recipes

Better than lemonade: Recipe for watermelon aguas frescas

If there’s one thing I fell in love with in southern Texas, it was aguas frescas. Silly thing is, I never realized just how easy it was to make. All that stood between me and the most refreshing beverage on earth was a little melon, some water and sugar. And of course the knowledge of what to do with it all.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cubed watermelon
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions

  • Add watermelon and four cups water to a blender and blend thoroughly. This brought my children up from the basement asking for milk shakes. You can see why we have a blender.
  • Pour in a pitcher and add the rest of the water.
  • Add the sugar and stir well.
  • Chill in the refrigerator. This is a beverage best served cold, but without ice. The ice dilutes the flavor too much. If you must use ice, cut back on the water a little.

Now isn’t that the best, most refreshing summer drink you’ve ever tasted? It’s really good with cantaloupe, too. In fact, I think I prefer the cantaloupe aquas frescas, though I don’t actually like eating cantaloupe. Serve with a little pollo con aguacate and have yourself a Mexican street stand night!

(Pollo con aquacate with aguas frescas was the first thing I ever bought at a street stand in Mexico. I have no idea how it was made, but my made up recipe goes something like this: two chicken breasts diced and fried over medium heat. Mash and stir in one avacado in the last minute or so of cooking. Serve in tortillas with sour cream.)

And when you’re all done with that, you can preserve some of the deliciousness of late summer’s bounty with some watermelon rind jelly.

Watermelon Rind Jelly

Ever since Almanzo’s older sister chided her younger brother for wasting his watermelon rind on his pig in Farmer Boy, I’ve wanted to try watermelon rind jelly. I mean seriously, what good is watermelon rind? Up until now, I’ve fed it to the chickens or put it on the compost pile but couldn’t help but wonder what old time deliciousness we were missing by tossing aside the rind.

So I finally tracked down a recipe and Mouse made some for the county fair.

Watermelon Rind Jelly

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cubed watermelon rind (not the hard green peel! Just the soft whitish green part you normally don’t eat.)
  • 3 ounces liquid pectin
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or ginger. I want to try that next!)
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar

Directions

  1. Puree watermelon rind in a blender.
  2. Add watermelon rind puree, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Add the liquid pectin and continue cooking for fifteen minutes. Stir to keep from burning and skim the foam.
  4. Remove from heat and process in a hot water bath.

Now we must wonder no more and our first batch turned out so good, I may buy our next melon for the rind.  Fortunately, I’ll never have to worry about what to do with all the left over red stuff.

(Unfortunately, my camera isn’t playing nicely with my computer or I’d share a picture of one of my children enjoying the juicy fruit. Maybe the one in which my 18 month old son is covered in seeds after a watermelon seed spitting war.)

Disclosure: The link is an affiliate link and I could theoretically earn a few cents from it. It’s never happened before, but you know. In theory, it could happen.

How to make yogurt without a yogurt maker

Summer is here and getting hot, hot, hot! It’s the perfect weather for yogurt: yogurt over fresh fruit for a light breakfast, blended with frozen fruit for an afternoon smoothie or frozen for a refreshing treat as the temperature rises. Unfortunately, our little one quart yogurt maker can’t keep up with the demand this time of year, but it doesn’t have to.

After all, all that handy little appliance does is keep my culture at 85 degrees or so until I turn it off. With outside temperatures staying in the 80s and 90s, there is no need whatsoever to plug in my yogurt maker and I can now make yogurt by the gallon.

All you need is a little yogurt, a lot of milk and a pan to heat it in.

Ingredients:

8 oz yogurt (plain, unsweetened and with live, active cultures)

1 quart milk

Procedure:

1)  Heat milk to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit to thoroughly pasteurize but do not let it boil. This makes sure the only bacteria you culture is the yogurt making bacteria (lactobacillus acidophilus). I’m real exact about this. I stick my pinky in the milk and if it “bites,” it has achieved the proper temperature.

That’s because I learned to make yogurt from a Kurdish woman and I was under the impression they weren’t in the habit of using kitchen thermometers.

2)  Set milk aside to cool to somewhere between 80 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, you can double check with your pinky. If it is slightly warmer than lukewarm, it’s ready.

