Day 148–Pickled Beets with Dill and Mustard

CDC beets

I am in mourning today for the lovely, lush squash, zucchini, bell pepper and cucumber plants that I found mangled and ruined in my garden today. HATE voles. HATE them. So this weekend, I will be digging out my raised beds and putting gravel and/or weed mat in the bottom to stop those things from destroying anymore plants. UGH!!! Thankfully, two of my raised beds are new and I was smart enough to put weed mat down before filling them. So sad to see all that promising food go bye bye. Sad and maddening.

This afternoon I managed to get my beets cooked and sliced and ready for pickling. We have the remnants of tropical storm Beryl outside, so it’s a good time for an indoor activity. This is a promising recipe–I love beets and dill. I added some mustard seed as an experiment–I love what mustard seed adds to homemade pickles!

Pickled Beets with Dill and Mustard (makes 3 pints)

  • 2 pounds beets (roasted or boiled, peeled and sliced)
  • 1 c. distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. fresh dillweed
  • 1 Tbsp. mustard seed
  1. Set aside your prepared beets.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from heat.
  3. Pack the beets into clean, hot pint jars and leave enough room for the dill and for the brine to circulate.
  4. Divide the fresh dill and mustard seed among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the beets to cover by 1/2″. Leav 1/2″ of headspace in the jar. Release any trapped air in the jars.
  5. Put clean lids and bands on the jars. Either refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or process in a hot water bath for 30 minutes and leave in the canning pot with heat off for another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check the jar seals and store for up to 1 year.

 

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Day 116–Controversial Pickled Asparagus

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Fresh, local asparagus was the start of our pickled asparagus with mustard seed!

I’m adding asparagus to my list of controversial subjects. So far, they include politics, religion, college basketball and cobbler. And now asparagus.

If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that Ellie and I took a canning class so we can continue to eat some of our favorite local foods all year. Actually, we now have a three-pronged approach to food preservation–canning, freezing and drying. We’re looking at what is available at the market each week and considering whether or not we enjoy it enough to try preserving it for the bleak winter months. It’s fun to seek out new recipes to try–dried fruit leather was a big hit. One of the recipes that piqued our interest is pickled asparagus with mustard seed. We love asparagus. We love pickles. So, what’s not to love about pickled asparagus? And our local grocery sells pickled asparagus for $7 a jar, so I’m all about trying the DIY version.

I couldn’t decide whether this sounded really good or just really odd, so I posted an inquiry to my Facebook page asking the question: “Pickled asparagus. Good? Gross?” The overwhelming judgement was “gross.” Or at least “why?” as in “why would do that to a perfectly good asparagus?” A few people commented on texture issues with asparagus–would they be mushy? Ellie The Brave was all about it though, so we forged ahead. I picked up asparagus at the farmer’s market and apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and we got started. This recipe uses quite a bit of garlic, which made the kitchen smell great. I managed to get over my fear of canning garlic, which seems to be strongly connected to botulism if not done properly.

The end result was some semi-attractive jars, although not as perfect looking as the grocery store variety. I was concerned about stuffing too much asparagus in the pint jars, but in hindsight, the hot water bath cooked them slightly and they shrunk up a bit, so next time I will pack the jars pretty full.

How do they taste? Actually, very good! The asparagus are tender and not crisp like a true pickle, but also not mushy like asparagus from a can. The brine is good–tart, but with good seasoning from the mustard, garlic and pepper. They will be good with salad or even with deviled eggs. The garlic  helps to balance the vinegar and give the pickles a nice savory flavor. If you like asparagus and want to keep it around past asparagus season, this might be something to try (you can also blanch them and freeze them). This recipe is from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Pickled Asparagus with Mustard Seed (makes about 3 pints)

  • 4 lbs. asparagus, washed and dried
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn
  1. Trim the asparagus to lengths 1 inch shorter than your pint jars and pack vertically into the clean, hot jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring the brine to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, and then remove from the heat. Divide the garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, and peppercorns among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the asparagus to cover by 1/2 inch. Leave 1/2 inch of head space between the top of the liquid and the lid.
  3. Use the boiling water method. Release the trapped air from the jars. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 112–A Strawberry Workday and Strawberry Fruit Leather

