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Archive for September, 2009

Well ok, I didn’t actually get canned myself, but a bunch of other stuff in my house did. So what if it’s been more than twenty years since I helped my mom do canning back home? Heck yeah, let’s fly by the seat of our pants like always and do some canning.

 It all started innocently enough. I was hanging out at the farmer’s market Saturday morning, minding my own business. It was a dreary, drizzly, generally unappealing morning. So bad, in fact, that many of the vendors didn’t even show up. Neither did the customers. I felt like I had the whole six stands to myself.

 I chatted up a few of the vendors, discussing scones and herbs before finally making the rounds to the rest of the tables. When customers are sparse and the morning is wearing on, the vendors are ready to wheel and deal. I ended up getting a killer deal on about nine pounds of tomatoes (not to mention some already cleaned and cut pole beans…nice).

 And that, your honor, is how the great tomato massacre began.

 I’d been contemplating canning for a while, but was pretty scared of the whole prospect. I mean, making something shelf stable is no laughing matter. But I’d invested in a nice waterbath canner and wanted to try my hand. After reading about waterbath canners, pressure canners and canned botulism, I decided to stick with tried and true waterbath recipes. I’ll pass on the canned botulism, thanks.

The Great Tomato Massacre

The Great Tomato Massacre

 I found a good looking recipe for canned tomato sauce here. I was excited and got to work hacking away at the tomatoes. It was a veritable saucy bloodbath. It also took forever. I suppose I’ll have to have a kid, since it would have been nice to have an extra pair of hands to peel, seed and chop. Maybe I could borrow a neighbor’s kid next time…

 I got my tomato sauce together and put it on to simmer for several hours. I then turned my attention to the glut of apples I had somehow accumulated on my kitchen counter due to my CSA box and too much time at the farmer’s market. It just so happened that I also had a canned apple recipe. I could do the apples while the sauce was simmering. That’s called multitasking! (Or time management, I’m not sure which…)

Canning Station: Jars and lids in hot water, simmering tomato sauce, boiling water and simmering apples

Canning Station: Jars and lids in hot water, simmering tomato sauce, boiling water and simmering apples

 My simple syrup was simmering, my waterbath was boiling. The apples went into the syrup to boil for a few minutes, then into my hot jars they went. It was a bit messy since I couldn’t find a stupid wide mouth funnel anywhere that morning, but I think I managed. Jarred, topped and banded, into the boiling bath the jars went.

 I was so proud when I pulled them out. They were beautiful! Then I heard the pop, pop, pop of the lids sealing and marveled at my own greatness. Well, pride comes before a fall.

Canned apples!

Canned apples!

 The tomato sauce was ready. I jarred it up in pints in the same manner (I halved the recipe but didn’t get anywhere near half the yield the recipe stated…maybe I simmered too long and now have tomato sauce concentrate…anyway, I digress.) and dunked them in the water. About fifteen minutes into the processing time, I opened the refrigerator and saw the lemon juice (that I specifically sent test subject Bill to the store to buy because I was short) that was supposed to go into the sauce before it went into the jars. (For pH

They sure look nice...

They sure look nice...

reasons, the lemon juice is added to better stabilize the sauce.)

 My heart fell out and hit the floor with a thud. After all that work, to screw it up at the very end…I deserve three kung faux pas for that one. Derrr!

 Anyway, I let the jars finish processing and did what any normal person would do. I went crying to my mom and finished off the rest of the bottle of wine that didn’t go into the sauce.

You know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself...

You know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself...

 Mom kindly assured me that my sauce would be ok without the lemon juice, that she had done it before and it turned out just fine. She then shared with me a very sad story about a time when she had to throw out 24 jars of green beans because she misread the processing time. Thanks, Mom.

 I also sent the following email to the webmaster of the site that I got the recipe from:

 “What would happen, hypothetically, if you forgot to put the lemon juice in before canning the tomato sauce? Not that I did that or anything.”

 The friendly response indicated I could recan with the lemon juice and reprocess. I figured I’d screwed it up enough for one time around so I decided to just refrigerate my jars. I’ve got the space in between my yogurt and my pickles. [Note: I tried the tomato sauce one week later and it is the bomb. I had it with some mozzarella sticks and it is super yummy!]

Dilled and rather pickled green beans

Dilled and rather pickled green beans

 Undaunted (or insane) I tried my hand again the next day with some Dilled Green Beans. This was a fairly simple recipe. Trim the beans, pack them and the other ingredients into hot jars and pour a boiling salt/water/vinegar solution over them. Top, band and boil. This went much better than the day before (experience is a great teacher). Only issue was that even though I halved the recipe, half the liquid wasn’t enough so I had to quick boil some more while my beans waited.

 It was a success, as all my lids were sucked down 24 hours later. And darned if they don’t look totally cool. I love opening up my pantry and seeing my canned apples and canned pickled green beans. I did it. I preserved!

