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A happy jar encounter + giveaway

jars as target

I am always on the lookout for canning supplies. Whether I’m at a grocery store, hardware store or rummage sale, I constantly scan shelves and displays for jars, lids, pectin and more. It’s not that I’m in need of these supplies (I am quite well stocked at this point). I just like being aware of what’s out there, what new products Jarden Home Brands is releasing and the general availability of canning gear.

Last Sunday, I was seriously disappointed by both an Acme and a Giant out in Delaware County. We were on an errand out that way and stopped in to both grocery stores, looking for canning stuff (for me) and Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper (for Scott). We left both stores empty-handed on both fronts. However, the canning universe redeemed itself in a big way tonight. On a quick, post-dinner trip to Target tonight, I discovered a holy mother lode of preserving paraphernalia (unfortunately, I don’t see any of this stuff on Target.com). I practically danced with joy, right there in the main aisle of the South Philadelphia Target.

They had products I’ve never even seen before, including a freezer container that had knobs on top that allow you to indicate the date of freezing with a few clicks and a giant, one-gallon Ball storage jar, produced to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Ball company (yes, that’s me in the picture above, cradling the huge jar and grinning like I’ve just won the lottery).

The other thing the had tonight were copies of the very hard to find Ball Blue Book of Canning (the 100th anniversary edition, no less). Because I know just what a pain it can be to lay hands on this most useful little book, I bought two copies to pass along to a couple of Food in Jars readers. If you want one, leave a comment between now and Friday at 5 p.m., when I’ll pick winners.

And happy canning!

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Rhubarb Chutney

rhubarb chutney

After going completely crazy for rhubarb back in the spring, I took a bit of a break from it in June (with all the other summer fruits and vegetables coming into ripeness, there was plenty to keep me occupied). However, during that fallow time, I still had rhubarb that needed to be used, tightly wrapped and tucked into the bottommost corner of my left-hand crisper drawer. When the 4th of July weekend rolled around, I decided to have a weekend of many canning projects. I made multiple batches of pickles (bread and butter & dilly beans) and jams (apricot), and finally did something with that neglected rhubarb.

Though the ends of the stalks were a bit worse for the storage time, the rhubarb was still in acceptable shape and more than good enough to be turned into something wonderful. Back when I made that batch of grape catchup (has anyone tried that recipe? It’s okay if you haven’t, it is sort of a weird one), I also noted two rhubarb recipes in close proximity. One was a recipe for rhubarb butter and the other was a rhubarb chutney. I headed into my canning extravaganza with every intention of making the butter, but on that Friday night, when I finally got around to dealing with the rhubarb, I had just finished making six pints of apricot jam, and I was weary of all those sweet notes.

My fingers flipped to the chutney recipe and wouldn’t you know, I had every single ingredient the recipe called for right there in my kitchen. It was fated (or I have a ridiculously overstocked kitchen. I think Scott would argue for the latter) and so I made chutney from my beloved New York Times Heritage Cook Book.

Thing is, I don’t really come from chutney people. We McClellans like our condiments just fine (I grew up dipping steamed broccoli in mayonnaise and roasted potatoes in mustard), but my mother has never been a sweet-and-savory-in-the-same-bite kind of person, so I grew up unaccustomed to the ways in which a good chutney can transform a dish. And I must say, this simple recipe is fairly transformational (at least for this chutney innocent).

It’s quite tasty (although I think if I make it again, I’ll make it just a bit spicier) and I have plans for it to encounter a nice slab of chevre sometime in the very near future (my latest party trick, when called upon to bring a contribution to a potluck or evening of in-home drinks with friends is to bring jam, goat cheese and crackers. It is so simple and people are completely impressed). If you’ve got some rhubarb to use up and you are tired of jams, cobblers, slumps and crisps, this is a good way to go.

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Sour Cherry Winner, Classes + More

sour cherries

Once again, I’m a bit later in announcing the giveaway winner than I had intended. However, I’ve had a lovely weekend, in which I taught a peach jam class (I’ll be posting the recipe tomorrow), spent some quality time with my fiance, finally got the mess of the apartment under control and ate some delicious summer produce (I think the highlight was the purple potato salad with sweet onions and homemade mayo), so I just don’t feel bad about my tardiness.

This little jar of sour cherry jam goes to Heather, commenter #14. Congratulations Heather (I’ll be emailing you shortly). I do wish I had enough to share with all of you, as this was a particularly delicious batch, but sadly, my supplies are quite limited. I do have good news for those of you in the Philly area, though. I was down at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market this morning, and I spotted sour cherries at Three Springs Fruit Farm, so there are still some to be had if you want to make your own jam.

