A New Book Coming…and I’m Writing It! What It’s About and How to Pre-Order

So, I’m writing a book.  For over a year I have been shopping a proposal to publishers.  I knew that I could self publish at any point, but I have wanted to collaborate with a publisher for many reasons, not the least of which is to tap in to a professional editor’s expertise in helping to make the book  something that will best serve my audience and that will have a viable distribution channel.   One publisher told me that the proposed book was too broad for their niche.  Another publisher told me it was too niche for their broad audience.  Fortunately, like Goldilocks, I found a match that was just right in Down East Books, headquartered in Rockport, Maine (yes, I know the image says Camden, but trust me on this), which is an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield in Maryland.

This book is both in itself, and is about, the realization of dreams.  I learned to read when I was three.  My mother always said I was two but I’m adding a year to that to make up for a possible exaggeration on her part.  I mean, maybe?  But no matter.  I started writing stories at about age five, drawing pictures to go with them.  I remember one in particular was titled, “The Foggy Frog.”  I collected frogs, the toy and figurine type, although I played with real live toads on the regular outdoors on the edge of the southern NJ Pine Barrens where I grew up.  I remember the pictures I drew.  I could recreate them even today.  By the time I was twelve I knew I wanted to publish books of my own.  I was twelve over forty years ago.  In the intervening four decades I had stopped listening to the inner me who wanted to write, make art, play music, and have a creative career.  People who meet me today think I’ve been working in the creative economy my entire life, but it’s only been since 2014 that I’ve worked in fiber art full time.  By the time my new book is published it will be 2020.  I will turn fifty-five years old in 2020.  I want you to hear something loudly and clearly in this:  it is never too late to realize a dream.

The working title of this book is,  Seasons at the Parris House: Heritage Skills for a Contemporary Life.  I have no idea at this moment whether or not that will be the title on the front of my book when it is released in 2020 but it captures the essence of what it is about.  Let me take an excerpt from my proposal to explain the vantage point from which I approach this project:

“When I was thirty five, eighteen years ago, my husband and I moved ourselves and our four then-little sons from the urban/suburban Princeton, NJ area, a region in which we had spent our entire lives, to rural Western Maine.  We went from a 1950s mid century modern cape on a suburban lot to a two hundred year old Federal home and barn in a National Historic District. Our new neighbor across the street had a cow in the backyard, much to our young sons’ amusement.   I was a stay at home mother with a degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Delaware. I had, prior to becoming an at-home mom, worked in market research and in procurement and project management for a large defense contracting company on busy Route 1 in NJ.  I didn’t garden, I didn’t hook rugs, I didn’t keep chickens or bees, I had no idea how to can food. Upon arriving to the Parris House, I noticed that our apple trees looked like they needed some attention, but I had no idea what to do. Sometimes I baked. But it seemed as though almost everyone around me in my new home was proficient in at least one heritage skill, whether they were my age or old timers, and I thought, “That’s amazing.  I need to learn these things too.” That was the beginning of my journey of bringing heritage skills into my own life, without a big farm, without a lot of formal training, but rather learning them the way the people around me had learned them: the passing on of knowledge, often inter-generationally, from one human being to another.”

That was my situation upon the realization of one of my most fervent dreams to that point, which had been to move to rural Maine and raise my sons here.  What I know now is that the desire to work with my hands, create something out of nothing, grow and preserve food, keep animals and insects, and “practice heritage skills,” was not unique to me.  In the nearly two decades I have lived here in Maine and collected a new skill set, the yearning for these skills among the general population has only increased, including among people living in urban areas and people with little to no land at all to work with.  I tell people all the time that none of this is rocket science, but they often seem skeptical.  They seem to believe that heritage skills are complicated, mysterious, or beyond their reach.  They are not, and this book is for anyone who wants to make a start toward learning them.

I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition in my own life of living in a two hundred year old home in a National Historic District while always embracing the newest technology I could afford.  At the Parris House we have smart phones, smart lights, and smart thermostats.  This laptop I’m writing on right now, not to mention the fact that I use it to run a business that’s about 90% online, is a technological godsend.  We also have centuries old windows with wavy glass and completely pesticide free growing practices.   I dye wool in pots on top of a vintage gas range…and then sell that wool to anyone literally in the world who wants it via the internet.  You don’t have to live like Laura Ingalls on the prairie to embrace heritage skills, and you don’t have to completely forsake the solid methods of our ancestors to live a contemporary life.  Mix it up.  Make some dreams come true with it all.

