Canning, condiment, Recipes

Charred Salsa

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What would you say if I told you that you could make salsa without peeling peppers? To me, peeling peppers is the worst part of salsa making, and it’s avoidable. How, you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. You just char them under the broiler. Then they don’t have to be peeled. They can be chopped in the food processor (do it with the other vegetables to avoid the sensation of being hit in the face with pepper spray when you open the top) without peeling.

In fact, if you want to make the best salsa you’ve ever canned, char everything. Yes, that’s right. Put all the vegetables under the broiler and char them all. I know, it sounds nuts, but it works.

The salsa recipe I use is from a book called Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff. I highly recommend the book because Krissoff’s recipes teach techniques that you can then use to create your own recipes.  I learned to make yogurt, apple pectin stock, and old-fashioned, lower-sugar jams and jellies from this book. And charred salsa. And oh my, that stuff rocks! I don’t feel right about copying the recipe here (as a writer, I respect copyrights), but I think sharing the technique is okay. And I just did. Char everything under the broiler for the best salsa you’ve ever canned.

Use your favorite salsa recipe for proportions, but instead of scalding and peeling tomatoes, or roasting and peeling them and the peppers, broil them. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but I also know that you’re going to take some convincing. I did, at first.

Core and cut tomatoes in halves and place them cut side down on a foil-lined cookie sheet. (The foil keeps the veggies from sticking when they release their natural sugars as they cook.)  Pop them under the broiler in your oven on the top rack. Let them sizzle until each tomato has a big circle of blackened skin on top. (Yes, I know it sounds insane, but it’s good, trust me!) Slide the tomatoes and juice into a bowl to cool while you work on the rest of the veggies.

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Cut onions into quarters, put them on the foil-lined cookie sheets and under the broiler. Let them get blackened. Do the same thing with the garlic. (Now, I know this really sounds crazy, but again, trust me.) It’s best to put one thing at a time on the cookie sheets because obviously, garlic will not blacken at the same rate as onion.

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Now, for the beauty part, the peppers. As much as I hate peeling tomatoes, I really hate peeling hot peppers. In fact, I never do it. I never have to for salsa because I make charred salsa. (I know, if you’ve made a batch of salsa the traditional way already this year, I’m rubbing it in. Sorry.) I cut the peppers in half (I don’t seed mine because I like the heat, but go ahead and seed them if you wish—just wear gloves or be very, very careful) and place them cut side down on the foil-lined cookie sheet. Pop them under the broiler and let them get blackened.

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Watch out when you stick your head down to check them. You can get hit with a wave of released capsican as they’re cooking. After they’ve cooled, they release less of the stuff, even in the food processor. I use jalapenos and Serranos because I don’t like my salsa so hot I can’t eat it. This year, I had some ripe red peppers in the garden because I’m making salsa later than I usually do, and I love the mellow heat of ripe peppers. Usually, I’m stuck with green ones because that’s all I have.

All right, all the vegetables are broiled now, and are cooling. The tomatoes should be cool enough to handle, so dive in. If you want to drain off some juice to make sure your salsa is thick enough, now’s the time to do it. You can always add some juice back in later, and whatever juice is left over can be canned in pint jars with citric acid or lemon juice and salt, if you like, for 35 min. per pint. I did mine in quarts for 40 min.  I shook the jar on the left after it was cooled, before I took the picture.  It is normal for the juice to separate as in the jar on the right.

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Pull the skins off each tomato half. (They come off very easily.) Tear the charred skin away and put it in the food processor with the tomatoes. I know, you’re saying: WHAT? But yes, this is the point of broiling the tomatoes, so you can get the flavor of that blackened skin into the salsa. I don’t know why it’s so good, but it is. The blackened skin is crisp, not tough, and crumbles easily into little black flakes in the food processor. It actually makes the salsa look great in the jar and in a bowl when you open it. And I guarantee you that you will get rave reviews on this stuff when you open it. I do, every time. When my kids come to my house for a meal, one of the first things they ask is if I have any salsa left. I have to hide it, or I wouldn’t.  They’d take it all home with them.  They go through what I give them for Christmas and come back looking for more!

