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?

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
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 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?

Put ’em Up!

A Gardener’s Reading, sixth of 30

By Sheri Brooks Vinton (Storey Publishing, 2010)

Put ‘em Up’s subtitle is “A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling.” It’s a mouthful, but it sums up beautifully the ambitious task Vinton undertakes with clarity, good humor and an inspiring “you-can-do-it” tone.

It’s one of several books that have been issued or re-issued recently to address the increasing interest in vegetable gardening and simple living among young people. In the book’s introduction, Vinton acknowledges that canning seems to have skipped a generation. Many of the book’s readers may have memories of grandma canning, but none of their mother or father preserving food. These are skills we do not want to lose as a society, Vinton says, and she aims to give new or young canners confidence as well as information.

Like other food preservation books, Vinton begins by offering some safety warnings and going through the basic types of food preparations for preserving and food preservation options, including pickling, jamming, drying, freezing and boiling water bath canning. She does not address pressure canning, which is a more advanced skill and probably not one that beginning food preservers are likely to tackle.

One thing I really liked about this book is the way Vinton addressed the warnings, which have kept many beginning gardeners from doing a lot of preserving. She lists clearly and  succinctly “Signs of Good Food Gone Bad,” as well as “Things that Look Bad, but Aren’t Dangerous.” Read the front section carefully, and you will be able to can with confidence.

Beyond the introductory chapters – about one-third of this well-illustrated and designed volume – you will find pages of creative recipes for everything from rhubarb soda syrup to carmelized onion confit. I was thrilled to see a recipe for roasted red pepper ketchup, which I tried, and liked, even having used end-of-season tomatoes and grocery store peppers. It was a little chunky, but rich and flavorful, not just sweet – great on fries or a burger. Next September when the ingredients are at their peak, I’ll be making more of this.

If you are excited about canning and preserving food, check out this book. Some others you might like are:

 Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving – a rewrite of the famous Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving Recipes (which is also still available);

Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff and Rinne Allen

Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving with Ashley English

A Good Weekend for Canning

The Finished Product!

When I woke up Saturday morning, the ponds and backyard were under a cloak of fog. It seemed like a good day to do some canning. By the time I got into the kitchen that afternoon, the sun was out and it would have been a good day for gardening, but canning it was!

Once you fire up the canner, it make sense to make more than one thing, so I made three different items.

I used some leftover raspberry juice (buttressed with cherry juice from the co-op to get enough liquid) to make a raspberry-cherry jelly using my basic raspberry jelly recipe. I really like the dark color imparted by the cherry juice and it has a little less bite than pure raspberry jelly.

Earlier in the day I had purchased 10 gorgeous red peppers from Spring Wind Farm at the Riverwalk Market Fair. With some apples and hot peppers, I made a batch of red pepper relish. I got a little lazy and did not clean the seeds out of the hot peppers, so this batch has more heat that usual, but is really tasty.

Finally, I tried a recipe I found on youtube for a lemon marmalade. I like marmalade — much more than jelly, which I usually give away — so was intrigued by a recipe that uses all the leftover rinds from the lemons to make a marmalade. Because the lemons lack pectin and because I had some nice organic apples on hand, I added an apple to the boiling liquid that is the base of the marmalade. The apple skins imparted a pinkish color to the marmalade, which thickened up nicely. One note about this recipe, which the video does not make clear: You have to boil the sugar/water/lemon mixture a long time — more than an hour in my case — to get it to thicken up properly.

What have you been canning lately?


The Joy of Good Tools

Funnel reduces drips.

I’ve been canning and pickling for about 15 years now — starting with applesauce when my kids were young and then graduating to jellies and jams, relishes and pickles. But I’ve never had legit canning tools until this year — and what a difference they make.

Magnetic wand helps you pick up hot lids.







I bought a tool set from Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply, a fun store on Selby Avenue in St. Paul last spring. The store is full of gear for gardeners, chicken keepers and canners, both equipment and how-to books. This simple set from Ball, the kingpins of canning, included a brilliantly efficient jar lifter (no more burned hands), a magnetic lid grabber and a tool that removes air from jars and measures the headspace between the food you are preserving and the jar lid.

Jar lifter makes it easy to transfer hot jars from pot to cooling towel.

