Thanksgiving Favorites

Turkey side view
As some of you may know, before I started this blog, I spent a lot of my time writing about food for Slashfood. Over the two years I was there, I amassed a fairly significant collection of holiday recipes and I thought it would be fun, as we prepare to head into the Thanksgiving frenzy, to point out some of my favorites. Even if most these recipes don’t actually include many (or even any) foods in jars.

In addition to those Slashfood recipes, there’s also the classic Fork You Thanksgiving series, in which we made:

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Homemade Cranberry Jelly (for Thanksgiving)

cranberry sauce

It’s pretty much universally accepted that no Thanksgiving spread is complete without a cranberry condiment of some sort. My grandma Bunny was partial to a raw cranberry-orange relish she made with hand-cranked countertop grinder (I do wish I had her recipe, but both she and it have been gone since I was 15). My cousin Angie makes the same cranberry jello mold that her mother always used to make. My own mother has always been a secret fan of the standard canned stuff, not necessarily announcing her preference to people outside the family, but always ensuring that it appeared on any holiday table at which she ate.

In recent years, as I became enamored with the idea of making myself what I once mindlessly bought, I experimented with varieties of homemade cranberry sauce. I made whole berry compotes with fresh vanilla bean. I did an apple-cranberry sauce. I even tried that cranberry jello mold. As delicious as they all were, none were quite right.

french toast with cranberry

That is, until I determined to make a very simple cranberry sauce, using just fresh berries, a splash of apple cider and sugar. Essentially, I resisted the urge to fancy it up. After cooking, a pass through a food mill and a rest in the fridge overnight, I realized I had made something nearly identical to my mom’s favorite canned sauce, only without the high fructose corn syrup.

So, if you like the classic canned jelly, but have a burning desire to make your own, this is the recipe for you. Best of all, you can put it through a hot water process and make it shelf stable, making it a do-ahead Thanksgiving project (and it’s good on more than just turkey, it was delicious on the french toast you see above). The only downside I can see is that it won’t exist its vessel whole and retain the shape of the can.

The recipe is after the jump…

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Preserving Pumpkin

roasted pumpkin

Don’t forget to sign up for one of my cranberry classes – jelly on 11/15 and chutney on 11/21

Last week I picked up my final CSA share. The box included an adorable little sugar pumpkin. Normally, I would have kept it in the dining room for a week or two, in order to enjoy the autumnal look it would lend my grandmother’s table. However, this one came with a soft spot, so it had to be used right away, lest it rot away entirely (Jonathan at Wasted Food would be so proud). So Sunday morning, I cut out the bad spot, split it in half and put it cut sides down on a cookie sheet, to gently roast until soft at 350 degrees. When it was fork-tender, I turned the oven off and left it to cool in the oven until I was ready to deal with it.

Not having a plan for it, when it was soft and cool enough to handle, I simply scraped the flesh away from the skin and packed it into the jar you see above. It’s still in the fridge, and I’m hoping to puree it until smooth tomorrow night (it’s too late tonight to embark on a fresh kitchen project) and use some of it to make a batch of these whole wheat pumpkin muffins (if you follow that link, my apologies for the awful photo. I can’t believe I ever thought it was a good idea to post that horror). The rest is going to go into some variance on this seriously delicious potato/pumpkin/gruyere casserole (I promise you that if you try it, you will forever make a place for it on your Thanksgiving table).

However, all that doesn’t tell you a whole lot of about preserving pumpkin past this season (although, those muffins can be frozen to delicious results). What I can tell you is that you have a few options when it comes to this gorgeous, vitamin-rich vegetable. Most easily, as long as you have good storage space, you can simply keep these pumpkins whole. Ask your farmers and market vendors which they recommend most for long-term storage.

If you want to have roasted pumpkin/squash at your finger tips, freezing is your only safe option. The density of mashed/pureed pumpkin is such that even pressure canning cannot guarantee your safety. However, it’s very easy to freeze it. Roast your pumpkins just like I did above and then measure it out into zip top bags, plastic storage containers or jars (if you freeze in glass, make sure to leave plenty of room for expansion). If you have a favorite recipe that calls for pumpkin/squash puree, consider freezing in that exact proportion, to make for easy cooking/baking.

However, you are able to pressure can pumpkin chunks packed in water. Here’s what you do (these instructions were taken directly from So Easy to Preserve, the canning bible out of the University of Georgia cooperative extension). Peel the pumpkin and cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add to a pot of boiling water and cook for two minutes. Pack the hot cubes into hot jars and add cooking liquid, leaving 1-inch of head space. Remove the air bubbles, wipe rims and apply lids. Process in a pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure, 55 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.

When you’re ready to use this pumpkin in a recipe, you’ll find that a quick drain and a few smashes with a fork (or a run through a food processor if you’re a stickler for a lump-free texture) will provide you just what you need.

