Thursday, July 30, 2015

Homemade Tomato Salsa

Salsa is one of my favorite things to make in the summer.

What can be better than collecting a pan full of colorful vegetables, chopping them, and relishing the wonderful aroma while they cook?

Maybe the best is enjoying salsa all winter?

This recipe came from a friend many years ago and I made many jars of this salsa when I was single. My brothers loved to open up a jar of salsa and serve it with corn chips and sour cream when their friends came over. It is still our favorite tomato salsa recipe.

To peel the tomatoes I place them in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. The peeling slides right off.

After burning my fingers when cutting up hot peppers one year, I choose to add heat to my salsa by buying dried crushed red pepper. It is so easy to measure it in the pot with no danger to the hands (or eyes.) You can experiment with amount of hot peppers - whether you prefer mild or hot salsa. Maybe you'll want to make several batches with different heat levels. I have found that even the freshness of your crushed hot pepper can make a difference in the heat of your salsa. So add a little and do a taste test.

 Homemade Salsa
1 gallon skinned and diced tomatoes (Paste tomatoes such as Roma are wonderful but any good flavored tomato will work)

3 T. dried crushed red pepper (or desired amount) OR 12 chopped jalapeno peppers (use caution and wear gloves)
3 sweet peppers,diced (red, yellow, or green - color does not matter)
2 medium onions, diced
2 T salt
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 crushed garlic cloves OR 1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (I substitute fresh parsley - different flavor but same appearance)

Place all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer for 30 to 60 minutes uncovered. Place in jars and water-bath can for ten minutes.
Makes about 8-10 pint.
Hint: If thicker salsa is desired you may add 1/4 cup clear gel with 1/2 cup cold water and add it to the pot half way through the cooking time. Do not boil after adding clear gel.

Disclaimer: Though I've made this recipe for years, it has not been tested by experts for safety. I know that clear gel or other thickener is not usually recommended. Use this recipe at your own risk. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Recipe for Peach Salsa

Though I had shared a peach salsa recipe back in 2011, for the last few years I've been making this recipe. We like this version better since it has more peaches than tomatoes. I love mixing all the fresh produce with their bright colors.

As soon as I get some fresh peaches and my tomatoes finally start to ripen, I'll be making this recipe. I hope to have enough this year to make it to winter as sometimes this gets all eaten in the first month. It is that good.

I found that it is best to use a firm peach. In one batch I used some very soft ripe peaches and they didn't have as nice of texture in the salsa - though the flavor was still good. But you also don't want peaches that are too hard.

You can use fresh hot peppers instead of dried pepper flakes but after a bad burn from cutting up hot peppers one year, I find dried pepper flakes much easier!

Peach Salsa

9 cups fresh peaches, peeled and chopped
2 T lemon or lime juice (fresh or bottled)
4 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 large sweet green peppers, diced
1 large sweet red pepper, diced
2 cups onions, diced
2 T dried crushed red pepper flakes (or fresh hot peppers if you wish. Add more or less to your desired heat level)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (or use fresh parsley if you don't care for cilantro)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 T honey
2 T clear gel if desired to thicken 

Mix peaches with lime or lemon juice. Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring to boil over medium heat and cook for five or six minutes. Remove from heat. Ladle into canning jars. Screw on lids and process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Disclaimer: This recipe has not been tested by experts but I consider it safe because of all the high acid ingredients such as peaches and vinegar. Make your own decision at your own risk.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Recipe for Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Yesterday I shared a new ketchup recipe. The friend that shared the recipe with me would take the homemade ketchup and then make her own barbecue sauce. I'm sure you could use any ketchup - even purchased ketchup - to make this recipe.

Our family loved this barbecue sauce on pork ribs and beef roast, but probably the majority was consumed on our favorite bbq-chicken pizza. It doesn't take long to go through a couple jars of barbecue sauce when the family is chowing down on some spicy slices of pizza. Yum!

