This blog is about my journey into the world of canning, or "putting up" as others would like to call it. I will try to pickle almost anything and smash berries and sugar together on any given day. I'll also write about general baking, which is another passion of mine, but not as overwhelming, addictive or obsessive as canning has become.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cranberry Apple Jam

What's better than cranberry apple jam in the fall?  Pumpkin butter?  Well, you can't can pumpkin safely at home unless it's in cubed squares in a pressure cooker, so try again.  Unless you're Betty Crocker - and I mean, literally BETTY CROCKER, you can't can pumpkin at home, safely, so stop your crying.

The next best thing is cranberry apple jam for the fall.  Just the thought of it brings to mind hazy memories of colored leaves, rock walls and apples lying in the orchard.  You can't technically "pick" cranberries, but they are a great steal this time of year at 2 bags for $4, so indulge yourself and buy 10.  Bags.  They freeze well.  No, they freeze fantastically well.  They are little frozen pearls of tart sweetness.  Like little red marbles.  There is no bad frozen cranberry, especially in its whole form.  Frozen bags of whole cranberries will last me until next summer, as long as I freeze enough.  They are the faint reminder when it's 92 degrees outside that fall will be here, eventually, and pumpkins will take precedence over summer squash and watermelons.  Do yourself a favor and freeze a few bags.  Your summer palette will thank you.

The combination of apple and cranberry are delightful.  They bring you back to the days of being a kid and raking leaves into piles, jumping in them and then having to re-rake because you ruined the pile and the wind took your leaves into the neighbor's yard.  Your parents make you re-rake the leaves into neat piles and then bag them and dump them over the hill towards the woods.  Regardless of how much you hate raking, and I hate raking, you love the feeling of the cooler air, the scent of pumpkin spice bread drifting from your mom's kitchen and the crackle of the leaves beneath your feet. 

That same nostalgic feeling overcame me as I was cooking up my latest batch of jam.  The bright red cranberries at their bursting point as they're boiling alongside the diced apples.  The smell that overcomes your kitchen, and then your entire house, is fresh and inviting, as well as reminiscent of old memories from your childhood.  The sweet-tartness fills the air and wisps into each room until your entire home is filled with ripe-fall deliciousness.  There are many things in life that fail to make a person feel warm and cozy, but this is not one of them.  You'll eventually have sensory overload and suddenly you'll be transfixed into fall mode.  You will find it absolutely necessary to run to the local nursery and stock up on pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks for your front porch.



If you're looking for a quick pick-me-up when you look outside and see the leaves fall and all you can do is fast-forward to snow (we had way too much in 2010), ice (again, way too much in 2010) and freezing temps (get the idea by now?), give this recipe a try.  It's a keeper, for sure.  This is one you'll want to put in a safe place and keep for the following years when you hit the pre-winter blues even though it's not even Halloween yet. 

Please note:  The following recipe was 100% inspired by http://www.foodinjars.com/, but I altered the original recipe a bit by adding cinnamon sticks and increasing the quantity of apples.

Cranberry Apple Jam
(I call this Cranberry Apple instead of Apple Cranberry because the cranberries seem to take center stage with their crisp tartness.  The apples help downplay the bite of the cranberries a bit by lending the berries some of their natural sweetness).

  • 10 cups of peeled and diced apples (picked from Easy Pickin's in Enfield, CT)
  • 4 cups of whole cranberries
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
Get a BIG pot and add the apples, cranberries, sugar, water and cinnamon sticks.  Boil the mixture for 10-15 minutes, making sure to skim off the foam that forms on the top.  During the 10-15 minutes, the cranberries should begin to burst and the apples will become soft.

Add the lemon juice and zest and cook for a little while longer until the liquid begins to thicken.  Luckily, apples and cranberries are both naturally high in pectin so you don't have to add any additional pectin to the mixture to thicken it.  It'll do the work on its own, naturally.   

Make sure the mixture is nice and thick and "jammy" looking.  Ladle the jam into hot, sterilized jars and process in a boiling water canning bath for 10 minutes.  This is a very easy recipe so if you're a first time canner, give this one a try.  You won't be disappointed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Vanilla Pear Preserves

To date, this has been my favorite recipe.  Not because it's easy to make or smells good, but because I could literally drink the stuff with a straw.  Even without a straw.  I could take the lid off and drink it from the jar, easily.  It's delicious.  It tastes like velvet on a platinum spoon, if velvet tasted like melted pears laced with vanilla bean.  This stuff is absolutely to die for and will not last long if your house.  I say make a batch and throw all of the jars in the fridge, because you won't want to wait for the next jar to get cold enough to eat if it's in your cabinet. 

