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Homespun Life in the City

No-Bake Blueberry Pie

Erin Sheehan 

It’s blueberry season at the homestead. We pick every year at a friend’s patch, and if it’s a good berry year, like this year, August usually finds us eating a lot of blueberry muffins, blueberry pies, and other blueberry desserts. When it’s hot I hate to use the oven, so more and more I am turning to no-bake desserts during the summer. I tried this blueberry pie recipe this week for the first time, and was so happy with the results. It is quick and delicious. I managed to wash a sink full of dishes while it was on the stove, so it must be pretty easy, right!? I hope you will try it and like it as much as I did!


No-bake Blueberry Pie


• 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 2 cups fresh blueberries, plus 1 cup for topping
• ½ cup white sugar
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 8 ounces cream cheese
• 2 cups ricotta cheese
• Graham cracker crust (store-bought or homemade)


Melt butter on the stove in a medium saucepan. Add lemon juice and blueberries and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Pour in the sugar and cornstarch and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese and ricotta. Fold mixture into food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Pour into prepared crust. Take reserved blueberries and place them evenly over the top of the pie. Chill in refrigerator for at least 8 hours before serving. Makes 8 servings. 

Canned Hamburger Dill Pickles

Erin Sheehan





I've canned bread and butter pickles many times, but this year I decided to give dill pickles a go. I always thought dill pickles had to be fermented in a crock or something like that, but it's not true. They can be canned just like the bread and butter.

I checked my grandmother's 1939 cookbook to find her recipe. She had handwritten a recipe in the back as follows:

• 4 cups water
• 1 cup vinegar
• 1/2 cup salt

Directions: Select small cucumbers. Pack in jar. Add 1 teaspoon mixed spices to each quart jar. Add dill and onion.

Hmmm! Not quite enough to go on. I asked my mom about it and she said her mom water bathed her pickles for 5 minutes. I checked the Ball Blue Book and used (mostly) that recipe:

Hamburger Dills

• 3 1/2 pounds small cucumbers
• 6 tablespoons canning salt
• 4 1/2 cups water
• 4 cups white vinegar
• 14 heads fresh dill (seed heads)
• 3 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
• 14 peppercorns

Directions: Cut washed cucumbers (without peeling) into 1/4-inch slices. Boil salt, water, and vinegar in large saucepan. Pack cucumber slices as tightly as possible into jars, layered with 2 dill heads in each jar. Leave 1/2-inch headspace. Add 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed and 2 peppercorns to each jar. Pour or ladle hot liquid into jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cover and process 7 minutes in your water bath.



I wish I could tell you how they came out, but dill pickles should sit at least six months before using. I will let you know in February how they taste!

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Erin SheehanDoes anyone else use the cooking philosophy that any recipe can be changed pretty much in any way? That's my cooking method through and through, especially at this time of year; we're starting to run out of certain vegetables from our freezer and cold cellar. We ran out of onions two weeks ago. We're down to three packages each of broccoli and spinach. We're out of shredded zucchini. We haven't bought veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, or cucumbers for years, so when the freezer and cellar run bare, we're looking for substitutes.

Cooking at the kitchen counter

Here's a few of my favorite substitutes:

Onions or scallions = chives. I freeze bags of cut-up chives in late spring. We don't grow scallions and I refuse to buy them, so chives are close enough! We grow lots of onions, but by the end of February they are usually sprouting and getting soft so I use chives instead, when possible.

Celery = cucumbers. We don't grow celery but we grow loads of cukes, and in lots of recipes no one will know the difference.

Cucumbers = zucchini. If we have a bad year for cukes, zukes work just as well!

Zucchini = frozen tomatillos. I cut tomatillos into quarters and freeze them without blanching. If a recipe calls for zucchini, I will substitute these in. Zucchini only freezes well when it's shredded, so I never have it available cubed in the winter.

Winter squash = pumpkin. I use these interchangeably. We have "pumpkin bread" made with butternut squash and "squash soup" made with pumpkin. It's all the same in our house. I also throw squash and pumpkin into nearly everything. We grow 200+ pounds of it a year, and 1/4 cup can be hidden into most anything!

Sweet potato = winter squash/pumpkin. This doesn't work in every recipe, but it works in most. We don't grow sweet potatoes, so even though squash has a little different flavor and texture, generally this substitution works well.

Other substitutions are more random — I use beet relish if a recipe calls for beets and something tart like lemon juice or vinegar. Homemade pickles always substitute for any pickle called for. I never use garlic powder; we grow so much garlic it's only the real thing.

I'll bet I'm not the only cook out there who throws in everything but the kitchen sink! When you grow your own veggies, it's hard not to use what you've got rather than buy from the grocery store.

Holiday Season at the Homestead

Erin SheehanWe passed the shortest day of the year just a little while ago. At this, the darkest and coldest time of the year, it may seem hard to find joy and light. But at our homestead we embrace the season as a time of rest, and a time to deepen our relationships with one another.

