A Good Book For the Can Jam (or anytime!)

Canning & Preserving with Ashley English

Goodness, the time has been flying lately. It’s been nearly a week since I posted (although, I’m firmly of the belief that the Pear Cake deserved every moment of its time in the spotlight) and this fresh, new month is a full seven days old. That also means that the deadline for this month’s Can Jam is rapidly approaching (just two more weeks)! If you’re still stumped for ideas as to how to incorporate herbs into a canning recipe, I’ve got the perfect book for you!

Canning & Preserving with Ashley English

Canner, chicken keeper, cheesemaker and all-around homesteading renaissance woman Ashley English has written a beautiful book devoted to the art of canning called (of all things) Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. It contains all you need to know to transform you from an absolute canning novice into a someone deeply comfortable with the many aspects of food preservation.

Canning & Preserving with Ashley English

What’s more (and this is where the Can Jam comes in), many of her recipes tweak the old classics with the addition of fresh or dried herbs. That Meyer Lemon and Lemon Verbena Curd sounds pretty spectacular (please excuse the blur, I was speedily trying to photograph the book before the last afternoon sunlight slipped away).

Canning & Preserving with Ashley English

For the pucker fans in the crowd, this Herbed Pickled Asparagus sounds pretty delightful. She’s even included many herbs in her basic pickling brine recipe, which means you could take it as a starting place and head off in any number of directions. Personally, I’m thinking of swapping in rhubarb in her Peach and Lavender Butter.

If you can’t swing a new book purchase right now, make sure to check out Ashley’s blog, Small Measure, as well as her weekly column over on Design*Sponge.

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Pear Cake

canned pears

Last summer (as you may remember), I went through a period where I canned a lot of fruit whole. That’s right, I just popped it into the jars, poured a syrup over top and processed. I wrote about the plums in honey, but as I look back through the archives, I realize I never managed to blog about the seckel pears I canned in that same honey syrup, spiked with a bit of powered ginger.

dry ingredients for pear cake

Throughout this year, I’ve gotten a number of questions from readers who fearlessly followed me into whole fruit canning and then didn’t know what to do with it once they were there. Well kids, here’s one recipe that works for either whole canned pears or plums (provided you used firm plums that at least kind of held their shape during the canning process).

eggs

This is a nice, adaptable cake that also works with fresh fruit (but there’s not much of that round these parts besides storage apples that are getting mealier with each passing day). For those of you observing Passover, you’re going to have to wait several more days before you can make this. However, it would make a VERY nice addition to an Easter brunch, if you happen to still be casting about for recipes.

finished pear cake

Next time I make this, I think I might sprinkle the top with a bit of crunchy sugar, to give it a bit of shimmer. However, taste wise, it doesn’t need a thing. The fruit makes it feel virtuous but underneath those pear halves, it’s still all cake (moist, slightly nutmeg-y cake). Another way to fancy it up (if you’re using home-canned fruit) would be to reduce the canning syrup down a bit and drizzle it over the top of the cake when serving. So good!

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A Little Reminder – Saveur Food Blog Awards

sunlit scale

So you might remember that about a month ago, I discovered that this little blog of mine was nominated by Saveur in their Best Food Blog Awards. The voting has been going on all month long and is wrapping up in about 48 hours (Friday afternoon, to be precise). If you like what I do here and you haven’t voted yet, I ever so humbly request that you consider casting a ballot in my favor.

You can find the voting page here. Saveur forces you to create an account with them, and I’ve heard from several people (including my parents) that they couldn’t figure out how to find the voting page again once they had followed the prompts to create the account. My best suggestion is to create your account, come back here and click this link once again. That should make it a little bit easier.

Thank you all so much!

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Dark Days: Kale, Ham and Potatoes

Dark Days Dinner

We’ve come to the end of the Dark Days Challenge. Along with participants all across the country, I’ve been cooking one intentionally local meal every week since November. I’ve eaten lots of my own home-canned goods, along with brussels sprouts, potatoes, Lancaster County meats and dairy. As a result of shopping with the challenge in mind each week, my everyday eating has been far more local than it ever has before.

