I grew up in the age when Grandmas were magic.
You would travel great distances (any distance is great when you’re 4), then you get to play on tractors and sing to pigs (you were told to stay away from them because they were mean, so you would sing to them to try to make them happier so they wouldn’t be so mean) until cousins come to visit and made fun of you so you had to hide in the kitchen with Grandma. She’d give you a cookie or two in an empty bakelite powder case and you’d play a game of making up what magic potions could be in all the the different colored jars in the pantry and take little bites all the way around the cookie in a circle putting it back in the bakelite case after each bite all while humming to yourself and swinging your legs out as far as you could.
Well, maybe this was just me. Yeah, lets just say that was me. I sang to pigs. So…
Later, when I was a starving art student. I’d visit and as I was leaving Grandma’d grab me, take me down to the basement and load me up with frozen mini-loaves of quick breads and random other foods she had preserved and stashed away for later.
Putting up food. It’s such a good phrase. It means that starving art students get to eat. And frankly, bad economy or good, there’s few things cheerier in the middle of winter then opening up a can of something you made when there were big puffy clouds in a cyan blue sky. So yum!
Once again, sometimes the old ways are the best ways. It really just makes sense to make the most of the food you’ve grown yourself or bought locally from people who are growing really good stuff while it’s the best it can be. Enter the art of canning.
Canning – you probably have an opinion about it. Perhaps you love it. Or perhaps you think it’s too old fashioned, too much work or just too scary. Scary, it kinda is. If do something careless or are just plain old unlucky botulism can occur. Now to put those chances into perspective, Wikipedia says that in the US there is, “An average of 110 cases of botulism are reported each year in the United States. Of these, approximately, 72% are infant botulism, and 3% are wound botulism.” This means that there are 28 cases a year in adults who aren’t black tar heroin users. (I’m just going to assume you aren’t.) It goes on to say that the mortality rate is now down 2%. (It does have to be treated though, or you’re more likely to die than live.)
So, there are rules. There are always rules. It happens. Rule #1: pay attention to your ph level! Things that are higher in acid don’t need to be canned with as stringent resources as those that aren’t. (For a little fun fact, pumpkins vary in ph level from pumpkin to pumpkin so you won’t find people willing to tell you that you can can it safely.) Never fear, there is a guide, a book, promptly dubbed the ‘blue ball book’ in my house has a chart (I’m sure you can also find them online) of what foods have a higher ph level than others. Things like lemons, rhubarb and plums have a high ph level and need less help in keeping bad bacteria out.
Rule #2: practice safe can! Clean your cans and then submerge them in simmering water until you use them. This has the benefit of warming up cans so that a warm liquid won’t crack them and killing of little bacterium.
Now you have a few different choices of how technical you would like to get in your canning. You can refrigerate, freeze or seal your cans. If you refrigerate, just stick your stuff in a prepared can (you really should clean and simmer) seal them up – your jam should last a few weeks. Freezer jam is just what you think it is, fill up a container and stick it in the freezer, when you want to use it just defrost it.
For more information on canning just go to freshpreserving.com and they’ll hook you up.
That’s about it. The only other technical thing you need to know (for jams only) is about pectin (as well as the whole canning process thing.) Pectin is a naturally occurring chemical in most plants. It’s a fibrous part of the cell walls which helps bind cells together and regulate water. Most commercially available pectins are derived from orange peels and apple skins. You can find pectin in the canning section of grocery stores. I’m still playing with pectin in my jam recipes to figure out just how solid I want to make the, hence the pectin I’m saying to put in is super subjective and you might want to play on your own.
Spring & Fall Applesauce
I love applesauce. Well, really, I love anything made with apples. When I started thinking about making my own applesauce my brain went in two different directions at once. Around mid-March I start waiting to smell the apple blossoms in my neighborhood like I used to wait for the last bell to ring in high school. That smell is my celebration of spring. I can’t get enough of it.