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Now, an interjection. Don’t throw away the rest of the tomato skins! Put the uncharred skins on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet and into a 170–200 degree oven. Let them sit there until the skins are dry and leathery and no moisture remains. Then whiz them up in a blender for tomato skin powder, which can be used in various ways. See my previous post for a great pork rub made using powdered tomato skins.

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Back to the salsa. Working in batches, chop all the veggies in the food processor. I do it this way: several peppers, a handful of onions, a couple of cloves of garlic. Chop, chop; add the tomatoes and blackened tomato skins. Whiz, whiz. Dump in large pot. Start over and keep going until everything is in the large pot.

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Every salsa recipe I’ve ever seen adds acid (vinegar or lemon juice), salt, and sugar at this point, and then calls for a short cooking time before the salsa goes in the jars. The recipe I use calls for apple cider vinegar, which gives a nice flavor to the salsa, but I also add lime juice because to me, you can’t have salsa without lime. It just wouldn’t be right. I also add about ¼ cup of chopped cilantro per batch just before the boiling salsa goes in the jars for the same reason. Salsa without cilantro? No way. A friend of mine adds a pinch or so of cumin. I haven’t tried that, but I bet I’d like that smoky flavor. Maybe with the next batch.

Whatever recipe you use, always pay attention to ratios. Tomatoes are acidic, yes, but peppers, garlic, and onions are not. That’s why you have to add acid to make salsa safe for water-bath canning. Don’t add extra peppers if you want hotter salsa. Use hotter peppers. Don’t add more garlic or onions than your recipe calls for. And always add the recommended dose of acid in the form your recipe calls for. I use lime juice in addition to, not as a substitute for, the vinegar in my recipe. Extra acid won’t hurt, but you can’t skimp on it and be safe.

If you use vinegar, there’s something you should know. Boiling vinegar for an extended time can evaporate the acid in it, so if you are making a large batch of salsa, like I usually do, turn off the heat on the salsa pot and put a lid on it when the first batch of jars go into the canner for processing. Don’t let the salsa sit and simmer. When the processing time on the first batch is done and you are ready to remove the jars from the canner, turn the heat back on under the salsa pot, take off the lid, and bring it back to boiling before filling a fresh batch of jars. This will ensure that you don’t boil off your acid.

Having made salsa with broiled vegetables for several years now, I’m convinced this method produces the best-tasting salsa I’ve ever had, or made. I know it sounds crazy to put blackened tomato skins into the salsa, and right up until I tasted the salsa, I thought it was nuts, but one taste did it. Give blackening your veggies a try; I bet you’ll agree with me. And the bonus? You don’t have to skin any peppers!

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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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condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Main dishes

Fun with Dairy: Homemade Sour Cream

This is the first part of a series I’m calling “Fun with Dairy.”  Part I:  Sour Cream.  I’ve discovered how to make sour cream, and I’m so enchanted with it, I have to share it with you.  In addition, I’ve made yogurt and ricotta cheese at home for years, and while I’ve resisted blogging about it thus far because there are plenty of instructions for making these things already on the internet, I’ve come to realize that not all of them are good instructions.  Sometimes those recipes are poorly written, and sometimes, there’s just a better way to do it, and sometimes, a combination of methods works better.  So, in future posts, I’ll deal with making yogurt, the foolproof way I’ve been making it for years, and ricotta cheese, which I make for my roasted eggplant lasagna.  There will be other “Fun with Dairy” posts in the future, but first, sour cream.  And as a bonus, at the end of this post is a recipe you can make with your delicious homemade sour cream.

I love sour cream, smooth and tangy.  I like to make veggie dips with it, and chip dips, and you cannot make stroganoff (see recipe below) without it.  And surprisingly, sour cream is ridiculously easy to make.

You only need three things to make sour cream at home:  a clean jar with a lid, some heavy (whipping) cream or half and half, and some buttermilk (cultured).  Oh, and a place on the counter to let the cream culture for a day or so.  Here’s how you do it.

