It’s official…I’m finally home

Vanilla Pear Butter

Vanilla Pear Butter

So I’ve been living in my new home and cooking with my new kitchen for oh, about 10 months now, and I only just got around to canning my first batch of anything: Vanilla Pear Butter. And now I finally feel like I’ve arrived.

Fresh Bartlett Pears

Fresh Bartlett Pears

We were away most weekends throughout the summer and early fall, and in the event we spent the odd one at home, I had a to-do list as long as my arm. It’s a lot of work to settle into a new house, especially one that’s still got the odd bit of renovation work yet to be completed, not to mention the massive landscaping job that took place (that is in fact, still taking place). I hung my first pictures on the walls just a few weeks ago. Part of the problem is that every time the workers are here to do something they generate a whole new round of dust that needs attention, so I’ve held back on the decor bits until just recently. I may yet regret hanging up the things I did. I hate dusting.

To be fair to myself, it’s hard to get motivated to can anything when I don’t really have a garden for inspiration. I finally decided a few weeks ago to hit up the grocery store in my old hood to see if by chance they had any bushels of roma tomatoes still kicking around, with faint hope of canning a couple batches of tomatoes and tomato sauce. I was too late, although if I’d wanted to buy a few bushels of red shepherd peppers for roasting and canning I would have been well stocked. Gotta love neighbourhoods with lots of old ladies from “the old country.”

Cooking down the pears

Cooking down the pears

While the tomato hunt turned up short, they had a couple baskets of ripe Bartlett pears, and I happened to have a stock pile of vanilla beans waiting for some love. This pear butter is perhaps my favourite recipe in the jam/jelly/butter category. It’s deliciously comforting spread simply on toast, or fancied up with some of your favourite sharp cheese on some fresh baguette.

Space to can!

Space to can!

And while I was involved in designing my kitchen and I’ve been reaping the joys of it ever since we moved in, I don’t think I fully appreciated the gift I’d given myself until I set out to can. Imagine the freedom of having room on both sides of your stove to have your tools and supplies ready! No more carrying steaming, dripping incredibly hot glass jars precariously gripped between tongs across the kitchen! I don’t even have to take the saucepan off the stove! Amazing! I’m not missing that old awkward L-shaped kitchen with no countertops around the stove at all.

Pureed Butter

Pureed butter with vanilla bean

In the end this was a rather small batch resulting in just 5 250 ml jars. It’s hardly enough to give away, and this would be a stellar holiday gift. I’m not sure I’ll be able to carve out time enough to do more but I sure hope so. If I do, I just might have to make use of my little 125 ml jars to stretch it out. These 5 are staying in my pantry, at least until they end up in my belly!

What was I thinking??

I’m a beaten and battered locavore foodie tonight. As is my Virgoan tendency, I bit off more than I could chew. With Chris away on his San Diego bachelor party adventure (so jealous!) I decided to make the most of some new equipment I invested in recently, and get down to business canning.

First on the list was the beets I’ve been neglecting in the garden all summer. This is what happens when you neglect beets for months and months. They mutate into hideous beasts. Those suckers weighed 2 lbs each!!

Overgrown beets

Overgrown beets

One of the pieces of equipment I recently bought is an outdoor propane burner meant for canning. I had actually bought one from Bass Pro Shop a few weeks ago designed for fish frying, but when I found this one at my local Fortinos grocery store of all places this week (on sale!), I had to buy it (sorry — I put it away and forgot to take a photo but this is the one, by Aurora). It’s incredibly sturdy and much better value than the one from Bass Pro.  It was tucked away among all the canning supplies and the bushels of tomatoes at Fortinos, and it performed beautifully — even after a thunderstorm swept through and I had to run for cover and leave it out in the rain.

The first thing I tested on the burner was running the canning bath for a bunch of the beets. I often have problems getting the seals to go down on wide mouth jars, but processing them on the propane burner seemed to help with that. Maybe it was because I wasn’t fudging with the heat/burner to ensure that my pot didn’t boil over (I used my biggest stock pot, 16L, outside on the burner).

Pickled Detroit Goldens and Detroit Reds

Pickled Detroit Goldens and Detroit Reds

Next, was to tackle the bushel of tomatoes I bought last night. Last year I turned a bushel of tomatoes into sauce, but for some reason this year the task seemed monumental, but only after I got started and realized just how insane this decision was. Next time — must invite friends and get bigger pots.

With the sauce though, I wanted to try out the nifty new 22 QT Mirro Pressure Canner that Chris bought me (he’s such an enabler. I adore him!). The canner has three pressure control valves, each designed to hold pressure at 5, 10 and 15 PSI. Problem was that the diagram in the manual is a joke, and the valves aren’t labeled. I decided to wing it and chose the middle size to hopefully achieve the 10 PSI I needed.

