Canning, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free, Recipes

Apple Time

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The house painting project has taken so much time, there’s been no time for blogging.

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However, I did pick apples today.   My apples are falling!  I would have loved to have left them on the tree a little longer, but between wind, squirrels, raccoons, and birds, they had to be picked. I have the tree about 2/3rds of the way stripped and will finish tomorrow with my grandson’s help. I have nicknamed him Farm Boy, because he does love to garden. And I love to have his help.

If you are picking apples now, when they are still not quite ripe, here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned.

* Twist the apple clockwise (or to the right) to get it to release either from the stem or from the branch. Twisting rather than pulling does far less damage to your tree.

*Sort the apples as you pick them. I pick into a two gallon bucket (because that’s all I can lift when it’s full) and after I’ve filled the bucket, I sort them into separate boxes: a box for any wormy apples, any that have hit the ground, any that have been bird-pecked, and any oddly-shaped apples that won’t go through the peeler cleanly; and a box for “perfect apples,” those that are not bruised or wormy or bird-damaged. This is important because the old adage that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel really is true. When I sort as I pick, I know which apples need to be processed first, and which ones can sit for a while and sweeten up a bit more.  The pic below is of the damaged apples.  These won’t sit long.  I’ll be turning them into apple butter next week.

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*Store the apples that are going to sit for a while in no more than two layers, with plenty of newspaper in between layers to absorb moisture and cushion the fruit. Don’t stack boxes of apples on top of each other unless you can do it without bruising them.

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*Store the apples in the coolest place you can find where mice, squirrels, etc., will not damage them. This can be difficult sometimes. Right now, the only place I have to store my apples is our pump house, and since the temps are heating up again, they will not hold long. Cooler is better, if possible.

I process my bruised, damaged apples first because they will go bad much faster than the perfect apples. I make applesauce and apple butter with those apples. For my apple butter recipe, click on the link above.

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With the perfect apples, I usually make pie filling and dehydrated apples with cinnamon for the grandkids (and even my kids still ask for them!), but this year, it’ll just be dehydrated apples. I have plenty of pie filling left from last year, both canned and frozen. (For the recipe for canned apple pie filling, see below.)

For dehydrated apples, we use a hand-cranked peeler/slicer/corer machine (Dennis always helps me with this part). After slicing the rings in half, I drop the apples into acidulated water (lemon juice or Fruit Fresh added to water) to prevent browning, and I place them on the dehydrator trays and sprinkle them with cinnamon. You can’t keep them from turning brown, and the cinnamon helps disguise the brownness and gives them wonderful flavor. My kids have always loved these, and now my grandkids do too. Just the other day, my daughter was at my house, foraging in the pantry, and came across a bag of my dried apples. She ate half the bag and wanted to take the other half home with her!

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And don’t throw out the peels and cores–make apple scrap vinegar  or apple pectin stock with them.  Click on the link for the how-to.

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I usually make up gallon bags of pie filling for the freezer. I just use the apple pie recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook, and mix up the filling in a bowl (apples, flour or cornstarch—and you can use brown rice flour for this if you are gluten-free, sugar, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, cinnamon and whatever other spices you like).

But last year, a friend, Suzanne Lepowski, shared a canned apple pie filling recipe with me which I altered because I don’t can with cornstarch or Clear Jel (unsafe with the former and too expensive with the latter), and it worked perfectly. One quart jar isn’t enough for a 9-inch pie, but works fine with an 8-inch pie. If you want to make 9-inch pies, can both quarts and pints. One of each will fill a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. All you have to do is add a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, or ¼ cup flour, or brown rice flour if you’re gluten-free, to the contents of the jar, and then put it in your unbaked pastry shell. The apples are tender, and the pie is delicious. Thanks, Suzanne!

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Canned apple pie filling (no thickener)

6 pounds apples (About 20-25 medium apples:  amounts to about 5 qts. cored, peeled, sliced.  This will make about 3 quart jars of pie filling.)

Ball Fruit Fresh (or several tablespoons of lemon juice)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (and I add 1/2 teaspoon allspice because I like it in my pie filling)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel, core, and slice apples.  Add apples to water with Fruit Fresh according to directions on Fruit Fresh jar, or add several tablespoons of lemon juice to a large bowl of water. Combine sugar and spices in large pan. Rinse and drain apples.   Stir apples into sugar and spice mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until boiling.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot, sterilized quart or pint jars, leaving 1 inch head space, place lid and cap, and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, adjusting for altitude according to altitude chart.

I hope you are able to leave your apples on the tree long enough to let them be kissed by frost.  It makes them sweeter.  But if, like me, you are working with apples now, I hope you enjoy these recipes.  We do.

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Canning, Side dishes, Uncategorized

Dilly Beans and Pickled Beets

Update 8/5/15:  I had a question from Lisa recently about why her dilly beans might have turned out mushy.  It occurred to me that a word or three about the size of the beans might be appropriate to the post, and I have a picture to illustrate.  In the picture, the bean to the left is too big.  It will be tough if “dillied.”  A bean this size can be pressure-canned or cooked for a while with ham or bacon and onion or garlic, and it will taste great.  But I would not freeze it or “dilly” it.  The bean in the middle is too small.  You can dilly a bean this size if you wish, and I sometimes fill in the little spaces in the jar with beans this size, but they can over-process quickly.  I would not pressure-can a bean this size, because it will be mushy, but this size is perfect for freezing (you only blanch beans for 3 minutes when freezing).  The bean on the right is just right! (Sound familiar?)  This bean is about the thickness of a pencil (good old #2 like we used in school), and will not get mushy in the jar with a 10-15 minute processing time.  It’s also the perfect size for the tall, 12 oz. jelly jars I like to use for dilly beans.  I hope this is helpful.

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My green beans are coming on, and my first preservation priority with green beans is a pickle. My two favorite pickles are beets (which I canned a couple of weeks ago) and dilly beans, which I canned just a few days ago. My recipes for both are a bit different from most of the ones you see in canning books and online.

Most of the dilly bean recipes call for cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper. But a few years ago, a good friend of mine, Chris, let me taste her dilly beans with jalapeno peppers, and I was hooked. In a further modification of my own, I began to use serrano peppers instead of jalapenos. For one thing, they’re just a bit spicier, and for another, they take up a lot less room in the jar than jalapenos, therefore leaving more space for the beans.

I’ve also modified my pickled beet recipe, sort of merging two recipes to create a flavor I like better than either of the originals. So here you go—my two favorite pickles.

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Spicy Dilly Beans

2 lbs. washed, fresh green beans, trimmed on blossom end to fit jar size

4 Serrano peppers, washed, stems trimmed

4 cloves garlic

4 heads fresh green dill or 4 teaspoons dried dill seeds

2 ½ cups water

2 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)

¼ cup pickling/canning salt

Sterilize clean pint or 12 oz. jars in boiling water bath canner for 10 min. Pour boiling water over jar flats, keep hot. Trim stems on peppers back to bright green. With tip of sharp knife, cut two small slits in each pepper, making sure to get all the way into the inner cavity with the knife. Fill hot jars with green beans, making sure that beans fit all the way down inside jar and come up no higher than ¼ inch below lip of jar. Leave room for one garlic clove and one serrano pepper, and the dill, in each jar. If using dried dill seeds, use 1 teaspoon per jar. Bring water, vinegar, and salt to boil, pour boiling brine over beans to within ¼ inch of tops of jars. Wipe rims with clean, damp cloth or paper towel, position jar flats, close with rings, and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (add processing time according to altitude chart, if needed). Remove from canner and let cool at least 12 hours before testing seals. Any jars which don’t seal may be stored in the refrigerator for a month, then eaten. This recipe makes about four pint jars or five 12 oz. jars.

