Gifts in Jars, Elsewhere

e's low-sugar jam

I have a bad habit of leaving my computer on for days and days at a stretch (although since my two-year-old MacBook stopped going to sleep, I do shut it down more than I once did). Part of the reason that my computer rarely powers down is that I collect canning recipes in the tabs along the top of my browser, sometimes having as many at 15 or 20 open. Right at the moment, I’ve reached critical mass and need to clear out some of those tabs, so I thought I’d share some of the recipes that have recently caught my eye. All would make excellent gifts in jars.

And, two recipes for baked goods that utilize jam (if, like me, you happen to have something of a glut).

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Some Canning Questions/Answers

cranberry apple jam

More than three weeks ago, I asked for your burning canning questions. I intended to be a good canning blogger/teacher and respond right away to those queries, but then life intervened and I’m only now finally circling back around to get you some answers. So here we go…

Jewel asks: I have a few sauce, chutney, and jam recipes that are not specifically meant to be canned, but that I would love to put up. In most cases I believe that the sugar content is high enough for water bath canning, but I want to be safe. Is there a way to tell if a recipe is appropriate for canning? Can you point me in the right direction?

Answer: The best way to determine if your recipes are safe to canning is to look for comparable recipes that have been designed to be canned and determine from there whether the proportions of fruit, sugar and vinegar (in the case of chutneys) are similar to your recipes. I know I always mention it, but my favorite volume for this type of comparison research is So Easy to Preserve.

If you can’t find a similar recipe but are determined to water bath process your recipes, Steve Dowdney includes instructions in his book Putting Up that can walk you through the steps of checking the pH level in your product, in order to determine whether they’ll be safe for water bath processing.

Deb asks: I made applesauce recently. All the jars sealed very well, in a couple the applesauce came up and out of the jar a bit before sealing. I imagine there is applesauce caught in the lid seal area. I can pick the jars up by the lid edge, so they are very tight, but are they really ok?

Answer: It is totally normal to have some siphoning (the technical canning word for when some of the contents of the jars seeps out during processing) with applesauce. However, as long as the jars seal post-processing, they are still safe and shelf-stable. When filling the jars, make sure that you leave 1/2 to 3/4 an inch of headspace, as it will help prevent the siphoning, but rest assured that your applesauce will be perfectly safe for storage in your pantry (or, in my case, the back of my coat closet).

Tracy asks: Tiny bubbles appeared in my applesauce a day or so after canning. Is this normal?

Answer: Yep, totally. I also find that I get tiny bubbles in my processed sauerkraut and in less juicy whole tomatoes.

More q&a after the jump…

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Gift in a Jar: Vanilla Syrup


A couple of years ago, I uncovered a secret that completely changed the way I cooked and baked. I discovered that it was possible to order bulk lots of vanilla beans on eBay for cheap. I went from treating the vanilla bean as a precious item to using them freely. And this time of year, they can become an easy path to a sweet, homemade holiday gift. Homemade vanilla syrup can sweeten coffee, is delicious in plain yogurt and is wonderful drizzled as a quick glaze over top of any number of simple baked goods.


To make, combine one cup of water with two cups of sugar and add three to four vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour into half pint jars (when I made this tonight, I filled two half pints and one quarter pint). Include a piece or two of vanilla bean in the jar to keep infusing.

Because this is an unacidified product, it can’t be processed for shelf stability. However, it will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Gift this with some pancake mix, freshly baked scones or a pound of coffee.

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Dark Days: Week Two (broccoli, meatballs, potatoes)

Dark Days, Week Two

This was the first night I’ve cooked dinner in a full week. This rarely happens to me. I believe in making dinner and eating with Scott (even if we do end up consuming said meal at the coffee table instead of the dining room one more often than not). Sharing a meal is part of the joy of living with another human being. It’s something I missed during those times when I was single and without roommates, and the pleasure of a companionable meal is something I don’t take for granted.

However, the last week of non-cooking hasn’t been due to solitude, just delicious leftovers, dinner with friends, holiday meals (we got to do Thanksgiving twice this year, without cooking more than a couple of sides and a pound cake) and a bit of post-travel disorganization (Scott, his brother Sean and I drove down to Virginia to be with their mom and relatives on Thanksgiving and Friday night when we got back, ended up ordering corned beef sandwiches from the deli downstairs instead of foraging through the kitchen). But now I’m back in the kitchen and am so delighted to have had the Dark Days Challenge to keep things simple and honest.

