Posts tagged canning
Posts tagged canning
Wrapping Homemade Canned Goods
(Surprise! My dad is getting canned goods for Christmas. Good thing he doesn’t know how the internet works.)
I spent an embarrassingly long time this year trying to figure out how to make canned-goods-as-gifts look less…utilitarian. Normally I mark the tops of the jars with the contents and dates with a sharpie (to make sure I don’t forget what’s what, and to make sure I eat it the contents a timely manner, and to make sure I don’t re-use the lids once they’ve been used once for canning). Which is functional, but all the nice handwriting in the world won’t keep it from being kind of blah.
I tried wrapping the whole jar, which looked messy. And then I tried covering just the top with a piece of parchment or cheesecloth and tying with a ribbon and it looked uncomfortably like a keffiyeh.
So in the spirit of being service-y, and in case you are facing a similar dilemma, here’s my solution:
Festive stickers and circles cut from paper bags. Groundbreaking stuff!
I bought the festive stickers (made by Rifle Paper Co, purchased at Papier on Free Street in downtown Portland) thinking I’d just stick them to the tops of the jars, but they weren’t quite the right size and I didn’t ultimately want to cover up the information written on the lid.
Now you know my super-professional organization system for canning jar lids: wedge them all into a box willy nilly.
So I ended up tracing an extra lid onto a paper bag, cut it out, stuck the sticker in the middle, and then laid the paper circle over the lid. The screw-band keeps everything in place and it looks surprisingly nicer than I expected. You could add ingredients and use information to the back of the paper topper if you wanted (for instance, not everyone knows that homemade jams need to be eaten within two weeks of opening the jars since they don’t contain preservatives). Add a ribbon and you’re golden!
If you don’t have festive stickers, you could cut another circle from white paper, make a snowflake, and glue that to the paper bag circle, or do some kind of pretty stamp deal, or I don’t know, something fancy from pinterest involving glitter and hand-painted embroidery thread.
Pickled peaches, dilly beans, and vanilla/peach/bourbon jam (slash jelly due to unfortunate separating).
I went with stickers and a ribbon.
The Pickled Peaches (recipe from Gourmet, August 2005)
Of all the canned peach things, I’m most excited to try the pickled peaches. I’ve never had pickled peaches, but they smelled like holidays and magic when I was making them, and I find the whole idea really intriguing.
Also, my dad was over having tea not long after I made them, and was telling me about how they used to have two peach trees in the yard when he was growing up in Rhode Island, and my grandmother, who is from North Carolina, would make these fantastic spiced pickled peaches. And then the peach trees died and he never ate pickled peaches again. So here we are! Full circle!
And yet, of all the canned peach things, the pickled peaches involved the most recipe frustration.
I halved the recipe, first, which I believe to be unrelated to my frustrations (although the halved recipe still produced 2/3 of the expected yield. Intriguing!). However, the number of peaches called for didn’t really correspond to the weight of peaches called for in the recipe. I think I used 9 peaches, which worked out to about 3.25 - 3.5 pounds. It is a fervent wish of mine that canning recipes would call for the fruit weight rather than the number of pieces of fruit, but life is unfortunately not structured to fulfill all my wishes, however fervent. The amount of vitamin C (to keep the peaches from browning) didn’t really line up with the amount called for in similar recipes— it was a more diluted solution than other recipes instructed. These should have been indications of problems to come, but they were not, somehow.
Also, my peaches were slightly more ripe than I think they ought to have been. There is always room for user error.
So the peaches started to get mushy and a little bruised midway through the macerating time, and they were also starting to brown. After peering worriedly into the refrigerated every half hour or so, I abandoned ship about 4 hours into the 8 - 12 hour chilling time and proceeded with the recipe.
I think it was fine, but I’ll let you know once we crack a jar open.
Oh friends. The peaches are canned.
On the one hand: the peaches are done! And I have exciting peach-related canned goods!
On the other hand: there were some lessons learned.
First, the haul:
I also ate more peaches than seems possible. There were days when I had a breakfast peach and then a snack peach and then a dessert peach! Peaches on plain greek yogurt with brown sugar and almonds! Peaches on ice cream! Peaches over steel-cut oatmeal! I didn’t get sick of them! At least not until the very end!
1. Dealing with that volume of peaches requires some amount of time management. We picked up the peaches on Saturday. They ripened around Monday. On Tuesday, I went to Boston and was there through Wednesday. Then I had work on Thursday and Friday. In retrospect, had it been possible, I should have taken a vacation day on Tuesday or Wednesday and canned peaches. This is especially true because pregnancy has made me much more tired than normal, so there are days when walking the dog in the morning, making breakfast and lunch, and being at work is about what I have in me before I run into a brick wall of exhaustion. As it turns out: growing a human inside you takes a lot of energy!