3)  Stir in yogurt. Or should I say lightly mix in? The more you stir, the more sour your yogurt will be. I usually add a little milk into my yogurt and stir to make it liquidy then stir that into the milk with three or four slow strokes.

4)  Cover and set aside for eight to ten hours where it will stay warm. A covered porch, a garage, or if you’re fortunate enough to not have AC like us, then you can just set it on the counter.

5)  Refrigerate when thickened and sweeten according to taste. With sugar. With honey. With homemade mulberry syrup. With your favorite jelly. Or just eat it plain. It’s that good.

Now, the ingredient proportions do not need to be exact. You just need a little yogurt to get your yogurt started, but this proportion seems to work well pretty consistently without taking too long. And you know the best part? You just need to save back some of this batch to start your next batch! No need to buy more yogurt for your next batch.

After awhile, the yogurt culture will get “tired.” Meaning that you’ll suddenly have a thin batch. Then you know it is time to buy a new container of yogurt to start your next batch. This usually happens to me when I leave the yogurt starter in the refrigerator for a few days before trying to start the next batch. The sooner you use it, the better it will be.

Your homemade yogurt may not be quite as thick as store bought, but it tastes much fresher and you have complete control over how you sweeten and flavor it. After awhile, you will notice that store bought yogurt has a sort of strange, gelatiny feel to it. That’s because a lot of yogurts are made with a thin yogurt thickened with gelatin.

Yours is 100% yogurt, 100% fresh and 100% delicious!

How to make mulberry syrup

The mulberry, though actually a collective fruit rather than a proper berry, is a nutritious little thing that grows wild in many places. They grow on relatively small trees and remind me somewhat of blackberries though not quite so delicious. They’re fragile, don’t store well, are sort of a pain to collect when they’re growing at the top of a spindly tree but so worth the effort if only you know what to do with them.

how to make mulberry syrup

 

What you do with them is make jelly or syrup. This is how we do it.

1. You need a source of fresh mulberries. About a month ago, a rumor began circulating that we had a mulberry tree on the property. When I finally got around to walking down with the children, we discovered not one, but two mulberry trees.

2. You need children. Preferably your own since you’re going to send them to the top of a tree and get them back slightly discolored.

eating mulberries

The

3. You need patience and lots of time. For three days, I sent the children out to collect mulberries. For three days, I received purple children and three or four berries in return. I finally joined them and the bucket was filled surprisingly quickly. I even still got purple children out of the deal.

4. You need a recipe of some sort. This part proved about as difficult as getting children to put berries in a bucket rather than their mouths. Maybe it was a good thing I had an extra three days to search.  See, everything I found included corn syrup and seriously the main reason I am willing to go through the trouble of making my own syrup is to get away from the corn syrup in everything.

But then I finally found this, a recipe for Sharab El Toot. And for the homeschooler in me, it was a wonderfully educational adventure to incorporate into the mulberry picking. The children didn’t like the end product so much. Well, except for L.E.Fant who drank everyone else’s, but the pictures on the site were lovely and we all enjoyed sampling some Lebanese refreshment.

This is a slightly modified recipe, intended for canning. And let me tell you, this stuff is fabulous on ice cream. Wow. After enjoying some at my parents’ house, I went out and bought ice cream just to put the syrup on.

Mulberry syrup

4 cups mulberry juice
8 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice

To get the juice from the mulberries, you can use a food mill. But we don’t have one. So I threw them in a pot with a bit of lemon juice and a bit of water and heated them up while squishing with a potato masher. Once it was heated and mushy, I poured the mess into a muslin bag and tied it over a pot to drip overnight. In the morning, I mushed the bag until I couldn’t get any more dribbles out.

You can add some syrup to the mush to make jam, or fold it into muffins. I, however, was a bit lazy about separating all the little green stems from the berries so I fed the mush to the chickens who were already filling the hen house with purple poo since discovering we had mulberry trees. They were pleased.

Add the lemon juice and syrup and heat slowly. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Cook down to desired consistency. Or add 1/2 cup of pectin, but we just cooked it down. Skim the foam regularly for a nice clean syrup. Process in a boiling water bath.