Notes: Never let brine continue to boil while filling jars. This may affect acidity levels in the brine and could cause a spoilage problem. Fill jars, and when you’re almost done, turn the heat on your brine mix up high to bring it to the boil.

For canning, make sure the vinegar you are using is 5% acidity. I ran across some white vinegar not long ago that was 4% acidity, and it cannot be used for canning. You may use white or apple cider vinegar for this recipe, but be aware that most white vinegar is made from corn, and nearly all corn these days is both genetically-modified and sprayed with pesticides. I use apple cider vinegar because while apples are sprayed, at least I’m not using a GMO. Besides, I like the flavor.

If you have to trim your beans quite a bit to make them fit the jars, there are a couple of things you can do with the trimmings. Of course, you can cook those trimmings up for dinner (I like them with a little bacon and onion). Or, you can put the short pieces (minus the very blossom end tip), into a separate jar and treat them just like the long dilly beans. Then, those short pieces can be added to salads or chopped for tuna salad. There’s no need to throw them away!

I like to use the tall, 12 oz. jelly jars for dilly beans because I don’t have to trim quite as much off the beans to make them fit.

And a final note on peppers: Serranos are readily available, usually right alongside jalapenos, in your market. I can nearly always find them at Grocery Outlet even in the winter time, grown in California.  They are one of my favorite peppers to grow in our short growing season here, good in salsa and about anything else you’d want to use a hot pepper in.

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Pickled Beets

3 quarts peeled, cooked, small beets (see below for how to cook and peel beets for this recipe)

1 ¾ cups sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 ½ teaspoons pickling/canning salt

3 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)

1 ½ cups water

How to cook and peel beets: Beets must be scrubbed free of any dirt or small stones that like to cling to the roots. (I’ve found that pulling my beets in the evening and letting them soak in cold water all night makes it easier to clean them). Leave the tap roots on, and trim leaves and stems, leaving two inches. (This prevents the beets from bleeding as much color into the water when they are cooking.) Place beets in large pot and cover with boiling water. Bring to boil and cover, reducing heat to medium. Cook beets until tender, and the only way to know they’re tender is to stab them with a fork, but try not to stab them until you’re pretty sure they’re tender, as this releases their color and juice into the water. Small beets take about 20 minutes to get tender, larger beets can take up to 45 minutes. Remove beets from cooking water to colander; let beets drain and cool to touch before trying to peel them. To peel beets: with a sharp paring knife, slice off the top, taking off stems, and then scrape knife down toward the root. If the beet is fully cooked, the skin will come right off. The skin of the beet is dull when cooked; the flesh of the beet will be shiny. It helps to have a damp paper towel handy to wipe off beets after peeling. Cut off tap roots. If using small beets, cut into quarters. If using large beets, cut into 1 ½ inch chunks or quarter and slice.

Pickling Directions:

In large saucepan, combine sugar, water, vinegar, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, peppercorns, and salt, bring to simmer, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove cinnamon. Bring liquid to boiling before pouring over beets in jars.

Pack cooked, peeled, cut beets into clean, hot pint or half-pint jars, leaving ¼ inch head space at top of jar. Cover beets with boiling brine (include allspice berries and peppercorns), leaving ¼ inch head space. Cap with hot flats and rings, and process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes (adjust processing time as needed for high altitudes). Cool for at least 12 hours before testing seals. Any jar which doesn’t seal may be stored in the refrigerator for a month, then eaten.

Notes: I use beets of all sizes, however they come out of my garden, but I like the smaller beets, up to about 2 inches in diameter, best for pickling. They only need to be cut into quarters. I often use larger beets for this if that’s what I have, but they have to be cut up into smaller pieces before putting them in the jar. I like them in chunks, but they can be sliced as well. Quarter and then slice large beets into ¼ inch slices. Just a warning, I find the slices tend to crumble a bit when being removed from the jar.

This recipe uses a bit less sugar than the original Ball Blue Book recipe does, and I’ve added the peppercorns, which are a feature of the recipe for pickled beets in Canning for A New Generation, a canning book I just love. The black peppercorns give a nice depth of flavor and just a bit more spice to the traditionally sweet-spiced beets. I love that little bit of heat with the sweet.

As with the dilly bean recipe above, you may use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. I prefer apple cider vinegar for the reasons mentioned earlier.

These two pickles are always on our Thanksgiving table. To me, a big holiday dinner isn’t complete without a pickle plate, and a pickle plate isn’t complete without dilly beans and pickled beets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beverages, Canning, Desserts, Recipes, Uncategorized

Blackberry Time

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It is blackberry time, and we are busy trying to get caught up with our picking after being away for five days.  And it rained all day yesterday, so if we don’t pick quickly, the berries will rot from too much moisture.  So, instead of an original post this week, I’m going to repost a recipe I shared last year, in case anyone else is dealing with an abundance of blackberries.  Just remember, the berries can be frozen (don’t even wash them unless they are dusty) in gallon freezer bags and juiced later.  They will render more juice after the freezing and thawing process.  This recipe came from my sister’s father-in-law, who went by “Tip,” thus the name of the recipe.  This stuff was a big hit at my 40th high school reunion last weekend!

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Tip’s Blackberry Cordial

9 cups blackberry juice

2 cups sugar

3 cups vodka or brandy

 

Bring blackberry juice and sugar to low boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and add vodka or brandy. Pour into clean bottles (brandy or vodka bottles work well for this) and cap tightly. Stores indefinitely.

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Canning, condiment, Recipes

Vanilla-Infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Butter

There are such things as happy accidents, even in the kitchen. This is the story of one.

I have been cleaning out the freezer to make room for the current crop of berries: raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries. I always freeze these berries before making jams or other kinds of preserves from them for a couple of reasons. One, I’m too busy in the summer when they’re ripe to deal with them; two, they render more juice after being frozen and thawed. So in my quest to make more space in the freezer, I found a quart bag and gallon bag of rhubarb which I’d sliced and frozen I will not say how long ago. Let’s put it this way—I considered throwing it away, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Surely there must be some way to use it, I thought. I started trawling the internet for rhubarb jam recipes, but all of them called for fresh stalks, and I wasn’t sure how frozen would work. Then I came across a couple of rhubarb syrup recipes. Ooooh, that should work, thought I. While I was in Denver with my daughter, we’d paid a visit to the Ikea store and found some rhubarb syrup for making cocktails and spritzers. It was very good. So the thought of using my old rhubarb for syrup struck a chord. The recipe I settled on is at http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-rhubarb-syrup-pantry-recipes-from-the-kitchn-84304#recipe.

However, as usual, I can’t leave well enough alone. I had eight cups of previously frozen rhubarb, and I put it on to cook with less than the amount of water called for in the recipe because when it thawed, the rhubarb released a lot of water. I used the amount of sugar called for in the recipe but doubled it because I had twice the amount of rhubarb.   And I threw a vanilla bean in the pot because I have some beans that must be used soon, and because I saw a rhubarb jam recipe that called for a vanilla bean, and I thought, why not?  I got the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla bean, and water simmering on the stove and went out to pull beets. (I also pickled beets the day I made the cranberry-rhubarb butter.) By the time I came back, the rhubarb had really broken down. As in, it was thick! How was I going to make syrup out of this stuff? Also, it was an unattractive beige-y green color. I wanted it red. Most of my rhubarb is not red, so I am used to the greenish color in pies, but in a syrup, I wanted red. Also, if I was going to make jam out of the pulp, as suggested in the recipe, I wanted it to be a toothsome color. Beige-y green is not toothsome. So I threw in a handful of red plums from the orchard tree and a handful of boysenberries Dennis had just brought in. They made no difference at all to the color and no discernable difference in taste.

