Canning fruits, veggies reaps long term flavor rewards
Last month I focused on my first foray into goose cooking, which I called "The Crock Pot Goosilla". This month, I will focus on preserving the harvest (also the name of a cookbook I like) via canning.
You may already enjoy preserving fruits and vegetables by canning them in glass jars. It is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon or evening at home. Canned goods make wonderful treats, beautiful decorations, and meaningful gifts. They are also a way of preserving the tastes and smells of a season past and all its memories.
This week, I made dill pickle sandwich slices, inage above, and grapefruit marmalade. The former came from a local and organic farm that had a surplus of cucumbers and was willing to part with most for $1 per pound, and gave me the rest as a thank you for taking them off their hands. The latter came from a friend's grapefruit tree which still has some of last season's fruit hanging around (literally) and which he kindly shared with me for this purpose. Of course, I promised him a jar of marmalade in return.
I decide what to can based on what is locally available. Sometimes this happens serendipitously (as with the items this week) and usually because of surplus, but sometimes I go out and take great pains to procure what I know is around. I have done that over the past weeks, picking and freezing blueberries, dewberries, and blackberries so I can make my "black bluedew" jam once I have enough. This doesn't mean I have scads of free time to just go out and pick, either. When I happen upon some berries, or am going to an area for business that I know has some, I will jump out of the car and pick feverishly for however long I can, or I will plan an hour or two of time to get what I can while I am in the area.
I am armed with several recipes for every season – some old and some yet untried – for when opportunity knocks. Having an arsenal of recipes for things like pickles, relishes, syrups, jams, and jellies makes taking advantage of those surpluses less daunting and less time consuming. I would also like to here provide you with several tips that may assist you in being prepared to process your own food.
> Take advantage of what is in season and what there is a surplus of as you will get some great deals, especially from farmers. And if you're willing to go out to the farm and take surplus off their hands there (and, thus, they don't have to drag it to the market), the deals usually get even sweeter.
> Often, the fruit and veggies farmers want to get rid of aren't perfect, and some are really not perfect. As long as the produce isn't rotten, I'm not daunted by worm holes, stink bug bites, a small rotten spot, and other imperfections. Make sure when you are canning these, however, that you are very diligent about cutting out any area of the fruit or vegetable that has been affected. Those parts do better in your compost pile than in your jars.
> When canning vegetables and non-fruit jams and jellies (such as hot pepper jelly), always use a tested recipe by a trusted source, and then don't alter it. You may want to check out the Ball Blue Book or even Ball's Intro to Canning document online. Altering the recipe of acidified, low-acid canned foods could also alter the pH, which could result in botulism, which you definitely don't want.
> Follow the directions carefully. For fruit jams and jellies, not following the directions can leave you with a non-jelled and excellent tasting syrup instead of the spreadable substance you were aiming for. Not following directions for pickles and similar products is the same as altering the recipe.
> Remember that you are sanitizing the jars and everything you are putting in the jars, either through cooking or boiling or scalding. Keep clean hands and try not to contaminate what you have sanitized by touching it unnecessarily.
> Ward's Supermarket and the Citizens' Co-op have a good selection of organic herbs which you can purchase by the amounts you need, rather than by the jar. Ward's also has other canning necessities, such as jars, pectin, and pickling salt.
> Jars, lids, and lid rings can get expensive if you buy them at the wrong place. Consider stocking up by ordering online through Ace Hardware and then picking up your jars at the local store. Local hardware stores such as Reddick Brothers Hardware in Micanopy and Sparr Hardware also carry some canning supplies and are often competitive with the online pricing.
From the cucumbers that cost me $8, the spices and ingredients that cost me $5.34 and the new jar lids that cost me $2.24, the total cost for 8, 1 pint (16 ounce) jars and 1, 1 quart (32 ounce) jar of organic pickles is $15.58. I don't include the cost of jars and lid rings as I had them already and have re-used them many times. That means I now have 160 ounces of organic pickles for almost $0.10 per ounce. The online Walmart price for a 46 ounce jar of Mt. Olive Hamburger Dill Chips pickles (non-organic) is $2.63, at almost $0.06 per ounce. Not bad. And it only took me 2 hours to make, the ingredients I either already had or bought while I was shopping for other things, and the cucumbers very nearly just fell in my lap.
Want to know more about what’s local and what local means in our community? The Local Digest is a monthly piece on all things local in North Central Florida, from food to economics to environment to community. Local, you see, isn’t just a way of buying or a way of eating: it’s a whole system of the social, economic, and environmental values that mark the character of where we live, and how we seek to improve the health of those values. It is a column about sustaining our region and what we love most about it.