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Archive for the ‘Seasonality’ Category

We return to our series of preserving autumn before moving onto random posts for the next few weeks before reporting on my journey of the moose harvest (a series of post the inevitably kills about 50% of the traffic to our site).  It’s going to be a busy month – I’m glad to have some flexibility to switch between topics for the next little while – there will be some on preserving, some book reviews, some food and equipment reviews.  A little bit of everything.

Apples are traditional preserving ingredients for the fall.  I tend to preserve apples later in the winter as they store remarkably well and you can buy them locally almost year-round.  I imagine it would seem odd to read about them mid-winter so we’ve included them at the time they are traditionally harvested.

Apple sauce is a sure-fire hit for most of us.  It’s easy to make, fills your house with awesome smells and can be made with relative ease.  The biggest tip I have around applesauce is to mix different types of apples in your sauce.  The combination of different varieties of apples create a full-flavour that really does prove that 1+1 sometimes equals 3.  We turned 75 pounds of apples into 9 liters of sauce in less than 6 hours a few years back.  You can get instructions on making applesauce in our previous post on the topic.  I anticipate making more this winter (at least 75 pounds again).

That batch of applesauce was a real turning point in our adventures of preserving.  We captured the essence of the flavours of our first journey to Prince Edward County that day and we ran out of storage space under the microwave (where we used to keep boxes of preserves).  It was this batch that broke the camels back and turned our destiny to the Great Wall of Preserves and a bounty of jars that I would have never predicted at the time.

If you haven’t had a spoonful of applesauce with a touch of cream, you simply must.  It may sound like an odd combination but this Eastern European tradition (passed on to me at a preserving workshop) is surprisingly delightful.

Apple Roll-ups (also known as Apple leather) are a favourite childhood snack.  They are relatively easy to make if you have the right equipment (you could theoretically make them in a stove with a low-temperature setting or outside under the sun but a square dehydrator with a side-mounted fan works best).  A fruit puree is spread flat (sometimes after being sweetened) and slowly dehydrated.  They can be rolled for storage and kept at room temperature for about a month or stored for a year wrapped tightly in the freezer.

Two cups (also known as a pint or about 500 millilitres) make about 1 square foot of roll-up.

For those of you who make jelly, note that roll-ups can me made with your leftover pulp of whatever you drained for your jelly.  By doing this you are able to make multiple batches of flavour at a single time.

If you have a multiple-tray dehydrator (we have a 9-tray model), don’t be afraid to try different variations on different trays.  Roll-ups with maple syrup on one tray, a different version with honey on another and a third could have apple puree with cinnamon if you wished.  Part of the advantage of making these by hand is increasing your options and combinations.

Rather than retyping some of the greatest tips out there, if you’re looking for exact steps on how to make these, refer to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

For instructions on how to dehydrate apple slices, check this out.

This is part of our series of posts linked to our Preserving Autumn article in Edible Toronto.  The posts will update daily from September 18th and you’ll be able to see all of the posts in the series by clicking here.

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preserving pears, how to preserve pears, how to preserve pear  slices, canning pears, infusing vodka

Pears are, to me,  the anti-asparagus.  One is short, plump, has a heavy skin and soften when it ages.  The other is lean, long and gets `woody`as it matures.

But that`s not what makes them each others antithesis to me.

One ushers in my second-favourite season of year (Spring) and the other brings my favourite (fall).  I`ll admit Asparagus is really mid-late spring and pears are late (sometimes mid) summer and early fall but it`s what it represents as much as when it actually happens.  Remember, this is about my perception and in my own head these things are pretty much always right :).

We preserved several different types of pears last year.  I was surprised to find out that they didn`t dehydrate nearly as well as apples.  There was so much water in slices of pear that the dehydrated product was a little thicker than the thickness of a shadow and, therefore, mostly unusable.  Imagine trying to peel a piece of tissue paper that had been soaked and then dried on top of a piece of sandpaper and you`ll know the obstacle.  I`m open to tips if anyone else has had some success (I imagine a leather or roll-up would work if the pulp had been cooked long enough and applied thick enough (more on leathers when we cover apples).

