Say Cheese – or not!

Ray and I have been toying with the idea of getting a few milk goats when we move up to our future homestead – especially if we could convince some neighbors to share them with us.  We would be more than happy to house them, but one week we would milk them and then the next the neighbor would.  We would share the cost of feed and veterinarian bills.  In this way neither one of us would be over-ridden with milk, nor would be be stuck day in and day out with goat chores.  The best part is that we could go on vacation and not worry about who would milk our goats!

At least, that’s a thought.

So, in my quest for self-sufficiency, I figured I had better learn how to make goat’s milk cheese.  I ran across a few blog posts about how to make mozzarella.  They say it’s easy to make and you can make it from goat’s milk, so I figured I would give it a try.

Not so fast.  All the regular grocery stores had was ultra-pasteurized goat’s milk.  Hmmm…   The recipes said you can’t use ultra-pasteurized.  Then, on a whim, I decided to try out my local health food store.  Why didn’t I think of that earlier?  Yup – there on the shelf was some RAW goat’s milk.  RAW!!  On the label it said “not for human consumption”, but I knew I could pasteurize it at home myself, so I bought two quarts.

Failure making cheese

The labels on the quart jars of raw goat’s milk I bought.

I know, I know, you can use raw goat’s milk to make cheese.  But since I really don’t know who’s goats this milk came from, I prefer to err on the side of caution.

So, here’s what I did:

First I pasteurized the milk.  To do this, you must bring the milk up to 145 degrees fahrenheit in a double boiler for 30 minutes.  This wasn’t really difficult to do.  I was able to keep the milk between 145 and 148 degrees, so I figured this was close enough.

How I pasteurized milk

I used a modified double boiler method. I put canning jar rings on the bottom. I didn’t have a thermometer that clipped to the side, so I improvised. Stop laughing – it worked!

Next I rapidly cooled the milk down to 90 degrees in my sink filled with ice cubes and those ice chest freezer thingys.  It took a few minutes.

Once the milk was below 90 degrees, I added 4 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Most of the recipes said that to make Mozzarella you have to use citric acid, but there were several that said you can use lemon juice in a 1 tbsp lemon juice = 1/4 tsp citric acid ratio.  Since I am striving for self-sufficiency, and I have a lemon tree, I decided to go the lemon juice route.  Stir that in for about 5 minutes at 90 degrees.  Take off the heat.

Now pour in the rennet.  Again, because I am trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, I decided to try using the purple thistle rennet that I made.  I added 1/2 cup of the liquid rennet after it was prepared. To see how you can make your own vegetarian rennet,    click HERE..

Stir for 30 seconds, put the lid on the pot and let it rest for 10 minutes.  Now you are supposed to cut the curds going first vertically and then diagonally.

I didn’t have any curds, so I couldn’t cut the cheese! :)

Actually :(

So, I decided to heat up the milk again and just make a farmer’s cheese out of it.  After I got the milk up to 180 degrees, I let it sit there for a few minutes, then took it off the heat.  I was expecting to see some curdling happening already because I had previously added lemon juice, but there wasn’t any.  It was kind of sludgy at the bottom, but no real curds.  So, I added another tablespoon of lemon juice.

Still just sludge.

So, I went on with cleaning up the kitchen after my ‘spearmint (that’s what I call my experiments in the kitchen – wish they all smelled like spearmint!), leaving the now failed cheese in the pot.  One can only hope…   right?

major mozzarella failAfter the kitchen was clean, except for the pot the non-cheese was in, I decided to go ahead and proceed through the motions, just like I was making cheese. I folded the cheesecloth two thick and half-heartedly put the cheesecloth in a colander, which I then set over another pot. (Ugh – more dishes!)  Lo and behold, the sludge at the bottom had curdled just a bit and was now a semi-cheese!  Heavens to Mergatroyd – are you kidding me?  I drained it through the cheesecloth in the colander for a few minutes and then I twisted a knot in the end of the cheesecloth and hung it on my handy dandy hanger with a rubber band.  I let it drain for about half an hour, until the drips weren’t coming anymore.  When it was done draining I unfolded the cheesecloth and out onto the plate tumbled this:  Failed mozzarella turned into farmer's cheese

It’s about one cup of cheese.  A little disappointing, but cheese nonetheless.

