Two Time Jam Champion at the State Fair!

Hi readers! Hopefully the title of this post says it all, but yes, the DC State Fair happened this past weekend and my jam won first place, again! Last year I won first with my Southern Lady Pepper Jelly, and this year I entered two fruit-centric jams. I’m trying to be modest, but both jams placed– 1st and 2nd!

Award Winning Jams ~ Erin's DC Kitchen

I didn’t go into this year’s fair thinking I would win again. There was a lot of good competition last year who I knew would be back this year too. Plus, a part of me felt my win was probably beginners luck last time. Nope! I think I might know what I’m doing! ūüėČ

Smoky Peach and Pepper Jam and Peach-Basil Jam ~ Erin's DC Kitchen

So, on the left is the 1st place jam,  Smoky Peach and Pepper. The 2nd place jam on the right is Peach-Basil. These are the peaches my husband and I picked earlier in the summer, and the basil and some of the peppers were grown in my community garden plot.

Smoky Peach and Pepper Jam ~ Erin's DC Kitchen

LOVE the color

These jams are delicious and too sophisticated in flavor to go on a PB&J. The Smoky Peach and Pepper has an intense smoke flavor that yields to the sweetness of the peach and a tiny hint of heat from the pepper. It is amazing served with cheese and crackers. The Peach-Basil is also sweet, with a strong fresh basil taste that intensifies as you chew. I love slathering it onto a toasted bagel and cream cheese.

Yums. ūüôā

IMG_3853

I’m sharing the recipes with you all in the hopes you try these jams too one day. Freshly picked ingredients make the best jam, remember that! I picked everything that went into this jam and then starting cooking it within 24 hours. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really is just fun and you get a better product.

Fresh Peach Jam

  • 4 heaping cups finely chopped, peeled and pitted peaches
  • 2 tbl lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 package (49-57 g) powder pectin or about 6 tablespoons

For Peach-Basil Jam

  • 3/4 cup snipped fresh sweet basil

For Smokey Peach and Pepper Jam

  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red, yellow and orange hot peppers (not jalapeno)
  • 1/4 heaping tsp dried smoked paprika (taste it, you may need to add more depending on smokiness of your spice)
  • 1/4 tsp dried ground chipotle pepper (again, taste it, you may want more if you want a big kick of heat, this is for mild heat)

Directions: The base peach jam recipe is above, you add in either the additional ingredients for the Peach-Basil or Smoky Peach and Pepper jam in addition to the base recipe. The measurements for the additional ingredients are for a whole batch (meaning you need to make the base peach recipe twice if you want to make both jam flavors. I do not recommend doubling the recipe and then trying to split it in half.)

Prepare your peaches by scoring an X along the bottom on the skin and dropping the peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds. This will loosen the skin and make it easier to peel. Peel, pit and chop the peaches until you have 4 heaping cups. Add the peaches and lemon juice to a large pot. Stir in the pectin and bring to a boil over high heat. Sit in the sugar all at once. Return to a boil and boil hard for 2 minutes. You will notice the texture of the jam mixture will go from grainy and thick to liquidy. Once it gets liquidy, your almost there but be sure to boil hard for at least two minutes or the jam will be soft. Skim off foam as desired, or plop in a tablespoon of cold butter, which is what I do, to keep the foam down.

*If you are making Peach-Basil jam, stir in the snipped basil right after you skim off the foam. Keep the mixture hot while you are doing this, or else you will get air bubbles in your jam.

*If you are making Smoky Peach and Pepper, add in the chopped peppers along with the peaches at the beginning of the recipe and continue to cook according to instructions. After you skim the foam or add the butter, stir in the dried ground spices. Again, keep the mixture hot while you are doing this, or else you get air bubbles.

Next, ladle the hot jam into cleaned and prepared jars. This should make about 7 eight ounce jars, or the equivalent thereof– I used 12 oz jars because I liked the look. Screw on the lids and the bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. (Start the timer once you’ve put the jars into the canner and the water returns to a full boil). ¬†Remove and let cool. You can turn the jars every few minutes, for the first 20 minutes of cooling, if you want to evenly distribute the fruit. Make sure your lids have sealed and enjoy! The jam is shelf stable for 1 year. Once it has been opened, keep it in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Erin

Erin's DC Kitchen at the State Fair

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Weather Throwing a Curveball? DIY Plant Protection!

