Canning 101: On Substituting Salt in Pickling

testing salt weights

One question I’ve gotten fairly frequently this summer has been about salt. More precisely, people are wondering how to substitute other types of salt for the pickling salt that most canning recipes call for. I’ve done some thinking and some testing in this area and have come to the conclusion that the best way to make this substitution is through weight.

pickling salt

Last night, I pulled out every different variety of salt in my kitchen, carefully measured out a single tablespoon and took the weight of that tablespoon. The photo above is of standard pickling salt. It is finely milled (so that it dissolves quickly), has no additives to make it run free (most table salts do contain these flow enhancers) and a tablespoon weights precisely 3/4 of an ounce. However, if you live in more urban areas, pickling salt can be hard to find.

kosher salt

A good substitute for pickling salt is kosher salt. It’s more widely available, isn’t particularly expensive and is also free of those additives that prevent clumping (thanks to a comment from salt expert Mark Bitterman, I’ve learned that kosher salt can also contain those anti-caking agents). A level tablespoon weights 5/8 an ounce, which is pretty darn close to the pickling salt. The one thing to be aware of when using kosher salt for pickling is that it will take a bit longer to dissolve.

grey velvet salt

Here’s my precious little jar of the grey velvet salt I got at The Filling Station in Chelsea Market last Friday. A level tablespoon of it weighs 1/2 an ounce. I included it in this salt weighing, but I’m actually far too fond of it to use it in pickling because it would get depleted too fast. But it would dissolve quite quickly, which makes it a good back-up, for those moments when I’m out of pickling salt.

The Meadow multi-use salt

This salt is the multi-use sea salt from The Meadow (an amazing store in Portland, OR that specializes in salt, chocolate, flowers and other lovely things). Sea salt has become a fairly common ingredient in kitchens in recent days, and as long as it is fairly refined, it makes a good salt for canning. One tablespoon weights 1/2 an ounce.

The Meadow sel gris

The last salt I tested was the sel gris from The Meadow. This is a very chunky salt, which makes it not so desirable for canning, because it would be challenging to get it fully dissolved. A tablespoon weighed 3/8 an ounce.

Now what does this all mean? Essentially, it means that though salts aren’t interchangeable by volume, you can weigh out 3/4 an ounce of just about any salt and substitute it for a tablespoon of pickling salt in a canning recipe. However, as I’ve noted above, you should also take into account the texture of the salt you’re using, as well as any additives that might be included in the salt.

In the interest of disclosure, you should all know that the pictured salts from The Meadow were given to me as review samples. However, The Meadow has been one of my favorite spots for quite some time and I always make a point of stopping by the store when I visit Portland.

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White Peach Sauce with Vanilla (+ giveaway!)

white peaches

Until the summer of 2007, the only peaches I knew were aggressively fuzzy and yellow-fleshed. I was perfectly content with those peaches, until I encountered Beechwood Orchards and their white peaches. Fragrant and floral, without any of the pucker that comes with yellow variety, I was sure and well hooked. I’d buy and consume a full quart of those perfect fruits each week. At nearly $5 a box, they were almost always my most expensive farmers’ market purchase each Sunday (this was when I was in grad school and operating on a very slim margin).

peach pits

As far as eating out of hand goes, this summer I’ve swung back towards the acidic yellow peaches of my youth. But when it comes to cooking with stone fruit, I’m having something of a love affair with the white peach. You see, they smell like the best, most heady version of the peach-scented lotion I used during my teenage years, and I love how they take me back in time. They also taste terrific and I just can’t get enough.

peeled white peaches

In an attempt to capture some of that flavor and fragrance, I halved and peeled nearly 10 pounds of white peaches and cooked them down into a vanilla bean-flecked, slightly sweetened sauce. I got ten pints of sauce from those ten pounds of peaches. Seven pints were processed just as they were (with the addition of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per pint for acidification – white peaches are in the grey zone as far as safe levels of acid) and the remaining three were cooked down using the slow cooker technique into four half pints of butter*.

smashing white peaches

I’ve yet to open one of these jars to taste the post-process product, but going into the jars, it was smooth (I did use an immersion blender during the final stage of cooking to get everything to an even consistency), easy on the tongue and containing the very essence of summer flavor. I look forward to opening one of these jars come January and stirring this sauce into yogurt or just eating it directing out of the pint with a spoon.

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*The sauce that was cooked down into butter was also acidified, to ensure safety. I did some research and found that when the average white peach is tested for acidity, it has a pH of 4.5. This is in the canning grey zone and is similar to modern tomatoes (which we also acidify). Yellow peaches have a greater amount of acidity and so could be made into a sauce without need for additional acid.

And now for the giveaway part (you didn’t think I was going to forget that, did you?). The folks at Nielson-Massey have given me three tubes of vanilla beans to give to my readers. Each tube contains two vanilla beans of the very highest quality. Entries will be accepted through Wednesday, August 18th at 11:59 p.m. Just leave a comment on this post and include your favorite way to use vanilla.

