Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Featuring the Northwest

I love living in the northwestern US, and plan on moving to a place where I can enjoy it more within the next few years. While Portland is fairly close to a lot of areas where one can enjoy northwest weather and scenery, I want to be able to simply step out of my front door and be right there. I suppose I was spoiled as a kid, living on the edge of the Olympic Rainforest. :)

So, to show my love for the area and for a site as fabulous as Etsy, I put together a treasury today, focusing on art and items of the Northwest by Etsy sellers from the Northwest. Please take a look and enjoy your visit!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Accidental Hobby: Part Two

Within a year after discovering how much I enjoyed making jams and jellies, I had found a pectin that didn't depend on sugar for the gelling process. Pomona's Universal Pectin ( depends on calcium (derived mainly from orange and other citrus peel) instead, opening up the jam-making process to varying amounts of sugar rather than several cups per batch that had to be EXACT amounts.

It really bothers me that jam you buy at the grocery store is so loaded with sugar and typically has other unnecessary additives. It bothered me even more when I started making jam that I had to add so much sugar. Therefore, when I found out about Pomona's, I felt as if the possibilities were endless. I began making low-sugar jams and jellies without any problem with setting. I discovered that rasberry jam tasted like rasberries, not a raspberry-flavored sugary snack. I fell even deeper in love with the jam-making process, and with encouragement from friends and family, decided to try and sell my product.

Last fall I sold several jars just to people I knew online, before I listed anything on Etsy. Once I listed on Etsy, I sold a few, but due to the shipping costs (which can't be avoided), interest was low. I'm admittedly not very good at promoting online, which I'm trying very hard to improve.

For Christmas last year, I received a fabulous book by Linda Ziedrich called The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves ( I love the books by Linda, as she not only provides a LOT of recipes, but loads of information on the why of things. I always do better at something if I know why it works, and her information on gelling, the different pectins, and how gelling works is indispensable. It's worth noting that her book on pickling is just as good!

In the book, Linda provides information on how to extract your own pectin from apples, oranges, and other fruit. I'm currently working on a transferable degree in biology to OSU, and last spring I was completing the last general chemistry course in the series. For my final, I had to research and present a subject, using what I'd learned in the last year. I decided to do a presentation on pectin; if I thought I knew what I was doing before... I learned loads more doing this research! Pectin is used in almost all processed foods and many things we eat every day -- like milk!

All in all, these last few years I've spent making jams and jellies have been quite rewarding. My biggest hurdle now is to get a handle on promoting online; I'm not very outgoing and I'm not the 'salesman' type, so it's definitely challenging. I'm currently looking into fall and winter craft shows, how to become visible with Google, and using social networking sites to promote.

Thanks for reading! Be sure and take a peak at the newest addition to my Etsy shop (pictured above): Healthy and delicious red currant jelly (

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Accidental Hobby: Part One

Ever since I was little, sewing and needlecraft have been staple hobbies. Other hobbies I enjoyed were 'spinoffs' of those, or other crafts like beadwork, stamping, etc. I've always been artistic and highly interested in art as well, so it was an interesting and pleasant surprise to find out I loved making jams and jellies, as well as making everything from sauces to pickles.

I describe falling into this hobby as a complete accident. Several years ago, a friend had a huge glut of grapes she didn't know what to do with. She'd moved into a home that was surrounded by a fence with grapevines growing along it, and they were getting ripe as she moved in. We decided to make juice with most of them (they had seeds, and not many people want to eat grapes with seeds). We ended up with several gallons of juice that we just didn't know what to do with, and didn't have room to store it all. Neither of us were interested or had the capital to try and learn how to make wine, so we decided to try to make grape jelly. She'd made it before but I hadn't, so I took my share of the juice home and began to research the subject.

The local chain grocery store only carried the SureJell brand of pectin, and in my ignorance, believed this was the thing to use (please know that I'm not bashing the brand here, just the type of pectin used by the brand; if that sounds confusing, read on), and went home with all the other needed ingredients. The resulting jelly was really quite sweet and very tasty, but I was shocked at the amount of sugar required. I found I enjoyed the whole process, and loved sharing jars with family and friends, so that summer I made some raspberry jam, too. Again though, the amount of sugar required when using this brand was incredible.

