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Guest Post: Fruit Leather from the Mid-winter Pantry

Today’s guest post comes to us from Janet Reich Elsbach. Based in Western Massachusetts, Janet writes wildly beautiful things about food and life at A Raisin and a Porpoise. Her first cookbook, called Extra Helping: Recipes for Building Community One Dish at a Time, will be out this fall (and is available for pre-order now!). I also highly encourage you to follow her tiny dog Sylvester on Instagram. He is delightful.

There’s a poem by Wendell Berry that I keep taped up inside my closet so I can see it every day, because it helps me feel calm and serene when the circumstances of the world around me are not conducive to that state of being.

The Peace Of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

What this has to do with canning is that a similar feeling of calm, also rooted in gratitude for the natural world and thoughts of what my life and my children’s lives may be, can be switched on in me by going down to the basement and into the pantry where I keep the jars of fruit that I have preserved from the summer harvest. I have the great good fortune of living next to my parents’ prolific orchard, and most years there is more fruit streaming out of it than I can tackle, even with the help of my canning coven.

My daughter lines up the jams and sauces and so forth in her very tidy way, sorting by color and type and size of container. If I have done it correctly, the sealed jars produce no aroma or other emission. But standing in the narrow, windowless alcove, between the skinny little shelves and among the crates of empties and other supplies that line the floor, I might as well be standing in the forest, inhaling the negative ions that wild places are said to give off to great tonic effect. I just feel a little bit safer, seeing the peaches and plums and tomatoes and apples lined up so neatly.

Possibly because a healthy population of jars is connected to my sense of calm, I struggle with the math that governs the pace at which the jars are opened. Ok, let’s be clear: I don’t do any math. I vacillate between periods of hoarding and bouts of lid-popping. By this point in the winter, it’s usually clear that we can probably increase consumption and I can stop being quite so careful. And nobody seems to eat as much applesauce as they once did. And I don’t like to keep anything more than two years from its canning date. So around this time of year, once holiday giving has cleared what it is going to clear from the inventory, I start making fruit leather.

Or rather, I continue making fruit leather. We (and by “we,” I primarily mean my son, though he does get a good bit of help) eat a lot of fruit leather. Given the yardage of fruit leather I have produced for this child in his 13 years of life, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to experiment and to refine my thinking. The main refinement is this: What is fruit leather, really, but dried applesauce? And now that I have determined that the tenderest texture derives from both adding some sticky sweetener (honey, for example) and using a blender to grind everything super-fine (think baby food consistency), I’m all set to experiment wildly.

Some of you in the audience may have already figured out that these wild, adventurous experiments I allude to basically take the form of adding different things to applesauce. Winter in New England, people! CRAZY TIMES UP IN HERE.

My usual formula involves zipping the applesauce up with a handful of the peaches or strawberries I’ve frozen, then adding lime juice, honey and a little heat from cayenne or some other type of chile. Tossing a piece of preserved lemon into the mixture as well makes a very complex and mysteriously delicious leather that reminds me of those wildly sweet-tart-hot mango chile pops you can find in Mexican markets.

But lately when I am breathing deeply in the canning closet, I see there is a good amount of jam that also needs to be deployed before its sell-by date. Honey and jam are not all that different, as you know if you have ever run out of one and used the other in your tea or on your pancakes.

In the fruit version here, I paired a jar of plum preserves with some fresh lemon juice, which adds a little tang and generally brightens the flavors, and included some fresh ginger to give it a little kick. Any fruit jam can substitute for the plum.

For the chocolate leather, I combined a jar of pear butter with the applesauce base. Pears and chocolate play so well together, as do strawberry or raspberry if you have a surplus of either of those.

My dehydrator is an ancient old workshorse that I inherited. In lieu of tray liners, which it does not possess, I use parchment paper. If you have a more modern appliance, by all means use the liners it probably came with. Fruit leather can also be made on lined cookie sheets in an oven that has a very low setting, which mine does not (and I’ve made the fruit shards to prove it).

Odds are you’ll soon be off on your own wild experiments. However you mix it up, it’s a new life for the jars lingering in the pantry and definitely not your standard lunchbox snack.

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Guest Post: Ginger and Turmeric Preserved in Alcohol with Heather Francis

Today’s guest post is from adventurer and home canner Heather Francis. She is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada but has lived and worked on the ocean for over a decade. A professional cook who’s worked on both land and sea, these days you’ll find her in the galley of Kate, the Newport 41’ sloop she and her Aussie partner, Steve, have been sailing since 2008. They are currently looking for wind in the Philippines. Follow their adventures on Yacht Kate.

Fresh ginger is something that I always have in my galley; it’s peppery, citrus bite a staple in the quick, Asian-inspired dishes that I regularly prepare. However, it is not really something have room for in my fridge. I know a piece of ginger isn’t all that big, but when your total cold storage space isn’t much bigger than the freezer section of a typical domestic refrigerator you tend to be picky about what goes into it.

