Canning Discover Kit Giveaway

Canning Discovery Kit

I spent today exploring the Fancy Food Show in New York, checking out all the delicious snacks, cheeses, jams and chocolates that will be hitting stores in the coming months. This left me little time for kitchen tasks or the application of brain to writing tasks. However, I plan on having a few choice goodies to share with you tomorrow, as well as more information about making fruit butters in a slow cooker later in the week.

plastic canning rack

In the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to do a little giveaway. What I have here is a new kit from the creative folks over at Ball. Called the Home Canning Discovery Kit, this little set makes it easy for the first time canner to create a batch of jam or salsa without buying any new equipment, save what’s in the box. It comes with three pint jars, a recipe booklet and the nifty green basket (for processing and lifting your filled jars) you see above. I think it’s pretty cool, and would make a really good gift for someone who’s been talking about canning but haven’t actually given it a try yet.

If you want a chance to win this kit, leave a comment on this post. The giveaway ends this Friday, July 2nd at 11:59 p.m.

June Can Jam: Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter

washing blueberries

Well kids. The Tigress Can Jam challenge this month was anything that ended in “erries” and since this is my summer of fruit butters, I have made a batch of blueberry butter. Last weekend, my friend Shay and I took a little drive out to my favorite blueberry pickin’ spot in South Jersey and spent a couple of hours rattling berries from branches, filling our buckets and bellies.

However, the true treat of the day came when we rounded the corner of the farm stand in order to pay for our hauls. Standing right in front was my cousin Amy, out for a day of picking with her partner and two of their grandkids. We had one of those truly lovely moments, when you gape open-mouthed for a moment before laughing and falling into hugs.

blueberries in the Vitamix

Once home with my seven and a half pounds of berries, I spent several days eating them popcorn-style out of bowls, before hunkering down and making a preservation plan for the rest. Last year I called blueberry my foundational jam and that’s still a phrase that feels correct. I will always love that simple jam (in fact, I still have some from last year), but this time around I wanted to try something slightly different.

Originally I had planned to make a blueberry butter spiked with a hint of lavender, but this week was busy enough that I didn’t have a chance to get to Reading Terminal Market and that’s the only place close by where I can get food-grade lavender. So I went simple and stuck with my mom’s preferred flavor profile of lemon zest, cinnamon and just a bit of nutmeg.

drippy slow cooker

Lately, I’ve been turning to two gadgets to make my preserving work just a little bit easier to accomplish. The first is my trusty Vita-mix. I grew up with the vintage chrome version of this incredible blender and so during wedding time last year, made it a priority to dedicate some of our gifted resources to acquiring my own.

While I had an inkling that it had the potential to be a transformative piece of equipment, I had no idea how it would revolutionize my jam making. Here’s what makes it so special: When you run it on very low speed, it doesn’t puree the fruit. It just chops it up into small bits, which coincidentally, are the absolutely perfect size for jams and butters. I know it’s a little bit unfair to rave about something that’s so darned expensive, but really, this thing has changed my life for the better.

half pint of blueberry butter

The other small electrical appliance (that happens to be on the very other end of the cost spectrum) that I’m using all the time these days is my ancient, $3-at-a-thrift-store slow cooker. I’ve found that older slow cookers are far superior to newer ones, because they cook at lower temperatures. Truly, food safety regulations have made it so that what was once the high setting on the old pots is now the low setting on the new ones (you should never be able to achieve a boil in one of the pots from the seventies or eighties). And when you’re cooking a butter, you want to cook it as low and slow as you can. Slow cookers are truly perfect for this.

This particular butter reminds me a bit of blueberry pie, which makes it a winner in my book. Tomorrow morning, I’m having some friends over to do a little fruit butter tasting (in recent days, I’ve also made apricot butter and sweet cherry butter). We’ll see if they like the blueberry version as much as I do.

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Small Batch Canning and Sour Cherry Jam

35 | 365

Although I’m not as diligent about it as some people, I’ve always been one to steer clear of kitchen tools that offer little in the way of flexibility or range. This is why I’ve avoided things like egg poachers (a simmering pan of water works just fine for me) and yogurt makers (milk* in glass jars + small Playmate cooler + warm water + eight hours = yogurt). However, I recently found myself madly coveting one of those tall, skinny pots that were designed for steaming asparagus.