2. It was not until I was facing down boiling hot glass jars and boiling hot peaches that I realized I did not know the best way to pack the peaches into the jars cut side down. It seems so easy when you’re reading the recipe and contemplating room temperature peaches and regular tempera. With the wide-mouth jars, I was able to use a plastic slotted spoon. With the regular-mouth jars, I shifted the peaches around with forks. It was ugly. Anyone out there have a good method for handling this?
3. I don’t have enough very large bowls.
4. Either put bourbon in all the jars going into the canner or none of them.
(By the way, I’m going on vacation, so posting will be light. But I will be posting the recipes eventually)
Things I discovered yesterday evening:
On the upside, it really is very easy to peel peaches.
You want to get a medium to big pot of water boiling on the stove and have a large bowl of ice water handy. I worked one or two peaches at a time, which I’d recommend so the hot water stays hot and the cold water stays cold. It also ensures that you don’t leave peaches in the boiling water for too long (which would result in boiled peaches, not peeled peaches).
Cut an X in the bottom of the peach.
Dunk the peach in the boiling water. Count to 30 or 60. The water shouldn’t stop boiling. I have to count out loud or I forget.
After 40 seconds or so, scoop the peach out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon (you can drop in a second fresh peach immediately, start counting again). The skin of the first, just-boiled peach should be peeling back where you sliced into the bottom. Dunk the first peach in the ice water.
Fish your peach out of the ice water (are you still counting? keep counting, just fish out the second peach when you get to 40 or so and drop it into the ice water). Peel back the skin at the edges of the X. The skin should peel off very easily.
I found I got a good rhythm going between slicing the bottoms of peaches, dunking them in the boiling water, then the ice water, then peeling. You may want a lid handy for the pot of boiling water to keep it from cooling down too much.
And because it’s been a while, here’s a picture of Cashew with the dog bed I placed on the couch so he could sit on the couch without getting it all dirty:
Raspberry Jam: Easier than Strawberry Jam
I started canning by making applesauce, and then later dilly beans (a basic pickled green bean). For a while, though, I was nervous about jams. They seemed tricky and involved, requiring things like candy thermometers and special set-ups for straining things, and the basic ingredients are so much more expensive than apples or vegetables. As it turns out, making jam is not very hard, and you don’t necessarily need a candy thermometer, and you only need the straining deal for jelly. Jams are actually pretty hard to mess up if you’re using added pectin (pectin, along with sugar, is what makes a jam gel. If you don’t have enough pectin, or sugar, you’ll end up with a runny sauce instead of jam). I had no idea!
So high on the success of my strawberry jam, I made raspberry jam.
I didn’t make much raspberry jam because we ended up eating most of the raspberries. But we had a full quart container left, which translates to almost exactly two cups of mashed up raspberries, or 4 1/2 4-oz. jars of jam.
The beauty of raspberries is that you don’t have to hull them, and the pastry cutter method of chopping them up is really, really effective since they’re so soft. Boiling the water was the most time-consuming part of the process by far.
Raspberry Low-Sugar Jam
Based on the recipe that comes with Pomona’s Universal Pectin
1. Get your canning stuff going: wash the jars and lids well in hot, soapy water, get the water boiling in the canner (with the clean jars inside so they heat up), heat up the lids in a small pot of near-boiling water, clean up your workspace. The jam itself takes very little time, so you’ll want the water in the canner to be boiling by the time you start the jam.
2. Add your raspberries to a pot (measuring them before you add them to double-check that you have the exact amount). Add the calcium water. Bring to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, mix the sugar and pectin together thoroughly.
4. Once the fruit is boiling, add the pectin-sugar and stir vigorously for 1 - 2 minutes while cooking to dissolve the pectin. Return to boil and then remove from heat. Your jam is done.
5. Fill jars with a 1/4” of headspace (distance between the top of the jam and the top of the jar). Wipe the rims of the jars and top with one of the hot lids. Screw on the screw band with your fingertips— don’t screw it on too tight.
6. Stick the jars in the canning pot with boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes (start timing once the water comes back to a full boil). Remove the jars, let them cool. Check the seals (lids should be sucked down).
Hello again and welcome to part 2 of my strawberry jam post! (Part 1)
It turns out this post series is weirdly Blueberry Files-focused, because not only did I pick the strawberries with Kate, I made a low-sugar strawberry jam recipe that she covered in a canning class at Whole Foods a few weeks ago (I am the kind of person who signs up for canning classes at the grocery store, in case you were unclear on my personal level of coolness. It was very informative). Sorry for being creepy, Kate.
