Category Archives: Canning

Tomato Canning – My Favorite Tips

As we start getting more tomatoes than we can eat, I sauce them in the food processor and put the sauce in half gallon ice cream containers in the freezer. When we run out of freezer space, it’s time to can! If you’re new to canning tomatoes, here’s the official instructions.

This year we also picked up three boxes of canning tomatoes (read: busted and bruised) at the end of the farmers market for $10.

I DO NOT: take off seeds and skins. I’m sure they’re full of nutrients, but more importantly, I don’t mind a chunky sauce and un-chunking the sauce is a serious amount of work.

I bring the tomato sauce to a simmer and let them simmer till they are reduced by a third to a half. This takes an evening-ish? It makes the whole house and sometimes the yard smell like tomato sauce and heats the kitchen up into a fabulous tomato sauna, which I’m sure is great for my skin.  I add salt and herbs, plus sometimes garlic and onions and oil, though I don’t always bother. Tomatoes are high acid, so you don’t need to pressure can them unless you add a bunch of stuff, so I keep it simple.

Aaaand the last jar cracks. That's cool! #canning #tomatoesWhen it’s time to can, I put the washed jars in the oven at 210 degrees to sanitize them. I used to pre-boil the jars to sanitize them, but this takes FOREVER and is MISERABLE. Most of our canning jars are old vegenaise jars, with some of my Grandma’s jars mixed in and a few new Ball Jars.

I re-use jar lids 2-3 times if they are free of rust, dents, dings, etc. I’ve never had a seal fail on a re-used lid! I spent a lot of time reading about re-using lids before I braved it, and the consensus was either: “No never — you will die if you re-use a lid!” and “Eh, I do it, and I’m alive!” My personality falls into the lazy camp, but you do what you like!

Sometimes the vegenaise/mayo jars crack, but mostly it is the new Ball jars. My grandma’s old jars are totally diesel and amazing.

The last thing is, I am fond of dissolvable labels. Ball makes some – pictured – but they sometimes dissolve in humidity and lose their sticky before you put them on the jar – this is annoying. I want to try out some new brands if anyone has tried others. It’s so lovely when the labels dissolve right off the jar in water.

24 quarts of tomato sauce. Was 25. I like the Ball Dissolvable labels. None of the precious #vegenaise jars cracked!

Mulberry Picking

I adore berries! Mulberries, to me, are the most adult-tasting berry. They aren’t super sweet or super tart, but have a really pleasant mellowness to them. Not as bitter as blackberries can be.

I like them best in sorbets (with a sweetish wine – port, white wine, or cheap country wine of any sort!) or frozen dropped into my cereal bowl. They are also good in yogurt.

I have never canned or baked much with them, because I think you’d have to add so much lemon juice and sugar it wouldn’t have that subtle mulberry taste.
City parks! Matt and the Mulberry bucket.

 

Saturday morning we went to the park behind my house that is teeming with mulberry bushes. We picked almost 6 pounds! Some folks have these bushy trees in their yards and will roll their eyes at the idea of someone seeking out berries, but for those who enjoy a pleasant morning walk in the woods that ends in a feast of berries, here’s our technique:

Mulberry picking tutorial.I use a queen size sheet and set it under the tree. A really tall tree, we’ll just shake and watch the berries fall into our sheet. And spatter onto our heads and clothes. Wear something you want some purple accents added to! The sheet will also turn pretty purple. Could be an interesting art project!

Mulberry trees are pretty bendy to a point, and if you can reach a branch, pull it down pretty far (again with the sheet underneath to catch the guys) and pick off even more! Mulberries are the bounciest, rollingest berry I have ever picked. They just fly out of my hands. So, the sheet underneath is great.

Then dump the sheet into your bucket and move to the next tree! There are three types of mulberries, red mulberries, which are native, white mulberries, which are non-native, and hybrids of the two. Most are hybrids but we found a few pretty white mulberry trees – pictured in the bottom right of my mosaic. The white ones taste like a mix between a red mulberry and a kleenex, as I saw in one on-line gardening forum. I totally stand behind this assessment, but boy they are the prettiest amethyst color!

Once we’re done (no such thing as having “enough” berries though) I take them home and fill the bucket with water. A lot of the stray leaves and sticks that you get from the tree-shaking method float to the top. Definitely pick through the berries with a careful eye, it doesn’t take that long. Mulberries spoil quickly and are really tender to handling which is why you don’t see them in stores.

