Slow Cooker Peach Butter with Vanilla Bean

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Slow Cooker Peach Butter With Vanilla Bean {nittygrittylife.com}

Sometimes you make something so incredibly good that you are almost ashamed to admit that it was, in fact, incredibly easy.  There are some things that I have spent hours, days, or weeks on – only to result in “meh” type feelings.  Thankfully, there are also some things that I spend a few minutes on and walk away –  to later discover that “awesomeness” just happened.  Such was the case with this slow cooker peach butter with vanilla bean.

So. Much. AWESOMENESS.

I have made many incarnations of peach jam – each probably messier and stickier than the last.  I even received a second degree burn from some molten and wildly bubbling jam on stove top of questionable heat consistency. Ouch. However, all resulted in perfectly serviceable and tasty peach jams.  But the process of pealing, slicing, chopping and boiling – all usually during the hottest days of summer – is far from appealing, no pun intended.  This, my friends, is the charm of a peach BUTTER.  Butters are low fuss.  Translation: No PEAL.

Now that’s appealing.

This slow cooker peach butter with vanilla bean recipe really couldn’t get much easier. Cut peaches in half, pluck out that brain-y looking pit, put halves in blender, pour puree into slow cooker/crock-pot, add other ingredients and walk away.  I repeat WALK AWAY.  In fact, the less you fuss with this peach butter, the better it will be.

I like to use freestone peach varieties like Veteran, Redhaven and Golden Jubilee for preservation.  Prying out a stubborn stone is no fun task.  Butters differ from jams in that the fruit is cooked down, generally slowly, until it thickens and even carmelizes some.  Butters are often made with apples, pears and peaches, skin intact – seeds or pits removed, puréed to a smooth texture.  Left to reduce for about 18 hours, this slow cooker peach butter with vanilla bean gets rather caramel-y and sinful.  Stirred rather infrequently, the peaches and added sugar caramelize and take on a very rich and complex flavor.   Added lemon juice helps to offset the caramel-y sweetness and ensures a safe canning pH (approximately 3.5 with my calibrated pH meter).

My first sampling of the peach butter, reduced overnight, left me recalling moments of greedy satisfaction with a  tub of caramel sauce. But with a peach-y, vanilla-y twist.  While not altogether necessary, the addition of vanilla bean really ups the sinful ante – and to very good ends.  Now that I have a couple batches of this peach butter put up (hoarded, whatever), I am looking forward to drizzling this over butter pecan ice cream and maybe mixed with homemade cream cheese to fill a Danish.

Or maybe I will eat it all with a spoon, all by myself.  Don’t judge.

Slow Cooker Peach Butter with Vanilla Bean Recipe

Slow Cooker Peach Butter With Vanilla Bean {nittygrittylife.com}

Slow Cooker Peach Butter with Vanilla Bean
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Makes 10-12 half pints
Author:
Serves: 10-12 half pints
Ingredients
  • 16 cups fresh peach puree
  • 2-3 cups of organic cane sugar or honey, to taste
  • 1¼ cups lemon juice
  • 2 vanilla beans
Instructions
  1. To prepare the peaches, simply remove pit and puree in blender or food processor.
  2. Split vanilla beans in half and scrape beans from pod. Place all ingredients into a large stockpot, including scraped vanilla pod. If the capacity of your stockpot is not sufficient, you may have to wait for adequate reduction before adding all the desired sweetener or lemon juice.
  3. Reduce in a partially covered slow cooker crock on low heat for 12-18 hours. Stir somewhat infrequently, allowing browning and carmelization around the edges. When peach butter is reduced by approximately ⅓, remove spent vanilla pods and discard.
  4. Scrape down side of crock. To ensure smoothness, re-puree with an immersion blender.
  5. Ladle into sterilized half pint jars, leaving ½" head room. Wipe rims clean and place prepared lids and rings onto jars, finger tight.
  6. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes at a full boil. After processing, remove jars from canner and allow to cool . undisturbed, for 24 hours. Check for seal and store in a cool and dark place for up to a year.

 

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Foraged Berry Sorbet with Lemon Verbena

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Foraged Berry Sorbet {nittygrittylife.com}

Foraged Berry Sorbet

Berries… The wild berries have arrived!  Himalayan blackberries, huckleberries, Oregon grapes and the ever lovely salal berries – all ripe for the pickin’!  What more appropriate way to celebrate the season than with a Foraged Berry Sorbet? I took this berry sorbet a step further and infused the cooling fruit/sugar base with lemon verbena, adding a bright citrus and herbaceous note.  Before we get to the foraged berry sorbet instructions, let me give you the low down on foraging for a few of my favorite wild berries.

Blackberries * Foraged Berry Sorbet {nittygrittylife.com}

Himalayan Blackberries (Rubus discolor)

The wildly invasive Himalayan blackberry is the bane of every gardener, landscaper and farmer in the Pacific Northwest.  That said, it is the delight of a great many berry lovers and armchair foragers.  Intensely flavorful, if not a bit seedy, Himalayan blackberries make the most amazing syrups, pies, buckles and cobblers.  Due to their un-paralleled abundance, these blackberries serve as the sturdy backbone of this foraged berry sorbet.  Himalayan blackberries are easily found, practically anywhere.  It is a frequent “visitor” to areas of disturbed soil throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Salal * Foraged Berry Sorbet {nittygrittylife.com

Salal Berries (Gautheria shallon)

Gorgeous mountain salal is a delightful, dark berry with a figgy texture and overtones.  When I finally made my way into the coastal mountains (a bit late in the season), I observed a lot of dried and raisined fruit, sadly.   I would love to devote a sorbet entirely to salal, but alas, I was pleased to collect a couple cups worth.  Salal is usually found on the sunnier edges of coniferous forests and in coastal areas.  It has bright shiny green leaves and the dark berries hang from pinkish stems.  Check out my friend Colleen’s post on foraging salal here.

