Jar Serendipity

my favorite leftover storage jar

For years now, this has been my very favorite jar for storing leftovers. The wide mouth makes it easy to get ladle food in and out and the size means that it typically can handle what remains of the chili or soup in its entirety, without need for splitting across multiple containers. I found it a vast warehouse of a thrift store that stood on North Broad Street, just south of Girard (for those of who live elsewhere, this is not the greatest of neighborhoods, but oh! the deals!), for at least 40 years.

My mom shopped there while she was in college in the late sixties, picking up wardrobe staples for $.25 a piece. Sadly, sometime in the last couple of years this bargain mecca vanished, replaced by yet another vast, characterless Family Dollar. I think the neighborhood was better served by the thrift store, but things inevitably change.

jar find

This is the jar I bought over the weekend, at our very first stop upon entering Lancaster County. It was tucked in the corner of a junk barn that was part of a summer-long yard sale. With the exception of the label, it is twin to my favorite jar, and was just $5 (not bad when you consider the price of plastic food storage containers that get so easily stained and imbued with the scent of chili).

I was also delighted to learn from the label what the jar had originally held.So often, I buy things with unknown origins and create applications for them that aren’t necessarily exactly what they were initially intended for. It’s always a treat to know a little bit more about them (I had a similar discovery experience about ten years ago, when I discovered that the drinking glasses rimmed with embossed stars that I had grown up with were actually the packaging for Hormel-brand dried beef) and be able to imagine a time when that preferred jar was readily available at the local grocery store (although, it might have been a special order type of thing. There’s not a ton of call for three pound jars of peanut butter in ordinary life).

Kitchen King Peanut Butter

However, now I find myself in something of a quandary. In order to make this jar as useful to me as possible, I’m going to need to remove that oh-so-carefully preserved label. I have a personal rule that I don’t collect anything that doesn’t have a purposeful application in real life (every one of my jars is clean and ready to use) and so to justify having this jar, it needs to be cleaned. However, I’m feeling a bit resistant towards stripping the label off, knowing that I’m going to probably end up ruining it in the process. Any preservations experts out there have tips on how to get the label off without destroying it?

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Pictures of jars from Lancaster County

So far this weekend, I’ve purchases five wonderfully unusual jars (big ones for storing grains, flours, cereals and more), dug through a wagon of free stuff to discover two sandwich plates that match the ones in my kitchen cabinets (as well as five Fire King coffee mugs and an old grater), wandered many antique store aisles and eaten far, far too much. I’ve also been taking pictures of jars wherever they’ve caught my fancy. Here are a few.

canning jars
John Deere Jars
jars of pickled brussels sprouts
jars of pickles, chow chow and jelly
me with 1/2 gallon jar

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Rhubarb Syrup Recipe

rhubarb syrup

I’m about half an hour from leaving for the long weekend, but before I take off, I wanted to post this recipe for rhubarb syrup. I’ve actually been seeing this gorgeous, crimson hued concoction all across the internet lately, but figured one more reminder of just how lovely a summer treat it is couldn’t hurt.

My initial inspiration came from seeing Carrie Floyd’s refreshing rhubarb soda over at Culinate and I essentially flowed her instructions, although I altered it slightly. I combined 2 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water for about ten minutes. When the rhubarb was sufficiently broken down, I lined a mesh strainer with a couple layers of cheesecloth (I happened to have some around, you could do without, but your syrup might not be as clear) and poured the rhubarb mass in.

straining syrup

I let it sit for about fifteen minutes, until I had about 2 cups of syrup (the picture above was taken while it was still dripping down, there was almost exactly 2 cups when I was done). I stored it in the cute little pint milk jug I bought (filled with cream) at New Seasons Market last winter when I was in Portland (hey, I paid my bottle deposit, so it was mine to keep should I want to). I’ve been enjoying it in sparkling water for the last couple of days.

What I haven’t done yet, that I’ve been wishing to do, is use this syrup as part of an gently boozy little spritzer. I’m thinking that it would be amazing with a bit of St. Germain or even just with some vodka. The flavor is definitely mild, so you want to pair it with something that won’t overshadow it too much. Needless to say, what remains of my last batch is coming with us this weekend (along with a bottle of Pimms’ for Scott and various and sundry other bar items).

Have a wonderful long weekend, everyone!

