Julia's Child, published by Plume/Penguin, is a book about organic food, and growing food, and feeding food to small wiggly people who don't always appreciate it.  This blog celebrates those same things, but also green living. And coffee.  And sometimes wine with little bubbles in it.


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Mixed Berry Pie

I used to dislike making pie crusts, because my all-butter crusts were difficult to roll out.  I thought that if I added additional flour while rolling, they would bake up hard and inflexible. So I would roll them between two sheets of plastic wrap. It works, but it's environmentally bad and makes frequent wrinkles in the crust, as if the crust had a bad case of pillow face.

So last year I learned to just throw a handful of flour on the crust. Et voila. It doesn't stick and it isn't tough. I also roll out the crust on a Sil-Pat, which I think is worth its weight in gold.

Mixed berry pie can be anything you have. Most summer berries are low in pectin, so you'll want to consider grating a peeled granny smith apple into the pie. The apple disappears, and the added pectin helps the pie gel up properly. (Unless you got started later than you thought and the kids are in their jammies already and you just have to serve dessert when its still warm. The pie will run everywhere, but you won't mind because it's warm berry pie.)

THE CRUST (Make Two)

1/2 Cup + 2 TBSPs All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

1 Stick Unsalted Butter cut into 10 pieces

Ice water standing ready

Put both flours and the butter pieces into the food processor and process until coarse like wet gravel. With processor running, drizzle 3 tablespoons of water into the processor and watch the dough. When it (soon) begins to ball together, stop processor.  Pinch the dough in one spot to make sure it comes together. If everything looks too dry, you could add a few drips of water and process again.

Dump dough onto the silpat and gather into a ball. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Repeat for second crust. Preheat the oven to 450.


5 cups berries, washed dried and stems removed

1 apple, peeled and grated

1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine berries with apple, sugar and lemon juice.  Toss lightly with wooden spoon.


Remove dough from the refrigerator. Flour the sil-pat and your rolling pin liberally. Roll out the first crust, then drape it into the bottom of your pie dish. Pour the prepared fruit into the crust.

Roll out the second crust and drape it on top. Crimp edges, then cut six slits in the top crust which will allow the steam to escape as the fruit cooks.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 and continue to bake for 45 minutes or until the fruit juices can be heard to bubble rapidly and the pie has turned golden brown.

Cool completely. (Even if people beg.)


What's in an Ice Cream Cone?

I'm just the sort of nerd who wants to know who invented ice cream cones. A little research on the subject reveals that the first recognizeable ice cream cones were sold at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Several different fair vendors claim to have invented it. Whichever of them was first, the product took off immediately, with everyone suddenly in love with them. (Kind of like Twitter, but crispier.)

Cones were rolled only by hand until 1912 when a man named Frederick Bruckman patented a machine for rolling them. In 1928, he sold his business and rights to Nabisco.

Fast forward 85 years or so and step into a modern grocery store. The box of cones on the shelf you see in front of you is made by... Nabisco. (The box says "Comet" but that's a Nabisco brand.)

So I'd like to congratulate Nabisco on having the foresight to pony up for the 1928 rights.  Whatever you paid, Nabisco, it must have been worth it. Bruckman's heirs got the short straw on that one.

But don't get a swelled head, you mega food giant, because I have a question. Why on earth would you put transfats (partially hydrogenated oils) in an ice cream cone? Why? Surely the airy, slightly stale texture of a commercial wafer cone will not be irrevocably ruined by a healthier oil. You are really behind the curve on this one. Just fix it, will you? 

Pretty please?


Review: The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin

As I admitted before, I've always been a little afraid of preserving things. But since my husband planted 50 fruit trees and shrubs last year, I'd better figure it out before we're buried in overripe fruit. (Many of his darlings are still infants, so at least I've got a couple of years to educate myself.)

I was seduced by The River Cottage Preserves Handbook because of its beauty. I tucked it under my arm in the bookstore like a lost kitten, and never quite put it down again until the checkout counter. The still life photography of preserves in simple jars is extraordinarily attractive. The book's design is also gorgeous.

But worried that I'd succumbed to a pretty face at the expense of substance. Would this full price hardcover beauty be a good worker too? Things looked up as the bookseller handed back my credit card. "I love this book. The mint syrup is to die for."