Huckleberries * Foraged Berry Sorbet {nittygrittylife.com

Huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium)

Bright explosions of fruity goodness reminiscent of raspberry and pomegranate – these little babies are!  My husband fondly recalls whole pies dedicated to this DELICIOUS berry.  We stumbled upon a small stand of itty bitty berries and collected a small handful to add to our foraged berry sorbet.  Red huckleberries can be found in similar places to salal – conifer forests and coastal areas

Oregon Grape * Foraged Berry Sorbet {nittygrittylife.com

Oregon Grape

Bitter and tart on their own, I added a healthy palm-ful of Oregon grape to offset the sweetness of the other berries in the sorbet.  A popular municipal planting, wild Oregon grape can be found at the edges of forests and in open wooded areas at moderate elevations.

 Foraged Berry Sorbet {nittygrittylife.com}

Foraged Berry Sorbet Recipe and Instructions
Truth be told – sorbet is a bit of a challenge.  Less forgiving than ice cream with its fatty goodness, achieving the right balance of sugar to fruit takes some finesse.  Imbalances can lead to slushy sweet puddles or overly icy, crunchy sorbets.   Using berries, there is greater room for error due to the high pectin content, and I was ultimately happy with recipe below.  Once prepared and cooled, this combination results in a moderately thick syrup fruit base.  The foraged berry sorbet churned to a thick “smoothie” consistency in about 25 minutes. I first transferred the sorbet to a large tub, then placed in the freezer and allowed to freeze until solid.

 The resulting foraged berry sorbet is heavenly! Sweet, but not too cloying. Smooth with little nubbly bits of fruit and seed that escaped the blender blades.  I definitely could put a serious dent in this foraged berry sorbet all on my lonesome.

But, then, sharing is caring and all that stuff.

Foraged Berry Sorbet with Lemon Verbena
 
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The best of summer and berry season, this foraged berry sorbet is delightfully yummy, rich in musky berries and offset with bright notes of lemon verbena! Makes about ½ gallon of sorbet.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 cups mixed foraged berries (I used 5 cups blackberries, 2+cups salal, and a scant cup of huckleberries and Oregon grape)
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 2 sprigs of lemon verbena (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, combine berries, water, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Add lemon verbena sprigs and allow to steep in cooling fruit base until room temperature.
  2. Remove verbena sprigs and puree fruit base until smooth.Transfer fruit base to a large container and chill at least overnight.
  3. Transfer fruit base to a ice cream freezer and churn until a very thick "smoothie" consistency.
  4. Return to large tub and place in freezer until completely frozen and firm. Alternately, pour into a couple large baking dishes and place in freezer, scraping with a fork every 30 minutes until the sorbet is completely frozen and fluffy.
  5. Scoop, serve and enjoy.

 

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Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce

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Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce {www.nittygrittylife.com}

To tell you the truth I have never been good at that thing called balance.  Especially during the summer.  Need somebody to take on more than they can chew? Sure. I got you covered.  And so here it is – high pie cherry season, the garden swinging into full tilt, and, of course, I embark on a massive home improvement project (two, actually) right before extended stay house guests arrive for a massive potluck — hosted at my home.  Are you breathless yet?  I am.  Add sleepless and sore to the list, too.  But I did carve out a few hours, albeit after everybody else went to bed, to make this amazing Cherry Chipotle BBQ sauce…

And tell you what – I didn’t regret it one bit.

Pie Cherries for Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce {www.nittygrittylife.com}

When my mom and her siblings were little, my grandparents purchased a couple acres of land up the road from the farm my grandfather was raised on.  There they planted a small orchard of pie cherries.  This property is now owned my aunt and uncle, fulfilling all our pie cherry needs.  Being that my grandfather was an Ag teacher at the time, I suspect pie cherries were in their heyday.  Fast forward a few decades and farmers across the valley were ripping out pie cherries without care.  Now they are planting more cherries again.  Such are the farming trends dictated by a persnickety market.  One might find these old pie cherries  dotting older housing developments, parks and of course, farms and orchards left untouched by the whims of the market.  “Pie” cherries are sour and tart compared to other cherry varieties and are suitable for both sweet and savory culinary applications.  Bored by commercial BBQ sauces  and a lover of spicy heat, Cherry Chipotle BBQ sauce from this year’s harvest was in order.

Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce with pulled pork {www.nittygrittylife.com}

Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce is smoky, fruity, and a tad spicy.  Equal parts pie cherries and tomatoes, the sauce has the familiar hallmarks of classic BBQ with a sublimely fruity note.  The addition of a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce adds some serious kick, tempered by the dark and bittersweet notes of molasses and brown sugar.  Cherry Chipotle BBQ sauce is best paired with pork ribs or a pulled roast, but do as you please, of course. The slight fattiness of pork mingles well with the heat of the chipotles. Fruit and pork are always a fantastic pair.  Should you commit to cherries, you’d be wise to purchase a pitter like this to cut down on the preptime.  As I perch before the pitter, I do however wonder if great Granny is raising an eyebrow in the great beyond. She pitted her cherries with a bobby pin…

That said, however the means of pitting, I think she would have approved of Cherry Chiptole BBQ Sauce.  And I hope that you will too!

Note: Using a handheld pH meter, this recipe registered below the USDA suggest 4.2, making it safe for water bath canning.

Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce Recipe

Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce is sweet, smoky and satisfyingly spicy. Created with tart pie cherries, this bbq sauce is best paired with pork! Makes approximately 8 pints.
Author:
Serves: 8 pints
Ingredients
  • 5 lbs pitted sour pie cherries
  • 5 lbs roma or paste tomatoes,roughly chopped
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 7oz can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (or less, if lower heat level is desired)
  • ¾ cup tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a large heavy bottomed stock pot,and then puree with a stick/immersion blender until smooth. Alternatively, blend ingredients in batches using a blender or food processor.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1-2 hours until the sauce reaches desired thickness, stirring frequently. You may also choose to reduce the sauce in an uncovered stock pot set to low heat for 12-18 hours.
  3. Ladle hot bbq sauce into sterilized jars. Wipe rims, place prepared lids and screw on rings finger tight. Process in a water bath canner at a full boil, 15 minutes for pints.
  4. After processing, remove from canner and allow to cool for 24 hours. Check for seal and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

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Fruit & Flowers: Blueberry Lavender Jam

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Blueberry Lavender Jam {nittygrittylife.com}

Here is an embarrassing story…  When I was about four years old I politely refused a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from my aunt because the jam wasn’t homemade.  Maybe I was a food snob even then.  My mom, grandmother and great grandmother made countless batches of jam every summer, and I just didn’t understand that everybody didn’t the same.  Frankly, I still don’t.  Even the best store bought jams are usually a pale comparison to those lovingly preserved at home with freshly picked fruit.  It seems like a very good investment in time, energy and dollars to me.  My jam making has evolved over the last couple decades – from overly sweet freezer jams of my teenage years to my low sugar, wildflower jellies of today.  It was somewhere a few years back now that I started experimenting with flowers and fruit.  My first batch of blueberry lavender jam was a resounding success.

The first time the aromatics of the blueberry lavender jam hit me, I knew it would be wonderfully good.  Deep dark berry tone, freshened by  floral and clean notes –the blueberry lavender jam is summer in a jar.  I am never without lavender these days… As an herbalist, I have it dried in jars, fresh in the yard and essential oil by the ounce.  Blessed to have a friend that is a blueberry farmer and another that is a berry crop research scientist for Oregon State University, my access to amazing fruit is pretty darn great.  When I combine fruits and flowers, I often pair those which reach the zenith of their season simultaneously.  Here is western Oregon, the early blueberries varieties are peaking just as the lavender is reaching full bloom.  A perfect, purple match.

Blueberry Lavender Jam Notes

Blueberry Lavender Jam {nittygrittylife.com}

A few notes on making a perfectly lovely blueberry lavender jam…  I actually prefer to infuse the simmering fruit with lavender, rather than leaving whole bits of lavender in the final jam.  I tie a small bundle of 5-7 sprigs of fresh lavender together to infuse the cooking jam.  Alternatively, you may also fill a reusable muslin tea bag with dried lavender. Either method will still result in a delightfully aromatic blueberry lavender jam.   I also employ my favorite Pomona’s Pectin here to provide excellent jam set with very little sugar compared to other brands .  I have tried this as a pectin-less jam, but I found the results too runny. If I tried to reduce it to desired thickness, the jam resulted in a somewhat “cooked” flavor and lost the floral aromatics.  So good ole Pomona’s for the win…

Blueberry lavender jam is a simple spin on a classic that I am sure will delight even the snobbiest of PB&J pre-schooolers…

Blueberry Lavender Jam Recipe

Blueberry Lavender Jam
 
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Blueberry lavender jam combines some of the best flavors and scents of summer, to be preserved and revisited throughout the year. Makes 10-12 half pints
Author:
Recipe type: jam
Ingredients
  • 8 cups lightly mashed blueberries
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 5-7 sprigs fresh lavender, tied in a bundle (or 2 tablespoons dried lavender tied in muslin bag)
  • 2 cups raw, organic sugar
  • 4 teaspoons pectin
  • 4 teaspoons calcium water (see Pomona's package directions)
Instructions
  1. Mix pectin and sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring blueberries, lemon juice, lavender and calcium water to a gentle simmer. Continue simmer and stirring very frequently for 10 minutes to infuse lavender into jam.
  3. Add pectin/sugar mixture and continue to boil for 2-3 minutes, until completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Remove lavender bundle or sachet.
  4. Ladle into sterilized half pint jars, leaving ½" headspace. Wipe rims of jars and screw on lids and rings, finger tight. Process in a water bath canner at a full boil for 10 minutes.
  5. After processing, remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 24 hours. Check for seal and store in a cool dark place. Will keep for up to a year in pantry, refrigerate after opening.

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Foraged Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd

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Oregon Grape: The Cinderella Story

Foraged Oregon Grape Berry & Lemon Curd

Sometimes when you are a kid, you’re told things that just aren’t true.  Like that if you don’t go to sleep – Santa won’t come, if you eat watermelon seeds they will grow in your belly, being a grown up is fun…  And while those are outright lies (“adulting” is hard), some well intentioned adults offer misinformation that stays with you.  Like that the blue berries of the Oregon Grape are poisonous.  They aren’t, actually – they just aren’t very tasty.  However, even the humble, acidic and bitter berry can become the belle of the ball by way of Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd. This is the Cinderella of the foraged berry world.

Oregon Grape Identification & Medicinal Uses

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is the Oregon state flower.  It is a landscape staple in municipal plantings west of the Cascades, its shiny foliage, yellow flowers and blue fruits acting as Mother Nature’s pretty, albeit treacherous, jewelry.  While the name implies “grape” and the foliage screams “holly”, it is neither.  A member of the barberry (Berberis) family, Oregon grape possess sharp, holly like leaves making it a great, all natural burglary prevention landscape strategy – trust me, you don’t want to get into a tangle with this shrub.  The core of the stems and roots is a bright yellow, owing its pigment and medicinal  qualities to its berberine  content.  Oregon Grape root is a remarkable herb for a variety of reason – not the least of which is affordability and availability as many of its high berberine plant cousins are reaching critical levels of over harvesting.  Oregon Grape is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial – it is the first herb that I turn to when those lymph nodes below my ears become swollen and tender.  It is also a wonderful digestive aid, stimulating digestion and the flow of gastric juices.  An “alterative” tonic, Oregon grape is thought to help cleanse the blood and detoxify the body, thus improving energy, skin tone and well being.

Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd

The virtues of Oregon Grape root (and stem core) are all well and good, but what about those bitter berries?  High in vitamin C and healthy flavonoids due to the anthocyanin skin pigments, the berries are ripe with their own benefits.  But they are unpalatable, to put in mildly. What is one to do? Too seedy and bitter for a jam and needing more richness, I felt that a berry curd was in order.  Always inspired by my friend Jennifer from Gather (see her stunning Oregon Grape tart here), and blessed with a boatload of Oregon Grape delivered from by friend, this delicious curd was born!  The resulting curd is something kinda amazing.  The flavor is dark and deep, almost musky and wild.  The richness from the eggs and butter offset the tannic punch of the berries. The combined acidity of the lemon and Oregon Grape keeps the curd bright and lively on the palate.  This stuff is good enough to eat by the spoonfuls, and there is no shame in that.  It would also be wonderful in a graham cracker crust and topped with a meringue, spread between layers of yellow cake, or topping a shortbread crust.  I fretted over whether this recipe would befit preservation by way of canning.  The USDA does seem to indicate that lemon curds are safe to water bath can, but does not approve of berry curds at this time.  The acidity is indeed within the pH margin of safety, I decided that canning is not the best means of preservation of unused curd.  I feel that freezing will actually maintain the flavor and texture far better that water bath processing .

Foraged Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd

But who I am kidding – like there was any leftover with my family of 10…

Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd Recipe

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Foraged Oregon Grape & Lemon Curd
 
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Foraged Oregon Grapes are transformed from tart and bitter to an unctuous curd suitable for eating from a spoon. Makes about 3 cups.
Author:
Serves: 3 cups
Ingredients
  • 1 cup Oregon Grape puree
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1½ cups raw, organic cane sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cubed
Instructions
  1. To create puree, place a heaping cup of clean Oregon Grape berries into a blender or food processor and pulse a couple times until juices start to release. Do NOT over puree.
  2. Place berry puree, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and eggs into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat and whisking constantly, cook the mixture until it thickens (coats back of a spoon and whisk leaves traces in curd).
  3. Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve in to a bowl; discard solids. Whisk butter into hot curd until well combined.
  4. Place a sheet of parchment or plastic wrap directly on top of curd and chill until cold. Serve within one week or freeze

Still hankering for more Oregon Grape ideas and info? Check out my friend Colleen’s excellent blog post!

 

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Wonderful Wildflower Jam

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Wildflower Jam with Red Clover & Pineapple Weed on nittygrittylife.com

Wildflower Jam: Red Clover and Pineapple Weed

I declare this the year of the wildflower jam!  Truth is, I have been putting flowers in jam for a long time now.  Lavender in blueberry, rose in raspberry, elderflower in strawberry – and it has been a good thing.  This year, however, was my first foray into the world of jams and jellies based entirely on flowers – and most specifically, wildflowers and so called “weeds”.  My first adventure with my Wild Rose Petal Jelly was stupendous, full of rosy goodness.  Elegant, really…  Intrigued, I turned my sights on weirder and weedier things.  Red clover and pineapple weed jam – we have another winner! These two lovelies are some of my favorite sights and smells of summer.

Pineapple Weed (Matricaria matricariodes)

Wildflower Jam with Red Clover & Pineapple Weed on nittygrittylife.com

Pineapple weed reminds me vividly of visits to Great Granny and Granddads’ farm where it grew profusely in the tractor tracts in between the gardens and orchards.  The sweet pineapple perfume on a warm sunny morning whilst on my way to pick berries or cherries, corn or beans –ahh, childhood memories…  On my own farm, pineapple weed springs up in the tractor path and outside the milking stall – this is a weed that loves to be trampled and smashed to bits.  Reliably hardy little weed.    Pineapple weed is closely related to our favorite medicinal chamomile, identified by  its finely dissected, almost lacy foliage and the bold greenish-yellow “button” of a flower.  Unlike its sister, pineapple weed flowers have no noticeable rays (petals), and the “button” is somewhat cone shaped.  Although I have not found “scientific” literature detailing its medicinal properties, it is thought to possess gentle sedative action similar to chamomile.  Pineapple weed smells, well, of pineapple and offers a delightfully green apple flavor to the palate.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Wildflower Jam with Red Clover & Pineapple Weed on nittygrittylife.com

Red clover is a much heralded medicinal, rich in minerals and isoflavones that support women’s health, and it is a favorite cover crop for area farmers to reinvigorate a fallow field with nitrogen.  Just across from my farm is probably 50 acres of this valuable resource – but it is heavily sprayed and useless to me as an herbalist and forager. There are a patches of red clover in my lawn, but nothing appreciable. Imagine my joy when I fell upon a free seeded swath of red clover adjacent to an organic farm near my favorite foraging spot!  Almost waist deep and weedy – THIS was the red clover that I wanted.  Red clover flavor is subtle, somewhat grassy and a little bit sweet, not unlike a pea, but more floral.

Preparing & Canning Wildflower Jam

Wildflower Jam with Red Clover & Pineapple Weed on nittygrittylife.com

For the purposes of this wildflower jam recipe, I gathered the flowers of these foraged beauties.  Gently tug at the conical buttons on pineapple weed to release. Don’t get too worried if a little foliage comes with it too.  My recipe calls for about a cup of the flowering pineapple weed tops, rinsed, drained and patted dry.  The red clover, while easy to harvest, is a bit more tedious prior to processing.  I gathered enough to fill one of those flimsy plastic grocery bags I keep in my rig for impromptu wildcrafting.  I rinsed the individual florets under cool water in attempt to flush away the wee beasties hiding in the clover petals.  So. Many. Tiny. Flea. Beetles.  After rinsing and draining, I pulled the clover petals from the central portion, discarding the green parts for chicken food.  My big bag o’ clover yielded about three cups of separated petals.  The process is time consuming – but this red clover and pineapple weed jam is worth the effort.

