...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


High Time

Fresh cut flowers and seed pods from the garden
You may have noticed that I've been posting a lot more lately than the once per week I strived to maintain over the winter.  I don't necessarily have a posting schedule for myself, but I try to write at least once a week or whenever I have enough material (and time) to compose something that seems worthwhile.  Due to the nature of the season--creeping into the abundance of summer, high preserving time, and more opportunities to craft (how'd that happen?)--I've been on a roll.  It's time to purge my idea list once again because the canning kettle's been at it for a couple of days and my recipe file has been picked through over and over.

I think I left off on Sunday as I was putting a pork roast in the Sun Oven.  It cooked all day with Ben's help to rotate the oven so it would follow the sun.  In the evening I pulled it apart and slathered it with homemade barbecue sauce.  I'm teaching some urban homesteading classes this year that include lessons in "Using Your Preserves Creatively," so that you can find new ways to incorporate your beautiful jars of local fruits and vegetables into meals beyond just jellying your toast and dipping your tortilla chips.  I dug deep into my file folder labeled "Pork" to find a recipe for Strawberry BBQ Sauce, which I adapted here to use my preserves.

Strawberry BBQ Sauce for Pulled Pork
Makes 2 c.

I'm going to leave the pork cooking to you--whatever is your favorite method be it slow cooker, low oven temp., or solar oven--but I suggest searing it on the stovetop ahead of time.  Season roast with salt and pepper, heat grapeseed oil over high heat in a large skillet, then brown on all sides before transferring to a roasting pan.  This recipe was born as I still try to use up strawberry jam from 2010.

Grass-fed Pork Shoulder Roast ready for the Sun Oven
4 c. strawberry jam or canned strawberries (you could also substitute cherry jam, etc.)
1/2 c. ketchup (homemade if you have it)
1/4 c. cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dried rosemary, crushed
Couple dashes (homemade) hot sauce (optional)
Pan juices from the pork roast
Salt, to taste

In medium saucepan, mix all ingredients.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to very low, and simmer until reduced to 2 c. (could take up to an hour, but watch the pot carefully!)  Toss with your favorite pulled pork adding pan juices for desired consistency.  Season to taste and serve on buns with your favorite coleslaw (on the sandwich or beside it).

As I continue to rotate last year's stock, the garden keeps right on growing, especially my herbs.  If you've ever grown mint you know how prolific it can be.  Feel free to add twice as much mint to this recipe; the outcome will be twice as good.

Mediterranean Meatballs (or Burgers)
Makes 12 meatballs or 4-6 burgers

These will be nice and juicy whether you prepare them as meatballs or burgers.  I like to bake my meatballs because it's easier to cook them without having a fall-apart mess as you try to turn them.

2 T. minced fresh mint
3 T. white wine vinegar
1 1/2 T. water
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. xylitol (or granulated sugar)
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 T. regular oats
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 T. milk (nut, soy, cow's, etc.)
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground pepper
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
8 large mushrooms, cleaned
1 lb. lean ground beef (I prefer grass-fed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine all ingredients but beef in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped and combined--you can chop the onions and mushrooms separately if you want them to be even more coarse.  Place mixture in large mixing bowl with ground beef and combine by hand.  Use a scoop to make even portions and place on lined baking sheet.  Bake for 20 min. or until done inside.  Serve with pasta and sauce (I suggest a Moroccan Spiced Squash Sauce in lieu of tomato). Add grated cheese if desired.  If using as burgers, portion and flatten, grill, bake or pan-fry, adding cheese at the end if you wish.

...And the canning kettle continues.  I finally used my stash of mulberries from the tree in the park.  I had frozen them on a baking sheet until I found just the right way to use them.  In the past, I've been so picky about how to preserve mulberries because gathering enough is such a precious thing.  When I froze them last year to use in winter desserts, I was not happy with their quality once thawed (mostly the flavor of "freezer burn.")  I got my hands on some Michigan blueberries recently and finally decided to complement my tree fruits with these tart little blue orbs.

Mulberry-Blueberry Basil Jam
Makes 4 half-pints

Three kinds of basil from our garden
Adapted from Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton.  When I teach food preservation classes I can never stress enough how important it is to stick to a tested recipe.  That being said, I adapted this one to use mulberries as the majority where it called for blueberries because I know that simply changing the fruit to another tart, acidic berry won't be unsafe.  There is plenty of sweetener and additional acid to make a safe product.  You could use ALL blueberries or half and half mulberries, blueberries.