I had nothing to fear. The Making Perfect Jams instructions were concise and supportive, and taught me things that I haven't read in any other book about canning. Did you know that tougher fruit skins will not soften properly if you add the sugar immediately? I, for one, did not.  The science of jamming and jellying is laid out nicely here, and I appreciate the table showing the pectin content of different fruits.  I can't wait to try the fruit leathers.

The recipes are quite adventurous. Apple lemon curd? Roasted Sweet Beet Relish? Yes, please.  I especially appreciate the section on cordials. Elderflower cordial! Come to mama.

The only hesitation I had after a thorough read was that the book was first published in the UK, and then converted. So the amounts of fruits nearly always read: "2.25 pounds plums," for example.  That's a kilo, people. Caught you! But then I realized that this quick conversion is less troubling in a book on preserves than anyplace else. When we pick our own fruit, it surely doesn't come to us in even poundage.

I'm smitten. And my kitchen scale is happy to take up the slack.


Strawberry Blueberry Jam

I have to admit that I've always been a little fearful of preserving things. My husband refers to me as Food Safety Girl. I've been known to stand in front of the refrigerator scrutinizing leftover breasts of chicken, as if they were suspected of terrorist activities. With food safety, there's a fine line between cautious and crazy, and it's anyone's guess which side I'm on.

So preserving fruit has always sounded a little scary, and reading about it is doubly so.  Most canning books make frequent use of the words "botulism" and "bacteria." They don't really put me in the happy experimental mood necessary to dive into a new recipe.

But I overcame my fear this past week and made Strawberry Blueberry jam from berries we'd picked. (The strawberries were picked in june, and I'd frozen two cups of berry halves.) And... wow! This is a recipe I'm sure to repeat next year.

2 cups halved strawberries (defrosted)
4 cups blueberries
3 cups white sugar
The juice of 1 lemon


I cooked the fruit, sugar and lemon juice for more than a half hour, while sterilizing the jars in boiling water. Because I don't like the way blueberries fail to spread in jam, I actually pulsed my stick blender into the simmering jam. I put a saucer in the freezer for a while, then dropped a teaspoon of my thickening jam onto it. When I saw that this gelled, I knew the jam was ready.

With a funnel, I filled the jars to 1/4 inch from the top and sealed them.  Et voila.  The leftover bit was allowed to cool in a stray jar, and we ate it the next day.  Wonderful!  Like heaven on toast.


How to Pick Blackberries in Your Yard

First, buy a property that's been allowed to grow wild for some years.  Then, become overwhelmed with moving, writing, parenting and life for a year or so, and ignore the problem. In early spring, when you notice that the blackberry patch has encroached on your ability to reach the compost pile behind the barn, take a pair of snips and hack down a lot of the canes.  Cut anything that's dead, or in your way or leaning over. We'll call that pruning.

Ignore the blackberry patch further. Don't use any commercial fertilizer, don't bother with mulch, and don't stake up the plants.  This style of cultivation is called uber lazy hyper organic.

When the plants flower, take a few pretty pictures, wave to the bees and other little pollinators and step aside. It's okay to actually curse the blackberry plants a little bit.  You'll want to, because they spring up in your tomato garden, in your driveway, and even through the boards of your deck. They are weeds, and they have thorns.

When beautiful black purple fruit matures, put on old clothes. I literally used a tee shirt from my rag pile. Choose long sleeves even though it's hot outside, because it's better for those thorns to prick your shirt than your arm. Don't forget socks.

It's so quiet where I live that when I put my little cardboard quart container on the grass, I can hear the little blades bending underneath its weight.  Pick only the darkest berries (this photo is pretty but somehow makes my berries look underripe, which they are not.) And if a berry looks tight and skinny, leave that one until tomorrow too.

Pick every day.  Eat.  Enjoy.


Squirrels & Woodpeckers & Spicy Food... Oh My!

This is a Downy Woodpecker.  (Photo by Wolfgang Wander.) Mr. & Mrs. Downy (and their cousins Mr. & Mrs. Hairy Woodpecker) love to eat suet cakes.

First, my husband made a homemade suet cake by pouring bacon fat over a tub full of sunflower seeds. When the fat hardened, we suspended this tasty concoction in a suet cage from the maple tree outside our kitchen window.  It was an instant success. The woodpeckers, who could never be enticed to visit our other window, showed up hungry.

