Summer Strawberry Jelly

Strawberry Fields Forever!! John Lennon’s reference in the Beatles song is based on nostalgic childhood memories of him playing in the garden of Strawberry Fields, at the Salvation Army Children’s Home in Liverpool near where he grew up. The Beatles spent 45 hours in the studio over 5 weeks, tracking the song and ended up with three different renditions, finally combining two of them. Is this why the lyric mentions  “forever”?

It also may have to do with the fact that strawberry fields actually last forever. You plant one container and over the years it will spread, grow and thrive until you have a field of strawberries… forever. And this happens with practically no maintenance.

June is Strawberry month; July is time for canning. My friend Meredith Urban (@delamer1981) recently visited her grandmother Rita who is a professional(ish) canner. At the age of 90, she is still at it, even with her disability – advanced macular degeneration. What an inspiring woman! It’s a special gift when you’re able to learn cooking and recipes from the eldest in your family. Rita taught her daughter, and her granddaughter Meredith how to cook and bake.  This is also how I learned, so the sentiment touches me.

I was given a can of strawberry jelly from Rita. It’s so delicious! I used mine on sourdough bread with butter. I feel the need to share this sweet recipe with you!

Grandma Rita

Grandma Ritas’ Strawberry Jelly

(makes, 5, 8 ounce jelly jars)
2 cups of mashed strawberries (based on the strawberries being mashed, not whole)
4 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell (found at most supermarkets) or use natural pectin

Directions: Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water. Mash the strawberries and mix in 4 cups of sugar, thoroughly.  Boil water and add the Sure Jell – follow the directions on the package. Combine the strawberries into the Sure Jell and mix well so it’s not gritty. Use a funnel to fill each 8 ounce jar,  leaving some room at the top. Wipe the jars clean, place lids on tightly and leave out for 24 hours. Then refrigerate.

This is “freezer jelly” – lasts up to 5 weeks in the refrigerator.

If you haven’t grown your own, visit Edgemere Farm (385 B 45 St, Queens, NY 11691) for strawberries and other local fruit!

Follow me in the garden day-to-day on instagram – @theglorifiedtomato


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Weird and wonderful

I’ve written before about perhaps my favorite tree – the Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). It gives so much. It blooms beautiful, petite white flowers in early spring. It services birds, squirrels (raccoons?), and me with delicious berries in mid-June.

They taste like if strawberries and blueberries had children. The less ripe ones also give you a burst of tartness occasionally, which I like!  The color ranges from bright reds to dark burgundy. In late September the foliage turns attractive shades of yellow and rich copper. The tree is salt tolerant which makes it suitable for the peninsula and Broad Channel.

Last year I noticed orange spiky “pods” on the tree where the berries form. But not everywhere, just at random. I thought they were reproductive parts, as it shedded what looked like orange pollen. Being busy, I never got around to investigating it further.

The other morning while I was having coffee and my berry breakfast, I noticed the orange pods again. I decided to google “reproduction, serviceberry tree.” To my surprise, nothing of significance came up. I put in other descriptive search terms and looked at images. Nature always surprises us. There it was. But what I learned was shocking…


cedar apple rust serviceberry tree

The galls of cedar apple rust, pretty right!

Panic ensued! But as I read further, cedar apple rust fungus is harmless to  Serviceberry trees. It only makes infected berries inedible. And the “pods” are called galls.

Some gardeners feel the rust is an aesthetic issue but I think the exact opposite! The fungus is weird and wonderful. It has an organic shape and the bright orange looks pretty against the green leaves and red berries.

I was debating on whether or not I should remove the infected areas. After more research, I decided they should be removed. There’s an apple tree that borders my yard. And this fungus is harmful to apple trees.

My neighbor told me his mother’s apple tree has been living for at least 80 years and has 7 different grafts on it. The tree, since we moved to Rockaway – 7 years now! – has never done well. There’s always been rot and the fruit looks deformed. I believe the fruit tree is also infected with cedar apple rust fungus.

Junipers, which are everywhere in Rockaway, are cedar apple rust hosts in the winter. Then in the spring, during the rainy season, the spores move to other trees. Interestingly, the fungus can not infect the same species of tree in the same year. So it will jump from a Juniper to an apple tree back to a Juniper, as one example.

To control cedar apple rust there are many organic sprays you can buy. Ultimately what combats the fungus is sulfur. Remove infected berries in the spring and rake up and dispose of leaves in the fall putting them in the garbage, not your compost pile.

