Tag Archives | Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

May Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Cold Pack Preserving

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The May cold pack challenge is over and it’s time to round-up our results. This challenge wasn’t as popular as those in past months, which I sort of expected. Cold pack preserving isn’t as exciting as some of the other skills we’ve tackled, and for lots of you, it was hard to find good seasonal produce which was appropriate for cold packing. Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice for May. Live and learn!

This month, just 92 people submitted their finished projects. Asparagus was the most popular ingredient to cold pack (which is appropriate since it was in season in many parts of the country in May). Other popular varieties of produce last month were Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans, jalapeños, okra, red onion, and tomatoes.

From the data that you all reported this month, it looks like most of you weren’t moved to make more than one batch. However, from the optional comments, it sounds like a lot of you are looking forward to trying out this skill later in the season when there’s more that’s appropriate for cold packing.

One thing that I found interesting was that many of the participants felt mixed towards cold packing at the start of the challenge. Which I get. It’s not one of the sexier food preservation skills.

Happily, those of you who tried it seemed to shift to the more positive end of the spectrum by the end of the month. Which is always what I’m hoping for!

Here’s hoping that the June jam challenge will appeal to a larger swath of folks and that our participation numbers will be back up in the next month!

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Veg

Fruit

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Cold Pack Canning for the May Mastery Challenge

It is the start of May, and that means it’s time to tackle a new food preservation skill. This month, we’re turning our focus to cold pack preserving.

What is a cold pack?

Also known as raw pack, to cold pack something simply means something that it put into jars while cold and uncooked. If you’ve made dilly beans or garlic dill pickle spears, you’ve already tried your hand at a cold pack. Other things that get cold packed a lot are peaches, pears, and tomatoes that are peeled but uncooked, pickled vegetables where you’re trying to retain their crunch, and much of what goes into a pressure canner.

Why cold pack?

  1. The primary reason to choose this style of preservation is to retain texture. When fruits and vegetables go into the jars raw, they don’t spend as much time in contact with heat, which means that they don’t cook as much. That leads to a crisper, firmer texture.
  2. The secondary appeal of the cold pack is speed. Food gets peeled, pared, packed into the jars, topped with either water, brine, fruit juice, syrup, and goes into the canning pot.

What are the downsides?

    1. There is often some likelihood of liquid loss. Raw produce often contains tiny pockets of air. As the produce cooks while undergoing the canning process, some of that air is released into the jar. That air then heads for top of the jar in order to escape the container (physics at work!). But because it often has to travel the length of the jar, it often pushes liquid out with it in its rush to escape the vessel. It’s frustrating but entirely normal.
    2. Product shrinkage. You worked so hard to squeeze as many peach halves into the jar as possible, but now having taken the jars out of the canner, you see that what had been a tightly packed jar now has two inches of liquid at the bottom. The fruit has reduced in mass and is floating up towards the lid. It’s not dangerous and as long as the lids are tightly sealed, the fruit is safe to eat. They’re just not as pretty for displaying on your kitchen shelves.

  1. Surface discoloration. When you have some liquid loss and product shrinkage, you will often also see some surface discoloration occur over time. This typically manifests as a generalized darkening of the product that is un-submerged or that is in contact with the empty portion of the jar. It’s not dangerous, but that darkened portion does lose flavor more rapidly than the balance of the jar. If I find a jar in this state, I scrape, trim or otherwise discard the darkened portion before tucking in.

The goal for this month is…

Simply to get to know the cold pack technique and figure out where it functions best. We’ll be exploring hot packing in July (which I think of as the other side of the jar packing coin), so hopefully you’ll start to see how the two styles work together and can serve in equal measure.

Recipes

Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.

And here are some options from elsewhere.

Finally, use this challenge as a chance to read through a preserving cookbook or two. You’ll find cold pack preservation at play in any number of different recipes, so do a little exploring!

The deadline for this challenge is Tuesday, May 30. Submission link coming soon!

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Quick Pickles for the April Mastery Challenge

Get your Mastery Challenge on with a batch of quick pickles!

Happy April, friends! This month, the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is focusing on quick pickles. Also often known as refrigerator pickles, these pickles are typically made in small batches, involve a vinegar brine, need little time to age (often, they’re good to go in just a few hours), and spend the entirety of their lifetime in the fridge.

