Category: Preserving

Preserving – Food for Tomorrow

0714191658 (2)

Here at Serendipity Farmhouse we try to live by our motto – “Pray, Prepare, Preserve”. That motto has meanings on many levels. One level speaks to mankind’s most primitive and essential need – food. We “Pray” for our harvest; we “Prepare” the gardens with physical labor and constant care; then, when all is ripe and ready, we carefully “Preserve” a portion of the harvest so there will be “food for tomorrow”.

And so, this preserving season has begun. No, I don’t say the canning season has begun because there are many ways to preserve food. Yes, we do canning, but we also freeze, dehydrate, dry can, ferment, and many other things to preserve our food. By way of example, while this preserving season is quite young we have already:

  • Frozen three 4oz containers of pesto, made from our own basil;
  • Pickled five ½ pint jars of hot peppers; and
  • Frozen one package of sliced okra.

Granted, in the grand scheme things, many might think that SFH is just a very small, amateurish enterprise. That’s OK. Let them think what they will. Lovely Spouse, Mr.Monte, and I, however, greatly enjoy what we do and we take pride in what we do.

It’s the little things that add up. For example, let’s take a look at those five ½ pint jars of  “Peter’s Pickled Peppers”. You cannot find the equivalent in any grocery store. First, the jalapeno peppers were perfect in every detail. Then we added Cow Horn peppers to impart a subtle nuance to the flavor. Finally, each jar of peppers has a clove of garlic grown in our very own herb garden. Everything in each of those five jars is fresh and high quality.

Dear and gentle Reader, when we open one of those jars in December, and spread out the contents on a relish tray for Christmas dinner, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that only the best of the best will be on the table as we call to mind the birth of the One Who has given us everything.

So, quietly and without fanfare the 2019 SFH preserving season has begun. There will be time enough for fanfare and compliments when the cold days of Winter are upon us.

This year, we have added a page to the blog to allow you to keep up with the daily harvest. Go and check out SFH 2019 Harvest to see how bountiful this growing season has been already.

Another new page, just added today, will give you a chance to see how the harvest translates into “food for tomorrow” by means of preserving. Go check out SFH 2019 – Preserving – Food for Tomorrow because this is going be a great year for tomatoes, okra, and peppers.

P.S. Mr. Monte has been especially vigilant this year, performing inspections all of our preserving supplies, monitoring general cleanliness, and ensuring adherence to SFH Test Kitchen “best practices”.



SFH Journal: 2019-07-02 through 07

Highlight: We’ve been busy – very busy. In the last week, the vegetables have really started coming in. It is with great joy, pride of accomplishment, and thanksgiving to God that we can say we’ve kept the tomatoes standing and have protected all our gardens from damage by insects, heavy rain, and strong winds.

And the reward for all of that work speaks for itself. This week we harvested our first big tomato – a Big Beef. It arrived almost simultaneously with our first yellow squash and first cucumber.

Mr. Monte is currently checking out the soon-to-be-famous SFH Test Kitchen to ensure that all is ready for canning, which should start in a week or two. To see how bountiful the harvest is check out SFH 2019 Harvest here.

SFH by the Numbers – Facts & Statistics

SFH Plantings: See SFH 2019 Plantings

SFH Harvest: See SFH 2019 Harvest

SFH WX Station Report: See SFH Weather Summaries & Statistics

Comparing Apples to Apple Butter

“Once upon a time, Apples were a premier crop of Rappahannock County. Even before the creation of the county, apples were grown as a staple for families and as a cash crop.”


That is how the presentation Apples and Rappahannock County, researched and prepared by the Rappahannock Historical Society, begins its study of the history of  apples in our county.

Serendipity Farmhouse sits proudly at the center of the county’s historic apple growing and processing landmarks. When you look at the pictures in the presentation, many times you will see the very same views we have from our office window. The pictures allow us to look back in time and see that SFH was at the heart of what was a thriving county industry.

Although the county’s economy has changed and the days of the large prosperous orchards are long past, some excellent orchards remain to remind us of what used to be. One thing has not changed, though – an apple from Rappahannock County is apple worth eating. Yes, even those five old, poorly maintained Stayman apple trees here at SFH, when conditions are right, produce apples of unforgettable flavor and enjoyment.

So, in a quest to capture history and good flavor, members of the soon to be famous SFH Test Kitchen (SFH-TK) set out to find some of the fabled, quality apples of Rappahannock. Our research this year pointed us to Roy’s Orchard & Fruit Market , which is literally within walking distance of SFH.

