tomato canning day

tomatoes

Canning day is a good day to me for many reasons.  Aside from the practical, it’s just fun and rewarding and pretty simple ~ if I follow the directions all is well.

Rather than copy and paste all the steps, I’ll say click on over to pickyourown.org where she kindly provides amazing instructions and pictures.

Basically I sanitize the jars in the dishwasher, and while that’s going I get the big water canner on the heat.

In a medium stock pot I drop the tomatoes into boiling water until their skins pop, about a minute or so.

canning tomatoes

Then it’s into an ice water bath so the skins are easily peeled off and the tomatoes are ready to be halved or quartered.

tomatoes for canning

Once they’re all in jars it’s important to add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart-jar, to ensure there is enough acid for the water bath canning method I used.  Add boiling water to jars of tomatoes, filling to 1/2 inch of top ~ then use a plastic spatula handle to release trapped air {important step, see recipe above for details}.

After lids and bands are on, it’s 45 minutes in the boiling water bath.  Then I carefully lift them out with a jar lifter and set them on a tea towel overnight.  The next day the lids should be dented down, concave, which says the jar is sealed.

canning tomatoes

All done and ready for the pantry!

can’t wait to can

canned beets textured photographIt’s that time of year when the farmers’ markets are overflowing with the end-of-season produce.  I’m really looking forward to canning a bunch of tomatoes as well as more beets, bread and butter pickles and hopefully some fruit.

I was admiring a photo today by a wonderful photographer named Livia.  She used a canvas-y type texture on the image and I asked her how she achieved it; she graciously replied and I found a similar effect on Photoshop Elements.

Even though I’ve had Elements for years I still don’t know about a lot of the features so this was a fun discovery.  You can’t really see the texture in the smaller photo but when click-to-enlarged I think it gives it a homey farmhouse kind of feel that might look nice hanging on a country kitchen wall.

ease into canning with pickled beets

pickling beetsWith growing season coming up, I thought I’d post one of my first canning projects from last year:  pickled beets.

It was late summer and as the farmers’ markets were winding down I bought a bunch of red and gold beets.  I had purchased the essential canning equipment and read the instructions; after referring to several websites I got to work.

Since it was my first attempt at the hot pack method, I selected one website and stuck to their step by step instructions.  I highly recommend following along with the folks at pickyourown.org; they’re very knowledgeable and generous with their time, making sure every step is detailed with photos.   Thanks to them my experience was enjoyable and successful.

This recipe will make about 8 pints of pickled beets:

ingredients:

  • 7 or 8 pounds beets, preferably similar in size
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 cloves, whole ~ about 1 teaspoon
  • 12 allspice nuts, whole ~ about 1 teaspoon
  • canning equipment ~ see here

directions:

  • Sanitize jars and lids ~ jars can go through the rinse/sanitize cycle of a dishwasher; keep them in there until ready to use so they stay warm; lids and rings should be heated but not boiled in a small pot of water on the stove
  • Fill the canning pot, with rack inside, with water and begin to heat over low flame, following manufacturer’s instructions
  • Trim the beet tops, leaving about an inch of stem to prevent color bleeding
  • Scrub beets under cool water, then place in a large pot and cover with water
  • Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes or so
  • Drain and discard the liquid; put beets in an ice water bath to cool
  • Cut off the roots and stems; peel beets and quarter them or slice as desired
  • Make pickling solution ~ combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a large pot; place the spices in a doubled up square of cheesecloth or a spice bag and add to pot
  • Bring to a boil, then add beets to pot; simmer for 5 minutes, then remove spice bag
  • Remove jars from the dishwasher; remove lids from the hot water pan; set on counter
  • Fill jars with the beets to within 1/2-inch of jar rim; pack snugly but don’t go over the 1/2-inch headspace
  • Carefully fill each jar with the pickling liquid, again making sure to leave 1/2-inch of headspace; be sure the beets are all submerged beneath the liquid
  • Wipe the mouth and top of each jar; top with lids and screw rings on snugly ~ not too tight, just snug
  • Using jar tongs, carefully place each jar into the rack of the canning pot; make sure tops of jars are covered by at least an inch of water ~ have extra boiling water on hand in case you need more
  • Process for 30 to 35 minutes, according to manufacturer’s instructions {processing time begins when water returns to a full boil}
  • When done, lift jars out with tongs and place on a tea towel to cool completely, preferably overnight before touching or moving
  • The next day test each seal with finger on center of lid ~ it should be dented inward and not move when pressed

canning pickled beets

Some people suggest wearing plastic gloves when peeling and slicing the beets, so that’s what I did.  I’m sure purple fingers wear off eventually but I didn’t want to chance it.

The process was a lot of fun.  It does take the better part of an afternoon, but having organic beets in the pantry without spending gourmet prices makes it worth while.

pickled vegetables with a kick

pickled vegetablesI’m relatively new to the canning world and, although at times it feels a bit overwhelming, there are a few basic principles that help me better understand preserving food.  Some things are easier to put by than others and acid has a lot to do with it.

It seems that lemon juice and vinegar are the go-to mediums for preserving just about anything.  I began last year and so far had success with naturally high-acid food like preserving meyer lemons and canning tomatoes; next came pickled beets and they turned out well, too.

