Oregon Grape Jam

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Oregon grape laden with berries

Walking to work last week I had jam on my mind and my eye open to see what fruits were ripening.  The Oregon Grape in the park near our house was a luscious deep purple blue color and the berries were just a bit soft to the touch. On the way home I picked some berries then made jam with my harvest. This deep blue jam has a great flavor and pairs nicely with sourdough bread or vanilla ice cream.

The two species we have growing in the Seattle area are the tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and low Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa).   The berries from both of these can be used to make jellies, jams or fruit leather.

Here’s how to make the jam:

Prepare the Oregon Grapes

  • Collect berries that are a deep blue purple color and slightly soft 
  • Wash and pick through your harvest removing leaves, stems and any berries that are over or under ripe
  • Put berries and enough water to just cover in a pot and cook until soft.  This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes
  • Run the cooked berries through a food mill to separate out the seeds and skins from the pulpy juice

Turn fruit into jam

  • Measure how many cups of berries you have, you will need an equivalent amount of sugar
  • Check how much pectin you will need and measure this out.  I like to use Pomona Pectin
  • Get your canning jars and lids ready for filling
  • Add the amount of calcium water needed to your fruit mixture
  • Bring to a boil
  • Add in the well mixed pectin powder and sugar
  • Bring to a second boil and pour into waiting jars
  • Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes
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Ripe and ready to pick




Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market  is bursting with fresh produce, regional foods and specialty items.  National Geographic calls it the number one market in the world but Pike Place is still my favorite.

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Maybe one of the best!

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Some farmers bring produce to market via bicycle.

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I had no idea there were so many different types of rice and grains.

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Fries taken to the next level.

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Olives and savory treats for everyone.

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Luscious desserts

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All sorts of fresh meats and sausages.

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The Canadian Mounties are omnipresent via cardboard cutouts.

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So much to see and taste.


Garden Fresh Potato Salad

A summer staple for my family is a hearty garden fresh potato salad.  We have this sustaining dish with almost every outdoor meal and prepare it for guests as well.

Walking through the garden I found onions, nasturtium flowers, peas, purple potatoes and new eggs from the hens. Ready for 4th of July picnics it’s time for a fresh as can be garden potato salad!  Best of all you don’t need to leave your yard and head to the grocery store. 


  • Roam your garden and pick what’s ripe.
  • Make the vinaigrette dressing with a dollop of Dijon mustard, a clove of garlic, red wine vinegar, a bit of salt and olive oil.
  • Quarter and boil your potatoes, drain them and put them in the bowl.
  • I add the eggs in with the potatoes to hard boil as the cooking time is about the same. Peel and slice the eggs.
  • Add in whatever other tasty items you can find in your garden.
  • Drizzle with the dressing and enjoy.
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Fresh garden potato salad


July in the Garden

This glorious hot summer is bringing out the plants in full force!  Just harvested the wheat and oats and the tomatoes are coming along nicely.  What is doing well in your garden this year?

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Ripening tomatoes

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Rose hips

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Ok, not a garden plant but food for the soul!

Time for Raspberry Jam

Summer is finally here and the raspberries are ripe and ready!  Turning the berries into jam is an easy, almost magical process that brings back the flavors of summer deep into winter.

Of all the jams I make raspberry is by far the one that people like the most. This is great as it’s also the easiest to prepare and I’ve never had it not turn out tasting delicious.

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Step 1: Find berries to pick in your backyard or at a nearby U-pick.

When picking the berries look for ones at their peak of ripeness that easily come off the bush.  If they are too ripe they will give an off-flavor to the jam and if they are under-ripe they will lack flavor.

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Step 2: Mash the berries and scoop them into a cooking pot. 

To make firm jam I usually add in pectin.  Pectin is a white powder,  usually derived from citrus fruits, that helps the jam gel.  Some fruits, like apples, are naturally high in pectin so it does not need to be added but for most berries, I do like to use it.

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Step 3: Add in pectin, bring to a boil then add sugar and cook a bit longer. 

When making the jam, be sure to stir it continuously.  If you don’t, it will scorch and all your hard work will be for nothing.  I once spent hours pitting cherries then slowly cooking them to make a conserve.  The phone rang and in seconds I had a big mess of burned cherries that couldn’t be saved.  I nearly cried as I took the pot out to dump on the compost heap.

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Step 4: Ladle into jars, cap and you’re all set.

It’s important to sterilize your canning jars or you will pry the lid up and be greeted with a layer of mold.  To sterilize them place the jars in a canning rack then lower the rack into hot water and boil for 10 minutes.  If you don’t have a canning rack you can submerge them in a big pot of water but sometimes the jars will break.

The final step, of course, is: Enjoy!


