Other People’s Preserves: Orchard Choice Fig Spreads from Valley Fig Growers

fig spread cheese plate side

I didn’t preserve a single fig this year and only managed to get my hands on a single one to eat fresh (thankfully, it was perfect). I’m consoling myself both with the knowledge that there is always next year and a recent fig-packed box from the Valley Fig Growers.

four fig spreads

They sent a box containing a cooler holding three different kinds of cheeses, a little slate and cheese spreader, and four jars from their new line of Orchard Choice Fig Spreads. These fig spreads are made from fig puree, sugar, pectin, and additions like balsamic vinegar, port wine, or orange zest.

fig spread top

Designed to complement cheeses, cured meats, and other savory bites, these fig spreads are a welcome addition to my pantry, which was entirely vacant of any thing fig-based until this box arrived.

I’ve opened up the Organic Mission Fig variety so far, and will be trotting out the other jars for various holiday parties and baking projects (I have a feeling the Port Wine version would go beautifully in these blue cheese thumbprint cookies).

fig spread with brie

For more ideas on how to use both fresh and dried figs and these fig spreads, follow Valley Fig on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Disclosure: The nice folks at Valley Fig Growers sent the cheese care package described above and asked that I write about it if I enjoyed the spreads. No additional compensation was provided for this post. It’s simply part of my ongoing mission to help spread the preserved food love!

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Roasted Grape Tomato Pizza Sauce

finished pizza sauce

Each summer, I develop two mental lists of preserves (though come to think of it, it might serve me well to actually commit these lists to paper). On one side, I line up the things I must can. These are the products like roasted corn salsa, dilly beans, and tomato products. As much as I love jam (and inevitably make a goodly amount), it’s never on that must can list. However, pizza sauce always is.

roasted small tomatoes

Throughout the fall and winter, we make a lot of pizza and I love having some homemade sauce on the shelf to use. Sometimes our pizzas are built on a traditional crust and other times, it’s Carrie Vitt’s sunflower seed version (delicious and so good for those times when you’ve been eating too many bready things).

milling tomatoes

Over the years, I’ve made pizza sauce a number of different ways. I’ve got a small batch technique in Preserving by the Pint that I like a lot. You’ll find a honey sweetened version in Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. Truly, as long as you follow safe canning guidelines, there is no wrong way.

For this batch, I used ten pounds of grape and cherry tomatoes, roasted them down, pushed them through a food mill, and finished cooking them down on the stove. The finished sauce is a muted orange color, just thick enough to be spreadable, and tastes deeply of summer.

tomato pulp

I like this particular approach because the tomatoes do their initial cooking off the stove top. I can prep them while making dinner and then finish them off with that before-bed energy boost I so often have.

This would work just as well with more traditional canning tomatoes or even heirlooms, but I had all these tiny tomatoes, so I made them do. Of course, as with many tomato preserves, the yield will vary pretty widely on this one because of variations in water, sugar, and fiber content.

cooking down pizza sauce

Acidity is always an issue with tomatoes, but is even more so with these small, sweet varieties. I made the call to double the recommended amount of citric acid to this batch, adding 1/4 teaspoon directly to every half pint jar, to ensure a safe finished product. The single 12 ounce jar I used got an proportionally increased amount of citric acid.

finished pizza sauce close

If you’re not a home pizza maker, a sauce like this is still a good thing to make for the pantry. It could be used as a starter for enchilada sauce. It’s always a nice addition to a pot of soup when you need added depth and acidity. You could even thin out a couple half pints with a glug of milk and a pat of butter and call it tomato soup. Practical canning at its best!

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Pickle Pipe Waterless Fermentation System Launches Today!

pickle pipe

Remember on Monday when I hinted that the folks at Masontop were about to launch a really awesome new fermentation product? Well, today’s the day. May I introduce you to the Pickle Pipe.

This little device is a waterless silicone airlock designed to fit onto a wide mouth mason jar. All you do is fill up your jar, set the Pickle Pipe on top and fix it in place with a regular old band. The valve has a small slit in it that allows the CO2 to escape from the jar, without allowing any oxygen back in.

pickle pipe side

I’ve used the Pickle Pipe on several recent ferments and I’ve been really impressed with its performance. I also really appreciate the fact that it’s just one piece (I’m always misplacing pieces of multi-part airlocks).

To learn more about the Pickle Pipe and to reserve a few for yourself, check out their Kickstarter.

Disclosure: Masontops is a Food in Jars sponsor and gave me one of their Pickle Pipes a few months ago so that I could play with it. However, I do mean every word of what I said here. 

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Kickstarter campaigns, there are two really awesome cookbook projects currently being crowdfunded that you might be interested in. Hank Shaw’s Buck, Buck, Moose and Kathy Strahs The 8×8 Cookbook.