Then I tasted it.

V. E. R. Y   L. E. M. O. N. Y.

But, it wasn’t bad.  In fact, it was kinda good, if you like lemons.  So, I said to myself, “what tastes good with lemons?  Basil!’

I skipped out back, picked a few leaves of basil, chopped them up and rolled smooshed it into the cheese with some sea salt.  Now, I know better than to taste something that has just been made, so I carefully piled it in the middle of some plastic wrap, twisted the ends so I had a big ball of cheese in the middle, and set it in the refrigerator overnight.

This is what I had the next day – CHEESE!  Farmer's cheese from failed mozzarella

It was still a bit overpowering with the lemon taste, but the basil tamed that down just a tad.  I think it would have tasted better with some black pepper.

Was this a total failure?  Not really.  I do have some very lemony cheese to spread on a cracker.  But, more importantly, I have learned that mozzarella is not to be made with lemon juice instead of citric acid, nor with homemade rennet instead of the purchased stuff.  I also learned to have a bit more patience when making cheese.  If I hadn’t added the extra lemon juice, I probably would have had the same amount of cheese and it wouldn’t have been so lemony.

Lessons learned.  Back to the drawing board for new ‘spearmints!

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Black Goose Jelly w/Homemade Pectin

Last week I made a new batch of liquid pectin and promised I would show the results of a jelly making session with the homemade pectin.  Well, here it is!!

We went up to our future homestead this weekend, to do some work, getting the site ready for a shipping container in which we will store a lot of our household items while we build our new house.  Between work I picked some gooseberries and some blackberries that grow wild on our property.

Because of the drought, the blackberries were pretty small and seedy, but their flavor was still wonderful. The gooseberries were also a bit on the small side, but what they lacked in size, they did not lack in spikes!  These little berries are seriously dangerous to pick without leather gloves!Making jelly with homemade pectin

Since I didn’t have enough blackberries to make a batch of jelly, nor did I have enough gooseberries, I decided to make Black Goose Jelly!

To make the juice, after rinsing off the berries to get any dust or insects off, I placed the berries in a large pot with about 1/2 cup of water, and slowly brought up the temperature. Once the berries were softened, I used my potato masher and smashed the berries, until the pulp was pretty much, well…   pulp! Homemade pectin jelly

The pulp is then poured into wet cheesecloth and allowed to drain for a couple of hours.  Don’t squeeze if you can help it –  if you do your jelly won’t be very clear, but will taste just the same.  how to make jelly with liquid pectin

I followed the recipe for blackberry jelly that Certo Liquid Pectin had online.  It called for 3-3/4 cups of juice to 7 cups of sugar.  Now, I know that’s a lot of sugar, but if you consider that jams and jellies are really just confections, not to be consumed in mass quantities (cone heads?), then it doesn’t seem so unreasonable.  Pectin also needs acid to work, whether it is in the juice itself or added in the form of lemon juice.  Although blackberries are naturally slightly acidic, the recipe called for 1/4 cup.  I have heard some people like to put salt – just a pinch – in their jellies and swear that it makes them taste better.  I didn’t.  But I did add just a pat of butter to prevent a lot of foaming.

So, once the blackberry/gooseberry juice, lemon juice and sugar were all in the pan, I let the mixture come to a full rolling boil that could not be stirred down.  All at once I dumped in a jar of my homemade liquid pectin (click here to see how to make liquid pectin) and started timing exactly 1 minute.  If you boil the pectin too long, sometimes it’s effectiveness can be diminished – stay with the 1 minute timetable.Making jelly with homemade pectin

The jars, bands and lids were all ready to go, as were the jars, so I ladled the jelly into the jars, placed the lids and bands on top, then placed them into a water bath canner for 15 minutes.  I ended up with eight 8 ounce jars of Black Goose Jelly that had a beautiful deep ruby red color.  Unfortunately, I was by myself and I was just too busy to stop to take a picture of the actual canning part. If you have ever made jam or jelly before, you probably know what I’m talking about! :)

How did the homemade liquid pectin work?  Great!  You can see that the jelly stands up quite proudly on the spoon.How to make jelly with homemade liquid pectin

How does it taste?  Wonderful!  The sweetness of the gooseberries mingled with the tartness of the blackberries and made a wonderful jelly.

