Country Lore: Good to the Last Drop

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Collect raspberry juice for jelly, and then use the pulp to make syrup.

Photo by Kristi Nebel

Good to the Last Drop

Each year, I’ve felt wasteful when throwing out the leftover drained fruit after making jelly from my raspberry patch. I couldn’t find any syrup recipes for reconstituting juice from a bag of smashed berries, so I developed my own. 

After collecting the juice for jelly, you’ll be left with a ball of condensed fruit in your cheesecloth bag. If you began with 6 pounds of fresh raspberries, you’ll probably end up with about 31/2 pounds of fruit pulp. I always freeze raspberries before making jelly, because doing so seems to release more juice than can be gotten from fresh berries.

Leave the 3-1/2 pounds of drained raspberry pulp in the cheesecloth bag, and set it in a heavy 5-gallon stockpot or any large metal pot. The sides need to be high enough that the bag can eventually be suspended for draining. I use a big pressure cooker with a lid that’s heavy enough to hold the top of the bag and keep it suspended over the draining liquid.

Boil 8 cups of water. While holding up the drawstrings of the cheesecloth bag, pour the boiling water over the bag. Agitate the bag to loosen up the pulp and allow it to absorb the water. Do this with a long-handled metal spoon in one hand, spreading the pulp in the bag around the inside of the pot, but still holding the drawstrings with your other hand.

Suspend the bag from the top of the pot and allow it to drip for 4 hours. Then, squeeze the bag to remove as much liquid as possible. The liquid will be pale red and taste diluted. Discard the leftover fruit pulp. Divide the liquid into three 3-cup batches. You’ll be reducing one batch at a time. Don’t try pouring it all into a single pot, because the liquid will be too deep to reduce properly. This recipe depends on a ratio of air to liquid that allows for rapid reduction.

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups diluted juice from raspberries drained for jelly
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2  teaspoon almond extract

Stir the cornstarch into the sugar. Combine all ingredients in a large electric frying pan that’s no less than 12 inches wide and no more than 2 inches deep. Alternatively, you can use a similarly sized pan on a stovetop. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the juice by simmering for 15 minutes, stirring with a flat-ended metal spatula.

The result should be a dark-red syrup. Repeat this process two more times with the remaining two batches of diluted juice. The recipe results in 4 to 5 pints of syrup that can be canned in a water bath. Enjoy your salvaged syrup on pancakes, waffles, French toast, and ice cream.

Kristi Nebel

Tacoma, Washington

Foot Salve-ation

I’ve walked barefoot since I was a kid, even in snow. I love the feel of the earth between my toes and the floor beneath my feet. The only time this becomes a problem is during goat’s head sticker season.

Besides suffering from stickers, my bare feet can get extremely dry and sore. Years ago, I bought an amazing ointment from a cosmetics manufacturer and used it with great success until the product was discontinued. I decided to make my own homemade remedy after reading the ingredients list on the jar. I have to be honest, the manufacturer’s ointment smells better than mine, but my version works very well.

  • 2 ounces shea butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa butter
  • 2 tablespoons beeswax
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Essential oils of your preference (optional)

Fill the lower part of a double boiler with about 2 inches of water, or just enough that it doesn’t touch the bottom of the top pan. Bring to a boil. Place all ingredients except essential oils in the top of the double boiler, and place over the boiling water. Stay close by, and stir occasionally with a chopstick.

After the butters and beeswax have melted and all ingredients are blended, remove the boiler from the heat and add a few drops of essential oils. Gradually add a few more if the mixture isn’t fragrant enough for your taste. You can always add drops, but you can’t take them away. I like tea tree oil for its antiseptic properties, and peppermint oil because it’s aromatic.

I like to let the ingredients solidify in the pan to check on the consistency. This recipe is meant to be a bit stiffer than petroleum jelly. If I don’t like the consistency, I’ll put the double boiler back on the heat and melt the mixture again. Too hard, and I add1/2 ounce olive oil. Too soft, and I add 1 ounce beeswax or cocoa butter. When the consistency is right, pour the mixture into a small lidded jar that’ll hold about 4 ounces. Baby food jars work great, as do cosmetic containers.

