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We are well into strawberry season in Western Pennsylvania. Although I love fresh strawberries, one can only eat so many. If you have a bumper crop of berries, have a generous friend who gifted you berries, or you were a bit overzealous shopping at the farmer's market, an easy and delicious way to preserve this fleeting taste of summer sunshine is to make home-canned strawberry jam.

Every few years, I can a small batch of fresh strawberry jam for our family to enjoy. I love the process of home canning. Although I watched my grandmother and mom home can growing up, I mainly taught myself as an adult. I used The Ball Home Preseving Book and watched videos on YouTube. The most crucial aspect of home-preserving food is sanitation. One must be diligent about following the rules for safe food practices. If you are unfamiliar with the home canning process, I suggest reading up on the subject as much as possible before you begin. There are various home canning books on the market and step-by-step videos online.

I use The Ball Home Preserving Book as a reliable resource. This is also the book where I found the recipe I now use for strawberry jam. Once you begin the home canning process, it is far less intimidating than it seems when reading about it. The equipment needed for the home canning process is affordable and readily available at most hardware stores or big box stores. What I love about home canned food is that there are no preservatives. The process is very straightforward. The ingredients are plentiful but simple, and one knows exactly how their food was grown and prepared.

I have had The Bean help me with home canning projects since she was little. I feel passing this useful knowledge on to the younger generation is important. It would be a shame to see this knowledge lost. If you don't have a grandmother or mother to help you, buy The Ball Home Preserving Book, watch a few videos, or better yet, get together with friends and learn together or share knowledge. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers understood the importance of community and the phrase; many hands make light work. Why not take the opportunity to create homemade delicious food and enjoy a day with friends?

The recipe below is my go-to for simple, classic strawberry jam. I pulled it right from The Ball Home Preserving Book, an invaluable source for home food preservation. I found my copy at Tractor Supply many years ago. I believe Tractor Supply continues to carry an updated version, but it can also be found at many online retailers.

Ball Classic Strawberry Jam

5 cups crushed strawberries (about 5 lbs.)

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

6 Tbsp. Ball® RealFruit™ Classic Pectin

7 cups granulated sugar

Prepare a boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use—do not boil. Wash lids in warm, soapy water and set bands aside.

Combine strawberries and lemon juice in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

Add entire measure of sugar, stirring to dissolve. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.

Ladle hot jam into a hot jar, leaving a ¼ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim. Center the lid on the jar and apply the band; adjust to fingertip tight. Place jar in boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

Process jars for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let the jars stand for 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool for 12-24 hours. Check lids for seal; they should not flex when the center is pressed.

On this overcast day, stay safe and be smart. I hope you discover the joy and satisfaction of home-canned preserves and keep washing your hands. Washing your hands is the best way to prevent the spread of bacteria causing foodborne illness.

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  • Writer's pictureTina

My very first attempt at sculpting a 3D soap pumpkin

Dear reader, I have not been this excited about anything soap-related since I discovered I could make fourteen loaves of soap simultaneously. For the past several years, I have been threatening my bib overall-wearing nay-saying husband with the addition of soap dough to our seasonal soap line-up. As with anything new, different, or fun, he put up a fight. However, dear reader, after three years, I have finally conquered the task of making soap dough. Although apprehensive of what lies ahead for seasonal soap creations, The Bibbed Wonder is happy for me.

There is an endless supply of soap dough recipes floating around. It seemed daunting when I first began exploring the idea of making soap dough. However, once I really dug into researching it, I realized that all soap dough is soap that has not hardened. One can create soap dough from any recipe as long as the batter is kept in an airtight container. There is no need for a special recipe, extra ingredients, or a complicated process. Armed with this realization, I approached The Bibbed Wonder with my list of ideas. To say he was not receptive is an understatement.

The Bibbed Wonder calls me the idea factory. He does not say this in a flattering tone. Often, when I approach him with an excellent idea, he will look at me, smirk, and say, "I think you need to write that down, roll it up in a tiny little ball, and stick it in inappropriate places"-only he names the inappropriate place. Sigh. After years of going back and forth about this, I took matters into my own hands. We had some extra soap batter left over when we made our Pumpkin Sandalwood soap. Yes, it smells like autumn in the soap studio. Anyhow, I took that extra bit of batter, put it in a Ziploc bag, and decided to see what would happen. When I thought about it, I kneaded the soap bag, but it was not an exact science. To my delight, I found a soft, pliable, dough-like substance when I checked on it the next day.

