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June Mastery Challenge: Foraged Berry Jam

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back to share the tale of a tiny batch of jam made from fruit grown right in her West Philly neighborhood. I do love a good forage! – Marisa

When it comes to gardening and foraging, I do my best to hit enough planting milestones in early spring so that I’m not missing out on a particularly delicious spring or summer crop. And I keep an eye on ripening berries and fruits in my neighborhood so I can forage goodies to enjoy and preserve, too.

This spring was a little different. It was my first working as a freelancer, and any hope that I’d have extra time and flexibility to spend on these pursuits quickly vanished — I felt busier and less in touch with what was growing around me than I had been when I was employed full time.

For example, I missed planting peas this year. On the other hand, I got in two good harvests of elderflower during a particularly busy May, a first for me. And yet, I just missed the height of my West Philly neighborhood’s flush of juneberries, mulberries, and sour cherries, which hit a little earlier than usual this month.

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Submit your June Mastery Challenge Projects!

June is nearly over, which means it’s time to get serious about completing this month’s jam making challenge! If you’ve already finished up your project for this month’s Mastery Challenge, please use the form below to record your information and be counted in the final tally. If the embedded form isn’t working for you, click here.

If you’ve not yet tackled a batch of jam yet this month, check out my jam archive for some recipe inspiration

To be counted in the final tally, please submit your projects no later than Friday, June 30.

Oh, and if you do post to social media, make sure to use the #fijchallenge tag to help spread the word of our preserving activities!

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Jam Making for the June Mastery Challenge

Hello Mastery Challenge participants! June is passing with alarming speed and so it’s well past time for this monthly introductory blog post. This time, we’re focusing on jam making, which is probably going to be one of the most familiar skills we dig into this year. After all, the majority of canners start their food preservation career with a batch of jam.

What is Jam?

For our purposes, we’re going to define jam as a fruit-based preserve that is sweetened. Sugar is the most traditional sweetener, but you can also use honey, maple, agave, coconut sugar, fruit juice concentrates, or non-sugar sweeteners (just remember that jam made without any true sugar will not hold its color or quality for long). And, if you’re curious about making jam with these alternative sweeteners, make sure to check out my book, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars!

What Style of Jam to Make?

There are no rules as to the style of jam you make. You can go large batch or small, conventionally sweetened or low sugar, added pectin or pectin free, and sweet or savory. If there’s a style you’ve been wanting to try and you’ve thus far avoided it in your preserving life, consider taking it for a spin.

The Recipes

There are more jam recipes in the archives of this site than I have time to count and there are yet still more in my cookbooks. Beyond that, there are hundreds of jam recipes online and in the many canning cookbooks out there. However, you really don’t need a recipe to make jam. Prep some fruit. Measure out approximately half as much sugar. Combine them until the sugar dissolves. Add a little lemon juice and perhaps some cinnamon or vanilla paste. Cook it in a low, wide pan until it thickens.

However, if you want to work with a more proper recipe, here are some of my recent favorites.

This month, the deadline for submitting your projects to be counted in the monthly tally is Wednesday, June 28. I’ll have the form up next week for submissions. And don’t forget to use the hashtag #fijchallenge if you post your project to social media!

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May Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Cold Pack Preserving

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The May cold pack challenge is over and it’s time to round-up our results. This challenge wasn’t as popular as those in past months, which I sort of expected. Cold pack preserving isn’t as exciting as some of the other skills we’ve tackled, and for lots of you, it was hard to find good seasonal produce which was appropriate for cold packing. Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice for May. Live and learn!

This month, just 92 people submitted their finished projects. Asparagus was the most popular ingredient to cold pack (which is appropriate since it was in season in many parts of the country in May). Other popular varieties of produce last month were Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans, jalapeños, okra, red onion, and tomatoes.

From the data that you all reported this month, it looks like most of you weren’t moved to make more than one batch. However, from the optional comments, it sounds like a lot of you are looking forward to trying out this skill later in the season when there’s more that’s appropriate for cold packing.

One thing that I found interesting was that many of the participants felt mixed towards cold packing at the start of the challenge. Which I get. It’s not one of the sexier food preservation skills.

Happily, those of you who tried it seemed to shift to the more positive end of the spectrum by the end of the month. Which is always what I’m hoping for!

Here’s hoping that the June jam challenge will appeal to a larger swath of folks and that our participation numbers will be back up in the next month!

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Veg

Fruit

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Submit your May Mastery Challenge Projects!

We’re well past the midway point of May, which means it’s time to get serious about completing this month’s cold pack preservation challenge! If you’ve already finished up your project for this month’s Mastery Challenge, please use the form below to record your information and be counted in the final tally. If the embedded form isn’t working for you, click here.

If you’ve not yet tackled the cold pack skill, consider whipping up a batch of spicy pickled green beans, pickled rhubarb, or some pickled okra. If you need to see the skill exercised in person, head over to Facebook and watch my recent livestream on the topic (toward the end, you’ll even see how I keep my cool when a jar breaks in the canner).

To be counted in the final tally, please submit your projects no later than Monday, May 29 (Memorial Day).

Oh, and if you do post to social media, make sure to use the #fijchallenge tag to help spread the word of our preserving activities!

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Spicy Pickled Green Beans

Flex your cold pack preserving skills with a batch of Spicy Pickled Green Beans. They’re good along side a sandwich and even better pressed into stirring service in a Bloody Mary.

We’re focusing on cold pack preserving this month in the Mastery Challenge and one of my favorite examples of the form is the pickled green bean. I make a lot of these during the summer months when beans are abundant, both because I love them and because they make a really good thing to give to pickle loving friends and family. They also retain their crunch beautifully, which is not something I can say for most processed cucumber pickles.

Pickled green beans are also something of an affordably luxury to my mind. When you make them yourself they’re quite cheap, but they can be outrageously expensive at farmers markets and small grocery stores (you don’t often see them in larger supermarkets). I love when a little time and effort can yield something that feels special.

Green beans are not quite in season yet, so don’t judge the quality of the beans you see before you. I’m sure that the finished pickles will still taste good, but they can be downright sublime when you use those perfect, downy beans available only in high summer.

I typically make them assembly line style, doling out spices and garlic cloves (the more you slice, the more garlic flavor you get) to the jars and then going down the line with beans. Holding the jar at an angle as you pack makes quick work of the initial fill and a wooden chopstick helps ease the way for the last few beans. It’s also an excellent tool for wiggling out air bubbles that get trapped deep in the jar.

Once the jars have spices and green beans, it’s time to fill them up with brine. Apple cider is my vinegar of choice for most things, though some prefer white or red wine vinegar in its place. Any vinegar is fine as long as it has 5% acidity. The spices can also be adjusted to suit. For this batch, I called on brown mustard seeds, dill seed, black peppercorns, red chili flakes for heat, and slivered garlic. Sometimes I make them with cayenne, which tints the brine a pleasing red and makes for bracing eating.

These pickles need just a quick trip through the canner (10 minutes for pints and 15 minutes for anything larger). They often lose a little brine during their bath, but it’s not typically enough to cause distress.

Oh, and just a note on the jars. I used the new pint-sized spiral jars that Ball Canning released this year. I thought they would be awesome for pickles because they’re slightly taller than your average pint. However, I found that their narrow middle was absolutely incensing when it came to thoroughly packing the jars. If you have some of these, use them for your jams, sauces and chutneys and save yourself the annoyance.

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