Oh, the best laid plans of mice and men. And me.
I’d been devising this meal in my mind for a while. I had grand plans of how exciting and interesting it would be. It would be a fabulous lesson detailing where our food comes from and how it transforms from raw ingredients to finished product on the table. It would make Jaime Oliver proud.
But then life happened.
First, the family we’d invited to participate with us had to cancel – last minute change of plans. Still, I figured our family could still get out there and go strawberry picking on Saturday morning.
WRONG – we were awoken at 5:30 AM to the sound of severe thunderstorms and tornado sirens. This was after we’d already been startled awake at 4:00 AM by a sheepish four-year-old who’d had too much water to drink before bed and had managed to sleep through his nighttime bathroom visit. Or lack thereof. Sleepy is what we were. And without strawberries.
Luckily, this type of lesson is one I try to teach on a regular basis. Here’s a photo of all of us out picking strawberries at a local farm a couple of years ago.
My little guy loved strawberries from the get-go, so it was difficult to keep him from eating them before they went in the buckets.
So, although the glamour has been stripped from my deconstructed meal, I still think it’s valuable for my family to see that food is more than a jumble of ingredients in a jar or bag.
So, sleep deprived and somewhat deflated, I went to the store and found the prettiest and most local strawberries they had. My four-year old accompanied me and was oh-so-excited to see the beautiful red berries going into our cart. I also purchased some local raw peanuts for the peanut-butter. The little one wanted to open them right up and start chowing down and couldn’t understand why I told him he had to wait. The idea that peanuts don’t automatically come to us roasted and salted was beyond him.
When I got home, I got out the ingredients to make the bread. I decided to do white sandwich bread, since that is probably the most widely accepted base on which to spread the peanut butter and jelly. I wanted this to be as homespun and traditional as possible, you see.
Ingredients for White Sandwich Bread:
1 package or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
4-5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon salt
I began by dissolving the yeast in 1/4 cup water. 3 cups of flour went in the bowl of my electric mixer, fitted with the dough-hook attachment. The remaining ingredients I heated on the stovetop in a saucepan until the solid fats melted and the salt and sugar dissolved. I added the dissolved yeast to the flour in the bowl and turned the mixer on to incorporate. Once the milk mixture had cooled a bit, I added this to the flour mixture and turned the mixer on high. Once the liquid had been incorporated, the dough was still quite sticky, so I added another cup of flour. This proved to be enough flour, so I didn’t add the last cup. I let the mixer run for 10-12 minutes on high to knead the dough.
Once the dough was smooth and elastic, I removed it from the mixer bowl, formed it into a ball and placed it in an oiled bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. I set it in a warm corner of my kitchen and forgot about it (or let it rise, however you want to look at it).
Meanwhile, I began to make my strawberry jam. First, I placed my jelly jars in a large stock pot, along with the lid rings and covered everything with water by an inch. I brought this to a boil on the stovetop. This sterilized the jars. For the actual lids, I placed these in heat-proof bowl and covered them with boiling water to sterilize and soften the seals a bit.
Ingredients for Strawberry Jam:
4 cups ripe strawberries, hulled
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
I crushed the berries and added them to 4 cups of sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. I stirred to mix and brought the mixture to a hard boil.
I let this boil until it reached 220F on a candy thermometer, and then I added the lemon juice. I let it boil a little longer, just to thicken a bit more, then I removed it from the heat.
I removed the jars from the boiling water bath and emptied them of any remaining water. I carefully filled the jars with the strawberry mixture (it was enough for two pint jars) and placed the lids on them. I loosely screwed the rings on and put them back in the boiling water bath. Making sure the water was still boiling, I let them boil for 5 minutes. Once the 5 minute mark had passed, I removed them and let them cool on the counter, listening carefully for the “pop” from the lids sealing. Once they had cooled, I made sure the rings were screwed on tightly.
This was a very loose jam, but quite tasty. It would make a wonderful ice-cream topping. It soaked into the bread very nicely.
While the jars were cooling, I made the peanut butter.
Ingredients for Peanut Butter:
1 pound raw, blanched peanuts
salt to taste
a bit of Stevia
Preheat your oven to 350F. Place the raw peanuts on a foil-lined baking sheet and place them in your preheated oven. Let them roast for 15 or 20 minutes, or until you detect the distinct scent of roasted peanuts. Just be careful not to let them burn – scorched peanut butter isn’t so tasty.
Place the warm peanuts in the bowl of your food processor and turn it on. You may have to shake it periodically as it runs to make sure the all the peanuts get equal time next to the blades. It will magically turn into peanut butter before your very eyes. Add salt to taste. I added a bit of stevia just for a little sweetness, but that’s certainly not necessary.
Now all that was left was finishing the bread. It had doubled in volume at this point, so I punched it down and rolled it out into a rectangle. This I rolled to fit into a well-oiled loaf pan and covered it again with plastic wrap. I let it rise, again in a warm spot in the kitchen, until it had once again double in volume. Then I baked it in a 350F oven for about 20-25 minutes.
Once it cooled, the sandwiches were ready to be assembled. I sliced the bread into 1/2 inch slices and slathered one side with peanut butter and one side with jelly. Sandwich together and slice (diagonally, of course).
Repeat if desired.
The little guy really enjoyed his – you can always tell when he closes his eyes while he eats. It’s fun to see him savoring food this way. I can already see that he’s becoming appreciative of food in a meaningful way.
I encourage you to explore where your food comes from, and teach your children to do the same. They will be much more willing to try new things, and they will respect their food as more than just something to consume. They will become invested in what goes into their little bodies, and they will become equipped to make healthy choices throughout their lives.
Thank you to Foodbuzz for allowing me to share our family’s journey toward a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle during this month’s 24, 24, 24 event. Even though unforeseen circumstances prevented us from the full experience of farm to table dining, we were still able to make the best of the situation by using fresh, local ingredients to create a simple but delicious meal.