Preserving the Harvest

October 4, 2007 § Leave a comment

Summer comes late in Nova Scotia and so does the harvest. While Ontario and BC have been floundering in nightshades and stone fruits for months, we’re just hitting peak season. And with our cool weather, now is the very best time to embrace home canning. Maybe it’s the universal shift towards fresh local produce, maybe it’s the DIY aesthetic that’s flooded our magazines and local indie papers, but everything old is new again. Especially— and surprisingly— in the sphere of home preserving.

It’s apple season here, of course, with all that comes with it— apple butter and jam, for instance— but there’s lots more that you might not know about. Lots of Damson and Damson-type plums are available, so why not make your own plum sauce for take-out? How about making some crunchy bread-and-butter pickles out of those spiky cucumbers like Nana did in the 1950s? Or perhaps something more daring— maybe pumpkin jam?

Indeed, that’s part of the magic of making your own jams, pickles and chutneys— you can use your imagination. Why make marmalade with plain oranges, when you can use oranges and lemons and call it St. Clement’s Marmalade? While you’re at it, how about a pinch of cinnamon? A jar of homemade green tomato mincemeat makes a terrific Christmas present, and hey, what’s to stop you from adding a handful of walnuts? Or maybe you’re more interested in candied citrus peel or relish… you can even make your own ketchup. And it’s all quite easy.

If you’re put off, as I was, by the thought of boiling jars, don’t worry. Most hot-packed preserves can be spooned into jars that have just spent 15 minutes or so in a 220°F oven. No special equipment is necessary aside from jars and a kitchen scale, although a wide-mouthed funnel is often useful.

After you’ve packed your hot preserves into a jar, making sure to expel any air bubbles, immediately cover the surface of the preserve with a disc of waxed paper (shiny side down) add the lid and screw on the ring. If you’re using a lid that’s only one piece, just screw it on.

Now, the waterbath. I know, I know, it’s annoying, and if you’re just making jam for yourself and are satisfied that your jars are sterile and well-sealed, it might be okay to skip this part— I do, on occasion. But if you’re giving food as a gift or serving to company, better safe than make Aunt Gert sick.

The variety of preserves is truly astounding. Everyone thinks of jams, jellies, pickles and chutneys, of course, but what about nut conserves, spiced vinegars and oils, exotic relishes and condiments? Publishing houses are issuing a whole new world of preserves books to give you ideas. Try Preserves: The Complete Book of Jams, Jelllies, Pickles and Preserves by Catherine Atkinson, The Jamlady Cookbook by Beverly Ellen Shoonmaker Alfeld, or Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine by Madelaine Bullwinkel. Or, my very favorite, Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden.

Here are a couple of unusual examples to get you started.

Pumpkin Jam
adapted from Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden

Note: For the waterbath, put your filled jars into a big stock pot and add water to cover them by at least one inch, then bring the water up to between 190°F and 200°F. Generally processing takes between 10 and 15 minutes.

Ingredients
1 large pumpkin, halved, scooped out, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes

for each pound of prepared pumpkin flesh:
1lb sugar
1 oz fresh ginger, grated
1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
juice of 1⁄2 a lemon

Steam the pumpkin for 20 minutes, or until tender. Add pumpkin, sugar, giner, spices, and lemon juice to a large, non-metallic* bowl, cover and leave in a cool place for 24 hours.

Tip the contents of the bowl into a large saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then boil hard for about 15 minutes, until the mixture is translucent and thick.

Ladel into warm, clean dry jars, seal with a disc of wax paper, screw on jar lid and then process in a waterbath (see note) for 10 minutes, then let cool. Store in a cool, dark place for one month to develop flavor before eating.

Spiced Plums
adapted from Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden

Note: For the waterbath, put your filled jars into a big stock pot and add water to cover them by at least one inch, then bring the water up to between 190°F and 200°F. Generally processing takes between 10 and 15 minutes.

Ingredients
2lb purple plums
1 1⁄2lb sugar
1 oz fresh ginger, grated
1⁄2 teaspoon whole cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon ground coriander
1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cinnamon stick
16 fl oz red wine vinegar

Prick the plums all over with a darning needle (!!) and put in a large pot so the fruit is no more than two layers deep.

In another saucepan, add remaining ingredients and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, raise heat and boil mixtures for 5 minutes.

Pour the spiced vinegar over the fruit, and bring to the boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for about 8 hours.

Strain off the liquid through a non-metallic* sieve and reserve. Pack the fruit into warm, clean, dry jars and set aside. Boil the strained liquid hard till reduced by one-third, then quickly pour into jars to cover the fruit. Swivel to expel any air bubbles, then screw on the lids. Process in a waterbath (see note) for 15 minutes, then cool. Store in a cool, dark place for one month to develop flavor before eating.

*Non-metallic because metals react with acid to produce a metallic flavor in preserves. They’re fine for jams and jellies— preserves that don’t contain lemon juice or vinegar.

— for infomonkey

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