Posts filed under ‘Preserves’
Strawberry season was a glorious one this year, starting early and lasting a long time. From the very first quart of local strawberries I saw – or rather smelled – in early May, I vowed to savor them more than ever. Somehow that sweet ripe fragrance got in my nose and stayed there, keeping the craving constant for these morsels of juicy ruby heaven. I never did get my fill, even after more than a dozen quarts!
While it was a bit expensive buying my strawberries from fellow vendors at the farmers market, I felt it was a worthwhile indulgence for fresh eating, particularly after a long hot day of selling my flowers. I wasn’t quite willing to fork over more than $6 a quart (really) to make my annual stash of strawberry jam though so I wait until I visited my parents in rural central Pennsylvania to stop by a nearby produce farm that had generous quarts of super-ripe berries for a mere three bucks. I greedily grabbed five quarts, though only four somehow ended up in Philly after the three hour drive back. Musta been a hole in the car console or maybe a stow away squirrel on board…
In any case, to send off strawberry season in style, I made a luscious batch of jam scented with a vanilla bean and cooked to a perfect consistency. Jam making really is quite easy, especially when you have a simple recipe that doesn’t require that dreaded pack of pectin that never seems to be on city store shelves. If you haven’t tried making your own homemade jam or jelly before (by the way, jam in chunky, jelly is strained to be smooth), this is the perfect one to try since it’s really very simple. The only trick to making sure the jam thickens is to let it boil vigorously, which means you’ll be needing a very large pot to keep it from spilling over and making a mess of your stove.
Slathered on a fresh thick slice of bread from a loaf given to me by another farmers market vendor, I decided strawberry season wasn’t really ending after all. This jam is so full of fresh berry flavor, I’ll feel like I’m eating a ripe strawberry when I crack open a jar in December.
Well, I don’ t know about where you are, but here it’s proving to be the perfect weekend to tuck in and get some things done around the house because, well, there’s really no other choice. In my humble opinion, a couple dozen inches of snow are a wonderful excuse to be a little lazy and perhaps a little bit productive too as your mood suits you throughout the day. Cups of tea and bowls of soup are also necessary amenities for snow days, and I’ve had plenty of both.
But while the rest of the city was running rabid to the store last night, desperately nabbing food to get them through the weekend of snow drifts, I was able to just walk down the steps to my basement and look over my shelves of preserved goodies that have been such a treat over this entire winter: pears, peaches, beans, jams, and pickled beets. That’s right…pickled beets. Ever had such a thing?
I suspect pickled beets are a culinary colloquialism, part of my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, but I could be wrong. All I really know is that I love them, though that wasn’t always the case. When I was a girl, my mom would make large batches of jars full of bright pink chunks of pickled beets, and it was my job to cart them down the narrow stairs to our root cellar to fill the cupboards there. I’m not sure if it was resentment for all the lugging or just the underdeveloped tastes of a kid, but pickled beets equaled “yuck!” in my young mind. Oddly enough, I don’t think we ever ate fresh beets, roasted or otherwise, when I was growing up.
Somewhere along the way, I got over my foolish hang-up about pickled beets and grew to appreciate them for what they are: a delicious sweet and savory treat that, when eaten in a snow storm, reminds me of the sunny autumn days when I plucked those very same beets out of the warm fragrant earth. In a few months, all this snow will have been melted away and it will be time to plant more beets again. They make a perfect spring crop to put in your garden as soon as you can get out there and start scratching out some rows. Be sure to buy plenty of seed so you’ll have enough for a second crop in the fall to make jars full of jewel-toned pickles of your own for next winter.
Here’s a quick and dirty little post on how to make your own pumpkin puree to freeze and use throughout the winter. I happen to be using the large crop of butternut squash that I harvested from my garden to make the batch of puree I photographed for this post, but you can use any type of eating pumpkin. Butternut squash, by the way, make a great substitute for pumpkins (really, you’ll never be able to tell the difference in the final dish) and are usually available much longer in the season, both earlier and later, than pumpkins.
I find it’s best to go at the puree-making process in big batches as it is a bit time-consuming and messy whether you’re making a little or a lot so you might as well make a lot, right? But the effort is worth it as fresh pumpkin puree is notably different from the canned stuff you’ll get at the store. The puree is much more vibrant in color, contains a lot more “juice” that adds moisture to your dish, and retains all the amazing vitamins that pumpkin has. Did you know pumpkins are rich in vitamin A, potassium, and fiber? The addition of pumpkin to just about any dish can be considered a very healthy one indeed. This pumpkin puree can be used in pumpkin rolls, pies, smoothies, ice cream, truffles, bread puddings, risotto, soup, sauces… once it’s in your freezer, you can let you mind go free to dream up all the possibilities.
