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Food Matters

All about fresh, flavorful food

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We are in prime canning season—August is the month of summer bounty, and thus the perfect time to plan ahead and preserve some of it for the colder months ahead. Whether you’re making pickles, putting up quarts and quarts of tomatoes, or squirreling away a few jars of jam, there are five basic rules to keep in mind in order to ensure the safest and highest quality canned goods you can produce.

home canning

1. Always use a new jar lid each each time! The rubber seal on the jars is thin, so repeated exposure to heat processing over multiple canning sessions could break down the seal, causing food spoilage. Once a lid is removed, mark the top with a marker and use it for other purposes—you can use them for jars that are not being canned (such as dry goods storage, or storage of non-food items) or repurpose them entirely (such as turn them into plant labels for the garden).

2. Use jars expressly intended for canning (such as Ball or Kerr jars). Other jars may not be able to withstand the heat and pressure of canning, especially pressure canning. Commercial canning uses different methods than home canning, and the jars used commercially are meant for one-time use in that they are not designed for repeated canning treatments. So avoid using spaghetti sauce or pickle jars for canning, though reusing those jars for other purposes is a great way to get more life out of them.

3. Only certain foods can be canned via water bath canning—jams/jellies, pickles and tomatoes with added acid. In other words, high acid foods. Low acid foods (like green beans, corn, meat, etc.) must be processed via pressure canning so the food reaches a high enough temperature for safe long-term storage.

4. Don’t can dairy products, like milk and butter. Period. You’ll see a lot of recipes on the internet for canning butter, but that doesn’t mean it’s a safe food-handling practice. Dairy products are low-acid, and too dense to be canned. Freezing dairy products is a much better alternative for long-term storage.

5. Follow canning recipes from reliable authorities, such as Ball or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Their recipes and formulas are tested for food safety, and they provide the most current guidelines.

The bottom line is: be sensible about canning your own goods at home. When keeping these few basic guidelines in mind, you can ensure that you’re canning the best—and safest—food you can provide for your family.

Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.


Over the years, I’ve followed many different recipes for fruit butters and preserves. At first I always measured the exact amounts listed, fretting over whether or not I’d added enough lemon or sugar and constantly worrying that it would go bad or mold on me. But what I discovered is that fruit preserves are incredibly forgiving.

Fruit butters and preserves allow for a certain amount of creativity in their spice-and-sugar content. The one caveat being that the less sugar you use, the shorter its refrigerator life span will be before mold tends to pop up. This is because sugars act as a natural preservative, which is why you see roughly a 1:1 ratio of fruit and sugar in many recipes. (For example, 1 cup fruit for every 1 cup sugar.)

But sugars aren’t the only preserving ingredient you can use. Ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and lemon juice also protect against spoilage. And you don’t even need a canner to create delicious, long-lasting fruit butters and preserves—I have found much success using a Crock-Pot. Best of all, they can keep in the freezer for up to a year, allowing you to take them out as needed.

Fruit Preserves Recipe

Simple Fruit Preserves Recipe

• 5 pounds fruit
• 4 cups sugar
• Pectin

Yes, it truly is that simple! You can even add complimentary spices to this simple recipe and personalize it to suit your tastes.

Plum Harvest

So What Kind of Fruit Can I Use?

I tend to use whatever’s in season, especially if I can get them in bulk. Fruits such as apples, pears and peaches are easily found this way. When they’re in abundance, I also use fruits from my backyard such as strawberries, cherries and plums.

Apples and plums are fantastic alongside cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and cloves.
Pears are lovely with orange peel, nutmeg and small amounts of pineapple.
Strawberries, cherries and peaches are great with a bit of lemon juice and zest.

When using these fruit additions, I suggest adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of your chosen powdered spices or extracts. Citrus peels can be quite potent, so if you don’t want it to overtake the taste of the fruit, use 1 tablespoon or less. Start with less, as you can always add more of these ingredients later on—the cooking process in the Crock-Pot is quite long.

What about Pectin?

Pectin is what holds preserves together, creating that final sticky product. But you don’t need to buy packets of pectin in order to achieve that binding affect. Some fruits, such as apples, plums and blackberries, naturally contain high amounts of pectin, as do citrus fruit peels. But fruits such as strawberries, cherries, peaches and pears don’t contain nearly as much pectin. So adding lemon peel, half an apple or a handful of just-ripe blackberries into the Crock-Pot can assist in providing that much-needed pectin. You can also use unripe (or underripe) berries alongside your ripe ones for extra pectin. I do this with strawberries and cherries, and the end result is perfect.