The book will take you through the four seasons at the Parris House.  It will take a look at the historical contexts of the place, people who went before us, and lifestyle behind what we do here today.  Each season will have fiber art projects, recipes, growing tips, fun things for you to try yourself.  You do not need a farm.  You do not even need a lawn for some of these projects.   They will require no super specialized equipment, impossible to source ingredients, or secret codes to unlock. They will be simple, but not insult your intelligence.  Each featured project or recipe will result in something valuable, beautiful, and/or delicious but without unnecessary complication.  Many will be starting points or stepping stones to get you on your way to a deeper study of whatever it is you find you are most interested in.

It will have beautiful pictures, because I’m a visual person and I’m going to be taking lots of beautiful pictures for this project.

It will be a working book.   While I hope to make it visually inviting, it is not meant to sit on the coffee table or the shelf.  It is meant to be out and open on your kitchen counter or table, in your craft area, or even outside with you, as a reference and companion for the projects it contains.  Get it dirty, dog ear the pages, use the hell out of it.

For me personally, this book will be a grateful acknowledgment of Maine, of Paris Hill, and of the Parris House.  Without this setting, I would be a different person living a very different life.  That aspect will be strongest to me alone, though, because this book is really written for and focused on you in your place and in your life, be it urban or rural, east coast or west or somewhere in between, in North America or well beyond.

By the time this book is published, we will be gearing up here to offer seasonal quarterly retreats at the Parris House which will provide hands on experiences in fiber art and heritage skills, which will provide more learning opportunities for those who want to expand their making and doing.

Sound interesting?  I was brand-new-author-thrilled when I saw that Rowman & Littlefield had already put up a pre-order page for the book.  You can click on that HERE.   Please remember that publication is not scheduled until 2020.  In the meantime, I’m working hard!

If you would like to keep up to date on everything that’s planned for the next chapter (pun intended), a sign up box for our newsletter is at the bottom of every page of the website.  You will never be spammed.  In fact, the newsletter needs to publish a bit more often (as time allows…or doesn’t…).

For a glimpse of the Parris House homestead, enjoy the pics in the slideshow below.

That’s the big news from here.  Thank you for reading.  – Beth

 

Wool Dyeing with Acorns – A Serendipitous Experiment

My second son, James, is a biologist/ecologist, a recent grad of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He is at home right now, teaching biology and environmental science at Hebron Academy.  He also serves on the board of the Center for an Ecology Based Economy in Norway, Maine.   He is here until his Canadian girlfriend, Beth, graduates also this spring.  Then he’ll be gone to Canada to start his life with her.  But…for the time being, he’s home, and we have learned a LOT from him about nature, plants, soil science, composting, climate change, birds and animals, and more.

As a result, we were not surprised when he announced he was going to try to make a bread meal out of acorns, which is something native peoples did prior to the arrival of Europeans on this continent, and which people who like to try this sort of thing still do today.  It’s a long process.  The primary issue is that the tannins need to be removed from the acorns before they are fit for human consumption.  Tannins are found in every day beverages, like tea and coffee, but acorns are extremely loaded with them.  This makes them not only bitter, but prone to causing the types of gastrointestinal upset not spoken of in polite company or professional blog posts.

To get the tannins out, James needed to soak the acorn meal for an extended period of time and change the water frequently.  He told me that some people will even put their bundle of acorns in to a running stream to let the tannins be leached out over time in the moving water.  Before he could do the leaching process, he had to crack the acorns open, pull the meat out of the shell, and then grind it all up in the food processor.  When he reached the point where he needed, “a cotton dish towel, or cheese cloth, or something” to hold the meal, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  I said to him, “How about if we wrap it in white wool and see if it will dye it?”  Fortunately, he was game.  And I knew that the water would be changed so frequently (several times a day in the beginning) that the wool would not get weird or stinky on us.

So the process began.  The water was changed frequently over the course of weeks.  Every once in a while we tasted the meal.  Sure enough, the bitterness was dissipating, and the wool was getting more and more nut colored.  I knew that at the end of the process, when the meal was ready for drying and baking, I’d have to mordant the wool, but this could obviously not be done while the acorn meal was still wrapped in it.