What did I have, bar food coloring, to turn this rhubarb mess red? Well, beets, but I didn’t think that combination would taste all that great. I went back to the freezer. Didn’t I have a bag of cranberries in there somewhere? Yes, I did. I’d bought extra cranberries at Thanksgiving and frozen them, thinking I’d try some kind of cranberry jam at some point. I had about a quart. I started throwing them in by the handfuls, hoping to see some change in color, until I had thrown in the whole bag. At that point, I tasted the mess and decided that it needed more sugar, although I could have lived with it as it was. I added another cup of sugar. I still wasn’t satisfied with the color, so back to the freezer I went. Wasn’t there a bag of whole cranberry sauce in there? I made too much at Thanksgiving and froze the extra in sandwich bags, then put them in a gallon bag to keep them together. I’d been using it up one bag a time with roasted Cornish game hens. Yep, there it was, the last bag, about a cup and a half of cranberry sauce (which is just cranberries, sugar, and water). I threw that in the pot as well, and finally, as it melted, I had a nice reddish color.

All right, what was I going to do with this stuff now? It had been cooking for some time at this point, and was looking very jam-like, but fibrous, from the broken down rhubarb. It tasted delicious, and at this point, I knew I had a winner in the taste category, but I wasn’t sure what the final product would be. I decided to see if I could get a little syrup out of it, because I thought it would please my daughter. I couldn’t find my jelly bag (remember, I’ve been gone from home for a month—I found it later that day at the bottom of a basket of clean laundry, and for the life of me, I still can’t remember what I used it for before I left!), so I had to improvise with some nylon tulle stuffed into a cone colander. I left the cranberry-rhubarb stuff dripping and went on to work on my beets.

After a couple of hours, with the beets boiling, I returned to the stuff. I had about 2 ½ cups of red syrup in the bottom of the pan under the colander—good enough, says I. I removed the syrup, bottled it in a jar, and got it processing in the water bath canner, while I started rubbing the solids through the colander. I do this the old-fashioned way, with a hardwood pestle. I gave my Squeezo Strainer to my son. I just like the process with the pestle, the way I grew up doing it with my mom.

I ended up with 7 1/2 pints of what I’m calling vanilla-infused cranberry-rhubarb butter. That’s because the consistency of it reminds me very much of apple butter and pear butter: smooth and spreadably thick, rich, glossy, and, by the way, delicious. The pectin in the rhubarb and cranberries thickens and glosses up the butter, just the way apple skins and pear skins do with those kinds of butters. It’s tart-sweet, just the way I like preserves, and you can taste both the cranberries and the rhubarb. Who knew that would be such a great combination? I didn’t. But, yum. Here’s the recipe, should you be inclined to try this yourself.  And by the way, the beets turned out beautifully too.  You can see some of the heirloom beets in the front row of the pic below, cranberry-rhubarb syrup and butter on the right.

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Vanilla-Infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Syrup and Butter

8 cups sliced rhubarb, along with any juice (mine was frozen, then thawed)

4 cups cranberries (mine were also frozen)

1 ½ cups of homemade cranberry sauce (see directions below)

1 split vanilla bean

5 ½ cups sugar

3 cups water

Boil all ingredients together until rhubarb and cranberries are soft. Taste and add more sugar by ½ cup measure until desired sweetness is reached. Remove vanilla bean. If you wish to render syrup, pour the fruit and juices into a jelly bag and hang until it stops dripping. Syrup can be processed as is in sterile pint or half-pint jars in water bath canner for 10 minutes, or thickened by boiling and reducing, then processed for 10 minutes in boiling water bath canner.

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For butter: Strain the fruit mixture through a cone colander or other strainer to remove fibers and cranberry skins. If the resulting mash is not thick enough, it can be reduced on the stove top or in the oven until desired thickness is achieved. (I recommend a 300-degree oven, as reducing on the stove top leads to splatters on walls, as my kitchen will attest.) Reheat to boiling, spoon into sterile, hot pint jars and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.  Always adjust processing times for your altitude, if necessary.

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Now, if you’re not making whole-berry cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, why not? It’s simple, delicious, and you will know exactly what three ingredients go into it!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. bag of whole cranberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Heat water and sugar to boiling, add cranberries, watch ‘em pop! Bring to boil, lower to simmer for 10 min. Remove pan from heat and cool to room temperature to allow sauce to thicken before refrigerating. This stuff keeps forever in the fridge, and it can be frozen and thawed months later.

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Canning, condiment, Main dishes

Glazed Pork Roast with Chinese Plum Sauce

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I had the great good fortune to be allowed to pick some Santa Rosa plums from a mature tree this past summer.  I wrote about that experience in an early post:  Scavenger.  I made a lot of red plum jam, which just might be my favorite jam of all time, and I made some Chinese plum sauce.  The sauce turned into an experiment because I was disappointed in the original recipe, but after working with it, I came up with a sauce I love and have used it as a barbecue sauce for chicken with delicious results.  This week, I decided to try it with pork, and I might just have created my new favorite dish: Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce.  Dennis really enjoyed this juicy, flavorful pork roast.  I asked him if the recipe should go on the blog, and he mumbled “yes” with his mouth full.

Now, I realize that now is not the time to be making plum sauce from scratch because plums are not in season.  But I am going to give you the recipe below so that you can make your own plum sauce when plums are in season.  In the meantime, if you want to make this dish, or if you are not a canner, you can buy Chinese plum sauce.  If there are no stores near you which carry it, you can actually order it online from Amazon.  And if you happen to have some homemade plum jam on hand, I’m sure you could concoct some Chinese plum sauce using your jam as the base and adding soy sauce, onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and Chinese five spice powder.

But first, the recipe for the roast.  You might want to try it without the plum sauce, or you might want to try it with another sauce for glazing or dipping.  Sweet and sour sauce with pineapple would be good, or a sauce made with orange marmalade would be delicious too, with a little soy sauce, red pepper flake, ginger and five spice powder mixed in.  Any of these sauces would be excellent with the rub and braising liquid.  Think about the Chinese flavors you enjoy and get creative with your sauce.  But I do recommend the plum sauce.  It is sensational.

Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce

1 jar Chinese plum sauce for glaze and dipping (see recipe below)

Pork Rub:

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder

½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

2-3 lbs. boneless pork tenderloin or sirloin tip roast

Olive, vegetable, peanut, or safflower oil

Braising liquid (see note):

12 oz. ginger ale or lemon-lime soda (or any slightly sweet liquid will do—see my notes on braising liquids in my pulled pork post)

¼ teaspoon of dried ginger or three thin slices of fresh ginger root

¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

Mix rub ingredients thoroughly.  Pat meat dry with paper towel; oil meat.  Sprinkle all sides of meat with rub; pat into meat.  Wrap meat in plastic wrap, store in refrigerator to marinate 2-8 hours.  Bring meat out to warm up to room temperature about 20 minutes before searing.

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Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of preferred oil in heavy Dutch oven.  On high heat, sear meat on all sides.  Reduce heat.  Add ginger ale (follow the link if you want to make your own homemade ginger ale, and if you use homemade ginger ale, you won’t need to add any ginger to the braising liquid), dried ginger or fresh ginger, and five spice powder slowly to the pan.  (Note:  Because pork tenderloins and sirloin roasts are typically very lean and have no fat on the outside to keep the meat moist, they can’t be roasted in an open oven without drying out, thus the braising liquid is needed to keep the meat moist and tender. This is not a recipe for a piece of meat that still has a thick rind of fat on it.  That piece of meat should be open-roasted on a rack.)  Bring braising liquid to boil, loosening all the brown bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Cover with lid and cook in oven for 30 min. per pound or until internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees.  (I recommend checking the temperature with a probe type meat thermometer after 45 min. with a two-pound roast.)

