Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Pioneer Kitchen

I go through periods of getting in touch with my inner pioneer woman, and right now she’s coming out through the food I make. I know you can just picture me now wiping my brow on a flour sack apron as I toil in the kitchen, kneading homemade bread dough and grinding wheat into flour with a mortar and pestle. Um, what’s that old Brylcreem jingle—‘a little dab’ll do you’? Well, I guess a little dab of pioneer woman will do me, because I’m not exactly embracing everything about a pioneer woman’s kitchen life.

But still, folks, I’m canning. Jam, that is. The latest issue of Sunset magazine—contrary to the title, it is not a magazine catering to retiree lifestyles, and if you live in the western states you should subscribe immediately!— features a great article on easy homemade jams and preserves. Upon reading it, my inner pioneer woman jolted awake and I got right to work. While my kids ate breakfast, I whipped up a batch of delightfully tasty blackberry-lime jam. The lime isn’t overwhelming, but does add a nice citrusy note to set it apart from standard jam. Sunset's recipe is below if I have piqued your culinary interest. Not interested in the canning part? Give some to friends, or halve the batch and keep refrigerated for a month—it’ll be long gone before it goes bad.

Blackberry-Lime Jam
2 1/2 tablespoons (half a 1 3/4-oz. package) Sure-Jell pectin labeled "For less or no sugar needed recipes"
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
2 1/2 cups coarsely mashed blackberries (from about 1 1/4 lbs. fruit; I used frozen but thawed)
1 1/3 cups unsweetened berry juice blend (I used Santa Cruz Organic Berry Nectar)
Zest of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon butter (prevents foaming)

1. Combine pectin and 1/4 cup sugar in a 5-qt. pot. Stir in berries, then berry juice, lime zest and juice, and butter. Bring mixture to a brisk boil over high heat, stirring often.

2. Add remaining sugar. Return jam to a brisk boil, stirring. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat.
3. Ladle jam into heatproof jars and close with lids.

I also made a batch of strawberry-raspberry jam, so now we’ve got a 7 jar inventory of homemade goodness that will last through quite a few PB&Js.  I’ve got my eye on a peach-raspberry-lavender recipe as well; I’ll let you know how that turns out.

My trusty Sunset magazine also led me to what my pie-loving husband has deemed ‘the best fruit pie, or maybe the best pie’, he has ever eaten. The recipe, from Washington’s Anjou Bakery, technically calls for marionberries, but where the hell can you buy marionberries outside of the Pacific Northwest? I went with blackberries instead, and the shortbread-style crust makes this just about the tastiest summer dessert imaginable.

Husband-Approved Berry Pie
Crust Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 2-tbsp. chunks
(I sprinkled some chia seeds at the bottom of the crust so the pie felt ‘healthy’)

Filling Ingredients
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 pounds (6 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen marionberries or other blackberries (for frozen, measure, thaw until somewhat softened, and use all juices)
Coarse white sparkling sugar (I used turbinado sugar)

1. Combine dry ingredients in a stand mixer. Add butter and beat with paddle attachment on low speed, scraping bowl as needed, until pieces are raisin-size. With mixer still on low speed, drizzle in 1 tbsp. ice water; beat until pastry comes together, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. Form 1 1/4 cups into a disk and the rest into a smaller disk.
2. Preheat oven to 375° with rack on bottom rung. On a lightly floured board, roll larger disk into a 12-in. circle. Loosen with a long metal spatula, gently roll around a rolling pin, then unroll into a 9-in. pie pan (if dough cracks, press back together). Fold edge under, so it's flush with pan rim, then crimp. Chill 15 minutes.
3. Roll remaining dough into an 11-in. circle. With a cookie cutter, cut out enough shapes such as squares (I used moons) to cover most of pie. Set cutouts on a baking sheet; chill 15 minutes.
4. Stir together cornstarch and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Add berries with juices and toss to coat. Arrange evenly in pie shell. Lightly brush pastry cutouts with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Arrange cutouts over filling.
5. Bake pie until filling bubbles and pastry is golden in center, 55 to 60 minutes (up to 1 1/2 hours if berries were frozen); if edge starts to get dark, cover with foil, and if pie starts to bubble over, put a rimmed pan underneath it.
6. Let cool on a rack to room temperature, at least 3 hours.

With my kitchen assistant Alex helping me, we had this pie in the oven in no time. The finished product looked pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!

The final installation in this round of pioneer woman escapades is making homemade chicken stock. We go through a fair amount of boxed chicken broth, which adds up quickly. A couple of weeks ago, I started tossing onion, carrot and celery ends into a ziploc bag and storing it in the freezer. After using a store-bought rotisserie chicken for last night’s dinner, I threw the chicken carcass in a 8-qt. pot along with my bag of veggie ends. I tossed in some thyme from my garden, added a sprinkling of pepper, and filled up the pot with water.

You don’t want stock to boil; I kept it around 190 degrees and left on the stove overnight—can’t get much easier and it’s all done with scraps!
As you can see in the picture, it reduces in volume with the hours of cooking, so after straining out the solids I netted 5 ½ cups of stock. Not bad for little to no work, and I’ll start a new bag of veggie scraps for the next batch.

Maybe it’s because I’m desperate to do anything to pass the time while crossing off calendar days until I see my son again, maybe it’s because the daily cooking duties have shifted more towards Sam for the summer, or maybe because I’m procrastinating diving into the list of house projects before Australia(!), but I’m enjoying these bonus kitchen activities. Does the summer season bring out your inner pioneer woman as well, or do the hot summer days push you into takeout mode?


  1. I do declare! The blackberry pie is D-E-L-I-S-H!

  2. Hi there, just popping over for Mrs A's link party. These photos make my tummy rumble. Home-made jam is on my big to-do list this year.

  3. This looks delicious! I never thought about making jam and not canning it, just eating it straight away - it was the canning that kept me from the jam making! You've inspired me :)
    Thanks for linking up!

  4. have inspired me on this cold day...wish i was making some right now for dinner! Thanks for sharing your recipes!

  5. Hi there, I too have joined Mrs Accident's linky party. A part time pioneer woman! I like that description.

  6. All fantastic stuff! I just started canning last year and love it (and i agree with you- definitely feels like my inner pioneer woman coming out) and always make my own chicken stock, too. I like pies but dont make them too often or Id just eat them!! :)

    Found you through Accidental Housewifes party, thanks for sharing!

  7. I've popped over from Mrs A's link party and am delighted to find more pioneer types in the world! Husband-Approved pie lol In my head I imagined he'd have taken a bite of each one lol