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

Aug 23, 2016

Understanding Pectin

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 Even among many life-long canners, pectin is a mysterious thing. How does it work? Why are there different types of pectin? What's it really made from? How can you use it and get consistent results? Recently, I chatted with representatives from some of the most popular commercial pectin-making companies, then coupled the information I gleaned from them with my own research. The result? Some definitive answers.

What is Pectin?

Speaking non-technically, pectin is a component (basically, a starch) found in the tissue of all fruits. Under-ripe fruit has more pectin than fully ripe fruit - and some fruits naturally have more pectin than others. Apples, quince, and citrus, for example, all contain higher amounts of pectin than other fruits.

For the purposes of canning, pectin is used to thicken and jell jams and jellies. Pectin will only jell, however, when it's cooked to the right temperature (210 and 220ºF, depending upon altitude). Cooking it cooler or hotter than this will produce jams and jellies with too much liquid. In addition, pectin typically requires sugar in order to form a jell.


Pectin "In the Old Days"


If you look at 19th century canning recipes, you'll never find one that calls for pectin. That's because canners relied on the natural pectin found in fruit, plus a long cook time, and perhaps even the addition of just enough under-ripe or tart apples, to create a jell. In fact, it wasn't until the early 1800s that scientists discovered that pectin is what makes jams and jellies jell, when mixed with the proper amount of sugar.

Here's a good explanation of how pectin works, from the British newspaper, The Guardian:
"Pectin was first isolated by French chemist Henri Braconnot in 1825 and was named from the Greek pektikos, which means congealed or curdled. It is a polysaccharide so, like cellulose and starch, it is made up of long chains of sugar molecules. In fruit, pectin is concentrated in the skins and cores where it acts as structural 'cement' in the plant cell walls. In jam, pectin forms a mesh that traps the sugary liquid and cradles suspended pieces of fruit.
"Branches that stick out from the long chains of pectin bond with each other to form the three dimensional network that jam makers crave. In a solution, these branches are reluctant to bond, first because they attract water molecules, which stops them bonding, and second because they have a slight negative electrical charge, which means they repel one another.
"To solve the first problem we add sugar, which binds to the water molecules and frees up the pectin chains to form their network. The negative charges are reduced by acid naturally found in the fruit or added to the mixture. The acid reduces the electrical charge on the pectin branches and so allows them to bond. To increase acidity lemon juice can be added. But be careful: if your mixture is too acidic, this will damage the pectin."

Citrus pith is an excellent source of pectin. (Photo courtesy of
Commercially Made Pectin

There are two types of commercially made pectin: Powdered and liquid. By and large, most canners in the United States use powdered pectin. It should always be used as directed on the package, and there may be slight but important differences in the instructions, depending upon the manufacturer.

Liquid pectin is added near the end of cooking. Many expert canners prefer liquid pectin, saying it produces a softer jell than powdered pectin, as well as more consistent results. Again, you should always carefully follow the manufacturer's directions for use.

Powdered and liquid pectin are not interchangeable. In fact, which type you use is determined by the recipe you're using. You cannot successfully use liquid pectin for a powdered pectin recipe, and vice versa.

There is some controversy online about what commercially made pectin is made from. Some say "mostly apples," some say "mostly citrus pith," while others say - believe it or not - mold. The answers came easily enough from producers of commercial pectin:

A Sure-Jell Certo (Kraft) representative responded to my inquiries, saying their pectin is made from lime peels.

Ball's representative said their pectin is made " from apple pomace, which is rendered as a byproduct of juice manufacturing. The Ball Canning liquid pectin is derived from citrus peels."

Connie Sumberg of Pomona Pectin said, "Our pectin is made from the dried peel of lemon, lime, and orange, after the fruit has been juiced and the oil has been pressed out of the peel. Pomona's Pectin contains only 100% pure citrus pectin, which is vegan, gluten free, and GMO free. There are no additives, preservatives, sugar, or dextrose. There are no corn or apple by-products." She also noted that other brands of pectin contain additives and sometimes preservatives; some, like

Interestingly, I have yet to find any commercial pectin that is organic - and both apples and citrus are some of our most heavily sprayed crops. 


