Showing posts with label Canning and Preserving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canning and Preserving. Show all posts

Sep 24, 2014

The Super-Easy Way to Can Grape Juice

Recently, a friend gave me a box of grapes. They weren't the best for eating fresh because they had large seeds. But I knew I could make grape juice with them. And the method - brought to my attention by my mom-in-law - is so, so easy - and not at all messy.

The recipe comes from the 1984 Ball Blue Book. Yes, certain canning guidelines have changed since then. And it's true I could not find this method mentioned by any trusted source (like any of Ball's current publications or over at NCHFP). So, I have to say "can at your own risk," even though my mom-in-law has used this recipe many times.

What You'll Need:

Washed, firm, ripe, de-stemmed grapes, any type (for every quart of juice, you'll need 1 cup)
Granulated sugar (for every quart of juice, you'll need 1/2 cup)
Water

Quart canning jars, lids, and rings
Boiling water bath canner
Ladle
Funnel (optional, but helpful)
Large pot

How to Can Grape Juice the Super-Easy Way:

1. Review the guidelines for water bath canning.

2. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil.

3. Work one jar at a time, and make sure each jar is hot: Pour 1 cup of grapes into the jar, followed by 1/2 cup of sugar. (The sugar is not optional.) Fill the jar with boiling water, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar, add the lid, and secure the screw band. Place jar in the canner, which must be filled with hot water.
 
Left: Grapes and sugar added. Right: Boiling water added.
4. Repeat until the canner is filled with jars, or until you run out of grapes.

5. Process jars for 10 minutes.*
Wait at least a month before opening a jar. To use, shake the jar, then strain the contents through some cheese cloth (or a sieve lined with coffee filters). It's okay if the sugar settles to the bottom of the jar; just shake before using. It's also okay if the grapes float - or if they do not. (Whether or not the grapes float depends upon the stage of ripeness of the fruit.)

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Sep 15, 2014

Making Peach Jam Without Added Pectin

I've been wanting to try my hand at making jam without added, store bought pectin. Not because there is anything wrong with pectin (it's extracted from apples; you can even make your own), but because some people seem to prefer the flavor of no-pectin-added jam.

Of course, in order to jell up, all jam needs some pectin. But certain fruits (apricots, berries, peaches and apples) are naturally higher in pectin, so you don't need to add store bought or homemade pectin to them.

In the end, although this peach jam is delish, I can't say I think no-pectin-added jam is any better than the pectin-added variety. And it took a considerably longer to cook down and jell than any jams I've made with added pectin. Nonetheless, it's nice to know I can make pectin-free jam, if I want to.

How to Make Peach Jam without Added Pectin
(recipe from The Ball Blue Book, 1984)

8 cups of peeled, pitted, crushed peaches (I used about 8 large peaches)*
1/2 cup water
6 cups granulated sugar**
Crushed peaches.
First, you may wish to review the guidelines for canning using a boiling water bath canner.

1. Pour the prepared peaches and the water into a large, non-reactive pot. Gently heat for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the jam jells. To test for jelling, place a saucer in the refrigerator. Once it's cold, spoon a small amount of the jam onto the saucer and place in the freezer. If the jam jells after a couple of minutes in the freezer, it's done.
Simmer down the jam.

The jam once it "jells."
4. Pour the jam into clean, hot jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.***


NOTES:

* To learn how to peel peaches the old fashioned way, click here. Or get yourself a soft fruit peeler; to my mind, that is the only way to go!

In addition, your job will be much easier if you buy freestone peaches. (Cling peaches are difficult to pit.)

** Sugar both helps the jam "jell" (or set), and helps preserve the finished product. You may adjust  the amount of sugar in this recipe, but it may not jell well, and it won't last as long in the cupboard.

*** If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.




May 26, 2014

How to Make Dandelion Wine - A Recipe for Making it the Easy Way!

Dandelion wine has been around for about as long as there have been dandelions and wine making - so it's no surprise there are about a gazillion ways to create dandelion wine. However, most recipes use very large quantities and call for removing all petals from the dandelion flowers. This recipe is different. Not only is the quantity small (about enough to fill a gallon jug), but it saves a ton of time because you don't need to remove the petals from the flowers. The process is also about as simple as you can get, making it a great choice for beginning wine makers.

A Few Notes on Making Easy Dandelion Wine:

* Be sure to collect dandelions you are 100% sure have not been exposed to chemicals (like weed killers).

* Collect only dandelion flowers. It's fine to keep the green leaves at the base of the petals, but don't include any stems.

