Thursday, June 17, 2021

Classic Strawberry Jam with Apple Pectin and Stevia


When I shared the above photo on social media, I was asked, "Why apples in  your strawberry jam?" I had nearly forgotten that this wasn't normal.

My memory of my mom making strawberry jam when I was a girl is going to the grocery store for pectin (Sure Gel) and finding that other jam makers in the community had stripped the shelf bare. Sometimes we'd go to several grocery stores before finding enough pectin. 

I always enjoy learning new techniques, especially if they mean less reliance on purchased products, so when I saw a recipe in Cooks Country magazine that used an apple for pectin, I decided to try it. I loved the result and have used this recipe every year since then.

There are disadvantages of using an apple for pectin. Some of the modern kinds of pectin require less sugar and no cooking which makes jam making faster. A cooked jam does take longer and the flavor is a little different than the non-cooked type of jam. 

But if you'd like to try making jam the way your great-grandmother may have made it, here is the recipe I use. 

Classic Strawberry Jam with Apple Pectin

3 lb strawberries
3 cups of sugar (or alternative sweetener)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/4 cup)
2 T lemon juice

Cap, wash, and crush strawberries. I use an immersion blender. Add all other ingredients. Boil until thick. I found this took about 15 minutes of a rolling boil. Cool. Freeze.

Jam is notorious for boiling over if you walk away. This pan wasn't very full, but the jam foamed up and over the pot. You don't need to constantly stir it, just keep an eye on it and stir occasionally.

The jam will thicken as it cools so it can be hard to know when it has cooked long enough. To test when the jam is thick enough, I keep a small glass plate in the freezer. When I think the jam has cooked long enough, I place a teaspoon of jam on the plate and return it to the freezer for two minutes. I then drag a finger through the cooled jam to text its thickness. You can see here the difference that a few additional minutes of cooking did for the jam. When it is finished it will be a dark red and there will be no sign of the grated apple.

I have also used this recipe for red raspberry jam. I assume it could be used for other fruits.

I've read that Granny Smith apples have more pectin than some other apple varieties, but one year I used Ginger Gold apples in my raspberry jam and it turned out great.

I usually substitute stevia for some (or most) of the sugar. One teaspoon of pure stevia is equal in sweetness to one cup of sugar. I've done as little as 1/2 cup of sugar and replaced rest of the sugar with stevia and my family never knew the difference.

I freeze the jam and find that it keeps its color and texture perfectly even after several years. 

I'd love to hear if you have experimented with apple pectin or stevia in jam making.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Sisters' June Reading Challenge

Looking forward to another great book month in June. Feel free to join us for one or all five of these challenges - or make up your own challenge for June.

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Read a book with a title that includes something from nature (plants, weather, flowers, etc).

For example: 

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell

Some Wildflower in My Heart by Jamie Langston Turner 

2. Read a book about animals (fiction or nonfiction).

For example: 

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Charlotte’sWeb by E.B. White

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

3. Read a book of history or historical fiction (fiction or nonfiction). 


Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Cabin in Trouble Creek by JeanVan Leeuwen

4. Read by a campfire.

With the long hours of daylight in June, you can sit by a campfire and still have light to read.

5. Enjoy a book-themed garden party.

This can be as simple as sipping iced tea while chatting about books with a friend. Or serving honey bread to your children while reading Pooh. You can get fancy with an Austen- or Mitford-themed party.

 Many children's books mention food: The Little House in the Prairie, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Bread and Jam for Frances. Keep this simple, or make it elaborate, but the idea of this challenge is to be inspired by a book to go outside and share food with a friend or two.

Whether you choose to do these challenges or not, I hope you enjoy learning and growing through the written page in June.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Sisters' May Reading Challenge

Did you enjoy reading in May? We did!

This post contains affilant links.

1. Read a book of letters (fiction or nonfiction).

Charity - The Letters of E.B. White

I knew this author only from his children's books, but through this compiliation of letters, that span his life, I glimpsed into the real person behind the most beloved pig. I didn't complete this book, but enjoyed it in little moments, especially before bed. White's humor and life experiences are a blast to tage along with.

