for her to be asked to do, she tried the bit of concentrate I had left in the glass.  Immediately she asked if I’d saved any to drink or if I’d canned it all.  Surprise, surprise!  Like I didn’t know she’d want more.  Of course I’d saved some and made an entire pitcher for the family to indulge in.

Peach-Peel-And-All-Lemonade Concentrate

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  • 8 Cups Pureed Peaches (pitted but with skins left on)
  • 8 Cups Lemon Juice
  • 10 Cups Sugar

Place above ingredients in large stock pot and bring to 190 degrees.  If desired, use a stick blender to smooth out any straggling chunks of peach or peel.  Ladle concentrate into hot jars leaving 1/2″ head space, wipe rims, set lids and bands, and process in water bath canner for 15 minutes.

To reconstitute, mix 1 part concentrate to 1 part water, adjusting ratio to your own tastes.

I have no idea if this concentrate would be as good without the peel in it and will probably never know because when I can get away with not having to do more work than necessary, I’m going to go with it.  I do know that the color certainly wouldn’t be as pretty and a lot of the nutrients would be lost, so for us, leaving the peel in is going to be the only way to go.

It’s been said that ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention,’ but for me it turns out that ‘Laziness’ goes a long way in that regard as well, and for this I am — Simply Grateful,

 

Michigan Peaches

The brutal winter of 2013/14 took a toll on most of the fruit crops here in Michigan and peaches were unfortunately not spared.  Thankfully I was able to find just enough Michigan peaches at a local orchard to make some pie filling and a few other peachy treats.

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Usually I freeze my pie filling, but this year, thanks to Clear Jel, I was able to can it and free up some much-needed freezer space.

Peach Pie Filling

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  • 6 Quarts Peeled, Pitted and Sliced Fresh Peaches
  • 6 Cups Sugar
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup + 3 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed in 1+ Cup of water to make a slurry
  • 1 Cup Lemon Juice

Peel, pit, and slice peaches and set aside.  Combine sugar, water, and Clear Jel slurry in large stock pot.  Cook over medium-high heat until thick and bubbly.  Add lemon juice.  Boil one minute.  Immediately stir in peaches.

Ladle hot peaches into hot, sterilized jars leaving a 1″ head space.  Wipe rims, cover, and process in water bath for 25 minutes.

Being able to have peach pie in the middle of winter is going to be a great treat, something the entire family looks forward to.  I am so happy that I was able to find even a few Michigan peaches to put up this summer, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Sizzlin’ Plum Barbecue Sauce

Using every last plum from our plum tree this year was a challenge, but it did give me reason to experiment with several new recipes.  This recipe for plum barbecue sauce turned out really good according to Hubby.  I’ve yet to grill with it, but that will come later in the week once the high temps and humidity pass.

Plum Barbecue Sauce

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  • 6 Cups Plum Pulp (after pitting and putting through a food processor)
  • 1 Large Onion, diced in food processor
  • 1 Large Red Bell Pepper, diced in food processor
  • 14 Cloves Garlic, put through food processor
  • 2 Cups Sliced Roma Tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 Cup Honey
  • 1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses
  • 3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Cup Ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Hot Pepper Flakes
  • 1 jalapeno, diced in food processor
  • 2 tsp. Dry Mustard
  • 2 tsp. Salt

Put all above ingredients into large stock pot and cook down to consistency of thick barbecue sauce, about 3 hours.

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Use a stick blender to smooth out tomatoes and make sauce a spreadable consistency.

The original recipe was able to be canned in a water bath for 15 minutes but because I changed the recipe so much, I have no idea if this is safe to can or not.  I did process mine in the water bath for 15 minutes, but have it in the refrigerator.  I’m sure it should be fine there for at least 6 months.

Although I have no idea if this is going to be a keeper yet or not, I do love to try new recipes and can new things.  If nothing else, I will chalk this up to experience and have something to base my next experiment in barbecue sauce on, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Michelle Chamuel Concert In Ann Arbor

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As my children get older, I find that I derive more happiness through their happiness than when pursuing my own interests or dreams.  This may not be true 100% of the time, but for the most part, when Zeb and Grace are happy, I’m happy too.

