Fall is like wrapping myself up in my favorite sweater straight out of the dryer: it’s cozy, comforting, and nostalgic.  It’s my favorite time of year, by far, and it’s also the busiest. 

With winter just around the corner, I find myself scrambling like a frantic chipmunk with my garden treasures, trying to stuff my cheeks and store fruits and veggies away before the cold hits.  But, despite the chaos, I also try to enjoy being in the moment—taking in all the crisp autumn festivities and fun that our area has to offer and create memories with my kids. 

That means finding time to do all of the fun things, but with a twist, and finding alternatives to save time and energy as a busy Mom.

Refrigerator Pickles are a Rock Star

One of my shortcuts to preserving what is left in the garden before the frost hits is to make up a huge jar of refrigerator pickles with any cucumbers I am unable to can into dills.  I do this by peeling some of the rind off and slicing them into 1/2” slices before filling the jar.  Then, I add all of the spices.  If I have any leftover fresh dill, or even dried, I like to add it to the top and bottom of the jar.  

Refrigerator pickles take a couple of weeks before they are ready to eat, but will last in the brine for months.  You can also keep adding new cucumbers to the jar so you never run out of pickles!  Personally, I love to divide the large jar into smaller ones to give away as fall gifts.  An added bonus is that the kids especially enjoy eating them in their lunches.

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What parent doesn’t need something new to try in a never-ending battle over food choices in the proverbial lunch box battle!?

Refrigerator Pickles

Place six cups of sliced cucumbers into one-gallon jar. (I use an empty one-gallon Mt. Olive Kosher Dill pickle jar they work great for this recipe).

Then add: 

Author Megan Huber

Ingredients

  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup canning sald
  • 1 1/3 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/3 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1-2 cups sliced onion

Instructions

  1. Mix together and pour over cucumbers. Add water to fill the rest of the jar. Let set for several weeks before eating.

Many Uses for Shredded Zucchini

Shredded zucchini is the most universal ingredient to cook with, and plentiful in the fall.  I use it in casseroles and desserts, alike, and adore its ability to add nutrition without adding a ton of flavor—so the kids don’t mind eating their vegetables.  I shred it using a food processor and store 1-1/2 cup servings in Ziploc bags in the freezer.  My husband jokes I have it down to a science precisely how much to store per bag to use later in making zucchini bread.  If I have both yellow and green zucchini, I like to mix them together. 

During the school year, I make little egg muffins in a muffin pan and add healthy vegetables like the zucchini, shredded carrot, and maybe mix in some cheese and ham, or bacon pieces if I have them on hand.  Egg muffins are easy to serve for a quick breakfast: Just pop them into the microwave for a few seconds and they’ll keep the kids’ tummies full at school until lunchtime comes around!

Homemade Applesauce for the Win

If you are lucky enough to have a friend with apple trees and is nice enough to share them, take them up on it!  I always look forward to our family outing with my friend who has become like family over the years.  Some years, her apple tree is loaded and some years not, but it is always a great time connecting with the outdoors and spending quality time face to face with friends and family. 

This year, we picked quite a few apples and I have been peeling so many that I have blisters!  It is worth all the work because the taste of fresh, local apples made into applesauce is out of this world!  The applesauce boasts many of the vitamins our bodies crave this time of the year, especially vitamin C.  I like to peel the apples, core them, and throw them into my crock pot.  Add a little water and lemon juice in the bottom to keep them from turning brown, a little butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Let it cook for a few hours until tender.  I smash the apples with a potato masher as they cook to hurry it along.  The applesauce, after fully cooked and cooled, can then be stored in containers in the fridge or freezer to use later in pies or an apple crisp. 

Serve it hot on ice cream or plain with a little caramel sauce on the top.  This also makes yet another great healthy option for those who pack school lunches!

Check Out What the Area has to Offer

Gillette has a ton of crabapple trees all over town.  The trees at Cam-Plex are always loaded with crabapples and the city is more than willing to let people pick them when they are ripe.      

Crabapples are packed with vitamin C and quite tart.  However, I happen to have my Grandma’s Crabapple Juice recipe that I have been making for years, which results in a sweet, beautifully pink apple juice that is anything but tart.  My family has been making this recipe since I was little as we always had crabapples in abundance on the ranch.  The juice can be canned to keep during the winter months, too.  I love to serve up a hot cup of it as I sit on the porch and watch the fall leaves swirl around in the wind or serve it to my guests at holiday parties with a wee bit of Hot Damn. 

