Canned Clementines: A Report

canned clementines

Last week, when I wrote about my recent experience canning clementines, a number of people (both in person and in the comments) asked about how well they stored and tasted. In the interest of science (and your ability to accurately stock your pantries), I cracked open one of my jars today, to eat with my lunch and see how well the clementines were storing.

opening clementines

The one thing that’s decidedly different about my canned clementines, when compared to the commercially canned ones, is that I didn’t remove the segment membranes. In fact, when I first pondered this project, I briefly considered hand-peeling each clementine sliver, in an attempt to make them as authentic as possible. But being that I’m essentially a lazy canner, I quickly abandoned that idea.

While looking into how the commercial guys do it, I discovered that they soak their mandarins in a lye solution, which eats the membranes away. Makes you think twice about buying those little cans, doesn’t it?

spooning clementines

So, how did they taste? They were good. They were juicy and flavorful. As one would expect, they had that slight cooked fruit taste that is the by-product of the boiling water bath, but with none of that metallic tang that comes with commercially canned fruit. They weren’t excessively sweet (since I used the lightest syrup possible). While eating, I was reminded of how important it is to use the best and most freshest ingredients possible when canning, as I could absolutely tell the different between a clementine segment that had come off a piece of fruit that was zingy with life and one that was a bit tired.

clementines and cottage cheese

All in all, I’m really pleased with my canned clementines. I plan on doing at least one more batch before the season is over. Next time, I think I’ll flavor the syrup with a bit of ginger and I’ll separate each segment, as opposed to canning them in halves and quarters (the texture of the individual segments was just slightly better than the fruit canned in clinging halves).

I’m delighted to have discovered a way to have my favorite fruit and cottage cheese lunch, without making too much waste or eating fruit that once took a bath in a pot of lye.

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Dark Days: Local Bits, Pieces and Pizza

roasted brussels sprouts and ham

I had a harder time cooking for the Dark Days challenge last week than I ever have before. It’s not that we didn’t eat locally. There was carrot soup, made from farmers market carrots and onions, and simmered in chicken stock that I made from local chicken feet and pressure canned last summer. A roast chicken that had once happily roamed a pasture out in Lancaster County. Freshly made (although not by my hands) fettuccine, tossed with sauteed portobello mushrooms, kale, onions and ricotta (the veg was all-local and the ricotta was freshly made from Claudio’s).

But there were also things like the cauliflower I pureed with some dill havarti on Tuesday night. The cauliflower was from the Italian Market, bought two for a $1. Cheap, nutritious, but from far, far away. The cheese was a hunk of Trader Joe’s finest, of origins unknown.

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And last night, I made whole wheat pizza to satisfy a craving of Scott’s, who was coming off three weeks of no carbs and, in that moment, needed a slice as much as he also needed air, water and sleep. It is not wise to respond to a hungry man’s request for pizza with the words, “we can’t have pizza, because my flour and cheese aren’t local.”

So I made pizza, following Joy’s recipe for dough with flour from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. One was topped with some of my homecanned tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella from who-knows-where, buying club onions and Claudio’s pepperoni. Another wore that same base, with local ham, those same onions and slivers of red pepper from Mexico.

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We ate the pizza with a side of roasted brussels sprouts (bought from local farmers at my Saturday market) and a great deal of satisfaction.

While there is no one meal I can look at from the last seven days and say, “Yep, that one there, that’s my Dark Days meal for the third week in January,” the challenge was with me in some way with each bite I took. And I think that that’s really the goal.

