Archive for the ‘Canning’ Category

Clearly, the fall school semester has begun. That’s when I practically drop off the face of the earth. But I’m surfacing this morning to reminisce about the fun I had with tomatoes this summer. Although it almost still feels like summer in Georgia…kind of annoying as I’m ready to start wearing sweaters! I was actually still able to get tomatoes at the farmer’s market two weeks ago…amazing! Anyway, here is a happy memory from this summer’s tomato haul:

When you make every effort to eat seasonally, tomatoes are one of those things that are truly treasured. A fresh, homegrown tomato in the heat of summer is a special thing. But I don’t want to forget that in the middle of winter. “Fresh” grocery store tomatoes are a sad, tasteless waste of money. Enter the water bath canner and 24 pounds of tomatoes I picked up from a happy vendor at the farmer’s market.

As I was picking through the tomatoes for my canning projects I heard another market customer come up to the farmer and tell them in a hushed voice about how they had the best tomatoes in the whole market. This is the kind of stuff you want to hear when you’re preparing to drop sixty bucks on ‘maters. The farmer replied that it must be the soil…or the love they have for growing. Ah. That’s something you can never buy at Publix.

When I got home I had several ideas for what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make the garlic-basil tomato sauce from the Ball website. But how much did I want to make? And there was something else nagging at me…

I recently pronounced my disgust for jarred salsa. Yet when I was home in Iowa for my niece’s wedding in July my sister in law provided me with a taste of a jar of her home canned salsa and it was good enough for me to ask for her recipe. Perhaps I was too quick to judge. Maybe I shouldn’t condemn all jarred salsa until I have tried my own…

So I ended up with three different salsa recipes. Janet’s recipe, one from the Ball website, and one from Cooks.com. It was going to be a salsa brawl to the finish, and a really really long weekend in the kitchen. I had pickled jalapenos to can as well.

Basil garlic tomato sauce/soup.Tasty!

The tomato sauce turned out delicious, but very thin. Next time I may strain the tomatoes a good bit. Or just eat it as soup…it bares a fair resemblance to my tomato-basil soup.

The three salsa recipes smelled fantastic cooking away on the stove prior to filling the hot jars. Only the Ball recipe called for cilantro, one of the ingredients I feel a good salsa needs to have. But after tasting Janet’s cilantro-free salsa I am in a bit of a quandary as to whether it really is a requirement.



Janet’s Salsa

5 cups tomatoes

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1 large onion

1 banana pepper (optional)

½ cup vinegar

¼ cup tomato paste

1 T sugar

2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 T salt

1 tsp garlic salt

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for one hour. Pour into hot jars and process for 30 minutes.

I used about four pounds of tomatoes for this and it yielded six half-pint jars. I did not use banana pepper but did use two large and one small jalapeno peppers. (Later I made the same recipe again but added fresh garlic to the mix. I am incapable of leaving anything alone.)

At first I thought the addition of tomato paste was really odd, but as things got cooking and I saw how liquidy all the salsas were I understood, and I actually ended up adding it to both other salsa recipes otherwise they would have been soup instead of dip. Next time I am definitely being more cautious about how much juice I allow to make it into the pot.

For the pickled jalapenos, I didn’t have any carrots to include so I used some of the multi-colored bell peppers I got at the farmer’s market instead. Hopefully that doesn’t wreck the recipe. I plan to include these pickled peppers in black bean soups and such this winter.

I was excited to be able to use almost exclusively items from my farmer’s market for these recipes. The tomatoes, of course, but also the red and green peppers, the jalapenos, and the onions. Only the cilantro and seasonings were store-bought.

Canned pickled jalapenos, salsas and tomato sauce.

At the end of the weekend, I had six pints of garlic-basil tomato sauce, six half-pints of Janet’s salsa, six pints of pickled jalapenos and onions, and three pints each of the Ball salsa and Cooks salsa. I’m still a big fan of Janet’s salsa, but the Cook’s salsa kind of caught me by suprise. It was the one I was least excited about but turned out to be the most interesting (and a little hotter than the other two). Test subject Bill likes the Ball recipe with the cilantro. A suprising success story for all three recipes, and I stand corrected. I will eat jarred salsa if it’s home made!

