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Cold Pack Canning for the May Mastery Challenge

It is the start of May, and that means it’s time to tackle a new food preservation skill. This month, we’re turning our focus to cold pack preserving.

What is a cold pack?

Also known as raw pack, to cold pack something simply means something that it put into jars while cold and uncooked. If you’ve made dilly beans or garlic dill pickle spears, you’ve already tried your hand at a cold pack. Other things that get cold packed a lot are peaches, pears, and tomatoes that are peeled but uncooked, pickled vegetables where you’re trying to retain their crunch, and much of what goes into a pressure canner.

Why cold pack?

  1. The primary reason to choose this style of preservation is to retain texture. When fruits and vegetables go into the jars raw, they don’t spend as much time in contact with heat, which means that they don’t cook as much. That leads to a crisper, firmer texture.
  2. The secondary appeal of the cold pack is speed. Food gets peeled, pared, packed into the jars, topped with either water, brine, fruit juice, syrup, and goes into the canning pot.

What are the downsides?

    1. There is often some likelihood of liquid loss. Raw produce often contains tiny pockets of air. As the produce cooks while undergoing the canning process, some of that air is released into the jar. That air then heads for top of the jar in order to escape the container (physics at work!). But because it often has to travel the length of the jar, it often pushes liquid out with it in its rush to escape the vessel. It’s frustrating but entirely normal.
    2. Product shrinkage. You worked so hard to squeeze as many peach halves into the jar as possible, but now having taken the jars out of the canner, you see that what had been a tightly packed jar now has two inches of liquid at the bottom. The fruit has reduced in mass and is floating up towards the lid. It’s not dangerous and as long as the lids are tightly sealed, the fruit is safe to eat. They’re just not as pretty for displaying on your kitchen shelves.

  1. Surface discoloration. When you have some liquid loss and product shrinkage, you will often also see some surface discoloration occur over time. This typically manifests as a generalized darkening of the product that is un-submerged or that is in contact with the empty portion of the jar. It’s not dangerous, but that darkened portion does lose flavor more rapidly than the balance of the jar. If I find a jar in this state, I scrape, trim or otherwise discard the darkened portion before tucking in.

The goal for this month is…

Simply to get to know the cold pack technique and figure out where it functions best. We’ll be exploring hot packing in July (which I think of as the other side of the jar packing coin), so hopefully you’ll start to see how the two styles work together and can serve in equal measure.

Recipes

Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.

And here are some options from elsewhere.

Finally, use this challenge as a chance to read through a preserving cookbook or two. You’ll find cold pack preservation at play in any number of different recipes, so do a little exploring!

The deadline for this challenge is Tuesday, May 30. Submission link coming soon!

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April Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Quick Pickles

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April is over and so it’s a wrap for our quick pickle challenge! This month, 202 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was so much fun for me to see everyone trying new recipes and finding ways to create interesting flavor combinations.

As is so often the case in these monthly challenges, there was a huge amount of space to move and explore within the confines of the topic. And while it appears that the most popular things to quick pickle were cucumber, cauliflower, eggs, and red onions, you guys managed to pickle more than 30 different fruits, vegetables, and protein (primarily chicken and quail eggs).

As you can see in the image above, a little less than half of you made just one batch of pickles. The remainder of you let the challenge inspire you throughout the month and you made many more batches. It’s a lot of quick pickles and I couldn’t be more pleased!

This pair of images tells us that while many of you were already feeling quite friendly towards quick pickling, even more participants are happy with the way their projects turned out.

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Submit your April Mastery Challenge Projects!

Hello Mastery Challenge participants! We’re a little over halfway through April and the internet tells me that many of you have been busy making all manner of quick pickles!

In order to be counted in the final tally for the April challenge, please use the form below to submit your projects. Remember, you don’t have to provide a URL to be counted as a participant, but if you want me to link out to your project in the round-up, you do need to include the direct link to a blog or social media post.

Please get your projects submitted by April 28, so that I can get the round-up posted on April 30.

If the form below (it’s after the jump, if you’re reading this on the main page of the blog) isn’t working for you, you can also access the form by clicking this link.

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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Quick Pickles for the April Mastery Challenge

Get your Mastery Challenge on with a batch of quick pickles!

Happy April, friends! This month, the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is focusing on quick pickles. Also often known as refrigerator pickles, these pickles are typically made in small batches, involve a vinegar brine, need little time to age (often, they’re good to go in just a few hours), and spend the entirety of their lifetime in the fridge.