Gina - Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I've read lots of historical fiction set during World War 2, but I didn't realize until I read this book how little I knew about World War 1. Thousands of letters traveled between English troops stationed in France and their family and friends back home. This book uses fictional letters to share stories of hope and grief. The plot isn't gripping, and it was hard to feel attached to characters known only through their short letters, but I enjoyed this glimpse into another era.

2. Read a book set in a country you've never visited (fiction or nonfiction).

Charity - Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge

Goudge is one of my favorite authors, and this book was another emotional roller coaster. Most of the book is set in either the Channel Islands or New Zealand. The main characters are two sisters and their childhood friend, William. The book follows their entire lives and their battles with each other and love. As I read this book, I was reminded of surrender and how our will has the ability to destroy our lives. I loved how this novel was entertaining but also personally challenging.

Gina - I read a travel memior from Austrailia and discovered that I knew almost nothing about this huge fascinating country. While I learned an immense amount from the book, I'm not going to mention the book by name because of its off-color humor. 

3. Read a book that your mother or mentor enjoys.

Our mom has great book tastes, and I always like to check out what she is reading when I visit her house. 

(Fun fact: There are more years between Charity and me than my mom and me. My mom was twenty when I was born, and forty-three when Charity was born - which means that Charity and I are twenty-three years apart. So glad that books have bridged the years between us. We have seven siblings in between us.)

Charity - The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria has shattered my view of home and family. Along with her husband and children, the author challenges you to make your home a place of refuge for your neighbors, no matter what their background or current life. As believers, we have something wonderful to offer, the Gospel. How will we use our house key? Hospitatlity took on a whole new meaning after reading this book.

Gina - Missional Motherhood by Gloria Furman

I've read a lot of parenting books, but none like this. Furman took me on a journey through the Old Testamen to see God's plan for humandkind, then shows how Jesus fulfills God's plan as prophet, priest and king. How does that relate to motherhood? Furman says "mother" is a verb and challenges all women, whether biological mothers or not, have been called to help others find new life in Christ. I'll be rereading this book.

4. Read in your backyard, on your porch, or on your fire escape.

Charity - One very exhausting Tuesday I arrived home from work with only one goal in mind. Rest. And when I rest, I read. I spent two delightful hours in my backyard with a hammock and an entire bag of books, journals, and pens. I read, listened to the chatter of my neice and nephews, and traveled to New Zealand (aka Green Dolphin Street). Moments like those got me through the crazy weeks this month.

Gina - When I sit on the hammock or the porch to read, it rarely lasts five minutes before I'm interrupted. But that doesn't keep me from continuing to try. At this point in my life, I find most of my reading time at night, but maybe since it is warmer and the sun is up earlier, I should try reading on the hammock before breakfast. 

5. Ask someone at church what they are reading.

Charity -Books are quickly a conversation between the youth girls at church. Recently we have been reading a book together and enjoying lots of conversations about it. But I also love chatting about books with random people at our little church library.

Gina - One Monday in early May, a friend from church texted to tell me she had finished reading a particular book and would love to discuss it with me. Since it happened that my oldest three children were away that morning and we weren't having a typical school day, I invited my friend to come over. I was thrilled when she agreed. It was such fun to set aside the Monday projects and enjoy some unexpected book (and life) conversation. 

I'd love to hear what you read in May. 

Look for the Sisters' June Reading Challenge tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021


I could tell you of the pleasure of May gardening and spring flowers, of a delightful tea party and picnics with friends, of the excitment of new projects and future plans.

I could write about sadness and the longing to spend one more spring with Ed, to have another conversation about all the important and mundane details of life, to be able to tell the children "ask dad."

Both would be true in the conflicting days of May.

The Miss Kim lilac Ed gave me the first year of marriage, bloomed right on cue on my birthday as always.

Daughter playing with her dolls in the falling cherry blossoms.

New kittens.

Food tastes best outdoors.

Last week I taught Sunday School from John 10. I love verse 10. "I (Jesus) am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." The word "abundantly" gives the idea of unmeasurable, and not only in quanity, but in superior quality. Life on earth can be rich and fullfilling, despite sorrow, because of Jesus. Even more, we can rest in knowing that eternal life will be even better.