This sauce is very spicy with a good deal of zing. The original recipe called for 12 cups of sucanet (or brown sugar). I cut that way back and, as I said, my family loved it. Ed prefers a barbecue sauce to be more spicy than sweet. You can do your own taste test and find your families preferred level of sweetness. Just add the sugar one cup at a time until you like it.

Barbecue Sauce

12 cups ketchup
4 cups brown sugar
2 tsp stevia (or 2 more cups of brown sugar is you prefer)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cup dry mustard powder
1/3 cup paprika
1/3 cup salt
3 T black pepper
3 T garlic powder
3 T molasses
1 1/2 T liquid smoke

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Thicken with a little clear jell (maybe 2 T) if desired. Place in jars and can for ten minutes. Makes about 6 pints.

Disclaimer: No expert testing was done on this recipe. Proceed at your own risk.

Special thanks to the Home Joys reader who shared this recipe. Do you have a favorite family recipe that you'd like to share?

Monday, July 20, 2015

New Recipe for Homemade Ketchup

I picked the first tomato today! It was a tiny little thing; most of the others are grass green. It will probably be a month until I am truly harvesting tomatoes - but I can still rejoice in this summer milestone of the first ripe tomato.

The priority of my tomato harvest is tomato soup and pizza sauce. These are two things my family thinks they can not live without. I don't mind purchasing other tomato products.

But last year my sister-in-law gave me several bushels of tomatoes. Since I had the tomatoes, and the time, I decided to try making ketchup and barbecue sauce again. I tried new ketchup and barbecue sauce recipes. And my family loved them. The barbecue sauce was gone in a short time and I'm hoping that my tomatoes produce well enough that I can try making some more this summer.

The ketchup and barbecue sauce recipes came from a friend who adapted them from her famil's recipes. I further adapted the recipe, since I can't seem to let even a great recipe alone. I'll share the recipes as I made them.

The ketchup recipe was very similar to the ketchup recipe I made another year. I might need to make a batch of each so I can do a taste comparison.

Homemade Ketchup

2 1/2 gallon thick tomato juice (I used the freezer trick for thick juice.)
2 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 large onions, chopped
1 T mixed pickling spice
2 cups brown sugar OR 1 1/2 tsp stevia
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 T. salt

Place tomato juice and vinegar in large pot. Place pickling spice in a cheesecloth bag and place in juice. Boil for one hour. Saute onions in a little tomato juice. Place in blender and blend until smooth. Add to juice. Add sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and salt. Boil for fifteen more minutes. Remove cheesecloth bag. Place in jars. Water bath can for ten minutes.

 Disclaimer: This recipe has not been tested for safety by experts.

Tomorrow I'll share the barbecue sauce recipe.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

July Garden Goals

I staggered through June, watching the weeds thrive on the abundant rain and falling further and further behind in my garden work as I lived for my next nap.

Babies are worth any sacrifice, but I was sure glad to find a surge of energy at my second trimester. I'm now loving my garden, instead of getting discouraged every time I even think of it.

The endless rain the past month has made everything thrive. And even if that includes weeds - it is a joy to see lush abundance. I love walking out and picking my supper - deciding between broccoli, cabbage, green beans, peppers, zucchini, beets, egg plant, or onions.

While harvesting and weeding are obvious tasks this month, I've learned in past years that this month is the time to prepare for the fall garden. Especially if I plan to start my own broccoli plants, I must get them started early this month. This year, I decided that I'll just buy plants toward the end of the month and save myself the bother of starting my own.

I'll also plant a second planting of some vegetables for fall, including green beans and beets.

This is our lower garden patch - planted wholly in potatoes this year. I think it is the loveliest patch we've ever had - the rows are indiscernible as the vegetation has filled the whole plot. I've been scratching the dirt away from the plant stems and pulling out potatoes bigger than my outstretched fingers and hand. I love new potatoes and am enjoying the dozens of ways to eat potatoes.

This is an end view of our second garden patch. In the foreground is the new strawberry rows.

Walking alongside this garden you can see a better view of the (weedy) strawberries. Beside them is the carrots. The groundhogs discovered the carrots a few weeks ago. I surrounded them with a makeshift fence - which worked for two weeks - then it was back to dining. I threw a row cover over the end where they seemed to be hitting the worse and so far, they seem to be avoiding it, for now.