A couple of months ago Grace found out a favorite musical artist of hers, Michelle Chamuel, was coming to Michigan to perform a concert in Ann Arbor.  Ann Arbor is about an hour and half from our home, but I told Grace we would definitely make the trip.

This morning at 9:30 Hubby drove Grace, Zeb, and me to Ann Arbor so we could be among the first people there for the concert.  Arriving a little after 11:00, we parked and headed straight for the stage.  The park in front of the stage was already quite full, so we positioned ourselves on the curb just to the left of the stage.  As the street began to fill with people, Grace and Zeb left Hubby and I on the curb and headed towards the stage.

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For nearly three hours Zeb and Grace stood in front of the stage watching.  They watched the sound-check, the opening act, Michelle’s performance, the encore, and then, the icing on the cake — the meet and greet.  Yes!  Grace actually got to meet Michelle, have her sign her shirt, and even take a “selfie” with her.  She was so nervous, but when it was her turn to meet her, Michelle admitted that she too was nervous.  Grace was on Cloud 9.  Next, it was Zeb’s turn.  Michelle took his shirt, signed it, and was sure to tell him to be sure to iron the signature or it would come out in the wash.  Finally, she let me snap a picture of the two of them.  How great is that!

I am not much of a concert-goer.  In fact, since the Michael Jackson concert tour of 1985, I haven’t been to a concert.  Back then, yes I am going to sound like an old fuddy-duddy here, but back then concerts did not seem anything like what the youth of today have to contend with.  My vision of concerts these days consisted of drugs, booze, foul language, and inappropriate behavior all of which is glorified in the loud, nearly indecipherable lyrics and actions of the performers.  Sure I know my parents said the same thing about the music of my generation, but they were just disconnected from the reality of the situation — right?  Nevertheless, after today, I am going to have to revise my thinking.

Michelle was genuinely real.  She was down-to-earth when interacting with her band and stage hands, cordial and friendly with the crowd — truly connecting with them, and her music was refreshing.  Grace shared many of her original songs with me prior to the concert which were all very good.  And we both enjoyed her performances on The Voice a couple of seasons ago.  Not that having a 46-year-old appreciate her music is any indication of how good she is, but being able to connect with more than one generation has to say something.

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Grace told me today was the best day of her summer — even her life.  Granted she is only 18, but don’t take her comment lightly.  She has a list of people she wants to see in concert.  This list has only two people on it.  Number two is Pink.  Can you guess who number one is/was?  You guessed it, Michelle Chamuel.  Also, at the beginning of the summer she made a “Summer Bucket List.”  On that list she had — Do something truly amazing, experience something new. Grace told me on the walk back to our car that this was fulfilled today and far exceeded her greatest expectations.  She had wanted to put on her list Meeting Michelle Chamuel in person, but thought she was dreaming too big.  Even that which was thought to be out of reach came true today.

The thrill and excitement Grace felt was contagious.  I was so happy for her that I felt I would burst.  Her happiness made today one of the best days of all our lives. The best part was that we were able to share this experience as a family. Hubby and I stood in the shadows watching as Grace and Zeb enjoyed the concert and then relived every moment of it through Grace as she regaled how much she loved every minute of it — especially getting to meet and briefly talk with someone who she has come to admire as a person and an artist.

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With all the tabloid horror stories and nightly news casts reporting suicides, drug/alcohol abuse, and other degenerate behavior, it is nice to know that there are still artists out there who have stayed true to who they really are and not fallen victim to outside influences. I am so happy that we were able to share the gift that Michelle Chamuel brought to Ann Arbor today and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Plum Done!

Other than a handful of stragglers on the tree, plums are done here at our house for the year.  Plum juice, plum pie filling, plum barbecue sauce, and asian plum sauce now stock the pantry.  Of course now that I’m done with the plums, I’ve come up with a few other ways I could use more plums, but these will hold until next year.