It is important to bring up the point of acidity, in respects to canning, here.  Many fruits have ample acid making them safe to water bath can with rather small additions of lemon juice.  Since flower bits are more or less pH neutral, a safe recipe will call for a bit more acidity.  After declaring this the summer of wildflower jams and jellies, I invested in a small, inexpensive handheld pH meter.  Properly calibrated and maintained, this handy little tool should help me to develop new recipes for years to come – more wildflower jam and jelly coming at you.  In order to safely preserve foods in a water bath canner, the pH of the concoction must be 4.6 or lower (pH of 4.7 and higher must be preserved using a pressure canner to prevent botulism risk).  This recipe was well within the safe zone, measuring in the mid 3’s.  Perhaps I was overly generous with the lemon juice, but the bright citrus note only enhanced the flavor of the wildflower jam. Again, here I am using Pomona’s Pectin (if anybody from Pomona’s is reading this, sponsorship candidate right here 😉 ) due to the low relative sugar content and overall lack of present pectin.  In this case I used a combination on wildflower honey and a bit of organic sugar to sweeten the jam.

Wildflower Jam with Red Clover & Pineapple Weed on nittygrittylife.com

The resulting red clover and pineapple weed jam is nothing short of delicious.  Imagine caramel apples and flowers…  Perfectly suitable for toast, I love this wildflower jam slathered on biscuits or cornbread.  This wildflower jam is kind of rustic and really wonderful.  Just another way to eat the weeds and relish doing so!!!

Wonderful Wildflower Jam
 
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With a "nubbly" texture and a caramel apple flavor, this wildflower jam with red clover and pineapple weed is clever and delicious. Makes 4-5 half pints
Author:
Recipe type: preserves
Ingredients
  • 3 cups red clover petals
  • 1 cup pineapple weed flowers
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ cup raw, organic sugar
  • 4 teaspoons Pomona's Pectin
  • 4 teaspoons calcium water
Instructions
  1. Prepare clean and patted dry clover by removing the petals;rinse and pat dry the pineapple weed flowers.
  2. Place 4 teaspoons of pectin and ½ cup sugar into a small bowl, mix and set aside.
  3. Place prepared flowers into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add water, honey, lemon juice and calcium water. Stirring frequently, bring the wildflower mixture to a slight boil.
  4. Add sugar/pectin mixture slowly, stirring well to combine. Return to a slight boil and cook for approximately 2 minutes stirring constantly.
  5. Ladle into prepared jars. Wipe the rims, and screw on prepared lids and rings, finger tight. Process in a water bath canner at a full boil for 10 minutes (for half pints) or 15 minutes (for pints).
  6. After processing, remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 24 hours. Check for seal and store in a cool dark spot for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.


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Fairy Finery: Elderflower Marshmallows

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elderflower marshmallows

Oh, the glory of elderflower season is finally upon me! The frothy white blooms are bursting forth  and glowing like tiny pearls in the sunlight…  As an herbalist and wildcrafter, I have no further to look than my own front yard for this fragrant treasure. Every year, I endeavor to invent new and delicious recipes for my modest and greatly restrained harvest of the blooms.  Months ago I decided that elderflower marshmallows would be the confectionery delight on the ticket.  And let me tell, you the elderflower marshmallows did not disappoint.  I mean, ELDERFLOWER MARSHMALLOWS people…  Also, this recipe really has no nutritional or medicinal value – but it is magic.

But first, elderflower folklore…

The sacred elder tree (Sambucus spp.) is steeped ancient European tradition and it is customary, as such, to ask permission to gather from her boughs.  Feminine in association, the elder is thought to represent a motherly, crone-like figure who presides over the great transitions of life, such as birth and death.  A botanical midwife, if you will. The elder was thought to ward off evil spirits and the act of cutting the elder wood is considered a grave misstep.  The elder fell upon sadder connotations with Christian tradition.  Some legends would have it that it was the wood from which the fateful crucifix was made, the tree from which Judas Iscariot hung, and was even maligned as the botanical incarnation of the Devil himself.  Verbal traditions being what they are, these legends are hard to pin down in origin. I suspect that these negative connotations are very regional.  I can certainly see how a botanical  symbol associated with the transition into death in one culture could then be linked to darkest and most feared aspects of another.  All that said, my experience with elder errors more to the divine.  I cannot think of anything but glorious beauty when I stand in the midst of her boughs.

elderflower

A little bit of elderflower medicinal use…

Elderflowers are sublimely cooling.  As a relaxing diaphoretic, elderflower relieves the tension associated within internal heat.  Elderflower works by encouraging a gentle perspiration, reducing fever or simply dropping body heat from exertion or exposure to a comfortable level. Elderflower can be ideal for those experience redness and inflammation, rash-y and acne prone conditions.  Elderflower, used at the onset of a cold or flu, may support the immune system and shorten the duration of discomfort.  The flavor is faintly floral and earthy – and even my littlest one will sip on some elderflower and spearmint tea when a fever strikes (hers being hot, fast and short – usually with no lingering illness).