No Sugar Pectin

Pomona's Pectin is a little different from the other available brands in other ways, too. Unlike most commercial pectin, which need the right amount of sugar to create a jell, Pomona's actually uses calcium to make a jell. This allows canners to use less - or even no - sugar in their jams and jellies, or to easily use alternative sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or stevia. Pomona's is more costly than other commercial pectin, but each box also makes up to four batches of jam or jelly, which is more than other brands.

Other pectin makers also have low- or no-sugar pectin available; these can be used with fruit juices, sugar substitutes, and honey.




Homemade Pectin
Homemade pectin.


Some canners enjoy making their own pectin from under-ripe apples or crab apples. It's not a difficult task, but it does take a lot of apples to make much pectin. (However, it's a great use for all the tiny, immature windfall apples you'll get if you don't thin your fruit.) Some expert jam makers dislike homemade pectin, however, because it can lead to inconsistent results (due to the fact that you have no way of knowing exactly how much pectin is in any given batch).

In addition, jellies made with homemade pectin may turn cloudy - not a big issue for most of us, but something to consider if you plan on entering your jelly into a competition - a local fair, for example. In addition, homemade pectin (and commercially made powdered pectin, too) will likely lead to any fruit in your jam rising to the top of the canning jar.


No Added Pectin Recipes

It's perfectly possible to make fruit jams and jellies without adding any pectin whatsoever. However, the fruit must be cooked down longer, which results in a different look to the finished jam or jelly - and a more cooked flavor. In addition, compared to making fruit with added pectin, it will take considerably more fruit to make the same amount of jam or jelly. The upside is that you can often use less sugar in no-added-pectin jams.

When making no-pectin-added jelly, you may wish to add some under-ripe fruit to help the jelling process; although I have never personally had a problem getting a jell even when using quite ripe fruit, results vary depending upon the natural pectin amounts found in various fruits.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Ivey Rock


Testing for the Perfect Jell

Unfortunately, pectin doesn't jell jams or jellies until the mixture cools down. That's why my favorite way to test for jelling is the cold plate test.

Before you start cooking the jam, place a small saucer or plate in the freezer. Once you think the jam is finished cooking, place a dollop of jam on the plate, place it in the freezer for a minute, and then run your finger through it. If the jam or jelly runs back together, you need to keep cooking the jam. But if a clear pathway stays where your finger ran through, the jam is finished.

Troubleshooting Pectin

Here are a few of the most common jam and jelly making problems canners encounter - and their solutions.

Lumpy: Too much pectin.

Stiff: Too much pectin; overcooked.

Runny: Too little pectin; jam not cooked long enough; jam overheated.

Too soft: Overcooked; undercooked; insufficient acid; recipe doubles or otherwise increased; jam or jelly not allowed to sit in the jar long enough to set properly.

Too Stiff: Overcooking; too much pectin; too little sugar. 

Weeping: Storage space is too warm or the temperature fluctuates; too much acid.

Moldy: Not processed in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after putting in the jar; poor seal on jar; jars stored in too warm or bright a location.

Related Posts:

* How to Make Apple Pectin
* Other Uses for Homemade Pectin
* Peach Jam With No Added Pectin
* Bumbleberry (Mixed Berry) Jam
* Apple Pie Jam
* Dandelion Jelly


* Title image courtesy of


Aug 17, 2016

The Lazy Way to Freeze Green Beans

In case you haven't noticed, I have a lot going on! That's why it's nice to have super easy ways to preserve things from the garden. For example, when I realized there was a crop of green beans that needed picking yesterday, I decided right then and there I was going to freeze them the "lazy" way.

