Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Real Life + Berries + Homemade Vanilla Yogurt

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Berry season! Strawberry season. I am writing this post while eating that very bowl of homemade vanilla yogurt (recipe below) covered with homemade strawberry jam. I used the jam recipe offered in the Craftsy class I took last year, Jam and Marmalade the Blue Chair Way*. So good. I am an old pro at the yogurt by now, but for the jam I still had to refer to the class material, just to make sure I knew what I was doing. The two and a half batches of jam I made have turned out perfectly, and it would be a complete and utter success this year if only I would stop giving it away! I love too many people, and I feel compelled to show that by feeding them something I have made myself. But I knew this ahead of time so I froze a couple batches of Michigan strawberries (picked by my kids) to make more jam when the weather isn’t so sticky (we don’t have AC).

The funny thing about all this berry-picking and jam business is, my kids are not jam eaters. I started them out all wrong by making peanut butter and honey sandwiches, so they were never exposed to jam during their small formative years. The 3 year old sometimes gets jam since he forgets to protest, but he’s not excited about it. I try not to feel bad, and console myself that there will be more of this delicious jam for me. Until they hit the age of reason and ravenous appetites. But then, they can help with the jamming so it will all even out in the end.

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Serviceberries. Have you heard of them? They are also called Saskatoon berries or (my favorite) juneberries. They grow on trees, and look a bit like blueberries and taste a cross between blueberries and cherries. The seeds have an almond taste too, which apparently enhances jams made from them. They are not sold commercially for reasons unknown to me, though I think they can sometimes be found seasonally at farmers markets. Their season is very short (a week or two?), so they are a rare treat.

We have 3 downy serviceberry trees at the new house, though I didn’t give them much thought until I was taking some packages out to the mailbox and noticed the ripe berries as I walked under them. I knew they were edible so I ate one, and it was surprisingly sweet. I did a little research to learn more about how to preserve them, then went out with a bucket to pick what was ripe that I could also reach with a step ladder. I picked the amount you can see above (3-4 cups?), and had planned to pick more later in the week when more had ripened and I had more time. But I never did have more time (preparing the house to host a baby shower, while trying not to overdo it with a recovering back), and that ended up being my entire harvest. Real life happens and sometimes we have to sacrifice the wants for the needs, you know? The rest of the berries went to birds, rabbits and deer (I saw them all out there eating the fallen ones on the driveway). Apparently everybody likes them :) I washed and froze them individually on a sheet pan, and they are in the freezer now awaiting a future of hopeful jamming too. Juneberry jam… it sounds so nice and homey, doesn’t it?

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And the last sort of berries in my life right now… wild black raspberries. I was made aware of the existence of these berries along nearby trails by the previous lady of this house, and was told by other wild black raspberry experts (my in-laws) that they should probably be ripe sometime in July. Today, being July 2, seemed like a good day to go back and check if any of the hard, green-white berries I had seen several weeks ago had matured into anything remotely edible. So I dragged my unhappy, screaming 3 year old with me since he could not be trusted on his own at the house for 30 minutes, unlike his older and more trustworthy siblings. We walked the short distance to the woods, passed through a narrow poison-ivy-infested footpath, and were spit out onto an airy paved walkway. The very instant we passed some berries at his eye level, he returned from Hyde to Jekyll and started gleefully plucking the ripe berries anywhere he could reach. He was surprisingly good at only going for the black ones, so I let him go at his own pace while I walked ahead a bit. Every now and then he would call to me, “How you doin’ over dere, mom?” “Great. How are you doing, AJ?” “Great! I pick dem all!!” And so we walked for 15 minutes trying to find the most productive plants before we had to turn around and head home. We had only picked about a cup total since they were just starting to ripen and not many were fully black yet, but never were berries picked with more satisfaction. I also kept an eye out for clusters of wild grape… I will need to try again making wild grape jelly after a major fail last year (so big it went undocumented here).

When we got home, I washed up the boy to prevent him from getting poison ivy… he had walked near some, and that was too close for my comfort (I have a phobia despite never having had it myself)… and then I let him play with the big kids while I took a quick shower. I came downstairs and caught him red-handed. And red-faced. He proudly declared, “I eat dem all!” He had, indeed, eaten every single berry. So, no wild black raspberries to show for our expedition, but he did have fun, and get himself over a nasty tantrum, and also managed to eat some fruit. Real life.

I will go back soon, preferably alone and wearing pants and bugspray, and try to forage for more. I want to apprentice myself to my mother-in-law and learn how to make black raspberry jelly. It is a family favorite, and it would be so nice to be able to put some up for the year (and to give away) if I can collect enough fruit. We shall see what there is to be had.

As promised…

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Crockpot Vanilla Yogurt

Yield: 1 gallon and 1 pint

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 oz vanilla or plain yogurt (not Greek)
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

  • Pour the milk into a large stockpot, and heat over high heat until a thermometer reads 170 F. Turn heat to low. Remove it from the heat when it reaches 185 F.
  • Allow the milk to cool to 115 F. You can just let it sit, or cool it in a water bath. Make sure that it does not go below 105 F. When it hits 115 F, add the other ingredients and thoroughly mix with a whisk.
  • At this point you can culture the yogurt in any container(s) you like. I like to pour it into canning jars (8-6 oz works well) with a loosely sealed lid ( I always use the plastic lids shown above, available here*) to make portions convenient for grab’n’go, or use a larger plastic container for simplicity and space efficiency. Regardless, the container(s) should be loosely covered and kept at 115 F for the next 6-8 hours.
  • I use a turkey roaster as a water bath, filling it to above the yogurt line on the container(s) with hot water. Once the water bath is at the right temp, I turn it off and cover the roaster lid with a towel. I use a probe thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature, and turn on the roaster for short intervals to heat it back up, if necessary. My thermometer (from Ikea, like this one) beeps when the set temp is reached, so I can be sure I am not going to accidentally heat it up too much.
  • At the 6 hour mark, test a small spoonful of the warm yogurt to see if it the right consistency and tastes tangy enough for you. Too runny? Too bland? Let it go another hour, then test again. Keep going until it is right.
  • Store yogurt, tightly covered, in the fridge. It will keep longer than it will last before you eat it all :) Be sure to save 4 oz for your next batch!

*Affiliate links: If you purchase something through a link here, there is a possibility that I will be monetarily compensated. I only promote products that I use and love myself, and any compensation earned via affiliate links will go straight to my fabric fund. So I can buy, you know, a fat quarter or something :)

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