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Archive for August, 2011

There`s not a lot of mystery in how to dehydrate a melon:

  • Remove rind
  • Cut in even slices
  • Place in dehydrator at 135 until thin, dry and leathery (near brittle but not quite).

The process takes  12-18 hours – but is greatly dependant on the thickness of your slices (our quarter-inch slices were pretty close to 18 hours).

There is however some tricks to getting even slices.  Rather than describing the process of squaring-off a watermelon (we eat the rest fresh), it`s easier to show you:

It almost looks like a loaf of bread!

The bigger question for many will be – `What does it taste like?`  It`s definately not like chicken.  The flavour is nearly sickly sweet with a texture somewhere between fruit leather (or roll-ups), cotton candy and space food.  Many adore it – I`m not sure it`s my cup of tea.  But I`ll reserve my vote until the middle of winter where sweet flavours are less plentiful and this may make more sense in that context.  If I don`t love it, I`ll bet I can find a bunch of people (and kids) who will adore it!

Have you had dried melon before?  If not, would you try it?  If so, what do you think of it?

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There’s a lot of food flying through our kitchen these days and we’ll return to preserving posts tomorrow but it’s important to remember to eat some of this great produce while it’s at the peak of freshness.  Here’s a simple lunch that was just fabulous and took less than 10 minutes to prepare which is a bonus in the busy days of preserving:

Ingredients

  • Pasta
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • chile flakes
  • arugula
  • cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • Cheese (I use an old white Cheddar from PEI to be closer to home but parmesan and pecorino are also ideal)

Directions

  • Turn salted water on max and bring to a boil.
  • Slice tomatoes and toss in bowl with salt and pepper to season
  • Chop or rasp garlic into the pasta, add olive oil and toss
  • Add chile flakes to taste
  • Add arugula (as much as you’d like)
  • Finely grate cheese into mix.
  • Allow the flavours to meld as your water comes to a boil.  Continue to toss occasionally.
  • Cook and drain paste (do not rinse).
  • Through pasta into bowl of other ingredients, toss and serve.

This is a super-easy summer lunch that’s just bursting with summer flavours.

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Hey all!

I am so excited to see what’s been happening with the growth of the canning community this year.  I thought the real buzz around canning and other forms of preserving had peaked last year – and I have wholly been proven wrong. 

I am absolutely blown away by the amount of preserving that I am seeing, hearing, reading about and seeing evidence of.  It was less than 3 years ago when people would email asking where they could buy canning jars (retail) and a better question today would be where CAN’T I buy them.

It’s awesome to see the amount of new canners giving it a go, experienced canners canning more and finding the online communities like this.  I’m really excited and thrilled.  It’s been exciting to see the amount of interaction people have had with each other and the resulting traffic to our site (yesterday I shared with our Facebook Group that we had more visits to the website last week than 10 of the 12 months last year).

We’ll return to some preserving posts tomorrow (there’s a lot more to come) but I wanted to take a step back for the sake of caution.  I’ve recently seen some practices that are marginally to very dangerous online and wanted to provide a few guidelines/ resources and posts that may help you stay safe.  Some of the well-intended examples of dangerous technique have been:

  • Waterbath preserving of vegetables with no acid/ pickling.
  • Waterbath preserving of meat products such as bacon jam.
  • Garlic-oil infusions.
  • Waterbath preserving of recipes with oil added.
  • Pickling with vinegars of unknown acidity (it’s recommended that one uses 5.5% acid vinegar and many balsamics are unmarked and lower than that).
  • Adding large amounts of low-acid ingredients to jams which may considerably change the acidity.

I’m not saying any of this to be hollier-than-thou or to be an ‘expert’ – I’m learning like the rest of us.  I’m just hopeful that we all stay safe and share best practices and look out for each other.

Many people don’t realize that there were significant changes made to the standards of food preservation in the United States in the 1970s.  Many techniques passed down from before that time are now considered dangerous and using Grandma’s recipe may – or may not – be a good idea.  It’s also important to note that Grandma had different food ingredients – there are many reports that claim the ‘average’ tomato has become less acidic over the last 30 years.

Here’s a few tips that may help you on the road to safety:

  1. National Center for Home Food Preservation (Our article introducing this resource – if you don’t know what this is, I think it’s a must read).  This resource is on my screen almost every time I can.
  2. Understanding High Acid vs. Low Acid Foods (from our site)
  3.  How to buy a pressure canner (including safety advice – from our site); and the basics of how to pressure can.
  4. How Long do Preserves Keep? (Our site).  This includes links to a lot of resources about jar storage and length of time you can keep your jars (and how to spot spoilage).
  5. Canning 101 (Food In Jars).  A list of links to Marisa’s fundamentals – a great set of articles that can help make sure your fundamentals are in-line.
  6. I be Jammin’ (our site) – a refresher on the fundamentals.
  7. Watch out for the biggest risk – the boiling water.  I gave myself 3rd degree burns last year (and was very lucky) for my first ‘real’ canning injury.  I was careless and it was my fault.
  8. Wear shoes.  I haven’t written about this but hot jam or boiling water are a bad combination with bare feet.