In other news, I’ve got a new class to announce. I’m going to be leading a community canning workshop at Philly Kitchen Share on Saturday, July 25th, from 2-6 p.m. The reason for the extended block of time is that this a hands-on session in which we’ll peel and process 120 pounds of tomatoes. The workshop is limited to ten people, and all participants will be taking home 4 quarts of tomatoes. There are still a few spots left, so click here if you want to sign up. Cost is $30 per person.

And now, some links!

Veggicurious has been making savory jellies. They look gorgeous.

Culinate’s Caroline Cummins remembers her father-in-law and the jams he made.

Canning is so hot right now that it’s getting a mention in the Washington Post.

Minimally Invasive made a rosemary-thyme syrup that sounds totally divine.

Rich in peaches? Check out Doris and Jilly’s post on how to have homemade peach sherbet in January.

The Kitchn makes Blenheim apricot jam and discusses the differences between jams, jellies, conserves and more.

And pickles! Pickled mustard greens. Pickled shallots. Tarragon-garlic pickles.

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In Praise of Bruised Fruit

bruised fruit

One of my fondest fall memories from childhood is that of driving out to Sauvie Island to visit the Bybee-Howell House. My mom, sister and I would wander the antique apple orchard and pick the newly fallen apples off the ground. When we first moved to the area, we asked the groundskeeper and he requested that we not to touch the apples still on the trees (they used them to make fresh-pressed cider in September), but that we were welcome to as many windfall apples as we could carry.

We’d fill paper grocery bags until they were nearly ready to split open and then head home to make applesauce. I’d help my mom with the peeling and chopping, and I quickly learned from watching her that it was easy enough to cut around the bruises and occasionally wormholes, leaving behind perfectly useable (and delicious, fragrant, delicately-flavored) fruit.

Because of that early education in the use of imperfect fruit, I’ve never been one to shy away from damaged apples, overripe pears (pear butter), brown bananas (banana bread) or a peach with a bit of mold on one end (peach jam, sauce or butter). I see the potential in each piece and feel compelled to help all the remaining good parts of the nectarine achieve its delicious destiny.

One might think that living in the center of a large city would preclude me from having opportunities to find and use this less than perfect produce. However, it is not solely the provenance of aging orchards and roadside farmstands. I see it everywhere. Just last week I bought four pounds of slightly squished apricots at Reading Terminal Market for $2.97 (which was enough for a full batch of jam). Sue’s Produce often bags and sells their declining fruit and veg for pennies. And the vendors at my local farmers markets adore handing over bags of imperfect fruit to people who appreciate it and will put it to good use (don’t forget, these are people who love the act of growing food and dislike letting their food go to waste).

I am not advocating using fruit that has gone off or has begun to ferment (that’s a whole other kind of preservation). However, in these times, when we’re all looking for ways to spend less and save more, it’s important to accept the imperfect and learn just how useful a good paring knife can be.

Several days ago, Salon.com published an article about canning, in which the author ruminates on the economic realities of home canning and concludes (after some first hand experimentation) that while it can be a rewarding hobby, it is neither an effective use of time nor a frugal endeavor (in one paragraph, she calls canning “a small, sustainable luxury and a craft”). While I can see the position she’s coming from (she bought her ingredients at a New York Greenmarket, which is conceivably one of the most expensive possible ways to buy produce), I find myself distraught by her thesis. While it’s true that jars cost money, and that if you’re not careful, you can spend more on fruit that you might have planned, to me, canning is an essentially frugal act. Particularly if you search out the imperfect fruit like I talked about above.

Canning is also about choosing to take the act of food creation out of the hands of large corporations and return it to the home. It’s about knowing where your food came from and what went into it. It’s about always having a delicious gift to give to friends and family. It’s about stashing away the peak of summer for the dark, cold days of December and January. It’s about investing your time in the things that matter. It’s about creating something soul soothing and beautiful.

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Sour Cherry Jam Recipe

cherries in the sink

I had grand plans for sour cherries this year. I knew that the sweet cherry crop had been bad, so when Mood’s Farm Market opened their u-pick sour cherry picking, I went the second day of the season. My thinking was that if I got there early, I’d get enough cherries to keep my in jam and pie-filling for the year. However, when I walked into the farmstand and asked to pick sour cherries, the 15 year old behind the counter just shook her and said, “you’re not going to find much.”

