How to Preserve 100+ lbs. of Tomatoes With Almost No Work

Tomatoes are one of the main crops that I preserve. Jam is all well and good, but face it: there’s a ton of sugar in those jars. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are incredibly good for you can go in just about anything. Home-grown tomatoes are also one of the food items that are so far superior to their grocery store counterparts that they are worth the time it takes to put them up.

Vegetables are so labor-intensive to grow that it makes me cringe when they finally ripen in such abundance that some are left to rot or are simply fed to animals.  I put literal blood, sweat and tears into our farm, and I’ll be damned if I’m letting anything go to waste.  It’s like they say, “there are starving children…”

The key is knowing which preserving methods involve the lowest amount of work at the front end and are the most versatile during the winter months.  I used to get swept up in strange recipes for chutneys and pickles, but when it comes down to it, we really don’t need any of that in the pantry. They make nice gifts, yes.  If you really want to grow and preserve your own food, however, you won’t get by on chutneys. It’s basics like tomatoes (or potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbages, etc) that make up a well-stocked pantry for us.

So. Let’s get down to it. Last summer I preserved almost 2,000 lbs. of tomatoes and I intend on doing so again. Here’s everything I know about how to get it done.

First you’ll need to grow some tomatoes. You can also develop a relationship with local farmers. Hopefully you shop at farmers markets anyway. There is a certain time of year when busy farmers start feeding extra tomatoes to their chickens or giving them away to friends. This is the time of year that you want to go to the farmers markets just as they are ending, see what is left, and ask any of the following:

  • Haggle: “I’m interested in buying the rest of your tomatoes, can you make me a deal?”  For non-heirloom tomatoes, you should aim for $1/lb. or lower. $20 or lower for a huge box full of tomatoes is a good price.  Heirlooms will be slightly more expensive.
  • Barter, which is even better:  First ask the farmer what they are going to do with all the leftover tomatoes. Then you can tell them: “I do a lot of canning.  If you’re interested, I will take your tomatoes home, turn them into tomato sauce and can them.  In exchange, I keep 3/4 of the jars and will bring you back 1/4.  You will end up with beautiful jars of tomato sauce to eat during the winter without having to do any canning at all.”  A jar of high-end tomato sauce sells from $5-$9 per jar, so a farmer is essentially selling you a case of picked-over tomatoes for $10-$20, depending on how big the case is and the yield of your sauce. Most farmers will be quite happy with this, but will only do the trade if you’re buddies with them (which is why it’s good to be on a first-name basis with your favorite farmers).

Preserving options:

1. Freezing: I’m off the grid, but if you’re on the grid and have the freezer space, tomatoes are perfect for the freezer.  Wash them, let them dry, and either put them in ziploc bags suitable for freezing or vacuum seal them. Date them, and put them in the freezer.  You can take them out as you need them, and there’s absolutely no need to peel them; when you take them out of the freezer, the skins will slip off easily under some warm tap water.

2. Tomato Sauce For Busy People: So there’s this idea floating around that you have to peel and seed tomatoes to make a good sauce, and it’s 100% nonsense. It hurts my brain to think about peeling all those tomatoes.  And seedless sauce? Why? People who peel and seed tomatoes are the same people who peel potatoes and carrots, which I also don’t do and think is a waste of time. If you’re cooking at the French Laundry, then fine, peel and seed the tomatoes. Until then, don’t bother.The main argument for not peeling the tomatoes is that it often makes the difference between “I have time to can tomato sauce” and “Are you smoking crack? No way am I doing that!”

(Instead of photographing and writing out the whole tomato sauce process, you should go read about it on The Girls Guide to Guns and Butter.  Her recipe is for freezing, but all I do is add lemon juice and process the jars to make it safe for canning.  Keep reading for more instructions…)

All you need is a huge pot, tomatoes, salt, lemon juice, and a lot of big jars. Cut the stems and any damaged or rotten spots off the tomatoes,* put them in a pot, and cook it on very low heat until it gets to the consistency you want. Stir it every once in awhile.  I cooked mine for 36 hours. If you want, you can saute some onions, garlic, shallots and herbs in some olive oil and throw that in the pot with the tomatoes too.

If you like a smooth sauce, purée it in a blender or a food processor. I blended about half of my sauce because I like to have small chunks of tomatoes in it. Season with salt and pepper.

