reflections on the Can Jam

I didn’t know about the Can Jam challenge until December, and it’s probably for the best: there’s no way I could have canned anything more than the three things I made last year. Reading through Local Kitchen’s summary of the challenge was interesting, though, as I realized that I’ve canned something in nearly every category at least once. Just for the heck of it, I sorted through my canning results of the past few years to see how they matched up to the challenge categories. In the process, I discovered that I was truly woeful at documenting the vast majority of these efforts, so I’ve annotated the list somewhat. I’m definitely not at the stage of making up my own recipes, so I’m excited to get back in the swing of things this year and try some of the hundreds of mouth-watering recipes generated by folks who actually participated in the challenge.

The canning larder. Top shelf: mincemeat, brandied peaches, pear mincemeat, pear applesauce, cranberry sauce, applesauce, cherry sauce. Bottom shelf: cherry conserve, quince jelly, apple butter, plum jam, pear jam, pear butter, apple chutney, onion relish, pepper jelly, pickled beets, lemon-garlic pickles, bread and butters, sweet and sour relish, pickled pumpkin, summer squash pickles.

  • citrus: Traditional Preserved Lemons, using Meyer lemons and a recipe from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving [2008]: I was determined to make these, as I had visions of Moroccan dishes dancing in my head, and they were the last thing I did the night before we left for our holiday drive in 2008 (in the end, I only used them twice in rice and they mostly had to be thrown away when the went off; which won’t, of course, stop me from making them again the next time organic Meyer lemons are available); Sour Cherry Conserve [2009] (also stone fruit), from the Ball book: this was the only successful cherry recipe, and while it’s quite tasty it’s not the most appealing-looking which will teach me to only use the freshest cherries for canning (and to not go overboard at the market); Lemon Garlic Pickles [2009] (also cucurbits), from the Ball book: these were nice, but I think I vastly overestimated my capacity to eat pickles as we’ve only made it through the one jar we opened for Thanksgiving two years ago.
  • carrots: not a single thing (the only root vegetable recipe I made was Pickled Beets [2009], from the Ball book).
  • alliums: Onion Relish [2010], from an online recipe: I needed to use the onions that were piling up badly enough that I canned while 7 months pregnant during the hottest summer on record in years; I’m looking forward to eating this on sausages at the pool this summer.
  • herbs & flowers: Mojito Pickles [2009], from The Joy of Pickling: not canned, but preserved by freezing in order to retain the lime and mint flavors (also cucurbits).
  • rhubarb and asparagus: Rhubarb-Ginger Jam [2007], from an online recipe that I cannot for the life of me now locate: this was the second thing I ever canned after quince jelly, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t write about it because it was out of season (I used frozen rhubarb) and it relied heavily on candied ginger, both of which made it seem at the time like I was cheating (hah!); my dad loved this jam and he was the lucky recipient of most of it.
  • berries: Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce [2009], from the Ball book: this basic has been a favorite for the past two years, and something I’m happy to be able to contribute to other people’s holiday dinners.
  • cucurbits: Pickled Pumpkin [2009], from The Joy of Pickling: this did not turn out to be something that I liked, with the strong garlicky flavor (I made it because I was intrigued by what was described as a traditional Estonian holiday food); Pickled Summer Squash [2009], from the Ball book: sweet and tasty, this was more my style of pickle (with the advantage of using up some of the summer squash we were inundated with that year); Spicy Bread and Butters [2009], from The Joy of Pickling: I really need to start making egg salad sandwiches again to use these up.
  • tomatoes: Spaghetti Sauce [2009], using Barbara Kingsolver’s family recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: making this sauce was a big project, made bigger by the fact that I used all Roma tomatoes that did not cook down, requiring me to add more ingredients as I went; as a result, I ended up with a double batch and we were able to eat this sauce for an entire year.
  • stone fruit: Brandied Peaches [2009]: we still have a number of jars of these, as I’ve forgotten to eat them at Christmas for both of the past two years; Spiced Golden Plum Jam [2010], from the Ball book: this was only the second time I used pectin in a recipe, and was a way for me to use some of the oodles of plums we received in our summer CSA this year.
  • chiles: Pepper Jelly [2008, 2009], from Simply Recipes: I tried this two years in a row, and both times it was a pain and never really came out right, so while I love the idea of it I am not sure I have it in me to keep trying; Sweet and Sour Pepper Relish, from the Ball book: I have yet to try this, but I plan to break it out to accompany our easy dinners of grilled sausages this summer.
  • pomes: Pear Butter [2009], from Simply Recipes: delicious, and a spice inspiration for the pear applesauce; Spiced Pear Jam [2009], from the Ball book: this was the first time I used pectin in a recipe; two types of Pear Mincemeat [2009] (also dried fruit), from the Ball book; Pear Applesauce [2009], totally off the cuff after making applesauce and pear butter; Apple Butter [2010]; Applesauce [2008, 2009]; Apple Pie Filling [2008]; Apple Chutney [2008, 2009] (also dried fruit and chiles), from Simply In Season: this has turned out to be a hit, and I plan to make it each year so we can slather it on our turkey sandwiches with abandon; Quince Jelly [2007,2008, 2009], from Simply Recipes: still a household favorite, so I make it any time the trees actually bear fruit and we hoard it through the year (although it never lasts past spring).
  • dried fruit: Brandied Fruit Mincemeat [2010] (also pomes), from the Ball book: fruit plus booze equals quintessential holiday food!

