Archive for the ‘Canning & Preserving’ Category

Violet Syrup

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Most of my herbie friends are about 2 weeks ahead of me on their foraging projects, and have already shared their violet projects. My friend, Maggie, was featured on the cover of  Radish Magazine with her violet jelly recipe.

After an unusually long, cool spring, and Indiana’s wettest spring on record in a 100 years, my violets finally hit full bloom in the past week.  Fearful of more crazy weather, I was out gathering violets at first opportunity.

In case you’re wondering what on earth you would do with violet syrup, here are a few suggestions:  Serve with crepes or pancakes, add it to champagne or a white wine spritzer, drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, pour over shaved ice for a cool summer treat, or use it as a cocktail mixer for a violet martini or violet gin fizz.

Making violet syrup is as simple as brewing a cup of tea, and making simple syrup.

Violet Syrup
Violet flowers
Water
Sugar
Lemon Juice

Fill a jar with violets flowers. Pour boiling water over violets and allow to cool. Strain liquid from flowers. Don’t be alarmed at the color of the water.  It will range anywhere from blue to green, but will be adjusted to purple later. Here is what mine looked like in the first 30 seconds of steeping. The picture doesn’t do the color justice. Even fiddling with my camera settings, I was not able to capture the deep rich quality of the color.  You’ll probably see what I mean if you try making your own syrup. Further steeping darkens the color.

At a 1:1 ratio, place violet liquid and sugar in a large pan.  I used a quart jar and ended up with 3 cups of violet water, so I used 3 cups of sugar.

Add lemon juice to the mixture until the desired color of violet is achieved.  It doesn’t take much, and too much will result in magenta or pink syrup.  It took a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to bring my syrup to a deep jewel toned violet color.

Bring syrup mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. If the color fades a little during cooking, you can add a few more drops of lemon juice to readjust the color before bottling. Cool and store in the refrigerator.  This syrup can become moldy if stored for long periods of time in the refrigerator.  I plan to try freezing some this year to see if I can extend violets into the winter months.

Corn Cob Jelly

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

I know you’re probably thinking, “Whaaaat???” As strange as it sounds, this jelly is delicious.   Some say it tastes like honey, but I disagree.  I’m not quite sure how to describe the flavor, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself.  If you Google corn cob jelly, you will find most of the recipes are the same.  You will also find a murky history, and lots of speculation about it’s origins.  I’ve been making it for more than 15 years (before I started using the internet), and I can’t remember where I got the idea.  I don’t know if the memory is accurate, but it’s floating around in my head that I found it in an historical cookbook.

I’ve played around with my recipe over the years, and I do recommend doing a couple of things differently than most of the recipes you’ll find floating around on the net. To begin with, I use WAY more corn cobs than 12,  I use lemon juice, and I do not use food coloring.  I use red cobs which produce a beautiful natural color.

Side note on pectin: I’ve been using liquid pectin with no trouble for years.  This summer every jelly I’ve made using liquid pectin has failed to set up. I do tend to make jellies from herbs and other foods that contain little or no naturally occurring pectin or sugar. As a result, I’ve switched to using either Sure Jell for less or no sugar, or Pomona’s Universal Pectin. Pomona’s is my first choice, but I was out when I made this jelly, so I’m giving instructions for use with Sure Jell. If you would like to use Pomona’s, use 4 teaspoons each of pectin and calcium water, and follow the instructions on the box insert.

Corn Cob Jelly
Enough red corn cobs to fill a 6 quart pot
Water

4 cups corn cob “juice”
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
1 box pectin (for less or no sugar needed recipes)

Place 1/2 the corn cobs in a six quart pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 1/2 hour to an hour. Remove corn cobs from liquid. The cobs absorb quite a bit of water, so I remove them to a colander sitting over a bowl, and then add the drained liquid back to my pot.  Here is another way in which my recipe is different.  I add the other half of the corn cobs to my pot of liquid, top it off with more water, and simmer my cobs for another 1/2 hour or so.  I like the corn cob flavor to come shining through, so no wimpy 12 cobs are going to do for me! Strain the corn cob infusion through a jelly bag, or old T-shirt material. I usually get enough liquid for two batches of jelly.

