It's high summer and I'm making jam, pies, pickles, and tomato sauce, and also mentioning the unmentionable

August 03, 2023

Hello friends! A few weeks ago my neighbor offered up her plum tree for me to pick as many as I wanted and then last week we went berry picking. There was a lot of jam making and pie making around here and I'd like to share with you just how I did my marathon cooking and reveal all my pie and jam making secrets! 

Berry picking is very popular in our area. There are wild blackberries all over our town, but by the time I get to them, they are already picked over, plus the wild ones are small and covered with thorns. The best best is to go to a you-pick farm. For local readers, our favorite is Gizdich Ranch, located in Watsonville in Santa Cruz County. The drive over is easy, and after we get off the freeway it's a pleasant half hour drive through the countryside. When we went, the boysenberries and ollalieberries were in season. Ollalieberries are a popular but little known local berry and a relative of the blackberry and are fabulous. It was such a pleasant morning for berry picking; the roosters were cockadoodling and the songbirds were singing and we didn't have a care in the world. I was in heaven. After picking our fill, two half buckets, we drove back home on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, and went to Shadowbrook for lunch, a lovely restaurant that sits along the banks of Soquel Creek that opens into the ocean. The parking lot is on a cliffside above the 80 year old restaurant and you take a wee cable car down a nasturtium covered hillside to the restaurant. There is also a series of meandering outdoor stairs that I like to take back up to burn off a few of the calories. If you find yourself in the popular beach town of Capitola in Northern California, Shadowbrook is a colorful place to dine and I think you'd enjoy it!

I came home and made three berry pies and 15 half pints of jam! I baked one of the pies but the other two went into the freezer. I've been asked for my recipe for jam and I'm happy to tell you that I follow EXACTLY the recipe inside the pectin package. Below are a few tips I've learned over the years:

I prefer liquid pectin.
Don't alter the amount of sugar, it may not jell.
Don't double the recipe, make two batches instead, or it may not jell.
When making plum jam, I use 1/4 underripe fruit and 3/4 ripe fruit for best flavor.
When making berry jam, do not overly squish the berries, or it may not jell.

Making pie crust is easy. If you have a food processor, you can make this in a snap! My pie crust is very simple and originally from The Joy Of Cooking Book but I've adapted it for the food processor. It will make a double crust for a 9" pie. It will be tender and flaky and taste nothing like a prepackaged supermarket crust.

To the bowl of the food processor add:
2 C flour
1 tsp salt
pulse 2 times

Add 1/3 C CHILLED shortening and 1/3 C CHILLED butter, cut into cubes
pulse about 12 times

Sprinkle 5 tbsp ICE COLD water over the mixture
pulse about 12 times

Pour dough out onto a wood board, it will be crumbly, and quickly gather together into a ball.
Divide dough in half and with a floured rolling pin and a floured board, quickly roll one ball into a round disk to fit a 9" pie plate. If you need to, use a little water on your fingertip to smoosh together any cracks in the dough. Carefully pick up and place into a 9" pie plate. With a wet fingertip, pat a little water all around the edge of the pie pastry. Fill with fruit mixture, see below. Cover with a second pastry disc,  seal and trim edges. Cut slits for vents and brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with two teaspoons of sugar. Bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 45-55 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling out the vents and the crust is nicely browned.  

Right before filling the crust I make my easy berry pie filling.  Rinse 5-6 cups berries and mix with 1 cup sugar. Toss with 2 heaping tablespoons corn starch until mixed. Pour into crust.

Here are some tips I've learned over the years:

Don't double the recipe, make two batches if you are going to make two pies.
Use chilled ingredients.
Do not over process or over handle dough. Work quickly and don't overthink it.
Don't use all butter. Use half butter (for flavor) and half shortening (for texture).
My egg wash is simply one beaten egg white mixed with 1 tbsp milk.
I spray my pie plate LIGHTLY with cooking spray such as Pam. Too much spray will make it stick.
I swear by these pie crust shields shown below. I never bake a pie without them. Dishwasher safe too.
We like to cool our pies completely before slicing. My husband even prefers it refrigerated!
Unbaked pies freeze well.

If you grow vegetables or have access to farmer's produce, I really encourage you to make your own fresh pickles from this easy recipe. I make at least one batch a week. I know I say it every year and must sound like a broken record, but this recipe makes the crunchiest and best tasting dill. We grow our own warty cucumbers every summer but have also made this recipe in the winter using store bought tiny Persian cucumbers and they are very good too. I'm also pickling slim green beans and they are as good as the cukes. 

This is also the time of year I start making  roasted tomato sauce. I'm roasting the tomatoes right now and the house smells divine. I've had several guests walk in and out of the kitchen today and they've all said, "The house smells wonderful! What's cooking?" When I let them peek in at my tomatoes, they swoon a little. We've been eating our garden tomatoes for maybe a month, but this morning was my first big harvest and now I'll have a harvest like this every week though August into September. We use the sauce for tomato soup (our grandson's favorite dinner if I add a grilled cheese sandwich!), marinara sauce, bolognese sauce, and just anything you can think to make with tomato sauce. I freeze it in pint and quart jars and try to make it last until the next year. It freezes very well.

Just after I posted this I finished and bottled the sauce. The three pans of tomatoes made 5 quarts of very thick tomato sauce. The dark bottles are purple so it makes the sauce look black, but it's all a very nice tomato red color and had very good flavor.

Finally, look what I'm making! It's a needlepoint cushion designed by Brandon Mabley that I purchased from Ehrman Tapestry. I LOVE making it! I leave it on the patio because the light is bright outside and I need plenty of light for this. If I don't finish it in a few months by the time the light starts to dim or the weather turns cold, or both, I'll set it aside and finish it next summer. I'm about half finished so I think I have a chance! The lovely doctor bag is one of my vintage Offhand Designs. It makes me feel happy with I see it on the patio table knowing that such a fun project is waiting for me.