I told her I’d just do my best, and she shrugged her shoulders at me and wrote out the picking permit. As soon as I pulled up to the orchard, I could see she hadn’t been joking. In just over 24 hours, the sour cherry orchard had been picked nearly clean. Grabbing my bucket and step ladder, I began to wander, hoping I’d find a few pockets of cherries left.

10 cups pitted cherries

I spent a bit over an hour out in the orchard, gazing at trees with an upturned head. I went up and down that step ladder at least 100 times, each time repositioning it to grab a bit more fruit. It was hard work, and yet it was also wonderful. All the stretching and bending, it felt like the most productive and delicious yoga I’d ever done.

I went home that night with scant four pounds of cherries, which rapidly became three pints of jam. However a lucky thing happened as I was making the jam. I happened to broadcast my disappointment with the slim haul on Twitter. Some friends saw it and invited me to pick some cherries from the trees in their community garden, which happened to be dripping with fruit. With Angie’s help, I found myself with ten more pounds. Jams and pie filling galore!

pits

It might sound like I went to an awful lot of trouble for some sour cherries, but if you’ve tasted jams or baked goods made with little gems, you’ll know that the effort was well worth it. The flavor is bright, tangy (not sour exactly, just perfectly piquant) and, when combined with a bit of sugar, quite heavenly. I’ve been eating the jam stirred into plan yogurt (you might have picked up on the fact that yogurt is one of my favorite vehicles for jam) and I have six pitted pounds in the freezer, waiting to become pie filling at some later date – I plan on using this recipe as my starting place.

sour cherry jam bubbling away

Now, time is beginning to run out on sour cherries, but you can still get them if you look carefully. Here in Philly, Beechwood Orchards still has them (at least they did today at the Rittenhouse Market) and from what I hear, more northernly climates are just getting them in. Sometimes you can even get them frozen, which, if you’ve got a sour cherry tooth like I do, isn’t such a bad way to go.

I do believe that it’s time to offer up another giveaway. This time, I only have a four ounce jar on offer (I’m telling you, this stuff is precious to me), but it should be enough to firmly plant the flavor in your taste brain and make you jones for more. Leave a comment by Friday, July 10 at 5 p.m. if you want a chance to win. One entry per person, winner will be selected via the random number generator.

And on to the recipe…

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Mint Simple Syrup

mint syrup

I have always been a fan of minty things*. As a kid, I would beg my grandfather for some of the Tic Tacs he always carried in on his person (the rattle of that plastic box always takes me back to him as well). I’d trawl the bottom of my mom’s purse for linty Lifesavers. And Christmas time, with its pepperminty candy canes never failed to delight mw.

As the years have gone by, my love of minty things hasn’t diminished, although I find myself gravitating towards less sweet applications than the sticky candies of my youth. Lucky for me, in the last few weeks, I’ve had access to all the mint I can carry, thanks to the garden plot of friends Angie and Thad. They have a most bountiful mint plant and no matter how much we cut from it, the next day it seems to be back, bigger than ever.

We celebrated the 4th of July within spitting distance of that marvelous mint plant, and so I took home a large bouquet after the grilling and drinking was complete. Yesterday, as I tried to clear out the fridge a bit and make room for our lunchtime salads, I pulled that bundle of mint out of the crisper drawer and concocted a plan.

I poured two cups of filtered water into a saucepan and added two cups of cane sugar. I gave the mint a quick rinse (just to get any garden dust off of it) and added it to the pot. I brought the whole thing up to a brief simmer, stirred until the sugar was dissolved and turned off the heat. I let it sit on the stove while I finished the rest of the dishes. When I turned back to it, the syrup was cool enough to handle and I strained it out into a quart jar. Swiping my finger through a trail of drips, I tasted it and was pleased to note that I had captures the green, freshness of the mint perfectly. I plan on mixing this minty simple syrup with sparkling water, for easy evening drinking. You could use it in a mojito if you felt so moved.

This minty simple syrup keeps indefinitely in the fridge. Make an extra jar and stash it away for later.

While we’re on the subject of mint, has anyone made their own mint extract? I did a bit of searching and found that some folks take the same tact that homemade vanilla extract requires (put leaves in vodka, let sit until they’ve given up their essence). Anyone have first-hand experience (I plan on trying it, but thought I’d query the crowd as well).

*Sadly, the man I live with isn’t so fond of the flavor of mint (he searches out toothpaste with the most mild of mint flavor), so I keep my minty habits to myself.

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