Posts Tagged ‘canning foods’

I can’t take any credit for today’s recipe, except that I had the good sense to latch onto it when I spotted it.  Whether it’s the beginning or the end of the tomato harvest, there’s always a batch of tomatoes that isn’t big enough to can, but too many to eat fresh, and they’re too good to let sit around and spoil.  The solution?  Fire up your oven (that’s the downside), pull out your meat roaster or your broiler’s drip pan or any other heavy, deep pan (you can use a glass cake pan, but the oven temp is high and I get nervous with modern glass bakeware and high temperatures.)

And then make sure you’ve got a food mill.  Don’t have one? Borrow one from your grandma or your elderly neighbor.  Or buy one if you can find one (my food mill hunt took me all over Murfreesboro and Smyrna before I found one on the back shelf of an off-the-beaten-path  hardware store where they had to wipe the dust off the box to read the price tag.)  Hmmm, now that I think about it, you might want to round up the food mill first!

And the best part of all? No boiling water, peeling or slipping the skins or coring.  You just coarsely chop them and roast them.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

2 quarts (give or take) ripe tomatoes; washed and stems removed, then quartered
2-3 onions, coarsely chopped
4-5 peppers (sweet or hot), coarsely chopped (leave the seeds for heat; remove for less heat)
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves, diced) or more to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 or 3 teaspoons of basil, oregano or mixed Italian herbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 450.  Place all vegetables in roasting pan; drizzle with olive oil (and herbs if desired); gently toss to coat.  Place in oven and roast for 2-3 hours or until the top is blackened and any juices have become thick and caramelized.  Allow to cool completely (I often throw mine in the refrigerator overnight to chill), then run through the food mill, about a cup at a time.  The roasted sauce can be placed in heavy ziplock bags or other plastic freezer containers  – I ration mine into 6-ounce servings, which is the perfect amount to make two homemade pizzas; freeze.  Makes approximately 6, 6-ounce servings but your mileage may vary depending on the size and juicy-ness of your tomatoes and the volume of other vegetables you added.

The concentrated sauce can be used as the base for traditional Bolognese, marinara or vodka spaghetti sauce.  It will need to be mixed with fresh or canned diced tomatoes, cream (optional) and seasoned with additional herbs and salt and pepper to taste.  I use my sauce as-is as a pizza sauce and it gets rave reviews every time.  If I could just find the perfect pizza crust recipe, I could take the pizza guys out of my cell phone’s directory!

Happy cooking and canning!

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Last Saturday, I had Mr. Official swing by a nearby produce stand and I picked up a half-bushel box of canning tomatoes, plus onions and jalapenos and bell peppers.

I then stood for a long couple of hours and skinned and diced two gallons of maters, along with a the other ingredients to make my one-and-only batch of salsa for the year – 16 pints plus a half-pint left over.

I’ve had this recipe for several years now, and I’ve adapted it slightly to suit our tastes. If you like a chunky, “picante” (spicy, you choose the heat) salsa, this is a good one to fill in for store-bought salsa. It isn’t expensive to make (not counting jars and lids, my guesstimate is around $1 per pint), but it is time-consuming to make. Give yourself at least 4-5 hours, more if skinning and seeding tomatoes isn’t second-nature to you (there’s a bit of a learning curve involved.) And be prepared for a major kitchen wipedown when you’re done, because those tomato seeds and the juice will squirt everywhere. It is a necessary step to avoid watery salsa, though.  

Chunky Salsa Recipe

2 gallons (40-50 large) ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced
10-12 peppers (you can use any combination of bell, banana, habanero, or jalapeno), diced (remove seeds from bells; seeding any other peppers is optional; seeds typically equal more heat)
4-6 onions, diced
4 stalks celery, diced (optional – I left it out this year, but it is good)
6 cloves garlic, minced or 6 tablespoons prepared garlic; more if you like a stronger garlic flavor)
3/4 cup lemon or lime juice
3/4 cup plain white vinegar
2 tablespoons canning or Kosher salt
24 ounces tomato paste
diced fresh cilantro (at least a handful)

If you have paste or Roma tomatoes, you can use up to 1/3 of them for the tomatoes in this recipe. For other tomatoes, be sure to squeeze each skinned and cored tomato to remove as much of the juice and seeds as you can. Having a large deep bowl or bucket for the skins and seeds makes cleanup easier (you definitely don’t want tomato skins in your garbage disposal, and you probably don’t want all those seeds down there, either.)