This was the one recipe I had zeroed in on and was keeping to the side - just waiting for pear season to finally get here.  I couldn't wait for pears to come into season so I could spend another joyful afternoon at Easy Pickin's and pick pears until I couldn't carry any more.  That usually means two full grocery bags - one for each arm.  The pear trees at Easy Pickin's are quite a distance back into the orchard - all the way up against the woods.  Although it's a magnificent walk out, on the way back with 30 pounds of pears, not as peaceful and serene. 


Asian pear tree at Easy Pickin's

I learned two major things while making my first batch of Vanilla Pear Preserves - 1) you cannot use Asian Pears for this recipe and 2) you can buy a ridiculous amount of fresh vanilla beans off of eBay for pennies.  Let's talk about #1 first.  Asian Pears - although delicious, they are not a true "pear".  I have come to learn that they are a hybrid fruit and have almost no acid in them.  So, for canning, they're kind of a disappointment.  If you are canning Asian pears you need a lot of lemon juice to balance out the acidity to make them "shelf  stable".  Adding a large quantity of lemon juice to my lemon pear preserves didn't sound like a party on a plate, so I had to make alternate arrangements.  Now, that doesn't mean that you can't make a batch of this with Asian pears and throw ALL of the jars right in the fridge.  They'll be fine that way but you cannot keep this recipe made with Asian pears on a shelf, in a cabinet, hiding behind your liquor bottles on top of the fridge, etc.   They will go bad and they will create more of a danger than anything else.  So, choose "real" pears - Bosc are what I used for my second batch and they worked beautifully. 

Now before we get into the meat of the story and talk about how the delicious aromas filled the house and how pretty the specks of vanilla bean are floating in the pear syrup, let's touch upon how awesome it is to buy vanilla beans on eBay.  I learned this from another blog and I couldn't believe it until I saw it for myself, delivered to my front door.  I literally bought a pound of vanilla beans for $20, free shipping and got 1/4 lb free, just for ordering the initial pound.  Do you know how many vanilla beans are in 1.25 pounds?  Neither do I, but it's a lot.  I have to admit that when they arrived, I felt a few waves of emotion rush over me.  Emotion #1:  pure bliss.  Emotion #2:  confusion.  Emotion #3:  fear.  All I could think when I saw the shady looking shrink wrapped bag of beans was, "is this legal?!?!"  I had to step back for a second and think about what I was looking at.  I was looking at a few hundred VANILLA BEANS.  Don't be ridiculous, Theresa.  Of course it's legal, they're just beans.  I just could not get over the fact that I spend over $10 on two shriveled up little beans in the grocery story that usually crack when I split them, and I just got a few hundred FRESH beans for $20.  True story, go check it out on eBay now.  Don't delay.  By the way, every time I open up the cabinet where the beans are hiding I am instantly hit with a wave of vanilla bliss.  Love it.

Let's talk about the actual cooking process a bit before we get to the recipe.  I did burn my tongue a few times, ok more than a few, while making this.  I was so eager to taste it that I kept trying it and every time I tried it, I burned myself.  I realize I should have learned the first time I was burned but I kept going back for more.  I love the stuff so much it was addicting.  I love how the diced pears melt just a bit but don't completely fall apart and dissolve.  You want them soft, to where you can smash them against the side of the pot with the back of your spoon.  You do not want them falling apart into a liquid mess if you touch a piece of them in the pot.  When they're at the right consistency and you spread this delicacy onto a piece of toast or slather it with some cheese, they will half give in to falling apart.  They will break away from their form a bit as you're spreading it on the toast, but a few chunks will remain.  That is the best part. 


This is before I smashed them up with the side of the spoon

After I poured the preserves into the jars and processed them, I realized that the specs of vanilla bean were so perfectly distributed it was almost like a painting.  I've always been a fan of vanilla bean specs - I used to like seeing them in vanilla bean ice cream.  It made me think I was eating something really good.  I guess I've had a thing for vanilla beans for a long time and just never realized it. To me, vanilla bean specs in your dessert mean decadence and something really awesome is about to happen.  I've never had a bad vanilla bean and now that I have over a pound of them, I will be enhancing my desserts even more freely than before. 



This recipe is a perfect Christmas gift or even a party gift if you're having a big Thanksgiving get-together.  Make everyone a jar of this, throw a festive tag and ribbon on it and you're going to amaze all your guests.  They'll wonder how you ever came up with the idea of mixing pears and vanilla and wow! look at all the vanilla bean specs in it!  Yep, you'll be the hostess with the mostess.  You'll impress even your toughest critic and they'll have a new found admiration for your canning and hostess abilities. 