During that fall and winter, I did a lot of research. I found that while SureJell made version that required less or no sugar, it added artificial ingredients that I wasn't happy with. For many people they work very well, but I wanted to make jams and jellies with loads less (or no) sugar for two main reasons: The first was that we don't NEED that much sugar; using so much to make a jam seemed to me to completely defeat the purpose of making the jam-wasn't I trying to preserve the fruit to enjoy its goodness later? It seemed I was just making fruit-flavored stuff! The second was that with less sugar, the fruit used tasted more like the fruit itself. Both of these reasons really tie in together, and it drove me to find a pectin that worked with less sugar and didn't have unnecessary additives.

In my next post (Part Two), I'll discuss what I found, and how well it's worked for me. It's actually a combination of different things, most of which are just as easy as using SureJell.

For now, enjoy a look at one of the many jams I have listed on Etsy (pictured above, link at the end). Straberry Kiwi Jam, made from strawberries picked right here in Oregon from a farm that uses no herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Small and blood-red all the way through, the strawberries were so flavorful and sweet that I used very little sugar to sweeten the jam. The kiwis were purchased from New Seasons' organic section, and really added some interesting taste to the jam; kiwi and strawberry definitely compliment each other! This jam was made in late July and has an official shelf-life of one year, although jam can typically last much longer than that when stored properly.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer in the Northwest

This summer has proven to be a trying one, at least for those in the US, though I'm sure there has been plenty worse elsewhere. Most of the Midwest and parts of the Southwest, and southern and eastern US, suffered from a brutal and long-lasting, slow-traveling 'heat dome' phenomena. Many areas didn't just break record high temperatures, they blew them away by 10 or more degrees Fahrenheit. Add to that the heat index suffered under the 'heat dome', and you had temperatures approaching 135 degrees in the worst places. Follow that up with a hurricane with all that comes afterward like flooding, significant numbers of communities cut off from everything, plus continued drought in several states. All of this adds up to a pretty miserable summer for millions of people.

Unless you live in the Northwest. We've had, in my opinion, a fabulous summer. My opinion is mildly biased, in that I am definitely NOT a heat lover. The region, along with most of the rest of the US, experienced a very late spring. During spring term I took a course in Botany, and according to records kept for every year, everything was two to four weeks late; the blooming of the big-leaf maples, trillium, saxifrage... everything. Fruit and berry farms had longer than normal seasons (still no ripe elderberries... they're close though; and blueberries are still flush), migratory birds showed up later, and truly warm weather didn't start kicking in until July. Even in Yakima, WA where my mother lives, one of the hottest places in that state, didn't start experiencing its characteristic hot, dry weather until then.

In Portland, OR, temperatures in the 70's lasted for weeks, deep into July, and it was August before we started seeing more than one or two days in a row over 80. It's been one of the best summers I've had in my adult life, as typically, the Portland area has quite a number of weeks during the summer of hot, humid weather that sucks the life out of me.

On top of that, I got to take care of my stepmother's place in Sequim, WA (a really lovely area, I hope to move there at some point) for a couple of weeks while she visited her parents. At the edge of the Olympic Rainforest region, Sequim is considered one of the most beautiful places in Washington state. While most areas around Sequim, like Port Angeles, get a lot of rainfall (Forks, about 75 miles west, supposedly gets the most rainfall anywhere in the world), Sequim is in a rainshadow. Residents in the Port Angeles area struggle to get significant garden harvests, but those just on the other side of the 'hills' can grow everything from corn to grapes. The image included here is of the sunset on the day my stepmother left on her trip.

One of the many blessings of this great Northwest summer was the long berry season. I've managed to acquire a lot of different berries and other fruits for my jams and jellies, and I've really got an impressive range of flavors for sale and several more to list. I'll be writing about them here, mainly to give more information about the fruits, the farm where I got most of them, and making the jams. Of course, I also help to aid in promoting. :)

Finally, my sympathy goes out to those who didn't have a very good summer. Oppressive heat and hurricanes have caused a lot of misery, ranging from discomfort to loss of life and home. I hope the next few months are more mildly tempered and that this winter is a calmer one.