So… the theory is that, for tomatoes anyway, the pressure canner reduces the amount of processing time required. Instead of 40 mins in a hot water bath you can do them for 15 mins in the pressure canner at 10 PSI (for 1L jars). Problem is that you have to let the pressure reduce after that 15 mins before you can open the canner, which takes 45 mins to an hour! And the canner only holds 5 1L jars, which was about a third of what I needed to process. Because of that aforementioned thunderstorm, I finished most of the sauce canning indoors but I did try out the pressure canner (scary at first!) and I’m pretty happy with it, despite the fact that it doesn’t really speed things up for me in the way I’d thought. I might have to make a video sometime to show how to use it (I was stumped for about an hour, trying to comprehend the horrible manual; and there don’t seem to be any ‘how to’ videos of this model online). I love the idea of being able to can low acid items like my stocks — it will save room in the freezer and save on having to microwave or wait for them to thaw. I also love that you can stack pint jars in it, so that makes processing quicker for the smaller types of jars anyway. And perhaps knowing that I can process a limited amount of tomatoes in it, but faster, will lead to me not buying such ridiculous amounts of tomatoes in the first place. It would be far less stressful on my constitution if I just did things in moderation. But then maybe I wouldn’t be me. Ha!

 

17L of tomato sauce!

17L of tomato sauce!

Now for the really crazy part? What I processed today doesn’t represent any of the tomatoes in my garden. Those are late this year and just barely starting to ripen. But remember how I made my garden bigger this year? Yeah. I’m in trouble. There’s this little thing called a wedding coming up. What was I thinking?!

 

Beets galore

Last week after getting home from a weekend at the cottage I inspected the beet patch to see how things are going. Low and behold I had gargantuan Chioggias coming out of my ears. I should have known, as they are the earliest of the beets I like to grow. I also have some Detroit Reds and some Detroit Goldens on the go. I’m afraid to see how big they are. Between the very gregarious patch of Rainbow Swiss Chard I have going (I am so sick of chard!!) and the beets, I can barely keep up.

Pickled Chioggia Beets

Pickled Chioggia Beets

Chioggias (aka candy cane beets) are a little unconventional for pickling as they tend to bleed out all their lovely candy cane striping, but I love their unusual look all the same. As you can see each jar is a little different depending on which jar got the beets with more red in them.

I’ll probably can some more pickled beets with the Detroit Reds to get some more traditional looking ones. I eat these things like candy. Its the one pickle I make that I can be sure I will always eat tons of. I might try pickling some of the Goldens too — I’m curious how they’ll look in the jar.

Read my pickled beets recipe

Positively pickled

I think my house smelled like dill pickles for a week after this.

Dilly beans

Dilly beans

It started with garlic dills and dilly beans.

Garlic dills

Garlic dills

And then I bought more cucumbers for making relish. But I had way, way too many. So they became sliced garlic dills, with some added chili to kick them up a notch.

Spicy sliced garlic dills

Spicy sliced garlic dills

I made only a half batch of relish last year to see how we liked it. It was so great I made a full batch this year.

Homemade cucumber relish

Homemade cucumber relish

And for the first time this year I’ve had success with chard. I have no idea why it didn’t cooperate in the past. But this summer there is an abundance of this lovely stuff.

Rainbow Swiss Chard

Rainbow Swiss Chard

Summer is wonderful.

Welcome Ecoholic readers!

Thanks to NOW magazine’s Ecoholic, Adria Vasil, and her story this week about canning foods using BPA-free products. At the end of Adria’s article she mentions my Pear Butter recipe. I hope to make some this week actually, if this cold I’ve gotten doesn’t keep me down for too long. I picked up some pears at the last Nathan Phillips Square Farmers’ Market of the season. So sad to see the market end for the year. Enjoy!

Canning quickie

I know after all those posts last week I’ve kind of disappeared again this week, but it’s because I bit off a bit more than I could chew with the canning and the sewing this week. Bought a bushel of roma tomatoes on Monday and set to work making tomato sauce, and holy cow was that a nutty thing to do. NEVER AGAIN ON A WEEKNIGHT. A bushel is a lot of tomatoes. I got 11 litres of sauce out of them, and that was after draining off a lot of water in the hopes to make it a thicker sauce than last year’s.

And then there were the two baskets of peaches sitting on my counter since Sunday, waiting to become peach salsa. So that was Tuesday night’s project. Almost 5 litres of salsa right there.

