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Food in Jars is Seven Years Old Today!

Seven Years

Hard though it may be to believe, today is the seventh anniversary of the very first post on this blog (it feels like it’s been both much longer and far shorter than that). I started this site when I knew I would be leaving my job as the lead blogger of Slashfood. I wanted to create an online home for myself so that I could remain involved in the food blog community once that gig was up.

I had no idea then that I would be starting something that would evolve into a robust, fulfilling, and occasionally maddening career. I am grateful every day for this patch of internet and all that it has brought into my life.

I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the most popular posts I’ve published over the years. Do you spot your favorite among these ten? If not, what post did you love the best?

tomato sauce

1. Why You Can’t Can Your Family’s Tomato Sauce – Ever popular and ever contentious, this post tries to give people a basic understanding of how pH works in canning.

runny jam

2.How to Save Runny Jam – Canners everywhere struggle with this issue, and never is it more clear than in the comments section of this post!

small tomatoes

3. Five Ways to Preserve Small Tomatoes – These remain my favorite ways to put up grape, cherry, and Sungold tomatoes. The recipe for pickled grape tomatoes at the end of the post is both entirely fussy and truly delicious. I highly recommend it.

canning pot trivet rack

4. New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning – It took me years to get a post detailing the steps of boiling water bath canning up on this site, but the one I finally produced is something about which I continue to be proud. I still mean to pick that New to Canning series up someday.

tomato jam

5. Tomato Jam – It’s the first recipe to make the list and is truly the most deserving of all the recipes I’ve published here. If you still haven’t tried it, earmark it for this summer.

salt for canning

6. On Substituting Salt in Pickling – A useful post, but one that could probably use a revisit for clarity’s sake.

jam drips

7. How to Ensure That Your Jam Sets – Useful information, though sometimes jam just won’t set, no matter what you do!

curried zucchini pickles

8. Six Ways to Preserve Zucchini – Curried zucchini pickles! Chocolate zucchini bread! Zucchini butter with garlic and thyme! So delicious!

jalapenos in jars

9. Unfancy Pickled Jalapeno Peppers – Utilitarian canning at its best.

garlic dill pickles

10. Garlic Dill Pickles – They don’t hold their texture perfectly, but the flavors are spot on. I’ve taken to making these as refrigerator pickles, to retain their signature crunch.

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Maple Bourbon Apple Butter + OXO On Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender

Looking for an easy, five-ingredient apple butter for holiday giving? Look no further than this small batch Maple Bourbon Apple Butter!

Finished Maple Bourbon Apple Butter - Food in Jars

My family got our first immersion blender when I was in middle school. I can’t remember where it came from, though if I was forced to guess, I’d bet that it was a gift from my grandmother. While she didn’t cook much herself, she garnered a great deal of pleasure from buying culinary appliances and giving them to others (probably in the hopes that they’d prepare something for her with it).

OXO Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender - Food in Jars

My sister and I claimed that immersion blender as our own, using to make jam and yogurt smoothies for breakfast and after school snacks of skim milk and chocolate SlimFast (it was the nineties, after all). Since then, there’s rarely been a time when I didn’t have an immersion blender in my kitchen.

Apples for Butter - Food in Jars

These days, I pull out my immersion blender on a near-daily basis and use it for soups, purees, fruit butters, jams, gravies, salad dressings, and mason jar mayonnaise. When I heard that OXO was bring an new immersion blender to market, I was excited to check it out because I knew that my current immersion blender was nearing the end of its lifespan and OXO products are always so thoughtfully designed.

OXO Core Clip - Food in Jars

Guys, the OXO On Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender is even better than I had hoped. The blender head is made of sturdy nylon, which means you don’t have to worry about scratching your bowls or cookware with metal. The shaft is coated in silicone, so that you can knock the drips of the blender without dinging the edges of your pan (I have a few pots that are pockmarked from repeated immersion blender banging). The blending end removes from the motor with the press of a button. The motor end has heft and the DC motor produces a lot of power.

Chopped Apples for Butter - Food in Jars

No matter what speed you’re on, the blender starts slowly to prevent splashes and then ramps up to whichever of the six speeds you’ve set it at. The speeds are controlled digitally and you can set them using the dial on the top of the blender. The cord comes with a useful clip on the end, so that you can wrap it around the handle and secure it in place. The wide power button is easy to press and hold. Oh, and lets not forget about the headlight, which illuminates whatever you’re blending. On my dark stovetop, this is so useful.

Cooked Apples for Butter - Food in Jars

For its maiden voyage in my kitchen, I used this lovely OXO immersion blender to make a batch of Maple Bourbon Apple Butter. Wanting to really test it, I cored and chopped five pounds of apples, but left the peels on (unlike this recent butter, where I peeled). In my experience, not all immersion blenders can break down even long-cooked apple peels, but this one handled it like it was nothing.

