Sunday, November 22, 2009

Small-Batch Canning

Over the past few weeks, I have been putting up a bit of my produce. Quite a few people seem to be afraid of canning. But if you follow a few simple rules it's quite safe and relatively easy to do.

USDA has several canning guides available so I won't go into too much detail about procedures. All of the canning that I am doing uses the boiling water method. Since I am mostly working with fruits (and the occasional pickle) which are high acid, boiling water canning works easiest and is perfectly safe. Low acid foods such as meats, poultry, fish and vegetables (except tomatoes) are low acid and require a pressure canner (which is not something I ready to dive into).

The only special equipment that I have is a jar lifter, jar funnel, a magnetic wand (for sterilizing lids) and a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot.

A total investment of about $10. You can buy a special canning pot, but I have found that the stock pot I already own works just fine.

I started with some peaches that were not really good out of hand (they had kind of a weird texture) and some plums that were just starting to go wrong. I hate to be wasteful so I decided to turn them into sauce then can them for later use.

Here's the ingredients for the Spicy Peach Sauce:

5 ripe peaches, peeled and diced
1/2 cup sugar

3 star anise

a few shakes of cayenne

And here's the ingredients for the Spiced Plum Sauce:

5 ripe plums, peeled and diced
1/2 cup sugar

3 allspice berries

2 cloves

1 stick cinnamon

The method was the same for each of the sauces. I combined each of the fruits with the sugar and spices in a heavy non-stick saucepan.



I let each of them cook, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes, just long enough for the sauce to thicken. If I was making jam or jelly, I would have cooked the fruit quite a bit longer (until 220 degrees, which can take up to an hour) but since I didn't need the sauce to gel too much I didn't need to cook it for very long.

Peach sauce

Plum sauce

Next I removed the spent spices from each of the pots. Then, using a ladle and my jar funnel I filled each of the sterilized (and still warm) jars with sauce. It's important to leave about a 1/2 inch of space at the top of each jar. I actually didn't have enough jars for all my sauce, so I just stuck the extra in a couple of Gladware containers and popped them in the fridge to use right away (within 3 weeks or so).

I sterilized each lid in the boiling water for about 10 seconds, putting each on top of a jar as they were done. Next I added the screw lids, then each of the jars went into the pot of boiling water for 10 minutes to process. Once the time had elapsed I removed the jars from the water bath to cool.

Now comes the moment. Either a vacuum is going to form resulting in a "pop" as the lid sucks down (it's just the best sound when you are canning) or it's not. If the jar doesn't seal, you can try to process it again, but if it doesn't work the second time you can just pop that jar in the fridge and use it right away instead of three months from now.

I used the peach sauce as a topping for vanilla ice cream (I love that spicy sweet thing). I haven't actually tried the spiced plum sauce, but I think it's going to be great on chicken or pork.

Next up, pickled beets.
I've talked a bit before about the husband's love of beets. But even if a person loves beets, sometimes you can only eat so many of them. So, I decided to pickle a bunch of them so we could enjoy them all winter long.

I combined a couple of recipes into the method I eventually used. The pickling liquid is a little sweet, kind of sweet pickle style.

Here's the ingredients for the pickled beets:

7 medium red beets (about 4 pounds)
2 onions, sliced

2 cups vinegar

2 Tablespoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries

I started by boiling the beets until they were just cooked through.

While the beets cooked, I combined the vinegar, salt, sugar and spices in a stock pot, brought the mixture to a boil, then let it simmer very gently, covered, until everything else was ready.

Once the beets were cool I peeled them then sliced them into bite-size pieces then sliced the onions.

I layered the beets and onions into each of the jars (beets, onions, beets, onions, beets), packing slightly. I strained the pickling liquids to remove the spices then poured the hot liquid into each of the jars, again leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top of each jar. Lids on, bands on, then into the boiling water for 10 minutes of processing.

We took our first try of these after about a week. Delicious. Sweet and tangy. I think if I were to make these again, I would boil the onions for just a minute or so. They were still quite crisp (just a little too crisp) but not enough that they were inedible. They were perfect as an accompaniment when I cooked some of the Bierocks stashed in the freezer.