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Canned Clementines for the Can Jam

Dear friends, I have an update on this recipe and it’s a bummer. I don’t recommend that you can clementines in this fashion. I was all excited about being able to can clementine segments, but I found that when they sat on the shelf for a while, the membrane imbued both the fruit and the syrup with an impossibly bitter flavor. I’m leaving the post up, so that there’s both background and a helpful warning. 

bowl of clementines

Around the time I hit the fourth grade, I felt certain I’d eaten enough peanut butter sandwiches to last me a lifetime. This was in the days before peanut allergies ran amok and no one could ever imagine a lunchroom in which peanut products would be banned. However, peanut butter and honey on nutty whole grain bread was my mother’s lunchbox staple, so when I announced my resistance to her near-daily offering, she wasn’t sure what else to pack for my lunch (oh, I long for the days when my midday meal was someone else’s worry).

colander of clementines

Happily, we quickly found a couple new items that satisfied my restless palate. For the next three years, I took two little plastic containers to school with me every day in my lunch sack (until I decided that it was time to move onto a new lunch item). They were filled with either vanilla yogurt and maple-sweetened granola (kept separate to prevent soggy oats) or cottage cheese and canned mandarin oranges.

clementine peels

To this day, I still regularly eat both those combinations (sometimes I add a dollop of jam to the yogurt and granola combo, if I’m feeling particularly indulgent that day) and during college, I returned to peanut butter with a hunger I’ve yet to satisfy.

As I pondered recipe options for the Can Jam, the idea struck that I could take a stab at canning my own mandarins instead of opening one of those squat, 9-ounce cans once a week (one of the problems with purchasing conventionally canned fruit at the grocery store is that you then have to transfer the leftover fruit to a different container. When you can it yourself, you can just screw the lid back on and pop it in the fridge).

peeled clementines

I learned a couple things about myself as I stood in my kitchen last night and peeled five pounds of clementines. The first is that despite being right-handed, I’m only able to peel using my left hand. Second was that I have a number of microscopic cuts on the tips of my fingers and that though it’s not quite as acidic as lemon juice, clementine juice is also quite stingy.

pre-processed clementines

For this project, I adapted the recipe for canning orange segments in So Easy to Preserve (my personal canning bible) and was happy to discover that it was one of my easier canning projects to date (possible to undertake at 9 p.m. at night without compromising my 11:30 bedtime). I use the lightest syrup possible, just 3/4 cup of sugar to 6 cups of water, to keep the fruit as virtuous as I could.

I had initially planned to can them whole, but quickly found that if I wanted to maximize my jar space, I needed to pack them in halves and quarters (clementine bits are very springy, so it was possible to cram quite a few into each jar).

canned clementines

After filled the jars with my light syrup, I used a chopstick to get the air bubbles out, wiped the rims, applied the lids and screwed on the rings. I processed the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (remember that you don’t start tracking the time until the water returns to a boil). The jars did siphon a bit of syrup out into the water as they processed, but that behavior is normal with whole canned fruit.

I haven’t broken into one of the jars yet. I think I’ll wait until there aren’t so many clementines in the markets so that I can treat myself to a burst of lovely citrus when it’s mealy, sad or just generally unavailable. I canned this batch straight, without any additional flavors. However, I do think I might do another batch while clementines are in season and pop a cinnamon stick or a star anise into the jars (oh! or maybe a bit of fennel seed).

Happy Can Jam!

Dark Days: A Local Salad in January

all-local salad

I’m feeling a little lazy tonight, so instead of telling you about the local sausage we ate tonight with some of my homemade, home-canned, red sauerkraut (the picture is still on the camera, which is all the way across the room), I’m going to feature a little salad I had for lunch yesterday.

I had a lazy Saturday morning, so slow-moving and indulgent that it was afternoon before I managed to walk over to the farmers market. When you go to a farmers’ market within it’s last hour, you run the risk of finding nearly nothing left. I was fortunate in that I was able to pick up carrots, eggs, some gorgeous portobello mushrooms, a slab of locally made goat cheddar and most wonderfully, a bag of tender salad greens.

bag of local salad greens

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that I was able to buy locally grown salad greens in January. It’s not like I live in Southern California or Florida. I’m in Philadelphia, where last week we had lows of 19 and 20 degrees. Finding them was a joy. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t completely abstained from salads during these cold months. However, they’ve been dull tasteless things in comparison to these greens. They were so soft and delicate. And, at $3.25 for a six-ounce bag, they weren’t that eye-poppingly expensive (the stand was even running a “two for $6 deal.” I’m kicking myself for not buying a second bag).

