Tag Archives: canning

I entered a jam contest!

I entered my plum-cinnamon jam in the Oakland Eat Real Festival 2011 Jamboree Contest.  I’m looking forward to the festival, which will be an homage to all things local, homemade and delicious.  And who knows — maybe my jam will win!  I’ll find out on Saturday!

preserved grape leaves

We are fortunate to have grapes grow as the shady overhang in our backyard.  They are exotic yet seasonal, and so I decided to preserve some of the leaves for future use.

Dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice and other Greek ingredients) are a lot of work, but I would like to make them as a special appetizer for Thanksgiving using the grape leaves from our garden.

To preserve fresh grape leaves, cut them from the vines and layer them vein side up, as shown.  Fold and layer them inside a pint jar:

Cover the grape leaves with a 3:2 brine, which is three parts filtered water to two parts apple cider vinegar. Here, I made two pints of leaves and used three cups of filtered water and two cups of apple cider vinegar, which I boiled before adding it to the jars.  Process the jars for 15 minutes.

I’ll post my recipe for dolmas when I make those this fall using my preserved grape leaves.  UPDATE:  It just occurred to me that I could make a batch of dolmas now using fresh, blanched grape leaves.  Duh!  I’ll try to do that in the next week or two while the vines are still green and fresh.

pints of pickled peppers!

My cousin Angela, an avid gardener and canner in Minnesota, asked me if I had a suggestion for what she could do with the glut of banana peppers in her garden.  What to do?  Make pints of pickled peppers!!

I made pickled jalapeños, which we’ll use throughout the year for chili, nachos, quesadillas . . . yum!  Pickling peppers is easy: slice the peppers crosswise, lengthwise or leave them whole, pack the peppers in jars and cover them with your basic pickling brine (I use a ratio of 3 parts water to 2 parts vinegar) without salt, sugar or spices.  (The peppers have plenty of their own flavor to preserve!)

pickled peppers

Yield:  3 pints*

Time required:  About 30 minutes

[ *Canning equipment is required to make these pickled peppers pantry stable.  Please refer to my relish recipe and jam posts for a full list of equipment and more details on the canning process. ]

Ingredients:

1 pound peppers (such as jalapeños)

3 cups filtered water

2 cups apple cider vinegar

Method:

Prepare the hot water canner.  (Mine takes a loooong time for all the water to get hot enough to process jars, so this is always my first step.)

Combine the water and vinegar in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, wash and slice the peppers (or keep them whole).  Pack the peppers into pint jars.

When the hot water canner is ready to go (hot water actively steaming but not boiling), remove the hot brine from the heat and fill the pepper jars with brine, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  (It’s important to wait until just before processing so that the veggies aren’t sitting around in the hot brine, getting mushy.)  Process the jars in the hot water canner for 10 minutes.  Check the jars to ensure all have sealed, label the lids with the date and contents and await spicy winter days ahead!

sweet cucumber relish

So I totally made up this recipe, and it worked.  If you like sweet relish, and if you know how to make bread-and-butter pickles, then you can easily adapt your B&B recipe to make your own sweet relish.  (So long, store-bought relish with its high fructose corn syrup, thickeners, etc!)  This is the real deal, and you–and your hot dogs–will be very happy if you put up some homemade relish this summer.

The method is simple: chop up cucumbers and bell peppers (add in some onions, if you want), simmer the veggies in your B&B brine along with your B&B spices, strain and then can your finished product.  You can use my method with your favorite B&B brine and spices, or you can follow my recipe.

sweet cucumber relish

Yield: About 5 half-pints

Time required: About 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 pounds cucumbers (any pickling variety), finely diced

1 pound red bell peppers, finely diced

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup filtered water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/8 cup salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 teaspoons celery seeds

Equipment:

kitchen scale

large sauce pan

strainer

rubber gloves

hot water canner (large pot and canning rack)

half-pint mason jars (cleaned and dried) with new lids

jar funnel and ladle

Sharpie or other magic marker

 Method:

Prepare the veggies:  Finely dice the cucumbers and red peppers.  Yes, this will take a while.

Prepare the B&B brine:  Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a large sauce pan and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Let’s make relish!  Add the veggies to the brine along with all the B&B spices (salt through celery seeds).  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer the relish for about 10 minutes.  Lightly strain the relish.

Ladle the relish into jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean and put the lids on the jars.  Screw the lids until fingertip tight — just until you feel resistance and the jar tries to turn on its own.  Do not over tighten the lids.

Put the jars in the canning rack and, while wearing gloves, carefully lower the rack of jars into the hot water (it should be steaming heavily but not boiling).  Process the jars in the hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Then, while wearing gloves, carefully lift the canning rack out of the hot water and remove the jars to a cutting board to cool.  Tighten the lids slightly.

Check the lids after a few minutes (or after you start to hear “ping” sounds).  The “button” part of the lid should be drawn inward so that the lid is flat.  If any of the jars failed to seal, keep the jar in the fridge to use as a fresh product.

Once the jars are cool enough to touch, use a Sharpie to label the lid with the contents and date.

Finally:  Grill hot dogs.  Top with sweet relish.  Repeat throughout the year!

how to make jam (with a recipe for raspberry-vanilla jam)

Making jam has given me a new appreciation for summer and a greater appreciation for the very brief growing seasons of fruits like strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.  I savor these fruits more so than before and I’m excited that I’ll be able to enjoy them again this winter thanks to the jam-making and canning skills that I learned from Happy Girl Kitchen Co.’s jam-making workshop.  (Food in Jars is another inspirational and informative resource.)

