Autumn Harvest

Autumn has arrived in Oregon. Apples, pears and plums are juicy and ripe. Summer’s heat has dissipated and the nights are cool and crisp.

My freezer is full is the summer and autumn harvest and I’m making big vats of jam.

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October is here and the travel festivities and fun is coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a preview of the November and December craft show season.

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Check out the Contacts, Events and Shop page for craft show events and Etsy shopping.

Featured Farm – Sherwood Orchards

Sherwood Orchards is one of my favorite places to pick fruit! The orchard has over 2,000 fruit trees and has been in operation for 150 years. Wowzers! The selection of fruit is impressive and includes sweet and pie cherries, peaches, plums, apples (over 80 varieties!), pears, quince, and persimmons. In the growing season, I often visit once every few weeks for a new type of fruit. September is the perfect time to pick apples. Each tree is marked with the variety and the use: eating, pies, canning, applesauce, and/or apple butter.

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Now a few things to note. The orchard is old-school. It’s not really a kid-friendly, have a picnic and browse the gift-shop kind of orchard. It’s a no frills, serious about picking fruit orchard. Since it’s been around for a long time, the ground squirrels have enjoyed burrowing random holes all over the paths. So I don’t recommend taking kids or anyone who has difficulty walking on uneven ground. Check out their website here for information before you go. Like all other farms on my featured farms list, the people who run Sherwood Orchards are incredibly nice. They are very willing to share recipes and tips for choosing which kind of apple you might want to pick. As a bonus, it’s really gorgeous and peaceful.

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What’s In a Name: Special Jam, Fruit Spread, Fruit Butter & Marmalade Explained

Why is Aunt Becky’s Jam called “Special Jam”?

Aunt Becky’s Special Jam does not include any secret ingredients (contrary to certain customer questions: you know who you are). My niece Anna (in the middle) named it special jam. When I first started making jam for my sister Heather, she shared it sparingly with my nieces because they eat like locusts and there weren’t very many jars. On the first day of the second grade, Anna announced that she would no longer eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in her lunch unless it was made with “Aunt Becky’s Special Jam”.

1st day of school 2010

What’s the difference between jam and fruit spread?

Jam and fruit spread are the most closely related. First, it’s unrelated to sugar content. The distinction is based on science and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Every Aunt Becky’s product is tested using a handy-dandy digital refractometer.

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This little green machine tests the soluable solids in a product and lights up a number on the Brix scale. The FDA says that most fruit (except fruit butter stone fruits and marmalade citrus fruits) must have a Brix of 65 or above to be considered jam. If you ask the FDA, the word “preserves” is the equivalent of jam. Any product with a Brix of less than 65 is a fruit spread.

Then what’s fruit butter?

Fruit butter is like jam made from stone fruits if the fruit breaks down during the cooking process. A stone fruit is a fruit with a pit and includes cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and apples. Cherries, apricots and peaches don’t break down all the way when cooking, so those fruits make jam or fruit spread. On the other hand, plums, pears and apples cook down into a creamy, buttery consistency.

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Like jam, the FDA has a say in the name fruit butter. Aunt Becky’s products made from only plums, pears or apples must have a Brix of 43 or above to be labeled fruit butter.

How about marmalade?

Marmalade is jam made with citrus fruit pulp and peel. But it’s a little more fun…Imagine an orange and peel the orange in your head. First, you have the peel which includes the zest, the orange-colored part, and the pith, the bitter white part. Second, you have the segments which includes the membrane, the white part, and the pulp and juice, the juicy orange part. Marmalade includes the zest, pulp and juice. The pith, membrane and seeds are wrapped in cheesecloth during cooking and used to naturally thicken the marmalade.

oranges cut orange pectin

Pretty cool huh! Citrus fruits have their own thickener. Makes you respect the mundane orange a little more now huh.

What about everything else?

Well our illustrious FDA has not put a label on sauces and fruit syrups. So, sauces and syrups are named based on what makes the most sense. What a relief!

Raspberry Jam with Pear Infused Brandy…and Grandma

Raspberry Jam with Pear-Infused Brandy

Hello! Yes you read that correctly! Bartlett pears are soaked in brandy for several days. The resulting brandy is included in a batch of red raspberry jam to make the most rich, delectable raspberry jam you’ve tasted! So what does raspberry jam with pear infused brandy have to do with my Grandma? I will tell you…

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Grandma Pauline

My Grandma Pauline was quite a woman. She moved to Nigeria at age 35 (considered a spinster in the 1960’s) to be a missionary with Sudan Interior Missions. My Grandpa John and his first wife Beulah were missionaries at a boarding school for missionary kids. When Beulah passed away in a tragic car accident, Pauline married my John about a year after. Beulah was the love of John’s life. While John cared about Pauline, he never forgot or stopped missing Beulah. It sounds really sad and tragic, and it is. But Pauline made the best of it. She was faithful and loving to John for over 50 years. She was also a fabulous Grandma to her 12 grandchildren.

