Guest Post: Fruit Leather from the Mid-winter Pantry

Today’s guest post comes to us from Janet Reich Elsbach. Based in Western Massachusetts, Janet writes wildly beautiful things about food and life at A Raisin and a Porpoise. Her first cookbook, called Extra Helping: Recipes for Building Community One Dish at a Time, will be out this fall (and is available for pre-order now!). I also highly encourage you to follow her tiny dog Sylvester on Instagram. He is delightful.

There’s a poem by Wendell Berry that I keep taped up inside my closet so I can see it every day, because it helps me feel calm and serene when the circumstances of the world around me are not conducive to that state of being.

The Peace Of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

What this has to do with canning is that a similar feeling of calm, also rooted in gratitude for the natural world and thoughts of what my life and my children’s lives may be, can be switched on in me by going down to the basement and into the pantry where I keep the jars of fruit that I have preserved from the summer harvest. I have the great good fortune of living next to my parents’ prolific orchard, and most years there is more fruit streaming out of it than I can tackle, even with the help of my canning coven.

My daughter lines up the jams and sauces and so forth in her very tidy way, sorting by color and type and size of container. If I have done it correctly, the sealed jars produce no aroma or other emission. But standing in the narrow, windowless alcove, between the skinny little shelves and among the crates of empties and other supplies that line the floor, I might as well be standing in the forest, inhaling the negative ions that wild places are said to give off to great tonic effect. I just feel a little bit safer, seeing the peaches and plums and tomatoes and apples lined up so neatly.

Possibly because a healthy population of jars is connected to my sense of calm, I struggle with the math that governs the pace at which the jars are opened. Ok, let’s be clear: I don’t do any math. I vacillate between periods of hoarding and bouts of lid-popping. By this point in the winter, it’s usually clear that we can probably increase consumption and I can stop being quite so careful. And nobody seems to eat as much applesauce as they once did. And I don’t like to keep anything more than two years from its canning date. So around this time of year, once holiday giving has cleared what it is going to clear from the inventory, I start making fruit leather.

Or rather, I continue making fruit leather. We (and by “we,” I primarily mean my son, though he does get a good bit of help) eat a lot of fruit leather. Given the yardage of fruit leather I have produced for this child in his 13 years of life, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to experiment and to refine my thinking. The main refinement is this: What is fruit leather, really, but dried applesauce? And now that I have determined that the tenderest texture derives from both adding some sticky sweetener (honey, for example) and using a blender to grind everything super-fine (think baby food consistency), I’m all set to experiment wildly.

Some of you in the audience may have already figured out that these wild, adventurous experiments I allude to basically take the form of adding different things to applesauce. Winter in New England, people! CRAZY TIMES UP IN HERE.

My usual formula involves zipping the applesauce up with a handful of the peaches or strawberries I’ve frozen, then adding lime juice, honey and a little heat from cayenne or some other type of chile. Tossing a piece of preserved lemon into the mixture as well makes a very complex and mysteriously delicious leather that reminds me of those wildly sweet-tart-hot mango chile pops you can find in Mexican markets.

But lately when I am breathing deeply in the canning closet, I see there is a good amount of jam that also needs to be deployed before its sell-by date. Honey and jam are not all that different, as you know if you have ever run out of one and used the other in your tea or on your pancakes.

In the fruit version here, I paired a jar of plum preserves with some fresh lemon juice, which adds a little tang and generally brightens the flavors, and included some fresh ginger to give it a little kick. Any fruit jam can substitute for the plum.

For the chocolate leather, I combined a jar of pear butter with the applesauce base. Pears and chocolate play so well together, as do strawberry or raspberry if you have a surplus of either of those.

My dehydrator is an ancient old workshorse that I inherited. In lieu of tray liners, which it does not possess, I use parchment paper. If you have a more modern appliance, by all means use the liners it probably came with. Fruit leather can also be made on lined cookie sheets in an oven that has a very low setting, which mine does not (and I’ve made the fruit shards to prove it).

Odds are you’ll soon be off on your own wild experiments. However you mix it up, it’s a new life for the jars lingering in the pantry and definitely not your standard lunchbox snack.

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Quick Homemade Chimichurri

Looking for a kitchen project that is quick, versatile, and absolutely wonderful? Look no further than this easy recipe for homemade chimichurri!

I haven’t been doing a whole lot of exciting cooking lately. Ever since finishing my cookbook draft, I’ve been drifting through meal prep. I’ve made big pots of soup that last most of the week. There’s been at least one batch of bean-centric chili. More sheet pans of roasted vegetables than I can count. I’ve also relied heavily on a some Costco favorites (their pre-cooked chicken skewers and bags of kale and Brussels sprouts salad spring immediately to mind).

The long and short of it is that while we’ve been eating relatively healthy, vegetable-focused food, it hasn’t yielded much that I can write about.

