Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rose Petal Jam

The backyard roses seem to be done for a while.  Not sure if the smaller bushes in the front will put out enough for me to make another batch of rose petal jam or not.  In my quest to make the most of the urban homestead (aka dad's house), I have been looking for new ideas for what to do with roses.  The lemons and grapefruit are done for a few months.  The peas are petering out in the heat.  The tomatoes, melons and squash are still in their early stages.  I've dried about five gallon bags of rose petals, put up 2 quarts of rose petal jam, (we've already eaten almost a quart), and I have a quart jar of dried rose hips to use for jam and/or syrup for fall.  We've enjoyed vases of roses in every room of the house for the last 2 months.  I was hoping for enough rose petals for another batch of jam and an experiment with infused oil, but looks like this is it for now.  Looks like the family won't have to suffer through trying a few rose petals in the salad, either.  Yet.

I like the rose petal jam for several reasons.  It uses up rose petals.  Its sensual aroma permeates the house while it's cooking.  All that are needed are rose petals, one whole lemon, including seeds (another use for the lemons from dad's tree), water and sugar.  It has a light, delicate flavor.  Did I mention that it's a product we can nearly wholly produce in the back yard?  Roses, lemons, done.

I found several recipes in an online search, and I picked out two that looked the simplest.  Before I share my own tweak on the formula, I'd like to note a couple of items I ran into in making two separate batches of the jam.

- I used only backyard roses.  We had plenty of commercial roses around, due to mom's funeral, but I did not feel comfortable with using them for a food product.  Our backyard roses are not sprayed or fertilized, just mulched.

- use only perfect, clean petals.  Rinse well, tear off any wilted spots.  I did not find it necessary to remove the white bottom part, it did not seem to affect my product with any bitterness.  Use your judgement - take a taste test!

- if not using right away, cover with water and store in fridge up to 3 days.  After that I found the rose petals to be in a less than desirable condition.

- use a fresh lemon, or homemade juice.  You want the seeds, too, because they contribute the pectin.  The juice contributes acidity.  Do not overdo the lemon juice.  My first batch was a bit tart for the guys, but I liked it.  The second batch was better, but still slightly tart.  My next batch I will cut the juice a bit more.  My juice was made with the Jack LaLanne juicer, so it contains everything - peel, pulp, juice and seeds.  It is highly concentrated (and makes awesome lemonade!).  I used 3T for my second round, and plan to cut that back to 2T next time.

- it takes quite a while to cook off the water, but do not overcook.  You can tell when you've gone too far, the color darkens and the flavor is not as light and sweet.  It is a bit tricky to bring the jam to just the right stage where it will gel but not carmelize.

Now for the recipe:

Rose Petal Jam

1/2 pound rose petals (I used all colors, the result was a nice deep rose hue)
2 cups sugar
2cups water (I will reduce to 1 1/2 on my next batch to try to shorten cooking time)
juice of 2 lemons, with seeds (or 2T lemon concentrate)

Layer clean rose petals in a bowl with about half the sugar.  Bruise them well with clean hands (this releases the flavor oils).  When they are completely crushed with the sugar, cover and let sit overnight in fridge.

The next morning, combine the rest of the sugar with 2 cups water and the lemon juice.  Dissolve over low heat.  Stir in rose petals and bring to a boil.  Simmer 20 minutes.  Bring to a rolling boil and continue to cook at a rolling boil until mixture thickens.  If sugar begins to carmelize (darken) before you think it is thick enough, remove from heat immediatedly.  If you continue the jam will develop an unpleasant flavor.  Remove lemon seeds if you were using lemon juice instead of concentrate.  Pour into jelly jars, seal and label.  If not being used right away, use proper canning methods to seal jars.  If jam does not set up, it can still be used as a delicate, flavorful syrup for ice cream and pancakes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Sewing Circle

My mom learned to sew at her mother's knee.  As a child, it was part of survival - she had to make her own clothes.  As a young adult, it was part of frugality - she made beautiful and stylish clothes for herself and me, without having to spend alot of money.  As a grandmother, she enjoyed making clothes for my children.  Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became art.  Mom took up quilting, then got into machine embroidery.  It was all upgrades from there.  As each new machine came out she just had to get it.  But she just couldn't bring herself to let go of the old one because "it does some things that the new one doesn't".