Now, the "correct" way to freeze green beans is to bring a pot of water to a boil, drop in the green beans, and set the timer for 3 minutes. When the 3 minutes are up, immediately drain the green beans and submerge in a bowl or sink of ice water until fully cooled. Pat dry, place in freezer bags, and pop into the freezer. It's not hard, but it does take a wee bit of time, especially if you have a large crop of green beans.

However, a few years back, I discovered that this method (called "blanching") isn't absolutely necessary. Yes, scientists say it preserves the beans' nutrients best. But, actually, I rather prefer my green beans frozen without blanching. And not just because it's easy; I also find that not blanching the beans mostly does away with the weird squeakiness blanched and frozen green beans have!

The Lazy Way to Freeze Green Beans

1. Wash the beans in cool water. Thoroughly, pat dry.

2. Pinch off or cut the stem ends. If you like, pinch or cut off the tail ends, too. Leave the green beans whole, or cut them up, as desired.

3. Place the green beans in a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible.


4. Pop into the freezer.

It doesn't get any easier than this, folks!



Jul 25, 2016

Sorting the Fruit Harvest - An Easy, Practical Method to Avoid Waste

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you buy fruit, even in bulk, the sorting has already been done for you. You just pick the fruit
that looks freshest, pay, and you're done. But when you have even one fruit tree, you'll soon discover you need to put a little more thought into gathering fruit. The method doesn't have to be complicated or terribly time consuming, but if you sort your fruit, you'll waste a lot less of it, and preserving it through freezing, dehydrating, canning, or cold storage will be much easier. Here's how I go about sorting our fruit.

Step 1: Windfall

When I gather the harvest, I always look for windfall fruit first; this prevents me from stepping on it and making it inedible. ("Windfall" just means fruit that has fallen to the ground due to wind or ripeness.) Some windfall fruit is too rotten or squashed to do anything with; I leave that on the ground for the critters and the soil. If you prefer, you can compost it. But if you gather windfall fruit every day, you'll find much of it is still useful. Don't worry if it has some bruised spots, bird "bites", or other less than pretty parts. You will cut those parts away later. I like to put all the windfall fruit into a separate bucket or bowl. (And, by the way, collecting windfall fruit is an excellent job for kids!)

Step 2: Harvest the Tree

Next, I like to gather everything I can reach by hand, then use our fruit picker for the rest. If you want, you can try to sort the fruit as you pick, putting the very ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit in one bucket and the rest of the ripe fruit in another. I prefer to get all the picking done without sorting, so I put all the picked fruit into one bucket (or more, as the size of the harvest dictates).

Step 3: Check the Ground Again

Often as I pick fruit, more fruit falls from the tree, so after harvesting the tree, I look around on the ground again for good fruit and place it in my harvesting bucket(s).
Sorting a plum harvest.

Step 4. Final Sort

When I bring the fruit indoors, I put the windfall fruit aside and separate the fruit that's super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) from the rest of the ripe fruit.


Ta-da! I'm done sorting!






What to Do With Sorted Fruit

Super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit: Eat it within hours; or prepare it that day in a dish (like cobbler or pie); or preserve it. Super ripe fruit is, in my opinion, best preserved by making jam or maybe pie filling. However, I usually freeze the fruit whole and make jam or filling when I'm not so overwhelmed with preserving the rest of the harvest.

Windfall fruit: This type of fruit often has bruising, so it's also good for jam, pie filling, or (in the case of apples) applesauce. Or, eat it within hours of picking off the ground.

Ripe fruit: Eat fresh, whenever possible. I recommend sorting through the ripe fruit every day, to look for fruit that is getting super ripe. Always eat this fruit first, or freeze it, or preserve it in some other way so it doesn't get wasted. Ripe fruit is also excellent for dehydrating; canning whole, halves, or in slices; or freezing in slices.