However, there is one thing I’m excited to talk about. A couple weeks back, I was at Joy’s house recording an episode of Local Mouthful. When we finished, we were both ravenous. Joy heated up some meatballs from her freezer, cooked up some quinoa and pulled a tub of homemade chimichurri out of the fridge. The meatballs and quinoa were good, but the chimichurri, well, it was amazing.

It’s a condiment made from parsley, oregano, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, red chili flakes, and salt that was originally devised in Argentina to serve on top of grilled meat. It’s something I’ve had over the years at various restaurants, but it never clicked for me until I had Joy’s version. So bright, green, and fresh (I think the fresh element is a big part of the appeal, particularly since we’re living through another major snow storm right now).

I’ve made two big batches since them and have been spooning it over everything that seems even marginally appropriate. Roasted vegetables! Hummus! Scrambled eggs! Turkey sandwich! Mealtime is chimichurri time right now.

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Getting Your Kitchen Ready for Spring

An unorganized freezer

Where I am, it feels like spring has sprung — about three weeks early for the calendar, but after the crazy severe winter we’ve had, I’ll take it. Winter aconite and snowdrops are blooming, the days are getting longer, and I had to take off two of my four layers while walking around downtown Philly earlier this week.

Part of me doesn’t feel quite ready for spring and everything it brings — prepping the garden, starting seeds, lots of cleaning — and another part of me can’t wait to walk around outside in a tank top and dig in the dirt.

To help ease the transition into spring, I’ve been making a mental list of the tasks I’ll tackle around my kitchen in the coming weeks. Every year, organizing the freezer — the one on top of my fridge and my apartment-sized chest freezer — is on the list.


In a short burst of activity, I took the initiative to tackle the upright freezer. I admit that I didn’t defrost and fully clean it, but I was short on time and eager to make a little progress and get the clutter out, so I did a quick cull and organize — it took all of 15 minutes, but made me feel accomplished and life a little tidier.

When I do a deep dive into the freezers, I always discover forgotten treasures I can add into my meal planning and some, er, missed opportunities that are long overdue for a trip to the compost bucket.

I found a pack of ground lamb from a friend’s farm that I had forgotten about, plus some freezer-burned smoothie berries from at least 2 summers ago…and a bag of cherry tomatoes from (yikes) 2015. Also discovered: Dried mushrooms a friend had given me at least five years ago, an ancient handful of pistachios, and nearly unrecognizable roasted jalapeños also went into the compost.

What was left? Lots of ice packs (I like to have an easy-to-grab stash for cheese events, but there were way too many in there), frozen pastured meats, 2017-edition current bagged veggies, ginger and turmeric, stock makings (leek tops and celery), whole wheat tortillas (they were on sale), and a tub of the best pumpkin puree, a reminder to make one last batch of brown butter pumpkin muffins before the weather turns.

The freezer’s cluttered door shelves looked much tidier, with containers of tomato broth, frozen bananas, cheesemaking cultures, and both sweet cream and cultured butter sitting upright with a bag of chipotle peppers and a few veggie dumplings. (Please don’t judge my Wawa coffee — it was purchased on Christmas morning last year so that my partner and I could survive the holiday in a caffeine-free household, and I decided we’d keep it for emergencies.)

The tomato broth and one of the bags of lima beans will go into a soup with some parmesan rinds and maybe some orzo or Israeli couscous before the weather gets much warmer, and I’ll use the other bag with the sweet corn and roasted poblanos (they’re in there too), a jar of tomatillo sauce, and chicken thighs to make a chunky green chili. Don’t you love shopping your own freezer?

Here are a few of the other tasks I’ll take care of as the season changes so that I’m ready for a delicious season of cooking and preserving:

  • Deep-cleaning the stove top (including behind the dials)
  • Culling, cleaning, and organizing the chest freezer (I need to devote a day to this one)
  • Performing a ruthless KonMari of my pantry — I have cans of fava beans in there from 2011 that I somehow haven’t been able to make myself throw away
  • An inventory of both full and empty jars in my canning closet
  • Getting rid of the bottles I never use on top of the fridge and deep cleaning that surface
  • Selling or giving away kitchenware I never use

What are some of the ways you get your kitchen ready for spring (and the forthcoming canning season)?

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Where I’m Going, Where I’ve Been – March 2018

Though the true start of the canning season is still a ways off where I live, my calendar is beginning to fill up with classes and events (and if you want me to come and teach at your school, church, farm, library, or market in 2018, now’s the time to get in touch!).

Where I’m Going

My first in-person class of the season is Saturday, March 24 from 9:30 to 11:30 am at Valley Variety in Hudson, NY. In this two-hour workshop, we’ll make a batch of low sugar strawberry vanilla jam. It’s a good opportunity to learn more about Pomona’s Pectin, the role of sugar in canning, and how to process jars in a boiling water bath. Whether you’re a new canner or someone who’s looking to refresh your skills, this will be a good class for you! $80. Register here.