* Choose only fully opened, fresh flowers. Avoid partially-opened blooms or blooms that are wilted or are turning brown.

* It's fine to freeze dandelion flowers until you have enough to make wine. However, measure the flowers before you freeze them, not after.

* It's okay to use ordinary bread yeast for this recipe, but wine or champagne yeast is considered better.

* You'll need something to help you cap or cork your bottles. The easiest and cheapest is a bottle caper and caps, like this one.



To Make Dandelion Wine, You'll Need:

8 cups dandelion flowers
1 gallon boiling water
9 cups granulated sugar
juice from 4 oranges
juice from 3 lemons
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Large, non-reactive pot with lid
Mixing spoon
Colander
Small bowl
Funnel (I used a new car oil funnel)
1 gallon glass jug
Balloon
Fine mesh strainer
Wine or beer bottles with new corks or caps


How to Make Dandelion Wine, the Easy Way:

1. Pour the dandelion heads into a large, non-reactive pot. Pour 1 gallon of boiling water over the flowers. Cover with the pot lid and steep for two days.




After two days, it will look like this:
 2. Place a colander over a large bowl and strain the flower mixture. Reserve the liquid, but discard the dandelion flowers.


3. Clean the pot so that no trace of dandelions remains in it. Pour the liquid into the pot. Stir in the sugar and the citrus juice.
 4. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast into the lukewarm water, stirring a couple of times to combine.

5. Pour the yeast mixture into the dandelion mixture and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.

6. Place the funnel in the jug and pour the liquid into it.
Cover the opening of the jug with a balloon, to prevent bugs, dust, etc. from getting into the wine. Store in a dark location until the mixture stops fermenting.
7. Keep an eye on the balloon for a few days. If it grows quite large, lift up part of the balloon end, releasing the gas. After about 5 weeks, the balloon will probably be only slightly inflated. Release the gas from it periodically; when the balloon stays deflated for one or two days, the wine is done fermenting and is ready to bottle. (Don't bottle before this time, or you risk having your bottles of wine explode!)

8. Strain through cheesecloth until you are satisfied with the clarity of the wine. Funnel into bottles and cork or cap. For best flavor, allow the wine to sit in a dark, cool location for at least 6 months. As the wine ages, it will become lighter in color.

I can't show you my dandelion wine all bottled up yet, because it is at the final stages of fermenting.  But once it's bottled and aged, it should look something like this:


For more information about harvesting and using dandelions for food, see these posts:
"Ah Sweet...Dandelions?"
"How to Make Dandelion Tea"
"Eating Dandelion Flowers"
"Making Dandelion Jelly"
"Teaching Children to Forage" (with dandelion cookie recipe) 
Dandelion Medicine

Want to learn more about eating and cooking with dandelions? Check out The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook!


Apr 23, 2014

Top 10 Canning and Food Preservation Tricks

Recently, I was chatting with some other moms when I mentioned that I'd been emptying the freezer of tomatoes so I could can them. When I mentioned some of the tricks I use, they seemed surprised. "Why have I never heard of that before?? That would be so much easier!" one mom said. So with that in mind, here, my friends, are my very canning and food preservation tricks all in one location.

* Frozen tomatoes. Sometimes I just don't have time to can tomatoes in one huge bunch. Or maybe I don't have enough ripe tomatoes to bother canning them at that moment. So I freeze them. To freeze tomatoes, just lay them on a rimmed baking sheet and place them in the freezer. When they are hard, transfer them to a freezer bag. And no, once I've canned these tomatoes, I cannot tell they've been frozen.

* Easy to peel tomatoes. If you freeze tomatoes, they are SO easy to peel! While they are still frozen, place them under warm, running tap water. The peels push right off!
Turn tomato skins into tomato paste. It's quick and easy!

* Love those greens. Got green tomatoes? You can use them as is, but if you prefer, you can ripen them indoors

* Easy peasy tomato paste. Keep those tomato peels - and dehydrate them. Then grind them up and store them in an air tight container. When you need tomato paste, just mix equal parts ground skins and water. So much easier than cooking down tomato paste on the stove!

* Get a rocker. For your pressure canner, that is. A rocker guage not only means you don't need to have your pressure gauge checked every year (and yes, for safety, you really must do that if you don't have a rocker gauge), but I find it's easier to keep the pressure regulated on my canner if I use a rocker.

