Canning and Food Preservation

Wild Elk and Venison Jerky on Northwest Edible

From the Native Americans to The Hunger Games, people have carried jerky.  You know that if the zombie apocalypse hits, you’ll want some too.

I’m so excited that Erica at Northwest Edible Life has allowed me to do a guest post on her blog about my favorite way to preserve meat.

Rick got this recipe from his mom.  All the men in Rick’s family are big-time hunters, and my mom-in-law is the designated jerky maker for the family.  Her sons, brothers and dad all drop meat off at her house to have her transform it into this good stuff.

I’m sharing the secret recipe over at Northwest Edible.

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Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dried Sour Cherries

Last weekend while at my in-laws’ house, I noticed that my mother in-law’s very ripe cherry trees had not been picked.  Lucky me, she told me to have at it!

Rick’s younger brother, was there and he helped us pick.  The cherries were so ripe that some were almost sweet.  As we all picked, the adults all remembered being kids, waiting for the cherry trees to ripen (we had cherries at the house I grew up in too), thinking that this year, this year, the cherries would be sweet.  I always expected them to taste like a maraschino cherry.  Of course, they never, ever did. They were always sour and I was always disappointed.

As a child, I assumed that these small, sour fruits were not real cherries.  That they were just for birds and to look pretty.  I didn’t know how good they really were. Rick, on the other hand, had some home-made pies and jams made from his backyard trees, but still most years the harvest went to the birds and squirrels, and his largest memory of the trees was putting the pits to use in his sling shot.

Maybe that’s why he never thought to mention to me that his parents still had the cherry trees.  Most years, my mother in-law said, they let a passing neighbor pick the trees.  (!)  I had been considering going to a pick-your-own orchard this year to buy some, when I noticed her trees.

We didn’t even pick half of the two trees, yet we came home with an incredible haul of gorgeous sour cherries.

My younger self would be so jealous of me now.  Now, I know how to turn these babies into the sweet, delicious fruit that I always hoped they’d be.  See sour cherries (sometimes called tart cherries) are also know as PIE cherries.  (Once I tried making a pie from bing cherries.  Yeah…. horrible).  Sour cherries will give you a pie to die for.  We ended up with eight pounds – PITTED.

After washing and pitting them, I immediately put six cups in the freezer for a pie.  The rest I divided between the jamming pot and the dehydrator.

Dried sour cherries are pretty expensive to buy in the store.  But they are delicious in baked goods, rice, salads, sauces, over pork, granola and trail mix, or just plain as a snack.  We hope to dip some in chocolate for Scott as a thank you for helping us pick.

Drying the cherries was incredibly simple.  Just wash and pit the cherries, and then spread them on the rack of your dehydrator.  make sure they each have a little room so they don’t end up stuck together.  I tried to pick the best, most perfect cherries to dry.  Any squashed or under ripe ones, I tossed back into the bowl to be made into jam.  Our food dehydrator puts out quite a bit of heat, and since it has been so hot here, I set it up on an old plywood table on the back porch to do its thing.  I set the dehydrator for 135° and let them dry for about 24 hours.

We dried about three pounds of pitted cherries and ended up with just about a pint after they were dry.  You have to watch them towards the end of the drying; you don’t want them to get crunchy.  They should still be soft, kind of like a raisin.  Yum.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

Garlic Scapes Two Ways

Last spring we harvested our first crop of garlic.  At that time I knew that we should cut the scapes, the flowering shoots that hard-neck garlic sends up in the spring, off of the plants so that my bulbs would reach a good size.  Once I cut them though, I didn’t quite know what to do with them.  I had heard that they were edible, but I was really uncertain on how to use them, so I ended up putting them in a vase to let them keep curling and eventually open up.  They were striking, my sister even asked to take some home.  But this year, none will be in vases.  My pallet is no longer a garlic scape virgin, and there is no going back.

I did a quick search and decided t try a couple of simple garlic scape recipes.  They are, honestly, amazing.  Checking in my cupboard, I realized that I had all the making of pesto.  I was inspired by this recipe, but used 12 scapes and added a bit of lemon juice and ground black pepper to mine.

