It’s Time for Some Pickling and Jamming

Fall seems to be rushing in here in Minnesota, which is all the more reason to preserve some of the garden harvest for enjoying over the winter.

This past weekend, I spent some time pickling and jamming, using vegetables from my own garden and a few I bought at the farmers’ market. Here’s the round up with links to all the recipes:

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.
Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

I’ve never pickled onions before, but both my Chicago daughter and our Northern Gardener Kitchen Garden columnist Rhonda Hayes tell me that they are all the rage on tacos, pulled pork and other foods that need a bit of zing. I had good luck this year growing these onions from Seed Savers Exchange. The mixture is super tart, but just right to brighten up a meaty sandwich.

I had half a head of red cabbage left from a salad I made so I decided to pickle that as well using the same method, but adding some raw ginger to the container. Ginger is a great companion to cabbage, adding a little heat to an otherwise bland vegetable.

Of course, I had to make a batch of Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles. Minnesotans like a sweeter pickle and these have just the right sweet-tart blend. I grew up eating these alongside a tuna or meat sandwich — yum!

Finally, I made a batch of this Yellow Tomato Jam, a sweet way to preserve the harvest. To me, this jam is like the first taste of fall because it has some of the spices of fall. If you like your tomatoes sweet, you may want to try this  recipe for a tomato peach pie!

The preserving is just starting here — my raspberries are ripening fast so I’ll be picking, freezing and eating them daily, and I have bunches of herbs to make into pesto and a sauce I call salty herb blend, which is great for putting in soups or on meats.

What are you preserving this fall (oops) summer?

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Ready for a long roast in a low oven.
Ready for a long roast in a low oven.

The tomato season is about to close, so about a week ago, I bought a nice batch of beautiful cherry tomatoes. I didn’t grow cherry tomatoes this year, but slow-roasted tomatoes are too good not to have on hand. They could not be easier to make either.

I poured about 3 tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet, then rolled the tomatoes around in it so they were all covered. I salted them lightly and ground some pepper over them. You could also put a couple of cloves of garlic (in the skins) on the tray, too. Then I set the oven to 225 degrees, put the tomatoes in and forgot about them. About six hours later, they were soft and wrinkly. I put some in a jar and covered them with olive oil and put the rest in freezer bags for later use.


These are like candy. They make a great addition to a salad or slice some soft cheese on a cracker (gouda is good-a!) and top it with a tomato. Instant hors d’ourves elegance.


Cherry Harvest and Clafoutis!

My small ‘Bali’ cherry tree is especially productive this year. So far, I’ve picked about a gallon and a half of nice cherries off the tree and there are plenty more where those came from. I’ll be picking daily over the next week or so, or until the birds clean out the rest.

A very small portion of this year's harvest, ready for baking.
A very small portion of this year’s harvest, ready for baking.

This is by far the best crop I’ve had from my cherry tree, which has been in the ground about eight years now: abundant cherries, no pests, and the birds haven’t cleaned out the tree even though I did not put a net on the tree this year as I have in the past. I attribute some of that good harvest to the pruning we did last fall, which opened up the center of the tree and improved air-flow through it.

‘Bali’, sometimes called ‘Evans’ cherry, is a sour cherry, discovered by the Canadian horticulturist Ieuen Evans in the 1920s. The trees stay relatively small — mine is under 10 feet tall. It’s a pretty tree for a smaller landscape and is covered with delicate white blossoms in the spring. The cherries are pretty, too, and make a great pie, cobbler or — what I did Saturday — clafoutis. A French confection, clafoutis lies somewhere between custard and a pancake. It’s easy to put together and, in my mind, works as a breakfast as well as a dessert.

Here’s the recipe I used, which is enough to fill a standard 9-inch pie plate:

clafoutis tight

Cherry Clafoutis

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; thoroughly butter (or use spray) a 9-inch pie pan


Clean and pit enough cherries to fill the bottom of the pie plate–2 to 3 cups. Because my cherries are sour, I covered them with about 1/3rd cup of sugar and rolled them around so the cherries were coated with sugar.


3 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. milk (I used whole)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until well combined. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate it. Then, add the milk and whisk. The batter should be similar to a thick pancake batter. Gently ladle or pour the batter over the cherries in the pan. You want even distribution of cherries in the clafoutis. Bake the clafouti for 45. It will be puffed (though hopefully not so lopsided as mine was!). Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

This tastes wonderful fresh from the oven as is, or you could put a dollop of whipped cream on it for even more decadence. I also ate a piece for breakfast the next morning and that was wonderful, too.




