Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dueling Canners

After making the chicken stock last night I basically crashed. I had worked the night before and had meetings all morning so I didn't get home until around noon, slept for a few hours and then got up to make dinner. So, as you can imagine, I just couldn't stay up any longer! This morning I awoke, had breakfast, and made chicken soup:

Chicken meat removed from bones
4 c. water
1-2 c. chicken stock (what was left in the pot from last night)
1 onion, originally roasted in the chicken then boiled in the stock, chopped
carrots and celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
kosher salt

While this was boiling, I started working on the beets. I had accumulated enough from the farm share to make 2 quarts of pickled beets - 1 jar for me and 1 for my mother-in-law who will be taking it home with her. By the time I got the beets in the jars, the soup was ready. This went into 2 quart jars and 1 pint jar and into the pressure canner. This is the first time I've had both canners going simultaneously. I am surprised I have enough room on my stove - these are both pretty big pots. The little pot is the rest of the chicken soup, waiting for lunchtime. There are a lot of thunderstorms passing through; it seems like a good soup day even though it's humid and hot out there. The beets are now done but the soup is still processing - 45 minutes to go.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Am I Doing Wrong?

I just pressure canned 4 pints of chicken stock. I turned it off, let the pressure return to zero, removed the weight, and checked that no more steam was being vented. Then I removed the lid, and waited. The stock in the jars was still boiling and the lids were popping up and down frequently as more air escaped. Then one of them spewed stock a couple of times. Why does it do that? Does anyone who pressure cans know what I'm doing wrong here?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fillet O'Fish

We're going camping. Soon. I am hoping we might catch a fish or two for dinner while we're there. I am realistic about this; I plan to bring enough food anyway. But, in preparation, I came across a skill I needed to learn -

How do I fillet a fish?

My dad used to fish, so I asked him. He loaned me his fillet knife and a scaler and told me how to use them. He also loaned me a couple of rods so I don't have to fish with the kids' child-sized fishing rods. Which are more my speed, anyway. (That's another thing I have to learn before we go, but I digress.) So I decided to buy a fish and fillet it myself for practice.

Today I stopped at Whole Foods and bought an entire red snapper. When the man at the counter asked me if he should scale and fillet it for me, I launched into a discussion of my plan. He very kindly walked me through scaling and filleting the fish, giving me some hope that I can actually do this.

I scaled the fish on the driveway. It probably will sparkle for a few days as I'm sure that there are still scales out there. But overall that part went fine. Then I brought it in and tried to fillet it. The knife needed a little sharpening but I followed his directions and ended up with 2 relatively equal sized fillets, with not that much meat left on the bones. Ultimately there were only a few bones and a few scales in the finished product. Which I baked with a mustard-dill-mayonnaise sauce and it was YUMMY.

As this is a blog about canning, perhaps you can guess what happened next? I took the bones, head and tail and made stock. After boiling in salted water for 90 minutes or so I strained the stock with a cheesecloth and ended up with 6 pints. Which are currently in the pressure canner. I really hope nothing breaks this time.
Now, what do I do with fish stock?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Break-Your-Heart Blues

Every year we look forward to the wild blueberries which abound at a local conservation land. We pick 4 quarts (yes, it takes a while), make jam out of 1/2 and freeze 1/2 for pancakes throughout the year. This year, with the kids away, I decided to drive up there and check out the berries. I figured that with all the rain they'd be late but that otherwise we could look forward to a family outing.

I was wrong.

The blueberry shrubs were bare. Not just "no berries" - NO LEAVES. Nothing. The area I usually go to was completely dead. No evidence of a fire either. I don't get it.

I managed to find some bushes by traveling around a lot more than I usually have to, and in 4 hours (yes, I'm persistent) I picked 3 pints. They didn't taste very sweet. I brought them home and we decided that I should make jam, and just buy frozen berries if I want them for pancakes. At least with the jam they'd have sugar in them.

Since I didn't have enough to make a standard CERTO batch, I brought out the Pomona's Universal Pectine and made a low sugar, slightly smaller batch. 1 pint and 2 half-pints, plus a little in the fridge. I have dubbed this jam, "Break-Your-Heart Blues."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dilly Beans

Someone, and I'm sorry to say I can't remember who, told me I should make Dilly Beans. (If you are that person, could you please identify yourself?) Yesterday's farm share included a quart of beans which I split, so I ended up with 1/2 quart of green beans and 1/2 quart of wax beans. There were also potatoes, onions (I now know the name! "Red Long of Tropea."), scallions, squash, carrots, beets, lettuce, greens, chard, garlic, 2 tomatoes per share, and flowers. So I grabbed more dill and got to work!

It's really simple: beans in the jars, boil salt, water and vinegar together, put the garlic, dill and cayenne pepper in the jar and fill with the liquid, boil. The recipe was from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. How cool is it that I was able to use fresh farm-share garlic? I ended up with 2 pints. Then I had breakfast.

How are we going to eat all the rest of the food? And what in the world are we going to do when the squash production picks up?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Serious Multitasking

The farm share pickup was today so I went after work (in my work clothes, which must have looked pretty odd to everyone there in shorts, tank tops, and sandals, as we were picking beans...) and got the goodies: 1 quart of beans, 1 pt. of fava beans, lettuce, salad greens, 1 pattipan squash, 2 kohlrabi, 8 tiny beets (oh no! not enough!), lots of carrots, small red potatoes, dill, collard greens and some onions (a variety of green onion but I don't recall the name, it was weird, though). My sister-in-law had given me her share since I was away last week and I think she's still working through last week's share. So I got it all, and it's WAY too much! Time to start canning...

