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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canning Marathon #2

As I said in My First True Marathon, I seem to just have an ingrained need to can.  Each time, I forget the pain I will feel in my feet from standing for 12 hours at a time and the pruney fingers I will have from washing and preparing the harvest for preservation.  I lose sight of the potential for steam burns and the frustration from jam or jelly that just won't set.  Even if the memories are fresh, they take a back seat to the complete joy I feel seeing the colorful jars cooling on the counter and hearing the "plink" of metal lids sealing against their glass vessels.  It all fades away as I get into another weekend, packed with canning.

I had a very ambitious weekend the first time around, finishing 77 jars of tasty delights to add to the pantry.  I really never thought I would can more than that in a similar amount of time.  Much to my surprise, this weekend proved otherwise.  We canned a total of 89 jars in two days. Even more remarkable was that 74 of those were done on Sunday alone.

Having looked at what needed preserved, I planned out the order of priority, considering that we had also made plans for Saturday evening with friends.  As usual, Mom came up to help with the prep work and to keep me company.  We worked on pickles first, since I brought home a half bushel from my day at the farm stand on Friday.  We washed and sorted by size and then started cutting some of them up and packing jars while the brine was warming up.  I use a quick process pickle mix, so I don't have to wait for days for fermentation.  Someday I will get brave and try them that way though!

Sandwich stacker pickles
15 assorted pints and quarts of pickles later, we worked to prepare the ingredients for two recipes I wanted to do on Sunday that would require maceration overnight.  Maceration can refer to two different processes.  The first is to allow fruit to sit in a liquid, such as a liquor, to absorb the flavors.  The second is that in which you coat the fruit in sugar to allow it to draw out the fluids in the fruit.  Both processes add flavor to the fruit, the first being that of the liquid you soak it in, the second intensifying the fruit flavor and sweetening it.  In this case, I was tossing the fruit with sugar and allowing it to set overnight.

The first recipe was Ambrosia Jam.  We cut up the melon, the peaches, the citrus fruit and added the pineapple and sugar to let it set.

The second recipe was for Pear Tomato Preserves.  Prep for this involved scalding and peeling the tomatoes, assembling a spice bag and simmering the ingredients before allowing them to cool and sit overnight.  Given that we had plans with friends, this was really all we could get into on Saturday.

Sunday morning I got out a jar of raspberries I had put up earlier this season and made some topping for homemade waffles.  The remaining bit in the pan I put into jars and processed while I began getting ready for the rest of the day canning.  The first priority for my two amazing prep chefs, Mom and S, was the zucchini relish.  Since it has to "sweat" for 3 hours, they got to work chopping the ingredients.  Sweating is the process of adding salt to vegetables to draw out some of the moisture, much like maceration with fruit.

We bought a gadget to help with the prep work this time, since we learned from our first batches how tedious the chopping can be and how hard it is to get the bits uniform.  The Vidalia Chop Wizard is one of those "As seen on TV" goodies you wonder about whether or not it is worth the money.  Let me tell you, IT IS!  You still have to slice the veggies to the desired thickness to make them uniform, but, my goodness, is it a labor saver!

We were low on bell peppers, so S ran up to our favorite veggie stand, run by Zilke Vegetable Farm, and picked some up.  While he was there, he got the cilantro for the salsa verde and picked up some cherry bomb peppers to try a spicy version of the relish.  This was an excellent choice.  The experiment worked and the spicy relish is a hit!

Ambrosia cooking down
While the prep chefs were working their magic, I cooked down the Ambrosia and the Pear Tomato Preserves that had macerated overnight.  Both ended up entirely not as planned.  The Ambrosia has a taste that I can not put my finger on, and I can only guess that I cooked it too long.  There is no pectin in the recipe, as the fruits should contain enough to make it set. Unfortunately, it hasn't, so it has become more of a sauce than a jam.  Two big lessons came from this recipe: 1. Make sure you are using a tested, clear and concise recipe and 2. Taste test often to determine the appropriate time to jar - this may mean that what was intended to be a jam or preserves becomes a sauce, but that is okay!

Similarly ill-fated, the Pear Tomato Preserves have been renamed "Spiced Pear Tomato Glaze."  It looked gorgeous as I heated it to jar it up. Whole pear tomatoes were beautifully suspended in a thick sauce, just as preserves should be.  I was concerned that none of the tomatoes had broken up in the sauce, so I mashed some with the potato masher.  This was a critical mistake.  I released all their juices and seeds and made a runny mess of my beautiful preserves.  I cooked it down a while on low, hoping to help it gel up again, without success.  I added some Clear Jel, cooked it a bit longer and jarred it as a lovely glaze.  Once refrigerated, it does set up nicely, so we will enjoy it as a jam as well.  Monday night, we tried the glaze on chicken and were very pleased.  We have decided it would best suit pork, however.

Zucchini Relish
While those two recipes continued cooking down, I began prepping for the salsa verde, husking, rinsing, and chopping tomatillos.  My helper chefs took care of the remaining ingredients for the verde while I jarred and processed my other batches.  By the time the Ambrosia, Pear Tomato Glaze and Salsa Verde were out of the canner, the Zucchini relish was ready to get finished. We prepped a double batch of the regular recipe and made a single batch of the spicy version.

The last project of the day was to finish the half bushel of pickles we started on Saturday.  This time we simplified things and made only spears.  I used a new quick process mix from Ball that I had wanted to try, so time will tell how these compare to the others we already know we like.

It was a long weekend, full of delicious things.  We had our share of successes and (I won't say failures) unexpected results.  My feet hurt worse than they ever have by the end of the weekend (I need an anti-fatigue mat), but oh boy was it worth it!  Just look at the counter loaded full of preserved deliciousness...

89 jars from a busy, busy weekend
Now to make room in the pantry for it all....

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