Elderflower Marshmallows

Now that we have touched on the history and medicinal use of elderflower, let’s get down to business…  We’re here for the elderflower marshmallows.  Pillow-y white clouds of pure floral sweetness.  These are just pure sin, wrapped in elderflower, and sprinkled with fairy dust.  Which is to say – they are stupid good.  Not the confection you roast and stuff between slabs of chocolate and graham cracker, these elderflower marshmallows are, well, sophisticated.  Perfect for a bridal or baby shower, an afternoon of bubbles and nibbles, or delivering to your lover for dessert.  These things are whimsically naughty, and just plain wonderful.  In creating this recipe, I wanted to add elderflower at every opportunity, so you will find it in three forms: dried for the base “tea”, as a liqueur added in the last moments of preparation, and fresh mixed with powdered sugar for dusting the outsides.  The result is a marshmallow that exudes elderflower essence, without becoming oppressively floral.  Delicious and divine, fairy finery, elderflower marshmallows.

Make your own elderflower liqueur here (second recipe on post).

NOTE: Please only use black or blue elderflowers, the red elder is toxic.

elderflower marshmallows detail

Elderflower Marshmallow Recipe
4.5 from 2 reviews
Elderflower Marshmallows
 
Prep time
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Surprisingly easy to make, elderflower marshmallows are sure to impress and leave people with the distinct impression that you have a magical touch
Author:
Recipe type: candy
Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup dried elderflower
  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin (about ¾ ounce)
  • 1½ cups organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2½ tablespoons elderflower liqueur (see link to make your own or check your local liquor store)
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 fresh elderflower umbels
Instructions
  1. Prepare an elderflower "tea" by bringing one cup of water to a simmer, remove from heat, add dried elderflower and cool.
  2. Meanwhile in a small bowl, place ½ cup powdered sugar. Gently rake your fingers through the elderflower umbels, knocking off the individual flowers into the powdered sugar. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  3. When the elderflower "tea" is cool, strain and place ½ cup of the tea in the bowl of a stand mixer. Added the gelatin, mix and allow to "bloom". Fit mixer with the whisk attachment.
  4. Add the remaining ½ cup of elderflower tea to a medium saucepan with high sides. Add sugar and light corn syrup. Over medium high heat and stirring constantly, boil the sugar syrup until it reaches soft ball stage, 240 degrees (F) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
  5. Immediately turn on the mixer to low speed and slowly pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture. When done pouring, increase the speed to high.
  6. Continue whisking until the mixture is white, very thick and increased in volume. Add elderflower liqueur and mix well to combine.
  7. Prepare a non-metal 9x13 inch baking dish by lightly greasing the bottom and sides and then dusting the surface with a small amount of the powdered sugar/elderflower mixture to coat. Pour marshmallow mixture into prepare dish, smooth with a spatula, and dust the top with more powdered sugar/elderflower mixture.
  8. Allow to dry in dish for 12 hours or overnight. Using a knife dipped in hot water, cut through marshmallows to desired serving size. Toss individual marshmallows in remaining powdered sugar/elderflower mixture or more plain powdered sugar as necessary.

 References:

http://www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com/2011/05/wild-things-in-may-elder-flowers/

http://www.druidry.org/library/trees/tree-lore-elder

http://www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Elder.htm

http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/elder.htm

 

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Horehound Candy: Bitter & Sweet

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Horehound Medicinal Uses

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Not everything in life is perfectly sweet.  Sometimes things are a little bit bitter.  Or a lotta bit bitter.  As is the case with horehound (Marrubium vulgare).  This attractive herb is a carefree perennial with great medicinal value, if one can overcome the bracingly bitter flavor. By creating horehound candy, one can make the “medicine go down” much easier.

Horehound is a classic herb often associated with analgesic, antispasmodic, antitussive, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, cholagogue, diuretic, expectorant, hepatic, hypoglycemic, stimulant and vulnerary therapeutic actions. Horehound has a particular affinity for both the digestive and respiratory system.  Horehound helps to stimulant the secretion of digestive juices, increase appetite, lower blood glucose, aid in the digestion of fats, and has even demonstrated an ability to protect the stomach lining and help heal eroded tissues or ulcers. Cold infusions of the herb have also been used to help expel intestinal parasites.  As a stimulating expectorant, horehound acts to relax the bronchial muscles and promote mucus membrane secretion. As such, horehound is particularly useful in the instances of tight, persistent congestion without drainage and irritating, unproductive cough.  A little research into horehound tradition and folklore, sheds light on past uses.  Interestingly the herb was often used as an antidote to poisoning – I suppose owing to its liver protective qualities, while storied herbalists, such as Culpepper, establish horehound as digestive and aid and respiratory stimulant.

But back to the problem with the horehound…  It is just so, eye-crossing-ly, bitter.  While I do appreciate a good bitter remedy, horehound as a tea or infusion is almost too much for me to tolerate, even sweetened.  I suppose that tincture or infused honey may deliver many of the medicinal benefits of the herb, but I have been particularly interested in trying the fabled horehound candy.  “They” say you either love it or you hate it.  I am of neither unflappable camp.  While I wouldn’t exactly say that I “love” the horehound candy, I found the results of my candy making adventure as a remarkably pleasant surprise.  There is no disguising the bitter character of horehound – and not that one should, after all, those bitter principles are at the heart of its therapeutic value.  Instead the sugar balances the bitter quotient, not unlike how sugar balances the bitterness in chocolate.  The flavor is not surprisingly bittersweet, with a very slight medicinal, camphor-y undertone that I can best liken to rosemary or eucalyptus.  Just the ideal flavor set when the “crud” is creeping in.  These horehound candies are perfect for stowing away in a tin or jar to take as a lozenge for times of indigestion, congestion or sore throat.

horehound candy aerial

I encourage you to give these horehound candies a try!  Stick to the instructions, as there is little margin for error in candy making.  Make sure you have adequate time and a distraction free environment, as molten sugar is a dangerous thing to turn away from, for even a second!  I prefer to use silicone molds to form my candies, however you can pour the mixture out into a prepared pan, score, the cut, cool slightly and shape as desired.  This recipe could easily fill four mini molds, and perhaps more. To clean my candy making paraphernalia, I use boiled water to dilute away any leftover residue in pot or utensils.  Also, probably like you, I am not a fan of corn syrup, but the addition is small and in the recesses of my brain a memory is telling me that it is necessary to prevent a “crystalline” texture. I choose to use organic cane sugar over honey here as it is heated to such extraordinary temperatures, thus mitigating raw honey benefits…

 

horehoundLatin Name: Marrubium vulgare

Parts used: leaves and flowers

Identification: square stem, green, wrinkled and opposite leaves;
stem and leaves with fuzzy white hairs.
White flower pom-poms
born on stems.

