Tag Archives | late winter preserving

How to Make Beet Raisins

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops in to show us how to simmer and dry beet slices into beet raisins. It’s a great project for this in-between time, when we’re waiting for spring produce to arrive! -Marisa

Small slices of beets on a dehydrator tray will become beet raisins.

I’m not much of a cooking competition show watcher. The exceptions are the original Japanese Iron Chef, which I followed voraciously back in high school, The Great British Baking Show (of course), and a brief foray into MasterChef Junior — all shows that avoid the cutthroat, stressful nature of most reality TV.

So I can’t really blame myself for not knowing about beet raisins, with which chef Carrie Baird of Denver’s Bar Dough wowed the judges during an episode of Top Chef last year.

Cut beets on a cutting board for beet raisins.

A poster on the Food in Jars Community Facebook group mentioned them recently, and I was instantly fascinated. Beets are the kind of veggie I always wish I used more often. Now that I have an Instant Pot, it’s easy to quickly prep a bunch for a week of salads, but that’s as about as creative as I’ve gotten with them lately.

And while I’m waiting for the ever-so-slow unfolding of spring here in Philly, farmers’ market stands still have tons of sturdy storage beets in red and gold, harvested months ago. With strawberries still weeks away and grapes for actual raisins not available until high summer, I had to try this recipe.

Cut and peeled beets for beet raisins.

Baird’s recipe calls for melon balling the raw beets into uniform spheres, which is far more work than I wanted to put in. (A melon baller is also not one of the many culinary tools in my kitchen, and if I’ve managed to avoid getting one for this long, it’s not gonna happen now.)

So I peeled and trimmed my organic red beets, then halved them and cut each halves into five roughly equal slices, about half an inch thick and an inch or so long — cutting the pointy end, then slicing the remainder into quarters.

Cut beets in a pot that will become beet raisins.

Slices rather than balls also reduces waste, giving you more beet raisin for your buck. (My cuts gave me larger pieces in the end; if you want something more raisin-sized, do cuts closer to 1/2″ all around and cut the drying time.) The slices went into a pot with vinegar, sugar, water, and a pinch of salt.

Baird uses champagne vinegar, which you’re welcome to do; I used apple cider vinegar, because that’s what I had on hand (and I’m not trying to win a high-stakes cooking competition).

The slices simmered till they were very soft but not disintegrating, about two hours. Then, I drained the liquid — which you could use to make salad dressing, or add a little more salt and use it to quick-pickle some thinly-sliced hakurei turnips, for example — and let the slices cool for a bit.

Side view of beet slices on a dehydrator tray for beet raisins.

The cooked beet “grapes” then went into my Excalibur dehydrator at at 135oF, which is the setting recommended for fruit. After two hours, the beets were showing signs of dehydration, but their texture was still more like beets than raisins.

I upped the temperature to 145oF, which is the temperature I include in the recipe below. The beets took another three hours or so until they were sufficiently raisinlike for me to pull them out — next time, I might just turn the dehydrator up all the way to 155oF and see if that helps to shorten the dehydration time without overdrying.

When I did, they were wrinkly, chewy and toothsome, and pleasantly sweet and a little tart — just like real raisins! They’re super snackable and would be delicious in a bowl of yogurt with granola, or on a kale salad, as Baird served them on Top Chef. I could also see using them to top a tzatziki-esque cucumber salad along with lots of dill, toasted slivered almonds, and a pillowy pita.

Finished beet raisins in a small bowl.

They’re not quite as simple as stemming grapes and tossing them onto a dehydrator rack, but I’ll definitely be making these beet raisins again. Would you give them a try? Tell us in the comments!

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Orange-Ginger Marmalade

oranges-ready-for-chopping

I’ve never been much for marmalade. It wasn’t a condiment we kept around the house while I was growing up. When it came to peanut butter sandwiches, my sister and I preferred the strawberry jam that came in a blue plastic tub with white lid and handle, like a little bucket. My mom always had a stash of something homemade tucked in the back of the fridge for her toast, while my dad typically gravitated towards the squeeze bottle of honey.

Chopping in progress

The only person I knew who kept marmalade on her grocery list was my grandmother Bunny. She would often spread a fine layer on a piece of morning toast, or use a bit as a pork chop glaze. On occasion, she’d offer me a bite, and I always found it displeasingly puckery and not nearly sugary enough for my young taste buds.

Bubbling Marmalade

Several years ago, I watched the movie Gosford Park. There’s one scene, in the final third of the movie, in which Maggie Smith’s character is breakfasting in her room with her lady’s maid. She lifts a cut glass lid from a preserves jar and complains bitterly when she discovers that the marmalade it contains was bought, as opposed to being house-made. That scene settled into the depths of my brain and took root, sending out shoots that carried the message “homemade marmalade is always preferable to mass-produced.”

Filling the jars

Last week, that dormant message finally bloomed and I headed to the kitchen to make a batch of Orange-Ginger Marmalade. I did some research prior to applying knife to orange and discovered a wide array of marmalade recipes. Each was a bit different from the one before. Some recommended removing the zest from the fruit with a vegetable peeler, peeling the remaining pith off and then chopping, while other recipes instructed you to chop the whole fruit. After reading seven different recipes, I decided to wing it, basing my method on my previous jam-making experience.

Filling a jar

I chopped eleven medium, organic oranges into tiny bits (they yielded a bit over eight cups of orange) and combined them with four cups of sugar, two inches of grated ginger (next time, I’d use far more, as the flavor is very faint) and the juice of two lemons. I ended up using one packet of liquid pectin to get things to jell a bit, but if you happened to have some cheesecloth in the house, you could bundle up all the seeds and orange membrane and cook it along with the fruit, as there’s a lot of natural pectin in the seeds. I didn’t have any cheesecloth (I used up the last of mine on a yogurt cheese experiment a few weeks ago), so in went the pectin.

Jars in hot water bath

The resulting marmalade is sweet, but not cloyingly so. The chunks of orange peel are a bit more toothsome than I find to be ideal, but they add good flavor and texture, so I don’t regret their inclusion (in the future, I’ll try for an even finer dice). I do wish the ginger flavor was more aggressive, next time I make this, I’m going to mince it instead of grating it, and will use a generous three or four-inch length. However, all in all, I’ve produced a really delicious spread that is perfect on toast, scones or stirred into a dish of cottage cheese.

Sealed jars

For those of you who want to taste my marmalade, I’m giving away a half-pint. Leave a comment below if you want a chance at it. I’ll pick a random winner out on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12 noon. For those of you who don’t win, the recipe is after the jump. This contest is now closed.

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