Saturday was all about strawberries at our house. We managed to get up and out of the house early and meet some of our fellow scouts at a local strawberry patch. The morning was beautiful and the berries were plentiful. It’s fun to watch everyone’s strawberry picking strategies. I pick the closest spot and start picking. Tom checks out the field and picks the spot where he thinks most people won’t have picked and Ellie gets as far away from us with her friends as she can. I’m thinking this mirrors our personalities fairly well 🙂

There is something about an entire field of ripe strawberries that makes me tend toward hoarding. I want to pick them all! In the end, we had four large buckets of beautiful, ripe berries and two pints of locally produced Maple View Farm ice cream. Two excellent treats! Once we got home with our bounty, the work began. We rinsed and checked our berries and immediately started hulling them for jam.

We made eight half pints of strawberry jam in all. The jam started out as old fashioned, slow cook jam with no pectin. After 90 minutes of cooking the berries, lemon juice and sugar, I couldn’t really tell if the jam had jelled, but I canned it using a hot water bath thinking that surely 90 minutes was enough time. The next morning, I re-cooked it and canned it a second time because it was too soupy. A lot of extra work, but I think I’ll be happier with the results this winter. And in the future, I may just use pectin with strawberries. They seem to have a lot of juice in them and it doesn’t cook down very well. Maybe blueberries are better?

After making the jam, we made strawberry fruit leather, based on a recipe in Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ‘Em Up cookbook. I was interested in this because fruit leather is a nice snack, but we don’t buy fruit rollups–they’re pretty full of junk and very low on actual fruit. The fruit leather drying process took longer than the recipe called for (about 4 hours instead of 2), but the end result was totally worth it. Our strawberry leather is chewy, tart and bursting with strawberry flavor. Soooooo good. Apparently, the fruit leather will keep in an air tight container for up to one month, but it will not last that long in our house! The recipe is below.

While we were canning and drying, I also froze 6 quarts of berries. I rinsed them, hulled them, then put them on parchment lined baking sheets, which I popped into the freezer for about an hour. When the berries were frozen, I put them in quart sized freezer bags. This way, they don’t get mushed and frozen in a big block.

After all that, you would think I’d collapse, but no, I decided to make a strawberry cobbler (recipe to come). Inspired by a similar recipe from Creative Noshing, I took our peach cobbler recipe and substituted strawberries as a test. It was amazing–especially when served hot with our Maple View Farm ice cream. Wow!

So our final total was 8 half pints of jam, 6 quarts of frozen berries, one batch of fruit leather and one strawberry cobbler. For good measure, I pickled 4 pints of asparagus spears (more on that this week). Needless to say, my house smelled great all day and at the end of the day, I slept very well. It was nice to take a day to devote just to cooking, canning and enjoying the literal fruits of our labor!

Berry Fruit Leather

  • 4 cups of berries (any will do!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Wash and dry the berries. Combine them with water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer until the berries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Puree the fruit by mashing it with a potato masher or using a stick blender (my personal choice).
  2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Return the berry puree to the pan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until it thickens to the consistency of baby food. Add the sugar and still to dissolve.
  4. Spread the sweetened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting the pan or using an offset spatula to create an even layer about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Dry in the oven until tacky to the touch, about 2 hours (for me this was 4 hours).
  6. Cool to room temperature. Side the parchment onto a cutting board and roll the leather into a tube. Slice the fruit into 2″ strips and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Day 107–Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Garden Strawberry

Success!! Having learned some lessons from my first round of jam making, I purchased more beautiful berries from the farmers market and gave it another go. Much better! I made two rounds of quick jam using pectin (this time Pomona’s Universal Pectin) and my results were more “jammy” with no fruit float. Also, Pomona Pectin allows you to make low sugar jam, which is terrific.

