Day 195–Slightly Badass Blackberry Jelly

It is somewhat misleading to call this recipe “jelly”. Jellies are lovely, crystal clear productions that have no pulp or fruit particles visibly present. So this recipe I am presenting to you is not like that. This recipe is a fun, full of itself cousin to true jelly. Think of it as that rogue cousin who shows up at a family funeral with a six pack of beer instead of a pound cake. You know exactly who I’m talking about, don’t you?

While this jelly won’t earn any ribbons for beauty at the State Fair, it is delicious, full of flavor and would be good on a biscuit or on a pork tenderloin. The reason it isn’t crystal clear and sparkling, is because I use a food mill instead of cheesecloth to extract the seeds. This leaves in some of the fruit pulp that makes the jelly opaque instead of clear. I don’t care. When I have blackberries, I’m using every little bit of them I can!

Slightly Badass Blackberry Jelly

8 cups of fresh blackberries
3 tsp. calcium water (this comes with the Pomona Pectin)
3 cups pure cane sugar
3 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin
1/4 cup water

Rinse the berries and put in a nonreactive stock pot. Add the water. Mash the berries with a potato masher and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Let cool about 5 minutes.

Put a food mill with a fine blade over a large bowl. Fill the food mill half way with the cooled blackberry mixture. Process until there are just seeds remaining and dump the seeds into a container for composting. Continue until you have processed all the berries.

Pour 3 cups of the processed blackberries into the pot and bring to a boil (NOTE: if you have more than 3 cups of processed blackberries, adjust the amounts of the remaining ingredients accordingly).

Add the calcium water and bring to a boil again. Mix the pectin and sugar in a bowl. Add to the boiling blackberries and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Scrape off any foam.

Either refrigerate the jelly or ladle into clean, hot half-pint jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow jars to rest in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove from the canner and set aside. Check seals after 24 hours and if seals are good, store for up to 1 year.

Day 194–Win/Win at the Farmer’s Market

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Those of you who know me are aware that I have very little “gambler’s luck”. I am lucky in many things–lucky in love, lucky to live in a wonderful town, lucky to have a solid home and a great job. But take me to Vegas, baby, and it’s all over. I’m not sure why I don’t have that kind of random luck that results in people winning bingo, slots, the lottery or the free week of groceries from Trader Joes. My mom has it…my brother has it…but me? Not so much.

Still, every once and a while, Lady Luck smiles on me. Today, she smiled at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market. I was hoping to buy some blackberries because the blackberry jam I made earlier this summer is about out and we really do need more. Really. Blackberries here are about $4 a pint at the farmer’s markets. I figured I had enough to buy 4 pints and make one batch of jam (about 3 or 4 half pints). Not too bad, but kinda pricey. Still, I love blackberries, so it’s worth it.

Enter Lady Luck. While I was talking to the very nice (and VERY funny) guys at the Godwin Farm stand, Mr. Godwin (I’m guessing) pointed to the bed of his truck and said “See that bag of blackberries? We picked them for today and then someone dropped the bag, mushing some of the berries.” They had been carefully going through the large plastic grocery bag, trying to pick out the prettiest berries to package and sell. Hmmmmm… “How much for the whole bag?” I asked. “I’m making jam–I don’t care how pretty they are. They’re just going in a pot anyway.” I didn’t think I could afford the bag, but it never hurts to ask, right?

“How about $8?” Mr. Godwin said. He looked genuinely happy not to pick through any more berries (and I’m sure happy not to take home spoiled berries in berry juice). SOLD! Before he handed over the now triple bagged berries, he said, “Let’s just weigh them for fun!” Nine pounds of blackberries. HOLY MOLY. That is a king’s ransom in blackberries. His grandson looked less amused with the transaction, but I promised to be back next week for the wonderful figs they will have.

So here we have a win/win–the farmer gets rid of blackberries that wouldn’t last the day, I get to make a TON of blackberry jelly and some very lucky people will get blackberry jelly for Christmas! Mr. Godwin will get some jelly next Saturday 🙂

So what does 9 lbs. of blackberries look like? Well, it’s 23 cups of blackberries, which made 12 half pints of jelly and an additional 10 4 oz. gift jars. That is a LOT of jelly!

The jelly I made is really kind of a cruder cousin of the lovely, clear, sparkling jellies out there. I don’t use cheesecloth, I used my food mill to extract the juice and the seeds, so it’s cloudier than store bought jelly, but man is it good!!

Here’s hoping Lady Luck will smile on you and your local farmers this week!

Day 186–Cantaloupe Preserves = Epic Fail

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Sometimes, I see a recipe and immediately think, “That is going to be sooooo good.” Other times I think, “That sounds so weird and gross, that it must actually be good.” In Italy, they serve a tripe sandwich called lampradotto that sounds gross, but is actually pretty amazing. Who knew? So sometimes when you venture beyond your comfort zone, you can really come out the winner. This is what I was thinking when I saw a recipe for cantaloupe preserves. Sounds so strange that it MUST be good, right? Right?

Wrong. Armed with a day off and some very ripe cantaloupe, I thought I would venture into new territory. I mean, there are only so many things you can do with a lot of very ripe melon, so why not try to pack some summer in a jar. Who knows, maybe I would be the one to introduce my friends to this great new phenomenon! Children would finally eat melons! Trendy chefs would be using it everywhere! (My mind is a strange place and it works this way.)

