Simple Isn’t Always Easy

Homemade Plum Jam

Our great-grandmothers had it easy, right?  They weren’t expected to work out of the house.  In fact, it was largely frowned upon.  They were expected to be stay at home moms, and homemakers. Sweet!

And look at us today.  Super-moms.  We rise at 6:00 a.m.and get ready for work.  We get the kids up and get them dressed, teeth brushed, hair combed.  Pop a few sausage bisquits in the microwave, and hurry to the car.  Drop the kids at school, make sure to give them lunch money.  Grab a $4.00 cup of coffee and a scone at the drive-through, and be at work by 8:00.  Lunchtime finds us grabbing a salad at the café downstairs, ordering Chinese from the place that delivers, or popping a small, flavorless frozen lunch into the microwave.  Dash out the door at 5:00 pm to get toYoga class.  Pick the kids up from the sitter, grab a roasted chicken and a bag-o-salad on the way home.  Eat dinner, and have the dishes put away by 8:00. Move this morning’s wash load into the dryer, and a load of laundry into the washer.  Help the kids with homework, get their teeth brushed, get them bathed, and snuggled into covers by 9pm.  Tidy up a few things, crawl into bed, watch the evening news.  Try to sleep, but how can you with such a restless mind….Sheesh.  So much to do, so little time.  How do we do it?  It must have been much simpler back in the day…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Great-great grandma Emily rose at 4:30 a.m. and started a fire in the wood stove—only a lucky few owned those fancy, new-fangled, gas-powered cook-stoves….She went outside to gather a few eggs from the hen house, while her husband milked the cow.  Just what they needed for the day—no more, no less. Like most people, they didn’t have an icebox.  At5:00 a.m., she started the bisquits, and sliced some bacon.  Fried it up in the cast iron skillet, and cooked the eggs in the bacon drippings. When the eggs and bacon came out of the skillet, leftover coffee went in.  Red-Eye gravy meant nothing went to waste. While the kids ate, she made their lunches.  Yesterday’s bread, some butter and jam, and a few boiled eggs.  Out the door, they had to hurry—it was a three mile walk to school. Fifty years later, these kids who will become your great-grandparents will tell you that it was uphill coming and going……

Emily poured the cream off of the sweet milk, and churned it into butter, putting it into a butter press to remove the liquid whey.  Sweet milk was what fresh milk was called before it curdled in the heat of no refrigeration.  She started the bread dough, and set it to rise.

In the garden, she found the ripest potatoes, peas, and carrots.  Since the plums were getting a bit too rip, she would have to make them into jam today, so that none are wasted.  After an hour spent cleaning and preparing the fruit, it was mashed into the pot with sugar.  It would have to boil for quite some time, so more wood was added to stoke the fire.  While the fruit boiled, she would have a few minutes to darn the children’s socks, stitching closed the holes that have been worn into the heels and the toes.  Once the jam was cooling in jars, she started the day’s laundry.  Churning it around in the washtub, and putting it through the wringer was hard work in the summertime, and very hot.  At least it was done outside, where a breeze might be blowing.  She had become very efficient at hanging the clothes to dry, and she pinned them to the clothesline with great speed.  With that out of the way, she would be able to knead the bread dough, and set it to rise a second time.  While it rose, she had time to sweep the floors, and shake out the rugs.  Then the bread would bake.

The kids would be home from school now, and starting their chores.  The animals would need to be fed, and the cages and stalls cleaned.  Water must be drawn for supper, and for evening cleaning.

Now, a bit of pastry would be made, and would cover the fresh vegetables and a little meat to make a pot pie. Hot bread with a bit of fresh butter and jam will round out the meal.  On Sunday, maybe a simple cake of ground wheat, eggs, sugar, and the morning cream that soured. Any scraps for the day would be taken outside and fed to the hogs.

As the sun set, the kerosene lanterns were turned up.  She read the kids a bible passage, and then a story.  Full baths happened on Saturday, so this night they would wash up by lantern light, using rags and a pitcher of wash water.  After the kids were nestled into their beds, Emily would sew what needed sewing, knit what needed knitting, and clean what needed cleaning.  She would climb into bed, and her husband would tell her about the news he heard during the day, while he was in town.  She would tell him how she got the plums put up for the season, and how she would pickle the ripe vegetables tomorrow.  She fell asleep fast. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is undeniable that modern inventions have improved our quality of life.  Refrigeration has allowed us to store food in a safer manner, and for long periods of time.  Electricity and indoor plumbing have made cooking, washing, and basic living easier, faster, and more comfortable. And we smell better–there’s air conditioning and daily bathing.  In the hot, humid South, that alone is evidence enough that there is a God. 

With all of these efficiencies, we have more time to spend with our kids, and our husbands, and at Hatha Yoga….These days we also have leisure time—unheard of to our great-great-grandmothers—time to go shopping, watch TV, go to the spa, write on our blogs, tweet our friends, and paint our toenails. 