The last few years of her life, Grandma Pauline was suffering greatly from Alzheimer’s disease. Before it got really bad, Grandma, well, messed a bit with Grandpa. I love my Grandpa, he was a bossy pants extraordinaire. After 50 years of marriage, Grandma learned to mess with him a bit. I think she did it just for fun.

My sister Heather and I visited my Grandparents a few years ago in Sebring, FL. Most people only visit that area of Florida to visit Disneyworld, an hour away. We went, we saw, we had a fabulous time! When Tinker Bell flew over the crowd from Cinderella’s castle, Heather commented, “that Tinker Bell is a man!”. We have never forgotten the argument or agreed. Tinker Bell is not a man! She is magical! Obviously!

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After visiting the Magic Kingdom, Heather and I drove to the middle of nowhere…Sebring, FL. We experienced Grandma messing with Grandpa first hand. My Grandparents often disagreed about why the flowers in the front of their house were dying. Grandpa claimed he didn’t water enough. Grandma claimed the deer (there are deer in Florida?!?) ate the flowers. After he left the room, Grandma looked at me and Heather with a knowing look and said “Your Grandpa thinks it’s the watering, but I know it’s the deer.” When Grandpa came back into the room, she pretended they hadn’t just had the same conversation and started in again. During that trip, the following “argument” between my Grandparents ensued during dinner over a jar of raspberry jam.

Grandpa: This is good jam.

Grandma: Thank you.

Grandpa: You didn’t make this jam, I made it. You put a bunch of  raspberries in the freezer and they melted to the bottom. I scraped them off, put them in a pot and made a batch of jam.

Heather: Becky made this jam. It says very clearly on the jar “love Becky”.

Grandma and Grandpa both pretended not to hear and continued to argue about which one of them made the jam. The answer, it was ME!!!

I would bet money that Grandpa never made a jar of jam in his life. And where would they get fresh raspberries to spoil in the freezer anyway? Also, Grandma cheated wildly at Rummicubes. Heather and I figured that she let us cheat when we were kids, so we could let her cheat at the end of her life. While “sharing” our horribly uncomfortable hide-a-bed/extra-thin-mattress/too-few-blankets bed that evening, Heather and I giggled about the whole situation. (I say “sharing” because I was accused of “hogging the covers’. No matter how old siblings get, some things never change.) Saucy minx Grandma!

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All that to say, I usually think of Grandma when I think of raspberry jam. And she would love this jam with pear-infused brandy. I hope you love it was much as Grandma Pauline would. And be a little saucy after you eat it. Grandma would approve.

Jam and Dating

When the day I started Aunt Becky’s came around, I started referring to it as my “jam-i-versary”. My sister Heather groaned and said “this is the longest relationship you’ve had in a while”. Um, thanks? Sadly, she is right.

Disclaimer: This post is almost completely unrelated to jam. Also, some might call it an “over-share”. You’ve been warned.

I was married for 10 years, from age 19 to 29. Getting married at 19 always seems like a good idea. Needless to say, I’ve been divorced now for 10 years. The first three years after my divorce, I spent my time in intense counseling for severe childhood abuse. The next two years after that I spent my time doing the grueling, but effective, Gerson Therapy to address my multiple sclerosis. Whew! Then in moved back to Portland and declared it to be the “Summer of fun!” Once again, my sister, this time Rachel, teased me and asked me if it was the same as the “Summer of George”!?! If you haven’t seen that particular Seinfeld episode, you are missing out; I was not flattered to be compared to George Costanza. The Summer of Fun turned into the start of five years of fairly bad dating experiences.

Now, there’s something you should know before I go on. My “problem” with this whole situation is not that I don’t like men, as a male friend recently asked. It’s actually quite the opposite. I know enough really good men that I know what it looks like. Men who loved me when I was freaking out about something small. Men that have been incredibly kind and gracious. Men who are funny. Men who fix things and teach me how to fix them myself. Men who have encouraged me when I was in despair. Men who are okay with discussing, gasp, their feelings and listening to me express mine. Men who hug me appropriately like a sister rather than trying to squeeze my boobs. Let’s be honest ladies, you know what I mean. Men who say what they mean and do what they say. Men who actually return phone calls and treat me with dignity and courtesy.

Okay, now that we have the basics out of the way, I’ve really worked myself up for a good Taylor Swift style rant. I think that Facebook is helpful to stay in touch with friends and see photos and share cute videos. But it’s usually insanely positive sprinkled with crazy ranting, like uber crazy. I’ll try not to dive off the deep end here. But it’s been a very rough five years! My sisters and friends can’t keep track of the names of the men I’ve dated. It’s not that I’m “easy”, only that I keep trying when all evidence points to the futility of the whole thing. Okay, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic with the word futility, but hey, that’s where I’m at.

