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Pictures of jars from Lancaster County

So far this weekend, I’ve purchases five wonderfully unusual jars (big ones for storing grains, flours, cereals and more), dug through a wagon of free stuff to discover two sandwich plates that match the ones in my kitchen cabinets (as well as five Fire King coffee mugs and an old grater), wandered many antique store aisles and eaten far, far too much. I’ve also been taking pictures of jars wherever they’ve caught my fancy. Here are a few.

canning jars
John Deere Jars
jars of pickled brussels sprouts
jars of pickles, chow chow and jelly
me with 1/2 gallon jar

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Fresh Radish Storage

radishes in a jar

Up until a couple of years ago, radishes were something I mostly just ignored. As far as I was concerned, they were fairly tasteless orbs (except for the occasional one that was painfully spicy) that were best ignored or crunched over quickly in restaurant salads.

I was of that mind until I had my first brush with regular farmers market shopping three summers ago. It was there that I started seeing fresh radishes, with their greens still attached, in all colors of red, pink and white. At about that same time, I spotted a flurry of blog posts suggesting that radishes were best eaten with salt and butter, either straight or on a slice of chewy bread. Once I tried them that way, I was instantly hooked.

Radishes became a staple on my mental farmers market shopping list and I would grab a bunch with every visit. The one problem I found myself encountering was that occasionally, they’d lose their signature crunch before I had a chance to finish off the bundle. Happily, someone (I think it was a Slashfood reader, but the source escapes me right now) passed along a wonderfully helpful storage tip for radishes that I’ve been employing ever since.

After you do your shopping, if you know you’re not going to be able to get to your radishes right away, trim them of their greens and put them in a jar. Put enough water in the jar to cover the radishes and store it in the fridge. They’ll keep for a good 4-5 days this way without losing any of their crunch or flavor (of course, the most satisfying way to eat a radish is while holding onto the greens, like Bugs Bunny with his carrot. You will miss that particularly tactile pleasure, but it’s a small trade-off).

Or, if you really want to go crazy, you could pickle your radishes so that they’ll last far into the fall or winter… (recipe coming soon).

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Herbs in Jars

jars of herbs

Today was opening day for the Headhouse Square Farmers Market. During the season, it is one of the highlights of my week. Sunday mornings, my friend Shay and I meet up there right around opening at 10 am to do our grocery shopping, walking on the same bricks that shoppers strolled 200 years ago. Last year, we made friends with several of the vendors, including Mark the egg man (his hens lay the most beautiful, multi-colored eggs that have vividly orange yolks) and Tom from Culton Organics, who wears a jaunty red kerchief around his neck when the weather is hot. We’re hoping to get to know even more farmers and vendors this year, as it makes the shopping experience even more satisfying.

Once we’ve exhausted our budgets, we get a drink, find a spot of curb and hang out for a bit to chat and people-watch. Unfortunately, today it wasn’t possible to pull up a chunk of curbstone, as Philly was treated to a day-long soaking rain. The drizzle didn’t seem to keep people away from the market though, the space under the Shambles was packed and everyone seemed delighted to be there, rubbing elbows once again with their favorite farmers.

One of the best things about this market is that the farmers put a great deal of energy into making their products look as lovely as possible. The displays include antique crates, bentwood baskets and natural slabs of slates upon which they write names and prices. One set-up that particularly caught my eye was the one you see above, of neatly bundled herbs, tucked into jars. This is something you could do in your own home, to extend the life of your cut herbs. The one addition I’d make would be to drape a plastic bag with a few holes cut out over the herbs. They last an amazingly long time that way, and look quite nice, to boot.

If you want to see more of my pictures from the market today, I’ve added them to my Headhouse set from last year and the year before, which you can find here.

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Buying Used Jars

Testing Edge

Over the weekend, my friend Shay and I took a little road trip out to Mount Joy, PA, the Lancaster County town where she grew up. We left Philly early, as we had a busy schedule of shopping, lunch at The Tilted Kilt and seeing her parents. Included in our shopping stops were visits to The Country Store (an amazing place, with inexpensive organic flours, grains and spices as well as lots of hard-to-find-in-the-city canning supplies), Weis (they have really good prices on canning jars and liquid pectin) and the Mount Joy Gift and Thrift.

I love visiting thrift stores in less urban areas, because they are almost always an amazing source of cheap canning jars. This latest trip to the Gift and Thrift yielded a bounty of perfectly good, used canning jars, all priced between $.10 and $.35 a piece.