* Easier dried herbs. When dehydrating herbs with small leaves, keep them on the stem. Once the herb is thoroughly dehyrated, just run your fingers down the stem (starting at the cut end); the leaves come right off and into a jar you've placed beneath your hand.

* Use fruit peels. Most fruits should be peeled before canning. (That's because the peel can harbor more bad stuff that may lead to food poisoning.) But that doesn't mean you have to compost them. Instead, make fruit peel syrup or jelly.

* Don't peel it. When making applesauce, don't peel the apples! It's not necessary at all, and applesauce made with the peels has more nutrition. Plus it's quicker and way easier!

* Note it! Keep a canning diary that lists what you can, what it cost, and how much you put up. It makes
planning for upcoming years much easier.

* Why have two when you can have one? You really don't need two different canners. That's because you can use your pressure canner as a water bath canner! That is, as long as the pressure canner is big enough that at least two inches of water goes over the jars.

Mar 5, 2014

16 Ways to Use Home Canned Meat

Canning meat is one of the best uses of canning know-how. It allows you to purchase meat when it's at its most affordable, and then easily turn it into something that will last for years without spoiling. Plus, in my opinion, it actually improves the meat! (Because the canning process makes the meat super tender and moist.) Best of all - having canned meat on hand is super convenient and really speeds up meal-making.

But not very many people are used to eating canned meat, so it can seem like a very foreign, weird thing. The number one hurdle is the very idea of canned meat....so if you're unsure you want to can meat, I suggest you go out and purchase a container of high quality chicken meat. Open it and eat it. If you like chicken, you'll love it canned. Now go can your own! (Canned chicken tastes fabulous and is very easy to can, so I suggest that if you've never canned meat before, you start with chicken.)

The second hurdle is: How do you actually use canned meat? Let me count the ways:

Homemade pizza featuring home canned chicken and home canned bacon.
1. On homemade pizza. If you have canned chicken, try using Ranch dressing as the pizza sauce. Add cheese, canned chicken, and maybe some green onions. Canned bacon is also terrific on pizza.

2. In salads. Canned chicken is perfect for any type of salad - fresh green, pasta salad, egg salad, etc.

3. Warmed up in a skillet. Canned ham, pork, or beef is great this way. I usually serve it alongside eggs , toast, or pancakes.

4. As sandwich meat. You can warm it up if you like, or leave it cold. And it's so much healthier than nitrogen-laced deli meats!

5. In scrambled eggs or omelets. Since canned meats just need warming up (not cooking), they are perfect added to eggs as you cook them.

6. As part of a hash or scramble. Canned ham is my favorite choice here.
A scramble featuring home canned pork.

7. In casseroles.

8. In soup.

9. In enchiladas.

10. In stir-frys.

11. In chili. Canned ground beef, beef chunks, or pork chunks are ideal.

12. In pasta dishes.

13. In stew. It really speeds up the cooking, because the meat is already tender and cooked.

14. Meat pies. An easy meat pie is just beef stew put between a bottom and top pie crust, so either beef or pork chunks or ground beef work here.

15. Shepherd's pie. Try canned ground beef, beef chunks, pork chunks, or lamb chunks.

16. In a pot of beans. Canned bacon adds terrific flavor to beans.

17. Any way you'd use frozen, cooked meat. Except canned meat doesn't require thawing!


A Few Tips:

* Whenever possible, use the liquid from the jars - there's a lot of flavor there! So if you're making soup, for example, pour the liquid from the jar into the soup instead of just dumping it down the sink.

* Canned ground beef has a different texture from the ground beef you are used to. It is softer and more moist. So I recommend always heating it by itself in a skillet; the heat will remove some of the meat's moisture, making it more like freshly-browned ground beef.

* When cooking anything that takes more than just a few minutes to make, always add canned meat at the very end of cooking. If you don't, the meat may turn to mush because it's already so tender and well cooked. Really, you just need enough time for the meat to become heated through - perhaps five minutes before the rest of the dish is done.

Nov 5, 2013

Preserving Herbs in Salt - an Update

Last summer, I experimented with preserving basil in salt. This is a very old preservation technique - but one I'd never tried before. Basically, it consists of layering fresh basil (or other herbs) and ordinary salt in a jar, then storing it in the refrigerator. Basil is a particularly good way to determine if this method works, because it quickly becomes black and mushy if frozen or refrigerated.

This morning, I opened up the jar to see how the leaves were doing:

* Some leaves, I'd left only partially covered with salt. These have dried out, just as if I'd dehydrated them.




