Archive for the ‘Preserving’ Category

July is National Blueberry Month! Time to break out the Ball canning jars and start hunting for the best market price.

We love blueberries and I practically hoard them in the freezer. I’ve made jam, jelly, conserve, syrup and even juice! There once was a time when my son wanted nothing but blueberry muffins in his lunchbox. So when the sale flyers come out, I head to my local market.

BBon sconeThis season, I experimented with jam and conserve.  I tried a couple of batches and after a few failures, came up with an interesting and tasty conserve. My inspiration came from two sources: an ice cream recipe that called for cardamom and a bag of Tea Forte brand tea that billed as “blueberry-merlot.”  So I got to thinking: could I come up with a blueberry preserve with this flavor combination that had a depth of flavor?

I did a little reading.  The Fine Cooking website has a nice article written by Shirley Corriher on getting fruits to gel. Blueberries can be tough to work with as they contain little natural pectin and low acid—two factors that are required for gelling jellies. So…  What do I use for pectin and how much?  Then there is the question of acid.  Lemon juice seems a natural, but I was looking for a flavor that was not as bright and more complex. I didn’t have a bottle of Merlot around so I thought: balsamic vinegar!  That did the trick.

Here is the recipe.  You may have to fiddle with it depending on the type of blueberry, ripeness and its “terroir” (region).  Enjoy!

Blueberry Conserve

Place 6 pints blueberries in large (6 qt or larger) Dutch oven or nonreactive pot. Crush with a potato masherBlueberries
Add 6 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar

Measure out 3 Cups sugar and set aside.
Measure out 1/3 Cup sugar in separate bowl. To this, add 1.5 packages of Sure-Jell Low Sugar powdered pectin (pink box). Mix until blended and slowly add to blueberries, stirring so that no lumps form.

To the blueberry mixture, add the peel of 1 lemon, yellow part only, no pith.
Measure out 2 grams of cardamom seeds and tie in a bouquet garni. I placed the seeds in a paper “Tea-Sac” and tied with kitchen twine. You may find that cheese cloth is more handy. Be sure to use triple layers as the seeds may escape into your berries! You will fish the peel and the seeds out of the mixture before packing in bottles.

Let the blueberry mix “rest” for 20 minutes. Then stir in the sugar.

Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Remove cardamom packet and lemon peel.

Add 4 additional pints of blueberries. Stir gently and bring to 2nd boil. Reduce heat.

Pack in hot jars and process in water bath for 5 minutes.

*Note:  You may find that you have an excess amount of syrupy mix left in the pot after the jars are packed. I found that this makes a delicious pancake syrup or a special addition to your favorite lemonade. Bottle it up and give to friends! I found some attractive bottles at Sur La Table.BBSyrup

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Easter’s coming and it’s time for me and my mother-in-law to make pickled eggs for the holiday. This is a tried and true recipe that my mother-in-law got from her mother. Her family comes from a long line of Pennsylvania Quaker stock. I think you see these eggs at the Amish markets in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. You need to start these beautiful orbs 10 days in advance of the day you plan to serve them. So get your mise en place and start hard boiling your eggs!Pickled Eggs

Easter Pickled Eggs
12 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2 (14.5 oz.) cans red beets
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar

In saucepan, add beets and juice from cans, vinegar, sugar. Simmer until sugar is thoroughly dissolved.
Place eggs in large heat-proof glass jar. Pour hot mixture on eggs and fill jar completely. Tap to dislodge any air bubbles.
Cover and place in refrigerator for 10 days.
Cook’s Note: if you want to halve or double the recipe, the rule of thumb is to use 1/2 cup sugar for each 14.5-oz can of beets. You can also replenish the pickling juice with fresh eggs.

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It’s apple season! I was on the phone with each of my sibs and was lamenting the demise of our parents and our grandparents. Not only do we miss their company and their wisdom, but we miss their cooking too.

The shame of it is that many families have recipes that are gone forever when our loved ones pass on. This month, I am really missing my grandmother’s apple butter. Both my brother and sister loved the stuff too. We always had some in the house and I used to pile it on toast with tons of butter. We’re talkin’ Breakfast of Champions.

My Grandma: Lilllian Ethelynde Haynes Roberson, circa 1927.

So my brother laid down the gauntlet. “Well, Plucky?…” he said . “I challenge thee to come up with the recipe.”

I started researching. There are a million recipes out on the web for apple butter. My cookbook collection had more than a few too. But in the back of my mind, I had to remember: WWGD (What would Grandma do?).

For those of you who are too shy to ask the question; there is NO butter in apple butter. Don’t let the name fool you. The way I see it, you first have to make applesauce and then step two is to make the apple butter.

Making the applesauce is fairly easy. Just how easy depends on you. You can either go to the store and buy it already made (remember: you are just cheating yourself), or use the preferred method of making it yourself.

I went to the Trenton Farmer’s Market to check out the apples. I was on the hunt for Gravensteins, which Martha Stewart says is the bomb for baking. Nicki Russo had a variety of apples available but her Gravensteins are not yet ready for harvest. She learned that I was going to make apple butter and offered me a deal on a bag of second quality apples for $12. I gave her the cash and this HUGE plastic bag of apples came my way. I felt like I was carrying two toddlers to the car!

Six batches of apple butter later… I can now give you the results of my testing. There’s a great many ways that you can make apple butter and I tried to do what I thought my grandmother would do. She was a very straightforward cook. I think the only spice she kept in the cabinet was cinnamon, so that is what I went with. Take the following recipe as a guide. You can get a further depth of flavor by using a mixture of spices and flavorings. Hey guys!  I think I nailed it.