Finally, one day, James declared the meal ready for baking.  He took it out of the water, and the wool, and dried it on sheets in the oven.  The dried meal was then frozen in jars until he baked a bread with it at Christmas time.  It’s…an acquired taste.  There was some residual bitterness, but it also had an earthy, nutty quality that I very much liked.  The reviews were mixed with the visiting brothers, girlfriends, cousins, and grandparents.  If you’d like to try processing acorn meal and baking with it yourself, there are many resources on the web that can guide you.

I took the wool, mordanted it as best I knew how in a hot bath of white vinegar (I know there are better mordants for a natural dye like this, but this is what I had on hand), rinsed it, and dried it.

I like the color.  It’s a soft, nutty, slightly mottled tan, a little darker and yellower where the meal actually sat all that time, and I have a half yard piece – or I can put it in to fat quarters if you prefer – to sell.  I will be pricing them at $14/fat quarter.  (Contact me if interested!)  This wool is truly one of a kind as I don’t think I’ll be processing acorns again anytime soon.  Or maybe I will.  Maybe I will find a process more suitable to dyeing specifically and give it another try.  This was serendipitous, kind of akin to the Thai iced tea dye I did a while back after noticing how brilliant the color of the tea was when it spilled on my counter top.

Natural dyeing is not my area of expertise.  I do not currently teach it, because I feel that I don’t know enough about it.  I do plan to invite someone wonderful who does, however, to the Parris House in the summer or fall, so keep an eye on “Classes & Events” for when I can get that scheduled.

Happy hooking!  – Beth

 

 

 

 

Depression Era Poor Man’s Cake, Courtesy My Grandmother (and a Coupon Code For You)

My grandmother, Mary Barnard, with my niece, Rose, my son, Robert, and my husband, Bill, circa 1991, at her Little Sebago Lake cottage in Gray, Maine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately.  I often think of her in challenging times for so many reasons.  At the moment I am realizing that I can no longer realistically run Parris House Wool Works as alone as I have been, because I am running myself ragged (no, threadbare) keeping up with all of the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given.  I have one fantastic helper, a virtual assistant, already started, and two other people waiting for me to get my act and timing together in a smart enough way to hand them some work.  So really, not catastrophic, but the overwhelm is a bit much right now.  Additionally, and more actually truly sad, the canine love of my life, Corgi Tru, was diagnosed with cancer last week and is not expected to live the summer.  She is twelve and she’s had a fantastic life, but I wasn’t ready to face letting her go so soon.

I think about my grandmother in stressful times because I loved her so much and she was such an enormous influence on who I am today.  The very best times of my childhood were spent at her summer cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  I was a stressed out child, mostly due to circumstances at home but also because, well, I seem to have been born Type A (I’m working on it). The summer cottage time in Maine with my grandmother was the antidote to that stress.  There were no crazy expectations at the cottage.  I was always good enough.  In fact, I was great, or so my grandmother told me.  We played cards, swam in the lake, climbed hills to find wild blueberries, hiked to an abandoned cellar hole and cemetery, and ate.  We ate ice cream every night at 8 o’clock on the dot.  My grandmother didn’t scoop it out like most people do.  Nope.  She took the paper wrapping off the half gallon – a true half gallon back in the ’70s – and then cut the ice cream in to perfectly even bricks.  I will never know whether she did this just to have nice equal servings or because she had been a Depression era mom and this was the most efficient way to divvy up a box of ice cream.

As I said, my grandmother had been a Depression era mother to three children, my Uncle Courtland, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, Elizabeth, all born between 1920 and 1928.  She knew what difficulty really meant.  She lost both of her parents before she was forty herself, and she survived the indescribable worry that must have come with having a son and son-in-law serving in combat during World War II.   As a child I never gave any of these things a thought.  I just knew that this was the sunny grandmother who made my life a dream in the summers and had introduced me to Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Grape Nut ice cream, daily diary keeping, Canasta, and, perhaps most pivotally, Maine.

