A Rebellion in Applesauce

There’s a regression happening in food.  People are going backward instead of forward (well, unless you count folks like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz and those of their ilk in the world of “progressive cuisine”).  We’re headed back to simpler times, using ingredients that our ancestors might have recognized.  We’re shying away from things that are created in laboratories and large factories and opting instead for things that grow in the dirt and are prepared in our own kitchens.  Its scandalous, really.  We’re bucking the system.  Such rebels.For many of us, this is the impetus for that rebellion.  As parents, we want what’s best for our kids.  We want them to be happy and healthy, we want them to succeed and to be the best “them” they can be.  These little lives?  They’re precious, absolutely priceless.  And we, as their parents, are responsible for those lives.  Why we wouldn’t want to lay the best possible foundation for them is beyond me.

Part of that is preparing the best possible food for them – and that means getting in the kitchen and cooking.  In our house, it means chopping vegetables, peeling apples, making stock from scratch and baking bread.  It means we shy away from the center aisles of the grocery store and stick to the perimeter, buying only those things that came directly from a plant or animal.  In many cases, it means taking time out of our busy schedules to go stand in line in a parking lot to pick up our pastured meat, or schlepping out to the chicken coop in the rain to get the eggs off the nest.  It takes some effort, it’s certainly not always convenient, but it’s completely worth it.

It’s apple season in Georgia right now.  We’ve got another month or so before it comes to an end, but I always feel like I have to stock up on crisp, juicy local apples while the gettin’s good.  We’ll eat a good number of them whole, as they make excellent lunch-box additions and handy afternoon snacks; the rest will be broken down and processed in some form or fashion to make them last through the winter and into spring (if, that is, we don’t gobble them all up in the first month – we do love our apples in this house).

We’ve planted three apple trees in our backyard, but they are not yet bearing fruit.  I imagine it will be another two or three years before they begin to produce in any measurable quantity.  Luckily, we live within decent driving distance of a number of apple orchards, all of which produce a nice variety of heirloom apples.If you’re looking to get started in the world of food preservation, may I suggest that you start with applesauce?  It’s one of the simplest things you can make, and it takes very little time from start to finish.  The only ingredients are apples and water (and really, some people don’t even count water as an ingredient), and the most time consuming part of the recipe is the peeling and coring of the apples.  I guess if you have one of those fancy-dancy apple peeler/corer contraptions, then even that isn’t a big deal for you.  For this batch of applesauce, I chose to use a combination of tart Winesaps and sweet Pink Ladies.  I’ve been making applesauce for almost 6 years now, and I have to say I think this is the best version I’ve ever made.  I never add sweetener to my applesauce – why would you?  Apples contain so much natural fructose, it seems like overkill to sweeten them further.  Sometimes I’ll throw a cinnamon stick in the mix, just for a little added depth, but this time around it was the definition of simplicity.  Apples.  In all their autumnal glory.  That is all.

Applesauce
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 30-45 minutes
processing time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 24 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored and cut into large dice
  • water
  1. Add 1 inch of water to a large stock pot
  2. Add the peeled, cored and diced apples
  3. Cook over medium heat until apples have softened.  The time on this will vary, given the type of apple you use.  My Pink Ladies broke down much faster than the Winesaps did.  Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to stick and scorch.
  4. Mash with a potato masher, or puree using a stick blender or food processor
  5. Ladle hot sauce into hot, sterilized pint jars
  6. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes

It really is that simple.  And you won’t believe how good it tastes – I promise.  It is so much better than any commercially produced  applesauce you can buy.  In fact, I purchased some natural applesauce not long ago from a well-known name brand with no added sweetener.  It tasted like nothing – it was soupy and watery, and it had absolutely no flavor.  When I tasted the batch I made yesterday, it was like a revelation.  Sweet, tart, pure apple flavor.  My youngest gobbled up the overflow in about six seconds.

