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Gift in a Jar: Apple-Cranberry Jam

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Throughout my childhood and teenage years, my parents’ standard holiday gift for friends and family was a bag of my dad’s homemade pancake mix (in particularly flush years, we’d also gift a bottle of maple syrup). The bag would also contain printed instructions on how to turn the mix into batches of fluffy cakes or waffles. I have it on good authority that people looked forward with great anticipation to those pancake mix gifts.

Over the years, we were also the recipients of many a homemade holiday gift, including jars of lemon curd from our cousins in the Bay Area, bottles of homemade coffee liqueur and divided plastic plates from my dad’s business partner, overflowing with cookies, fudge and caramels, hand-wrapped in squares of waxed paper.

In recent years, as my canning practice has grown, more and more of the holiday gifts I give are home-jarred edibles. This year, I’m planning to give my Philadelphia cousins jars of apple butter and apple-cranberry jam, along with mini-loaves of cranberry bread. If you’d like to give your friends and family their own jars of apple-cranberry jam, the recipe is after the jump (it’d be great with some scones on Christmas morning).

I’ll be posting more ideas for gifts in jars in the coming weeks, in the hopes that I’ll be able to inspire you to give your own gifts in jars this year.

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Dark Days: Good Eating, Week One

Monday night local dinner

From now until the middle of March, I’ll be diverging from posts about foods in jars (no matter how loosely related to jars they are) once a week to post my Dark Days Challenge meal. The goal of the challenge is to eat at least one local meal a week during the colder months of winter. Because it’s quite easy to eat locally when the markets are bursting with strawberries, melons and eggplants, but when the farmers markets are yielding nothing but squash, potatoes and beets, it feels a little daunting.

These days, I’d say that about 65% of the food we eat at home is locally sourced. Part of what makes that number so high is that for nearly two years now, Scott and I have been members of a meat buying club. We order online and can select from a wide assortment of pork, chicken, beef, sausage, cured meats and eggs. They’re delivered to a friend’s house eight blocks from our place and the monthly pick-up has turned into a social occasion, as a number of friends and acquaintances all converge to get their locally raised, grass-fed, pastured groceries.

In addition, the bulk of our fruits and vegetables come from our CSA membership (although it just ended for the season) or the farmers market (there’s a weekly year-long market two blocks from our apartment). Also, being so close to Lancaster County means we have easy access to good, local dairy products. That just leaves things like beans, rice, grains, coffee and olive oil (and all those snack foods that Scott loves so much).

But anyway, on to our first Dark Days local meal. It consisted of some slow cooked pork, pan crisped potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. The pork was from the buying club (Meadow Run Farm), the potatoes were from our CSA (Dancing Hen Farm) and the sprouts were from the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. I forgot to take a picture until we were finishing up dinner, which is why the pans you see above are mostly empty (proof of a delicious meal).

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Thanksgiving Prep: Fork You Makes Gravy

Long before I was putting food in jars on a regular basis, I was making a little online cooking show called Fork You. One of the first episodes Scott and I (long before the idea that we’d ever marry each other was even a glimmer of a possibility) made was in the fall of 2006, where we outlined my father’s sure-fire, no-fail method for making large amounts of turkey gravy.

Essentially, a day or two before your holiday meal, you toast a couple of cups of flour in a dry frying pan over medium low heat until it’s a dark and nutty. It takes anywhere between 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and the amount of flour you’re toasting. As it heats, you keep the flour moving around the pan, to prevent burning (run your exhaust fan as you toast, and don’t walk away, it goes from perfectly toasted to burnt in an instant).

The day of your meal, when you’re putting your turkey in the oven, you start a pot of turkey broth, using the neck/giblets/trimmings and some veggie scraps. When it’s time to make gravy, you make a roux (this isn’t a true roux, but it’s close) with a few tablespoons of the toasted flour (sift after toasting) and some turkey drippings and slowly expand it with the broth, additional toasted flour and whatever turkey drippings you can spare. The amount of gravy you make depends almost entirely upon how much broth you make and how much flour you toast (you may not end up using all the flour you toast, but it’s always better to toast too much as opposed to not enough, because when you’re making gravy, there’s rarely time to stop and toast more flour).

For those of you who need a visual understanding of how to do what I’ve just described, here’s the video we made lo those many years ago.

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Whole Wheat Millet Pumpkin Bread

Whole Wheat Millet Pumpkin Bread

Last week, I wrote about things you can do with pumpkin puree. Here’s what I ended up doing with mine. It’s a little quick bread I tossed together this afternoon that has a really nice crumb and uses toasted millet instead of nuts for crunch (good if you cook for someone with a nut allergy).

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Thanksgiving Favorites

Turkey side view
As some of you may know, before I started this blog, I spent a lot of my time writing about food for Slashfood. Over the two years I was there, I amassed a fairly significant collection of holiday recipes and I thought it would be fun, as we prepare to head into the Thanksgiving frenzy, to point out some of my favorites. Even if most these recipes don’t actually include many (or even any) foods in jars.

In addition to those Slashfood recipes, there’s also the classic Fork You Thanksgiving series, in which we made:

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Homemade Cranberry Jelly (for Thanksgiving)

cranberry sauce

It’s pretty much universally accepted that no Thanksgiving spread is complete without a cranberry condiment of some sort. My grandma Bunny was partial to a raw cranberry-orange relish she made with hand-cranked countertop grinder (I do wish I had her recipe, but both she and it have been gone since I was 15). My cousin Angie makes the same cranberry jello mold that her mother always used to make. My own mother has always been a secret fan of the standard canned stuff, not necessarily announcing her preference to people outside the family, but always ensuring that it appeared on any holiday table at which she ate.

In recent years, as I became enamored with the idea of making myself what I once mindlessly bought, I experimented with varieties of homemade cranberry sauce. I made whole berry compotes with fresh vanilla bean. I did an apple-cranberry sauce. I even tried that cranberry jello mold. As delicious as they all were, none were quite right.

french toast with cranberry

That is, until I determined to make a very simple cranberry sauce, using just fresh berries, a splash of apple cider and sugar. Essentially, I resisted the urge to fancy it up. After cooking, a pass through a food mill and a rest in the fridge overnight, I realized I had made something nearly identical to my mom’s favorite canned sauce, only without the high fructose corn syrup.

So, if you like the classic canned jelly, but have a burning desire to make your own, this is the recipe for you. Best of all, you can put it through a hot water process and make it shelf stable, making it a do-ahead Thanksgiving project (and it’s good on more than just turkey, it was delicious on the french toast you see above). The only downside I can see is that it won’t exist its vessel whole and retain the shape of the can.

The recipe is after the jump…

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