Category Archives: Recipes from the garden

Snowed In Atlanta, 2014

On January 28, 2014, thousands of Atlanta commuters became stranded on the interstate in two inches of snow and ice. Many mocked, pointed fingers, shifted blame and acted entirely unsouthern as the rest of the world watched (and giggled) while city-slickers struggled to get home. Saturday Night Live even featured Atlanta in a skit. It is a must-watch. Click the link here. The skit is funny because the first vehicle in the ditch near my house was a white “Esca-lada.” 


The forecast for Wednesday isn’t pretty. Forecasters are predicting a “catastrophic event.” I learned today the term means that the National Weather Service expects ice so thick that emergency crews can not rescue you, should you loose your mind and hit the highways tomorrow. Hundreds of National Guardsmen are on standby, ready to take those with medical needs to the hospital.

Atlanta residents are being told to “hunker down” as this ice storm has decided to test our resilience and storm preparation once again. Governor Nathan Deal has spoken, as has Mayor Kasim Reed. The messages is clear, “by midnight on Tuesday, be in a location and plan on staying at that location for two days.” Citizens are being warned to gather provisions, firewood, water, batteries and food. This time, with the world watching, residents are paying attention. It’s our time to show people that Atlanta folk aren’t a bunch of city-sissies.

We do however want winter to end. A few hours ago #endwinternow was trending on Twitter.

Even the School Administrators have taken notice, cancelling classes (although it should be mentioned that students will have to make up these classes. Atlanta does not have snow days built into the schedule). Companies have sent their employees home, encouraging them to work from home if possible.

So instead of being snowed out of our homes, this time we are snowed in. And when snowed in there is really only one thing we can do . . .


Under the advisement of elected officials, we visited the grocery store and piled buggies high with important provisions: milk, bread, bananas, and BACON! We waited in line patiently for gas, bought cat litter (even though we don’t have a feline in our home). We filled the bathtub with water, piled firewood at the door, and made a mad dash to the bookstore because Governor Deal told everyone, “this ice storm is a perfect chance to read a good book.”

You’ve gotta appreciate a Governor who uses an ice storm to promote reading.

The people of Atlanta are hunkered.

My Western North Carolina people are hunkering experts. I grew up with a pantry full of tomatoes, green beans and corn all ready should an emergency arise. In less than twenty minutes the women in my family could whip up a pot of vegetable soup big enough to feed a crew of linemen tasked with restoring power.

We did that many times, fed the power company men. We prayed for them too. We still do today.

Yesterday, neither the Gov’nah, nor the Mayor needed to tell me to get ready. While my husband said, “What’s the big deal? It’s going to be above freezing on Thursday,” I stacked wood, unloaded groceries, and placed water bottles in the freezer. At my house everything is ready.

I am sufficiently hunkered.

So today, while some residents made that last mad dash to the grocery store to purchase hot dog buns (because bread was gone two days ago), this little mountain girl put on a pot of beans.044


Soup beans.

October beans.


Slice onions, sprinkle with Tabasco and pop in the microwave for two minutes

Whatever you call them, they taste the same . . . delicious.

This bowl made even more delicious with a layer of spicy onion and a wedge of cornbread.

So tell me dear ones, what are you cooking up fpr this winter storm?

If you’re snowed in like the rest of us, I would be honored if you’d download a copy of my work. Visit the links below

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at 

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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Recipes from the garden


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Gluten-free Gumbo

With frigid temperatures blanketing most of the Northeast, and the Super Bowl countdown underway, today I thought I’d share a delicious and satisfying gumbo recipe. For those who love gumbo, but can no longer tolerate gluten, take heart, you won’t even miss the roux, I promise. I can almost hear my Cajun friends. “Gumbo without roux. . . that’s sacrilegious. ”

Oh contraire mon frère, life without gumbo, now that’s sacrilegious.