Remove lid from Dutch oven.  Spread ¼ cup Chinese plum sauce over top of meat.  Turn broiler to high, broil for about 5 minutes or until glaze is bubbly and caramelized.

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Remove meat from Dutch oven to carving board.  Let rest, loosely covered with foil, about 20 minutes. Carve in ½ inch slices, arrange on platter.  Drizzle with braising liquid from pan.  Serve with additional Chinese plum sauce for dipping.  Alternatively, you could slightly thicken the pan juices:  stir a teaspoon of cornstarch in a ¼ cup of water, add that to the au jus, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, for a glaze and sauce.  The pan juices are wonderfully flavorful, so whatever you do, don’t waste them!

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I served this glazed pork roast with stir-fried vegetables (carrots, celery, red peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, garlic), tossed at the end with a glaze made of ½ teaspoon cornstarch mixed into 1 tablespoon of water and ¼ cup of the au jus from the pork.  I put a dollop of Chinese plum sauce on the plate as well, for dipping.

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I also cooked some rice for Dennis, but the pork and vegetables were enough for me.  We had leftovers, so I put the sliced meat in a zipper-top bag and poured the leftover braising liquid over them.  The meat was even better the next day after soaking 24 hrs. in that braising liquid.  Never before have I had roast pork be better the next day!

Now, for the Chinese plum sauce.  There are lots of recipes for plum sauce out there, but this is the only one I have tried, and I love it so much I will never make another.  I have altered it to suit my tastes and make it my own.  This recipe calls for whole spices tied into a spice bag and cooked down with the plums.  It would be possible to substitute Chinese five spice powder for the whole spices.  I would start with a teaspoon of five spice powder and then taste, adding more until I liked what I had.  This is what I did with the sweetness and salt levels when I made my sauce.  I worked with it until I got that tart-sweet, slightly salty, spicy, plummy goodness that is great Chinese plum sauce.  Use your taste buds as you are cooking!  That’s what they’re for.

A word about the plums.  I think the type of plum you use is all-important.  Some recipes call for black plums, and others use Italian prune plums.  Both of these are sweet plums, and given my experience making jam with both of them, I don’t think they would make the best sauce.  I think red plums, like Santa Rosas, with their tart-sweet flavor profile, make the best sauce.  Santa Rosas have red skins and reddish-yellow flesh, and they make a bright red jam.  When you use red or Santa Rosa plums to make this sauce, you’ll get a deep burgundy color that is absolutely beautiful, not to mention delicious as well.

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Homemade Chinese Plum Sauce:

(Makes about 4 pints of sauce, enough to can or freeze for later!)

4 lbs. red plums, pitted and chopped

½ cup pitted prunes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger root

½ cup rice vinegar (must be at least 4% acidity)

3-6 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or more to taste) *see note

1 ½-2 cups packed brown sugar (or more to taste) *see note

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste) *see note

1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces

2 star anise

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Pitting plums isn’t a lot of fun, but it must be done.  (If you are working with plums that aren’t freestones, you will have a lot of pits with flesh left on them.  Consider saving these for making plum vinegar.)  Once the plums are pitted, they can be chopped coarsely in a food processor.  The onion, garlic, ginger, and pitted prunes can also be chopped in the food processor.

Tie the spices into a spice bag or several layers of cheesecloth.  Place the spice bag, the chopped plums and other ingredients into a large, non-reactive pan (stainless steel or porcelain/enamel-coated or glass).  Note: Start with the lesser amounts of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking.  Reduce heat and simmer until onions and plums are soft, about 30 minutes.

Remove the spice bag.  Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor (watch out for spitting steam—use a towel over the vent) in as many batches as necessary.  Don’t overload your blender or food processor.  You will just make a mess, waste your sauce, and possibly burn yourself.  Pour the sauce back into the pan and simmer, stirring to prevent sticking.  Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar, more soy sauce, or more red pepper flake if desired.  More rice vinegar can also be added if desired, and at this point, if you want to taste the sweet spices more, you can put the spice bag back in or add some Chinese five spice powder if you wish (start with a ¼ teaspoon and work up until you like the flavor).  Your sauce should be tart-sweet, slightly salty with the soy, and spicy but not hot.  You should be able to taste the sweet spices and feel just a bit of heat on your tongue from the red pepper flakes as well.  I added enough soy sauce and brown sugar to equal the larger amounts given in the recipe, and an extra pinch of red pepper flake, and I added some Chinese five spice powder, about 1/4 teaspoon as well, until the sauce tasted right to me.

Cook the sauce until it thickens slightly.  It won’t be as thick as jam, but almost.  A good consistency is that of canned tomato sauce.

At this point the sauce is ready to use.  You should have about 4 pints of the stuff but you might have less, depending on how much you cooked it down.  The sauce can be frozen in plastic containers or zip top bags or freezer safe jars, but I like to can mine in half-pint jars in a water-bath canner.  I’ll use half of the jar, typically, for one dish, and the other half for another dish in a week or so.  (It’s excellent on grilled chicken as a glaze.)  The sauce keeps well in the fridge even after being opened.

To can the sauce, clean jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath first, then filled with boiling sauce to within a ¼ inch of the tops, capped with hot flats and rings, and processed in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes, or longer if you live at altitudes above 1000 ft.  Consult an altitude chart for correct processing times for your altitude.

As with most good things, Chinese plum sauce requires some time and effort, but the work involved is well worth it, in my opinion.  I’m looking forward to making more this summer.

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appetizers, Canning, condiment, Recipes

Red Hot Sauce

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I could have titled this post “What To Do With Box-Ripened Tomatoes.”  Fall presents gardeners with something of a quandary:  what to do with all the green fruit that had to be gathered before the first frost.  By this time, most of us in the parts of the country that experience winter have picked our green tomatoes.  We’ve boxed them, and we’ve probably mostly dealt with them.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what I did with my green tomatoes this year.  But there are always some we let ripen in the box.

The first few box-ripened tomatoes are good.  They were the ones so close to ripening on the plants that only a few days or a week or so in the box with other tomatoes, and maybe an apple or banana or two, have brought them good flavor and juice.  They’re fine for eating fresh, in salads, on sandwiches and hamburgers.  But as the days go by, and as the tomatoes that were truly green when picked start to ripen under the influence of the ethylene they (and the banana and/or apple) produce, the flavor starts to decline.  After a few weeks, the tomatoes that ripen don’t have much more flavor or juice than supermarket tomatoes.  And we all know what those taste like.  So what do we do with these tomatoes we saved and cared for and now don’t really want to eat?

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I make sauce.  I make two sauces, and the recipe I choose depends on how many tomatoes I have, which of my two sauces I have left from last year, and what I think I’ll need in the year ahead.  One of the sauces is an all-around pasta/pizza sauce, and I usually freeze it because it doesn’t make much (tomatoes really cook down), and I’m tired of canning by November.  The other is red hot sauce, which could be frozen, I suppose, but is designed to be canned.

I discovered red hot sauce a couple of years ago when my husband was given a whole, uprooted bush of habaneros to bring home to me.  This was a dubious gift—something the giver really just wanted off his hands so he didn’t have to deal with them.  What in the heck was I going to do with approximately 40 habaneros?  I started paging through my trusty Ball Blue Book and found red hot sauce.  It didn’t call for habaneros, but it called for hot peppers and tomatoes, both of which I had in abundance.  Never mind that the peppers were supposed to be “long, hot red peppers” and the tomatoes were supposed to be “red-ripe.”  Mine were red.  Sort of.  They’d been in the box long enough to ripen.  Sort of.  Good enough.