Lastly, if none of those options particularly float your boat, consider scoping out the Pumpkin Marmalade that the lovely Tigress in a Jam made recently. It’s currently stuck in my head and I’m thinking I may not be able to shake it loose until I make my own batch.

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How to Check That Your Seal is Good

concave lids
I got a question tonight from a reader of this blog about seal quality and as I was writing her back, I realized that there may be more of you out there who could benefit from a brief seal-testing tutorial.

When it comes to canning, sometimes you miss the pinging sound that gives you auditory confirmation that your jars have sealed. Just because you didn’t hear it doesn’t mean that the jars didn’t seal. Here are some ways to test….

  1. Press down on the center of the lid. Does it move up and down or does it feel solid and concave? Solid and concave means a good seal, movement means no seal.
  2. Tap on the lid. Does it sound tinny or hollow? Tinny means sealed, hollow means poor or no seal.
  3. Unscrew the band you used to hold the lid in place during processing. Now attempt to pick your jar up holding onto nothing but the lid. If you have a good seal, you should be able to do this easily. You’ll know pretty much right away when you remove the band whether your seal is good.

How else do you guys check your seals? And, while I’m answering questions, who else has got one?

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Homemade Butter

1/2 pint salted butter

When I was growing up, I regularly begged my mom to tell me stories of when she was a little girl. As I grew, she began to run out of little girl stories and so started to progress to teen-age stories and tales of her college years (I imagine they were somewhat censored, at least during my younger days).

Once, she recounted the story of a college professor who welcomed students on the first day of classes with a jar, a marble and a pint of heavy cream. He’d pour the cream into the jar, drop in the marble, screw on the lid and hand it to a student in the first row, explaining that he wanted everyone to introduce themselves. When you had the jar, it was your turn to talk. Oh, and you had to keep shaking the jar while you talked. How else would they have butter at the end of class?

A child of the grocery store revolution, this was the first time my mom had experienced the alchemy of butterfat. She shook vigorously during her turn, transfixed by how something that had once been a smooth liquid was transforming into something new.

Of course, as soon as she told me this story, I began a campaign for homemade butter. It took a while, but I did eventually wear her down and we made butter, just like she had done all those years ago (although, knowing how much effort is required to shake a pint of cream into butter, I can’t imagine we followed entirely through. I bet my mom ended up finishing it off in the kitchen with some hand beaters.

bowl/buttermilk

These days, the urge to make my own butter still does occasionally strike, particularly when I’m faced with wonderful local cream, like I was last Saturday at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. I bought a quart of said cream and Sunday night, at the end of a long day of cooking, I made butter (thinking all the while about Laura Ingalls and her pioneer sisters). I cheated though, as I used my mixer as opposed to shaking, churning or otherwise putting my own elbow grease into the process.

Here’s how I do it: I pour the cream into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid, which I’ve fitted with the paddle attachment. I crank the bowl into place and drape a clean dish towel over the machine. Only after I’ve installed this very basic splash guard, do I turn the mixer on to it’s second level. Then I walk away and let the thing run for 7 to 10 minutes.

When I come back, I make sure to turn the motor off before removing the towel to check on my progress. Best case scenario, there will be floes of butter drifting in a sea of buttermilk. If not, replace the towel and run a bit more. If you do have butter, position a strainer above a bowl, detach the mixing bowl and pour the butter/buttermilk into the strainer. Lift the strainer off the buttermilk bowl and rest it above the mixing bowl.

Set aside the buttermilk (I pour it back into the bottle from whence the cream came and use it in a variety of baked goods until it’s all gone) and return to the butter. Plop it back into the mixing bowl and get a sturdy wooden spatula. Start working the butter, pressing the remaining buttermilk out of it (if you want to salt your butter, this is a good time to do it, as it will get well integrated in the pressing process). A couple of times, rinse the butter with very cold water, in order to help wash the buttermilk out of the butter (you won’t lose all the salt).

When you’ve pressed out all the buttermilk you can, and the butter appears smooth and of an even consistency, pack it into half pint jars. If you’ve made more than you can use in about a week’s time, freeze some of it, as I’ve found that homemade butter goes off more quickly than the commercial stuff.

After reading all that, you might wonder why a person would make their own butter, when it can be bought cheaply with far less effort. Well, as with many things, you appreciate it more when you do it yourself. Additionally, making it yourself means that there won’t be any stabilizers or preservatives in it. Lastly, it just tastes better when you make it in your own kitchen.

I started making my own butter sometime last year, after I realized that I had developed an expensive imported butter habit. My cream comes from cows who graze within my 100 mile food shed and the processing is all my own. Mmm, butter.

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Chocolate for Breakfast Winner

DSC_0019
We’ve got a winner in the Chocolate for Breakfast giveaway. The randomizer selected #6, which is commenter Apple Tree, who’s husband has been inspired to can of late in part by this site (I do love hearing such things). I’ll be in touch and will ship the book out to you soon.

Coming later this week: homemade butter, pickled daikon and honey sweetened applesauce.

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