The easiest form of preserving is, in a way, cheating.  Infusing vodka with pears requires as much work as consuming the pear in the first place so it`s very easy.  The cheating part is that you are preserving the taste of the pear and small pieces of it`s tissue but the actual fruit is discarded in days.

Infusion takes as little as 3-4 days (any more and you risk ending up with a bitter product).  It really is as simple as cleaning, cutting and covering before waiting a few days.  We have more details on infusing vodka with pears as well as what to do if infused vodka becomes bitter.  I am pleased to report the final results remain amazing to this day.

Preserving slices of whole pear is slightly more work – you have to peel them after all (the peels will become tough otherwise).  We preserved them in a simple syrup last year and added a touch of Kahlua.  It was a heavenly combination – here`s a pic of our results:

For the simple details of pears in Kahlua (this involves pear, Kahlua, sugar, water and a bit of lemon juice) click on how to preserve pears.

As always, feel free to ask any questions, share your own links, ideas or recipes in the comments!  We love to hear from you.

This is part of our series of posts linked to our Preserving Autumn article in Edible Toronto.  The posts will update daily from September 18th and you’ll be able to see all of the posts in the series by clicking here.

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pickled beets, funny food stories, signs you're growing older

For those who don’t know – Dana represents all things graphic here and I do a lot of the writing and cooking.  Neither of us are particularly thrilled about our writing styles (I am a much more articulate speaker) but that’s been half the fun of writing for the last few years.

But the fact that Dana is the designer is important to this post.  I draft the content of our preserving posters, she presents me with drafts.  We both provide feedback to the other but each has their area of expertise and we are confident the other will do an awesome job.

This is a very, very long tale to explain that I don’t have a lot of input into the graphical elements of our posters.  Which is why I laughed when I saw the graphic above.  It’s from one of the most humiliating personal stories I have (which makes it fun to share). We’ve shared it on Facebook in the past but not here; I’m never shy about embarassing myself (I was, after all, a very unco-ordinated competitive jazz dancer for several years as a preteen).

Today’s post explains why the graphic above was chosen; tomorrow we’ll share some posts about preserving beets for the winter.  This is more of a silly story that is connected to the topic at hand – and the poster above so I thought I’d share.

I have a fairly corporate job; one with a fancy title and grown-up responsibilities.  I don’t shirk from these things – it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy it a lot.  I just have a tough time remembering that I’m not 22 anymore (37 and a bit for those keeping score).

We have a wide variety of people at work (there are 800 people).

A young man approached me – he was in his first few weeks of work.  He asked me for some personal guidance – I could tell his question was tough to ask for him.  I provided some guidance and promised I’d follow-up with him in a few days.  It looked like he thought I was blowing him off.

I returned to his desk a few days later and shared what I had learned about his question.  He was elated – I could tell I made a difference in his day.  It felt good to see such earnest appreciation and I felt like I had made a difference.  He mentioned that he was impressed that someone with my Seniority would actually follow through on something ‘so small.’  I’ve never been much for hierarchy and although I understood he was speaking of my role, I chose to interpret that it was also intended at my age.  I felt really good at the favour, but I also felt a little old.  I had to prove to myself that I still had ‘it’ (to this day I have no idea what ‘it’ is or was).

I tried to make small talk.  “You’re most welcome and you deserve answers to all of your questions.”

“Well I really appreciate it, it will help me this weekend.”

“Great.  What are you up to?”

He got excited and instantly passionate.  “I’m going to that guys [he points, guy #2 nods with excitement] and we’re gonna make some beats.”

Now I know the kids today have this hip slang that makes me so legit I quit long ago.  I know that beats is cool for music.  (This is both true and tongue-in-cheek).

It’s just that I chose to hear “beets” and I got real excited.  I remember thinking how cool it was that kids today are into pickling.  It was surprising but it did mean that I was cool like they were.  It meant I would be accepted.  It meant I wasn’t as old as I thought…

“Pickled or dehydrated?”  I began to panic as the words came out of my mouth.  I clawed desperately at the air and tried to grab them in the time after they left my mouth and before they hit his ears.

I knew I’d made a mistake and I knew what was coming next.  It was the look.  The look you, as a young dude, give to the old guy who thinks he’s your age.  It’s a look that says he’s both delusional and so wrong that the goggles of youth is the only vision strong enough to see just how wrong he is.