Protect Plants from the Cold - Erin's DC Kitchen

Don’t let fickle weather undue all the work you’ve put into your springtime garden; cold weather protection is easy (and cheap)! Why do you need to worry about protecting plants from the chill? Mostly because freezing/frost can kill plants. Also, unseasonably cold weather will weaken and stress tomato and pepper transplants. These are warm weather loving plants and in order to get them growing, flowering, and setting fruit in a healthy manner, you need to avoid stressing the plants.

Plants are really a lot like us- we are not happy when it is 75¬į and sunny and then the next day you wake up to a bone-chilling 35¬į morning.¬† (True story).

So here is a step by step guide to what I did to protect my plants, and it cost nothin’! You need some cheap garbage bags, I used our 13 gallon white Hefty’s– no drawstring or anything fancy- and a pair of scissors.

1)  Place bag on top of the plant cage, the closed bottom facing up.

on top before cutting

2) With the scissors, cut along the bottom seam to open up the bag and gently pull the bag down the cage until it touches the soil. Weigh down the edges of the bag with items found in your garden.

weighing down

3) Tie the edges of the bag in three places to the cage. I did this by tearing 2 inch long vertical strips along the top of the bag and tying  knots at the three places where the ring meets the cage. This keeps the top open to the sun.

Note: The bag is floppy because the edges haven’t been tied yet. Tying prevents floppiness, and it will look like the first pic in this post.

You’re done! Plants will stay safe with the bag warming the air around the plant and protecting them from wind. I leave these on during the day if the temperature doesn’t get to0 high, like above 70¬ļ, and of course, keep them on at night when the temp is dipping in the low 40’s and the 30’s.

Another option for covering plants is to use the plastic pot from a particularly large pepper or tomato transplant. Cut the bottom off and place over the plant, like so.

use leftover container

Now here is a picture of one of my marigolds, just for fun, ūüôā

marigolds

Happy Gardening!

– Erin

What Charlie Sheen and I have in common, Winning

I won first prize at the DC State Fair jam & jelly contest!!!!

Blue ribbon!

Numero Uno!

Winning!

Ok, that’s enough. ūüôā ¬†Thank you for indulging my¬†excitement. ¬†Two weekends ago, DC held its third annual state fair in Barracks Row. Yes, this is an oxymoron as DC isn’t actually a state, but hey, we pay taxes and don’t have any Congressional representatives so can we at least enjoy this great American pastime?

I had been excited about the fair for a while but didn’t know what I wanted to make. ¬†I went over to the garden to pull out the dead tomato plants and check on the general state of things and saw I had a bumper crop of green Marconi peppers.¬†Light-bulb¬†moment! ¬†Hot, sweet and smokey green pepper jelly!

At the fair of course winning was on my mind, but I didn’t think it was a given. After intently watching the judges taste entries for an hour, they went for mine. Yes, the culminating moment… the first judge (who happens to be¬†interim¬†food editor of the Washington Post) samples some and¬†immediately¬†starts coughing and reaching for water.

Oh my God. Fail.  But then she flashes me the thumbs up. Ok, maybe it just went down the wrong pipe.

Another judge, a master gardener from the District, sampled and said “Oh, that’s good”. Score!!

Me and the winning jelly

I was so surprised when they announced the winner and called my name. Inside I was bursting but outside I was trying to act cool, like no big deal. Hahaha, that didn’t work out so well. When the Washington Post editor came over and asked me about the recipe and handed me her phone to input my contact info I really just got flustered.

I was fumbling with fat fingers and looked like I was¬†blatantly¬†ignoring the people coming up to me asking questions about the jelly¬†because¬†I was so intent on giving out my info. Ugh, I came across as a total ditz. Moving forward, I’m taking it as a lesson in how to be more poised and gracious when in the spotlight.

Alright, I know you are ready for the recipe, so here it is!

I dressed up my entry with burlap, jute and a tiny pepper on the side

Blue Ribbon Southern Lady Pepper Jelly

  • 4 1/4 cups finely diced green Marconi peppers
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (more if you like it hot)
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 box Sure-Jell Low Sugar Pectin (1.75 ounces)
  • 6 half pint jelly jars
Prepare the jars, lids, bands and boiling water canner.  Slice the peppers and run through a food processor until finely diced. Combine the peppers, vinegar, a few pinches of the sugar and the pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a hard boil, stirring frequently. Mix in the sugar, honey and ground chipotle pepper and continue cooking at a hard boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Skim off any foam if needed (I rarely do!). Using a funnel, pour the jelly into the prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process the jars for 10 minutes, remove and let cool.

