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Fruit Butters (Peaches, Pears and Apples)

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As a kid, I was fascinated by the lives of long-dead historical figures. I devoured those blue-bound “When They Were Young” biographies, absorbing the childhood details of Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton. I was a particular fan of Betsy Ross, in part because I’d taken the walking tour through her cramped colonial home in Philadelphia’s historic district (later, when we were back in California, I delightedly wore the Quaker sunbonnet my grandmother bought me at the museum gift shop).

One aspect that I found particularly entrancing in these “biographies” (looking back, I realize that these volumes were probably far more fiction than fact) was the way in which food preparation was detailed (this is also why I read and re-read all the Little House books).

There’s one scene in the Betsy Ross book that has always stuck with me, in which she (as a seven or eight year old) is given the task of tending the apple butter, as it slowly cooks over an open fire. She uses a wooden paddle to scrape the scum off the top of the butter and a long wooden stirrer, with which to ensure that the butter doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. I found this description, of a little girl being tasked with such responsibility, so very appealing. As a child of similar age, I longed to participate in the activities of food preparation, and to have a hand in making things from scratch.

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However, in those days, our applesauce came from a jar and the only thing we spread on bread was strawberry jam from a large, blue plastic bucket (the one with a white handle and lid). It wasn’t until my family moved to Oregon a few years later, and we found ourselves in a new/old house with gnarled old apple trees down at the very back of the property, did we even attempt to make apple butter (there is little in the world that tastes better than apple butter made from antique, windfall apples).

These days, homemade fruit butters are an integral part of my summer and fall preserving routine. After the jump, you’ll find my general fruit butter technique, it’s not a specific recipe, but instead a flexible approach that can expand or contract, depending on how much fruit you have. I also have a half pint jar of pear butter to give away. If you want it, leave a comment by Friday, September 18th at 11:59 p.m.

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Questions About Canning Whole Fruit

pears from above

I’ve gotten a couple of questions lately about the loss of syrup when canning whole fruit. Here’s the story. From what I’ve found and read, the loss of syrup isn’t a major problem unless the jars loses multiple inches. Ideally, you don’t lose too much in the processing, but sometimes it happens that upon removing the processed jars from the water, some liquid will bubble out as the air escapes (the official word for this loss of liquid is siphoning). However, as long as the jars sealed, you should be okay. You may get some discoloration in the fruit if you wait a long time to eat it, but if you use it in the next few months, you shouldn’t notice any loss in quality.

For next time, try to do a more complete job of removing the air bubbles from your jars before processing. Make sure the sealing compound in your lids is quite soft and tighten the rings more tightly than you typically do. Also check and ensure that your jars are completely covered with water during processing, as low levels can increase the chance of losing the liquid from your jars.

And, if you haven’t figured it out from the picture above, you can also can Seckel pears (the tiny, crispy ones) whole, just like the plums I did a couple of weeks back. The only change I made to the recipe was that I added a couple of teaspoons of powdered ginger to the syrup, for a slightly different flavor profile. I can’t wait to open those babies up!

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Raspberry Jam Winner + Frozen Basil

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Three cheers for Whitney, who’s number came up in the Raspberry Jam giveaway last night. She’s a lucky girl, as it’s very, very good stuff.

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Last Friday, I had the day off from work, and so my friend Shay and I took a drive out to Lancaster, to look for jars for my wedding (we’re planting tiny herb plants in a variety of jars as gifts for our guests) and visit her parents. I found an amazing cache of jelly jars (the ones that you can’t really use anymore, as they were designed to be sealed with wax) for $.15 each at the thrift store in Mount Joy, which got me much closer to the needed 60 jars. I also returned home with a 2 1/2 gallon ziptop bag, stuffed absolutely full of basil from Shay’s mom Ty’s garden.

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Ty hasn’t had the greatest tomato year because of all the rain we’ve gotten, but it’s been a stellar year for basil production. Her herb garden is absolutely bursting with fragrant, vividly green basil. No matter how much I cut, it was nearly impossible to make a visible dent. So Friday night, I made an improvised pesto. I used lots of garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese, but skipped the nuts (I didn’t have any pine nuts, and determined that I wanted this basil sauce of mine to be as flexible as possible). I ran my food processor for nearly half an hour and came away with more than four pints of pesto (that’s a hell of a lot). I packed it into 4- and 8-ounce jars (leaving plenty of headspace) and tucked it into the freezer.

I’m so looking forward to adding it to pastas, soups and eating it spread on bread all winter long.

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Taking Canning Questions at The Kitchn

pint of Seckel pears

For those of you who regularly read The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy’s food-focused blogging wing, you might have noticed my smiling face over there late last week. That’s because all this week, I’m going to be dropping in on Faith, Sara Kate, Dana, Kathryn and the rest of The Kitchn crew to answer the questions their readers have about canning. The Kitchn is one of my favorite food blogs, so I’m totally delighted to be talking about canning with their lovely community.

If you’ve got a canning question and you’ve felt shy about asking it here, feel free to hop over there and leave a note. I’ll do my best to reply!

