Mid-Summer Preserving Check-In

sweet cherries

With just a few more days left in July, we’re now about halfway through the height of the summer preserving season. So far this year I’ve made jam from strawberries, plums, peaches, apricots, rhubarb and done some mixed fruit compotes. I’ve pickled asparagus, string beans, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, carrots and okra. I’ve canned peaches with vanilla bean and star anise, brewed some homemade syrups, made chutney and experimented with tomato jam. Over the weekend, I led a canning workshop in which we processed 58 quarts of whole tomatoes (I came home with several) and I finally pulled out the pressure canner and put up seven quarts of homemade stock.

I’ve learned a lot through all that canning. Here are some of the most useful things I’ve gleaned recently.

  • A melon baller does a great job of extracting the pits from stone fruit (peaches, nectarines and plums).
  • Sour cherries make the best jam ever and should be purchased whenever you find them at reasonable prices.
  • Always cook jam in a larger pot than you think you need. It’s easier to scrub out a pot than it is to scour burnt sugar and fruit off your stove.
  • Make sure to keep a couple of wooden spoons that are just used for jam, there’s nothing worse than stirring your strawberry jam with a spoon that smells like garlic or onions.
  • Although I often preach that you don’t need to buy any special tools in order to can, having a jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel handy makes everything (at least in the world of home canning) easier.
  • Measure everything out before you start.
  • When it comes to canning peaches and whole tomatoes, pack ’em tight to avoid float.
  • A mortar and pestle is great for breaking down berries for jam (just make sure it doesn’t smell like garlic).
  • Taste what you’re making. Adjust your seasonings before committing food to jar.
  • When using a pressure canner, make sure to put a bit of white vinegar in the water, otherwise you get ugly water marks on all your jars.
  • Don’t be afraid to experience with new herbs and spices.
  • Just about everything can be pickled.
  • Making jam from the fruit you’ve picked with your own two hands is hugely satisfying (admittedly, I knew this one before, but I continually reaffirm it).
  • It’s okay if you aren’t perfect as long as you follow good safety precautions (a good lesson for life in general).
  • If the jam doesn’t set, call it sauce. No one will know or care.
  • Pickles just keep on getting better.

Okay kids, now it’s your turn. I want to hear about what you’ve made so far, the mishaps and the things you’ve learned. What will you make again next year and what’s going into the blooper pile? How do you feel? What still scares you? Has canning changed how you approach the summer?

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Peach Jam

peaches in bowl of water

Peaches have become one of those fruits that is nearly always available, but they are only transcendent during the months of July and August. Those mealy, impenetrable fruits that you pay a small fortune for during the winter can’t possibly compare.

Every summer, I make a point to buy between 25 and 50 pounds of peaches. I slice and freeze a bunch, can halves in light syrup and make sauce (like apple only peachy), butter and jam. Glorious peach jam!

After the jump, you’ll find my basic peach jam recipe. I like to flavor mine with cinnamon and nutmeg, but you could also go with vanilla, a bit of bourbon, ginger, lavender, rosemary or thyme.

I apologize for the slightly weird picture of the peaches floating in water above, but somehow, I didn’t manage to take a single picture of the jam-making process. I made my jam on a Friday night, after an evening of cocktails and sushi, so I must have been a little addled.

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Dilly Beans

dilly beans

String beans are one of my favorite vegetables around. My idea of a perfect easy summer meal is a tangle of lightly steamed string beans, dressed with a bit of butter and salt, along side some scrambled eggs and a sliced tomato. A couple of summers ago, I ate that for dinner three or four times a week for at least a month. Of course, that was before I had to think of Scott’s likes and dislikes when making dinner and sadly, he is a string bean hater. So my perfect little meal has been relegated to a once-in-a-while, solo experience (however, it’s a trade-off I happily make for love).

Thing is, I still find myself buying string beans like they’re a four times a week vegetable, which becomes a problem when trying to keep the refrigerator eco-system balanced. That is where the dilly bean comes in. It’s a gentle, zippy little pickle that preserves my green beans for months to come (well, if they last that long) and maintains the dinnertime peace.