It was a damp rainy day, with Autumn colors subdued by overcast skies. Up the long drive through the orchards we went and eventually found not just a single building selling apples. No Roy’s Orchard is a complex of several buildings with an array of products for sale, ranging from fresh apples and apple products to a large selection of local fruit and honey products.

Knowing that the objective of the SFH-TK was to make a uniquely Rappahannock apple butter, we looked through the apple bins, selecting the very best of each variety. When the selection was completed, we found ourselves holding a half bushel bag containing five different varieties of apples.

Upon returning to SFH, the SFH-TK staff conducted taste testing and evaluation of the primary ingredient for our new preserving effort. Each variety had it’s own signature flavor – sweet, tart, mild, lingering, aromatic, etc. It was an experience akin to partaking in a tasting at one our county’s fine wineries. There were not enough words to describe the flavors.

1115181557c (2)Our job was to combine these many flavors in a single product – G&G’s Apple Butter.* We had to consider each of the individual flavors to determine the proportions and balance of the several varieties. Some of this process was science and some of it was guesswork. In the end, however, the result was pure “serendipity”. This year’s batch of G&G’s Apple Butter was like no other.

The days since the preserving have been highlighted by apple butter on toast, apple butter on English muffins, and if Mr. Monte gets his way, it will be apple butter on ice cream. We can truly say the staff of the SFH-TK is satisfied with their work.

This year, we used an old recipe from our archives. It is no longer available at the website, but, through the marvels of the Wayback Machine, you can find the recipe here: – Apple Butter Recipe. Please note the important  SFH-TK modifications to the original recipe


4 pounds apples ///SFH-TK uses 5 pounds///
4 cups sugar (based on sweetness of apples) ///SFH-TK uses 3 cups sugar///
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves

Directions: Chop apples into small chunks. Add apples and 2 cups of water to pan. Simmer until apples are soft. Press the mixture through a sieve or food mill. ///SFH-TK uses a blender because it’s faster and requires less cleanup///

1105181550a (2)Combine apple mixture and spices in a large sauce pot. Cook slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon. Ladle into prepared jars and process for 10 minutes in hot water bath. ///SFH-TK processes for 15 minutes///

Yield: 5 pints ///SFH-TK uses 10 half pint jars///

* Note: G&G stands for Granny & Grandad’s

SFH Journal: 2018-09-03 through 05

Highlight: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Though often said in unrelated and figurative contexts, the reality of that statement here at Serendipity Farmhouse must be taken quite literally.

The Labor Day weekend was hot and sticky. There were several heat and health advisories issued for the area. Nevertheless, when it’s time for canning – it’s time for canning. So it is, and so it was meant to be.

Despite the heat and despite the advisories, beautiful, sweet Wife, Mr. Monte, and I spent hours in the soon to be world famous SFH test kitchen. The processing pot was filled, boiling, and steaming. The lid sterilizing pot was filled, boiling, and steaming. The salsa pot and the pickle brine pots were filled, boiling, and steaming. Outside, it was 91º. Inside, it was much hotter. But we are living as granny did, and doing many of same things in the same ways that granny did. The vegetables are ripe and the canning must be done. So, we did it.

0903181632 (2)

The rewards for our efforts for the 3rd and 4th of September include:

  • G&G’s Pasta Sauce – 5 pints
  • Peter’s Pickled Hot Peppers (jalapenos & serranos) – 3 pints
  • Mr. Monte’s Finest Dehydrated Habaneros – 1 pint (dry canned)
  • Mr. Monte’s Finest Dehydrated Serranos – 1 pint (dry canned)

0903181447a (2)

Weather: Perhaps it will be the last heat wave of the season. We don’t know. We do know that the canning results took our minds off the heat – at least for a little while.

2018-09-03: High – 91º, precipitation 0.00 (Details – click here.)

2018-09-04: High – 91º, precipitation 0.00 (Details – click here.)

2018-09-05: High – 89º, precipitation 0.00 (Details – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report

Harvest: The harvest has slowed somewhat.

2018-09-03: 4 cherry tomatoes

2018-09-04: Nothing to report

2018-09-05: 11 okra pods

SFH Journal: 2018-08-24 through 27

Highlight: The great Serendipity Farmhouse Birthday Bash of 2018 is now in the record books. Tolerable weather, good food and lots of fun and games were enjoyed by all. Stay tuned for our special post on this memorable event.

Speaking of games, it took me nearly an hour to set up the badminton/volley ball net. It took me nearly as long to take it down and get everything back into the box. Now, would you care to guess how much total time was spent by my children and grandchildren playing badminton and/or volleyball?