Dice the vegetables and place all ingredients except cilantro in a large non-reactive stockpot or kettle (note the size of mine in the photo to the left – this is not a job for a 3-quart saucepan or 6-quart pot.)  Bring to a boil and let boil for 5-10 minutes; skim off any scum or foam. Add cilantro and remove from heat. Stir through.

Have at least 16* hot, sterilized pint jars ready (I run mine through the sanitizing cycle of my dishwasher, then dip each in a large kettle of boiling water just before using.)  Have clean hot lids (flats and rings the same size as your jar openings) ready, along with jar tongs, a ladle, funnel** and a roll of paper towels for wiping the rims.

Using the ladle and funnel, fill each jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rim with a clean moist paper towel, place flat lid on top and screw down the ring firmly.

When all the salsa is in jars, place jars in canning kettle or other large kettle (you can place a tea towel on the bottom of a large stockpot to cushion the bottom of the jars if you don’t have a kettle or you want to augment yours – you can get 7 jars in a typical kettle.

Cover by an inch of water and bring to a boil. When it begins to boil, set timer for 30 minutes and turn down slightly but maintain a rolling boil. Remove jars from kettle after processing and place on a clean dry towel in a draft-free locations. Make sure they are completely cool and all the lids have sucked down before storing. (You will hear them “pop” as they vacuum seal themselves during the gradual cooling process.)

Use within one year.  Makes 14-16 pints

*If possible, always have a few extra clean, sterilized jars and lids on hand. Sometimes the recipe will make a little more because the tomatoes were a little meatier or plumper than other years. If you are buying new jars just for this recipe, and don’t have any extras, be sure to have a plastic container at the ready for any leftovers that won’t fit in a jar.

Promptly refrigerate and use within a week or so – it won’t last as long as commercial salsa.  That holds true for when you open a jar later on:  always try to use an open jar within a few days.  You can throw the extra in some creamy refried bean dip or use it instead of diced tomatoes in your next batch of spaghetti.  It’ll add a little unexpected zip!

**If you’re buying a canning funnel for the first time, choose the one for the smaller jars.  It will work with the wide-mouth jars, too.  If you buy the bigger size, it won’t slide in jars with the smaller opening.  Having both is nice, but you really only need the smaller one.

Happy canning!

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For years, I’ve attempted to make fiery hot salsa.  I graduated from jalapenos to serranos to habaneros, but somewhere in the cooking process, the heat dissipates.  I’ve gotten mildly hot but never tongue-searing, sweat-beads-on-forehead salsa.

This year might be the year.  The jalapenos are hot, and they stay hot through processing. Good thing I have a stash of disposable gloves to don when I’m chopping and seeding, or getting out my contacts at night would be extremely hazardous and painful.

It may be the incessant heat we’ve endured this summer – it also seems to have encouraged the  local figs to produce in greater abundance than I have ever seen.

My latest peppery concoction is pepper-onion relish, which I made last week.

A little background on pepper-onion relish.  Harry & David’s made this stuff and – as a good friend showed me – if you mix it with cream cheese (1 part relish to two parts cream cheese) you have an incredibly easy and tasty dip.  Unfortunately, the company filed for bankruptcy last March and all the local stores have shut down.  Their website doesn’t offer much hope for ordering this product online.  (Not to mention, it was about $4 or $5 a jar in the store; if you had to add shipping & handling….youch!)

I’ve also tried Robert Rothschild’s brand:

and Dickinson’s:

and they are passably similar in taste (hey, you mix enough cream cheese into anything and it will taste good, right?)

But I had my heart and tastebuds set on H&D’s version and it was just not to be.  After sulking a bit, I decided when life tosses you a curve ball, you should take a swing.  So I plucked myself up and went looking for a recipe online.  I found a popular one and adapted it slightly to create my own version of this hot-sweet concoction.  Even better, when I realized I was running low on 8-ounce jars, I found some cute little 4-ounce jelly jars, which is the perfect size for opening and mixing with an 8-ounce block of cream cheese for a quick appetizer for us.  (The commercial jars range from 8.75 to 11.5 ounces. That’s fine if you’re mixing a double or triple batch for a party, but otherwise, I found myself worrying about using the remainder up before it spoiled.)

