Links: Thumbprint Cookies, Hard Cider, and Winners

Leftover waffles with peanut butter and pear vanilla jam. Black tea with milk. Clementines.

On Saturday, I realized with a start that I’ve been focusing on the work of the holiday season instead of the joy. So, to remedy that, Scott and I spent an hour time wandering Philly’s Christmas village (even in the constant drizzle, it was nice) and in the evening, we attended a holiday party that friends have been throwing for nearly a decade now. Last night, I took advantage of Scott’s absence (he’s off helping his mom get ready to move) and wrapped some gifts to tuck under our (undecorated) tree. Now, links!

pot and trivet

The winners in last week’s Spice Ratchet Blossom Trivet giveaway are…

For those of you who were wondering who won that bundle of books I was giving away a couple weeks ago, it was#380/Tina. I posted the winner at the bottom of the post because I didn’t manage to do a link round-up last weekend.

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Guest Post: Honey-Vanilla Bean Quince Preserves from Camille Storch

filling jars with quince preserves by Camille Storch

I have a big treat today! A guest post from Camille Storch! Camille is a writer, runner, and canner living with her family in rural Western Oregon. Her blog, Wayward Spark, focuses on small agriculture and sustainable living. Camille’s husband Henry is a commercial beekeeper who manages nearly 300 hives in the Willamette Valley and remote areas of the Oregon Coast Range. Through their business, Old Blue Raw Honey, Camille and Henry sell their unique varietal honeys at local events and online (I’ve tasted this honey and it is spectacular).

bag of quince by Camille Storch

I got turned on to quince a couple years ago when I overheard my friend Ana, a pastry chef, ranting and raving about the fruit’s flavor, texture, and rosy metamorphosis in the cooking process. After getting my hands on some, they quickly became one of my fall favorites, and I’ve since tried out a number recipes including quince jelly and spiced quince leather.

peeled and halved quince by Camille Storch

Quince may seem exotic, and the fruits take a little more work to prepare than an apple or a pear, but the flavor of sweetened (perhaps spiced) quince is unrivaled and almost universally appealing.

simmering quince and lemon by Camille Storch

Starting in late September, quince aren’t too hard to come by at farmers’ markets or even grocery stores ‘round these parts. For the last three years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting and harvesting from the quince orchard at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, OR where more than 200 different quince cultivars from all over the world are planted.

reducing quince by Camille Storch

This year, I put off my orchard trip until almost too late in the season, so only a few stragglers were left on the trees for me to pluck down. Luckily, I made off with just enough fruit for two batches of honey-vanilla bean quince preserves and one quince-boysenberry pie.

jars of quince preserves by Camille Storch

The following recipe was inspired by my friend Lisa who sometimes brings me fresh butter from her dairy cows but on one occasion brought me a jar of homemade quince preserves instead. I popped open the jar immediately, and then we sat around the kitchen table chatting and eating through a stack of pancakes smothered in chunky, rosy, quince-y goodness. Later when I asked for her recipe, I got only a few vague instructions, so I had to recreate her genius more or less on my own. Thankfully, the task wasn’t difficult at all.

half pint of quince preserves by Camille Storch

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Gift Guide: Gear for the Small Batch Canner

small batch canning gift guide

In the last week or so, I’ve gotten half a dozen individual requests from people, asking me to tell them what they should buy for someone who wants to start canning in small batches.

Working under the assumption that a list of essentials might be useful to lots of people, I spent a little time this morning rummaging through my kitchen, pulling out my favorite pieces of equipment. These are the things I use regularly, and replace immediately when they break or are lost (things get left behind when you do as many traveling demos as I do).

Starting from the left and then moving clockwise…

  • A basic microplane zester. I prefer this model to the one with a handle, because it has a slightly larger grating area and can be set across the top of a bowl or pan. I use this at least once during every canning project for citrus zest, fresh ginger, nutmeg, or garlic.
  • A stainless steel wide mouth funnel. It’s sturdy, dishwasher safe, and will never melt if left too close to a hot burner.
  • An instant read digital thermometer. I like this ThermoPop, because it’s works quickly and is reliable, but is a more affordable option when compared to other ThermoWorks products.
  • A canning rack, like this Blossom Trivet. My love of this trivet is well documented.
  • Paring knife! On the high end, I like this one from Wusthof. A more affordable but excellent option is this OXO one.
  • A good jar lifter is vital. I find that for this tool, basic is best.
  • Vegetable peeler. These generally make good stocking stuffers, because most people don’t think to replace them, but are always happy to have a new, sharp peeler.
  • I use my potato masher all the time when making jams, fruit butters, and pizza sauce. I’ve used a number over the years, and think that this one from OXO is among the very best.
  • Silicone spatula. Flexible and fully encased in silicone is the way to go. This one from Mastrad is the best and most affordable I’ve found and I like it so much that I own half a dozen (so that I never have to fish a dirty one out of the dishwasher).

small batch canning pots

My canning pot list is a bit simpler. For really small batches, I use a 12 cup 4th Burner Pot. You can stack two wide mouth half pints or three wide mouth half pint Collection Elite jars in it. It’s also great for heating pickle brine, warming stock for risotto, hard boiling eggs (stack ’em right in the basket), or making a few servings of mulled wine.