I have a proposal for a game for next year’s Birthday Bash. Next year, I will challenge the combined group of party attendees to set up the net in less than half an hour. If they manage to accomplish that task, I will allow them to eat. If they don’t make the deadline, they can watch Monte and me eat all the food. – – – Just sayin’.

You can be sure Granny will never let me get away with that one.

Weather: We had our dry spell and the weather was tolerable for the great SFH Birthday Bash on the 26th. For all that we are thankful. Now the heat and humidity have returned. As I write this on the 28th, the “feels like” temperature is 109º.

2018-08-24: High – 82º, precipitation 0.07 (Detailed Summary – click here.)

2018-08-25: High – 82º, precipitation 0.0 (Detailed Summary – click here.)

2018-08-26: High – 88º, precipitation 0.00 (Detailed Summary – click here.)

2018-08-27: High – 92º, precipitation 0.?? (Detailed Summary – click here.) (Yes it rained, but I don’t have the recorded amount.”

Plantings: Nothing to report


2018-08-24: 12 cherry tomatoes

2018-08-25: 6 cherry tomatoes

2018-08-26: Nothing to report

2018-08-27: 10 okra pods, 9 cherry tomatoes

H2S2J2 – Salsa

Last year, we had Kickin’ Salsa, H-bomb Salsa, and H-bomb II Salsa. The names implied that we were experimenting with our home-grown hot peppers to add a little “kick” to the salsa. We cautiously added Jalapenos. Then we had Jalapenos mixed with Salsa peppers. Finally, we threw in a wee bit of Habanero pepper.

The results were good and then better. There were many compliments saying the salsa was just great. But, there were a couple hot pepper aficionados who claimed we hadn’t begun to push the envelope – the salsa is good, but it doesn’t deliver a punch. You know, something to remember … something that sets a standard of comparison.

Now remember, flavor is still more important than heat. We could just dump in a bunch of Habanero peppers and be done with it, but that would not satisfy the flavor criterion. Another point to remember – if it’s really a success, a recipe has to be repeatable, giving the same good results every time.

Having said all that, and knowing that you are aware that we didn’t have a single tomato to work with, we had to come up with an outstanding recipe for the 2018 canning year. Here’s what we did.

First, we swallowed our pride about our great tomato failure of 2018 and went across the street to our local CSA and bought 6.5 pounds of tomato “seconds” – enough to make five pints of salsa with the hope that there might be enough for a sixth pint.

Next, wise and discerning Spouse went to the remains of our beleaguered vegetable garden and harvested the best of our hot peppers. Our idea was to provide a cross-section of three entirely different flavors and heats, hoping that the combination would be complimentary and satisfying.

So, we prepared the peppers and the tomatoes. Then, following our tried and true Salsa recipe, we mixed all the ingredients and brought them to a boil. The difference was, that we added two full Jalapenos (J) at 2,500-8,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale, two full Serranos (S) at 8,000-22,000 Scoville, and two full Habaneros (H) at 150,000-325,000 Scoville. Then we continued with canning as we always do.

The initial taste test told us that we won’t be sending anyone to the hospital, but, in some cases, they may volunteer to go on their own. We certainly found the initial results to be quite satisfactory. However, there is no real telling how well we did until the freshly preserved salsa has a chance to age and mellow in the jar for a while.

In recognition of our ratio of hot peppers to this batch of salsa, we have named it H2S2J2 – Salsa. In a few weeks or so we will fill you in on the first tasting of our new creation in the soon to be famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen. – Who knows, after eating our H2S2J2, it might be time to cash in our (corn) chips at the Great Salsa Casino in the Sky.

SFH Journal: 2018-08-03 & 04 Verdant Pastures?

0804181146a (2)
This stream is actually part of the SFH lawn

Highlight: In today’s exciting episode of “Serendipity Farmhouse – The Night of the Rain Monster”. Mr. Monte, the World’s most excellent Main Coon cat, successfully defended SFH from creeping vines, mega-worms, river rats, and many other weird and terrifying, rain-spawned monsters. He was fearsome, ferocious, and unrelenting in his labors to protect his kingdom and his two big cats. When the sun finally broke through this morning, he looked across the field of battle, saw his enemies vanquished, and he meowed victoriously.

Now, dispensing with that painful attempt at humor, the featured picture shows the state of what used to be our lawn. It is now now a verdant pasture suitable only for raising a large herd of grass-fed cattle. Meanwhile, the water continues to flow through the yard, making mowing impossible.

Weather: Yes, it rained again this morning, but the sun finally appeared from behind the clouds and shown gloriously for the remainder of the day. Only one problem – the humidity is back to haunt us.