I use a colander to pull out a few at time and pick out sticks and leaves. You can leave on the little stems.

More Mulberry
After cleaning, I alternate a layer of berries with freezer paper in between the layers in a long flat tupperware. This way they don’t clump together when they freeze and you can pull out a handful at a time.

Some people freeze berries on cookie sheets and then transfer them into freezer containers after they re frozen to avoid the 5 pound solid frozen berry clump disaster. But my method works for me!

 

Cherry Blossoms and Other Berries

Kind of cheesy but I think that's ok. There's something endearingly tacky and overwrought about cherry blossoms in real life too.

I’m not sure exactly why I love cherry blossoms, since they are responsible for a terrible, horrible, no good sinus infection I got once while coordinating an event in DC. Luckily I had a good team that took over when I went down. Cherry blossoms 1; Dana 0.

These flowers are cheesy, but I like them. I keep wanting to think of ways to class them up, but maybe they are fine sweet and simple.

Goumi verdict: they are better the older they get.  They grow easy, fix nitrogen, and enough berries on one first year bush for a batch of jelly and a few bowls of cereal.

And in the realm of berries that don’t try to kill me, I got a goumi bush last fall, which apparently is invasive in much of the US! Very frustrating to learn that, but the berries were good and it produced a lot for the first year. They are astringent till the berries sit for a week and suddenly they are very tasty. And pretty silvery leaves, you can see. I made a few jars of jellies with them. I had hoped they would capture more of the sweet tart flavor but they kind of just taste like sugar.

I have been using Pomona’s Pectin to make Jellies recently and am very happy with it! You need wayyyyyy less sugar or even no sugar! I like Pomona’s Pectin because (I love lists!):

1. it’s cheaper – sugar gets expensive when the fruit is free! (and when you buy the organic sugar), and the pectin is about the same price, so that’s not much different.
2. It’s healthier – seriously, some recipes are over half sugar!
3. It preserves the fruit flavor better and
4. It sets more reliably.

In fact, I used pomona’s to make this Rose-Strawberry beauty too! I took roses and soaked them to make a rosewater and made some straight rose jelly as well as some rose-strawberry jam. Sorry for the terrible photography but you can see how rich the color is! I love preserving flowers and berries in this way. Spring time is over so quickly; you just want to capture all the smells and flavors in a jar. Luckily you can! (there’s a pun there!)

Strawberry rose jam aka #rose #berry

 

The strawberries are pretty much done for the year. Time for raspberries! I need to go mulberry picking too! It’s almost too late for that here, but I’ll be disappointed if I don’t try, since I do love them, especially a mulberry white wine sorbet!#raspberry are my favorite

 

A Jelly Good Time

Matt and I used the rainy day Saturday to have a day in the kitchen – we haven’t done this in a while. Put on the podcasts and start boiling water. We made an English IPA, some wine from a kit, and dandelion wine from this recipe:

Pick 2 quarts dandelion flowers, remove base, add gallon of boiling water, let sit two days.

Simmer 20 min. Strain out dandelion. Add peel and juice of 4 oranges and 2.5 lb sugar. Cool. Add one tsp yeast nutrient and yeast. Put in fermenter. Use extra liquid to make dandelion orange marmalade.

I had more dandelion mixture than would fit in my one gallon jug, so I used it to make some dandelion-orange marmalade using oranges we had leftover from our trip down South.

Dandelion orange marmalade. Had oranges left from our trip down south.

 

Then I made some Violet Jelly from this recipe. It hasn’t set yet! Fingers crossed…
Violet jelly, check. Tastes as lovely as it looks.

 

Black Bean Sweet Potato CHILI

This weekend my elbow was on the Charleston, WV evening news coverage of a zombie parade. It was pretty amazing. More importantly:

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili

1 can of black beans (because you forgot to soak the dry ones)
onion
stupid fancy local organic soft neck garlic that takes FOREVER to peel.
3 carrots
1 big ol’ Sweet potato
about a pepper worth of sweet peppers frozen in the freezer
Cilantro you froze in july
A jar of tomato sauce you canned
a jar of salsa you canned
some veggie stock (Better than Bullion or BUST!)
tablespoon of cumin
tablespoon of chili powder
some squeezes of lime juice
a couple shakes of TVP (textured vegetable protein)
some leftover Quinoa from yesterday
Kale

Optional topping: some vegan sour cream, frozen chives from the garden, tortilla chips.

