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How to Make Fromage Fort

Happy New Year, friends! For our first post of the year, Alex Jones swings by with a recipe for fromage fort. It’s a thrifty and delicious spread that is the perfect way to use up those scraps of cheese leftover from your holiday entertaining. -Marisa

Scrapes of cheese for fromage fort

For as long as I can remember, cheese has always been a part of my holiday celebrations.

Growing up, a hunk of sharp cheddar and a wedge of Brie were must-haves leading up to Christmas, and Christmas Eve with relatives in Quebec usually meant a festive spread of nibbles centered around a raclette machine, melting slices of pungent Alpine-style cheeses over potatoes, bread, and veggies.

After scoring a cheap raclette machine of my own at my local Aldi last January, I had friends over for an evening of melted cheese, hot cider, and parlor games just before the Christmas holiday. After the revelry, a few scraps of cheese remained — and rather than tossing them into the compost, I tucked them away in the fridge to make one of my favorite thrifty, easy, cheesy recipes: fromage fort.

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How to Brew Bracing Homemade Fire Cider

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alexandra Jones is dropping in today with a recipe for homemade fire cider. This invigorating tonic is said to help boost your immune system and keep you healthy throughout the winter cold and flu season! -Marisa

Ingredients for homemade fire cider

Where I am in Philadelphia, the leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler after a warm start to fall, and root crops are ready to harvest.

That means it’s time to start a batch of homemade fire cider.

This spicy, bracing infusion has been used for centuries as a way to preserve herbs and vegetables that also have medicinal value. Whipping up a big batch at the end of the growing season means that you’ve got a tasty tonic to sip on or use in recipes like sauces, marinades, and salad dressings.

I first tried making this recipe years ago, when I was a CSA manager tasked with finding with a handful of new and interesting recipes to include with each share of vegetables. One week, we included horseradish in the boxes, and I came upon the now familiar recipe.

I loved the ritual, the acidic flavor, and the kick — a powerful whoosh of horseradish, garlic, and onion straight to the nose. I’m not sure whether it was thanks to the homemade fire cider or something else, but I didn’t get sick that winter.

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How to Make Elderflower Cordial

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones has stopped by (on her birthday! Happy day, Alex!) to show us how to make elderflower cordial with fresh, foraged elderflower blossoms. Read on to see how easy it is to make your own batch! – Marisa

Freshly picked elderflowers for elderflower cordial

As an apartment-dweller who loves plants, I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood rich in community garden spaces. I can count a dozen community gardens less than a mile from my home in West Philly; I currently tend plots in three of them.

The garden I’ve been with the longest is one of the oldest in the neighborhood, built on the site of a demolished apartment building down the block from where I live. It’s been around for a few decades, and the common spaces have been planted with perennial fruit trees and shrubs that have had lots of time to establish.

While the peaches, plums, and figs never seem to ripen, our sour cherry tree, gooseberry bush, and kiwi berry vines are prolific. We also boast a specimen of one of the most exciting (to me) perennial fruits: An elderberry bush.

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How to Make Apartment-Scale Hard Cider

Our intrepid Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back again. This time, she’s telling the tale of her journey to becoming a home hard cider maker. You small batch home brewers are going to love this one! -Marisa

My first flirtation with home brewing happened back in 2010, before my penchant for collecting food-related hobbies and weird old stuff outgrew my life and space.

I was living with six friends in a big renovated West Philadelphia Victorian, complete with servants’ staircase coming up from the kitchen, a substantial back deck, and a south-facing backyard where I made my first attempts at raised bed gardening.

That winter, my job was managing the CSA program at Greensgrow Farms, a longtime local food oasis in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, and we often had a few crates of leftover local apples that I could buy at cost.

So when I saw a vintage wooden cider press for sale on Craigslist, I jumped at the chance to haul that huge, heavy thing home, got some apples from work, and made my first batch—after a snowstorm, it looks like. (I’m the one in the green boots.)

Since I only used one kind of apple, and a sweet one at that, the cider had an uninteresting, ricelike flavor, almost like a mild, fruity sake. Soon, our little collective house dissolved, and having nowhere to store the ungainly cider press, I passed it along to another urbanite with a love of DIY projects who had more space.

Now, with a small apartment and an already-full preserving schedule and pantry for most of the year, I thought my cider-making days were long gone. But when I was recently given a gift card to Philly Homebrew Outlet, my neighborhood supplier of all things fermentation, I found myself back in the game. (Philly-area readers can visit PHO locations in Southwest Philly and Kensington; others can shop online.)

I picked up this adorably compact cider-making kit, which contains instructions and all the supplies you need but the starter juice and yeast, which I selected with the advice of a helpful staffer. (Cider and mead are good options for the small-space homebrewer, since the fermentation vessel doesn’t need to have as much extra air space as it does for beer.)