Can I Use Less or More Sugar Than Suggested?

Yes! I personally add 1 cup fruit for every 3/4 cup sugar. But you can change this up for a tarter or sweeter taste. Just remember that sugar acts as a preservative and not using enough can affect the refrigerator life span of your preserves.

Making Plum Butter

How to Make Butters and Preserves

1. Cut fruit into chunks; core and pit them if necessary. If using peaches, peel off skins. Roughly measure how many cups of fruit you are placing into the Crock-Pot to better assist in your sugar measurements.

2. Once all the fruit is chopped up and ready, add your sugars and spices. Stir it all together and place the lid on top. Turn the Crock-Pot on high for 1 hour. After this time has lapsed, turn the heat to low.

For apples, pears, peaches and plums, you will need 8 hours of cooking on low.
• For cherries or strawberries, you will only need 3 hours of cooking on low.

3. During this time, periodically stir and taste the contents to see if you want to add spices such as lemon, cinnamon or vanilla. After it’s been cooking for the designated time, turn up the heat to high and take the lid off. The contents will bubble and thicken during this step, so you’ll want to check in every 15 minutes to better control the fruit’s consistency.

If you want your preserves looser, 1 hour is all you need; if you want it thicker, you might need closer to 90 minutes. Do not cook on high without a lid for more than two hours.

4. Finally, purée the preserves. I personally use an immersion blender, but any blender or food processer will do. Place the final product in freezer-safe containers, label with the date, and voilà! You now have fruit butters and preserves that will last up to a year in the freezer!

Note: I’ve had my fruit butters and preserves last in the refrigerator for a year without molding, but always check before eating. If there’s even a little bit of mold anywhere inside the container, dump the contents.

Jars Of Plum Butter
Photos by Leslie Diane

I hope you enjoy the recipe! Please feel free to leave comments below!

Leslie DianeWith a background in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a minor in English, Leslie Diane is currently studying at Prairie Wise Herbal School in Leavenworth, Kansas, with a goal of becoming a Master Herbalist. She is an avid gardener and a maker of tinctures, teas and baked goods. An aspiring author as well, she weaves tales of fantasy along with scarves, baby and pet blankets, and shawls on her table loom.


Kids love carrots! Here they are served extra sweet and crunchy in this easy-to-pack luncheon salad. Only five ingredients, this tempting combo whips up in a flash. This delicious dish makes for a festive supper-time veggie side, too.

Carrot and Maple-Walnut Salad

Carrot and Maple-Walnut Salad

Makes 3 servings


• 1-1/4 cups grated carrots
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
• 1/3 cup raisins
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt


1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-mixing bowl. Chill 2 to 4 hours and serve!

Laura Theodore is a 2014 TASTE award-winning television personality, radio host, vegan chef, cookbook author and recording artist. She is author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine Made Easy and Delicious. Laura is the on-camera host, writer and co-producer of the popular cooking show, Jazzy Vegetarian and hosts the weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Vegetarian Radio.


Most people assume soup is for the winter months, but the best time for tomato basil soup is when you have fresh heirloom tomatoes to harvest. If I had to choose only two plants for my garden it would tomatoes and basil, and this soup would be the reason!

Over the past few years I’ve tried several different kinds of heirloom tomatoes and so far my favorites are Brandywines, Early Cascades and German Pinks.

While most heirloom tomato soup recipes include onions, chicken broth and garlic, this one doesn’t. I wanted a recipe that didn’t require a lot of ingredients.  So here it is!

tomato soup and grilled cheese

Heirloom Tomato Basil Soup


• 6 Heirloom Tomatoes
• 4 cups tomato juice
• 10 large leaves of basil
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• 1/4 cup unsalted grass-fed butter


fresh tomatoes and basil

1. Core the top of the tomato and peel the skin. Don’t feel like you have to peel all the skin off. If I’m in a rush, I sometimes leave the skin on since it doesn’t change the taste too much. Then quarter the tomatoes and place in a stock pot with the tomato juice over medium heat. Simmer for 30-60 minutes.

2. Add your basil leaves and the heated tomato mixture to a blender (I usually have to do two batches). If you like chunkier tomato soup, blend it for less than a minute to just break up the big chunks. You can also add in tiny chunks of tomatoes afterwards.

