Posts Tagged canning

Doing a little different

A long while ago, canning buddy and I made a slightly caramelized marmalade with some brown sugar for colour, and whisky thrown in at the last second, supposedly for taste. But we never tried it again, for reasons I can no longer remember.

Cue this week’s experiment, an after-work celebration of the fact that the Seville oranges have finally, finally, finally made it to Toronto. Two batches, one with mostly brown sugar, one only with white, and both are pretty damn awesome. I know this because a jar of each marmalade failed to seal properly after their moment in the water bath, forcing me to open and taste both jars before storing the leftovers in the fridge. These are almost the first no-seal jars. Did I take them out of the water bath too early? Fill them too full? Not finger tighten the rings hard enough before the water bath? Who knows. It just means more marmalade to eat right now.

I’m not going to go through the recipe in detail here, because it’s basically the same as the five (!) batches of marmalade I’ve already made this month (Meyer lemon, Cara-Meyer, a mini grown-in-Ontario batch of what was probably calamondin, a mixed orange-lemon marmalade in Florida and a delicate Meyer-blood orange mix that I didn’t blog about).

The method uses equal weights of fruit, sugar and water, with a pre-boil, a slicing of the peels and then a rolling boil until it sets. It’s a method from Marisa at Food in Jars and it usually works. One of the latest batch was regular Seville orange marmalade — with a kilo of white sugar and the same weight in Seville oranges (and one lemon). For the second I used the same amount of fruit, but 650g of brown sugar and 350 of white. It very, very dark — almost a chocolate rather than an orange with a taste that’s almost burnt.

And this time, the set was just about perfect, as opposed to the slightly too runny Cara-Meyer marmalade and the rather well set Meyer lemon mix that started this year’s marmalade season.

I like.

Next up: a Daily Telegraph recipe for marmalade with the addition of black treacle (Britain’s bittersweet and gooey answer to North American molasses), and a blog on using up marmalade. There’s a lot to use.

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Cara-Meyer marmalade

For those that find regular marmalade too bitter, let me offer you this latest experiment, with a few suggestions to make it work better for you than it did for me. You see there were Meyer lemons left over from my Meyer marmalade adventure earlier this week, and there were ripe, sweet Cara Cara oranges from the same Costco expedition. Combining them produces a really pretty orange/pink marmalade, which is almost lacking that mouth-puckering bitterness I love so much. It’s a little runnier than I would have liked, but not runny enough to boil up again to try to get a firmer set. And marmalade sometimes firms up over several days, so it might be thicker by this time next week anyway. A mostly successful experiment, but I would give it a good 15 minutes of rolling boil next time (rather than 12), and perhaps a little more sugar or a little less water.

Just like last time, I (vaguely) used the Food in Jars 1:1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar to water, although I cooked the fruit before cutting it up, and also cut the sugar a smidgeon because the oranges were already pretty sweet. Possibly a mistake. Other things were different too. I had a slightly bigger batch of fruit, I cut the peel finer, and the (seedless) oranges didn’t give me as many of the pectin-rich seeds and pith as I got from the lemons, so there was less help with the set. But I love the colour, and the taste is not half bad as well. Others may love it.

Here’s the methodology and the quantities, which yielded just over 7 jars of pretty orange/pink jam:

Cara-Meyer marmalade
(Somehow Cara-Meyer sounds better than Meyer-Cara)

I used 4 Meyer lemons and 3 Cara Cara oranges, which weighed in 1.1kg, and just under 1kg of sugar.

Weigh the fruit, and set aside a roughly equal quantity of suger. Cut fruit in quarters, cover with water and simmer until the peels are butter soft. That took about 30 minutes for the lemons and 45 minutes for the oranges. Fish the fruit out of the water and allow to cool enough to handle. With the lemons you remove the seeds and as much as the white pith as you can and tie them in cheesecloth, before slicing the peel as finely as you like. The oranges were seedless, so I just scraped flesh off the peel and chopped that up, and then sliced the peels. That breaks traditional marmalade rules which say the peel should be suspended in a jelly. But I like the extra texture that chopped-up fruit offers, so I always add the fruit. Who cares about rules?