Next is my very weedy onion patch. Since I took this photo, I have pulled out the onions. I would have liked to let them get a little larger but they seemed to be starting to rot - maybe because of all our rain? I plan to clear this area of weeds and plant fall broccoli and cabbage here.

Next is a row of zinnas - just for fun - then the green beans, which were also being harvested by the groundhogs. I put bird netting over them in hopes of discouraging them. It is only partly working. They are keeping the tops trimmed off the one end of the beans but thankfully not doing too much damage.

A view from the other side of this same bean row.

Beside the green beans is a new planting of beets and basil. My first basil planting was accidentally hoed under. I'm hoping this basil grows fast enough that it is ready for harvest when I'm making pizza sauce. In the back is the squash plants. To the right is the broccoli which is still giving some small side shoots.

The squash are growing so large and thick that they are nearly impossible to pick. They are almost smothering the beets in the row beside them. I tried growing some yellow beets this year. They taste just like red beets but don't have that bright color that stains everything they touch. I love them cooked with a little butter and salt.

To the left and right is the tomatoes and down the middle is peppers and eggplant.

The peppers are unusually tall this year. I'm not sure if it is the variety - or the weather.

Every year I have trouble with flea beetles in the egg plant. Last year they turned the leaves to lace and I only harvested a few egg plant before they quit producing. This year the flea beetles started early. In desperation I sprayed the leaves to get rid of the beetles and then covered them with row cover, not really thinking it would keep out more flea beetles. But it has worked. You can see the lower older leaves with the riddled holes from early spring, but the upper leaves are completely whole. And the plants are twice and tall as any I've ever grown. The eggplant fruit themselves are glossy with none of the insect pock marks that I usually have. Another winner for row cover!

The far end of the garden is where the garlic and strawberries were growing - with their huge crop of weeds and thistles. When the strawberries were over and I had pulled the garlic, Ed lightly tilled this whole area and we planted late sweet corn - something we didn't have the garden space to plant earlier. The  ground was so muddy, clumpy, and weedy that I didn't have high hopes for the poor corn seeds. In an endeavor to halt the weeds and give the corn a chance, Ed covered it lightly with grass clippings. I was shocked when a week later we had nice green shoots in this patch. You can barely see them in this photo - but hopefully by next month we will have a nice stand of sweet corn. It won't be ready to harvest until September but last year we planted late sweet corn at the end of June and we had lovely worm-free corn in September.

I usually pick garlic around July 4. This year it seemed ready at the end of June. The key is to pick it when the outside skin becomes slightly papery, but before the cloves begin to split. 

I let the garlic dry in the woodshed for a week, then trim off the tops and bottoms and rub off the outer skin and dirt.

I place the heads in a net orange bag and hang it in a cool spot in the basement. This  year I harvested seventy bulbs of hard necked garlic - more than I'll ever need. I'll use some for my pizza sauce later in the summer, then plant some in September/October for next year's crop. Garlic is one of the easiest things to grow and such fun to use in the kitchen.

July Garden Goals 

1. Late planting of beets and green beans.

2. Purchase broccoli and cabbage plants to set out by end of the month or first of next month.

3. Add compost and lime to soil to prepare plot intended for broccoli. Broccoli (and other like crops such as cabbage and cauliflower, like the added nutrition.

4. Harvest garlic, setting aside the nicest bulbs for planting in September.

5. Harvest onion crop, braid, and hang in dry airy place (for me it is the wood shed.)

6. Plant buckwheat as a 
cover crop, when an area of the garden is finished so that it does not revert back to weeds. Mow down and till into the garden before it goes to seed.

That is my list planned for my zone 6 garden. What are you doing in your garden in July?

Friday, July 10, 2015


Random life events in our family.

We spent Father's Day weekend down in North Carolina with Ed's sister, Jean. It has been four years since the tragic accident that took Jason. It was hard to remember the past, but always a joy to spend time with them.