It may seem silly to call this a rebellion.  I realize we’re not marching in the streets and overthrowing governments.  It’s a quiet movement, one that’s happening in homes and communities.  It’s a rebellion about education, about our health, about our children.  We’re changing the future one family at the time.  We’re telling the advertisers and the industrial food conglomerates that we don’t want them to brainwash our children, we don’t believe their hype about their chemically-laden, processed and packaged “convenience” foods.  We’re recognizing that it’s okay to spend time in the kitchen, that it’s actually necessary for the health of our families.  It’s certainly not always easy, and we’re all probably guilty of  falling prey to the occasional convenience food.  But at least we’re trying to make a difference. 

This post is part of Eating Rules October: Unprocessed challenge. 

A Rebellion in Applesauce on Punk Domestics

Dealing with the Unexpected (or, How to Know When Your Jelly is Set)

Over the years, I have come to realize that nothing ever goes exactly as planned.  You can imagine to your heart’s content the perfect scenario, and yet something nearly always creeps in and causes havoc.For instance, while we were in Hawaii a few weeks ago, I had expectations about the relaxing vacation we would have – spending time on the beach, lounging by the pool, perhaps taking in a luau or a boat ride up the calm Wailua river.  Of course, I knew that traveling with small children would come with its challenges, so I did my best to prepare for the odd situation that might crop up.

Like the two mosquito bites that my youngest got on his face the Friday after we arrived – one on his forehead above his left eye and one just in the corner of his right eye.  I knew right away that this was bad news – he is extremely sensitive to mosquito bite, and I predicted that by the next morning both of his eyes would likely be swollen shut.And lo and behold, they were.  So we spent most of Saturday afternoon in the ER in Lihue.  They gave him some prescription steroids and sent him on his merry way.  By Monday he was back to normal. Needless to say, not the way I expected to spend my only Saturday in paradise.Or maybe the drive we took up to the top of Waimea Canyon to enjoy the views. After driving all the way to the end of the road and looking out over the wild Napali coast, we turned around and began our descent. Our oldest was playing Angry Birds on the iPod and the youngest was doodling on his Doodle-Pro.  As we navigated the winding, turny, twisty road, P said quietly from the back seat, “Mommy, my tummy hurts,” and about that time he vomited all over the back of our brand new (for real – we were the first people to drive it.  I think it had like 20 miles on it when we got in it the first time) rental car.  And then his brother proceeded to do the same.

So, we pulled over on a very narrow shoulder, stripped them down to their underwear and diaper, stripped the covers off the carseats and then got everyone situated again so we could catch up with my husband’s brother and his wife and kids (they had been just ahead of us when all of this started).  P was so mortified, he didn’t want his cousins to see him like that, so I ran into an expensive gift shop at the bottom of the canyon road and purchased an overpriced t-shirt and a pair of shorts for him to wear.  Again – couldn’t have planned that scenario if I’d tried.Or perhaps that luau we’d been looking forward to.  The kids loved seeing the unveiling of the whole-roasted pig, and running around the beautiful grounds with the peacocks and other assorted exotic birds.  When it came to the show itself, the older kids were mesmerized, but my youngest got a little freaked out.  So, my poor husband had to spend the entire hour of the show outside, consoling a crying baby and missing the performances altogether.  Best laid plans.

None of it spoiled the trip, but it does just go to show you that even in paradise reality has a way of sneaking in and reminding you just how human you really are.No place does this prove more often true than in my kitchen.  No sooner do I grow confident, or dare I say “cocky”, than I am cut right back down to size by something. And such it was with this plum jelly – a dead simple recipe that, had I been patient and methodical on the front end, should have yielded a perfectly set and perfectly delicious end product.

Notice I said “should”.Everything started out fine – I made plum juice by cutting the plums in half and boiling them in water for 20 minutes (1 lb. of plums to 1/2 cup of water).  I then poured the plums and water into a damp pillowcase and hung it over a pot in the utility sink in my laundry room and let it drain for about 6 hours.  This yielded somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 cups of juice.

