Growing up, I didn’t realize a lot of the food traditions we had in my family were regionalisms. It wasn’t until I married a cute boy from the Great White North that I started to realize that the things that I thought were standards in the kitchen, weren’t really all that common for everyone. It’s been a fun journey to introduce Craig to regional foodstuffs that I grew up with (he’s totally a pork tenderloin sandwich fan, now) and vice versa.
I remember early on in our marriage, it had to have been the first nice day of spring right after we were married, I said something like, “Oooh! Today is a good day for sun tea.” To which he replied by looking at me like I had two heads. Apparently, sun tea wasn’t a thing he did growing up in Northwestern Ontario.
But here in the Midwest? You’d be hard-pressed to find a house that doesn’t have a jar of sun tea steeping out on the porch on nice summer days. Logically, I understand that tea steeped by sitting in the sun is no different from tea you make with boiling water from a kettle, but I swear it tastes different. I swear you can taste the sunshine. And, hey, anytime I don’t have to heat up the kitchen, I’m a fan.
Some folks will steer you away from sun tea because of a bacterial risk. And while, yes, it’s true that the water never gets hot enough in the sun to kill any bacteria hanging out in the water, jar or the tea bags—that kind of thing has never been a concern to me. And, while I understand this is purely anecdotal, I can tell you that I’ve been drinking sun tea every summer for my entire time here on this planet (okay, maybe not that first year), and I’ve never gotten sick off of it. And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has. Don’t fear the tea, friends.
If you’ve never made sun tea before, it’s incredibly simple. All you need is a clear jar, some water and tea. This time of year, in our area, you can pick up specific sun tea jars at pretty much every retail outlet on the planet (literally, you can find them at gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies). As any good Midwestern girl does, I’ve had my fair share of sun tea jars in my life, and I have managed to break every single one of them. One day, I’ll probably invest in a really nice, sturdy, heavy-duty jar for sun tea, but for now, I just use a half-gallon Mason jar. And it works wonders.
I like my tea just a touch sweet, so I mix up a simple syrup before steeping. Into my half-gallon jar goes 1/3 cup of sugar. If you’re a Southerner, you’ll probably need half to a full cup of sugar to get the standard, teeth-rotting, Southern sweet tea. If you aren’t into sweetened tea, just skip this step completely.
And then I pour in about a cup of piping hot water from the tap. Our tap gets hot enough to dissolve sugar, but if yours doesn’t, you could just put in some boiling water. Stir to dissolve.
Then, I get to unwrapping tea bags. I use six tea bags for my half-gallon jar. And I like this Newman’s Own black tea, but you can use whatever you like. I actually really like making sun green tea, too, because the water never gets hot enough to bring out that bitter quality that green tea sometimes has.
Gather up all the tea bags by the tag, and stick them into the jar, making sure to hold onto the tags so they don’t slip in.
And then head over to the faucet, and fill the jar up the rest of the way with cold water. Screw on the lid (making sure the tags of the tea bags are on the outside of the lid), and put it in a sunny spot outside. I like the railing of our back deck. Partially because it’s nice and sunny, but also partially because I can see it right outside the door in my kitchen when I walk by. I’ve been known to forget about a jar or two of sun tea in my life.
Depending on the heat of the day, the strength of the sun and how strong you like your tea, it could be as ready in as little as an hour, but I usually give it more like two or three out in the sunshine. It’s ready when it looks like…tea!
Pour it over ice in a Mason jar (seriously, that’s the only proper way to drink sun tea—out of a canning jar) and enjoy! If you have some fresh mint kicking around, put a few of those leaves in there for a really nice, refreshing summer drink.
Once my tea is done steeping, I do store it in the fridge—it will go bad if you let it sit out on the counter. Plus, that way it’s super cold and ready for enjoying anytime! I especially recommend it after you’ve spent all day working in the garden. Nothing tastes better.
Is sun tea a “thing” where you live? Do you have any food regionalisms that you love?
This post is sponsored by Ball Canning. All content and opinions are my own.
Read more about my sponsored post disclosure policy in the BTHR Bylaws.
I take a lot of pride in where I live. I know a lot of folks consider Indiana a “fly over state” and that might be a negative to the vast majority of citizens in this country, but I’ll let you in on a little bit of a secret—us Midwesterners enjoy the fact that we’re off the radar.
I love that I have neighbors who never will bother me unless I need them to, and then they’d give me the shirts off their backs. I love that I can drive for hours and hours and see little more than farmhouses and cornfields. I love that I can keep my car unlocked (and running) while I pop into the post office. And I love that I can drive up to any one of two dozen farm stands within a five mile radius in August and buy farm fresh cantaloupe by dropping a few quarters in an old coffee can.