 Here’s what I took away from this experience: 

  • Read all your directions and make sure you have everything on hand.
  • Make a checklist and go through it before you lid your jars.
  • Check for bubbles and make sure you get them all pushed out before lidding.
  • A wide mouth funnel is your friend. Get one.
  • A jar lifter for pulling hot jars out of boiling water will save your fingers. Note to self: get jar lifter.
  • Don’t use a wet potholder to pull something out of a 400 degree oven. Not that I did that or anything.
  • A water bath canner will steam for a long time after you turn the heat off.
  • Sticking your hand into the water where you’ve been heating your jars and lids may not be advisable. Also not something that I did.
  • Resist the urge to play with your jars after you pull them out of the canner.
  • Popping is a good thing.
  • Canned botulism = bad. If it smells funny or you’re not sure about something, don’t eat it. This is actually serious this time. Public service announcement. Don’t kill yourself.
  • There is something inherently satisfying about making something shelf stable. Independence!

With a few successes and a few kung faux pas under my belt, I can safely say that I will try canning again. It is a lot of work, but what else are you going to do over the weekend that you can enjoy for months to come?

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Duck Again

Just a follow up to my duck post a while back. My first attempt at the duck (which I proudly helped process right on the farm) was roasting it in the oven. It tasted great if you were willing to chew it for a couple of hours. Since we were not willing to do that, I tried it this time in the crock pot.

First I sliced up some white potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic (all local, either CSA or farmer’s market scores) and covered the bottom of the crock with the slices, then poured on about half a cup of chicken stock (home made, of course!). I put the duck on top and it wouldn’t fit. I cut off as much of the neck as I could, rearranged the veggies and tried again. It barely fit. (Whew!) I cut up some organic carrots (sadly store bought) and stuck them around the open spaces. I topped off the bird with some Italian seasoning and let it go in the crock on low for about eight hours.

duck crockpot1This did the trick! The duck was so tender that it literally fell off the bones. I couldn’t even get it into a dish without it falling to pieces! It was super yummy, flavorful and the veggies complemented it well. It did tend to start drying out when the skin was pulled off of it so we left the skin on as long as possible. Next time I’ll cover it with some aluminum foil right away to help retain moisture.

Test subject Bill loved it. He comments that cold duck leftovers are also delicious when dipped in Worcestershire sauce. Sweeeet!

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Asian Pear A La Mode

I’ve never really been a huge fan of Asian pears. They’re not quite a pear, they’re not quite an apple…just never really knew what to do with them. So I wasn’t particularly excited to get one in my CSA box. It sat on the counter for a while and I began to worry that it would die there.

pear saute1But suddenly…inspiration! I got an idea from a Nourishing Traditions recipe (I think, I was reading several cookbooks) and grabbed that pear, rescuing it from the certain doom of decay. I diced it up and sauteed it in some butter and cinnamon until it was starting to get soft and a little golden brown and delicious on the edges.

Rising out a fancy dessert dish (I rarely make desserts, so the dishes tend to sit around and get dusty), I filled it with the warm pear and pear dessert1put a small scoop of my homemade vanilla ice cream on it. For good measure, I topped the ice cream with two frozen raspberries (farmer’s market haul from last month, yeah) and dusted it with a little more cinnamon. It was a work of art!

When I tasted it, at first it didn’t seem sweet enough and I was tempted to put honey on it.  But as the ice cream started to melt and mix in with the pear it was plenty sweet and I’m glad I didn’t add anything. I am still not an Asian pear fan, but this was a satisfying and beautiful dessert. Next time one of those fruits graces my CSA box I won’t be too disappointed.

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The Spice is Right

Apparently I’ve been on a spicy roll lately. I was quietly perusing the farmer’s market and came across these fantastic looking poblanos. I had to have some. Suddenly all my weekend cooking plans were completely rearranged, all due to some chiles.

Poblanos just beg to be stuffed, and these ones were no different. Earlier this year I did some shrimp stuffed poblanos and they turned out well, so I decided to take that idea and run with it.

But before I could do anything else, there was another urgent matter. Salsa. I chopped and diced and threw together my CSA tomatoes, farmer’s market sweet onions, garlic and jalapeno, and some cilantro, lime and salt n pepper. I took several bites to make sure it was good.

For the poblanos, I roasted them in the oven, turning often until they were mostly blackened, then steamed them in a covered dish. I know that the skin is just supposed to peel off effortlessly, but peeling these poblanos made me remember why it’s been eight months since I did this. It really is a pain in butt. Then you have to carefully open it and pull out the seeds. This would be easier if you have slave labor (aka children) to help. The kitties told me I was on my own.

pork stuffed poblanos1For the stuffing, I cooked up some Nature’s Harmony Farm ground pork and seasoned it with this chipotle seasoning from Whole Foods. I stirred some sour cream and cilatro into it and was suprised at how really fantastic it tasted. I lined my baking dish with a bunch of chopped tomatoes that didn’t make it into the salsa and arranged my poblanos onto them, stuffing them with as much pork mix as they could take. A sprinkle of mexican cheese went on and into the oven they went until the cheese was all nicely browned and bubbly.

pork stuffed poblanos plate1They were delicious, if I do say so myself. Spicy and savory, with the extra kick of the salsa on the side…mmmm…. Test subject Bill went back for seconds.

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I have some pickles calling from the fridge, reminding me to enjoy the fruits of my labor…hope you do, too.

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