Last night I tried to take apart my sewing machine’s tension knob and basically drove myself into a tizzy because I couldn’t get it to go back together right. I was ready to check myself into a psych ward by the time I gave up and walked away. I later found a tension repair manual for download for $5 and a schematic for my sewing machine online for free. So we’ll see what tonight brings in the sewing machine repair department.

In the meantime, here is a snapshot of some of my canning adventures from earlier in August: pickled beets from my garden, pickled onions made from pearl onions I found in the grocery store at the cottage near Haliburton, and pickled dilled beans:

Adventures in Pickling

Adventures in pickling

Yum Yum Yum!

Did I mention my right arm/wrist are shot? Tendinitis and repetitive strain injury through the roof.

Pear Butter featured by Canning Across America

Canning Across America's Photo of the Week!

Canning Across America's Photo of the Week!

How cool is this? Be sure to check out Canning Across America’s blog and Flickr pool — great stuff. Long live the canvolution!!

Relishing the summer

You know I just had to get right on top of the canning once I got back to the city this week. I noted as part of my grocery restocking when we got back from Wabakimi that we were out of relish. I was about to add it to my shopping list when I thought, hold on a second. It’s cucumber season! Screw that sugary store bought stuff!

Cucumber Relish

Homemade cucumber relish

For the last few years actually, as I’ve cut my canning chops, I’ve considered making my own relish, but never got around to it. It’s not like we go through it very fast, although we eat our fair share of burgers and sausages all summer long, especially at the cottage. I didn’t want to make a huge batch because knowing us, these three jars themselves might carry us over the next year or two, easily. So I made a 3/4 portion recipe of the cucumber relish recipe in the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving.

This recipe is definitely more vinegary than sugary, and that is just perfect in my opinion. I’m not going to reproduce the recipe here because I really made almost no real changes to it except I used celery salt instead of celery seed (it’s what I had in the house, and I was careful to taste to ensure I wasn’t overdoing the salt) and I used red and orange sweet peppers instead of red and green; again, it’s what I had. Oh and I used the large grater attachment for my food processor to make chopping the cucumbers go a lot faster.

Garlic Dill Pickles

Sliced Garlic Dills

Since I’d bought two large baskets of cucumbers from the farmers’ market I also got busy making some sliced garlic dills, because I have just one small jar of them left from last year and were they ever a hit! This year I made 500 ml jars instead of 250 ml because I’d been told in no uncertain terms that the 250 ml jars were just WAY TOO SMALL (thanks Matt!).

Again, this recipe is from the Bernardin book, and really no tweaks here either except I added about 3/4 of a finely sliced red pepper, because it was sitting there all lonely in the fridge and it added a nice splash of colour to the jars. Also, I don’t bother tying my pickling spices in a bouquet garni; I like they way the spices look floating in the jars. I had just shy of the 4lbs of cucumbers the recipe calls for and I ended up with 7 500 ml jars of pickles. Oh and a mandoline makes slicing these babies easy as pie. Last year I sliced by hand and they were much chunkier pickles. My food processor only has an attachment that makes for paper-thin slices, far too thin for pickles, so I’m glad I had a mandoline kicking around just for this purpose (actually, it was originally Chris’s; I never owned one before I met him).

Next up… I have a lot of beets in my garden this year and I think Chris is already sick of them (he’s not nearly as big of a fan of them as I am). I think pickling them is really the only way I can use them up easily, although I might consider if there is a way I can root cellar them (not having a real root cellar might be a problem). Good thing a lot of my girlfriends love pickled beets!

We be jammin’

Yesterday was the first of my two-day G20 holiday, and all week the weather report for Thursday has been up and down. One minute it was calling for rain, the next for sun. My plans vacillated between gardening (of which there is always work to be done) and making jam. I wasn’t going to bother making jam this year as I still have quite a bit from last year, but then all those shiny red strawberries at the farmers’ markets got me all inspired. In the end it was a wet morning and a very humid, sunny afternoon, so I managed to squeeze in a bit of both: canning and gardening.

Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar & Black Pepper

Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar & Black Pepper

I noted that my nearby grocery store, a Fortino’s, had local strawberries on sale for $2.49 a quart, a steal if I ever saw one. So rather than go to the North York Farmers’ Market, which was on yesterday, and since I needed some basics like milk and eggs anyway, I decided to go there. In the end I kind of wished I’d gone up to the market, because the berries I got were more than a little over ripe and squishy, but in the end that’s just fine for making jam so it wasn’t the end of the world. I am however going to write to complain (again) to the managers of both that store and to Foodland Ontario, because for the umpteenth time they were displaying American produce on the Foodland Ontario table. The local strawberries were hidden among American ones on a table on the other side of the produce section. This kind of sneaky displaying of more expensive, non-local produce in prominent areas marked as local really irks me, and I bet it would piss off the local growers association as well. And it happens all the time.