Southern Indiana isn’t really well-known for a lot of stuff (other than being Louisville’s hat), but one thing we do excel at is making some seriously mean cantaloupes. In particular, Jackson County, Indiana—which is just north of where we live—is pretty well-known in the region as having the best cantaloupes in all of the Midwest. Folks drive hundreds of miles to visit this rural Indiana county just to grab a cantaloupe or two! I’m not sure what it is about this area that produces the sweetest, juiciest, biggest cantaloupes you’ll ever see, but I’m not complaining.
We only planted a handful of cantaloupe plants this year, but we have no less than 473,000 melons on the vines right now (not only are cantaloupes grown in this area incredibly delicious, but their also incredibly prolific). And as much as I love eating cantaloupe morning, noon, and night, the truth is, we’re a little bit overwhelmed with our haul. Melons are one of those summer items that can be really difficult to preserve for winter eating, but I figured it might be worth a shot to try turning some of our bounty into some jam to enjoy during those cold January nights. And, man, was that ever a good idea.
The idea for salting the preserves came from the fact that summer dinners for me growing up meant a giant bowl of cantaloupe on the kitchen table for dessert. And next to that bowl was always the salt shaker. Just like all sweet foods, a little bit of salt sprinkled on some fresh cantaloupe slices really sets it off. I figured those flavors would be really interesting combined into a jam.
Because of the welcoming of our little girl, I haven’t had the chance to do as much canning this summer as I normally like to, but I was so happy I carved out an afternoon to make this jam. Not only is it delicious, but there is something about canning that makes me feel incredibly connected to my roots. My parents canned food. My grandparents canned food. My great-great-grandparents canned food. My soul tells me I should be canning on a weekend afternoon in August. It’s hard to explain, but there is something about ladling bubbly jam into steaming hot jars that makes me feel a little more connected to my past. To me, canning is so much more than just stocking away some food (although, that’s a nice perk, too).
Because of this love of canning, I am so happy to be participating in Ball Canning’s International Can-It-Forward Day for my third year. I’m excited anytime I get a chance to spread the love of food preserving! I’m so proud to work with an incredible Indiana company like Jarden Home Brands (makers of Ball and Kerr Mason jars).
Can-It-Forward Day is this upcoming Saturday, and they will be live streaming seminars and canning demonstrations on their website to help folks get excited about canning. If you’ve ever wanted to get started canning but were too afraid or intimidated, this Saturday is a great way to get your feet wet!
Now, go make some jam! Enjoy.
Cantaloupe certainly isn't the first fruit you think of when it comes time to make jam, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be on your "must can" list! This jam is a new favorite in our house.
- 6 cups diced, very ripe cantaloupe
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 5 tablespoons powdered pectin
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Fill a waterbath canner with water, and place inside eight half-pint jars (make sure the water covers the jars). Bring to a boil. Place lids and rings in a small saucepan with hot water and heat, but do not boil.
- Bring cantaloupe, lemon juice, and 3 1/2 cups of sugar to a boil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a full, rolling boil that cannot be stirred down (it should take 10-15 minutes).
- Once the mixture is at a full boil, whisk together the remaining sugar and the pectin. Whisk the mixture into the cantaloupe mixture.
- Bring mixture back to a full boil, and then boil hard for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture looks thickened and is set. I like to test it by putting a small amount on a spoon and placing it in the freezer for a few minutes. If it's jelly-like when it's cold, it's set! If not, boil for a few more minutes.
- Remove the hot jars from the waterbath canner, and turn the canner back up onto high.
- Ladle the jam into the hot jars, leaving a 1/2" headspace. Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe any extra jam from the rim of the jars, and then place on the lids and the rings—tightening just until snug, not overly tight.
- Place the jars in a rack in the waterbath canner, bring to a boil, and process for 10 minutes. Remove from canner, and let cool completely. Check seals after 24 hours—the lids shouldn't flex or move when pushed down on. Store sealed jars in a cool dark place for up to a year. Any jars that don't seal, place in the fridge and eat within a month.
To celebrate Can-It-Forward Day, Ball has offered up an incredible prize pack to giveaway to one Back to Her Roots reader. Seriously, it’s a crazy awesome package! One winner will receive:
- Quart-Sized Case of Spring Green Heritage Jars
- Pint-Sized Case of Spring Green Heritage Jars
- Fresh Herb Keeper
- Dry Herb Jars
- Frozen Herb Starter Trays
- 5 Blade Herb Scissors
- Ball Blue Book of Canning
This post is sponsored by Ball Canning. All content and opinions are my own.
Read more about my sponsored post disclosure policy in the BTHR Bylaws.