I made the hot sauce with habaneros and my box-ripened tomatoes.  I learned a little something about working with hot peppers along the way.  Yes, I knew that habaneros were about the hottest pepper I would likely ever encounter.  I knew to wear gloves and keep my hands away from my face.  What I didn’t know was that chopping the peppers in the food processor was a no-no.  What I didn’t know was that as soon as I took off the lid, the capsaicin that had been released from chopping the habaneros would rise up and hit me in the face like pepper spray out of a can.  Since I’d never been hit in the face with pepper spray, I didn’t know that it made you cough, and cough, and wheeze for breath, fruitlessly.  I’d heard about the tears, the outpouring of snot from abused mucus membranes, but I’d never experienced them.  It was an hour before I could go back in the kitchen and continue my little experiment.

But I am nothing if not dogged.  It was still pretty fumey in there, and for the rest of the time I worked with the sauce, I coughed and wheezed and hacked and went through a box of tissues.  But I learned that vinegar neutralizes capsaicin, and as soon as I got the vinegar, tomatoes, and peppers all cooking together, the peppers stopped releasing capsaicin, and I started feeling a whole lot better.  I got the food processor and all the tools I’d used on the peppers rinsed out with COLD water, and then washed with dish soap, and the atmosphere in the kitchen improved considerably.

Why am I telling you about my pepper fiasco?  Because I learned some things from that first experience of working with really hot peppers that I’m going to share with you so that you don’t have to learn what it’s like to get hit in the face with pepper spray. (I’m assuming that as a law-abiding citizen, you haven’t already experienced this.)

The red hot sauce turned out beautifully.  I was afraid to taste it, at first.  But having made it, I had to see if it was edible.  There was still heat, but no burn.  The vinegar tames the burn.  It was slightly sweet and the spices made it somewhat reminiscent of ketchup.  But it was nothing like ketchup.  I ended up with 3 half-pint jars.  I gave two of these to my son, who loves spicy.  He was the one who discovered that a better dipping  sauce for a shrimp platter has yet to be found.  And that’s why this year, I once again made red hot sauce with my box-ripened tomatoes.  I’m envisioning shrimp platters at football parties.  For the timid tasters among us, I’ll also make a lemon-basil mayonnaise.  But back to the red hot sauce.

Like pizza/pasta sauce that gets a lot of flavor from wine, herbs, onions, and garlic, red hot sauce is a perfect way of using up those box-ripened, less-than-tasty tomatoes because you’ll add a lot of flavor with the peppers, vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices.

This year, with red hot sauce in mind, I actually planted habaneros in my greenhouse.  I started them from seed in April.  I should have started them in early March.  They are very slow to sprout and then to grow.  They didn’t even start blooming until August, so I knew that it was unlikely I would get ripe peppers.  When my boxed green tomatoes started to get ripe, I checked my habaneros.  There were some small green peppers just starting to turn yellowish.

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Good enough, I decided.  I gathered them.  I also had some jalapenos that I’d gathered from the garden when I picked all the green tomatoes.  And I had a few store-bought Serrano peppers, smaller but hotter than jalapenos.  I needed 1 ½ cups of peppers, chopped.  But wait a minute.  It was the chopping that got me into trouble before.  And it was the vinegar that came to my rescue.  So I devised a plan to keep that capsaicin under control.  What follows is the recipe I used, unaltered from its 1981 Ball Blue Book roots, except for the preparation of the peppers and the cooking time.

Red Hot Sauce

2 quarts cored, quartered tomatoes

1 ½ cups hot peppers

2 cups vinegar

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices

1 tablespoon salt

2 additional cups vinegar

Combine the tomatoes and 1 ½ cups of vinegar in large pot and get them started cooking.  Wearing gloves, and using a knife, cut peppers into chunks and measure.  If you want less heat, seed them before cutting in chunks.  Depending on the variety of pepper you use and the level of heat you’re comfortable with, seeding might not be necessary.  Put the peppers into a smaller pot for which you have a tight-fitting lid.  Pour in ½ cup of vinegar.  Put on the lid, bring just to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the peppers are tender.  (Stand back as you lift the lid to test tenderness with a fork.  Some capsaicin will be released into the air, but it won’t be much and shouldn’t be enough to cause any problems.  Although you might have a runny nose.  If you can schedule this on a day when you need some sinus relief, you’ll be a champion multi-tasker.)

Add the peppers and vinegar to the tomatoes and vinegar and cook until tomatoes are soft.  Wearing gloves, run the mixture through a food mill, fine-mesh strainer, or chinois to remove skins and seeds.  Put the resulting juice and pulp back into the pot and add the sugar and salt.  Put the pickling spices in a spice bag or tie in a square of cheesecloth or nylon tulle and immerse in tomato mixture.  Cook, stirring frequently, until thick.  Add remaining 2 cups of vinegar.  This will thin down the sauce again.  Continue cooking until as thick as desired.  (For shrimp dipping sauce, the right consistency is like a thin, pourable ketchup.  It should be thick enough to adhere to the shrimp when dipped, but not so thick that it all comes away on the first shrimp dipped.)  Remove spice bag.

Pour into sterilized, half-pint jars, leaving ¼ inch head space.  Process for 15 minutes in boiling water bath, adjusting for altitude as necessary.  Yield is about 4 half-pints, but it depends on how much you reduce the sauce before putting it in the jars.

Some notes:  It takes a while thicken the tomato sauce.  You can’t turn it up high or it sticks, so it has to be simmered on low, and it can take a couple of hours.  Have something else to do in the kitchen while you’re making this sauce.  You need to be available to stir it so it doesn’t stick, but other than that, it doesn’t require any attention.  And then as soon as you get it thick, you add more vinegar and thin it down again, and you have to cook it down again.  But, NEVER skimp on the vinegar.  I know it’s a lot of vinegar, but the peppers need it, and the sauce needs it to have enough acid to make it water-bath safe.  Also, do add it as directed at two different times in the cooking process.  There’s a reason for this.  Boiling a vinegar solution can evaporate the vinegar’s acetic acid.  And its acid is the reason we use the vinegar.  Adding vinegar at the beginning of the cooking time tames the peppers, but some of the acid cooks out.  Adding more vinegar  closer to the end of the cooking time ensures the sauce’s acidity.  Trust me, the sauce isn’t vinegary.  It’s actually perfectly balanced between heat, sweet, acid, and spice.

Also never increase the amount of peppers in the recipe to get more heat.  That affects the acid balance and can create opportunities for botulism to grow.  Habaneros are plenty hot enough in this sauce, believe me.  And if you want less heat, seed your peppers.  Or use jalapenos.  Or use Serranos for slightly more heat.  Or mix the two.  Or mix it up with a variety of peppers, like I did.  Just don’t exceed the AMOUNT called for in the recipe.

That’s it.  That’s a good way of using up your box-ripened tomatoes.  That’s perfect dipping sauce for a shrimp platter at your Super Bowl party.  That’s red hot sauce.

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All photographs are the intellectual property of the author, are copyrighted, and may not be copied, reproduced, or used in any way without the author’s permission.

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Beverages, Canning, condiment, Recipes

Raspberries: Cordial, Jam, Vinegar

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Have you ever heard that expression “to warm the cockles of the heart”?  I don’t know where I first ran across it, but I suspect it was in Little Women, one of my favorite books as a child and still a favorite.  I have something to warm the cockles of your heart this winter (whatever cockles are or wherever they are—this stuff is sure to warm them), and it’s not hard to make:  raspberry cordial.

