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Canning: Then and Now.

via Canning: Then and Now.

Vicki Delany's gardenWhen I last visited the Dames, I wrote about the Simple Writers Life as I live it (https://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/simple-writers-life-by-vicki-delany/).  The time before that was about my one true love – Tomatoes. (https://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/3241/)

Time for an update.  I am still living the good life on a small patch of land in the country in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  My new book, a standalone titled MORE THAN SORROW, is just out from Poisoned Pen Press, and is getting good reviews including a starred review from Library Journal which called it a “splendid Gothic thriller”.

On the tomato front, I have to admit that I’m a failed farmer.  I’ve decided to give up on the tomatoes and not try again next year. Mine are tiny and shrivelled lumps of red clinging to a thin browning stalk.   In fact they look much like my 2010 attempt that I told you about.

I’m better off confining my farming efforts to the realm of fiction.

MORE THAN SORROW is set on a small scale organic vegetable farm.  A place of of huge heirloom tomatoes growing on thick green plants and baskets overflowing with produce.

Vicki DelanyI can dream, can’t I?

The novel has a backstory, as all good Modern Gothics do, and this one is about the people who settled Prince Edward County in 1784.  They were Loyalists – refugees from the American Revolution. The  arrived in boats because there were no roads, to a land of untouched wilderness. First they had to chop down ancient trees with hand axes to clear the ground, and they used those trees to build the initial shanties, in which they spent the winter – in Ontario!  Gradually stumps were cleared, crops planted, and the settlement began to grow and eventually prosper.

Good thing they weren’t counting on my gardening skills, is all I can say.  We would have all starved.

I seem to do better with flowers. Here’s a pic of me among the sunflowers. (Confession: not my property, but the farm next door).

But I did have an abundance of peonies in June.

Flowers, Vicki DelanyThe effort at feeding myself might have failed, but the writers’ life continues, and it is still and good one and a simple one.

Here I am hard at work on my deck.

Vicki’s newest novel is More than Sorrow, from Poisoned Pen Press. The book got a starred review from Library Journal which called it “a splendid Gothic thriller”.

More Than Sorrow by Vicki DelanyOnce, Hannah Manning was an internationally-renowned journalist and war correspondent.  Today, she’s a woman suffering from a traumatic brain injury.  Unable to read, unable to concentrate, full of pain, lost and confused, haunted by her memories, Hannah goes to her sister’s small-scale vegetable farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario to recover. 

As summer settles on the farm, she finds comfort in the soft rolling hills and neat fields as well as friendship in the company of Hila Popalzai, an Afghan woman also traumatized by war.

Unable to read the printed word, Hannah retreats into the attic and boxes of mouldy letters that have accumulated for more than two centuries.  As she learns  about the original settlers of this land, Loyalist refugees fleeing the United States in 1784, she is increasingly drawn to the space beneath the old house.  More than carrots and potatoes, soups and jams, are down in the dark damp root cellar.

Hannah experiences visions of a woman, emerging from the icy cold mist. Is the woman real? Or the product of a severely damaged brain?

Which would be worse?

Then Hila disappears. When Hannah cannot account for her time, not even to herself, old enemies begin to circle. 

In this modern Gothic novel of heart-wrenching suspense, past and present merge into a terrifying threat to the only thing Hannah still holds dear – her ten-year-old niece, Lily.

More Than Sorrow is available at your favourite Independent bookseller or  Amazon.ca,  Amazon.comChapters/Indigo, B&N

Ever since my grandmother taught me to embroider when I was a little girl, I’ve always had some kind of hobby.  You name it, I’ve probably tried it.  There’s just something about creating things with my own hands that fascinates me.  Plus, I am, to borrow a word coined by my delightful niece, Meghann, Scrooge-alicious.  Granted, she was talking about my husband when she said it, but alas, I’m often guilty of the same malady myself.  I see something I like but think the price is too high and so, I try to make it myself.  Most of the time, I’m successful, but I have had a few spectacular failures too.