Here is the actual recipe I used:

3-3/4 cups blackberry/gooseberry juice (for me it was about 50/50)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (acid needed to make pectin work)

7 cups sugar (sounds like a lot, but don’t skimp)

1/2 tsp butter (to stop foaming)

1 eight ounce jar of homemade liquid pectin (seriously, make your own!)

Mix together the juice, sugar and lemon juice and heat to boiling.  When at a full boil, pour in liquid pectin and continue boiling and stiring for 1 minute.  Remove from heat, ladle into clean hot jars, place on lids and bands.  Place in water bath for 15 minutes.

Do you make jams or jellies?  So far, I think my favorite just might be this combination.  It’s really good.  But last year I made some Plum Butter in the CrockPot and that was absolutely delicious!  If you would like to see that recipe, CLICK HERE.

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Pasta Sauce & Oregano Harvest

Last year I planted one itty, bitty oregano plant.  You know, one of those little 2″ x 2″ cubes you get at the nursery with a little sprig coming out of the top.Then I planted some basil this spring.  I also have my volunteer tomato plants.  So…  I have a pasta sauce garden!

Well, I was just a little disappointed with the oregano last year.  It didn’t grow as fast as I thought it should, and by the time I was harvesting basil, peppers and tomatoes, the oregano didn’t look very promising.  Even though it likes to dry out between waterings, I don’t think it was getting enough water.

This year, I have this:canning pasta sauce with meat

It’s starting to get leggy and the buds are just about to bloom (some are blooming and the bees are loving it), so now is the time to harvest some of the oregano – both for dehydrating to use later in the winter and also to make some fresh pasta sauce.

Finally! :)

For the pasta sauce, I set aside 2 tablespoons of the fresh oregano to make the sauce and processed the rest for my spice cupboard.  Since I don’t use pesticides, I know my herb is perfectly safe.  I also harvested some of my basil for the pasta sauce. Harvesting basil by cutting off the top three or four sets of leaves depending on how big the plant is, or in the case of oregano cutting the stems in half, is actually good for these herbs.  If you keep loping off a little of the basil now and then, it will branch out, get bushier, and you will have loads more to harvest!  Same with the oregano.

The remainder of the oregano was washed in cool water several times to make sure I got all of the dirt, spiders, etc. off.  Once that was done, I stripped the leaves from the stems and spread them out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment so the oregano could dry.  Make sure you don’t put it in the sun – that’s not good for herbs that you are dehydrating. If you want to use a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s directions.  I prefer to dry mine the “no power” way because the oils and flavors in the herb are very delicate and heat sensitive – and why use power if you don’t need to!  It only takes a day or so for the oregano leaves to dry. Once the leaves are leathery (almost crumbly) dry, they are done. Pack into an airtight container and, as with all herbs, it is preferable to keep out of light.pasta sauce with fresh oregano and basil

Alternatively, you could harvest your oregano, clean as above, then bunch together with a rubber band.  This can then be hung in a warm, dry area to dehydrate right on the stem.  Purists say this is the best way because all the oils follow gravity down the stem and into the leaves, which makes the most intense flavors in the herb.  I don’t really know for sure.  I have done it both ways and don’t really see a difference.Fresh basil and oregano pasta sauce

So – onward to my pasta sauce!

ground chicken in pasta sauceFirst comes the tomatoes.  I had some regular old slicing type tomatoes and some grape tomatoes in my freezer and I bought a couple pounds of Roma tomatoes to make the sauce.  Last year I discovered that the easiest way to peel tomatoes is to freeze them. You can see the entire instructions HERE. Once they begin to thaw, their skins start to break.  Once thawed, all you have to do is tug on a peel and it comes right off!  No boiling water to scald your fingers!  If you click on the picture, you will see that some of the tomato skins are starting to crack.