local goat cheddar

I tossed half the bag with a sprinkle of balsamic (not local), olive oil (nope), salt and pepper. Topped with some of that goat cheddar and eaten with a hunk of multi-grain baguette (also purchased at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market). I didn’t share this salad with Scott. I ate hunched over my bowl, chasing those last slivers of lettuce onto my fork with a bread crust. Had I had a red slicing tomato along side, I would have thought it was July. I was a balm to my potato-weary soul and I feel restored.

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Meyer Lemon Curd

meyer lemons

When I was 11 years old, my cousins in Walnut Creek, California sent us a jar of homemade lemon curd. They kept chickens in their backyard, had lemon trees out front and so made jars of curd using these homegrown ingredients to send to friends and family for the holidays. It was love at first taste.

egg yolk star

For a couple days, I kept up the charade of sharing this sunshiny jar with my parents and sister, dolloping scant spoonfuls onto toast like everyone else. However, on the third day, I couldn’t continue to resist. I removed the half-full jar from the fridge, snuck to my room and ate the balance of the jar a spoon while reading a book. I am not to be trusted when it comes to lemon curd.

zesting

Speaking of meyer lemons. One of the magical things about Southern California is that they just grow on trees there. I was born in Los Angeles and for my first nine years lived amidst that magical bounty. Our Hawaiian mailman taught me to eat the tender blossoms from the the guava tree along our front walkway and my grandma Bunny had a tree that produced heaps of sweet/tart Meyer lemons each year (my mom used to squeeze them and freeze the juice into ice cubes).

Having lived in colder climates for the last 21 years, I am startled when I am reminded that there are places where people can just walk outside and pick citrus (and that I was once one of them).

lemon halves

For those of you who have yet to taste a meyer lemon, they’re thinner skinned and sweeter than your typical lemon. They are also intensely fragrant, and give this curd a lovely, delicate taste/aroma.

butter (unsalted is best)

Making curd is time consuming, but once your ingredients are all assembled, it goes quickly. This basic recipe makes just a single pint, but happily you can easily double or triple it without any ill effects. Separate six eggs, tucking the whites into a jar for later use (I’m thinking of making a batch of meringue cookies tomorrow).

Zest three juicy meyer lemons (make sure to pick ones that seem heavy for their size). Juice the lemons (always buy one extra, in case you don’t get quite enough juice).

adding butter

Measure out 1 cup of sugar and set a heavy bottomed pot over low heat. Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar. Pour in the lemon juice, add the bits of zest and switch to a wooden spoon for stirring (using a whisk past the initial step will aerate your curd and your final product won’t be silken).

Don’t worry if your curd looks texturally weird during cooking, a quick trip through a fine mesh sieve at the end ensures that the finished curd is perfectly silky.

two half-pints of lemon curd

When the sugar, egg yolk and lemon juice have thickened (it takes 10-15 minutes of cooking over very low heat and near-constant stirring to get to this point), stir in the butter until it’s melted. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the curd through a mesh sieve that you’ve perched over a glass or stainless steel bowl.

Gently work the curd through the sieve with a wooden spoon, removing the bits of curd and any curdled bits of scrambled egg.

curd from above

You can process lemon curd to make it shelf stable, but it doesn’t have the shelf life of other jams and preserves. You won’t want to keep it more than two months (but with something this good, I truly doubt you’ll have it hanging around that long). Process half and quarter pints in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (starting the timer when the water returns to a boil so that they get the full effect of 20 minutes of boiling water processing).

For those of you who like recipes in a traditional format, sans narrative, it is after the jump.

