Canning Classes

I’m so excited to tell everyone that I will be working with April Cunningham from North Coast Opportunities to put on a series of canning and cooking classes this year.  The classes will be offered at the Willits Grange Kitchen and the Ukiah Senior Center Kitchen (both of which are really nice commercial kitchens).  We’re working on adding some dates at the Redwood Valley Grange as well.  Workshops will focus on cooking and preserving seasonal produce from local farms.  I’ll show you how to make jam and pickles but we’ll do some fresh cooking too.  After each class, participants will go home with a bag full of goodies that we’ve made that day.  At just $20, the classes are a ridiculously good deal!  There’s no commitment to attend the whole series- feel free to sign up for one class and then sign up for the rest once you see how much fun they’re going to be and how delicious everything we make turns out.  fall preservesSpace is limited, so contact April Cunningham to reserve a space: acunningham@ncoinc.org, or 707-467-3212.  If you’re interested in attending but the dates don’t work for you, e-mail April to stay in touch about future workshops.

Upcoming Workshops:

April 18: Ukiah Senior Center 1:00-4:00 pm. – FULL

April 22: Willits Grange 2:00-5:00

May 6: Ukiah Senior Center 2:00-5:00

May 30: Ukiah Senior Center 2:00-5:00

June 16: Ukiah Senior Center: 2:00-5:00

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Brandied Cranberry Pear Preserves

cranberries peCranberries are one of the things that make me buy non-local fruit.  I just can’t not do it. I love them.  I want to put them in everything I make.  The pears are local! They’re from my friend’s farm in Potter Valley! I drove all the way over there by myself way out into the boonies out of cell phone range on a dirt road in my frail old pickup truck with the engine light on! That’s how committed I was to those beautiful bartlett pears.  That should forgive the fact that I bought cranberries in a plastic bag from the grocery store.  Shhh.  SHHHHH.  No judging.cranberrypearpreserves The obvious use for cranberry preserves is to put them with roast turkey, but I really love this preserve on regular old whole wheat toast on all kinds days that aren’t Thanksgiving.  I think it tastes best when it’s cold and gray outside and you make a cup of tea and some toast.  I am a huge fan of fall, winter, rain, sweaters, fires in the wood stove, etc., and this jam fits right in with all that stuff.

Also,  if you want to be fancy it’s pretty amazing with soft chèvre or brie.

BRANDIED CRANBERRY PEAR PRESERVES

Cook Time: 1 hr., plus waiting overnight for fruit to macerate

Makes: 4 1/2 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. diced pears (peel and core first)
  • 2 c. cranberries
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • a splash of brandy (how big is up to you)

Day 1:

Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive container.  Stir well to coat the pears with sugar.  Press a layer of saran wrap over the top of the mixture to prevent browning.  Put the container in the fridge for 24 hours.

Day 2:

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and prepare jars and lids.

Transfer the mixture to a large, nonreactive pot.  Turn the heat to high and cook until the jam reaches the gel point, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Partway through cooking, I like to give the mixture a few mashes with a potato masher to break up some of the fruit pieces to get a jammier texture.

Remove the bay leaf and discard. Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims and attach lids. Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.

Vegan Mushroom Gravy

Sometimes I like to make this vegan mushroom gravy because you can dump it all over all kinds of stuff and it makes everything taste amazing. Savory and meaty and delicious.  (Sausage gravy will achieve the same purpose, but this is cheaper than buying nice sausage from the farmers market, and mushrooms are really tasty anyway). mushroomsToday I put it on a baked sweet potato for lunch.  Last night I put it on spaghetti squash and collard greens.  This is my go-to gravy for making vegan/vegetarian soul food dinners; I usually make mashed sweet potatoes with some brown sugar and bourbon, whip up a batch of this gravy, stew some greens, maybe fry a couple green tomatoes or bake some biscuits…. good to go.  No meat needed. purple sweet potato and mushroom gravy(I feel like I need to acknowledge that this sweet potato is bright purple.  I bought it at the co-op the other day, not realizing how vivid the color would be.  Hooray for purple vegetables, right?)

