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Berries + Eggs = Angel Food Cake

Chickens take a little break during the winter, laying very few eggs. One of the exciting things about spring is the eggs start coming again. Within a few weeks the hens are ALL laying again, and in no time, we’re up to our eyeballs in eggs.

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The other thing that happens is berries! There aren’t a lot on the local vines, yet, but there are plenty at the store. The family loves jam, pie and cobbler. This year I’m adding something new.

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Angel food cake! A few weeks ago Charlie asked if I had ever baked an angel food cake. Was he kidding? No! Way too hard. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this) I actually had no idea what was involved in angel food cake, but something from my memory said I KNEW they were hard. Then Charlie tells me it was one of his favorites as a kid. Oh. That changes things. Maybe it’s something I can figure out. One direction at a time, one step at a time, I decided I’d give it my best shot.

It doesn’t exactly meet my “super-easy” criteria, but it’s nowhere near as complicated as I thought it would be. And it uses a LOT of eggs. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups egg whites (10 to 12 large – yep, that many)

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup sifted cake or all-purpose flour
Directions
  1. In a very large mixing bowl allow egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sift powdered sugar and flour together 3 times; set aside.
  2. Add cream of tartar and vanilla to egg whites. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add granulated sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight) .
  3. Sift about one-fourth of the flour mixture over beaten egg whites; fold in gently. (If bowl is too full, transfer to a larger bowl.) Repeat, folding in remaining flour mixture by fourths. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Gently run knife or spatula through batter to remove any air bubbles
  4. Bake on the lowest rack in a 350 degree F oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert cake (leave in pan); cool thoroughly. Loosen sides from pan to remove.

Now, for some tips:

It really does take 10-12 eggs.  I use eggs fresh from the backyard, and the yolks break very easily. That’s a lot of eggs to mess up if some yolk gets past you. I separate egg whites into a small bowl, then transfer them to the big bowl one at a time. To me, separating the eggs is the most time-consuming part. The rest is easy.

The “stiff peaks” seemed open to interpretation. I know if you whip egg whites too long, you ruin the whole thing, and I didn’t want to do that. Really, I didn’t want to have to separate another dozen egg whites. I stop beating when the egg whites hold the lumps made from the mixer. Or, stick with “stiff peaks.” That works, too.

I thought sifting the flour and powdered sugar THREE times was a little overkill, but I figured there was a reason, so I did it. Angel food cake is basically meringue with flour and sugar added. When you’re mixing the flour/sugar mixture into the egg whites, you don’t want to overmix. By sifting ahead of time, the flour and powdered sugar mix in smoothly, with no bumps to worry about.

Getting the cake out of the darn pan is harder than I thought. I run a butter knife around the inner edge once, but the outer edge takes a couple of rounds. The farther down you can get the knife into the pan, the easier that cake will come out.

The cake barely rises at all, so don’t worry about the batter filling the pan all the way to the top.

Charlie likes a mix of black berries, raspberries and blue berries, so that’s what he gets. And, of course, whipped cream. Yum!

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Wanna Make Marshmallows?

Several years ago my friend Tracy taught me how to make marshmallows. I had no idea you could make them at home. I’m sure I’m not the only person who thought they just magically appeared in the grocery store, delivered by the marshmallow fairy. One more case of having no idea where our food comes from, or how it’s made.

Marshmallows have been Raymond and Reta Jean’s favorite treat since they were able to say “shmallows.” Knowing that, I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to make them again. I think I just forgot how easy they are.

Yes, they require ingredients that aren’t normally hanging out in my pantry, but I made sure to pick things up this weekend. All it takes is gelatin, corn syrup, sugar, powdered sugar, water, vanilla, and salt. Yep, that’s it.1210140808

 

I wanted to make mine Christmasy, so I ground up peppermints to sprinkle on top.

Step 1: Spread butter, or spray cooking spray on 9 x 13 pan, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Really. Do this first. If not, there will be a goopy, sticky mess setting up in the mixing bowl if this gets done later.

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Step s: Sprinkle gelatin into 1/2 cup water. Let it absorb while making the syrup.

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Step 3: Pour sugar, corn syrup, water and salt into a pan.

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Step 4: Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

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So far, so good. This is where I get a little antsy.

Step 5: Continue to boil until sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees. The directions say not to stir, so I didn’t. Much. I was afraid it would all burn to the bottom of the pan, so I had to stir, some. This takes 10-15 minutes.