Batch #1 - Asian Pears (kept in fridge)

Again, I bow down to http://www.foodinjars.com/ who came up with this recipe.  This recipe was so amazing that the only thing I did to change it was added more vanilla beans.  Instead of the 2 the recipe calls for, I added 4 or 6.  I love vanilla, what can I say?

Pear Vanilla Jam
  • 8 cups chopped Bosc pears
  • 4-6 vanilla beans, split and scraped
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 packet liquid pectin
Add the pears, sugar and beans as well as everything you scraped from them to a large pot.  Cook this mixture until the diced pears can be smashed against the side of the pot with a spoon, but not so long to where they become liquid.  If you want, you can  make a smoother sauce by using a masher or an immersion blender and blending the mixture. I like my mixture a bit chunky, so I just smashed the pears against the side of the pot until I had the consistency I was looking for.

Add the packet of liquid pectin and bring to a serious boil.  You have to let the mixture boil for 5 minutes with the pectin added so it activates and thickens the consistency of the mixture. 

Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and process in a boiling water canning bath for 10 minutes.  Remember to let them sit, undisturbed, for a few hours after you take them out of the canner.  They need to rest, cool down and relax.  Of course, make sure you test the seal on all of them before you put them on a shelf.  Kept in a cool, dry place these will keep up to a year.

If giving as a gift, create a designer tag with your own logo and tie it on with a pretty ribbon.  Your guests will love you for it.


Batch #2 - Bosc Pears in Weck Jars


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gone Plum Crazy

I realize it hasn't even been a week since my last post but I've been feeling guilty, so here goes.

Over the past week I've made a double batch of vanilla pear jam, apple chutney, plums in honey, plum anise jam and Chinese plum sauce.  I actually didn't think I made that much, but apparently I did.  I also properly preserved a batch of apple butter I had in the fridge for a few days.  I ran out of time on the day I made it so I threw everything in the fridge.  It can wait.  The apple butter can wait for me. 

I feel like I have a lot to talk about but I can't seem to shake the marbles in my head into any kind of order. 

Let's start with the Weck jars I ordered last week.  I am in love.  I really love different and creative jars for canning and the current Ball/Kerr jars just don't do it for me.  I don't look at a Ball jar and say, "wow, now that's a gorgeous jar."  More like, "How hard does it have to be to siphon off this vacuum tight seal of a lid so I can dig into my vanilla pear jam??"  Things changed once I opened up the Weck box. They are gorgeous.  And creative.  And modern.  And simplistically chic.  I really love them.  I ordered three types, but one I'm not crazy about.  The two that you'll see below are beautiful -

Weck Jars - Plum Anise Jam & Chinese Plum Sauce
They don't give off the typical "pop" noise as they seal, but once they are cool you just take the two clamps off and test the lid.  The lid should stay properly sealed when you try to open it (gently).  I haven't pulled on this like I'm trying to get a pickle lid off for the first time, but I did pull on it hard enough to know that it had a good and proper seal.  Usually I can at night, after work, so by the time the popping noise occurs, I'm snuggled in my bed and drifting off to sleep with the distant sound of a popping chorus in the kitchen.  It was a little quieter here this week with the Weck jars.

Let's talk about the plum recipes for today.  I have been doing almost all of my picking and harvesting fruit and veggies from Easy Pickins Orchard in Enfield, CT.  I love the place.  I'd like to drive my car halfway through the orchard and set up camp and just live there.  Except for the bugs.  It's been raining here for the past week so there are a lot of bugs out.  I am not a fan of flying creatures.  Or crawling creatures.  Some of the girls at my school say I look like a hiker.  I am as far as possible from being an actual hiker.  I told them that and they said, "well you look like a cheerleader too, were you a cheerleader in high school?"  These kids obviously need to get their eyes checked (again).  Complete opposite ends of the spectrum and I am neither.  Not a hiker and not a cheerleader.  I tend to hang out around the middle - inbetween the hikers and cheerleaders you will find the girls who like to pick fruit off of trees and then go home and mix it with sugar and pour it into jars.  That's the kinda girl I am. 

The day I picked apples for the apple butter I noticed there were a few baskets of prune plums, or Italian plums, for sale at the stand on my way out of the orchard.  I silenty gave them a once-over and then got in my car and headed home.  The next day I contacted the orchard and arranged to pick up 15 lbs of prune plums.  For what? At that moment I had no idea.  I have no idea what entered my mind at that moment to think it was necessary to purchase 15 POUNDS of plums.  Prune plums are tiny too, about half the size of the regular plum you'll see in the grocery store.  I was setting myself up for a few long nights here - laboring over the cutting board, trying to delicately cut and dice my way through 15 pounds of plums. 