A Note About Harvest Abundance 

Recently, a reader commented that I should give much of my fruit to charity. We do give away some of our harvest, but we also think long term about our family's needs. Many Americans think only about the food needed for today or tomorrow - or maybe for the next two weeks. But homesteading philosophy dictates we think ahead at least a year. So yes, we have too much fruit for our family today, but we don't have too much fruit if we think in terms of the year. The reason I preserve so much while the harvest is ripe in the summer is that this food will be our fruit when fruit is no longer in season. This way, we aren't encouraging the modern idea that food should be shipped or trucked thousands of miles to us, and we know we can always have healthy fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals or canned with unwholesome ingredients.

Jul 18, 2016

What to Do With a Bumper Crop of Plums

A few days ago, I finally got around to counting the trees in our orchard. We have nine apple trees and eleven - yes, eleven! - plum trees. Fortunately, they don't all ripen at the same time, but currently I have two trees that need daily harvesting. We can't possibly eat all those fresh plums before they rot, so I'm planning ahead: What else can we do with all these plums? How can I preserve plums for winter? Here's what I've come up with:

Canning Plums

* Plain canned 
* Mulled plums
* Plum Sauce
* Plum Butter (a really thick jam)
* Spiced Plum Jam
* Low Sugar Plum Jam 
* 2 Ingredient, No Added Pectin Plum Jelly 
* Simple No Pectin Plum Jam
* Plum Pie Filling 
* Pickled Plums

Dehydrating Plums

* Basic Instructions
* Plum Fruit Leather 

Freezing Plums

* Basic Instructions

Other Plum Recipes

* Plum BBQ Sauce
* Savory Plum Sauce 
* Plum Glazed Pork Ribs
* Plum Salsa, Sorbet, Chutney 
* Plum Lemonade
* Oven Roasted Plums
* Chocolate Plum Cake 
* German Plum Cake
* Plum Crumble 
* Plum Cobbler 
* Plum Cobbler with Cake Like Texture
* Plum Shortcakes
* Plum Tart 
* Upside Down Plum Cake 
* Sugar Plum Jelly Candies 
* Plum Kuchen 
* Plum Oat Muffins 
* Plum Coffee Cake Muffins
* Plum Bread Pudding 
* Plum Bread
* Plum and Banana Bread
* Plum Popsicle
* Plum Ice Cream 
* Plum Kombucha
* Plum Wine 
* Plum Vinegar 
* Lacto-Fermented Plums

BONUS: Plum Pie Recipe

This recipe is from my cookbook Easy As Pie: 45 From Scratch Pie Recipes - which is only $2.99 for the Kindle or $6.99 in paperback. It's got just about every fruit pie recipe you could want, plus recipes for vegetable pies, cream pies, and much more.



Pastry for 2 crusts

7 fresh plums (about 1 lb.), sliced, skins intact
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup quick cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out one crust and place in a 9 inch pie plate. Refrigerate. Keep the remaining pastry in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and tapioca. Add the plums and gently toss. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

3. Spoon the filling into the prepared pie plate. Cut up the butter and scatter over the top of the filling. Roll out second crust and place over the filling. (If desired, make a lattice top crust, as pictured here.) Seal and cut 4 slits into the crust.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 - 50 min. or until the filling is bubbly and the crust golden. Transfer to a wire cooling rack.


* Title image courtesy of Michelle Tribe.

 

Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")


Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids


Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling


Sep 22, 2015

How to Preserve Apples: Canning, Freezing, Dehydrating, and Root Cellaring

Apple trees are a huge blessing. A single tree can provide a whopping 420 lbs. of filling, healthy food! As I walk around my suburban town, I always feel gratitude toward earlier residents who planted an abundance of apple trees. Some are still in private yards, but many are in public areas where we can forage. Plus, we have our two little columnar apples (which produced about 9 lbs. this year). But whether you have large or small apple trees in your yard, or you forage for apples in public areas, or you buy apples from a local farmer, fall is the time when you're faced with the question: What should I do with all these apples?

Fortunately, there's a lot you can do with apples. They can be stored in a root cellar - or stored well into winter without a root cellar. You can dehydrate them, or freeze them, or can them. So many possibilities!