Saute fresh veggies till soft. Add other ingredients, including salt to taste. Mix and simmer till the sweet potatoes are soft. Throw in the kale roughly chopped.  Eat three bowls. Regret the third. Remember that you could have added some of your chipotle ketchup and regret that too.

Ketchup – Or What to Do With Your Green Tomatoes

So, I’m sitting out behind my house typing this and I hear a rustling behind me. I turn to see which of my cats is spying on me from around the corner and see a groundhog. Chilling out. “Git!” I say, “We’re not friends!” But, it just looks at me. When I got up to get a camera though, it wandered slowly away and is hidden in the hostas now.

OK, back to ketchup – I made some. I told my brother that I felt I had crossed a line from canning=thrifty and crafty into canning=total nutjob.  I mean, we spend like $10 a year on ketchup, so what sense is DIY ketchup? I don’t know. For a while I thought, ooh, this could be a nice gift! But then I realized that, no, ketchup is actually a pretty terrible gift.

Homemade Ketchup in Grolsch bottles

Last week I began taking down the roughest looking of our tomato plants and picked off all the tomatoes that were left on them. This sounds really industrious, but it was incredibly beautiful weather and I just needed an excuse to be outside. I ended up with a 3 gallon bucket full of red and green tomatoes.

So, ketchup. At first I researched whether there was any reason not to mix the green and red tomatoes to make ketchup (or anything else). I had seen tons of recipes for green tomato ketchup and they seemed pretty much the same as the red. Except, that the final product was green. That sounded pretty bad ass, so I decided to cook up the different colored tomatoes separately – and because I know you are wondering – the yellow tomatoes went into the green batch…

As a side note, I left the seeds in. Several recipes called for you to skin the maters and then get rid of the seeds and the liquid from the tomato and just use the meaty bits. I guess this would give you a thicker sauce, but I decided that the seeds/juice/skins had health value. Uh, fiber? Whatever, I’m lazy. If I had a food mill, I could run my ketchup through it and get rid of all the chunks, but I don’t! The food processor helped smooth the sauce out, and whatever. Let’s call it a salsa/ketchup hybrid.

Ok, so as I ketchupped, I was finishing off a jar of last year’s pickles, and decided to throw the pickled garlic and dill into the gallon-ish of lovely pale green tomato goo bubbling away on the stove. This was an awesome decision. According to a few of the 6 recipes I was looking at, I added some cinnamon, coriander (so important, this is the key ingredient!), brown sugar and sauteed sweet green peppers and onions and then set it to simmer for a couple hours. Unfortunately I then fell asleep, and even though Matt turned it off after it started to smell burnt, and the next morning it had boiled down to TWO CUPS of dense brown paste. I have labeled the jar “tomato relish” for lack of a better idea. It is delicious with nacho chips.

The red tomatoes I actually followed a recipe for, and did not burn. We nearly went through an 8 oz jar at my neighbors’ BBQ last night, which makes me think it turned out decent – better after I added the coriander. I have canned it in Grolsch style flip top beer bottles – it’s an experiment. You can’t get a normal canning seal on them, but when you put beer in them it doesn’t go bad… I boiled the beer bottles to sanitize them, instead of using bleach like when we bottle beer.

Now to scrub more pans.

Update: FYI, I’m keeping the ketchup refridgerated, and also, look, ketchup is cool and fancy now! 

Re-using Canning Jars and Lids

As you may know, Matt has a super specific and rare eating disorder that involves the constant consumption of Vegenaise, a vegan mayonnaise alternative (we get the kind made from grapeseeds!). We buy it in bulk and go through about a jar a month, and by “we” I mean mostly Matt.

While this is mildly disgusting, the plus side is these jars are great for canning because they fit “Regular Mouth” standard canning lids. Which means we can buy new lids for them at the store. The only concern is that they are thinner glass, and a little more prone to cracking. For that reason, it’s important to avoid drastic temperature changes – which you should do with the regular Ball/Mason jars anyway.

