Tag Archives | small batch canning

Gift Guide: Gear for the Small Batch Canner

small batch canning gift guide

In the last week or so, I’ve gotten half a dozen individual requests from people, asking me to tell them what they should buy for someone who wants to start canning in small batches.

Working under the assumption that a list of essentials might be useful to lots of people, I spent a little time this morning rummaging through my kitchen, pulling out my favorite pieces of equipment. These are the things I use regularly, and replace immediately when they break or are lost (things get left behind when you do as many traveling demos as I do).

Starting from the left and then moving clockwise…

  • A basic microplane zester. I prefer this model to the one with a handle, because it has a slightly larger grating area and can be set across the top of a bowl or pan. I use this at least once during every canning project for citrus zest, fresh ginger, nutmeg, or garlic.
  • A stainless steel wide mouth funnel. It’s sturdy, dishwasher safe, and will never melt if left too close to a hot burner.
  • An instant read digital thermometer. I like this ThermoPop, because it’s works quickly and is reliable, but is a more affordable option when compared to other ThermoWorks products.
  • A canning rack, like this Blossom Trivet. My love of this trivet is well documented.
  • Paring knife! On the high end, I like this one from Wusthof. A more affordable but excellent option is this OXO one.
  • A good jar lifter is vital. I find that for this tool, basic is best.
  • Vegetable peeler. These generally make good stocking stuffers, because most people don’t think to replace them, but are always happy to have a new, sharp peeler.
  • I use my potato masher all the time when making jams, fruit butters, and pizza sauce. I’ve used a number over the years, and think that this one from OXO is among the very best.
  • Silicone spatula. Flexible and fully encased in silicone is the way to go. This one from Mastrad is the best and most affordable I’ve found and I like it so much that I own half a dozen (so that I never have to fish a dirty one out of the dishwasher).

small batch canning pots

My canning pot list is a bit simpler. For really small batches, I use a 12 cup 4th Burner Pot. You can stack two wide mouth half pints or three wide mouth half pint Collection Elite jars in it. It’s also great for heating pickle brine, warming stock for risotto, hard boiling eggs (stack ‘em right in the basket), or making a few servings of mulled wine.

To process larger batches, I use a 12 quart stock pot. Most of the time, I reach for this one from Cuisinart. It’s light weight, durable, and can hold up to seven pint jars. However, it’s not the best for processing quart jars. If you think your gift recipient will be doing a lot of quarts, this Le Creuset 12 quart stock pot is a good choice. It’s a bit pricier than the Cuisinart, but is a little taller and skinnier, which means it holds four quart jars with ease.

preserving pots and pans

When it comes to giving a pan for jam making, I suggest you do a little gentle investigation before plunking down money on a spendy piece of cookware (this goes for the canning pots I mentioned above, as well. Many people already have a stock pot that can serve as a canning pot in their kitchen). However, if you know the state of your intended recipient’s kitchen, you want to get them a piece of cookware made from either stainless steel or enameled cast iron.

Any time you’re working with foods that contain high amounts of acid (and all preserves destined for preservation in a boiling water bath will be high in acid), you want to a pan made from non-reactive materials. That’s because the acid present in the food can leach a metallic flavor from reactive metals and spoil your preserves. Non-reactive cookware won’t do that.

Additionally, I don’t suggest non-stick cookware for preserving. If you read the instructions that come with non-stick pans, you’ll find that they recommend that you never use that style of cookware with high heat. When you make jams, jellies, and chutneys, you will be cooking at high heat in order to reach the desired consistency.

Here are the small batch pans I reach for most…

  • A Le Creuset 11 3/4 inch skillet. This is a heavy, expensive pan. I got mine at the Le Creuset outlet in Lancaster County, which made it far more affordable than the ones online. You can also often find these at Marshall’s, HomeGoods, and other discount home stores.
  • A stainless steel, 12 inch skillet. The one I have and use all the time is this tri-ply Tramontina model. However, according to Cook’s Illustrated, they have changed the styling of that skillet and it’s not as functional as it once was. All-Clad makes a nearly identical pan that works beautifully, but it is expensive. A more affordable option (recommended by Cook’s Illustrated) is this Emeril by All-Clad pan.
  • A large, straight-sided saute pan. I have this All-Clad one, but again, it’s not a cheap pan. I got it at Cookware & More, which made it a little less expensive. Of course, because they’re an outlet store, their stock will vary.

Here are my favorites for bigger batches…

  • A 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven. I have an orange Le Creuset one that I adore, but once again, it’s not cheap. If it’s out of your budget, get yourself to a West Elm. They have a 5 1/2 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven and the black one is on sale for $49.99. I bought one recently and have used it a lot. It’s a solid piece of cookware (and I mean solid, that sucker is heavy!).
  • A low, wide 8 quart pan. Of all the pieces of cookware in my kitchen, this may be the one I reach for the most. I have an All-Clad model that I got at the outlet and it’s a workhorse (though I got the Masterchef model, which I would not recommend. It’s got a brushed aluminum exterior that discolors in the dishwasher). A more affordable option is this one from Sur La Table. I have that one in my class kit and it’s been a really durable piece of cookware.

Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint

Finally, what small batch canning kit is completely without a cookbook or two to guide the way? If you’re interested in getting a personalized copy of either book, drop me a note and we can make arrangements!

Oh, and please do know that this post is studded with affiliate links. I make a few cents when you make a purchase using one of those links. Just wanted to make sure you knew!

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The Philly Farm and Food Fest

farm and food fest

Hey friends! If you’re within driving distance of the Philadelphia region, you should mark your calendars for the second annual Philly Farm and Food Fest on Sunday, April 14. Organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), it’s an afternoon-long celebration of local farmers, cheese makers, coffee roasters, bakers, chocolatiers, and other folks engaged in sustainable food culture (click here for the complete list of 2013 participants).

There will be workshops, delicious samples, and many other opportunities to engage with the people that have made a career of working with and producing food. I’ll be leading a small batch canning workshop in the third time slot and will show off my favorite skillet and 4th burner pot method of canning (I’ll also have books for sale and will happily sign any copies you happen to bring with you).

Tickets are $15 if purchased in advance and $20 at the door. Kids under 12 are free, making this an event that will be fairly kind to the family budget. For those of you who want to taste some local brews while at the event can pick up a $30 ticket that will give you entry into the Libations Lounge.

It should be a fun day and I hope to see some of you there!

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Sustainable Eat’s August Urban Farm Handbook Challenge – Food Preservation Edition

The Urban Farm Handbook

Back in February, Annette from Sustainable Eats got in touch, asking me if I’d participate in her Urban Farm Handbook challenge in August. I said yes and now, a head-spinningly fast six months later, it’s my turn to issue a Food Preservation challenge.

So here’s what I’d like you UFH challenge folks (and anyone else who wants to play along) to try. Invent your own small batch jam recipe. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to ask people who are doing an urban farm challenge to think small during the height of canning season, but once you can piece together a small recipe, it will open up your brain and help you think creatively (though still safely) about your food preservation.

I realize that this sounds impossibly scary for some of you, particularly since we regularly hear from a number of sources that creating our own canning recipes is a big, fat no-no. However, here’s the thing. When you start with high acid fruits (and that’s the vast majority of them), and you add just a sweetener (sugar, honey or maple syrup all have the right chemical make-up to work well in this context) and you limit your flavor boosters to just a pinch of herb or spice, it’s really hard to create an unsafe product (though make sure to read through to the end of this post for the list of fruits that need more aggressive acidification).

lemon verbena

Start with a pound or so of fruit. Chop or mash it and measure how much you have. Add half as much sugar or maple syrup, or just a third of the volume of honey (it’s sweeter than the other two). Stir to combine and cook over fairly high heat in a stainless steel frying pan, stirring all the time. A low, wide pan will have the jam cooking down in ten minutes or less.

Add a splash of lemon juice if the sweetness needs balancing. A pinch of cinnamon is good if you want warmth. Star anise is tasty, as is a bit of vanilla bean, a few lemon verbena leaves or even a little freshly ground black pepper.

checking doneness

When you can draw a line through the cooking jam with your spatula and it holds it for a moment or two, it is done. Scrape the jam into small jars. They can be processed in a boiling water bath canner or just refrigerated.

Note: There are a few fruits that need to be acidified like tomatoes to ensure their safety. These are asian pears, white peaches and nectarines, figs, melons and tropical fruit. For every two cups of fruit pulp, add one tablespoon bottled lemon juice.

There are prizes for participating in the challenge. At the end of the month, Annette will publish a post in which everyone who participated can link up and then have a chance to win. Here’s what you could get:

Now, start canning!

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Recipe Reminder: Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam

This week got away from me. On Monday, I mapped out five full days of posts in my mind and in the end, hardly managed to write a thing for this site. The combination of freelance commitments, book events and travel siphoned off my blogging time but good. Now the week is over and I’m moments away from collapse.

However, before I tumble into bed, I want to take a moment to show you that when it comes to squeezing food preservation into even the most busy days, I really and truly do practice what I preach.

smashed berries

On Wednesday, I met up with my friend Joy for an hour. We took a walk together and at the end, stopped by her neighborhood farmers’ market. I picked up a quart of strawberries, fully intending to eat them whole over the next couple of days.

They got a little beat up on my drive home and when I opened the fridge tonight (just after getting back from New York and being awake for 18 hours straight), I realized that they were not long for this world. So I did the thing I’ve so often recommended.

mixed with sugar

I plucked off their green leafy stems, packed them into a jar and smashed them with a wooden spoon (if they’re quite ripe, this is even easier than trying to chop or slice them). Eyeballing the volume in the jar, I estimated that I had about three cups of mashed berries. I added one cup of sugar and a split vanilla bean, put a lid on the jar and popped it into the fridge.

Instead of finding a rotten puddle in there tomorrow afternoon, I’ve placed those berries into temporary suspended animation and it took all of five minutes. They’ll hold happily like that until Sunday afternoon when I’ll be able to cook them down into jam. I’ll have something delicious instead of waste. A definite win in my book.