This is about 2/3 of my 15 pounds
Plums in Honey was the first recipe I created using the prune plums.  This was one of the easiest and most satisfying canning recipes I've tackled to date.  It doesn't get much easier than dropping whole plums into a jar, decorating it with a cinnamon stick and then topping them off with a piping hot sweet honey/water sauce.  Really - super easy.  It took me longer to clean and sterilize the jars then it did to actually finish the recipe.  Anyone who says a finished preserved jar of whole fruit isn't pleasing to the eyes is kidding themselves.  I know why you pretend to not be interested - you don't want to share your fruit.  You don't want to put up the fruit in such a beautiful fashion that others will salivate at just the sight of it.  You are a jam/fruit/pickle hoarder, that's what you are.  You know that if you had a few shelves of beautifully preserved fruit others would inquire - where did you GET those?  Did you make those yourself?  Can I have a jar?  Can you teach me?  Do you sell them?  Can I have your entire stash?  Where do you keep your spoons?  Basically, you don't want to share your bountiful harvest.  I get it.  You want to keep it all for yourself.  You are the kind of person who wants to keep shelves upon shelves of artistically preserved fruit and vegetables in your basement just so that when you are doing laundry and glance over, it's aesthetically pleasing to you.  I don't know anyone like that.  Learn to share.

Try not to get lost in the maze of plums
Plums in Honey - I borrowed this recipe from http://www.foodinjars.com/.  One of my go-to sites for preserving.  I followed the recipe very closely with these changes/additions:

  • I added 1/2 a vanilla bean to some of the jars (along with the standard cinnamon stick)
  • I quadrupled this recipe.  I did everything 4 times as much and had enough liquid for 10 jars

Whole Plums Preserved in Honey Syrup

Ingredients:

* 1 1/2 cups of honey
* 4 cups of water
* enough plums to fill four quart jars (I used three of my four quarts)
* 4 cinnamon sticks, a vanilla bean sliced into four pieces or four star anise bits


Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine the honey and water and bring to a boil.

Bring a canning pot or large stock pot to a boil. Put your lids into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Clean canning jars and pack the plums in as tightly as you can. Insert your cinnamon stick, vanilla bean or star anise. Fill jars with honey syrup, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

Wipe rims to remove all traces of any spilled honey syrup, apply lids and tightened rings.  Process in a boiling water canner for 25 minutes (starting time when the pot returns to a boil after the jars have been placed inside).

When processing time is up, remove the jars to a cutting board or towel-lined countertop (as they cool and seal, they might spit out a bit of sticky syrup, so don’t let them cool on any surface that can’t handle that). Let the jars cool undisturbed for 24 hours.

When jars are completely cool, remove the rings, check the seals and wipe the jars down to remove any sticky residue. Label and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Plums in Honey
Ok, so I overestimated my plum quantity a bit.  I still had a TON of plums leftover after I did the Plums in Honey.  Probably 5 pounds, maybe more.  I started researching plum recipes and wasn't coming up with anything good.  I remembered http://www.foodinjars.com/ had a really interesting blog post a few weeks ago dealing with a Plum Anise jam recipe.  Eh, why not?  I have recently been introduced to anise and we have been getting along well so I thought I'd give it a shot. Anise is one of those rare, expensive spices that almost no one buys.  It's the type of spice you buy once, don't even remember that you have until 4 years later when a recipe just happens to call for a star of anise.  You've clearly forgotten about your $10 jar of anise stars so you buy yourself a new one.  Now you have close to $20 worth of anise stars and you really only need one lonely little star.  It's THAT type of spice.  I actually had a half a bottle of anise stars leftover from a sweet apple cider beet recipe I tackled a few weeks ago.  Lucky me.  I even remembered I had them. 

The Plum Anise jam is another super easy recipe.  You cut up the fruit, mix it with sugar and a few pieces of anise.  You let it all mingle together in a bowl on your counter for about an hour.  The sugar pulls out of the juices from the plum, which melts some of the sugar and you end up with a syrupy sweet mixture that has the subtle aroma of licorice from the anise stars.  You absolutely have to pull out the anise before you boil this jam, otherwise you'll be chomping on bits of licoricy bark with your morning English muffin.  Anise is not a spice to bite into.  They should hang out and then leave the party early.  If they don't, they morph into uninvited guests quite quickly. 