Easy-peasy!

Once the tomatoes were peeled and quartered, I placed them into a large pot and let them come to a boil.  I didn’t bother making sure all the seeds were out.  I don’t mind seeds.  The tomatoes simmered for an hour or so, to cook down, get soft, and concentrate some of the juices.  Then, I cheated – I poured the tomatoes into my blender to make a smooth tomato sauce.

:)

The sauce was poured back into the pot and then I added 2 tablespoons of chopped basil,Pasta sauce with ground chicken 1 tablespoon chopped oregano and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic.  Those were the fresh ingredients.  Since hubby and I like just a little bit of “kick” in our pasta sauces, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili pepper flakes that I dehydrated and ground up last year, plus a generous grind of black pepper.

While the pasta sauce was simmering again, with the fresh herbs, getting nice and thick, I browned some ground chicken in a skillet, then added it to the pasta sauce.  I let the pasta sauce (all ingredients now in) happily bubble away on my stove top while I prepared the jars, lids, and pressure canner.Fresh basil, oregano and garlic pasta sauce

My pressure canner is a heavy one, and it isn’t recommended that I use it on top of my glass cook top range, simply because of the weight.  Happily I have an outdoor kitchen.  Unfortunately, we are in the process of re-doing the granite top of the outdoor kitchen.  Luckily, dear hubby had a better idea, anyway.  Our middle son gave us one of those outdoor turkey cookers several years ago for Christmas.  Though we have used it a couple of times to cook turkey, and once to process a bunch of crab, I think we have found it’s best use yet:  Canning!  The pressure cooker fit perfectly into the stand – just like they were made for each other!  I even realized that the large pot that came with the turkey cooker will double very well as a water bath canner!  This is ideal because I won’t have to heat up my kitchen ever again!  Wahoo!spaghetti sauce with ground chicken

Once the hot jars were filled with the hot pasta sauce to within one inch of the top of the  jar, they were placed into the canner that already had hot water.  Did you pick up on the term hot?  Always remember, hot jars for hot food into hot canning water.  Cold jars for cold foods into cold/warm canning water.  If you don’t follow this rule you may just end up with a lot of cracked jars and a mess in the canner! :(

The pasta sauce was then processed (after venting and bringing up to 10 pounds of pressure) for 75 minutes for pints (90 for quarts).  You must always process any low acid food in a pressure cooker – that means all vegetables and meats, and even some fruits!

After the 75 minutes were up, the gas was turned off and I let the jars just sit in the hot canner for about 5 hours, so they could cool down.  If you don’t do this, you risk having bad seals or even cracking a jar.  It’s even better to just let it sit overnight.

This is what I ended up with:

Spaghetti sauce with ground chicken, basil, oregano

Now, when I want to serve spaghetti, I will pour the contents of the jar into a pot, heat it up to a simmer, and then add whatever I want – mushrooms, fresh tomatoes (to make it chunky) olives – or nothing at all!  Then it can be poured over freshly cooked pasta. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan.  Mmmmm…

Or this could be as the base sauce of a home made pizza.  Yum!  What is your favorite way to use pasta sauce?

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Homemade Liquid Pectin

It was time to thin my Granny Smith apple tree that my husband and I have in the backyard of our valley home.  The June drop was pretty much over (yes, there is such a thing) and the apples were starting to rapidly develop.  Time to thin.

How to make pectin at home

Our Granny Smith apple tree just doesn’t know when to quit!

But wait!  Don’t throw out your thinned apples! If you don’t use chemical pesticides on your apple trees, you can make natural pectin for your future jams and jellies!  With tart, unripe apples like the ones in the picture below, there is a lot of pectin inside, and simply boiling the apples with water releases the pectin!

How to make homemade pectin

This is about seven pounds of apples. After all the worm damage was cut out, I ended up with about six pounds of cut up apples.

