Tag Archives | Mastery Challenge

Fermentation for the November Mastery Challenge

For the November Mastery Challenge, we’re digging into fermentation. This a huge topic and you can go a number of different directions. Kimchi, sauerkraut, hot sauce, yogurt, sourdough, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, ginger bugs, brined pickles, and anything else you can think of are fair game!

If you’ve never done any fermentation, I suggest sauerkraut as a good starting place. It’s an easy entry point and can be done with just a wide mouth quart jar, a 4 ounce jelly jar, a piece of clean kitchen towel, and a rubber band.

If you’re looking for a little more detail on sauerkraut making, make sure to watch the Facebook video I did recently. I also talk about various airlocks and fermentation helpers in the video.

As far as fermentation resources go, there is no better source than Phickle. Written by Amanda Feifer (who also wrote the excellent book Ferment Your Vegetables).

To have your project included in the tally and round-up for this month, please submit your finished project using this form by Thursday, November 30.

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Submit your October Mastery Challenge Here!

Hello Mastery Challenge participants! I know it seems a little strange that I’m posting this submission form right on the heels of the monthly intro. The truth of the matter is that because of my busy-ness, we’re well into October and I wanted to make sure the form was here for those folks who are more on top of things that I am!

This month, we’re focusing on both drying/dehydrating and pressure canning. You can choose one topic or tackle them both, depending on your time, equipment and motivation!

The reporting form is below! Deadline submission deadline is Monday, October 30 to be counted in the tally and included in the round-up.

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Dehydrating and Pressure Canning for the October Mastery Challenge

Happy October, folks! So sorry that it’s taken me a little bit to get this post up. I spent most of last week in Austin co-babysitting my nephews with my mom and I’m working on a new book, so my attention has been a bit splintered.

Like our challenge back in August, this month is two-pronged. We’re focusing on both drying/dehydrating and pressure canning. The reason for two topics this time around is that I didn’t want to have a whole month dedicated to something that required the purchase of a specialized piece of equipment.

Entry level pressure canners aren’t that expensive (the 16 quart Presto that I use is currently $72 on Amazon), but it’s still a cost. The barrier to entry just needed to be lower. And while lots of people have dedicated dehydrators, drying food is something that be done just about anywhere, with nothing more than a length of string or a rubber band with which to tie and hang a bundle of herbs. So here we are, with two topics.

To participate this month, you can pick just one of the skills, or if you have access to a pressure canner, can be bold and do both. Finally, remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose accordingly.

Drying/Dehydrating

This is one of the oldest food preservation approaches known to humans. Since the dawn of time, we’ve been drying fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats in order to make them last from one season to the next. In the past, we had nothing more than sun, wind, and smoke to effect drying. These days, we’ve added countertop dehydrators, microwave ovens, freeze dryers, and ovens with dedicated dehydrating settings to our toolbox.

For the purposes of this month’s challenge, any homemade dried food will count. I do ask that if you opt for making jerky that you take care and use proper food handling techniques to prevent spoilage (Hank Shaw is always my first stop for jerky info).

  • I am partial to these marinated and dried tomatoes, these dehydrated tiny tomatoes, and these sprouted and dried almonds.
  • For ease of prep and use, nothing beats these air dried lemon peel slices.
  • Making fruit leather with a jar of applesauce spiked with some elderly jam is always a nice way to go, particularly if you have kids with a fruit leather habit (though having just spent a week with a very picky three-year-old, I could see him turning up his nose at fruit leather without a wrapper. Your mileage will vary on that front).
  • This weekend, hit the farmers market and buy a few bundles of herbs. Tie them with string and hang them upside down someplace where they can just be for a week or two. When they’re dry, rub them, tuck them into a jar, and label them for winter cooking.
  • There’s also a bunch of good information on drying food on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website, should you need more detail.

Pressure Canning

Whereas drying has an element of the loosy-goosy about it, there’s no messing around with pressure canning (though truly, there’s nothing to be afraid of). The reason some foods needs to be canned with the help of a pressure canner is that they are low in acid. Without an ample volume of acid, there’s nothing to check the germination ability of any botulism spores that might be present and you could potentially end up with a jar full of danger. For more the role of acid in canning, read this post.

And so, whenever we want to preserve things like unpickled vegetables, meats, stocks and broths, and beans, we call on a pressure canner. A well-vented pressure canner typically reaches 250F, which is enough to kill botulism spores. The amount of time different foods are processed in a pressure canner is typically calculated based on the volume of the jar and the density of the food.