The first time around, I combined the juice and the sugar (3/4 cup of sugar per cup of juice is the accepted ratio) in a stock pot and brought it to a boil.  I inserted a candy thermometer and waited for it to reach 220 degrees.  And I waited, and waited, and waited.  And the thermometer seemed to be stuck at 215 degrees.  So I used a second candy thermometer.  This one read 219 degrees, so I figured the first one must be wrong.  when the second one reached 220, I removed the pot from the heat and proceeded to can the jelly as directed – filling hot sterilized jars and leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  I then processed them in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  And then I went to bed.

The next morning, I was looking forward to having some fresh plum jelly on my fresh baked biscuits, so I eagerly opened the jar closest to me and was confronted with what appeared to be more of a plum syrup than a jelly.  Frustrating.  I had stood over that pot for almost an hour, watching it boil, checking the temperature, taking care to keep the sugar from scorching.  And I was sure – sure – that I had gotten it right.

But I was wrong.

So, I took a deep breath, unsealed all of the jars, dumped the contents into a stock pot, washed the jars in hot soapy water, found new lids in my storage cabinet and re-sterilized everything.  I put the stock pot back on the heat with both candy thermometers and a fancy digital probe thermometer and I brought it to a boil. At one point, one candy thermometer read 225, the second read 222, and the probe thermometer was still reading 217.  The only problem with this was that I could move the probe around the pan, and in one spot it would read 217, in another it would read 215, and in a third it would read 219.  Additionally, this went on for at least an hour.  Why can’t things just work the way they’re supposed to?  How is a girl to know when her jelly is set?My mother says that her grandmother used to say you’d know it was done when it sounded like grits cooking.  There’s also the tried and true method of seeing if it sheets when dropped from a spoon.  So, when it started to boil furiously and sounded kind of like rice krispies in milk (snap, crackle, pop), I stuck a stainless steel spoon in the mix and then lifted it out.  The above photo demonstrates “sheeting.”  And the probe thermometer read 220 (at least in one spot in the pan). I proceeded to can it again, filling the hot sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch of the top and capping them.  I processed them (again) in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  And now I can safely say that I have successfully made plum jelly (perfectly set and perfectly delicious).  And that I will never again trust my candy thermometer.

Plum Jelly
11 cups plum juice
8.5 cups sugar

  1. Combine plum juice and sugar in a heavy-bottomed stock pot and stir to thoroughly combine.
  2. Bring to a boil and allow to cook until it reaches 220F on a (reliable, well calibrated) candy thermometer, or until it sheets when dropped from a spoon.
  3. Prepare your jars by sterilizing them in simmering water.
  4. Ladle jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
  5. Clean the rims with a damp cloth and cap with lids and rings.
  6. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool on the counter.
  8. Enjoy!

Peach Habanero Basil Jam

I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by.  Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so.  Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs.  It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it.

On Monday, after dropping my oldest at day camp, my mother and I strapped the baby in his car seat and headed an hour south of home to the state farmers market in Forest Park, GA.  While it is called the “state farmers market”, it is really more of a giant produce market – with products hailing from as far away as California and Mexico.  However, there is a row of stalls dedicated to Georgia farmers, and the market produce stand features local and regional options as well.

We wandered the stalls, marveling at some of the more exotic options, but mostly keeping our eye out for peaches and plums.  We both have fond memories of my grandmother’s peach jam and plum jelly – put up every year from the fruit that grew on trees just outside the kitchen window at their home in rural Mississippi.  I can remember clearly standing in the shade of the peach tree, biting into the warm flesh of a perfectly ripe peach that I had just plucked from overhead.  And while I would love to tell you that we have our own miniature orchard in our backyard, that just isn’t the case.  Luckily we live in an area where peaches and plums are readily available this time of year.

Needless to say, we came away from our perusal with more than a few bits of fruit.  That is to say, 50 lbs. of peaches, 25 lbs. of plums and 24 lbs. of cherries.  Oh, and 24 lbs. of strawberries.

I know – it’s a little ridiculous.  But the prices were too good to pass up, and the prospect of freezing and preserving all of that lovely fruit for use throughout the winter was equally as enticing.

