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Preserving Pumpkin

roasted pumpkin

Don’t forget to sign up for one of my cranberry classes – jelly on 11/15 and chutney on 11/21

Last week I picked up my final CSA share. The box included an adorable little sugar pumpkin. Normally, I would have kept it in the dining room for a week or two, in order to enjoy the autumnal look it would lend my grandmother’s table. However, this one came with a soft spot, so it had to be used right away, lest it rot away entirely (Jonathan at Wasted Food would be so proud). So Sunday morning, I cut out the bad spot, split it in half and put it cut sides down on a cookie sheet, to gently roast until soft at 350 degrees. When it was fork-tender, I turned the oven off and left it to cool in the oven until I was ready to deal with it.

Not having a plan for it, when it was soft and cool enough to handle, I simply scraped the flesh away from the skin and packed it into the jar you see above. It’s still in the fridge, and I’m hoping to puree it until smooth tomorrow night (it’s too late tonight to embark on a fresh kitchen project) and use some of it to make a batch of these whole wheat pumpkin muffins (if you follow that link, my apologies for the awful photo. I can’t believe I ever thought it was a good idea to post that horror). The rest is going to go into some variance on this seriously delicious potato/pumpkin/gruyere casserole (I promise you that if you try it, you will forever make a place for it on your Thanksgiving table).

However, all that doesn’t tell you a whole lot of about preserving pumpkin past this season (although, those muffins can be frozen to delicious results). What I can tell you is that you have a few options when it comes to this gorgeous, vitamin-rich vegetable. Most easily, as long as you have good storage space, you can simply keep these pumpkins whole. Ask your farmers and market vendors which they recommend most for long-term storage.

If you want to have roasted pumpkin/squash at your finger tips, freezing is your only safe option. The density of mashed/pureed pumpkin is such that even pressure canning cannot guarantee your safety. However, it’s very easy to freeze it. Roast your pumpkins just like I did above and then measure it out into zip top bags, plastic storage containers or jars (if you freeze in glass, make sure to leave plenty of room for expansion). If you have a favorite recipe that calls for pumpkin/squash puree, consider freezing in that exact proportion, to make for easy cooking/baking.

However, you are able to pressure can pumpkin chunks packed in water. Here’s what you do (these instructions were taken directly from So Easy to Preserve, the canning bible out of the University of Georgia cooperative extension). Peel the pumpkin and cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add to a pot of boiling water and cook for two minutes. Pack the hot cubes into hot jars and add cooking liquid, leaving 1-inch of head space. Remove the air bubbles, wipe rims and apply lids. Process in a pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure, 55 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.

When you’re ready to use this pumpkin in a recipe, you’ll find that a quick drain and a few smashes with a fork (or a run through a food processor if you’re a stickler for a lump-free texture) will provide you just what you need.

Lastly, if none of those options particularly float your boat, consider scoping out the Pumpkin Marmalade that the lovely Tigress in a Jam made recently. It’s currently stuck in my head and I’m thinking I may not be able to shake it loose until I make my own batch.

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Canning Whole Peeled Tomatoes

pile of tomatoes

Before tomato season comes to a close, I want to talk about my favorite way to preserve tomatoes. I typically only can them one way – (mostly) whole and peeled, in their own juices. I do them this way because I like the versatility they retain when put up in this manner. Later down the line, I can choose as to whether I want to puree them down, make a chunky sauce or just crush them with my hands and use them to top homemade pizza (Mmmm).

One thing to note is that my tomatoes aren’t perfectly whole. I do crush them a bit while cramming them into the jars, in order to generate enough liquid to totally cover the ‘maters. I find that I’m able to get three romas into a pint jar and six into a quart. On occasion, I’ll cut a tomato in to thirds or halves in order to finish off a jar and still have the proper amount of headspace.

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Take your tomatoes and core them. This isn’t an absolutely necessary step, but I hate dealing with the cores when it comes time to use the tomatoes on the other end.

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A cored tomato. Seriously easy.

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Make two shallow cuts on the bottom of the tomato, to ease the peeling.

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Drop cored and scored tomatoes into a pot of boiling water (don’t put too many in at once, or you’ll drop the water temperature drastically and it will take forever to return to a boil). Blanch tomatoes for 1-2 minutes, until the skins start to blister or loosen.

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Put your blanched tomatoes into a boil of cold water, to halt cooking and to make them handle-able.

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Peel tomatoes. The skins should slip off easily after the blanching and the cold water dip.

filling jars

I put the tomatoes into the jars as I peel. Two standard sized romas typical fit at the bottom of the jar.

smashing tomatoes

You may need to give them a little help. I use my hand when filling wide mouth jars, but when dealing with regular mouth openings, I employ the handle of a wooden spoon.

full jar

Look! A jar that’s filled with tomatoes! All the liquid you see here came from the tomatoes, as I gently smashed them to fit the jar.

2 tablespoon measure

Don’t forget to acidify. It’s one tablespoon of lemon juice for pints and two for quarts. I pour it on top of my filled jars, and then use a chopstick to remove the air bubbles from the jar and work the lemon juice down into its contents. You should have approximately 1/2 inch of headspace remaining after you add the lemon juice and de-bubble the jar.

