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Jar Storage: Sheet Pans and the Space Under the Couch

living room couch

This is my couch. It once belonged to my grandparents and family lore dates it back to around 1960. When I was very young, it was covered in a burnt orange upholstery. Sometime in the mid-eighties, my grandmother had it recovered in the very pink fabric you now see.

under the couch

Some might thing that after 55 years of service, it would be time for a new sofa, but I disagree. I am never getting rid of this couch (though it may well get another upholstery job sometime in the new future). It is impossibly comfortable (it is ideal for napping, sleeping even my 6’4″ husband comfortably), is built like a beast (our Pottery Barn loveseat is falling to pieces after two years. This one has served for a half-century), and best of all, has magical storage space underneath.

sheet of jams

I’ve had boxes of jars and preserves stuffed under this couch for years now, but it was always a haphazard arrangement. It was hard to keep track of what was down there and fishing out the exact box I was looking for was forever an exercise in frustration. A couple times I drove myself crazy looking for jars from a particular batch of chutney, finally discovering they were tucked away in the far corner under the couch.

jars overhead

Then a solution fell in my lap. I ordered a lot of seven old sheet pans from eBay in my on-going search for good photo backdrops (well-worn metal being a prized surface among food bloggers). My original intention was to keep just one or two. However, once they arrived, I started wondering what other role they might be able to serve.

sheets of jars

In a flash of genius, I realized that I could pull all the boxes out from under the couch and replace them with the sheet pans. It would be easier to slide the jars in and out and since I already label my jars on the lid, I’d be able to find the exact jar I was looking for with a single glance.

jars under the couch

And so, I started pulling my various jar storage mechanisms apart. It was one of those projects that felt insane halfway through. I had boxes and jars all over the apartment. I categorized, purged elderly jars, and even found a couple preserves that had lost their seal. My husband made a comment about productive procrastination (I do have a book manuscript due in just six weeks), but endured the days of chaos without complaint.

butters sheet

What I have now is a really workable storage system for half-pint jars (my couch isn’t quite tall enough to accommodate anything larger). They’re sorted into jams, pickles and chutneys, butters and marmalades, and jelly, syrups and whole fruit. While this doesn’t house the entirety of my pantry, it’s a goodly chunk and for that, I am grateful.

Tips to Implement Something Similar

  1. New sheet pans are expensive, but old ones can be had relatively cheaply if you know where to look. I paid $40 for seven on eBay and there are more to be had for similar prices. You can also call your local restaurant supply store. Often they sell new and used gear, and might have a stack of used pans that they’d be willing to part with for less than brand new retail.
  2. One of the reasons this works is that my floors are carpeted. If you have floors made of scratch-prone material, I’d suggest putting some felt pads on the bottom of the pans. These will help them slide and will protect your floors.
  3. Make sure to label the pans. This storage method is going to serve you best if you know where various categories of preserves live. My groupings might not make sense for you, but make sure you create some order within the chaos.
  4. If you don’t have a similarly cooperative couch, consider using this same approach with the space under a bed or dresser.

Now, it’s your turn. What creative approaches do you use to keep your homemade pantry organized and contained?

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Links: Marmalades, Bread Crumbs, and Winners

Engaged in a slightly insane jar reorg project involving sheet pans, my label maker, and the space under my couch.

I hope everyone has had a nice weekend! Mine was focused on work related to the new book and spending a little time with a friend who was in from out of town. In other news, I’ve restarted the Food in Jars newsletter, after letting it sit fallow for most of the winter. I’ll be sending it out twice a month from here on out, so if you want to join in on the fun, sign up here. You can also see the latest edition here. Now, links!

Ecojarz Giveaway

Time to announce the winners of last week’s EcoJarz giveaway! They are #14/Monica, #79/Julie, and #124/Anna B. I’ll have another fun jar accessory giveaway up tomorrow, so check back for that!

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Meyer Lemon Ginger Concentrate

bowl of meyer lemons

I know. This blog has been awfully citrus heavy of late. So much so that it wouldn’t be a stretch to rename things Citrus in Jars (with the occasional fermented vegetable). Yet, here I am again, with more lemons. And not even a project-y marmalade or curd. Just a concentrate.

sliced lemons

Thing is, it’s been something of a brutal winter here in Philadelphia (though not as soul sucking as our friends in New England have had to live through) and I’m still working my way through the citrus recipes for the natural sweeteners book. I just don’t have a whole lot of creativity left. And so I return to the things I know and love.

simmering lemon syrup

And these citrus-based concentrates? I LOVE them because they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to sweeten your fizzy water (I know I suggest this a lot, but as someone who drinks many quart jars of water a day, it makes for a nice occasional treat). They work well in cocktails. And I’ve yet to meet a poundcake that appreciate a few drizzles of flavored syrup.