One thing to note is that when you start considering pressure canning, you will need to get your hands on a dedicated pressure canner. Consumer pressure cookers are not designed for pressure canning and cannot be used to preserve low acid foods. Additionally, no electric countertop pressure cooker has been approved for canning (no matter what the infomercials tell you).

For more detail on pressure canning, read the following posts:

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September Mastery Challenge Round-up: Fruit Butters

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September is over and so it’s time for our monthly Mastery Challenge accounting. This was a good month for the challenge, with 73 people reporting in that they cooked up a batch or two of fruit butter in order to meet the goals of the challenge.

The array of fruits used was nice and broad. Folks made butters out of apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, figs, muscadine grapes, nectarines, pawpaws, peaches, pears, plums, pumpkins, rhubarb, tomatoes, and zucchini. Those butters were flavored with aleppo pepper, bourbon, cardamom, chai, chipotle, cinnamon, ginger, lavender, lemon, rosewater, rum, and vanilla. And they were sweetened with brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, maple, and sorghum.

Going into the challenge, the feelings about fruit butters were scattered across the spectrum, with a number of folks feeling ok and then really positive about the style of preserve.

Happily, after completing the challenge, nearly everyone who participated feels pretty darn good about fruit butters. That always warms my heart. Sadly, I forgot to include a field for people to leave comments about this month’s challenge on the submission form (oops), so I don’t have any words of wisdom or excitement from participants to share. 🙁

Apple and Pears

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Cherries, Nectarines, Plums, and Peaches

Everything Else

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Fruit Butter for the September Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

It’s September and that means it’s time to explore another food preservation skill in the crazy journey we know as the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. This month, we’re digging into fruit butters. For the purposes of this challenge, we’re including butters made from winter squash and sweet potatoes, provided that they are made for the fridge or freezer (since they are too dense to be canned). It can be sweetened in any which way you want and can even be made without additional sweeteners.

Remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose an approach or recipe that will satisfy both your own learning and help you make something delicious.

What is a fruit butter?

A fruit butter is a product that is so named because it mimics the smooth spreadability of softened butter. It is made from a puree that is cooked low and slow for a number of hours, in order to evaporate the excess liquid, concentrate flavors and intensify the innate sweetness in the fruit. Thanks to this concentration, it typically contains a minimal amount of additional sweetener.

How do you make fruit butters?

The basics of making fruit butters are these. You puree some fruit. You cook it down slowly until thick. You add sweeteners, spices, and acid (to balance the flavors) to taste and preserve.

There are three standard approaches to making fruit butters.

  1. Slow Cooker – This is my favorite method for making fruit butters because it is relatively hands off, can be done outside of the kitchen (great for busy cooking days), and is produces the steady, low heat that fruit butters love. Just remember to prop the lid to allow for the steam to vent.
  2. Stove Top – When you’re in a hurry and you have the time to tend the cooking puree, small batches can be done on the stove top. Just keep stirring to prevent scorching.
  3. Oven – Another beloved technique. I often start with whole fruit when making fruit butters, roast them until soft, smash the fruit in the pan, and then continue to cook, stirring regularly. The best part of these oven roasted butters is that they develop a rich, caramelized flavor.

The Recipes

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August Mastery Challenge Round-Up: LTP and Steam Canning

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Hello canners! So sorry for the delayed August report. I came down with the flu on August 31 and it really threw off my work plans. Happily, I’m better now and back with a little round-up. I say little, because on the whole, a lot of you did not like this month’s challenge and so participation was super low. I get it. Not every technique is for every person. Hopefully we’ll all get back on track with fruit butters in September (they’re fun! and versatile! and so tasty swirled into yogurt!).

In August, 32 die hard canners reported their participation in the Mastery Challenge. Of those 32, 25 people tried their hand at low temperature pasteurization and seven took a stab at steam canning.

As is often the case, people reported feeling uncertain about the skills prior to trying them, but once they’d tackled them, those feelings improved. Here are the charts for LTP.

And here are the feelings about steam canning.

These numbers look a little wonky, because only seven people said they tried steam canning, but more are reporting here. I feel like we can probably safely discount four people who said they felt negatively after trying. Though I’m no statistician.

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Here’s what people made!

And that’s it for the round-up for this month!

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