Equipment: Cast Iron Skillet and gumbo pot


1 bag frozen sliced okra (in the summer use two cups of fresh)carolinapridesausage

1 large onion

2 cans chicken broth

2 Tablespoons chopped garlic

1 large bell pepper (any color)

1 large jalapeno (or more, depending on your tolerance)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Bay leaf (you just have to include a bay leaf)

2 Cans Chopped Tomatoes (or 1 quart jar of tomatoes from your garden)

Tabasco sauce (quantity depending on your tolerance)

2 pounds Carolina Pride Smoked Sausage

2 pounds of shrimp (gulf-coast shrimp only) Note: Add it last



Creole or Gumbo seasoning of your choice

Cooked ricegumbo1

A Bit of History: Before I start chopping, I have to tell you about the Carolina Pride Company. When my husband went on the Atkins- low carb-high protein diet-I wanted to make sure the meats I prepared contained the least amount of preservatives possible. Standing in front of the smoked sausages, I read the labels. Are you a label reader? You really should be. It’s scary stuff. Finding a smoked sausage that did not contain MSG was nigh on impossible, then I read the back of the Carolina Pride Smoked Sausage. No MSG. Well now, I already knew this company: Southern to the core from Greenwood South Carolina, this company has been around since 1920. So for me, it’s only Carolina Pride for my family. With that out of the way let’s get to chopping.

Note: Instead of stirring a roux for hours, you will use a pot and a skillet.

Instructions: I like to do all of my chopping, slicing, and can opening as prep work. Then add everything when necessary. Dice the onions and peppers and set them aside. Slice the sausage into bite sized pieces.

Heat cast iron skillet and pour2 generous tablespoons of olive oil into the skillet. Add sausage. Cooking the sausage first releases the flavors. Partially brown the sausage in the skillet and then transfer into the pot. Turn heat on low.

Still using the skillet, add onions and chopped peppers. Cooking the vegetables immediately after the sausage allows the vegetables to absorb the yummy flavor from the Carolina Pride Sausage. Cook until the onions become translucent.

Now the trick: transfer the vegetables into the gumbo pot and deglaze your skillet. Turn the heat on the skillet to high. Pour in one can of chicken broth. This “deglazes” the skillet, releasing the remnants of yummy flavors. Pour stock into pot.

You are now done with the skillet.

Pour canned tomatoes into pot and stir. Adjust heat to medium.

Add bay leaf, frozen okra and second can of chicken broth.

Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes or until okra is the consistency you like.

Taste. Add pepper, salt, creole seasoning and Tabasco to your liking.

Then, the shrimp is added last. Because shrimp cooks fast, I always add it last. This will keep your shrimp moist and not rubbery. Shrimp is done when it turns a beautiful pink color.

Spoon over rice. Enjoy the gumbo and do let me hear your thoughts about this recipe.

Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for reading my blog.  Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at 


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North Carolina White Sweet Potatoes, It’s What’s For Breakfast

Once frost coats the punkin’ and Thanksgiving is behind me, I enjoy sweet potato chips for breakfast every morning. In fact, this blog post was very difficult for me to write. I am in a hurry for breakfast, impatient as I sprinkle cinnamon sugar and snap photos. But I wanted to share this delicious treat with you, my readers. Sweet potato chips can’t be beat. I’m not talking about chips made from yams. No sir. Chips (and fries) made from yams are almost always soggy. Shudder.

I am talking about the rural western North Carolina delicacy, the white sweet potato. My folk bake sweet “taters” in the oven, peel, and serve with a hunk of butter mashed in real good. Back in the day, most western North Carolina folk survived on sweet potatoes, packed them in their lunch pail, ate them with supper. When I learned that Billy Albertson had never tried a white sweet potato-found out that he was a yam man- I was on a one-woman mission to remedy that situation. My dad’s been growing these taters for years. He gets his “slips,” which are the sprouts necessary to grow the potato, from a local boy who lives in the community where Dad grew up. Are they organic and not genetically modified? You bet your life they are.

After introducing Billy Albertson to the white sweet potato, he also fell in love with the tender fleshy meat. So in 2011 we began growing white sweet taters, but had a dickens of a time convincing red clay folk to give them a try. They preferred yams. Now don’t get me wrong, yams (or sweet potatoes) have a place. Yes sir. mash them up real good, add some cinnamon, sprinkle with pecan topping and you’ve got the most delicious dish to grace the Thanksgiving table.