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Step 6: Using stand mixer, start mixing gelatin. It should be sort of crumbly.

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Step 7: Pour the REALLY hot, REALLY sticky syrup into the gelatin mixture. CAREFULLY.

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Step 8: Mix on high for 15 minutes. When done, add vanilla.

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The marshmallow mixture gets really thick. I was afraid my mixer was going to overheat, it was pretty unhappy.

Now, for the messy/fun part: Getting this goopy mess into the pan. Using a spatula or spoon really doesn’t work. That just sort of smushes all the sticky marshmallow mush all over the bowl.  The best way to get it out of the bowl is by hand. At this point, it’s cooled off enough to handle. It works best with WET HANDS. Yep, that’s the trick. Whenever marshmallow started sticking to my hands, I rewet them.

Step 9: Spread marshmallows into prepared pan. Again, do this with wet hands. It will just stick to a spatula.

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Step 10: Sprinkle with anything you want on top! I used crushed peppermint with this batch. The last batch I made, I sprinkled with snowflake cake sprinkles. The standard topping is powdered sugar.

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Leave the marshmallows out overnight to set up, then cut into 1″ squares.  Using a knife dipped in hot water makes them cut easier, but dry the knife a bit before cutting with it, or it makes a big, sticky mess.

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For a little extra fun, I tried cutting my last batch into snowflakes, using metal cookie cutters. It worked, but was a pretty sticky mess. Using a wet, or hot cookie cutter may work better.

Nothing is better in hot cocoa than homemade marshmallows!

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If you check out “homemade marshmallow recipe” online, there are plenty to choose from. This is the recipe I used.

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/homemade-holiday-marshmallows

As always, everything to make marshmallows can be found at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

The Lasagna Project: Putting It All Together!

1005141503I’ve put so much time and work into making the different components of this darn lasagna, I’m a little nervous to finally put it all together. I still say I’m not the superwoman who can pull this off in one day, but I can see where a one-day production is more possible than I initially thought. It took Tori and I as much time to make all the cheese, as it took the tomato sauce to simmer down to the thickness we wanted. If you have all the needed ingredients, and start early in the morning, you could have completely homemade lasagna for dinner of the same day.

The mozzarella, ricotta and tomato sauce are ready and waiting. Tori and I made the pasta, then it was ready to assemble everything.

First step was to brown the sausage. We got it from Luke the Pork Guy at the local farmers market. He and his 3-year-old son pick out which pigs will be up next for processing. I don’t think I could do that, but I can eat it just fine.

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Second step, we add in the tomato sauce. I also grated and added some yellow squash.Yes, I’m still trying to use up the rest of the squash!1005141317a

Stir in a small onion, and a clove of garlic, and let it all simmer until it’s thickened as much as you want.1005141322

While the sauce is simmering, I sliced the mozzarella and pulled out the ricotta. The cheese was so soft when I put it in the container, it actually came out a little square. It’s too soft to grate, but slicing works just fine.1005141334

Here we go! Putting it all together! Put half the sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, with a layer of pasta over it.

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Next comes half the mozzarella, with half the ricotta on top of that. 1005141339 1005141340

The next set of layers was sauce, pasta, ricotta, and a little bit of plain tomato sauce. I decided to add the extra sauce because my family really likes their lasagna saucy and cheesy!

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Finally, the last layer of mozzarella. You can see the cheese is so soft, just putting it on top of the hot tomato sauce has started melting it.

1005141422bPop it in the oven at 375 for 35 minutes and you’re done! The final product…1005141503

Carly and Joe brought the babies over for dinner. I meant to take pictures of everybody eating, but we were all too busy eating! To make the whole experience even “cheesier,” I reminded everybody that the most important ingredient here was love. It was delicious, Tori and I had a great time working together in the kitchen, and it’s always fun to have the family together for an evening. Even if the lasagna hadn’t come out great, I would still say the time I spent with my family made it totally worth it. I’ll definitely do this again – next year.

The Lasagna Project Day 4: Pasta

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I’m learning there are so many things I just knew had to be hard to do, that are REALLY easy. Yeah, people tell you it’s easy, but they know how to do it, so can you really trust them? Making pasta is super easy! Trust me! You don’t even need a pasta maker, but that makes it even easier. If you have a general cook book, and it has a pasta section, look at it. If you’ve never made your own pasta, you’re going to kick yourself when you see how easy it is.

