Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

Leave a comment

Honey Vanilla Cherry Compote

In one of my first blog posts I mentioned, but shared no details about, a batch of cherry jam without pectin which I cooked down into more of a “compote” than a “jam”. I didn’t share any details about it because I hadn’t tasted it yet. More than a year after canning it, I finally opened up the jar and gave it a taste.

Let me set the stage. I was just starting to make and can jams and jellies, and had only put up a batch or two of jam and some cherries in syrup. I found a recipe online for a cherry jam without using pectin. So easy, I was repeatedly assured, that an idiot could do it. Little did the original author know, that I was bringing a higher class of idiot to bear.

After making a few substitutions, in my usual fashion, I put the whole thing on the stove to start reducing down and thickening up. Well, it reduced down too far and got too thick. When I went to put it in a jar, the only ones I had left were pints, so I ladled the whole mess into a single jar. It was sealed, shelved and forgotten.

I didn’t know exactly how thick it was when it cooled, but I knew it was definitely too thick to be called jam. Also we’ve had a pretty steady supply of half full and unsealed jars of jam in the fridge, so there was never any reason to open it. It wasn’t until just yesterday that we were picking off a tray of cheese and crackers that I decided it was time.

Honey Vanilla Cherry Compote

Let’s be honest: This was a long time ago and I don’t remember the recipe. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast today. Here’s what I do remember:

  1. I used sweet dark cherries
  2. I used about equal parts of honey and sugar
  3. A dash of my homemade vanilla extract

There was no pectin added, so I put all the ingredients into the pot and cooked down until it was thick enough.


I’m writing a blog post about this a year later, so you know it was worth writing about. In short, the compote was absolutely fantastic. Normally I find that honey loses much of its flavor and character when it’s cooked, but this time was definitely an exception. The honey flavor was strong, but not too strong and perfectly complimentary to the taste of the cherries. The vanilla added a nice backdrop to the other flavors, and helped the cherry flavor really stand out.

This was, in short, a very happy accident.

The compote is way too thick and unruly to use on toast or muffins or anything like that. We’ve found that it goes extremely well on a cheese tray, dabbed on to slices of aged Parmesan or aged Gouda. I suspect, strongly, that it would make an excellent addition to a recipe of baked Brie. I also suspect that, if thinned out with some white wine and heated, it would make a fantastic glaze for pork.

When cherries are in season again I definitely want to try my hand at a similar recipe: Cherry jam sweetened with honey and flavored with a dash of my homemade vanilla. I also intend to use some of the lessons learned to help further my endless pursuit of the perfect cherry jam.


Leave a comment >

Both Cherry Melomel and Cherry Cyser have finished primary fermentation, sat for about a month, and been racked. Here’s a quick update.

Cherry Melomel

The Cherry Melomel has a great cherry flavor, notes of honey, and lots of residual sweetness. I liken it to a cherry-flavored Moscato, with plenty of sweetness. It has a very dark color which makes it opaque in the jug, but in the cup it’s has a clear color more like a dark red wine.  There is quite a bit of harshness to the flavor, so it’s going to sit for a few months.  I’ll probably see if it needs to be racked again in April, and plan to be drinking it by mid-summer.

Cherry Cyser

I racked the Cherry Cyser today, although I was a bit sloppy and stirred up a bit of sediment. It has very strong aromas of both cherry and the honey, and there are definite notes of both cherry and apple in the taste. Like the Cherry Melomel it has some serious harshness to it so it’s going to need a few months to mellow out. I’ll probably rack it again by the end of February to try and get some more sediment out, see if it needs another rack around May and plan to drink it towards the end of summer.

Leave a comment

2014 Kitchen Plans

Last time I talked about my plans for the garden this year. Today I’m going to talk about some plans for projects I want to do in the kitchen.