Still, there is much we have lost to this lifestyle.  Like the satisfaction that comes from making things with your own hands, and the feeling of security that comes with being able to survive from the land, rather than the supermarket.  Somehow, we have lost our love of simple things in favor of easy things–bread from a bag, butter from a box, and jam from a squeeze bottle.

Try a few of these old-school simple basics, instead of grabbing the easy version at the supermarket.  The recipes utilize modern technology, so you don’t have to go build a fire, grind your own wheat, or milk a cow.  But you will love the deliciousness that comes from the simplicity of the dish, rather than from exotic ingredients and hard to pronounce techniques.  You won’t need to chiffonade or Sous Vide anything today.

 

Baking Powder Bisquits

 
Baking Powder Bisquits
makes 12 large bisquits
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 4 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
 
Perheat oven to 450*
 
In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry cutter, cut in the shortening until it is the size of peas.  Combine the milk and egg in a small bowl, and pour into the flour mixture.  Stir with a fork until it comes together.  Place on a flour dusted board, and knead just until all of the ingredients are incorporated.  Try not to knead more than 10 times.  Pat into 1 1/2″ thickness and cut with 3″ bisquit cutters.  Place close together in a baking sheet or large cast iron skillet.  Bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 10-14 minutes.
 
 
 

Plum Jam

 
Homemade Plum Jam, 2 ways
 
If you haven’t made jam before, you might want to start with the first method, which uses store bought pectin.  For making jams or jellies, copper cookware works best, but any heavy-bottomed non-stick or porcelain coated (non-reactive) pot will also work.

 The Easy Way:  Using commercial pectin……

Adapted from the Sure Gel website

*preparing jars for canning: Bring boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

**processing jars after filling: Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if needed.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

Yield: 4 pints

  •  4 lb. fully ripe plums (any variety or combination)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
  • 8 cups sugar, pre-measured into separate bowl

*Prepare jars as described above.

Pit plums. Do not peel. Chop roughly. Place fruit in saucepan; add water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 5 min. Measure exactly 6 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot. Stir pectin into fruit in saucepot. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

**Ladle into jars and process as described above….

 

Old-Fashioned Plum Jam

Yield 4 pints

  • 4 lbs plums, your choice, or mixed
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons

 *Prepare jars as indicated above.

Slightly mash plums into bottom of pot with a potato masher.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Once simmer is attained, cover the pot and cook for ten minutes.  Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Turn to medium-high heat, and boil until mixture comes together and appears to “gel”.  At this point, begin testing it every few minutes by dropping a small drop on an ice cold plate from the freezer.  When you tilt the plate at a 45 degree angle, if the jam runs, it is not ready.  Put the plate back in the freezer and try again in 5 minutes.  Once the drop does not run, but remains in place when you tilt the plate, the jam is done.

**Remove from heat, and follow the above directions to can and seal the jars.

 

Homemade Sweet Cream Butter

  

 
 Homemade Butter
 
Homemade butter is simple–I learned how to make it in pre-school.  It requires just a little bit of cream and some sweat equity to produce.  Nothing tastes better on warm bread or vegetables.
 
1 cup heavy cream, cold
salt
 
In a clean, pint-size jar with a lid, pour the cream.  If you want your butter salted, add a pinch of salt or more, to taste.  Close the lid tightly, and shake vigorously until you no longer hear or feel movement in the jar.  This should take about 5 minutes.  That’s it!  You’re done.  Keep refrigerated as you would with any butter.
 
Naturally, butter is the color of cream.  If you want it to be yellow–but why would you– add a tiny bit of yellow food coloring when you add the salt.  That’s what gives the boxed stuff it’s color, and also why some brands are yellower than others.  Salt is the other free agent.  Different producers put different amounts of salt in their butter, which is why some are saltier than others. 
 
If you want to add other flavors, such as dry herbs or spices, add them in at the same time you add the cream and salt.  Have fun and play with different flavors.
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Categories: BAKING, Food, Texas

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24 Comments on “Simple Isn’t Always Easy”

  1. Katrinaa Walters
    2012/02/03 at 12:47 pm #

    That was nice, Christine. Thank you. I am not ashamed to say that I still make most of my own home-canned preserves. This made me remember my grand parents and great grandparents… when the bacon grease either got used or got poured into the grease crock on the stove / fridge to use later.

    • 2012/02/03 at 2:14 pm #

      Katrina,

      Thanks for responding…

      My great great grandma used to fry her chicken in bacon grease. Nothing went to waste!

  2. Ginger Friesenhahn
    2012/02/03 at 1:21 pm #

    I remember making peach and plum jellies and jams with my dear, sweet mama. I sure miss her and those days with her in our farmhouse kitchen!

    • 2012/02/03 at 2:14 pm #

      And they always taste better when you work so hard to make them!

