Let the Thanksgiving Prep Begin!

Pre-Thanksgiving Fridge

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. All across the country, turkeys are transitioning into states of readiness. The vegetables are gathered and waiting for their assignments. Desserts are being baked and serving dishes are getting getting their annual preparatory rinse.

I’m not responsible for cooking the full meal this year. In a few hours, Scott and I will be braving I-95 South (along with half the eastern seaboard) in order to spend the holiday with his mother and extended family. It’s not a wholy cooking free week for me, though. I spent the last two nights baking a double batch of these blondies and two of the vanilla bean loaves from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte (it’s the best pound cake I’ve ever had) as my contribution to the Thursday dessert table.

My family’s meal is taking place on Saturday and I’m bringing a vanilla-flecked sweet potato puree (loosely based upon this one), mashed cauliflower (so my carb-avoiding husband can have something akin to potatoes) and about a half gallon of homemade gravy. My cousin Angie is roasting the turkey and has promised to save the drippings, so that we can add them to said gravy.

I’m also taking a jar of that Cranberry Quince Sauce I mentioned yesterday to each of these dinners. I’m excited to share some of what I’ve canned with these friends and family. This time of year, it just feels right to share a bit of my own bountiful harvest (no matter that I didn’t grow any of the food I put up).

And that leads me to my question for all of you. How are you integrating the foods you’ve canned and preserved this year into your Thanksgiving celebrations? Whether you’ve made your own cranberry sauce, you’re laying out a relish tray bedecked with homemade pickles, or you grew and preserved every single side dish, I want to hear about it. Additionally, if you manage to snap a few photos of your jars in action this holiday season, don’t forget to add them to the Food in Jars Flickr group.

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Cranberry Quince Sauce

cranberry quince sauce

As promised, here’s how I turned the quince pulp leftover from making jelly into a cranberry quince sauce. Just so you know, I went pretty light on the sugar. I wanted something that would have the necessary flavors to go alongside turkey, but would still be good to eat throughout the rest of the year (as soon as I pop the first jar, I’m plan eating a big scoop with some cottage cheese and a few Ak-mak crackers).

This is the type of recipe that’s more technique that true recipe. That’s to say consider this a starting point. Use what you have and adjust the ingredients in order to make it taste good to you.

quince pulp

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November Can Jam: Rosy Quince Jelly

quince by the sink

It took me years to figure out that quince were edible. During my middle school years my family lived in a house that, years before, had been owned by a botanist. She had planted beautiful and exotic trees all over the property, many of which were impressively mature during our time there. Towards the back of the property, there was a cluster of fruit trees we optimistically called “The Orchard.”

chopping quince

There were four unidentified apple trees, a bedraggled pear tree that only produced one mealy piece of fruit per year and a mysterious tree that produced rock hard furry pieces of fruit that we had no idea what to do with. Season after season, we let these dense, inedible fruits ripen and rot.

boiling quince

It wasn’t until last year did I finally made the connection between that old tree and the fruit I’d come to know as quince. As soon as I realized what we had had and squandered, I felt a bit mournful. If I ever come across a feral quince again someday, I won’t make the same mistake.

boiling quince

If you’ve never worked with quince, here are a few things you should know. When it is ripe, it smells incredibly fragrant, clean and floral. However, for as good as the fruit can smell while sitting demurely in a bowl on the counter, during the cooking process it goes through a period of time when it releases a terrible scent, akin to my sister’s dirty feet.

It’s also challenging to cut and clean. The flesh is dense and resists the blade of the knife like the dickens (to use a phrase of my father’s). It requires a good deal more force than the apples and pears we’re all used to and so you’ve also got to be increasingly wary not to slip and cut yourself. I’ve come close a number of times.

quince pulp in a strainer

Quince is best known as the main ingredient in membrillo, a vividly hued paste that’s most popular in Spain as a accompaniment to cheese. It also makes an excellent jelly, because it’s so rich in pectin that it needs little else to set up into a delicate, spreadable condiment. What’s more, if you boil the fruit with water to extract the juice, you will still have a great deal of pulp leftover, which can become part of a jam or sauce. I combined mine with four cups of cranberries and now have four pints of tart, floral sauce, some of which is headed straight for our Thanksgiving table (that recipe will be up tomorrow).