3. Once well blended, return the mixture to the stock pot still over medium heat. Add the heavy cream and butter. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper. Once the diary is added make sure the soup doesn’t boil!

cream and soup mix

That’s it; tasty tomato soup is yours for the devouring. I like to serve it with crackers or grilled cheese. My favorite ingredients to use for grilled cheese are, Ezekiel 4:9 bread with two slices of Muenster cheese and two slices of sharp cheddar.

Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.


Since I was a child, I’ve loved pickles, especially in the summertime alongside a grilled dinner. But it wasn’t until I was much older that my taste for pickled items expanded and I began to crave a broader range of vegetables. What I discovered in the stores was that pickled items beyond cucumbers could be rather pricey. And then there was the simple fact that by late summer I had a ridiculous surplus of vegetables from my own garden filling up the fridge. It was here that I took a step back and wondered why I couldn’t pickle my own items.

As it was, I came up with a very short list.

1. I didn’t “know how”.
2. I didn’t have a canner.
3. I was terrified of something going wrong and making myself ill.

Thankfully, these three concerns were easily remedied by a little research—I discovered that I could pickle items without a canner, pickle items without concern of botulism, and have the items keep in the refrigerator for upwards of three months. The reason being that the brine (which I make from scratch and is heated up on the stove prior to packing the ingredients) contains herbs and spices that have preserving properties (not to mention the fact that the homemade brine is vinegar-based, which in itself is a natural preservative). This brine is where that fantastic “pickled” taste comes from, and it can be reused, within reason.

Summer Vegetable Medley 

Summer Vegetable Medley Pickles Recipe

Makes two 1-quart jars

For Homemade Brine:

• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• About 12 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed
• 6 teaspoons salt (I use kosher or Himalayan)
• 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
• 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
• 1 teaspoon celery seeds
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
• Fresh sprigs of herbs

1. To make the brine extra spicy or savory, you can also add flavorful ingredients such as dill seeds, red pepper flakes, ginger or pink peppercorns—I suggest adding them in 1 teaspoon increments or using them to fully or partially replace another ingredient (for example, 1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns alongside 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns). You can even make your medley sweet with the use of cinnamon sticks, cloves or sugars. However, the main spices and components needed to get that “pickled” taste are listed above.

2. Bring 4 cups water to a boil and add your crushed garlic cloves. Reduce heat so it simmers for at least 5 minutes. Add vinegars and salt, and increase heat so it boils once more. Stir until all of the salt dissolves. Remove from heat.

3. While your brine is cooking, divide seeds between jars and add any fresh sprigs of desired herbs (for example: dill, mustard, scallions). Once the brine is ready, divide garlic cloves into jars and pack them full of your cleaned, raw vegetables.

Pickling Veggies:

Cucumbers: Sliced anyway you desire. If you use whole cucumbers, they will take longer to pickle.
Summer squash: I will pickle sliced yellow summer squash, but I tend to use the pieces in my cooking rather than eating them raw. They make a fantastic addition to stir-fries.
Hot peppers: For taste, but my husband loves eating them raw as well.
Green beans

Preserve Vegetables
Photos by Leslie Diane

4. After packing the jars, bring brine back to a boil. Fill jars completely, covering vegetables with brine so there is little to no air. Don’t worry if, after eating some of the items, there is space in the jar. It’s only during the original packing stage that I suggest little to no air pockets.

5. Once cooled, store jars in refrigerator for up to 3 months. The pickled vegetables will be ready to eat within a few days. (Honestly, you can begin eating them within hours, but they taste better if you let them pickle for a few days.)

What About Reusing the Brine?

As for reusing the brine, I will do this once per jar as long as I am within the three month time frame. Because I eat my pickled vegetables so quickly, I oftentimes finish a jar in a single week. When this occurs, I will replenish the jar with just-harvested vegetables from my garden. I don’t use the brine indefinitely, and when I am no longer comfortable with using it for pickling, I add it into my cooking (stir-fries, sautéing vegetables, etc.). Again, I only do this when it’s within the three-month time frame. After that time has lapsed, I dump anything left over.

I hope you enjoy the recipe! Please leave comments below on your own experience pickling items and what you thought of this pickling medley!

Leslie DianeWith a background in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a minor in English, Leslie Diane is currently studying at Prairie Wise Herbal School in Leavenworth, Kansas, with a goal of becoming a Master Herbalist. She is an avid gardener and a maker of tinctures, teas and baked goods. An aspiring author as well, she weaves tales of fantasy along with scarves, baby and pet blankets, and shawls on her table loom.