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Before I forget – announcements! I participated in a blog hop this week! Check us out here: http://spaininiowa.blogspot.com/2010/07/simple-lives-thursday-first-edition.html

Also, I’m on Facebook! Like me – I’m nice! http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kitchen-Kung-Fu/117815484922486

Now for our regularly scheduled blog:

A few months back I bought a pressure canner. I know a lot of traditional foodies are down on pressure canning, but here’s my position: I can’t rely 100% on electricity and feel secure. I desire shelf-stable, safe food that I prepared in the event of an emergency. I certainly would not recommend relying on pressure canned foods on a regular basis throughout the year. It’s more of a personal survival and independence thing.

My All-American Pressure Canner (AKA the Tank)

That said, pressure canners are a bit intimidating in the kitchen. First, they are heavy and huge. Second, they have ginormous warning labels all over them. Not the kind of thing that gives the average cook warm fuzzies. I bought this one because it had a higher capacity (fewer loads needed) and it’s made in the USA (go USA!). Let me tell you, this thing is built like a TANK. If this doesn’t last forever nothing will. I also like that it has a metal-to-metal seal that you lubricate with petroleum jelly instead of gaskets that can and will go bad, requiring replacement. Additionally, the safety features are impeccable. You shift the lid to lock, then there are six wing nuts that hold the lid securely to the base. That baby’s not going anywhere. There’s some really good info on pressure canning and pressure canners here. I recommend doing some homework before buying one, as they are pricey.

My test run for the pressure canner was green beans. I picked up a load at the farmer’s market and washed and cut the beans. After spending about an hour reading the user’s manual for the canner (which I found poorly organized and required reading parts several times to determine which steps came when), I was ready to roll. I washed the canner and lubricated the seal and the screws. I packed the beans in hot pint jars and poured boiling water over them, checked for air pockets, and lidded.

Vent on the pressure canner (without the weight)

Here’s a big difference between pressure canning and water bath canning. When you put jars into a water bath canner, there’s water in it already going to town boiling. When you put jars into a pressure canner, it’s cold. There’s about an inch and a half of water (for my canner)  at the bottom of the base. It’s a bit…anticlimactic. Don’t worry though, there’s more action to come.

I settled seven pint jars on the rack inside the canner and secured the lid. The jars were to be processed at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. However, the first step was to vent steam. This means the canner has to heat up. This took FOREVER, but finally I could see steam coming out of the vent and started counting – seven minutes as per the owner’s manual. Then I put the weight on the vent set for ten pounds. You don’t start counting the processing time until the weight begins to jiggle. This, also, takes forever (at least for my enormous caldron).

I found it was easier to watch for steam with the black background of the handle for contrast.

The weight is supposed to do its jiggling venting dance one to four times per minute. I found it difficult to maintain that. Either the heat was too high and it jiggled all the time or it was too low and it didn’t jiggle at all. Oh well. The pressure gauge showed constant at ten pounds of pressure the whole time so I wasn’t too worried.

Once processing time was up, I cut the heat and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the pressure gauge was showing zero pounds of pressure. I removed the weight from the vent and allowed the rest of the steam/pressure to release, then removed the lid. Note: it is hotter than hell. Do not allow it to touch any body part EVER. Not that I did that or anything.

My jars of green beans inside were intact. They had not exploded, disintegrated or otherwise become unusable during their time under pressure. The test run was counted as a success.

The next day it was time for the big guns. Beef stew. Making a protein like beef shelf stable is no laughing matter. I joked about botulism last year when I canned, but for real – I don’t want to kill myself or others in an attempt to be independent. I carefully followed the exact instructions for preparing the stew as per this recipe. I would hope Ball knows what they are doing when it comes to canning. (Ok I added garlic. Who can make soup without garlic??)

I followed the same procedure as the day before. This time the jars processed for an hour and fifteen minutes. Actually probably longer given how long it takes the thing to heat up and cool down, but I followed the instructions precisely for my first time through. I can play with timing later.

Pressure canned green beans and beef stew; water bath canned marinara sauce

While the stew pressure canned I was busy making marinara to water bath can. I made it last year and test subject Bill has been talking about it ever since. I had enough tomatoes to make twice as many this year. Good thing, because it is time consuming to make! Darn tasty, though…mmm, need to do some fried mozzarella to go with it…

While the marinara cooked down the stew finished processing and cooling. And the lid promptly became stuck. The manual had talked about the possibility of a vacuum forming and how to remedy it – by prying the lid open with a screwdriver. However, test subject Bill came to the rescue with the claw end of a hammer. Worked like a charm!