* The leaves that were completely buried in salt are well preserved. Their color is darker than fresh basil (khaki green as opposed to a brighter green), but they smell just like fresh. The leaves are moist, but not at all slimy.
I'm really pleased with the results!

For more ways to successful preserve basil (and other herbs), click here.

Sep 18, 2013

Canning Spiced Pear Butter

If you've never had fruit butter, you're really missing out. I am not a huge jam or jelly fan...but it's tough for me to turn down fruit butter. Each year, I make large batches of apple butter (using the recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preservation). We eat quite a bit - and I give many jars away as gifts - to recipients who hope they'll get some next year, too. This year, I had extra pears, so I decided to try my hand at pear butter. Oh my, is it good!

(As an aside, pear butter isn't real butter, nor does it have butter in it. It's actually something like thick applesauce - but using pears. It's perfect for toast or muffins, or as a topping for ice cream, or for use in things like my oatmeal crumb bars. So why is it called pear butter? Probably because it's thicker and more spreadable than jam.)

HINT: If you don't want to can this recipe, you may also freeze it.

HINT #2: You may use this recipe to make pearsauce (like applesauce, but with pears). Just don't cook it down as thick as you would for pear butter.

Spiced Pear Butter Recipe

What You'll Need:

12 lbs. firm, ripe pears
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar (if your pears are overripe, use sugar to taste)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. If you plan to can this recipe and are not an experienced canner, please review the water bath canning guidelines. Prepare jars, lids, and canner.

2. Peel, core, and coarsely chop the pears. (TIP: For quicker peeling, use a soft skin peeler.) Toss into a large, stainless steel pot.

3. Add the lemon juice, sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir together and place over medium high heat.

4. Cook the pear mixture, stirring often, until pears are tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture (or carefully transfer the slightly cooled mixture into a traditional blender and puree in batches, returning to the pot).

5. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until the pear butter is the desired thickness. It should mound easily on a spoon. WARNING: Stir frequently to prevent scorching and be sure to cook the pear butter on LOW. Whenever people complain they burn fruit butter, it's because they are cooking it too hot and not stirring it enough.

6. When the pear butter has reached the correct consistency, ladle some into a hot jelly jar, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Bubble, add lid and screwband, and place in canner. Repeat until all the jars are filled or all the pear butter is in jars.

7. Process in a hot water bath canner for 10 minutes.*

Makes about 13 8 oz. jars.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Sep 2, 2013

Keeping a Canning Diary

I began keeping a canning diary two years ago, and now I find it indispensable. In an inexpensive bound, blank book, I record what I've canned, how much produce (or meat) I used, and how much it cost. I always know exactly how much I canned last year, how many pounds to harvest or buy in order to make the same amount (or more or less, depending upon my family's current needs), and whether or not I'm getting a good deal, if I'm purchasing food to can.

Your canning diary needn't be fancy; mine certainly is not:

Easy! 

Aug 26, 2013

Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

My husband and kids are huge pickle fans. They also love green beans. So pickled green beans (sometimes called dilled beans or dilly beans) are a natural in our home. There are many, many different recipes for dilly beans, but I like this one best because it's so easy.

For the beans, you can use traditional green beans, wax beans, or even yard long beans (either chopped up or wound around the jar.)

What You'll Need:

2 lbs. green beans
4 garlic cloves (peeled)
4 teaspoons dill seed or 8 sprigs fresh dill heads
4 teaspoons canning salt
2 1/2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 1/2 cups water

Pint jars, lids, and screwbands
Water bath canner
Ladle
Plastic spoon (or other non-metallic utensil with a long handle)
Large pot
Small pot
Paper towels or clean dishcloths

How to Do It:

1. Review the guidelines for water bath canning. Prepare jars and lids. Fill a large bowl or sanitary sink with ice water.

2. Fill a large pot with water and place over medium high heat; bring to a boil.

3. Add the green beans to the pot and begin immediately timing 3 minutes. When 3 minutes have passed, remove the green beans and plunge immediately into ice water.

4. Pour any remaining water out of the large pot; pour in the vinegar and 2 1/2 cups water. Place over medium high heat; do not allow to boil.

5. Once the beans are completely cool, take a single hot jar and to it add:
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed (or 2 sprigs of fresh dill heads)
  • 1 teaspoon canning salt
6. Pack the jar with beans, being sure to leave 1/4 in. headspace. (If needed, trim the ends of the beans to make them fit. If there is room at the top of the jar, add chopped beans.)

7. Pour hot vinegar-water over the beans, maintaining a 1/4 in. headspace. Bubble. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth. Add a lid and a screwband and place in the canner.

