Strawberry Stuff

When I was a kid, one of the greatest joys in life was the random family “get-together”. It could be a family reunion, a holiday, or just a random gathering of our clan of peeps. The best part of these gatherings was the food…OH THE FOOD…that would come out of the families who were from all over North/East Texas. I’ve joked often that I’m pedigree White Trash, but this might be the cherry on the top of the sundae, so to speak. I don’t even remember when this particular dish showed up the first time, but after it did it became a staple in our get-togetherin’. I distinctly remember heated conversations over whose favorite dessert this was as various family members tried to claim that it was their favorite over some other family member.

The original incarnation of this dish was made with peaches and was simply called “Peach Stuff”, and as far as I know has remained so in the family up until this point. I’ve often wondered outloud if this thing would be good with just about any different fruit you throw into it. However, your available ingredients will limit the type of fruit you use. I’m getting ahead of myself…let’s get this thing built and then go back and reassess.

Ingredients:

-Two tubes of Ritz crackers

-a stick and a half of unsalted butter (real butter…don’t you DARE use margarine)

-a large pack of strawberry jello (or two small packs)

-a tub of Cool Whip (full strength…not the lite crap)

-a stick of Philly cream cheese (full strength…no the lite crap)

-a cup of sugar

-2lbs of fresh strawberries

Take the two tubes of Ritz and crush them GENTLY so that you don’t bust open the packages. Trust me..it’s easier to do this inside the package. I tried using a food processor on it one time, but it made the crumbs too small. You want a varied sized crumble on this.

By rolling the crackers inside, you can crush them with your thumbs. Just make sure you don’t leave any big chucks. Even if you do, though, you can crunch them in just a bit.

In a 13×9 ungreased pan, dump your crumbs out.

You can see some of the bigger crumbs here…just squeeze them with your fingers to smash them.

Melt the butter (just so that it’s soft…don’t get it too hot or it will separate).

Pour the butter into the crumbs.

With a big metal spoon, mix the crumbs and butter together so that it’s evenly spread.

Turn the spoon over and start whacking the crumbs so that they even out all over the pan (you’ll notice the pan is suddenly a different color…I grabbed the bigger one on accident when I started out and had to change). Don’t whack too hard. You can use the weight of the spoon if your spoon is big enough. Smacking it will pack the crumbs in. It will take you a good 10min to do this, probably. You want the edges especially to be sealed up around the corners. Again, in just a bit this will make sense.

It should look something a-like so:

Packed in good.

In a preheated oven, put this on the middle rack and cook for 20-25 min @ 350deg. It may take a bit longer, but that should be about right. You are looking for it to be nice and golden brown.

In the meantime, prepare the Jello as per the instructions on the package.

Once you get it made, slip it in the fridge for 20 min, then into the freezer. We want it to get to where it’s JUST starting to set up, but not too set up.

Now then…let’s make the good part. Dump the Cool Whip, cream cheese, and sugar into your mixer and start whipping it up. It helps to leave the cream cheese and Cool Whip out for an hour or so to soften. Whip it on high. The sugar needs to be dissolved completely, and the mixture can use the extra fluff.

When it’s good and whipped, it will look almost like Crisco. Appetizing.

And you get to pick who gets to lick the beater.

Pull your crust out and let it cool. Don’t try to put the cream cheese mixture on when it’s still hot or it will be a mess.

A close-up of the crust. You’ll be amazed at how good this will make your house smell.

Top the strawberries and slice them up. They need to be in pretty thin slices, which you can accomplish with either a knife:

Or an egg slicer, which will cut your work down by a ton. This is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. I use it for eggs, mushrooms, and strawberries when I want them sliced. You have to go easy at first or you’ll smoosh the strawberries. Just go easy so you don’t end up with a mush.

I thought about macerating these with sugar, but that will drain them of water and you don’t want that. When they are sliced up, put them back in the fridge to keep them cold until your crumbs are cool and your Jello is ready to use.

When the crumbs are cool, dump the cream cheese on them and spread them out. Go EASY with this or you’ll f up your crumbs. You need them to be sealed off completely by the cream cheese, and if you push too hard you’ll move the crumbs. Bad. Just go easy.

Speaking of the Jello, by this point it should be ready to go. This is borderline too far…when it starts getting thick, pull it.

Spread the cream cheese and make the edges TIGHT. It needs to seal up the crumbs. Using a paper towel, clean up the sides. It doesn’t have to be too clean, but you’ll want a separate layer look for presentation. If that doesn’t matter to you, then don’t worry about it.

Arrange the first layer of strawberries evenly on the cream cheese.

