A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My first true marathon

In my recent internet travels, I happened upon a paragraph that really resonated with me. When it comes to the love of canning and preserving the harvest, I could not have said it better myself.  
From www.lifeinrecipes.com:

"I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by. Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so. Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs. It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it."

This has to be the best explanation of the drive to preserve I have ever seen. I have tried and tried to explain it to folks, but have never been able to capture it quite like that! Now, this is important, as it explains my behavior this weekend. S and L were gone to visit his mother and that left me alone to play in the kitchen. I invited Mom up to have at it with me. We took a trip to the Saline Farmer's Market (as we do as a family every Saturday), and then headed toward Ann Arbor to the rather large Kerrytown Farmer's Market. On the way there, we thought better of dealing with the crazy crowds and decided to head back to the Saline Market for the ingredients we would need to do some canning. We picked up onions and bell peppers of a couple colors and made our way home.

Knowing there were tomatoes in the freezer, salsa would be our first project. I inventoried ingredients and we decided upon 4 batches. The recipe I use calls for processing the jars for 40 minutes, so there is a great deal of waiting between batches. We made the most of this, preparing and cooking down the next batches as we went. While we worked, we also employed my extra electric burner to get raspberries cooking down to make jelly. I counted before we started and there were 12 gallons remaining in the freezer from last fall. I find it imperative to get these used in some manner before my bushes begin inundating me with delicious berries again this year. (I only made use of just over a gallon, so I will need to get creative about what to do with the rest of them soon!) Once the berries were cooked a bit, I hung them in a cheese cloth sack to drain the delicious juice for jelly to be made on Sunday.

After several hours of salsa making (20 pints worth), I cut up all the little pickle cukes I had picked from the garden and did a small batch of quick-process bread and butter pickles. I didn't have nearly the number of cukes the recipe called for, so I weighed what I had, and adjusted the recipe proportionately. We ended up with 4 pints and 2 half pints of these.

Following a break for dinner, we finished the evening with a recipe from my favorite canning web site that had caught my eye, Lemon and Bay Leaf Bean Pickles. We made 4 pints from the beans that I picked this week from the garden. They turned out just beautifully. I will let the jars sit a few days to let the flavors really settle before trying them. I can't wait! In case you are counting, we were up to 30 jars processed and complete on Saturday. We had hoped to have a Mojito or two using fresh mint from the garden when we finished, but to be honest, we were too tired to do so.

Sunday morning, we made breakfast and were slow to start, but once we got going, we put up a lot of food. The melons in our garden are not ready yet, but my favorite farm stand has a few early watermelons that are just fantastic. I picked one up after seeing my favorite canning blogger talk about watermelon jelly, dehydrated watermelon slices and pickled watermelon rind. I love using every part of fruits/veggies and Watermelon Jelly sounded just divine! The rind pickles need to sweat/sit overnight, so I decided to start them first and let them sit all day instead. I figured 8 or 9 hours equaled an overnight soak. While I sliced the watermelon, dividing rind from meat, my mother worked on chopping everything we would need for another batch of Zucchini Relish, another awesome recipe from www.sbcanning.com. My mom helped me with the first batch I made and she got a little tired of chopping. This time, having tasted the result, she was much more willing as she said she knew it would be very much worth it.

With the prep work finished, we had the relish vegetables sweating/sitting and the watermelon rind soaking, so we got to work on the jellies. I used my grandmother's conical food mill to get every bit of the tasty juice I could from the watermelon, taking care to measure as I went. I didn't want to mash one more piece than I needed, as this particular melon was quite delicious eaten fresh as well. I have read many an article about watermelon jelly not gelling properly, so when I worked with my ingredients, I was as exact as I had ever been with a recipe and it paid off! The result is a low sugar, flavor packed, watermelon punch in the mouth. 

I will be making more of this. I will need a great deal for gifts and this has become my latest favorite for eating at home! My result was 13 four ounce jars (with nearly another full jar, but this did not get processed...it was refrigerated and eaten immediately!). 
With other ingredients still soaking, we turned our attention to the raspberry juice waiting in the refrigerator from Saturday. I followed the instructions in the low sugar/no sugar SureJell box for a straight up low sugar raspberry jelly. 13 four ounce jars (plus a partial jar) came from that endeavor.