Measure the liquid you used to simmer the fruit and add enough water to top things up to the weight of your fruit or sugar (so 1 litre in my case), and then mix the chopped up fruit, sugar and water (plus cheesecloth bag of seeds) and cook, slowly until the sugar dissolves and then at a rolling boil until it sets. We boiled our mix for about 12 minutes, and we thought we had a set. Maybe 15 minutes next time? But then each lemon and each orange is different. It’s hard to be precise with things like jam.

Bottle in sterilized jars and waterbath for 10 minutes.

Et voilla. Slightly sloppy Cara-Meyer marmalade. Tastes very good with cottage cheese, and would be awesome in a marmalade cake, if anyone can ever offer me a recipe for that that works.

Anyone?

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Mmm Meyers

The plan, for what it’s worth, was to make marmalade later this month, once the Seville oranges hit the stores. But how could I resist a giant bag of Meyer lemons at suspiciously low Costco prices?

Meyer lemons make magnificent marmalade, even though I admit to some frustration in the past with recipes that tell you to prep the fruit in three different ways, and some WTF moments with a Meyer marmalade that started off like a syrup, and then set, surprisingly, two days after the canning. So this time I kept things simple, following the formula from Marissa at Food in Jars : one pound fruit, one pound sugar, one pound water.

Well actually, I used two pounds each of fruit, sugar and water, so it wasn’t exactly the smallest of small batches, but it was incredibly easy and it set incredibly fast.

Meyer lemon marmalade

2 lbs Meyer lemons
2 lbs sugar
4 cups water

Wash the lemons (my babies were not organic, sadly), slice off the ends and cut them into quarters or sixths, lengthwise. Slice off the edge piece of the membrane and fish out the seeds, keeping both in a cheesecloth bag to help the marmalade set. Then slice the peel/flesh as evenly as you can, and put it in your pot with the water.

Bring your lemons to a simmer with the little cheesecloth bag (at the top of the picture) and cook until the peels are butter soft — it took about 3o minutes — and allow the mix to cool. Then squeeze out the cheesecloth bag to get as much as the gooey pectin-rich liquid as you can, discard the bag and add the sugar. Heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it sets. Some people use a thermometer for this (222F is the magic number, I am told), but I just put a blob on a cold plate, and if it looks right and stays separated when I run my finger through it, it’s done. I did my first test after 5 minutes of rolling boil, and it was still a little liquid, so I went on for another 4 minutes, which was perhaps a minute or two too long. It’s a good, firm set.

Bottle in sterilized jars and waterbath for 10 minutes. The satisfying pop of the seal came seconds after I took my lovely little jars out of the water.

Five and a half beautiful little jars of sweet-tart marmalade.

I have 8 Meyers left, plus half a bag of luscious Cara Cara oranges. Has anyone ever made a Cara-Meyer marmalade? Would it be good?

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Tomatoes, take two

While Toronto canning buddy and I slaved over a hot stove earlier this year to peel, crush and can tomatoes, New Jersey friend is taking a far less intensive route, squishing bits of tomatoes into jars, and leaving any cooking for further down the road. A visit to her part of the world gave me a chance to see the method in action, although I was too busy slicing and squishing to take any meaningful pictures. We had two boxes of lush field tomatoes to get into a large number of jars. Pictures would only have slowed things up.

And having seen the processing in action, I will concede that this cold pack method is simplicity itself. Wash tomatoes, cut out the woody core (and any dubious bits) and cut them in quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Put a generous slosh of lemon juice into your nice, clean jars (one tablespoon for one-pint jars, two tablespoons for the quart jars), and then force as many pieces of tomato into the jars as possible, adding a sprig of basil if you have basil to hand. Seal, and waterbath, for 30-45 minutes, and allow the jars to sit in the waterbath as the water cools down a little. And then you’re done. No peeling, no heating (the waterbath does that), no pre-bottling-processing at all.