2018-08-03: High – 78º (Detailed Summary – click here.)

2018-08-04: High – 86º (Detailed Summary – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report

0804181147a (2)
Cherry tomato bush going bad

Harvest: Soon, we will have to make a serious decision – leave the tomatoes in the ground and watch them wither and die, or pull them out and admit defeat. Even our cherry tomatoes, which were doing very well until this week, have begun to succumb to rain-induced maladies. The bottom line is: salsa and pasta sauce canning will be more expensive this year because we will have to buy tomatoes from outside sources rather than use our own.

2018-08-03: nothing to report

2018-08-04: 5 cherry tomatoes

SFH Journal: 2018-07-23

Highlight: Highlights on a rainy Monday are sometimes hard to find. For me, a supper of Portuguese bean soup with authentic Portuguese-style linguiça from Fall River, MA was a treat. Perhaps a little heavy for this time of year, dearest wife was only mildly satisfied with the dish. Nevertheless, it reminded me of childhood days spent with my cousin Emma and her family. Let’s just call it Portuguese comfort food.

Someday, I will show you how to lift your breakfast to new heights with linguiça and scrambled eggs.

Weather: Today was cloudy, a bit warmer, with mixed sunshine, rain, and drizzle. The humidity was a bit higher, but still manageable.

2018-07-23: High – 80º (Detailed Summary – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report

Harvest: Now the gardens are beginning to increase their output. Today, lovely spouse picked 6 okra pods, 3 jalapenos, 2 cherry tomatoes, and two regular tomatoes. That may not seem like much, but we are now nearing critical mass on okra and jalapenos. The plants are loaded with ripening pods and peppers. It’s time to prepare for freezing and pickling.

SFH Canning 2018-01: Uncanny Canning

Forgive the pun, but for us canning is a process, an uncanny process.

Our very first canning experience was dictated by what we were given to can and not necessarily on what we wanted to can – in fact, we didn’t really know how to can anything.

Plums, oh yes, lots and lots of plums. More plums than we could eat, more plums than we could store. They were a gift from a friend. We couldn’t throw them out. There was only one course of action – we would learn how to can.

That, my dear friends, was the uncanny beginning to our caning avocation.

We won’t take you through the entire experience of that frightful, delightful day. Suffice it to say, we didn’t even know what it meant when the filled jars pinged. We thought we had blown it; we thought we had failed; we thought our entire day had been in vain.

Ah, but that ping, those six pings, those wonderful pings were truly the sign of success. We were now veteran canners.

SFH-C-2018-01ANow remember, too many plums meant we had to can. Towards the end of this last planting season, we had too many peppers. We had jalapenos, we had salsas, and we had habanero peppers everywhere. We pickled them. We dehydrated them. We put them into our salsa. We cooked them and ate them. Yet, we had to find another way to use them.

My beautiful, adorable spouse found the answer, by golly. “Hubby,” she said, “we’re going to make hot pepper jelly out of those little red and green rascals.” Her wish was my command.

First experiences are the most fun. We tried to find canning recipes for hot pepper jelly. We must have looked through sixty or so before we narrowed the field down to just two. Even those two didn’t give us exactly what we wanted, so we had to combine and modify them.

Rather than run you through all twists and turns, here are links to the two recipes we chose: Allrecipes Hot Pepper Jelly and Genius Kitchen Jalapeno Jelly.

Others might quibble, quarrel, or disagree, but my most important finding during this entire exercise was: Don’t, I repeat don’t use the 2 (3 ounce) envelopes of liquid pectin. If you do, the result quite likely will be the same as my September batch – liquid, highly liquid, non-gelled jelly.

After waiting two days for a miracle to happen, I had to take the original six jars, pour them back into a pot, re-heat the batch and add powdered pectin. Then everything had to be re-processed. – – Then the miracle happened! Using our new-found knowledge about pectin, our October batch was perfection.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Voila! We now have hot pepper jelly. Okay, so we have hot pepper jelly – what do you do with it?

Our initial answer to that all important questions was – toast a bagel, spread cream cheese lightly, then add hot pepper jelly on top. Yum! What a way to start the day!

That, however was not the ultimate answer. No siree! Imagine if you will baked chicken thighs (some may prefer breasts, but thighs are where the taste action is) covered with a mixture of honey, Dijon mustard, and hot pepper jelly. The result is smooth, spicy, slightly sweet, and just plain delicious.

Our base recipe was Allrecipes Pepper Jelly Glazed Chicken, but feel free to modify and experiment. When it comes to hot peppers, be adventurous and enjoy the results.