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April Sponsors: Cuppow, Fillmore Container, EcoJarz, MightyNest, and Mason Jar Lifestyle

Happy April, friends and readers! It’s the start of the month and so is time to thank the businesses that help make this site possible. Please do show them your appreciation for their support with your time and attention!

In the top spot are our friends at Cuppow. They are the creators of the original mason jar travel mug topper and the BNTO, a small plastic cup that transforms a canning jar into a snack or lunch box. Parents and kids love their EIO set, with its grippy silicone sleeve and a lid that makes for easy sipping. Look for a fun promotion featuring their gear later this month.

Lancaster, PA-based and family-owned Fillmore Container are next! They sell all manner of canning jars, lids, and other preservation gear. As always, their blog is an amazing resource for all things jar-related. They’re the host of my giveaway this week. Make sure to enter to win some fabulous Pint & Half jars!

Our friends over at EcoJarz on board again this month. They make an array of products designed to fit on top of mason jars, including cheese graters, coffee brewers, and stainless steel storage lids. Make sure to follow them on social, because they host a weekly EcoJarz Fan Pic of the Week giveaway!

Mason Jar Lifestyle is a one-stop shopping site for all the jar lovers out there. They sell all manner of mason jar accessories and adaptors. If you’re in the market for lids, straws, sprouting lids, and cozies to transform your mason jars into travel mugs, make sure to check them out!

MightyNest is an amazing resource for non-toxic, natural, and organic products for homes and families. I’m a big fan of the MightyFix, their monthly product subscription program. Right now, you can get a year’s subscription to the MightyFix for just $99 (it regularly costs $10 a month, so that’s a great deal).

If your company or small business is interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find more details here. I offer discounts for multiple month purchases and am always happy to work with your budget. Leave a comment on this post or drop me a note to learn more!

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Pantry Management: Get Yours in Shape for the Upcoming Season

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to share her tale of a much-needed pantry clean-out. If you need inspiration to do the same, read on!

While I don’t get around to doing it nearly often enough, I’m a big proponent of spending a weekend afternoon (or a whole day if you’ve got the time and the patience) to deep cleaning and organizing in your living space.

It could be your bedroom, the fridge, your kitchen cabinets, or whatever dusty, jumbled, or otherwise messy space slowly scrapes away at your soul every time you walk by it without a plan to put things in order.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy for me to make and ignore messes until I just can’t any more and they’re driving me crazy.

My canning pantry is a hall closet just outside the large front room that serves as the kitchen, dining room, living room, and occasional laundry room of my small two-bedroom apartment. (It’s also nearly impossible to photograph because of the layout, so you’ll be spared “before” and “after” photos.) In addition to a plastic utility shelving unit packed with full and empty jars, it has to be home to extra folding chairs, a giant roll of kraft paper, our bulk stashes of toilet paper and paper towels, my boyfriend’s ancient projector screen, our cooler, and our vacuum.

Lately it has also been home to a substantial Red Bull mini-fridge that I got from a friend, intending to make cheese in it. (Suffice it to say that it’s done nothing but sit there since it was given to me nearly a few years ago.) The space was getting so packed that empty jars were falling off of surfaces and it was impossible to find important ingredients I’d put up like cans of tomato puree.

I also hadn’t done a serious purge of items I’d canned in years — jars of failed experiments or so-so recipes from 2013 kept popping up and getting shoved to the back of the shelf again while I looked for the last jar of tomatillo sauce or an empty eight-ounce jar for a recipe.

And, since I share my home with furry friends and the closet was too crowded to even sweep without pulling everything out of it, the closet was collecting serious tumbleweeds of cat hair. I couldn’t take it any more.

As gross as I let things get, the good news is that it only took me about two hours — between finishing an article on deadline and heading off to work an evening event — for me to do a pretty thorough job on the canning closet. I pulled everything out, organized it, decided what to keep and what to toss, swept and dusted and wiped, and put things back neatly.

I also found some forgotten, er, treats hidden back there. For the first time, I found a jar whose lid had corroded — a half-gallon jar full of clementine vinegar from months ago had eaten away at the lid from the inside. The peels and vinegar turned totally brown, and the lid crumbled away when I touched it.

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Links: Asparagus Tarts, Potluck Nation, and Winners

Spring tiptoed in this morning at 6:28 am. While I know intellectually that it’s a mostly arbitrary dividing line, I can’t help but imagine that the air smells sweeter and that the quality of the light is warmer and more substantial. While I dream about local strawberries and asparagus (still weeks away), some links.

My friend Kristin has launched a lovely movement called Potluck Nation. She’s the author of the book Modern Potluck and is hoping to use the power of the potluck to bring people together heal some of what’s been fractured in this country over the recent months and years. As an avowed lover of potlucks myself, I am fully on board and hope to host a few potlucks of my own (I plan on making the asparagus tart pictured above. It’s one I developed for a column I wrote many moons ago. I’ve reprinted the recipe below). Perhaps some of you will be inspired to do the same!

Here’s the winner of the Ball Canning giveaway I hosted last week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Mastery Challenge: Sour Cherry Elderflower Jelly, Made Two Ways

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops by today to share her experience making jelly using both Pomona’s Pectin and homemade gooseberry pectin. Read on for her tale of experimentation!

Ah, jelly month. It’s time for me to reckon with pectin.

If I recall correctly, this Mastery Challenge is only my second time making jelly. The first was a few years ago when I worked as the buyer for an all-local foods store here in Philly, Fair Food Farmstand. We got some Japanese knotweed in early April, and I set to work making a tart, pale-pink jelly out of this invasive plant as a way to preserve it. But the set was unappealing and too firm for me, so I gave the still-sealed jars that were left to a friend excited about foraged foods.

