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April Can Jam: Herbs!

Wedding favors

T.S. Elliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month.” I believe him to be correct, particularly when it comes to seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s the month in which we (particularly the more northerly ones of us) plant and hope, dreaming of asparagus, strawberries, peaches and corn, but without any measurable (or at least, edible) yield.

And so, as the Tigress and I considered our April Can Jam options, we settled on herbs as the month’s ingredient. They’re widely available even in this time of seasonal anticipation, work in both sweet and savory applications and will be particularly terrific for those of you in warmer climates who already have some lovely fruits and spring vegetables to play with.

Do remember that whatever you make has to be suitable for water bath processing. This means no infused oils or pestos, as they can’t be processed and have a fairly limited refrigerator life.

April posts must go live between Sunday, April 18th and midnight on Friday, April 23rd.

I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

Comments { 30 }

Season to Taste

pickles waiting for processing

Earlier today, I got an email from a reader. After many months of anticipation, she had finally opened a jar of garlic dill pickles she made last summer, using the recipe I posted in August. Only they were far, far too spicy for her. She was afraid that she was going to have to throw out the entire batch.

Upon reading her email, I felt terrible. I never post a recipe that I haven’t tried, tested and truly appreciated. So to hear that someone has made something according to my instructions, only to find it inedible, deflates me. It also got me thinking about the way I approach the creation of the recipe. I write for my taste buds, using the ingredients I have in my kitchen. Thing is, no two palates are exactly alike, so there’s no absolute guarantee that what worked for me will be as delicious for another.

As we head into another canning season (I know so many of you are planning your gardens and signing up for CSA shares with your summer canning in mind), I’d like to encourage a bit more herb and spice exploration. This doesn’t mean that I endorse wild experimentation or grand recipe deviations, as we all know that to keep our canned goods safe, it’s important to keep our acid and sugar levels steady and adhere to the basics of the recipe.

But I do want you to know that it’s okay to gently tweak the spices. If you know that you can’t handle a great deal of heat in your food, please, please reduce the amount of chili or cayenne that the recipe calls for. If you’re a cinnamon fiend, feel free to increase the amount you include in your blueberry jam. Also, keep in mind that a small amount of spice can increase in flavor over time, so if you’re making something in July that you don’t plan on eating until February or March, adjust accordingly. Most of all, remember that you’re making those pickles or that chutney for you, and so the way it tastes should always, always please you.

Additionally, get to know your particular spice rack (they are all different). Sniff and taste your way through the bottles, making sure that you’re familiar with their potency. Toss the things that smell like dirt or nothing at all and replenish the stash before embarking on a big cooking project.

Going forward, I am going to try to write my recipes with this “season to taste” mindset. I will continue to tell you what I did, but I will also include notes at recipe points where variation and adjustments are okay. Because really and truly, my goal here is to show you all that canning is accessible and enjoyable. And if you end up with something you can’t eat, that defeats me.

Comments { 24 }

Canned Clementines: A Report

canned clementines

Last week, when I wrote about my recent experience canning clementines, a number of people (both in person and in the comments) asked about how well they stored and tasted. In the interest of science (and your ability to accurately stock your pantries), I cracked open one of my jars today, to eat with my lunch and see how well the clementines were storing.

opening clementines

The one thing that’s decidedly different about my canned clementines, when compared to the commercially canned ones, is that I didn’t remove the segment membranes. In fact, when I first pondered this project, I briefly considered hand-peeling each clementine sliver, in an attempt to make them as authentic as possible. But being that I’m essentially a lazy canner, I quickly abandoned that idea.

While looking into how the commercial guys do it, I discovered that they soak their mandarins in a lye solution, which eats the membranes away. Makes you think twice about buying those little cans, doesn’t it?

spooning clementines

So, how did they taste? They were good. They were juicy and flavorful. As one would expect, they had that slight cooked fruit taste that is the by-product of the boiling water bath, but with none of that metallic tang that comes with commercially canned fruit. They weren’t excessively sweet (since I used the lightest syrup possible). While eating, I was reminded of how important it is to use the best and most freshest ingredients possible when canning, as I could absolutely tell the different between a clementine segment that had come off a piece of fruit that was zingy with life and one that was a bit tired.

clementines and cottage cheese

All in all, I’m really pleased with my canned clementines. I plan on doing at least one more batch before the season is over. Next time, I think I’ll flavor the syrup with a bit of ginger and I’ll separate each segment, as opposed to canning them in halves and quarters (the texture of the individual segments was just slightly better than the fruit canned in clinging halves).