Feel free to add your safety tips and links below – we’d love you to share them!

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I meant to measure our Rumtopf container last year and again this year.  I imagine it`s somewhere between 1-2 gallons:

Rumtopf is an easy preserve to make – the majority of the labor is done by Mother Time.  It`s biggest controversy comes from choosing which fruit to add to it – traditional recipes call for specific quantities of specific fruit where ours is more of an all-you-can eat fruit buffet.  This years version includes strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, apricots, plums, and more.

Here’s the process:

  1. Buy the most beautiful fruit you can.  Clean it and weigh it.
  2. Add 50% of the weight in sugar to the fruit.  I.E. If you had a half-pound of strawberries, add a quarter-pound of sugar.  I use brown sugar for it’s caramelly flavour.  Yep, caramelly.  Mix sugar well.  Cover and store in fridge overnight.  This will pull  lot of the natural juices out of the fruit (maceration).
  3. Dump fruit, sugar and syrup into your rumtopf jar.  It has to be a clean vessel that can seal airtight.  I use a mason jar or a cookie jar with a seal (like above).
  4. Cover everything with rum.  You don’t need to full the jar but you want to make sure you cover all of your fruit very well to prevent rot.  I use dark rum, but that’s just preference.
  5. Continue through the season or until you jar is full.
  6. Wait about 4-6 months before starting to taste it.  6 is ideal but I generally crack it for the Holidays.

When complete, the fruit will have as high – or higher – percentage of alcohol than the super sweet liquid.  The fruit is ideal for ice cream and we tend to serve cocktails with it (a bit of fruit in the glass which often becomes a shot as opposed to a sip).

When I completed this years version I realized I forgot to add my cherries and raspberries and I’d run out of room.  So that become redtopf:

If the process is unclear, or you want to see pretty pictures of last years Rumtopf, here’s 3 posts (in chronological order) which show how-to:

We’ll get less boozy over the next few days – going to need to after this!

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Pur fruit in clean jars.  Cover in alcohol.  Taste a small amount each day. Strain fruit when done.  Eat fruit (at night when the car is put away and you`re ok with a tipple of trouble).  Close jar and seal in dark, cool place.

Infusions are that simple.

Pictured on the left as apricot-infused brandy.

The jar on the right are fleshy peach pits swimming in vodka.  There are some pretty split opinions when it comes to peach pits so do your research before doing this one.  Some say they are a deadly source of cyanide while others claim they are far less dangerous.  We`ve taken time to read both sides and made the call for ourselves…

When consuming you can mix these into a cocktail, drink them stright up or cut them with simple syrup (sugar water) to get the taste you like.

Sometimes simple is the best -having some simple standbys like this can really extend your pantry – or liqour cabinet.

What do you infuse (or would you like to)?

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*&*$ #*(*$ $&($(!

*#&*$$(*$.

(#(*$ )@*( )()#*$?

That was how these went:

Sometimes preserving just won’t do what you want it to.  And, for me, that generally happens with peaches.

Yep, peaches.

They seem innocent enough.  They practically taunt you with their cuteness and call to you with their sweet demeanor.  And some of them are just that sweet – but others are demons in disguise.  And that’s the problem with peaches – you can’t tell the nice ones from the troublemakers.

And of course, there is the matter of my own daftness (that’s also a word today).  After all, I peeled my first 85 pints with a knife.  I had no idea that you could ‘simply’ boil them for a few seconds and then they’d shed their coats like a butterfly sheds it’s cocoon and instantly becomes an object of beauty.

Now I know there are some people reading this and yelling, ‘LIAR!’  And they’re right.  Sometimes a peach just won’t peel.  That was my humbling lesson this year.  Albeit, I did make some mistakes when I tried to peel them:

  • The water wasn’t quite hot enough
  • I put too many in at once (lowering the water temperature further)
  • The peaches were tight and thin-skinned
  • The peaches weren’t super-ripe.
  • I didn’t buy freestones

So I basically cooked the first quarter-inch, was left with most of the skin and swore a little.  And not the really bad words, but enough that the peaches knew I meant business.  I quickly came to terms with the importance of preserving being fun and committed to finding the silver lining (after all, this was nowhere near the crime scene that was nearly created when we peeled 6.5 pounds of garlic).