At least that’s my opinion.

Yams are stringy, strong in flavor and should be in a different category when compared to western North Carolina white sweet potatoes.

nov2013 163

Don’t let the ridges fool you folk. Take a peek inside.

Now if you’ll notice in this picture Dad’s white sweet potatoes have a thick dark skin with ridges on the outside.  That scared the red clay folk who were used to thin skinned, orange yams. Billy says the skin is thick on account of the soil, says the dirt is rich because of all that mountain organic matter dad adds (every single year). Billy says red clay grows a thinner skinned potato, and the hotter temperatures make a difference too. Another item of note is the size. White sweet potatoes are small, sometimes growing only as large as your finger. Hence the fancy name “fingerling potatoes.” Those are my favorite for baking. Larger ones are sliced for chips.

When slicing a sweet potato it is best to submerge the coin-shaped-slivers in water, or immediately begin the cooking process. As you see, with the potato on the left, they discolor speedy-quick. But don’t worry, discoloration does not alter the flavor. In fact, I am always worried about a potato that doesn’t darken when sliced. Makes me worry that someone has been tinkering in the gene pool, if you know what I mean.For those who would like to try their hand at making the chips, here is the recipe and a few more photos to guide you through the process:

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2 white sweet potatoes

1 Tablespoon butter (more if potatoes are large)

1-2 Tablespoons Cinnamon Sugar

The Baking Process:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.nov2013 167

Dot sheet with butter and place in oven so butter will melt.

Slice potatoes and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Arrange potato slices on sheet so that they are not touching. Place in oven.

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Notice the shiny potato in this picture? That means it has not baked enough. Give it another 5 to 7 minutes.

Bake 20 minutes, or until slices are no longer soggy. Note baking time depends on how thick you slice potatoes. It may be necessary to remove thinner potatoes early. And yes, it is perfectly acceptable to eat those immediately. Life is short. Why wait?

Remove from oven, place on paper towel which will absorb excess butter.

nov2013 174

Local folk can purchase sweet potatoes from Billy located on Hardscrabble Road. Please note their availability is extremely limited. Once gone it will be November before you see them again.

Have you ever tried a white sweet potato? Please feel free to send me your favorite recipe.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories; True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Please download her e-book short story collection today. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. If you liked this recipe stay tuned. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at


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Potato Soup on a Cold Day

A dusting of white snow shocked me this morning as I approached my baby tomato seeds. Each morning I check on their progress. I bet today, the warm-and-toasty seedlings appreciated the added warmth from the Christmas Tree Lights. Last night, Old Man Winter blew through the Atlanta area leaving a scattering of snow.

Merciful heavens, doesn’t Mr. Winter know we don’t “do” snow here in the ATL?

So today, with the wind gusts whipping the pines, I opted to cook up a bowl of hearty potato soup. Potato soup is a quick and satisfying meal. Seasoned with ham scraps I keep frozen, curling your hands around a bowl of this scrumptious dish is satisfying.


Three large potatoes (baking potatoes will do)

2 Tablespoons plain flour

¼ cup flour

2 cups milk

Pieces of ham (chopped)

Salt and pepper to taste

Shredded cheddar cheese


Chop potatoes into bite size pieces. Don’t forget to add a dash of salt.

The Process:

Peel potatoes then chop them into bite size pieces. Cook in saucepan with approximately one quart of water (or enough to cover the potatoes). Add 1 teaspoon of salt during this process. Boil potatoes until you can stick them with a fork. Taste for doneness.

While potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a cast-iron skillet. Add flour and stir well then add one cup of milk and stir well.


Image of rue. Add this to the potatoes after they are completely cooked.

Image of rue. Add this to the potatoes after they are completely cooked.







Incorporating this “rue” makes a thick, rich soup.

If necessary, drain the potatoes and then add the rue and one cup of additional milk.

Stir gently to prevent sticking.

Chop ham and add to soup.