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Seattle Pictures + Raspberry Jam

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A couple of months ago, based solely on a handful of tweets and a couple of emails, I logged onto Travelocity and bought a plane ticket to Seattle in order to spend some time with a number of people upon whom I’d never before laid eyes. This is a scenario that might give lots of folks pause, but I felt completely at ease, because I was going to be part of the Canvolution.

I landed late on Friday night and a friend of more than ten years picked me up. She took me home with her and tucked me into a wonderfully cushy, comfortable bed. The next morning, she dropped me off in a KFC parking lot, across from the U District farmers market, where I met up with Tea and ogled produce that I could not have (I did buy a wreath of garlic to bring home). The rest of the day went by in a blur of ferry rides, more farmers market shopping (where I ate two incredible figs) and lots and lots of canning, feasting and laughter.

Now, looking back on the hours I spent last weekend with Tea, Viv, Shauna, Laura, Kim, Kimberly, Jeanne and others, I am so totally grateful and delighted that I bought a plane ticket on impulsive. Check the slide show below for more pictures from the weekend.

The only problem I had with my trip out to Seattle was the fact that I couldn’t really bring any of the food we made back with me (I didn’t want to take the risk that the TSA would categorize my homemade jam as a liquid and confiscate it). I did leave the canning party with a couple of jars, but I left them with my parents to bring when the come out for the wedding in a few weeks. So, when I got back home, I was jonesing for a canning project or two. So I canned plums in a honey syrup and made raspberry jam.

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This was actually the first batch of raspberry jam I’ve ever made. I’ve always looked at raspberries as being too precious to turn into jam. I believe they are far better eaten out of hand, until your fingers are stained bright red and your belly aches. However, the raspberries were so abundant in the field that I made myself half-sick from overindulgence before I even got home. I couldn’t bear the idea of eating another berry, but the 2 1/2 pounds needed to be used. So jam it was.

I made this batch using weight measures as opposed to cups, because my scale was on the counter and it seemed easier. If you don’t have a scale, I’m under the impression I used approximately 8 cups of fairly well-packed berries. Additionally, unlike my blackberry jam, I did not seed this batch. I look at the seeds in raspberry jam as being part of its charm so I left them in. However, if you’re a seed hater, feel free to seed (check out the instructions in the blackberry jam post).

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And, since I like to share, I have one half pint of this amazing, jewel-like jam to giveaway. Leave a comment before Tuesday, September 8th at 11:59 p.m.

Now, recipe time…

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Blackberry Winner + Plums in Honey

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I had such a wonderful time over the weekend in Seattle. I met so many amazing people, reunited with a dear old friend, taught a really fun canning class and saw my parents for the first time in nearly nine months. I have bunches of pictures from the weekend, and so expect a post in the next couple of days that will feature those photos, along with my thoughts about the first Canning Across American weekend (preview: it was a rousing success and I can’t wait for next year).

Before I start talking about plums, there’s a bit of giveaway business to wrap up. The blackberry jam goes to lucky number 13, which is the comment left by Linus (who is a web developer and pickle maker – nice combo). He also seems to be Philly-based, which means that I get to skip the post office this time around and see if I can’t hand deliver this particular jar.

Last week, before I left town, I made tentative plans to meet up with the Philadelphia half of Doris and Jilly Cook to take a Mood’s Farm field trip just a couple of hours after I returned from the trip. My parents thought this plan crazy, assuming I’d need the rest of the day to recover from the red-eye flight. Thanks to my exhaustion and an innate ability to sleep just about anywhere, I landed feeling fairly refreshed and ready to take on an afternoon of fruit picking.

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The sheer abundance at the farmstand merely hinted at the bounty we’d encounter in the fields. The peach trees were hanging heavy with fruit and the raspberry canes were covered in the largest, most delicious berries I’ve met in about twenty years. We had plans to pick blackberries as well, but mid-picking decided that our containers would be better used for the raspberries.

When we headed back to the city, the station wagon carried nearly 100 pounds of fruits and vegetables. My personal haul included 2 1/2 pounds of raspberries (at $3.75 a pound, they were by far the most expensive item I’ve ever gotten at Mood’s), nearly 20 pounds of rosy peaches, two quarts of Gala apples (those are just for eating, I’ll get some fresh Granny Smith’s later in the season for apple sauce and butter) and four quarts each of Bartlett pears (for butter), Seckel pears (for canning whole and pickling) and Italian plums.

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I haven’t tackled the pears yet, but last night I turned the raspberries into jam (stay tuned, I’ll have that recipe and giveaway up later in the week) and I canned four quarts of the plums in a honey syrup. Canning whole fruit like this couldn’t be easier, because beyond washing, the fruit needs no prepping (some recipes recommend piercing the skin with a sharp fork several times. I skipped it and the skins only barely cracked). You simply pack the raw, whole fruit as tightly as you can into your cleaned jars, pour the syrup in to cover, shake out the air bubbles and process. I tucked a cinnamon stick into each jar, but that’s as fancy as I got. The quarts process for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath and then you’re done.

So, if you have a glut of plums, this is a great way to handle them quickly and easily. When winter comes, you can eat them whole with yogurt or ice cream, make a cobbler with them, or even stew them down further and eat them over oatmeal. So, so good. Recipe after the jump.

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