So I did the only thing I could think of.  I panicked and dug the hole deeper.

“I mean…I mean…you’re spinning records..”

They actually giggled a little.  I could hear a small twinge of compassion and they weren’t being mean.  It was, after all, pretty funny.

Funny like those video of penguins trying to get out of the freezing water only to slide back in the ocean because they couldn’t jump high enough or hold onto the ice.  It’s funny but it’s a little sad all at the same time.

I ducked away from the conversation and wished my DJ friends some luck.  I was, after all, 35 and now understood why I had entered a different demographic on those annoying surveys from magazines and trade shows.

I went to find my team and told them the story.  I was both humbled, laughing and a little bit proud of how it didn’t horrify me not to be one of the cool kids (not that I ever was – but a benefit of ‘experience’ is that these things end up being of less and less concern each year).

My team was compassionate.  Until they came up with my new fancy title (one that I still prefer to anything more formal and have used for fun since).

I am indeed, “MC Pickled Beets.”

When Dana showed me the first draft of the poster, I knew it was time to share this story.  I hope it’s as fun as our normal posts and that we’ll avoid a full blown beet riot as long as we post tomorrow.  🙂

This is part of our series of posts linked to our Preserving Autumn article in Edible Toronto.  The posts will update daily from September 18th and you’ll be able to see all of the posts in the series by clicking here.

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make your own ketchup, preserving ketchup

Ketchup is my all-time favourite condiment.  I love it shamefully and I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.  I love it so much that sometimes I choose a meal based on it’s ability to compliment the mighty condiment.  I even use it on hot dogs (despite most of Chicago insisting that’s a a sin if you’re older than 12).

I haven’t made my own yet.  There’s been two main reasons:

  1. Some fear of messing with a ‘good’ thing.  I don’t want fancy high-bred shiitake mushroom ketchup (though I may make some for fun).  I want smooth, sweet ketchup.
  2. I forgot.  Yes, I forgot.  2 years in a row of good intentions, 100’s of jars of preserves in the pantry, close to 100 batches of preserving in the last 2 years and I’ve forgotten to make ketchup each year.  2010 will be my year by hook or by crook!

Ketchup uses a ridiculous amount of tomato.  24 pounds (almost a half bushel) will result in 12 cups of red gold.  Tomatoes are much more affordable by the bushel in the fall (a full unit costing less than $20).

All recipes will call for sugar though it’s not necessarily as much as many may think.  There are a few recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation – one calls for 1.5 cups of sugar while the other uses 9 cups).

The thickness of ketchup simply comes from reduction and a whole lot of patience.  Recall the ratio of such a huge amount of tomatoes and such a small amount of finished product.

Spices are typically added via a jelly bag (i.e. cooked in ‘teabag’ made of cheesecloth) and vinegar is added to add that twang that makes your taste buds smile (they really do).

There’s a significant mount of cooking when it comes to ketchup.  Boiling tomatoes in your house in the late summer can raise the temperature of your entire house from warm to sufferable.  If you aren’t spoiled with a large propane burner, considering using (or borrowing) a camping stove that will allow you to cook outside without the heat of the kitchen.  There’s something special about preserving under the sun that gets me very excited.

Does anyone out there have some great ketchup recipes that they adore?  Choosing one to commit to is going to be the difficulty this year – as long as I remember to make it!

This is part of our Preserving Summer series (click the link for access to all of the articles to date)  that supports our recent article in Edible Toronto.  We welcome any and all questions, comments and your ideas!

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This post is going to be a bit of the `best of` as peaches are a bit of a soft spot for me.  I`ve long adored them and we`ve posted several different takes on them.

Peaches also tend to be the thing that I learn things the hard way with.  I`ll share a few gaffes below…

I may be the last person in the world to have discovered that you can actually eat peach pits – or the seeds inside.  By cracking the pit (our plan is to dry them before using our tenderizer or a heavy frying pan to crack the armour protecting the seed), you can remove an almond-shaped nut.  I have seen some people add a few of these to their jam as it cooks (removing before jarring) to add a different layer of flavour (I understand it to be rather distinct).  We`ll have a small jar full when we`re done the years preserves.

