posts tagged with 'preserves'
We made the year's first batch of blueberry jam today. Our timing is perfect in one regard: the final jar of last year's production is open in the fridge, so we need to restock. On the other hand, it's hard to do all that boiling when it's already too hot and humid to live. We managed to get our strawberry jam made in wonderful cool weather this year (which is not always the case!) but blueberry season is pretty much prime time for heat. I'm excited about canning tomatoes later this year, but they have the same problem. At least this evening we were able to escape our steamy house for a wonderful dinner out at our friends' house in luxurious South Boston.
If you're interested in keeping track of our preserving efforts, I'm recording them online this year—or trying to at least. Just now I notice that, while I actually made two batches of strawberry-rhubarb jam this year, I only wrote down one. That will be corrected as soon as I can figure out when I made the second batch.
One problem with the canning this year is that, aside from the blueberry discussed above, we didn't finish any of last year's supplies. Strawberry jam, grape jelly, a couple kinds of pickles, relish, applesauce, pickled peppers: some examples of all those things, and more, remain from the 2011 preserving season. We have to do better at giving things away! Not only is last year's bounty clogging up all the room on the shelves, unless we empty out some of those jars we're going to have to go out and buy some more!
I made some applesauce this evening. Yes, it's not really apple season any more, but we still have the best part of a bushel sitting in our kitchen that needs to be dealt with soonish. Applesauce isn't any hard, but somehow it's tough to find time to get it done around here; the 4:30 dinners and correspondingly early bedtimes (for us, not just the kids) may have something to do with that, but mainly it's just not easy to summon up the energy to start the undertaking.
I used to have the same problem getting bread made, but then we stopped buying it and now the threat not having any bread at all generally gives me sufficient motivation to produce; but any prospect of no applesauce (or pickles or whatever) is so far in the future it doesn't provide me the same kick in the pants. What we really need to do is invite other people over for preserving parties! Anyone interested in getting on the schedule for next summer?
On Sunday afternoon Leah's brother Jake brought over a cooler-full of concord grapes that he picked in his Cambridge yard. Some people have all the luck: we slave over our garden for months in order to come up with a few tomatoes, and he moves into a place where he can pick over a bushel of grapes in an easy hour's work.
Happily, he decided to share them with us, if for no other reason that we have all the canning equipment. Over the course of about six hours we processed almost all the good grapes—neither green nor rotten—into almost two gallons of grape jelly and a similar amount of what we're calling grape juice concentrate. Leah finished up the juicing work on Monday. It was a whole lot of work, but also pretty awesome to bust through that much fruit at once. We're going to take some of the jellies, but Jake gets the majority as befits his status as picker and vineyard owner. I think he's now in pretty good shape for holiday gifts for this winter.
We served up some of the juice to our Bible study peeps this evening, and I'm not sure if it was a complete success. There's a limit to how much particulate matter you expect in your grape juice, and a different limit for a substance to be qualified as a liquid at all, and this juice might have exceeded both limits by a considerable distance. Call it country-style. Our friends are polite and they drank it; they may even visit us again one day. All I can say is that much concentrated grapey goodness must be good for you!
Our counters are stained purple, perhaps forever, and our compost is as well-enriched with grape skins as our minds our with delightful memories of grape canning. There were also a very many seeds down the disposal in the sink, most of which I had to pull out by hand since there were showing no signs of being disposed of by the machinery. I call the move my grape seed extract.
As I mentioned on my Google+ thingy, we went blueberry picking today and this time there was no unseemly delay between picking and putting up. It helped that we had Bridget and her children over to learn how to make jam; we could hardly make them wait! It was also a great day for it, with a nice breeze to blow away the steam and cool down the youngsters playing outside. Yes, all but one of the kids failed to express any interest in the preserving; if I was more like the little red hen I wouldn't let them eat any either!
Naturally, making jam was much more fun in company. True, I did distract myself with my instructions and make two mistakes in my own batch of jam, but that's why I left the students with a pot to look after themselves! Do as I say, I suppose. I think it came out fine regardless. Our kitchen is a little small for much communal food preparation, making me wish for a set-up something like the one we visited in Sandwich, but friends don't mind close quarters.