VEGAN MUSHROOM GRAVY

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. vegan margarine, butter or olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c. diced onions
  • 3 c. sliced mushrooms*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 c. nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp. of soy sauce (or, if you don’t eat soy, balsamic vinegar is good)
  • 3/4 c. water or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbs. chopped parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a sauté pan on medium.  Add the garlic, onions and bay leaf and sauté until the onions are translucent.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until they are cooked through.  Add 1/4 c. of water to the mushrooms while they’re cooking to make sure they don’t stick and burn.  Add the whole wheat flour and nutritional yeast and stir to coat the mushrooms mixture.  Let it start to brown on the pan a little bit, add the soy sauce and let it cook for another minute. The pan should be getting a little brown and crusty, but not actually burned.  Deglaze the pan with 1/2 c. of water or vegetable stock.  Keep stirring and the gravy should come together and thicken within a few minutes.  If it’s too thick, add a little more water.  Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

*I used a mixture of shiitakes and button mushrooms, but it really doesn’t matter what varieties you choose.

Quince Slices in White Wine Syrup

Last month, I came to grips with the fact that I really just don’t like quince.  I think they taste like eating roses, and not in a good way.  The problem is that I still have two bushels of quince sitting in the pantry looking a little worse for wear and I really hate wasting food. I’m going to need to do a couple projects to use them all up, but this is attempt #1 at creating something we might enjoy.  (That last project I did was membrillo, and I thought it was foul). quince slices in white wine syrupMy original inspiration was this recipe for roasted pears and quince in white wine with tangerine zest which looked like it would be lovely adapted into a shelf-stable canned recipe. I ended up making quince slices white wine syrup infused with rosemary and tangerine zest that I’m hoping to use for some savory applications instead of just dessert. I feel like I might love them with some moroccan-spiced roast chicken and homemade flatbread or in a tagine with slow cooked lamb.  I’m going to let the jars sit for a week or two for the flavors to come together and then give it a try. peeling quinceQUINCE SLICES IN WHITE WINE SYRUP

Makes: 4 quart jars

Cook Time: awhile. peeling quince is kind of a pain.

Ingredients:

  • 8 lbs. quince
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 4 c. water
  • 4 c. dry white wine
  • 4 c. sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 tangerine
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Prepare the quince:
Rinse them under running water to remove the grey fuzz on the outside, then peel off the skin.  Remove the core and cut into 1/2″ thick wedges. As you’re working, put the wedges into a large, nonreactive pot with water to cover them (about 12 cups.) and 2 tbs. of lemon juice to prevent the fruit from browning. Once all of the fruit is cut into wedges, put the pot on the stove and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

While the quince are poaching, fill the boiling water canner and bring to a boil and prepare 4 quart jars and lids.

When the quince are fully cooked, drain them in a colander* and set aside for a minute.  Put the pot back on the stove and add the ingredients for the syrup: water, wine, sugar, tangerine zest and juice, lemon juice and a sprig of rosemary. Bring to a simmer and cook for a couple minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Transfer the cooked quince slices from the colander back into the pot with the syrup and simmer everything for a few more minutes.  Ladle the quince slices and syrup into hot, clean jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles with a chopstick or plastic spatula and adjust headspace. Wipe rims, attach lids and process for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.

*You can save the cores, peels and poaching liquid to make quince pectin stock if you want.

canning quinceP.S. See that little green spatula? My mother in law gave it to me for Christmas. At the time, it seemed like a random little stocking stuffer, but I’m obsessed with it and have been using it for everything.  It’s perfect for removing air bubbles from jars!

P.P.S. You may notice in the top picture that I actually totally failed on removing the air bubbles from one of the jars and the headspace isn’t right at all. We’ll be using that jar first since it won’t have the shelf life that the others will.

Potato-Leek Pancakes with Pear Sauce

On nights that I’m just cooking for myself, I have huge problems motivating to cook anything remotely resembling a coherent dinner. Lots of times I just make scrambled eggs. Sometimes I make popcorn.  These potato pancakes are my attempt at cooking a meal that’s a little more like real food, but still is cheap (really cheap) and lightning fast to throw together.  potato pancakesYou probably already know how to make potato pancakes, but sometimes I write stuff here more to remind people that it’s a good idea.  Instead of having them with the traditional applesauce accompaniment, I used bartlett pear sauce that I made earlier this fall and it was totally delicious.  My friend Jen from Salt Hollow Flower Farm turned me on to canning pear sauce instead of applesauce, and I have to agree, it really is divine.  (I used this pear sauce recipe here.)

