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Seattle Pictures + Raspberry Jam

outdoor kitchen

A couple of months ago, based solely on a handful of tweets and a couple of emails, I logged onto Travelocity and bought a plane ticket to Seattle in order to spend some time with a number of people upon whom I’d never before laid eyes. This is a scenario that might give lots of folks pause, but I felt completely at ease, because I was going to be part of the Canvolution.

I landed late on Friday night and a friend of more than ten years picked me up. She took me home with her and tucked me into a wonderfully cushy, comfortable bed. The next morning, she dropped me off in a KFC parking lot, across from the U District farmers market, where I met up with Tea and ogled produce that I could not have (I did buy a wreath of garlic to bring home). The rest of the day went by in a blur of ferry rides, more farmers market shopping (where I ate two incredible figs) and lots and lots of canning, feasting and laughter.

Now, looking back on the hours I spent last weekend with Tea, Viv, Shauna, Laura, Kim, Kimberly, Jeanne and others, I am so totally grateful and delighted that I bought a plane ticket on impulsive. Check the slide show below for more pictures from the weekend.

The only problem I had with my trip out to Seattle was the fact that I couldn’t really bring any of the food we made back with me (I didn’t want to take the risk that the TSA would categorize my homemade jam as a liquid and confiscate it). I did leave the canning party with a couple of jars, but I left them with my parents to bring when the come out for the wedding in a few weeks. So, when I got back home, I was jonesing for a canning project or two. So I canned plums in a honey syrup and made raspberry jam.

raspberries

This was actually the first batch of raspberry jam I’ve ever made. I’ve always looked at raspberries as being too precious to turn into jam. I believe they are far better eaten out of hand, until your fingers are stained bright red and your belly aches. However, the raspberries were so abundant in the field that I made myself half-sick from overindulgence before I even got home. I couldn’t bear the idea of eating another berry, but the 2 1/2 pounds needed to be used. So jam it was.

I made this batch using weight measures as opposed to cups, because my scale was on the counter and it seemed easier. If you don’t have a scale, I’m under the impression I used approximately 8 cups of fairly well-packed berries. Additionally, unlike my blackberry jam, I did not seed this batch. I look at the seeds in raspberry jam as being part of its charm so I left them in. However, if you’re a seed hater, feel free to seed (check out the instructions in the blackberry jam post).

raspberry jam

And, since I like to share, I have one half pint of this amazing, jewel-like jam to giveaway. Leave a comment before Tuesday, September 8th at 11:59 p.m.

Now, recipe time…

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Blackberry Winner + Plums in Honey

italian plums

I had such a wonderful time over the weekend in Seattle. I met so many amazing people, reunited with a dear old friend, taught a really fun canning class and saw my parents for the first time in nearly nine months. I have bunches of pictures from the weekend, and so expect a post in the next couple of days that will feature those photos, along with my thoughts about the first Canning Across American weekend (preview: it was a rousing success and I can’t wait for next year).

Before I start talking about plums, there’s a bit of giveaway business to wrap up. The blackberry jam goes to lucky number 13, which is the comment left by Linus (who is a web developer and pickle maker – nice combo). He also seems to be Philly-based, which means that I get to skip the post office this time around and see if I can’t hand deliver this particular jar.

Last week, before I left town, I made tentative plans to meet up with the Philadelphia half of Doris and Jilly Cook to take a Mood’s Farm field trip just a couple of hours after I returned from the trip. My parents thought this plan crazy, assuming I’d need the rest of the day to recover from the red-eye flight. Thanks to my exhaustion and an innate ability to sleep just about anywhere, I landed feeling fairly refreshed and ready to take on an afternoon of fruit picking.

whole plums in jars

The sheer abundance at the farmstand merely hinted at the bounty we’d encounter in the fields. The peach trees were hanging heavy with fruit and the raspberry canes were covered in the largest, most delicious berries I’ve met in about twenty years. We had plans to pick blackberries as well, but mid-picking decided that our containers would be better used for the raspberries.

When we headed back to the city, the station wagon carried nearly 100 pounds of fruits and vegetables. My personal haul included 2 1/2 pounds of raspberries (at $3.75 a pound, they were by far the most expensive item I’ve ever gotten at Mood’s), nearly 20 pounds of rosy peaches, two quarts of Gala apples (those are just for eating, I’ll get some fresh Granny Smith’s later in the season for apple sauce and butter) and four quarts each of Bartlett pears (for butter), Seckel pears (for canning whole and pickling) and Italian plums.

plums in jars with syrup

I haven’t tackled the pears yet, but last night I turned the raspberries into jam (stay tuned, I’ll have that recipe and giveaway up later in the week) and I canned four quarts of the plums in a honey syrup. Canning whole fruit like this couldn’t be easier, because beyond washing, the fruit needs no prepping (some recipes recommend piercing the skin with a sharp fork several times. I skipped it and the skins only barely cracked). You simply pack the raw, whole fruit as tightly as you can into your cleaned jars, pour the syrup in to cover, shake out the air bubbles and process. I tucked a cinnamon stick into each jar, but that’s as fancy as I got. The quarts process for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath and then you’re done.