In any case, low-sugar jam is delicious, and tastes more like strawberries to me than traditional jam. Do not be put off by the phrase “low sugar”— in the canning world that still means a shit ton of sugar. (For reference, traditional jam recipes include as much as or more sugar than fruit— see here and here— whereas low sugar recipes may include half as much sugar as fruit.)
The key to low-sugar jam is a pectin that’s low-sugar friendly. I have personal experience with the disappointment involved in a canning product that doesn’t quite set (marmalade, and it’s probably too soon to really speak of it), so I was not so much willing to risk runny strawberry jam. Whole Foods and the Williams-Sonoma in the Maine Mall both carry Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which I’ve now used twice and really like. (They have a kind of old-timey box design and an old-timey website to go with it.)
There’s a chart in the box that you follow for the recipe, which brings us to a Principle of Canning: if you’re using pectin, use the recipe that goes with the pectin. Actually, for those of you who are inclined to go off the reservation when cooking, canning is neither the time nor the place. Use a trusted recipe and follow it. Do not futz with the amount of lemon juice, or sugar, or add a bunch of some other fruit or vegetable. Doing things that affect the pH, in particular, can result in giving yourself botulism. I don’t want to scare you too much, it truly isn’t very hard to can in a perfectly safe way, just follow the recipe.
Finally, I canned everything in little 4-oz canning jars. First: it seems more satisfying to me to end up with lots of small jars than a few larger jars. Second: you should use up an opened jar of jam within two weeks, and I don’t eat enough jam to be able to work through an 8-oz jar in that time.
Low-Sugar Strawberry Jam (1 part sugar to 4 parts fruit)
Based on a Pomona’s Universal Pectin recipe.
[The very first thing you’ll want to do is gather up your canning supplies and start to heat the water in your canner, since generally that takes forever to get to boiling. Because we process the filled jars for 10 minutes, you don’t need to sterilize them first, but they should be very clean. Because I tend to heat them up in the canner while I’m prepping everything else, the jars often end up boiling for the 10 minutes required for sterilization anyway.]
Prep approximately 2 quarts of strawberries: wash them and hull them (see here, or buy a handy-dandy strawberry huller like this or this), picking out any mushy or bruised or otherwise messed up strawberries, and then roughly chop or mash them (I used a pastry cutter). You want to end up with 4 cups of mashed-up strawberries and juices.
Prepare the calcium water according to the pectin box instructions.
Add the strawberries and 2 teaspoons calcium water to a saucepan, bring to a boil.*
Meanwhile, mix 2 teaspoons pectin with 1 cup sugar.
Add the pectin-sugar mixture to the boiling fruit, and stir vigorously for 1 - 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin. Return the fruit to a boil, and then remove from heat.
[Your jam is done at this point. Now you can the jam, ideally based on more formal advice and guidance than I’m providing here if you’re unfamiliar with canning. The National Center for Home Food Preservation out of the University of Georgia has the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning available online. Food in Jars, a blog I really like, has a Canning 101 tag that may be helpful. The Hairpin recently posted The Lazy Person’s Guide to Canning, which pretty well covers the basics. Your local library is almost guaranteed to have a selection of canning books, and if they don’t, I am sure they would be able to order a book for you. FINALLY, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension runs canning classes, and your local cooperative extension school may have similar classes.]
Can the jam: Fill your jars, leaving a 1/4” of headspace (the space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar). Gently stir the contents of the jars to loosen any air bubbles, wipe the rims of the jars, and top with metal lid. Screw on the screw bands and return everything to the canner. Bring the water back up to a vigorous boil, then set a timer for 10 minutes. Once they’re done, remove the jars and let them sit for 24 hours to cool. If there are jars that haven’t sealed (the metal lid will be indented—sucked in by the vacuum you’ve created in the jar— and you won’t be able to make it “pop” by pressing on it), stick them in the fridge and use them within two weeks.
* In canning, when they say “boil,” they mean full-on crazy bubbles everywhere witch’s cauldron boiling, not a few bubbles at the edge of the pan or some small bubbles in the middle.
At some point in my canning career, I might have thought of myself as person who preserves the bounty of locally grown foods at the height of their freshness while wearing attractive yet low-key jewelry and a simple apron. Faced with a cabinet of marmalade, dilly beans, cherry bourbon, and now hot pepper jelly*, however, it’s clear that my canning is basically about drinking and snack foods.
I hadn’t ever eaten hot pepper jelly, and I was suspicious of it until Kate told me that it was sort of an old lady food that you eat on a cracker with cream cheese. You’re going to think that it’s being undersold here. No. That is exactly what it is. But somehow, hot pepper jelly and cream cheese on a wheat thin fills some elemental hunger in my soul. I want to eat it all the time.