Monday I made eight jars of pickle relish, using my rather abundant supply of cucumbers, and today I canned 6 half pints of peach preserves. It’s a good week for canning, especially with the right tools.

Checking the Larder, and Squash Waffles

As we hit the end of January (woo-hoo!!), it seemed a good time to check on the garden goodies I stored away for winter and see how we were doing at eating things up. This fall, my husband and I became empty-nesters, at least most of the time. So, we are figuring out new ways of cooking and eating. The good news: More vegetables. The bad news: I still am cooking for three or four, not two, so we have a lot of leftovers.

In any case, I did a brief survey of what we still have from our frozen and canned garden produce. We’ve got plenty of relishes, pickles, pesto and jams, but are almost out of the whole fruit I froze. I checked on the squash we’ve been storing in a very cool part of the basement and discovered that while it was still OK, it was time to cook it off. So Sunday afternoon, I cut up the remaining six large butternut squash and boiled them to a pulp. Most of it was put in containers for freezing and using in soups, breads, and squash custard (a family favorite), but I took a small amount to make a new recipe I developed (based in part on something from Alton Brown‘s latest cookbook) to use up cooked squash. If you have some cooked pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes, this is a good way to use them up.

Sqaush Waffles

1/2 cup cooked squash, well mashed

3 eggs, separated

2 TBSP butter, melted

1/3 cup milk

2 TBSP brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

Separate the eggs, and give one yolk to the dog. Set the three whites aside in a separate mixing bowl. Whisk together until smooth two egg yolks, the cooked squash, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together, then add to the wet ingredients. If it seems really stiff, add a bit more milk. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Mix about half the whites into the squash/flour mixture to lighten it, then gently fold the rest of the whites in to the mixture.

Follow directions on your waffle maker to make about four largish waffles. You could probably do these as pancakes, too, and they would still be tasty. We topped ours with syrup and homemade applesauce, which was delicious.

Raspberry Decadence

Decadence in a jar.

It has come to this: I have so many raspberries ready to harvest in my backyard that I made jelly — the gardener’s equivalent of blowing a wad in Vegas, buying a fur coat, and drinking a $5 latte all in one day. Jelly is decadence, but when you are harvesting 16 cups of raspberries almost every day, when your freezer is full, when your neighbors have eaten all they want, and your pants are getting tight from all the raspberry cobbler you’ve made — it’s time for jelly.

Unlike jam, which is a thrifty spread full of fiber and fruit pulp, jelly requires only the essence of the fruit, the tarty juice extracted after hours of squeezing and dripping. To make a decadent jelly, start with 16 cups of absolutely fresh raspberries. (You can pick them in my backyard, if you’d like!) Rinse them lightly to get off any stray dirt or bugs, and let them drain on a paper towel a few minutes. Then, put the berries in a large pot, crush them a bit and turn on the heat. The goal is to get the berries to start juicing up without actually cooking much. When the berries come to a boil, take them off the heat, and crush a bit more with a potato masher. Get that juice flowing.

Let them cool while you prepare your juice extraction system. You can buy something called a “jelly bag” but I just lined a colander with several sheets of cheesecloth. Put the colander over a large pan to catch the juice, and pour the berries and juice through the colander. Plan on several hours for all of the juice to come out. After the first rush of juice, I wrapped the cheesecloth around the berries and put a plate and a can of soup on top of them to get more juice out. Push on it occasionally. You should end up with about 4 cups of raspberry juice. (If you are a little short of juice, add some water.)

The jelly recipe I used is the basic one on the box of powdered pectin and with juice this fresh, it’s plenty good. You start by preparing your jars and getting water boiling in a boiling water bath canning pot. (For good instructions on basic canning, check out this site.) In another large pot, mix the juice and a box of powdered pectin, such as Sure-Jell. Bring this to a boil. When the liquid is boiling, add all at once 5 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir it to mix in the sugar, and bring this up to a rolling boil (one that you cannot stir down). Let it boil hard for 1 minute, then pour the jelly into your sterilized jelly jars, put on sterilized lids and rings, and boil in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (some instructions say 10, but I did 5). Remove the jars from the boiling water bath and listen for the “ping” that tells you the jars are sealed.  Let cool and store.

This recipe makes 6 half-pint jars of jelly, plus a little left over for the cook to put in the refrigerator and enjoy with toast the next morning.