Just wash them to get the dust off, chop them up (don’t worry about peeling or taking out the core), and throw the whole apple in a large stockpot.  Since we didn’t use any pesticides on our apple tree this year, the apples had a few worms, so I cut out the damaged parts and used the rest.  The ratio I used for this batch was 6 pounds of apples to 8 cups of water.  I let the mixture simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring quite often so the apples didn’t stick to the bottom of the pot, and squishing the apples against the side of the pot once they got soft.

Once the apples are all mushy, strain through a cheesecloth and let the liquid drain for an hour or two.  Return the liquid to the stove and simmer for another 1/2 hour or until the liquid begins to thicken and is reduced by almost half.  You now have liquid pectin!  If you aren’t using it right away, you can can the pectin in 8 ounce jelly jars and process in a waterbath for 15 minutes.

Making pectin at home

Okay – you can stop laughing now! I know this looks silly, but it works for me! :)

Of course, the amount of pectin in each batch will be a bit different, and it isn’t quite as simple to use it as is the store-bought kind.  One thing to know is that each fruit will have different levels of natural pectin, so the amount of fruit to sugar to pectin to acid ratio will be just a bit different with each batch/type of fruit you plan to make into jam or jelly.  Generally, over-ripe fruits have the least amount of pectin and under-ripe fruits have the most.

The fruits with the most natural pectin and acid, needing the least amount added are:  sour apples, crabapples, cranberries, gooseberries, eastern concord grapes, lemons, loganberries, plums, raspberries and citrus skin.  These are the fruits that I remember my grandma making into jam or jelly.  She would boil them for quite some time and I don’t remember her adding any pectin, just lots of sugar.

The fruits with some natural pectin and not as much acid are:  ripe apples, ripe blackberries, sour cherries, most grapes (not concord) and loquats. These are the fruits that will generally need some lemon juice added with pectin, along with the sugar.  Sometimes you can add some not-quite-ripe fruit with the ripe fruit to get a better gel, but the flavor might be a bit more tart.

Apricots, blueberries, sweet cherries, figs, western concord grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, pomegranates and strawberries generally have the least amount of natural pectin and acid, and will require the addition of both.

I have found that if you follow the general directions for making jams and jellies with commercial liquid pectin, you should be good to go with your homemade stuff.  One company that makes liquid pectin, Certo, has recipes online that you can look up.  One package of Certo liquid pectin is 6 ounces, so using a full 8 ounce jelly jar of your homemade pectin should be just right, if you have a very concentrated pectin. And remember to add the liquid pectin into your boiling fruit and sugar mixture when there is only one minute to go, or you could ruin the ability of the pectin to gel.

If you want to test how well you pectin jells, try this trick:  pour some rubbing alcohol into a cup.  Drop in 1/2 teaspoon of your cold homemade pectin.  Then, try to pick up the pectin glob with a fork.  If it stays in one large glob, the pectin is good enough to make your jelly or jam just like the commercial stuff.  If the glob starts to drip from the fork and hangs there, it will form a soft jelly or jam.  If you can’t pick up the blob at all, your pectin is too weak.  If it’s too weak, just boil it a little longer to concentrate the pectin, then try the test again.

Testing homemade pectin for effectiveness

After it cooled off, I tested the pectin in some rubbing alcohol. This blob shows that I got a pretty concentrated pectin and should expect a good set when I make jams and jellies!

Word of warning:  When making my pectin, I always tend to want to squeeze the cheesecloth to make the liquid strain through faster. Yes.  I can be impatient!  This won’t hurt anything, but tends to make a cloudy pectin, and a cloudy pectin might make a cloudy jelly.  If you aren’t entering the jelly into your local fair or trying to impress your mother-in-law, it really doesn’t matter.  It will taste the same.  If you want clear pectin, just let it drain for several hours – maybe even overnight – and don’t squeeze!

How to make pectin from apples

I got six 8 ounce jars of liquid pectin (enough to make six batches of jam or jelly) from apples that most people throw away.  Now that’s sustainable!

Okay, off to gather some blackberries and gooseberries to make some jelly!  How about you – have you ever made your own pectin?

NOTE:  If you would like to see how this turns out – click here to read about making blackberry/gooseberry jelly with the home made pectin!

 

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