For the starter juice, I picked up a gallon of Eden Garden Farm’s excellent fresh apple cider, made at the Bermudian Springs Cider Mill in Dillsburg, PA. It’s UV pasteurized, which helps to preserve the bright, sweet-tart flavor of farmer Lem’s specially selected blend of half a dozen apple varieties.

Using a fresh-pressed cider whose sweet-tart taste you love should yield a well-balanced end product. But any fresh or pasteurized cider or juice will work as long as it doesn’t contain preservatives like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. If you do want to select and press or juice your own apples, be sure to use a mix of sweet and tart varieties to get the best flavor.

Before you begin your mini-batch, you’ll want to decide if you’d like to add sugar to the recipe. Additional sugars like honey (which I used), white or brown sugar, or dextrose will boost the alcohol content of the finished product, so be sure to check the alcohol tolerance of the yeast you’re using and calculate how much sugar to add based on that range. Otherwise, a too-boozy brew could kill the yeast and halt fermentation before the full process is completed.

When you’re ready to make your cider, sanitize any equipment that will come into contact with the mixture using a bleach water solution. Add your optional additional sugars, dissolved in a little cider, to the two-gallon bucket that comes with the kit. Dissolve the pectic enzyme, which will make your finished product clear, in a little cider and add that to the bucket.

Next, add the full gallon of cider, sprinkle on the yeast, close up the bucket, pop on the airlock, and stash in a cool, dark place for at least a week and up to three. Calculating how much yeast to add wasn’t something I had discussed with my homebrew guru and online research was inconclusive, so I played it safe and added half the packet. This is something I want to learn more about before I brew my next batch.

That’s primary fermentation. Secondary fermentation is where the fun (and plastic tubing) begins.

Once again, sanitize all vessels, utensils, and other equipment that will come into contact with the cider. You’ll be transferring the cider from the two-gallon bucket into the one-gallon jug. My apartment-size movable dishwasher was the perfect height to be the siphoning surface once I propped up the jug with an apple crate.

Your siphon and tubing, also included in the kit, are the perfect tools to get the cider from vessel A to vessel B without disturbing the yeasts that have settled at the bottom of the bucket, which we want to leave behind.

To move the cider, you’ll pump the auto-siphon, which will move cider from the first vessel to the second one below. It can be a little tricky to do at first without spilling cider all over yourself or the floor; PHO recommends practicing with sanitizer until you get the hang of it. The goal here is to make sure that the tube end stays in the jug and the siphon end doesn’t stir up the yeast at the bottom of the bucket.

Once the cider (minus the sediment) has been siphoned, replace the airlock and stash your jug in a cool, dark place for anywhere from two weeks to up to a month.

After that, you’ll have drinkable, boozy cider—huzzah!

I ended up with two liter bottles and one quart bottle, about ¾ gallon yield after starting with one gallon of fresh cider.

You can stop here and keep your cider still—simply siphon into any bottle with a tight-fitting lid (a growler is great for this, but wine bottles work too) and store in the refrigerator.

At this stage, mine was very light-tasting, slightly sweet and slightly tart. It left the slightest hint of fizz on the tongue and smelled, improbably, of jasmine—a far cry from the unappealing result of my first effort years ago. I’d hoped for something a little drier, with bigger flavors, but I’m pretty pleased with this initial result.

To add carbonation to your hard cider, you’ll need to take one more step and wait a few more weeks. (I’m still in this waiting stage as I write this—but I’ll be back in a few days with an update on my sparkling cider results.)

Additional carbonation requires a little more sugar; a bottle priming calculator can help you determine how much sugar to add based on the volumes of carbon dioxide typical for the style of beer or cider you’re making and the amount of cider you’re working with.

Rather than siphoning from the jug directly into bottles, as you would with still cider, dissolve the amount of sugar you need in a little water and add to your sanitized brewing bucket. Siphon the cider (minus any sediment at the bottom of the jug, of course) into the bucket.

Then, siphon the cider-sugar mixture into sanitized bottles appropriate for carbonation. (PHO’s kit recommends doing this with the siphon; I admit I simply poured my still cider, pretty sediment-free and mixed with sugar, through a sanitized funnel into the bottles.) You can use swing-top bottles, cappable beer bottles, or plastic soda bottles to carbonate. Be sure to leave one inch of headspace between the top of the liquid and the bottle stopper.

When using glass bottles, I like to play it safe and keep them in a plastic cooler with a tight-fitting lid in case of any freak explosions while this last stage of fermentation is taking place. Let your bottles carbonate for two weeks at room temperature, then chill and enjoy.

There you have it—a way to make your own cider that won’t take up more room in your kitchen than, say, your food processor or crock pot.

Have you tried making your own hard cider before? What about other small-scale boozy projects? How did it go? Share your hopes, fears, and experiences in the comments!

