Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In a pickle...

Plum trees laden with sweet, swollen fruit, bushy bushes bursting with robust ruby berries, sturdy stalks of beans climbing towards the heavens worthy to bear the weight of both Jack and his garden is bursting with the bounty that is summer!

OK, now I'm just lying.

My zucchini aren't zippy, my tomatoes are too tart and my pickles have yet to pop (that's a little pickle pup above). Yes, my garden does show some signs of promise this year but it's time to do some canning and I just don't have the patience to wait for my few measly little plants to produce enough cucumbers to stock our larders with homemade pickles to keep my family puckered up the winter through.

So, the other day, the kids and I set out for the Farmer's Market to pick up a couple dozen cheaters. But, as it turns out, in addition to cukes, dill and garlic, we just couldn't pass up the flat (that's 12 baskets) of juicy, ripe, organic strawberries that were offered to us as an end-of-the-day-half-price deal (not to mention some peaches and nectarines for good measure). Guess I'm making jam's gonna be a late night cause these puppies aren't gonna make it through the night. Boil some water...stat!

So, I'm here to tell you, that if I can can, so can you. You see, canning is really no big mystery. It's fun, it's easy, and there's nothing like having a case of your homemade goods ready at any time to pop into a pretty little bag and proudly present as a last minute hostess gift (it lasts for over a year). Yes, you too can have your very own "Martha" moments.

So, pop on your gingham apron, put your hair up with an old clothespin, download the soundtrack of Oklahoma and get jammin''s so County Fair.

I've experimented with lots of different recipes and techniques with varied results but, if your gonna try this just once, I suggest going with the tried and true recipe you'll find in your box of Certo pectin (the stuff that helps make your jam gel).

You'll need a big pot to sterilize the jars and to process the cans once their filled. I got this one at Costco years ago during our homemade beer making phase. A big soup pot will work as long as it is tall enough to cover the height of the jars with water plus and at least an inch. Take your clean jars (I put them through the dishwasher first) then and add them to the pot of water to boil for a while to sterilize even further. Remove them from the water with tongs and set to dry face up on a clean towel next to the stove. Take a small bowl and place the jar lids (not the rims) in it and pour boiling water over them while you make your jam. This softens the wax seal.

This is a shot of the side of one of my boxes of get the retro...I love it! There are usually 12 per box and come with the jars, lids and bands. Note: the jars and bands can be used over and over but you will need to buy new lids each time you can to ensure a good seal.

Here are some other handy tools to have...a wide-mouthed funnel, special jar-lifting tongs (although you can use regular tongs if you are careful) and and ladle. All of these items are super easy to find and inexpensive (under $5).

Start with firm, sweet fruit.

Wash, stem, and slice...

Place the fruit in a stainless steel soup pot (not the huge one you are using to process) and mix with your sugar and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Squish it as you stir with a metal potato masher. Bring to a full rolling boil (that doesn't stop when stirred), add the pectin and boil another 60 seconds (careful not to scorch it). Remove from heat. Skim off any foamy impurities.

Now you're ready to ladle your jam into the hot jars you have set next to the stove. Use a sterile ladle and a wide-mouthed funnel and fill each jar to about 1/8" below the rim. Place a warm jar lid on each jar (make sure the rim is clean) and screw the rim band just finger tight. Lower the jars into the boiling water (CAREFUL!) and process (gently boil) for about 10 minutes making sure that the water covers the jars and that the jars are not touching.

Lift the jars back out of the water with your handy jar lifter and place back on the counter to cool. Be careful not to slip as you grip...boiling hot water splashing back up as the jar plops back into the pot is a less than delightful sensation.  As they cool, you'll hear a happy little popping sound as the vacuum seal is made. There is a little dimple at the top of each lid which will compress when a proper seal is made. If the dimple is still up after an hour or so (you can feel it by running your finger over the top), your seal did not happen. Put your jar in the fridge and enjoy now. The directions say to reprocess but this always makes me nervous. Otherwise, if your seals work...and they're good to go. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Alright, it's 10 pm but...gotta make those just takes a few ingredients...

Cut the little stem end off of the cucumber as it will muck up your pickle juice.

Sterilize your jars, take them out of the boiling water, place on the counter and add the fresh dill, mustard seed and garlic cloves to your hot jars...

Next add your washed and stemmed cucumbers...really pack 'em in as they shrink as they pickle. I think I got about 6-7 pickles per quart jar.

Boil the vinegar, water and salt until the solids are dissolved then pour over your pickles in the jars. Add the lids and rims (as above) and process for abut 15 minutes.

Here are the recipes:

Homemade Strawberry Jam

Place in a large soup pot and bring to a rolling boil:
  • 4 cups crushed strawberries
  • 7 cups sugar (!)
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
Add and boil 60 more seconds:
  • 1 pouch Certo liquid pectin
Ladle into sterile jars and seal as directed on your Certo package directions and above. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Makes 7-8 cups of delicious homemade jam

 Garlic Dill Pickles

Wash and cut the little stem off:
  • 18-20 small pickling cucumbers
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 Tbs. pickling salt
Shove equally into three hot sterile quart jars:
  • A big bunch of washed fresh dill
  • 6 small peeled cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tbs. mustard seed
Pack in your cucumbers, pour hot liquid into the jars to about 1/2" below the rim. Place jar lids on (that you have softened in hot water), screw on bands and process in your big pot for 15 minutes making sure that the water covers the jars by one inch. Remove from water to cool and seal.
Label and store in a cool, dark place.
Makes three quarts of puckerlicious pickles. Note: try adding dried red chili peppers, bay leaf, and/or pickling spice for variations and/or a little sugar for sweetness.