Some time ago, I posted an old recipe for blackberry cordial, which is a wonderful, mildly-alcoholic beverage appropriate for an aperitif or dessert drink.  Just this past week, during a two-day berry-processing fest, I decided to try the recipe with raspberries.  And I am here to tell you that it was a complete success.  I’m so excited to share this and two other recipes with you.   Following the cordial recipe, I have a recipe for raspberry jam using the pulp left over from juicing, and a recipe for raspberry-infused vinegar, should you have more leftover pulp than you need for jam.

Now, a caveat.  This cordial recipe makes three 750 ml. bottles of cordial, with some left over in another bottle.  (If you choose to drink the leftovers rather than bottle it, who am I to judge you?)  It is entirely possible and as easy as . . . well, pie . . . to cut this recipe down, should you not happen to have access to enough raspberries to make 9 cups of juice.  Simply divide the recipe by 3, and you only need 3 cups of juice, about 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of vodka.  Simple.  And lest you worry that you need fresh raspberries to make this luscious drink, let me reassure you.  I made it using my frozen berries.  In fact, frozen berries render more juice than fresh berries do.

What I cannot tell you is the volume or amount of frozen berries you’ll need if you are buying them frozen from the store.  I used about 2 gallons of my frozen berries to make 9 cups of juice.  I used the leftover pulp to make jam, and oh boy, was it good!  So don’t throw that pulp away.  I have two more recipes to help you use every last bit of those raspberries.  I’m guessing that you’ll need about 3 or 4 large packages of frozen berries to get 9 cups of juice.  Look at the volume listed on the packages, if you’re buying frozen raspberries, and try approximate at least two gallons of berries.

There are other recipes out there for similar drinks.  Most of them require a long infusion time and several steps to come up with a drink that is safe for consumption.  Because this recipe calls for pasteurization of the juice, it is safe to drink immediately, and the flavor is exceptional.  I hope you enjoy this, as well as the blackberry cordial.

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Raspberry Cordial

9 cups raspberry juice (cook berries for 5 minutes, then strain through cheesecloth-lined colander to remove seeds)

2 ½ cups sugar

1 cup vodka

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Bring raspberry juice and sugar to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.  Add vodka and mix.  Cool to room temperature and bottle in clean bottles with tight-fitting lids.  (Old, clean liquor bottles work well.)  Stores indefinitely.

Raspberry Jam

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To each cup of raspberry pulp and seeds left from straining the juice, add 1/2 – 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice.  (Please notice that this is substantially less sugar than is required for a recipe that uses commercial boxed or bottled pectin.)   To 3 – 6 cups of this mixture, add one cup of apple pectin stock.  Cook on medium high heat until pulp is glossy and thick, about 20 min. (Taste frequently to test for the level of sweetness that you want, and add sugar as needed.)   Test for doneness by placing a dab on a plate that has been in the freezer until well-chilled.  Replace plate in freezer for a minute, then check to see if jam is firm.  If so, spoon into sterilized jars, seal,  and process in water bath for 5 minutes.

Raspberry-Infused Vinegar

If you have more raspberry pulp than you want to convert to jam, or less than you need for a good batch of jam, try an infused vinegar.  This is so easy, it’s ridiculous.  Just fill a pint or quart jar 3/4 full of raspberry pulp and top off with white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or your own homemade apple scrap vinegar.  If you use homemade vinegar, store your infusion in the fridge; if you use store-bought, you can leave the infusion in a cool, dark place.  Because there is no way to test the acidity of your homemade vinegar, it’s best to be safe and keep it refrigerated.  Let it sit several weeks, then strain through several layers of cheesecloth and bottle.  Voila!  Raspberry vinegar (or blackberry vinegar, should you make the blackberry cordial).  I did both, during my recent berry-processing marathon.  Raspberry infusion on the left, blackberry on the right.

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May the cockles of your heart be warmed this winter with berries.

All original text, photographs, and the cordial recipe are copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without the author’s permission. 

 

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Canning, Garden and Greenhouse

Green Tomatoes

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It happens every year.  I plant lots of tomatoes because I love them, and because I grew up on the northern coast of California, in the fog belt, where tomatoes are a nearly-impossible dream.  I’ve lived for the past 27 years in northeastern California, where the growing season is just long enough to grow wonderful tomatoes, if you set them out early under cover.  And every summer, I eagerly await the first ripe tomato, congratulating myself when it’s earlier than the year before, consulting other area gardeners and, of course, bragging just a little when my tomatoes ripen before theirs.  And then, it’s October, and guess what?  There are loads and loads of green tomatoes that won’t get a chance to ripen.  What to do?

“Let them go, Mom,” my son says.  He worries about me, how much I’m doing, how the work affects my back.  He thinks I’m doing too much.  But I can’t let them go.  I can’t deliberately waste food.  There are things I can do with those green tomatoes.  And I have a food processor.  Have food processor, will chop.

Everyone knows about fried green tomatoes.  They are delicious.  I really like them.  But when you have 30-50 lbs. of green tomatoes, there’s no way you can eat them all fried before they start to spoil.  So I’ve been investigating recipes for green tomatoes for some years, especially since I started growing heirloom tomatoes.

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First, it should be noted, some of the tomatoes will box-ripen.  I put mine in a cardboard box lined with newspaper and put it on a layer of towels (in case of leakage) in the coldest room in the house, which is pretty cool.  I can tell which ones will ripen; they are usually a pale orange or streaky orange and green when they’re picked.  Some of these will have enough flavor to eat fresh in salads and sliced on burgers and sandwiches.  I’ve learned that if I want the tomatoes to ripen faster, it helps to put a couple of apples and a banana in the box and cover it with newspaper.

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But I’ve found that after a few weeks, the tomatoes that started out looking green and developed some color before I got to work on them don’t really develop much flavor.  These I leave in the box as long as I can and then cook them down and run them through my chinois, add herbs, onions, garlic, wine, and sugar, and make sauce, which I freeze because by then I’m so tired of canning, I can’t stand to can one more thing.  And the reason I’m so tired of canning at that point is that I’ve been canning green tomatoes.  Lots and lots of green tomatoes.

I’ve canned dilled green cherry tomatoes, sliced sweet pickled green tomatoes, spicy dilled sliced green tomatoes, spicy piccalilli (a green tomato relish) and sweet green tomato relish.  I still have plenty of the above on my shelves from previous years.  I like them all, but this year, I wanted to try something different.

This year, I made green tomato salsa verde.  And I may never do anything else with all my future green tomatoes.  It is that good.  I made two kinds, a blended version from a recipe on a WordPress blog called bunkers down.  I plan to use this for enchilada sauce:  enchiladas made with chicken and Monterey jack cheese, smothered in this green tomato salsa verde.  Yum.  The other version, a Ball recipe, is chunkier, more like chip-dip salsa, and is delicious with tortilla chips, just like any other salsa.  It’ll be wonderful on tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, too.  (I like handheld food.)  Both salsas have just the right amount of heat.  I would reduce the amount of salt in the blended version, but I’m pretty salt sensitive.  If you like more heat, turn it up with hotter peppers.  (Never increase the amount of peppers to get more heat.  That will affect acidity levels and create spoilage concerns.)

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If you’ve got loads of green tomatoes and are looking for a way to use them, I recommend these two recipes.  But save a few for frying.  What’s October without fried green tomatoes?

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Canning, Recipes

Apple Butter: Autumn in a Jar

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I am an apple butter fanatic.  I love the stuff.  No, I LOVE the stuff.  I learned to love it, as I did so many other things, because my mother made it.  I would like to say that I learned to make apple butter at my mother’s knee, but that isn’t true.  The truth is, I had to teach myself to make apple butter because before I thought to get my mother’s recipe, she was gone.