As in previous months, remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose a project or recipe that will satisfy both your own learning and help you make something delicious.

Why a Quick Pickle?

While I like a preserved pickle as much as the next canner, there are a number of reasons why I often turn to small batches of quick pickles when I have produce that needs to be used up or kept from the compost pile.

They’re easy to make and you can make a batch as big or small as you want (years ago, I shared a small batch I’d made simply to keep a single English cucumber from going bad).

You can also be creative when you’re making a quick pickle. Because it’s not a going into a boiling water bath canner, you aren’t wedded to ratios of vinegar and water to ensure safety. You can reduce vinegar amounts and use lower acid vinegars like those made with rice wine (which are typically 4.2% vinegars rather than the 5% pickle-ready versions).

Quick pickles also have a firmer texture. If you’re someone for whom a pickle is judged on its snappy crunch, quick pickles are the way to go. Because they’re not exposed to the prolonged heat of a boiling water bath, they don’t soften nearly as much as a preserved pickle does.

What Should I Pickle Quickly?

The great thing about this style of pickling is that nearly every variety of fruit and vegetable is fair game. I often use this technique when I want pickled onions to heap on a burger, some tangy fruit to add to a grain salad, or a pickles to take to a potluck or cookout.

If you’re a fairly traditional pickle eater, consider starting with a basic batch of Garlic Dill Pickles. Snappy and bright, they’re one of my very favorite pickles. Another good option are thinly sliced carrots and radishes. I also turn to quick pickling when I want to use up odds and ends that might otherwise get trashed. The quick pickled chard stems at the end of this post are a good example of that kind of pickling. And while we’re not yet into the depths of zucchini season, keep this one tucked into the back of your mind when you’re swimming in zucchini.

On the fruity end of things, consider these pickled peaches. As written, it’s not a quick pickle recipe, but a quick version of those same peaches would have been sturdier and more textured. These pickled blueberries are much the same as the peaches.

And, a final one perfect for the Easter and Passover holidays coming soon. Pickled Red Beet Eggs!

And here are some suggestions from around the internet.

Quick Pickled Strawberries || Quick Pickled Red Onions || Quick Pickled Asparagus || Quick Pickled Carrot Spears || Quick Daikon and Carrot Pickle || Spicy Refrigerator Pickled Peppers || Quick Pickled Fennel with Orange || Quick Pickled Apple

 

To Blanch or Not to Blanch?

One of the nice things about making quick pickles is that they don’t require a lot of preparation. However, denser things like asparagus, carrots, green beans, and beets absorb pickle brine better after they’ve had 30-60 seconds in a pot of boiling water. It’s not absolutely required, but cuts down the amount of time they’ll need in order to take on the flavors you carefully tucked into your brine.

If you hate the idea of adding a blanching step, you can either skip it or slice and dice the vegetables into increasingly small bits. Just know that the finished pickles will need a few days longer in the fridge and that they’ll always retain an element of their raw texture.

Vinegars and Flavor Elements

Like I mentioned above, one of the best things about making quick pickles is that there’s so much space to be creative. You can use the wacky vinegars you picked up on vacation, or fill half the jar with fresh herbs to add flavor. My only word of advise is that less is often more when it comes to pickling. Don’t heap your entire herb garden into a single batch, hoping for greatness. Creative restraint is your friend.

How Long Can I Keep My Quick Pickles?

Provided that you took care to start with squeaky clean containers* and you have the available refrigerator space, quick pickles can last for months in the fridge. I once had a jar of quick pickled cucumbers that I kept for nearly a year and they were amazing when we finally unearthed the jar from the far reaches of the fridge.

However, if you’re opening and closing the jar on a regularly basis, they are best when eaten within four to six weeks of being made. After that they often soften and or develop mold. As always, the rule of thumb is that if you have any doubt about the safety of your pickles, throw them out.

*A great thing about quick pickling is that you can skip the traditional mason jars. Any vessel with a tightly fitting lid will do the job here (like the reused peanut butter jars pictured at the top of this post).

How Do I Use a Quick Pickle?