Flour, eggs, olive oil, water and basil. That’s it. I used duck eggs, just because I could. The pasta gets rolled so thin, though, there wouldn’t be any difference if I just used chicken eggs. I’ll stick with those next time.

Here’s the basic recipe:

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Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and make a little well in the middle.

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Mix the wet ingredients, then pour them into the little flour well.

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Blend the ingredients in the bowl, then dump the dough onto a floured surface. Knead for  5-10 minutes, until dough is smooth.1005141208

Let the dough rest, covered for 10 minutes, cut it into quarters, then start running it through the pasta machine. I start mine at 7, which is the thickest setting. After I run it through twice at 7, I reduce it to 5 for two runs, then 3 for the last run. This makes it really thin. Some people may like it at 4 or 5 for the final thickness. You can also use a rolling pin, and roll your dough to the desired thickness. The pasta machine is just way more fun to use. Totally up to you.

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The dough enters the past machine from the top. I’ve learned, if I hold it away from the machine, with a little bit of tension, it rolls through straighter and smoother. Then you just have to unfold it from itself where it’s piled up under the machine. If you have an extra set of hands to gather up the pressed pasta so it doesn’t stick to itself, that’s really helpful.

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And, now, you just let your pasta set and dry a little bit, while you put your sauce together.1005141259

I made the pasta the same day I assembled the lasagna. For posting purposes, I’m splitting them up. I thought it would be easier for people to find what they were looking for if the steps were separated out. The grand finale assembly will be here tomorrow. (Note: It was delicious!)

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The Lasagna Project Day 3: Ricotta Cheese

Believe it or not, ricotta is even easier than mozzarella. I would have doubled this one, but realized two whole gallons of milk would only BARELY fit into my pot. Again, easier to just do it twice.1002141517a

One gallon of milk, 1 tsp. citric acid.  Stir often until it’s 135 degrees. Let it set 5 minutes. Yep, it’s supposed to look like that.

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Pour into a colander, lined with cheesecloth.

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Let drain 30 minutes. I tied the cheesecloth into a pouch, and hung it from the faucet.

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Break it up with a fork and add salt, if wanted. I also added oregano.

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Done. One step closer to lasagna day!

You can find the Cheesemaking Kit and other supplies at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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The Lasagna Project Day 2: Mozzarella Cheese

Can’t have lasagna without cheese! I haven’t taken on hard cheese, yet. I don’t want to wait 6 months to figure out if something worked, or if I have a big, goopy, moldy mess. Mozzarella and Ricotta are the perfect cheeses for the immediate gratification set!

When I bought my first “Cheesemaking Kit” I felt kind of childish and like I was cheating. Really, it was the best thing I could have done. The mozzarella/ricotta kit contains citric acid, rennet, cheese salt and an instruction booklet – everything I needed, without having to figure out where to find it.

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The website www.cheesemaking.com has all the company’s recipes, plus kits, books and equipment you may be interested in. I used the recipe for 30 minute mozzarella and whole milk ricotta.

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I made two batches each of mozzarella and ricotta. The worst thing that can happen to lasagna is not having enough cheese. Four batches takes four gallons of milk, so my day started with a trek into town. There is actually a dairy between home and the grocery store, but my results aren’t as good when I use their milk. (There is absolutely nothing wrong with the dairy milk, but their pasteurization process seems to not be compatible with cheese making) At $12/gallon, including the bottle deposit, I’ll skip the less desirable results, and go with whole milk from Safeway.

Tori was my lovely assistant today. Don’t worry, cheesemaking can be a one person job, but it’s nice to have someone help with stirring, timing, and such. Together it took us 3 1/2 hours to finish all four batches of cheese, including clean-up between batches, and at the end.

Now, watch how easy this is!

Pour citric acid and milk into a stainless steel pot, and heat to 90 degrees. It’ll get all curdly and gross-looking. That means you’re doing it right.

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Add the rennet, mix it in, the leave it alone for 5 minutes. You should end up with silky smooth curds and whey. Mine didn’t do that, but it’s OK. If yours ends up looking like mine, don’t panic. It will all work out in the melting step.

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(TIP: I save the whey and use it for baking. It gives everything a silkier texture.  It will keep in the refrigerator about 1 week.)

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I use the “water bath method” to melt the curds, once they’ve been separated from the whey.  Dunking a colander of curds into a pot of boiling water can be a little tricky – and painful if you grab into the water to catch the colander because you didn’t have a good hold on it. If you happen to do this, please let me know, so I won’t feel quite so silly for doing it so many times. If you don’t want to burn your fingers, check out what I’ve figured out over time.

