Archive for ‘Preserving’

June 4, 2015

It’s that time of year

On Sunday, I:

  • Harvested six pounds of rhubarb
  • Chopped said six pounds for half an hour
  • Canned nine half-pints of my famous rhubarb ginger jam
  • Admired my shiny jars of jammy goodness with bleary eyes, because, as much satisfaction as I get out of canning, it is always more work than I remember it to be!

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September 12, 2013

Corn-fed city

So, one of my Three Sisters gardens is producing an amazing crop of dent corn.

I’m not sure if this is the blue or green dent corn…but either way, it looks like I may have some homegrown cornmeal this winter. Exciting stuff!

The other two weren’t doing well, and I kind of assumed they wouldn’t produce but lo and behold, both have started to tassle and are forming ears.

I can already foresee the vigilant war I’ll have to wage against the squirrels when the corn starts to ripen and dry out.

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I loved playing in the cornfields. It felt like being in a jungle or something. I was looking at the dent corn and realizing that I had forgotten how tall it grows! Even now that I’m an adult (albeit a short adult) the height that something can grow in just a short season amazes me.

September 10, 2013

More pickles

Two weekends ago, I set aside an afternoon for harvesting and pickling.

I know that pickled food isn’t exactly “healthy” – you’re cooking out most of the nutrients from the fruit in the water bath. However, home canned pickles are a much more sensible treat than potato chips, and we enjoy eating them all winter long.

I ended up with quite a haul:

Yum. I’ll have one more round of bush beans before the cold weather comes, and should end up with a few more pints worth to pickle. Not only will we have enough to snack on, but I should be able to give some as gifts.

August 12, 2013

The first pickles

Last Sunday, I realized that I had enough Mexican Gherkins and Parisian Pickling Cucumbers to make my first small batch. The Parisian Pickling cukes are producing steadily, but not really prolifically – making it hard to time pickling sessions because you want to be able to make as much as possible. I ended up composting two or three of them because they were the only ones that were ready to be picked and eventually they got too big while I was waiting for some of the smaller cukes to ripen. Oh well, at least now we have a compost pile.

The Mexican Gherkins just don’t quit, but because of their small size they simply don’t take up much space in a jar. Plus…well, in order for them to make it into my kitchen and get turned into pickles, they need to last longer than they have been. I tend to “graze” while I’m out in the garden and this often includes a handful of the sweet, crunchy cucumbers so handily growing on the cabbage frame ;).

So, to save some time, water, and energy, I used our large stockpot for a water bath. It’s about 50% smaller than my enamel pot, and the whole process was easier.

I was too impatient to see how the Mexican Gherkin pickles turned out, so I popped open a jar yesterday after only giving them a week. Oh wow – these little pickles are amazing! if you are growing Mexican Gherkins and looking for something different to do with them other than munch on them or put them on salads, pickle them! They’re a treat, for sure.

July 16, 2013

Cabbage and kimchi

Saturday evening, I finally got around to harvesting my “Red Express” and “Gonzalez” cabbages.

I planted six of each variety, and all of them ended up forming heads. Most of the “Red Express” heads were much smaller than the “Gonzalez”, but I didn’t want them to bolt so I harvested everything all at once.

I didn’t weigh the total before I cleaned/chopped the cabbages, but I’m thinking it was somewhere around 12 pounds. The biggest cabbage – a large Gonzalez, weighed 1.5 pounds. Some of the Red Express were on the small side and likely weighed around half a pound. I’m assuming it’s safe to average out at one pound per cabbage.

After getting cleaned and cut up, I used this recipe to make 2 half-gallon jars of kimchi. I LOVE the stuff, but I have a hard time finding it without going on a sort of “treasure hunt” around the city. Because it’s fermented, it should keep for a long time in my fridge.

All of the probiotics in fermented food are really good for you. I even read recently that they can be effective with treating anxiety – something both of us struggle occasionally. It doesn’t hurt that the stuff is tasty as all get out :).

I know this is a more “Americanized” version of kimchi – I used regular red and green cabbage instead of traditional Napa cabbage, and I used cayenne pepper in place of Korean peppers. But I’m sure it will still taste great – the recipe seems pretty forgiving.

This is my first foray into fermenting, and while I’m a little nervous about the idea of something just sitting in my basement uncovered, I’m also a tad excited about it. It was so much easier and less sweltering to ferment than to water-bath can. Maybe I’ll try some fermented pickles this year, or some sauerkraut if I ever get around to starting some fall cabbage.

July 15, 2013

Pioneer Woman Cherries – Part Two

Remember when I mentioned that our neighbor had a beautiful established cherry tree in the far back section of her yard that she said we could harvest from? Well, if the amount of blossoms on the tree amazed me, nothing could have really prepared me for the amount of cherries it would end up producing!