Canning goals for 2011 include blueberry jam and more spaghetti sauce, in addition to the usual apple suspects. Plus whatever else looks absolutely irresistible from the Can Jam entries!

reflections on the Can Jam

food : National Pie Day

Cherry pie.

Today is National Pie Day. To celebrate, we baked a cherry pie from the freezer (made in the summer with fresh sour cherries from Harris Orchards). It didn’t look as pretty as the lattice-top one I made a couple of years ago, but it was delicious. The end.

All that’s missing is Agent Cooper.

Postscript: I am not clear on how pie is going to become more trendy than cupcakes this year, but I suppose marketing will do that for you. Not that I’m a cupcake fan, it’s just that pie is harder to systematize or individualize. Also nearly impossible to eat on the street on your way back to your fourth-story walk-up after Sunday brunch (yes, I’m talking to you, New Yorkers!), unless Hostess “pies” are what’s becoming trendy. And they’re just gross. [Upon further web-browsing, it appears that what are becoming trendy are tartlets, which makes sense. I foresee many laughing Europeans as this pastry of long-standing sweeps the nation.]

food : National Pie Day

Dark Days : local Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner: the table.

Christmas dinner: roasted chicken.

Christmas dinner: roasted sweet potatoes and squash, apple, and cranberry bake.

Christmas dinner: cornbread sausage stuffing.

Christmas dinner.

The meal for Week 4 of the Dark Days Challenge was surprisingly easy to come up with: it was our planned Christmas dinner. Because there were only three adults eating this year, I roasted a chicken instead of a turkey (although I was tempted at the last minute by some local heritage turkeys still available from a local farmer). The chicken was from Smith Meadows Farm in Virginia, and we added sides of roasted sweet potatoes (on hand from our CSA), butternut squash and apple bake (with the last butternut squash from our CSA and some of the remaining apples from Larriland Farm), and pecan-sage cornbread stuffing (with pork from Smith Meadows, Maryland cornmeal and eggs, and organic veggies, herbs, and nuts). The meal was rounded out by home-canned cranberry sauce and pickled beets from last year’s stores.

Christmas desserts: Mom’s dark fruitcake, Gran’s light fruitcake (made by Mom), jam thumbprints, mince tarts, molasses cookies (very soft wafers instead of chewy discs because I forgot half the flour), and lemony roll cookies (unglazed since that just never happened).

Two things that didn’t last long: my aunt’s toffee and our mince tarts.

We didn’t have local bread, but the desserts were on target: the mince tarts were made from home-canned mincemeat (one of last year’s projects) and included pear brandy made and estate-bottled by our friend’s German uncle. Need I say that they were delicious? The jam thumbprints were also reasonably local, using blueberry jam from our trip to Maine last year that had been languishing in our cupboard waiting for a good reason to be eaten. Besides those two contributions, organic and sustainable and using ingredients mostly from the Northeast is the best I can say for dessert. Well, and also that everything was addictively good!

Dark Days : local Christmas dinner

Dark Days : birthday tourtière

My Week 3 meal for the Dark Days Challenge was a bit of a surprise: we ate one of the Christmas tourtières for my birthday! Never fear, there is a whole pie in the freezer for Christmas Eve, which will be more than enough for three people. I always planned to make the pies this week and use the Christmas Eve dinner as my local dinner next week, but we just couldn’t resist the smell of the pie and went ahead and had one for dinner.

Day 1: Potatoes and meat filling cooking on the stove.

Day 2: Pies ready to go into the oven.