Southern ladies used to serve hot pepper jellies with water crackers and cheese at lunches and afternoon teas so that inspired the name of my entry. This jelly is perfect with cream cheese and crackers, on a bagel, or even as a dipping sauce for roast pork.

Enjoy!

– Erin

About Ireland, Part 3 (or, the hostile hostel)

Next stop, Galway and Connemara.

We spent two nights in Galway at the Barnacles Hostel. ¬†I don’t relish staying in hostels, but when left with no other choice, this one was perfectly adequate. It was clean, the sheets were clean and in good condition, and the room overall was well maintained. The husband and I booked a private room, but none were available so they gave us a room with two bunk beds and blocked off the other beds.

Well, so they said.  The second night, we stumbled in at a fairly late hour after enjoying a traditional (trad) music session at a local pub and sampling several a few Irish beers only to notice all our stuff had been moved around and there were two massive backpacks on the top bunks of each bed.

We momentarily freaked at the thought of sharing a room with teenage European backpackers and then ran down to the front desk to rectify the situation.

Trad Music Session, any musician that could keep up could join in

To their credit, the desk clerk seemed embarrassed about the issue and immediately went upstairs to remove the offending items. We were given new keys, an apology and sent to bed. Ok, fine.

After falling asleep, which is no small feat in a bedroom located directly above a crowded pub, I was shocked awake when our door opened at 2:00 am and a strange man walked in. I¬†immediately¬†shot up and told him about the snafu while silently praying he spoke English and wasn’t an angry youth wondering what I did with his backpack.

He understood and then left. Apparently the ‘new keys’ were not a protective measure after all. I’m pretty scared at this point knowing there is a second backpacker who has yet to come in… Well, another made an appearance about an hour later and as I hadn’t slept a wink I was ready with an explanation. Meanwhile the husband is blissfully sleeping away courtesy of earplugs and the deadening effects of¬†alcohol.

Needless to say I was really cranky the next morning. But that day was saved by a wonderful drive through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey.

Scenes from Connemara

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore was¬†originally¬†built in the 1800’s¬†by¬†a husband as a gift to his beloved wife, however she died early due to¬†dysentery. It was taken over by nuns of the Benedictine Order in the 1920’s and is still used as their abbey today. They live there full time but keep the grounds, church and walled Victorian gardens of the estate open to visitors. The nuns make soaps, chocolates, pottery and jams which are sold in the¬†gift shop- I bought blackcurrant jam, yum!

Scenes from the grounds

Neo-gothic church at Kylemore

My favorite thing at Kylemore was the Victorian walled garden. It was complete with ornamental sections, a kitchen garden, exotic plant section, and some greenhouses. There were several greenhouses that collapsed due to lack of care so the estate is working on rebuilding them now.

Head Gardener’s Cottage

Old timey gardening tools

The kitchen garden section

More kitchen garden

I was especially enchanted with the walled garden because I had just finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh which is the story a young woman trying to find a life for herself after foster care. She has a unique gift for understanding the power of flowers, which stems from her extensive knowledge of the Victorian use of flowers to convey messages. Sunflowers mean false riches;¬†yellow roses, infidelity;¬†basil means hate;¬†baby’s breath, everlasting love.

If you are a fan of flowers or just really good fiction that you can learn a thing or two from, I cannot recommend this book enough! At the end, the author compiles an entire dictionary of the Victorian¬†language¬†of flowers based off her own extensive research. It is so interesting to flip through it and imagine what it must have been like for ladies to receive bouquets from potential suitors and then spend hours decoding the meaning of every stem. ūüôā

I loved Kylemore Abbey, the grounds and the garden. You can easily spend half a day here, don’t skip it if you plan on being in Galway, make it a day trip!

Thanks for reading, tomorrow will be the last post about my trip. I need to get back in the kitchen!

– Erin

Peach, Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad

Peaches and tomatoes come together in this amazingly refreshing summer appetizer sprinkled with goat cheese and drizzled with a sweet and tart balsamic reduction. The vine ripe tomato is sweet and juicy, it perfectly mirrors the peach.

BUT- this dish rocks not only because it contains awesome ingredients, but because it contains a tomato I GREW.

Despite all adversity, this tiny tomato seed come up from nothing, struggling through the dry, cracked earth to push its leafy¬†tendrils¬†towards life giving sunshine…!! ūüôā Hahaha, I live on the edge of hyperbole (in case you can’t tell).