For those who don’t can, sometimes when you dump the boiling hot tomato sauce into the jar, the temperature change makes the jar explode. It is not as awesome as it sounds. And when it happens around midnight and the whole kitchen is already a disaster and now you and everything else is covered in boiling tomatoes, it can be, ahh, demoralizing.  The other thing that can happen is that your jar cools down too much before you put the full jar of tomatoes in the hot water bath to sanitize and seal it, and it explodes into your pan of boiling water.  And then you are so tired that you think you can dump the pan full of water and tomatoes and broken glass down the sink, and the boiling hot tomato debris clogs up your sink…

We have been sanitizing our jars pre-canning using the oven instead of boiling water the last two years, and while we haven’t been poisoned and it’s awesome to have one less pot of boiling water on the stove, it does seem that we crack a few more jars. Thoughts? Is this a coincidence? I think we cracked three jars this year, all on tomato sauce, and two of them were actually fancy Mason jars. Considering the dozens we didn’t crack, it’s not that bad.

Apple and Peach Butter and Hot saucesBut anyway, this year we are experimenting with re-using other types of our jars from things like salsa, “Better than Bullion” (my fave soup stock), peanut butter, jellies and sauer kraut.  The concern is these jars have odd sized lids, as you can see in the photo.

We save most of our jars to use at the co-op for spices and such, and also, yeah, to drink out of, and well, mostly because we have a problem throwing things away. This came in handy when we totally ran out of jars this year and had to scrounge around for more.

Since the lids were odd-sized, we had to use the factory lids they came with. These have a plastic seal around them similar to the canning lids we buy, so we thought, what the hey? All of them but one jar sealed right, thought I am nervous about the seals failing in a month or so?

I searched around on-line before I did this and all I could find was dire (ACHTUNG! PELIGRO!) warnings against re-using canning lids, ever!! EVER!!! Matt assured me that grannies on the rural West Virginia creek where he used to live did this all the time, and I guess those grannies are just not on the internet in canning chat forums?

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated on the success of our grand experiment in DANGEROUS canning habits and if I suddenly stop blogging, you’ll know why…

Update: As of the end of March, about 6 months, we haven’t had any problems with our re-used jar lids. Yay!

Peaches! Peaches! What to do with a Million Rotting Peaches!

Uh, look what we brought home!So, not too long ago, our kitchen looked like this. I just noticed the sushi wraps in there, and that has nothing to do with our canning XXtravaganzas.

But the peaches do! We ended up with about  a bushel of rotting peaches. We went around all the farmers markets, and had missed peak peach time. But the orchards all had plenty of rotten peaches they were thrilled that we were dumb enough to buy!

A note on canning – often times canning recipes call for the “freshest fruit at their peak” which always cracks me up! Those are the ones I am going to eat, people! Not boil up and stick in a jar for 6 months! But anyway, I’m sure I’m missing out on some subtleties of flavor, but I am not sophisticated enough to notice the difference.

You are supposed to skin peaches, but eh, I never do. I just chop out all the gross parts and throw them in a big pot and turn it on. I usually make peach butter because you don’t have to add pectin, just boil it for a long time. You add some lemon juice to raise the acidity so you don’t get botulism, and maybe a smidge of sugar (or apples if you have some around, to raise the sweetness), cinnamon, etc?

This year I decided to get fancy and made a few jars of the following:

Canning extravaganza–Lemon Thyme Peach
–Lemon Grass Peach
–Vanilla Nectarine
–Toasted Almond Peach  (The almond stuff was really amazing till I burnt the crap out of it. I canned the burnt up mess anyway, maybe the charred taste will mellow out like a fine wine…)

To make these variations I just scooped out a 4-5 cups from  my 3 gallon vat of peach butter and threw in whatever chunks of herbs from the yard. Ta-daa!

I also froze up the sliced peaches in sandwhich baggies. Frozen peaches is one of my favorite things! I usually just make cobblers with them, nothing fancy, but opening them in the dark of winter always gives me a little burst of hope that maybe we aren’t all going to freeze to death.  If you could cram summer into a frostbitten ziplock bag, it would taste and smell exactly like these peaches.

The last thing I did with my peaches was blend them up with some habaneros to make a pretty excellent hot sauce. I think the ingredients are just peaches, habaneros, vinegar. Food processor it, boil it, can it, eat it. Slowly, in very small amounts. Tip: a lot of the spice is in the seeds, so I just removed those, and it is fairly tolerable.