This worked well until the first warm sunny day of spring, when the bacon fat melted, dumping suet in greasy globs onto the grass below.  But hey, I can spring for a $3 suet cake from the food coop. Because I'm big like that. I bought one of the peanut butter flavored cakes and hung it up.

This proved so attractive to the local wildlife that a raccoon climbed up there, unstrung the cage and carried the whole thing away. 

So, back to the store. Hubby bought a new cage, made of wrought iron! Unless the neighborhood raccoons are doing 'roids, they won't be able to budge it.  The commercial suet cakes were once again the talk of the town. But one very wiley little red squirrel heard about the party. He (or she?) would sit up there, stick his little nose between the bars and gobble down the food. Worse, the squirrel chased the birds away.

Then my husband discovered hot pepper suet cakes. The squirrel took a few bites, fell from the feeder as if stabbed, and ran away "never to be seen again" as they'd say in a fairy tale.

And it's worked for weeks: happy woodpeckers, no squirrels. But I do wonder... Either this is a miracle solution. Or we're sending a lot of woodpeckers to the gastroenterologist.  I do hope it's the former and not the latter.


How to Cook Tortellini... Or Not

Part of the fun of writing Julia's Child was to meet and talk to a lot of small foodie business owners. I love small food producers, and I go out of my way to buy their goods.  Putney Pasta is the perfect example. Putney, VT (as well as their current headquarters in Brattleboro) are close to my home.  

Not only is their product local to me, but it's also terrific. Their three cheese tortellini runs in heavy rotation on our menu at home. (Add broccoli, garlic, parmesan... eat.) But one instruction on their packaging was mysterious to me. So I decided to write them a little letter about it. Here goes:

Dear Putney Pasta,

I love your products, especially the 3 Cheese Ravioli (because I am a purist).  I love that yours is a Vermont company, and that the ingredients list is squeaky clean.  But... (there's always a but, isn't there?) the instructions are a real puzzle to me.  They specify cooking the tortellini for at least 3 minutes, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. 

Really?  Do you actually have an instant read thermometer small enough and quick enough to take a tortellini's temperature?  Do people do this?  I have owned several different kitchen thermometers over the years--digital ones, dial thermometers, even one on a long cord so that the reading end could be inside the oven and the business end out.  And none of them ever seemed very accurate, even in a 3 pound roast.  Perhaps I just have very bad luck.

Just curious,


And of course, being a wonderful little small company, they wrote me back:

Hi Sarah;

I appreciate your concern and frustration. I 100% agree..but this is a statement that is put on our label (and that of many companies) to appease the legal powers that be. I’m sure you are cooking our product as you should.



Huh.  Yet another incidence of lawyers rewriting something until it makes no sense at all.  There's a joke in there somewhere: how many lawyers does it take to boil a tortellini?  Or something.  Carry on, then.


Pick Those Blueberries, Kid!

Is that quart half full? Or half empty?I think I'm the Tiger Mother of blueberry picking. 

My older child has been a champion picker since the age of 4. My younger child, now almost six, picks too. But then he eat what he picks.

My solution has been to give each kid a quart container, and then hint that anyone who wants a ride back home had better fill it. To the top.

Don't worry. My kids know that I won't really leave them at the paradise that is our local organic farm. But the empty container does help to give them a benchmark. Last spring I interviewed the manager of our local U-pick operation for a newspaper article, and her mother was even more hard core than I am. She told me the family rule was that you could only eat three berries while they picked. She's the tiger mother. I'm merely ambitious, for all the good it does me. The farm should weigh my younger son before and after we pick there.

If speed (rather than an idyllic day lounging among the fruit-loaded shrubberies) is your goal, try the milk jug method. Blueberries are easier to pick if you have two hands free. Cut a large portion of the top off of a plastic milk jug, leaving the handle entirely intact. Then, find some cord or a ribbon and tie it in a big loop around the handle. Make this long enough to go around your neck, such that the charton hangs with its open top at belly height. Now you can use two hands to tease the berries off the branches, dropping them into the milk jug as you go.

I'm all about the efficiency. Pies require quite a few berries. And pie is important. Thanks to the adorable kitchen nerds over at Cook's Illustrated, I now know to shave the flesh of one Granny Smith apple into the pie filling. The natural pectin helps the pie gel up.


And... "Hey kid! Put it in the basket, wouldya? I saw that."