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,

 

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Drinking Blueberries

When I first came across a recipe for a blueberry-lemonade concentrate I wasn’t sure that it sounded very appetizing.  In fact it didn’t sound good at all. Although I like blueberries, they are one of my favorite fruits, the thought of drinking blueberry juice just didn’t appeal to me.  So when I made a batch, my expectations were not high.  To my surprise, it was very good.  So good that I had to make two more batches just to be sure we’d have enough to get through the winter.

Blueberry-Lemonade Concentrate

  • 6 Cups Blueberries
  • 4 Cups Lemon Juice
  • 6 Cups White Sugar

Wash blueberries.  Place berries in large stock pot and puree with stick blender.

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Add lemon juice and sugar.  Stir to combine.  Cook over medium-high heat until mixture reaches 190 degrees.  Strain mixture.  Return strained juice to pot and return to boil.  Ladle hot mixture into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Wipe rims, apply lids and bands, and water bath process for 15 minutes.

I am absolutely in love with concentrates and juice from fresh fruit.  This is definitely one that I will be making again next year and possibly sooner if I run out, as you can use frozen blueberries, which I have lots of in the freezer.

So, what I thought would not be tasty in the least turned out to be a new favorite because I didn’t let my narrow-mindedness cloud my determination to try canning new things, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Kiwi Lemon-Lime Concentrate

Whether you call it a weakness or an obsession, whenever I find a good deal on any fruit or vegetable in the produce area at our local grocery store, I just can’t pass it up.  Even if I have no idea what I’m going to do with, don’t really need it, or don’t have the time to do anything with it, I have to have it.

A week and a half back I found six-packs of kiwi for $1.00 and…you guessed it, I couldn’t pass it up.  I picked up three packages. For more than 10 days these kiwi have haunted me.  Every time I’ve been in the kitchen, which let’s face it is more often than not, I looked at those kiwi, cursing myself for buying them, wondering what I was thinking, and worrying what I was going to make with them before they spoiled.

Having more than enough jams in the pantry, I decided to try another concentrate.  Not that I don’t have enough of these in the pantry too, but there are far less concentrates than jams.  So, this morning I opened the clamshell packs of kiwi and set to work.

Kiwi Lemon-Lime Concentrate

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  • 18 Kiwi, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 Cups Lemon Juice
  • 2 Cups Lime Juice
  • 6 Cups Sugar

Put all ingredients in a large stock pot.

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Using a stick blender, puree the kiwi until smooth.

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Heat mixture over medium-high heat until it reaches 190 degrees.  Remove from heat and strain.  Fill jars leaving 1/4 inch head space and boil in water bath for 30 minutes.

This concentrate if very mild and refreshing.  To reconstitute I would start with a 1:1 ratio (one part water to one part concentrate).  I liked it with one and half parts water to one part concentrate.

Bargains are a great way to try new recipes and experiment with little cost.  Today I followed through on a bargain that I found quite some time ago before it spoiled, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Outgrowing My Garden

This year is the first year I have made a real effort to keep my garden healthy and managed. In years past I would plant and then come the end of July or August take a peek at what nature did. Most of the time I’d end up with a garden full of weeds,  lots of tomatoes and very little of anything else. Because I want to be able to use more home-grown food in my canning, I decided this year I was going to give being a “real” gardener a shot.

So far I have been somewhat happy with my efforts. I have no idea what my bounty will look like, but the plants look healthy and are growing for the most part. I have no idea how fast some of my plants are supposed to grow, so if they are not where they should be, I guess I’ll figure that out when they don’t produce anything.

Canning any type of vegetable takes a lot of that vegetable, so in May I worked on expanding our current garden and collecting pots being thrown out so I could plant tomatoes, peas, beans, and scallions in those. The garden expansion has been a great success. I planted beets, carrots and sweet potatoes there and so far they are thriving better than anything else I’ve planted.

The sweet potatoes are a little too successful however. They are taking over the new section of garden, covering the carrots and beginning to smother some of the beets. Something needed to be done. Also, the tomato plants I planted in the pots are not getting as big as I’d like. When I’ve planted them in the ground in years past, I would have more tomatoes than I’d know what to do with, having just four plants. This year I have three times that many plants and so far I doubt I’ll have enough to can.