What’s more, next time you want to make a pitcher of lemonade, you can just pop open a jar, dilute it with water, ice it down, and serve.

grated ginger

I used Meyer lemons in this batch, but if those feel too dear, just use plain old grocery store lemons. It will be a little bit more tart, but you can always temper that by adding the juice of one orange to the mix.

Another place where you might want to make a switch is in sweetener. I used evaporated cane juice, but one could just as easily go with honey. Just use about a third less if you make that swap.

Finally, let’s talk ginger. I grated a huge hunk of ginger on a microplane until I had 1/4 cup of pulp. If the lemon ginger combo isn’t your thing, you could also try some lavender, cardamom, or even a little cayenne if you want a spicy kick. Just strain the syrup through a tightly woven sieve before canning.

finished lemon ginger concentrate

One last thing. If you don’t choose to zest your lemons for a salt blend before squeezing, make sure to heap the into a jar and cover them with white vinegar. Let them steep for a couple of days and then strain out all the spent lemon rinds. They will have given their essence to the vinegar and it will make for a very lovely cleaning fluid. I use it as a countertop spray and it cuts through the grease like you wouldn’t believe.

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Citrus Salt and Makrut/Thai Lime Simple Syrup

mixed salt and zest

I’m at that point of the book writing process where I’ve canned something everyday this week, but I can’t share a single glimpse of it with you. However, I have made a couple simple little things from book testing remains that I thought might merit a peek.

zested oranges

The first is a batch of air dried orange salt. I was working on a recipe for an orangeade concentrate (it’s delicious!) and was juicing oranges four pounds at a time. Wanting to get the most out of my citrus dollar, before I squeezed those oranges dry, I took the time to run them over a microplane to salvage all that flavorful zest.

orange zest

When all was said and done, I had about a 1/2 cup of orange zest (don’t be fooled by the markings on the measuring cup, it wasn’t entirely full). I measured out an equal amount of coarse grey salt because it was what I had. Any coarse or flaky sea salt works beautifully here.

grey salt

I rubbed it all together (my hands smelled like oranges even after a thorough wash), spread it out on a parchment lined baking sheet, and let it sit on my dining room table for a day. I’ve already used it on a warm salad of roasted butternut squash, shallots, pickled cauliflower, and Israeli couscous and I will rub it all over the chicken I plan on roasting on Sunday afternoon. It would also be delicious sprinkled over a pan of warm brownies (now that I’ve written that, I may have to make some brownies).

thai limes

The other thing I made was a little jar of Makrut lime simple syrup. I’m on my second box of Meyer lemons of the season and like the first box, Karen tucked a few fragrant Makrut (or Thai) limes in with my lemons. I didn’t have enough for marmalade, but there was enough to lend flavor to some syrup.

thai lime syrup

This one couldn’t be easier. I combined equal parts sugar and water (a cup of each) in a small saucepan and added the zest and juice of my three little limes. I simmered it for a few minutes and then strained it into a jar (I didn’t want the bits of zest in my finished syrup). I use this one mostly to spice up sparkling water, but if you’re a creative cocktail person, it would make a very nice addition to your bar.

What have you been doing with your citrus lately?

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Rosemary White Bean Soup Starter

six finished jars

Earlier in the week, I promised a post about how to make pressure canned white beans and so here we are. The canning technique is the same as you use for unflavored beans, but by adding a rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper, these beans can either add flavor to a large pot of soup (sausage, kale and white bean, perhaps?) or with just a couple additions, can become the backbone of a simple lunchtime meal.

5 pounds of white beans

When I make these beans, I only fill the jars halfway, so that in addition to getting flavorful beans, I also get a concentrated liquid that can become part of the broth of the soup. If you like that idea, you’ll need approximately 2 1/2 pounds of white beans (I used Great Northern beans here, but you can also use navy or cannellini) to make a canner of load of seven quarts. If you want jars that have more beans and less liquid, you’ll need an additional pound or so.

soaked and drained beans

The day before you want to can, pour the beans into a large stock pot and cover them with at least six inches of water (I made a double batch and filled a 12 quart pot). Let them soak overnight. An hour or so before you want to can, drain the beans of the soaking water and then fill the pot up with fresh, filtered water.