I read a blog today by another blogger about using faults in online dating profiles to cut to the chase. The blog is called “My Dating Profile” by Key + Arrow and you can find it here. Not only is it incredibly funny,  but it’s also poignantly accurate. The men I have dated have been brilliantly educated and blue collar workers. They are dads and single guys. They make more and less money than me. (Since I’m a CPA, people often feel compelled to tell me about their financial status and situation, even though I don’t really care.) They are funny and interesting and troubled. They have taken me to San Francisco, Nashville, and Kansas City. I learned to hike and run. There are lots of good things too. In the spirit of this rant and in order to give you a flavor of what’s I’ve been dealing with, I made a list of the deal breakers or individual traits of some of the men I’ve dated. In no particular order:

  • the alcoholic baseball fanatic
  • the angry probation server
  • the short-term marriage proposer
  • the cheap-skate pervert (who, even though I was starving, refused to order food until happy hour started at 9pm and asked me if I wore “a sexy apron” at craft shows. I responded that I was only selling jam and not by body… or my soul)
  • the bitter divorcee and runner
  • the recently fired flake
  • the enraged cult member
  • the apocalypse preparer and metal-detector
  • the incredibly nice bore
  • the hot mess
  • the hiking professor
  • the controlling creepily-small-handed addict
  • the extreme introvert
  • the friends-with-benefits commitment phobic
  • the extremely angry hater of all things including “gay people, people who live in the Hawthorne neighborhood in Portland, and (my favorite) people who ride bicycles with banana seats” (all his words)
  • the big promisor but stander-up-er
  • the narcissist
  • the unemployed dreamer

Why oh why do I keep trying?!? Well, I have the gift of faith. I believe people can change. I see the good and fuzz over the challenging. It’s strangely who I am. After years of difficulty and pain, I can only explain it by saying it’s a gift that God has given me, the gift of faith. Also, I know I am loved even if I never get married again. It’s not about one person “fixing” everything. It’s about being loved deeply by God and the people who are in my life. I am loved and Aunt Becky to seven nieces and nephews. And I’ll always have jam. Every time I have a difficult dating experience, I can always still make jam. My sister Rachel says my angst gets stirred into every jar. While at the beginning of a batch, she may be right, by the end of the canning process, I know it will be okay. I will be okay. And I’m learning to get out quickly. And who I am. And what I want and need. And maybe jam will end up being the love of my life. And I will get to pass on my “jam empire” to Chef Lily. Who knows. For today, that works.

In the interest of fairness, these are the labels I would use for myself:

  • the emotionally high-maintenance, affectionate foodie
  • the nerdy sci-fi and poetry lover
  • the gift-giving gardener
  • the spreadsheet-loving accountant
  • the child-spoiling Aunt
  • the old soul, but young antics, jam-maker

All are true. And I am okay with that. And maybe someday I’ll meet another imperfect person like myself who will fit. In the meantime, I’ll make more jam.

Late Summer

My $2 Old Navy flip flops make a sticky, sucky noise on my kitchen floor. Time to mop. Tonight’s batch of Golden Raspberry Peach Fruit Spread took 5 tries to thicken to my satisfaction. I guess I didn’t write down the recipe very accurately from last year. During the canning process, a huge clump of jam leapt onto my bare arm and made a pink spot (and I yelled a rather loud expletive before I licked the offending fruit off my arm). It’s almost 10pm and I still have 2 batches to can. It’s hot and I’m sticky and tired. And I’m happy.

Golden Raspberry Peach

My little house, aptly named Rose Cottage, is sweet and friendly. My nieces and nephews are safe. Schools started so my sister Heather gets a little rest. Labor day weekend is coming up soon. I plan to nap. A lot. And, let’s be honest, make more jam. I love my job. This time of year, my brain is tired. My hands are tired from clicking a mouse. Ironically, I’m typing more after work. My eyes are fuzzy from looking at tiny excel spreadsheets to finish annual financial statements for the non profit I work for. I sit all day but feel like I’m stretched thin trying to keep all the balls in the air. And I’m happy.

My bank account is a little lean. But my freezer is FULL of fruit for the fall, winter and spring season. My old fashioned kitchen will warm my house during the cold, rainy Portland evenings coming very soon. And my library card if free. Thank you for season 3 of Downton Abbey and the latest book in the series by Laurie King about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell. (P.S. You can’t go wrong with a book series that’s a combo of Flavia DeLuce by Alan Bradbury and Sherlock on PBS. Ever wondered why I say I’m a nerd, look no more.) And I’m happy.