This dinner is entirely thanks to our meat buying club and the Headhouse Square Farmers Market. The ground beef comes from Meadow Run Farm and since discovering how succulent and flavorful their grass-fed beef is, I have a practice of keeping a couple of pounds on hand in the freezer. Those meatballs also featured some finely minced red onion (the last one from the CSA), one local, pastured egg (also from Meadow Run) and some crumbled feta. That feta is a revelation. From The Patches of Star Dairy in Nazareth, PA you can either buy it fresh, packed in brine or canned and packed in oil. The canned feta is shelf stable for up to a year and is an delicious treat to have tucked away in the pantry for those times when you haven’t shopped and need a quick meal.

Along side the meatballs were some boiled red potatoes (from Three Springs Fruit Farm) that I dressed with some homemade butter and salt (they were so tender and creamy that I could have eaten them forever) and roasted romenesco broccoli (from Culton Organics). The only non-local ingredients in tonight’s meal were the salt, pepper and olive oil.

I realize that the picture above makes this meal look a little monochromatic, but please believe me when I tell you that it had so much flavor and was so satisfying. Had I not been trying to create my local meal for the week, I might have tried to make it fancier or somehow more elegant. And yet, I’m so appreciative for the simple, wonderful meal that it was.

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Gift in a Jar: Apple-Cranberry Jam


Throughout my childhood and teenage years, my parents’ standard holiday gift for friends and family was a bag of my dad’s homemade pancake mix (in particularly flush years, we’d also gift a bottle of maple syrup). The bag would also contain printed instructions on how to turn the mix into batches of fluffy cakes or waffles. I have it on good authority that people looked forward with great anticipation to those pancake mix gifts.

Over the years, we were also the recipients of many a homemade holiday gift, including jars of lemon curd from our cousins in the Bay Area, bottles of homemade coffee liqueur and divided plastic plates from my dad’s business partner, overflowing with cookies, fudge and caramels, hand-wrapped in squares of waxed paper.

In recent years, as my canning practice has grown, more and more of the holiday gifts I give are home-jarred edibles. This year, I’m planning to give my Philadelphia cousins jars of apple butter and apple-cranberry jam, along with mini-loaves of cranberry bread. If you’d like to give your friends and family their own jars of apple-cranberry jam, the recipe is after the jump (it’d be great with some scones on Christmas morning).

I’ll be posting more ideas for gifts in jars in the coming weeks, in the hopes that I’ll be able to inspire you to give your own gifts in jars this year.

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Dark Days: Good Eating, Week One

Monday night local dinner

From now until the middle of March, I’ll be diverging from posts about foods in jars (no matter how loosely related to jars they are) once a week to post my Dark Days Challenge meal. The goal of the challenge is to eat at least one local meal a week during the colder months of winter. Because it’s quite easy to eat locally when the markets are bursting with strawberries, melons and eggplants, but when the farmers markets are yielding nothing but squash, potatoes and beets, it feels a little daunting.

These days, I’d say that about 65% of the food we eat at home is locally sourced. Part of what makes that number so high is that for nearly two years now, Scott and I have been members of a meat buying club. We order online and can select from a wide assortment of pork, chicken, beef, sausage, cured meats and eggs. They’re delivered to a friend’s house eight blocks from our place and the monthly pick-up has turned into a social occasion, as a number of friends and acquaintances all converge to get their locally raised, grass-fed, pastured groceries.

In addition, the bulk of our fruits and vegetables come from our CSA membership (although it just ended for the season) or the farmers market (there’s a weekly year-long market two blocks from our apartment). Also, being so close to Lancaster County means we have easy access to good, local dairy products. That just leaves things like beans, rice, grains, coffee and olive oil (and all those snack foods that Scott loves so much).

But anyway, on to our first Dark Days local meal. It consisted of some slow cooked pork, pan crisped potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. The pork was from the buying club (Meadow Run Farm), the potatoes were from our CSA (Dancing Hen Farm) and the sprouts were from the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. I forgot to take a picture until we were finishing up dinner, which is why the pans you see above are mostly empty (proof of a delicious meal).

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