When my feet get dry, but before the calluses start cracking, I apply this ointment liberally and then pull on old socks I no longer care about. I wear the socks to bed overnight, or put on shoes and wear them all day. Later, when I remove the socks, my feet have vastly improved!

Renée Benoit

Hereford, Arizona

Photo by June Greiser

Her Tomatoes Are in the Bag

I use this style of net bag to protect my tomato fruits while they’re growing. After the buds have been pollinated, I place the bag over them. Two or three buds can comfortably fit inside these bags. I leave them on the plant until the tomatoes are ready to pick.

The bag protects the fruit from rodents and insects. Rodents don’t like the texture of the fabric, and insects can’t get inside.

I find the bags in the bridal aisle at craft stores. They’re machine washable and dryable and very durable; I’ve never had one get damaged. The bag pictured is about 8 inches long and has a drawstring at the top, which makes it easy to place on the plants and then remove when the tomatoes inside are ripe.

June Greiser

Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Tote-ally Smart Storage

We all seem to have loads of large cloth tote bags for carrying groceries. I use the ones I don’t take to the store for storage purposes. One is marked for extension cords. Holiday decorations for Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, and Easter are organized into three other bags, and matching napkins and paper plates are stored in yet another one. Canning lids, rings, and pectin are grouped in their own bag. I hang the bags in a closet on hooks or heavy hangers, where I can get to them in a hurry.

Dawn Hodges

Bellville, Texas

When the Well Is Running Dry

Those of us who depend on wells know that dry summers can have a serious impact on our water supply. I’ve come up with ways to help lessen that impact.

I keep a pitcher in the kitchen sink and a large pot in the shower. These catch liquid that would normally disappear down the drain while I’m waiting for the water to warm up enough to wash dishes or take a shower. I then use the rescued water on house and porch plants, to fill water buckets, or to use in mop buckets. Every little bit helps when your well is running low.

Marilyn Gill

Grants Pass, Oregon

Only Good News

While vacuum packing my dehydrated garden produce, I’ve had issues with sharp-edged veggies puncturing the bags and causing them to lose their seal. To prevent this from happening, I now first place the dried veggies in an unsealed zip-close freezer bag. Then, I wrap the bag in two layers of newspaper, folding one side of the paper over the top and the other side under, and taping it in place. The wrapped bag goes into the vacuum sealer. No more leaky bags!

John Cashler

Zion, Illinois

Photo by M.P.

Packets of Sunshine

When I don’t have enough vegetables ripening at the same time to break out the canner, I make a delicious and easy roasted veggie purée that’s packed with flavor. The ingredients vary according to what I have at the moment, but two of my favorite purées are an Italian blend of tomatoes, basil, parsley, garlic, onion, and peppers; and a Mexican-inspired sauce of tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño peppers. 

I simply rough-cut whatever veggies I have at the moment, place them on a large sheet pan, and drizzle them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any spices I like. Then, I roast them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. I let them cool before puréeing them together in my food processor. I like to freeze the blends in silicone muffin pans. These little packets of sunshine add a burst of summer flavor to my winter dishes.


Via email

Photo by Mary Funk

Berry Good Idea

My husband made nice frames for bird netting over my blueberries. He cut and fitted PVC pipe, which he fed over rebar hammered into the ground. I purchased and hand-sewed netting to the appropriate sizes, leaving a little extra on the bottom for tacking to the ground with fabric pins, 2x4s, and rocks. The birds can’t get my berries anymore. The netting is easy to remove and put up, and I marked the PVC to indicate where the netting goes on the frames.

Also, I planted a few strawberries between the rows of blueberries in our biggest frame. They, too, are safe from the birds!

Mary Funk

Deer Park, Washington

Sustainable Seeds

I love to have fresh flowers in my house during spring, summer, and fall, and thankfully, that’s possible because of South Carolina’s beautiful weather. I religiously save seeds from zinnias, cosmos, and Mexican sunflowers every year. The benefits of seed saving are that it honors tradition, and allows me to select for the plant traits I want to preserve. As many seed companies are facing shortages, I take comfort in the fact that I’m relying on saved seeds and allowing others to purchase the seeds they need.