I would often awake in the summer time to the delicious aromas of whatever my grandmother was already baking in the kitchen.  Sometimes it was homemade fried donuts, or cookies, or the recipe I’m going to share with you now, Poor Man’s Cake.  Poor Man’s Cake was a Great Depression recipe and I’d bet there are variations of it, if not this same recipe, in your family too.  It may even be older because my copy of the recipe from my grandmother says, “Poor Man’s Cake, World War,” which may indicate World War I.  Her brother, my great uncle Winfield Martin, had fought in France during the Great War and nearly died.  Thankfully, he recovered in a hospital in France, came home and lived a long and good life.  You will notice that this recipe has no milk, no butter, no eggs.  But don’t be put off.  Either this cake is the most delicious and addictive old recipe ever, or…it just is to me because so many memories are attached to it.

Here it is for you to try.

1 pound raisins in 2 cups water, boiled 15 minutes

Add to the raisins…

3/4 cup shortening and mix together

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp baking soda

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp salt

4 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

1/2 jar candied fruit (I don’t know what 1/2 jar measures out to, but feel free to wing it)

Mix all ingredients together.  Bake at 275 degrees for one hour in 3 greased and floured loaf pans.

I know that sounds like a very low oven temperature, but that’s what my grandmother did.  What you end up with is a very soft, very dark raisin/fruitcake, very unlike those doorstop fruitcakes often found in the supermarket during the holidays.  Sometimes she left out the candied fruit and it was more of a raisin spice cake/bread.

This week (May 22nd to May 29th) I’ll offer coupon code POORMANSCAKE in the Etsy and Shopify shops for 10% off your order of $25 or more, and let me know if you try the recipe!

Happy hooking – Beth

 

Jen's Independence Day Apple Pie Recipe!

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What goes together better than hooking and homemade apple pie!?  Here’s Jen’s recipe…

Put on your pink 1950s apron and get ready to impress your friends! It’s homemade apple pie.

Apple Pie!

For the crust:

Make ahead of time and let it cool in the refrigerator.

2 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon of kosher salt

¾ teaspoon of sugar

½ cup of chilled butter, cut into pieces

½ cup of chilled shortening, cut in to pieces

Place the first three ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine.

Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until crumbly. Transfer to a bowl.

Working quickly, stir mixture with a fork, gradually adding ¼ to ½ cup ofvery cold water until dough begins to form. Roll into a ball and divide into two equal portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least one hour.

6 cups (1 ½ lbs) of peeled, sliced apples (I use Golden Delicious)

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

½ cup of sugar

½ firmly packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

½ ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons of butter or margarine (Come on, you know you want to use real butter.)

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (I use it sparingly)

2 teaspoons of sugar

1/8 of a teaspoon ground cinnamon

On a lightly floured surface, roll ½ of your pastry to about 1/8 inch thick and place into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine apple and lemon juice. Ina seperate bowl, add 1/2 cup of sugar and next four ingredients. Mix well. Pour over apples mixture, tossing gently. Spoon the mixture evenly in pastry shell and dot with butter.

Roll the remaining pastry shell to 1/8 inch thickness and transfer to the top of pie. Form a pretty crust by pinching the edges or if you have extra pastry, use a cookie cutter to form maple leaves or other cute design and add to top of pie for decoration. Cut slits in the top of crust. Brush with beaten egg (I never use the whole egg yolk as I think it tends to brown too much).

Combine:

2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/8 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle over the pie. Cover the edges of crust with foil to prevent too much browning and place in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 50 more minutes. I take off the foil during the last ten or fifteen minutes to brown the edges.

Don’t leave in the windowsill to cool as some pesky neighborhood child might run off with it. Sit down and enjoy with a large glass of milk!

Happy baking and happy hooking!!!

Parris House Savory Dill Easter Bread

We all have THAT cook book, especially if we’ve been around the kitchen for a while.  It’s the cook book with the dog ears, the stained pages, and a history.  For me, THAT cook book is the old 1980s version of the Betty Crocker Cook Book.  I received it as a gift for my bridal shower in 1987 and have used it faithfully ever since.  It has the best mac and cheese recipe ever in it, and the recipe for quiche which wins me accolades.  In fact, I served that quiche at our Maine studio opening event in 2013 and a couple of people still talk to me about that quiche.  Really.  But aside from using the recipes just as they stand, following this classic cook book also taught me a lot about cooking, and how to make my own recipes.  I even have a four leaf clover pressed in to the pages of this cook book. I think that makes it extra lucky.

