Baking Blackberry Jam -- Very Low Sugar

Blackberry jam is done, thanks to a friend who reminded me (via  Facebook post about her own fresh-picked, frozen blackberries) that I needed to pick the blackberries in our backyard. My berries never went into the freezer. Instead, I immediately made low-sugar, baked blackberry jam.

My philosophy on blackberry picking is one for the bowl, one for me. One into the bowl, one into my mouth. I picked 9 and a half cups of blackberries. So you can do the math about how many I ate! Oh they were wonderful! They taste like summer.

As I write this, my blackberry jam has just come out of the oven. It took two hours to bake. Baking jam -- the long, slow way -- means you need very little sugar. (It also means very little work. Just stir occasionally and work on writing a manuscript while I wait) and I put in one and a quarter cups of sugar for 9 and a half cups of blackberries. If you are not familiar with jam making, that is a VERY low sugar recipe -- and you cannot tell, I promise. My jams taste like fresh fruit, which is why I love my slow-baked jam recipes. Coming to a book soon!

Now, I need some waffles or toast or something to go with this warm, fresh jam I’ve been licking off a spoon...

Harvesting Winter Wheat from our Garden - July 2012

The garden harvest is in full swing, and if you can’t eat out of your garden in the months of July and August, you just aren’t trying!

Of course, in the self-sufficient garden, the harvest looks a little different.

For the past month, we’ve been harvesting not only vegetables (which we do year-round) but also a lot of seeds. One of them is  Turkey Red Winter Wheat.

Our wheat was done (fully dry on the stalk) in the first week of July. I cut the heads off with scissors and threshed them using an antique hand-crank thresher I came across in a local antiques store in June. The thresher had been sitting in an outside area at the store for so long the price tag had been sun-bleached blank. The owner asked for 70 bucks. I said I’d pay $30. He immediately agreed. The threshing went much, much faster with this great hand-crank machine, and the kids did all the cranking because they thought it was great fun. What more could I ask?! I harvested 2 and a half cups of wheat from 8 square feet of wheat. This is winter wheat, and it was planted on Aug. 30 2011. It overwintered without any protection whatsoever, and our coldest night-time temp was minus-7 below zero this past winter (which, by the way, was 10 degrees warmer than our coldest temp the winter before).

Here is a fun fact about my thresher. Scratched into the metal is this inscription: “Pickles, Sept. 24, 1954.”


This machine was never used to make pickles (as you can see from looking at it, cucumbers would never go through this machine.) But the word sure looks like pickles, as best as I can make out. The date is pretty clear. I’ve wondered if the inscription really says “picked” -- which is a word used in the antiques world for “acquired” or “gotten”. Or maybe the scratched-in word says “picked up”. Here is a picture. What do you think? I would love to know more about this machine. I don’t think it was made in the 1950s -- I think it is more WWI era. At any rate, it is a gorgeous machine in my eyes, and I’m so happy to say that not only did I save it, but I’ve given this machine back its old job! And it works flawlessly. And fast.

Natural Yeast: The Heartburn Cure

My interest in the health benefits of natural yeast started when my heartburn ended.

I was introduced to natural yeast when my co-author, Melissa Richardson, brought a warm loaf of natural yeast, whole wheat bread to my writing class one evening. She passed out slices with butter and it was wonderful. When she mentioned that it was made with natural yeast, I was beyond interested. I had always wondered how bread was made before the invention of grocery store yeast, and I had never been able to find the answer. That evening, the answer walked into my classroom. The next week, Melissa brought me a start of natural yeast. We have been using it ever since at our house.

To her credit, Melissa tried to tell me some of the health benefits of natural yeast, but I had ZERO interest. I assumed she’d read some internet rumors about natural yeast, and I didn’t care. What I did care about was that natural yeast is self-sufficient. If I could master it, we would never have to buy grocery store yeast again (and we haven’t).

Before I ever met Melissa and her yeast, I had been taking Prilosec for massive heartburn for about 12 years. When you go to the doctor with terrible heartburn, the doctor says you have acid reflux disease, take this little purple pill everyday for the rest of your life. What the doctor didn’t tell me is that the longer you take the pill, the less it works. Very slowly, your heartburn starts to return -- at least that is what happened to me. Even with the pill, I couldn’t eat pepperoni, or anything with mint in it -- gum or ice cream..

At one point in 1999, I was rushed to the emergency room with radiating chest pain. Doctors initially thought I was have a heart attack even though I was in my late 20s at the time. But it turned out to almost be worse. What I really had was an esophageal ulcer, created by heartburn (stomach acid) beginning to burn a hole into my esophagus. This is considered pre-cancerous. The doctor said if I didn’t cut out everything in my diet that caused heartburn, the ulcer would grow, turn into throat cancer, and that would be that. Next patient, please.

No one told me there was another option.

Back to Melissa and natural yeast. One day, months after me and my wife had switched over to using the natural yeast, I realized it had been a week since I had taken one of those little purple pills. I had completely run out of my prescription, but because I had no heartburn, I hadn’t thought about it. (Back in those days, Prilosec was as prescription medication.) It had been a week, and I panicked.. I had never been a week without a pill -- if you have ever had chronic acid reflux, you know that if you go more than a day or two without your medication, your body immediately reminds you with terrible heartburn.

I told my wife to take me to the emergency room. My wife, who is calmer than I am, suggested we assess the situation. Did I have heartburn that moment, she asked.


When was the last time you had heartburn, she asked.

I couldn’t remember. Come to think of it, it had been a very long time. Months. This was very, very unusual.

She started assessing what had changed in my diet, because she was sure that my lack of heartburn was diet related. The only thing that we could think of that had changed was that we had switched to natural yeast. But at that time, we didn’t know a single thing about the health benefits of natural yeast, so we both dismissed that as even a possibility.

Long story short, I have never had a heartburn pill since that day. It’s been more than three years now.

Not one pill. And I have not had a single moment of heartburn. Not one.

As I started doing research, I learned about other people like me, who had first switched to eating whole wheat instead of white flour to reduce their heartburn, and had then switched to natural yeast.

Suddenly, I became very interested in natural yeast. What is this stuff? How is it different than grocery store yeast? Why is it different? Where does natural yeast come from? What other benefits have been documented?

I’ve now given lots of speeches about the health benefits of natural yeast, and lots of demonstrations about how to bake with it. It almost sounds like a multi-level marketing pitch -- buy this yeast and your heartburn will be cured! Except that we give the yeast away for free.

It doesn’t cost anything to try it for yourself. You don’t have to buy our natural yeast cookbook to get our free yeast -- we mail it to anyone who asks. Give it a try. If you would like a free natural yeast start, just send me an email at And if you want to look at our cookbook, The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast, you can find it here.