The second place my head went was to the time apples are ready for harvest; the air is cooling off, the leaves are turning and I live for the smell of anything baking in the autumn breeze. (And if the smell is of an apple pie baking, all the better. Oh, it could also be the smell of apple cider doughnuts. Ooo, or apple cake. Yeah, just pick one. Oh, how about the smell of walking into a warm bakery after a walk though the crunchy leaves? That one is the best.)
I wanted to make both of those smells (well, one smell and one feeling.) For the apple blossom sauce, I made a simple hibiscus and lemon syrup to sweeten the sauce and then added in some orange blossom water and vanilla to round out the taste. For the fall sauce, I made port and brown sugar reduction sauce. They’re both really good.
2 c port
1/2 c brown sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 lbs mixed apples, peeled and cored
1/2 t salt
Simmer 1 3/4 c port, vanilla bean and brown sugar over medium low heat until it’s been reduced to about a cup. Put apples into an appropriately sized pot, sprinkle with salt and pour port sauce over it. Cook apples in sauce mashing them with a spoon or potato masher as they cook. I like applesauce to have mushy and crunchy apples so I tend to call applesauce done when about half of the apples are cooked, and using a stick blender to mash up the rest.
1 c water
1/4 c dried hibiscus* – you could easily substitute rosehips or orange tea (cinnamon/anise/nutmeg work if you go for a different taste)
1/2 c sugar
2 strips of lemon zest, (just use a vegetable peeler to get a couple of strips)
3 lbs mixed apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (size doesn’t really matter)
3/4 t orange blossom water (optional)
1/2 t vanilla
Boil sugar in water until sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a simmer. Add in hibiscus or other spice to make your syrup. Simmer until it’s thickened up some and become a syrup. Strain out spices.
Add syrup and salt to apples and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Smash with a potato smasher or stick blender. Check to see if it’s your desired consistency. If not cook for a few minutes more or until it reaches your desired consistency. Add in the rest of the spices. Can or serve.
* You can find this at whole foods or other health food stores.
This pumpkin butter takes a couple of days to make, but don’t let that deter you. You really don’t have to pay any attention to it.
2 pie pumpkins
2 c sugar (brown or white)
1 t salt
Preheat your oven to 400°f or so. Prick pumpkins all over with a knife. Put in a rimmed baking dish and cook until they’re soft-ish and beginning to fall in on themselves (about 2 hours.) Remove from oven and let them cool enough to handle easily.
Cut in half and clean out seeds. Remove the pumpkin from skin. Cut the pumpkin in to chunks and toss into a dutch oven. (This is a good place to stop for the day, if you’re inclined.) Heat your oven to 200°f (or you can simmer on the stove but then you have to pay more attention), pour in apple cider until it reaches about halfway up the pumpkin, add in sugar and salt. Cover tightly and put in oven or on stove and cook over low heat (stirring occasionally) until it’s totally turned to mush – many, many hours. Once it’s mush, uncover and cook over low heat until excess liquid is cooked off. Transfer to a food processor and process until completely smooth.
Refrigerate or freeze as pumpkin is not safe to can at home.
Fig or Plum or Plum-Shallot Jam
5 lbs figs de-stemmed and cut into 1/4ths
– or –
5 lbs of plums, seeded and cut into 1/4ths
– or –
3 lbs plums, seeded and cut into 1/4ths
2 lbs shallots, finely minced
1 c sugar
1/3 – 1/2 c brandy or red wine
1/4 c honey
2 t vanilla
1 t sage (optional – and only for the shallot variation)
1/2 t salt
2 packets of pectin
Throw fruit/shallots in a large stockpot with the sugar and pectin. Cover and heat over medium-high heat. Cook for 15 minutes stirring and mashing (with a potato masher or stick blender) regularly. Keep stirring and mashing until the jam is your desired consistency. Add in the rest of the ingredients. Can or freeze.