Homemade Jam, Jelly and Preserves!

Award winning jam | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

It is nearly August and I am almost settled in my new house. By settled I mean the boxes are thinning out and I can find my toothbrush, but there is a long road ahead of construction and plaster dust. I seem to remember my husband saying, some many years ago, that he would never live in an old house again. So, today, when I write to you from the living room of our new- very old house, built in 1902, I have to smile at what lies ahead and what a patient man he is. The house we bought was broken up into apartments and there is no way to get to the bedrooms on the second floor without leaving the house…at no point did we stop to think this was a bad idea. Instead, we moved in and figured we’d have a staircase built eventually. Then there is the matter of having 3 tiny kitchens on 3 different floors, which on paper seems luxurious, but in reality you really want all your kitchen equipment on one floor. So, we are faced with ripping out the kitchenS and starting new. This may strike the casual observer as being stressful, since I still have 3/4 of my kitchen “toys” in boxes and no certain plan. But, I remain convinced this was a good idea. Then it occurred to me that it is nearly August and I haven’t fulfilled a promise to myself…this was to be the summer I started canning and making jelly, jams and preserves. It just isn’t going to happen for me this year, but that shouldn’t stop any of you from doing it. In fact, it would be almost as good to live vicariously through your adventure with jars. And, if my friends and jam mentors Barb, Suvir and Jennifer, care to give me some of their bounty as house warming gifts, I will have my spoon at the ready, as soon as I find that box.

For their recipes to make Blue Ribbon Jam and Canned Blueberries… Read More

Lemon-Lime Mousse with Fresh Strawberries

Lemon-lime mousse with fresh strawberries | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I adore Key Lime Pie and order it as often as it appears on a dessert menu. Most of the time I’m disappointed. It is usually too sweet, not tart enough and the texture just screams gelatin. When I took a bite of this mousse it reminded me of a super light key lime pie filling. The best part is that it doesn’t actually require key limes, which have a short growing season and the bottled stuff just leaves me flat. The lemon-lime mousse is tangy, just a touch sweet, and it is so light, it melts on your tongue. The fresh strawberries lend a perfect balance of flavor and texture to the dessert. I put them in glass jars because the lemon-yellow mousse and lipstick-red strawberries are so pretty together I wanted to be able so see them. It is also the best way to bring dessert along to a pot luck or picnic. These jars are probably familiar to many of you who eat Bonne Maman French preserves that come in them. I save the jars and pretty checkered lids to reuse. Read More

Mother’s Day Meringues

On mother’s day, I personally think there should be over-the-top displays of appreciation and beauty. This will come in the form of children helping their mom plant flowers in the garden, cleaning the garage, a foot massage, a favorite meal (basically anything cooked by someone else) and, of course, a gorgeous dessert. After eating the aforementioned favorite meal, she may long for something light and ethereal. Meringues. This is one easy recipe, served three different ways. It can be made by children of all ages, maybe with a little help from dad. By adding flavors to the meringue, you can personalize the dessert.

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Canning Fresh Blueberries at Masala Farm with Suvir Saran

canning blueberries with Suvir Saran at Masala Farm | photo by Zoë François

Canning seems to be one of those skills that you are born into. Most canners can’t remember the first time they saw their mom or granny doing it, it was just always there. I imagine them sitting in a bouncy seat on the kitchen counter watching as jars got filled with the season’s crops. Next thing they knew they were in the process of washing fruit, brewing simple syrup and dunking jars in caldrons of hot water.

Then there are folks like me, who are completely enamored with the notion of “putting up” food, but find it a daunting mystery, too big to take on as an adult. Either you’re born with it, or you’re not, was how I thought.

I imagine it is similar to how many folks feel about baking bread. Too time consuming, difficult and rife with stories of disaster. Knowing full well that this doesn’t have to be the case with bread, doesn’t it stand to reason that I could have faced canning as well? It took a visit to Suvir Saran’s American Masala Farm to show me the way. He gave me the gift of canning!

In the amount of time it took me to make a cup of coffee he’d set himself up to preserve a batch of fresh berries he’d bought at a local farmer’s stand. He was so nonchalant about it all. I grabbed my camera and in the following 45 minutes he rocked my world. I asked Suvir how he learned this art and he confirmed my suspicions …

“I first saw canning when watching my mother can jams, jellies, ketchup and squash in Nagpur, India. My mom sowed the seeds when I was in first grade.”

Those of you born into canning families may think my discovery is as obvious as breathing air, but for those of you who have avoided it, I hope you, like me, will be inspired to “put up” everything you can get your hands on*. My only issue now is getting enough jars.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

This is a strawberry-rhubarb crisp I created for my Cooking Channel Weekend Baking post. There is really nothing better than the combo of sweet berries and tart rhubarb. If you are one who has never tasted rhubarb, or tried and decided it is not your thing, I beg you to try it again. Maybe you won’t want to grab a stalk out of the garden and plunge it, raw, into a jar of sugar. That is a more advanced move. The trick is to start gradually, combine it with lots of strawberries and a sweet crunchy crisp. This is not cheating, the rhubarb is still playing an essential role in the flavor of your crisp. It is adding a tart dimension to a potentially overly sweet dessert;  like adding lemon zest to balance sweetness, but it is even more interesting. Pretty soon you will have a rhubarb plant growing in your yard and long for the first stalks to poke out from the spring snow and then dread the last days, when the heat of summer has made the plant too tough to eat. That is why I make this plea now, when rhubarb is at its best!

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