If you have a mulberry tree count yourself lucky! We love to forage and harvest wild foods and making mulberry jelly has fast become one of my favorite recipes. We have access to several trees but with their short season and being a favorite of birds we have to move fast to harvest them.
Boone harvested about a gallon or so for me the other morning as soon as the majority of the berries were ripe. He takes a tarp, lays it under the tree and shakes the branches so the berries will drop to the tarp. Mulberries, though they resemble blackberries, are small and delicate. Picking them is tedious and time consuming. He put this batch in a foil lined bowl and into the frig until I could get to them.
The next morning I started the process of cleaning them. When shaking them from the tree, small twigs, leaves, etc. will drop with them. To be sure they are cleaned thoroughly I gather a small handful and rinse them under running water, rolling them from hand to hand and then dropping in a clean pot. I put a mesh strainer in the sink drain to keep any large particles from going down the drain. Once I have them all cleaned I pour the berries in to a colander to drain.
Since I am making jelly I do not destem the berries unless the stem is really large. It would take forever to destem all of them and the stem does not cause any harm in the jelly preparations since you are squeezing the juice out. If it was a jam or preserves recipe then I would destem them.
I use the mulberry jelly recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation Mulberry Jelly. It is simple and turns out great. If you have never made jelly before it is not hard to do. There are quite a few sites online that have step-by-step instructions or you can pick up a Ball canning book. My tips are: gather all of your supplies together first, pour all of the sugar required into a bowl so you can pour it all at once in the fruit and wear an apron to keep splatters off your clothes.
My dad made the best biscuits and I have never been able to duplicate his so I am always on the hunt for a great biscuit recipe. Isn’t it funny how recipes with lots of ingredients can turn out great but simple dishes like potato salad, pimiento cheese and biscuits are hard to get right? Or maybe it is just me!
Anyway, I came across this recipe on the Southern Living website and really love it. It makes big flaky biscuits. Boone loves them with Apple Maple jam or with any of my homemade jams. They are just as good with only butter or with sausage or ham on them.
The only thing I did different from the recipe is I never have self-rising flour so I usually make a batch up when I plan on having these biscuits. The biscuit recipe has several ways to bake them and my favorite is to warm a cast iron skillet in the oven, then rub a bit of butter in it and put the biscuits in. That gives them a crunchy bottom that is so good. I tend to roll them a bit thicker and normally get around ten biscuits. My skillet only holds eight so I cook the last two later.
One of my favorite jams is Apple Maple Jam is from a past Ball Blue Book but can also be found here: Apple Maple Jam. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. That is a little strong for me so I only use 1/2 teaspoon.
I was recently in the North Carolina mountains during apple season and bought lots of local varieties. I think the best jam is made with a variety of apples. Another good way to use this jam is to mix some with Dijon mustard, spread on a pork tenderloin, then roast.
The bacon has been cured and dried in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It is ready to eat at this point or smoked. I cold smoke my bacon which means that little heat gets to it as I do not want to cook it but flavor it with hickory smoke. There are many types of smokers on the market but we like to things as inexpensively as possible so we used a barrel placed over a hole that had a trench running from it to a fire pit dug in the ground. A fire of charcoal and hickory was started in the pit, covered with a sheet of metal (offset for air to feed the fire), we laid plywood over the trench and then covered it with dirt. The smoke would travel from the pit to the barrel and smoke the bacon. We drilled holes in the barrel right below the top rim and ran a broom handle through it. From there we hung the bacon with wire from the broomstick and covered the barrel with another piece of plywood. It worked really well but was a lot of work digging the pits and trench.
For this batch, we came across an old smoker and modified it. Boone cut out a hole and ran some woodstove pipe from the charcoal holder to the smoker body. Nothing fancy here as he took the door off to run the pipe into the smoker then duct taped around it. I wanted 3 racks and the smoker only held two so Boone just ran 4 sheet metal screws into so I could use a rack from our regular smoker.