Finally we come to yesterday's canning extravaganza (a cantravaganza, if you will).

In this week's box I got four pears and two Asian pears. Well, since I hadn't even eaten the pears and Asian pears from the last box I decided to take a preemptive strike and can the pears right away.

I also decided to try using the two week old fruit. They were quite soft so I decided to make them into pear butter (even though the recipes all say not to use soft fruit).

In addition I received a wealth of grapes from someone in my hand bell choir. Two gallon-size Ziploc bags of red, green and purple grapes. With those I decided to make a conserve.

First up the poached pears. Again I used a few different recipes as reference. Most recipes for wine-poached pears use red wine, but since I prefer white wine, I decided to use it instead.

Here's the recipe I came up with for the Wine-Poached Pears:

4 pears (in this case, I think it is important not to use old or soft fruit)
2 cups white wine (I used a chardonnay)

1 cup sugar

1 stick cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon vanilla

I started by combining the wine, sugar and cinnamon stick in a small stockpot. I brought the mixture to a simmer (stirring to dissolve the sugar), then left it on low heat until the pears were ready.

I peeled, cored and quartered each of the pears and packed them into my jars. Two of the jars ended up with 1 1/2 pears, one of the jars only had one pear.

Off the heat, I added the vanilla to the wine, then filled each of the jars with the wine mixture. Lids, bands, then 25 minutes of processing in the water bath.

I haven't tasted these yet since all my jars sealed, but I am imagining using them in a salad with greens, blue cheese, some nuts and a nice vinaigrette.

Next up, the pear butter. I peeled, cored and diced the pears and Asian pears, discarding the really bruised parts.

I followed the recipe for Caramel-Pear Butter from the Epicurious Web site so I'm not going to repeat it here. I did, however, cut the recipe by a third and substitute white wine for apple juice (because I didn't have any apple juice and I had wine open for the poached pears).

I used 6 pieces of fruit and it resulted in 1 1/2 cups of pear butter. Not a lot of product for the amount of effort involved, but it is delicious (and I was going to throw the fruit out anyway). I'm thinking pancakes, with pear butter, next weekend.

Lastly I made the grape conserve. Here's the ingredients (and sorry, I don't have a photo):

2 gallon-size Ziplocs of grapes, about 8 cups (most grape jelly and jam recipes call for concord grapes, but I just used what I had)
6 cups sugar

2 Tablespoon lemon juice

4 cups walnuts, chopped

A lot of the conserve recipes that I consulted called for cooking the grapes with a small quantity of water for about 20 minutes, then running the grapes through a food mill to get rid of the skins and puree the grapes. Well, I wanted pieces of grape in my conserve. That, unfortunately, meant that I had to peel all of the grapes (yes, you read that right).

Several Web sites suggested freezing the grapes overnight then running the frozen grapes under warm water to get the skins to slip right off. Well, this worked, kind of. I wouldn't exactly say that the skins slipped right off, but it was somewhat easier (except for those purple grapes, those skins stayed tight, grrr). This process took about three hours.

I cut each of the grapes in half (and removed the seeds from the red grapes) then put them in a large, heavy stockpot along with the sugar and the lemon juice. I brought this to a boil and cooked it until it reached a temperature of 220 degrees (this took about an hour). Then I stirred in the walnuts and ladled the mixture into eight 1/2 pint jars (with about 1 1/2 cups left over, but I have Thanksgiving plans for that). Once again, lids, bands then into the boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

This stuff is tasty! I'm thinking this would be yummy on waffles (hmmm, maybe I'll make waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast).

For Thanksgiving I planning on cutting a wheel of brie in half (lengthwise) loading up the middle of it with some of this conserve, then wrapping the whole thing in puff pastry to make a delicious baked brie. I'm really excited about it (and I'll try to get a picture of it before it gets devoured).

If you've never tried canning, I highly recommend it. It's so nice to have so many tasty goods stashed away for last minute guests or for an easy dinner (or breakfast).

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