On Saturday, I spent most of the morning/afternoon helping my parents sell their wares at the Fond du Lac farmer’s market. I did some thrifting on my way home, picked up a load of groceries at Woodmans, and arrived back at the house to be greeted by a sweaty Jason. He’d spent some time trimming some overgrown Maple saplings from our neighbor’s yard, and informed me that we had to get out and pick the cherries right away.

I wandered back there to investigate, and sure enough, there were thousands of ripe cherries weighing the branching down. We decided to dedicate Sunday as “cherry day”.

Sunday afternoon, we headed out to the backyard with a ladder, two buckets, and an iPod player for entertainment. We went at it for about two hours, taking turns picking from the top and the bottom.

It was HOT work, but it was fun. It reminded me of picking cherries in Door County when I was a kid. Besides, anything that allows us to be outside is definitely worth my time.

We ended up halfway filling a five gallon bucket, at which point I thought we should stop because every one of those cherries would need pitting and the afternoon was already wearing on.

We took a brief break to look up some cherry jam recipes, run out to the grocery store, and keep the farmhand happy by stopping by Qdoba. After all, he had a long evening of cherry pitting ahead of him…

We got back home, settled in the kitchen with a few bowls, towels, and downloaded episodes of RadioLab. We don’t own a cherry pitter, and it seemed just as easy to use our hands than to try to track one down. So, we squeezed the pits out ourselves and put up with the sticky juice getting all over us. When we’d pitted about ten cups worth, Jason started the canning process and prepared a sugar syrup to make some cherry pie filling. I kept at the pitting until his jars were bubbling away with their contents, at which point we switched and I started running cherries through the food processor to make jam.

We finished up the whole process around 9:45pm, ending up with 7 pint jars of cherry preserves and 11 half pint jars of cherry syrup. It was supposed to be 11 half pint jars of cherry jam…but apparently I didn’t add enough pectin and it’s sort of on the runny side. Which, honestly, I’m fine with. We’ll definitely eat it on pancakes/french toast/crepes/ice cream. Plus, there’s still enough cherries on the tree that we could easily get another six cups if we really wanted to make jam.

We also reserved a pint of cherry juice for this week’s smoothies and 2.5 quarts of whole cherries went into the freezer. Tart cherries are insanely good for you; they’re high in antioxidants and they help with inflammation. With both of us sitting at desks all day and then running 2-3 times per week, we’ll take all the benefits they have to offer.

June 4, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Drying

In this final installment of Preservation Tips and Tricks, we’ll talk about one of the oldest and most traditional forms of preservation: hanging stuff up to dry!

It’s as easy as suspending the produce somewhere dark and dry (don’t use your basement!) and letting the air do the work for you. I find this method works really well with herbs – I dry mint, lavender, and rosemary to use throughout the winter.

Dried herbs are great for making your own herbal teas. Some also work well at repelling mosquitoes – just throw them in the campfire and the smoke helps to keep the bugs away. I’ve used dried lavender in scones a few times and thought it was fantastic.

I’ve tried drying apples instead of dehydrating them and found that fruit flies got to be too much of an issue. This year, I’m growing corn in my garden and I know that requires some drying time as well before you grind it up into cornmeal. We’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for following along! Are there any other preservation methods that you’ve tried or would like to hear more about?

June 3, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Freezing

In an ideal world, I own both a vacuum sealer and a chest freezer that doesn’t freezer burn everything that I put in it. However, since we do not live in an ideal world, I’ll share a few of my botched attempts at freezing as a preservation method!

The only success I’ve ever had with freezing was when I made a huge batch of soup from these carrots:

I froze the soup into individual-sized portions and enjoyed it for lunch. I think it worked out so well because the house we were staying at happened to have a really good fridge and freezer. Every other time I’ve tried freezing produce (including with our current fridge/freezer) it’s gotten freezer burnt and gross!

I think in theory freezing is a great idea. If done right, you maintain the freshness of the produce more than any other method. Most instructions for freezing produce suggest blanching it ever so slightly and then submerging it in cold water to seal in the flavor. Dry off the excess moisture, and then seal the product in freezer bags, getting as much of the air out of the bag as possible. You can see where a good freezer and a vacuum sealer would really come in handy for this method!

In the future, I would really like to get a chest freezer – not just for vegetables, but for purchasing local meat/fish in large quantities and being able to store them. I also really enjoy frozen fruit in my green smoothies, and how awesome would it be to be able to use mostly fruit that I’ve grown myself?

