Sunshine in January

I promised to finish up posting my Saudi Arabian adventures now that we have returned to our Washington, DC base.  But that hasn’t yet happened.  I haven’t yet shared my Angolan adventure from early December – it involved a flash flood and a venomous snake.  [So the short story – coming out of a village right around sunset, where we had been handing out certificates to adults completing an adult literacy course sponsored by the program I was visiting, our vehicle was first, but we took a wrong turn in the pouring rain.  We ended up at the end of the four vehicle caravan.  The second vehicle was fording the small river/stream when the water hit from the flash flood caused by the torrential rains.

What you can’t see from this picture blurred by the quickly fading light and pouring rain is that the three people, from the inside of that vehicle in the middle of the water, have climbed up into that small tree where they were stuck for more than an hour while the villagers and rest of the team tried to find ropes or poles to secure rescuers sufficiently to enter the water to assist.

The snake – well we made it out after almost 3 hours.  The rain was still falling, though it has slowed and the water was much lower.  We waded out to vehicles waiting on the other side.  The next day the project team was able to drive the vehicle out from the middle of the river which was back down to normal levels.  They drove the vehicle to a car wash because it was full of silt and muck.  As they were cleaning the interior a snake came flying out of where he had sought refuge from the deluge.  We had waded out in the middle of the night, pitch black and still raining, though a flooded river with snakes and crocodiles!]

But this was supposed to be about sunshine in January.  While I will be leaving for summer in another week – Papua New Guinea with long layovers in Sydney, Australia – the summer I’m enjoying now comes from the Oregon coast.

The blackberries were ripe and abundant late August/early September this past year while I was at our forest in Curry County, OR.  So I stocked up on sunshine by making blackberry syrup.  It is super easy with a ‘steamer juicer.’  I didn’t have my own with me on the West Coast, but was able to borrow my mother’s.

These apparently are more common in Scandinavia, but my mother and grandmothers have had them for as long as I can remember.  I don’t remember using them for anything other than making super easy grape juice from concord grapes.  But it worked fantastic with blackberries.

Just below our property there are some cattle pastures where blackberries have run amok.  I was able to pick enough berries in just 30 minutes to fill the fruit basket of the juicer.  (With no electricity for freezing, I had to figure out how to preserve the blackberries – so juicing and syrup won out.)

So the juicer has a base where water is placed for the steam.

Then the juicer body is set – where the juice will collect.

On top of this is placed the fruit basket, which is perforated for the steam to penetrate and heat the berries.

– filled with berries.

With the lid in place, the water in the bottom is brought to a modest boil/strong simmer.  The instruction book cautions to check the base occasionally because you don’t want it to boil dry, but I’ve never had a problem with either grapes or with blackberries this time.  After about an hour of steaming, the berries look deflated when inspected from the top.  You start to see the juice collect in the spigot.

In the back of this picture you can see the black granitewear of my canner.  The juice should be sufficiently sterilized through this process that you can directly bottle the juice without additional hot water bath canning processing.  But I generally water bath process everything again.  For juice, I just filled a number of pint jars directly and then processed for 10-15 minutes in a water bath canner.  For syrup, I blended equal parts juice with sugar and then poured that into pint jars for canning (same 10-15 minutes.)  Blackberries have significant pectin, so the syrup will have a bit of body to it naturally with the sugar.

Sunshine in January – blackberry syrup over crepes in the morning!

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