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For a lot of years I used the basic bread recipe in this cook book when baking bread, but gradually over time I started diverging from the recipe, and then I started just winging bread recipes entirely.  It became like soup; you just do it.  The recipe for the Parris House Savory Easter Bread is a combo.  The basic bread recipe in this cook book was the jumping off point, but I changed it considerably.  And the traditional Italian Easter bread, which is actually a very sweet bread with lots of sugar in the dough and sprinkles on top, also inspired this bread in form and appearance.  My mother made Italian Easter Bread every year, and so I hesitated before so radically changing the recipe for our Easter dinner, but I wanted something savory with a rustic farmhouse look. Here’s what I came up with…

  • 1 package dry yeast (or 1 TBSP)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 TSP sea salt
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3-1/2 cups bread flour (add more if you need to but be careful not to make the dough tough)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Just before baking:

  • Six RAW eggs, colored or not (your preference)
  • 3 TBSP melted butter
  • 2 TBSP sea salt

OK!  Combine the yeast and all the wet ingredients, the sea salt, and the sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk them well. Gradually mix in the flours  until you have a wet dough, then add the chopped dill, mix some more.  Add the rest of the flour and when you have a knead-able consistency turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead it for several minutes until it starts to become nice and smooth.

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Use a little cooking spray or oil in a large bowl and plop the dough down in to it.  Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm location to rise.

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While the dough is rising, choose your decorative eggs.  I chose to use the eggs just as they are straight from the Parris House Hens.  These girls lay pretty eggs.

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However, you could certainly use any eggs you wanted, and in traditional Easter breads, dyed eggs are used.  I chose these six:

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After about an hour your dough should be at least double in size.  See the before and after pics here…

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Now it’s time to punch the dough down, and create the circular braid.  Divide the dough in to three equal sized balls, then roll them out in to equal length and width ropes.  From there it’s just like braiding hair.  Braid the dough and then form it in to a circle, molding together the two ends.  Don’t worry that the connection doesn’t look braided; you’re going to just put an egg in there.  Space the other eggs evenly tucking them in the nooks in the braid.  These eggs should be RAW because they bake in the oven as the bread bakes, so be careful about pushing on them too hard at this stage lest they break.

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Now you need to let the bread rise again, about 45 minutes.  It will again almost double in size and puff up around the eggs.

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Now it’s time to prepare the bread for baking.  Melt a little butter and brush it on to the bread, avoiding the eggs so that they do not discolor during baking.  Sprinkle a bit of sea salt on the buttered areas, again avoiding getting it on the eggs.  I actually did get a bit of sea salt on my eggs and they speckled from it.

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Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (I’m sorry, my Canadian friends, I don’t know what that translates to in Celsius) and bake on the top rack for about 15 minutes, then move to the bottom rack for another 15 minutes.  I do this in my oven because I find that way it doesn’t get too brown on the top or the bottom.  However, I would caution you to check the bread frequently because ovens differ.  For example, the electric oven at my lake cottage will burn things like this in a heartbeat if I’m not carefully watching them.

When the bread it finished it will be golden top and bottom but not too dark.

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That’s it!  It’s a very easy bread to make and would go nicely with a variety of dishes.  The eggs are hard boiled (or really, hard baked) when the bread is finished and can be eaten along with it.

Tomorrow my husband Bill will be making his family’s homemade French vanilla ice cream recipe.  Stay tuned for that as well.

Happy Easter, happy Spring, and happy hooking! – Beth

Marshmallow Fluff and Never Fail Fudge (Durkee-Mower Company) – A New England and Parris House Tradition

I’m pretty sure many of you will recognize this plastic tub, especially if you live in New England.

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Disclaimer here:  I realize that this is not a health food.  I’m one of those earthy crunchy organic gardening, home canning, whole foods, clean eating, hiker/runner types.  Even with THIS on the tub, I realize that this is not a health food:

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However…like Grandma’s Christmas cookies, birthday cake on birthdays, and my husband’s home made French vanilla ice cream, there is a time and a place for everything.  At the Parris House, there’s a time and a place for this classic New England recipe:

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At the Parris House, the times for this are Christmas and Valentine’s Day.  Now, I don’t make this recipe.  I do all the cutesy decorating, bake some kind of dessert, and buy conversation hearts and gifts.   This year dessert was cherry pie.  I got the idea for punching heart shaped holes in the crust from 1840 Farm, but, of course, my version looks more like a “nailed it” meme than a faithful replication of the beautiful job Jennifer Burcke did with her pie.