See the anise stars trying to hide?  Fish them out before they crash the party.
This recipe had three steps:
  1. Let the anise, sugar and plums hang out and party in the bowl
  2. Kick the anise out of the party and boil the sugar and plum mixture
  3. Process the jam in a boiling water canner
I've never had any type of plum jam and come to think of it, I can't remember any type of actual plum dessert I've ever had.  This was a true experiment, but a lovely one.  One worth keeping.  This jam has an uncommonly depth to its flavor and color - very rich and decadent.  A beautiful autumnal purple that quietly exhales its blissful complexity in a jar.  It's not your typical blueberry jam you slather on whole wheat toast and eat in the car on the way to work.  It's more like a Sunday afternoon treat - maybe pair it with a nice piece of cheese, a glass of wine, or better yet - dump an entire jar of this over a freshly baked (but cooled) cheesecake.  That is something I'm looking forward to trying this winter with the next cheesecake I make.  Here's an added bonus:  the jam will hide the cracks in the cheesecake.  What cracks you say?  Your cheesecake doesn't have cracks?  Well, you must be something else then.  Maybe I shouldn't have shared my fancy anise plum jam recipe with you if you're so great with a cheesecake.  But, I'm not a jam hoarder, so go ahead - dump it over your crack-less cheesecake and enjoy.  Your family and friends will thank you for it.


Here is the recipe:

Plum Anise Jam
  • 5 cups chopped Italian plums
  • 1.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 star anise blossoms
Combine chopped plums, sugar and star anise blossoms. Let sit for at least an hour, or until the fruit has gotten quite syrupy.

Put fruit in a medium-sized pan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam thickens and passes the plate test.

Process the jam in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.


Party time
Shockingly, I still had plums leftover after I made the jam.  I honestly had no clue what to do with them at this point and if I waited any longer they were headed straight for the trash.  Since I couldn't stand the thought of wasting these little purple beauties, I christened one of my new canning cookbooks and stumbled upon a recipe for Chinese Plum Sauce.  Now, I can't say that I've ever had it before, but it was either this or the trash and I always vote for the recipe - the recipe always wins.  The notes in the recipe say you can use it in its traditional fashion as a dipping sauce for Chinese dishes, but it also says that it'll become your new favorite burger sauce.  That piqued my interest.  Not because I am a fan of burgers, because I am not.  It just sounds like it might be good for dipping chicken pieces into, or even a stir-fry.  Something different.  Trying something different, as my dad would say.  This is definitely outside of my comfort zone but I gave it a go.

The sauce has interesting flavors mingling together.  Plums, soy sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, garlic, ginger and our good friend the anise star.  Being the star she is, she rises to the occasion, once again. 

Can you tell I had the cookbook a little too close to the stove?  Spillage.
My third plum recipe, just as simple.  As you can see from the recipe, you dump all the ingredients into the pot, boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.  Kick anise out of the party, once again, then blend.  All done.  Poor anise.  She never gets to have any fun.  Once the sauce is done, you can process it in clean, sterilized jars for 10 minutes to make them shelf-stable.  They'll keep for up to a year in a dark, cool place. 

I still haven't decided if I am in love with this recipe or not.  When I first started making it, all I could smell was soy sauce.  Plums and soy sauce play nice together, but not when you get a whiff of it from the boiling water steam emitting from the pot.  It's like it wanted to beat my nose up for no reason.  This is one of those recipes you really have to let do its thing, then taste it.  I like to jump the gun.  I always burn my tongue or my lip or the roof of my mouth, trying to taste my creation way too early.  This one fought back.  Between the sodium-lava singed nose hairs and burning my lip when I tasted it too early, I let it win.  It's definitely a completely different taste after its cooked for the full 25 minutes - much better than it was at, say, 4 minutes in when I first tried it.  Four minutes isn't nearly enough time for the party-goers to mingle enough and take on each others flavors.  At four minutes in it was a flavor battle and the soy sauce wins by a mile. 

All in all, I haven't tried it on a burger or with chicken or even Chinese food for that matter.  When I do, I'll be sure to report back to you and let you know if soy sauce and plums can really be BFF's. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brandied/Amaretto Vanilla Peaches

What's better than boozy fruit? Seriously.  Fruit soaked in delicious booze sitting on your shelf.. just waiting... waiting for a cold winters day for you to pop it open and pour it all over vanilla ice cream, or even better yet, eat directly out of the jar with a spoon.  Seriously.  I am serious.  Delicious.

I probably should have done this earlier in the summer but that was clearly before my canning craze.  It would have made sense to start canning early summer while I'm on a 7 week hiatus from teaching, but no, I wait until a few days before school starts to "suddenly" feel the need to can everything in sight.  There's always next summer.  And next fall and winter.  You get it.