Constituents: marrubiin, marruciol, marrubenol,
sclareol, peregrinin, α-pinene, sabinene, limonene,
camphene, ρ-cymol, α-terpinolene, and alkaloids.

Energetics: Cooling, bitter, stimulating

Horehound Candy Recipe

Horehound Candy
 
Prep time
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Candy medicine with a bittersweet character. Old fashioned horehound candy is wonderful respiratory and digestive ally!
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • 1 cup dried horehound, packed firmly
  • 2 ¼ cups organic cane sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
Instructions
  1. Bring water to a boil, add dried horehound a remove from heat. Steep for 20 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, prepare silicone molds by greasing slightly with coconut oil. Alternatively, line a shallow sided baking sheet with greased parchment paper or a silicone mat
  3. Into a medium saucepan, with reasonably high sides, strain the horehound infusion through a fine mesh sieve (discarding or composting spent herbs). Add sugar and light corn syrup.
  4. Over medium high heat and stirring constantly, boil the mixture until hard crack stage is achieved (300 degrees on a candy thermometer or when a ribbon of “syrup” immediately hardens in ice water and breaks with a snap). Note: The mixture will become very frothy at some point during boiling, keep stirring and be careful not to burn.
  5. When hard crack stage is achieved, pour mixture into prepared molds or dish. If using molds, scrape the top with a spatula to remove excess, then allow to cool completely before removal. If using a lined baking sheet, pour, cool slightly, score, cut, and shape with hands quickly, as soon as the candy can be handled.
  6. If desired, roll finished candies in powdered sugar and or slippery elm root powder to prevent “stickage”. Store is a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

Disclaimer:  Information in this post is for informational purposes only.  This information is not intended to cure, treat, prescribe or diagnose disease. I am not a doctor and cannot dispense medical advice. Please consult your physician to discuss any health related concerns.

 

References:

Horehound, White. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/horwhi33.html

Herbal Energetics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/herbal-energetics.html

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Petersen, D. (2015). HERB101.

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Wildflower Scottish Shortbread

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Tender, Buttery Shortbread

Wildflower Scottish Shortbread

I am not going to call it a shortbread emergency, per se, but I was about THIS close to a meltdown.  I saw Danielle from Gather’s photo of some ethereal flower cookie dough on Facebook and I was suddenly filled with intense desire to whine about how awful my life was because there was nary a cookie in sight.  Then I remembered – I am really good at making shortbread and life didn’t have to be so bleak…  With a jar of dried rose petals literally at my finger tips, a quick Wildflower Scottish Shortbread was born on a grey and dismal afternoon.

Here’s a note to my readers: Never participate in sheep shearing activities if your neck is tweaked.  Two days of little to no sleep due to pain, and the herky-jerky movements of irritated sheep that are less than excited about their pending nekkid-ness and the buzzing clippers is a recipe for grumpy Nitty Gritty Mama.  While this recipe for Wildflower Scottish Shortbread is pretty darn good, it probably won’t fix my beleaguered neck, but it will soothe my soul. As shortbread was invented to do – soothe souls and stuff…

Wildflower Scottish Shortbread wedge

Now for a few tips and tricks for fantastic, tender shortbread…  If you read my previous blog post on homemade butter – now is the time to break out the good stuff.  Shortbread is basically a delivery system for butter, and, as such, the budget variety really won’t do.  If you lack the means and access to freshly churned butter, I highly recommend grabbing some top shelf butter during your next trip the market.  Believe me, your shortbread deserves it.  You deserve it.  While one can certainly leave out the addition of dried flowers, it does elevate the shortbread to something a bit divine.  I used wild rose petals this time – but feel free to use an edible  flower of your choice like violet, dandelion, pineapple weed, honeysuckle, mallow , lavender or yarrow (cultivated are fine too; spray and fertilizer free please).  Adjust your floral addition to taste, while rose and violet may taste wonderful as a large addition, lavender or yarrow may taste too “soapy” if added with a heavy hand.  I use my food processor to pulse together the ingredients before pressing into my preferred baking dish.  I have not found it particularly necessary to “dock” (poke with the tines of a fork) the pressed dough prior to baking, but you may do as you like. Finally, cook your shortbread JUST until the edges barely start to show color, which is to say that you kinda “under bake” them.  The heat of the carryover will firm the shortbread as it cools.  As soon as the shortbread emerges from the oven, I score or slice into desired servings and allow to cool in place.

Tender delicious shortbread may not be health food, let’s not fool ourselves.  Shortbread will not solve your problems and it most certainly does nothing positive for the waistline.  But, oh my, it does make life a little bit better for a few sweet moments.

Wildflower Scottish Shortbread and tea

Wildflower Scottish Shortbread Recipe

Wildflower Scottish Shortbread
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Buttery, tender and surprisingly floral, these delicious shortbread cookies are a perfect treat when life calls for shortbread.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup corn starch
  • ½ cup organic cane sugar
  • 2-4 tablespoons dried edible flowers (optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 ounces high quality butter, cold and cubed
  • more sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F).
  2. In a food processor, combine flour, corn starch, sugar, salt and dried flowers, pulsing until well combined.
  3. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resemble wet sand and holds together slightly if pressed between fingers. (If no food processor, use a pastry cutter, fork or fingers to cut in butter thoroughly)
  4. Press into the bottom of a 8" round tart pan with removable bottom (or your preferred baking dish of similar size) using the bottom of a measuring cup or something flat. Make sure all the edges are pressed firmly as well.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the very edges are barely golden and the surface of the shortbread appears "dry". Remove from oven, dust lightly with sugar, and immediately cut or score into preferred servings. Cool completely before removing from baking dish.