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Get a colander small enough to fit into a large pot of boiling water. (I use my canning pot.) I stuck a plastic spoon and spatula through the little handles, giving me something to hold onto. Genius, right? I’m pretty proud of it. And my fingers thank me.

Once the curds are melty – at 135 degrees – you get to stretch it like taffy. 135 degree taffy – be careful. The directions say you can use rubber gloves, but it seems like that would still be hot, so I just grab and stretch really fast. This is also where you would add cheese salt, if you want. One teaspoon does the trick. After it’s stretched and gets shiny, you roll it into a ball.

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A cool water bath, followed by an ice water bath, and it’s done. Thirty minutes, start to finish. No lies.

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Pretty, right?

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I thought about just doubling the recipe. Because of the different steps, and ingredients added at different times, I thought there were too many opportunities for it to mess up. I decided to just do it twice. Tomorrow, we’ll cover ricotta.

You can find the Cheesemaking Kit and other supplies at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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The Lasagna Project Day 1: Tomato Sauce

Some superwoman, at some point in time, may have been able to make everything for lasagna in one day – maybe, I don’t know – but I am not that person.  I’ll make one component a day. I’m starting with the tomato sauce because it can be canned, and doesn’t take up refrigerator space.

I tried to make tomato sauce last year. I ended up with something more like stewed tomatoes, because I hadn’t learned patience, yet. Really. Simmer and stir for 2 hours? I got it this year. It’s all about the process.

Let me start by saying tomatoes are not very user-friendly. They get ripe whenever they want. While you wait for some to ripen, others are getting rotten. Meanwhile, it’s getting colder outside and the plants are getting less and less happy. (Farm tip: I learned you can bring fully grown, unripe tomatoes inside where it’s warm, and they will ripen at a more consistent rate.)0930141314

My handy-dandy canning book calls for 10 pounds of tomatoes. Cool. I have 8. Nobody’s looking, so I’m going to cheat a little. If green tomatoes can be fried, they can be made into sauce. Right? Right. I run out to the garden and grab a few big, shiny green tomatoes to add to the mix.

Here are the directions:

Core and quarter tomatoes. Start with six of the quartered tomatoes in a stainless steel pot. Use a potato masher and spoon, and mash and stir as you add the rest of the tomatoes. Once I got the first tomatoes going, I got into a core-quarter-mash-stir pattern with the remaining tomatoes.

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The recipe calls for 2 ½ cups of onions and 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped. I did the chopping before I started the tomatoes because I was afraid I’d burn the tomatoes. Our onions are fairly small, so it took about 10 to get 2 ½ cups.0930141338a

Herbs, spices & seasonings: 1 ½ tsp oregano; 2 bay leaves; 1 tsp. each salt, pepper and sugar; ½ tsp. pepper flakes.0930141400a

All the goodies get dumped in with the tomatoes to simmer for 2 hours. During this time, continue to mash and stir. It’s done when the liquid has reduced by about ½ and the tomato mixture has thickened. I let mine go for 3 hours because I wanted it thicker.

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Now is the tricky part. The whole goopy mixture needs to be pushed through a fine mesh sieve. The directions say to do this in batches. Let me add SMALL batches. I scooped two ladles of sauce into the sieve at a time. Then, I used the bottom of the ladle to mush everything through, leaving the tomato skins and seeds behind. Toss out the seed and skin muck, and do it again. I initially tried this in larger batches, and it just doesn’t work.

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The sauce goes back in the pot to boil. Meanwhile, the jars and lids have been prepared. (Remember, it can take about an hour for the giant canning pot of water to boil. I started mine about 30 minutes before I ran the sauce through the sieve.)  A tablespoon of lemon juice is added to each jar, and then the sauce is added. Screw lids on and process for 35 minutes.

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The recipe is supposed to make 6 pints, but mine made 5 because I let it cook down thicker. Sauce done! Next step – cheese!0930141839

Note: I do not give specific canning instructions because I think people need to be more aware of the science behind it. I would hate to leave out an important step here, and have people end up sick. That would be bad. It’s not hard, though. I promise. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is a great resource for learning to can. Or you can check out their website.

http://www.freshpreserving.com

You can also find the book and canning equipment at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Lasagna 101: Intro to The Lasagna Project

Last summer, Charlie and I hit all the local farmers markets on a regular basis. By the end of summer, I was quite pleased with myself when I made a 100% Farmers Market Lasagna.