POTATO LEEK PANCAKES

Makes: 4 medium pancakes or 8 small pancakes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. of shredded potato, tightly packed (about 2 large potatoes)
  • 1/4 c. thinly sliced leeks
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbs. wheat flour
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 tbs. safflower or other neutral flavored oil
  • for serving: pear sauce, sour cream and sliced scallions

Combine the potato, leeks, egg and flour in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix together everything thoroughly. Heat the oil in a frying pan on high heat. Form the potato mixture into patties and set them in the pan. Cook for about three minutes, then flip them with a spatula to cook the other side for a few minutes.  The pancakes are done with each side is a nice shade of golden brown.  Serve immediately, topped with sour cream, pear sauce, and scallions.

Queensland Blue Pumpkin Butter

I’m not always a fan of using the freezer for food preservation.  Maybe one day, if I have a chest freezer and some more space, but for now there’s just not enough room to really make much use of it.  Right now I use it for meat and fish, frozen bags of cooked greens, a few jars of pie filling and this pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin butter is epic.

Pumpkin butter deserves as much space in the freezer as it needs.  It is totally worth it.  If you’ve made pumpkin butter before, I’m probably preaching to the choir, but if you haven’t ….  you need to go get a pumpkin.  It’s like pumpkin pie in a jar.  I usually use it instead of plain pumpkin puree to make pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin lattes that are about a million times better than anything from Starbucks. (Did you know that most “pumpkin spice lattes” are just lattes with nutmeg and cinnamon? There’s really no pumpkin involved in most of them.  Try something like this instead.)queensland blue pumpkinMaking this made me really think about how ridiculous it is to measure out  specific amounts of ingredients for recipes since no two vegetables taste exactly the same.  With the wide range of varieties available from seed catalogues and at farmers markets, it makes so much more sense to learn the general method for a recipe, taste it as you go and adjust accordingly.   Last fall, I made pumpkin butter with sugar pie pumpkins and it took about four times as long to reduce down to the correct thickness and had a stringy, mushy texture that needed a lot of pureeing and reducing.   Not only did this year’s batch cook much faster since the flesh of this variety is very firm and dry, but the pumpkins also had so much flavor on their own that I really didn’t need to do much of anything to get the rich, luscious pumpkin taste that the finished product should have.

My favorite winter squash varieties have very firm, dry flesh that is dark yellow or orange, very flavorful and great for both savory and sweet recipes.  Buttercup, kabocha, jarradhale, and queensland blue are my current standbys, but if you look at winter squash section of the Baker Creek Seed catalogue, you’ll see there are about another ninety varieties and by no means have I tried them all. pumpkin butterHere’s the deal:  this is an easy recipe because it’s just going in the freezer.  You might find some pumpkin butter recipes in older cookbooks that say it’s safe for water bath canning, but it’s a lies.  I guess the USDA used to say it was okay but changed their minds.  The current guidelines say that pumpkin butter isn’t safe for water bath canning OR pressure canning.   (Did you really catch that if you’re skimming this?)

PUMPKIN BUTTER IS NEVER SAFE FOR CANNING. NOT IN A WATER BATH AND NOT IN A PRESSURE CANNER EITHER.

As much as I love to question authority, I’m not a scientist so I’m just going to follow the rules.  Marisa from Food In Jars has a thorough explanation over on her website here.  If you don’t have a freezer and are desperate for something that can go in a jar, SB Canning has a recipe for faux pumpkin butter that’s safe for water bath canning.

Step 1: Roast a pumpkin

To do this, poke a couple holes in it with a knife or a toothpick.  Put it on a cookie sheet. Put it in the oven at 350 degrees.  (You’ll know it’s cooked when a knife slides into the flesh easily – OR- if you press on the skin with your finger and it feels soft and gives to pressure – OR – you see little bubbles of caramelized sugar coming out of those holes you poked earlier.  Or all of those things. Maybe that’s obvious, but at my first kitchen job, it took me about three months to get the hang of properly baking potatoes.  Just so they were cooked through, like a normal baked potato, and not raw in the middle. Don’t make fun of me, it’s true.)

Step 2:

Wait for the pumpkin to cool off.  Then cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for other projects.  The cooked flesh should come apart from the skin pretty easily at this point.  Put the flesh into a large, nonreactive pot and discard the skin.

Step 3:

Add the seasonings, puree, and cook on low heat until the mixture has thickened.  This variety of pumpkin is going to make a puree that’s already quite thick, so it won’t take all that long, about 45 minutes. Since this flesh is so dry, I found that it worked well to use a cup or two of apple juice as part of the sweetener.  It enhances the flavor and adds enough liquid to make it possible to puree everything with an immersion blender.