Being that I don’t have much practical experience to share with freezing, I wanted to share an AWESOME article I came across recently that gives tons of advice and information on using freezing as a preservation method. Makes me want a chest freezer even more 🙂 Check it out!

June 2, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Dehydrating

Congratulations! You made it through Canning 101! As I said, I personally find canning to be the most laborious of all preservation methods – the other ones that I’ve tried are much simpler, albeit somewhat limited in their usage.

Today, we’re going to talk about dehydrating.

Dehydrating is a good example of how a preserved product can be just as good or even tastier than the original product. I use a regular old dehydrator that I got as a Christmas gift from my parents – nothing fancy. I’ve done both fruits and vegetables on it and I’ve tossed around the idea of trying to do jerky but haven’t taken the plunge yet.

My experience with dehydrating is that it tends to caramelize the natural sugars and leaves you with a shrunken but very flavorful version of whatever you started with. Fruit that I’ve dehydrated at home tastes even better than candy. Dehydrated cherry/grape tomatoes are out of this world – they never last very long in our house!

Obviously, dried fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value when you reduce their liquid, so dried produce shouldn’t be substituted for fresh produce. However, it is a really good way to make something new and different out of your excess. For example, around Christmas one of Jason’s co-workers always gives a a big fruit basket with lots of apples. We could never eat that many apples in a given week, so I sliced them up, sprinkled them with cinnamon, and set them out in the dehydrator overnight. They were a delicious AND healthy treat during all the crazy sugar overload of Christmas.

One word of caution when it comes to dehydrating: avoid trying to dehydrate things with lots of liquid and soft flesh. It takes a long, long time, and you’re left with very little substance once the water is gone. I tried drying oranges one year and it was a pretty miserable fail. Stick to firmer fruits and vegetables – apples, mangoes, strawberries, cukes, zucchini, and firm tomatoes are all great choices.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Wash and dry your produce and slice it into very thin slices (if you have a Mandoline, which I don’t, use it for this!)
  2. Lay out your sliced produce on the dehydrator sheets. They shouldn’t be touching, but they can be very close together.
  3. Turn the thing on! Mine only has one setting, so that’s all that I use.
  4. I usually set the dehydrator in an unused room overnight and by the next day, the produce is good. You’ll want your produce to be free of any excess moisture, and have a texture that is slightly chewy or even crunchy.
  5. Store in ziploc bags or mason jars. For added freshness, you can freeze your products.
  6. Be sure to clean the dehydrator sheets really well in between uses to avoid contamination.

I know there are other ways of dehydrating – harnessing solar power, leaving the oven door open and cooking them at a low setting, or even leaving stuff out to dry. For me, using my dehydrator presents the least amount of hassle. When I’m not using it, I store it in the basement with my canning equipment.

This year, I would like to try experimenting with sheets of waxed paper over the shelves so that I can make fruit rolls. I’ll let you know how that goes down!

June 1, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Canning 101

Canning is, in my opinion, one of the most work intensive forms of preservation. It takes a few years to get the hang of it. I finally feel like I’m more than comfortable working with a big pot of boiling water, lifting heavy jars up and down, and timing everything so that my recipe is ready to go by the time the jars are sterilized. I find it to be the most fun when I do it with a few other people around – have a canning party! Typically, Jason is my canning partner and we enjoy doing it together.

The benefit of canning is that, once you’ve made the initial investment of time and work, you have jars of shelf-stable food that won’t take up room in your fridge or freezer. Plus, they make great gifts – who doesn’t love to receive a mason jar of homemade jam or pickles?

So, without further ado, here’s the rundown on canning.

Pressure Canners Vs. Water Bath
All my life, I’ve canned with a water bath canner  – a large pot with a rack that holds mason jars so you can submerge them in boiling water to seal the lids. Like I mentioned before, my siblings and I gave my dad a pressure canner for Christmas but we have yet to give it a try.

My understanding of the the main different between a pressure canner and a water bath canner is temperature – pressure canners can achieve a higher temperatures at which they jars are sealed and therefore is able to kill off more bacteria. Water bath canners can only get so high in temperature and therefore whatever you’re canning needs some preservation aids – acidity (in the form of vinegar, citrus juice, or natural acidity in the product) or sugar. Typically, you’re limited to pickles, jams, and salsas when you can with a water bath. I use the term “limited” loosely because there is quite a bit you can do in those categories!

Pressure canners, on the other hand, have almost no limitations to what you can can because they don’t need any acidity or sugar to aid in the preservation process. While I’ve never worked with one myself, I’ve enjoyed a few of the products of pressure canning here and there.  I’ve also heard some of the tantalizing recipes people have preserved with pressure canners – beef stew, fingerling potatoes, and any type of vegetable you can imagine.  I’m a bit intimidated by something that can blow up if not used properly…but I’m sure that, like anything, once you learn how to do it you become comfortable and even efficient at it.