I’m delighted to have discovered a way to have my favorite fruit and cottage cheese lunch, without making too much waste or eating fruit that once took a bath in a pot of lye.

Comments { 27 }

Canned Clementines for the Can Jam

Dear friends, I have an update on this recipe and it’s a bummer. I don’t recommend that you can clementines in this fashion. I was all excited about being able to can clementine segments, but I found that when they sat on the shelf for a while, the membrane imbued both the fruit and the syrup with an impossibly bitter flavor. I’m leaving the post up, so that there’s both background and a helpful warning. 

bowl of clementines

Around the time I hit the fourth grade, I felt certain I’d eaten enough peanut butter sandwiches to last me a lifetime. This was in the days before peanut allergies ran amok and no one could ever imagine a lunchroom in which peanut products would be banned. However, peanut butter and honey on nutty whole grain bread was my mother’s lunchbox staple, so when I announced my resistance to her near-daily offering, she wasn’t sure what else to pack for my lunch (oh, I long for the days when my midday meal was someone else’s worry).

colander of clementines

Happily, we quickly found a couple new items that satisfied my restless palate. For the next three years, I took two little plastic containers to school with me every day in my lunch sack (until I decided that it was time to move onto a new lunch item). They were filled with either vanilla yogurt and maple-sweetened granola (kept separate to prevent soggy oats) or cottage cheese and canned mandarin oranges.

clementine peels

To this day, I still regularly eat both those combinations (sometimes I add a dollop of jam to the yogurt and granola combo, if I’m feeling particularly indulgent that day) and during college, I returned to peanut butter with a hunger I’ve yet to satisfy.

As I pondered recipe options for the Can Jam, the idea struck that I could take a stab at canning my own mandarins instead of opening one of those squat, 9-ounce cans once a week (one of the problems with purchasing conventionally canned fruit at the grocery store is that you then have to transfer the leftover fruit to a different container. When you can it yourself, you can just screw the lid back on and pop it in the fridge).

peeled clementines

I learned a couple things about myself as I stood in my kitchen last night and peeled five pounds of clementines. The first is that despite being right-handed, I’m only able to peel using my left hand. Second was that I have a number of microscopic cuts on the tips of my fingers and that though it’s not quite as acidic as lemon juice, clementine juice is also quite stingy.

pre-processed clementines

For this project, I adapted the recipe for canning orange segments in So Easy to Preserve (my personal canning bible) and was happy to discover that it was one of my easier canning projects to date (possible to undertake at 9 p.m. at night without compromising my 11:30 bedtime). I use the lightest syrup possible, just 3/4 cup of sugar to 6 cups of water, to keep the fruit as virtuous as I could.

I had initially planned to can them whole, but quickly found that if I wanted to maximize my jar space, I needed to pack them in halves and quarters (clementine bits are very springy, so it was possible to cram quite a few into each jar).

canned clementines

After filled the jars with my light syrup, I used a chopstick to get the air bubbles out, wiped the rims, applied the lids and screwed on the rings. I processed the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (remember that you don’t start tracking the time until the water returns to a boil). The jars did siphon a bit of syrup out into the water as they processed, but that behavior is normal with whole canned fruit.

I haven’t broken into one of the jars yet. I think I’ll wait until there aren’t so many clementines in the markets so that I can treat myself to a burst of lovely citrus when it’s mealy, sad or just generally unavailable. I canned this batch straight, without any additional flavors. However, I do think I might do another batch while clementines are in season and pop a cinnamon stick or a star anise into the jars (oh! or maybe a bit of fennel seed).

Happy Can Jam!

Preserving Resolutions

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Happy New Year, all you canners and jar lovers!I hope you’ve all had a lovely holiday season and that you were on the receiving end of a few lovely edibles in jars (I got two separate jars of peach jam, one spicy and the other scented with rosemary. I’m looking forward to opening them both in due time).

It’s that time of year when bloggers all across the nation announce the ways in which they’re going to grab hold of the shiny, fresh new year and achieve! great! things! I’ve written up a few more personal resolutions over on my other blog but I figured this blog needed a few goals of its own. So here we go…

1. Offer up one new recipe a week. Be it a jam, pickle, preserve, chutney or more, it’s going to be a wonderful year of delicious foods in jars.