OXO Blending Apples - Food in Jars

No matter how large or small the batch size, I use a two-blend process when I make apple butter. I cook the fruit down into a soft sauce, puree the heck out of it, cook it down until it thickens and darkens, and then work it with the immersion blender again.

The reason for the second puree is two-fold. First, the peels aren’t always quite soften enough to disappear during that first round of blending. Second, most fruit butters clump a bit while you’re cooking them down, and I prefer a super smooth butter. Pureeing just before the butter goes into the jar ensures that silky texture.

OXO Blender in Action - Food in Jars

As the fruit was cooking down, I spent a little time pondering flavorings. I have plenty of spiced apple butters on my shelves, and wanted to opt for something different here. I know that the combination maple, bourbon, and orange zest isn’t a particularly novel one, but combined the richness of the long-cooked apples, was just the thing I was craving. My plan is to keep two of the jars for myself, and tuck the remaining two into gift baskets for people I know will appreciate it.

Maple Bourbon Apple Butter Overhead - Food in Jars

The OXO On Digital Illuminating Immersion Blender isn’t the only small kitchen appliance that OXO has brought to market lately. There’s also an illuminating hand mixer, a pair of motorized toasters, and a line of coffee makers and water kettles (several times lately, I’ve found myself at Williams-Sonoma, petting the 9-cup coffee maker). I look forward to seeing what OXO creates next!

Disclosure: OXO sent me this OXO On Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender to try and write about. No additional compensation was provided. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

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Low Sugar Apple Ginger Butter

A light, silky apple butter with shot through with fresh ginger. Try it with latkes instead of plain applesauce.

Apple Ginger Butter - Food in Jars

Back in October, Janet sent me two boxes. One contained an assortment of apples and the other was filled with fragrant, fuzzy quince. I laid the fruit out on big, rimmed sheet pan and spent a day admiring it (and sniffing the quince for the pleasure of their rosy scent).

apples for butter - Food in Jars

Soon though, it was time to get down to the business of preserving. There were enough apples for two recipes (we’ll talk about the quince later). I transformed half the apples into a batch of maple sweetened butter (like this one, but with several tablespoons of apple cider vinegar stirred in at the end for extra tang). The remaining six pounds became this light, gingery butter.

apple butter on the stove - Food in Jars

I’ll confess, I’ve gone back and and forth inside my head, debating as to whether or not to actually call this recipe a butter. You see, most of us think of fruit butters as intensely dense things, brown from spices and hours on the stove.

This apple and ginger preserve is light in color and silky in texture. It is zippy and bright where a traditional butter is earthy. But jam isn’t quite right. Neither is jelly, conserve, sauce, or puree. Until I come up with a better name, butter will just have to do.

apple ginger nectar - Food in Jars

If you decide to make this preserve, make sure to save those cores and peels left over from prepping the apples. Heap them into a saucepan, add more fresh ginger, and fill the pot with water.

Let it simmer away on the back burner for an hour or so, until the peels are soft and translucent. Once strained, you’ll have an apple-ginger nectar that is delicious sipped warm or chilled. It’s an almost effortless way to get all the goodness from your apples that you can.

Apple Ginger Butter close - Food in Jars

In this, the season of latkes (Hanukkah starts on December 6!), I can think of no higher calling for this butter than a top a disc of fried potatoes. However, if latkes aren’t your thing, don’t think you can write this one off. It’s awfully good stirred into a bowl of steel cut oats and I can’t stop imagining it layered into shortbread bar cookie.

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Honey Sweetened Plum Pear Jam

finished pear plum jam

As the weather cools and each day comes bearing less light, I find that my almost-compulsive urge to make jam is starting to go quiet (I’m not worried. It will return with the strawberries in May). The kitchen still pulls me, but once standing at the stove, I make vast pots of soup, warm grain salads, long simmered beans, and oven-roasted compotes of apples and raisins.

plums and pears

I find this time of year to be the very most satiating, both when it comes to food and to general living. My body loves the cooler weather and the bounty of winter squash and cruciferous vegetables, and my mind so appreciates the earlier bedtimes and the reintroduction of pleasure reading that happens when I’m not trying to work through all the waking hours.

pouring honey

I plan on sharing more of these homey soups, salads, and roasted fruit compotes with you in the coming weeks. However, I do have a preserve that is itching to be written up before it is forgotten forever. It’s a honey sweetened jam made from plums and pears that bridges the season in a very appealing way. I realize that in most places, plums are but a distant memory. If that’s the case for you, bookmark or pin it for next year, as it is worth making.

cox honey bottle

This one started as so much of my preserving does, with an assessment of what produce was most urgently on the verge. On the particular afternoon I made this jam, the answer to that question was a quart of plums from my Philly Foodworks CSA share and the last two very ripe pears that remained from a six pound bag we’d bought at Costco ten days earlier.

fruit and honey

I chopped the fruit, cutting away any unseemly bits (the pears teetering on their very last leg) and plunked it all into the pot. I added 2/3 a cup of honey (the ratio of fruit to sweetener was about four to one), the juice of half a lemon, and a heaping half teaspoon of ground cinnamon and cooked it for about 20 minutes, until it was thick.

pear plum jam close

The finished yield was just four half pints. There was a bit leftover in the pan that I swirled into yogurt while it was still warm (so good). I do so love the satisfaction of transforming things that would otherwise get tossed into good, usable food.