I first start a small amount of charcoal in a charcoal chimney. Into the charcoal pit of the smoker I put a handful of unlit charcoal briquettes, then the hot charcoal then some chunks of dry hickory and then a few that have been sitting in water. They will produce a good smoke, the hickory will catch fire and the unlit briquettes will eventually catch fire which means I do not have to check them very often. As long as smoke is coming out I leave it alone.
After about an hour I flip the bacon. I only smoke the bacon for about 3 hours. Then I bring it in for a rinse, pat dry then wrap in plastic wrap, freezer paper and finally into a labeled freezer bag. Oh, I will probably go ahead and slice some so I can have my favorite sandwich – a BLT on my favorite Buttermilk Bread. So good!
I enjoy curing and smoking bacon. It’s a slow process so you cannot be in a hurry and have to plan ahead. For this batch of bacon the curing took about 2 weeks and the smoking was done over a weekend. First thing I do is get my supplies ready:
Cure mix ( I use Morton’s Tender Quick)
Quite a few sharp knives
Gallon size storage bags
There are many recipes out there for making your own cure mix. While it is rare for me to buy prepackaged mixes I am more comfortable when it comes to curing to use an old standby – Morton’s Tender Quick. Around my area, few big chain grocery stores carry it but luckily there is a butcher shop that has a small grocery section that stocks it. I am sure it can also be purchased online.
When we got the meat back from the processor it was already frozen. After the pork belly and jowls thawed in the refrigerator it was time to get to work. I have this great big cutting board that I just love because it has a lip on it that drops down in front of the kitchen counter edge to keep it from sliding. When visiting my son in Chicago some years ago, I picked it up at IKEA for around $12.00. I do not know if they still carry them but they are well worth it if you are in need of one.
The first thing I do is to rinse, pat dry, and then lay out the pork belly, skin side up and trim the skin off. You can either go ahead and cut the belly up into bacon size slabs first or take the skin off first. I tend to cut the belly in half to make it more manageable and then cut the skin off. Pig skin is extremely tough and will dull a knife quickly so I have quite a few handy. Boone is at the ready to sharpen the knives as needed. The trick is to cut close to the underside of the skin because you want to leave enough fat to have nice mix of meat and fat in the bacon slices. Do the same with the jowls if they have skin on them.
After the skin is off, it’s time to cut the belly into slabs. I like to cut mine into a rectangle that will fit into the freezer bag. I save any trimmings to cure. Also, I have an electric slicer so I know about how long the rectangle can be to fit on the slicer easily. My slicer is pretty old, about 15 years or so, and I picked it up at one of the big box stores. Okay so now I’ve got all of the pork belly skinned, cut and stacked. Time to start the curing process.
I have a large plastic container that I do the curing rub part in to help contain the mess. First I set up my curing station with the Tender Quick and brown sugar. There are many recipes online that call for a lot of different spices so it is easy to experiment or straight Tender Quick can be used and is good if flavoring is not desired.
First I weigh a slab and put it in the tub. Boone helps out with this part since my hands are going to get pretty messing with rubbing in the cure. He mixes the correct amount of Tender Quick per each slab weight (1 tablespoon per pound), and equal amounts of brown sugar and or maple syrup in a small bowl which I dump over the pork slab and rub it in good all over it; both sides and edges.
Place the slab that has been rubbed with the cure mix into the gallon bag and seal. Repeat with all the slabs and any extra pieces that are left from trimming. These can be used to make bacon bits or for flavoring beans, greens, soups, etc. Everything goes into the refrigerator. It takes about 7 days to cure an inch of meat. Most of the bacon slabs were an 1 ½ -2 inches thick so I planned on 2 weeks for the cure time. Every day, I flipped the slabs over. The cure mix will start drawing liquid out of the bacon. The liquid will act as a brine to help with the cure. Flipping everyday insures that both sides will cure evenly to the center.