Anyway, I enjoy the challenge of learning how to do something new, but once I’ve learned it, well, I usually leave it behind and move on to something else.  Not so with canning, or at least not so far.  Of course, that could be because I haven’t been able to have a vegetable garden for the last couple of years since we were living in an apartment while we looked for a house—a challenging and all too often frustrating venture with a Scrooge-alicious husband like mine, but that’s another story.

So this year, I have a big backyard with a vegetable garden and I’ve rediscovered the joys of canning.  And I’m loving every minute of it. 

jamsI love preparing the fresh fruits or vegetables, ladling them into those lovely glass jars—don’t you love glass?  So much nicer and prettier than plastic could ever be—immersing them in boiling water, setting the timer and waiting impatiently for it to go off.  When it finally pings, you lift the jars out and carefully set them on a rack to cool and then comes the big pay-off, that oh-so-satisfying “pop” as the lids seal, preserving all that summertime goodness inside.

I also love trying new recipes.  This year I happened to be at Jake’s Produce Market in beautiful historic downtown Hendersonville when the South Carolina peaches came in.  Just picked that morning, I couldn’t resist buying a 24 pound basket.  I made peach jam, low-sugar peach jam, a couple of peach cobblers, a peach-strawberry fruit salad and I still had some peaches left so I searched for a new recipe to try.  I found one for  Peach Cobbler preserves.  Yummy!jellies  I’ll add the recipe at the end of this post.

Equipment is very important and quite expensive when you first start, but after that initial investment, you’re pretty much set for life.  When I first started canning it was more or less a lost art…well, okay, not lost exactly, let’s say out-of-style and supplies were hard to come by.  Our local Walmart had a few things but nothing like they have now and the best place to find what you needed was at the hardware store or co-op.  We had one up in Maine that was only a few minutes from my house and that’s where I always went when I needed jars or lids or even a replacement gauge for my pressure canner.  If they didn’t have it, they’d order it for me and they also had the extra added bonus of Carol, one of the clerks, who knew anything and everything there was to know about canning.  She helped me more than she’ll ever know.

ballbluebookIf you don’t have a Carol, invest around ten dollars in a Ball Blue Book.  It’s chock-full of delicious recipes, step-by-step instructions, tips, and answers to just about every question you can think of.  I still have the first one I bought years ago.  I’ve since added to my library of canning books and there are tons of sites on the Internet, but I always go back to my Blue Book.

So there you have it, my not-so-new favorite hobby–canning.  How about you?  What’s your favorite hobby?

Peach Cobbler Preserves

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups diced ripe firm peaches (8 to 12 peaches, depending on size)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 scant teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preparation:

In a large deep kettle, combine the peaches with the lemon juice and 2 cups of the sugar; cover and let stand for 1 hour.

dod lipsFill a canner about half-full with water; add the empty canning jars and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat to low to keep jars hot. Bring a saucepan of water just to a boil; reduce heat to low and add the jar lids. Do not boil the lids.

To the peaches add the remaining sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter, if using. Heat uncovered over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Add the pectin and bring once again to a full rolling boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and skim excess foam from the mixture. Stir in vanilla and let the fruit mixture cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using tongs, carefully remove jars from the hot water, draining well. Fill them with hot fruit mixture, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims clean with a dampened cloth or paper towel and fit seals on tops of jars. Screw on the lids firmly. Lower the jars into the water and add more very hot or boiling water so the water is 1 to 2 inches above the jars. Bring to a boil. Cover and boil gently for 10 minutes. Remove jars from the hot water and let cool on a rack. Do not invert the hot jars.

Makes about 5 half-pint (8-ounce) jars.

Note: If using 1-pint (16-ounce) jars, process/boil the full jars for 15 minutes.

Some sites of interest on the Internet:

Ball Fresh Preserving

Farmgal

Canning Recipes for Preserving Food

Country Home Canning

 

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