8. Repeat steps 5-7 until all the green beans are used up (or all the jars are filled).

9. Process pint jars for 10 minutes in a water bath canner.**

Makes about 4 pints.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

** Only pickled green beans may be processed in a water bath canner. If they are not pickled, green beans must, for safety's sake, be processed in a pressure canner.

Aug 16, 2013

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

A few years ago, I posted instructions for making applesauce - an annual tradition at our house. But last year I discovered an even easier - and yes, more tasty and nutritious - way to make applesauce. I think it warrants it's own post.

Before I begin, I'd like to note that there are many different ways to make applesauce. Some people swear by a food mill, for example. I don't use one for applesauce because:

1) It removes most of the skin, and the skin adds a ton of nutrition and flavor.

2) It involves cooking the apples with their seeds. Apple seeds contain arsenic, and the idea of having that cook into the applesauce just doesn't appeal to me!

The method I now use is just as easy as using a food mill (maybe easier!), but doesn't have problems number one and two, above.

AND you don't need any special equipment. If you like your applesauce lumpy, an ordinary potato masher will do. If you like it nice and smooth, I recommend using an immersion blender; I bought a $25 Oster and have used it successfully for years. In fact, I like it so well, I got rid of my traditional blender. (Immersion blenders are stick like, and you put them directly in the pot you are using; this saves time - and cleanup.)

The Apples

I usually use free apples I find in public areas, the wilderness, or neighbor's yards. It's amazing how many people have old apple trees but don't have the time or desire to pick the apples. And they are usually thrilled if someone wants to come pick them; it saves them from cleaning up a big mess under their tree.

For applesauce, you really can use any type of apple. If they are scabby or wormy, that's fine! (That just proves they are organic!) If they are apples the wind has sent to the ground, that's fine! (In fact, windfall apples are traditionally what applesauce is made from.) If they are crab apples - even the type that taste awful to eat raw - that's fine! (My family's favorite applesauce is made with crab apples. One note, though: If the crab apples are so small you could eat them in one bite, they are a real pain to core. Instead, I'd use other apples for applesauce and can those tiny crab apples whole and spiced. Click here for other things to do with crab apples.)

Also, I do recommend organic apples. Yes, you can remove the peels of non-organic apples, but that's a pain, removes much of the nutrition, and frankly, doesn't remove all the pesticides. Especially since you'll be cooking down and concentrating the apples, you'll want them chemical free.

How to Make the Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

You will need:
A cutting board and knife
A large pot
Potato masher (optional, but recommended)
A blender (optional, but recommended; an immersion blender makes the job really easy)
Sugar (optional)
Cinnamon (optional, but recommended)
Bottled lemon juice (optional, unless you plan to can the applesauce)
Boiling water bath canning equipment or freezer bags

1. Set up the cutting board and get out your knife. Have a handy place to put cores and bad sections of the apples; I use my counter top compost bin, but a large bowl works fine, too.

2. Wash a few apples at a time, then, one at a time, cut them in quarters. Slice off the cores on each quarter and cut away any bad spots. Toss the cores and bad spots into the compost bin or bowl. (Note: It's okay to give a little of these to the chickens, but their eggs will start tasting "off" if they eat too many fruit peels. I prefer to compost apple scraps.) For
large apples, it's a good idea to cut the quarters into smaller chunks.
Removing the cores.
(NOTE: One of my friends read this post and asked why I don't use an apple corer/slicer instead of a knife. I find that when using non-commercial apples - that is, apples that don't come from a grocery store - they are too irregular to work with this type of device. Crab apples are also too small for an apple corer/slicer. And if the apples are windfall or from a purely organic tree, you'll need to cut away bad parts, anyway. However, if YOU have consistently regular apples, an apple corer/slicer may be just the thing.)

3. Place the apple pieces into a measuring cup. When you have a total of 9 or 10 cups, toss them all into the large pot.

4. Add 3 cups of water to the pot and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the apples are tender.


5. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon. If you like, add sugar. (If you're using crab apples, you'll definitely want sugar. Use about 2 cups. For non-crab apples, I usually start with 1/2 cup of sugar, then add more to taste, if necessary.)
Cooking down the apples.
6. If you'll be canning the applesauce, add 4 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice. If you won't be canning the sauce, you may still want to add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of bottled or fresh lemon juice.

PLEASE NOTE: Lemon juice is not optional if you are canning applesauce! If you don't add bottled lemon juice, your jars may become a breeding ground for botulism.