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No, it is my husband Bill who always makes the Never Fail Fudge.  And before we go any further, I’d like to say that the trademark Marshmallow Fluff and the recipe Never Fail Fudge are the intellectual property of the Durkee-Mower company in Lynn, Massachusetts.  I have full permission to blog this recipe.  Do you know why?  Because I actually spoke to the super nice owner of this company on the phone this morning, and had the privilege of thanking him personally for this confection, which, I might mention, while not a health food is also not chock full of bizarre chemicals that no earthly mortal can recognize.  The sole ingredients are corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white, and vanillin.  Period.  Straightforward and no nonsense, the New England way.  And while the Fluffernutter sandwich is not really for me, it too is something most kids in this part of the country have packed in their lunchboxes more than a few times, a simple straightforward treat that they could make themselves.

It turns out, actually, that this straightforward New England confection has been manufactured since 1920 and the company is still in the same family.  The history is actually very interesting and can be found here, on the company website.  You can also “like” Marshmallow Fluff on Facebook, which is kind of fun.  There are also many recipes on the website, so surf around.

Never Fail Fudge is a rich, deeply chocolate, soft fudge that is truly never fail.  We have not ever had a batch go wrong.  If you do have a batch go wrong, the company website has an FAQ for that, but really…just follow the directions on the bucket.  Here we go.

Bill super greases a 9×13 ceramic cake pan with lots of butter.  The directions on the tub suggest 2 – 9x9s, which would be fine also, of course.  He gets all his ingredients together prior to starting the recipe so that he is free to stir the fudge and pay attention to the temperature of the mixture.

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The ingredients are:  5 cups sugar, 2 small 5 oz. cans of evaporated milk, 1/4 pound butter or margarine (we always use real butter), 1 – 16 oz. tub Marshmallow Fluff, and 1 teaspoon salt.  These are the initial ingredients.  Toward the end you add 1.5 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup walnut meats (if desired – Bill doesn’t like nuts so we never get this part), and 2 large 12 oz. bags of semi sweet chocolate chips.  This recipe in full is on the Marshmallow Fluff tub and the website.

Bill combines the first 5 ingredients in a large stock pot.  The recipe suggests a 5 quart saucepan.  All of these ingredients are stirred until well blended over low heat.

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Once combined you will bring the ingredients to a boil, and we recommend stirring continually so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan and/or burn.  Boil the mixture slowly, continuing stirring, until it reaches the soft ball candy stage.  The recipe says this will be about 5 minutes, and interestingly, we use a candy thermometer but, in my conversation this morning, the company owner said he does not.  My husband is an accountant, and also our primary cold process soap blender in Maine, so you can imagine that he likes the precision of the thermometer.  If I made this fudge I might just use the more subjective approach.  Either way, remember, it’s never fail fudge.

You will notice, as this is combined, stirred and boiled, it gets a little darker over time.  It’s almost as though it’s caramelizing a little bit, but I don’t know for sure.

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Once you have achieved soft ball status with this mixture, it’s time to remove it from the heat and add the vanilla, the nuts, and the chocolate chips.  Stir until everything is blended and melted together.

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Now it’s just a matter of pouring it in to your waiting buttered pan or pans.

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It will be very hot at this point, so be careful.  Allow to cool completely and then you can cut it in to chunks of your preferred size.  It yields about 5 pounds of fudge, so this is a great recipe – and very economical – for gift giving as well.  We give a lot of it away, and it always seems to be welcomed with enthusiasm.

As you can see in this next photo, Bill cuts the chunks pretty large.  He made that ceramic bowl they’re sitting in too, but that’s another blog post.

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I know from posting about Never Fail Fudge on our Facebook page that many of you are familiar with it, make it, adapt the recipe for different flavors, etc.  Hopefully some of our readers are new to it and will try this amazingly simple and delicious fudge recipe.  Many thanks to the Durkee-Mower company for permission to share, and for answering my phone call so promptly in snow bound Lynn, Massachusetts.

Happy hooking, happy candy making, and happy eating! – Beth

Mark Your Calendars for the 2014 Holiday Open House at the Maine Studio of Parris House Wool Works!

ChristmasDoor

Please join us for our second annual Holiday Open House at the Maine Studio, 546 Paris Hill Road, Paris, Maine on December 6th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Welcome to the Parris House!
Welcome to the Parris House!