I patiently waited while we worked to get our soap duties done. Once we had two batches made, the studio cleaned and prepped for the next day; I took my little bag of soap dough, opened it up, tore off a knob of soap dough, and then proceeded to roll it into a soft, pliable ball. I then danced around my husband like a voodoo witch doctor, hooting, hollering, and singing, "Oh, Yeah! Oh, Yeah! I did it! I did it!" There was much gyrating going on. I believe Abby thought I had gone insane.

The Bibbed Wonder, always a skeptic, asked many nonsense questions, like: How long did it take? How much would I need? Did I plan to use soap dough for everyday soaps? Sigh, he's so practical. However, his practicality was not going to rain on my parade. I conceded to agreeing only to use soap dough on seasonal and special soaps. I also agreed not to make anything that would make shipping difficult. I envision using the soap dough for custom embeds placed inside the soap rather than sculpting 3D figures on top. Communicating this to one twitchy husband and a pinky promise made the process go over a bit easier.

Once the celebrating was done, I sat down to experiment with the soap dough and a clay extruder. Much to my delight, the extruding process is quite simple. The extruder is easy to clean, and there is not a lot of fuss. These are all good things for one of my hair-brained ideas. For one very practical bib-overall-wearing curmudgeon, practicality is essential. I extruded several basic shapes with success. I then sat and sculpted a tiny pumpkin. Although not professional by any means, I thought my pumpkin turned out well for my first attempt. Once the experiment was complete, my husband finally broke into a smile and congratulated me. He could not refrain from reminding me there would be nothing 3D sculpted for on top of the soap, but he did smile.

Now, dear reader, the real fun begins. We are in the process of making fall and winter soaps to take to The Shaker Woods Festival in August. I get to design soaps and use soap dough for these seasonal soaps. The possibilities are endless! There are so many extruding discs to choose from my little brain could explode. I have settled upon fall leaves, pumpkins, acorns, stars, the moon, and snowflakes. However, there are mittens, wellies, hats, goats, animals, and flowers galore. It will be difficult not to buy one of everything. If I am going to remain happily married, I need to curb the ideas and filter the shopping cart. Sigh.

I have a new level of enthusiasm for our upcoming seasonal soaps. It's not that I am not excited about what we do; it's just that sometimes it feels like lather, rinse, repeat in the studio. The new medium of soap dough has me going in a million different directions with what we can achieve aesthecically. I need to settle my creative little brain and think clearly and decisively about what we can reasonably do for the upcoming seasonals. I will keep you posted. Not everyone is excited about soap dough; it's a soap nerd thing. However, I believe I can create new soaps that will dazzle and wow you. At least, that's my goal.

On this very summer-like day, stay safe, be smart, look forward to many new creations, and keep washing your hands.

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  • Writer's pictureTina

Today, dear reader, we release our latest creation, Lemon Verbena. The scent of this soap and moisturizer is pure sunshine. My favorite little fragrance company, Sweet Cakes, created this gorgeous scent; as always, they never disappoint. The scent begins with top notes of fresh, bright lemon but soon dries down to middle notes of marigold and vetiver. It is fresh, lemony, glowing, green, and delightful. For all my lemon lovers, this one is for you. The fragrance of this soap is complex, sophisticated, and not overpowering.

In my mind, there was no other color for lemon verbena soap than yellow. I chose a bright tennis ball yellow to blend with classic, clean white. The appearance is simple, bright, clean, and lovely. It would not be one of my creations unless glitter is involved. I purchased a lovely iridescent bio-glitter to top this sunshiney soap. The glitter gives the yellow and white swirl a bit of pizazz.

My inspiration for scents comes from my farm, natural surroundings, and literature. As a child, I loved to read the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and watch Little House on the Prairie on television. It always stayed with me that Laura's favorite perfume was lemon verbena because her favorite teacher wore it. When I saw a lemon verbena fragrance oil from my favorite fragrance company, I knew I had to create a soap and moisturizer. The soap and moisturizer are lovely, and I could not be more pleased.

I hope you enjoy our latest creation, Lemon Verbena, as much as I do. If you love the scent of lemon, clean, crisp, bright scents, or perhaps are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, this soap and moisturizer will make you smile. It's simplistically beautiful yet bright and complex. Lemon Verbena soap and moisturizer are available exclusively on the website today. However, we will have both at Ligonier Country Market and The Ethnic Food Festival this Saturday. The Bibbed Wonder and I will be at Ligonier Country Market on Saturday from 8-12. The wondrously fabulous Jenna Strittmatter will be at the Ethnic Food Festival at the S & T Arena 497 East Pike RD., Indiana, PA, from 11-7 on Saturday and 11-6 on Sunday. I gently encourage you to stop by, say hello, and smell our soaps in person.

On this lovely summer's day, stay safe and be smart; I hope you enjoy our newest creation. Come see us on Saturday, support local, have some fun, and keep washing your hands.

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