Apples ready to be pressed into cider. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Root Cellaring

A root cellar is a cool, underground location designed for storing fruits and vegetables so they last many months without electricity or any special treatment, like canning. If you are fortunate enough to have a root cellar, take advantage of it!

Not all apples store well for many months, so if you're planting new trees and know you want to root cellar them, choose an appropriate variety. Generally speaking, thick-skinned apples store better, as do those that ripen late in the growing season (October - November), including Jonathans, Ida Red, Red Delicious, Winsape, Stayman, Crispin, Spur Winters Bananas, Northern Spy, and Rome. If you're unsure what variety you have already growing in your yard (or wherever you forage), a little trial and error is probably your best bet to determining whether or not your apples will store well through winter.

To store apples for months in a root cellar, first make sure your root cellar has the right conditions. The ideal temperature for apples is 30 - 40 degrees F. with an ideal humidity of 90%. Check several locations within your root cellar, because some may have the right temperature while other locations do not. Apples will rot quickly if they freeze, and will ripen very quickly past 40 degrees F., so do stick as close to those ideal temps as possible.

Next, sort through the apples and store only those without bruising or other blemishes. (Blemishes hasten the ripening - and rotting - of apples. Eat apples with blemishes right away, or use another method of preservation.) In addition, larger apples don't store as long as smaller ones, so it makes sense to separate the large, medium, and small apples, choosing the largest to eat first.  Also note that different varieties of apples ripen more or less quickly, so be sure to separate out varieties and store them separately, first eating those that ripen quickly.

Now, wrap each apple in black and white newspaper. A lot of people don't do this; instead, they just put the apples in a box or basket and store. However, if one apple in that box rots, the rest will rapidly follow. By wrapping each apple in newspaper, you protect it from rotting quickly - even if a nearby apple is going bad. A good method for wrapping each is apple is to lay it in the center of a single sheet of newspaper, pull up the edges, and twist the ends to "close" them off. Store wrapped apples in a cardboard box or basket..
Jonathan apples are a good storage apple. Courtesy of Sven Teschke and Wikimedia Commons.

More tips:

* Store apples as soon as possible after harvesting.

* Don't store apples near potatoes or onions, because the apples will take on the flavor of both. In addition, aging potatoes release an otherwise harmless gas that encourages apples to ripen more quickly, leading to quicker spoilage.

* Tart apples that are stored over winter sweeten over time.

* Root cellar apples should store well into February - or perhaps even later.

 

Storing Without a Root Cellar

If you don't have a root cellar, you may still be able to store fresh apples for many months. For example, you could dedicate a refrigerator toward their keeping. (According to the Purdue Cooperative Extension, 1/4 of the volume of the fridge should be left as air space for circulation.")

Although you can wrap the apples individually, just as you would for root cellar storage, you can also put them in perforated plastic bags.
Northern Spy apples. Courtesy Red58bill and Wikimedia Commons.

If you don't have an extra fridge, another method for storing apples is to put them in any cool location that won't freeze and remains dark - like a garage, basement, or in the closet of an unheated room. For best results, wrap them individually in black and white newspaper and place them in a box or basket. Also, try to ensure the location is as close as possible to 30 - 40 degrees F.

You can expect apples stored appropriately in a fridge or other cool, dark location may last into February.

P.S. If you really want to go old school, dig a pit and line it with straw, fill it with apples, then cover with a thick layer of straw.


Dehydrating
Apples dried in the warming drawer of an oven.


Dehydrated apple slices or rings are easy to make, and last at least a year. They make an excellent snack, especially when you're on the go.

If you have a food dehydrator, simply wash and slice the apples. I like to keep the peel on because they add nutrition - but you can remove and compost them, if you wish. For me, the easiest method of preparing apples for dehydrating is to use an apple slicer; if you have large amounts of apples, this is definitely the way to go. Otherwise, you can do the slicing and coring by hand.

If you don't want your apple slices to look brown, sprinkle diluted lemon juice over them. (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water). Honestly, though, I usually skip this step because, as far as I can tell, it's purely about aesthetics. (I've heard some people say lemon juice also helps preserve the apple's nutrients, but I can't find any scientific evidence to back this up.)