To process larger batches, I use a 12 quart stock pot. Most of the time, I reach for this one from Cuisinart. It’s light weight, durable, and can hold up to seven pint jars. However, it’s not the best for processing quart jars. If you think your gift recipient will be doing a lot of quarts, this Le Creuset 12 quart stock pot is a good choice. It’s a bit pricier than the Cuisinart, but is a little taller and skinnier, which means it holds four quart jars with ease.

preserving pots and pans

When it comes to giving a pan for jam making, I suggest you do a little gentle investigation before plunking down money on a spendy piece of cookware (this goes for the canning pots I mentioned above, as well. Many people already have a stock pot that can serve as a canning pot in their kitchen). However, if you know the state of your intended recipient’s kitchen, you want to get them a piece of cookware made from either stainless steel or enameled cast iron.

Any time you’re working with foods that contain high amounts of acid (and all preserves destined for preservation in a boiling water bath will be high in acid), you want to a pan made from non-reactive materials. That’s because the acid present in the food can leach a metallic flavor from reactive metals and spoil your preserves. Non-reactive cookware won’t do that.

Additionally, I don’t suggest non-stick cookware for preserving. If you read the instructions that come with non-stick pans, you’ll find that they recommend that you never use that style of cookware with high heat. When you make jams, jellies, and chutneys, you will be cooking at high heat in order to reach the desired consistency.

Here are the small batch pans I reach for most…

  • A Le Creuset 11 3/4 inch skillet. This is a heavy, expensive pan. I got mine at the Le Creuset outlet in Lancaster County, which made it far more affordable than the ones online. You can also often find these at Marshall’s, HomeGoods, and other discount home stores.
  • A stainless steel, 12 inch skillet. The one I have and use all the time is this tri-ply Tramontina model. However, according to Cook’s Illustrated, they have changed the styling of that skillet and it’s not as functional as it once was. All-Clad makes a nearly identical pan that works beautifully, but it is expensive. A more affordable option (recommended by Cook’s Illustrated) is this Emeril by All-Clad pan.
  • A large, straight-sided saute pan. I have this All-Clad one, but again, it’s not a cheap pan. I got it at Cookware & More, which made it a little less expensive. Of course, because they’re an outlet store, their stock will vary.

Here are my favorites for bigger batches…

  • A 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven. I have an orange Le Creuset one that I adore, but once again, it’s not cheap. If it’s out of your budget, get yourself to a West Elm. They have a 5 1/2 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven and the black one is on sale for $49.99. I bought one recently and have used it a lot. It’s a solid piece of cookware (and I mean solid, that sucker is heavy!).
  • A low, wide 8 quart pan. Of all the pieces of cookware in my kitchen, this may be the one I reach for the most. I have an All-Clad model that I got at the outlet and it’s a workhorse (though I got the Masterchef model, which I would not recommend. It’s got a brushed aluminum exterior that discolors in the dishwasher). A more affordable option is this one from Sur La Table. I have that one in my class kit and it’s been a really durable piece of cookware.

Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint

Finally, what small batch canning kit is completely without a cookbook or two to guide the way? If you’re interested in getting a personalized copy of either book, drop me a note and we can make arrangements!

Oh, and please do know that this post is studded with affiliate links. I make a few cents when you make a purchase using one of those links. Just wanted to make sure you knew!

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Spiced Cranberry Shrub + Tangy Cranberry Applesauce

cranberries

Yikes. It’s been a whole lot of sale, sponsorship, and giveaway posts around here lately, hasn’t it. Let’s get back to the pickles and preserves, shall we?