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Cherry Preserves with Honey and Rosemary for the Whole Journeys Challenge + Giveaway

Sweet Cherry Preserves with Honey and Rosemary | Food in Jars

While I was out on the west coast a few weeks back, I got an email from a very nice woman from the Whole Foods Market corporate offices. She was writing because they’ve recently launched a travel company called Whole Journeys and were partnering with bloggers as a way of shining some light on some of their featured trips and destinations.

halved cherries | Food in Jars

In this particular round of promotion, they were inviting a few bloggers to create a preserve would combine seasonal produce with an ingredient from one of the regions visited on a Whole Journeys itinerary.

Despite my crazy schedule, I just couldn’t say no to this very interesting recipe development challenge. Plus, they were kicking in a gift card to cover supplies and another one to give away to a FiJ reader (more about that at the end of the post).

mountain forest honey | Food in Jars

When I got back to Philadelphia, there was a package waiting for me that contained a few jelly jars, a little tub of raw mountain honey, and a sheaf of paper telling me all about the Dolomites, which is a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps.

honey cherry rosemary | Food in Jars

I spent a goodly amount of time wondering what I could make that would be both appropriately Italian and evoke a mountainous region. So much time, in fact, that I missed the challenge deadline and still didn’t have a plan. Oops.

cooking cherries | Food in Jars

Last Thursday, I stopped thinking and started canning. One of the details included in the material they sent was the fact that the Dolomites is known for cheeses, speck (it’s a lovely, smokey cured ham), and wines. I decided to make a preserve that would go nicely with all those things.

dirty pot | Food in Jars

I took 2 1/2 pounds of cherries, split them in half, popped out the pits and piled them in a low wide Dutch oven. I added the honey that had come in my box (it was a 16 ounce jar), along with a fragrant stem of rosemary (I brought a gallon size bag of rosemary clipped from a giant shrub in my parents’ front yard back to Philly with me). I let it sit for a bit, until the honey dissolved and the cherries released some juice.

empty jar | Food in Jars

Once it was juicy, I put the pot on the stove and brought it to a boil. I cooked it at a rapid bubble for about 20 minutes, until the cherries softened and the syrup thickened a bit. I didn’t add any pectin because I wasn’t going for a jam, but instead wanted tender cherries in a rosemary and honey flavored syrup. Towards the end of cooking, I added the juice of one lemon and just a pinch of sea salt, to help sharpen the finished flavor.

spoonful of preserved cherries | Food in Jars

The preserve is a perfect accompaniment for cheese and cured meats, so I think I hit my mark. It’s one that I look forward to cracking open later in the fall when the evenings turn crisp and the days shorten.

Now, the giveaway. I have one $50 gift certificate to send out to one of you. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me what you would have made given the same challenge!
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Saturday, July 26, 2014. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, July 27, 2014.
  3. Giveaway open to United States residents only.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

For more about Whole Journeys, check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure: Whole Foods Market gave me a gift card to cover the cost of supplies for this challenge (along with a few jars and a little tub of honey) and has also provided the $50 gift card for this giveaway. My thoughts and opinions remain, as always, entirely my own.

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Blood Orange Curd

blood oranges

A couple weeks ago, I was walking through Reading Terminal Market when I spotted a bin of blood oranges. They were relatively small, but the sign said they were just 4 for $1 and so I picked up eight. I had no plan for them beyond making something delicious. I buy produce like this far too often.

juiced blood oranges (and one lemon)

I considered making marmalade, but I still have one jar left from last year (and I’ve been working on a few varieties with Meyer lemons and Cara Cara oranges). As I thought over my other options, it occurred to me that it’s been far too long since I had a jar of curd in the fridge. And so the decision was made.

blood orange juice

The nice thing about making blood orange curd is that it only needed half of my oranges (so I may just make myself a batch of blood orange shrub). I added the juice of one lemon to the mix to up the pucker a little and had a very generous 1/2 cup, which is exactly what I needed.

eggs

Whenever I make a curd, I always make sure to search out the very best eggs, because they contribute both color and flavor to the finished product. The only problem with that in this particular curd is that the yolks were so vividly orange that they muddied the ruby color of the blood orange juice. Happily, the resulting salmon color doesn’t impact the flavor, it just looks a little funky.

blood orange curd

Let’s talk briefly about canning and curds. In my first book, I included three curd recipes. Because of differing acid contents, two are deemed safe for canning and one is not (I take my cues from the National Center for Home Food Preservation).

These days, I don’t can my curds at all, even when working with those that are higher in acid (which this one is not). That’s because I find that the texture often firms up unpleasantly in the boiling water bath canner. Curds will keep a couple weeks in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer.

blood orange curd in yogurt

Let’s talk a little about what you can do once you have a batch of curd in the fridge. You can use it to fill a layer cake. You can smooth it into a tart shell. You can dip berries into it. You can dollop it on scones or biscuits. Or, you can do my favorite thing in the whole world and stir it into a bowl of Greek yogurt. The combination is sweet, creamy, and just a bit tart. Truly, it’s the best thing ever.

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