Bridget, being a good natural sweeteners sort of hippy, was a little taken aback to hear that our recipe (from Food in Jars) uses as much white sugar as it does blueberries. Hey, at least it wasn't the well-over-half-sugar strawberry jam! In my role as wise teacher I explained that the sugar both helps the jam to set without excessive cooking and also acts as a preservative. I hope that's all true!
Since we had the canning kettle going, I also did a batch of relish. Since, in order to cook it today, I had to grate and mix all the vegetables yesterday, I feel like I should be congratulated for my forethought and drive. Sure, I was working late into the night and so was not at all happy when the rest of the family decided they wanted to be up and about at 6:30, but in retrospect that's just what we needed to get out into the blueberry fields at anything approaching a respectable hour. See, everything works out.
We brought Harvey's birthday wagon with us picking, having seen and been jealous of someone else with a wagon last time we were out. It was just the thing for carrying water bottles, blueberries, and Harvey and his friend Ollie. We didn't have cameras along due to the Serious Business picking we meant to do, so the practicality and cuteness is not documented in these pages—but Bridget snapped a picture with her phone and maybe she'll share that with us. Because heaven knows we don't have enough cute pictures of Harvey around here.
I love preserving... in theory. Leah knows that it takes some encouragement to actually get me going on making jam or pickles: it's such a big production, especially in this crazy heat. For example, I want to make pickles before we leave tomorrow with the cukes I picked the other day, but I haven't done it yet. And dill pickles are super easy! We were planning to leave early tomorrow but something came up, and now we won't be able to leave the house until after nine; so of course I jumped on the excuse and declared I'd do em in the morning. "Then we won't have to deal with the steam in the house, because we'll be leaving!" That would work even better if I hadn't also deferred 17 other tasks. It'll be a busy morning, but that's only right for about to leave on vacation.
In my defense, I did make bread and two batches of pesto and chocolate chip cookies (with Leah's help), and we've packed up more than half of the items on our two-page, two-column-to-a-page checklist. So I'm not a total disaster.
Just under the wire June-wise, I got the strawberry jam made. And boy, is it a relief. You may recall my concern, which was briefly alloyed when I picked eight quarts of strawberries but then returned when the jam I made on Friday didn't set properly. That's what I get for trying a new recipe, and for picking berries after a couple consecutive days of rain. Fearing there wouldn't be any picking days left (and disappointed at the prices for pick-your-own: $3.00/lb is hardly worth the driving and effort) I picked up three quarts of local berries from Wilson Farms. Those, plus the leftovers I picked and left to dry out in the fridge for a week, are now eight quarts of delicious, traditional recipe, sugar-filled jam.
Luckily, it was a fine day for jam cooking: which is to say, for having three pots of boiling liquid going on the stove at once. The sun was hot, but there was a wonderful breeze and we kept the house open all day to blow away the steam. Much better than the first time, lo these many years ago. (What I was doing with four boiling pots back then I have no idea.)
What I made today alone is enough to take us through until next year. In addition there's also the four and a half quarts I made on Friday using liquid pectin (for strawberry jam I usually use Sure-Jell powdered), and the five-plus quarts I made from this recipe from Food in Jars (though without the vanilla beans; I never have vanilla beans). The former eventually did set, roughly, after 48 hours or so, and the latter I will attempt to re-cook to make it something more than lemony strawberry sauce. It is not now jam.
But regardless, I have eight solid quarts. Phew. I celebrated by dining on a peanut butter and jam sandwich made with the foam skimmed from the top of the jam, which is really more like a peanut butter and strawberry-flavored sugar sandwich. Just the thing. We still have about half a jar left of last year's strawberry jam, and it'll be back to finishing that up with the next sandwich, but today had to enjoy the new.
And there's still almost a full pint of strawberries left. I guess we'll just have to eat them, you know, raw.
As I mentioned, I did my best with the limited skills I possess to come up with a minimally acceptable set of homemade presents this Christmas. Preserves I can handle, but all that I needed to do for them last week was applying labels and making boxes. All the hard work was way back in the summer, which doesn't quite seem fair.