Peach pits contain traces of cyanide however appear to be considered edible by all that I am finding.  I can`t wait to add them to salads, yogurt toppings and as snacks in general.

I had no idea you could eat these until a comment was posted by Sarah B Hood and I saw something on TV about it at the same moment.  It was like a universal slap in the face that I had been missing a great secret for a long time.

My ultimate gaffe was peeling peaches.  They need to be peeled and for 2 years I used a paring knife.  I peeled more than 30 quarts of peaches in the last two years before finding out that you could blanch them to give them a quick peel.

I plan to dehydrate the peach peels this year to experiment with making tea as well as turning it into a powder that can be mixed with water and some sweetener (maple syrup is the thought) to make a peach drink.

Peach butterscotch is the absolute fruit-bomb.  We`ve had it on hand for 3 years and it`s an awesome compliment to your pantry – or your bowl of ice cream.  It`s also a lot of fun if you have a blowtorch and a banana.

Preserving peach slices is very straightforward – as long as you buy freestone peaches.  That was another tough lesson learned many moons ago – freestones release their pits with grace – all others tend to hold on for dear life.

With peach slices my secret is simplicity.  dissolve sugar into water at at 20%-30% ratio.  We stay closer to the 20% to let the natural peach flavour come through.  Heat the mixture to dissolve and bring to a light boil before adding the peaches to your bubbling cauldron.  Pack jars tightly with peaches before adding the syrup into the jar.  Poke out air holes to ensure you don`t have too much air and add to a boiling water bath.  Full details at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Struggling with floating peaches?  Seatbelting works for them as well.

Peaches preserve their flavour so well and there is nothing that can touch them mid-winter.  If you’re looking for a single fruit to start preserving whole there’s no other fruit to start with.

This is part of our Preserving Summer series (click the link for access to all of the articles to date)  that supports our recent article in Edible Toronto.  We welcome any and all questions, comments and your ideas!

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We’re off to a fine start to spring – 12 recipes crossing 7 local ingredients; some foraged, some purchased and all planned (the lamb is complete).  A co-worker and fellow preserver smiled at me as we crossed paths today and happily declared the “start of another jamming season.”

It’s a special time of year.  Foraging (something I wish I had far more skill with and am determined to learn more about) will start us out of the gate before the greens of spring and then summer led way to an explosion of crayola colours that will only fade to the cautionary colours of the fall.  If a year passed in the blink of an eye I’m sure that the Norther Hemisphere would look like a most amazing firework exploding before dissolving into the darkness of winter (though we preserve then as well).

I can’t emphasize the following enough:

  • Learning the fundamentals of preserving amazing food takes no longer than a few hours.  Use trusted sources – The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a website that, to me, sets the bar.
  • If you doubt the above, rest assured that I had passively participated in family food traditions through most of my life (other than when I was a teenager when I participated under duress and protest).  Preserving became a hobby in the last 5 years, an obsession in the last 3.    Dana and I moved to our apartment 5 years ago – if you had told us that we’d have a shelf with 400+ jars (and more stored elsewhere for a total of around 700 at peak season), we’d have laughed.  If you told me we’d redecorate to accommodate them, I would have laughed harder.
  • Preserving cheats time.  I can pair the heat of a dehydrated local pepper with the freshness of  spring fiddleheads and cheat the seasons by mixing a fresh ingredient with a preserved one.  Jars are time machines for the kitchen.

All of that said, there’s a bigger picture; at least for us.  We’re preserving far more than food.  Each jar is a memory; the day we made it or the person who grew it or traded a jar with us or of other jars we ate from the set.

I’m going to make a difficult comparison for many people to accept in the following two paragraphs.

I hunt sustainable food.  It’s something I’ve struggled with for most of my life (an introduction to that is here and if you search for ‘Moose Hunt’ you’ll find a non-graphic account of our 9 days moose hunting this year).  The first time I ate an animal which I saw culled changed my relationship with food forever.  I used to throw out uneaten chicken with barely a thought.  I’m not trying to convert you – just suggesting that the reality of what is on the plate becomes a different kind of ‘real’ – at least for me.