quince jelly

Yesterday, I took four different varieties of my preserves to a cheese tasting that my friend Tenaya organized. Let me tell you, this quince jelly was so, so good paired with a Spanish goat cheese called Idiazabal (please don’t ask me to pronounce it). With Thanksgiving coming up, I can also imagine it smeared on a piece of leftover turkey to very pleasing results.

the three cheeses and their jams

The recipe I used is after the jump. Since there’s no additional pectin here, you can scale the recipe up or down as needed. However, I wouldn’t increase the size of the recipe too, too much, as it will then take more time to cook the jelly to the correct temperature.

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Open Jars: Shae’s Banana Berry-Jam Bread

Banana-Berry Jam Bread (photos courtesy of Shae Irving)

If you’re an avid canner, you’ve probably already discovered that quick breads are a friend to all those fruits and jams you put up during the warmer months. I often use them as a good way to finish up open jars of applesauce, fruit butters or even canned fruit. Shae Irving, she of the blog Hitchhiking to Heaven and the eBook that I recently had the privilege of giving away, has devised a new recipe that uses both blackening bananas and several generous dollops of jam. Here’s what she has to say,

If bananas are a staple at your house, as they are at mine, it’s inevitable that some of them are going to get away from you. They’re going to turn speckled brown and soft, and they’re going to beg you to turn them into banana bread.This is good news for folks who have a lot of jam, because it’s incredibly easy to enhance banana bread with a layer of a luscious preserve.

I chose olallieberry jam for this post, so that’s how the bread got its name. But you can pick any jam that looks irresistible to you — or that you need to use up fast. Apricot was also calling me.

I like this simple banana bread recipe because it contains a bit of lemon zest. Of course the zest is optional, as are the nuts. I added both and dressed the top of the bread with some candied lemon peel that I’d made earlier this year. Banana bread is forgiving, so you can experiment with your own add-ins.

Thanks, Marisa, for letting me visit and offer a post on your wonderful blog. It’s an honor to contribute, and I can’t wait to learn more ways to use my open jars!

Shae’s recipe is after the jump. Personally, I’m hoping to find the time to make up a batch sometime this weekend, as I’ve got plenty of open jars of jam that need to be used. I’m also going to leave you with one final photo. This is of Shae’s jam cabinet. I do love seeing all those glowing jars all stacked and lined up. Thanks again, Shae!

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How to Can Cubed Pumpkin

the neck pumpkin

About a month ago, I crushed the hopes and dreams of many a preserver, when I wrote about the reasons why pumpkin butter can’t be safely canned at home. In fact, the USDA says that because of its density, any pureed pumpkin product should not be canned. You can’t even pressure can the puree (don’t ask me how the commercial guys do it, because I’m not privy to their techniques. I do assume that there’s a great deal more heat and pressure involved than can be generated in a home kitchen).

peeling pumpkin

What I didn’t get into in that post is the one way that pumpkin can safely be canned, mostly because I wanted to try it out first before I wrote about it. Yes, you heard me right. Pumpkin is safe for canning if you cut it into one-inch cubes, pack it in water and pressure can the heck out of it.

chopping pumpkin

A couple of weekends ago, I walked the neck pumpkin that has been sitting in my living room since Labor Day Weekend into the kitchen and proceeded to peel, slice and cube. It took me the better part of an hour to break that sucker down (it weighted at least ten pounds).

cubed pumpkin

Following the directions in So Easy to Preserve, I simmered my one-inch cubes in a pot of boiling water for two minutes, filled my jars with the softened pumpkin and topped them off with the cooking liquid, taking care to leave the necessary one-inch of headspace on all the jars (I got nine pints from that pumpkin, with a bit leftover for eating mashed with butter and cinnamon).

simmering the pumpkin

The jars of pumpkin took a 55 minute trip through the pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure (note: Thanks to my ancient stove with it’s five heat settings, I have a very hard time keeping my pressure canner at exactly the correct pressure and so always overshoot it a little bit. I was able to get it rest on 13 pounds for the duration of the canning and was plenty happy to be able to maintain a pressure so close to the desired pressure).

measuring headspace

When the time was up, I turned off the heat and let the canner rest overnight so that the pressure could come down gently and naturally. The next morning, I had nine perfectly sealed pints of tender neck pumpkin. I’ve yet to open a jar, but I’m sure I’ll find a few good ways to use these guys up.