For, uh, obvious reasons, I’m kinda obsessed with one-pot/one-bowl/please-don’t-make-me-do-lots-of-dishes meals lately. If pretty much all I have to do after dinner is rinse out one pot and pop it in the dishwasher, I’m a very, very happy girl. As much as I wanted to stock pile my freezer with lots of meals while I was pregnant, it just didn’t end up happening to the extent I wanted (it’s amazing how quickly that 40 weeks of pregnancy flies by), so, for now, we’re living on one-pot miracles.
I did a lot of research and cooking with all kinds super whole grains for my second cookbook, and while there are lots of yummy grains out there (and in the book), all that cooking just reaffirmed that my absolute favorite whole grain is farro. There is something magical about farro. When cooked, it’s chewy, creamy and nutty. It actually reminds me a lot of a whole grain version of Aboriro rice (the rice used in risotto). The magic part is that it manages to taste creamy and smooth, and have a slow-cooked flavor with barely any work. Quite literally, I just put everything in the pot for this farro, turned on the stove, and ignored it for a half hour. I came back, stirred in some Parmesan and scooped it into bowls. And the result was this totally luxurious dinner that tasted like I spent hours slaving away at it.
Since we’re trying to keep things simple, this was a main dish for us, but, of course, this farro would make an awesome side dish if you aren’t trying to avoid doing dishes. I think this would be a beautiful companion to chicken or eggplant parmesan. Or even just with some simple grilled chicken seasoned with Italian herbs. Yum.
I used fresh herbs in this dish because they are pretty much banding together and invading the little herb garden we have outside our kitchen door (seriously, no matter how much I clip off, they’ve doubled in size the next day), but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work out decently to try this with dried herbs, too—just make sure you use enough to really get the herb-y flavor!
This one-pot vegetarian grain dish tastes like it takes hours worth of work, but it's ready in about a half hour and takes little effort more than just some chopping.
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup farro
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly
- 1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup each fresh minced basil, parsley and oregano
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Bring all ingredients, except the cheese, to a boil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the farro is tender and has absorbed all the cooking liquid. Stir in the cheese, taste for seasoning and serve.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Do you have any one-pot meals you can share with me to add to my repertoire?
Mayonnaise gets a lot of hate in the healthy eating world, but I actually love mayo. Sure, it’s high in calories, but I think it’s delicious, packed full of nutrients, and it’s 100% “real” food. What’s to hate? I’m not saying you should take a spoon and down a bowlful of the stuff, but spreading a couple of tablespoons on a sandwich or adding a half cup into a dressing isn’t the health no-no that I think a lot of people feel like it is.
And mayo is even healthier when you know exactly, 100% what’s included in it, and you can do that by making it at home. Mayo is so incredibly easy to make at home, and you get to have complete control over the flavor and ingredients. I tend to use fresh lemon juice and olive oil in my homemade mayo because I love the bright and fresh flavor that it makes, but you could easily use whatever combination of ingredients makes a mayo that you and your family love. Either way, the process is the same.
Back in the olden days, the key to good mayo was a steady whisking hand and a decent dose of patience, but I’m all about using technology to get good mayo now. You can use a stand mixer, hand mixer, or a food processor, but I really like using an immersion blender and the little cup that comes with it. The tall, narrow cup works really well for small amounts of mayo, and it helps the mayo come together really quickly.
First up, in the cup, whisk together two egg yolks, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a hefty pinch of salt, and a tablespoon each of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice (you can also use white vinegar for a more mild flavor).
The next part takes some patience. Put 1 1/4 cups of olive oil (canola oil, avocado oil, and grapeseed oil all work, too) in a spouted measuring cup. And with the immersion blender going on low, drip a drop of the oil in. And then another drop. And another drop. Keep dripping the oil in a drop at a time, until the mayo starts to thicken up a bit. Don’t rush it! Just put in a drop at a time while the immersion blend does its work.
Once the mayo starts to look about like the thickness of melted ice cream, you can start streaming in the oil in a more steady stream. Keep the immersion blender going.
It seems counterintuitive, but the more oil you add, the thicker and thicker the mayo will get. Until all the oil is in, and you’ve got some beautiful, thick, creamy mayo! It’s like magic. Beautiful, delicious, kitchen magic.
Taste the mayo for seasoning (you might want to add more salt), and then store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Use it just like you would store-bought mayo. It’ll keep a few weeks no problem. Although, it’s pretty tasty stuff, so it might not actually last that long!
This makes about a cup and a half of mayo, and you could easily half this recipe if that’s too much to keep around. If the raw eggs wig you out, you can use pasteurized eggs (which are available at many supermarkets), although, I don’t worry too much about it. Unless you are immunocompromised, the chances of getting sick from raw eggs is extremely slim—but, obviously, that’s a decision for you to make for yourself and your family.