You see, I had a funny suspicion that the asparagus pot, with it’s slender styling and interior rack, would make a most convenient small batch canner. So, when I encountered one with a mis-matched lid at a thrift store, I determined that I could risk the $4 to see if my hunch was correct.

small batch set-up

Now, at this point in my little tale of asparagus pots, you might be asking yourself why I’d even need a pot to process small batches of jam. And it’s true that my kitchen is well kitted out in just about every pot and pan you could imagine. Thing is, the idea of pulling out the big pots is sometimes enough to deter me from cooking up a batch of jam.

If it’s 9 o’clock at night and the kitchen’s already been put to bed for the evening, the last thing I want to do is stir everything up again and create a whole sink’s worth of dishes. I hate to admit it, but there have been times when I’ve let a pound of berries or a cluster of peaches go bad because I couldn’t summon up the energy to create and then clean the mess necessary to preserve them.

sour cherry jam wreckage

For instances, when I picked up my CSA share last Thursday afternoon, included in the bounty was a quart of glowing sour cherries. There weren’t any additional cherries at the adjacent market, so I couldn’t pick up more in order to have enough for a full batch of jam. What’s more, my charming husband doesn’t eat fruit or the many desserts that are crafted from them, so I couldn’t make a small pie or tart, unless I wanted to eat the whole darn thing (and while my inner seven year old rejoices at the idea of a whole pie for dinner, the 31 year old that I am knows just how sad my belly would feel post-indulgence).

So Sunday night, after a long day errands, gardening and picnicking with friends, I took my little $4 asparagus pot on a test drive with those sour cherries. After pitting, I had approximately 1 1/2 pounds of cherries, which I combined with 3/4 a pound of cane sugar and one packet of liquid pectin (cherries are naturally low in pectin, so even small amounts of jam need a little boost). I cooked them down in a two-quart pan, which proved to be just the right size (although I did need to watch carefully for bubbling over).

two 12-ounce jars

While the jam cooked, I filled that tall little pot with water and brought it a boil. When the jam was ready, I filled my clean jars (I got two 12 ounce jars and one 4 ounce jar out of this batch), applied the lids and rings and processed them in succession (10 minutes per jar). While that’s not a USDA-recommended procedure, the jars sealed firmly and I feel comfortable storing these on the shelf. The final 4 ounce jar got tucked into the fridge.

I’m sure that some of you are wondering why I’d even go to the trouble of processing such a small batch of jam. Here’s the thing. I have limited refrigerator space. (Actually, make that limited kitchen space. I imagine that some of you have pantries that are larger than my entire kitchen.) Any time I can process something to be shelf stable and keep it out of the fridge is a good thing, even when it’s a micro-batch such as this. Also, as you may have noticed, I make quite a lot of sweet preserves and at any given time, have at least half a dozen open jars hanging out on the right-hand door of the fridge. I just don’t need to add to the open jam/butter/curd queue at this time.

So, if you’re like me and want to process even the smallest batches, without hauling out your big old canning pot, consider putting an asparagus steamer to work.

*Milk simmered to 180-190 degrees, cooled to 110-120 and combined with some plain yogurt or powdered yogurt starter.

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Canning Book: Saving the Seasons

World Community Cookbooks

I’ve been getting a number of requests lately, both over email and on the Facebook page, asking me to recommend a couple of good canning books for people just getting started canning. Happily, the canning book market is positively exploding these days (as canning grows in popularity), so there are a number of terrific new volumes for me to suggest.