For every time I’ve made jam or other preserves with pectin, I can count a time when set didn’t occur or occurred too well. So in recent years, I’ve avoided it, eschewing recipes using pectin for the whole-fruit preserves and confitures found in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, one of a select number of preserving books I own. These fruit preserves manage to be thick and spoonable, and I love them — but it was time to tackle working with pectin.

When it came time to consider this month’s challenge, I had a freezer full of fruit to work with (and thanks to the time I spent organizing my chest freezer last month, I knew exactly how much and where it all was). There were three gallon bags of West Philly-grown sour cherries in there that needed to become something great — so I pulled out two of them to thaw in the fridge. I’d also use the dregs of a bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, since those flavors go so well together.

And, since I like to do things the hard way sometimes, I searched online for homemade pectin alternatives to the packaged stuff that had vexed me in the past. Mrs. Wheelbarrow came through yet again, this time with a post about how to make and use pectin from green gooseberries — a bag of which, harvested from my community garden two summers before, also languished in my freezer.

Roughly a quart of gooseberries, simmered with water, strained through a jelly bag, and cooked down again until the pectin formed a mass that could be picked up with a fork when dropped into alcohol, yielded me two four-ounce jars, one to use now and one to stash away for later.

Along with an unopened box of Pomona’s Pectin that had been in my pantry for a couple years — according to the manufacturer, it will last indefinitely if stored cool and dry — I had what I needed to find out (a) if I could be trusted to make something tasty from the packaged stuff and (b) if my woo-woo homemade method could be used for jelly made with low-pectin fruit.

The results? Yes, surprisingly, and sort of!

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How to Make Tart Red Cherry Jelly

Itching to make cherry jelly but don’t want to wait months? Try making a small batch of low sugar Tart Red Cherry Jelly using a bottle of juice from the store!

Last Thursday night, I did an hour-long live broadcast on Facebook Live. A bunch of you tuned in, I showed you how to make Tart Red Cherry Jelly using store bought juice, we talked about the various ways to make shrubs, and I answered a whole bunch of questions.

During the broadcast, I promised to post the recipe I used to make the jelly. It’s taken me a little longer than anticipated, but here it is. I demonstrated how to do it using a bottle of tart cherry juice from Trader Joe’s, but you can use any bottle of 100% fruit juice that you’d like. In the past, I’ve done this with Concord grape juice and blueberry juice, both to good effect.

This recipe also works with honey. If you go in that direction, reduce the amount by approximately one-third. Oh, and before you put the jelly into jars, taste it. Some batches of juice are sweeter than others, and so occasionally a bit of fresh lemon juice is needed to help balance the flavors.

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Jellies and Shrubs for the March Mastery Challenge

We’re five days into March, and so it’s high time to start digging into this month’s challenge (I’ve been at a conference for the last couple days, which accounts for the delay). We’re going to be focusing in on both jelly and shrubs this time around.

The reason for the double topics is that jelly making has much in common with marmalade making. For those of you who wearied of achieving set during January’s challenge, you have another option. What’s more, shrubs are fun.

What is Jelly?

There are a lot of preserves that get called jelly, but for the purposes of this challenge, we’re defining it as a sweet or savory preserve that is made primarily with a flavorful liquid like fruit juice, vinegar, or wine (other spirits do sometimes come into play with jellies as well). Fruit jellies should be clear and without any bits or pieces of fruit or fruit pulp. Things like pepper jellies can include bits of pepper material. Jellies should be well-set enough to be spread on toast without dripping down your hand.

There are several ways to go about getting your jelly to set up.

High Pectin Fruits – Some fruits are so naturally high in pectin that you don’t need to add commercial pectin to achieve set (a good example is the red currant jelly I wrote about last summer). Those jellies just need enough sugar to help elevate the temperature to reach the set point (to read more about why sugar aids in set, read this). Occasionally, people will also extract pectin from these high pectin fruits to use in combination with lower pectin fruits.

Commercial Pectin – Other fruits don’t have a ton of natural pectin and require additional pectin in order to set up. These days, my go-to pectins are the Classic Ball Flex Pectin (for higher sugar batches) and Pomona’s Pectin (for lower sugar and alternative sweeteners).

Reduction – Some fruit juices have the ability to set up into jelly with no more than a nice, long boil. Chief among these juices are apple cider. When I first made this apple cider syrup, I accidentally cooked it to 220F and it set up into a nice, spreadable preserve.

The world of jellies really broad, but the thing that unifies them is the fact that they have a solidly spreadable set. If you didn’t read this post on using the plate test to check for set back in January, I recommend you give it a look now.

Here are some jelly recipes to help get you started. Of course, this is just a starting place. There’s a world of jelly recipes out there in books and online for you to choose from.

What is a Shrub?

I’ve been smitten with shrubs since I made my first one back in 2011. Shrubs are a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Left to sit for a few days (or even longer), they develop a deep, sweet-tart flavor that is a wonderful addition to a glass of sparkling water, a batch of salad dressing, a fancy homemade cocktail, a marinade for meat or vegetables, or to a pan sauce.

There is better writer on the topic of shrubs than Michael Dietsch. He started in on the topic back in 2011 with this post on Serious Eats and has subsequently written a whole book about them. Emily Han‘s book, Wild Drinks and Cocktails, is also contains a lot of tasty shrubs.

I’ve got four shrub recipes here on the blog and there are far more out there online. However, if you remember the essential ratio of one part sugar, one part vinegar, and a generous handful of fruit of some kind, you’ll be good.

As always, I’ll be sharing more recipes, tips and tricks around the topic of jellies and shrubs on the blog all month long. The deadline to submit your project to be counted in the final tally is Wednesday, March 29 (I’ll put the form up soon).

I’m also doing a Facebook Live session on the topic on Thursday, March 9 at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific. Make sure to tune in!

 

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