The summary: Instead of spending a ton of time peeling tomatoes, all you really do is throw whole tomatoes in a pot and then cook them forever.

To can the sauce: Add 1 tbs. of lemon juice to pint jars and 2 tbs. of lemon juice to quart jars. Fill the jars with hot tomato sauce using 1/2″ headspace. Process in a boiling water canner.  Pints get 40 minutes and quarts get 50 minutes. (Lemon juice is what makes the tomatoes acidic enough to be safe for the boiling water method).

NOTE: (brought up by a smart reader!) Processing times vary by altitude, so check this chart here to match your altitude to the right processing time for where you are. http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_03/tomato_sauce.html

Do NOT get all crazy and start doing stuff like adding ground beef or mushrooms or carrots or any of that. You absolutely must pressure-can a sauce with vegetables or meat in it. I add all of that fancy stuff later, in February, when I am making spaghetti and meatballs while it’s freezing cold outside.  This is a basic sauce to amend later.

3. Oven Dried Tomatoes

I like to dehydrate all of my heirlooms in the oven (I would use a dehydrator if I were on the grid).   They have such a wonderful flavor to begin with, but when you dry them with a little sprinkle of sea salt, they caramelize and turn into magic candy sweet salty tomato snacks. You can put the dried tomatoes in all kinds of stews, sauces, salsas, grain dishes, and jams for a wonderful burst of roasted tomato flavor.  I would challenge anyone to find a dried tomato from a grocery store that is half as delicious as a homegrown dried heirloom.

Cut the stems off and cut the tomatoes down into more manageable sizes: halved for smaller ones, quartered for larger ones. Lay them on a cookie sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle them with some sea salt. Add fresh herbs if you want; i like fresh thyme and wild bay laurel leaves. Put the oven on the lowest temperature it has. I roasted mine for 48 hours at 175 degrees, but you’ll want to just keep an half an eye on them. When they start looking almost done (shriveled up like any other type of dried fruit), you’ll need to check about every half an hour. Smaller tomatoes finish faster and I just pick them off the cookie sheet and put them in a jar as they are ready, letting the larger ones stay in the oven.

And there you have it- a case of heirloom tomatoes now fits in a quart mason jar. I dry them pretty thoroughly; they will still feel leathery and nice, not burnt and crunchy. Cover them and store in a cool, dark place. They should last for months, but I wouldn’t really know how long, we always eat them sooner. If you want to leave a little more moisture in them, I would throw them in the freezer to make sure they don’t spoil.

4. Last But Not Least, the Cherry Tomatoes: Cherry Tomato Bisque

I haven’t made it this year, but tomorrow these cherry tomatoes will go into a bisque. It’s so simple, but so bright and luscious.  Just saute some garlic, dump the cherry tomatoes in the soup pot, and cover with vegetable stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, then puree. Stir in some heavy cream and season with sea salt and black pepper.  This soup would freeze very well if you want to save it for later.

… And that is how to go through 6 cases of tomatoes in just a few days without losing any to rot or giving up and feeding them to the animals.

I would, however, be open to something like La Tomatina, the world’s largest food fight.  A small town in Spain started this tradition, where “over 100 metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.”

That could be fun.

Canning Demo

On Sunday, September 4th at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market, I’ll be doing a canning demo.  I’ll be using whatever’s at the market that morning, so it’s hard to know exactly what that will mean, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be making something along these lines:

  • a pickle
  • a tomato thing
  • a jammy thing

Bread and butter pickles? Half-sour refrigerator dill pickles? Tomato sauce? Salsa? Ketchup? Strawberry jam? Pickled turnips? Dilly beans? 

The possibilities are endless!  September is the perfect time of year for late-summer preserving, and here in Northern California the tomatoes are really just starting to get going.

Part of this demo will also show you how to keep your kitchen ready for canning projects so that you can be flexible around whatever produce is available in abundance, tastes good and is cost effective for canning. (A preview: vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, jars)

The Redwood Valley Farmers Market is located on 8920 East Road in Redwood Valley in Lions Park. The market goes from 9:30 to 12:30 and we’ll probably be canning from around 10 to 12:15.  It’s going to be a blast, so stop by. It’s FREE too, plus there will be samples of all the canned goods as we make them!

P.S. If there’s something you want to know how to make, send me an e-mail and we’ll see if we can make it happen.