Note: to maintain the texture of the ham, add it at the end of the cooking process.

Save tiny pieces of your Christmas or Easter ham. Use them to season soup and beans. Yum !

Save tiny pieces of your Christmas or Easter ham. Use them to season soup and beans. Yum !












Garnish with cheese and enjoy.

Potato soup. The perfect one-dish meal for those unexpected snow days.

Potato soup. The perfect one-dish meal for those unexpected snow days.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at

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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Recipes from the garden


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Those Delicious Dilly Beans

Laugh if you will at jars of Dilly Beans. Whisper behind your hand into the ear of another, “that Renea is country come to town.” Go ahead, whispers don’t bother me. As we say back home, “you’re just leaving more for us.”

People have laughed at my Dilly Beans. Those million-dollar home kind of folk, the kind that turn up their nose and have no idea what they are missing. True foodies, those that embrace heritage, appreciate the sacred relationship formed when Dilly Bean lovers open a can.

Each spring I travel to Ladd’s farm supply in Cartersville, Georgia and load tiny paper envelopes with beautiful seeds such as rattlesnake, and October beans. I adore beans. I eat them raw, bake them southern style (with a hunk of seasoning meat), and pack them into jars of garlicky brine. It is this process that creates a delectable delicacy called Dilly Beans.074

First, in order to create Dilly Beans you must grow the bean. For the love of humanity, and my personal sanity, please do not attempt to make Dilly Beans using rubbery store-bought beans.

Mercy no !

In Bryson City, North Carolina where I’m from, (and where those million-dollar home folk love to visit, people plant fields of white half runner beans. In the alternative a  “crease back” (also called Greasy Beans) will do. If you want a good Dilly Bean, don’t waste precious space planting a Bush Bean.

While Bush Beans are delicious and have their place at the table, one


must grow a bean that, when mature, has a white bean inside. Full beans resemble fingers. They are crunchy and bursting with flavor. Garlic and dill are two other key ingredients. Both easily grown in most parts of the country, or purchased in stores, if it is an actual emergency.

After picking and rinsing beans, add garlic and dill to the jar. If necessary use a butter knife to press beans together.087

Now it’s time to make the brine, but first a story about how I discovered Dilly Beans (excerpt from my book In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches 2014 release).

I first tried dilly beans at the Sawmill Hill Freewill Baptist Church in my hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina. As ladies unwrapped fried chicken, potato salad, and a bounty of other made-from-scratch dishes, Annie Mae Cooper popped open three wide-mouth jars.

“What are those?” I asked as she placed one jar on each table.

“Dilly beans,” she replied.

I am certain my face revealed confusion. Perhaps I even turned up my nose just a bit which is why she pierced two beans with a silver fork, cupped her hand to collect the dripping brine and approached.

“Just try ’em.”

Crisp and filled with garlic flavor, dilly beans are delicious. They are so scrumptious they have replaced pickles at my house. Annie Mae, thank you for sharing this recipe. It is with great pride that I pass it along to others. If you like dill pickles, you will love this recipe.

Supplies: 4 to 6 pint jars, rings and can lids.


2 pounds unbroken green beans (washed with stems and strings removed)

4 heads fresh dill

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic

2 ½ cups water

2 ½ cups white vinegar

¼ cup pickling salt or kosher salt

Combine water, vinegar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until mixture begins to boil, and salt has dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Place a small sprig of dill and one slice of garlic in the bottom of a glass canning jar. Sprinkle pepper flakes into jars then tightly pack beans lengthwise inside.


Pour liquid into jar. Leave ¼ inch of space at the top. Wipe the jar opening with a clean cloth to remove any trace amounts of moisture. Place a lid on the top, secure lid and tighten ring just enough to seal the jar.

Sealing Instructions: 

Dilly beans are processed in a water bath. No pressure cooker is required. One only needs a large pot with enough headroom to cover the jars with one-half (1/2) inch of water.

To prevent glass from breaking, pour warm water into the pot. Add jars. Make certain water covers the lids. Cover pot with lid and heat water until boiling. Boil in water bath for ten minutes.