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The Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Books, mostly about canning

Last night, I found myself in a Twitter conversation with an acquaintance about canning books. She was looking for something to take her beyond the simple freezer preserving she did last summer into something more ambition and jar-based. I first told her to check out the cookbooks she already had. Any edition (even the most recent and modern volumes) of the Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks will detail the basic steps of canning. If you’re good at following written directions (admittedly, not everyone is), there’s enough there to get you started. You’ll find sensibly written instructions with a nice-sized collection of recipes.

After recommending that she check those all-purpose cookbooks out, I gave her list of some of my favorite canning, pickling and preserving books. However, I inadvertently left one of the best (and cheapest) canning resources around off the list. The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, which has been continually published in yearly editions since 1909, is a terrific book for someone who wants to expand into more exotic recipes and pickling techniques. It typically costs somewhere between $4.95 to $8.95, depending on where you buy it, which keeps it fairly affordable. It’s also often sold right in the grocery store next to the canning jars, lids and pectins (if you live in the city, I warn you that you’re going to have a harder time finding an in-store copy. I found mine at Giant in Lancaster).

One thing to keep in mind about any canning instructions you follow is that it’s always a good idea to cross-check the details with the latest safety recommendations, like those that you can find here.

And, if you’re curious, some of the other canning books I recommended last night were Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition, Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, The Joy of Pickling, Revised Edition: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (although I have the older edition), Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects and So Easy to Preserve, a plastic-bound book out of the University of Georgia’s extension service that has a bit of folksiness that hearkens back to the days of truly useful community cookbooks.

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Pickled Ramps are Everywhere!

ramps

At my birthday party last Saturday, my friends Albert and Kate came bearing a chocolate loaf cake and a half-pint jar of ramps (Albert works at the Fair Food Farmstand, which puts him in the ideal position to catch all the best and most exotic produce in town). I do believe that the very best thing to do with these gifted ramps is to a nice, long soak in a vinegary solution.

As luck would have it, I’ve seen not one, but two other bloggers out there pickling ramps of late. They both used variations on a recipe from Tom Colicchio that ran on Serious Eats last year. I’m tempted to run with that recipe, but I’m also sort of hesitant to use a sweet and sour brine. I’m just not a huge fan of sweet pickles. However, I do believe in the power and talent of Tom Colicchio, so I feel a bit sacreligious questioning his pickle authority.

Have any of you tried this pickled ramp recipe? Do you have an alternate suggestions? Or should I just pop them in my standard brine?

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Sangria and Birthdays

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I apologize for the radio silence over the last few days, I’ve been fully preoccupied with celebrating my 30th birthday with the proper amount of energy and attention that a landmark like that deserves. That kind of dedication to celebration doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for writing. I do have lots of good stuff coming up in the next week, including my adaptation of my dad’s from-scratch, whole grain pancake mix, homemade granola and some truly excellent pickles okra (as far as I’m concerned, okra is best served either pickled or breaded and fried) to make up for my neglect.

Before we dig into those goodies, I will leave you with my oh-so-exact recipe for sangria. This is one of my favorite party drinks and so was what I chose to bring to my birthday garden shindig. The night before I want to serve the sangria, I take a large jar (this one holds nearly 2 quarts of liquid, but if you don’t find yourself with a similarly proportioned jar, using two quart jars is fine) and pack it with sliced fruit. This time around I used lemons, limes, oranges, apricots, a couple of white nectarines and some strawberries, because that’s what was available cheaply at my local produce market. You could also use apples, grapes, peaches, plums or mango. Then I poured inexpensive brandy into the jar, until the fruit was covered. Lid on jar and into the fridge for an overnight soak.

When you’re ready to serve the sangria, pour your boozy fruit out into a punch bowl, large pitcher or other serving recepticle. Since we were imbiding outdoors, I used a large, food service-type plastic container. Top if off with 3-4 bottles or one box of red wine (two-buck Chuck is a good wine for this application). I froze a pound of red grapes to use as ice cubes, but managed to forget them in the hustle of getting out the door. They’re a great way to keep your sangria cooled down without watering it into tastelessness. If you like your sangria sweet, add a bit of simple syrup (sugar + water) or do what I did and add a couple of glugs of lemonade to the mix (sacrilege, I know). Ladle sangria into cup and top off with an inch or two of sparkling water to give it some fizz.

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