It is honestly the best pesto I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I used my food processor, and chopped it pretty fine.  H helped me add ingredients to the food processor.  I also have to add that the olive oil we recently bought (3 gallons of it) is very fruity and I think it made a big difference in the quality of our pesto.

We used some of the pesto last night to make pasta.  I ran to the store to buy these curly-cue noodles in honor of the scapes, specifically for this.  For the sauce, I whisked together a good, large dollop of the pesto with about 1/3 cup crumbled feta and half a cup of the hot pasta water until it was fairly smooth.  Then I just tossed it over the pasta.

It had an initial garlicky bite that quickly mellowed and was quite delicious.  Even C loved it.  Tonight, I plan to use the pesto as a base for some homemade pizza.

Since I already had the food processor out, I decided to whip together a quick hummus.  I didn’t even clean it out, I just added more scapes, a can of rinsed chick peas, salt, juice from the other half of the lemon, and a bit more olive oil.

It is insanely good.  I don’t know if it really qualifies as hummus, it doesn’t have tahini (which I don’t care for much), but it is so good.  I hope I can make some for a party or, crossing my finger here that I still have scapes, our next potluck.

The garlic flavor is such a highlight.  It is much more mellow than using a garlic clove, but still strong, and the color is so beautiful.

I really think garlic scapes would make an awesome addition to guacamole.  Today, I think I’ll try making a batch of garlic scape pickles.  Just the thought has me salivating.

Garlic Scapes Two Ways on Punk DomesticsGarlic Scape Hummus:

In a food processor blend:

12 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
juice from 1/2 a lemon
salt to taste

When everything is well combined, add 1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil in a thin stream while the food processor is running.

Pasta with Feta-Garlic Scape Pesto Sauce:

1 lb of pasta
1/3 to 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 – 1/3 cup garlic scape pesto (link above, made with lemon juice)
salt

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.  In a bowl, whisk together the hot pasta water with the feta and pesto until smooth.  Toss over drained pasta and serve.

*Any leftover pesto or hummus (yeah, right) can be frozen.  Simply put pesto in ice cube trays or a freezer bag (flat).  Defrost hummus in fridge overnight and stir in a little olive oil to bring back the creamy consistency.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Garden, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 24 Comments

reCAP Mason Jar Caps

Sorry for the lack of posts this week and only minimal last week.  We’ve been ridiculously busy between hunting and H’s birthday and such.  I’ve got a couple of posts in the works that should hopefully be up soon.  But in the mean time, I had to share this.  Thanks to Erica for pointing me in this direction.

I had to share about this project – the reCAP Mason Jar Cap and the cool site, kickstarter.com, that is helping the reCAP’s inventor get funding.

The reCAP is a BPA free, recyclable, reusable plastic screw top cap to fit regular mason jars.  It’s a one piece design, great for pouring.  And it’s inventor is getting funding through people’s online donations on the site kickstarter.com.  I believe she has already reached her funding goal of $10,000 by November 8th, but people can still back her project  (as little as a dollar or up to $350) if they are interested.  I did, and in return I’ll get to try one of the reCAPs as soon as they are made (projected to be January).

I had to share this because I think both the reCAP and the kickstarter site are great ideas.

Check them out here:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1917107415/recap-mason-jar-caps

If you are an entrepreneur, check out the kickstart site.  The site collects pledges for you and if your goal is not met, nobody looses out, but if it is, you get the money you need to get started.  Fabulous!  So much better than a loan!

I can’t wait to try my reCAP!

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Community, Recommended Reading | Tags: | 6 Comments

Tomatoes Three Ways

Last week I shared my simple salsa recipe as a way to use up some of that end of summer tomato glut.  Well, we’re still deep in the red around here, as I went up to the CSA this weekend and picked another 50+ pounds.  Here are the ways we are putting away the toms for use over the winter.

We mainly picked Roma tomatoes.  But Rick wanted a few sweet slicers to save.  Since slicing tomatoes don’t hold up as well to other preservation methods, and since it’s the easiest method to do, I put up those first…

Freezing
This is the simplest thing.  If you have the space, you might even be tempted to use this as your only tomato preservation method (we did for the last two years).  First, wash and dry the tomatoes.  Next, label your gallon size freezer bags.  Finally, place as many tomatoes in the bag as it will hold, zip it up, and put it in the freezer.  Done.

