August 2011

Farmer’s markets

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 11:05 am in

One of the benefits of going to a farmer’s market is that you can get some absolute steals when they are at the end of their produce and want to go home.

I got 1.5 bushels of tomatoes for $4. So far I have canned 7 qts of tomatoes and 7 qts of basic meat sauce, and I still have 0.5 bushel left.

What to do with that other half bushel… so many options!

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Boiling Water Bath Canning – basic principles

Posted on August 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm in

This article should serve as a handy reference point for anyone who is unsure how to can by using the Boiling Water Bath, or Hot Water Bath, method. You might want to have a read of my article on setup costs as well.

The technique I am describing here is only for products that can be dealt with in a hot water bath process, or “high acid foods”. A few examples of high acid foods are jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, and chutneys. Foods such as vegetables, meat, fish, stocks and broths are “low acid foods” and need to be dealt with by pressure canning, which I will deal with in a separate article.

First, you need a boiling water bath canner:

canner with jars

Canner and jars

Next you need some jars. Exactly what size you use will vary depending on recipe. Jelly jars hold 1 cup(8 US fl oz)/250ml (centre of rack in picture above). Pint jars hold 2 cups/500ml (centre left and right of rack in picture above). Quart jars hold 4 cups/1 litre (back of the rack in picture above). I know that these are not exact conversions of US fl oz to ml, but the volume difference between the metric and American style jars doesn’t make any difference for our purposes – the recipes and the processing times are the same.

Third, you need lids and bands. New jars come with lids and bands, but you should pick up extra lids when you can get them at a good price. The bands are reusable for many canning sessions – they only need to be discarded if they show signs of rust or corrosion.

And finally, you need something to put in the jars – the “jar contents”.

PREPARATION STEPS

JARS
To start a boiling water bath session, first clean the jars you are going to use. Running them through the dishwasher works well; if you don’t have a dishwasher you can wash them in the sink. Once they have been cleaned, put them in the rack, place the rack in the canner, then fill the canner with hot water (from the tap is fine) until the jars are covered to about a finger width above the rims. Once the jars are covered with hot tap water, put the lid on the canner, put the canner on the hob, and set it to a medium-low temperature.

This is all before you do anything to the “jar contents”. You are aiming to have the jars at a good hot temperature before filling them with the “jar contents” – too much of a temperature difference between the jar and the contents leads to thermal shock, also known as “glass shrapnel and incendiary contents spread across the kitchen”. Thermal shock is generally considered A Bad Thing(TM) and is definitely to be avoided.

Once the “jar contents” are starting to cook, increase the heat under the canner with the aim of getting it to a full boil once the “jar contents” are ready. It’ll take you a little practice to know exactly when to turn the heat up, but don’t sweat it too much – you can keep the “jar contents” nicely hot for a few extra minutes if needed, and it doesn’t really matter if the empty jars are boiling for longer than needed.

LIDS
Give the lids a good clean with plenty of soap and hot tap water and then rinse thoroughly. I have seen many people saying to boil the lids and then keep them in the hot water straight after boiling, but according to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (which I cannot recommend strongly enough – it is absolutely essential for a home canner), all that is needed is to keep them to a simmer – 180F/82C.

Once your lids and jars are ready, you can ladle in your jar contents (the pickles, jam, relish, etc.) and then seal the jars.

SEALING THE JARS
Once each jar is filled to the appropriate level (usually within 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the top of the jar depending on the recipe) you should wipe off the rim of the jar to make sure that there is nothing on the rim to interfere with a proper seal. Use a paper towel sprayed with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water to wipe off the rim. Lift lids out one by one and place on the rim. Screw down the bands to “finger tight”: use your fingertips to screw the lid down until you can’t tighten it any more, but do not tighten the lid as tight as you possibly can. The purpose of this step is to secure the lid on, not to seal it completely – there needs to be a little looseness in the band to allow air to escape, but equally you don’t want water to get into the jar. The jar seal comes from the vacuum you will create in the water bath stage.