If you’re not in the Hudson Valley or can’t swing the class, I’m also restarting my regular Facebook Livestreaming demos. The first one of the season will be on Monday, March 19 at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT. These are free, hour-long sessions in which I’ll demonstrate how to make a recipe from one of my books and I’ll answer all your questions. Make sure to like and follow the Food in Jars Facebook page to get the notification when the livestream is beginning!

Where I’ve Been

Many moons ago, I had a conversation with Aleen Simms for Originality, the podcast she co-hosts with K. Tempest Bradford. I love the format of this podcast, because Aleen and Tempest share snippets of what their guests have to say and then use those bits of audio as a springboard into their own conversation. The episode went live last month and you can listen to it here.

Also, do you know that I also co-host a podcast? Called Local Mouthful, it’s a show in which Joy Manning and I talk shop with obsessed home cooks everywhere. I mention it because it’s come to my attention that I don’t do a great job making sure that my Food in Jars readers know about the show and I really think you guys would like it. We talk about food news, offer audio recipes, interview cookbook authors, and share all our culinary tricks and tips. If this sounds like something you’d dig, subscribe here!

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Links: Quick Pickles, Granola Bars, and Jewish Food

Hey friends! I am so sorry that I was absent for so long. I was fully absorbed in writing my next book and since turning the manuscript in two weeks ago, I’ve been struggling to find my way back here. I’ve really missed the sense of connection and community that comes when I write in this space on a regular basis.

So I’m here and I’m starting things back up with a collection of links.

I’ll be back with more goodies tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

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How to Make Meyer Lemon Confit

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is dropping in today with a brilliant idea for how to make lemon confit. These oil-poached lemon slices produce both deeply infused olive oil and tender slivers of lemon, ready to be chopped and stirred into braises, vinaigrettes, and batches of hummus. I am planning on starting a batch of my own immediately. -Marisa

A grouping of lemons on a kitchen towel for lemon confit

Every winter, I look forward to my box of tart, aromatic sunshine from Lemon Ladies Orchard, which I first learned about thanks to Marisa’s devotion to them on this very blog.

Sometimes I ask for it as a Christmas gift and spend the week between the holidays happily preserving. But this year, I ordered up a five-pound box of their gorgeous, organic Meyer lemons to brighten things up during the long midwinter stretch in February.

Sliced lemons for lemon confit

So far, I’ve preserved lemons in salt, made lemon syrup (the classic Joy of Cooking lemonade concentrate recipe that my mom made when I was a kid is my favorite), infused vinegar with the excess peels, and dehydrated several racks of thin slices to pop in my herbal tea till these precious lemons come into season next year.

I’ve reserved a handful for lemon bars and maybe a mini batch of velvety lemon curd, too. But I really wanted to try something new this year, maybe something savory. This Los Angeles Times compilation of 100 ways to use Meyer lemons — intended to ease the burden on Californians blessed with a backyard citrus bounty — offered an idea I’d never tried before: Meyer lemon confit.

Sliced lemons in a pot for lemon confit

You’ll often see salt-preserved lemons referred to this way (“confit” comes from the French word “confire,” meaning to preserve, so it makes sense). But this method preserves the lemons in fat — olive oil, to be precise. Slice the lemons, cover with oil, and cook them at the barest simmer over very low heat for an hour.

The olive oil is infused with a heady combination of brightness from the lemon oil, tartness from the juice, and a bitter undertone from the pith. The lemon itself becomes milder, the peel tender — almost like salt-preserving the lemon, minus the long wait and without the overpowering saltiness.

Lemon confit cooking at a bare simmer
Scoop out the oil and use it in salad dressings or marinades, then top the veggies with finely-diced pieces of lemon. Puree the mixture with fresh herbs and use as a dip for crusty, fresh bread or pita. Chop the thin-skinned lemons and toss them with steamed red potatoes and herbs in a vinegary potato salad, or rub minced lemons on chicken thighs before roasting. I bet you could add a whole new dimension to a lemony olive oil cake with this infused oil, too.

Two jars of lemon confit

You could take this preparation a step further and make variations with other flavors: add herbs like thyme or rosemary, or maybe a bundle of parsley stems; another option could be bay leaves and black peppercorns.

While this recipe can’t be canned, your lemon confit will keep for at least two weeks in the fridge (or months in the freezer), so you can add a lush, lemony note to dishes long after Meyer lemon season has ended. How are you preserving Meyer lemons this winter to last all year long?

How to Make Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Confit


  • 6 organic Meyer lemons
  • Olive oil to cover (around 2 cups)
  • Optional: herbs and spices like black peppercorns, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, or parsley stems


  1. Wash and dry the lemons, then halve lengthwise and cut into slices between 1/4" and 1/2". Put the slices in a heavy-bottomed medium-sized pot or saucepan. Add good olive oil (it doesn't have to be extra virgin) to cover the lemon slices.
  2. Heat the mixture under the lowest possible heat for one hour. You're looking for a slow simmer — the occasional lazy bubble — but want to avoid a full simmer.
  3. When time's up, remove the pot from the heat. As soon as the mixture is cool, seal in jars, label with the date, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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