Tonight I’m watching the first snow of the year flutter in damp fat flakes past the street lamp outside my front window. Oh, hey, look! It’s snowing on the blog here too. Fun, huh? Winter is finally at our doorstep. Seasonal local eating will become a bit of a challenge over the next five months. But that’s where the beauty of putting up jars of this and that and stockpiling root vegetables and winter squash comes in.
One bunch of jars I put up in my cupboard earlier this autumn was of beautiful golden Quince Jam. This project, my first time working with quince, was a very special one for me. Just as with the Pickled Pears last year, mastering quince jam was something I wanted to do for my grandmother. The mere mention of quince brings this amazing sparkle to my 90 year old grandmother’s eyes. She remembers eating it as a child when aged quince trees were still commonly found in the backyards of most farmhouses.
Quince trees are no longer all that common, at least not where I live. In fact, I had never laid eyes on a quince until last autumn when I saw some while working at Longwood Gardens. At that time, I wasn’t smart enough to realize I had the perfect opportunity right before me to make a very special gift for my grandmother. Of course, this autumn, when the quince ripened and became fragrant (though they stay rock hard even when ripe) in October, I made sure to grab a bag and go harvest a bunch from that very same tree.
Now, a quick technical discussion on quince might be helpful. There are actually two different main categories of quince out there: the kind grown for its fruit crop (Cydonia oblonga) and the kind grown for its breathtaking flowers in the very early spring (Chaenomeles speciosa). The flowers of the former one are so-so and the fruit of the latter is, well, so-so, as I discovered. Don’t get me wrong, I’d pick the Chaenomeles (flowering quince) over the Cydonia any day because the fruit is still very tasty, just more of a pain to work with since it’s much smaller and not as prolific as the quince bred for eating. With the flowering quince, you get both a beautiful ornamental plant and a delicious edible harvest. For this recipe, I used the Chaenomeles, but most quince recipes are calling for the Cydonia so be aware of that if the recipe you are using calls for a certain number of quince…Cydonia fruit is much larger than Chaenomeles fruit.
Back to the fun stuff. This jam is really unique and I now understand why my grandmother giggles at the memory of it. The quince has an unmistakable texture – a crunch even after extensive stewing – and a very bright tingly flavor that is unlike any other fruit I’ve tasted. By the way, you really shouldn’t eat quince raw. You might break a tooth for starters and the flavor of a raw quince is apparently very astringent. I absolutely fell in love with having this jam over a warm slice of multi-grain toast. Unlike most jams, this one isn’t overly sweet and that, coupled with the chunky texture, makes it feel like something of substance rather than just another sugary breakfast spread.
I really can’t wait to give a large jar of Quince Jam to my grandmother for Christmas later this month and watch the sparkle spring up in her eyes. We’ll have thick slices of toast and jam together and laugh at all the grandkids running around with their freshly unwrapped toys. What food gifts are you giving for the holidays this year?
I hinted in the last post that I’d been doing a lot of canning recently. I grew up with canning, helping my mom put up all sorts of fruits and vegetables for our family’s winter eating. Sadly, I didn’t always appreciate the font of knowledge that was before me at the time. Nor did I really embrace canning again until last year. This autumn I’ve been a woman on a mission, intent on returning to the traditions of putting up plenty of jars to “keep on keepin’ on” with the local eating long after the garden is in its wintery bed.
The recipe I’m giving you today isn’t exactly the one my mom uses because I like to add a few bits of warm spices to mine, but the concept is very much the same. I used pears from the same tree in the side yard of our family farm that my grandmother used when she was my age. I also happen to use the same canning kettle and jar rack as my grandmother. She gave them to me at Christmas last year. I was extremely sad when she did, because it meant that she herself would never use them again (she’s 90 and unable to see well enough to can anymore) . Once I got started using the kettle though, I felt incredibly grateful to her and to my mom for passing down both the tools and know-how to preserve my own food. As I lifted the heavy jars full of ripe pears into the kettle to be processed, I couldn’t help but feel deeply connected to my family and its heritage as my hands were holding the same handles as my grandmother’s had so many times over so many years.
What follows is a pictorial guide to canning pears with the recipe at the end. This same method can be used to can fresh peaches.