Since I failed to deliver a recipe-of-the-week last Wednesday, I’ll tee up two this week, starting with this one, because the early taste tests say it’s a keeper.

Sweet-Hot Pepper-Onion Relish

6 tomatoes, seeded and diced (I stick my fingers in and squish most of the juice out. If you have paste or Roma tomatoes, you may not need to do that.  Peel if the skins are tough; I didn’t)
1 large Vidalia, chopped fine
12 medium red bell peppers, seeded cored and diced fine
10 jalapenos, half seeded and diced
5 Anaheim and frying peppers, seeded (you could substitute other hot peppers such as serranos, or add a few more bells depending on your heat tolerance), diced
1 tablespoon canning or Kosher salt
2 cups white vinegar
3 cups sugar
2 (1.75 ounce) packages pectin (I used low-sugar but you could use regular, too)

Place tomatoes and onions in large (5 quart or larger) stainless or glass bowl. Do not use aluminum; plastic or Tupperware may discolor or pick up odors from the onion.

Finely dice and layer all other peppers on top of the onion and tomatoes. (The recipe recommended a food processor to chop everything, but it only took me about half an hour to dice the peppers once they were washed and seeded. Sprinkle with salt and turn to mix and coat (you will be glad you used a bigger bowl for this part 🙂

Let stand for one hour. Drain in a fine sieve or colander (I have a 2-quart mesh colander that worked perfect.)

Place in large heavy kettle or stockpot.  Add vinegar and sugar; stir to mix and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and boil for 40 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Add pectin, stirring well and let boil another 20 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken.  Spoon into hot clean jars and place in water bath. Bring to boil and process for 20 minutes.  Remove to draft-free spot to slowly cool and store in dark closet until use.

Makes 7 pints (or in my case, 8 half-pints and 12 quarter-pints). Estimated cost?  We have a super little produce stand nearby and their red bell peppers were $0.75 each., so all-told, the tab was around $12 for ingredients.  (The new jars set me back more than what I put in them.)  So whether or not Harry & David’s recovers (and I hope they do), I might not need them for this item.

Happy packing!

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If you didn’t grow up in a home where summer fruits and vegetables were canned or preserved, you’re missing a slice of life and history that is worth getting to know.  (For a free peek, scout out the food exhibits at your local county fair.  You’ll see pickled and preserved foods of all kinds.  I bet you’ll do two things:  1) eat some fair food and 2) come away tempted to try your hand at canning…both things are bound to happen.)

If you have children, a family canning session is a great opportunity for everyone to learn some life lessons on self-reliance, economics and food safety.  (And most kids are more willing to try new foods if they had a hand in putting them on the table.)  That’s a combination of incentives that’s hard to beat, and every time you pop open a can of something you created, the lessons are remembered without anyone saying a word.

Canning as food thrift?  Not these days.

But I find myself questioning if I (or anyone else) comes out ahead financially by canning our own produce these days, rather than buying fresh, frozen or canned foodstuffs at the grocery store as we need them.

If our grandparents canned out of necessity, our parents continued to can foods out of habit and frugality.

Do we have a good reason to can food today?   Maybe, but it won’t be because it’s cheaper than a trip down the canned vegetable aisle.

If you have to buy fresh produce to preserve it, brace yourself for sticker shock. And then shop and ask around; if you’re at a roadside stand or farmers market, ask them if they’ve got a box of produce that’s a bit too bruised to display. You can often snag a better deal that way, even if you have to cut out a few bad spots.

If it’s your own produce, it may be cheap, but don’t kid yourself – it wasn’t free.  You had to buy plants or seeds, spend time growing them, applying water, fertilizer, etc., along the way.

The act of preserving your food will cost you something, and not just your time and a few extra dollars on the electric bill to heat the water and cool your kitchen.

The first year of canning is an investment in jars, lids, a kettle and lifters. (Look for used jars at estate sales or Goodwill and borrow a kettle and lifters if you aren’t ready to fork over the cash for all new stuff, but don’t try to can without the proper equipment.)

For those of us with jars and a kettle sitting around, we still have to buy new lids (don’t ever re-use the flat lids, and be cautious of using older ones – even if they’re unused, the rubber seal may be dried out and separate from the metal lid.)  At the risk of sounding whiny, buying new lids isn’t even cheap these days – a box of 10 lids runs about $2 most places.  Even if everything else was bought and paid for in years past, that’s $0.20 per jar before you put one drop of food or liquid in it.