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Dark Days: Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

soup with kale

I’m coming to realize that during the winter months, Sunday is nearly synonymous with soup in my brain. Here in Philly, it barely got above 30 degrees today, making soup doubly necessary. Luckily, I had everything I needed in my pantry and freezer to make a big pot of sausage, kale and white bean soup.

navy beans

First step was to break out the pressure cooker and cook off two and a half cups of navy beans. I bought these lovely little white beans at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market last fall and have had them tucked into a jar since then. To be perfectly honest though, I don’t know for sure whether they’re locally grown. The woman who operates this particular stall isn’t the most friendly and so I rarely try to engage her in conversation. I realize, though, that it’s poor locavore behavior on my part.

Side note about navy beans. I spent years thinking that since they had the word navy in their name, that meant that they were navy in color (somehow I never connected those small, creamy beans my mom put into soup with the name “navy”). It wasn’t until I was far past voting age that I learned that they were actually essentially white beans and were called that because they were commonly served to sailors. Live and learn.

Anyway, 2 1/2 cups of navy beans, cooked with 6 1/2 cups of water in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes will give you six cups of tender beans, which just happens to be an ideal amount for this soup.

two quarts of ham stock

For the liquid component, I used two quarts of the ham stock I pressure canned last July. Lately, I’ve been really working on using the foods I’ve preserved (I get so excited about stocking my pantry that I sometimes forget that preserved food needs to be in near constant rotation) and so having an opportunity to use some of my canned stock was an added boon when making this soup. It’s also great because I know that the ham hocks I used to make that stock were local and humanely raised.

carrots celery onion garlic sausage

The soup started in the same way that many of my soups start. One minced onion, three fat carrots (diced) and four celery ribs (that darn celery is the only non-local component in this soup. I wasn’t thinking when I added it.) diced and sauteed in some fat/oil. I used some of my local lard (when my porcine-free mother reads this post, I am certain she will cringe at the number of pork products that went into this meal) but you could use also happily use olive oil. As the veggies browned and softened, I crushed and minced four big garlic cloves and the leaves from one sprig of rosemary and added them to the pot.

Once the veggies had some color, I created a well in the center and added two pounds of fennel sausage (set free from its casing) from the Meadow Run Farm buying club. I am addicted to this sausage. It has great flavor, is relatively lean and comes from those same happy, local pigs that provided the hocks that made the ham stock. Two pounds of sausage makes this a very meaty soup. Next time I make it, I will probably cut the meat by half. However, right at the moment, my husband is doing phase one of the South Beach Diet, and so I went a little heavier than normal on the protein for him.

After the meat was cooked and stirred into the veggies, I added the ham stock and beans, but the lid on and allowed the soup a bit of simmer time.

washed kale

I recently joined Winter Harvest, which is a wintertime buying club here in the Philly-area, run by Farm to City. It is a terrific way to get reasonably priced local produce, meat and dairy when most of the area farmers markets are shuttered for the season. In my first order, I got red and yellow onions, some sweet little beets, vividly orange-yolked eggs, a gallon of raw milk and the bundle of kale you see above.

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables, particularly because it can be prepared raw or cooked. It plays really well in soup and was a shining star in this particular batch. Stripped from the stem, I washed the leaves well (nothing makes a dish sadder than sandy grit from poorly washed greens) and chopped them to bits (first, fine ribbons. Then, rotate the board 90 degrees for bittage). I stirred the chopped greens into the soup during the last fifteen minutes of cooking.

kale stems

Had I planned better, I would have stripped the stems from the kale sooner, cut them into small bits and sauteed them with the onions, carrots and celery (probably would have been a good substitute for the non-local celery, too). Sadly, I didn’t think that far in advance and so ended up pitching the stems. However, they are quite edible (my mom likes to eat them raw with a bit of hummus).

When the soup was finished, it was deliciously warm, filling and happily, almost entirely local (particularly if you skip over the celery and don’t look too closely at my beans). If you’re not a pork person, you could easily substitute turkey sausage and some homemade chicken stock. It wouldn’t have that smoky flavor that the ham stock lends, but would still be quite delicious (although, now I’m wondering about making stock with smoked turkey wings. Could be delicious and just the thing for the pork avoiders in the crowd).

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