After the cure time is up, I take out one of the slabs of bacon, rinse it well and do a fry test. Using my slicer, I slice off a couple of pieces. We tend to like our bacon a bit on the thinner side so it will fry up crispy instead of chewy. It had great flavor but burned easily, so I rinsed the slab some more as I think it was the sugar that burnt so easily. After the second rinse it was perfect. I find that I have to cook home-cured bacon at a lower temp than store bought.
After rinsing all the slabs, they go back into the refrigerator bare (no bag) to air dry for a couple of days. At that point, the bacon is ready to be frozen or smoked. I keep a few slabs unsmoked so I wrap the slabs individually with plastic wrap, then freezer paper, and then into a labeled freezer bag. When ready to cook, I will partially thaw a slab as it is easier to slice at that point rather than when entirely thawed.
First up was the whole shoulder. I like it hickory smoked, so off to the woods we go to find some fallen hickory. Early the next morning when it was still dark, I got the charcoal going. Boone left to go hunting and must have agitated the coyotes in the woods because in the area he went into, 2 different packs started sounding off. It was eerie and surreal standing out in the dark by the smoker listening to them.
As the charcoal was getting hot, I dropped the chunks of hickory into a bucket of water to soak. The shoulder was so big it would not fit on the smoker so Boone had to hack it into 2 pieces. I do not do anything other than wash and pat dry the shoulder. No salt, pepper, nothing.
The USDA says pork is done internally at minimum temp of 145F. It will pull off the bone easily around an internal temp of 200F. so I do stick a meat thermometer into it to be sure of when it’s done. When the charcoal is ready – into the firebox it goes with some of the wet hickory on top, then the smoker body – fill the water bowl with water, then lastly the grate with the 2 pieces of shoulder. Lid on and we are smoking our way towards some great barbecue.
Being from southeast North Carolina I like vinegar based barbecue. I like the thick tomato based type barbecue sauce but only when making beef barbecue. For me it’s vinegar all the way with pork. On a side note: I had never heard the term “pulled pork” until I moved to Kentucky. Anyway, here’s how I make the sauce:
2 tbsp. crushed red pepper (or more if you want more heat)
1 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients, bottle and let steep for at least half a day before using. Steeping overnight or longer is preferred for the best flavor. Strain if preferred before using.
I keep an empty cider bottle around just for sauce making time so all I have to do is pour the ingredients in it, shake it once a day and let it steep for a week or so before using. A lot of folks don’t but I like to strain the sauce before using it. The peppers will give the meat heat if you leave it in but we like ours to come mostly from the Texas Pete that we put on the barbecue sandwiches.
Smoking takes a while so I do it on the weekend when I am home all day and can check the smoker every couple of hours, adding water or more hickory as needed. I think I added more charcoal at least 3 or 4 times. Around the 6 hour mark the internal temp was up to 170 so I decided to go ahead and pull the shoulder off, wrap it up in aluminum foil (I took the thermometer out and reinserted after I wrapped them) and slid it into the oven (350F) to finish it off to 200F. When it was ready, I let it sit until cool enough to handle.
It shredded beautifully and since we like chopped barbecue I chopped everything up. I also include bits of minced skin in the barbecue for added flavor. Since we were planning on having barbecue for dinner I went ahead and put some aside and added the sauce to it. The sauce is really thin but when you reheat the meat with the sauce a lot of the liquid will be absorbed.
Since we are splitting the pork with our son, I packaged the rest in ½ lb. freezer bags without the sauce and froze. This way, the smoked pork can be used in different recipes besides just barbecue. The perfect barbecue sandwich for us starts with a warm bun with just a slide of mayonnaise, then barbecue, coleslaw and topped with a bit of Texas Pete. Heaven!
A few weeks ago, the time came to process one of the pigs. Being raised on a hillside with part pasture and woods, the pigs consumed little feed with all the good stuff offered up to them by the field and woods. They are also given vegetable and dairy scraps from the kitchen. We like to offer them a little feed so we can scratch their backs while they eat to keep them tame and manageable. They were started off that way when they were piglets and looked forward to the back scratching. Our goal weight to process was 250 pounds.