I looked for verses that speak of God's abundance. I hate to pull verses out of context but here are some favorites. I encourage you to look them up and read with the surrounding verses.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

Romans 15:13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

2 Peter 1:3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Whatever the physical details of your life - whether you are weak or strong, whether your life could be described as delightful or drudgery, may you cling to the abundance that God gives through the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Sisters' May Reading Challenge


I'm excited about this  month's reading challenge. So much potential for great reading! 

This post contains affilant links.

1. Read a book of letters (fiction or nonfiction).

For example: 

84,Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (A New York writer sent letters to a London used book seller after World War 2 and their coorespondance has become a classic.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (Fictional letters between a London writer and the islanders of Guernsey and a celebration of the role literature played in their survival of World War 2 occupancy. Delightful book though there is a gay character- a minimal part of the book.)

Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot (These notes to her daughter were written decades ago but are still relevant.)

2. Read a book set in a country you've never visited (fiction or nonfiction).

We were going to suggest a book set in Mexico or Latin America for Cinco de Mayo, but that seemed too restrictive. But I would love to learn more about the  US neighbor so if you have some book suggestions set in Mexico, please let me know.

Examples for this challenge - they are endless.

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (Middle grade fiction from India)

Peace Child by Don Richardson (A missionary classic from New Guinea)

In the Land of Blue Burquas by Kate McCord (Powerful story of a woman reaching out to the women of Afghanistan.

3. Read a book that your mother or mentor enjoys.

In honor of Mother's Day, ask your mother for a suggestion of a book she has particularly enjoyed.

4. Read in your backyard, on your porch, or on your fire escape.

5. Ask someone at church what they are reading.

Have fun reading in May!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Sisters' April Reading Challenge

I thoroughly enjoyed this month's reading challenge. I'm not sure if it was the type of reading, or just my mood this month. 

This post containes affiliate links.

 1. Since April is National Poetry month, read from a book of poetry.

Charity - I enjoyed several books of poetry this month, though I read none of them in their entirety. From African American poetry to Emily Dickenson, my poetry books took a permanent residence next to my bed for the month of April.

Gina - For the last several years, I've been trying to gain a greater enjoyment of poetry. I picked up a poetry book by Mary Oliver at the library's poetry display. I especially enjoyed Oliver's nature poems but didn't care for some others. I decided that I need to read poetry differently than other books. It's okay to simply dislike some poems. 

2. Read a biography or autobiography.

Charity - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini’s life is one of contrast. As you read it you almost feel like he must have lived several lives. From rebellious childhood to a POW camp in Japan, you will be amazed at how many memories one person’s life can hold. Though at times I could barely read any more of the brutality faced as a Prisoner of War, the redemption made it worth every moment it took to read!

Gina - Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Dr. Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to giving medical care to the poor. This biography reads like a personal memoir because Kidder spent a lot of time with Farmer, hiking for hours over Haitian mountains to see a patient and traveling to Russia to work with prisoners with tuberculosis. Kidder is a remarkable writer, and Farmer's passion for curing infectious diseases is inspiring. Note: the book is from a secular perspective and contains profanity and details of immorality. 

3. Read a fairy tale or a retelling of a fairy tale.   

Charity - The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Loosely based on the fairly tale by the Brothers Grimm, Goose Girl is the story of a princess' struggle to relate to the people around her and mostly to her queenly mother. Ani's mother ultimately sends her off into an adventure that will either end Ani’s  life or make her a queen. I was pleasantly surprised to find that though it was an adult novel, it was still clean. It does contain violence, but it is not graphic. One caveat would be that  there is talk of powers or gifts that involve being able to speak to animals, wind, etc., but there are no wizards or witches.

Gina - The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

What happened next in the "happily ever after" in the stories of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty? It isn't what I expected. Four men, all known only as "Prince Charming," are on a bumbling quest against the evil witch. The author throws in lots of humor and creativity along with trolls, a robber king, and a dragon. With four stories merging with four kingdoms and their royal families, I struggled to keep all the details straight. This is a fun middle grade book but with the fantasy and bad attitudes, I hesitate to give it to my children. 