This year, I’m stepping it up! I’ve been waiting all summer to have everything ripen in our garden to make 100% Redmon Woods Lasagna. The tomatoes took their sweet time getting ripe, but they’ve finally gotten themselves ready.0930141311

Here’s what’s happening! Italian tomato sauce will come from our tomatoes and onions. Next, I’ll make mozzarella and ricotta cheese. I’ve made this before, and it worked, so, fingers crossed. Finally, I’ll make the pasta, using eggs from our own chickens.0930141537c

In the interest of full disclosure, some things will have to come from off-property. Flour, sugar, herbs and spices, and garlic will have to be bought. Charlie tried to grow garlic, but it just wasn’t cooperating this year. I will be using farmers market garlic, so it’s almost as good as coming from our own backyard. I’ll also have to buy milk for the cheese. I’ve used both raw milk and store-bought pasteurized milk for cheese, and pasteurized actually works better than raw. Goats are on the wish list, so maybe the milk will be home-grown next year. I was going to make vegetarian lasagna since we have no meat animals, but the family likes meat. Fortunately, we can get sausage from the farmers market.0930141537

That’s the plan! The rest of this week, I’ll be taking you through it step-by-step. This is my “culminating project” to wrap up my summer gardening and canning. We’ll have the family up for dinner this weekend to see if I pass.

I’ve added all my lasagna-making supplies to my Amazon a-store. Take a look!

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Pumpkin Butter

I woke up so excited to make pumpkin butter today. Charlie harvested all our pie pumpkins, so I have lots to work with. I went online last night to find directions that didn’t start with “1 CAN of pumpkin.” I got up early, got my pans, pots, knives, and other doo-dads together, and got to work.0929140741

The first step is to make pumpkin puree. This means the pre-first step is to get the pumpkin ready to puree.  I cut the tops off, then cut the pumpkins in half. Easier said than done.  My pumpkins fought me the whole way. Using an ice cream scoop, I scooped out the seeds and guts. The chunks of pumpkin then get cooked on a cookie sheet at 350 about 45 minutes, until tender.

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We have a super small oven, so I can only fit 2 small cookie sheets at a time. This first step is going to take awhile.

*Oops. Carly needs to run errands in town, so the babies are going to come play for a little while. I can see them from the kitchen while they play in the living room and watch a movie. I have a good start and a good system, so it won’t take me long to finish.

When the pumpkin is soft, I let it cool a bit, then cut the skin off. This part is really easy.  The seed wads go into a bowl to pick out the seeds for planting next year. The pumpkin tops and skin go into the scrap bucket for the alpacas and chickens. The pumpkin goes into the blender to puree. This has to be done in fairly small batches because only one pan of pumpkin is done at a time.0929140912a0929140915

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*This is about when the laundry room floods. Carly is on her way with the babies, so I have a few minutes to clean it up, while pumpkin is doing its thing in the oven.

Pumpkin Butter Recipe

Crock pot full of puree (about 20 small pumpkins)

4 cups sugar

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

Cook 6-8 hours in crock pot, on low, to thicken pumpkin mixture

I’m not done with all of the puree yet, but I start putting it in the crock pot as it’s ready, so it can get started thickening. This is also when I add the sugar and spices. Yum!

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*And now is when the power goes out. When you live in the sticks, everything is electricity. I have pans of pumpkin in the oven, two racks of pumpkin cooling, a blender full of pumpkin ready to puree, and a crock pot, almost full, ready to cook.  I also have 2 toddlers in the middle of a movie that has just shut off. It must be time for lunch. Can’t cook anything, so PB & J it is!

Two hours later Raymond, Reta Jean and I had lunch, colored, and practiced spelling. Carly and Tori are home, the power has finally come back on, and I’m back in business.

The rest of the cooking, pureeing, and processing goes off without a hitch. I add more puree to the crock pot and still have quite a bit left. I bag 9 1-cup portions to freeze and take the scrap buck outside. The alpacas and chickens are pretty darn happy with me. Now, the crock pot just has to do its thing. Tick-tock…

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The crock pot has done its job, and the house smells SOOO good! Canning experts say it is not safe to can pumpkin puree, and I’m going to listen to them. I have processed the pumpkin butter as if I were canning it. This seals it into jars to help preserve it, but it will be stored in the refrigerator. I have a total of 7 1-pint jars.  Of course, I sneaked a few tastes and it’s like pumpkin pie in a jar.

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