From spring through fall, we are so busy with the garden and putting up food that we miss out on many of our favorite pastimes. One of those is reading the Sunday paper. Every year when winter hits for good, I put in for my annual, 12-week, home delivery subscription to the Sunday newspaper. This paper is so large that it can take several days to fully digest. I revel in sitting by the fire, reading my New York Times, and knowing that I have no weeds waiting to be pulled or tomatoes that will rot if I don't get them jarred up.


We also spend time making music together at this time of year. Music brings us together and lifts us up. We may not be ready for a Carnegie Hall debut, but to us it sounds wonderful.


I spend a lot of time in the kitchen during the winter trying new recipes and making things I just don't have time for during the rest of the year. January is a great time to bake homemade crackers, soft pretzels, cinnamon buns, and other complicated and time-consuming recipes. I have a penchant in winter to bake things that are cheaply purchased, but that take hours to make from scratch for some reason!


Even if reading, making music, or baking aren't your cups of tea, instead of railing against the darkness and cold, try taking a moment every day to appreciate the sheer beauty of winter. The sky as sunset approaches is uniquely stark and can be stunningly beautiful. The silence of the woods is like no other time of the year. If you are lucky enough to live where there's snow, that a blanket of white makes everything look sparkling and fresh again.

Winter gives us an excuse to slow down, to take it easy and spend time talking with each other, enjoying our hobbies, learning about topics that interest us, and planning ahead. There's something in each season for everyone if we just look hard enough.

Easy, DIY, Wine-Cork Ornament

Erin SheehanFor more than ten years now I've been doing a Christmas ornament exchange with friends out on the west coast. We each make an ornament and ship it off in mid-December. Over the years, my tree has more and more decorations from this exchange. It's been terrific!

This year, I did a simple, wine-cork craft ornament. We make our own wine, so we have plenty of unused corks available. I suppose you could use a used cork, but I'm not sure.


Wine Cork Ornament

If you want to try to make a cute wine-cork ornament for yourself, here are some easy instructions:

Wine-Cork Christmas Ornament


• Small piece of fabric (any color is fine)
• Wine Cork
• Small piece of orange fabric
• 2 eyes
• Twig, about 3 inches in length
• Wire (I used wire we saved that had been wrapped around new garden fencing)
• Invisible thread (for hanger)


1. Cut your fabric into the shape of a hat and sew it shut.

2. Glue the hat to the cork.

3. Cut out a small, triangle nose and glue it to the cork.

4. Glue eyes to the cork.

5. Using needle-nose pliers, shape 2 pieces of wire into legs and feet shapes. Stick the wire ends into the bottom of your cork.

6. Wrap your wire legs around the stick and secure with glue.

7. Use invisible thread to create a hanger.

Storing Pumpkins and Winter Squash

Erin SheehanLast summer we only grew about 200 pounds of squash and pumpkins. I say "only," because the year before we hit 290 pounds! For the last five years, we've been in the 150+ pounds range for this crop.

We've tried every storage method you can think of. We tried putting them up as is. We tried washing off the dirt or leaving the dirt. This year, we used a solution that really seems to work. I washed every squash and pumpkin in a dilute solution of bleach and water. About a cup of bleach for 2 gallons of water.

I carefully wiped off the dirt from all of the squashes and pumpkins and submerged them in the bleach solution. I wiped them down with a cloth, and then dried each one before putting them in our storage cellar.

So far, it seems to be working. Usually by mid-December my crop is getting rotten spots and going fast. This year, though, I'm doing great. This is what we have left:


I did find a rotten butternut today. It had been chewed by a rodent but had healed. The rotten portion was toward the wall, and I just never saw it!

Pumpkins are not great for storage, so to have two that are hard and perfect over two months after the harvest is terrific!

We enjoyed pumpkin waffles (made with butternut squash!) by the fireplace this morning at breakfast. Not a bad way to enjoy the fruits of our labor!


Five-Minute Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Erin SheehanWhen you grow in the neighborhood of 200 pounds of pumpkin and winter squash every year, you eat a lot of pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. Plain pumpkin pie can get boring, so I am always looking for a new way to make it. This recipe was an instant favorite!

This pumpkin pie is not baked, so for the purists out there, don't make this for your Thanksgiving feast. But if you want something super-quick that won't take up any space in your oven for the holiday, you are all set!

Ingredients note: This does use a pre-made graham cracker crust, but you could make your own if you prefer.


Lickety-Split Refrigerator Pumpkin Pie


• 1 pre-made graham cracker crust
• 2-1/2 cups pumpkin puree (you can substitute one 15 oz. can, but if you do so then up the whipped topping to 8 ounces to fill the crust)
• 8 ounces cream cheese
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
• 4 ounces whipped topping


1. Using your Kitchen Aid with the whisk attachment, (or a large bowl and whisk by hand) mix pumpkin puree, cream cheese, sugar, and spice. Whip until completely incorporated, about 2 minutes.

2. Add whipped topping, and whisk until blended.

3. Pour into pre-made crust. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until firm.


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