So, if you have a glut of plums, this is a great way to handle them quickly and easily. When winter comes, you can eat them whole with yogurt or ice cream, make a cobbler with them, or even stew them down further and eat them over oatmeal. So, so good. Recipe after the jump.

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Blackberry Jam

blackberries in field

People in the Pacific Northwest take wild blackberries for granted. In fact, they’re something of a nuisance, lining highways and filling empty lots (my dad once had to rent a backhoe in order to clear the brambles from the lower half of our yard). In August, it’s easy to freely pick gallons of blackberries (you may sacrifice a bit of skin in the process – wild blackberries have very sharp thorns) at local parks, nature reserves and backyards. Just make sure to watch where you’re picking, last summer my parents got scolded after accidentally wandering onto someone’s property while picking berries at the very furthest most point of a dead end road.

blackberries in strainer

Out here in the Mid-Atlantic area of the country, blackberries are a little harder to come by. In fact, I’ve yet to find any wild fruit growing here in Philadelphia. However, I’m lucky to have a few good u-pick farms in the area. They’re not free, but they’re pretty cheap (two weekends ago, I paid $1.10 a pound) and when it comes to blackberries, the cultivated patches come with far fewer thorns than the wild ones.

mashing berries

Blackberry jam is one of my mom’s specialties, so this recipe is more hers than mine. She’s the one who taught me to mash the berries through a strainer to remove the seeds before turning them into jam (it’s a necessity with wild berries, as they tend to be seedier than cultivated berries. If you have more civilized berries, the deseeding process is optional). She’s also the one who showed me how wonderful a smear of blackberry jam can be on a slice of peanut butter toast mid-February.

blackberry pulp into pot

And, because I like to share my bounty, I do have a half pint of this luscious jam to give away. It’s a deep, deep purple color, is almost entirely seedless and is particularly amazing on pancakes (I had friends over for brunch the day after I made the batch and we couldn’t believe how perfect it was in place of maple syrup). Leave a comment by Monday, August 31st at 11:59 p.m. eastern time to enter.

So, on to the recipe we go.

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Pressure Canned Ham Stock

ham hocks

This year, for my 30th birthday, my fiancé gave me a pressure canner. Some might look at this gift as decidedly unromantic, but it was actually exactly what I wanted. In fact, I started telling him it was what I wanted sometime back in February, more than three months ahead of time, just in case he got it into his head to get me jewelry or some other impractical bauble.

However, since my birthday back in May, the only thing the canner (a 16-quart aluminum Presto) has been doing is look pretty while sitting quietly under one of my dining room chairs. You see, while I understood the basics of pressure canning intellectually, the reality of it still scared me a bit. So I let the canner sit, satisfying my canning needs by making batch after batch of preserves and pickles, that needed nothing more than a good, hot water bath to set to shelf stable rights.

beginning of stock

But then, a couple of weeks ago, Joy Manning and Tara Matazara Desmond, co-authors of the cookbook Almost Meatless invited me to participate in their blog potluck (Joy is blogging about all the potluck dishes over at her blog What I Weigh Today if you want to check out some of the other recipes). As we talked back and forth about which recipe of theirs I’d tackle, it became clear that this blog and I were best suited to try out a stock recipe, as stock is cannable. In a pressure canner. It was finally time to conquer my pressure canner nerves once and for all.

I decided to make the recipe for Ham Stock that’s found on page 136 of the book. While it’s not a main event on its own, it’s an incredibly useful cooking cast member to have on hand, as it gives you the ability to boost the flavor of many a meal while still keeping them light on meat. Not having the remnants of a ham laying around, I got my hands on a couple of nice, meaty ham hocks with which to make the stock.

one jar in pressure canner

As soon as I fired up the stock pot, a wonderfully smoky/porky scent began to fill the apartment. Scott and I sat around, enjoying the aroma and becoming increasing hungry as the broth bubbled away. After it had cooked for two hours, I fished the hocks out of the pot with a pair of tongs, removed the meat to a plate and returned the bones to the pot for another hour+ of simmer for “maximum gelatin extraction” (a tip offered by Tara that isn’t included in the book).

By the time the stock was done, it was late Sunday evening (and I’d had a stomach ache all day, I’m a trouper I tells ya!). Had I had a spare bit of room in my fridge, I would have put the stock away for the night and returned to pressure can another day (this is actually the recommended technique, as it allows you to completely defat the stock prior to canning). However, being me, my fridge was full to bursting and so I needed to push on. I strained the stock through several layers of cheesecloth to get out the finest of particulate matter and returned it to the pot in order to bring to a boil.

filling jars

While all this stock processing was going on, my quart jars were in the pressure canner heating up. Once the stock had return to a boil, I began the process of removing a jar, filling it, wiping the rim, applying the lid/ring and returning it to the pot. Instead of creating an assembly line, I processed each jar one at a time, in order to keep the jars and stock as hot as possible (part of pressure canning best practices). I’d been told by Doris of Doris and Jilly Cook that it’s important to really get those rings on there tight when pressure canning stock, as otherwise your stock will “siphon” (the official canning word for when the liquid in your jars bubbles out from underneath the lid), so before I returned each filled jar to the pot, I used a dish towel to hold it in place as I muscled the ring into place.