The other night I'm pacing in-between the kitchen and my couch - watching tv.  It's really doing nothing for me - I need to make something.  If I make brownies or cookies I'll just eat them.  So what are my options... let's see...oh yes, that's right.  Canning.  Preserving.  Squishing as much fruit as I can into a jar and ladling sweet, sweet brandy or amaretto over those beautiful peaches.  Every time I get up off the couch, my dog Chloe decides it's a requirement that she gets up and follows me the whole 10 feet into the kitchen. She's confused.  I'm confused.  I want to watch tv and relax but the other half of me wants to can.  The canning side wins.  Chloe and I head into the kitchen, defeated.

I must have bought 9-10 pounds of peaches.  You know, my favorite store down the road.  That's right - I got out of there with ONLY peaches.  Then I went next door to the packy and bought a cheap(er) bottle of Brandy.  Then 3 bottles of wine, you know, to have.. just in case.  Then I see a nip of Amaretto sitting on the counter and it makes me think - what if... ok let's get a decent size bottle of Amaretto too.  Might as well, right?  Amaretto itself is delicious.  I get home and crack it open - pour myself a little sip. Mmm. Warm and sweet and smooth.  Brandy, eh - not really up my alley, but I pour a little sip just so he doesn't feel left out.  I pour myself another little sip of Amaretto.  Alright, onto the peaches.

Peaches are slippery little suckers when they have been peeled.  To peel a peach - please do not labor over the counter for 47 hours with a vegetable peeler.  Get a pot of water, bring it to a boil, make a small "X" in the bottom of each peach and carefully drop those babies in the boiling water.  Boil for ONE minute then immediately transfer to an ice water bath (fancy term for a bowl of very cold water with tons of ice in it).  Let the peaches hang out in their Arctic bath until they are cool enough to handle - it shouldn't take long.  Once you can grab them and they don't burn your fingerprints off, start peeling.  The skin should almost literally want to fall off.  Basically like they got so hot in the boiling water, then didn't have time to decide what to do because they were immediately drowned in a freezing bath of ice water.  They're confused.  At this point they just want to get their skin off, so let it happen.  After I de-skinned all of my scared little guys, I put them back in the cold water and let them bob around until I was ready for the next step.  They're numb and naked - stunned by the cold water - kind of like going to Ogunquit Beach in Maine - so cold you're stunned then don't know what to do so you just stay in the water.  I swear, it affects your mind. 

Next you just want to de-pit the peaches and then cut them up into pieces.  You can be dainty about this if you'd like but it's time consuming.  I started off by cutting my peaches into 8's.  I was very meticulous about how each piece was the same uniform size, then about 5 peaches in I got a little sloppy.  Between making sure you don't cut your fingers off and avoiding the flinging of these buttery peaches onto the floor, the idea of making Martha Stewart slices was lost.  I didn't want ugly chunks floating in a jar, so I tried to do my very best.  In the end, they turned out pretty nice.  I was sick of cutting peaches by the time it was over, that is for damn sure. 

The peaches can't just go into the jars alone.  They need something to swim around in.  I concocted a sweet syrup for these eager little slices based on a 1951 recipe from the NY Times by Jane Nickerson on Brandied Peaches.  Here is the original recipe:


1951 Brandied Peaches

Ingredients:
3 pounds ripe peaches
3 cups sugar
About 1/2 cup brandy

Directions:
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a shallow “X” in the bottom of each peach. Add the peaches, one at a time, to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the peach from the water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Repeat with the remaining peaches. Peel off the skins, then pit the fruit and quarter the flesh.

2. In another large pot, combine 3 cups water and the sugar and bring to a boil. Add the peaches and simmer until just soft.

3. Have the jars, bands and new lids scalded and ready. (To scald, dip the jars and rims in boiling water. You don’t need to sterilize the jars, as you will be processing them for more than 10 minutes.) Simmer the lids in hot water to soften the rubberized flange. Gently pack the peaches into the jars.

4. Boil the leftover syrup until it thickens slightly, then spoon it over the fruit, filling the jars ¾ full. Use a butter knife to release any air bubbles caught in the jars. Pour in enough brandy to fill the jars, leaving ¼ inch of headroom. Wipe the rims, cover with the lids and screw on the bands fingertip-tight. Place the jars on a rack in a big pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and gently boil for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and then, after about 5 minutes, remove the jars. Allow them to cool, untouched, for 4 to 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.

* Cook's notes - If you are canning at a higher altitude, be sure to consult the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for proper instructions and canning times.

Here are my little guys, swimming around in their sugary syrup

Up to them swimming around, I followed the recipe exactly, except I made it much, much larger than it was originally set for.  I had my hot, sterilized jars ready and waiting so I just filled them up with as many peach slices as I could.  I ended up using 7 pint jars - 4 of them I did exactly as the recipe said:  filled with peaches, then ladled the hot syrup 3/4 of the way up the jar and topped the jars off with Brandy.  Leave enough head space, cap and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.  Technically, since you're processing them for over 10 minutes, they don't need to be sterilized.  Any time you process over 10 minutes, they are sterilized automatically in the process of the water bath.  Easy enough to remember for next time - less prep work. 