For a more organized and cohesive version of this recipe, check out this post from last spring.

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Urban Preserving: Small Batch Kumquat Marmalade

a pound of kumquats

Kumquats aren’t like other citrus fruit. Instead of having a tart rind and a sweet interior, they keep their sugar in the skin and have their pucker on the inside. It took me years to realize that the best way to eat them is to pop them into your mouth whole and take a big bite. That way, you blend the flavors into a single, delicious marriage.

quartered kumquats

If eating whole kumquats isn’t your thing, don’t think that there isn’t a place for them in your life. They just happen to make a luscious, if slightly energy-intensive, marmalade. Because they demand a lot in the chopping department, I find that it’s best to keep your kumquat marm batches tidy and contained. That makes them downright perfect for my every-so-often Urban Preserving category.

kumquat ribbons

Take one pound of kumquats and wash them. Pick them over well to make sure that you don’t have any that are turning to mush (I bought mine at an Asian grocery story, tied up in a mesh bag, and the ones in the center were liquifying). Cut off the stem end and slice the kumquat into quarters.

pectin bag

When all the kumquats are quartered, use a sharp paring knife to cut away the inner membrane and any seeds (reserve these! They will provide our pectin). This leaves you with a small piece of rind with some pulp still attached. Then lay these stripped quarters rind side up and chop them into ribbons (I warned you that it was energy-intensive).

finished marm

When all the chopping is done, you should have about two cups of chopped kumquat bits, and a scant cup of reserved seeds and membrane. Place the seeds and membrane in the center of a square of cheesecloth and tie it up well so that nothing can escape.

Place the chopped kumquat in a large pot with 2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar (I used plain white sugar, but you could easily use unrefined cane sugar. Just know that your finished product will be a bit darker). Pop the bundle of seeds and membranes in there too.

two half pints of kumquat marmalade

Bring to a boil and cook for 15-25 minutes, until it reaches 220°F. The wider your pot, the faster it will cook (I used a 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset, and my cooking time was right around 20 minutes). Once it has reached temperature and seems quite thick, remove marmalade from heat. Funnel into two prepared half pint jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a small batch canning pot for 10 minutes.

I love this kind of canning. Small batches means you get to try different flavors and combinations. And when a recipe yields just two half pints it means you have one to keep and one to share.

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Welcome 2012 + Persimmon and Pear Chutney

persimmon

Happy New Year, friends! I hope your celebrations last night were full of delight. Scott and I rang in the new year with pizza, champagne and a few favorite people (including 20-month-old twins who entertained us by dancing to the Nutcracker Suite).

I didn’t intend to go entirely quiet over the last week, but I so wanted to relish my last couple days in Portland with my parents. When I landed in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, it just felt right to continue the break. It’s been a lovely thing to take a little time away from this space, to think about how I want to approach it in 2012.

I plan to continue to post new recipes, including more pressure canner tutorials, small batch preserves and ways to get your jams, chutneys and sauces out of their jars and onto the table.

purloined persimmons

You’ll see more foods in jars made by other people. Though it’s always my goal to help inspire people to head for their own kitchens, there’s also a world of delicious foods in jars out there being made by truly talented folks. I want to occasionally showcase them.

There will also be posts about cookbooks, space for questions and answers and some regular video features. I’m also going to be out and about a bit over the spring and summer to help promote my cookbook, so I’ll be posting about any and all opportunities to come and spend a bit of time with me.

bruised pears and persimmons

Now, about that recipe. While I was out in Portland, my mom and I came across a persimmon tree. It was in someone’s yard, bursting with fruit and covered with birds. We stood there for a moment, pondering the ethics of the situation, when a car pulled into the house’s driveway. We asked about picking a few and the owner held out an open grocery bag and simply said, “take what you want.”

Not wanting to be greedy, we took just three of the perfect fuyu persimmons from his bag and said thanks. We brought them home and proceeded to let them sit around for nearly a week. On the morning of Christmas Eve, my mom commented that I either needed to make something with them or throw them out. And so, I made a small batch of chutney with our three foraged persimmons and two bruised pears that had been rolling around the fridge.

After cutting away the bad spots and chopping them finely, I combined the pears and persimmons with half of a finely chopped red onion, 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons raisins, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon allspice in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot.

Then it was just a matter of letting the mixture cook down for 30-45 minutes over medium-high heat. As you simmer the chutney, taste it and adjust the sugar, spices and salt. Should you like a bit of heat in your chutney, add a pinch of red chili flakes or smidgen of cayenne pepper. The chutney is finished when the persimmon skins are tender and it doesn’t look at all watery.

My batch filled three half-pint jars with just a bit leftover to eat immediately with cheese. It can be processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or just kept in the fridge for regular eating. This time of year, when we rely more heavily on braises, stews and soups, it’s nice to have something within easy reach that can add a burst of bright flavor. I left all that I made back in Portland and am hoping to find a few inexpensive persimmons in Philly to make another batch.

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