After just three hours on the counter, the relish was ready to be worked with, so I used the Zucchini Relish recipe that I knew was just out of sight tasty.  I don't care for sweet pickle relish, so I was skeptical until I made it the first time a couple weeks ago.  Sunday, knowing how good it would be, we made a double batch, and this time put it into half pints for gifting and easier use (last time I used pints).  There was just one issue, I did not have enough zucchini for a double batch.  No problem.  We cut up yellow summer squash as a sunny substitute and it turned out even prettier this time.  The splash of yellow is a wonderful addition.  9 half pints and 2 four ounce jars of this attractive relish now grace my pantry.  

By this point, we were really wearing down. It had been two long, hot days in a kitchen, full of love, laughter, team work and bountiful preserved goods!  The only thing left was the Watermelon Rind Pickles.  S and L came home from Virginia, so we ate dinner and set to work on the rind.  I could not understand how the bizarre, greenish white chunks I cut were going to look like the pictures I had seen online, but I had faith and kept going.  These pickles require a couple separate steps of simmering, which takes a fair amount of time, comparatively.  When I do these again, I will truly soak them overnight which will allow me to start fresh in the morning.

There was just one minor speed bump with this recipe.  Since my watermelon was 15 lbs, rather than 10, every ingredient had to be increased proportionately.  This was seemingly not an issue until I realized I did not have enough cinnamon sticks (as we were adding them to the pot).  It was too late, so I improvised and came up with a solution that I hope worked. I will know when I get the nerve to try the pickles.  After the simmer with the cinnamon and cloves, I strained them out and then wrapped them in a cheesecloth "sack." I returned this to the pickle pot for the better part of the final simmer.  I can't report yet on taste, but as far as appearance is concerned, they turned out gorgeous, and looking much like the pictures I had seen online!

10 half pints of watermelon rind pickles were processed.  If you are counting, this is a total of 47 jars for Sunday, bringing the weekend total to 77 processed jars of tasty goodness.  

This was truly a canning marathon. When you think about it, it really never is a sprint anyway.  Taking the time to preserve your food takes dedication and love for the process and results.  There is such tremendous joy in watching gorgeous, colorful jars of many sizes cool on the counter and hearing the telltale "plink" of them sealing.  It never gets old for me. Was it hot? Yes. Was it tiring? Heavens yes.  We stood for two solid days in the kitchen and washed countless dishes countless times.  (My dishwasher is me... no appliance to do it for me.)  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat, yes.  I spent two quality days with my mother.  We worked side by side and had a blast.  She prepped nearly everything for me and made the marathon possible.  I was able to use the cukes, squash and beans from my garden before they went bad, raspberries and tomatoes from the freezer (last year's garden bounty), zucchini from my generous neighbor, and onions, peppers and watermelon from local farms.  We produced a huge lot of healthy food with no preservatives, no chemicals and a whole lot of love.  The way I see it, there just isn't a down side to our weekend of canning.

I have my eye on a couple more recipes I would like to complete this week to help clean out my supplies in the freezer and cupboards.  I have blueberries and pecans just itching to get into some Blueberry Maple Pecan Conserve.  It sounds divine and I like to think of it as further training for my next marathon!


  1. What a great write up about canning. Love that you did so much and used everything to it's full potential. Your mother must be very proud of you! Thanks for sharing the recipe with your family and friends. I love that you wrote about the stumbling blocks and how you fixed them. I will post on my website. It's fantastic!

  2. THANKS! :) What I think I failed to mention is that what didn't make it into something delicious either went to my laying flock or the compost. Although, there wasn't much. Waste not!

  3. Loved it Brandi . . . I feel the exact same way about canning and preserving. I am driven to do it.

  4. I am like most I think that can. Its simply the best! I can do it for hours on end, tired when done yes, but totally happy :O). I love raising as much as I can in our garden as well! Nothing as good as you say as when you are "elbow deep in the dirt!"

  5. I know the feeling of the feet being tired after a marathon session canning. Friends who do not can do not get that you are literally tied to the stove while canning. But you are the one who gets to sit back and enjoy in the middle of winter while they are complaining about lack luster winter produce. And thanks for giving me another idea of how to use my extra blueberries.

    My marathon session yesterday afternoon netted 37 jars although it was 38. One broke. Thankfully that was only tomato salsa and I plan to do more of them.