The university, where I work, has a small public meat processing facility so that is where I had the meat processed. There are quite a few processors around us so I bought a roll of breakfast sausage from four different ones so Boone and I could do a taste test. The cuts of meat (chop, ribs, etc.) are going to taste the same no matter who cuts it up but everyone has a different sausage recipe. I could have made my own as there are plenty of recipes online but never having done it before I did not want to ruin many pounds of meat to get it right. Anyway, my university’s sausage was the best tasting overall.
We wanted the whole process to be low stress for both us and the pig so we put the trailer in the pig pasture a few weeks before the processing date. That way the pig would be used to the trailer and would hopefully load easily. Boone started putting the feed in the trailer and within a few days the pigs were hopping in and out easily. The actual loading went as we hoped, quickly with minimal excitement and stress.
The cost of processing was $141.00. We received 147 pounds of boneless chops, ribs, ham hocks, tenderloins, sausage, leaf fat for lard, a whole shoulder, pork belly, jowls, steaks and other various cuts. I had talked with the manager ahead of time to discuss the cuts I wanted. When I picked up the meat all was vacuum sealed and already frozen.
I cure and smoke our own bacon plus I had plans to smoke a shoulder to make barbecue, southeast NC style, so we put the pork bellies, jowls and shoulder in the extra fridge out in the garage to thaw. We picked this fridge up off of Craigslist for $50 and it has really come in handy.
If you are a gardener like me, then you are always looking for new ways to use the bounty. Pickled bell peppers is a great way to use up some of your garden peppers or if you do not garden stock up on peppers when the prices drop during the summer. They can be sliced and frozen and then used as needed. Peppers are one of my most used vegetables during the year.
No. 1 son recently located from Chicago to Charlotte and stayed with us in between for a few months. I keep many bags of sliced red, yellow and green peppers in the freezer and noticed some canning jars of yellow peppers popped up in the refrigerator. When I asked about them my husband and younger son thought I had made them and proceeded to tell me how good they were and that they were eating them like crazy. Turns out No. 1 came across this recipe from Simply Scratch and adapted it using yellow bell peppers.
No. 1 son relocated, the peppers ran out and my husband has been asking if I could make more. They’ve been on my to-make list and with chicken fajitas planned for one of our weekend dinners I made a batch of the peppers to go with them. They were an excellent addition and give a bit of a bite to the mix. In addition, they would be great chopped up in potato or macaroni salad or on pizza. As mentioned before, the guys in the house love them on subs, burgers and just about any sandwich that includes meat.
Wonderfully tangy peppers. Great for Italian subs, pizza, fajitas, sandwiches, salads and much more.
Author: Adapted from Simply Scratch for Bell Peppers
Serves: 3 half pints
4 large bell peppers, any color (I used red and yellow)
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 tbsp. Kosher salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1 garlic clove, smashed per jar my garlic was very strong so I only used a ⅓ of a clove in each jar
Canning jars I used 3 half pint wide mouth jelly jars because it’s what I had on hand. How many jars needed will depend on the size of the peppers
In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil to make sure the salt and sugar dissolve. Set aside to cool.
Rinse, dry and slice the peppers to your thickness preference, avoiding the seeds.
Put a bit of smashed garlic in the bottom of each clean jar, then put the sliced peppers in. Really pack them in there leaving a room at the top so they can be covered completely by the vinegar mix.
When the vinegar mixture is cool, pour over the jarred peppers. Top with canning lid and ring and into the frig they go! They need a day or so before you start eating them. It’s hard to say how long they will last as the first batch was gone within a couple of weeks.
The recipe can be halved if you want to start with a smaller amount to try them out.
I have been down and out for over a week with the flu. My husband succumbed a few days after I did so thanks to our good neighbors they made sure the livestock was taken care of. I must say if I have to be sick I am grateful for our view. The piglets were very entertaining to watch while they were busy at turning over the garden!