Boo gave me my water bath canner as a birthday gift two years ago.

It came with the rack for the jars and some nifty tools – a funnel, a jar grip, a magnetic wand for the lids, and a nice pair of tongs. My husband sure knows how to give me good gifts! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a rototiller this year ;).

Jars
When you can with any type of canner, you will store your preserves in mason jars fitted with a two-part cover that consists of a metal band a flat metal lid with a rubber seal. You can’t reuse old jars you get from buying pasta sauce or pickles because you won’t be able to get a good seal with the lids. Some people buy their mason jars from thrift stores, but personally I’ve found that it’s just cheaper to buy them new in the summer – my Goodwill charges between .49 and .99 cents a jar, while I can get a 12-pack of new jars for $6. Once you buy the jars and bands, you can reuse them over and over provided they don’t get cracked or rusted. However, the seal on the flat lids is only good for one use. After that, you can reuse them to store things like beans or seeds, but not for preservation purposes.

Because it’s just Jason and I, I can almost everything in pint-size jars. I make a few quarts here and there to bring to parties or to give as gifts to larger families, but for the most part a pint jar is the perfect size for us to finish off.

Time and Effort
Canning requires heating up a large pot of water to boiling point, which means it requires water, time, and energy. Keep in mind that a lot of your canning will need to be done during harvest periods to get the freshest product – you will likely be sweating up a storm in a steamy kitchen while you do this. Depending on the complexity of the recipe I’m using, I find that canning a batch of something will take about an hour to two hours, so budget your time accordingly! Things like pickles and jams take less time than something that requires a lot of chopping, like salsa. Also, items with lots of sugar or acidity will spend less time in the boiling water – tomato based products are the lowest acidity item you can water bath can, and so they need a longer soak.

Recipes
There are LOTS of recipes out there that are suitable for water-bath canning. I’d avoid anything that contains dairy or seems to lack in preservation aids (acidity or sugar). Feel free to make substitutes with acidity – swap out regular vinegar for apple cider vinegar, add lime or lemon juice to tomato recipes, or add a little bit of citrus zest to jams. Personally, I prefer my pickled goods with ACV instead of regular vinegar.

Here’s how it’s done:

Here is a basic routine for water-bath canning:

  1. Wash all of your equipment – jars, lids, bands, canner, and tools – in warm, soapy water. You could also run them through the dishwasher.
  2. Fill your canner up with water so that you have a good inch to two inches  above the tops of the jars.
  3. Get that water boiling! You can work on your recipe while this is going on to save yourself some time.
  4. When the water comes to a rolling boil, set your empty jars in the rack and toss in your lids and bands. Submerge the whole thing – your jars may tip over as they fill up with water, and that’s totally OK.
  5. Let the jars and lids boil for ten minutes. This is the sanitizing step that will (ideally) kill of any bacteria on the jars.
  6. After the ten minutes has elapsed, turn the burner off but leave everything in the hot water to keep it sterile.
  7. When your recipe is ready (and this varies by recipe) pull the jars, lids and bands out with your tongs and set them on a clean towel. If you’re pickling something, this is when you would add the veggies into your jars and then pour the vinegar mixture over them. If you’re doing salsa or jam, just add the mixture to the jars leaving the recommended amount of headspace (usually 1/2 to 1/4 inch).
  8. Using a clean rag or paper towel, wipe any excess mixture off the rim of the jars and put the covers on. Tighten the band until it can’t turn anymore.
  9. Pop those jars of goodness right back into your pot of hot water and submerge them. Turn on the heat, and start timing the water bath from when the water begins boiling again (again, timing varies by recipe). Note: you may need to add more water due to evaporation.
  10. When the recommended amount of time has elapsed, pull the jar out and set them on clean towels.
  11. Now comes the fun part – the heat will create an air tight seal on the lids that you (should) be able to hear – a nice little “pop” as they snap smooth against the tops of the jars. Sometimes, stuff “pops” while in the water, so it’s always a good idea to gently tap the tops to make sure there’s no give.
  12. I usually give my stuff a couple of hours to seal, and then leave it sit on the counter for a day undisturbed. If you notice one of your jars hasn’t sealed up after a few hours, stick it in the fridge and eat it up right away.

That’s it! You did it!

Links
Here is the canner I use.
Here is an idea of what I use for canning tools
Here is the pressure canner we bough my dad
Pickled banana peppers
Rhubarb Ginger jam
My favorite pickle recipe