I also put up 3 quarts of frozen berries, which will last about 15 minutes in my house, so I better get moving! This Saturday (depending on the weather) is berry picking day for us, so we should have more berries on the way!

Deciding to do something a little fancier, I made 3 half pints of regular strawberry jam and 3 of a balsamic strawberry jam. I had just enough 17 year balsamic vinegar (a gift from my mom) to make it work. The taste is richer and more complex than the regular jam. Not for pb&j, but would be great on roast pork, pound cake or ice cream!

Here is the recipe I used from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I added 1/2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter to the mix. This wasn’t in the recipe, but was recommended as a way to reduce the amount of foam produced during cooking. It worked very well.

Quick Strawberry Jam (for Strawberry Balsamic, sub 4 Tbsp. lemon juice with 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

1c. Sugar
1 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
4 c. Strawberries, hulled
1tsp. Calcium water (included in the Pomona’s box)
4 Tbsp. Bottled lemon juice (or 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)

  1. First, get out all your ingredients and make the calcium water (mix powder w/water and set aside).
  2. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Put the berries in a non-reactive pot and mash well with a potato masher. Slowly bring berries to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Add butter, if using.
  4. Stir in the calcium water and lemon juice or vinegar/lemon juice.
  5. Slowly add the sugar/pectin mix and stir to dissolve.
  6. Return the mixture to a boil, stirring to ensure that the mixture is heated thoroughly.
  7. Remove from heat and let it rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
  8. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or can by using the following instructions.
  9. Ladle mixture into clean, hot half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Release any trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 102–Strawberry Jam

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In my daughter’s world, the phrase “epic fail” sums up a good intention gone terribly wrong. My first attempt at making strawberry jam wasn’t quite to that level, but it was far from a raving success. Maybe mini fail??

I purchased my first strawberries at the farmer’s market Saturday and at the last minute (never good), decided to dive into jam making. Got all my supplies out, washed and cut the fruit and found a Ball recipe for quick jam using pectin. Which I did not have. So, one trip to the grocery later, I was set to start.

The process was easy enough when I read the instructions, but once I started, I had a million questions. Like, when you measure the fruit, do you measure it whole or cut up? How mashed should you mash the berries? Why does the recipe call for so much dang sugar? What should the finished jam look like? Is some foam on the jam ok or do you need to skim off every bit? Clearly, I needed a visual tutorial.

I soldiered on without one, though, and took my best guess. The resulting jam mixture looked thin, with lots of fruit chunks, but it tasted good. I carefully ladled the mix into my hot jars, processed them according to the directions and waited…

What emerged from the bath was still not very thick and the fruit chunks were floating at the top of the jars (answer–mash the berries up well). After a slight freak out, I consulted my books and found that this is appropriately called “fruit float,” that it is only an aesthetic problem, and it is caused by excess air in the fruit cells releasing and pushing the fruit up. Whew!

My concerns about the thickness of the jam were addressed the next morning, when I found that all the jars had sealed and that the jam, once cooled, was thicker and more jam-like. We tried some on our toast and it was very nice. A good mix with a spoon brought the berries back in with the jam and fixed the float problem.

I’ve given a couple of jars to neighbors, although I felt compelled to explain why the berries were at the top (I’m not sure they would have noticed if I hadn’t obsessively pointed it out).

Overall, I felt very insecure doing something so foreign. But, I am determined to move forward, and plan to make a second batch this weekend. Here is what I will do differently:

Choose my recipe BEFORE I go shopping (insightful, no?).

Use a different pectin. I used Sure Jel, which is all our nearby grocer had, but I understand that with Pomona Pectin, you can use a lot less sugar.

I will not plan to cook anything else (like Easter supper) while I am trying to can. I am not that good at multitasking.

I will share my bounty only if I can do so without a 10 minute explanation of what I did wrong and how my preserves will probably not kill you.

Clearly, I still have a lot of learning to do, but this is a nice challenge that is stretching me in new ways!

Maybe I’ll report next week of an “epic success”!