Jams and Jellies

Jams and Jellies were a big part of last summer. I made extra batches of some favorite recipes, explored a few new flavor combinations, and iterated on some recipes that were good but could have been better. We have quite the large stockpile in our pantry now, mostly because I can make the stuff much more quickly than I can eat it. Even giving away a few jars to friends and family, we still have quite a large collection that we need to eat before I can be making huge quantities of new recipes.

New Recipe Ideas

I have an idea floating around in my head for a Pear-Orange jelly. We have lots of pears floating around, many of which were part of gift baskets and are quickly getting overripe.

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time, if you’re trying to eat the pear fresh. When making jam or jelly, you’ve got a little bit more leeway.

In addition to pears, we’ve got a glut of citrus hanging around. Clementines and naval oranges are around, and are coming into season strong. I really believe that some fresh-squeezed juice (from the Clementines or the Navals) would pair great with the pears. I’ll skip the zest that I would normally use in an orange jelly, and maybe add a hint of cinnamon. It’s something that, by necessity, I may need to try and soon.

I also have in mind an Orange-Pomegranate jelly. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a long time, but haven’t been able to get good poms at my grocery store. I think I’m going to be using a different store in 2014 for this and a variety of other reasons, and the new one I’m going to has plenty of pomegranates. Expect to see a recipe like this sometime soon.

Repeat Recipe Ideas

There are a few things I’ve made in the past that were particularly big hits, and I’ll probably make again this year:

  1. Orange Jelly
  2. Tart Cherry Jam
  3. Apple Butter

Improved Recipe Ideas

I’ve made it my life’s mission to make the perfect cherry jam. Last year I had two that turned out really well: My 50/50 cherry jam and my tart cherry jam. Using lessons learned from these two, earlier recipes, and trying a few other combinations and added ingredients, I think I can do even better this year. Expect to see lots of cherries flying around like crazy.

  • Different Ratios of Cherries: Last time I tried about 70/30 sweet to tart cherries. This was a decent blend. I may try other ratios, and (if I can find them) more  varieties of cherries to add into the mix. If I can find a source for wild black cherries or bush cherries, I would be so happy.
  • Different sweeteners: I’ve used regular, boring white sugar. I think alternate sweeteners (brown sugar, honey) would add some good background flavor tones that are worth exploring.
  • Additives: Amaretto is a classic additive for cherry jam, and one I want to play with more. Vanilla also. A little bit of vanilla can go a long way and really make other ingredients pop out.

Expect to see lots of cherry-related madness when the delicious little bastards come into season.

Other Canning Recipes

I expect to make another big pot of French Onion Soup when the onion harvest comes in. It’s a great way to use up onions which are imperfect and won’t survive long-term storage. We’re looking to put up a big batch of chicken soup and maybe chicken broth. We’ve found a source of bone-in chicken at a price that makes this possible, but only if the prices stay low.

Brewing Plans

I’ve got a few more small test recipes I’d like to play with, before I attempt a bigger batch of anything. Here are some things I’d like to try this year, when the ingredients become available. If I time things right, I’ll be able to try a new recipe every 4-6 weeks, as things come into season.

  1. Metheglin: A metheglin is a mead seasoned with herbs and spices. I’ve seen at least one interesting recipe with orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. I’d like to try that out, or something close to it. Both my current batches of Cherry Melomel have been racked to secondary, so I can start a metheglin by early February.
  2. Maple Sap Wine and Acerglyn: From the latin Acer, the genus name for Maple trees, acerglyn is mead made with fermented honey and maple syrup. Wine made just from maple syrup would be called “Maple Wine” or “Sap Wine”. I’m a big fan of real maple syrup, and think a recipe like this would be right up my alley.
  3. Orange Wine or Melomel: Oranges are in season, and I’ve been starting to see some good prices on them in the local grocery store. Warnings I see around suggest that the high acidity of oranges may be a problem for yeast, so a lower-acid CaraCara orange might work well here. Blood oranges, a personal favorite, may also be used alone or in a blend.
  4. Pear or Date Melomel: I keep a small tub of dried dates around for snacking. They can be a bit pricey, but it’s a flavor I really love.  I’ve been trying to come up with a jam that would make good use of these tasty little morsels with no success. A Melomel is probably my best option. I suspect they’d go great with pear too, since I have a little bit of pear juice available.
  5. Tart Cherry Melomel: Tart cherries are in for June or July. I’d like to put together another cherry melomel with fresh picked tart cherries, using the knowledge I’ve gained from my previous batches.
  6. Peach Wine or Melomel: If I can get enough peaches, I’d love to make either a peach wine or a melomel with them. It will depend on whether I can find a way to juice the peaches without killing myself from over-effort. Maybe if I can find some peach juice or peach cider already pressed somewhere, I can start with that.
  7. Hard Apple Cider or Apple Wine: When apples and good cider start coming in, I’d like to make more batches of hard apple cider or apple wine.