1. Prepare your canning paraphernalia: water bath canner, jars, lids, bands, etc. (pectin insert usually includes instructions on preparing your equipment).

2. Measure corn cob “juice” and lemon juice into a 6 or 8 quart pot.

3. Measure sugar into a separate bowl.

4. Mix 1/4 cup sugar from measured amount and 1 box of pectin in a small bowl.

5. Stir pectin/sugar mixture into the liquid in the pot. You may see some clumping, but don’t worry, they will dissolve as the liquid heats.

6. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly.

7. Stir in remaining sugar. Return to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

8. Ladle into jars. Wipe rims. Put on lids. Process in water bath.

Fire Roasting Peppers

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

This year I experimented with some new (to me) heirloom varieties of vegetables in my garden, among them these gorgeoumous (yeah, I know it’s not a real word) Bulgarian Chervena Chushka roasting peppers. I found the seeds at Seed Savers Exchange and planted them in late February so the seedlings would be ready to place in the garden by mid to late May. These peppers were a rousing success! After roasting this batch, I swore I would never mess around with a bell pepper again. The peppers ripened to a nice deep red and the flavor …. oh so sweet! I’ve only just begun harvesting, but it appears that each of the 8 plants I set out are producing up to 30 peppers per plant! I should mention that I mulched my peppers with a well composted manure, as peppers are heavy feeders. I get my composted manure from some friends who raise grass fed beef and adhere to organic farming practices.

Over the course of the summer I’ve spoken to the owner of a local wholesale greenhouse, an organic farmer, and a fruit and vegetable market owner, all having confirmed that this year has been a very poor year for peppers in my area.  All three were very surprised to hear about my bumper crop of roasting peppers, and two of them asked if I would be willing to save some seed for them.  Obviously, I will be saving seeds for next year.

If you’ve never roasted peppers before, I highly recommend giving it a go. You’ll never want to eat jarred roasted peppers again. I’m roasting large quantities, so the grill is the only way to go, but you can roast a single pepper over the flame on your gas range.

Before beginning, you will want to have a few things ready to go.  Once you start you will want to stay with your peppers until they are finished.  You will need the following:

Grill
Tongs
Bowl
Plastic wrap
Paring knife

Simply turn on your flame and place the peppers over the flame, turning them occasionally with tongs. Allow the skins to become charred.  When finished the skins don’t need to be entirely blackened, but the parts that are not blackened should at least appear shriveled. Despite throwing them on the grill at the same time, each pepper finishes in it’s own time. The pepper on the right is almost finished while the pepper on the left still has a way to go.

Once the peppers reach the desired done-ness, remove from the grill and place in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the peppers to steam in their own heat. Steaming loosens the skins making them easy to remove. Keep them covered for at least 15 minutes, and resist the temptation to uncover and let the steam out. I’m a little like Pandora so I use a clear bowl …. it removes temptation, allowing me to see everything going on in the bowl.   I let my peppers sit for about an half hour so they would be cool enough to handle while removing the charred skins.

To remove the skins, use a sharp paring knife and start by cutting a circle around the stem. Then carefully pull the stem end out of the pepper, most of the seeds will come out with it. After removing the stem insert a finger and remove most of the remaining seeds. Next, using the edge of a paring knife peel the charred skin from the peppers. Most of the skins should be loose enough you can even use your fingers to peel them. Do NOT rinse your peppers! They may seem a bit messy, but rinsing will destroy that great fire roasted flavor you worked to so hard to get.

Once skinned,  slit each pepper down it’s length opening it like a book.  Scrape away any remaining seeds.

