Tag Archives: canning

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Hard FoughtOne day in November, the final canning session for the season was over. Ten quarts of applesauce would have to do, stretching themselves through the winter months for our family of 5. It’s not what I’d hoped for, but it was the best I could do given the circumstances.

The jars watched me from their perch on the kitchen racks, waiting for me to finish the last chore: carrying them down to the basement pantry. I finally relented to their stares, grabbing a random armful of jars on my trips to the laundry room.

As I opened the old slatwood cupboard doors that shield the pantry shelves, I expected to see an empty space. With the start of a full time job this year followed by a midsummer move, this wasn’t my most productive canning season. I had, in fact, been hosting a bit of a pity party about everything I didn’t accomplish this year: jam, tomatoes, pickles (thankfully I was a little overzealous with my Picklepalooza last year), let alone time for trips to the beach and the zoo with my kids, knitting, gardening, my plans for sheep…. sometimes I wonder if my “want to” list will ever live up to my expectations.

But as I reached up to place the jars on the top shelf, I was surprised to see that the cupboard was almost full. Relish, salsa verde, and a surprising amount of peaches. When did that happen?

I scanned the shelves in front of me and the answer came: every jar was hard fought this year.

There were no lazy days meandering the farmers market or afternoons driving to u-pick berry farms on a whim. Rather, I power shopped at the farmers market on my half-hour lunch and hogged the work refrigerator until it was time to go home.

It wasn’t easy. Canning this year made me yearn for the slower days when I had lots of time and little money, when I savored every bite of my day. This year I straddled the fence between the fast lane and the homemaker, gripping tight to the handful of hours in-between to preserve my ideal. Sometimes I thought it would be better to give in, to just buy the damn food and stop trying so hard.

But then what?

But then I would have missed the joy: the memory of pecking our way around the back roads to find the peach farm on our way home from a weekend up north, and later, the warmth of my husband and kids pitching in to help can the fuzzy orbs in the evenings.

Absent would be the pride at the dinner table whenever a jar of jam or salsa was popped open, or the relief on those days when I hadn’t made it to the grocery store yet and could send applesauce to school.

I would have missed out, too, on meeting new farm friends at the farmer’s market, and entertaining co-workers with my armfuls of produce. “What did you buy today, Becky?” was something I looked forward to every Wednesday, as well as passing out the spare cucumber or apple.

I didn’t get to everything on my list this year, but it was more than nothing.

This year was hard. Not bad, just a whole lot of work that hasn’t produced fruit yet. It will, I’m confident, but sometimes when you are in the middle of pursuing a dream, when it’s all work and little reward, it’s easy to lose sight of joy. It pays to take a step back, scan your progress so far, and recognize your progress instead of your missed goals.

You might be surprised at what you see.

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“Can you go to the basement and get a jar of peaches for dinner?” my mother asked me a thousand different childhood nights while she finished cooking dinner.

Canned peaches. If you are imagining the sadness that schleps out of tin cans bought from the grocery store, erase that image from your mind right there. These are not those.

Peach jewels

Home-canned peaches are divine. They are sweet jewels that kids fight over, truly a dessert without any help from ice cream or pastry. As a child I dared myself into our basement for them; that’s how good they are.

I’m sure dirt basements exist outside of Michigan, but that’s what we call them here: a Michigan basement. It is one step down from “unfinished”, a dirt floor with crumbly plaster walls and a close ceiling. It is where our Dr. Seussian steel furnace grumbled and inhaled wood by the truckload on the far end of the room. Not spooky, exactly, just not a place you want to hang out.

With my mother’s nightly request I slid my feet into my father’s too-big slippers that were reliably parked by the basement door and I scampered down the stairs. Trapped between the furnace and the steps was the pantry: a cool, dark little side room perfect for storing canned goods. I stepped up into the black cave, waving my hand in the air to feel for the string that pulled on the light, and willed my imagination not to think of the salamanders and spiders and other Things that might be watching me. Once the light was on I breathed again and went in for the loot.

There was the treasure hunt.

First the peaches. Sometimes I picked pears too, or gathered the shopping list of tomatoes and pickles and beets my mother often ordered. I liked to poke around and inspect the lost and forgotten jars:  plums in murky sediment, jam with that weird wax seal, the apple juice nobody liked. Experiments left behind.

Satisfied, I carried as much loot away as I could hold. And I never, ever forgot the peaches. Nobody wants to get sent back to the basement for forgotten treasure.

 

Peach Tips on Pits:

A few tips on buying and ripening peaches:

First, if you are canning ask for “freestone” peaches. They come away from the pit easily.  Red Havens are the most common, but new varieties are out there. Cling types, whose flesh sticks to the pit, are wonderful for eating but a pain to pit—don’t try to can those or you will come away cursing like a sailor.

Second, know that peaches don’t keep. If they are perfectly ripe when you buy them, can them that day or early the next. If they are hard baseballs, go to step 3 and wait a few days.

Third, To ripen peaches at home, lay them out on a cool floor on an old sheet. Do not leave them in the bag or basket; the bottom ones will be ruined as they ripen. Check morning and night to gauge ripeness.

 

Will you be canning peaches this year? Any questions or fears out there?

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  A spicy sweet dilly flavor fills my kitchen this week, letting visitors know that pickles are afoot in this house.

pickles

pickle caption

 Lucie’s collection includes 15 recipes for pickles. Fifteen. It’s like the Bubba Gump version of pickles. Dill pickles, split pickles, sweet pickles. . . .

Because I am a recovering perfectionist I didn't try to tackle all of them this year.  I stuck with my staple recipes (dill and relish) and branched out with a couple of new ones. In summation:

Nine Day Pickles: This was the most intimidating recipe but turned out to be the most fun. First there was the floating of the egg. Then each day after that was just a little bit of work that I multi-tasked while making breakfast or washing dishes. No big deal. The result was a strong sweet pickle that will go well with meat or, if you’re fancy, on a charcuterie board.  And by the way, an ounce of celery seed is a LOT.

Pickle Relish: This sweet relish is my main bribing tool for a select group of sausage-loving friends. I know that it sounds weird because relish isn’t one of those things that you dream about, but this is some serious stuff. Sorry folks, no recipe at this time. You must be in my inner circle.

Lazy Wife Pickles: These were weird. Yes, they were easy to make, but the recipe calls for a cup (a full cup!) of ground mustard. It never fully dissolved. The powder just hung suspended in the liquid; I am guessing it should really be mustard seed instead. Next time.

'Pickle Roundup
Dill Pickles: Ah, the dill pickle. I used to buy seasoning kits but simple is best: salt, dill, maybe a clove a garlic, and diluted vinegar. And Aunt Helen’s tip to boil the packed jars in a water bath just until the cucumbers change color, about 7 minutes, guarantees a crisp crunch. But don’t sue me for that because it doesn’t follow the safety rules of Cook Your Food Until It Is Entirely Mushy, Tasteless, and Sterile. It’s just an idea you might try if you’re dangerous. Like me after this week.

Aunt Helen's Dill Pickles

1 pt. cider vinegar
1 cup canning salt
2 1/4 qt. water
2 stalks dill

Bring vinegar, salt, and water to a boil. Pour over pickles that are packed in a jar with dill. Seal with hot lids. Process in water bath just until they turn lighter.