By the time we were done canning/freezing all the peaches, the kitchen was basically coated in a layer of syrup. Walking across the kitchen floor was becoming difficult. Sqriik, Sqriik, Sqriik.

And I spent a lot of time scrubbing out the bottoms of the pans that I burnt the peaches in. I used baking soda for this, and also HOT TIP! I have this Cutco Spatula Knife which is SERIOUSLY awesome for scraping out the bottom of pans and other crusted on stuff. Nothing else compares.

What to do with Apple Pulp?

Apple pulp leftover from making ciderSo, as previously mentioned, we made five gallons of apple cider out of a bushel and a half of apples yesterday. Which left us with about 3 gallons of apple pulp (and a filthy stove!). The pulp is delicious and I hate to toss it into the compost.

I thought I could cook it down a little, and get a little more juice out of it, and make it into some kind, of, I don’t know, really, what I was thinking. But it’s so dry that it just started to smoke instead of cooking at all.  Oopsy!

So I started looking for apple pulp recipes on-line. I found a lot of amazing carrot pulp recipes, which made me wish I had carrot pulp instead.

However! Reading a bunch of sources I learned this: “Add a quarter cup of fruit pulp to any favorite muffin or fruit bread recipe – or replace the chopped fruit in any recipe with pulp keeping in mind the pulp has less liquid and more fiber so you are going to get a really dense final product.”

And also this website had a bunch of egg filled (Matt doesn’t eat eggs) recipes but also this:

Pulp Ice Cream/Sorbet

Take 3 cups of pulp from any sweet fruit. Peaches, pineapples, pear, apples and berries all work well.

Freeze in an ice cube tray. When frozen, mix in a blender with 4 ripe bananas until it is the consistency of sorbet. Serve immediately.

I think my plan for the pulp is to make a bunch of loaves of apple bread and apple muffins (we have cranberries and walnuts to throw in too, and chocolate chips for some) tonight and freeze them, then freeze a bunch of two cup margarine containers full of pulp, which seems like a good size to use in recipes throughout the winter.

I’m thinking apple pulp waffles, apple carrot soup, etc.

Apple Time!

image

This was really one of our first free weekends since July so we went to an apple orchard. We were going to go to a Paw Paw festival, but eh, it was an hour and a half farther away.

We saw they had boxes of “seconds” or “canning” apples for $5 a half bushel. So, we bought four. Then we walked around the orchard for a few hours, not picking any, because our trunk was already full.

Are we crazy? What if I told you we’d already bought a half bushel of apples at the farmers market that morning? What if you have no idea what a half bushel is? I can tell you – it is a bit smaller than a printer paper box.  A bushel is about 50 lbs. SO we now had 125 pounds of apples. Is this possible? Maybe we had less.

Apple Cider! OK, so, my favorite tool EVER is the apple-corer-slicer that we got at the Goodwill for $5 this summer in anticipation of Apple-Time. Here is a HOT VIDEO of one.  Let me tell you, I am much faster at using those things than that person in the video.

Matt wanted to make apple cider, and we were told we’d get about a gallon and a half from a each half bushel/25 lbs. AND that the sooner you juice them, the more juice you get. So, we got cranking away on the apples for that. We cored them, then juiced them with the skins on. We made 5 gallons of cider, and used champagne yeast to ferment it. We’ll let you know in about a month if it works! Matt was really the hero on that one.

I also made 3.5 quarts of Apple Butter. I made that much because that is the size of my slow cooker. HINT: Making Apple Butter on a slow cooker is way more easy than doing it over a fire in a giant cast iron cauldron like some people still do in Appalachia. Incidentally, the apple that dries up on the side of the slow cooker as the water evaporates down makes the most delicious fruit leather.  I would like to make fruit leather on purpose sometimes, as it is AWESOME!

AND we canned up a gallon of apple sauce. Making apple sauce and apple butter makes me feel like the worlds best cook, even though all I did was slice the apples and put them in a pot. You know how sometimes you are canning and nibbling on whatever it is all day and by the end of the day, the idea of eating any of the food you just labored to preserve just turns your stomach? Well, that never happens to me with apple sauce or apple butter.

And we used apples in the peaches we canned to reduce the amount of sugar we had to put in the peach and nectarine jams we were making. Apples are full of pectin so you can use them as a more natural and local way to sugar up your, well, everything.

But that’s another story!