A New Take on Strawberry Jam

strawberry mango jam
Definitely spoon-worthy.

It’s strawberry season here, and that means hauling out the canning kettle and making some jam. My usual strawberry jam is the recipe in the pectin package, which is marvelous if your berries are absolutely fresh.

I made that recipe on Sunday when I picked up a flat of berries at Lorence’s outside of Northfield. With lots of berries still on hand, I decided to try something different — sweet, but with a hint of something else. After searching around, I found this recipe from a blog called Jammed In. I liked the idea of a jam with a little heat, but thought that adding real peppers might round out the flavor more and I wanted more of a strawberry flavor. I happened to have two ripe mangoes in the fridge, plus about 3 quarts of strawberries left in my flat. Here’s the recipe:

Strawberry-Mango Jam with a Kick


2 ripe mangoes, diced in about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice

6 cups strawberries (sliced and chopped to equal about 4 cups)

1 (or more!) jalepeno pepper, chopped finely

1 organic lemon, zest and juice

1 box powdered pectin (such as Sure-Jel)

6 cups sugar

This recipe makes six half-pint jars, plus not quite a cup extra. Make sure you have all the equipment you need at hand before you begin.

Chop the fruit and pepper, mix together with the zest and juice of the lemon and 2 cups of sugar. Set aside for about an hour.  Meanwhile, wash and prep the jars and lids for your jam and get the boiling-water canner started on the heat. (It takes about 30 minutes for my canner to come up to a boil, so give yourself time.)

After fruit has marinated, mix in the pectin and set the mixture in a large pot on the stove over medium heat. Bring it to a full, rolling boil that you cannot stir down. Add, all at once, the remaining 4 cups of sugar. Stir and bring it back to a full, rolling boil. Cook about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and add the jam to prepared jars. Put on lids and screwtops, then boil in the canner for 12 minutes.  Remove the jars and listen for the pops.

For basic jam-making instructions, check out this tutorial or this video. If I were to make the recipe again, I would add another 1 or 2 peppers. The extra heat tastes really interesting under the sweet, fruity jam flavor.


From Garden to Kitchen

relishes and applesauce
relishes and applesauce
The results of my day’s labor

I came into gardening through the kitchen door. I loved to cook long before I began gardening, and while my yard does have a lot of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, the plants that I feel most attached to are food plants — tomatoes, cherries, green beans, even cucumbers. That is not to say that my vegetable garden is meticulously kept. I tend to over plant and to locate it in full sun, it had to be placed a bit far from the house and too close to a city-owned field, which means grassy weeds are a constant hassle.

Still, when I get my hands on fresh food whether I grew it or someone else, I am happy. Saturday was a perfect day to stay indoors and cook, and I had plenty of food from my garden, the local apple orchard and the farmers’ market.

I ended up making 7 pints of applesauce 6 half-pints of red pepper relish, 5 pints of green tomato relish, a small batch of roasted tomatoes, a pan of tomato sauce and baby back ribs for supper. I was going to make an apple crisp, too, but knew that my husband and I were going to have pie on Sunday so decided to hold off on the sweets.

The key to doing a big day of cooking (other than a good night’s sleep the night before!) is to get the biggest bits of work done early and to start anything that requires a waiting time first. So I cut up and put the tomatoes to roast first, then chopped all the vegetables for the relishes and set them aside, because each recipe requires 3-plus hours of marinating. Then I cut up the apples (the most tedious job of the day) and made and canned the applesauce.

Later I made and canned the two relishes, put the ribs in the oven after the tomatoes came out, and lastly  made the tomato sauce. Once you get your canner going, it’s not that much harder to can more than one item.

I wish I could say I had everything on hand and was ultra-organized about my cooking day, but the truth is I made two trips to the grocery store because I forgot things. I also will say that my youngest child is 20-years-old and my husband does 90 percent of the laundry around here — in other words, I’m in a situation where a day in the kitchen is easy to arrange.  And, it’s a great joy. I love to see all my canning jars filled, and roasted tomatoes ready for salads this week and a jug of sauce for pasta some night when I don’t feel like cooking.

I’ve noticed that many gardeners tend to be good cooks, and many good cooks like to garden. Whether you come to gardening through the kitchen door or to cooking through the garden gate, it hardly matters. You’re in a good place either way.

Blueberry Jam/Jelly Recipe

Ready to be labeled

I make about 20 half-pints of jams and jellies each year, some of which we eat and some of which we give away. One of the more appreciative recipients of my jamming efforts is my dad, who often enjoys a PB and J sandwich for lunch. When I told my mom I was making jam with blueberries Sunday night, he shouted from the background — “Make it jelly.”