There are so many things I enjoy about gardening. One of them is this, learning through experience. Just when you thought you knew it all…

service berry tree

Follow me on instagram for the day-to-day in the garden @theglorifiedtomato

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Summer Is Here

I feel overwhelmed by the masses coming to Rockaway the past few weeks. Last summer it was calm in comparison, due to the pandemic. The garbage, the parking situation, and the dunes problem have been upsetting. Before I scare you off though, I’d like to say,  I’m not using this forum to complain. This is not Facebook!  I’ve been thinking about it and I want to share some of the positives I came across relating to these local issues.

garbage rockaway beach summer 2021

The Garbage: A few Mondays ago I went down to the beach for a morning walk. Even though I’ve seen the overflowing garbage cans and fields of plastic before, I had a “Looney Tunes” bulge eye-pop moment. I started picking up garbage at random, as many of us do. Every hour that goes by, is more opportunity for the plastic to make its way into the water.

clean up the beach 1

While I was there though, I noticed thoughtful, hand-painted wooden signs reminding beachgoers to “keep our beach clean” “take out what you bring in,”  and so on. But there was this one sign that stood out. It’s of a turtle with a plastic bag around its neck. The detail in the drawing shows how much the signmaker cares about the ocean and their community. Even the placement of the sign is purposeful. The turtle message appears near a garbage can on the way back up to the boardwalk. It’s on Beach 91st.  I can’t get the image out of my head. This artwork has an impact. Thank you to whoever took the time to create this meaningful message.

The Parking: This has been a decades-long debate and conversation on the peninsula. Rockaway Beach is inundated. Uptown has no parking rules during the summer. There is something very wrong with this and it’s not about parking. It’s a social inequality issue. I’ll leave that there. Multi-level parking garages in Rockaway and Far Rockaway for use only four months out of the year are not the answer. The answer is eco-friendly transportation –  better public transit infrastructure and easy access, safe bike paths.

On that note, if you’re a visitor just picking up this edition of the paper after driving around for an hour to find a parking spot, consider taking public transportation next time. While we don’t have the best transit to Rockaway, the trip will be less stressful and probably take the same amount of time given “looking for parking.” Better yet, take advantage of the bike paths to Rockaway! There are many stop-offs to check out too – Jamaica Bay, Canarsie Pier, and Floyd Bennett Field.

keep off the dunes rockaway beach summer 2021

The Dunes: A few weeks ago the NYC Parks partnered with the Rockaway Beach Civic Association. Together with community members they took action and made “Keep Off The Dunes” signage.” Now you can see the important message clearly on the dunes in the Rockaway Beach area. Thank you and nice swift action!

I also see Rockawayites on social media reminding their network of the importance of dune protection as our main source of erosion protection. I’m hopeful when the Army Corp. of Engineers’ infrastructure project is completed this problem will diminish. The ’90s are slated for groin construction in October!

A big thanks to our community members that are taking action to remind our guests of the appropriate behavior when visiting our beautiful beach town.

Follow me  for the local summer seen on instagram – @theglorifiedtomato


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Sage Summer Tea With Lemon

This past weekend was The Beach 91st Street Community Gardens’ plant sale. A big thank you to the garden members who donated plants and helped manage the event. Special thanks to Walsh Properties, Inc. and Rockaway Beach resident Joanne McGrath for donating so many beautiful perennials and bulbs. Props to The Wave for promoting the sale in The Happenings section last week!
sage cat

The event was a great success. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for the community to come together and enjoy the garden space, talk about plants, and mingle. It was a fantastic afternoon and we hope to have more community events like this in the future.

While hanging out in the garden, I was talking to fellow member Theresa Racine about my sage (Salvia officinalis). I purchased it a few years ago from Lisena Garden Center (12-5 Cross Bay Blvd, Queens,). It was an impulse buy. I couldn’t help myself because the plant looked so beautiful and robust. I told Theresa I don’t know what to do with the leaves. Essentially,  it’s just been ornamental for me. Theresa knows a lot about herbs and recommended making tea with it. I was totally into the tea idea!

sage tea brewing

Sage is an aromatic herb in the mint family. It is native to the Mediterranean region. This woody-stemmed shrub can grow two feet tall. It produces delicate purple, pink and sometimes white flowers in early June. The perennial has a rich history of medicinal uses, some of which are for oral health including cold sores, brain alertness, women’s health, skin health, anti-inflammatory properties, and antibacterial effects. The list goes on.

homemade sage tea

Here’s my recipe for a healthy herbal tea!

Summer Sage Infused Tea With Lemon

8 cups water
3 large sprigs of sage
2 lemons

Directions: Thoroughly clean the sage and remove any unhealthy leaves. In a teapot, boil eight cups of water. Cut two lemons into halves. Combine the ingredients into the hot water and let the herb infuse for at least two hours. Serve over ice. Save the sage flowers for a beautiful presentation.

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