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The Filling Station in Chelsea Market

The Filling Station

One of the wonderful things about living in Philadelphia is that it’s so close to so much, making it incredibly easy to visit and explore other nearby cities. This weekend I’m taking a break from the canning pot so that Scott and I can do just that. We’re wandering New York City, eating delicious food, and keeping our eyes peeled for cool stuff.

oils at The Filling Station

One of my hopes for the trip was that we’d get a chance to visit Chelsea Market. It’s in the building that’s also home to the Food Network, after all. One spot that particularly caught my eye was the newly opened Filling Station. They sell an array of olive oils, vinegars, flavored salts and sugars, all in reusable bottles and jars.

sugars at The Filling Station

Best of all, if you bring back your cleaned container, they’ll give you 10% off the price of your refill. This one of my favorite ways to buy just about everything and I just wish that more stores would adopt similar models. I left with two small jars, one filled with fragrant black truffle salt and the other with super-fine grey velvet salt.

Chelsea Market doors

Now we’re off to another food destination – the Union Square Greenmarket. Hooray!

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Photos From Last Week’s LA Times Canning Piece

LA Times article cover

As many of you know, a piece ran in last week’s Los Angeles Times food section about canning and the bloggers who use modern technology to share what they’ve been putting up. That’s Kevin West of the site Saving the Season on the cover (if you’re not reading his blog, you really should be). However, if you flip one page in, you’ll find me grinning out from the second page of the article.

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Living all the way on the other side of the country from Southern California meant that I wasn’t able to see the article in print the day it came out. However, thanks to the power of friends and the speedy nature of the U.S. Postal Service, I had a copy in hand by Monday afternoon (thanks Carol!).

I was so pleased to be included in this article, but what thrills me even more about it is simply that such a large, national paper is talking about canning in a way that is both interesting and respectful (this recent piece in the Seattle Times also struck a really nice tone). Hurray for good press for canning!

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Canning 101: When Black Scum Forms on the Outside of Jars

mucky jars

You slave over a batch of jam, lovingly chopping the fruit and simmering it into sweet, sticky submission. At the end of a long canning session, you leave the jars with the rings on to cool on the counter, content in the knowledge that you’ve made enough jam to last until the following summer.

However, the next morning when you go to take the rings off, you find that they’re a little tough to turn. And what’s this? Black scum has formed around the rims of your jars! Oh no! Does this mean all your hard work is lost?

Happily, the answer to that panicky question is that the jars are perfectly fine, as long as the seals are still good. That black scum you see on the outside of my jars in the picture above is a result of a bit of blueberry jam (on the left) and white peach sauce (on the right) that siphoned out the jars during processing. It was trapped by the ring and left to sit for a day (sometimes it takes me a day or two to get around to removing the rings and labeling). During that time, that bit of jam and sauce reacted with the metal of the ring and formed that scum.

The way you handle a situation like this is simple. You just clean it off. Typically a simple wipe down with a sponge or damp cloth will remove any traces of it. However, if it’s resistant to removal, fill your sink with tepid water and let the jars soak for a few minutes. It should rub right off after that. Once the jars are clean, carefully dry them completely and gently, using the edge of the towel to wipe off that tiny bit of lid overhang.

Finally, when the jars are clean and dry, double check the seals to ensure that they’re still good. Make a thorough visual inspection to ensure you got all of it. Remember also to be careful when cleaning full, sealed jars as too much jostling and rough treatment can potentially break those carefully constructed seals. Oh, and while you’re cleaning your jars, do make sure to also clean the rings. They’ll have some of that residue on them and cleaning will extend their lives.

(I promised a few of you a Canning 101 post on pickling salt and how to substitute other types of salt in canning. I couldn’t quite get that post together tonight, but look for it next week.)

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A Cheese’n Pickles Tasting with Madame Fromage

goat cheese and spreads

Long before I was a fervent jam and pickle-maker, I was a mild mannered grad student, trying to figure out how I wanted my life to look. It was Tenaya (then-professor, now-friend) who whispered in my ear, “You should keep writing about food.” I took her advice and soon my life was full of food blogs and the many wonderful people who write them.

She saw me, glowing from a life that food blogs (that one and these) had built and decided it might be good to start her own. Thus Madame Fromage was born. Tenaya’s blog is a happening spot of its own now, what with her guest posts on the Di Bruno Brothers cheese blog, the month cheese tastings at Quince Fine Foods and her many devoted followers.

It’s those cheese tastings that brings this post here today. For months now, we’ve been casually plotting to join forces for a tasting, pairing a few jars of things I’d made with a collection of specially chosen cheeses. In just three weeks, it’s happening.

On Saturday, August 28th, we’ll be at Quince Fine Foods (209 W. Girard Avenue) from 4-6 p.m., matching up my pickled cherries, pickled garlic scapes and some bread and butter pickles with cheese. I’ll also be chatting a bit about the canning process and answering any canning questions that may come up.

Please call or email to reserve your spot: (215) 232-3425 or quince@quincefinefoods.com. Workshops are limited to 12 participants and cost $12. See you there!

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