Use metal tongs to remove and then place jars on a towel to cool. When the lids make that unmistakable popping sound, they have sealed.

Place any jars that do not seal in the refrigerator. Dilly beans are ready to enjoy three weeks after processing. This time allows the spices to flavor the beans.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love & Tomatoes. Her next release, In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches features delicious recipes like this.


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Sharing Recipes for Christmas


Here are the recipes to match my previous post about traditional baking.

Mint Brownies (Cheater version)

One package Brownie mix

12 small peppermint patties

Directions: Prepare brownie mix according to directions. Pour 2/3 of the batter into the bottom of baking dish. Unwrap peppermint patties and place in batter. Press into batter slightly, pour remaining batter on top and smooth. This is a fast recipe for those last-minute baking needs.

Bake according to package instructions. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Peanut Butter Balls

1 cup Crunchy Creamy Peanut Butter

1 stick butter softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cups powdered sugar (more if mixture is too soft)

½ cup crushed Life Cereal (Maple Flavored)


½ cup crush graham crackers

1 (12 ounce) package  semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon Crisco


  1. Combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on LOW until blended. Add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating until blended add crushed cereal or graham crackers. Mix well.
  2. Shape into 1-inch balls. Refrigerate.
  3. Place chocolate chips and shortening double boiler. This is best done by draping a glass measuring cup over a saucepan that has about 2 inches of water in it. The chips will melt equally and will not burn. Stir in Crisco. The Crisco is added to thin the chocolate.
  4.  Insert toothpick in peanut butter ball. Remove excess chocolate. Place on wax paper-lined tray. Remove toothpick. Smooth over holes. Refrigerate until firm.    

Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup real butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (12 oz) Nestle Toll House Choc Chips
  • 1 Cup Chopped Nuts


 1.    PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees F.

2.    COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheet.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. For gooey cookies bake for 8 minutes.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Recipes from the garden


Comfort Food on a Chilly Spring Day

Comfort Food on a Chilly Spring Day

Once again, temperatures have dipped to unseasonable lows, forcing us to crank up the heat, unpack the sweaters, and seek comfort in our favorite food. For me, a steamy pot of pinto beans is perfect.

Soon, we will experience a “field to fork” dinner of fresh beans. Until then, preparing a delicious pot of “soup beans” is easy and does not take all day.

First, rinse beans and leave them in a bowl of water for approximately ten minutes while you gather the cookware and containers for extra water. I like to keep a quart of water beside the pot. That way, each time I pass through the kitchen I add more water.

Beans, as you know, have a tendency to boil dry speedy quick.

Bring two quarts of water to a boil add 2 cups of beans and allow them to come to a rolling boil. Stir well. Reduce heat. Cover and allow to simmer.

After simmering for one hour, increase heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, a hefty shake of pepper and more water. Return to a boil (this will take only a moment). Cover and reduce heat. When beans reach the desired consistency it is time to prepare the seasoning.

Instead of adding fat back or a ham hock at the beginning of the process, cook four pieces of bacon until crunchy. Drain on a paper towel. Chop one small onion and (here’s the BIG secret) two entire stalks of garlic; not the bulb, the entire garlic from the bulb to the green tip.

In a cast-iron skillet, add a nickel-sized drop of olive oil, the onion and garlic. For those who like spicy beans you could add a Jalapeno pepper at this stage.

Cook for two minutes or until onion becomes translucent. Crumble Bacon into the mixture. Stir this into beans and allow to simmer until ready to serve.

Dear Ones, trust me when I say that these beans are so good you’ll be repeating a phrase my grandpa used to say, “this is so good my tongue is about to slap my brains out!”

*Note: Dried beans can be prepared in a Crock Pot. Boil the water in a different container, pour into the Crock Pot, add beans and cook on high.

Keep gardening, and cooking.

