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Peach Jam Class

slice-of-peaches

Originally, when we announced the canning class line-up at Foster’s, we had a class down in which I would teach some folks how to can peach halves in light syrup. For some reason, that class has been singularly unpopular (there are only two people signed up, while there’s a waiting list for the strawberry-rhubarb jam class). So, we’ve (the very nice people at Foster’s and I) decided to transform that session into a peach jam class. So, if you were bummed about missing out on the jam class this Saturday but weren’t particularly interested in peach halves, you now have a new option!

Click here to register. If you have any questions about the class, ask away in the comments and I’ll get back to you!

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Canning in Vintage Jars

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When I first started becoming truly enthralled with canning, I began to look beyond the standard Mason/Ball/Kerr jars available. I discovered the Weck jars that are typically used in Europe, but was put off a bit by the price tag and the fact that they are often hard to actually get (I did break down and order a half dozen from Lehman’s, but with shipping, they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 a jar. That is far too much for the volume of canning I typically do).

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However, when I took a close look at the way in which the Weck jars seal, I realized that they are practically identical to the vintage bailing wire canning jars that were popular in this country through most of the 20th century. The glass lids on the Weck jars seal via a rubber gasket. Through the hot water process, everything is held in place by a couple of metal clips. The glass lids on the vintage jars seal via a rubber gasket.

During canning, the lid is held in place by the metal wire that locks up over the lid. The thing that makes the vintage jars even better than the Weck jars is that you have an easy way to keep the jar closed after you’ve opened it, via the bailing wire. When you use the Weck jars, you have to keep replacing the metal clips (or get a set of their plastic lids).

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So once I figured out that the jars I already had (and had gotten for free when helping a friend of a friend clean out her mother’s basement) would do the exact same job as the spendy ones, I got down to work. I ordered a set of rubber gaskets from Lehman’s for just over three bucks (they’re the only ones who still seem to carry them) and made a canning plan.

I did a mixed berry jam, because I’ve been endeavoring to clean out my freezer, in preparation for the coming onslaught of produce and still had some frozen fruit from last summer. I supplemented my frozen strawberries and raspberries with some fresh (but cheap and decidedly not local) strawberries (I made up for it the following week by hand-picking 13 pounds of local strawberries and making the best jam I’ve ever tasted. That recipe is coming later this week).

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When canning with these jars, most of the steps are the same as with the screw-top jars. You clean your jars, lids and seals well, prepare your jam and fill the jars. Once the jars are filled, you wipe the tops clean and the apply the rubber seals and top with the glass lids (of course, making sure that your vintage jars and lids are without chips, cracks or other damage).

Like when you can with conventional mason jars, you need to leave some space for the air to escape. To do this, you don’t lock the wire down all the way. You close it so that it’s closed, but pointing up, not down (if this doesn’t make sense, just get an old bailing wire jar and start opening and closing it. You’ll soon notice the two closure positions).

Process jars as usual. When time has elapsed, remove the jars from the water, being careful not to tip them (these jars are mostly glass, which means that if you get the jam on the top of the lid, you’ll see it, and if you’re a bit of a perfectionist, the residue that will stick to the lid will vex you). At this point, grab a tea towel and lock the wires into the tightest position with the wire pointed downwards. This presses the rubber gasket more firmly into contact with the rim of the jar and ensures a good seal.

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These jars are in the fully locked, post-process position.

The next day, when the jars are all cool, unlock the bailing wire. The lid should not move in the slightest. Test your seal by picking the jar up by the glass lid (don’t go crazy, just lift an inch or two above the countertop). It should hold fast. If it doesn’t, your seal is no good. If it holds, leave the wire unlocked and store as you would any other sealed jar.

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Food in Jars from around the internet

Jams and pickles

Last week, the New York Times food section featured Eugenia Bone and her new book Well-Preserved. Since then, she’s been answering reader questions on Diner’s Journal, and there’s lot of good info there for those of you who are looking to learn more from an expert (and Eugenia is a lovely, down-to-earth, experienced canner). There’s also a short video of Eugenia showing how to check the seal on a processed jar, if you’re curious about that.

Yesterday, I kept spotting gorgeous food in jars all over the city. First, I went to a short soap making demonstration at Duross & Langel (a most beautiful soap and body products store) and discovered that they keep their soap ingredients in an eclectic array of glass jars. Later, I stopped into the new flower/chocolate shop across the street called Verde and spotted a small selection of housemade preserves and pickles. I brought home a small jar of Rhubarb Caramel, as I’d never seen anything like it (and now have a burning desire to attempt to recreate it).

I’ve been spotting a lot of food in jars on the internet as well recently. Here are some of the ones that particularly caught my eye.