Two weeks later I read the following tweet from one of my Favourite Chef’s, Kyle Demming (of the soon-to-open Sausage Partners):

Preserves are about making your winter tolerable not your summer miserable, so no, I don’t peel my peaches…
Our friend Laura of Cubit’s Organics experienced similar pain when she attacked an entire bushel of these things.  Luckily she made a lovely peach lemonade alternative to ease the pain.
But the question remains – what to do when a batch just isn’t working?  Generically my advice is simple – stay calm, adapt your plan and carry on.  I wanted to make lovely perfect peach halves with a dimple where the pit was once delicately nestled.  Instead I ended up with rustic peach chunks complimented with a rough divot that looked like something a golf club would leave behind on freshly laid sod.  The pit was roughly cut out with entire pieces of peach flesh clinging to them (we used that for a recipe that will follow tomorrow) and canned the chunks with most of the skin on.  I tell myself this will add texture or easily be eaten around when it comes time to pop the jars of ‘Smashed Peaches”:
Ingredients
  1. 6 pounds of peaches – this will make 4-5 pints.
  2. We can them in a light syrup (20% sugar mixture by weight).  If using volume, dissolve 3 cups of water with 2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons of sugar.
  3. Optional: 1 tablespoon of brandy per jar.
Directions
  1. Obliterate your peaches using any means necessary.  Tear them, rip them, chunk them, cut them – bite in to them if you have to (errr…maybe not the last one).  Have some fun and forget about being perfect like Martha – pretend, instead, that you’re the Rambo of the kitchen.  Don’t take any lip from them peaches.
  2. If you’re not fast, they will brown.  Add some lemon juice and toss as you go to help control the browning.
  3. Bring simple syrup to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.
  4. Gently boil fruit slices for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add peaches into hot, sterile cans.
  6. Optional: pour a tablespoon of brandy into the jar.
  7. Pour hot syrup into jar (use care).  Gently jiggle to remove air bubbles and repeat until there is a half inch of headspace remaining.
  8. Gently jiggle the jar (wearing oven mitts) to free any bubbles to the surface – leave a half inch of headspace.
  9. Process for 20 minutes in a hot water bath.

If you struggle with having fruit and vegetables float when canning, check out our article on “seat belting” which can be used with peaches to keep them buckled in!

We`ve shared a lot about eaches in the past, here`s a few other and ideas:

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I’m a guy.  Not always a stereotypical male (I was a jazz-dancing, figure-skating, sequence-wearing kid after all) but I do sometimes fall into the trappings of all things male.  When I started focusing on preserving as a way to augment our pantry I fell into a mindset that’s an absolute cliché for the male species (being fair, this also applies to many females I know as well but I need to tell a story so I’m sticking to it):

More is better.

I was practically a neanderthal.  I didn’t know what I was going to do with 24 jars of strawberry jam but I wanted to have them.

I like to think that I’ve somewhat mellowed:

Over they years since graduation from caveman pre-school, I’ve taken a new definition of ‘more” when it comes to preserving.  What I used to measure in quantity of jars (quality being a baseline requirement), I now measure in variety of options.  I would far rather have 8 different types of preserves in 50 jars than 4 different types of preserves in 100 jars.

The only downside of diversity is storage.  Our ‘Great Wall of Preserves‘ was set up to store quantity.  The deep shelves allow me to ‘front’ 2-3 different preserves per cubicle and store a quantity of them in its deep recesses.  When moving to variety, the challenge becomes very different (our pantry contains more than 150 different single-batch jars from infusions to dehydrated goods to one-off jars that were gifted or swapped their way in to the kitchen).  I’m thinking that it will soon be time for a formal inventory system within our gridded storage wall and there’s something a little too formal for my likings with that.

If storing is my biggest problem, I’m willing to live with the sacrifice. 🙂

Diversifying my pantry has taken some time to do.  We had to eat through all of that initial jam and we had to learn a lot more about preserving in general.  Diversity means that I make 2-4 different batches of preserves with the same ingredient at the same time – not exactly the time to be researching recipes, getting confused between them or trying to figure out what preserve is in what pot and what each needs.

That’s where preserving cordial – or concentrated juice (also refered to as ‘beena’ like when we made our rhubarbeena) comes in.  It’s a simple way to increase your variety while adding a small amount of work.  It’s also extremely flexible in that you can use almost any amount of fruit that you want and you’ll have an additional option in your pantry with the flick of a wrist (ok, so it’s a bit more than that).  The fact that this preserve is a concentrate is also a bonus in that it takes less storage space than it could if it was stored ‘as served.’

To drink a cordial like this, simply add 2-4 parts water (vodka or brandy also counts if you want to use it as part of your ‘water’) and serve chilled over ice or add some bubbly water to it.  Cocktails are limitless.  You can also cook with it in many ways including adding it to salad dressings, adding a small bit it to rice as it cooks or use it in baking.

Recipe

  1. Wash your fruit and slice in half (I don’t pit it).
  2. Weigh your fruit.
  3. Add 30% of the weight in sugar.
  4. Place the mixture in a wide sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.
  5. Boil for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Pour the mixture in a strainer/ colander, cover and leave for 12-24 hours.  I have a trick of using 3 different strainers.  Optional: I start with a colander designed for noodles with giant holes, transfer the strained liquid to a finer mesh strainer before processing through a very-fine mesh strainer so that most of the initial liquid can be put in the fridge very quickly.
  7. On the next day, heat the liquid again fill hot, sterilized 1/2 pint (1 cup jars).  Process for 10 minutes.

Taadaaa!

What are your favourite cordials?

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