 

Wild Blackberry Jam

Every August, I’m faced with the tough choice between how much I adore the taste of wild blackberries and how much I hate picking them.  It’s 102 degrees outside, the sun is blazing, picking blackberries almost invariable involves a hike, and, best of all, they’re covered with thorns.  As much as I love California, I still daydream about the soft, dew-covered grass back in New York that you can walk on barefoot all summer long.  The plants on our property here are either pointy (star-thistle, nettles, blackberries, etc.) or make you itchy (poison oak).

Ah, but the blackberries.

Their flavor is rich and dark and perfect for jam. Varying degrees of sweetness from the wild berries makes a complex final product with plenty of sweet and plenty of tart; the berries that make your mouth pucker when you eat them raw are the magic ingredient here.

Of course, make sure that whatever berry patch you find hasn’t been polluted by run-off from a nearby road or sprayed with anything (which is good practice for foraging in general).

The actual making of the blackberry jam is easy as pie.

Wild Blackberry Jam

Since foraging tends to involve inexact amounts of produce (unlike the pretty baskets of berries at the farmers market), this recipe works better written out as a formula.

Yields: every cup of crushed berries that you have will end up equalling about one half-pint jar of jam.

Cook Time: about 30 minutes, but the time will vary drastically according to how many berries you cook in a batch

Ingredients:

  • wild blackberries:  I recommend a batch size of 4 c. of prepared berries.  Much less and you will have to really be vigilant to prevent sticking and burning during cooking. Too many berries and you will end up cooking the jam so long that you may lose some of the fresh blackberry flavor. If you go nuts and pick 12 cups of berries, just split them into four separate batches. The amount doesn’t have to be exact, though. No need to get four cups on the nose. 5 and 2/3 c. would work, or 3 cups, or… you see where I’m going here.
  • sugar: equal amount of sugar to crushed berries

1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water. 

2. Rinse berries and drain thoroughly. Put the berries into a mixing bowl and give them a gently crush.  Not enough to completely pulverize them, though; some chunks of fruit in our jam is a good thing.

3. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the berries with an equal amount of sugar. If you have 4 cups of berries, put in 4 cups of sugar. 1:1 ratio. Easy. 

4. Cook the jam until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or whatever gel test you like to use). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove the pot from the heat and ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Wipe rims clean and screw on lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Now hide those jars away, deep in the pantry where no one can find them.  Once people know how good they are, poof! They will be gone. This photo and one lone jar is all I have left from my blackberry picking mission. (My brother discovered the jam and realized that it will make the best peanut butter and jam sandwich you’ve ever eaten.)

The vibrant flavors in these jars taste like August, and remind me of the rows of wild blackberry jam that my mom had on the pantry shelves when we were little kids.

Maybe you’re weary and you don’t give a damn

I bet you’ve never tasted her blackberry jam

-Greg Brown, from Canned Goods

Concord Grape Jam

This is like the Angelina Jolie of jam.

If these grapes were people they would wear cat eye makeup and high heels even when they were just hanging around the kitchen on a lazy Saturday morning.

The flavor is incredible: rich, earthy, sweet and musky.  It is complex and bold in ways that a strawberry can only dream about.

A piece of fruit like that doesn’t just leave the house wearing sweatpants.

(What does this metaphor even mean?)

What it means: I put a cup of really good pinot noir in this jam. I know, it’s kind of tragic not to drink the cup of really good pinot noir. There’s still almost a whole bottle though, so it’s fine, and the wine only enhances that beautiful richness that you find in these grapes.

Sure, you can put this jam on your toast.  You could also pair it almost the same way you’d pair pinot noir, though. The flavors go beautifully with roast beef or lamb, black pepper and arugula. It will be delicious with goat cheese or brie. There’s lots of room for creativity here, no need to stick within the confines of a peanut butter sandwich.Concord Grape Jam 

makes: about 7 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 9 c. stemmed seedless* Concord grapes (if you have a few green ones, in the bunch, throw them in too to help add natural pectin)
  • 6 c. sugar
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 c. high quality pinot noir

Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water. Sterilize them if you are OCD like me, but you don’t really need to. 

In a large nonreactive pot, combine the grapes and the pinot and cook on medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the skins on the grapes have all burst. Add six cups of sugar and cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, until the jam reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or whatever gel test you prefer).