I will admit it’s far, far easier than what we’ve been doing up to now, although you have to be careful not to put cold jars into boiling water (in case they crack), and to let the jars sit as the water cools down to avoid that evil siphoning away of liquid that ruined one of our jars. So that adds time to the processing. And you do seem to end up with slightly orange tomatoes floating at the top of the jar, and a thin, orange liquid at the bottom, so it’s less beautiful than the lush, red jars we got. Will I do this one at home? I’m not quite sure. I like the fact that I can open a jar of (home-canned) tomatoes that’s almost ready to use because some of the liquid has already bubbled away. And with 64 jars from our latest tomato canning adventure, it’s not anything I’m going to have to decide right now. But it’s always good to learn new tricks.

One note. Don’t forget the lemon juice, and use a bottled variety rather than anything you squeeze yourself. Tomatoes are (perhaps surprisingly) a low-acid fruit, so you need the extra acidity that lemon juice brings to be sure that your jars won’t start growing nasty bugs that will make you ill. And there’s a consistency to the acidity levels of bottled lemon juice that you won’t get from the stuff you squeeze at home.

Besides, who has the time and patience to squeeze that many lemons.

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Tomato marathon

Two years ago, which was the last time canning buddy and ran the Tomato Marathon, I did a fact-filled blog entry laying down the what-we-did as we transformed a bushel of delicious San Marzano tomatoes into 43 jars of crushed tomatoes. It was good reference material for this year, serving as a reminder of things like the importance of the fast-moving production line to keep things manageable and the advantage of putting (bottled) lemon juice into a jug and doling it out from there. For future reference, one bottle of lemon juice is enough for one bushel of tomatoes.

This year, after a minor miscalculation about how much we wanted to spend and make, we ended up with 1-1/2 bushels of tomatoes, which meant the Marathon was going to be even longer. We started at 10, and by 3:30, we had 64 glorious jars of crushed summer waiting for their moment in the stew. Fitbit doesn’t show that I took that many steps, but trust me, canning 1-1/2 bushels of tomatoes is pretty damn tiring.

IMG_20160903_155841All the points I made last year remain valid for this exercise. But there were a few additional lessons:

  • You know you will need bowls, knives and chopping boards, but you will actually need more than you think you need. Serrated knives (even a bread knife) cut tomatoes much better than straight ones do, and a single (long) nick on the side of each tomato before you scald it in hot water to get the skin off is ample. It’s also faster than cutting a cross somewhere, which of course doubles the risk of slicing off a finger. It would have been very nice to have two serrated knives, and we only had one.
  • Keep some newspapers back from the recycling so you have something to line the place where you are going to line up your hot jars.
  • Boiling water boils, which means the volume goes down. This is basic physics. Even a journalist can figure this one out. Add an electric kettle to  your list of equipment (if possible) so you can keep topping up the pots when needed without wasting precious space on the stovetop.
  • Talking stovetop, there’s only one way to fit tomatoes, waterbath, kettle and saucepan of boiling water to get tomatoes ready on my stove, where the low-power simmer ring is back right. See picture.IMG_20160903_105455
  • Surgical gloves help protect hands of whoever ends up with the messy task of skinning and squishing the tomatoes.
  • Keep things moving, and start the waterbathing as soon as you can. Each batch takes 35 minutes to waterbath, and that’s what holds things up.
  • You need a lot of jars. They will not all fit into the dishwasher at one time, so keep adding as you take jars out. We ended up with two surplus jars. That’s a pretty small error rate.
  • Almond croissants make a beautiful mid-canning snack.
  • As I have said before. It helps to wear a red shirtIMG_20160903_151530

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Pickle power

CukesI spent many years experimenting with things in jars before I actually pickled cukes. True, I’ve played with bread and butter pickles for the last few years, halving the sugar and varying the herbs and spices from a super-simple New York Times recipe. But somehow until last year I never pickled cucumbers to keep. Big mistake

The recipe came a slim volume from Australian Woman’s Weekly, and makes cucumber spears with a good crunch and some serious attitude from the large quantities of pepper, mustard seeds (both brown and yellow) and chilli pepper. One batch of brine seems to do two batches of pickles, and it’s quick. The most time-consuming bit is cramming the pickle spears into sterilized jars. I eat them in a sandwich, or with a large block of cheddar cheese.