I searched Mama’s recipe box, which came to me some years after her death.  The recipe wasn’t there.  I searched my recipe box, which she started for me when I married.  It wasn’t there.  I turned to the Ball Blue Book that she gave me when I married (along with my granite-ware water bath canner and Presto pressure canner that I still use).  Mama thought of her Ball Blue Book as her canning bible, as I do, so I thought she’d probably used one of the recipes in the book.  I thought I knew which one, as she always started with applesauce that we had cooked down and rubbed through the big cone colander ourselves.  I knew that after one disastrous scorching incident, she had always cooked her apple butter down in the oven.  Reducing the apple butter in a low oven keeps it from scorching.  And oh boy, does it make the house smell good!  But when I had that first batch going in the oven, something didn’t seem right.  It didn’t smell quite the way I remembered.  After cooking it a few hours to meld the spices with the applesauce and sugar, I gave it a taste.  And it definitely didn’t taste like Mama’s apple butter.

At this point, I was going on memory alone, since I no longer had any of Mama’s apple butter to compare.  But I added spices, and I got something that first year that tasted closer to what I remembered.  The next year, I started with less sugar, because I knew Mama’s tastes, and they were similar to my own.  Both of us have always preferred tart to sweet, and since apple butter sweetens as it reduces, I knew I could start with less sugar and add more if necessary.  The second year’s batch was much better, much more like I remembered.  Every year, I’ve refined my recipe, until now I have something that tastes like my mama’s apple butter every time.  So here it is, and here’s to you, Mama.  Thank you for everything, always, and in this particular instance, thank you for apple butter.

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Spicy Apple Butter

6 quarts unsweetened applesauce

¼ cup lemon juice

2 cups sugar

2 ½ tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon cloves

Mix all ingredients together in Dutch oven and bring to boiling over low heat on stovetop.  Place uncovered in 300 degree oven and bake, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half.  (See note below on cooking method.)  Butter will be thick and dark brown.

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Taste during the cooking process and add sugar or additional spices to taste.  Be careful of cloves—it’s a very strong flavor that can overpower the other spices.

When the butter has reduced so that it will mound on a spoon, it is ready to be canned.  Prepare jars and boiling water bath; sterilize jars in boiling water bath for 10 min.  Bring apple butter to boil on stove top over low heat, and watch out for spitting.  Fill sterilized jars with boiling apple butter, leaving ¼ inch head space.  Process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.  (Use altitude chart for elevations above 1000 ft.)  Yield:  about 6 pts.

Rule of thumb for yield:  Whatever amount of applesauce you start with, you’ll get roughly half of that in apple butter, so 6 qts. of applesauce yields about 6 pts. of apple butter.  You’ll get a little more or less, depending on how far you reduce it.

Cooking methods:  Lots of people cook their apple butter down all day or overnight (or all day and overnight) in a crock pot.  You can do this.  It will reduce.  But it will not have the same flavor as apple butter cooked down in the oven.  Oven-roasting produces that deep, dark, rich flavor and a color like melted chocolate.  Crock pot cooking cannot match that flavor, although it is more convenient and energy efficient.  I usually make applesauce during the day, then cook my apple butter all night in the oven.  Sometimes I lower the temperature to 250 degrees if I think I will not be canning the apple butter very early in the morning, so it doesn’t over-reduce.  Always bring the butter back up to boiling on the stove top before putting it in the jars.

Apple butter is wonderful on biscuits, on cornbread, and on freshly-baked bread, but it also elevates a piece of toasted store-bought bread to new heights.  My children loved apple butter and peanut butter sandwiches and took them to school for lunch.  It’s also delicious spread on pancakes before the maple-syrup pour, or stirred into a batch of pancake batter for some spice and texture.

To me, apple butter is the quintessential fall flavor.  It’s autumn in a jar.  It’s also a sensory link to my mother.  When I make apple butter, I can see Mama bending over the oven, her round face flushed with heat and delight, stirring, tasting, approving.

All original text, photographs, and the apple butter recipe are copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without the author’s permission. 

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Canning, Desserts, Recipes

Pears, pears, pears!

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I’ve done it again.  I’ve scavenged too much of a good thing.  (For more on my scavenging habits, see the post “Scavenger.”)  This time, it was pears.  I haven’t canned pears in years; now I remember why!  But I was inspired by some recipes I saw made up online, so I put the word out on my community Facebook page that I was looking for pears to can.  And folks generously responded.  Three people, and later a fourth, let me know I could pick their pears.  As I always do, I’ll be bringing something back to them when the pear craze has left me.  As of this writing, I have spent four days working with pears.  The photo below shows some of the pears sitting underneath the dining room table (which is covered by my husband’s grandmother’s hand-crocheted tablecloth).

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The first recipe, pear mincemeat, comes from Tina Harrington’s Facebook page, Cooking on the Sagebrush Sea.  I don’t know where she found it.  I found a similar recipe in my 1981 Ball Blue Book, which my mama gave me when I was married (along with a water bath canner and pressure canner).  The Ball recipe, however, calls for vinegar, and Tina says she doesn’t like the vinegar-based mincemeat.  I was so glad she talked me out of the vinegar, because after I made her recipe, I found it hard to imagine how adding vinegar could improve it.  The beauty of pear mincemeat is that you don’t have to peel the pears.  Simply core them and chop them in the food processor.  This is the perfect recipe for very ripe pears that wouldn’t peel and can well in halves, or for too-green pears that wouldn’t have enough flavor to can.  I made pear mincemeat out of the first box of ripe pears.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Day One

Pear Mincemeat
7 pounds pears
1 pound raisins
1 whole lemon
1 T each of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
6 3/4 C sugar  (or less, to taste: for a double batch, I used 9 ¾ cups)

In a food processor with a blade attachment, chop the cored and quartered pears, the raisins, and the whole lemon (ends and seeds removed). Add the spices and sugar and cook about forty five minutes until it’s thickened. Process in water bath canner for 25 minutes, leaving a half inch headspace.  This can be done in pints or quarts.  A quart is enough to make one nine-inch pie.

As usually happens when I decide to make a recipe I’ve never made before, I didn’t have enough of something I needed, in this case, raisins.  I live 14 miles from town, and I didn’t have time for a raisin run, for crying out loud!  So I taxed my brain and came up with a substitute.  Last year, I dehydrated some prune plums I was given, and I left them in the dehydrator too long.  They are so dry and hard, it would take teeth and jaws of steel to chew them, and even then, I’m not so sure.  I stuck them in the freezer last fall while I tried to figure out what to do with them.  Ta-da!  I got those babies out, rehydrated them in some warm water while I cored pears (and yes, rehydration was necessary because even the food processor blade couldn’t chop them otherwise; I’d already tried that) and then drained the prunes and added them to the mix in the food processor.  The flavor is excellent.  If I make this recipe again, I might sub in prunes for half the raisins on purpose.

Day Two

Pears in Dark Ginger Syrup, and other good things

The next batch of recipes comes from Rebecca, the Foodie with Family.  With twenty pounds of pears, I made her three-in-one pear recipes.  It took me all day to peel that many pears, and I worked in batches because I didn’t want the pears I’d already peeled to darken.

Rebecca’s recipes are so smart for several reasons.  First, they use up all the ingredients you use to prepare the pears.  How many times have I looked at the water I’ve used to treat the fruit for darkening and thought, look at all that good juice going to waste!  Well, with Rebecca’s recipes, it doesn’t.  It’s turned into “juice” and canned, and it tastes really, really good!  Her pear halves in dark ginger syrup recipe is smart because even though you dunk the pears in a lemon water bath (which becomes “juice” when you’re done), if you are slow, like me, your pears will still start to darken a little before you have enough ready to can several jars.  The dark ginger syrup takes care of that.  It’s made with raw sugar (or light brown sugar if you don’t have any raw or prefer not to buy it) so it’s dark, and it hides the little bit of browning that would otherwise show through a clear syrup made with white sugar.  And the ginger is delicious.