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End of Season Tomatoes and Drying Tiny Tomatoes

a flat of small tomatoes

A few weeks ago, I found myself feeling anxious about the state of my tomato preserves. I’d already sauced 50 pounds of heirlooms, but hadn’t managed to get any Roma or paste tomatoes to can whole or in halves. In a frenzy only other canners will understand, I started reaching out to some of my regular tomato sources, hoping to get another 25 or 50 pounds to preserve.

In the end, I was too late. Unable to get my hands on any tomatoes appropriate for canning whole, I settled for two flats of tiny tomatoes (they were mostly grape and Sungolds) and another ten pounds of heirlooms. Not exactly what I wanted, but in the end, they managed to calm my inner pioneer.

halved small tomatoes

I roasted and canned the heirlooms according to Kaela’s instructions (though I included a bit more of their liquid than she does). I wound up with seven precious pints, and they will be carefully rationed throughout the winter.

The small tomatoes became three separate products. I made a batch of honey sweetened tomato jam. I roasted, milled, spiced, and simmered ten pounds into pizza sauce (more on that tomorrow). And I carefully halved and arranged the remaining eight pounds on dehydrator trays and dried them into tomato candy (two batches through the dehydrator, in all).

dehydrated grape tomatoes

I posted pictures of my racks of drying tomatoes on Instagram and got a number of questions about how I do it and how I use them. The how is easy. I wash the tomatoes, pick them over to ensure that I don’t have any that are starting to go bad, slice them in half, and arrange them on the trays. Over the course of the next 12-14 hours, the machine does the rest (set at 135 degrees F, the suggested temp).

finished dried tomatoes

Once the tomatoes are entirely dry, I unstack the trays and let them cool. I spread a towel on the countertop and use a combination of shaking and banging to remove the from the trays. They get stored in either a jar or a zip top plastic bag and my dried tomatoes are done.

After I’ve admired them for a week or two, I start using them. I stir them into quinoa salad. I make Tara’s zucchini noodle salad. I use them to garnish soup. I make batches of savory granola and use the dried tomatoes instead of raisins. Sometimes I nibble a few while making dinner. They are always a welcome addition to my pantry and when they run out, I wish I’d made more. Such is the way of preserving.

Do you guys dry tomatoes? How do you use them?

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Giveaway: Pickle Packer and Pebbles from Masontops

pickle packer vert

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten more and more interested in small batch fermentation (these dilly beans and last week’s batch of hot sauce are two good examples). Throughout my slow-motion tumble down the lactobacillus rabbit hole, I’ve gathered a useful collection of gear designed to help my little ferments turn out well.

pickle pebbles

Late in the spring, a pair of products I’ve come to use a lot fell into my lap, thanks to the folks at Masontops. They had reached out in the hopes that I’d write about their Chalk Tops (which I did), but also included a Pickle Packer and a set of regular mouth Pickle Pebbles in the package they sent, just so I could see their whole product line.

pickle pebbles open

I use the Pickle Packer nearly every time I make a batch of sauerkraut (which ends up being at least a couple times a month). It allows me to quickly bash the cabbage and salt together and then compress them neatly into a quart or half gallon jar. And the Pickle Pebbles are great for weighing down the veg so that the top doesn’t rise up above the liquid and then dry out, discolor, or mold. They are just simple, useful products.

masontops pickle pebble

On Thursday, the folks at Masontops are launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new product, which I do believe is going to knock the socks off those of you who do a lot of fermentation. I’ll have more about that product on Thursday as well. In the meantime, I’m giving away one of their fermentation sets, which includes both the Pickle Packer and Pebbles. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me what you’re cooking, canning, or fermenting this week.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Saturday, October 10, 2015. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, October 11, 2015.
  3. Giveaway open to United States residents only.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: The Masontops folks send me a collection of their products for photography purposes and are providing the fermentation kit for the winner of this giveaway. They recently become a Food in Jars sponsor. However, all opinions expressed here are my own. 

Links: Plum Ketchup, Roasted Tomatoes, and Winners

fruit at Bi Rite

Over the last several days, we’ve settled down into some of my favorite weather of the year. I love the cooler days and chilly nights, as well as the alternating days of rain and sunshine. Autumn, you are always welcome here! Now, some links!

mason jar lifestyle airlock

A big thanks to everyone who took the time to enter last week’s giveaway, sponsored by Mason Jar Lifestyle! The winners of the two $25 gift cards to the site are #142/Katie B. and #220/RG. Congratulations to all the winners!

If you didn’t win, but spotted something you desperately want, don’t forget that you get 10% off your purchase by using the code “jars10” and that shipping is free if you spend $25 or more (if you order less than that, shipping is $4).

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