We got everything home and immediately set to work processing the ripest of the fruit.  The cherries we pitted and froze in gallon bags.  I’ll figure out what I want to do with them later.  The strawberries were so ripe, we chose to make jam out of most of them, and then freeze a couple of gallons.I also made a few sheets of fruit leather from the strawberries.  I’ll do an entire post on the processing of the strawberries, and the strange circumstances that led us to buy 24 lbs. of almost (but not quite) rotten strawberries later.

Today, I’m focusing on peaches.  50 lbs. of peaches is a lot, in case you were wondering.  We froze three gallons worth, and I managed to ruin at least 10 cups (and one stock pot) in my first attempt at jam – you really do need to keep an eye on things like fruit and sugar when you’re cooking them over high heat.  Scorched peaches and sugar are not the most pleasant scents with which to start your day.

The second and third attempts were much more successful, and I’m now the proud owner of nine pints of peach jam – three of which are spiced up a bit with the addition of some heat from habanero peppers and given a floral note from a few sprigs of purple basil.

Peach Habanero Basil Jam
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 2-3 hours
processing time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 cups peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 habanero peppers, stems removed and four slits cut into the sides (leave them whole)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 large sprigs of purple basil
  • 1 packet liquid fruit pectin

  1. Combine peaches, sugar, peppers and lemon juice in a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan.  Stir to mix, then let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the peaches to release some of their juices.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and allow to gently boil and reduce to a jam-like consistency.  This could take as many as 2-3 hours.  Do not rush it – that’s how I ruined the first batch.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. Once the mixture has reduced and thickened, stir in the basil and let it steep for a few minutes.
  4. While the basil is steeping, prepare your jars (I used a mixture of pint and half-pint jars) – sterilize jars and rings in simmering water.
  5. After the basil has steeped for a few minutes, add the pectin to the peach mixture and bring to a hard boil.  Allow to boil hard for five minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat, remove habanero peppers and basil sprigs from the mixture and discard; fill the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
  7. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20-25 minutes (20 for half-pint, 25 for pint).
  8. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter.
  9. Enjoy!

The resulting jam is decidedly peachy in flavor, with just the slightest heat.  The basil isn’t terribly prevalent, but it lends a nice back note to the whole thing.  I’ve eaten some on toast for the last two mornings at breakfast, and it is a great way to start the day.  I think it would also be a great glaze on a roasted chicken or a pork loin.

What kinds of things are you putting by this summer? Or is the prospect of spending hours on end in a hot kitchen just too much to bear?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Tomato Jam

The tomatoes, they just keep coming!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining – just trying to find some inventive ways to use them.  As much as I love a good BLT, or a fresh tomato and mozzarella salad, there are really only so many tomatoes you can eat in a day.  That’s where this tomato jam came into the picture.  I was perusing the fabulous Food in Jars, and I came across her version of this tasty treat.  I was intrigued by the idea of a sweet/savory ketchup alternative.  I knew as soon as I had the requisite five pounds of tomatoes, this would be my next canning endeavor.

With this morning’s garden haul, I topped the kitchen scale with five pounds of a mixture of grape tomatoes, black princes and brandywines.  The majority of the weight was made up of the tiny grape tomatoes, with the brandywines and black princes making up the difference.  I was slightly concerned that the tart, firm grape tomatoes wouldn’t give up enough juice to make the recipe successfully, but they didn’t let me down.

Tomato Jam (adapted from Food in Jars)
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 1 – 1 1/2 hours
processing time: 20 minutes
yields: 4 pints (I used 4 oz. jars and got 12 jars with about a 1/2 pint of overrun)

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups honey granules
  • 2 1/2 cups sucanat
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup minced jalapeno pepper (about 7 small peppers)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  1. Chop the tomatoes – I used a mixture of small yellow grape tomatoes, which I halved or quartered depending on their size, and black prince and brandywine tomatoes, which I cut into medium dice.  Be sure to remove the stem and core on the larger tomatoes, but do not peel or deseed them.
  2. Combine the tomatoes and all other ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced and become thick and jam-like (about an hour, depending on whether you keep the mixture at a boil, or reduce it to a simmer).
  3. Sterilize your jars in simmering water.
  4. Ladle the tomato mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headroom.
  5. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth and place the lids on.  Screw the rings on.
  6. Place the jars in a boiling water bath and process for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the water at the end of the processing time and allow to cool on the counter.