That syrup is so good, you just have to can up what’s left over after you’ve canned your pears.  I usually have syrup left over after canning fruit.  I save it and use it again if I’m going to can more of that fruit, or sometimes I use it in a different fruit (like using the syrup left from canning Purple Prince plums to give a little color and more flavor to white peaches), but sometimes it sits in the fridge and spoils.  Now I have two sealed jars of dark ginger syrup which I can open up and further reduce, if I so choose, for pancakes and waffles, or I can add it to any number of fizzy drinks or mulled wine, or I can drizzle it over ice cream or pie.  So smart!

And finally, the “juice.”  I made a double batch of pears in dark ginger syrup, so my acidulated water was extra juicy.  I had a few pears that were really darkened, so those were the ones I left in the water to cook up the juice.  I saved the pulp from the juice for pear butter, which I was making the next day with the pears that were too ripe or too compromised by bruising and bugs to can in halves.  I got a quart and a pint of juice, beautiful stuff, and a cup left over to start off my pears for pear butter.  For somebody like me who has a thing about cutting down on waste, Rebecca’s recipes are so welcome.  I hope you’ll check out her Three-in One pear recipes.

I would add one thing to Rebecca’s three-in-one pear recipes to make them four-in-one.  Pear vinegar!  Yes, save those pear peelings.  Let them age and brown in a bowl (covered if you have a fruit fly farm in your kitchen like I currently do) while you work with the pears.  Then, when you’re done with everything else, put your pear peelings (and cores if they aren’t wormy) in a large, clean jar, and cover the peels with distilled water.  Don’t overfill the jar! Pears ferment quickly, so leave several inches of head space.  Put the jar on a plate in case of spillage while fermenting.  Cover the mouth of the jar with some breathable fabric, secured with a rubber band or twine, to keep the fruit flies out, and stir every day.  In 6-8 weeks, you’ll have pear vinegar.  See my previous post, “Waste Not, Want Not,” for more instructions for making fruit scrap vinegars.

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Finally, pear butter, which took two days.  My hands were so tired, and the right one so swollen from canning three-in-one pears the day before, that the final box of very ripe, bruised, and worm-damaged pears had to be processed simply.  Pear butter was the answer.  It could have been pear sauce, but I knew that I would be so slow in getting the pears cut up that they would darken more than I’d want for sauce.  So butter it was, since it cooks for a long time and darkens as it cooks.

I had to core most of these pears because they were wormy.  I think the best way to do this is to quarter them; then, with a paring knife, it’s easy to cut out the core and any bad spots.  For pear sauce or butter, there’s no need to peel if you’re going to run them through a strainer.  If you have perfect pears, no worms, there’s no need to core, either.  Just quarter them (or cut them in chunks if they’re very large pears) and get them into a large pot with either water, apple cider or juice, or pear cider or juice, about half an inch, in the bottom of the pot.

I had some of the pear “juice” left from processing pears in dark ginger syrup the day before, about a cup of it, and that went in the bottom of the pot to keep the pears from sticking until they started to render their own juice.

Don’t turn the heat under the pot on high.  The pears will scorch to the bottom.  Use a medium heat and stir frequently, as in about every five minutes.  If your pears aren’t juicy, you may need to add more liquid, but don’t add any more than is absolutely necessary to keep your pears from sticking, because for pear butter, you’ll have to cook out all the liquid you add, and then some, to get the thick, rich consistency of a fruit butter.

I don’t recommend peeling your pears before you cook them because the pectin in the skin helps give the butter a glossy look and thicker consistency.  It’s best to buy a strainer or simple colander and pestle (this one came from an antique store for $8!) and rub them through to remove skins and cores.  It doesn’t take long, and it’s a good workout for your arms.

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I had the best help with this one.  My grandkids came over after school and helped run the cooked pears through the chinois (or cone colander, as I grew up calling it).  They enjoyed a bowl of pear sauce as a reward while I added the sugar and spices and put the sauce on to cook down into butter.  (Then we went out to the garden and picked apples, so you can guess what the subject of a future post will be.)

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Day Three

Pear Butter

11 lbs. ripe pears, cored if necessary, quartered, cooked until soft, and strained to remove peels and cores. (I had about 6 qts. when cut up and cored, 4 qts. sauce after cooking and straining.  If you want to stop at this point and can pear sauce, simply follow the directions in any canning book for canning applesauce.  For pear butter, keep going!)

To strained pear sauce, add:

2 cups sugar

1 T. cinnamon

2 t. nutmeg

1 t. cloves

1 t. allspice

1 t. fresh grated ginger (or ½ t. dried, powdered ginger)

The amount of sugar and spice you add is really according to individual taste.  I don’t like things very sweet, and I do like them spicy.  Taste your sauce/butter after a few hours in the oven or crock pot.  If it isn’t sweet enough, add more sugar.  For this recipe, I started with one cup of sugar and added another cup about halfway through cooking.  That was perfect for my taste.  But you might like things sweeter or not as sweet as I do, so start with less and add more as you go.  The same with spices.  If you don’t like a lot of spice, reduce the amounts given here and taste, adding more if you want it spicier.  Be careful with cloves.  It’s a powerful flavor, and one that I love, but if you use too much, it will overpower the pears and the rest of the spices.

Bring all ingredients to a simmer over medium heat in a large, oven-safe pot.  Bake in 300 degree oven until thick and reduced by one-third to one-half.  You can do this in a crock pot; many people do, but I don’t think the crock pot gives the same flavor that roasting in an open pan in the oven does.  But it’s up to you which way you want to cook your butter down.  I don’t recommend boiling it down on the stove; both pear and apple butters are prone to scorching when cooked on the stove top, although it is faster.  Typically, I cook my butters down for about 18 hrs, part of that time overnight, when I’ll lower the temp on the oven to 225 degrees.  Then when I get up in the morning, if it’s not quite ready to can, I’ll raise the temp back up to 300 while I get the canner and jars ready.  Usually, it’s ready by then.  When the butter is thick and dark and tastes rich and spicy, and it will mound in a spoon, it’s ready to can.

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Wash jars and start water bath canner heating.  You will need about 5 pt. jars for this amount of pears, if you have reduced the butter down by one-third to one-half.  I always prepare a few extra jars, just in case.  Some fruits are larger, heavier, and juicier than others, and some people get impatient and don’t reduce as much as they should!  Always sterilize your jars in your boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes before adding the butter to the jars.  Bring the butter up to boiling on the stove top.  This is a thick product, so leave ½ to ¼ inch headspace in the jar.  I leave ½ inch.  Seal with heated flats and rings and process in boiling water bath for 10 min. if below 2000 ft. elevation.  Consult an altitude chart for adding time for higher elevations.  This recipe makes about 5 pts.

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The flavor profile of this pear butter is very similar to that of the pear mincemeat, but without the lemon of the mincemeat, and with a smooth, buttery texture.  Spread this stuff on homemade bread or biscuits, and it’ll be heaven in your mouth, honey.  I guarantee it.

Altogether, I spent 4 days processing about 40 lbs. of pears.  There are still a few green ones left that will slowly ripen in the box.  I might make a pear crisp if we don’t eat them all out of hand.  But not right away.  For now, I’m just going to gaze at those jars of pear mincemeat, pears in dark ginger syrup, dark ginger/pear syrup, pear juice, and pear butter, and anticipate all the pear goodness we’ll get to eat this winter.

All original text, photos, and the pear butter recipe are the author’s own work and are copyright protected.  You may not copy or reproduce in part or in whole without the author’s permission.  

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