Now for the mentioning the unmentionable part, and this is something completely unlike anything I normally write about, but girls, listen to this: I found the perfect bra! Do you hear the angels singing? A miracle must have occurred because I found a comfortable bra!

In the dark depths of 2020, when I decided to finally let go of the viselike grip of my expensive underwire bras, I've been searching for the perfect, comfortable bra that offered some support. Was there even such a thing I wondered? I ordered one that offered decent support but made my bust have an odd shape and then found another that was slightly comfy but offered zero support, and that was a disaster too. But just last week, while shopping online at the Nordstrom Anniversary sale and making my yearly purchase of the best underpants in the world (that I've been wearing for a decade), I saw a simple looking bra and decided to order one. Girls, it's a wonderful bra--lightweight and comfortable, but somehow has enough support. I wore it for two days and didn't want to rip it off after dinner (like I usually do), but instead could wear it until bedtime. Without even crying. In fact, I forgot I was wearing it! Shocking, right? Since it passed the two-day test I bought 3 more and threw my old bras out. Both the bras and my favorite underpants (no panty lines ever) are on sale right now at Nordstrom, but I looked on Amazon and wouldn't you know it, they have the same items available every day for the Nordstrom sale price. Some of the colors are higher priced, but I buy the neutral colors anyway, and those colors were at the lower price. Below are the links to the best panties and the best bra, according to moi. 

So now, if after dinner my husband wants to go get ice cream I won’t say, “Sorry. Can’t. I already took my bra off.” Because we all know that when you take your bra off, the evening is officially over and we can’t put it back on until the morning. Oh my, this new bra opens up so many possibilities. 

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  1. I love reading your posts and seeing your incredible garden and beautiful knitting projects! We live in Minneapolis, and have a very shady yard, so our growing season is short and all we can really grow is hostas and herbs!!! I have a question about your tomato sauce. Do you freeze it right in the glass jars? Thank you!!!!

    1. Thank you, and yes, I freeze the sauce in canning jars. I might run out of them before I'm done making sauce for the year and then I will use recycled plastic containers like the large yogurt and salsa containers. I leave a little head space for expansion. It will stay nicely in the freezer for 12 months! I just don't trust myself canning.

  2. Thank you, Kristen, for this inspiring & informative post!
    Is that butcher you wrap your pies in to freeze or something else? Where do you buy the paper?
    Again, thanks! Such great info!

    1. It's freezer paper and I get it at the grocery store. I wrapped those pies 3 ways. First with plastic wrap. Then with foil. lastly with freezer paper. They won't stay in the freezer for more than a few months so they should be fine with no freezer burn.

  3. You are amazingly ambitious. Your pies look and sound delicious, the jam and tomato sauce will be wonderful. I have made your pickles and although they are delicious.
    Can't wait to see that needlepoint pillow when it is finished. Thanks for all of you hints.

    1. Thank you! We'll trade some jams tonight! My plum for your lime marmalade!

  4. Oops, although the pickles are delicious we don't consume them fast enough.

  5. Okay...I need to know more about this CUTE "Doctor" bag....Point us to a pattern or tell us the skinny on it please!!! xoxoxo

    1. Thank you, I agree, it's so cute. I have two of them. They are from Offhand Designs, a local SF Bay Area company, but they no longer make this type of bag. It's too bad because it's so awesome, a big old doctor bag made out of tapestry fabric. So useful! If you look on Ebay sometimes you can find one. Good luck in your search!

  6. Whoops! ... Hit send too fast and it posted as A Nony Mouse. Bag in of pppplease!!!

  7. Kristen I was having a hard time with your comment form. Lately my computer gets glitchy when a site has a lot of video ads. Anyway, I love your post and you reminded me of the tomato sauce- I made your recipe last year and it was so very good. Also, is needlepoint similar to embroidery or cross stitch? I’ve never done it but I see beauty kits and they tempt me to try it. Okay, that’s everything. Happy August.

    1. I think you would love needlepoint, it's so rhythmic and soothing. Try a little piece at first, perhaps a little tree ornament. Then if you like it you can be more ambitious. I have enjoyed it so much this summer and it's almost finished. I think it would be more similar to cross stitch, but instead of making two stitches to make a cross, you only make one stitch. I think it's the easiest of all. I'm going to give myself another one again this Christmas to work on next summer.

  8. Hi, Kristen. Been away on a visit. Thanks for your wonderful tips. My grandmother used to do a lot of canning but unlike knitting (in her case crocheting) it did not skip a generation. But your pickles sound intriguing so I might give them a try! For the past ten years I have been true to a particular Bali bra (Bali really does know bras and I’ve tried most brands - no payment to me for this comment) but I don’t think they make that style anymore, so your bra suggestion is Very Welcome. (Oh, can I say as a brief stint as a salesperson in the lingerie department of my local department store, that tape measures are Not Enough and can even be way off when fitting bras. There are just too many variables. You must try them on!). Thanks for All your inspiration! Chloe

    1. Oh my gosh, Bali Bra, that was my brand for 50 years! My mother wore them, so naturally I did too! Unfortunately as I got older I started to get divots in my shoulder where the strap dug in, plus when I took my bra off I had red marks from the underwire. I was professionally sized several times so I'm certain I was wearing the right size, I just think I have sensitive skin. I'm so glad I found these. Time will tell how well they wear but I do take care of my underthings by hand washing. Hope you visit was a goodie. My brother was here for 2 1/2 weeks and we went on a few mini trips but mostly stayed home and ate tomatoes and reminisced.


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