But when I don’t want to pull out the big canning pot, it’s nice to have a quick and easy way to preserve a bunch of veggies hanging around the fridge.  This recipe uses a lot of the same ingredients as giardiniera except here the vegetables are cooked and there’s no oil so it will last in your fridge a lot longer.  I used Indian spices like curry powder and cumin but it would be great as a Mediterranean style as well.

ingredients:

  • 1  head cauliflower, cut down to small florets
  • 3  carrots, julienned or sliced crosswise
  • 2  celery stalks, julienned or sliced crosswise
  • 1/2  to 1 onion, sliced
  • 1  red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 quarts white vinegar
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespooons salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 12 cloves
  • pinch red chili flakes, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spices

directions:

  • Run several pint jars through the rinse cycle in dishwasher; leave them in there when done to keep warm
  • Clean jar lids with hot soapy water; set on dish towel to dry
  • Wrap spices in triple layered cheesecloth or place in a spice bag
  • Fill a large stockpot with water; bring to boil
  • Add vegetables to pot and boil 4 to 5 minutes; drain
  • Return empty pot to stove, add sugar, vinegar, salt, mustard and spice bag; bring to boil
  • Let it keep boiling for a few minutes, then add vegetables
  • Turn down heat, simmering vegetables for a few minutes
  • Take off heat and allow to cool a bit before ladling into the clean warm jars
  • Be sure to fill with liquid to top, leaving only about 1/2 inch of head space
  • Place a square of doubled-up plastic wrap over the mouth of each jar, then tightly screw on lids
  • Allow to cool on counter; store in refrigerator

pickled vegetablesThis will last in your fridge for several months if you fill and seal the jars well.  I have popped open a jar after many months and it tasted like I made it last week.  Lip-smackin good!

For me having the right equipment can make a potentially messy job ~ such as ladling hot liquid into small jars ~ less daunting.  A canning funnel like the one I mentioned in this entry helps me avoid big spills.  More fun less mess!

homemade vanilla extract & liqueur

homemade vanilla extractVanilla is one of the most popular and beloved flavors in baking.  Warm, sweet and so versatile, I can’t get enough of it.  Not only does it enhance everything from ice cream to cakes to sauces, I love it in coffee and tea as well as an after-dinner beverage.

Pure vanilla extract can be pricey ~ so if you’re like me and use a lot of this elixir, making it from scratch is practical, economical and, I find, a lot of fun.  All it takes is a jar, vanilla bean pods and, for an extract, I like to use dark rum.

  • Cut four or five vanilla bean pods in halves or thirds; small enough so they’ll easily fit in an 8-ounce mason jar
  • Split pods down the center to expose all the beans
  • Place them into the jar and fill it to the top with the rum
  • It’s important that the pods are completely submerged in the liquid to avoid spoilage; double check this and cut pods smaller if needed
  • Place plastic wrap over mouth of the jar then screw on lid securely
  • Shake jar vigorously
  • Label and date; store in a cool dark place and shake daily for at least 6 weeks

That’s it!  The extract will only get stronger {and better} with age, so I just leave the vanilla in the jar and use a dropper or spoon to take out a bit whenever I need it.  After a while, to keep the pods submerged I either snip them into smaller chunks with scissors or just top off the jar with a bit of rum every now and then.  The other option is to eventually remove the pods.

homemade vanilla brandy

A much lighter ~ drinkable ~ version of vanilla extract is vanilla-flavored brandy.  Same process only less concentrated:  I just put a few split pods into a litre of brandy and let it sit for a month or so.  Again, I shake it up daily to keep the extraction process active.  Alcohol is very good at extracting so all it needs is a little help with a jiggle once a day.

This type of brandy infusion can also be made into a liqueur by adding simple sugar syrup or honey; spices such as clove and cinnamon; pear halves, dates and raisins; even orange peel for a Grand-Marnier-style apertif.

living the country kitchen life

canning

Remember that movie Baby Boom?  I’ve got it on my dvr right now and have been waiting for the perfect night to revisit the neurotic-city-woman-turned-Country-Baby-babyfood-creator.  Fun!

In the spirit of preserving yummy goodness, I’ve been perusing various canning/preserving blogs and so far my favorite is laundry etc out of Britain.  The above photo is from her entry on pickling onions; I love the old style weck jar.  That said I’ll probably stick with the more economical Ball 12-pack for $12 from acehardware.com for my winter kitchen projects.

Although it’s best to keep your canned creations in a cool dark place, I can’t help but marvel at how homey and rustic they make the kitchen look and feel.

canning

The above photo is from another good blog, farmersdaughterct.  Lots of good recipes and ideas.  For me a great part of the country kitchen is surrounding myself with cute equipment.

canning funnel

This adorable vintage looking canning funnel is available at surlatable.com and to me should hang out on a hook next to the stove.

colander

Another great vintage-y item needed for canning — one I’d be happy to look at each day — is this 5 quart colander in lemon from target.com.  Great for straining those tomatoes or beets prepped for the jars.  Comes in lots of fun colors and is made of enamel coated stainless steel {hand wash and dry immediately to prevent rusting}.

canning pots

Last but not least, canning ware from the quintessential canning website, Lehman’s.  This company began in order to provide the Amish community with quality canning equipment so that’s a good enough endorsement for me.  For a more economical route, they sell the pot I use:  the classic Granite water bath canner.  Speckled enamel, just like those vintage camping mugs.  Eclectic heaven!

granite canner