Disclosure: The Cox Honey that’s pictured above was part of the shipment of honey that I detailed in this post. The plums were part of my October share from Philly Foodworks.

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Small Batch Apple Cranberry Compote

apple cranberry compote side

On Monday night, I did a canning event at the Mullica Hill Library in Gloucester County, NJ. When I was planning out the event with the librarian many months back, I suggested I demonstrate a recipe for apple cranberry compote. It seemed like just the thing for mid-October, what with Thanksgiving and the gifting season rapidly approaching.

The only trouble was at the time, I didn’t actually have an apple cranberry compote recipe in my personal preserve arsenal. I had jams, sauces, and chutneys, but no compotes.

So, with the demo rapidly approaching, I spend a little time over the weekend working one up. It starts with 4 large apples (peeled, cored, and diced), 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (rinsed and picked over), and 1/2 cup water. You combine those three things in a saucepan, set them over medium-high heat, and simmer them until the cranberries pop and the apple chunks soften.

apple cranberry compote top

Once the fruit is tender and most the water has evaporated, you add 1 cup of granulated sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and the zest and juice of a lemon. You cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the compote looses its watery look and the apples can be easily crushed with the back of your spoon.

When you like the consistency, you funnel it into jars, wipe off the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process the closed jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. When the time is up, pull the pot off the heat, remove the lid, and let the jars cool gradually for a bit. Depending on how much sugar you use, the yield will be between 3-4 half pints.

This is a highly flexible preserve. You could sweet it with honey instead of sugar (use 2/3 cup). To add a bit more flavor from the start, cook the fruit down in apple juice or cider instead of water. Add some freshly grated ginger, or a bit of cloves for an even more autumnal flavor. As long as you don’t add any low acid ingredients like onions or garlic, you can tweak the spices and liquids as much as you like.

However, even the most simple version is quite delicious.

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CSA Cooking: On Using a Giant Head of Curly Endive

escarole

Time for another installment of CSA Cooking, where I write about how I’ve used, prepped, eaten, or preserved items from my monthly Philly Foodworks rolling farm share. Use the code FOODINJARS to get $10 off your first Philly Foodworks order.

I didn’t manage to take a group picture of all that came in my share this month. However, the box was a season-spanning collection of fruits and vegetables. I got sweet potatoes, garlic, a hefty eggplant, a small of kale, a big red bell pepper, a quart of plums, and a giant head of curly endive.

chicken soup

Heating soup leftovers on the second night. The original batch was far larger.

There was so much of the curly endive that it made an appearance in two different dishes. The first was a pot of chicken soup that stretched across four days, two dinners, a breakfast, and a lunch (when it’s available, I do love a warm bowl of soup for breakfast).

The soup was made using my standard technique. I pulled the meat off leftover chicken, piled the bones in a pot, added vegetables, and made stock (this time, I used a pressure cooker, which was amazingly speedy). I sauteed chopped onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, and garlic in some olive oil, added the roughly chopped greens, poured the hot stock over the top, and stirred in the leftover chicken.

Seasoned with salt, pepper, a little Better than Bouillon (to round out the chicken-y flavor), a couple tablespoons of vinegar, and a splash of soy sauce for depth, it was done when the carrots were tender. As with all soups, it was good the first night, but far better the second and third days.

beans and greens

The second curly endive dish was based on one I ate while in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. My friend Cindy lives near an Italian place called Legends of the North Shore that is particularly well-known for their beans and greens (they also sell them out of a food truck). We ordered a small spread from Legends the first night I was in town, and I so loved that dish that I dug around online until I found a recipe that the chef had shared with their local CBS affiliate.

What’s so interesting about this dish is that it doesn’t actually depend on traditional cooking greens they way you might think. Instead, it uses spring mix, chopped romaine, and spinach. Adapting it to my needs, I made my version with the other half of the curly endive, one romaine heart, and the very end of a bag of baby arugula. This is going to be my approach from now on when I have an abundance of salad greens that need to be used, because it is fantastic.

Essentially, you heat a bit more olive oil than feels reasonable and heap your greens into the pan. While they wilt, you mince/press/grate several cloves of garlic, rinse off some white beans (I used a jar of these), and measure out a little grated parmesan or pecorino. Once the greens have wilted, you add the garlic, beans, cheese, and a splash of water or broth. With just a couple stirs, the cheese melts and the liquid in the pan magically transforms into a lush, creamy sauce. Salt and pepper to taste and you’re done.

We ate our beans and greens alongside some scallops, but you could easily turn this into the main event by tossing in some pasta or a bit of cooked and crumbled sausage. I can already tell, this is a dish that is going to be in heavy rotation this winter.

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