On Friday, my girls and I were able to tag along with Jean and her girls as they took their baked goods to a farmer's market. It was fun to meet their regular customers and the other vendors. Within a short time, their table was nearly bare.

On Saturday we visited ocean at Sandbridge, VA. We all had a marvelous day. Our two youngest girls couldn't remember the beach.

The grin says it all. Love at first sight.

We did freak ourselves out every time we saw something dark in the water. This was right in the middle of the shark attacks in North Carolina.

The wild black raspberries in our pasture have produced better than usual - probably because of all the rain. My second son was my side-kick as we pushed through the briers in search of the juicy treasures. I guess I revert to my childhood to think the scratches and poison ivy are worth it.

We brought a bird guide out to the pasture with us when we discovered two small nests with bright blue eggs. We decided that they are catbirds. I don't remember every seeing these drab slate-gray birds before but this year they are frequently in our garden. I enjoy hearing their cheery song and watch them nab insects. Both nests now have baby birds.

On Fourth of July weekend we camped at a State Park in northern Pennsylvania. We spent Friday splashing in the creek, biking,

splitting wood for the campfire,

chilling with our dolls,

listening to Dad's latest read-aloud,

and throwing a line in the water.

Dad was kept busy baiting hooks and untangling lines. We didn't see any fish, not even a tiny nibble but we did see a mother Merganser duck with four ducklings and two bald eagles. And just down from our campsite we watched the park rangers capture a timber rattlesnake. While I hope to never see a rattlesnake in the wild again, I did think it was a good opportunity for the children to see and hear the rattle of one of Pennsylvania's few poisonous reptiles.

It was a good thing we packed in so much fun on Friday. Because Friday night it started to rain. And rain. And rain.

For the first time in many years we were attempting to camp in a tent. I feared we would be up all night with the littlest one. But she slept safe and dry in her crib set up in the bike trailer all night long. Ed and I were also dry in the trailer, but I didn't sleep with the pounding rain on the roof and worry about the children in the tents. The tents were set up at the bottom of a hill and slowly the rain flooded the tents and the children were forced to finish the night in the van.

At daylight it was still raining. Our plan was to spend the day biking the Pine Creek Rail Trail, but we gave up. Ed stomped through several inches of water and started throwing soggy sleeping bags, dripping bikes, and muddy tents into the bike trailer. By 8:00 we were headed down the road toward home.

I'm trying to look at these photos and say that even one day was worth the planning, packing, and clean up work once we got home.

What's up at your house?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pink? Or Blue?

Which will we need?

Lord willing, announcement will be made in January 2016.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Homemade Campfire Starters

Are you camping this holiday weekend?

We never go camping without a supply of homemade fire starters. Especially if we don't have good kindling or the wood is not dry, a fire starter can help get that campfire ambiance far more quickly.

And with no need to haul along a stinky can of lighter fluid.

All it takes is some common trash items.

You will need:

A cardboard egg carton (not Styrofoam)

Several hand-fulls of dryer lint

Old candle stubs (or a block of paraffin)

A large tin can (a coffee can or juice can works perfect)

Newspaper or cardboard

1. Fill the egg carton cells with dryer lint. No need to pack it full. Place egg cartons on newspaper or cardboard.

2. Bend a pouring spout into your can.

3. Fill the can with wax - either old candles or paraffin.

4. Set the can in a pan of water on the stove.

5. Melt wax with medium heat.

6. Pour wax into egg cartons. I didn't wait until all the wax was melted. As soon as the bottom was melted I poured it out and kept adding more wax in the top.

7. Allow wax to cool and harden.

8. Cut egg cells apart. I let my husband use his power saw. This batch of fire starters should last us several years.

9. Add your new fire starters to your camping gear. The next time you are starting a fire, place a fire starter under your kindling and light a match. The wax and dryer lint will quickly help start a hot fire.

Caution: I don't know if these can be used in an indoor fireplace or wood stove. I have only used them in outdoor campfires.

Do you have any creative uses for trash?


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