No matter where Candice Burkart has lived, there is one thing she has always relied upon: a garden where she could enjoy the bounty of fruits and vegetables.
Much of the fruit, Candice says, would be used to make jams and jellies. She recalls picking wild blueberries with her mother and how some of the berries didn't make it into the jams.
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"We would take the golf cart to the fruit trees and pick the berries and eat them right off the tree," she said. "Our fingers would be stained with the fruit. It's hard for me to remember not having a garden."
As an adult, whether she was living on an eight-acre farm in Campton Hills or a smaller home in St. Charles, she has continued to cultivate a garden full of berry bushes, apple, pear and peach trees and "every kind of vegetable you could imagine."
The 70-year-old says she still loves to make jams, jellies and homemade pickles because they simply smell and taste better than store-bought varieties. Friends and family have grown to expect a jar of something good as a parting gift after each visit.
"When you have something that is homemade, it's made from the heart," she says. "You are giving part of yourself. One of my favorites to make is strawberry rhubarb jam. I make it and give it away and try to keep a jar for ourselves."
When not grabbing the bounty from her own garden, Candice relies on fresh produce for homemade soups. She said her three grandchildren count beef vegetable and chicken noodle as their favorite while her grown children tend to prefer her bisques, clam chowder and cucumber soup that can be enjoyed hot or cold.
When making jams and jellies, she said it is pertinent to stick to the recipe, but cooking allows more flexibility. She loves watching cooking shows, eating at restaurants and looking online to find culinary inspiration and often grabs bits from several sources and whips them into special dishes -- like shrimp and avocado salad with horseradish and lime juice -- to share with family or girlfriends.
"I start with a recipe but I always end up changing it or adding things to it depending on my mood," she said. "When making the squash bisque, I might add bacon to it."
And when she's cooking, guests can expect a home-cooked meal and a container to take home.
"I've never been a person who cooks for two people. I can't even cook for 10. Everyone goes home with a bag of food." she says. "If you're making something for 10, it's easier to make it for 20 and everyone can take something home. It's how I cook."
When it comes to dessert, Candice admits she does not like to bake. She does, however, like to make a cherry cheesecake, a recipe she says is too easy to be considered baking.
"Baking is what my mother would do," she said, recalling the cookies, pies and homemade breads that came out of her kitchen. "That was so time intensive."
Candice looks forward to the weather warming up so she can turn to her garden. She hopes her grandchildren will join her in making the jams she learned as a child.
"I should insist that they learn to make it because they love to eat it," she said.