As in previous months, remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose a project or recipe that will satisfy both your own learning and help you make something delicious.

Why a Quick Pickle?

While I like a preserved pickle as much as the next canner, there are a number of reasons why I often turn to small batches of quick pickles when I have produce that needs to be used up or kept from the compost pile.

They’re easy to make and you can make a batch as big or small as you want (years ago, I shared a small batch I’d made simply to keep a single English cucumber from going bad).

You can also be creative when you’re making a quick pickle. Because it’s not a going into a boiling water bath canner, you aren’t wedded to ratios of vinegar and water to ensure safety. You can reduce vinegar amounts and use lower acid vinegars like those made with rice wine (which are typically 4.2% vinegars rather than the 5% pickle-ready versions).

Quick pickles also have a firmer texture. If you’re someone for whom a pickle is judged on its snappy crunch, quick pickles are the way to go. Because they’re not exposed to the prolonged heat of a boiling water bath, they don’t soften nearly as much as a preserved pickle does.

What Should I Pickle Quickly?

The great thing about this style of pickling is that nearly every variety of fruit and vegetable is fair game. I often use this technique when I want pickled onions to heap on a burger, some tangy fruit to add to a grain salad, or a pickles to take to a potluck or cookout.

If you’re a fairly traditional pickle eater, consider starting with a basic batch of Garlic Dill Pickles. Snappy and bright, they’re one of my very favorite pickles. Another good option are thinly sliced carrots and radishes. I also turn to quick pickling when I want to use up odds and ends that might otherwise get trashed. The quick pickled chard stems at the end of this post are a good example of that kind of pickling. And while we’re not yet into the depths of zucchini season, keep this one tucked into the back of your mind when you’re swimming in zucchini.

On the fruity end of things, consider these pickled peaches. As written, it’s not a quick pickle recipe, but a quick version of those same peaches would have been sturdier and more textured. These pickled blueberries are much the same as the peaches.

And, a final one perfect for the Easter and Passover holidays coming soon. Pickled Red Beet Eggs!

And here are some suggestions from around the internet.

Quick Pickled Strawberries || Quick Pickled Red Onions || Quick Pickled Asparagus || Quick Pickled Carrot Spears || Quick Daikon and Carrot Pickle || Spicy Refrigerator Pickled Peppers || Quick Pickled Fennel with Orange || Quick Pickled Apple

 

To Blanch or Not to Blanch?

One of the nice things about making quick pickles is that they don’t require a lot of preparation. However, denser things like asparagus, carrots, green beans, and beets absorb pickle brine better after they’ve had 30-60 seconds in a pot of boiling water. It’s not absolutely required, but cuts down the amount of time they’ll need in order to take on the flavors you carefully tucked into your brine.

If you hate the idea of adding a blanching step, you can either skip it or slice and dice the vegetables into increasingly small bits. Just know that the finished pickles will need a few days longer in the fridge and that they’ll always retain an element of their raw texture.

Vinegars and Flavor Elements

Like I mentioned above, one of the best things about making quick pickles is that there’s so much space to be creative. You can use the wacky vinegars you picked up on vacation, or fill half the jar with fresh herbs to add flavor. My only word of advise is that less is often more when it comes to pickling. Don’t heap your entire herb garden into a single batch, hoping for greatness. Creative restraint is your friend.

How Long Can I Keep My Quick Pickles?

Provided that you took care to start with squeaky clean containers* and you have the available refrigerator space, quick pickles can last for months in the fridge. I once had a jar of quick pickled cucumbers that I kept for nearly a year and they were amazing when we finally unearthed the jar from the far reaches of the fridge.

However, if you’re opening and closing the jar on a regularly basis, they are best when eaten within four to six weeks of being made. After that they often soften and or develop mold. As always, the rule of thumb is that if you have any doubt about the safety of your pickles, throw them out.

*A great thing about quick pickling is that you can skip the traditional mason jars. Any vessel with a tightly fitting lid will do the job here (like the reused peanut butter jars pictured at the top of this post).

How Do I Use a Quick Pickle?

Quick pickles are great on sandwiches. They work beautifully chopped and tossed with a grain salad. I’m a big fan of adding them to potato salad. They brighten all manner of tuna salads and salmon cakes. Turn them into tartar sauce or Russian dressing.

What are you planning on making for this month’s quick pickle challenge?