6 c. mulberries, washed (no need to remove tender stems)
2 c. blueberries, washed
2 c. granulated xylitol or sugar
1/4 c. bottled lemon juice
1/2 c. fresh basil, chiffonade

Combine berries with splash of water in medium nonreactive saucepan.  Bring to boil, stirring and crushing berries to release their juice.  Add xylitol/sugar and stir to dissolve.  Stir in lemon juice.  Continue to cook at steady boil, stirring frequently, until jam reaches desired gel.  Add basil and stir to combine.  Remove from heat and let jam rest for 5 min., stirring occasionally to release air bubbles and prevent fruit float.  Skim any foam from top of jam.  Use hot water bath canning method: Pour into clean, hot half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Release trapped air.  Wipe rims clean; center treated lids on jars and screw on bands.  Process for 10 min.  Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in water for 5 min.  Remove jars and set aside to cool and completely seal.  Check seals, label and date, store in cool, dark place.
Frozen mulberries, fresh blueberries

Cooked down
Desired gel stage

Though I advocate preserving local foods, I can't pass it up when bulk amounts of "outside" fruit fall into my lap.  I hate to see food go to waste.  This week my husband brought home a case of perfectly ripe mangoes from work as well as a case of ripe freestone peaches.  Neither of these wanted to live more than another day without processing in some way, shape, or form so I had to act quickly.  This morning in lieu of a playdate at the zoo with a close friend and her son, we all spent the rainy day inside watching the kiddos play as we nibbled freshly baked Blueberry Sunflower Muffins, sipped hot coffee, and processed a batch of Mango Chili Butter (recipe from Tart and Sweet by Geary and Knadler).  I always wish to have friends over to can with me and have found myself making numerous promises to do so.  This morning's downpour forced me to put that plan into action.  I had most of the project underway when our friends arrived, but casually filled the jars and placed them in the canning as my friend and I caught up and the two-year-olds raced screaming around the living room (don't worry--we really were supervising!)  

Love this color so much I once painted an apt. bathroom this hue.

Mangoes, Cayenne Pepper, Xylitol, and Lemon Juice

This afternoon I continued my canning quest by putting up several freezer bags of sliced peaches as well as a batch of Brandied Peaches (recipe from Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton), a consolation prize for Ben since I didn't have the energy to pit and can Brandied Cherries last week.  We love warm brandied fruit over simple vanilla ice cream in the winter.  Actually, I think you could brandy my shoe, nuke it, and I'd enjoy it with a frozen treat just as well (gotta love the family's favorite J. Bavet!)

Two-year old meets raspberry picking...
Next on the list is some homemade fruit juice as well as raspberry and blackberry preserves.  The critters may have finally conquered the hardware cloth protecting my gooseberries (dagnabbit!), but the blackberries--the universe willing--will be plentiful.  (I'm thinking of placing a surveillance camera out front that I can monitor from my bedside at night.)  V and I went wild black raspberry picking yesterday afternoon.  As we approached the lakefront park where I find my annual stash, I saw a woman walking across the street with her leashed dog in one hand and a colander and bowl of something in the other.  From what I could see it appeared to be some kind of berry and for an instant I panicked!  She did take some raspberries from the hilltop brambles, but I thought "surely she doesn't have the time or energy to fight through the prickers, ticks, and mosquitoes to take a huge amount."  I found half a bucketful along the high road and gradually topped it off down below.  I always forget that at the end of the road there's the absolute motherload of berries.  There were a couple of other folks picking as I came upon the site and again I went into survival mode (they've found my secret!!!)  Terrible, I know because these berries belong to EVERYONE if not the animals, but I thought for a moment that I wouldn't be able to pick enough before someone snatched them.  Turns out there is an embarrassing amount of berries down there and I picked what I could for now.  I'm hoping to return tomorrow early morning without my hungry sidekick so reap more of this free (for ALL) fruit.  


  1. Thanks for reminding me that it's black raspberry time! I had an uncanny ability to spot those berries as a kid. I wonder if I still have it. I laughed out loud when I read your panic about everyone getting your stash. My sister had a similar episode on our way to a strawberry patch. 20 lbs of strawberries later... haha.

  2. I'll tell you one thing, that panic will increase your picking rate fourfold!