Once you have the bottom layer covered, then take the rest and even spread them out. You put the first layer down one-by-one so you know that you get good coverage of the white stuff.

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With a ladle, carefully pour the Jello onto the strawberries. Go easy now…if you pour to fast or heavy, it will penetrate the crumb layer and make ’em soggy. Bad.

Pour it over evenly.

From the side, you can see the layers. Now then…how white trash is this thing? Ritz crackers, whipped cream, cream cheese, and Jello with fruit in it sounds like every recipe out of the local Baptist church cookbook, doesn’t it? I’m sure that’s where this thing came from. Doesn’t matter, though…we are 12 hours away from greatness.

Cover the pan and put it into the fridge overnight. The Jello needs a few hours to set up completely. Don’t pull it early. When you do, though, this is what you are treated to. Oh, man.

The first slice is always the hardest to get out, but when you do get it out you’ve got this crispy, crunchy crust, creamy sweet layer of goodness, then the tart and crisp strawberry/Jello layer.

Back to the original conversation…this was Peach Stuff when I was a kid. You use peach Jello instead of strawberry, and use canned peaches instead of strawberries. You can chill the cans of peaches and drain them, using the juice as the “cold water” on the instructions on the package. I’m sure you can use just about any fruit flavor that Jello makes outside of lemon or lime. Whatever fruit you choose, though, this will be a instant favorite at your family get-togethers or holidays.

Tomato Tutorial: Determinate v. Indeterminate

Tomato Tutorial: Determinate v. Indeterminate

Determinate or indeterminate, who knew?

 

 

 

If you start paying attention to the info on the back of seed packages or catalogue descriptions you will start to notice one of two words showing up. Determinate or Indeterminate.

Until recently, I would just shrug not understanding what that was all about. Occasionally you will see semi-determinate, which is usually an heirloom cultivar. However the classification is similar to pole beans or bush beans.

 

What’s the difference?

Determinate= a bush-type plant, meaning that the plant has a “determinate” height. It will grow to a point then will stop growing up. All new growth will then take place from side-shoots off the main stem. And the plant will be bushy. These plants usually set fruit and ripen in a concentrated span of time, making this a great type if you want to can tomatoes.

Growing determinate plants: use a tomato cage, a good sturdy one, it might be helpful to also put a stake near the main stem and tie the stem to it. It will keep the plant from toppling over when its heavy with fruit.

Sturdy tomato cage.

Indeterminate= vine-type plant. This is a tomato that will continue to grow and has an “indeterminate” height. These can be unruly, if not staked and caged well. For those of you in Texas you know what I mean. In August the tomato vines will be heavy and 10 feet tall and still growing. And you will be looking at this profuse vine thinking “what am I supposed to do with this?” These types set fruit and ripen continuously, so you have an ongoing supply of tomatoes from the vine.

Growing indeterminate plants: use a very tall stake or tomato ladder so the vines can grow up. This helps to keep the fruit off the ground which leads to a whole other set of problems.

I’ve also been known to drive in a T-post and use in conjunction with a cage. When the vines get too heavy for the cage to support it, the T-post will prop the cage up. T-posts are in abundance on the ranch because we use them to build barbed-wire fences.

An example of using a T-post with a cage (this is not my garden, BTW)

One type is not better than the other, but it’s helpful to know what kind you are growing when planning your garden. You can select specific types depending on what you want to accomplish or the planting space you have available. Personally I like a variety of both in my garden. I have a small raised-bed garden at my house and a large plot in our family garden out at the ranch. In my small home garden I’ve planted a variety of both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.

The determinate types will suit my purposes better at home because they are compact plants and will ripen in a concentrated period of time. I can harvest my main tomato crop, then move on to my next crop and get the most out of my small garden. I’m also hoping to have enough come off at one time to can (aka put up) my crop.

Canned tomatoes

At our ranch plot, I’ve got more indeterminate varieties because we have much more space and can provide plenty of room for the plants to spread out. I’m hoping the indeterminates can provide a just-in-time regular delivery of homegrown tomatoes to eat throughout the season.

One last note about growing tomatoes in Texas: think of growing tomatoes in 2 shorter growing seasons, instead of one long season. Tomatoes will take a hiatus from mid-July to late August when it’s too hot. In fact, most tomatoes will not set fruit when overnight temps reach 80-85 degrees.

My plan is to grow an early crop, pull up spent plants, then replant in late August for a fall harvest.

Flowers on the tomato vine now hopefully mean juicy tomatoes later.

Fingers crossed. Happy Gardening 🙂