4. Celebrate spring by reading in a park.

Charity - I loved the excuse to throw my book of poetry in my bag when we went to the lake last week. My enjoyment of Dickenson’s nature poems were definitely enhanced by the nature around me. Maybe I’ll read at a park more often.

Gina - I'm realizing that my little girls don't get the chance to play in playgrounds since we often choose activities the older children enjoy. So this month I took them to the park several times, reading my book between pushing them on the swings and admiring their climbing skills.

5. Share a poem with a friend by a card, email, text, or social media.

Charity - For the month of April, a few siblings and I created a chat to share poetry that we were enjoying in honor of the month. I loved reading what others liked. Sometimes laughing at a humorous poem, crying over a sad one, and, always, soaking up the beauty of words perfectly combined.

Gina - There is nothing more fun than sharing words with friends, and our sibling poetry chat was a highlight of my month. 

I'd love to hear what you read this month. Did you read an inspiring biography? Did you find a fun fairy tale? Does poetry lift your heart or are you a reluctant poetry reader like me?

Come back tomorrow for the Sisters' May Reading Challenge.

Thanks for your patiences as I figure out the new email service. Some of you recieved two emails last week. Some found the email in your promotions. If you didn't get the email, and can't find it in your spam or promotions, try signing up in the right column. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Grief and Trust in April

I love the change of seasons and look forward to each season as it arrives. But spring is my favorite. I enjoy watching the earth awaken from winter, robe itself in green, and burst out with the music of birdsong and blossoms.

For years I worked at a greenhouse. Every day my hands were in the soil, and I talked plants and gardening with customers. It was a dream job.

This spring may be more beautiful than usual, or maybe I just forget. I'm relishing all the spring joys. 

Yet I feel melencholy. I can't help but recall the past several springs.

2017 - Ed had more and more frequent headaches in April let to the discovery of a brain tumor and diagnosis of glioblastoma in May.

2018 - Ed's tumor returned, and he had his second surgery in March. In May he had a grand mal seizure which I veiw as the turning point of his cognitive ability.

2019 - In March we learned that the cancer had spread to the other side of Ed's brain. His quick decline to a wheelchair, then to a hospital bed, cumilated in his death in May.

2020 - Covid reached our area in March and normal life ground to a halt. 

While in many ways Covid didn't change my days as a mom and homeschooler, I feel like I've carried grief this past year. Grief for the misunderstandings and strained relationships. Grief for the loss of life. A grief that continues a year later.


Years ago, when I was still a teen, one of the customers at the greenhouse was a sweet older woman who loved gardening. Many years later I met Ed and discovered that this lady went to his church. Throughout the years, I've enjoyed many gardening conversations with her. She usually sat in the row in front of me at church and at this time of year, she would ask if I had been to the greenhouse yet. I have a gift certificate in my purse that she gave me last spring to the greenhouse where we first met. 

But this spring she is in the hospital fighting for her life against Covid. While I know numerous people whose life has been taken by Covid, this is the first person who I saw often. Will you pray for a miracle for Esther?


As I flipped through the photos I've taken the last few weeks, I realized that we've done many walks in the woods. 

At the end of March, I gathered with 25 widows (most of them strangers) at a camp on a Pennsylvania mountainside. We tramped in the woods that was still stark with winter, ate wonderful food, and spent hours laughing, talking, crying, and singing. I can't describe how soul-strengthening the weekend was for me.

A few weeks later, I hiked with my brother and children to Black Rock on the Applachian Trail. When Ed and I were dating, we hiked here often, but it was the first time I had taken the children. 

Last weekend I walked through the woods with my parents and enjoyed the redbud and other blooming trees. 

I've been thinking a lot about trust and what it means to trust a God who doesn't always answer prayer as I wish. A God who brings us each season despite personal or international grief. A God whose plans are bigger than mine. A God who walks beside us as we carry pain into a beautiful April. 

I'm realizing that I hold God at arm's lenth when He doesn't feel as safe and predictible as springtime. But I'm longing to find new life, renewed relationships, and joy that lasts longer than April blossoms.

And now I can't find a neat and tidy ending to this blog post. So I'll just close with verses that have been meaningful to me in case your April doesn't feel neat and tidy. 

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

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