Ingredients to add:

  • apple or pear juice
  • brown sugar, honey or molasses
  • white sugar to taste
  • cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, fresh, powdered or candied ginger, cardamom, whatever you want really…

I added apple juice, molasses, white sugar and some cinnamon and cooked the puree for another hour on very low heat, stirring it more often as it got really thick.   It ended up tasting perfect, just like eating pumpkin pie.  If you’re unsure about the seasonings, just add a little at a time and keep tasting it.  I added more white sugar than I originally thought I’d need, but if you just keep adding a little and tasting it eventually the flavors will lock in just right and really sing.  At this point, you should step away and stop messing with it or the everything can get muddled and weird.

Step 4:

Transfer the pumpkin butter to tupperware or jars and store in the freezer. Remember to leave about 3/4″ headspace on your jars and not to screw the lids down too tight or they’ll crack as they freeze solid.  pumpkin pieDON’T FORGET: Now that you have pumpkin butter made, you can whip up a pumpkin pie in about three minutes. The instructions are in this post from last year. 

Wild Grape Jelly

This month was really stressful.  We had a bunch of stuff going on that’s not really worth going into. The only reason I bring it up is to say how it really is so nice when life is being overly complicated and then you find an absolutely gigantic patch of wild grapes that have set the most beautiful, luscious, deep purple  clusters of fruit, and then you can be like:

HEY! Instead of stressing out about all this other stuff, I’m gonna spend the afternoon picking grapes and making jelly. If I wanna blow off the everything that I’m supposed to be doing and make jelly instead then DAMMIT I’m going to because I’m a grown woman and who can stop me SO THERE.

Anyway.

I still can’t believe that these grapes are wild.  Most of the ones I’ve seen in the past wouldn’t really set fruit in bunches; it would just be a few random grapes here and there on the vines.  wild grapeswild grape jellyThe main difference between wild and cultivated grapes are the size of the seeds. Wild grapes’ skins slip off the same way concord grape skins do, but the seed inside is huge and there’s not much to the fruit. The flavor is intense, though, and perfect for making jelly.  The color of the finished preserve is gorgeous and the taste is dark, tart and wonderful.  (Actually, it really reminds me of the tiny, tart wild blackberries that grow in the exact same area earlier in the summer.) grape jelly

Wild grapes have lots of pectin on their own and are a good candidate for a no-added pectin jelly.  The set on those jellies really is nicer than jellies with added commercial pectin, but you really need to add a lot of sugar to make the no pectin  batches gel.  I prefer adding low-sugar commercial pectin to the grape juice so that I can use less sugar and have a shorter cooking time (which often preserves the flavor of the fresh fruit a little better).  I made some wild blackberry-plum jelly earlier this year without any added commercial pectin, and it’s good, but it’s just so sweet.

WILD GRAPE JELLY, adapted from the Sure-Gel low sugar pectin insert that comes in the box

Makes: 6 half pint jars

Cook Time: 1 hr. plus overnight

STEP ONE:

First, make the grape juice.  Wash the grapes and remove them from the stems.  Put them in a large, nonreactive pot and add just enough water to cover them.  Simmer the grapes for about half an hour.  Once they start softening up, mash them with a potato masher to release their juice. After 30-45 minutes, pour them into a jelly bag to drain overnight. (Or, use cheesecloth.  or a clean pillowcase. I like this description of using a pillowcase instead of a proper jelly bag. I just slip mine over the top of a pot and tie off the excess fabric underneath the pot, if that makes any sense.)

I had 16 cups of grapes and cooked them in 8 cups of water, which ended up yielding about 5 cups of juice.

STEP TWO: making the jelly

Ingredients:

  • 5 c. prepared wild grape juice
  • 3 cups plus 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Whisk together the pectin with 1/4 c. of sugar.  In a large, nonreactive pot, whisk together the grape juice and the pectin/sugar mixture.  Cook on high heat until the grape juice comes to a full, rolling boil.  Stir in the rest of the sugar and bring the jelly back to a full boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute.

Ladle hot jelly into prepared jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims and attach lids, then process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary. tattler lidsThis happens to be the first time I’ve tried out tattler lids… and I love them.  They’re BPA free and reusable, which is great.  Throwing away all those metal lids always seems like a bummer, and really, I haven’t seen any pinterest projects for repurposing them that actually look like anything work making.

Check out the Tattler website for more information.