My weekend's work

By the end of the day, I had fourteen cans of beef stew, seven cans of green beans and seven cans of marinara. It was a long but productive weekend. And if the power were to go out…we would be ok for a while due to our own diligence and foresight. After all, who wants to eat factory processed crap even in the midst of an emergency? We have standards!

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Pickled shrimp: sounds scarier than it really is.

My pickle frenzy resulted in a large variety of pickled items in my fridge. They are kind of taking over. So far I’ve pickled asparagus, butternut squash and pumpkin, shrimp, beets, mushrooms, broccoli, apples and onions. Yes, I pickled shrimp. The recipe calls for white peppercorns but I didn’t have any so I used black…I can see why she said to use white peppercorns. The black ones kind of look like…eyes…

Anyway, here are my findings:

Apple and Onion: I made this one too early. This really needs to go with Thanksgiving dinner. The cinnamon mixed with the vinegar is fun and suprising. I could totally see this going with any kind of a roast.

Asparagus: kind of disappointed in this one. I was hoping that it would be more like the dilled green beans. But it’s not. Somewhat blah. If I preserve asparagus again, it will be a straight up canning job.

Pickle buffet: broccoli in the ramekin and mushrooms in the jar. Shrimp, asparagus and butternut squash on the plate.

Beets: as I mentioned before, I really liked these ones. The Morrocan-style spices really make it interesting. Strong, though. You can’t just sit and munch mindlessly. Not that I ever do that.

Broccoli: this one is pretty good. Refreshing, a nice addition to a salad or a rich main course where the fat needs to be cut a little bit. I like it.

Butternut squash and pumpkin: Not bad on this one. Definately a better use than throwing out the pumpkin, which is what would have happened to it otherwise. Even test subject Bill liked this one. Sweet and sour…I should try it on ice cream. Wait a minute. Pickles and ice cream….NOOOOOO!

Mushrooms: these are very good – I would put these on a small plates buffet. Along side cheese and olives and crusty bread…oh yeah.

Apple and onion pickle. Looks rather refined, doesn't it?

Shrimp: they were not as creepy as I was thinking they would be. These could be little snackies to go along with the mushrooms in the above scenario. They actually kind of taste like the cooked shrimp they use at the sushi bar. Not creepy or freaky at all, even though it is pickled seafood. Rather messy to eat though.

All of these pickles were vinegar-based pickles. However, thanks to my successful kimchi experience I’ve been playing around with fermentation. Look for an upcoming post on dill pickles and sauerkraut. I have been absolutely devouring Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Wow! The world of microorganisms…who knew! And with the recent addition of a Gairtopf fermentation crock I’ll be a level 7 food freak in no time at all.

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If some of my Facebook feedback is any indicator, pickles (other than the boring dills you put on your burger) have gotten a bad rap. The mere mention of pickled beets is enough to send people running for cover. Even regular old pickled cucumbers are anathema if they are any different than Vlasic. How did the ancient and historically important pickle become a target of such ire? Are there some really vile pickle makers out there destroying pickling’s reputation?

If so, I am here to right the wrongs. I will be the pickle super hero. Armed with my new book, I will bring pickles back to their rightful place: front and center, part of everyone’s diet!

Ok, maybe not. But I will be pickling everything I can get my hands on. Pickling is an important method of preserving. You can do shelf stable vegetables in a waterbath canner if they are pickled without fear of the dreaded botulism. You can pickle just about any veggie (an some fruits). And I intend to pickle as many as I can get my hands on.

I recently pickled some asparagus, a vegetable indicative of spring if ever there was one. Since I canned them, and I hate to just can one thing when I’ve got that ginormous pot of boiling water going, I decided to do another pickle, too. Pumpkin and butternut squash.

Pumpkin and butternut squash pickled and cannedI know what you’re thinking. Well, maybe not. I try not to use those words. But seriously, who pickles pumpkin? Or butternut squash? Well, apparently Linda Ziedrich, author of the Joy of Pickling does. Using her recipe for a sweet and sour pickle brine I cut up the remaining pumpkin and butternut squash left on my counter and canned the little suckers. I’m a little nervous about this one. I mean, especially the pumpkin. It’s been on my counter for a long time. I can’t even remember when I got it. I would venture to say…well…months. But it was still hard on the outside. The squash, too. The insides were a little dry but they smelled ok.