I just don’t think canning can be justified based on the cost savings these days.   Can you rationalize that your food is all-natural, contains fewer preservatives and is better tasting?  Sure.   And those are good reasons to forge ahead if you want to try canning food.

My advice?

1. Identify exactly what foods you know you’ll use, and draw a bulls-eye on items that are pricier to buy in the store. That’s your target zone.

2. For your first year, underestimate what you’ll use up. If you run out in March and wish you had more, make a mental note to double up next year.  Don’t overdo it the first year – you’ll spend too much on produce, jars and equipment, waste more time than you should have spent, and emptying jars of uneaten food leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

3. Stick with things that can be preserved without a pressure canner.  Pickles, along with naturally acidic foods like tomatoes and fruit can be safely preserved in a “water bath” (where you boil the jarred food for a length of time to kill any bacteria and create a vacuum seal in each jar.)  You can safely freeze low-acid foods like sweet corn, peas and beans if that’s what you’re determined to preserve. 

The oven or a dehydrator can be used to make dried jerky, fruit, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.  (Borrow one, or look for a used model on Craigslist or Goodwill.)  If you’re ready to buy a new one, go mid-range and fork over at least $50 or $60 for a model with a decent wattage.  Really nice Excalibur and American Harvester models go for a few hundred; personally, I can deal with a lower-end model for now, and maybe forever.

4. If you want to go all Martha Stewart-ish and make gourmet gift jellies, sauces, etc., just be sure to give them away as planned.  (I’ve done that and then forgotten about them when the holidays rolled around.)

As for me?

The figs were an unexpected gift, and I took full advantage of them.  I’ll do it again, if I can.

Last weekend, I used the new dehydrator to dry peach slices.  Mr. Official wants to carry out his grandparents’ Christmas tradition of making homemade fried pies.  Later on this fall, I’ll get the meat department guys to thin-slice a roast or two and make jerky.  I’l probably dry some herbs as well.

This past weekend, I also filled the roasting pans a few times with tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic for pizza sauce. (You simply let it cook it at 450 until it’s a little charred on top and puree it; the result is way more delicious than the process makes it sound.  I don’t do it because I can’t buy pizza sauce cheaply, but because this yields WAY better sauce than I can buy at any price.  I’m freezing the thick, concentrated sauce in little 8-ounce containers – just the right amount to thaw and spread over a couple nice large pizza crusts. A dearth of homemade tomato sauce is one of the reasons I made very few pizzas last year.  No more excuses – a couple dozen containers are now in the freezer.

I also plan to roast, peel and freeze Anaheim peppers we are growing.  At $1 for a small can, I can justify the time and effort it takes to “pick a peck of peppers” pop them on the grill or under the broiler, slip the skins off and and stash them in my freezer.  We will use them all winter in vegetarian chili, green chili, chiles rellenos, chile cheese dip…well, you get the picture, right?

The remainder of my half-bushel of tomatoes is destined for pepper-onion relish today.  If I find a good deal on another half-bushel later on, I will probably put up some tomatoes with green chiles (like Rotel) and a batch of homemade salsa – as fiery hot as I can make it.  These probably come out about equal to what I’d spend if I bought them in the store, and my family prefers my homemade salsa and Rotel tomatoes if they have a choice.

That’s probably all I will “put up” this year unless I get my hands on some pears for pear honey, or okra for pickles. (I adore hot, spicy pickled okra and it’s an expensive indulgence, not to mention getting harder to find on grocery shelves. But my efforts have never quite panned out in the past.)

I’ll take pictures and give recipes for each of these when the time comes and maybe pass along the canning “bug” to others.

Happy canning,

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A Bounty of Figs

Thank you, author John Boyne for giving the term “flying fig” – and the lack of concern it measures – some historical context. A few years ago, Boyne included the phrase in a novel about the famous mutiny on the British ship, the Bounty, which occurred back in the late 1700s. I can now tell myself the phrase is historically accurate and not just a euphemism for another phrase that is far less polite.

What does any of that have to do with real figs? Why nothing, of course. But I did have a bounty of them drop into my lap this week.