There are several things you can do with your roasted peppers. First, you can use them right away in your favorite recipe. I like to freeze mine in small heavy duty freezer bags. I usually freeze about 8 ounces to a bag which is the perfect amount for my favorite Roasted Red Pepper Soup. I suppose you’re going to want me to post the recipe. Another method for saving your roasted gems is to store them in olive oil in the refrigerator. This method is best for small quantities that you plan to use within a few weeks. Freezing is probably the best method for large quantities and long term storage. I imagine peppers could be canned, but I’ve not tried it so can’t recommend it.

Salted Butterscotch Peach Jam

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

This peach jam is amazing! It’s so amazing that I’m going to have to make more.  My family loved it so much that I only have these two little 4 ounce jars left a little over a week after making it. That’s just two little 1/2 cup jars! They demolished the stuff!. It’s wonderful on ice cream. It’s also good on waffles, and it passed my 15 year old son’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich test.

From a cook’s standpoint this recipe was especially fun, because I got to see how it evolved, as each cook put her own touch on it.  The original recipe comes from Mary Ann Dragan’s Well Preserved: Small Batch Preserving for the New Cook I found the recipe reprinted a couple times on the net by the time my friend Maggie got her hands on it. It was Maggie’s idea to transform the recipe into a sweet and salty treat.

I loved Maggie’s idea, but the more I looked at the recipe, I realized I wanted it to be truly butterscotch and it was going to need an addition of butter and vanilla. After all, butterscotch isn’t butterscotch without BUTTER! So I put my own spin on the recipe. Maggie and I share a similar cooking style in that we follow measurement’s very loosely and go more by taste. The measurements I give allow for differing ripeness of your peaches and personal preference. For instance, I didn’t use quite as much salt as Maggie because I have relatively sensitive taste buds, and don’t like my food uber salty. Also, my peaches were very ripe and sweet, and didn’t need as much sugar. These peaches were a surprise gift from my neighbors who got them from their parents’ unsprayed tree. Local and chemical free …. the best way to go.

Salted Butterscotch Peach Jam
6 cups peaches, peeled and pitted
1/3 cup lemon juice
Up to 5 cups of brown sugar (I only needed about 4 1/4 cups)
4 tablespoons butter
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 teaspoons GOOD salt (I used French grey sea salt)

First peel and pit your peaches. The easiest way to do this is to drop your peaches into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, and then remove them to an ice water bath with a slotted spoon.  Work in small batches and make sure you bring the water back to a full boil between batches. After scalding, the skins should slip off relatively easily. Split the peaches in half with a knife, remove the stone, and chop the flesh. I know Maggie left her skins on, but I just can’t stand peach skin. I even peel fresh peaches before eating them.

Place the peaches in a large heavy pot and smoosh them up. You can use a potato masher or your hands. Add lemon juice, sugar to taste, butter, and vanilla bean specks. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and then continue to cook over low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring often. Cooking time will vary. My peaches were extremely juicy, and I cooked for a full 1 1/2 hours to bring the jam to a thick consistency.  As stated in the Well Preserved book, “Long-cooked jams use less sugar than those made with commercial pectin, and, I believe, have a more intense fruit flavor.”

At this point, I removed the jam from the stove and set it aside to let it cool while I fixed dinner. I did this for two reasons. First, my family was hungry and things were about to get ugly.  Secondly, I can’t properly taste anything if it’s too hot or cold. Since I was going to be adding salt I wanted to be sure I got it right.  Also, by cooling, I was able to see if the consistency of the jam was too my liking.

After dinner I assembled my water bath canner, jars, lids, and other canning accouterments. Then I added my salt to taste.  You should do the same. You might want more, you may want less. The point is you want it to taste good to YOU. Once the flavor was to my liking I brought the jam back up to a simmer, poured it into my hot jars, and processed. If you’re unfamiliar with the canning process, there are many good books and online tutorials. A quick online search should give you more than you ever wanted to know.