The Tualatin Farmers’ Market season comes to a close this Friday. I’ve learned a lot, a lot. I’ve sold a lot of jam. I’ve given out countless samples. I’ve spoiled many children. I love to give extras to the kids who look at me with hopeful eyes, knowing intuitively that I spoil. One small boy started to walk over for a third sample and I heard his mom say “No!”. I saw his face, laughed and smiled at her. Then I gave him two extra cookies. I put a tiny blond girl’s hair in pigtails. I handed her dad a pony holder, but he looked at it helplessly. I’m not Aunt Becky for no reason! This season, I’ve met lots of foodies and bakers and quilt-lovers and other creative vendors.  And I’m happy.

 

Jam-i-versary

One year ago, I woke up from a dream about starting my own jam business. Aunt Becky’s special jams, fruit butters, sauces and syrups was born.

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So much had happened in a year! New flavors and craft shows. Farmers’ market on Fridays. Front page of the local paper. Three new nephews in 6 months (baby Wyatt in Seattle and adopted 4 year old “A” and his baby brother “S” in San Diego). My sisters don’t mess around! Garden projects. Recipes for the obvious breakfast and dessert. Recipes for the unexpected appetizers, salads and meat glazes. Fruit picking. Endless jars of jam. Research to find the best organic cane sugar (Florida’s Crystals), non GMO pectin, jars and packaging made in the USA. Ribbon Reserves line of wine and spirit infused jams. Best of all, so much fun!

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Thank you to all my family, friends and customers! Aunt Becky’s would not be the same without you taste testers, sample eaters, idea bouncer-off-ers, marketing suggesters, logo designers, volunteer booth sellers, technology assisters, cheerleaders, quilt sewers, truth tellers, encouragers and jam lovers.

Here’s to a new year!

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Rose Petal Jelly

Jam lovers are really creative! A week ago, I received a call from Elaine asking if I made anything that was rose flavored. Well no, but I can. On the quest for a new experiment and a lovely jelly, I promised to make a batch of Rose Petal Jelly.

Roses, like many flowers, are edible. Who knew. I don’t spray my roses during the summer and only feed them with organic fertilizer so they’re safe for eating.

Early last Saturday (like 9ish for me), I picked a bowl of roses from my English rose garden. I pulled off the petals, snipped the white tips (which are bitter) and washed the petals.

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After a few hours of soaking the petals in a syrupy mix, I strained them and was blessed with a lovely pinky red color. Yes, it smells like roses.

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After more simmering and a little lemon juice, the jelly was almost done. I added a few of the petals back into the jelly because they were so beautiful. The resulting Rose Petal Jelly has a light lemon flavor and a very soft, sweet rose flavor and scent.

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If you want your own Rose Petal Jelly, you’ll have to get in line behind Elaine. There are still a few more weeks left of summer and my roses are blooming. You can also try a sample today at the Tualatin Farmers’ Market from 4 till 8.

Chef Lily’s Strawberry Wine Shortcake

Yes, Chef Lily is 7. Technically, she’s 7 3/4 if you’re being precise. Yes, she enjoys Strawberry Wine Sauce. No, there’s no alcohol left in the sauce after cooking. Don’t worry. I promise I’m not serving Lily or any other kids liquor. Now that your concern has been assuaged, let’s get to the food!

Chef Lily’s Strawberry Wine Shortcake is so easy and simple…not to mention delicious. Strawberry Wine Sauce is full of Hood Strawberries cut in half and flavored with a light summer rose wine. For you non-wine drinkers out there, rose wine is made from grapes, not roses. It’s a slightly bubbly, slightly sweet, pink wine that you chill before drinking. So you can breathe easy.

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Gather It

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  • Angel food cake or shortcake
  • Aunt Becky’s Strawberry Wine Sauce
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Whipping cream

Make It

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  • Ask a grown-up to help slice the angel food cake or shortcake
  • Put the pieces into a bowl
  • Spoon Strawberry Wine Sauce over the top
  • Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream
  • Top with whipping cream
  • Optional: If you use the whipping cream in the can, squirt a little in your mouth after you’re done dishing up

Gobble It

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  • Well, gobble it
  • Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

P.S. Notice her teeth. The big new tooth (top right) was named “Sven the Terrible” by her dad Matt. The little baby tooth that’s sticking straight out (top left) was named “Hiccup” after the character Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III in How to Train Your Dragon. Hiccup has since fallen out and been gifted to the tooth fairy in exchange for cold hard cash.

P.S. 2 “Sven the Terrible” is actually named “Stoic the Vast”. The new tooth is replacing Hiccup is named “Gobber”. Matt loves naming things. Lily’s stuffed elephant “Elefante” was relentlessly named “Toby” by Matt until Lily finally broke down and agreed to “Toby”.