Now, lay the slices in a single layer on the trays of the dehydrator and set the temperature to 135 degrees F. The slices are done when you can tear a slice apart and not squeeze juice from it. Let the slices cool completely, then place in glass jar with an air tight lid and store in a cool, dark location.

If you don't have a food dehydrator, you can create dehydrated apples using your oven's warmer drawer - or you can dry them in the sun.


Freezing apple pie filling.
Freezing

There are many ways to freeze apples. Two of the most popular are to freeze applesauce or apple pie filling. But you can also freeze apple slices and use them for baking - or making applesauce at a later date.

Begin by washing the apples, and peeling them, if desired. To prevent browning, sprinkle them with diluted lemon juice (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water). Place the apple slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; don’t let the pieces touch. Place in the freezer. After 3 hours, transfer to freezer safe containers.  

For a sweeter recipe for freezing apples, click here.


Canning

There are also many ways to can apples. Applesauce, apple pie filling, and apple butter are popular choices. You can also can slices or rings in simple sugar. To do so, wash, peel (if desired), and core apples. Sprinkle with diluted lemon juice (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water) to prevent browning. Pour into a pan and add 6 1/2 cups water and ¾ cups granulated sugar. Bring to a boil and stay there for 5 minutes; stir from time to time, to prevent scorching. Pour into hot canning jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Process pints or quarts for 20 minutes in a water bath canner.


Juicing
An apple press. Courtesy Anne Dirkse and Wikimedia Commons.


Another way to can apples is to turn them into juice or cider. Yes, the traditional way to do this is with an apple press - and if you have a large amount of apples to process, it's a good idea to save up and invest in one. But you may also make apple juice or cider other ways.

To make apple juice using a kitchen juicer, choose apples of at least two or three varieties, experts suggest mixing tart and sweet types. Wash the apples and cut into pieces of the correct size for the juicer (usually halves or quarters). Run through the juicer and refrigerate juice for 24 - 48 hours. Pour off the clear liquid and toss the sediment (if any) into the compost. Strain juice through double layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Pour into a large pot placed over medium high heat, stirring once in a while. When the juice begins to boil, turn off the heat and ladle into sterilized canning jars (pints, quarts, or gallons). Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Using a water bath canner, process pints or quarts for 5 minutes, gallons for 10 minutes.

To make apple cider,  follow the same procedure - though many experts suggest using only sweet apples. Also, don't strain the liquid or refrigerate it before heating and canning.

Don't have a juicer? You can still make cider or juice! Just chop up clean apples, and put about 4 inches of water on the bottom of a large pot. Add the apples, cover, and turn the heat to medium high. Once the water boils, turn down the heat to medium and allow the apples to turn completely soft. Be careful not to scorch them! Pour the contents of the pot through a colander (catching the liquid in a bowl) and heat and can. If you're making juice, strain the liquid first, then refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours, and strain again before heating and canning.

WARNING: Any cider or juice must be heated to a boil before ladling into jars and canning.


More Posts about Apples

What to do with Crab Apples

Picking Unripe Apples for Making Apple Pectin

Apple Skillet Cake Recipe

Apple Spice Bread Recipe 

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumb Bars Recipe

Canning Apple Pie Jam

Freezing Apple Pie Filling

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

Making Dried Apple Rings in the Warmer Drawer


Title image courtesy of Spirtu and Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 17, 2015

Lacto Fermented Pickled Carrots

Once I began reading up on all the benefits of fermented food,* I knew they were something I needed
to serve my family on a regular basis. I love my homemade kombucha, but I found it difficult to eat other fermented foods - even sauerkraut (in anything other than tiny portions). Tiny portions are okay (one bite of fermented food contains 100 times more probiotics than the best probiotic pill), but I wanted to learn to love fermented food. So I looked all over Pinterest, trying to find fermented foods that were recommended for children. After all, children are often picky eaters; if kids loved it, maybe I would, too. That's when I discovered lacto-fermented carrots. At first, I wasn't sure I liked them...but by the time I was at the end of my first batch, I found myself craving more.Yummy!