Making jam seems to involve two mysteries: (1) making the jam, and (2) safely canning the jam.  I’m still a novice, but the task really is quite simple once you try it and gain confidence!  I learned from my workshop that fruit is the safest thing to first try canning because fruit is naturally acidic and therefore less prone to botulism.  Boiling the jam kills off bacteria, and so the only remaining “issue” is to ensure a proper seal when you hot-water-bath the jars of jam.  So long as you can see that the lid is sealed, you’re in the clear!  Please give it a try — making jam is so satisfying and addicting!

I learned some basic jam recipes from Happy Girl Kitchen that are low in sugar and do not call for pectin.  Fruit naturally contains some pectin (important for causing the jam to gel) and sugar is also instrumental in creating gel.  Many recipes call for a ton of sugar — many I’ve seen call for equal parts sugar and fruit! — but that much sugar really isn’t necessary and it can drown out the flavor of the fruit.  Sugar absorbs moisture and so it assists with creating gel, and it is also a natural preservative.  The recipes that I use call for just enough sugar to lend sweetness to the fruit and to create gel; more sugar would ensure a longer shelf life once you’ve opened the jar, but it won’t last very long anyway!

raspberry-vanilla jam

makes 7 half-pints

Time required: About 2 hours

1 flat of organic raspberries

Ingredients:

5 pounds of raspberries (or other bush berries, e.g., blackberries, blueberries)

2 pounds of evaporated cane juice (a.k.a., “raw sugar”)

1/2 cup of lemon juice (freshly squeezed or use bottled Santa Cruz Organic brand)

1 Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean (optional)

Equipment:

a large tub or other container large enough to contain the fruit (I use the crock with lid from my slow cooker)

kitchen scale

large stock pot

potato masher

wooden paddle or extra long wooden spoon

rubber gloves

3-4 small clean plates, in the freezer

hot water canner (large pot and canning rack)

half-pint mason jars (cleaned and dried) with new lids

jar funnel and ladle

Sharpie or other magic marker

Method:

Prepare the fruit:  On the night before the day when you plan to make the jam, wash the raspberries and put them in a large lidded tub (I use the lidded crock that came with my slow cooker).  Add 2 lbs of raw sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the fruit and stir to combine.  Put on the lid and let the fruit macerate over night.  The berries will release liquid and this will give a jumpstart to the process of cooking down the fruit into jam.

raspberries and their liquid, after sitting in lemon juice and sugar over night

The next day:  Clean the jars and set aside.  Put the small plates in the freezer.  Put on rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms from hot jam splatters.

Pour the contents of the berry tub into a large stock pot and mash the berries with a potato masher.  Turn the heat on high and bring the berry mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden paddle or long wooden spoon to avoid burning the jam.  The objective is to boil off enough liquid and raise the heat of the mixture high enough to reach the gel point for jam.  The cooking time depends on how wide your pot is, but keep stirring and boiling the berry mixture until you notice that it has reduced some and has started to thicken (15 minutes or more).

We’re thickening the jam naturally using sugar and cooking time, and so it’s important to start checking for the “gel point” after you notice that the mixture has started to reduce and thicken.  To test the gel point, take a small plate from the freezer and use a small spoon to put a dollop of jam at the center of the plate.  Return the plate to the freezer for a minute.  (This process mimics what the jam will be like at room temperature.)  Retrieve the plate from the freezer and hold the plate up to allow the jam mixture to run down the plate.  The jam is “set” when it stays in a clump as it runs down the plate.

testing for the gel point

Once the jam is set, move the pot off the burner and to the side.  Fill the hot water canner with enough water to cover the jars by a couple inches and bring it to a boil.

If you are adding vanilla, cut the bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the hot jam and then toss in the bean.  While you wait for the hot water to come to a boil, stir the jam occasionally to allow the raspberry and vanilla flavors to marry.  Taste the jam occasionally and remove the vanilla bean when you’re satisfied with the flavor.  (I left it in for about 15 minutes.)

Ladle the jam into jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean (this is essential to ensure a complete seal) and put the lids on the jars.  Screw the lids until fingertip tight — just until you feel resistance and the jar tries to turn on its own.  Do not over tighten the lids.

Put the jars in the canning rack and, while wearing gloves, carefully lower the rack of jars into the boiling water.  “Process” (i.e., allow to sit) the jars in the hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Then, while wearing gloves, carefully lift the canning rack out of the boiling water and remove the jars to a cutting board to cool.  Tighten the lids slightly — just an 1/8 or 1/4 of a turn — because over-tightening could prevent a complete seal from forming.

Check the lids after a few minutes.  The “button” part of the lid should be drawn inward so that the lid is flat.  If you see this, congrats!  The jars are sealed!  If any of the jars failed to seal, simply re-process them in the boiling water for a few more minutes.

Once the jars are cool enough to touch, use a Sharpie to label the lid of the jar with the contents and date so that you know what’s in the jar and when you made it.  The jar of jam can last more than a year, but every source I’ve encountered encourages consumption within a year to enjoy the best color, texture and flavor.


Finally, for all you urbanite canning virgins out there, here’s a note on canning etiquette:  If someone gives you a jar of jam, please return the jar after you eat the jam.  If you give someone a jar of jam, it is ok to say, “please return the jar after you enjoy it.”  Jars are reuseable, after all!  Return the jar, get a refill!  🙂

Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

beautiful jams

I attended a jam-making workshop this past Saturday and we made these beautiful, delicious apricot and strawberry jams.  I highly recommend the hands-on food preservation workshops put on by Happy Girl Kitchen Co.  I’ll use my new canning skills to “put up” canned peaches and strawberry jam this coming weekend.  I can’t wait!