At its best, jelly is a perfectly clear, jewel-colored confection, made with only the juice of fresh fruit and lots of sugar. To make jelly, you boil your fruit down, then drain the juice through layers of cheese cloth or a jelly bag. This takes a fair amount of time and makes a pretty big mess, but is worth it.

Since it was the end of the day, I made a modified blueberry jelly/jam by straining out most of the solids. The result is a tart, intensely berry-flavored spread with a thicker texture than jelly, but no fruit chunks like jam. I made this recipe up, based on a couple of online recipes, including this one and this fun video (keep an eye on grand-daddy).

Blueberry Jam/Jelly

  • 10 cups fresh blueberries
  • 5 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 package dry pectin (Sure-Jel)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • spring of lemon balm (optional)

Prep: If you haven’t canned before, read up on the basics here. (However, jam in a hot-water bath canner is not hard, so don’t be intimidated.) Start by putting a large pot of water or canning pot on the heat. You’ll need it to be boiling by the time your fruit spread is ready. Wash six 1/2 pint canning jars with lids and rings in hot soapy water. Rinse. Put the lids and rings in a pan and pour boiling water over them. When the water in your canning pot boils, lower the clean, empty jars into the water for 5 or so minutes to sterilize them, too.

Fruit: Wash and take out stems from the berries and place them in a big cooking pot. Mash them to get the juices flowing. I also added 1/2 cup water. Bring this mixture to a boil and cook for 15 minutes to release all the juices.  When finished cooking, add lemon balm (if using) and let it sit 20 minutes or so. Next, get out a colander or sieve and pour the hot fruit through it into another clean, large pot. Mash the fruit against the holes to get as much of the good juices out as possible. Discard the leftover solids. You should have about 5 cups of goodness.

Jam/Jelly: Take the fruit juice and add to it the pectin and lemon juice. Put this on the heat and bring to a rolling boil. (This will take a good 15 to 20 minutes.) Stir it frequently. (This is a good time to sterilize the jars, if you have not done it already.) Measure out the sugar and set aside. When the fruit liquid reaches a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add the sugar all at once. Stir it to incorporate all the sugar. Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring often to keep it from scorching. When it is at a full, rolling boil that you cannot stir down, set a timer for one minute and continue cooking and stirring the jelly. Turn off the heat.

Processing: Ladle the hot jam/jelly into the prepared jars. (This should fill six 1/2 pint jars, with about 1/2 cup or more extra spread leftover for the cook to put in the fridge and enjoy.) With a clean, damp cloth or paper towel, wipe the rims of the jars clean,  cover with lids, and tighten the rings around them. Carefully, place the jars in the boiling-water canner and lower them so there is at least 1 inch of boiling water above the tops. Cover the canner and process for 12 minutes. Remove the jars and listen for the pings that indicate the jars are sealed. Let them cool completely before labeling them and storing them. They should be good for a year.

Thai Basil NonPesto

Thai basil ready to use

Thai basil ready to useThis year I planted three kinds of basil: the sweet Genovese that is typically used for making pesto and seasoning Italian food, Thai basil and lemon basil. A week or so ago, I picked all three and made a pesto with them for pasta.

It was …. disappointing.

As I learned, Thai basil probably should not be substituted for sweet basil leaf for leaf. Its flavor is stronger, more minty. It  is, as one blog described it, the “spicier, sexier” basil. The plants themselves are gorgeous, with purple stems and a purple flower. But I hate to not use the leaves, so I did some searching around the internet for a way to preserve Thai basil. There were not a lot of recipes, but the ones I liked best used the leaves to make an Asian-inspired pesto-like condiment.

Thai Basil NonPesto

Here’s what I ended up doing: I put 3 cups of leaves in the food processor along with about 2/3 cup peanuts, the juice and zest of two limes, some salt and five big cloves of garlic. If I would have had them handy, I would have added a a couple of hot peppers. I also added a tablespoon or so of water just to get it all congealing nicely. I processed it into a paste, then divided it among four sandwhich bags, which I flattened for easy storage and froze. (I also marked the bags carefully to make sure the pesto and the nonpesto do not get mixed up.) The flavor of the nonpesto was bright and zippy.  I can see adding this to a steaming bowl of Asian soup or a noodle dish with shrimp and vegetables.

I’m still figuring what to do with my lemon basil. How do you treat these unusual herbs?