Despite my canning ambiguity this year, I had been mulling over if there was any way I could snag some fresh figs locally (they’re a rare bird around here) and by chance overheard a friend talking about a tree loaded with figs, ripe for the plucking. As luck would have it, the tree’s owner doesn’t give a fig about getting out in this heat and picking them, so my friend/source is welcome to them. And I’m welcome to what he picks as long as I give him back some preserves, including a jar or two as recompense to the tree’s owner. It’s a sweet deal for everyone.

Yesterday morning I started with this – about 3 quarts of figs, washed and stemmed.

It’s a miracle there were any left after I started nibbling on them.

 After a few hours of cooking down (meanwhile I scrubbed and sanitized a dozen jars) and a few minutes of filling, sealing and a quick dip in a hot water bath, I wound up with this pretty array of jars, plus one in the fridge because I misjudged the number of jars needed:

Fig preserves; they’re like sunshine in a jar.

But the nice neat stack of jars comes at a price.  This is the kitchen after the preserves finished their water bath.  Canning is not difficult, but it does take time and it is messy.  Very, very messy.

How many kettles does it take to can?  All of them.

Is it worth it?  Oh yes.  I’m not much of a jam/jelly/preserve fan, but I am looking forward to using these preserves in some upcoming cakes and cookies.  And I’m hopeful I might get another batch or two of figs.   Maybe in a year or two my fig tree will reward me with some figs.  Assuming it survives transplant shock, poor baby.

Happy preserving,

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by Dick Williams, War Food Administration, 1944

I grew up watching my grandmother and my mother “put up” vegetables and fruit every summer.

There’s a certain irony to the timing – just when you think the thermometer’s mercury cannot possibly rise any higher, it’s time to pull out your biggest pots and pans (and kettles and vats) and start boiling stuff.  You boil water to sterilize the jars (unless you’re really progressive and use your dishwasher’s sanitizing cycle); you scald the skins off tomatoes and peaches, you boil the food you’re putting in the jars, and then you boil the filled jars to create a vacuum that will preserve the contents until you open them for use.  Who needs a sauna when your kitchen is full of boiling pots and kettles?

Back in the day, canning and drying was the best and sometimes only way to have fruits and vegetables for eating the rest of the year.  Store-bought produce was limited and expensive, especially when you’re a housewife feeding a house-full on a very limited budget, which was the case with both my grandmother and my mom.

Instinctively, I took up canning when I had my own garden.  I made strawberry preserves in the spring, bought a bushel of local peaches each summer to make preserves and canned peach slices.  I’ve scratched and clawed my way through thorny brambles to pick wild blackberries for preserves and vinegars.  Our old house had muscadine grapes, which do make fabulous jelly.  And sometime in August, jar upon jar of tomatoes, tomatoes with peppers, and salsa would begin to line up proudly on my pantry shelves.

I never bought a pressure canner, so I’ve never ventured into canned corn or beans, although I have frozen corn, beans and fresh-picked blueberries from time to time.  Roasted and peeled green chilies are commonly found in my freezer, too.

But here’s the irony:  our family rarely eats jams, jellies or preserves.  It’s just not our thing.  So I finally realized it made no sense to put up a dozen jars of preserves that I’d wind up dumping out the next season in time to wash the jars and do the same thing all over again.

When we moved from the old house, I tossed several jars of home-preserved jellies and tomatoes and salsa that were of questionable vintage.

And so here I am, at a crossroads.  My pantry is much smaller now but I do have shelf space in the garage.  (It’s where my canning jars are sitting in storage tubs, waiting for me to wash and sterilize and fill them with something.)

The call to can is strong.  And I am thankful I know how to go about it – that could prove to be a handy bit of knowledge if our society ever teeters off its axis and we are forced to revert to the “good old days”  of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

Nesco FD-60 dehydrator

I want my children to have an inkling of how food can be made to last from one harvest to the next.   But does it make sense to preserve batches of stuff if I’m going to eventually throw them away?  Aye, there’s the rub.

A friend recently showed off a bag of dried peach slices she dehydrated with fresh peaches she bought from a local stand. The fruit looked so much more colorful than the commercial dried peaches that it nudged me to buy a dehydrator of my own. It should be here early this week, and once it is, that’s the green light to snag a box of peaches to dry, and a box of tomatoes to roast, puree and freeze.  I guess I’ve answered my own question!

Happy Monday,

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