I had three jars left and a very alluring bottle of Amaretto staring at me.  I shouldn't forget to mention the insane amount of vanilla beans I recently got from eBay.  Who knew that $25 would get you 1.25 POUNDS of vanilla beans? In the store you pay $10+ for two shriveled, dried out beans.  I got over a pound of fresh vanilla beans for 25 bucks.  Amaretto and vanilla play nice together.  The addition of peaches would just create a party in a jar if all three mingled together.  So I did it.  Instead of topping the last 3 jars off with Brandy, I topped them off with Amaretto and slid in a sliced vanilla bean as well.  Some of the vanilla beans have this sweet little curl to the bottom of their tails, they remind me of seahorses. 


All in all, this was a very productive canning project.  The only thing I don't like is how the peaches float.  Technically, that's an imperfection.  It just means I didn't get enough of the air out of the peach slices so they're floating to the top. There are ways around this, but honestly, I don't care.  I'm pretty sure my boozed up peaches are just as happy in their party jars floating then they would be sinking to the ground.  Actually, if I were a schnockered up peach, I'd rather float.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jalapeno Peppers w/Garlic

Mmmmm jalapenos.  Mmmmm garlic.  Mmmmm jalapenos WITH garlic.  Pretty basic but pretty delicious as well.  The idea of making these little beauties entered my mind as I was browsing the http://www.foodinjars.com/ canning blog.  Marisa always has some of the best ideas for preserving food in even the simplest fashion. 

The local grocery store by my house has the best local produce.  I mean, the BEST.  I could get lost in there every time I go in, which is almost on a daily basis.  I tend to stop in for something like romaine lettuce and end up leaving $60 poorer.  They make their own specialty foods, bake their own artisan breads and even have a great dessert section that are all made in-house.  They also have a HUGE brick oven for flat bread pizzas.  Now although I've only tried them twice in the almost 3 years I've lived here, the size of the oven is impressive in itself.  Moving on... yesterday, when I got the idea of these jalapenos, I decided to quickly stop in the local store to see if they had enough for my recipe.  The basic recipe called for 1 lbs of peppers but I wanted to make quite a few jars so I got almost 4 lbs.  They were $2.99 a pound, which I thought was pretty reasonable.  I already had the garlic cloves at home and the rest are pantry staples which I already had on hand.

I resisted the urge to deposit my entire paycheck into the store and hurried home to begin washing these bright green little guys.  They are so vibrant in color I almost expected them to start jumping out of the bowl with salsa music playing in the background.

 This really was one of the simplest recipes I've followed to date and one of the most gratifying for some reason.  Literally, all I had to do was wash them, cut their little stems off and then slice in half.

Now, for the brine, it was as simple as preparing the peppers.  Bring water, vinegar and pickling salt to a boil.  Done.  Really - that's it.  No crazy spices or spending $15 on a jar of anise stars.  In addition to being one of the easiest recipes to create, it's also one of the cheapest.  Vinegar is pretty inexpensive and water is, well, free.  A sealed bag of pickling salt set me back maybe $4.00 a few weeks ago and will last for many, many recipes.  An economically sound purchase.

While the brine was coming to a boil, I just dropped one garlic clove in the bottom of each hot, sterilized jar and then packed the jars with slices of jalapenos.  Make sure you pack 'em in there good but don't hurt the little guys.  No one wants a broken or bruised pepper. 


Once these jars are stuffed with the spicy little green monsters, just pour the hot brine over the peppers, leaving 1/2" head space.  Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes - remember, don't start your 10 minutes until the canner has returned to a rolling boil.

Finished product is pretty nifty, I must say.  I'm excited to crack open a jar in November when I make my first batch of chili.  Cold day, fire going, glass of wine - add a few slices of these guys to your chili that's cooking in the crock pot and you're good to go.  If you didn't have the patience to wait for the cooler weather to hit for chili, you could certainly open these guys up in about 2 weeks and use them in some salsa.  It'll definitely give you the added kick you're looking for with a hint of garlicky deliciousness.

Here is my recipe, borrowed from http://www.foodinjars.com/, but tweaked a bit to add the garlic.

Ingredients:
  • 4 pounds of jalapeno peppers
  • 8 cups of white vinegar
  • 8 cups of water
  • 8 tablespoons of pickling salt
Directions:
  1. Wash peppers, slice of stems and then slice peppers in half.
  2. After your jars have been sterilized and are sitting in hot water, dd vinegar, water and salt to a large pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Drop a clove of garlic in each jar and fill with sliced peppers.
  4. Pour hot brine over peppers/garlic leaving 1/2" head space.
  5. Wipe rims of jars before sealing, then process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
I'd wait about 2 weeks to open these little firecrackers up, but they'll last for up to a year in a dark, cool area.