Kate’s already written about the recipe, and I’m not going to retype it. I’d never made anything with packaged pectin, and the whole process was pretty easy. The recipe included in the box, however, lacked a certain amount of detail and misstated the yield, which I thought was fine, but in hindsight I would very much have enjoyed an extra pint or two of hot pepper jelly. We also used less sugar than the recipe recommended and I’m happy with that decision. It’s still plenty sweet.
This is all to say that if you have any interest in canning, or cream cheese, I really highly recommend making hot pepper jelly.
I also want to mention that I recently borrowed Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving with Ashley English from the library here and highly recommend it for beginning canners. It doesn’t have a particularly extensive selection of recipes, but the description of the canning process and the rationale behind the different steps is both clearer and more in-depth than I’ve encountered in other canning books.
* Which is technically a jam, but now “hot pepper jelly” is ingrained in my head and I’m having trouble adopting the more accurate name.
Guess what I made last night? Cherry-infused bourbon.
It turns out that the jar I was planning to use wasn’t actually going to work (you would think, given that I have at least some experience with canning, that I would understand the importance of a screw top, but apparently no). So instead of making the whole thing in one big jar, I split it across four pint-sized canning jars. It seems to have worked out.
The process was shockingly easy. I washed and stemmed the cherries. I added 1/4 pound cherries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 1/4 cups Maker’s Mark to each jar and screwed on the lid. I shook the jars vigorously until the sugar dissolved. I let them sit overnight. I took pictures with my phone. I will now put them away in the back of the cabinet and forget about them until November.
I’m still kind of blown away by a canning-type process that doesn’t involve a ton of boiling water and hours of menial food prep. It’s kind of awesome.
Now let’s go back and look again at the cherries in the bourbon:
I did get my act together to make applesauce, and I made a pretty big batch (for me). When I’ve been making dilly beans, I make 4 pints at a time, so I process them in my new lobster pot with a round cooling rack on the bottom, which is smaller and easier to deal with than the big lobster/canning pot. However, I had a lot of apples, and once you’re wiping your counters down with bleach and boiling shit, it does seem like a go big or go home situation.
This is only a very small portion of the apples I washed and peeled and cored.
I don’t know that I’d call 7 pints “going big” by the standards of people who can regularly, but it counts for me.
I had a bit of a revelation this time around, though. Normally I use a microplane to peel some of the apples so I can keep the peels in with the apples (because it seems like the right thing to do with regards to fiber and nutrients and pretty pink color, but I can’t really back that up). If you leave the peels on, they don’t cook down as quickly as the apples do, and they remain kind of tough in the sauce. But if you chop them up small or grate them, then they cook faster and aren’t swimming around in there in chunks. It is annoying to zest a large number of apples, though, so I started peeling them and then stuffing the peels in my food processor and whizzing them, which worked really nicely.
Anyway, peeling and chopping that number of apples takes forever. And then I got to the bag with the Martha apples.
You have got to be fucking kidding me. But no. Not kidding.
Martha Crab Apples are really, really small.
Another note about applesauce: I like to use a variety of apples (even when I don’t have six different varieties in paper bags in my fridge), because I think it makes better and more interesting and more apple-y tasting applesauce. That does mean that the apples don’t cook down totally evenly. Get it so they’re mostly cooked down and then use a potato masher and then, as you’re stirring at the end, mash up any big apple pieces with the back of your spoon.
And because you’re using different varieties of apples, the sweetness varies by batch. Generally, I add a small amount of sugar and some lemon juice. I also add some spices, but not much, because I like the applesauce to be pretty versatile. Before you pack everything into jars and process them, though, taste the sauce and adjust the sugar.
In the end the whole process was easier than I remembered. But maybe I’ve just gotten more used to it.*
* Also, I learned this time around that it’s normal with applesauce to have some of the sauce ooze out of the jars when you process them or immediately after. I was always really worried about that, but the seal was always good.
We picked up a lot of green beans this week at our CSA. I like green beans as much as the next person (maybe even more?) but if there were any lessons learned from last week, it was that I’m probably not going to eat a pound of green beans in a week. Even in salads.
But then I found a recipe for dilly beans on the Food in Jars blog. And they sound delicious! Pickled beans! Slightly spicy!
Except that we have one pound of green beans instead of two pounds of green beans. I’ve been contemplating going to the farmer’s market tomorrow morning to buy another pound of green beans so that I can use up my excess of green beans. I feel like there might be some faulty logic going on hereabouts, but I’m going to ignore it.
(Oh look, I found another tutorial on canning dilly beans. It is fated.)