Saving the Season

One new book that recently drifted my way that I was delighted to discover and am excited to recommend is Saving the Seasons. This volume is written and produced in the tradition of those classic cookbooks More-With-Less, Extending the Table and Simply in Season (this one came out about five years ago, so it’s not that old). If you know anything about those books, they come out of the Mennonite community and emphasize healthful, frugal, seasonal eating.

tomato canning spread

One of the terrific things about Saving the Seasons is the fact that it is dedicated to all forms of food preservation, from canning, to drying, to freezer preserving. That particularly great because it then becomes an all-in-one reference. It’s also got several instances (like the one you see above) in which they walk you through each step of the process with pictures. Excellent for visual learners.

guide to the harvest

The book contains a number of recipes, as well as handy reference charts. One thing to note is that the jam recipes do call for pectin (I know a number of you are hoping to phase out your pectin use, so if that’s a concern for you, be aware). I’ve yet to cook out of this book, but I’ve got my eyes on the Hot Peach Chutney and the Dilled Green Tomatoes.

baby food

A few of you have reached out in the last couple of weeks, asking about making and canning baby food. Not being a parent yet (hopefully soon though), I don’t have any first-hand knowledge to share. This book has a brief section devoted to the making and freezing (not canning though) of delicious things to feed your little one.

drying apples

Beyond all the useful information that this book offers, what I like most about it is the feel and tone with which it’s written. The co-authors (Mary Clemens Meyer and Susanna Meyer) are mother and daughter, and as you read it feels a little like they’ve opened up their pantry and shared the many ways they eat well all year round. It’s a cozy, accessible feeling and makes me want to leap up from the couch and head for the kitchen. In my opinion, that’s just what a good cookbook should do.

In the interest of full disclosure, know that I was sent a review copy of this book.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Butter Recipe

chopped strawberries

Thanks to the very hot spring we had here in the mid-Atlantic region, strawberry season has come earlier this year than it has in the last few. This has thrown my preserving time line off in the worst way and has left me unduly panicked, worried that if I didn’t act quickly, I would miss the season entirely.

However, I’ve also been stretched thin by commitments in the last few weeks and have been working hard to reserve at least a few hours of my weekend for relaxing, as opposed to filling every moment with lunches, activities and appointments with my vacuum cleaner.

chopped rhubarb

This means that I made a tough decision last weekend to skip out on my annual strawberry picking day and simply buy a flat of local strawberries instead. Thanks to my friend Albert, I was able to get a flat (eight quarts) of berries for not too much money from the Fair Food Farmstand. I was sad to miss the trip out to New Jersey, but something had to give and the picking was it. After all, it’s not like I can give up canning!

butter cooking

Thanks to that quick acquisition of fruit, I’ve now made a batch of that wonderful strawberry vanilla jam I first produced last year, as well as this lovely, sticky, spreadable strawberry rhubarb butter (I couldn’t help but pop a vanilla bean in this one while cooking as well).

This is my second batch of butter so far this year, and I am totally pleased with how it turned out. I’m finding that while I do get smaller yields with butters than jams, I far prefer having that smaller cluster of jars filled with something I know I’ll eat and enjoy than having a seemingly promiscuous quantity of jam (it might sound strange, but I still have so much jam left from last year that needs to be eaten that it feels a bit burdensome – I hate to be wasteful).

finished butter

While I was cooking this batch, I took a quick video, so you all could see what butter should look like as it’s coming towards the end of its cooking time. Check out those thick, active bubbles. That’s what you’re looking for.

Also, I wanted to point out the knife peeking out up there in second picture. Recently, I was contacted by the folks at New West KnifeWorks, asking me if I’d like to try out their knives. They sent me both a chef’s and pairing knife to try out (yes, for free). They are absolutely gorgeous and are a joy to use (particularly that handy little pairing knife). If you’re in the market for some new (although admittedly pricy) knives, I highly suggest you add these to your list for consideration.

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Ball Blue Book Winners!

We’ve got winners! Sorry it’s taken me a couple of days to get these posted, but things have just been nuts for me lately (I’m so looking forward to Monday when I can show you all the project I’ve been slaving away over for my day job. It’s pretty nifty and the Philly-area folks in the crowd are going to love it).

Jennifer (who loved on my Sour Cherry Jam) and Cari (who’s just getting started canning) are our winners this time around. Ladies, I’ll be in touch soon to get your mailing info.

If you haven’t checked out the comment section on that giveaway post, I really do suggest giving it a look. There are a ton of great recipes and suggestions in there. I had no idea what a terrific resource it was going to become and it’s all thanks to you guys and your terrific kitchen skills.

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