But really, this tomato- a German Johnson variety to be exact- is special because it survived the deer attack my garden suffered in July.  Despite living in the heart of DC, I am not safe from these 4 legged nuisances.  There are lots of deer that live in the large national park, Rock Creek, that runs north-south through the district.

Even though I have a 5+ foot fence surrounding my garden, they still made it in and ate every single one of my ripe/almost ripe tomatoes. This is bad because some tomato plants only set a certain amount of fruit each season. So when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Tomato casualty, crushed under hoof

Ate all the leaves off my peppers,

and the tops off my carrots and summer squash.

Sigh. This was very¬†disappointing¬†and I actually teared up a bit when I saw the damage.¬†So that’s what makes this German Johnson so special, it lived. The tomato that lived!!

Peach, Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad

  • 1 large peach
  • 1 large homegrown tomato*
  • 2 heaping tablespoons soft goat cheese
  • balsamic¬†reduction for drizzling (make it yourself by boiling down vinegar until syrupy, or just buy it like I did)

Slice the tomatoes and peaches a medium thickness. Arrange on a plate. Scoop up the goat cheese and then rub it between your fingers to crumble it over the fruit. Just before serving, drizzle with a balsamic reduction.

*Note: Homegrown, fresh tomatoes are necessary because they taste sweet, are very juicy and have a firm meaty insides. You will not get this in a store bought tomato, even if it is from Whole Foods. Grocery store tomatoes are picked before they are ripe to accommodate shipping which results in a lifeless taste.

Enjoy!

– Erin

Daily Question: Do you have any unlikely animal pests in your garden? Do tell.

Just wanted to share this, if you want to learn more about urban farming and how it can revitalize urban areas. Looking forward to watching this!

A HEALTHY LIFE FOR ME

Back in March I posted asking you to watch an upcoming Pilot that would be airing on PBS, Urban Farming.

It aired on April 4th and I thought I would share it here with you.  It truly is worth watching, its educational, inspirational, inventive and smart, click link below to watch. Please!

Urban Farming

I found the Detroit farmers evolution retrospective.  Tell me what you think.

What is Urban Farming?

The practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in, or around, a village, town or city.


Program: Food Forward
Episode: Pilot: Urban Farming
Food Forward: Urban Agriculture Across America is a half-hour, character-driven survey of urban farming across the country. The pilot episode for a 13-part series greenlit for PBS starting 2012, we meet the food rebels who are growing food right where we live‚Äďin cities. Lively animation starts us off asking some tough questions of industrial agriculture. Then‚Ķ

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A Milestone and First Harvest

So a lot has been happening in the garden these past few weeks.  The veggies are going strong and I got my first harvest too, these beautiful Easter Egg radishes.

See why they call them Easter Egg?

The ruby red chard started growing like crazy, almost overnight, so I picked some of that too.

Usually chard grows to 12-18 inches tall, but I wanted to sample some in the tender ‘baby’ stage. Baby carrots and baby spinach are good, and I can vouch that baby chard is too!

I sauteéd the chard with olive oil and minced garlic.

The radishes were crisp and slightly peppery. I whipped up some light sour cream and fresh dill to make a little dipping sauce and took them to work for an afternoon snack.

I’ve also launched an offensive against weeds. My trick is to lay down newspaper, several layers, and then cover with wood chips. This helps keep the paths clear, at least for a month or so.

Before

After

Don’t be fooled, it took two wheelbarrowfuls of woodchips to do this

For the beds, I broke down and bought some straw. I’ve never used anything in the beds before to keep down the weeds because I thought it would look ugly. But I actually really like it, it looks clean and it should keep the weeds down to a more manageable level.

Love how these feathery flowers add a punch of color

I actually feel like the garden looks good for the first time all season, yay. Being in there is so much more relaxing now, without the weeds giving me the evil eye all the time.

Early Cucumber

Oh and I mentioned a milestone; yesterday Erin’s DC Kitchen officially earned 50 followers. Thank you my dear readers! This makes me so happy, I feel like Sally Field when she said “You like me, you really like me!”. The cheese factor is a little high here I know, but cheese is good, and besides, this is how I really feel.

I’m looking forward to earning my next 50. ūüėÄ

Cheers!

– Erin

MORE POSTS ON GARDENING: DIY Cold Weather Plant Protection