If you love pickles, you'll likely love these lacto-fermented pickled carrots. And if you're less excited about the flavor of fermented foods, I encourage you to give these a try. They are easy - and super healthy!


How to Make Lacto-Fermented Pickled Carrots

Carrots (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
2 - 3 cloves garlic
2 cups of non-chlorinated water (I use tap water that's filtered)
2 tablespoons sea salt**

Quart canning jar (or similar sized glass jar)
Lid (preferably plastic***) or cheesecloth and a rubber band or piece of twine 
Knife
Cutting board 

1.Start by cleaning everything you'll use (the jar, lid, cutting board, knife) in hot soapy water - or run them through the dishwasher. Wash your hands thoroughly, too. This will help prevent any bad bacteria from forming in your ferment.

2. Make the brine by stirring the salt into the water until the salt is completely dissolved and the water looks clear. (If you're using Himalayan pink salt, as I did for this batch, the water may still look pinkish once the salt is dissolved.) If the water is cold, you may need to heat it on the stove while you stir, or the salt might not fully dissolve. Set the brine aside and allow it to come to room temperature.

Combine salt and water to make a brine.
3. In the meantime, cut up the carrots. They need to be short enough that, once they are in the jar, they reach a little below the first screw band rings. (In other words, the carrots must be about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 inch below the top of the jar.) I generally cut my carrots in half, then cut each piece into quarters. If you have especially fat carrots, you may wish to cut them into thinner pieces. All pieces should be approximately the same width.
Carrots must be the right length for the jar, and quartered.
4. Peel the garlic cloves and put them into the bottom of the jar.

5. Pack the cut carrots into the jar, lengthwise. Fit them in snugly, since that will prevent them from rising to the top of the jar, which could potentially lead to badly contaminated food. (In fermenting, it's vital to keep the food beneath the surface of the brine.)
Pack carrots into jar.
6. Pour the cooled brine over the carrots. It should cover them completely; leave one inch of headspace (the amount of room between the top of the liquid and the lid of the jar). If the liquid doesn't fully cover the carrots, add a little more water. Place the lid loosely on the jar (or cover the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band or piece of string). It's important that the lid be loose; gas can build up in fermenting foods and if the lid is tight, it could potentially cause the jar to burst. If the lid is loose, however, there is no danger of this. Place the jar on the counter, away from direct sunlight or drafts.
Pour the brine over the carrots, immersing them completely.
Cover loosely with plastic lid or cheesecloth.

After seven days, taste one of the carrots. If it tastes great to you, refrigerate. If not, allow it to sit on the counter for a few more days, then taste again. How long counter top fermentation lasts depends upon the temperature in the room and your personal tastes. Once you refrigerate the carrots, eat them up within a month or so.


* Fermented foods increase mineral absorption, improve brain function, may help you loose weight, boost your immune system, may reduce the risk of some cancers, and heal "leaky gut" - a condition that's at epidemic levels in the United States and leads to a myriad of health complaints, from fatigue to diarrhea and stomach troubles.

** It used to be canning or kosher salt was recommended most for pickling, but now we know processed salt is linked to autoimmune disorders. Sea salt will make the brine cloudy, but is much more healthy. I used Himalayan pink sea salt, but you can use any type of pure (nothing added) sea salt. I used coarse salt, but it's okay to use the same amount of fine salt.

*** Most experts advise against using ordinary metal lids or canning jar lids with rings. This is because metal can react negatively with the brine.


Jul 6, 2015

Making Jerky - Part II: Making Traditional Jerky with a Smoker

Last month, I showed you how to make your own jerky using a dehydrator or your oven. Now, as promised, I'll show you how my husband makes his a more traditional way: In a smoker. And let me tell you, this stuff is a thousand times better than what you can buy in a store. It's truly carnivore candy.