I tried a little bit of the overrun with some cream cheese on a cracker.  The flavor is complex – a little tart, a little sweet, and a little savory.  The sucanat gives a depth to the sweetness that you don’t get when you use refined white sugar, and the jalapenos give just a hint of heat (removed most of the ribs and seeds when I chopped them – if you want more heat, leave them in).  I imagine this will be excellent as a topping for burgers, paired with goat or bleu cheese on crackers or flatbread, or as a sauce base for barbecue chicken.

Even if your garden is no longer producing tomatoes at a record rate, I suggest you head to the farmer’s market and pick up a few pounds.  This recipe is definitely worth the time and effort!

Capturing the Sun in a Jar

Our little family just returned from eight sun-filled, relaxing days on the garden island of Kauai.  Our transition back to reality has been slow and somewhat painful.  I could chalk it up to jet lag and be done with it, but I don’t think that would do it justice.The truth is, there are a handful of places in this world that, the minute I set foot within their borders, I feel like I’ve slipped on a favorite pair of comfy pajamas.  Kauai is one of them.  Nearly eight years ago, my husband and I chose this quiet little island as our honeymoon destination, and ever since we’ve dreamed of going back.

A couple of years ago, my parents-in-law purchased a time share on Kauai, and they invited all of us (our family, my husband’s two brothers and their wives and children) to join them there for a week this summer.  While it was a completely different experience from the one we had when we were newlyweds, it was just as remarkable in its own way.
We aren’t really big “doers” when we go on vacation.  There are a lot of really cool outdoor adventures to be had on Kauai, and one day I imagine we’ll participate in some of them.  We’ve just never felt a lot of pressure to do a million things while we’re there – probably because we know in our hearts that we’ll be back again one day.

On this last trip, we took in some sites, and marveled at the gorgeous scenery.  We visited a number of little towns, and enjoyed some delicious food from some well-known local joints along the way.  The pizza in Kilauea topped with garden fresh veggies was the perfect quick lunch on the way home from the lighthouse;  the shrimp in Waimea was tender, spicy, crispy and delicious; the Puka dogs in Poipu were just as weird and wonderful as I imagined they’d be after seeing them featured on No Reservations last year; and the burger at Bubba’s, made with Kauai grass fed beef, was juicy and flavorful.  The people are friendly, the food is good, and the scenery is magical.  Is it any wonder that I feel right at home there? The minute I set foot on the island eight years ago, I knew I belonged there.  And this most recent trip has just re-confirmed my suspicions.

So, returning to real life has been a little bit of a challenge.  In addition to adjusting to the time change, it almost feels like we left a little piece of ourselves on the garden isle.  I guess we’ll just have to head back one day soon to retrieve it.

In the meantime, I’m keeping myself busy in the garden, trying to keep up with the growing number of sun-ripened tomatoes that seem to be spilling forth from their tangled vines.  I returned home to find the table on the deck weighted down with a ridiculous number of giant pink brandywines, little black princes and tiny jellybean grape tomatoes.  Ever since I’ve been doing my best to eat them or process them before they turn to moldy mush.

We’ve eaten our weight in this delicious pasta salad – a pound of tri-colored rotini tossed with an equal measure of quartered grape tomatoes and/or diced brandywine tomatoes, four ounces of chevre, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme.

I’ve made salsa using these lovely little golden grape tomatoes, some of the black princes, and minced jalapenos.  I canned seven pints of a mixture of brandywines, romas and black princes the other day (and there are more on their way this week).

But my favorite application has to be these little nuggets of pure tomatoey goodness – dehydrated multi-colored jellybean grape tomatoes.