Quick pickles are great on sandwiches. They work beautifully chopped and tossed with a grain salad. I’m a big fan of adding them to potato salad. They brighten all manner of tuna salads and salmon cakes. Turn them into tartar sauce or Russian dressing.

What are you planning on making for this month’s quick pickle challenge?

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Mastery Challenge March Round-Up: Jellies and Shrubs

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That’s it! March is all wrapped up and so is our jellies and shrubs challenge. This month, 262 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was a joy for me to see so many people trying new recipes and finding ways to make and create.

Much like last month, there was a lot to choose from within the challenge parameters. I was surprised and delighted that so many people took on shrubs. As you’ll see in the satisfaction numbers further down, I feel like this month turned a lot of shrub-skeptics into shrub lovers (though not all of you loved the shrubs. And that’s okay too!).

Another thing that was fun to see what that a lot of you made more than one project for the challenge. There’s never a requirement to try the skill more than once, but the more you play around with a particular preserving style, the more you can come to understand it and make it part of your culinary dialect.

Now, here are the numbers that I thought were most interesting. At the start of this month, a number of you had uneasy or negative feelings about shrubs. And I get it. Sometimes the idea of making a sweetened, vinegar based syrup seems a little weird even to me (and I’ve been doing it for years now).

But at the end of the month, a vast majority of those of you who made the shrubs now have an exceedingly positive attitude towards them. Heidi in Rockville, MD said in her comment, “I can’t stop making shrubs!!!! Fun, easy, and sooooo delicious with some soda water or seltzer. They are amazing!” So glad you’re so enthused, Heidi!

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The Jellies

 

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The Shrubs

Also, don’t miss the round-up Mary did of the projects her preserving group completed!

Big thanks to everyone who participated this month! In April, we’re making quick pickles. Hope you all can join in for that!

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Raspberry Meyer Lemon Shrub

This raspberry meyer lemon shrub is the perfect take for anyone who’s a little bit skeptical about the idea of using syrup-y, vinegar infused concoctions in their own kitchens. The lemon tempers the vinegar and makes for a bright, flavorful concentrate.

This month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge has been all about jellies and shrubs. We’ve been doing a lot of talking about jellies here on the blog, but not nearly as much about shrubs. Today, that changes.

This raspberry meyer lemon shrub is one of my favorites because the berries bring vivid color and flavor, and the lemons help moderate the sharpness of the vinegar.

This is an uncooked shrub and you start simply by muddling 6 ounces of raspberries and 8 ounces of granulated sugar together (I love my Masontops Pickle Packer for this task).

Once the berries are well smashed into the sugar, you zest 2 meyer lemons into the jar.

Cut open those lemons and squeeze the juice into the jar.

Then, in goes 1 cup of apple cider vinegar.

Stir it together and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, pull the jar out of the fridge. Give it a good stir to make sure that all the sugar has dissolved into the fruit juice.

Set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the macerating fruit and syrup through.

Use a silicone spatula and really work the seeds around in the sieve so that you get all the liquid into the bowl.

Such a great color!

Once the shrub is finished, it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. Pour it into sparkling water, drizzle it on fruit, use it to top ice cream, or make a vinaigrette out of it.

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Mastery Challenge February Round-up: Salt Preserving

Grace Lee’s gorgeously vivid kimchi.

February has drawn to a close and so it’s time to wrap up the second round of the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. I continue to be so honored and delighted that so many of you are going along with me on this crazy journey!

This month, we focused on preserving with salt and so many of you spent your time exploring the many options. There were 325 of you that submitted projects to the spreadsheet (down from last month’s 600-ish number, but still great). I think it’s safe to say that even more of you attempted preserved citrus, gravlax, cured eggs, soup base, herbes salées, sauerkraut, and more than reported it.

I loved seeing the positive trend in feelings about salt preserving. We only scratched the surface of a very deep food preservation tradition and I do hope that some of you keep exploring this area.

Dried Herb Salt, Herbes Salées, & Soup Base

Sauerkraut & Kimchi

Chopping collards from Brit in the South

Preserved Citrus

Photo from Cheese and Cracker Jacks

Gravlax & Cured Egg Yolks

Laurie Kane’s gorgeous beet gravlax

 

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