Instead of the basic strawberry jam I wanted to try something different, so I made a strawberry vanilla jam, and a strawberry, balsamic and black pepper preserve, which should be delish with cheese and crackers. And the both sound just so exotic, don’t they?

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Versions of both of these recipes can be found on Canadian Living’s website (Strawberry Vanilla Jam; Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar & Black Pepper), however, I based my own on basic jam and preserves recipes that make smaller batches. The Canadian Living recipes don’t mention a yield but they use 12 cups of strawberries which is a lot. My versions are:

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

  • 4 cups hulled and mashed strawberries
  • 1 package of fruit pectin
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out, pod included for cooking
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  1. Thoroughly wash strawberries. Hull and crush or mash, or carefully mash with an immersion blender (this method can very easily puree your strawberries so be careful not to over do it). The method you use depends on how chunky or not you like your jam. Measure 4 cups into a deep stainless steel pot.
  2. Whisk in pectin. Measure out sugar in a separate bowl.
  3. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into berries. Add pod (will be removed before canning).
  4. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
  5. Stirring constantly, add sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down over high heat. To reduce foaming, add 1/2 tsp butter or oil. Boil hard for 1 minute.
  6. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with metal spoon. Remove vanilla pod.
  7. With canning funnel, ladle jam into hot, sterilized 250 ml canning jars. Remove any air bubbles, wipe jar edges and place hot snap lids on jar. Add screw bands, tightening only until resistance is met.
  8. Process in a hot water canning bath for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and allow jam to cool at room temperature until jam is set (may take 24 hours). Snap lids should pop down to indicate they are sealed. Any that don’t should be stored in the refrigerator and used quickly, or frozen. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place.

Yield: 6 to 7 250 ml jars.

Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar & Black Pepper

  • 4 cups hulled and mashed strawberries
  • 1 package of fruit pectin
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (adjust to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper (adjust to taste)
  1. Thoroughly wash strawberries. Hull and crush or mash, or carefully mash with an immersion blender. Measure 4 cups into a deep stainless steel pot.
  2. Whisk in pectin. Measure out sugar in a separate bowl.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
  4. Stirring constantly, add sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down over high heat. To reduce foaming, add 1/2 tsp butter or oil. Boil hard for 1 minute.
  5. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with metal spoon. Add balsamic vinegar and black pepper (adjust to taste — you may want more black pepper for a spicier preserve with more vinegar kick).
  6. With canning funnel, ladle preserves into hot, sterilized 250 ml canning jars. Remove any air bubbles, wipe jar edges and place hot snap lids on jar. Add screw bands, tightening only until resistance is met.
  7. Process in a hot water canning bath for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and allow jam to cool at room temperature until jam is set (may take 24 hours). Snap lids should pop down to indicate they are sealed. Any that don’t should be stored in the refrigerator and used quickly, or frozen. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place.

Yield: 6 to 7 250 ml jars.

The quest for pear butter

Pear Vanilla Butter

Vanilla Pear Butter

So now that I’m fully initiated into the iPhone cult, I can post to my blog while we drive to the cottage! No, I’m not doing the driving.

Ever since I had the vanilla pear butter with artisanal cheeses at the now dead-pooled restaurant Locavore, I’ve wanted to make my own version. I hated pears as a kid; I couldn’t stand their often mealy texture. Even now they aren’t a fruit I’d eat right off the tree, but I have a new love for them as baked, stewed and now, as butter.

I picked up a couple baskets of Ontario Bartlett pears and made two batches this week. The first batch I based on a recipe and the second one I improvised. The first on has a bit more citrus than I really wanted, though it is still delish.

Vanilla Pear Butter

  • About 15 medium Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup water or apple juice
  • 1 tsp ascorbic acid (Fruit Fresh) to prevent browning
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  1. In a large saucepan combine pears, water or juice and ascorbic acid. Over medium heat cook pears about 20 minutes, until they begin to break up. Remove from heat and using a hand held blender, purée the mixture until totally smooth.
  2. Add sugar and vanilla bean innards and return to heat. Cook on low, stirring often, until butter has reached desired consistency, or mounds on a spoon.
  3. Fill 250ml sterilized jars, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Makes 5 to 7 jars.

Variation: substitute 1 cup of the sugar with a 1/2 cup of brown sugar and a 1/2 cup of maple syrup for a Maple Pear Butter.