We will have a cookie swap, delicious refreshments, goodies baked from the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook, a prize drawing, and a 10% off sale on all wools!

Some of our delicious heirloom desserts from last year’s open house!
We had samples of our handcrafted soaps last year and will have some this year as well.
Hope to see you on December 6th!  Happy hooking!
Hope to see you on December 6th! Happy hooking!

It’s PIE Season! Prepare Your Pumpkins! – A Guide to Making Fresh Pumpkin Puree & What To Do With Those Seeds Too

Well, Halloween is over, the big box stores are hauling out the Christmas merchandise, and this can only mean one thing:  it’s pie season.  Apple pie, pecan pie, lemon meringue pie, chocolate cream pie, shoofly pie (for you Pennsylvanians), and……….pumpkin pie!  To make pumpkin pie, you can resort to canned pumpkin, but honestly, there’s something a whole lot more heartwarming, and fresh tasting, about pumpkin pie made from fresh sugar pumpkins.

I am one son away from the empty nest.  My oldest three sons have all flown the coop and I have 17 year old Paul, my “baby,” in his senior year of high school at home.  So, one of our pumpkins got carved last week – in to Jake from the cartoon show Adventure Time.  That one ended up like this:

Jake

But…we had three more.  Two sugar pumpkins from Slattery’s farm in West Minot, Maine and a behemoth we have still not dispositioned.   Here they are in their full pumpkin-y glory.

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So, the sugar pumpkins are the ones destined for pies.  Paul was happy to help.

Step one…wash and cut the pumpkin in half.

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Cut the top with stem off the pumpkin. Then begin slicing in half. If you find it difficult, you can use a soft (wooden or rubber) mallet to tap on the protruding knife edge to help ease it through the pumpkin.

Step two…scoop out the interior seeds and stringy parts.

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The pumpkin will be full of seeds and slimy goop. Take all of that out, either by hand or with a spoon as a scoop, but save the seeds! Paul is putting the seeds in a Ball jar for the time being.

Step three…roast the pumpkins.

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Once the interiors of the pumpkins are well scooped out, place them cut side down on foil lined baking pans. Place them in the oven at 350 degrees F for about an hour, or until the flesh of the pumpkin is soft and scoopable with a spoon.

Optional step…feed the goop to your chickens.  Don’t have chickens?  Well, maybe you can compost it.  Throwing it away is a last resort.  Our chickens LOVED this fresh pumpkin treat.

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Step four…boil and roast your seeds while you are waiting for the pumpkins to roast.

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Prepare the water for boiling the seeds by adding a fair amount of sea salt. Bring the water to boil, add the seeds, and boil for ten minutes.
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After boiling for ten minutes, drain the seeds and thoroughly pat dry on paper towels. Next, spread the seeds in a baking pan and drizzle a small amount of olive oil on to them. Stir them around to coat and roast in the oven with the pumpkins until just turning crispy and brown.
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Yum! You can munch on these while you’re processing your pumpkins.

Step five…scoop out your roasted pumpkins.

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OK, so your pumpkin is roasted and soft and scoopable. Scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin in to a large bowl. Really scrape the sides of the skins clean. The skins may then also be given to your chickens, or composted, or…you know…whatever. If you find that you have a little watery residue in the bottom of the bowl, you can drain the roasted pumpkin flesh in a colander.

Step six…puree and bag!

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Spoon the roasted pumpkin in to a food processor or blender and process until very smooth. Then measure two cups of puree, because most fresh pie recipes call for two cups per pie, in to freezer bags. Label and freeze if you are not going to make the pies right away. See the next photo for a little tip on freezing.
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I stack the bags horizontally like this in a flat pan and lay them in my freezer this way. After they are frozen I can bring the pan back out of the freezer, but the handy little bags of puree remain frozen in a flat shape that’s very convenient for freezer storage.

My two sugar pumpkins made enough puree for four pies.  Now, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, all I will have to do is get one package out of the freezer per pie and defrost it on the counter.  It can also be defrosted in a warm water bath or in the microwave.  Since I also processed some of the apples from our trees and froze them in September, I am also ready to bake apple pies quickly and easily, just in time for those other three sons to be home as well for the holidays.   🙂

Happy holiday baking and happy hooking! – Beth