Notes on What You Need 

Smoker: First and foremost, you need a smoker. For years, my husband used an inexpensive Big Chief electric smoker. I bought this for him about a decade ago (for something like $80), and I sometimes see them on Craigslist. If you don't want to invest much into smoking meat, this is probably the best way to start. But it can be difficult to control the temperature in this type of smoker - and the smoker may not come up to the necessary temperature during cooler weather. My husband currently has a Yoder smoker/BBQ, which was quite an investment. If you don't mind spending a lot of dough, this is a fantastic smoker, although again, it can be tough to control the temperature. An in between solution is to build an old school style smoke house.

Jerky cure: Jerky cure helps preserve the meat, keeping it safe to eat. You can buy cure online and at some grocery and big box stores. All it is, however, is uniodised salt (usually kosher salt, but sometimes sea salt) and nitrates.You can leave out the nitrates - but your jerky won't last nearly as long. In my husband's recipe, the teriyaki acts as the cure, because it's high in salt.

Jerky seasoning: You can buy jerky seasonings online or in some grocery stores, also, but do read the ingredients label. I have yet to find one that wasn't full of nasty chemicals. You can also make your own seasonings - which is what my husband does. You'll find his recipe below. If you use store bought seasonings/cure, be sure to follow the instructions that come with it.

Grill racks: You can find these where barbecue and grilling supplies are sold. In a pinch, you could use wire cooling racks. (Here's the exact type my husband uses.)

Air tight containers: Including at least one Ziplock bag for marinating, plus more bags or containers for storing the finished jerky.

Meat: Always choose the leanest meat you can find. Fat may make your jerky go rancid.

A good knife: You really need a good, sharp knife for this job. Just be careful not to cut yourself.


How to Make Jerky in a Smoker

1. Slice the meat thinly, along the grain. On the day I photographed my husband making jerky, he sliced the pieces fairly thick; this is fine, but it means it has to spend more time in the smoker. Try to get the pieces about the same thickness, but don't stress if there is some variation in thickness. HINT: The meat is easier to cut if it's a little bit frozen. Also, be sure to cut off as much of the fat as possible. It's fine to leave the fine "silverskin" or membrane on the meat, if it has it.


2. Pour your cure and seasonings into a gallon Ziplock bag. My husband always eyeballs his ingredients, but this time I measured the amounts he used: About 1 cup of teriyaki sauce, 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.

3. Add the sliced meat and massage the bag to mix well and completely cover the meat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal, and refrigerate over night.


4. Get the smoker going by adding wood and lighting it off. (My husband likes oak for beef jerky, but any non-resinous, hardwood works.)

5. Lay the grilling racks on a flat work surface. (You may wish to line the work surface with paper towels first, to make clean up easier.) Lay the marinated pieces of meat on the racks. The pieces may touch, but they must not overlap.


6. Sprinkle generously with freshly ground pepper.


7. Allow the meat to sit 1 - 2 hours at room temperature. This allows the marinade to evaporate, sink in, and drip off. The meat should not be wet when it goes into the smoker. Just don't let meat sit at 40 - 140 degrees F. for more than 4 hours total, or it may go bad, making you sick if you eat it.


8. When the smoker reaches 160 degrees F., place the prepared meat (on the grilling racks) inside.



9. Check in on your jerky periodically and rotate the racks when you notice that the jerky nearest the heat is getting more done than the jerky above it.

10. When the jerky is at 160 degrees F. and is dry, the jerky is done. To test for dryness, pull a piece of jerky apart. No liquid should come from it.


Store the finished jerky in air tight containers in the refrigerator*. If desired, portion out the jerky into freezer bags and freeze until ready to eat.


* You might wonder why you can't store the jerky at room temperature, like our ancestors did. Theoretically you could, if the meat is very lean. But our ancestor's jerky was also super-duper dry and tough because they sucked the life out of it during smoking or drying. Most of us don't find that palatable now.