One thing to note about string beans. They are perfectly safe to can in a boiling water bath when you’re making pickles out of them. They are NOT safe to can without the brine unless you’re using a pressure canner. One of the few documented cases of botulism that occurred last year was because a family ate some poorly preserved green beans. So if you want to preserve your beans but you don’t want to pickle them, either get yourself a pressure canner or blanch and freeze them.

Enough safety warnings, on to the recipe…

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Beer in Jars + Jars on Blogs

beer in jar

Last night, Scott and I had headed down to Headhouse Square for the fifth annual Good Food, Good Beer evening. It’s a fundraiser for our local Slow Food organization and it’s the third year in a row that we’ve attended. It’s a fun event, because you get to taste five different small plates from local restaurants and drink a whole bunch of beer (nicer for me than for Scott, as he’s not a beer guy) for $32 (no worse than what you’d pay for any other night out).

I made a point to bring my own glass, because otherwise, I end up tossing a whole bunch of plastic tasting cups. And, because it’s me, my to-go glass was actually the wide-mouth pint jar you see above (pint jars also work nicely as a reusable cup for iced coffee. Just sayin’). I feel refreshed just looking at it!

And on to the jars on blogs…

Cherry tomato jam (as well as a nod at canteloupe jam, but no recipe. I’m intrigued!).

Canning apricots and cherries (although not in the same jar).

Hello cajun pickles! Oh, and three takes on the same pickle brine.

Pickled zucchini. Pickled radishes. Pickled bing cherries.

Apricot compote with Scotch whisky. I am dazzled.

I used my mint syrup to make a quart-sized mojito last Friday night. Here are a couple more homemade cocktail syrups.

And a couple of canning safety questions. Re-nest looks into whether there’s BPA in your home canned goods and Rebekah Denn ponders the safety of home canning.

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Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread

two loaves zucchini bread

I made my first loaf of quick bread when I was seven years old (under very close supervision from my mother). It was from the back of a children’s book called Cranberry Christmas and it quickly became a holiday tradition (I still make it, with just a few alternations to this day).

Twenty plus years later, quick breads are still one of my favorite things to bake (I have several beloved banana bread recipes, as well as that delicious yogurt loaf). This time of year, when the zucchini plants threaten to take over garden plots and summer squash can be gotten for pennies, the quick bread is most decidedly a good friend to the gardener and cook. This recipe is easy to stir together, makes quick work of a nice-sized zucchini and is amazingly moist. It’s also fairly healthy, packed with whole grains and containing just one stick of butter between the two loaves.

One thing to keep in mind when making this bread. It’s not a super sweet loaf, and I’ve made it that way by design. I like to eat it for breakfast, and at that time of the day, I don’t want to be eating cake. However, if you want a more assertively sweet flavor, I’d add another 1/2 cup of sucanat or sugar (or just spread your slice with a bit of peach or apricot jam).

Go forth and bake!

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Winners + Linkage

blue book picture

Wow. There were a lot of you who wanted this book. Unfortunately, I have but two copies to pass along (I calculated it out, and it would have cost more than $500 to send each one of you a copy. Until I become independently wealthy, that’s just not in the budget). I turned to the very handy Randomizer to pick the winners and it spit out numbers 9 and 43. That means that the lucky recipients are Pat and Meghan. I’ll be in touch with the two of you posthaste.

In other news, have you heard about the Can-volution? A bunch of us jar-crazy folk are putting together a coast-to-coast canstravaganza for the weekend of August 29th and 30th. The goal is for people to get together in groups and do a whole bunch of puttin’ up. I’m actually going to be heading out to Seattle that weekend, to attend a canning party with a few of my favorite bloggers and hopefully teach a canning class. Leave a comment if you’re interested in participating and I’ll do my best to hook you up with other canners in your area.

Also, I did an interview with Jen A. Miller (aka Jersey Shore Jen) recently in which we talk about canning, preserving and fresh produce. She posted it to NJ Monthly earlier this week and you can find it here if you’re inclined. .

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