I’ve only got two jugs for fermenting, and each batch seems to take up 6 weeks at an uncomfortable minimum: two weeks to ferment and a full month of secondary before I can start drinking it. The problem with this setup is that many recipes really need more than a month of conditioning to be in top shape. I’m looking to either increase the number of jugs I have available or start bottling some of my creations for long-term storage on a shelf somewhere. Depending on the recipes I want to try and the schedule I lay out for myself, maybe I need to do both. Having some recipes that could sit for two or three months of bulk conditioning before moving into bottles for a few more months would probably be ideal.

I’ve read throughout the internet that meads and maple-based wines in particular may need extra conditioning time, so I need to keep that in mind if I want to keep playing with meads and melomels in the future.

Other Plans

I have a bread maker that’s been sitting idle for a good long while. It’s time to bring it out of retirement and start making fresh bread regularly. If I am really brave, I’d like to try my hand at sourdough again. I’ve also been looking at some cheese recipes that I find interesting. Some types of cheese, like mozzarella, are both easy to make and are used quite frequently around here. Expect to see some of both these kinds of projects this year.

Leave a comment

2014 Garden Plans

Last time I posted a retrospective for my various projects in 2013. Today I’m going to outline some of my plans for 2013, especially as regards my garden.

Last frost date in my area, according to the farmers almanac, is around April 22nd. Several seeds will probably start in mid-February, onions go into the ground around the beginning of April, tomatoes and many other plants get transplanted out starting late April or early May. Most of my catalog seed shopping will need to be done in the next few weeks, and I’m trying to go to some new companies, and look at some heirloom seeds of seeds of particular interest.

This year I’m going to get serious about crop rotation and start a pattern that can be followed in future years.

Bed 1

Last year Bed 1 was newly dug and filled with tomatoes. This year, I’m going to try a few new things there, especially things that can get two plantings (spring and fall).

I’d like to try Carrots again. I’ve found a few varieties in my catalogs that I want to try, but I need to winnow them down because space is limited.

Broccoli and cabbage might be interesting. Broccoli will certainly get eaten more, between the two.  I have no particular interest in other Brassica varieties, like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kohlrabi.

I’m looking for some kind of bean variety (or several) to plant. Peas are probably no-go, and most dried bean varieties really aren’t popular around here, and I probably couldn’t get them in sufficient quantities anyway. Green beans or snap peas might be cool to try.

Lettuce or spinach might be nice to try again. I will start these indoors first and transplant them, because the last time I direct-sowed them and the results were terrible.

Many of the crops I’ve listed can be good for two plantings: spring and fall. That kind of setup appeals to me.

Last year I had tomatoes planted in all three of my beds, which makes crop rotation plans…difficult. Bed 1 had the most tomatoes, so this year it will have none. Next year I’ll move my beans, leaves and brassicas to bed 2.

Bed 2

The middle of the three, and the first one I dug back in 2012, is falling apart and needs to be rebuilt. I’m going to try to reshape it to be closer to 4×8, and fill it up with new soil and fresh compost. I’ll be out with my trusty shovel, Shovescaliber, the very first warm, dry day.