I found myself the other day with a giant mound of these little yellow, red and green wonders (they’re prolific suckers – I had six full trays of them in my dehydrator, all from a couple of days of picking).  I halved them and tossed them with about 1/2 a teaspoon of pickling salt.  Then I laid them out on the trays of my dehydrator (although you could sun-dry them, too) and let them dry at 125F for about 12 hours (the instructions said to leave them for 5-9 hours, but mine were still awfully wet at the 9-hour mark, so I let them go a few hours longer – now they’re nice and raisin-like).

I’ve eaten a few of them straight from the jar, and their flavor is reminiscent of what I imagine a ray of sunshine would taste like if you could gather it in a cup and drink it – infused with warmth and comfort, umami at its very core.  I can’t wait to use them in this pesto recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

So, while we don’t have the sun and sand at our back door anymore, we can at least capture a little bit of sunshine and keep it close.  When it comes time for the leaves to fall from the trees, and the gray winter days seem neverending, we can open that little jar of flavor and infuse our meals with a little summer warmth.  And close our eyes and dream of Kauai.

A Post about Everything, Nothing and Cheese

I apologize in advance for the randomness of this post.  I’ve had a few things that I’ve wanted to talk about lately, and just haven’t had the time to sit down and do so.

So, now that I have your attention, here goes.

A couple of weeks ago (or maybe it was just last week, I’m not sure), I posted these Pear Crespelle, and I mentioned that I’d made the ricotta cheese from ingredients I had at home.  An anonymous commenter requested that I post the ratios of the recipe, so I’m going to do that at the bottom of this post.

In other, somewhat related news, I’m starting a 28-day diet challenge tomorrow.  The funny part about it is I’m not supposed to eat cheese while I’m participating.  So, I made cheese for this post, but I’m also giving up cheese in this post.  Sometimes life is just funny that way.  Don’t worry, I don’t plan on giving up cheese for good, but I do want to try this Eat Right America diet to see what it’s all about.  Throughout the challenge our local Harry’s Farmers Market is offering recipes, store tours, guest speakers, lectures and cooking classes to compliment the stages of the challenge. The whole point is to increase the number of nutrient-dense foods in your diet.  I’ll be blogging bits of the challenge here, so if you’re interested I’ll let you know how it goes.

Another thing we’ll be cutting back on is animal proteins.  As such, I wanted to go ahead and share some information with you about this steak you see pictured here.  It was delicious.  Really, really delicious.  That is all.

For real, though.  If you live in Georgia, I suggest you look into White Oak Pastures Beef.  If our family is going to eat beef in the future (and we will, I can guarantee it), then it will come from this farm or from one like it. Pasture raised, grassfed cattle that are humanely handled.  It may be more expensive (let’s face it, it IS more expensive), but it’s worth it to know where it comes from and how it is raised, handled and processed.

Did you watch the Golden Globes last night?  Did you see Claire Danes win for her role as Temple Grandin in the film of the same name?  Did you know that Temple Grandin helped design the animal handling and processing facility at White Oak Pastures?  Well, now you do.  Cool, huh?

Okay, onto the cheese recipe.

Ingredients
1 gallon of whole milk
2 tsp. citric acid, dissolved in 1 cup cool water
1 tsp. salt

Begin with a gallon of whole milk and some citric acid.  I’m showing the rennet here (the small bottle on the right) because I have used it in making ricotta before, but I didn’t use it here.  In the past I’ve had a hard time getting the curds to form, and have added the rennet (about 1/8 tsp diluted in 1/4 cup water) to help with that process.  Today it wasn’t necessary.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons citric acid in 1 cup water and add it to 1 gallon of milk in a saucepan, stir to combine.   Add 1 tsp. salt.  Turn the heat to medium-low and stir to prevent scorching.  Heat milk to 165-170F (I don’t use a thermometer, I just look to see if the curds are forming).
It will begin to look like this.  You can see the curds separating from the whey here. Continue heating to 190-195F and turn the heat off.  Let sit for 10 minutes or so.
Line a bowl with cheesecloth.
Remove the curds from the whey using a slotted spoon and place them in the cheesecloth-lined bowl.
Allow the whey to drain from the curds.
Refrigerate and enjoy!