Measure 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (or for lighter sour cream, less fat, 1 cup of half & half) into your clean jar.  Add ¼ cup of cultured buttermilk.  Put on the lid and tighten it.  Shake vigorously to incorporate the buttermilk into the cream or half & half.  Set the jar on your kitchen counter in plain sight where you won’t forget about it.  Wait 18-24 hours.  Open lid on jar.  The cream should have thickened enough to sit up on a spoon.  Taste it.  If it isn’t sour enough, you can leave it a few more hours, no more than 36 hours altogether.  Store in fridge.

Leftover buttermilk, which typically comes in quarts, can be portioned into smaller containers and frozen You can also make buttermilk salad dressing, the original ranch, which will probably be the subject of another post.  And if you add some cultured buttermilk to regular milk, you’ll get more buttermilk.  You’ll never have to buy buttermilk again.  More about that in another post.

After cooling in the fridge, the sour cream will thicken enough to actually mound on a spoon.  The lighter version made with half & half is as thick, and actually tastes more like commercial sour cream, as that made with heavy cream, which is richer-tasting.  Either version is good to use for a dip or anything else you’d use sour cream for (as a topping on burritos, nachos, or enchiladas, for example, or cheesecake).  In the pictures below, the photo on the left is of sour cream made with heavy whipping cream (you can see that it is yellower in the jar) and the photos in middle and on right are of light sour cream made with half & half and previously frozen buttermilk.

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Recently, I used my homemade sour cream in some stroganoff.  Stroganoff is typically made with beef, but I used . . . yeah, you guessed it, bear.  If you haven’t made stroganoff in a while, or if you’ve never made it, it’s time to give this old standard another look.  But don’t make the imitation stuff with canned mushroom soup, please.  I have no doubt homemade sour cream would improve the taste, but do use fresh mushrooms.  This homemade sour cream (the heavy cream version) gave the sauce a rich, tangy flavor that the Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed.

Here’s an easy recipe made with an economy cut of beef:  round steak.  You can also use stew meat, you just have to cook it a little longer to get it tender.  Can you use other red meats besides beef?  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know the answer is yes!  You can use venison, antelope, lamb, bison, elk, and, I imagine, moose (although that’s one meat I have yet to try.)

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Beef Stroganoff

1 ½ lbs. round steak or stew meat, cut against the grain into 1/8 inch slices

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 ½ cups beef or roasted vegetable stock

2 tablespoons ketchup (or 2 tablespoons ground dried tomato skins)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (any small variety will do)

3 tablespoons flour (if you’re gluten-free like me, you can use brown rice flour)

1 cup sour cream

Heat oil or butter (or combination thereof) in 10 skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute mushrooms and onions for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan, reserve.  Add another tablespoon of oil or butter if needed, brown meat strips, add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add 1 cup stock, stirring to get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, add the mushrooms and onions and their liquid, and the ketchup or dried tomato skin powder,and  heat to boiling.  Reduce heat, cover with tight-fitting lid, and simmer until meat is tender, 1-1 ½ hours.

When meat is tender, shake reserved stock with flour in a lidded jar until well-mixed, stir gradually into simmering meat mixture.  Bring to boil, cook for one minute, then stir in sour cream, heat through but do not let it boil!  Take off heat, serve over cooked, hot egg noodles (3-4 cups).  Traditionally, hot egg noodles are tossed with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkled with 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (try chia seeds for more Omega-3 fatty acids) before serving.  Makes about 6 servings.

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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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condiment, Main dishes, Recipes

Dried Tomato Skin Rub and Pulled Pork

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I have about a pint of powdered dried tomato skins, a by-product of canning tomatoes this summer.   I know some people thought I was nuts for saving, drying, and grinding the skins you have to peel off the tomatoes for salsa, sauce, and canned tomatoes.  But I have learned that these dried tomato skins pack quite a flavor punch.  I’ve been using them in chip dips, soups, and sauces.  Now, I’ve added them to a homemade pork rub which produced beautifully-seasoned pulled pork cooked in the crock pot.   Of course, the rub is still very good without the tomato skins.  Why wouldn’t it be with all that wonderful spice!