Pour hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process for 10 minutes.

*I was super, super lucky to find actual seedless concord grapes at the farmers market. Varieties do exist! If you can’t find them, you need to do the much more labor intensive version of this recipe. For seeded concord grapes you have to remove the grape skins (pinch the grape between your thumb and forefinger and the skin will slip right off) and cook them in one pot with the red wine until they’re tender. Then put the grape pulp through a fine-meshed sieve to remove all of the seeds. Combine the (now seedless) pulp and cooked grape skins in a large, nonreactive pot and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Boysenberry Basil Jam … and Pancakes

For the last two weeks, I’ve had a case of boysenberries in my freezer. People with big freezers might leave them in there for the winter, but space in my propane-off-the-grid-style freezer is precious, and I realized that I had to get those babies into jars.

This started a pretty straightforward berry jam recipe, until I went out in the garden and saw the basil:

My thought process was simple. This jam is for me. I am going to put it on big slices of sourdough bread with my friend Anna’s amazing garlic chevre, and it will be sweet and savory and perfect. I am getting hungry thinking about it right now.

Boysenberry Basil Jam

Makes: about 8 1/2 pint jars

Cooking Time: about an hour

Ingredients: 

  • 5 cups of crushed boysenberries
  • 4 cups of whole boysenberries, not crushed (to make a chunky jam where you can still see big pieces of berries)
  • 6 c. sugar
  • 1 tbs. minced basil
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice

1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash and sterilize jars and lids (I process them for 10 minutes at the end, so technically you don’t need to sterilize them, but I am OCD about this and do it anyway). 

2. In a large reactive pot, combine berries (both crushed and whole) and sugar. Gently stir together the sugar and the berries. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or passes whatever gel test you’re using). Right at the end, when the jam is at about 210 or 215 degrees, stir in the lemon juice and the basil. If you put it in earlier you’ll completely lose the flavor.

3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims and screw on lids. Process for 10 minutes.

So, if at some point in the jam-making process, a loved one walks in the kitchen and says “WOAH. It smells REALLY good in here” and you want to do something nice for them, you can whip up a quick batch of boysenberry pancakes and spoon some of the warm jam over the top.

(Don’t judge me for using Bisquick, I bought it at Costco two years ago when I was lured in by the promise of buying in bulk. I’m proud to say I only have one cup left in the box, though.)

Boysenberry Pancakes

Makes: 2 large-ish pancakes

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. Biquick
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • a handful of boysenberries
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • for serving: 1 tbs. butter and a few tablespoons of warm jam

Mix the bisquick, egg, milk and berries together in a bowl. 

Heat the butter in a large nonstick pan on medium heat. Once it’s melted, ladle the batter onto the pan to make whatever size pancakes you’re in the mood for.  Cook them for about 3 minutes, or until you see bubbles coming up in the batter. Flip them over to cook the other side. Cook for another 3 minutes or so. Transfer to a plate. Top with butter and jam. 

Taste Of Mendocino

Hey Folks, I’ll make this short because it’s a blatant plug for an event that I’m doing.

Come to the Taste of Mendocino.  It’s on Monday at the Fort Mason Building in San Francisco from 5:00-8:00 pm. Tickets are $35 and available here and at the door.

In addition to saying hi and trying lots of jam, there are vineyards bringing wine down to this event that you literally cannot buy in stores.  To drive around and do wine tasting at all of these small tasting rooms would take days and days, and probably end up in a drunk driving arrest.

Oh, and I’m also bringing a few jars sweet peas, some veggies and our fresh eggs. Come early, I’m sure they’ll sell out fast.

Failed Quince Jelly Into Orange Marmalade With Quince And Star-Anise

When I first started making jam, I would get the occasional customer that would ask if I used added pectin.   At that point, every single batch I’d ever made used commercial pectin, and I had no clue why anyone wouldn’t want to use it. Instead of taking 45 minutes to cook a batch of jam, it takes about 5, and I thought all of the jams I’d made tasted great. Over time, however, I’ve realized that understanding how to make jam without adding pectin means that I have a better grasp of the fundamental idea of what makes a delicious jar of jam.