Now go make yourself some mayo!
Have you ever made your own mayo before?
I think you can tell a lot about a person based on their favorite ice cream flavor. Like, for example, you can probably get a good indication of my ever-so-flighty nature based on the fact that I have a really hard time narrowing down my favorite scoop to just one flavor. I’m the kinda girl who gets a three-scoop cone, not because she wants three scoops of ice cream (okay, well, maybe sometimes) but because she can’t decide on just one flavor. It also probably says something about me that I tend to go for the most tricked out ice creams available. The more chocolate, chunks of candy, and swirls of flavors it has, the more I’ll probably love it. Bring on the triple chocolate brownie with raspberry swirl, please.
My dear husband, on the other hand, is an ice cream purist. He doesn’t like things in his ice cream. And if he had his druthers, either plain ole vanilla or plain ole butter pecan (without chunks of pecan) would be the only ice cream flavors on the market. It’s interesting, because if you saw my tattooed, hipster-glasses wearing husband walking down the street, you probably wouldn’t think he’s a plain ice cream kind of guy, but he certainly is. I think his love of simple ice cream goes hand-in-hand with is dependable, hard-working, back-to-nature mentality. It fits. Although, maybe not at first appearances.
So every now and again, when I pull out my ice cream maker, I do it to make my husband a batch of plain-and-simple, run-of-the-mill, but still totally delicious vanilla ice cream. It takes pretty much every ounce of willpower in my body to not throw in a handful of candy or swirl it with some crazy fun flavor (like feta, anyone?), but the end result is actually something pretty spectacular for something so simple. It almost makes me want to hang up my quadruple brownie batter, chocolate chip cookie dough, caramel toffee ice cream eating spoon. Almost.
Enjoy (and feel free to toss in a handful of something chocolate, I won’t tell).
Just because this ice cream isn't packed with add-in, it doesn't mean it's low on flavor. The classic, simply flavor of vanilla is the perfect partner for a warm bowl of cobbler!
- 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 cups 2% milk, divided
- 1 1/2 cups half and half
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and two tablespoon of the milk. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the remaining milk, half and half, sugar and honey until it just begins to bubble around the edges. Do not boil.
- Remove milk mixture from heat, and stir in the cream cheese and salt. Continue stirring until the cream cheese is completely dissolved (using an immersion blender can help speed up this process). Stir in the cornstarch mixture.
- Return the milk mixture to medium-low heat, and heat until the thickness of melted ice cream, about five minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla.
- Transfer the ice cream mixture to a heat-proof bowl, and refrigerate until cold, about three hours. Once completely cold, spin in an ice cream maker per manufacturer's directions. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until solid, about an hour.
More Ice Cream Recipes:
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
I think a lot of people approach grilling as a meat-only area of cooking. I get it. I love a good hunk of grilled meat as much as the next carnivore, but the flavor of grilling can be applied to so many meatless dishes, that it’s a shame more folks don’t try it.
Of course, grilling veggies takes some practice. Veggies go from firm and delicious to mushy and unpleasant in a hot second, and all their natural sugars mean they burn really quickly (skip the highest setting on your grill if you’re just doing veggies).
Portabella mushrooms are an awesome place to start with meatless grilling. The mushrooms hold their shape well, and they take on the smoky, meaty flavor and texture that is so pleasant in grilled food. A lot of people use grilled portabellas as a delicious vegan substitute for a burger, even. Yum!
Here, I took to stuffing the mushrooms with a fresh herb, tomato and mozzarella stuffing that definitely feels a little pizza-y. These mushroom boats are so incredibly satisfying, that they could easily work as a main dish (I’d serve up two of them as a main, with a nice side salad and a big hunk of hearty bread). These also work as a side dish—their strong flavors would make a great partner to any grilled meat or fish.
Stuffed with a cheesy, herbed tomato filling, these flavorful grilled mushrooms work as a side dish to a great vegetarian main dish.
- 4 large portabella mushroom caps
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 Roma tomatos, diced
- 1/4 cup each minced fresh basil, parsley, and oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the grill over medium heat. Carefully remove the stems from the mushrooms, dice finely, and place in a bowl. Using a spoon, carefully scrape out the brown gills of the mushrooms, dice finely and add to the bowl with the stems.
- Brush one tablespoon of the olive oil onto both sides of each of the mushroom caps. Place caps, stem side down on the preheated grill. Grill for about 5 minutes, or until just beginning to soften.
- Meanwhile, mix all remaining ingredients (including the remaining olive oil) in the bowl with the diced mushroom stems and gills
- Flip the mushroom caps over on the grill, and fill each cap up with 1/4 of the filling, making sure to really pack it in. Close the grill lid, lower the grill to low heat, and cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are very soft and the cheese is melted.