Into this bed I’m going to put a few tomato plants, probably two slicers and two plums. The slicers will be for casual eating, the plums will end up in salsa or bruschetta and will be dehydrated again. We’re not doing cherry tomato plants. I may consider one or two more plants, if I can find a novel variety we want to try.

Whatever space the tomatoes don’t fill, I’ll probably do herbs or something. I’ve done enough hot peppers and have no use for them this year.

Bed 3

I have about two thirds of Bed 3 planted with garlic. The remainder, and any spots in the garlic rows that don’t survive the winter, will be filled with onions. I’m probably going to stick with sweet yellow onions, since they go so well in soup. If I could buy onions in batches smaller than 50, I might try a red onion or something, but with such small space and such large bunches, it’s hard to get much variety.

I’ve thought about shallots, but I don’t have enough space for them without crowding, and I don’t like shallots nearly as much as garlic or onions.

This bed will be empty by mid July. If I can find anything else to put here that I can transplant in around that time, I’d gladly do it.  Otherwise, I may wait till August, and plant a fall crop of something.


I still have the buckets I drilled for potatoes last year. I will consider doing potatoes again this year if I can get good, professional-quality potato sets for a decent price. I’m not planting some spuds that were leftover from the grocery store, ever again.

I’ve thought about doing cucumbers, but only if I can find a variety that grows nice in pots and is resistant to powdery mildew. I’d consider other curcubits or melons, with the same caveats.

We have a few pots where we’ve done well with herbs. I think I have a better handle on how to care for basil, so I expect to do lots of that. Basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, all of these were done last year. The mint and rosemary, I hope, will come back next year.


I’ve got two cherry trees and, so long as they produce this year, I’m perfectly happy with that. A third tree would be nice, of course, but I don’t know where we would plant it (or how quickly my wife would murder me for even bringing the subject up). If she were up for more plants, I could go for a pear tree or a peach tree or….

The blueberries did well last year and I expect an even better crop this year. I’m going to lightly fertilize in the spring, then I won’t need to do much to them except keep them well watered. Since we’re doing the blueberries in containers, I’d definitely consider getting another plant (or two, or ten). Dana has already given me the green light for a third blueberry plant this year, and I’ve got one in mind that I really want to try.

We’ve talked about starting grapes before. I’d do it in a heartbeat if the time were right (and if Dana would look the other way for a few minutes).


I’d really like to make a little asparagus bed somewhere, if I could decide where to dig it. The problem with asparagus, of course, is that it could take a year or two before it was ready to be eaten, and then it could keep coming back for decades.That’s a lot of investment and a lot of commitment. Planning it out and planning it well would be key.

Leave a comment

Hard Cider Update

I’ve made two batches of hard cider so far, both are long since done primary fermentation. Here’s a quick status update.

Hard Cider Batch 1

This was an extremely simple recipe: Cider, yeast and time. The “cider” we got was already clear, so the end result is likewise clear. Overall it’s interesting and tastes like apples, with the unmistakable flavors of yeast and fermentation. I actually think it has some flavors of a light, unhopped wheat beer, probably from the lager yeast  I used. It’s weak and not very alcoholic. I racked the cider into a reclaimed wine bottle for conditioning.

After conditioning it’s pretty smooth, mostly dry and very drinkable. More aging would do it some good, but I don’t have the time nor the space to let it sit around forever. Considering the extremely simple ingredient list (apple juice, yeast, nothing else) it’s good enough and plenty worth the effort. I’ve been keeping it out as a table wine, and drinking a glass or two when the mood strikes me.

Hard Cider Batch 2

This batch was significantly more complicated than the first batch. We had a gallon of a favorite local cider in our fridge that was starting to ferment on it’s own. I transferred it to my glass jug, added some brown sugar and some honey, and a little bit of yeast nutrient to keep the yeast healthy.