My long-term gardening plan was to add a new section of garden next year along the back of our property. I bought some extra bags of mulch that I laid out on the lawn where the section would be, in hopes that the grass beneath would die and be easily removed in the spring. With the sweet potatoes spreading and the tomatoes stalling, I decided this plan needed moving up and set out to start removing some of the grass under the bags of mulch this morning.

Although the grass under the bags was yellow, it was still very difficult to remove. I worked for about two hours and managed to clear away a 10‘ x 2‘ section. My goal is to have a 16‘ x 8‘ garden. When hubby got up this morning and found me struggling with the sod his first comment was “Why don’t you just spray the grass with Round-Up, cover it with dirt, and then plant.” Okay, so perhaps this would be the easiest route, but I wanted to plant today. Patience is not always something I’m good at, especially when the summer countdown clock is ticking and the number of days left before fall is upon us are few.

Well, after hubby reviewed with me my options — his way which was the “smart” way or my way which we’ll refer to as the “hard-headed” way, we headed out to Lowe’s to buy some landscape timbers and spikes to outline the new garden section. Tomorrow he will spray the RoundUp (as it rained this morning) and then in three days I can have top soil dumped right in the new section, spread it out and plant.

The new garden section along the back of our property.

The new garden section along the back of our property.

This is part of the section where I removed the grass.

This is part of the section where I removed the grass.

The bags of mulch that will now be stored until next year.

The bags of mulch that will now be stored until next year.

So why didn’t I discuss the new garden section with hubby in the first place? Other than being stubborn or “hard-headed” as he refers to me, I don’t like “my” projects becoming “his” projects. He has more than enough on his plate already, that I really just wanted to do this and not have him have to do anything other than tell me how great it looked. Thankfully, the way he suggested we complete this new garden is a whole lot easier than my way and the amount of time and effort he’ll have to put forth is minimal.

In preparation of the new garden, I spent over an hour this evening trimming my sweet potato plants and planting the slips. Thanks to Sarah at Coffee To Compost and her post How To Start Your Own Sweet Potato Slips I learned how to do this.  The sweet potatoes were taking over the entire new section of garden, but when I was done, they were back to a manageable carpet of green. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to cut them back as much as I did, but hopefully they will still produce lots of potatoes underground.

The sweet potatoes taking over the garden -- don't get too close Bell, it might just suck you in.

The sweet potatoes taking over the garden — don’t get too close Bell, it might just suck you in.

One of the sweet potato vines I clipped to plant.

One of the sweet potato vines I clipped to plant.

My sweet potato slips planted and basking in the sun in the new will-be garden section.

My sweet potato slips planted and basking in the sun in the new will-be garden section.

The garden after the sweet potatoes were trimmed -- big difference.

The garden after the sweet potatoes were trimmed — big difference.

The new section of garden will be for all the tomato plants I have in pots, which will be carefully transplanted, and my sweet potato slips. With any luck, I’ll have enough sweet potatoes for an entire year. Between drying, canning, and freezing, I think I can definitely handle whatever nature rewards me with.

After cleaning up the garden and transplanting a few more tomato suckers for the new garden, I decided to enjoy a glass of fresh Watermelon-Lemon Refresher. Similar to some of the lemonade concentrate recipes I’ve been making lately, I was happy to come up with a way to use the last of the watermelon juice I extracted from the watermelons I bought last weekend. It is lighter than the berry-lemonade concentrates and not as sweet, thus the reference “refresher.”

Watermelon-Lemon Refresher Concentrate

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3 Cups Strained Watermelon Juice
4 Cups Lemon Juice
6 Cups Sugar
3 Drops Pink Food Coloring (optional)

Puree the watermelon, put in stock pot and bring boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain watermelon pulp through a jelly bag for 2-3 hours.

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Combine strained watermelon juice, lemon juice, and sugar in stock pot. Heat until it reaches 190° but do not boil. Add food coloring.

Ladle hot concentrate into jars, seal and process in water bath for 15 minutes.

To reconstitute: Combine 1 cup concentrate with 3 cups water (or more to taste). Serve over ice.

Today was a good day and I am very excited to be working on our new garden section. Hubby’s help and advice will save me a ton of work and now this project is not only “my” project, but “our” project, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.