This is the dip to serve when you are looking to impress non-vegans. The cashews add richness, while the beans impart a smooth and creamy texture. A pop of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a hint of cayenne pepper round out the flavor in this wonderful recipe.

White Bean Dip Recipe 

White Bean Cashew Dip

Serves 6 to 8

• 1 can (15 ounces) white beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 cup raw cashews
• 2 tablespoons filtered or spring water
• 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 clove garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 2 tablespoons sweet red or orange pepper, diced
• Dill weed or fresh dill sprigs for garnish, optional

1. Put white beans, cashews, water, lemon juice, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper in a high-performance blending appliance and process until smooth and creamy. Do not over-process.

2. Transfer to a pretty bowl and fold in diced pepper. Top with dill (if using).

Chef’s Note: Serve with carrot sticks, celery sticks, tortilla chips or whole-grain crackers.

Laura Theodore is a 2014 TASTE award-winning television personality, radio host, vegan chef, cookbook author and recording artist. She is author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine Made Easy and Delicious. Laura is the on-camera host, writer and co-producer of the popular cooking show, Jazzy Vegetarian and hosts the weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Ve


I love summer! The long days and the warm temperatures. The thought of going on vacation somewhere—be it the beach, the mountains or somewhere in between. I love the feeling of almost being a kid again when I get the chance to splash in a pool, or eat an ice cream cone, or swing on a porch swing. But most of all, I my favorite part is the fresh produce from the garden and the fruit trees.

There have always been gardens in my life. When I was younger, my parents had an enormous garden. We had the staples of green beans, corn, cucumbers and tomatoes, with varying extras of okra or squash, peanuts or other items my dad might be trying to grow. I learned how to tend and harvest a garden when I was young, and also learned how to preserve the bounty in delicious ways.

The harvest always seems to come at the same time, or at least that is how it feels. There are always those weeks when your kitchen counter is piled high with beans, tomatoes, squash and okra—it looks like deconstructed gumbo! I'm also a sucker when friends call to say "Hey, we've got this, do you want some?" I'll never say no to free food that can be preserved for my family to use during the winter. And that's exactly what happened to me not too long ago.

My sister-in-law called to say someone had blessed her with a bounty of peaches. She wanted to know if I would like to have any to put up for the winter. Of course I jumped at the chance, thinking it would only be a few. Upon arriving at her house, I found two bushel baskets waiting—I can only hope the shock I felt didn't show on my face!

When I got home, I decided I would can a good portion of them, dehydrate a few and make peach cobbler. I love peach cobbler; it’s definitely a favorite dessert of mine. I think I could eat an entire cobbler and not feel guilty—at least not right away. I have the easiest peach cobbler recipe ever and thought I would share it with you, in case you're blessed with an abundance of peaches, or any other kind of fruit. This cobbler can be made with any fruit that you may have on hand.

homemade peach cobbler

Easy Peasy Peach Cobbler Recipe


• 1 stick butter
• 1.5 cups sugar
• 1 cup self rising flour
• 1 cup milk
• 2 cups (or more) of any type of fruit, cut into small pieces


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray non-sticking cooking spray on a 9x13 pan. Put one stick of butter in the pan and put the pan in the oven to melt the butter.

2. While the butter is melting, mix together the flour and sugar. Stir in the milk until the mixture looks like a batter.

3. Once the butter is melted, pull the pan out of the oven. Pour the batter into the pan, on top of the butter, evenly, scraping as you go to remove all the batter. Do not stir!

4. On top of the batter, evenly place the chopped fruit. If there appears to be empty spaces, you can put more fruit. Again, do not stir! This is a "dump cobbler"—you dump everything in the pan on top of each other.

5. Bake the cobbler for 40 to 45 minutes, or until batter is set and golden brown. Let cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

I hope you are able to make up a cobbler and enjoy it soon. I plan to share more easy recipes and many other things you can make from scratch in the future.

Do you have any easy recipes from your kitchen that you always receive compliments for? Let us know in the comments below what some of your favorites are—maybe we can inspire each other and start sharing them!

Amy GreeneAmy lives in North Carolina, where she is working towards learning all areas of self-sufficiency. Amy, along with her husband, four kids and three dogs, but has aspirations to own chickens, goats, pigs, cows, bees and more! Their current steps toward homesteading include a large garden from which they can the produce, along with freezing and dehydrating other fruits and vegetables. Amy's hobbies including trying new homesteading ventures, sewing, cooking, crocheting and learning how to "make her own" anything. Eventually, she and her family want to move to the country where to fulfill their wildest homesteading dreams!

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