I’ve found zinnias and sunflowers to be the easiest flowers to save seeds from. I make sure each flower head is completely dry to avoid mold. With zinnias, I harvest the dried flowers by hand and place the whole head of the plant in a brown paper bag to save for the next year. For sunflowers, I cut off the head of the flower and let it dry completely, and then harvest the seeds and store them in a brown paper bag. You can tie the flowers into a bunch to let them dry.

April Jones

Columbia, South Carolina

Photo by Susan Verberg

Double the Tomato-y Goodness

Boiling down tomatoes to make a thick sauce for canning takes so much time and energy. Instead, after the chopped tomatoes have cooked enough to begin falling apart in the stockpot, I carefully remove the excess liquid with a deep ladle. This significantly speeds up the thickening of the sauce that remains in the pan, and has another great benefit: The technique produces tomato juice from something I’d otherwise evaporate! I preserve both the juice and sauce by canning, and I use a jar of juice instead of water each time we cook a stew.

Susan Verberg

Ithaca, New York

Raccoons Don’t Rock ‘n’ Roll

Everybody loves sweet corn, especially our local raccoons. They can devastate a bumper crop of homegrown sweet corn in just a few nights. These varmints will straddle a cornstalk and pull it to the ground, and then destroy a nice developing ear.

You can use several methods to deter raccoons from robbing your corn patch. A big dog and an electrified fence can help a lot. Another method I’ve used to keep raccoons out of my corn patch is to play an old radio. Place the radio in the middle of the garden under the shelter of a washtub, or in a box covered with sheet plastic to protect it from rain. Turn on the radio in the evening, and let it play through the night. Soon, you’ll discover that raccoons don’t rock ‘n’ roll!

James T. Kash

Rogers, Kentucky

Monster Zucchini Bread

My kids love to eat squash from our garden, especially when it’s in the form of zucchini bread. But our Colorado growing season is short. To extend the zucchini bread season at our house, we allow a few to grow to monster size. These extremely large zucchinis develop a semi-firm rind. I’ve found that they’ll keep outside the refrigerator for several months after our first killing frost — just like pumpkins and winter squash.

When it’s time to make the bread, I cut the monster zucchini in half, remove the seeds, and shred the flesh in the food processor. Skinning the zucchini isn’t needed. This way, we can still enjoy summer’s abundance well into winter.

Here’s the recipe for Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread that my kids love.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and thoroughly grease two loaf pans. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs and mix in oil, vanilla, and sugar. Combine with dry ingredients and mix until all lumps dissolve. Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips, and pour into loaf pans. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out of the pans.

Michelle Martin

Denver, Colorado

Photo by Jim Malinoski

Pretty Pickle Poles

We love pickles, but cucumbers occupy quite a bit of space if allowed to wander in our 20-by-30-foot garden. I’ve created this cucumber trellis that’s 30 feet long and 7 feet high for about 100 plants. It’s made up of three tripods of vinyl-covered aluminum stakes, three bamboo poles, and sisal baling twine. The third bamboo pole straddling the main two is a brace to withstand the weight of cuke-loaded vines. Every few days, I wrap the vines around the twine as they grow. At the end of the season, the dead cuke vines and twine go into the compost.

Jim Malinoski

Manassas, Virginia

Grapes in a Cold Climate

I learned that a local farmer in Anchorage, Alaska, is successfully growing grapes in that cold climate. He showed me his bountiful harvest, and explained his growing technique: He buries several glass bottles upside down near the roots of each grapevine, leaving the bottom of the bottles projecting several inches above the surface of the soil. He says the shiny glass bottoms of the bottles warm up in the sun, and transfer the heat to the surrounding soil. I’d imagine this method is worth trying on tomatoes and other warm-season fruits and vegetables.

Samuel Feldman

Brooklyn, New York

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