Jams and jellies with no added pectin often have a softer set than those with commercial pectin, which often can have a set that is too firm and hard to spread. The other main improvement that I’ve noticed stems from paying attention to the acid content of the jam. Many fruits require the addition of lemon juice to boost the acid content and ensure a good set, but this also usually improves the flavor of the fruit; that lemony kick often adds depth, brightness, and complexity to what might otherwise be too sweet and simple.

Because of all this, these days I find myself actually tasting my jams to adjust seasoning before they go in the jar.  It seems obvious, but commercial pectin teaches people to follow instructions blindly, and not adjust the jam for their own personal preference. (I would go so far as to say that they scare people into listening, implying that somehow you’ll get botulism and die if you change anything in the recipe).

The downfall of not adding pectin is that recipes are sometimes less predictable. They take longer to cook and may not set perfectly every time.  Anyone who’s tried making jelly without added pectin probably has ended up with a batch or two of syrup, the result of jelly that doesn’t gel. Many people may leave the syrup as is, since it has plenty of practical applications (topping for ice cream or pancakes, poundcake glaze, etc.) but, well,  I am a perfectionist and I don’t really eat a lot of pancakes.

Last fall I came upon a huge amount of quince from one of my neighbors, some of which ended up in a failed attempt at a star-anise scented quince jelly. I actually tried to re-cook it and it still didn’t set. In retrospect, I suspect that the issue was the acid content, and I needed more lemon juice.  Instead of re-cooking the syrup a third time, it’s going into new batches of jam.

That’s the point of all of this.  Do you have syrup in your pantry? Is it just sitting there, with FAILURE written all over it? Mine isn’t a failure anymore, it’s pectin stock. Quince is incredibly high in natural pectin, so adding a jar or two into a batch of marmalade or jelly helps make sure that for this new batch of preserves I will get a good set.  Other high-pectin failed preserves, specifically apple jelly, apple jam, failed marmalades that are too syrupy, or quince jam, would all be excellent candidates for this method. (Disclaimer: Only use high quality syrups from your pantry.  If the preserve has gone bad for some reason, don’t use it. If there are bubbles or mold in the jar, or if it smells bad, do not use it!)

Today, instead of making plain orange marmalade, I’m making star-anise scented orange marmalade in a quince jelly.  The set is beautiful, and the flavor is mild and floral because of the quince. Now that quince is impossible to find, I’m thrilled to have a whole case of quince syrup.

Orange Marmalade with Quince and Star Anise

It’s hard to say if this recipe would work perfectly for someone else since my quince syrup might be slightly different from another syrup.  This recipe could certainly serve as a jumping off point though. Any citrus could be used, and any any high-pectin syrupy preserve could be used instead of syrup in my pantry.

makes: about 6 half-pint jars

  • 1 pint of quince syrup
  • 1 pint of lemon juice (I freeze lemon juice during the winter so that I have a stash of cheap, high quality lemon juice to use later in the year)
  • 4 c. prepared oranges (3 c. oranges sliced for marmalade soaked for 24 hours in 1 c. orange juice)
  • 5 c. sugar
  • 4 c. water

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and sterilize your jars.

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Cook on high heat, stirring ocassionaly until marmalade reaches gel point (220 degrees on a candy thermometer, or alternately, you can put a few small plates in the freezer. When you think the marmalade is almost set, start testing it by putting a teaspoon of hot marmalade on the frozen plate. Wait 30 seconds, and run your finger through it. If it’s finished, your finger will make a line through the jelly and a few small wrinkles on the surface. If not, keep cooking and try again). 

Ladle hot marmalade into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/8″ head space. Wipe rims clean and screw on lids. Process half-pint jars for 5 minutes.


For more information on making jam with no added pectin, refer to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, parges 22-29.

Sunshine and Citrus

The sun is finally out!  The daffodils are blooming….


 

And right when I should be out in the garden, pulling up bolting winter greens and replanting with spring crops, a friend with a backyard full of citrus trees dropped off these lovely presents….

 

So, sometimes I have issues with how much sugar is in jam, and I feel bad that I’m basically making candy.  Sometimes I think I should be making raw vegan soups or something.

The answer?

Butter, and eggs.  Lots of eggs.

Bright orange, creamy yolked, laid-this-morning, free range spring eggs…

This is hands down, the most delicious thing in a jar that I have ever made.  I want to put on sweatpants and lie on the couch and watch tv and eat the whole thing right out of the jar all by myself.  Seriously.