Renea Winchester is an award-winning author of, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love & Tomatoes. She frequently speaks to book clubs and gardening clubs about how gardening builds communities.She is currently working on, In the Kitchen with Billy.  Her books are traditionally published and available through independent publishers as well as online distributors. Visit her at

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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Recipes from the garden


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Fall is in the Air at Billy’s

Despite enduring another hot-dry summer in Atlanta, I’ll admit when the earth turns away from the sun I begin to get sad.The summer passed too fast. “Those people” who said, “the older you get, the faster time passes,” were right!

This has been a busy week. I had planned to finish proofing the manuscript for my next book titled: Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author, but you know what they say about plans.  I was deeply focused when the telephone rang.

“I’ve picked six bucket of figs. Do you think you can put them up?”

Figs, lots and lots of figs !

I knew this call was coming which was why I posted a Facebook announcement, practically begging people to go to Billy’s and buy figs (pears too). But alas, no one came.

Reluctantly, and I do mean very reluctantly, I stepped away from editing, packed my car with jars, posted an SOS on Facebook that said, “If you want pears (or figs), come to Billy’s.” Fortunately, Jennifer Carver responded. I’ll blog about her adventure later.

“Canning” figs after a rain is a difficult process. Figs must be harvested within  a few hours after the rain or they begin to sour on the vine. Add to this a higher water content and you have a recipe for a long, hard day hovering over a steaming pot of figs praying for them to thicken.

Eventually, I ran out of time (6 hours later) and had to settle for figs that weren’t as thick as I would have liked. Fig “preserves” at Billy’s do not “set-up” like typical jam. We use no preservatives: instead equal parts sugar/figs with a squeeze of lemon juice to add a bit of acid, is all we use. Because of this preservative-free process, once the jar has been opened it is best to consume it all or keep it in the refrigerate and use in a few days.

Additionally, my kitchen table is adorned with beautiful peaches from the Grier Orchard. The last of the peaches to be exact.

Last Saturday, I drove an hour and a half (one way) to get “the last” of the peaches. It was worth every dollar in gas and second of my time. I will not convert these peaches to jam. Instead, I enjoy two delicious each morning while silently mourning the dwindling amount.

This is why the fall season hurts me. Trees become naked. Local fresh fruit: non-existent. Truly, I believe it is the lack of fresh fruits and vegies in the winter that make us feel so badly. That and (I’ve discovered) the older I get, the more I need to be warmed by the sun.

But there’s hope. Praise God I have some late beans coming along. I’ve also convinced a couple of cucumber vines to grow. I’ve done this by keeping them protected with large jars until the vines begin reaching for something to climb. I’ve also planted them in a container. My prayer is that once they bloom and begin to produce tiny cukes, I can trick them into living indoors.

I know, I know, but please humor me. Soon I’ll be in denial. I also have a tomato plant I’m hoping to move indoors as well.

Are you planning to grow vegies indoors? Are you hoping to extend the growing season? Do you have any ideas to share?

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. She may be reached at


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Peach Jam

Peach Jam

By Renea Winchester

Over the next month, during the height of the “canning season,” I invite ya’ll to join me in the kitchen as I prepare jams and “put up” our bountiful harvest. I’ll begin with Georgia’s pride and joy, the peach.

I could embark on a journey filled with peachy memories, but honestly there’s no time. My kitchen table is full of ripe peaches; they won’t last long.

Perfect Jam begins with the perfect recipe

The most important “ingredient” in this process is The Ball Blue Book Easy Guide to Tasty, Thrifty Home Canning and Freezing. Acquiring this book is high priority. Do not, repeat NOT purchase a recent edition. I prefer Edition 28 (Copyright 1966…Lithographed in U.S.A.) This edition spells syrup, “sirup” and contains recipes like grandma made. Other crucial ingredients required are: fruit, sugar, lemons, jars, lids, and patience.

Tip: This is very important. Do NOT slice all the fruit at once. I purchased a bushel of peaches believing I could “put up” the entire bushel in one day. After all, I’ve watched it done, how hard can it be? Trust me, do not slice an entire bushel of fruit at once.

Tip Two: Equally as important, do not double the recipe. Prepare one “batch” place it in glass jars, seal, clean utensils then repeat. It is remarkable how the slightest change in barometric pressure or fruit quality can affect the end product.

