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I have been very busy in both my kitchen and garden lately.

I have been busy preparing my San Marzano tomatoes for freezing so that I can use them in marinara sauce this winter.
On the other hand, we have been eating our fresh, sweet corn as soon as we pick it.  I usually cut it from the cob and lightly steam it.
I have also been busy making peach, plum and even strawberry jam.  This past weekend, I made some applesauce which I use for making special ‘Applesauce Spice Cake’.
I will share with you how I prepare my corn, tomatoes and jams in future posts.  But right now, I am getting ready to go to the doctor with my father-in-law, my husband, his sister and my mother-in-law.
My father-in-law is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and he has a form that is moving very quickly.  We can see changes every week.
Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have allowed us to be very involved with his doctor visits, which is both a privilege but is also very hard at the same time.
As the ‘in-law’ I am trying to do my best to be supportive to not only my father & mother-in-law, but also to my husband and his sister.  But, I am also having to deal with my own sadness.
Many of you will understand this as I have just recently come to realize….as often as we hear of people who are suffering from diseases and even those that are terminally ill, you never comprehend how truly horrible it is and how if affects not only the one who is suffering from the disease itself, but also those around them.
Last week, my son said that he can’t remember what his ‘Papa’s’ voice sounds like.  I am preparing for the time when my son realizes that his grandfather is going to die.
My hope and prayer is that he will live until early November.  Why?  Well you see, my daughter will be having a baby!  She is having a little girl and this is not only my first grandchild, but she will also be my father-in-law’s first great-grandchild and he is so excited.
I am so thankful that throughout this time of sadness, that there are also things that bring joy to my life, including my garden and most especially a new life 🙂

When my mother, sister and her family moved to Double S Farms, I had no idea that I would soon be the grateful receiver of their bountiful harvest of apples, peaches and plums.

 Peaches
The peaches ripen first and I had the privilege of learning how to make my own peach jam.
 
I didn’t learn how to do it myself.  My mother, Pastor Farmer, taught me how.
It was a special time for me since she was teaching me something that her mother had taught her long ago.
Besides that, the jam was delicious.
After the peaches ripened, the plum were ready a few weeks later and I decided to try to make jam myself.
I was pleasantly surprised that my plum jam turned out very well.

It is now mid-March and I still have peach and plum jam to spread on my morning toast.

Now it was time to try my hand at making applesauce from the apples.



My mother rejoined me in making the applesauce and I used it later to make my signature Applesauce Spice Cake.



I enjoyed learning how to preserve fruit.  My only complaint is that I wish that I didn’t have to do it in the summer….my kitchen gets quite warm.

How about you?

Do you have a favorite fruit in your garden?

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My latest Birds & Blooms blog post is sure to bring a smile…


What Do You Do With a Dirty Chicken?

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I sometimes have trouble remembering what gifts I received a year ago for Christmas.  Does that happen to you too?  It’s not that I am not happy with the gifts……I am frequently amazed at the creativity and thoughtfulness of the giver.  But sometimes all I can handle is just trying to keep up with my 5 kids and my husband so many other things get pushed onto a back shelf inside my brain.

There have been extra special Christmas gifts that I have received that stick out in my mind.  Not because they were particularly expensive but because they were long lasting.  Each time I would use or look upon the gift, I would remember the thoughtfulness of the giver.

One of my favorite Christmas memories involve my dad and mother.  Each year my dad would give my mother something special for Christmas.  He would usually ask one of his daughters to wrap it for him and I can remember the happiness on his face when he would give my mother her gift.

After my father passed away a few years ago, my siblings and I started a new tradition – in addition to our individual gifts to our mother, we also joined together to give her a gift from all of us on behalf of my father, who is no longer here.

We have had a lot of fun thinking of ideas of what to give her each year.  This year we decided to give her two Apricot trees.  You see, my mother loves to can fruit.  Double S Farms, where she lives, has apple, peach, plum, kumquat, lemon, grapefruit, almond and pecan trees.  