Step 1:  The Applesauce
4 pounds apples (a variety is preferable, you just want to stay away from crab apple, Fuji, Gala or Ginger Gold).
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar

Wash and cut the apples in 8ths. Leave the peels and cores on.
Place all in a large dutch oven.  Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium and gently boil for 20 minutes, or until apples are tender.

Take pot off heat and allow to cool slightly. Run all the mushy apples through a food mill. (If you don’t have one, you can smash them through a sieve). Discard the cores, seeds and skins. The remaining pulp is your applesauce. You will have anywhere from 6 to 8 cups of pulp.

Step 2:  The Apple Butter

Depending on how your schedule is for the day, you have two options:  the slow simmer, or the even slower crockpot method.

Add a 1/2 cup sugar for each cup of pulp. (Yes, it is a heck of a lot of sugar)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (If you want to go for it, you can try two teaspoons in total of your favorite spice mix)

If slow cooking:mix all together in dutch oven and simmer for 4-6 hours. Stir

I used a Foley Food Mill to process the cooked apples.

frequently as you want the steam to evaporate and reduce your pulp to a jam-like consistency.

If you lean towards the crock pot: mix all together in your crock pot. Turn on high and let it go for two hours. Go out to lunch with a friend. Use a chopstick to vent the lid as you want to keep in heat but not form condensation. (Note to self: PLUG IN CROCKPOT before you go) After mixture is hot, take lid off and stir every 15 minutes until pulp is reduced to favored consistency. This can take anywhere from 6 – 8 hours. Here’s a way to tell when it’s done:  Use a balloon whisk and stir the pot a bit.  If there is a trail left by the whisk when you remove it from the pot, you are done!

Pack that luscious yummy apple butter into jam jars and process in a hot water bath, or freeze small portions, or refrigerate. Pull some out for breakfast the next day and think of Grandma.

Yield: 7 half-pint jars.

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Bread and Butter Pickles

If you are in that season of life where your children are going off to college, you must now be in that “moving out” phase. I am pleased to say that yesterday was the official… absolutely final… everything’s gone… pick up what’s left of the mess… day my baby left the nest.  It’s strange to see your child’s life possessions strapped to the back of a truck as you caravan down the Interstate. As I stared wistfully at the handed-down home furnishings that we’ve saved for this day, I realized that bits and pieces or my own life are moving out with her as well– in ways both tangible and intangible.

So, as Plucky begins a new chapter, she apologizes for the tardiness of this week’s post. As you can imagine, I’ve been sort of busy this week.

I’ve also been in sort of a pickle.  We’ve run out of our favorite home-bottled bread and butter variety and I need to re-stock our larder. So it is time to drag out the canning jars and kettle. If you are new to home canning, I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book. This has everything you need to know about bottling nature’s bounty.  If you are a newbie who doesn’t want to make a huge financial investment, you can usually find Mason and Kerr jars at yard sales.  Just run your finger around the rims to make sure there are no chips or dings. You can buy rings and caps at your local grocery store.

I got this recipe from my mother-in-law.  My husband gets cranky when we run out.

Bread and Butter Pickles

5 quarts (about 20) cucumbers, scrubbed and sliced
10 onions, sliced in rings
Fill sink with cold salted water, Soak sliced cukes and onions for one hour

1 quart cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 1/2 tablespoons celery seed
1 teaspoon tumeric

Bring to boil in 16-quart pan. Add drained cukes and onions. Bring to second boil. Pack in hot jars and process 20 minutes in water bath.

Tip: Sterilize your jars in your dishwasher just before filling.

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Plucky has been getting very picky.  Picky… Picky…. Picky…   Why?  I went back to the farm where it is peach-pickin’ heaven.

Yes, my hands and the steering wheel of my car are covered with peach fuzz from these beautiful orbs of Prunus persica. I went for a second trip to the Lee’s farm and spent a few more idyllic minutes meandering through their peach orchards–picking bucket in hand. If you’ve never stood underneath a tree full of ripened peaches, I highly recommend it. The smell is positively divine and the simple pleasure of twisting each fruit off its branch will sooth the soul and de-jangle the nerves.  There are no cell phones out in the orchards my friend. Just you and the sound of the farm sprinkler off in the distance.

So what does one do with all those peaches? Let me count the ways…

One of the things I did was revert back to my childhood and home canned a few peaches. By the time I was done, the kitchen was totally trashed. The floor was a bit sticky but the dogs happily did their part in keeping up with the drips. The humidity level was on a par with the weather outside. But what the heck? I actually did it. All by myself. Mom would be so proud.

Naturally, I had to save a few peaches for my favorite dessert. It isn’t summer (or my birthday) without a refrigerator peach pie. I LOVE this pie. My mother got the recipe from my Aunt Joan more than 30 years ago. I requested this pie in lieu of my birthday cake.

Let them eat cake… I want this pie.

Fresh Peach Pie

9-inch graham cracker crust (recipe follows)

1 quart peaches, peeled and sliced
Stir in 3/4 cup granulated sugar and let macerate for an hour. You want the peaches and the juice for the next step.

Dissolve 1 package Knox brand unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup COLD water.
When gelatin is dissolved, add 1/4 cup HOT water. Stir to mix. Pour into peaches. Set bowl into refrigerator. Watch carefully as the peach mixture starts to set. Once it begins to thicken (15-30 minutes), pour into your prepared graham cracker pie crust. Chill pie for 6-8 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust
16-18 graham crackers, crushed (or 1 1/3 cup boxed crumbs)
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine ingredients and pack firmly into bottom and sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake in 350-degree oven for 8 minutes. Chill before adding filling.

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