With this in mind, lets begin.

Step One: Preparing Fruit. Instructions inside boxes of pectin advise, “use ripe fruit free of blemishes.” It is impossible to transport fruit without at least one peach getting a “blemish.” Fruit is fragile. It will bruise. Wash the peaches then remove the “bad spots.” Slice peaches accordingly. Also, a quick word about ripeness, if peaches are very ripe (meaning soft), they will disintegrate during the boiling process, resulting in jelly, not jam. For this reason, toward the end of the cooking process, I always toss in a handful of fruit that is less-than-fully ripe.

Step Two: Slicing Fruit

Cube or slice the fruit (your preference) and place in a bowl. Immediately squeeze the juice of a lemon over the fruit.  The lemon’s acid prevents browning. I never, under and circumstance ever, crush the peaches (as instructed in some pectin recipes). Texture, of course, is a personal preference.

An Aside: At this point peach juice should be trickling down your elbow. You have my permission to lick it off.

Step Three: Should You Use Pectin?

Most fruits will jell without adding store-bought pectin. If you decide to use pectin, remember to follow the recipe inside the box. Some recipes instruct you to add the pectin first, others require that the fruit mixture be boiling before pectin is added. The order in which the pectin is added does matter. Additionally, you might want to add a thin slice of butter to prevent “foaming.” Foam isn’t harmful and can be skimmed off before jam is poured into jars.

Step Four: Waiting and Stirring

While the peach mixture is coming to a boil, now is the time to heat the jars. Place a large pot on the stove and add enough water to raise the water level to ½ an inch. Place the rings in the water (rubber side down) and place a clean glass jar on top as shown in the photo. Turn the stove eye on medium-high. Jars should become warm, but the water should not boil. Heating the jars prevents them from breaking when you add hot liquid.   Don’t forget to stir the peaches with a wooden spoon. You do not want them to stick to the bottom of the pan and scortch.

Step Five: Stirring until Boiling

When you first add the fruit to the pot it will be thick and almost dry. DO NOT ADD WATER. Sugar will adhere to the fruit and begin to liquefy as soon as the temperature increases. Carefully stir the fruit. Stirring the mixture is an important process in making any preserve. Don’t allow heavy chunks of fruit to stick to the bottom of the pot or it will burn. Ideally, you want the mixture to come to a boil slowly, which can happen anywhere between ten to twenty minutes. 

Step Six: How To Tell When Jam Is Ready. The Freezer Test

After the mixture begins to boil, you’ll notice most of the fruit liquefies. This is when I add the extra less-ripe fruit to keep the jam “chunky.”

It is important to test the jam before adding it to the jars. Using a metal spoon, remove a small amount and place the spoon in the freezer. Turn the heat down to low while the mixture cools. If the jam is ready it will feel “tacky” to the touch.

Another Aside: It is perfectly proper to lick the spoon. Just wash it before reusing.

NOTE: Some cooking will occur during the water bath process, and it can take up to two weeks for jams and jellies to “set up.” Keep that in mind when doing the freezer test to prevent jam you have to cut with a saw.

Step Seven: Filling the Jars                      

Using a glass measuring cup, fill warm jars with hot jam. Fill to the bottom rim of the jar (which allows ½ inch headspace). Wipe the jar clean. Place the hot lid on top of the jar and fasten ring tight, but not over-tight.


Step Eight: Almost Finished Return jars to a pot that has at least an inch of hot water in it. Gently place the filled jars into the pot. Slowly add more water until the jars are covered with at least ½ inch of water. Bring water to boil. Boil for ten minutes. Then remove from heat.

Step Nine: Remove From Water and Admire

Using tongs, remove jar from hot water and GENTLY place the jar—lid side up—on a towel that is on the counter. Do not store jars upside down. Most jars will seal within minutes. For any jars that do not seal. Unscrew the top, wipe the mouth of the jar clean and reprocess them in the water bath. If they still do not seal, place them in the refrigerator and eat immediately.


Posted by on August 31, 2010 in Recipes from the garden


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