The recipe calls for three quarts of crabapples so make sure you take a 5-gallon bucket and some helpers with you.  The apples will need to soak overnight in a solution of boiling water and Cream of Tartar from which the juice is then separated, before adding sugar to create the juice.  (See my recipe listed on the previous page.)   A great canning resource for beginners is the local Extension Office in town.  They can even have your pressure canner tested for free to make sure it’s in working order.

An online resource to check out is freshpreserving.com, which offers recipes and even a Pickle Troubleshooting Guide.

 

Grandma's Juice from Crabapples

Bring five quarts of water to a boil and add 1 heaping tablespoon of Cream of Tartar. Pour over three quarts of crabapples. Let set for 24 hours and then pour off the juice. Add three cups of sugar to the juice and bring to a boil. Pour into quart canning jars and seal. Add sugar to taste-less yields a tarter juice.

Author Megan Huber

Pumpkin Everything

Whether you grow your own pumpkins or not, making pumpkin puree is the easiest way to preserve fresh pumpkin now for use in all those holiday pies we love.

Cinderella pumpkins are my favorite to grow, they are beautiful to look at, and have a lot of flesh which is ideal for making pies.  The return to heirloom gardening has reintroduced this heirloom pumpkin and the fad for bumpy, non-traditional colored pumpkins is everywhere.  From sage green, to light pink, and even white, the Cinderella pumpkin is a beautiful addition to any fall front porch.  They are abundant during Halloween season at the grocery stores, so keep your eyes open and nab a few.  I like to decorate my front porch with them.  They are not great for carving, but the kiddos can draw faces on with a marker, which is sometimes the less messy route to go

I cut the pumpkin into four to six large pieces after removing the seeds and guts.  Next, I add about an inch of water to a jelly roll pan and place the slices face down and drizzle with a little olive oil and bake on a low heat until tender when pierced with a fork.  Let them cool before placing them into the food processor and process until smooth.  Lastly, I add enough to make a pie into individual freezer-size Ziploc bags and place them flat into the freezer.

For those who have gluten or wheat allergies… I have good news.  Last year was the first time I was able to find a gluten-free pie crust in Gillette that was already made and ready to go.  I found the GF two-pack at Albertsons, available seasonally.  They can also be found at most health food stores, which is a Godsend for those of us who enjoy pie and hate to miss out on traditional foods during the holidays.

There are a couple of pumpkin patches locally to go check out and buy pumpkins to preserve.  One is located outside of Sheridan called Koltiska Pumpkin Patch.  Info on their location and hours can be found on their Facebook page called Koltiska’s Pumpkin Patch.   Another regional pumpkin patch located outside of Spearfish, South Dakota, is the Spearfish Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch.  Information can be found online at spearfishvalleyproduce.com and includes a map with directions on how best to find them.

 

Get a Headstart on that Chili

I use most of my garden tomatoes for fresh salsa.  But if I have some stragglers that turned after the fact, I boil them in a hot water bath just until the skin cracks and then take them out and let them cool a bit.  Make sure to wash and cut an X into the bottom of the tomato before placing it into the hot water.  Peel off the skin and cut them into smaller chunks, place the tomatoes into freezer Ziploc bags, and keep them in the freezer until I plan on making a crock pot full of chili.  They also taste really great added to stew in the crockpot.

Never Go Wrong with Homemade Jams and Jelly

There is a bonding that happens between friends who share jams and jelly.  There is something about the amount of work and love, wrapped up into one little jar.  You can almost taste the kindness in the jam.  But, sharing jelly doesn’t have to be hard.  One way to bypass the traditional route of having to deal with hot wax when canning is to simply make freezer jam.  It tastes the same, the only difference is that freezer jam has to be stored in the freezer. 

I dedicate an area in my freezer to this jam every year and find it rewarding to share.  This year we will be making grape jelly from hand-picked grapes, which is new to me, but I’m excited to try.  I also love to find seasonal fruit from the stands or farmers markets and use that to make jam, because vine-ripened fruit has so much more flavor than frozen.  But, in dire circumstances, I have also made jam with store bought or frozen fruit with great success.  There are special containers you can buy to store your freezer jam in, but I just use regular jelly jars and they seem to work splendidly. 

“There is a bonding that happens between friends who share jams and jelly.”

Just follow the recipe for freezer jam in the instruction sheet inside the Sure Jell box and allow the jam to cool before putting in the freezer to avoid broken jars.  I have learned that one the hard way.  The most time-consuming aspect of making jam is washing and preparing the fruit.  I used a tomato seeder to separate the juice from the seeds in the grapes and this can be done with other fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, etc.  Kraft offers tips, recipes and videos on how to make jam and jelly on their website kraftrecipes.com, too.

By: Megan K. Huber  of Huber Farms for 82717

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