As with the beef stew, this was also a two-day meal. On Friday I made the filling with local pork from Smith Meadows, local venison from our friend in Frederick (which arrived over the course of two days in the form of giant sacks of ground meat, which probably deserves a post of its own), organic spices from Frontier, and onions, garlic, and potatoes from our CSA (the last of those; we’re back to buying from the store). On Saturday, I took the dough that I had made the weekend before out of the freezer and assembled and baked the pies. The recipe makes two, and since we are only having a small gathering this year, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with the second one. Eat it for my birthday, apparently! We had it with last year’s home-canned pickled beets (made with beets from Larriland Farm), cranberry sauce, and Farmer Brett’s Garlic Fire Sauce, and it was delicious.

Dinner: tourtière, pickled beets, and cranberry sauce.

Dessert was another imperfect gingerbread. What can I say: babies are hard on cakes! Last time, the pan didn’t get properly floured because I was foggy-headed and used the wrong flour. (It didn’t help that I was rushing through it to get the cake in the oven before I needed to feed the baby again.) This time, I just need five more minutes to butter and flour the pan and mix everything together and…the baby needed me for an hour. Sitting on the counter for an hour is not good for the rising properties in cake ingredients (just a note for the future, in case there were any doubts). This cake fell down in a ring through the middle. Now I know why people think making cakes is difficult: they have children! It was still a perfectly good gingery gooey delight, and we loved it. I’m hoping that our friends who are having some tonight will agree.

Dark Days : birthday tourtière

Dark Days : season of peppers

Peppers! The last vestiges of summer, Italian sweet peppers and Cubanelles.

Italian sweet peppers, sautéed and covered in oil (for the fridge).

With both our winter and summer CSAs, I have been most challenged by the abundance of peppers. Bell peppers are manageable, as we generally just slice and eat them raw or include them in ratatouille. It’s the hot peppers and the less common sweet peppers that pose a challenge. Some of them we sauté and pack in oil to be used in making pepper rice; sadly, most of last year’s batch languished in the fridge and had to be thrown out after we just didn’t cook as consistently through the winter. Others, like jalepeños, we struggle to use in even small quantities let alone in the volume that we receive in from the farmers; most years they go into the chutney and not much else.

This year we worked hard to use what we got, which required us to add to our recipe roster. To use up the jalepeños, I made two large batches of corn salad (which also used up a couple dozen ears of corn as well as onions and tomatoes) and one batch of tomatillo salsa (which was tasty, but more than we could handle in the time period before the fresh salsa went off; it did mark the first time we successfully used our tomatillos, though). The corn salad was delicious, and we’ll definitely make that in any future years when the corn is flooding in. In the end, we had more jalepeños than we could use and I donated some back into the CSA swap box. The green chilies were a big hit, though: we received Anaheim peppers for the first time, and learned that they are the green chili beloved by those who love green chili sauce. A little online research provided us with the preferred skinning method (place in a plastic bag to cool after roasting; the steam will loosen the skin) and we were able to make use of them. We made chicken in a tomatillo sauce twice, channa masala once, and I made my first batch ever of green chili cornbread. The cornbread was probably quite a bit hotter than it was meant to be since I used both rice milk and tofu sour cream: the fat from the dairy products was therefore only present in the cheese. I loved it, though, and we shared a pan for dinner one night.

Kicking off the Dark Days Challenge this week, I still had peppers in the fridge. We were looking at a large bag of Italian sweet peppers and about a half dozen Cubanelles. For the Italian sweets, I fell back on last year’s plan (sauté and pack in oil in the fridge) with a resolution to actually use them this year. I incorporated the Cubanelles into the meal for Week 1 of the challenge: scrambled eggs with roasted Cubanelle purée and roasted potatoes. Yes, it’s a breakfast meal, but we had it for lunch. We sourced the food as follows: organic eggs from a Pennsylvania farm via our local organic market; Cubanelle peppers from our summer CSA and Thanksgiving Farm via the Greenbelt farmers’ market; red potatoes from our summer CSA; seasoned salt from last year’s winter CSA; and last year’s home-canned applesauce with apples from Larriland Farm. Roast peppers, peel and chop coarsely (I didn’t actually bother to purée them); dice potatoes, toss in olive oil and seasoned salt, roast at 425F for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through; and scramble the eggs. Serve and eat!

Roasted peppers.

Roasted potatoes.

Lunch: scrambled eggs, roasted Cubanelles, roasted potatoes, and applesauce.

Dark Days : season of peppers