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Grandma’s Cooking

My grandma was my inspiration for cooking and baking. She was always creating new recipes, some for people with allergies, some with new food items she’d discovered, and always with a discerning palette. Several of the recipes in my cookbook originated from recipes she developed.

Grandma no longer cooks. She lives in a single room in a retirement community where her meals are provided. But I was delighted to receive this photo of her reading my cookbook.

Grandma reading You Can Eat ThisThank you, Grandma, for your love, support, and encouragement!

Do you have someone who inspires you to cook?

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How to Make Strawberry Liqueur

Here in Alaska, it is still deep winter, with hip-high snow over the strawberry beds and temperatures well below freezing. Every summer, when the harvest gets too hectic to handle, I might get to picking berries, but not processing them. So I throw them in the freezer in a gallon ziplock.

The wonderful thing about this, is that now, when I really need a taste of summer, I can pull out a bag. The frozen berries work great for smoothies, or to create a quick sauce for a cheesecake or pancakes. Or I can whip up a batch of preserves if we have run out.

But today I’m needing something stronger.

So, here’s my recipe for strawberry liqueur. It takes a few months to a year to be ready to drink, but believe me, it is well worth the wait.

Mash 6 cups of strawberries in a glass jar or a crock with an air-tight lid (this will yield about 3 cups of mashed berries.) If using frozen berries, allow them to thaw a little before mashing. Do this by hand, careful not to crush the seeds, or the drink will be bitter.

Pour 3 cups of Everclear (I like liqueur with a kick – you can use vodka if you prefer a less potent liqueur.) over the berries and mix. Seal the lid and store it in a cool DARK place for a minimum of two months. Any light reaching the berries will leach them of color. Check the mixture a few time and shake or stir to make sure all the fruit pulp is covered with alcohol.

After two months, it is time to strain the fruit. Make a sugar syrup by combining 1 1/2 cups of sugar or honey with 1 1/2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Stirring to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom, boil until the sugar dissolves. Allow it  to cool, then add it to the berries.

Run the liqueur through a jelly bag. DO NOT SQUEEZE the bag. If you do, the liqueur will be cloudy. You MAY however, eat the berries and pulp – it is great over ice cream.

The difference through a second filter

If you want crystal clear liqueur, strain it a second time through a coffee filter set in a mesh colander. You may need to change out filters a few times as they clog with fine particles.

If you want the liqueur sweeter, add more sugar syrup (granular sugar does not dissolve well in alcohol) to taste. Bottle it and age another month or two.

If not exposed to light or air, the liqueur will keep a long time. Don’t ask me how long, because it tends to disappear pretty fast around here.

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© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

How To Make Fermented Garlic Dill Pickles

With the height of summer finally releasing a bounty of cucumbers, I thought I’d share with my readers my recipe for old-fashioned garlic dill pickles. These are great because they are not too salty, and just pleasantly sour. I’ve made this recipe for years, and keep the jars in the fridge (yes, they take up a lot of space, but there is nothing like a fresh, never-been-cooked pickle.) Canning is an option, but it inevitably takes away some of the fresh crispness that make these pickles so wonderful. Make sure you scrub all your utensils and crock before starting in order to prevent unwanted bacterial growth. To be extra sure, I do a final rinse of the crock with boiling water.

To make the brine, in a gallon crock or jar, mix together

8 cups water

¼ cup pickling salt (do not use regular table salt)

6 garlic cloves

2 Tablespoons dill seeds

2 Tablespoons mixed pickling spice

2 Tablespoons dried dill weed OR 6 dill heads or sprigs of fresh dill

*optional* 1 small Thai dragon pepper– a Thai dragon pepper will make a very spicy pickle. Any hot pepper will do, or if you don’t like spice, leave it out.

Next, wash and trim 2-3 pounds of pickling cucumbers. Make sure they are young and firm, and cut off about an eighth of an inch at the blossom end. There are enzymes in that end which will make your pickles soft. Add the cucumbers to the crock. If you don’t have quite that many ready, you can wash, trim, and add a few more to the brine over the next two days as they ripen in the garden.

Finally, fill a plastic bag with 1 Tablespoon of pickling salt and 2 cups of water. Seal it and gently lower it into the crock so that it presses all the cucumbers and garlic under the brine. Any not under the fluid will mold and rot instead of ferment. I use salt brine in the bag because one year a bag leaked plain water and diluted the pickle brine, with bad results.

Keep the crock at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. It will take less time if it is warm, and more time if it is cool. Here in Alaska, my house stays about 68ºF all summer, which is the perfect temperature for fermentation. Check the crock every day. If any scum develops at the top of the brine, skim it off.

After three days, taste a pickle, and if it is good, drain the brine and boil it in a non-aluminum pan for 5 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, re-pack the pickles into sterile quart jars. Once the brine is cool, pour it back over the pickles, put a sterile lid on, and store them in the refrigerator. They keep for me all winter. Unrefrigerated, these pickles only keep about a week because they are low salt, so eat ‘em, cool ‘em, or can ‘em!

Anyone else make pickles? What is your favorite?

PS I forgot to add that sometimes if I want a more sour pickle, I will add about a quarter cup of white vinegar (NOT cider) to each quart of pickles when I pour the boiled brine in the re-packed jars.

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© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

Here’s a great photo of finished pickles.