HOT WATER BATH
Once your jars, lids, and “jar contents” are ready, it’s time to put them on the wire rack and lower them into the hot water, which should be at a boil at this stage. You want to see a stream of bubbles come up from the jars.

Place the lid on the canner, and process for the amount of time specified in the recipe. Once the processing time is up, take the pot off the heat, take the lid off the canner (carefully! you don’t want to get caught by the steam!) and leave for 5 minutes before lifting the rack out of the hot water and hooking it over the edge of the canner. Use your jar lifter or tongs to take the jars out of the hot water to cool.

COOLING THE JARS
The best way I have found to cool jars without having any danger of thermal shock (hot jars and cool countertops do not mix) is to use a cookie rack. This allows free air circulation around the jars without putting them onto any surface which could turn them into jam bombs.

Leave the jars overnight; the next day you can take the screw bands off and test the seal.

TESTING THE SEAL
Testing the seal is easy. If you can lift the jar up by the lid, the seal is good. If you can’t, the seal is bad! If a jar didn’t seal properly, treat it as an eating jar and just finish the contents within a few days, or as normal (pickles last longer than jams when opened).

You were waiting for me to say what the jar contents are? Well… that’s up to you. Go for it!

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Choosing produce for canning

Posted on August 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm in

The modern grocery store is a wonder. You have all sorts of produce available all the year round – strawberries in December and lemons in July. If you look carefully, you will notice that all of the produce is uniform – everything of one type is pretty much the same size, shape, and colour as the rest. All the apples are about the same size, all the cucumbers are similar lengths and thicknesses, and so on.

There is a good reason for this uniformity – it allows the produce to stack nicely, and it is very visually appealing. The downside is that the produce tastes kind of like styrofoam. Watery styrofoam.

As a home canner you can take a different approach. You can shop at a farmer’s market and buy only what is in season, which means produce that is at the peak of freshness and nutritional value, as well as bursting with flavour. You can also sometimes get great bargains at the end of the day if you walk up, cash in hand: the farmers will often allow you to take the bruised fruit off their hands at a fraction of the store price. You get food which is ripe, tasty, and ready to can.

The other thing you can do is to go for the ugly produce. If you want tomatoes for canning, who cares if they fell out of the ugly tree? The ugliest ones are frequently stunningly cheap, too. As you’re going to chop, strain, and can them, no-one need ever know how hideous they were.

Go shop at your local farmer’s market and see what bargains you can get. Good luck!

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Pluot Jam

Posted on August 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm in

I am in the lucky position where the farmer’s market comes to our office once a week. This is a great way to get people to eat more fruit and veg (put it right in front of them!) so I bought some pluots* and proceeded to make jam with them!

4 pints of sorted, scrubbed, and chopped pluots – about 3lbs
1/4 cup lemon juice – fresh squeezed or bottled
1/2 cup Water
5 cups white sugar
1 packet pectin
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil (I use plain olive oil – not the extra virgin stuff)

Put the chopped pluots in the pot with the water, lemon juice, pectin, and sugar. Heat gently while stirring vigorously to ensure the pectin is completely incorporated into the mix.

Once the pectin is fully incorporated, apply medium-high heat while stirring frequently until the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred down. Keep boiling and stirring for at least 1 minute then take off the heat. If there is a lot of foam stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Once the 5 minutes is up, stir the mixture, jar, lid, ring, and boiling water bath process for 10 minutes, Yield: 8 to 10 jelly jars (1/2 pint).

* pluot: hybrid between a plum and an apricot

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Seasonal eating – July / August

Posted on August 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm in

Apologies for missing out on the July seasonal eating post – I have been busy canning like a madman, because pretty much everything is in season!

Broccoli
Carrots
Tomatoes
Squash
Onions
Potatoes
Cucumber
Eggplant
Beans
Corn
Peas
Garlic
Herbs
Basil
Cantaloupes
Figs
Peaches
Muscadine
Watermelon
Honeydew

What can you make with these ingredients? Pickled cucumbers, relishes, chutney, jams, pie fillings, fruit butters… the list goes on.

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