7. Stir and keep cooking until the sauce is thickened a little. Remove from the stove and allow to cool slightly. (IMPORTANT NOTE: If you're canning the applesauce, don't let it get too thick; that can mean the applesauce doesn't get heated through during canning, which can lead to an unsafe product. The applesauce should be a bit runny. Add water, if you need to.)

8. If you like lumpy applesauce, carefully use the potato masher on the cooled mixture until you're happy with the consistency. Otherwise, use the immersion blender to make the sauce smooth. (If you use a traditional blender, add the apple mixture in batches.)
Pureeing the applesauce with a stick blender.
9. If the applesauce is the correct consistency, move on to step 10. Otherwise, you can thicken it by cooking it a bit more. (Do not add thickeners, like flour or cornstarch, if you'll be canning the applesauce. Neither is safe in home canned products. In fact, I don't recommend adding thickeners at all; they just aren't necessary. Cook the sauce to thicken it, or add a few more apples.)

10. If you want to freeze the applesauce, allow it to cool before spooning it into freezer bags or jars.

To can the applesauce, working one jar at a time, ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 in. headspace. Bubble and add a lid and ring. Repeat until the jars are full, then process pint or quart jars for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. * (If you aren't an advanced canner, please review the basic canning guidelines here.)

Makes about 5 pints.

NOTE: I usually double this recipe because I make large quantities of applesauce at this time of year, and a double batch fits my canner just about perfectly.
 * NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Aug 7, 2013

Preserving Basil 3 Ways: Freezing, Dehydrating, and Salting

Most herbs are very easy to preserve. Just pop them into a freezer bag and you're done. Not so with basil. If you try to freeze it without special prep, it will turn black and mushy. Ick. With that in mind, here three ways to successfully preserve basil.

Tip: You can save a lot of money by growing your own basil - but not unless you're willing to harvest it! The more your harvest basil, the more the plant will grow. When harvesting, be sure to cut the stems off just above a set of leaves.

1. Freeze. To prevent basil from turning into black mush, it must be frozen with olive oil. To do this, pop the leaves into a food processor. Chop. Add a drizzle of olive oil and pulse until the leaves are thoroughly coated but not drenched. Spoon the mixture to empty ice cube trays and place in the freezer. Once hard, transfer to freezer bags. One average-sized "basil cube" is equal to about 2 tablespoons of fresh basil. Or, instead of using ice cube trays, just transfer the prepared basil to freezer bags or containers.

Tip: If you don't have a food processor, simply chop the leaves fine and drizzle with oil, mixing well.

2. Dehydrate. Remove the leaves from the stems and place them in a dehydrator set at 95 degrees F. When completely dry, allow the leaves to cool, then place them in an air tight container.

If you don't have a dehydrator, you can dry basil in the warming drawer of your oven, or in the oven itself. In either case, place the leaves on a wire rack placed inside a rimmed baking sheet. Set the warming drawer or oven as close to 95 degrees F. as possible. Place the leaves in the oven/warming drawer until completely dry. Cool, then store in an air tight container.

3. Salt. This is old school, and I've never tried it until recently. Pour about a 1/4 inch of salt onto the bottom of a glass jar with a well fitting lid. Place a layer of fresh basil leaves on top. Repeat layers until the jar is full or you're out of room. Be sure the last layer is salt. Store in the refrigerator; the leaves are said to stay fresh for about 6 months. (UPDATE 11-5/13: So far, I've successfully stored the leaves for about 3 months.) To use, just brush off the salt. (You can reuse the salt, too; it won't taste like basil.)

Tip: Use a wide-mouthed jar, so it's easier to lay the leaves in a single layer. You'll need at least 1 lb. of salt for a quart jar.


Jul 31, 2013

Canning Mulled Fruits - with a Recipe for Mulled Wild Plums

Did you know that you may can mulled fruits just by adding a few spices to your usual canning recipe? It's true! And trust me, mulled fruits are a fantastic holiday season food!

Traditionally, winter drinks like red wine or cider, were "mulled" - that is, they were heated and had spices like allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise added to them. Mulled fruit is cooked in such spices and may be served hot or cold.
How to Can Mulled Fruit

Begin by finding an appropriate recipe for canning the fruit in syrup. You can find such a recipe at The National Center for Home Food Preservation or in The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. You will have a choice of whether to make your syrup "very light," "light," "medium," "heavy," or "very heavy." "Very light" syrup has very little sugar; "very heavy" syrup has a lot of sugar. See this chart for complete information on the water to sugar ratio for each.

