Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pesto Making and Freezing

I had never even heard of pesto until maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I had been growing herbs for a few years and started looking into different ways to use and preserve what I was growing. Someone gave me my first taste of pesto, spread on a piece of homemade bread, and I was hooked. I started looking into ways of preserving it and found this idea, and I do this every year now.
We have frost warnings for tonight so I cut all of my basil, here is about a third of what I grew this year. Yes, it's a lot!

First you strip the leaves from the stems

I make my pesto by sight and taste and really don't follow a recipe. But if you need some measurements, I found a recipe that is probably close to what I do:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts (I use walnuts, much more inexpensive!)
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

If you want to freeze your pesto, don't add the cheese until you thaw it out and it is ready to serve.

Place reasonable amounts of the basil into your food processor, in other words don't cram it full. Add olive oil, garlic cloves, cheese (if not freezing the pesto),salt and pepper and process until smooth. Add the nuts after you obtain the consistency of pesto that you want, then process until the nuts are ground well but not so small that you don't notice them. If you put them in with all the other ingredients at first they will get ground too much.

Now here is a trick for freezing pesto in manageable amounts. Remove pesto from food processor and spread into ice-cube trays

Place trays in freezer until it is frozen well, then break pesto out of trays

Now you can place the cubes in freezer bags

I put some of my cubes in freezer bags, but also placed some in vacuum bags. These are for a longer storage time, I want it fresh in February!

I make this by sight and taste, slowly adding ingredients until I like how it looks and how it tastes to me. It is really good on a homemade French or Italian bread. It is also fantastic when mixed with pasta. I cooked enough pasta for 3 people the other day, added about a tablespoon of the pesto to it and that was all. It was fantastic and well received here at home.

Try growing a larger patch of basil next year. You will have fresh basil from midsummer on, and pesto for the winter!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Canning Applesauce

Making applesauce is very easy if you have a Victorio Strainer in your kitchen arsenal. I think the Victorio company went out of business(?) and the new product that replaced it is the Roma, there may be others out there. Here is an example of the kind of food mill that I am referring to, on

To make approximately one canner full of quart jars you will need about 20 lbs of a good cooking apple. Normally I use the ones on my tree, which I believe are Golden Delicious, but I am not sure since the trees were here when I moved to this house. However, my tree produces fruit about every other year, and this was the off-year. I went to an orchard in our county, Buckingham Orchards and bought 20 lbs of Cortland apples. This variety was recommended to me by the owner as a good cooking apple, and I was not disappointed. The applesauce had a great flavor and a pinkish color to it.

First we need the apples sliced up, I use an apple wedger like this

Don't throw the core away, the whole thing will be run through the strainer. After you wedge them, place them immediately in a large bowl of cold water and Fruit Fresh. Fruit Fresh is ascorbic acid(vitamin C), citric acid and sucrose. This prevents the apples from browning, and the Cortlands will start browning in a few minutes if not treated.

Now we want to soften the apples by cooking them in a pot of with about an inch of boiling water.

Cook them in batches that are just a few inches deep of apples in the pot. It only takes a few minutes to soften them, test them by poking them. Try not to cook them too long or they will fall apart in the cooking water. I found that using my pasta ladle was perfect for scooping the apples from the pot.

Next run the cooked apple wedges through the strainer. The Victorio makes this so easy. Place the apples in the hopper and start cranking. The seeds and skins come out of one chute and the sauce comes out another chute.

Run the scrap that comes out of the scrap chute through the strainer, this will get you quite a surprising amount of sauce. After it has been run through the strainer the second time, I dump the scraps into the compost area near my garden.

Place the sauce that comes out of the strainer into a pot and heat it on low to medium heat, almost to a boil. You have to heat it slowly or it will bubble up and make quite a mess on your stove.

Fill your heated jars with the applesauce and leave 1/4 inch of headspace, then place your boiled lids on, then the band, and place them in your canner.

Make sure there is at least an inch of water above the tops of the jars. Process pints for 15 minutes, quarts for 20 minutes.

I bought 20 lbs of the Cortland apples and the applesauce yield was 14 pints and 2 quart jars. I love using these Cortland apples for sauce, they soften nicely and give the sauce a nice color. These directions are basically the same directions for making pear sauce also. I think I hand cut the pears instead of using the wedger. If you've never had pear sauce you need to try it, it is outstanding!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Easy grape juice

I used to make grape juice by cooking the grapes then filtering through cheesecloth. It was a long process but it made great grape juice. Then someone told me about a way to make juice with a LOT less effort and a LOT less time. In a nutshell you put the grapes in the jar with a little sugar (or none if you want) filling up the rest of the way with hot water, and processing in a water bath canner for 25 minutes. THAT'S IT, you are done! I've been making it this way now for about 10 years now, and don't plan on going back to a longer, harder process.
I grow concord, Catawba and Thompson Seedless but use the Concords and Catawbas for juice.

Ingredients per jar:
1 1/2 to 2 cups of grapes (I use 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar (I use 1/4 cup)
Boiling water to fill jar the rest of the way.

First wash your grapes well, I do it in the kitchen sink. Remove grapes from vine, and sort out bad grapes, stems, leaves, leaving just the good-quality grapes.

Prepare a pot of boiling water to use to fill the jars. You will need a little less than a quart for every quart of juice you are going to make.

Prepare your lids by boiling in water. I heat my washed jars in the microwave by placing a half inch of water into each jar and microwaving until the water boils. Then I use my 'hold warm' function on my microwave to keep them warm until ready to use. Or you could microwave them for a minute every few minutes to keep them hot.

Pour 1 1/2 cups of grapes and 1/4 cup of sugar into each jar.

Now pour the boiling water into the jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace, and place in water bath canner.

Process in boiling water bath for 25 minutes and you are done. This is so simple and makes great juice. When serving, pour slowly and usually the grapes will stay in the jar. Or you could pour over a strainer to keep the grapes out.