It's obvious that these little guys are anxiously awaiting the hot brine to join the party



Monday, September 19, 2011

Becoming Addicted


My very first canning experience this year began with making Blueberry-Lemon Preserves around July 2011.  I never knew that it would grow to be an obsession, or to put it more eloquently, a passion that I now have. 

I am literally waking up each morning and besides the usual, “I don’t want to go to work or get out of bed” thoughts floundering around in my brain, I’m wondering what I’m going to make that night after I get home from work. 

I used to just enjoy making myself dinner or bake some sort of treat for my coworkers.  Ever since that batch of Blueberry-Lemon Preserves, it’s like a whole new creative canning world lies in front of me.. waiting… waiting for me to pick more berries, buy more sugar and boil pectin into a smashup of tasty, fruitful delight.

When I started canning I wasn’t a pro with my camera and to be honest, wasn’t pleased with it at all.  I bought the camera two years ago and spent about $240 – plenty, I thought, for a good, reliable camera.  I’ve never been too impressed with its picture taking abilities and to be honest, my iPhone camera has always done a better job.  That was until I started paying close attention to the pictures posted on some food blogs that showcased food in a new light.  The food item was the star of the show – it was on display – and it was beautiful.  The background was soft, the food was glimmering but in a very detailed and in-focus fashion.  I spent hours one night searching through random food blogs, just loving all of their pictures.  I finally emailed one blog author and asked how she got her pictures to look so amazing.  She emailed me back and to my shock, she said she had an old hand-me-down camera that had an aperture setting that made the food look comforting, inviting and in focus with a dewy, soft background taking everything out of focus, just a bit.  It softened the background and that allowed the food to take center stage and really shine.  I ran in my room, grabbed my camera and found an actual FOOD setting on my camera.  Go figure.  I also found about 25 other very specific settings that would have come in handy over the past few years, but I digress.  As fast as I could switch it to the food setting and line up a few bananas for a test shot, my camera displayed the following equivalent of the “blue screen of death” on a computer – “battery is exhausted”.  I figured it needed to be charged so I plugged the little guy in.  A few hours later it still says the same sad line.  The next morning, same thing.  I finally realize that the lithium ion battery has literally bit the dust and I needed a new one.  Isn’t it funny how when you really need something it suddenly becomes unavailable?  The next day I stopped at the local electronics store and picked up a new battery - $40.  Unreal.  But worth it for the pictures I’m now able to take.

Needless to say, for the first few recipes, I won’t have any pretty blog-type pictures to go along with my post.  You’ll notice when I figured out how to use my camera just by the pictures – a few posts in, I predict. 

For now, here is the first canning recipe I tackled which won my heart and now has me completely obsessed with smashing fruit and sugar or vegetables and vinegar into little glass jars:

Blueberry-Lemon Preserves

Ingredients:

·         5 cups blueberries
·         4 cups of sugar
·         Zest of two lemons
·         Juice of two lemons
·         2 (3 ounce) envelops liquid fruit pectin (Ball Fruit Jell)

Directions:

In a large saucepan over high heat add blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Stir frequently while bringing to a rolling boil.  I used a meat tenderizer at this point – I have one from Pampered Chef that is reversible – one side has spikes and the other is flat.  I used the spiky side and smashed these little berries so that they were somewhat beat up but not completely destroyed.  There should be some whole berries left and the rest should almost resemble a quick run through a food processor – very torn apart.

Stir in the pectin and continue boiling for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Skim any foam if necessary and ladle into the hot prepared jars.  Be sure to leave at least a 1/4” space at the top of the jar.  Place the cap on the jars and process for another 15 minutes boiling water canner.




I made two batches of this jam – the first one I followed Paula Deen’s recipe perfectly and it was really just too sweet.  Too sticky sweet for my taste buds, but I’m a skim milk with one sugar kind of girl – I don’t like anything too sweet.  I cut the sugar down by 2.5 cups and it seems to be perfect now. Still sweet but not overpowering like it was.

I ladled this beautiful dark blue chunky syrup into cute jars that almost resemble the shape of a mini pumpkin – short and fat with curved sides.  Not typical canning jars, obviously, but their presentation is certainly something to appreciate.  I made up labels that perfectly fit on a flat part of the jar and I tried my best to tie in the blue and yellow hues from the blueberries and lemon.  The ending result is quite nice, I think, for a first round of canning.

The only picture I have is the finished product -