When I started putting the machines away after her death, I counted five.  Plus three sergers.  Mom thought she had allocated all her machines, but she really had only made arrangements for three.  A machine and serger for my daughter, a machine for my daughter-in-law, and the newest model for me.  That left five orphans.  One machine and serger I decided to leave right where they were in the original sewing room (mom had branched out into several locations around the house).  This way I have something to work on when I'm visiting dad.  I put my daughter's machines in the shed, gave my daughter-in-law her machine and cabinetry, and brought a machine and serger home to give to a good friend and sewing pal.  As I am still learning all the bells and whistles on the embroidery machine mom gave me several years ago, I convinced my cousin that she needed to take the newest machine and delve into machine embroidery.  It will be good for her, all her children have flown the nest.

I brought most of the excess cabinetry home with me to replace my crafting table, which is an old door set up on two non-working box fans, and the old camp table with the wobbly legs.  Now I'm getting into the stash.  Oh, right, mom said now it's called "resources".  At any rate, there's a whole bunch of it.  Mom's sewing library filled up six file boxes.  Her embroidery software is taking up another five, not including the designs she saved on a dozen flash drives.  And thread, stabilizers and fabrics?  Well, maybe not as much, but let's just say that it oughtta be enough to last each of us well into learning how to use our machines, with enough left over to supply several other sewists to boot.

I know I could have just packed it all up and dropped it off at Goodwill.  I'm sure it would have blessed somebody.  But knowing my mom's love for her craft, and her desire to share that with us girls, I just had to find good homes for all her cherished investments.  I hope, with mom, that the girls will someday enjoy the relaxing hum of the sewing machine and delight in creating a beautiful piece of embroidered art.  I know my cousin and I will.  I know two sewing friends who will also be enjoying brightly colored threads, fabrics and notions.  I know six women who will have enough sewing reference and how to books to become experts in the field.  And I know one special lady who will be smiling down on our little sewing circle, and maybe - indirectly - offering her input on color combinations, project ideas, and (ahem) upgrades.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Overcoming Math Frustration - Review

Long before Algebra, mathematics becomes the Achilles' heel of many homeschool families.  If only there were some way to make math tolerable!  Susan Evans shares her experiences and suggestions for not only making math tolerable, but even (gasp!) fun!  In little more than an hour, Overcoming Math Frustration will breathe new life into your math program with:

- 11 ways to overcome math frustration
- a comparison of 4 popular math programs and
- hands on ideas to get kids more excited about math.

One of the biggest reinforcements I got from listening to the workshop was to have children do some strenuous exercise right before starting their math.  I had started this with my own son a few weeks before, and it really has made a difference.  The exercise gets his blood pumping and his mind functioning and ready to focus on the most difficult task of the day - sitting and concentrating on math for 1-2 hours.  I enjoyed the comparison of the 4 math programs.  We seem to be doing quite well with Saxon math at this point, so since it's not broke...I do remember having issues with Saxon with my older children, though.  Ms. Evan's hands on ideas are good reminders for veteran homeschoolers and excellent helps for beginners.  Putting math into practice in everyday life is probably the most helpful way to get kids excited about learning their sums.  May I suggest a sequel?  How to get your child excited about Algebra/Trig/Calculus;)

Raised in Guatemala, Susan earned her Bachelor's degree in English in the United States, and has taught in public schools here and in London, England, where she was also a middle school Drama director.  In this audio workshop, Susan gives dozens of tips from her own experience as a public school teacher, as well as a homeschooling mom of four.  She is unashamed to give all credit for her successes to God, and to accept all responsibility for her shortcomings.

In addition to Overcoming Math Frustration $5.50, Susan Evans has a number of other excellent audio and video products available for download.  All of her products are backed by a 60 day money-back guarantee.  The MP3 files were a snap to download and add to my Ipod.  For less than the price of a half gallon of ice cream, you can wake up your children's brain cells and help them feel good about math again!

I received a free copy of Overcoming Math Frustration to listen to and post my thoughts.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Last week's swarm of bees was successfully relocated.  We had to wait until dusk, as the bees were fairly active and easily agitated during the day.  Once the sun started setting, however, they went back to their "nesting" behaviour and their apparent sluggishness.  It was then fairly easy to dig a circle around them, lift dirt, bees and all into a bucket, and transport them to a more remote location.  We sprayed a light mist of water over them when they became agitated from the digging, which prevented them from swarming us.

 Though I suspect they did not survive the poisoning that drove them into our yard in the first place, I feel we did everything we could to give them a chance at survival, and I hope at least a few did manage to make a new home.