I know most people see Thanksgiving as the high point of the cranberry season, but I keep buying and using them until the last bag disappears from store shelves. I also always stash a few bags in the freezer for those moments in February when I must have some cranberry bread.

adding sugar to cranberries

Last week, inspired the last drops of liquid left over from a batch of pickled cranberries, I devised a quick cranberry shrub. It is just a combination of cranberries, apple cider vinegar, a little water (since cranberries are so dry, they don’t add any moisture to the party), sugar, and spices. You simmer it all together until the cranberries pop.

spices into cranberries

Once the contents of your saucepan have had a chance to cool (and steep just a bit more), you position a strainer over a large bowl or measuring cup and run the contents of the pot through it. You end up with a very tasty, tart syrup and a sticky mound of berries and whole spices.

spiced cranberry shrub

I like to dip a few spoonfuls of the shrub into a wide mouth quart jar and then fill it all the way up with fizzy water. The sharpness of the vinegar carries the flavor of the berries better than a syrup made without any additional acid and so it takes very little to brighten up a water or your favorite cocktail (I have it on very good authority that 3/4oz cranberry shrub + 1oz whiskey + 3oz champagne makes for a deliciously celebratory adult beverage).

open cranberry shrub

If you choose to make this, I highly suggest that you take those sticky solids and push them through a food mill or fine mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a highly spiced cranberry paste. You could serve it just as it is with some cheddar cheese (packed into a little ramekin) or you could do like I did and stir it into a batch of freshly made applesauce. It adds gorgeous color to the sauce and would be awfully good with a batch of freshly fried latkes (which starts on December 16).

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December Sponsors: Cuppow, Spice Ratchet, Fillmore Container, MightyNest, and More!

fermentools lid

It’s December 2nd and that means that it’s time to dedicate a blog post to the sponsors who help make this site possible. Please do take a moment to read this post and if they offer something that appeals, I know they would appreciate your business.

First up is jar accessory maker Cuppow! They are the creator of the original mason jar travel mug topper and the BNTO, a small plastic cup that transforms a canning jar into a snack or lunch box. Their Cyber Monday sale ends tonight, so if you’ve had your eye on one of their products, make sure to submit your order today.

Next up is Spice Ratchet. They make the blossom trivet that I use as a canning rack, and just recently, they released a line of silicone Blossom uCaps for mason jars. They are available as a storage cap, a sipping cap, and a flower frog. I’m currently giving away some of their fabulous trivets and you can enter here.

Our friends at Fillmore Container are back as well. They sell all manner of canning jars and lids, as well as a handful of books and jar accessories. They’re a family-owned business based in Lancaster, PA and they happily work with home canners and commercial producers alike. Make sure to check out all the fun programming they’ve lined up for their booth in the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January.

The fab folks at MightyNest are another December sponsor. They are an amazing resource for non-toxic, natural, and organic products for homes and families and recently added my beloved 4th Burner Pot to their stock. Don’t miss all their special blogger gift sets, including the Preservationist Kit which features my latest book!

Mrs. Wages is also back for another month of canning goodness! I’ve written for them for the last three summers and this year, we’re teaming up for an official partnership. They make all sorts of pectins and canning mixes. Make sure to sign up for their newsletter for monthly installments of canning goodness.

Next up is Fermentools. They make a brilliant fermentation starter kit that involves a heavy-duty glass pickling weight, an airlock, a lid with a reusable rubber seal, and mineral-rich salt. The pickles I made using their kit turned out deliciously!

Last on the list is The Vintage Pearl. They make beautiful, hand stamped jewelry and are offering all Food in Jars readers $15 off a purchase of $75. Just use the code “FIJ15.”

If your company or small business is interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find more details here. I offer discounts for multiple month purchases and am always happy to work with your budget.

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Giveaway: Blossom Trivets from Spice Ratchet

black blossom trivet

Sometimes the best pieces of canning gear were never actually intended for use in food preservation. Case in point? The blossom trivet! It’s the best, most flexible canning rack I’ve found in my travels (and believe me, I go through life looking at kitchenware to see if I can somehow use it my canning flow).

red blossom trivet

I like to use these trivets as canning racks because they are heatproof, flexible, and never break down in the water like metal racks can do. You can take them apart, use them as one long strip, or you can button two together to make a rack for a larger pot.

pot on black trivet

I have heard from some people that they sometimes struggle to get their blossom trivets to lay flat in the pot when the water is at a rolling boil. The trick for that is that you turn the heat off or slide the pot off the hot burner for just a moment. That will calm the boil and give you a chance to lay the trivet back into place (a jar lifter does the job nicely). Then put the first full jar in on top of the now-flat trivet and it will stay in place. Problem solved!

pot and trivet

This week’s giveaway comes to us from Spice Ratchet. They are the makers of the blossom trivet (along with these nifty blossom jar toppers) and are regular Food in Jars sponsors. They’ve offered up four sets of trivets to my readers for the giveaway. Each set will include two red trivets and one translucent red trivet. You’ll be all set for canning season 2015! Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me what your favorite preserve from 2014 has been.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, December 6, 2014. The winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog by Sunday, December 7, 2014.
  3. Giveaway is open to US residents only (so sorry, further-flung readers).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.

Disclosure: Spice Ratchet is a Food in Jars sponsor and helps make this site possible.