Years I ago I discovered that you can preserve ginger, and other rhizomes like turmeric, simply by submersing it in alcohol. The method that has a two-fold result; fresh ginger/turmeric that is ready to add to any dish, and some delightfully flavoured alcohol ready to add to your sundown cocktail. And best of all, no fancy equipment or refrigeration required.

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How to Create Homemade Honey Candy

Happy Friday! Our regular contributor Alex Jones is dropping in with a recipe for homemade honey candy. These are perfect for soothing a sore throat or any time you need a virtuous sweet treat. If you’re in the Philly area, there’s also an opportunity to learn to make these candies in person this Sunday. Details at the bottom of the post! -Marisa

Ingredients for homemade honey candy

Since I don’t have kids and I live in a multi-unit building that’s not conducive to trick-or-treating, I don’t typically think of Halloween as a time to stockpile candy. (Wait till the day after when it’s on sale — that’s the real trick).

But this time of year is when I start thinking about preparing for winter — making fire cider, stockpiling local root veggies that will last me through the end of the year, planting garlic.

And thanks to a fellow member of my Philly food community, I have a recipe to share with you that’s great for this time of year, whether you’re looking to make some naturally sweet candies or prepare for winter cold season.

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Red Currants, Dry Canning, and Family Traditions

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back with another post from her canning trenches. This time, she’s sharing her experience trying dry canning (aka open kettle canning) with her Canadian relatives. -Marisa

As I’m sure is the case with many of you readers, I first learned to can thanks to recipes and tips here on Food In Jars.

Marisa’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and clear, well-researched recipes and instructions have always made it easy to understand the principles of safe and delicious canning. Ever since then, I’ve felt confident in putting up seasonal produce and even developing or tweaking recipes of my own, knowing that they were based on safe, tested, well-researched information. And I’d never known anyone who practiced home preserving any other way.

That is, until I paid a visit to family in Quebec earlier this month.

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Guest Post: Five Canning and Preserving Survival Tips by Lynne Curry

Today’s guest post comes to us from cookbook author and seasoned canner Lynne Curry. She’s dropping in to share some of her hard won canning wisdom with those who are just getting started, or who simply need to be reminded how to stay sane during the height of the preserving season. Enjoy! -Marisa

The strawberries and cherries have already come and gone for many of us, and the stone fruit avalanche is well under way. And that’s just the fruits! Before you know it, we’ll all be swimming in green beans and tomatoes, racing to pack them into jars.

As a longtime food preserver, I’ve had moments–even small-batch canning–when things nearly got out of hand. With the washing and sanitizing of jars, the peeling and cutting of fruits and vegetables and timing the steady boil in the canner, it’s a lot to manage!

Happily, I’ve adopted five practices from my professional life as a chef and recipe developer that keep me organized and productive from batch to batch over the entire growing season.

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Quick Pickled Balsamic Strawberries

Today’s guest post comes to us from Erin Urquhart, blogger at Putting Up With Erin. She’s stopped by to share her recipe for Quick Pickled Balsamic Strawberries. Welcome to Food in Jars, Erin! 

baskets of strawberries for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

Strawberries are like gold at my farmers market. I’ve been known to spend as much as twenty minutes in line, waiting to get my hands on some locally-grown strawberries (and I have my suspicions that many of you have done the same).

Like locally grown heirloom tomatoes, strawberries are at their peak for a limited amount of time. It takes time and dedication to wait out the other shoppers in order to get the best pick, particularly if you want to have enough to can. I like to put up at least a dozen jars of various strawberry preserves and pickles to get me through the year. They take time and energy, but they’re always worth it.

fresh thyme for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

In years past I’ve played with canned strawberries, pickled green strawberries, strawberry jam , and strawberry whole grain mustard. With only a week left to get my quick-pickled entry in for the Mastery Challenge, I decided to spice it up a bit and try quick pickled balsamic strawberries.

What I love the most about quick-fridge pickling is that it affords you a bit more adventure in your recipes due to modern refrigeration. Even better, because these berries never take a trip through a boiling water bath canner, they hold their texture and shape nicely.

slivered strawberries for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

A familiar combination for strawberry jam, the acid in the balsamic vinegar is a perfect compliment to the sweet berries. There’s no need to buy an uber fancy balsamic vinegar for this recipe. Get something that you’d buy for making quick vinaigrettes.

mustard, thyme and balsamic brine for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

I used a $7 commercially produced organic balsamic vinegar that I picked up from the local food co-op. And because I wanted the pickles to have even more flavor and interest, I decided to get funky by substituting soy sauce for salt, and adding fresh thyme leaves and whole mustard seed to the mix.

quick pickled balsamic strawberries in their jars

The result: a sweet and tangy pickled strawberry backed by the depth of the balsamic vinegar. Enjoy this balsamic strawberry pickle as a mid-day snack with ricotta cheese, cracked black pepper, and some citrus zest, OR simply add a spoonful of pickles to a light field greens salad.

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