Nearly any fruit can be mulled, but great choices for mulling include plums, pears, peaches, apples, cranberries, and cherries. In this case, I was canning wild plums, which are tart. Therefore, I chose the medium syrup. If I were using sweeter, domestic plums, I'd probably use a light syrup.

Place the appropriate amount of sugar and water into a large saucepan. Now add the mulling spices. To one batch of syrup, I added:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Feel free to experiment with the spices; adding spices does not alter the safety of the canning recipe. I don't recommend, however, using whole spices (like whole cloves, whole allspice, or sticks of cinnamon) because they won't be evenly distributed among the jars and may not get heated through, causing a safety issue.

Now place the saucepan over medium high heat, stirring often, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is hot.

Finally, follow the canning recipe as usual.

Mulled Wild Plums Recipe

You may wish to review the boiling water bath canner instructions here. This recipe may also be used for whole domestic plums, although you may wish to use a less sugary syrup.

Wild plums
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 cups water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Prepare jars and lids.

2. Wash and sort through the plums. Only ripe but firm plums should be used. Any that are softer should be eaten fresh or used for making jam or jelly. Any that are mushy should go in the compost bin. As you sort and wash, place firm plums in their own bowl, but prick them once with a fork first.

3. Pour the sugar, water, and spices into a large saucepan. Place over medium high heat, stirring often, until sugar completely dissolves and the mixture is hot.

4. Add some plums to the mulled syrup. They should not be overcrowded, but because wild plums are very small (about 1 inch across), it's fine if they are not in a single layer. (Domestic plums should be in a single layer.)

5. Heat the plums for 1 to 2 minutes. (Domestic plums will take longer.) You'll know they are ready when the skins split. Don't let them overheat, or they will become mushy.

6. Ladle plums into a hot, prepared canning jar. Ladle the mulled syrup over them. Leave a headspace of 1/2 inch. Some of the plums will loose their skins. It's fine to just ladle those looser skins in the jar. Or you can pick the skins out as you scoop them up in the ladle. Wipe down the jar rims, place a lid and a ring on the jar, and place the jar in the canner.

7. Repeat step 6 until all the plums are jarred.

8. Process pint jars in a water bath canner for 20 minutes; process quart jars for 25 minutes.*

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Jul 29, 2013

The Easy Peasy Way to Freeze Tomatoes, Remove Tomato Skins, and Turn Green Tomatoes Red

Recently, I was shocked to hear a friend described how she froze extra tomatoes from her garden. It was complicated! "Really," I told her, "it doesn't have to be so hard! In fact, it should be almost magically easy!"

The Easy Peasy Way of Freezing Tomatoes

In just 2 steps:

1. Place clean, dry tomatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer.

2. Once the tomatoes are hard, transfer to a freezer bag.

It works. Honest.

Tomatoes frozen in this manner may later be canned, if you like, or you can use them like fresh tomatoes for cooking.

The Easy Peasy Way of Remove Frozen Tomato Skins

You'll notice I didn't suggest removing the tomato skins before freezing them. That's because it's a little bit of work to do it that way. Instead, if you want skinned tomatoes, remove them from the freezer and put them under warm tap water. The skins practically slide off without help. (And while you're at it, consider keeping those skins to make easy peasy tomato paste. I dry the skins, crumble them, and store them in a Mason jar in the pantry. When I need tomato paste, I just add water. Please go here for full instructions.)
 
How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

As the tomato growing season ends, you'll want to know this trick, too. When frost threatens to kill your tomato vines, pick all the green tomatoes off your plants and bring them inside. Place them in a single layer in your pantry. With time, they will turn red. They won't be quite as delish as garden-fresh tomatoes, but they'll be better than store bought. As they ripen in the fall and possibly the winter months, I often freeze them. Once all my green tomatoes are red, I usually can them. Or you can just use the reddened tomatoes fresh, as they become available.

Or, check out my post on how to cook with green tomatoes.

Jul 22, 2013

Canning, Dehydrating, and Freezing Plums

Some weeks back, my husband spotted what he thought might be a "wild" (i.e., feral) plum tree. Last weekend, I finally had him drive me to the spot so I could check it out. It turned out the plums - little 1 inch balls that looked a lot like a large cherry but have a fantastic plum flavor - were ripe! I picked a bag full, then headed home to research them (they are called, not surprisingly, cherry plums and date back to the 19th century) and decide how I would preserve them.

