What I did on my summer vacation and Freezer Jam

Summer is officially over *sob*…. I know a lot of you out there love fall, the changing leaves, pumpkin flavored everything, the crisp morning air. I enjoy those things too, but I still need a little time to mourn the ending of summer. The title of this post is a bit misleading, it sounds like I was on vacation ALL summer, which could not be further from the truth. Like most working stiffs out there, I spent the majority of the summer stuck inside an air conditioned building doing the 9-5 thing. On the other hand, I was very lucky to have two glorious weeks of paid vacation in August! Needless to say, I made the absolute most out of my weekends and vacation time and got a decent tan in the process.

Garden Update: Since we have been experiencing frost over night in the last few weeks, gardening weather has come to an end. The tomatoes (scotia and sungold) did amazing! We had more tomatoes than we could eat and gave away lots, the cucumbers also did great, they practically took over half the garden. The strawberries were the sweetest we had ever tasted, and the yellow beans were delicious and the perfect side dish for many meals. The green peppers were small but full of flavor and sweet and we have an abundance of ground cherries (turn them into jam possibly?) Sadly the green beans never made an appearance, only 5 horribly deformed carrots grew and most of the beets are smaller than my thumb. The blueberry and raspberry bushes did bring some fruit, but still have a lot of growing to do. The cantaloupe plant did not survive and one small baby watermelon began to grow but did not make it either 😦

So in the end, I think we did pretty well for first time gardeners! I learned that our soil is sandy and drains well, so watering 1 hour every night is essential (unless it rained that day or over night) and that weeding is necessary but not very fun. I’m also considering a small fence around the garden area to keep out dogs, especially when they are chasing a frisbee. And getting a little dirt under your nails is fun 🙂

Here are a few pictures of the fruits of our labor

Things are starting to grow

Things are starting to grow

First cucumber!

First cucumber!

The most delicious strawberry ever

The most delicious strawberry ever

RIP baby watermelon

RIP baby watermelon

Cucumbers, tomatoes, green pepper and berries

Cucumbers, tomatoes, green pepper and berries

Camping Update : I LOVE camping! Have I mentioned this before? My husband and I are actually planning a short trip to Fundy National Park for this weekend, which will most likely be our last for the year. The forecast for the weekend looks very warm and sunny and we have a furnace in the tent trailer in case it gets chilly at night. Over the summer we managed to go camping several times, we didn’t go very far but visited a lot of new places along the way. We had planned a trip to Grand Manan Island (off the southern coast of NB, near Maine) but never made it, so it’s on our bucket list for next summer. I am also happy to say that my husband loves the tent trailer as much as I do! He was a bit skeptical in the beginning, but I knew he would come around 🙂

We’ve become very skilled at setting up and taking down the trailer in record time (much easier than our old tent) and we’ve also been organizing our gear so that everything fits inside the trailer and can stay in there when not in use. We’ve done a few modifications to maximize our space inside and out, and have eliminated some unnecessary items that were heavy and in the way. We are currently using the other pop out bed (twin size) as storage and have removed the gigantic table that converts into the third bed. Since it’s just the two of us and the dogs we do need any other beds, this makes more room for the dogs to get comfortable and we have more room to move around as well. We purchased a small light weight folding table that we use outside to cook on and we can also bring it inside to use as a kitchen table when it’s raining outside.

So yeah, we’ve got this camping thing figured out! Here are some of my favorite shots from our adventures this summer.

The view from our campsite in Fundy National Park

The view from our campsite in Fundy National Park

Our lovely campsite at PEI National Park (our new favorite spot)

Our lovely campsite at PEI National Park (our new favorite spot)

Herring Cove Beach, Campobello Island, NB

Herring Cove Beach, Campobello Island, NB

Herring Cove Beach, Campobello Island, NB

Herring Cove Beach, Campobello Island, NB

The Subie at Liberty Point, Campobello Island, NB

The Subie at Liberty Point, Campobello Island, NB

Raccoon Beach, Campobello Island, NB

Raccoon Beach, Campobello Island, NB

Cavendish Beach, PEI

Cavendish Beach, PEI

Cavendish Beach, PEI

Cavendish Beach, PEI

Dunelands Trail, PEI National Park

Dunelands Trail, PEI National Park

Cavendish Beach at Sunset, PEI

Cavendish Beach at Sunset, PEI

Homestead Trail, PEI National Park

Homestead Trail, PEI National Park

Cavendish National Park, PEI

Cavendish National Park, PEI

Kouchibouguac National Park, NB

Kouchibouguac National Park, NB

Kouchibouguac National Park, NB

Kouchibouguac National Park, NB

Kouchibouguac National Park, NB

Kouchibouguac National Park, NB

Freezer Jam – Another of my favorite summer activities is making freezer jam. I know at this point I usually share one of my favorite recipes with you, but this time I will just share my jam making expertise! I love jam just as much as I love camping, so it’s a pretty big deal.