GRAPEFRUIT SCENTED LEMON CURD

makes: 4 1/2 pint jars

cook time: about 45 minutes


People get all crazy about canning lemon curd, the butter and the eggs being the main safety concern.  Recipes run the gamut- some claim that it’s never safe to can at all, that you have to freeze the curd or use it immediately.  Other recipes say that lemon curd is safe to can if you use bottled lemon juice, for the reliable acid content.  Here’s my two cents (follow at your own risk):

  • I found a recipe for lemon curd that was developed by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  It uses the boiling water processing method and was deemed safe for canning. “National Center for Home Food Preservation” sounds really official so I’m going to trust them.
  • I used fresh lemon juice instead of bottled lemon juice.  Careful though: Meyer lemons are not acidic enough, so don’t use them.
  • The National Food Preservation people are saying that canned lemon curd has a shelf-life of 3-4 months, much shorter than the multiple year shelf life of jam or jelly.

After all that background information, let’s get to the recipe. The ingredients are only slightly adapted from the official recipe that I mentioned earlier, but the cooking technique is much different.  Most recipes call for a double boiler (to avoid curdling the eggs and ending up with chunks of cooked egg whites) but I think that makes everything overly complicated.  I’ve made it twice now without a double boiler, and no curdled eggs.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 c. unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 c. grapefruit zest
  • 1/4 c. orange zest
  • 4 whole eggs, beaten thoroughly (they should be airy and light, with no little bits of white floating around any more)
  • 7 egg yolks

Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water.  Put lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water from the canner.

Zest your fruit.

Combine zest and sugar in a bowl, mix well, and set aside for 20 minutes to let the flavors meld.  At this point, you will be surprised at how amazing everything is smelling.  Your kitchen will be an explosion of grapefruity brightness.

Juice your lemons while the sugar is doing its thing…

Prep your eggs: thoroughly beat 4 whole eggs until they are light and airy, with little bubbles from the intense whisking you’ve done.  Make absolutely sure there are no little bits of white floating around still.

Separate out seven egg yolks, and whisk them into the beaten egg mixture.  (Set aside the egg whites for something else, like angel food cake).

Now combine all the ingredients in a medium-large non-reactive pot.

Now turn the burner on as LOW as it will go, and whisk like crazy! We’re trying to incorporate the ingredients together slowly and consistently, avoiding high heat that could cook curdle the eggs. It’s hard work, but think of the sexy, rippling arm muscles you’ll have! And the smooth, luscious curd.

Once the butter has melted, turn the heat to medium and keep whisking.  Do not stop whisking.  Civilization could collapse while you’re making this, but if you want a smooth curd, you must not get distracted and stop whisking.  It will seem like nothing is happening and you will curse yourself for deciding to make this recipe because your arms are getting tired.  But then….  the mixture will start to thicken, and start to seem more like the consistency of pudding.  After another minute or two, the mixture will be thick enough that when you pull the whisk across the bottom of the pan, you will see the metal for a few moments because the curd is starting to hold its shape.

about the right consistency

Remove the pot from the heat. If you want, you can run the curd through a metal strainer at this point to remove the zest. Some people find the texture off-putting. I don’t, so I left it in.  Ladle hot curd into hot jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Wipe jar rims clean and attach lids. I processed the half pint jars for 30 minutes, which is a little more than the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommended, but I figured “round up, just to be sure.”

Serving recommendations:

This curd is amazing with almost anything.  Mix some into yogurt.  Fold it into whipped cream and top with berries. Spoon some over angel food cake or pound cake.  The possibilities are endless!

Rhubarb Is Basically The Best Thing Ever

This jelly was a small-batch experiment, and it came out great.  If you are a pie person, you must make this.  It tastes like, well, it tastes like the gooey stuff in rhubarb pie that’s not the fruit part or the crust- the stuff in between the strawberries and the rhubarb.  It’s tangy and sweet, with a good punch of lemon from all the fresh lemon juice. And since it’s jelly and not pie, somehow it falls into the “socially acceptable to eat for breakfast” category.

I’m definitely going to make this again in much larger batches and with a little bit of tweaking (maybe some cinnamon?), but this recipe is a perfect jumping off point.  Plus, there’s absolutely no added pectin, and whenever I make jelly without added pectin I feel like I’ve really accomplished something big in my life.