Try some Sharab El Toot. If you like flavored waters, you’ll love it. If not, well, at least you’ve tasted a bit of Lebanon. Then get some ice cream and try not to overeat.

Red clover jelly: recipes and reviews

We have a field of red clover, otherwise known as a pasture, on our property. I’m sure the bees will love it when they get here. The goats as well. Everyone seems to love clover and if you’ve ever sucked on those little purple flowers on the flower head, you know why. If not, well, I’m afraid you may not have had an adequate upbringing. Take a moment to find some nice red clover, pull it apart and share it with your children.

Anyway, it’s a flower and it’s edible so of course I had to make jelly out of it.

red clover jelly

I wasn’t as sure of this one since clover has such a delicate flavor to begin with. It has neither the fragrance, nor the strength of lilac or black locust. That, and I had difficulty finding a recipe. If the jelly were all that good, it seems like it would be easier to find instructions on how to make it.

So I started out with the same basic infusion I used for lilac jelly, black locust blossom jelly and dandelion jelly.

For the clover infusion:

4 cups boiling water
4 cups clover flower heads (This part was way easier with clover. All parts of the plant are edible, and none of them particularly offensive. While it is beneficial to use only the actual flower head, a little green isn’t going to have a noticeable effect on the jelly.)

Place clover in a glass or stainless steel container, cover with boiling water and leave it steep overnight. Strain out flowers and squeeze out excess water, reserving liquid for the jelly.

For the clover jelly:

4 cups infusion (add water to replace what was lost in straining)
8 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 packages powdered pectin
8 cups sugar

Add lemon juice to the infusion, stir in pectin and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the sugar all at once and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute, skim and pour into jelly jars. Process like you would any other jelly. Here’s a great tutorial from Owlhaven.

I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor. It was light, but very pleasant. I loved the color, and lamented that I don’t seem to have the whole bubble free jelly thing down, yet. I tried pouring it into the jars quickly, but I think the real issue was that the jelly was already setting before I got it into the jars. You’re not really supposed to double recipes when using powdered pectin, or so I’ve heard. Maybe this is why? Or maybe I’ll just figure it out in time. No one around here really cares, anyway, so long as it tastes good on bread. And it does.

Then I found another recipe for an infusion. And of course I had to try it. Both with the juice and with the wine.

For the clover infusion:

5 cups apple juice or white wine
2 cups clover in a glass or stainless steel dish

Bring juice or wine to a boil and pour over clover. Cover and let sit until cool. Or, uh, overnight if you get busy and sort of forget about it. Strain and reserve liquid for the jelly.

For the clover jelly:

4 cups clover infusion
8 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 oz liquid pectin

Combine infusion, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as sugar has dissolved, stir in pectin. Return to a rolling boil for one minute. Remove from heat, skim foam and process like you would any other jelly in a hot water bath.

I was quite pleased with the results. The jelly was picture perfect. Clear, no bubbles and that perfect wiggle-on-your-spoon consistency. I don’t know if it was the liquid pectin (which is supposedly happier with the whole doubling thing), the juice/wine or just that I was more conscientious about skimming foam during the whole process rather than just at the end. Either way, the jelly was beautiful.

My daughter wants me to enter it in the fair.

The clover infusion made with apple juice ended up tasting like apple jelly. It was a good apple jelly, with a slight unidentifiable flavor that added more character than most apple jellies have, but it was still apple jelly. And all hints at character were mostly lost once you stopped licking the knife and tasted it on bread.

The infusion made with the wine, however, was quite interesting. Maybe it was just the wine, but it seemed to bring out the flavor of the clover and accent it well. And the interesting flavor carries over to the bread, as well, which is a nice bonus since I’m not in the habit of eating jelly by the spoon full.

A word of caution, however. That whole idea about alcohol burning off in cooking? It isn’t as true as you might like to believe. The jelly isn’t boiled long enough to be confident this is actually an alcohol free jelly. White cooking wine doesn’t have a particularly high alcohol content to begin with, but it is still good to keep in mind.

Note: If you go off in search of clover, remember to be sure it is clover that hasn’t been sprayed. Oh, and you can use any kind of clover. I just happen to have tons of red clover. If you don’t have tons, you can halve this recipe. It was doubled to begin with.

Happy jelly making!