I did manage a little bit of baking: I made some well-received orange-chocolate shortbread and some ugly and deformed peanut-butter cups. Perhaps I would have done better had I started the whole project earlier than 9:30 in the evening on Christmas Eve. Next year.
My other project was a set of calling cards—mama cards, if you will—for Leah. She asked me to make her some: they're apparently a thing, and really do seem like a good idea for when you happen to meet someone at the playground. Not that that's likely to happen for a couple months; Harvey and I tried to go yesterday, but the snow cover was complete enough to prevent any fun from being had. In any case, this was one task where I could fully leverage my core skill-set of putting a little bit of information on a document with a whole lot of white space around it and calling it elegant design. Really, Harvey is so photogenic that nobody will be looking at the text anyways. Unless, I suppose, they want to call Leah. Luckily her number isn't blurred out in real life.
I also made that stable for Harvey's nativity set. Oh, and a spice rack for Leah's use! Can't forget that! Except that I haven't managed to put it up yet, so full credit is yet pending.
I was just organized enough last year to have created a record of what preserves we had sitting around at the end of the summer, so unless we had eaten a tremendous amount between processing in June and July and recording in August, I can safely say we're doing even better this year than last.
With all the strawberries I got we put up 12 pints of strawberry jam, against seven last year; eight pints of blueberry versus last year's four; and two pints of raspberry, something we didn't even preserve last year (though we did make raspberry freezer jam). Up next is relish: there are six big yellow zucchinis sitting on the counter and another one ready to harvest, so I'd better get going!
We went berry picking this morning, and it went alot better than the last time. We were better prepared with carrying devices, and Harvey was better prepared with an appreciation for berries and also goats, which provided him with amusement after we decided that he had eaten enough blueberries for his little tummy. That's good parenting, unlike some of the other examples we saw.
And I tell ya, nothing brings out the worst in parents like berry picking under a hot sun. Some wonderful displays of family togetherness and enthusiasm, sure, but just as much unproductive nagging, threatening, and hitting children who aren't as into the whole agriculture thing as their parents. To be fair, the parent who smacked her kid did it because he had just hit his cousin; that'll teach him not to hit, right? If you don't want to escalate all the way to physical punishment, there's always threatening to deny your little monster the traditional post-picking doughnuts (blueberry this season, and delicious!), and, once you've already told him that he's not getting the doughnut and he's still not listening, threatening to take back the toys you gave him yesterday. Is it worth it to get your blueberries at below-market rate? I say yes!
Of course, we're never going to do anything like that because we're perfect parents. We showed him what berries to pick ("not the green ones!" resounding from all corners of the farm) and gently discouraged him from pulling off leaves and stems; we allowed him to eat a representative number of berries, but not go nuts; and we provided him with an enjoyable alternative when his interest in berry-picking flagged (though his interest in berry eating was unchanged, if not stronger than before). And we'll give him some of the jam from the berries we picked, because, again unlike last year, I was able to get myself going to make both raspberry and blueberry jam the same day we picked. I also made bread this afternoon for my precious darling son to eat. Are there any parenting awards that I'm eligible for?
Before I became a parent, I dreamed of raising a child who would be as excited for delicious fresh fruit as other people's offspring are for, say, pixie sticks. It's still early days of course, but so far so good! At the farmers market he lunges violently at tables of strawberries, and waiting for me to pick him some raspberries he produces a truly alarming grunting laugh. In the cereal aisle? So far no response.
I've been indulging his desires at the markets because the end of strawberry season is nearly upon us. As always, I failed to fully appreciate the bounty of the season (never mind all that jam: I never did make the vanilla strawberry). I count myself as a sufferer of fruit guilt, the existence of which I was not aware until recently, but which symptoms describe me pretty well. That's what drives me to make jam: I just can't handle the pressure of eating fruit when it's available! Someday we'll have our own fruit plants producing at the level we want, and then it'll be a good thing that Leah and Harvey will be picking and eating because I sure won't be able to manage it.