Tuesday, October 12, 2010


First of all, I love windfall fruit. Second, I love pears. Third, I love putting them up in jar after sparkling jar where their champagney color shines through. But, sometimes when canning, I start feeling overwhelmed. Oh, say, for instance when I got through my 5th batch of preserves and a healthy stash of baby food, and realized that I still had about 10 pounds of pears left. That said, there's something about just soldiering through them all and getting it done.

Canning some 40 pounds of pears has taught me a lot about why I like to preserve. To me, there's a great feeling of safety in feeling like food has been set aside, lying in wait. Canning is also a metaphor for turning what's been stifled into something good. What does that mean? It means that for every time I've been stressed out, and chosen to get to work with this stuff, I've ended up with a beautiful collection of jars to share. A good many times I've known in my heart that it's not wise to talk about my feelings, so I've bottled them up, put them in jars, sealed them, and shown them off here. In short, I find that the amount that I can is directly proportional to how overwhelmed or vexed I feel. It calms me down.

To wit, the past two weeks' therapeutic canning has been brought to me by my friend Krista, who gave me all of these knotty, little pears. I've worked off a basic pear preserve recipe which reminds me of my Nana's work. She somehow managed to create long ribbons of those hard, farm pears which cooked up beautifully in wide breadth, and then were stuffed into jars with their syrup. This time, I've cooked up the original recipe, but I've also made it four other times: Once with a vanilla bean infused in the syrup, another time with a nice splash of Grand Marnier, again with chopped, crystalized ginger, and most recently with ginger with the addition of a chopped red delicious apple and a dash of cinnamon. Here we go...

Pear Preserves:
4ish cups chopped pears (to your liking, but I worked with thin, wide slices)
2 TBS bottled lemon juice (consistent pH, yo.)
4ish cups sugar
1 pkg. pectin
1/2 tsp. butter (if desired to reduce foaming)

Peel, core and slice pears as you like to yield about four cups. I say "about" because I think that some pears are more watery and/or crispier than others.

gratuitous adorable baby with pears shot...

In a nice sized pot, place your pears, lemon juice, and any flavoring you might add--this would be the time to introduce that vanilla bean, liqueur or ginger. (I think I used half of a whole vanilla bean split down the middle) Stir well, and then sprinkle the pectin on top of the mixture.


Bring to a rolling boil, then add your sugar, and bring back to a boil for about 3 minutes or to reach roughly 220 degrees F.

While the pears are cooking, I usually bring my water bath to a good boil and sterilize my jars and rings. In a separate bowl with boiling water, I warm my lids. Once the fruit mixture has fully cooked, turn off the heat and get ready to fill the jars that you've naturally readied to fill. Using a canning funnel, fill the jars to ~1/4 inch of the top, wipe the rims with a wet cloth, pop the lids on and screw on the rings.

Process at a rolling boil for 12 minutes. This means I usually process them for 15 minutes because it takes a tiny bit to bring the pot back to a boil. Finally, you're left with just the pretty, popping lidded jars on the counter. This recipe yields about 3 pints (6 half pint jars) per batch, and is dedicated to everyone who has ever been told to put a lid on it, that nobody cares if they scream, or has been left to silently "white knuckle" their way through life. Pop off that lid---there's a whole jar full of sweetness.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I've been staring at 5 pounds of organic red onions for 2 weeks--or maybe they have been staring at me. After seeing this recipe, I became convinced that Pickled Red Onions with Mustard Seed was absolutely the next canning adventure I should have. I think it was heavily influenced by the pretty pink onion draped over the delicate, sterling pickle fork that got me.

Today, I finally got to it. Well, I basically decided that 2 hours in the kitchen would be preferable to 2 hours of studying statistics. In the end, the effort was well worth it, but I sort of felt like I was being punished for neglecting my books as the stinging onion eyes set in. As you can see, the end result is beautiful, and there was even enough brine left over to make some refrigerator pickles with my baby carrots.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

what's your favorite thing?

My son has been following me around the house asking me this question for days mainly because he loves the answer. He teases me, challenges me, and laughs with hysteria as I answer, "plum jam" every time.

Him: "Don't you know that PEOPLE are more important than plum jam?"
Me: "Noooo...nothing is better than plum jam."
Him: "OH COME ON! You like Baby better than plum jam!"
Me: "I'm not so sure..."
Him: "Mom. I'm your son. The care of others comes first."
Me: "Stop with the guilt tripping. I'm all UH-BOUT some plum jam!"
Him: "Name your three favorite things!"
Me: "Plum jam, plum jam, plum jam!"