Of the new recipes I tried this year using plums the Asian plum sauce and plum barbecue sauce are the ones I’m not sure will be repeaters.  The Asian plum sauce tasted pretty good, but the true test for this sauce will be on some homemade egg rolls.

Asian Plum Sauce

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  • 2 1/2 Pounds pitted and chopped plums (I put mine through a food processor)
  • 1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup White Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp. Minced Garlic
  • 2 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Combine all ingredients in stainless steel stock pot and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour till sauce has thickened. Puree sauce till a fairly smooth consistency using a stick/immersion blender.  Ladle into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Remove air bubbles and wipe rims.  Place lids and rings on jars and process 10 minutes in water bath.

I am anxious to try a jar of this with some egg rolls and Grace has been after me to unfreeze a few that I had left over last time I made them.  Sounds like a great evening snack.  This sauce isn’t like the sauce served in local restaurants with egg rolls, but as of yet I have been unable to find one anywhere on the Internet.  Apparently, just like War Su Gai/Almond Boneless Chicken, this egg roll sauce is unique to Michigan.  Similar to a plum sauce it is tangy and thin, with almost an oily consistency.  Perhaps someday I’ll find a recipe for the original, but for now hopefully this one will be a close second.

Plums are done for the season and I am relieved.  Having so much fruit at one time to process can be overwhelming.  I did lose some of the fruit before I could can it, but for the most part, all 80ish pounds got canned, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

I’m Just Steamed About Making Juice!

Last year with 120 pounds of plums from our tree to contend with, I had to get creative in finding ways in which I could utilize every last one.  In researching various ways in which the plums could be used, I came across several people who had used a steam juicer to extract juice from the plums.  The process looked easy and very quick.

Knowing that plums would not be the only fruit I used such a gadget on, I decided to use a gift card from Amazon that I received for my birthday to splurge on this luxury.

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Three days later, I had my steamer and steamed my first batch of pure plum juice.  Although quite tart, with just a little honey it turned into the perfect breakfast juice to serve the family.

This year, although I have fewer plums, I also have fewer things that I need to make, as the pantry is still quite stocked with plum goods.  Plum juice however is something I doubt I’ll ever have too much of.

The process with a steamer is very simple.  First slice plums in half, no need to remove the pits.

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Place plums in basket portion of steamer.

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Fill bottom of pot with water nearly to the top, place the juice collecting portion on top of the water, the basket with the plums on top of that and top with the lid.  Turn the stove on high.

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Within 15 minutes juice will begin to trickle down the tube, into a bowl.

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After about 45 minutes you’ll have a bowl full of filtered plum juice.

 

I then mix in either 1/2 Cup of sugar per 4 cups or 3/4 Cup honey per 8 cups, heat till combined and pour into hot jars.  Process this in water bath for 15 minutes and you’ve got plum juice to stock the pantry.

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Filling my steamer basket to the top with plums yielded me four quarts of juice.  This is a great way to use some of the over-ripe and bruised fruit that you might not want to use in pie filling or jam.  This year I’ve used under-ripe, ripe, and over-ripe plums and the combination has been successful.

Now, if you want, you can use the pulp that is left in the basket to make plum jam or butter.  It took everything inside of me not to use the pulp, but I could not justify making more jam or butter when there is plenty in the pantry and freezing it wasn’t an option, as every inch of freezer space is taken.

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If you plan on doing this though I suggest you pit the plums.  Last year the  first batch of juice I steamed I didn’t pit the plums and decided I wanted to use the pulp.  It took me over an hour to pull out all the pits by hand.  It would be easier to do prior to steaming.  If you don’t plan on using the pulp leaving the pits in makes for a quicker process.

Making sure that none of the bounty from our little tree goes to waste is important to me.  We’ve shared them with our neighbors, given some to our parents, eaten our fill, and I’m still canning.  After such a terrible winter and all the fruit crops that did not survive for 2014, I truly appreciate what we have been given, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.