Coming out of primary, the resulting cider was…pungent. It had a strong flavor, yeasty and maybe even a bit sour or funky. I decided to let it sit out and start the process of turning into vinegar. The mother has been extremely slow to form on this batch, even after adding some distilled water to dilute it down. I may end up dumping it if it doesn’t progress or if mold starts to get involved.

I’ll be posting updates about my two batches of Cherry Melomel when I taste them around the end of January.

Leave a comment

2013 Retrospective

2013 was a pretty decent year in my kitchen and garden. Here’s a short retrospective post since it’s the time of year when everybody is obligated to write one.

2013 Garden Review

2012 was a lousy year for tomatoes so I overcompensated in 2013. I ended up with way too many. I made a batch of from-scratch sauce, but my sundried tomatoes were the stand-out success story. I have a few jars of those floating around, and they’re very good.

Hot peppers were hit and miss. I ended up with two large containers of pepper vinegar and a small batch of an interesting fermented hot sauce. It’s more than enough to last me a year, and I probably won’t sow any peppers (or, not many of them) next year because the yields are never very good. Maybe if I can find a high-yield, short-season jalapeno variety to make pickled jalapeno slices…

Most of my squash were weird-looking hybrids, and I ended up not really eating any of them. I got three pumpkins, but all three of them were rotten before or shortly after halloween. I won’t bother with pumpkins again. We only got one or two butternut squashes suitable to eat, and we roasted those and made a small batch of butternut squash bisque. We had a heck of a lot of powdery mildew, so I probably won’t plant these sorts of things in the future unless I find varieties resistant to it and I’m really having a craving.

Garlic and onions were awesome, early success stories. I’ve already planted a very large bed of garlic, and have plans for onions come the start of spring.

Potatoes were a little weird this year. The plants were small and sickly looking all season, but when I dumped the buckets there were plenty of potatoes hidden under the dirt. Most were small and we didn’t really eat any of them (most had a weird, spongy feel to them). My hopes are raised that, maybe, next year I can do things better and get better results.

My new cherry trees didn’t produce any fruit this year, probably as a function of shipping/replanting stress and wacky weather. I’m hoping to see a few fruits next year. They both are covered in buds, and I can’t wait until they burst open next spring. My new blueberry bushes outperformed my expectations, and are almost double the size they were from putting on so many little shoots and new budding clusters. My hopes for next year are very high.

2013 Kitchen Review

I got a pressure cooker this year, but haven’t had much opportunity to put it to good use. Food and especially meat prices have been too high lately to justify making and shelving large batches of soup, broth or ready-to-eat meals. When prices of the raw ingredients go down, I’ll definitely be pressure cooking them up. We’ve got the jars ready and waiting.

Jams and jellies went very well this year. For the winter months early in the year, the orange and blood orange jellies were my favorites. They were simple but bright and sunny, like a summer day or a warm winter morning in a jar. From the summer months my 50/50 cherry jam was my  standout personal favorite, but my tart cherry jam and peach-cherry jam recipes also brought in some rave reviews. People just love cherries, it seems.

I’ve started a very interesting little hobby in homebrewing. I’ve made some test batches of hard apple cider and now I’m playing with meads and melomels. There are a few more varieties of mead I’d like to try making before the summer fruit season rolls around and I can start playing with some fruit wine concoctions.  All my test batches are still aging for now, but I’m hopeful about the final results.

2014 Plans

I’m going to write up a whole post or two for my plans in the kitchen and garden, 2014. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Cherry Cyser

I mentioned in the post on Cherry Melomel that different additives give mead different names. The problem with these names is that if you go off-recipe (as I often do), it’s not always obvious what to call your creations. Last time I started a batch of Cherry Melomel, a mead with chopped cherries. This time I was cleaning out my fridge and found two containers of juice that needed to go: Cherry cider and Apple Cider. I mixed the two with my remaining honey to make another batch of flavored mead.