But either we squished too many cukes into the jars, or the brine levels sank overnight, and while there’s a good seal on the jars, the top layer of cucumbers is no longer covered in brine. From all my pickling reading, this is not a good thing, because the air will soften (or even rot) the pickles. We will store these jars in the fridge rather than in the cold room, and eat them fast. It may not be too difficult.

Pickled cucumbers

3-4 kg pickling cucumbers (ours were mostly about 5 inches long)
1/3 cup kosher salt
5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
3 Thai chillies
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dill seeds
8 cloves

Wash the cucumbers and slice off both ends and discard the ends (I read somewhere that the enzymes in the blossom end is one reason pickles go soft, and life is too short to figure out which end is the blossom end as you chop your way through a few dozen cucumbers). Slice them in quarters lengthwise, put in a large container with the salt and let them sit overnight in the fridge.

cukes3

The next day sterilize your jars (we used the dishwasher) and rinse the cucumbers under cold water and let them drain. Put all the other ingredients in a large saucepan, bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the flavour. Add a couple of pounds of the cucumbers and bring the liquid back to the boil.

cukes2

Now pack the cucumbers into the jars, squeezing in as many as you can, while still leaving at least half an inch of headroom. Add enough of the hot vinegar mix to cover the cucumbers completely, and seal the jars while they are still hot. Repeat, as needed, until the cucumbers are gone. Store the jars in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate them after you open them.

The recipe, like most of those from this particular book, makes no mention of waterbathing the pickles, and I suspect this much vinegar doesn’t leave much chance for bacteria to grow. But I’m also sure USDA recommends 10-15 minutes of waterbathing, depending on the size of the jars. It’s up to you.

 

 

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Blue magic

One minute I had blueberries. Next minute, or so it seemed, I had jam. Perhaps the easiest jam on the planet.berries

It started with a visit to the pick-your-own farm on the way back from a bike trip this weekend, and we scooped up $10 worth of blueberries in very short order — a surprisingly large quantity.

I did look up a couple of recipes, because blueberry jam is not one of those that I make every year. But I ignored both of them in favour of a modified 6:4:2 ratio — six cups fruit, four (scant) cups sugar and the juice of two lemons. One of the recipes suggested simmering the berries in a half cup of water for 10-20 minutes, so I simmered for five minutes, and I added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, because I thought the blueberries could use a little extra tang.

And it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of set. First I had a blue liquid, with a few floating berries, and I thought I’d be pouring blueberry syrup on my ice cream all year. Then it boiled up, to double the starting volume, and then quite suddenly the volume went down, the liquid thickened up, and I started scraping seriously jelled jam off the sides of the preserving pan. How easy can things get?

berries2

Blueberry balsamic jam
(makes 5 250mm jars)

6 cups blueberries
1/2 cup water
4 (scant) cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Wash the berries, and put them in a heavy preserving pan with a half cup of water, and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the berries start to break down a little. Add the lemon juice, and then the sugar, a little at a time, and then bring to a rolling boil. Boil hard until it sets, which took less than 5 minutes. Add balsamic, and boil for another minute or so, just for good luck.

Bottle in sterilized jars. You should then waterbath for 10 minutes (according to USDA guidelines), but I skipped that stage. The lemon juice and the balsamic should make this jam plenty acidic enough to store, and it’s only a few jars. There’s room in the fridge for that.

Eat on toast, on bagels, on muffins, on yogurt, or spoon it out of the jar. It’s good.

 

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