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Mastery Challenge March Round-Up: Jellies and Shrubs

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That’s it! March is all wrapped up and so is our jellies and shrubs challenge. This month, 262 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was a joy for me to see so many people trying new recipes and finding ways to make and create.

Much like last month, there was a lot to choose from within the challenge parameters. I was surprised and delighted that so many people took on shrubs. As you’ll see in the satisfaction numbers further down, I feel like this month turned a lot of shrub-skeptics into shrub lovers (though not all of you loved the shrubs. And that’s okay too!).

Another thing that was fun to see what that a lot of you made more than one project for the challenge. There’s never a requirement to try the skill more than once, but the more you play around with a particular preserving style, the more you can come to understand it and make it part of your culinary dialect.

Now, here are the numbers that I thought were most interesting. At the start of this month, a number of you had uneasy or negative feelings about shrubs. And I get it. Sometimes the idea of making a sweetened, vinegar based syrup seems a little weird even to me (and I’ve been doing it for years now).

But at the end of the month, a vast majority of those of you who made the shrubs now have an exceedingly positive attitude towards them. Heidi in Rockville, MD said in her comment, “I can’t stop making shrubs!!!! Fun, easy, and sooooo delicious with some soda water or seltzer. They are amazing!” So glad you’re so enthused, Heidi!

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The Jellies

 

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The Shrubs

Also, don’t miss the round-up Mary did of the projects her preserving group completed!

Big thanks to everyone who participated this month! In April, we’re making quick pickles. Hope you all can join in for that!

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Mango Habañero Mint Shrub

Today’s guest post comes to us from Erin Urquhart. She’s stopped by to share her recipe for Mango Habañero Mint Shrub. Welcome to Food in Jars, Erin! 

Over the past couple of years I have began to notice that unintentionally many of my preserved goods either include alcohol or pair perfectly with alcohol- a strange coincidence, indeed. I’m beginning to think that I “subconsciously” come up with pickle ingredients with martinis on the mind. By no surprise, I admit that I am a sucker for any type of brined, vinegar-based, or bitter cocktail.

Having only ever read about shrubs on ingredient lists, I was surprised to learn the very intentional alcohol related origin of liquid shrubs. As story goes, shrubs originally gained popularity in the 1680s among English smugglers who were trying to avoid paying import taxes on booze being shipped from Europe. To avoid detection and thus taxation, smugglers would sink barrels full of alcohol off the Atlantic coast to be retrieved at a later time. Upon retrieval, the addition of the shrub fruit flavors were used to mask the taste of alcohol fouled by sea water. Who knew!?

Unless your pirate heritage runs deep, nowadays, shrubs, aka “drinking vinegars” are making a come back in the international cocktail scene. Due to their high concentration of vinegar and sugar, shrubs can be prepared in advance made as a pre-made drink mixture. When Marisa announced the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge late last year, I found myself beyond excited with anticipation for all the creative and weird cocktail shrubs I planned to make.

Apparently, because my craft shrub confidence isn’t quite up to par to make more wild types of shrubs like a fennel fruit shrub, or a sweet tomato shrub, I decide to play it safe for this month’s challenge. This recipe presents a refreshing yet spicy shrub combination, a Mango Habañero Mint Shrub. To keep the flavors strong and fresh, I opted for the cold-pressed shrub method. Additionally, because I didn’t want to mask any pepper or mint, I chose the more delicate color and flavor profiles of champagne vinegar.

The resulting sweet heat of this mango shrub is pretty phenomenal. I admittedly coughed following first gulp (oops), “wow that’s really strong!!”. Alas, after bottling and letting it settle in the fridge for a couple days the taste is now just right, and it’ll only get better. For a stronger mint flavor, I recommend upping your fresh mint amount.

For a refreshing drink serve this Mango Habañero Mint Shrub with ice cold water/seltzer, or get spicy and serve it with the Tequila Shrub Cocktail listed below. Also, make sure you reserve that mango fruit pulp for an awesome topping for your Saturday morning french toast, or perhaps use it in a homemade spicy mango cornbread. Yum!

Scientist by day, pickler by night, Erin Urquhart (from Putting Up with Erin) has always had a deep affinity for pickles. She’s the type of person who is super disappointed if pickles aren’t included in every holiday spread. A regular contributor of pickle reviews to her local Durham, NC newspaper, she even drives a car with “Pickle” vanity license plates.

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