A fermented beverage with apple cider and honey is typically called a “Cyser. I think it’s a weird play on “cider” (many of these mead variety names have a ‘y’ jammed in the name somewhere, for reasons I do not understand). A cherry mead doesn’t really have a common special name, besides the generic “Cherry Melomel”. Unlike the Cherry Melomel that I started last time, this batch uses a blend of cherry juice  and apple cider instead of water and whole cherries.

The apple cider isn’t the most prominent ingredient, so I hesitated to call this a cyser, but then again my last recipe was called “Cherry Melomel”, so I have to call this something different.

Cherry Cyser (Cherry Melomel)

  1. 3 Cups Cherry Cider
  2. 2 Cups Sweet Apple Cider
  3. 3 Cups water (bottled spring water) [1]
  4. 1 Cup Honey
  5. Yeast [2]
  6. Yeast nutrient or other chemicals [3]

Mix the cherry cider, apple cider, water and honey in a large stock pot. Under medium-low heat, bring the mixture up to a near boil (do not boil completely, about 170°F) and pasteurize like this for 10 minutes [4]. Stir frequently, adjust temperature so it does not boil, and skim some of the foam off the top if possible. When pasteurization is complete, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (no warmer than 100°F)

During this time, sanitize your primary fermentation container, funnel, airlock and any other equipment.

Funnel your mixture into the fermentation container. Pitch in your yeast, yeast nutrient and any other chemicals you need. Cap and shake to distribute the ingredients and give a little oxygen to get the yeast started. Apply the airlock and allow to ferment, undisturbed, about 2 weeks or until bubbling has stopped or slowed to a crawl. After that, rack to secondary and allow to condition (racking every few weeks, as needed) until the mead is clear and good to drink.

Potassium Sorbate

One thing I didn’t realize in my haste, was that the apple cider I used this time (unlike the cider used in my first two batches of hard cider) contained Potassium Sorbate. Potassium Sorbate is a preservative that prevents yeast from reproducing. Manufacturers use pasteurization to kill existing yeast, and add potassium sorbate to prevent newly added yeast from propagating.

When I pitched my yeast into the mixture nothing happened. The potassium sorbate was preventing the inactive yeast from reactivating and getting the fermentation process started.

To get around this issue, and prevente myself from wasting all the valuable (and tasty ingredients) I created a starter. Potassium Sorbate only stops yeast from reproducing, it doesn’t stop existing yeast from going about normal business. If you create a starter, the yeast can grow and reproduce a little bit first, before you pitch it into the mead. This allows fermentation to continue like normal. A starter basically contains:

  1. Yeast
  2. Honey or sugar (I used about 1 Tbsp honey)
  3. Water  (I used about 3Tbsp, bottled spring water)

Mix the ingredients together and allow to sit, loosely covered, overnight. The mixture should be bubbly or fizzy by the morning. Pitch in this mixture to your mead, and wait for it to start bubbling.


After the initial scare from the potassium sorbate, the wort fermented actively. After the first day, there was no indication that anything was off about it.

I grabbed a small taste when I racked it the first time. This mixture was much drier than my previous cherry melomel, and had a good amount of fizz in it. The was decent, kind of ale-like, a little harsh, and with very little cherry or apple flavor to be found. I’m hoping that after a month or two of conditioning the harshness will go away and some of the fruit flavors will start to shine through again.


  1. I used the cider I had available, 3 cups of the cherry and 2 cups of the apple. I topped off with water. If I had more cider, I would have used it instead of the water.
  2. I used my remaining packet of champagne yeast
  3. I used basic yeast nutrient, but there are other things that could be tried. Pectic Enzyme might be helpful if you’re looking for a clear result (I don’t care about clarity). Eventually, something like a metabisulfite would be used to kill off the remaining yeasts when fermentation is complete
  4. If you have a thermometer, your mixture should be over 180°F for 10 minutes. I don’t, so I winged it.
  5. Yeast may like to be pitched at a temperature higher than room temperature, to jolt them back into action. Follow whatever instructions come with your yeast.