  3. 2012/02/03 at 2:31 pm #

    It’s the simple things in life that bring the most pleasure, aren’t they? It’s amazing how far we’ve come with technology and the such – but life just seems to get busier and busier with it all! Love the butter and jam recipes =) Perfect for those biscuits!

  4. 2012/02/03 at 2:38 pm #

    Wonderful post. My husband and I are striving to get closer to living self sufficiently and so many people don’t realize how much MORE work that entails, just like in “olden days”. But it’s so worth it.
    As someone who makes homemade breads, jams and butter, I loved all the things you showcased here. Again… great post and definitely buzzed 🙂

    • 2012/02/03 at 2:55 pm #

      Janet,

      Thanks much! Have you tried making soap? Very fun–like cooking, but no calories….I always think, if there was a global meltdown of some sort, I could still feed my family, and we would also have soap…

      Christine

  5. 2012/02/03 at 4:07 pm #

    What a great post!! Sometimes I really enjoy spending all day in the kitchen! Especially when I’m rewarded with biscuits like these!

  6. 2012/02/03 at 4:18 pm #

    The author Elie Weisel once wrote that it’s not enough to know that society isn’t working – it takes everyone not buying into it for it to change. Which is SO true! We are so much busier than ever before and it seems impossible to make it any other way though… I do enjoy the days when life slows down a little though!

  7. 2012/02/03 at 4:53 pm #

    You had me at bisquits! This sounds perfect and I agree simple isnt always easy.

  8. 2012/02/03 at 5:11 pm #

    Aahhh–the good old days. Great post about waxing poetic about those “simpler times.” I often wonder if I would have survived it?

    • 2012/02/05 at 6:34 am #

      Eliot, you can bake with this butter with a few changes. At this point, it is a soft whipped butter, and still contains the liquid whey, making the moisture content too high for baking.

      First of all, make it with your mixer, I would quadruple the recipe and use a quart of cream. Using a whisk attachment, Beat it until it’s stiff, and then keep beating it. After a sort time, you will start to see clear liquid running from the mass. Scrape down your bowl and beat a few minutes longer until you seem to have beaten all of the whey out. Turn your mixing bowl at an angle, and using a rubber spatula, start pressing butter up to the top side of the bowl, squeezing out the whey and allowing it to run to the bottom of the bowl. Pour it out as it build up. Do this for a few minutes, kneading the butter with the spatula, until no more whey is being expressed. Voila, butter!

  9. 2012/02/03 at 5:40 pm #

    Both versions of the plum jams are calling to me. When plum season comes – I will have this ready, waiting and bookmarked. It’s a mixed bag, isn’t it? Undeniably, many things are better. But you lose a little something even as you gain.

  10. 2012/02/04 at 12:41 am #

    Oh my gosh! I think if I had to do all that stuff everyday then I would probably just stay in bed! What troopers our great-grandparents were eh? I suppose we’re just so used to having everything giving to us these days that we don’t even think about how difficult it might be to do EVERYTHING from scratch. I never knew making butter was so easy though! Can you use this butter in baking as well? Like to make buttercream or in pastry?

  11. Veronica Gantley
    2012/02/04 at 6:56 am #

    There is nothing better than a homemade biscuit. I still make berry jams and applebutter and give them away for christmas. Thanks for sharing.

  12. 2012/02/05 at 2:37 am #

    Great read. You’re right, even though we have convenience doesn’t mean we still don’t enjoy making things from scratch – I think we all crave being creative and making things. I’ll have to try your butter recipe – looks great.

  13. 2012/02/05 at 5:37 pm #

    Old school ways still have it going on. But, where in the hell can I get a scone at a drive-thru?

  14. 2012/05/28 at 8:31 am #

    Loved this! Sure makes you appreciate our progenitors.

  15. Jan Rörschåch
    2012/05/28 at 9:26 am #

    Brought my own grandmother back. She was the last person I knew who knew the art of cooking on a wood stove. Thank you, thank you.

  16. 2012/05/28 at 9:40 am #

    Great read! Just this morning I was bemoaning the fact that our plums are giving a bonus crop this year and I wish someone would come pick the surplus.
    Can’t seem to give them away, which is really sad. I have enough jam and plum butter for us for the year. If I will pick and deliver, people would be nappy to take them… but I no longer drive.
    Picked a half gallon of blackberries this morning, they are just getting going, but soon will have all we need, even with refriteration and a freezer 😉
    The garden is doing good and there will soon be ‘plenty’ from there too.

  17. 2012/05/28 at 11:11 am #

    I remember when I was a kid is Washington. My moms and her friend would spend all day making preserves after the day before, we spent picking berries. Such a good read it brought memories.

  18. 2012/05/28 at 1:28 pm #

    I’m going to give the butter-making a try. The last time I attempted biscuits,..well lets just say if you needed some nice smelling small oval rocks, I had some lol. But as I look at your recipe, I see I left out a key ingredient. Thanks for the post, that plum jam sounds great!

  19. 2012/05/28 at 7:13 pm #

    Well said!

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