Saturday, I had rallied back enough to make bread and yogurt for the upcoming work week. This recipe comes from an old Good Housekeeping cookbook and makes a good sandwich bread as it is heavy enough to stand up to thin slicing which is how we prefer our bread cut.
The only changes I made was to use buttermilk instead of whole milk and to make half of the dough into a loaf and the other half into dinner rolls. I just take half of the dough and divide it into 10 sections or so. Roll into balls, they do not have to be perfect, and place in a greased cake pan. Bake along with the loaf but keep an eye on them as they may get done sooner.
Tangy, chewy buttermilk bread. Slices great for sandwiches or warm with butter.
Author: slightly adapted from The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook
Serves: 2 loaves
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 packages active dry yeast
8 cups all-purpose flour
2¾ cup milk (I used buttermilk)
4 tablespoons butter
Combine sugar, salt, yeast and 3 cups of flour in large bowl. Over low heat, warm milk and butter until warm (120-130F.)
Using a mixer at low speed, slowly add the heated milk mixture to flour mix until blended. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Gradually add 1½ cups of flour, beat 2 more minutes. With a spoon, add in 4 cups of flour and blend.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes or so. (Mine never got totally smooth but I just went with it after 10 minutes and it was fine), Work in up to a ¼ cup more flour if needed while kneading.
Smooth dough into a ball and place in a well greased bowl, turning the dough around to grease all of it's surface. Cover and place in a warm area until doubled. Takes about an hour. (I turn my oven on it's lowest setting, 170F. for about 10 minutes while I am mixing the dough. Then I turn it off and place the dough in it to rise).
After the rise, punch the dough down. Place on lightly floured surface, cut in half and let rest for about 15 minutes. Shape each half into a loaf and place into a greased loaf pan. Cover, let rise again until about doubled.
Heat oven to 400F. At this point, you can melt a bit of butter and brush the tops of the loaves. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and test done. Remove loaves from pans and cool on wire rack.
Collards were a staple in our house growing up. It was a common Sunday afternoon event for our family to take leisurely drives out in the country. From the backseat of the family station wagon, I would see huge collard plants growing out in the sandy fields. Later, my parents would stop at the roadside farm stands to purchase them. On New Year’s Day, the tradition was that eating collards helped insure that money would come your way throughout the year and Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice) would bring good luck.
I have been cooking a lot this holiday season and a large amount of it has been party food. On Christmas day I bring a dish and gather with my husband’s family at one of my sister-in-law’s. This year after so much party food, I felt the need for something green and nutritious so I cooked a bunch of collards to take. My brother is the collard cooking king in the family so I gave him a call the day before, “Hey George, remind me of how you fix the collards?” They are so easy and so good.
Sand on collards
Rendering fat from ham hock
If you go to the grocer and buy collards they are usually tied up in a bunch. When you see it you’ll think there is no way that your family will eat all of them. Do not worry, they will amaze you and cook down to less than half the original volume.
What you want to do is strip the leaves from the center stem and soak in a sink of cold water for about half an hour. Collards can be pretty sandy so you want to be sure to get all of it off. After soaking, drain the water away, rinse the collards and put in the other side of the sink. Clean out the side they were just in, rinse them again and again put in the clean side. I usually do 2 or 3 rinses. There’s nothing worse to a Southerner than gritty collards or gritty oysters!
Get a large pot out and put the meat in. What you want to do is render (melt) the fat at a fairly low temperature. If I am using a ham hock I’ll cut it up first to help with the rendering. It may take 20 minutes or so but at the point you think the fat just won’t melt anymore pour in the chicken stock to a depth of about an inch. Leave the meat in the pot, and shake out some salt and pepper on it.
Put the rinsed collards in the pot, put the lid on and simmer on low for a couple of hours, stirring every now and then. Salt to taste if needed. When serving, it is handy to have pepper vinegar or hot sauce on hand as a lot of folks like to dash some on the collards.
The liquid in the pot is referred to as pot liquor. It is common to cook the dried black eyed beans in this for New Year's Day.