Once all the jars were full, I locked the pressure canner lid into place and began the process of venting the air out of the canner. After ten minutes of venting, I popped the weight onto the vent stem and watched as the pressure began to rise. Quarts of stock need to process for 25 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure (that is, if you have a gauged canner like mine. If you have a weighted canner, you process at 10 pounds of pressure).

I only have six heat options on my stove (and that includes ‘off’) so I was never able to get the canner at exactly 11 pounds, it hovered around 13 pounds for most of the canning session. However, I knew from what I’ve read that it’s okay for the pressure to be a bit over (it can lead to overcooking, which isn’t a concern with stock, but could be a problem if you were working with fruits or veggies), as long as the pressure doesn’t drop below 11 pounds during the 25 minute processing time.

filled jars

I’ve never been so delighted as I was when the timer beeped to announce that the 25 minutes were up. I danced to the kitchen to turn off the stove and wait until the pressure had dropped enough for me to remove the lid. Nearly every jar pinged  the moment I lifted it out of the water, and I’ve never had lids that have so vigorously sealed. Those things are seriously concave.

canner at pressure

So now I have seven quarts of homemade, shelf stable stock (in my insanity, I also made a batch of chicken stock – from chicken feet! – the same day I made the ham stock. In for a penny…) in my pantry. I’m particularly in love with the ham stock though, and am already dreaming of making a big pot of rice with it that I will then turn into a vege-ful fried rice. Such flavor!

The Ham Stock recipe from Almost Meatless can be found after the jump and is reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors. Make it!

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Mid-Summer Preserving Check-In

sweet cherries

With just a few more days left in July, we’re now about halfway through the height of the summer preserving season. So far this year I’ve made jam from strawberries, plums, peaches, apricots, rhubarb and done some mixed fruit compotes. I’ve pickled asparagus, string beans, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, carrots and okra. I’ve canned peaches with vanilla bean and star anise, brewed some homemade syrups, made chutney and experimented with tomato jam. Over the weekend, I led a canning workshop in which we processed 58 quarts of whole tomatoes (I came home with several) and I finally pulled out the pressure canner and put up seven quarts of homemade stock.

I’ve learned a lot through all that canning. Here are some of the most useful things I’ve gleaned recently.

  • A melon baller does a great job of extracting the pits from stone fruit (peaches, nectarines and plums).
  • Sour cherries make the best jam ever and should be purchased whenever you find them at reasonable prices.
  • Always cook jam in a larger pot than you think you need. It’s easier to scrub out a pot than it is to scour burnt sugar and fruit off your stove.
  • Make sure to keep a couple of wooden spoons that are just used for jam, there’s nothing worse than stirring your strawberry jam with a spoon that smells like garlic or onions.
  • Although I often preach that you don’t need to buy any special tools in order to can, having a jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel handy makes everything (at least in the world of home canning) easier.
  • Measure everything out before you start.
  • When it comes to canning peaches and whole tomatoes, pack ’em tight to avoid float.
  • A mortar and pestle is great for breaking down berries for jam (just make sure it doesn’t smell like garlic).
  • Taste what you’re making. Adjust your seasonings before committing food to jar.
  • When using a pressure canner, make sure to put a bit of white vinegar in the water, otherwise you get ugly water marks on all your jars.
  • Don’t be afraid to experience with new herbs and spices.
  • Just about everything can be pickled.
  • Making jam from the fruit you’ve picked with your own two hands is hugely satisfying (admittedly, I knew this one before, but I continually reaffirm it).
  • It’s okay if you aren’t perfect as long as you follow good safety precautions (a good lesson for life in general).
  • If the jam doesn’t set, call it sauce. No one will know or care.
  • Pickles just keep on getting better.

Okay kids, now it’s your turn. I want to hear about what you’ve made so far, the mishaps and the things you’ve learned. What will you make again next year and what’s going into the blooper pile? How do you feel? What still scares you? Has canning changed how you approach the summer?

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Peach Jam

peaches in bowl of water

Peaches have become one of those fruits that is nearly always available, but they are only transcendent during the months of July and August. Those mealy, impenetrable fruits that you pay a small fortune for during the winter can’t possibly compare.

Every summer, I make a point to buy between 25 and 50 pounds of peaches. I slice and freeze a bunch, can halves in light syrup and make sauce (like apple only peachy), butter and jam. Glorious peach jam!

After the jump, you’ll find my basic peach jam recipe. I like to flavor mine with cinnamon and nutmeg, but you could also go with vanilla, a bit of bourbon, ginger, lavender, rosemary or thyme.

I apologize for the slightly weird picture of the peaches floating in water above, but somehow, I didn’t manage to take a single picture of the jam-making process. I made my jam on a Friday night, after an evening of cocktails and sushi, so I must have been a little addled.

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