Last night’s meal was basic but good. A ham steak from Meadow Run Farms, cubed and browned. Some Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market kale, wilted with a bit of garlic. And some little red potatoes, lubed with a spoonful of bacon fat and roasted in a cast iron skillet (if you don’t roast in cast iron, give it a shot. The spots where the food comes in contact with the hot pan get brown and crisp).

I have a confession to make about the potatoes, though. The exact ones you see on the plate there, they aren’t local. I bought them at Wegman’s on Sunday afternoon. You see, I thought I had potatoes still in the fridge, so I didn’t buy anymore at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, when I bought my kale and unpictured carrots. They were right there, but I’ve been trying not to overbuy food, and I virtuously skipped them, falsely remembering that I still had a few leftover from the buying club.

However, since the potatoes could have been local, I’m counting this as my final Dark Days meal. I’ve already given myself so many exceptions, what’s one more?

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April Can Jam: Herbs!

Wedding favors

T.S. Elliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month.” I believe him to be correct, particularly when it comes to seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s the month in which we (particularly the more northerly ones of us) plant and hope, dreaming of asparagus, strawberries, peaches and corn, but without any measurable (or at least, edible) yield.

And so, as the Tigress and I considered our April Can Jam options, we settled on herbs as the month’s ingredient. They’re widely available even in this time of seasonal anticipation, work in both sweet and savory applications and will be particularly terrific for those of you in warmer climates who already have some lovely fruits and spring vegetables to play with.

Do remember that whatever you make has to be suitable for water bath processing. This means no infused oils or pestos, as they can’t be processed and have a fairly limited refrigerator life.

April posts must go live between Sunday, April 18th and midnight on Friday, April 23rd.

I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

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Charoses Inspired Jam for Passover

DSC_0007

A couple of weeks ago, I got the most inspired idea from a reader. Knowing that Passover is around the corner, she wondered whether it would be possible to make a jam based on charoses (also spelled charoset), one of the traditional components in the Seder meal. It’s a dish traditionally made from chopped apples, nuts, honey, cinnamon and wine, and it on the table to represent the mortar that Jews used when laying brick, during their days of slavery in Egypt.

eight cups chopped apple

Though my mother is Jewish, we didn’t observe many of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, the bulk of my experience with the ceremony of the Seder came from gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist church parish room and my repeated readings of the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

1 1/2 cups grape juice

However, since moving to Philadelphia in 2002, I’ve attending at least one family Seder every year, and have come to really appreciate the yearly ritual, and the ways in which it celebrates the struggle for freedom.

toasted and chopped almonds

As far as food and Jewish holidays go, Passover is somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of delicious. You’re instructed to surrender leavened items for the eight-day period. But even in with the restrictions, one can find moments of culinary joy. Personally, I find a lightly buttered and salted piece of matzo to be pure bliss. Add a scoop of charoses and a dollop of horseradish (another traditional Seder plate player) and I’m a happy girl.

juicing a lemon

In thinking this particular batch of jam out, I knew it wouldn’t be an exact replica of what is essentially an uncooked apple-walnut salad. But I did want to create something that would be somehow similar and familiar. Apples were a given, as was honey and cinnamon. I used grape juice in place of the wine and added a bit of lemon juice to balance things out. And I chose to use almonds in place of the more traditional walnuts, thinking that they would retain their crunch better.

a cup of honey

Initially, I was uncertain about the addition of the nuts in the jam, as I wasn’t sure how they would effect the pH level of the jam and thus its safety. However, after doing some research, I eventually came across this recipe for Apricot-Orange Conserve that used similar proportions to what I was planning. If the National Center for Home Food Preservation could comfortably include some nuts in a batch of jam, I knew I could too.

stirring in almonds

I am really pleased with my initial attempt at this recipe. It’s thick, spreadable and not too sweet. Some might call it more of a chutney than a jam, because of the texture that the chopped nuts lend. However, since it doesn’t include a savory component, I’m going to keep calling it a jam (unless someone has a better name for it). Making this had also had me thinking about other ways that Seder elements could be transformed into preserves (Apple Horseradish Jelly, perhaps?).

finished jam

I’m thinking that this jam might make for a nice gift if you’re having friends over for a Passover Seder and want to send them home with something delicious and thematic. Passover starts on Monday, March 29th this year, so you’ve got just under a week to whip up a batch!

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