I've never thought a whole lot about plums. Sure, summer rolls around and I cut those luscious California black plums into eighths for snacks, but I've never really thought of them outside the odd offering of a sauce next to duck or turned into prunes which Mom would warn to never eat more than two of.

But, when my parents decided to go out of town and left me with a sack of plums, I decided to turn them into jam without much of a clue as to how I was going to accomplish it. Do you peel the plums? How much sugar do you use? The recipes vary, but I decided not to peel them, and chose to lower the sugar content because most times I felt like people were calling for way too much.

What I came up with astounded me. It is the most heavenly pinky red color and tastes like heaven. This summer I've canned like a locavore, but I'm really glad I took a leap and used these West coast beauties.

plum jam

4.5 cups chopped, pitted, unpeeled black plums
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 package of pectin
6 cups sugar

Chop your plums and place them in a large pot with the lemon juice and water. Cook them on medium-low heat for ~20 minutes or until soft.

Once soft, add the pectin and bring the mixture to a rolling boil for one minute. Then, add the sugar, stirring constantly. This is the first time that I've used a candy thermometer to really look for accuracy in temperature, but I found it was very helpful in watching for 220 degrees. This resulted in a really nice semi-firm set.

As you can see, the plums cook up just beautifully. Next, ladle the hot mixture into prepared jars, and add lids and rings. I ended up with 4 half pint and 5 four ounce jars of jam. I am really glad I used less sugar, and truly would even consider lowering the content to around 5 cups. This has been probably been the most delicious fruit preserve I've made this summer. Maybe I'll consider red plums when I'm finished putting up the 1/2 bushel of peaches I just bought!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


With just a few weeks left of peach season left in middle Georgia I'm feeling a special sense of urgency about getting enough to complete all the peachy things I'd like to put up before our state fruit vanishes until next year. Peach salsa was a huge hit, and so Mom and I have decided to make a double batch to put away in quart jars with a few alterations---maybe an onion with more "oomph" than the Vidalia, definitely more jalapeno, maybe a smidge more cumin, a slightly heavier hand with the cayenne... We'll also need to freeze a bunch of slices for smoothies or other emergency canning ideas.

This summer I've made 4 batches of peach jam for keeping and giving. The first was from a clingstone variety called Springprince. Admittedly, I was a bit overwhelmed with what to do with an entire box of peaches, and found myself flummoxed after peach icecream, muffins, and a couple of cobblers. By the time I made jam the peaches were getting a bit too ripe, and the set ended up a bit soft. Still, the sheer rush of having a bunch of crystal jelly jars filling the shelves was fantastic--and then I gave them all away. And then I was sad because I had no more jam.

I drove out to the packing shed with my Mom and got a heavenly soft serve cone of peach ice cream and another box of peaches--this time, a freestone variety called Fireprince. I have loved these peaches. The flavor is fantastic and the jam is a brilliant color.

I make jam from a simple recipe which calls for a whole mess of fruit and way too much sugar. My friend will be glad to know that my next experiment will include Splenda.

Here goes:
4 cups finely chopped peaches
1 box of pectin (I used Sure Jell)
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
5.5 cups of sugar
1/2 tsp. butter to reduce foaming

As I was looking over the photos that I took for this post, I realized that a rather cute baby had gotten in the way of my photographic focus, and so there are some gaps in my process. First, I blanch the peaches for about 2 minutes, and then plunge them into a bath of ice water.

After they've cooled for about 2-3 minutes, the peach skins should slide right off leaving you with nice, naked peaches perfect for chopping. I put mine in the food processor and pulsed them which left me with four cups of a combination of puree, dice and some nice, chunky bits.

Next, you'll put your peaches in a non-reactive pot and stir in the lemon juice and packet of pectin. Add your butter, and then bring the mix to a full, rolling boil. When you've reached this point, quickly stir in the sugar. It really helps to have the full amount set aside and ready to pour in. You'll return the mixture to a rolling boil, and stir constantly for one minute, skimming off foam with a slotted spoon.*

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops.

Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner.

(Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. Remember to listen for the pop! pop! pop! of well processed jars. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

You'll end up with 7 pretty half pint jars of this gorgeous jam. I've also played around with making cute 4 ounce jars, but it seems like that's not quite enough and the pint jars seem a shade industrial for the average family although it'd make the perfect amount for the Linzer torte that I've got the itch to make!

*note to new "jammers": don't get too zealous in your skimming or you can lose a lot of what will be jam.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

10 things tuesday: things I love.

1. Thinking of last night, I love Belinda's Peach Salsa recipe and am thrilled with the 8 and a half pints I was able to preserve. This recipe has a "slow heat" and would be perfect with meats or just to dip insane amounts of tortilla chips into!

2. I love that my oldest son told me, "Life is about doing the helping of others." as I lingered over my email a few extra seconds while the baby cried. He's most assuredly correct, so I stopped immediately to soothe the little guy.

3. I love my milk glass fruit basket. It makes any table look so pretty even when it's empty.

4. I love making a coffee at home--the grinding, tamping, brewing, the steaming of the milk, and all of it straight into your favorite cup.

5. I love that one of my best childhood friends is in a band and has created this fantastic EP for free download.

6. I love how the baby is genuinely thrilled to wake up every morning--he coos and smiles and giggles in the most irresistible way.

7. I love that the baby loves to sleep late every morning!

8. I am delighted at how my little girl enjoys thinking of craft and kitchen projects for the two of us to pursue--today she wants to put something in the "teeny tiny" jars. We'll see...

9. I love how absolutely talented my husband is--he's singlehandedly turned a shell of a carport into an enclosed garage and beautifully trimmed the entire room with wood fallen in a storm.

10. I bow to the wisdom of gratitude and of the compassionate Tonglen practice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

wild apple butter

"Windfall: Function: noun; Date: 15th century
: something (as a tree or fruit) blown down by the wind

: an unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage"

I went to visit my sweet friend on St. Simons Island over the 4th of July weekend. As always, good times, juicy conversations, and rolicking laughter were abundant. Also in
abundance? Beautiful, small apples from my friend's tree. The best surprise was the bag of almost 10 pounds of apples that came to me after she had taken her little Westie on his morning promenade! The naive, yet ambitious canner in me decided to try for a batch of the richest, spiciest apple butter to rival even that which is spread on your raisin toast on a midnight run to Waffle House. (really. sort of.)

see those sweet, little apples?

Anyway, I've never really been good with a recipe, but I peeled every last apple, and then steamed them in the microwave with scant apple cider vinegar. Working in batches, I fed them through the food mill on my Kitchenaid mixer. I had forgotten how fun it is to watch the yummy puree plop into the bowl while the yucky pulp, seeds, and core head out the back door of the extruder.

the food mill is the neatest thing!

Some 80 ounces of puree later, I pulled out my crock pot and dumped every last bit of the apples in. I cooked the puree on high for one hour, and added a generous tablespoon of cinnamon, a heavy teaspoon of ginger, and then irresponsibly sprinkled nutmeg and allspice in unknown quantities over the apples. After one hour, I gave the apple butter a good stir, and then set the temperature on my slow cooker to low. I allowed the mixture to cook overnight, and then was thrilled to be greeted by the most fantastic smell in the kitchen the next morning.

As soon as the baby was settled in his bouncy seat, I got to the business of preparing the jars, lids, and water bath. When everything was ready, I carefully ladled out enough apple butter for 10 half pint jars--and just enough leftover to spread on toast! I processed the jars for 12 minutes, and then got to hear the glorious, "POP! POP! POP!" as they cooled on the counter.

The more I read about "windfall" fruit, the more intrigued I am. There seem to be account after account of produce going unclaimed. Now I'm starting to have fantasies of getting the call to dash off and rescue 15 pounds of ripe plums, the fruit of a mysterious blackberry patch or a tree full of Turkey figs in the middle of a city. Getting this bounty from my friend has just fueled the excitement, which, of course sort of reminds me of that scene in the movie Juneau when the title character sarcastically tells her stepmother to "Dream big!" upon hearing about her desire to have Weimaraners.

Maybe it's not dreaming too big, but there's something therapeutic and satisfying about "putting up" jar after jar of food. There's some base level feeling of security in knowing that (go ahead, dramatically put the back of your hand to your forehead.) your family will have food squirreled away.

What's next? Peach Jam. After that? Peach Salsa. Must make the most of the last few weeks of the season in middle Georgia. In the mean time, if anyone has a line on a tree of neglected something or other please let me know!