After that, I wipe the rims, apply my lids (carefully simmered for 10 minutes at around 180 degrees), screw on the rings and lower the jars into the heated boiling water canner (remembering to use a rack so that the jars aren’t resting on the bottom of the pot).

Quarts of whole peeled tomatoes get processed in a boiling water canner for 45 85 minutes. Pints get processed for 40 minutes the same amount of time. Tomatoes that are packed in water are processed for 40/45 minutes.

Because my life is busy, I rarely do my tomatoes in one great, big canning day. Instead, I stretch the process out over several post-work weeknights. I’ll do four quarts at a time, because that’s how much my stock pot can hold during processing, and it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. I find that a 25 pound box of tomatoes will make approximately 12-14 quarts of tomatoes, and so I do four jars a night for three nights in a row. It keeps me sane and keeps my pantry filled with wonderful, local tomatoes all winter long.

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Raspberry Jam Winner + Frozen Basil

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Three cheers for Whitney, who’s number came up in the Raspberry Jam giveaway last night. She’s a lucky girl, as it’s very, very good stuff.

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Last Friday, I had the day off from work, and so my friend Shay and I took a drive out to Lancaster, to look for jars for my wedding (we’re planting tiny herb plants in a variety of jars as gifts for our guests) and visit her parents. I found an amazing cache of jelly jars (the ones that you can’t really use anymore, as they were designed to be sealed with wax) for $.15 each at the thrift store in Mount Joy, which got me much closer to the needed 60 jars. I also returned home with a 2 1/2 gallon ziptop bag, stuffed absolutely full of basil from Shay’s mom Ty’s garden.

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Ty hasn’t had the greatest tomato year because of all the rain we’ve gotten, but it’s been a stellar year for basil production. Her herb garden is absolutely bursting with fragrant, vividly green basil. No matter how much I cut, it was nearly impossible to make a visible dent. So Friday night, I made an improvised pesto. I used lots of garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese, but skipped the nuts (I didn’t have any pine nuts, and determined that I wanted this basil sauce of mine to be as flexible as possible). I ran my food processor for nearly half an hour and came away with more than four pints of pesto (that’s a hell of a lot). I packed it into 4- and 8-ounce jars (leaving plenty of headspace) and tucked it into the freezer.

I’m so looking forward to adding it to pastas, soups and eating it spread on bread all winter long.

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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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Pick your own berries

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When my family moved to Oregon from Southern California in 1988, we were quick to adopt elements of the Pacific Northwest culture. We stopped carrying umbrellas when it rained, instead preferring to either dodge raindrops bareheaded or wear a hooded jacket when the rain was torrential. We became even more committed recyclers and created an elaborate sorting station in the basement or garage to house our plastics and papers, until we could take them an appropriate drop-off point. And we became devoted consumers of u-pick fruit.

Several times each summer, we’d make the trek out to Sauvie Island to pick strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apples (we’d pick up the windfall heritage apples from the Bybee-Howell House orchard. You’re not allowed to pick the fruit from the trees there, but the newly fallen apples are still quite edible and make excellent applesauce). My mom would turn into a fruit processing machine upon our return home, making batches of jam and apple butter, and freezing bags of slice peaches and applesauce (in mid-winter, spicy homemade applesauce is the best after dinner treat).

The first couple of years after I moved to Philadelphia, I didn’t look for places in the area to pick fruit, and instead planned a vacation out to Portland each summer, timing it to coincide with blueberry season. Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the mid-July trip home and so found myself searching for other places to pick. Over the last few years, I’ve picked fruit at several area farms.

My very favorite is Mood’s Farm Market in Mullica Hill, NJ. Their prices are reasonable, they grow a variety of fruit (sweet and sour cherries, blackberries, blueberries, concord grapes, peaches and more) and they have a farm market where they sell the most delicious apple cider doughnuts. Unfortunately, they don’t grow strawberries, which is what I want to pick this weekend, so yesterday I found myself searching for other area farms that offer u-pick strawberries. I made a bunch of phone calls and the results of my research, along with u-pick ettiquette and more resources are after the jump. Unfortunately, the farms are only going to be helpful for those of you in the PA/NJ/NY area, but the tips are still good. Continue Reading →

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Waiting and planning

doughnut-peaches

Last year, my approach to food preservation was totally haphazard. I made blueberry and blackberry jam, because those are the things I like to eat or give as gifts. I froze several pints of grape tomatoes on cookie sheets, because they were threatening to become over-ripe before I had a chance to eat them. I intended to do more with peaches, nectarines and the spinach from a local farmer, but each time, I turned my head for (what seemed like only) a moment and missed the season.

This year I hope to plan better, to can tomatoes for the winter and have slices of nectarines tucked away in the freezer for February smoothies. I’m preparing now, gathering jars (oh jars!) and lids, studying the charts that indicate seasonal ripeness from my favorite U-Pick and making arrangements to teach a few canning classes as Foster’s (because what better motivation is there for preparedness than the commitment to stand in front of strangers and talk?).

I’m looking forward to the coming weeks, when the asparagus begins to pop through the surface of the soil and offers its tender tips for steaming (and pickling). I’m dreaming of a small stash of green garlic pesto tucked away for a dark chilly night and of offering friends and family jars of sour cherry preserves for the holidays.

For now I’ll wait, make a batch of marmalade and imagine.

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