However, I must confess that I don’t think that this technique is going on my regular roster of yearly canning activities. I say this because pumpkin (and most other hard skinned, winter squash) are naturally designed for storage. They can keep for months just has they are and don’t need the investment of energy and canning resources to be preserved for the winter. As I mentioned up above, I’ve had this pumpkin for more than two months. And until I used my trusty vegetable peeler to strip its skin away, it was in perfect, healthy shape and I believe that I could have left it there for at least another month or two before it was necessary to cook it.

That is not to say that I don’t see the virtue in having squash that is ready to use (because have no doubt, after 55 minutes in a pressure canner, this squash is cooked), I’m just not sure that it’s the best use of canning time for me. However, if this is something you regularly do, I’d love to hear the ways in which you use your pressure canned pumpkin cubes.

I have not written out the specific instructions for doing this at home (it’s late and I’m tired). However, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a handy one-pager that details everything you need to know. Find it here.

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Canning 101: The Tools of the Trade

canning pot

Recently, I got an email from a reader, asking that I tell her what she needed in terms of tools in order to get canning. I realized that though I’ve been writing this site for more than a year and a half, I’d never managed to outline my favorite canning equipment.

What you’ll notice is nearly everything pictured here is dual purpose. Most of pots, pans and other tools I use for canning are simply the tools of my kitchen that just happened to get pressed into service on a regular basis for food preservation.

canning rack

First thing you need is a nice, roomy stock pot. You want something that can hold at least 12 quarts and is tall enough to allow the jars to be fully submerged with some space left at the top for bubbling water. You also need a rack to elevate the jars just slightly off the bottom of the pot. I like this old cake cooling rack that once belonged to my grandmother, but any low profile, round rack will do.

small pot

One thing you learn quickly when you start to can is that you need to simmer your lids in a small pan of water prior to placing them on the jars. This ensures that you’ll get a good, solid seal. Any little pan will do.

jam pot

Next you need a pot in which to cook your jams, chutneys, pickle-brines and more. I go back and forth between several sizes of enameled cast iron pots and…

8 quart all-clad

This 8-quart All-Clad pot. Honestly, this is my favorite pot at the moment (as you can tell by the fact that it was actually in use when it came time to take this photo. If you’re curious, it’s holding an apple-pumpkin butter that I’ll be posting about soon). It’s nice and wide and can be vigorously scrubbed if you happen to burn something in it. My husband would like it to be known that he bought this lovely pot for me after much obsessing on my part.

kitchen tools

It’s always nice to have a generous assortment of measuring cups, measuring spoons, sharp knives and a microplane grater.

funnels and lifters

These are really the only specialty canning tools I think are necessary. Wide mouth funnels are really helpful (and once you have them in your kitchen, you’ll start to use them for other things. At least I do). A jar lifter is nice to help prevent burns and a magnetic lid wand is quite handy.

skimmers and spatulas

A little mesh skimmer is nice when you’re making a super-foamy jam. I got that one three years ago at a giant Asian grocery store in South Philadelphia for less than two bucks. It has proven its price many times over. I’m also a big fan of these newer, coated silicone spatulas. There’s nowhere that mildew or mold can develop because the coating covers the entire thing. Next to it is a very thin scraper that is absolutely brilliant when it comes to removing air bubbles from pickles and preserved fruit.


Jars. But you probably knew that already. They don’t have to be brand new, although the lids should be.


A stack of clean towels and a couple of hot pads keep things clean, dry and burn-free. All good things.


Finally, you need your main ingredient. I’ve been playing with quince quite a lot lately and will have two (that’s right, two!) recipes that use them in the coming days.

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