I got home around 5, ran to the store for some protein for dinner, and got to work. Simultaneously, I was working on 3 bean salad (which is really 2 beans plus a couple of beets), pickled beets and cabbage (the cabbage was left over from 2 weeks ago), dinner (salad, potatoes with onions and dill), and dilled carrots. I don't have enough counter space or pots for all of this!

A few things to crow about: The bean salad includes 2 small peppers from my garden! The salad included tomatoes, red and yellow, from my garden! Whee!

The bean salad, pickled beets and dilled carrot recipies all came from 3 consecutive pages of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, but I made a few alterations. The obvious one was that the 3 bean salad has beets, and different proportions of the rest of the veggies. Plus fava beans instead of lima beans, which I precooked this time since last time I used fava beans they were tough. I then took the leftover pickling solution, strained out the mustard and celery seeds, and used them with pickling spice to flavor the beets, and added more vinegar, water and sugar with the spices to make the beets (to which I added cabbage, another alteration). Since I didn't have garlic, I used some of the funny onions instead for the dilled carrots, and used the green parts of the dill since I didn't pick the flowers. I'm sure it will be fine.
Suffice to say I was cooking until 11 pm. I even managed to slip the carrots in for the last 10 minutes of the beet processing time, which allowed me a little rest. I still have a lot of greens left over for meals this week.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Canning in Someone Else's House

If you're like me, you're very territorial about your kitchen. I have a hard time sharing. But by the same token, I have a hard time cooking in someone else's kitchen. I am willing to try, though. Today's saga is about making black raspberry jam in my in-laws' kitchen.

Morning time, cue the birds, the sunshine, and the over eager mother waking up her 7 year old with, "get up get up get up, there are berries out there!" "*Groan* Okay, okay..." We recruited my father-in-law and the 3 of us went to get black raspberries. (These don't grow around our place, therefore I HAD to can some.) We went out and spent a lovely morning picking, netting about 8 pounds of berries.After dropping the berries, the 7 year old, and the father-in-law back at the house, I went to the store and bought 2 flats of jars, Certo, and sugar. Now for the hard part - adapting to different equipment. My in-laws brought out a selection of very nice pots and I picked the 2 largest. No canning rack? Use the bands! Oh, wait, that won't work when I want to put the bands on the jars after filling them. Hmmm. Open the other flat. OK. But there are 14 jars to fill and only 12 bands not in the pot. Well, I'll worry about that later.

The jars are simmering, the jam is being made (used 1/2 of the berries to make a double batch of jam) and I'm looking around for something to use to get the jars in and out of the makeshift canner. I settle on a flat perforated metal thing, kinda like a spatula but round, and barbecue tongs.

Jam's done! I set the pot in the sink as this was the safest place for it. They have an electric stove so I couldn't just set a towel and jars down next to the canner on the stovetop. I fish all the jars out and use the flat metal thing to get the lids out of the pot, too. I vaguely wonder how the jars are going back in, since the bands have shifted, the tongs work best if you stick them into the jars, and it's all really, really hot. OK. Ready. Funnel?

No funnel. That's OK! I used to make jam without all this stuff! I can do it! I ladle some jam into the first jar. And down the outsides. Slow down, be more careful next time. I can do this.

I pour an entire ladleful of jam into...the dish towel.

Mad scramble ensues to clean up enough so the countertop doesn't stain...much. (Sorry!)

Somehow I manage to get all 14 jars filled. We even dug up a couple of extra bands so I could get them all closed. There was just a little left in the pot that could easily have been another jar, but 14 was all that would fit in the largest pot so I decided to just keep it in tupperware. Good thing, too. The next hurdle was getting all these jars back into the boiling water.

I put in 1, gingerly, using the tongs and the flat metal thing to support the bottom of the jar. Sat it perfectly overlapping 2 bands. Great! I put the second one in, still moving slowly. I turn to get the third. The first 2 fall over in the hot water. Aaah! I try to move faster. Ultimately I ended up with 6 jars stacked like fallen dominos in the water, and I just can't get them to stand upright because the bands scoot out from underneath. I know that if I can just cram them all in there, I can get them upright again. Now what? I'm wishing I was Krishna or something, with many arms.

Enter my father-in-law. He very helpfully used 2 more cooking utensils to push the jars upright while I quickly and carefully dropped a few more jars in. Finally, the pot was full and the jars were no longer falling over. Yay!

There was one jar left on the countertop.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I am Awed and Inspired

We're visiting my sister in Colorado and she has a plot in the local community garden. 10'x20' of amazing vegetable loveliness! After her first year, when she grew too much bok choy (which seems to be easy to do) and zucchini, she has come up with a well balanced mix of lettuce, peas, beans, chard, spinach, zucchini and summer squash, beets, tomatoes, bok choy, sunflowers, radishes, and I'm sure I've forgotten something. Eggplant, maybe? Before dinner, we walk out there and pick what we want. It's like a grocery store. And I have garden envy.

To be fair, there is no shade, so the garden gets sun all the time. The soil is refreshed with compost yearly. The water source is right there and it's easy to tend. The most amazing thing of all is that she doesn't seem to lose anything to critters. And there are almost no bugs. Regardless, I am very impressed at how productive this little patch is.

Since we've been out here, we've had salads, zucchini and summer squash fried in just olive oil, and pasta with chicken sausage and spinach. All amazingly fresh and tasty!