Ok, I’m justifying. But it was either pickle them or throw them away, and how I hate to toss good food. So there are three pints of pickled pumpkin and squash sitting in my pantry waiting patiently three weeks until they are supposed to be fit to eat. I’ll report back.

Pickling broccoliSince I was up to my ears in cool pickle recipes, I went a little hog wild. I pickled a LOT of stuff as refrigerator or “quick” pickles. I pickled broccoli. I pickled apples and onions (yes, together.) I pickled beets in a kind of Moroccan style brine with toasted cumin seeds (which by the way I found only at one Whole Foods that had them in bins where you could buy in bulk – or in my case by the table spoon).

Now, the beets are good. Very unique and tart Pickling apple and onionand kind of savory thanks to the cumin. I like ‘em. Those are the only ones so far that are ready. The rest of them I have to wait at least a week before eating. A WEEK. Rude. Now that’s a pickle. I want to eat them, but I don’t want to have them before their prime and add to the anti-pickle bias with a bad pickle. So I’ll be patient. I’ll stare at them a minute each day and wonder how they’re coming along with their bad selves, pickling away in the dark recesses of my Maytag. This is going to be a long week or two.

Pickling beets

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I’m starting to identify the seasons through fruits and vegetables. In late winter and early spring I’m all about the great greens that show up in my CSA box. As the season progresses more and more veggies start showing up – radishes, beets, etc. But the veggie I was really looking forward to this spring was the asparagus!

In addition to tasting fantastic, looking cool and being a nutritional powerhouse, asparagus is flexible. It also has that bizarre way of making certain things smell funny…but we won’t go there. Asparagus can be roasted, grilled, blanched, boiled. It can be dipped, drizzled, chopped or pureed into soup. It can be pickled, eaten cooked or eaten raw.

I greedily grabbed asparagus at the farmer’s market. I really did. It was embarrassing. Last Saturday I cleaned out one of the vendor’s entire stock except for one bunch (and that was at 8 a.m.) You don’t want to come behind me at the farmer’s market if you want to get anything.

Anyway…so I had a total of about seven pounds of asparagus over a week and half period. First I blanched and ate with butter and also added some to salads. But that was too boring. I had to branch out and try something new.

In my new favorite cookbook, the Joy of Pickling, there is a recipe for pickled asparagus. It calls for tall 12 oz. jars for canning. If I’d planned in advance, I could have gotten some here. But of course I didn’t so I ended up using pint jars. Functional, but not as easy and definitely not as impressive looking.

Since I’m a pro now at canning (third time’s a charm) I had no issues facing my waterbath canner for the canning task. Note the presence of the jar lifter. Santa was good to Kung Fu this year. It is still exciting to hear the pop, pop, pop after pulling the jars from the water. The jars are like little cheerleaders – “You did it! You so don’t suck!” Not like the fish from last year, who hated me.

Now it’s the long wait – I have to hold off a total of three weeks after canning to taste the asparagus and see if my little cheerleaders were right. Argh! That’s like telling a kid Christmas has been delayed due to technical difficulties.

asparagus simmering in broth

Meanwhile, back at the stove, I still had two pounds of asparagus and I knew exactly what to do with them. A few years ago I discovered this cream of asparagus soup recipe in an old cookbook, quite similar to this one. It sounds a little funky but man, oh man is it ever good! Anyone who says they don’t like asparagus should try this.

In the recipe I use, it calls for onions instead of leeks (although leeks is an intriguing idea). I sauté the onion in the butter, then add two pounds of cut up asparagus and my homemade chicken stock and fresh basil. It simmers for about a half hour, then pureed within an inch of its life. Straining it through a colander is a good idea, but use one that’s not too fine otherwise it will sit there and hold the soup rather than strain it (I know). A food mill would probably work well too but I haven’t’ tried that. Anyway, if you don’t strain it at all you end up with little woody pieces randomly in your soup. Kind of messes up the elegant effect. And when you’re serving heads of state, high class foodies or your husband’s boss you just don’t want to kung faux pas the elegance.

Asparagus is a great vegetable. There are so many…I’m really excited about the upcoming green bean crop. I know. I’m pretty lame.

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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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