Canning Plums

The first thing that came to mind was to can them, even though I've never eaten, seen, or heard of canned plums. But, it turns out, plums do can well. You don't have to remove their skins (always a bonus) and you may can them whole or cut them in half and pit them. For full directions, consult The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving or visit The National Center for Home Food Preservation. The raw pack method is easiest, but some people dislike it because you end up with jars that don't look full because the plums float. To prevent this, you can hot pack the plums instead.

You may also make plum jam. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has several recipes for both canning and freezing. You'll also find recipes all over the web, including:

* Basic Pectin Plum Jam
* No Pectin Plum Jam
* Spiced Plum Jam
* Raspberry Plum Jam
* Peach and Plum Jam
* Lower Sugar Plum Jam

I also found this great-looking recipe for canned plum pie filling.

Freezing Plums

Plums can be frozen whole or cut up. The traditional method is to pack the plums into freezer containers and cover with syrup: 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar and 4 cups of water brought to a boil until the sugar completely dissolves. Cool completely before pouring the syrup over the plums.

A more modern method is simply to pit and slice the plums, placing them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the plum slices are solid, then transfer to a freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months.

There is no need to thaw frozen plums before turning them into pie or jam.


Dehydrating Plums

Before there was home canning, before there were freezers, people dehydrated plums in order to preserve them. Cut the plums in half, then press them into the dehydrator tray, to help flatten them a bit. Dehydrate at 130 - 135 degrees F. until no trace of moisture remains. (To check for moisture, pinch a piece of fruit with your nail; you should feel no moisture.) To hasten dehydration, you can steam blanch the plums first.

To steam blanch: Fill a lidded pot with 1 or 2 inches of water and bring to a rolling boil. Place a steaming at least 3 inches off the bottom of the pot. Place a single layer of plums in the basket, cover, and begin counting 1 or 2 minutes. Immediately plunge the plums in ice water.
basket in the pot so it is

Plum Recipes

Of course, a great many of my plums were eaten raw, as snacks. Other ways to eat plums include:

* Plum pie, plum tart, or plum crumble/cobbler
* Plum cake
* Plum shortcake
* Roasted plums
* Plum chutney
* Plum sauce (to eat with pork)
* Kebobs
* Turkey with poached plums

Happy eating!

May 8, 2013

Canning Rhubarb Strawberry Pie Filling

Making rhubarb filling. Except I forgot to show the rhubarb! (Tired day.)
Rhubarb is a great addition to the garden; it comes back year after year and abundantly produces food that's high in vitamin C and K, fiber, and calcium. But I confess: I've never eaten it.

When I was growing up, my Dad always included it in our garden and my mother begrudgingly cooked pies with it - pies she never ate and strongly recommended I avoid, too. How sad that I never tried it, anyway! Well, this year, I added a rhubarb plant to our garden. It won't produce much this year, but my mom-in-law has a well established plant, so she gave me a bag of rhubarb to experiment with. I decided to make - you guess it - canned rhubarb pie filling.

My mom-in-law highly recommended this recipe, which comes from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (which, if you only have one canning book, is the one you should own). The only change I made was to add an extra cup of strawberries.  

And what was my verdict? Was the pie filling yummy or gross? YUMMY!

Canned Rhubarb Strawberry Pie Filling

3 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped fine
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (rind)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice*
7 cups 1 inch slices rhubarb
2 cups granulated sugar
4 - 5 cups hulled, halved strawberries (if the berries are quite large, quarter them)**
The rhubarb, sugar, apple, and orange zest and juice mixture.

1. Review the guidelines for water bath canning. Prepare jars and keep them warm. Prepare lids and keep simmering on the stove.

2. In a large stainless steel pot, pour the apples, orange zest, and orange juice. Stir well.

3. Add the rhubarb and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring often. Once the mixture boils, stir constantly and cook until the rhubarb is very tender when pierced with a fork, about 12 minutes.

4. Add the strawberries, stirring in well. Return to a boil. Remove from the stove.
Add the strawberries.

The mixture, cooked soft.
5. Ladle the hot mixture into hot pint jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Bubble. Wipe rims. Add a lid and screwband. Process jars for 15 minutes.**


Recommendations from my mom-in-law:  

_Try adding a handful of fresh strawberries to this mixture before baking a pie.

_This filling also makes an awesome topping for vanilla ice cream.

_Have leftover rhubarb? No problem! Chop it up and freeze it for another use.


* You'll need 1 orange to get the zest and juice you need for this recipe.

** NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.