Rhubarb Jelly

makes: 1/2 pt. (plus a little extra)

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. chopped rhubarb
  • 1 lb. crabapples, chopped in half
  • 6 c. water
  • 1/3 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 c. sugar

1. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the rhubarb, apples and water.  Cover, and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.  Your whole house will smell like freshly chopped rhubarb and it will be amazing.

2. Transfer the cooked fruit and water mixture in a jelly bag to strain for 12 hours, if you have one.  You could also use cheesecloth.  I don’t have either of those things right now and I hate spending money, so I do it this way:

A picture is worth a thousand words, but let me try to explain what I did in much fewer than that…  Grab yourself a clean pillowcase (unless you want fun stuff in your jelly) and slip it over a large, nonreactive pot. Twist the base of the pillowcase and fasten with a rubber band or some tape. Pour the cooked fruit and liquid mixture into the pot.  The cooked fruit will stay on top of the pillowcase and a rich, flavorful juice will slowly drip into the pot.  Put the lid on top of the pot (but don’t press down on the fruit or the jelly will get cloudy later) and leave it to sit for 12 hours.

3. After 12 hours is up, undo the pillowcase and lift it off of the pot.  You could save the mushy fruit for making muffins or breads, but I fed mine to the chickens (because there’s only 24 hours in a day and I already made jelly, damn it. I don’t want to make muffins too).  You should be left with a really wonderful, aromatic juice.

4. Bring your boiling water canner to a boil.  In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the rhubarb juice with the sugar and lemon juice, and cook on high until it reaches around 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (ha! I don’t have one of those either, and I make jam professionally).  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can do the frozen plate test, like me. Put a few small plates or bowls in the freezer before you start cooking the jelly.  When the jelly is really boiling like crazy and you think it might be ready, put a teaspoon of jelly onto one of the frozen plates.  Wait 30 seconds.  Run your finger across the jelly on the plate.  If it’s ready, your finger will make a wrinkly line through the cold jelly on the plate.  If the jelly just stays liquid and there’s no wrinkling, cook it for another few minutes and try again.

5. Ladle the jelly into clean, hot jars. Wipe rims clean, and screw on lids.  Process half-pint jars for 5 minutes, unless you want to eat it right now, in which case you should go get a spoon.  Happy canning!

NOTE: This recipe was just a very small test batch, which I always do when I am finding new jams and jellies to bring to the farmers market.  When I make it next time, probably in a month or two when there’s more rhubarb in the garden, I will definitely double or triple it, which I would encourage anyone with enough rhubarb to do, since getting one jar of jelly can be kind of anti-climactic.

Red D’Anjou Pear Cardamom Jam

This is one of my absolute favorite jam flavors.  Top five, for sure.  If you want to think about something other than citrus for a minute, make this! It absolutely explodes with the flavor of ripe, sweet, juicy pears.

Pear-Cardamom Jam

makes about 5 1/2 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced  (It only works when you find good pears- make sure the pears taste how you want the jam to taste; if they are grainy, too tart, or not ripe yet, don’t buy them.  I used Red D’Anjou pears from a local farm, which were in season here.  I’ve used Comice Pears in the past and they were also delicious).
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 4 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin Calcium Water, included inside the pectin box (see package for instructions)
  • 3 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin Powder (I used commercial pectin to shorten the cooking time and retain the intense pear flavor).

1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Put lids in a small bowl and cover with some boiling water from the canner. Put jars in the oven on low so they are hot when you put hot jam into them later.  In a small bowl, whisk the 4 tsp. of pectin powder with 1/2 c. sugar and set aside.

2. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine pears, lemon juice, cardamom, calcium water, and 1 1/2. cups of sugar.  On medium-high heat, bring to a full rolling boil.  Pour in the pectin/sugar mixture, and bring back to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars.  Wipe the jar rims clean, and screw on the lids. Process half-pint jars for 10 minutes to get a good seal.

Recipe Ideas:

This is a strong candidate for The Jar That Actually Goes On Toast In The Morning…. but if you don’t want to go that route, don’t forget how delicious pears are with almonds- there are all kinds of tart and cookie possibilities here! This is also one of the jams that I serve on a chevre-ginger cheesecake that I make really often- I would highly suggest the idea of any type of cheesecake with this jam on top.