Pork Rub (with Dried Tomato Skins)

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher or coarsely-ground sea salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (see note below)

2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika (see note below)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Mix well and rub on dry meat.  This rub would be good on spare ribs or chicken, as well as the pulled pork recipe below.

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Easy Pulled Pork

4-5 lb. pork shoulder, pork tenderloin, or pork loin roast (see note below)

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

a few drops of liquid smoke (optional)

2 cups chicken stock

Rub all sides of pork with seasoning mix (above).  At this point, you can rest the pork in the fridge for up to 12 hours to get the most flavor out of the rub.  Or, you can start cooking it right away in the crock pot.  Because this big hunk of meat takes so long to cook in the crock pot (8-12 hours), the rub gets into the meat nicely during cooking.  When you are ready to cook your pork, proceed as follows.

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Place onion and garlic in bottom of large crock pot, pour in chicken stock, add a few drops of liquid smoke if desired (be cautious, it’s strong) and place rubbed pork on top.  Cover and cook on high for about 8 hours; on low it may take up to 12 hours.  Cook until the meat is falling off the bone or shreds easily with a fork .  Remove meat from crock pot.  Rest, covered loosely with foil, until steam is no longer rising from meat.  While meat is resting, make sauce.

Barbecue Sauce

Pour the liquid, onions, and garlic from the crock pot into a medium-sized sauce pan.  Add 1 cup of ketchup or 1 ½-2 cups of tomato sauce, 1/3 cup of molasses or 1/4 cup of brown sugar (adjust sweetness to your taste), 1 tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and bring to boil over high heat.  Lower heat to produce medium boil and reduce sauce until it reaches desired consistency, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  It should thicken to a gravy-like consistency but not be too thick to pour.

Pull rested meat into shreds with two forks.  Pour sauce over meat or serve sauce on the side.

Notes:  I have listed cayenne pepper here, but of course, if you are heat-sensitive, you can omit it or use less.  I actually didn’t use cayenne.  I used a hot pepper mix that Theresa, my son-in-law’s mother, gave me.  She buys two varieties of very hot peppers in the market in Kaduna, Nigeria, boils them, dries them in the sun, and grinds them to powder.  She gave me a half-pint of this stuff, and I love it.  It is very hot, hotter than cayenne, but very flavorful.  I intend to try her technique with my habaneros I’ve been ripening on the cut bush in the laundry room.

Also, I listed hot smoked paprika, which I just discovered in bulk at the WinCo store in Reno.  I’ve heard about it for years, but it isn’t easy to find, and it normally isn’t cheap.  It’s quite affordable at WinCo.  I love the flavor it gives, but you could easily substitute plain paprika and add just a drop more of liquid smoke, if you wish.

You can make pulled pork with boneless pork tenderloin or loin roasts, but the best cut of pork for this dish is a pork shoulder roast (also known as butt).  Bone-in is best because the meat has more flavor when cooked on the bone.  The long, slow cooking time tenderizes this tougher cut of meat and allows the fat to cook all the way out, producing a tender, flavorful, and juicy dish.  This dish can also be cooked in a large Dutch oven or turkey roaster with a tight-fitting lid.  Bake at 325 degrees until meat is tender and pulls apart with a fork.  It will take slightly less cooking time in the oven, so keep checking for desired tenderness.

The rub mix gets into the liquid in the crock pot as the meat cooks, so there is no need to add more salt or pepper to the sauce when you use the cooking liquid as the base of your sauce, unless you are a salt fiend.  This produces a medium-hot barbecue sauce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Nigerian pepper mix on left, tomato skins in center, finished rub on right.

We enjoyed this dish so much the other night, I’m planning to cook it again on New Year’s Eve for the family get-together.   I normally take pictures of the finished food, but after smelling this pork cooking all day, we just couldn’t wait to dive into it.  I served the pulled pork and sauce with sourdough rolls, baked beans, and coleslaw, but on this New Year’s Eve, we are having a feast of Nigerian food, prepared by my son-in-law, Solomon, and his mother, Theresa, with help from Amy and me.  I think the pork will go well with the Nigerian dishes, and hopefully, I’ll have some Nigerian recipes to share with you all at a later date.  Happy New Year, everybody.

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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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