Preserving does the same.  We haven’t mastered zero waste in our house yet but we’re very conscious when we forget a carrot in the crisper or when a bread fails.  I haven’t mastered my occasional binge on fast food or on pop.  But my relationship with what I eat has – and continues – to change rapidly.

Preserving to me, is about making a conscious choice, as to what I consume.  A simple dinner of rice and peas is intimately connected to 14 other dinners this year – all with the same batch of preserved peas from a farm just north of Markham made on a Sunday night after a great drive in the country and a wonderful visit with my parents.

We hope you’ve enjoyed some of the articles in this series and are inspired to try something from them – or something different altogether.  We’d love to hear from you and we really will get a swap event together later in the year – too many great tastes to simply hoard!

We would love to have any suggestions, requests, ideas or thoughts on what to feature in the summer article that we will be publishing in Edible Toronto.  Like this series, we plan to stay a bit off the beaten path of expected techniques or ingredients or at least offer some twists to them…

In the mean time, we’d love if you pulled up a chair and stuck around.  We’ll continue writing 7-days-a-week and share some of our spring successes and struggles as we go through them.  This year I’m going to remember to eat as much as I put in cans (something I did poorly last year :)).

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I am so terribly excited to experiment with Dandelions this year.  I have not preserved them before (the beech tree noyau and this are our `new`goals this spring to try) and am excited to share what we`ve learned about them as we`ve been planning for about 8 months to really have some fun with them.

A bit of context first.  Dana was reading about the Slow Food Movement and found an amazing story.  Several Italian experts were sent to South America to teach people better farming techniques.  The farmers had been struggling with their crops year-after-year.  Their families were struggling to eat and further challenged by a weed that would seemingly grow overnight and appear just about anywhere.   The Italians coulnd`t beleive what they were seeing – farmers starving and struggling to create a North American style farm while cutting and burning this weed on a daily basis.  The `weed`was actually an edible crop that was the basis of their diet hundreds of years ago and had since been forgotten as edible.  They were burning their best crop.

The mighty dandelion is much the same.  The greens are becoming gourmet delicacies (in salads or briefly blanched) and the flowers and roots are magically delicious.  Yet we see this master crop as a pain in the butt weed.

Let`s start bottom up:

  • The roots can be dug, washed and dried in an oven.  A small clump of dandelions can share a single root and use of a shovel and knife are generally required.  This is a large part of why we consider Dandelion Root Coffee to be a very difficult preserve – finding a place you can dig in the city (ethically and legally) presents a problem – If we`re up north early enough in the spring we`ll be able to try this, otherwise, this may have to wait another year.The basics: dehydrate it (you can use a stove) until brittle, roast it dark and grind into grounds to make this coffee substitute.  A 5-gallon bucket of roots should make 3-4 quarts of finished product.  There`s full details on eHow to learn to make this if you want more detail.
  • Dandelion wine.  I am told that this is super simple to make and that it tastes great.  It`s a curiosity as much as anything for me and amazing how many people I speak to who inform me that their grandparents made it at some point.  This relies on the flowers – avoid the rest of the plant which can turn your elixir into something bitter.  The petals are typically added to sugar, water and often a bit of citrus, boiled, strained and mixed with yeast to ferment before ageing 6 to 12 months.  The easiest explanation I`ve found is here.
  • Dandelion Jelly. Petals, sugar, water, pectin and a bit of citrus.  You essentially prepare tea (using the yellow leaves only) by simmering the leaves to create dandelion water which becomes the basis of this jelly.  You will have to add pectin in order for this to set as there is little-to-no pectin in a Dandelion (I am guessing none but do not know scientifically).  This would be a great place to start if you`re a little tentative.  Here’s some details.

I love the idea of working with a “weed” that others walk past and am very excited to work with Dandelions this year.  Make sure you’re picking in a clean area that hasn’t been sprayed with a tonne of pesticide or other nasties!

Any favourite recipes or techniques out there for dandelions?

Well that`s all for today`s post in our Preserving Spring series.  We are continuing to write one per day as a follow-up to the article in Edible Toronto.  We`re continuing to do one-a-day until complete and you can see the entire series by clicking here.

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