Flax seeds add a nice nutritious nutty flavor to many dishes and the fibrous stalks can be spun into fiber.  Growing this plant in the Northwest is so easy that it’s almost seen as a weed.

First grow the flax:

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Picture from: www.flaxandhemp.bangor.ac.uk/

Once it has matured and the seed pods are fully formed, harvest it and let it dry in a dark place.  Once the seed heads are dry lay them on a cloth and crush the seed heads to release the small seeds.

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Crush the seed heads on a cloth to catch any loose grains.

Next winnow it to separate the grains from the chaff.

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Winnowing is fun!

Here is the final product; lovely golden flax seeds.

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These can be added to your favorite foods or saved to plant next year.

To learn more about how to process the stalks into fiber visit here.

With our mild climate you really can eat fresh veggies all year but you need to start planning for your fall and winter garden now. This can be hard with a garden full of warm season favorites but it can be done.

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All the onions just got pulled so it’s time to weed a bit, add in some compost and gear up for the next crop!

I just harvested my garlic, peas and onions so in the new bit of bare soil I am planting crops for fall. As our rains start in early October it’s important to prepare the soil so it drains well. I usually loosen the soil in my raised beds and add in lots of compost.

Where possible remember to do crop rotations to minimize soil nutrient depletion and reduce pests. I usually follow the leaf to root to flower to fruit method as it’s easy to remember. In the place I harvested the onions I am planting kale and in the spot where the peas were I am putting in carrots and beets.

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Beets and Lambsquarter seedlings are coming up from a recent planting.

The next step is to choose what to plant; our first frost date is usually around late October so pick something that will survive the frost. Mid-July is a good time for roots and greens. If you get started in early August then I would do lettuces.

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With a bit of planning you can have fresh greens all winter.

Once the seeds are planted water them in the morning and at night until they begin to sprout. If the days are really hot then shade them with an old umbrella or a piece of light cloth like Reemay. When the plants are established mulch them to hold moisture in the soil. I like to mulch with dried grass clippings but watch out for weed seeds if you use this method. You may need to control for slugs in September. One of the best ways to do this is to hand pick them in the early mornings.

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You can plant Lambsquarter now and get some nice plants for stir fries.

Enjoy the summer and think ahead to your cool season garden!




Time to Mulch

Doesn’t the word “mulch” have a great sound to it?  It means to apply a layer of material to your soil to conserve water, prevent weeds and to increase the richness of your soil.  Right now is a great time to do all of these things as the weather will be hot and dry for the next month. 

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This plant will get a boost from the compost and I won’t need to water as often!

You can use a wide variety of materials to mulch your garden but my favorite is a layer of compost.  I find that my plants need a little boost this time of year and this provides a good one.  Lot of people use fresh grass clippings as mulch but be a bit careful with this as there can be lots of weed seeds, the grass can mat and prevent water from reaching your plants and as the grass breaks down it can tie up nitrogen in your soil.

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Go mulch!

As our days get shorter, cooler and the rain returns mulching can promote slug growth so if you do a winter garden be vigilant for these pests.

I just harvested the onions I planted back in February.  The tops were turning yellow and flopping over a few days ago so I knocked the rest over and stopped watering to let them start to dry out while still in the soil.  Once they are pulled it’s important to let them dry completely before storing them.  Don’t rush this process or you may get a lot of moldy onions.

image80 300x225 Harvesting Onions So They Keep for the Winter

I pull the onions then put them on the roof of a shed to dry.

Once the onion skin and tops are dry you can either braid them, (like you do with garlic) or put them in mesh bags with lots of airflow.  They should be stored in a cool dark place; a root cellar or basement is ideal.

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Braided onions doing a final drying out before heading for the basement.

Now there’s some new space to start putting in that winter garden!


Garlic Braids

Right now is a good time to harvest garlic.  Braiding it then hanging it in a cool, dark place is a great way to store it for later.

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If the garlic isn’t well dried it will rot.

First dry the garlic until the leaves are limp and the outside of the bulb is getting papery.

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It’s ok to leave some of the dirt on the bulbs.

Gently brush off the dirt and trim the roots off.  Be careful not to bruise the garlic as it will spoil more quickly if damaged.

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If you’re new to braiding then getting someone to help will make a smoother braid.

Line up three bulbs with good long stalks and begin to braid.

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Make sure there is some space between the bulbs so they can continue to dry.

With each cross over add in another bulb until you have a braid that is about a foot long.  If you go longer it can be quite heavy and hard to hang.  It’s also nice to keep the braids a bit shorter to have more to give as gifts.

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Ready to hang. If you are a big garlic user then hang in your kitchen, if not put in a cool, airy place and take off heads as needed.

Here is the finished braid!