Saturday, October 29, 2011

Apple Butter

I'm not sure what got into us, but we had the opportunity, so we rescued another sixteen pounds of unlovely city-grown apples. (Yes, that's a third time scavenging apples. I told you about the first time we made applesauce this fall, but I don't think I told you about the second fifteen pounds, which made four more quarts of applesauce.)

These ones were tart and delicious, so the lookers got diverted into a pie. The rest cooked down to three quarts of applesauce, but we didn't need any more applesauce. (I'm out of canning jars and lids, so everything has to go in the fridge now.)

Apple butter is applesauce cooked down and caramelized, usually with sugar and spices added. (And sometimes with additions like apple cider. But who has apple cider they're trying to get rid of?)

We found a simple slow-cooker apple butter recipe, but we didn't find the slow-cooker, so I made it in an saucepan, stirring constantly for about an hour. Three quarts of applesauce makes about three pints of apple butter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Canning #4: Grape Jam

After our success canning urban applesauce, we were alerted to a backyard arbor of unwanted Concord grapes.

So, like any normal person would do, we picked 40 pounds.

Concord grapes have seeds, so to get them out of your jam, you peel the grapes (they just squirt out of their skins), cook the skins and insides separately, mill the insides to get the seeds out, and put it all back together. I used this recipe.

(Yes, we peeled 40 pounds of grapes. By "we," I mostly mean Erica.)

I cooked them in small batches, using every pot in the house (multiple times), burning a few, and learning a lot about jam making.

Twelve hours later, we had 12 half pints of jam, 8 pints of jam, and 3 quarts of grape sorbet base, and EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD was purple and sticky. Somehow, I ended up with jam on my feet.

P.S. What's the difference between grape jam and grape jelly? Jam has actual chunks of the fruit fiber in it; jellies are made from just the strained fruit juice.

P.P.S. The grape sorbet (recipe), once I recovered enough to freeze it, was also incredibly delicious.

Digression: Jam recipes vary a lot in how much sugar they call for. Epicurious says 1 cup per pound of grapes. The recipe I used called for 1/4 cup per pound of grapes. Low-sugar jam! But! You cook jam until it reaches 220 degrees F. What allows it to come to a temperature higher than the boiling point of water is that it's reached a certain concentration of sugar (something like 65%). So it seems to me that all finished jams have the same amount of sugar, and adding less at the start just means you're going to spend more time cooking it down -- and that you'll have finessed the proportions of fruit sugar to processed sugar (which is not necessarily an insignificant thing). Am I missing something here?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Canning #3: Applesauce

Canning project #3 this fall was applesauce, led by an offshoot of the Somerville Yogurt Co-op, which decided to 1) harvest urban fruit that would otherwise go to waste, and 2) teach its members some canning skills.

The first surprise for me was how delicious city apples -- small, bumpy, brown spotted -- were. I'd passed the tree they were on a hundred times without even noticing that there was fruit on it. But the apples were sweet and tart, and if not cosmetically perfect, still fine (with a bit of knife-work) to eat out of hand.

My second surprise was the absolute simplicity of applesauce as we made it: Quarter the apples (not bothering to remove stems, cores, or seeds); cook them in a tiny bit of water until soft (we used a pressure cooker, but that's not necessary); crank them through a food mill; and voila, applesauce!

(Here's how the USDA tells you to make it. To properly can applesauce in boiling water, process pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20.)

And my third surprise was the deliciousness of warm-from-the-pot, freshly made, pinkish-tinted (from the peels), nothing-but-apples applesauce. Once again, the canning was a superfluous step, as a pint is two servings in my house, and my whole share of our harvest lasted less than a week.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Canning #2: Tomatoes

The first week in September, Picadilly Farm again gifted us with bulk produce, this time in the form of twenty-pound boxes of tomatoes. We got two. (We actually requested four, so the forty pounds represented a scaling down of our ambitions.)

I told you about the six pounds I diverted off into ketchup and tomato jam. Jack, Anna, and Erica handled the other thirty-four, blanching, peeling, dicing, and canning something like sixteen quarts. (Jack made a neat time-lapse iPhone movie of their progress; maybe if you ask him about it, he'll post it where you can see it.)

(Many thanks to Nathaniel and Ariel who lent their proper canning gear -- pot, rack, and jar lifter -- for the project. You've seen what happens when we improvise.)

High-fives all around! We had our diced tomatoes for the winter ...

... or not. A month of tomato sauces and minestrones and one enormous pot of chili later, all the tomatoes are gone. We barely needed to can them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Canning #1: Cucumber Pickles

Our summer/fall of canning started in late July, when Picadilly Farm e-mailed all its CSA members to ask if we wanted an extra ten pounds of cucumbers. (It was the first time I'd heard of a CSA offering its shareholders their fraction of an unexpected bumper crop, and I was very impressed.)

DID WE? Why would we not?

They noted, "These are not pickling cukes." So of course, I was determined to pickle them.

Our friends Ariel and Nathaniel made some killer pickles last summer, so we borrowed their Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and made about six pints of bread and butter pickles and six pints of dills. (It looks like Smitten Kitchen has about the same recipe for bread and butter pickles, which I think are amazing. The dills I chose didn't do as much for me.)

We don't have a proper canning pot, so I had the brilliant idea of using our giant rice cooker to process the jars. This would have been a still more brilliant idea if 1) the jars had fit in the rice cooker, and 2) I hadn't, in order to make the jars fit, turned them upside down, allowing the brine to leak out before the jars sealed. (The really exceptionally brilliant part is that after this failed on the first batch of pickles, I DID IT A SECOND TIME.)

The bread and butter pickles didn't leak much and sealed all right, but the dills ... did not, so I added some ex post facto vinegar and put them directly into the fridge.

I should mention that these are the very simplest kind of pickles -- sliced cucumbers in vinegar and salt. (Well, actually the easiest kind is when you stick fresh cucumber slices in the leftover pickle juice in your Vlasic jar. I have done this. It makes a mild pickle.) 

Complicated pickle recipes, which we will not be attempting here, involve fermentation and weeks of aging in a crock (with daily check-ins) and instructions like "Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all." (Here's Somerville's own JJ Gonson, with more on pickling.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cannery Row

Unexpectedly, the late summer/fall has been all about canning (and somewhat less about blogging) over here, so this week I bring you four stories, stories on the theme of Ball jars.

Act One: It begins with an unexpected ten pounds of cucumbers.
Act Two: The unaccounted-for thirty-four pounds of tomatoes.
Act Three: Locally grown, harvested, and canned applesauce.
Act Four: Forty pounds of peeled grapes make jam.

I also just cracked open the green tomato pickles I told you about, which, like the circus, are IN-TENSE!

(Our first introduction to canning was last winter, with our four Christmas marmalades. We've come a long way since those little jars, which I keep coming upon unopened in my kitchen and the kitchens of friends.)