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Grass Fed Homemade Butter

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How to Make Grass Fed Homemade Butter

spring pasture

 

I must admit that this spring has been pretty good for the garden and pastures. Long, grey drizzling stretches, punctuated by spells bright, sunny and warm days.  Okay, a few days were like “whoa, overkill” – triple digit heat on the first weekend of June in my corner of the world is not normal.  Alas, the weather is to return to a more seasonally “normal” mid 60s and drizzle for next week or so. This weather pattern has provided our pastures with knee deep grass in places and the livestock are in hog heaven.  Kate the milk cow has been delivering the goods by way of copious amounts of super creamy milk. Springs like this give the rare opportunity to make such an under appreciated treat:  fresh, raw, organic, grass fed homemade butter.

I have a little theory about whole milk, low fat milk and butter…  I wonder if the movement towards low fat milk was precipitated less about concern for the relative consumer waistline, but more for the production of high monetary value food stuffs like sour cream and butter.  Consider this – the average Jersey cow produces milk that is about 4.6% fat.  That translates to about 5.9 ounces of fat in a gallon (128 ounces) of whole milk.  Seeing as butter is almost entirely a fat, it takes a LOT of milk to make one pound of butter.  Consumer wants milk and butter, but big Ag doesn’t want to lose profits from the now de-fatted milk – ergo, the establishment of the low fat and skim milk market.  Essentially, the butter is cheap and low fat/skim milk is expensive if you look at it this way.

I have a different relationship with my beloved butter, because I understand the I am sacrificing my precious whole milk to make it.  With my imperfect (read messy and inefficient) skimming techniques, it takes me about 3.5-4 gallons of raw milk to produce about a pound and a little over of butter.  In fact,  a gallon of skimmed cream from four(ish) gallons of milk typically gives me one pound and five ounces of butter.  Now I am sure there are some of you out there that have more skills than I do and could skim a little better – but this is where I land most of the time…

As we are a grass based farm, I am only able to reliably produce butter when the grass is green and growing quickly. This is the time of the highest nutritional and caloric content for the cow and she will produce in excess of five gallons a day.  So I have to get while the “getting” is good.  I try to make butter as often as possible when there is an excess of milk.  I then freeze this golden bounty for dishes and desserts where the butter is a breakout star – think shortbread, Hollandaise sauce (on your free range eggs Benedict), and even just on toast.  Why the fuss about humble butter?  Because raw, grass fed homemade butter is a whole different experience that you are used to.

churned grass fed homemade butter

Butter after the initial “churning”

Raw, grass fed, home butter is just butterier.  The aroma of butter is derived from a compound called diacetyl present in standard grocery store butters, but SUPER CHARGED in raw, grass fed homemade butters.  It is also intensely yellow, owing to the beta carotene content in milk from grass fed cows.  Additionally, milk, cream, butter and cheeses produced from grass fed cows are higher in vitamins E and K2, omega 3’s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Here is where I offer a confession – lest you think that I am churning my butter by hand like my mother so fondly recalls doing as a child at great Granny’s house… I employ the horsepower of my stand mixer and blender for the task.  I am sure that the good folks at Kitchenaid and Ninja (serious, a Vitamix or Blendtec sponsorship for this blog would be spectacular – just leaving that here) did not engineer their tools for such a job, but I am all about making the best of what I got.  Please don’t blame me if you burn out a motor…  Not that I have…  I have… Actually.

On a side note, I am using RAW cream from my own cow.  You may choose to use pasteurized cream (do avoid ultra pasteurized milk though).  I do not intend this blog post to be a debate about the relative benefits and risks of raw milk.  I encourage you to do your own research and decide what is best for your family.  Raw is a choice that is right for MY family, and your choice is just that – yours.  But, do look for cream from pasture based, grass fed dairies – your butter will be a thing of wonder…

Grass fed homemade butter is a true treat and worth the effort.  Plus licking a little fresh butter from your fingers is just, just…  yummy.

finished grass fed homemade butter

Finished butter

Grass Fed Homemade Butter Recipe

Grass Fed Homemade Butter
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Grass fed homemade butter is truly a special treat and is a far cry from you dairy case finds... Yields approximately one plus pounds
Author:
Serves: 1+pounds
Ingredients
  • One gallon cream from grass fed cows
  • pinch of sea salt
Instructions
  1. In one quart batches, whip (stand mixer) or blend (blender) cream at a high rate of speed (use a splash guard if available).
  2. After 10-15 minutes, the fat will separate from the whey into yellow globules. Turn off machine.
  3. Line a colander with muslin or a flour sack towel and place over a large bowel.
  4. Pour butter and whey through the cloth lined colander, and repeat steps 1-4 until all cream is processed. Drain until the butter looks relatively "dry".
  5. Twist cloth up into a bundle, squeezing extra whey from the butter, and occasionally rinse the butter bundle under ice cold running water. Continue to squeeze and work the butter until no whey seeps through the cloth.
  6. Transfer worked and rinse butter into a bowl and add a inch of sea salt and combine thoroughly.
  7. Divide butter into four ounce "logs" and wrap in wax or parchment paper. Freeze until use.

References:

http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/nutrition/nutrition-and-feeding/diet-formulation-and-evaluation/milk-components-understanding-the-causes-and-importance-of-milk-fat-and-protein-variation-in-your-dairy-herd

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=130

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