Put the pot on the stove and begin bringing it to a boil. At this point, I also fill and heat my tea kettle, so that I ensure that I will have enough hot water to get to the end of the batch.

quarts in pressure canner

While the beans come to a boil, prep your pressure canner. I use a 16 quart Presto, which holds seven quart jars. Put clean jars in the canner. Fill them up with water so that they don’t float and put about three inches of water into the pot. Put the lid on, but don’t lock it into place and bring the pot to a boil so that the jars are hot when it’s time to fill them.

soup starter additions

As the beans and the canner come to temperature, prepare your flavorings. For these beans, I use a small sprig of fresh rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper (I use a mortar and pestle to roughly crush the peppercorns), a heaping teaspoon of kosher salt, and a big garlic clove for every jar.

in the jar

Once the beans (as the beans boil, they will produce some foam. Just skim this off and discard) and the canner are boiling, it’s time to start building the jars. Remove one jar from the canner and pour the water it contains out into the skin (you don’t want this water in the canner, because you only need about three inches to safely pressure can). Put the rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper into the bottom of the drained jar.

scant 2 cups of beans

Scoop out a scant two cups of the hot beans. I have found that the best way to do this is to use a slotted spoon to portion the beans into a measuring cup. We’ll go back for the liquid in just a minute.

beans in the jar

Funnel the beans into the jar. When I make these beans as a soup starter, I don’t want the jar to be more than half full of beans, because again, I want to capture some bean broth.

beans and broth

Return to your stock pot of beans and dip the measuring cup in for the bean liquid. You’ll need 3 to 3 1/2 cups of liquid for each jar. You want to fill to the base of the neck, so that you have about an inch of headspace. It’s far more than you leave when you’re working with water bath canning, but trust me, all will be well. If you start to run low on bean liquid, top off the pot with the hot water from your kettle.

in the pressure canner

Once the jar is full, stir the contents with a wooden or plastic chopstick to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the jar rim, apply a new lid and a ring (it doesn’t need to be new). Remember that the pressure inside the canner is such that it can often shake loose the ring, so tighten it down more aggressively than you would if you were canning in a boiling water bath.

at pressure

Once all the jars are full, put the lid on the pressure canner and lock it into place. Bring the pot to a boil and let it vent for approximately 15 minutes. You do this by running the pot without the pressure regulator in place. That’s the little black and metal hat that sits atop the vent shaft.

The reason for this is that a canner that has been properly relieved of its oxygen through venting can reach a higher temperature than one that is full of oxygen. The higher the temperature, the more effectively the canner will kill any botulism spores present.

three finished jars

Once the canner is properly vented, apply the pressure regulator and bring up to pressure. If you live at 1,000 feet elevation or below (as I do), you bring the pot up to 11 pounds of pressure. If you live at higher elevations, you need to increase your pressure (find those exact elevation adjustments here).

Once the canner reaches the appropriate pressure, start your timer. Because we’re canning quarts, these beans need to process for 90 minutes (if you opt for pints, they need 75 minutes). Make sure to check the pressure gauge often to ensure that you’re at the proper pressure levels. If your pressure drops below the required level, you have to bring the pot back up to pressure and restart your timer.

finished beans close

When your time is up, turn the heat off underneath the pot and let it cool. Don’t try to rush the cooling process because that can do damage to the finished product. Once the pot has depressurized, you can remove the lid and place the jars on a folded kitchen towel to continue to cool and seal.

My favorite way to turn these beans into a basic lunchtime soup is this. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil, salt it moderately, and cook a handful of small pasta (like ditalini or orzo) in it until just al dente. Pour the beans and liquid into another saucepan and using a slotted spoon, transfer the pasta to the beans. The ladle in the pasta water until you have a nice, broth. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. If you want a little green vegetable, stir in some ribboned baby spinach at the very end of cooking.

To serve, ladle the soup out into bowls. Top with a drizzle of tasty olive oil and a little grated Parmesan. It is an easy, filling, healthy, and cheap!

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Giveaway: ToGoJar Lid and Connector

to go jar single

This week, I’m giving away three ToGoJar lids. These nifty jar lids/connectors allow you to screw together two jars. This is one of those products that I wish has been around when I was packing my lunch up into jars each morning (a jar of soup with an accompanying stash of crackers leaps to mind as a good use for these).

to go jar with lid

The lids don’t themselves provide a liquid tight seal, but they’re designed so that you can settle a regular jar lid into the top, which when well-tightened, will protect from most leakage.

to go jar stack

Right now, these lids are available only through a Kickstarter campaign (it wraps up in nine days), so if this is something you’d find useful, make sure to hop over there and support them (getting some lids in the process).

I have a three of the ToGoJars to share with you guys. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share your favorite holiday treat. Linzer cookie? Gingerbread? Homemade caramels? I have handmade treats on the brain and I want to hear about yours.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, December 13, 2014. The winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog by Sunday, December 14, 2014.
  3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.

Disclosure: JarToGo sent me a bunch of these lids for review and giveaway. I am keeping two and giving the other three away. They did not provide any compensation.