This past summer, my mother taught me how to make peach and plum jam as well as applesauce.  I am still using peach jam on my morning toast 🙂
As many different kinds of fruit trees that my mother has, she does not have any apricot trees.  That was kind of sad really because apricots were among her favorite fruit.  So our decision was really quite easy.
We bought her two apricot trees and tied big red bows on each one and placed them on the side of the house.
We placed the apricot trees in the same area that already had peach trees growing.  Little Farmer and Littlest Farmer were happy to help 😉



 Now it was time for her surprise…..I think she was very happy with her gift.
Many people find it surprising that we can grow many different kinds of fruit trees.  Trees with low chill hour requirements do very well in our area.  (Chill hours occur when temperatures below 45 degrees F.  Fruit trees require a minimum number of chill hours to produce fruit.).  We selected two different varieties of apricot trees – ‘Katy’ and ‘Gold Kist’.  
Apricot trees are self-pollinating (which means that they doesn’t need pollen from another apricot tree to produce fruit), so we really only needed one, but since we planted two, that means more apricot jam in our future.
The apricot trees will be ready for harvesting in late May / early June.
When planting fruit trees, it is important not to dig the hole deeper then the depth of the root ball.  What is a good thing to do is to dig the hole at least 3 times the width of the root ball, which helps the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil.  January is the month to plant your bare-root fruit trees in the Arizona deserts.
No fertilizer should be added to newly planted trees for the first year.  The reason is because fertilizer will trigger the growth of the upper part of the tree – you may be asking what is wrong with that?  
Well, all trees need a good root system that can support the branches, leaves and fruit and that takes at least a year.  So please don’t add fertilizer unless you live in an area with sandy soils, which may require the addition of phosphorus and potassium when planted.

My mother was very happy with her gift, which will continue giving year after year.


I can almost taste the apricot jam……but it will take a few years for the new trees to produce enough fruit 🙂
For information on fruit varieties for the desert southwest, click here.
Here is a link for general fruit tree growing information for Arizona.
 For the past couple of weeks, I have been watching as the peaches began to ripen on the three peach trees on Double Farms.  I was especially excited for them to ripen this year because my mother, Pastor Farmer, had promised to teach how to make peach jam.


Back in January, I helped prune these neglected peach trees with my brother-in-law, Farmer Dad and blogged about it – Three Neglected Peach Trees.  As the tiny fruits started to form, my sister, Chicken Farmer, thinned out the peaches.  The result was that the peaches this year were much larger.


My mother came over with a box filled to overflowing with peaches.  You can see what was left when we were finished, above.  I was also happy to have her come over to my house because we have been rather housebound while my son Kai is recuperating from hip surgery, and it was nice to have something fun to do.


My mother is no stranger to canning and making jams.  She learned much of the process from her mother.  But in today’s age of technology, there is plenty of information online about how to make jam and we did get some great tips that way, which made the process even easier.  We found great information online here.


I am a novice when it comes to canning and making jam, so I was anxious to learn.  First we blanched the peaches (put them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then plunged them into ice water).  It was very easy to remove the skins and then we cut them up into pieces.


One piece of modern equipment that we used that our grandmothers definitely did not have was a food processor to partially blend the cut peaches.  My mother said that it worked much better then a potato masher which she had used previously.




My newly graduated daughter, Rachele, had some extra time on her hands and wanted to help.  She poured the peaches into the pot, added lemon juice and pectin and got ready to cook them.



Her job was to constantly stir the peaches.  A trick that my mother learned was to put a tablespoon of butter in the peaches, to reduce the foam and scum that floats to the top.  It really worked.  Then I added the sugar and we boiled the peaches for 1 minute on high heat.






The fragrance from the peaches was just delicious.


Now, came the technical part….putting the jam into the jars without contaminating them.




My mother bought a canning kit, which came with tongs for the jars, a funnel, a magnet and much more.  She carefully measured the jam until it was within 1/4″ of the top.  Then Rachele and I did the same.




I realize that I am not in any of these pictures, but I promise, that I was working hard too 🙂




Rachele carefully wiped the rims to make sure they were clean.  




Okay, I think this is really cool.  The canning kit included a magnet that you could use to take the lids out of the boiling water, which makes it even easier not to touch them or get your fingers burned.




We were almost done!




Voila!


All of the jars sealed perfectly.  At this point, I was searching for the nearest loaf of bread so I could enjoy our new jam.  


I had such a great time spending time with my mom and daughter and learning something new.  


Now that I have had a lesson in making peach jam, I can hardly wait to make plum jam.  They are almost ripe….


**You can learn how to can and make your own jam.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a great website with step-by-step tutorials.