Here’s the thing about buying used canning jars. Sometimes, it’s the best deal ever. However, if you’re not careful, you actually end up spending more than you will on a dozen new jars. Old jars typically will be sold as-is, without rings. A box of new rings and lids runs around $4, so if you spend more than $.50 a jar, adding in the cost of lids and rings brings your dozen ready-to-can jars upwards of $10. In grocery stores, you can typically get a dozen ready-to-use jars for between $7-8 (prices do vary).

The other thing about buying used jars is that you need to take a careful look at them prior to making your purchase. Give them a visual once-over and then run your finger over the rim to make sure there aren’t any chips or imperfections. You won’t be able to get a good seal on a jar if the rim is uneven.

However, there’s also a lot to be said for buying used jars. They are often more unique and charming than the basic jars you get new (check out this fun Bicentennial jar I picked up). It’s a more environmentally sound choice. And your jar dollars go into the coffers of charity shops and individual sellers instead of large corporations.

Go forth and buy jars!

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Pickled Asparagus

Asparagus Tops

Oh asparagus! How I avoided pickling you. I kept you waiting in the fridge for over a week, as you anticipated your spicy vinegar bath. And yet, already you’ve given me so much! After just two days of pickling, you are the perfect balance of crisp and pucker. You make the perfect sidecar to just about any meal. I am enamored.

Blanched Asparagus

That’s right kids, the pickled asparagus has turned out to be a riotous success, despite the fact that I used asparagus that was a tiny bit past its prime (life, why much you always throw distractions into my canning schedule?) and forgot to include the peppercorns in the brine.

Pickling brine

I based my recipe on one from a really terrific book about Southern-style canning called Putting Up. It’s by Stephen Palmer Dowdney, who ran a successful canning business in Charleston, SC for many years (although I’m far more impressed by the fact that he was a college classmate of Pat Conroy, who is one of my favorite authors).

If you’re looking to expand your food preservation reference library (I make it sound so official, don’t I), this is definitely a volume to consider. I like how it’s organized by month, as well as the fact that it has really excellent details on the basics of canning.

Packing jars

Before we get into the recipe, I want to take a moment to encourage all of you to consider pickling something. Possibly even this week. The reason? It is so very simple. You can prep just a single jar at a time, which makes it the perfect first canning project.

Honestly, you don’t even need to do the hot water bath if you’re just making a jar or two for yourself, you can just stash your pickles in the fridge. Making pickles will build your canning confidence and get you excited for more ambitious projects. I’m certainly chomping at the bit for my next pickling project (onions and then okra). If I’ve got you sufficiently excited, my favorite refrigerator pickle recipe is right here.

I’m not going to be giving a jar of these pickles away, since this whole pickling thing is new to me, I want to wait and make sure they continue to be good for the weeks to come before I start handing them out, all willy nilly. However, do not despair. I’ve got another giveaway up my sleeve that will be coming soon.

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Millet in Jars and Muffins

Millet Muffins

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that one person’s staple grain can be totally exotic, foreign or just plain unnecessary to the next person. For instance, my mom always has some Cream of Wheat in her pantry rotation. That’s one I skip, preferring steel cut oats or hull-less barley for breakfast (although lightly buttered and salted Cream of Wheat with a poached egg on top is one of my beloved childhood comfort foods).

In the last few years, millet has crept into my grain rotation and is now a very definite canning jar staple (along with short grain brown rice and quinoa) in my kitchen. The thing I love about millet is that it has a multitude of applications. When it’s steamed, it become light and fluffy, a cross between polenta and broken rice. When toasted, it becomes a nutty addition to pancakes, waffles, muffins and scones.

Millet in a jar

It was the Metropolitan Bakery (Fork You toured their factory last summer, here’s the video from that day) that opened my eyes to toasted millet and the ways in which can add the perfect gentle crunch to baked goods. They make an amazing millet muffins, and it was those muffins that inspired me to add toasted millet to anything that would stand still.

Toasting millet is really easy. Most of the time, I do it in small batches in the toaster oven, cooking it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes on a dry baking sheet. The only thing to remember is that to get the best crunch from your millet, you need to make sure you toast at least half an hour prior to stirring the millet into the batter, so that it has time to cool and firm up. Also, don’t worry if it looks like it’s smoking, it’s actually steam that occurs as the moisture inside the millet dries and escapes (of course, if it’s starting to look blackened, then it is smoke. Use your judgment).

If millet is one of your staple grains, how do you like to use it? For those of you for whom it’s new, do you have any questions?

My adaptation of Metropolitan Bakery’s millet muffin recipe is after the jump…

These muffins are particularly good with a dab of Honey Lemon Marmalade.

Just sayin’.

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