Summer time in New-Brunswick means fresh berries, strawberries come first in early July, then raspberries shortly after and blueberries finish off the season. You can find tons of fresh berries for sale at local grocery stores and road side stands, but my favorite spot is the U-Pick. The name is pretty self explanatory, for a fraction of the price you can go to these local farms and pick your own berries. I am proud to say that this is the first summer where I have completed what I like to call the “berry trilogy”, I successfully picked strawberries, raspberries AND blueberries and turned them into delicious jam. I think I love jam so much because I can pull out a bottle from the freezer in the middle of February and get a small and delicious taste of summer. It keeps me going on those cold, grey and snowy days.

On weekends, or when I had some free time I would grab my hat and a large empty bowl and I would head out to the nearest U-Pick. Some specialize in certain fruits or berries so do your research first! Picking is best done early in the morning before it gets too hot, bug spray is not a bad idea and in some cases (like strawberries) you may want to bring an old pillow or a bucket to sit or kneel on (some places may supply these for you). Also keep an eye out for when the berries are in season, if you go to early the berries are not ripe, if you go too late, well, it’s slim pickings. Call ahead to make sure the berries are ready to be picked and that there are some left. Most places are well organized and can get you set up in a specific location that has not already been picked over by someone else. Another tip, lift those leaves!!! In most cases the biggest and juiciest berries are hiding under the vines and leaves, some people only pick what they can see, and miss the best ones 😉

All you need once the berries have been picked is No Cook Freezer Gelling Powder ( I use Club House, it requires less sugar) plain old White Sugar and Mason Jars (or any old clean jars with tightly fitting lids). That’s it! I like making freezer jam because it’s so easy, simple and fool proof. I’m lazy and hate the idea of boiling jam and jars on a hot summer day… The directions are pretty simple and can be found directly on the package of gelling powder. They normally go like this:

– In a large bowl crush or finely chop 4 cups of fresh berries (I like to rinse the berries first and then use a potato masher to mash the berries, I like to have a chunkier jam with pieces of fruit)

– Gently stir in 1 1/2 cups of sugar and let stand for 15 minutes

– Mix in the gelling powder a little bit at a time, continue stirring for 3 minutes

– Let stand for 5 minutes

– Stir for an additional minute and then pour into clean/dry jars, leave 1 inch head space (between jam and cover)

– Jam is ready to be eaten right away, can be kept in the fridge for 6 weeks or frozen for up to 1 year

Here is the link from Club House complete with directions on how to make jam with their gelling powder http://www.clubhouse.ca/en/products/detail.aspx?No_Cook_Freezer_Jam_gelling_powder&id=c3fab820-1ef0-45b1-b264-e19918e8eeff&category_id=4240d104-0aa2-4f07-baba-ddd3b5bdf24d

And there you have it! The easiest and most delicious jam you’ll ever make, and you can be proud because you picked the berries yourself, with your own two hands. Those jars will be full of jam and love 🙂 And don’t fret, jam isn’t only for toast, it’s great as a topping on ice cream, makes awesome thumbprint cookies, can be used in smoothies and even given as a gift for someone special (if you actually want to part with any of your jam…).

Here are some more pictures 🙂

Prepping the strawberries, washed and cut into smaller pieces before crushing them

Prepping the strawberries, washed and cut into smaller pieces before crushing them

So red and delicious

So red and delicious

The finished product

The finished product

Freshly picked raspberries should be handled right away since they do not last long in the summer heat

Freshly picked raspberries should be handled right away since they do not last long in the summer heat

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry Jam

Freshly picked blueberries, these needed an additional week before they were ripe enough

Freshly picked blueberries, these needed an additional week before they were ripe enough

Blueberry picking with my awesome mom, Rosie :)

Blueberry picking with my awesome mom, Rosie 🙂

Raspberries and Blueberries

Raspberries and Blueberries

Blueberry Jam

Blueberry Jam

All three!!!

All three!!!

Thumbprint cookies, made with all three kinds of jam

Thumbprint cookies, made with all three kinds of jam

* Funny side note for those of you who have made it to the end. I recently watched the movie Julie & Julia http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1135503/, which made me get back on the blog writing train. Inspiration can come from the strangest of places! *

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