And on to the savory stuff…

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Homemade Pancake Mix

Pancakes on the griddle

As far as I’m concerned, my father is the king of pancakes (and waffles too). During his early twenties, he spent a spell working as a short order cook at the International House of Pancakes. After eating one doughy pancake too many, he determined that he could do better than the sorry mix that IHOP used. So, for a period spanning multiple years, he wholly devoted himself to the creation of a better pancake mix.

By the time my sister and I entered the scene (1979 and 1982), Mo was a self-declared pancake master. There was always a batch of dry mix in the fridge, ready to be combined with eggs, milk and glug of vegetable oil. It was perfect for those Saturday mornings, when nothing but a stack of pancakes would do.

During my lifetime, I’ve put in many hours studying the art of the pancake at my dad’s elbow. He taught me how to tell when a pancake was ready to flip (bubbles around the edges that stay open after popping) and to cook over a medium-low heat, so that cake gets cooked all the way through (to prevent the horror of a pancake where the outside is burnt, but the inside drips with raw batter).

Those pancake lessons were also my first instruction in the art of cooking by feel, as Mo eschewed exact measures when it came to batter mixing. Pulling out his favorite batter bowl, he’d beat an egg for each eater (and an extra for a leftover cake or two), add a nice pour of milk and a quick dollop of canola oil or melted butter. Once he had a loose emulsion, he’d scoop in a couple of serving spoonfuls of dry mix at a time, stirring until the batter was right. He’d look for something that wasn’t runny, but wasn’t stiff either. It’s something that you figure out over time, he’d say.

Since I’ve had my own kitchen in which to play, I’ve altered the sacred dry mix recipe a bit. Luckily, this is just the sort of creative thinking my father encourages, so all toes are intact. My favorite addition is the bit of toasted millet, as it adds a wonderful nutty crunch. This mix is a wonderful thing to keep stashed in a jar at the back of the fridge, because it means that a friend and family pleasing meal is always just a couple of minutes away. I occasionally make these for dinner and add a few chopped pecans and some sliced banana to each cake just after I spoon the batter on the griddle. By adding that bit of protein and some fruit, I convince myself that they’re a healthy and balanced meal (which I then drown in grade b maple syrup).

The mix recipe is after the jump. I make it entirely with whole wheat flour (a combo of regular and pastry), but if you like a lighter pancake, sub in some unbleached all-purpose. These are also divine if you splash a bit of vanilla extract into the batter just before griddling. The dry mix also makes a lovely housewarming or hostess gift, particularly for the pancake lovers in your crowd.

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Pick your own berries

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When my family moved to Oregon from Southern California in 1988, we were quick to adopt elements of the Pacific Northwest culture. We stopped carrying umbrellas when it rained, instead preferring to either dodge raindrops bareheaded or wear a hooded jacket when the rain was torrential. We became even more committed recyclers and created an elaborate sorting station in the basement or garage to house our plastics and papers, until we could take them an appropriate drop-off point. And we became devoted consumers of u-pick fruit.

Several times each summer, we’d make the trek out to Sauvie Island to pick strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apples (we’d pick up the windfall heritage apples from the Bybee-Howell House orchard. You’re not allowed to pick the fruit from the trees there, but the newly fallen apples are still quite edible and make excellent applesauce). My mom would turn into a fruit processing machine upon our return home, making batches of jam and apple butter, and freezing bags of slice peaches and applesauce (in mid-winter, spicy homemade applesauce is the best after dinner treat).

The first couple of years after I moved to Philadelphia, I didn’t look for places in the area to pick fruit, and instead planned a vacation out to Portland each summer, timing it to coincide with blueberry season. Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the mid-July trip home and so found myself searching for other places to pick. Over the last few years, I’ve picked fruit at several area farms.

My very favorite is Mood’s Farm Market in Mullica Hill, NJ. Their prices are reasonable, they grow a variety of fruit (sweet and sour cherries, blackberries, blueberries, concord grapes, peaches and more) and they have a farm market where they sell the most delicious apple cider doughnuts. Unfortunately, they don’t grow strawberries, which is what I want to pick this weekend, so yesterday I found myself searching for other area farms that offer u-pick strawberries. I made a bunch of phone calls and the results of my research, along with u-pick ettiquette and more resources are after the jump. Unfortunately, the farms are only going to be helpful for those of you in the PA/NJ/NY area, but the tips are still good. Continue Reading →

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Update on the canning classes

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I recently heard from the folks at Foster’s Homewares that my summer canning classes are beginning to fill up. The first class, on strawberry-rhubarb jam is totally full (with one person on the waiting list) and the others are in various states of enrollment. If you were thinking about taking one of the classes, the time to sign up is now. In each class, I’ll be going over the basics of home canning, including safety tips and how to do the hot water process, in addition to focusing on a particular recipe. Each class costs $39 and all students get to take home a jar of whatever we made that day.

June 13th (sold out)
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

July 11th
Peach Halves in Light Syrup

August 8th
Polish Style Dill Pickles

September 12th
Chopped Tomatoes

Click here to sign up for a class!

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