2. Participate (without fail) in the Tigress Can Jam. I admit, this is more of a pleasure than a hardship, but still, I wanted to publicly declare my participation.

3. Make sure to eat and enjoy all the wonderful things I put into jars last summer and fall. I sometimes get so wrapped up in the pleasure of having those colorful jars tucked away, that I forget that I need to be pulling them back out and enjoying them. To that end, I promise to do a better job of sharing how I integrate all those preserves into my cooking routine.

4. Teach more classes. Well-meaning friends often ask me why I don’t get into the business of selling my jams and pickles. My reason, I tell them, is that I don’t want to become a producer of artisanal foods (it’s a wonderful thing for lots of people, it’s just not for me). My goal is to teach people how to make all these lovely things for themselves, so that more and more folks can have a hand in the things they eat on a daily basis. It’s not about paying $8 for a jar of dilly beans, it’s about making a dozen jars for that price and then feeling a deep sense of accomplishment for having produced something delicious and tangible.

I already have two classes on the books for 2010. The first is a Homemade Condiments Class on January 16 and the second is a Marmalade Class on February 13. Both are at Foster’s Homewares (their new location, at 33 N. 3rd Street). However, I’m up for more. If you want me to come and teach a class in your area this spring or summer, let’s talk. All I need is a venue (community centers and churches/synagogues often have usable spaces) and enough people to cover the cost of time/travel/supplies. If you’re interested setting something up for the coming year, shoot me an email at foodinjars@gmail.com.

Since we’re talking preserving goals, I’d love to hear what the rest of you are planning for 2010!

Comments { 16 }

A Gift Guide for Canners (+ Giveaway)

canning gift guide

I’ve been talking a lot lately about what you preservers out there can put in jars and gift to your friends and loved ones. However, I think that you all also deserve a few treats under the tree or menorah*. Here’s are a few of my favorite canning helpers, from cookbooks, to the best floursack towels out there, to my very favorite 2-quart measuring cup. My thought is that you can send a link to this post to a generous spouse, parent or best friend with a note that says, “I’d like number 2, please!”

Additionally, as my way of saying thank you to all of you who keep coming back, leaving comments and generally making the process of writing this blog a joy, I’m going to be giving away one of those 2-quart measuring cups. Mine’s an older model, but I find that I use this vessel more than any other bowl in my kitchen. This giveaway will be open for entry until Saturday, December 12th at 11:59 p.m. Just leave a comment to enter (one entry per person, winner to be picked via the random number generator).

Starting from the top left corner…

1. Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition This is one of the best canning books out there and is great for beginners, as it contains all the instruction you need to get started canning.

2. A Stainless Steel Jar Funnel. I like the metal ones better than plastic. Looks better and is sturdier in the long run.

3. Weck Canning Jars. These European jars are beautiful and functional. Extra thoughtful gift givers will also pick up a set of plastic snap-on lids, which turns these into the best leftover vessels I know.

4. A Set of Graduated Measuring Scoops. I prefer using a 1-cup measure like the one pictured when filling jars with hot jam. It gives greater control than a ladle does, and is the exact right amount for a half pint jar. The rest of the measuring cups are useful too.

5. Floursack Towels. Canning can be messy business so it’s always good to have a stack of clean towels on hand. I like these white floursack towels, as they are absorbent, fairly lintless and can be bleached clean when you’re all done cooking.

6. Ball Utensil Kit. This is an easy way to get a new canner started, or to help an experienced preserver refresh their collection of tools (that jar lifter takes a beating after years of use).

7. My Beloved 2-Quart Measuring Cup. I think I’ve said enough about this item. I just love it.

8. A Good, Sharp Knife. I’m a big fan of my Global, but any sturdy, sharp knife will do. When you’re processing a bushel or two of fruit, you want to use the best tool for the job.

9. A Roomy Stock Pot. Instead of buying a pot designed expressly for canning, invest in a good stock pot. That way, it can also work as your pasta or soup pot. But slip a rack in the bottom and voila, it’s a canning pot.

10. Wide Mouth Half-Pint Jars. I adore these squat, easy to fill jars. For some reason, they’ve become impossible to find in stores (I often order a couple dozen and keep them stashed under my couch, for when they’re the only jar that will do).

What are your favorite canning tools? What would you like to see under the tree?

*Yes, I do know that Hanukkah gifts don’t go under the menorah.