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April Can Jam: Rosemary Rhubarb Jam


Despite having known about the April Can Jam challenge for more than a month (I helped pick the topic, after all), I still waited until the VERY last minute to make my jam. What can I say, I’m motivated by deadlines (although I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a bit of daylight with which to take my photos).

rhubarb stalks

Happily, all the time I invested in delaying the actual making paid off, because when I finally went to the kitchen, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Rhubarb. Rosemary. Sugar. A bit of lemon. Oh yes.

I’ve been smitten with the flavor of rosemary since I was in high school. We had several large bushes in our front yard and I would often grasp one of the fragrant fronds as I walked down the driveway on my way out of the house, to carry the scent with me. I’ve often wished that I had followed the lead of our neighbor, who would snip an armful to float in her bathwater.

squeezing lemon

I know that a lot of people struggled with this particular challenge, because it was at once very specific and yet totally open. However, I’ve loved seeing all the ways that people have applied herbs to their pickles and preserves. I do hope this will lead to further herbal experimentation (pure thoughts, kids) as we move into the heart of the canning season.

jarred jam

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A DIY Canning Pot

Nintendo Enthusiast swag

About two years ago, out of the blue I got an email, asking me if I was interested in becoming a “Nintendo Enthusiast.” As someone who harbored a fairly significant Game Boy addiction back in the day, I said yes. Additionally, when a very earnest stranger offers to throw a party and give you and a bunch of your friends Nintendo DS Lites, you say okay.

new stock pot

Part of the deal has also been that they occasionally send me games to try out, which has been a decidedly fun perk. Once in a while, they also send a thematic gift along with game. Well, last week, I got a box that absolutely blew my mind. They’re trying to build a little buzz about the new America’s Test Kitchen game (it’s quite fun!), so along with the game, they sent a really nice bamboo cutting board, goggles for chopping onions, a bright red apron and an amazing 12 quart stock pot (it’s the this one, if you’re curious).

stock pot becomes a canning pot

Of course, being me, the minute I saw the pot, I thought, “canning!” Most of the time when processing pint or smaller jars, I use my trusty Ikea stock pot (I am just too darn lazy to get my graniteware canning pot out of the closet). However, if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, it’s about an inch shorter than ideal (I get a lot of boiling over during processing). This pot has a couple of inches and two quarts on that pot. I am totally thrilled.

It’s easy to turn a regular stock pot into one good for processing. As long as it’s deep enough, you’ve just got to add a rack of some kind so as to lift the jars off the bottom of the pot. I use the rack that came with my Presto pressure cooker, however any shallow rack that fits into the pot will do (I also have an old cooling rack that works).

Now that I’ve made my canning pot confessions, I’d love to hear a little bit about the processing pot set-ups that the rest of you guys use. Do you have a classic graniteware pot? Are you using your great-aunt’s old gear? Or are you still in the market for just the right situation? Let me know!

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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.

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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.

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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!