The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. As it turns out, cantaloupe preserves are just as gross as they sound. And they look worse. I mean, would YOU eat the jar of preserves pictured above? One of my colleagues said it looked like a weird science specimen from a horror movie. I think that’s spot on. Blech.

I’m not even posting the recipe because it was that bad. Thankfully, I only made four half pints, so I don’t have a lot of food to dump. Chalk this one up to experience. Eat your cantaloupe the way nature intended and leave the canning for tomatoes, cucumbers and berries. And if you’re in Florence, try the tripe.

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Day 183–Making Marinara Sauce

Tomatoes

I came home from working an event on July 4th to find two lovely boxes of tomatoes on my doorstep, left by The Produce Box! The two, 10 pound boxes of field tomatoes are part of my next big challenge–making marinara sauce from scratch. If nothing, this make me more appreciative of all the mammas and nonas before me who made sauce with no air conditioning. As I type this, the sauce is simmering away (and will for another few hours) and my house smells AMAZING. In fact, I am starving and it’s only 10:00 in the morning–I’m sure this has much to do with the incredible aroma wafting through the house.

While making tomato sauce does take some work, much of the actual work is done on the stove while you can do other things around the house. The recipe I have called for blanching and peeling the tomatoes. I decided to skip that part and instead used a food mill to process the partially cooked tomatoes. MUCH faster and I didn’t add a lot of unnecessary heat to my kitchen. I’m keeping my sauce pretty simple. I’ve added some diced onion, minced garlic, and basil leaves, but that’s it. Since I don’t know how I’ll be using the sauce, I’m leaving any additional seasoning for when I open the jars to use them.

Here is the recipe I am using. There are so many tomato sauce recipes out there that you can find one to suit your preference fairly easily.

Easy Marinara Sauce

  • 20 lbs. tomatoes
  • 3 large onions, peeled and diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice per quart jar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt per quart jar
  • 2 washed basil leaves per quart jar
  1. Wash, trim and quarter the tomatoes, making sure to cut off any bruised or damaged areas.
  2. Add about 1/4 of the tomatoes to a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher to extract the juices.
  3. Continue adding the cut tomatoes to the pot in batches and continue mashing with the potato masher until all the tomatoes are in the pot (NOTE: at this point, I needed two stock pots because even my biggest one wouldn’t hold all the tomatoes. Later, as the tomatoes cooked down, I was able to get everything in one pot).
  4. Simmer the tomatoes for about 30 minutes. Let cool a bit and add the tomatoes in small batches to a food mill set with a fine mesh blade over a large bowl. Continue processing the tomatoes through the food mill to remove skins and seeds. You will need to empty the food mill several times (save the skins and seeds for compost!).
  5. Return the tomato juice and puree to the pot(s). Add the onion and garlic and let simmer over medium low heat for about 3 hours (this will depend on how much water your tomatoes contain).
  6. Prepare and sterilize quart sized canning jars (5-6). Add 3 Tbsp. of lemon juice, 2 basil leaves and 1 tsp. of kosher salt to each jar. Ladle the sauce into the hot jars, leaving 1/2 ” of headspace. Release any trapped air. Wipe the rims, place lids and bands and process in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from the canner and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals. Store for up to 1 year.

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 72–Learning to Can-Can

Preserved food in Mason jars

When I was in my mid-twenties, and had vast stretches of free time, I learned to make apple butter. I liked it, but that’s about as far into canning as I ventured. I think a trip to the mountains of North Carolina spurred that experiment. Faced with an abundance of apples that were brought back as tasty souvenirs, I decided to do something constructive with them. Along the way, I stopped canning apple butter and moved on to other things.

At the Dig In! conference last weekend, Ellie and I took a class on home canning and I was reminded of how satisfying it was to can my own creations. Now we are inspired to make the most of our spring strawberries and summer tomatoes and–the most fun part–we will be doing it together as a mother/daughter project. Hopefully this will help us make the most of our local produce and eliminate our need to purchase preserves (although the preserves we currently purchase are all locally made).

According to our instructor, beginning canners should heed a few rules:

  • Cook from well-tested recipes to start
  • Use real canning jars (not other recycled jars from home)
  • Buy canning tongs–do not remove hot jars with your hands (from the chuckles around the room, this is apparently more common than I would have thought)
  • Use the hot water bath method, not the inverted jar method of sealing jars as it is more reliable and consistent
  • Make your own pectin or cook the old-fashioned way (cook your food longer) so that you don’t need it. Commercial pectin has very suspicious origins that involve slaughterhouse by-products.

The first two points were very useful, the third and fourth had never occurred to me and the fifth was just gross.

I also learned that, at least in NC, food stamp (EBT) recipients can use their grocery funds to purchase vegetable or fruit plants. I had no idea! There is a movement afoot to get this information out to folks so they will have the opportunity to have, for example, tomatoes all summer for the same price as a few tomatoes. And if folks can preserve their food, that extends the quality and availability of local, sustainable foods for people in food desert areas.

Do any of you can your own produce? What works well for you? We won’t have any strawberries to start with until next month, so in the meantime we will be reading up on the process and on interesting recipes!