The tomatoes should not stick together, so you can take them out one or two or three at a time and set them in a bowl on your counter to defrost.  As they warm up, the skins will just slip off.  They will make great sauce or soup, and be as sweet as the summer time.  They will be soft, so I usually dice them when they are still half-frozen and toss them straight into my pan to finish defrosting as they cook.  Yum.

Canning
This is the main method we are using this year.  Most of those Romas are getting diced and put into jars.  There are lots and lots of posts out there talking about canned tomatoes and how the process works, so I’m not going to retype that here.  Instead, here is a link to a great tutorial.  The only thing I do differently is I chop those suckers up so I don’t have to do it on the cooking end when I open the cans.  -Note that I’m experimenting right now with whether or not it’s worth it to dice them, or if it just as good crushing the tomatoes.  I’ll let you know. –   And please, please ignore anyone who tells you to seed your tomatoes.  WHY?  Seriously.  If you don’t like tomato seeds, you probably don’t like tomatoes, so why are you even bothering.  These are the same people who always peel their potatoes.  To me, this is a total waste of time and energy.  But whatever.  Maybe I’m just lazy.  ;)

No matter the recipe you use, make sure to adjust processing time for altitude if you live here in Denver.  Last week I put up just over ten quarts of canned tomatoes (some diced and some crushed).  Looking to get another 15-20 quarts out of these.

Drying
Mmmmm… sun-dried tomatoes.  But without the sun.  I totally use the dehydrator.  It’s faster and I have two little boys in the yard, not to mention the chickens.  All of them, tomato hounds and dirt-flingers to boot.  Dehydrator is much safer – I might actually get dirt-free, uneaten tomatoes this way.

I picked through my boxes of Romas to find the small and the weird.  These tomatoes tend to be labor intensive to peel, which is awful for canning, but makes them perfect candidates for drying.  You don’t peel your dried tomatoes, and you can just cut out the really weird spots.

So wash them, slice them, arrange them, season them and you are good to go.

Some of the bigger weirdos had to be sliced long-ways into thirds to fit in my dehydrator trays.  I sprinkle mine with salt and thyme.  I don’t seed these tomatoes either.  That might make the drying time faster, or possibly make the trays easier to clean afterwards, but I don’t care.  I just want to get the tomatoes off the counter and into the pantry as quickly as possible.

My dehydrator will take 12 hours on 135° to dry them all out.  For those that will tell me to use my oven, sorry, that’s a no go.  I run my dehydrator outside so I don’t have to heat up my kitchen.  We have no a/c around here and I can actually fit more into the dehydrator anyway.  If you don’t have a dehydrator though, that is a viable option.

There you have it.  What are your favorite ways to save summer’s favorite fruit for the dark days of winter?

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Fall at the Homestead

The first day of fall was last week, and we are entering one of the busiest times of the year around here.  Of course it’s harvest time – which means much of our work moves from the garden to the kitchen.  You’ve seen all my posts on jam lately, but I’ve been canning too.  A little over ten quarts of tomatoes so far, and we’re going Sunday to our CSA farm to help pick more toms and to pick and roast green chiles as well.  The tomatoes will also be canned and the chiles peeled and frozen.

I’m glad we had the CSA to fall back on this year as my tomatoes were so sad.  I was actually a bit worried.  It sure is nice to see the pantry shaping up after all.

Lots of Christmas gifts here too.

This coming weekend is the second annual chicken coop tour.  Locals can purchase tickets here or here.  We participated last year as well, and we are excited to show off again this year.  The coop had a couple of improvements this spring and summer and I really wanted everything in place for the tour. Rick bought me two galvanized garbage cans – one for the chicken food and one for finished compost, but when I started harvesting the compost, I had enough to fill both, plus half a wheel-barrow-full that I pawned off on the neighbor (it was a hard sell, trust me).  The chicken food is still in the garage for now, and there are almost two bales of straw under a tarp out there.

The hens seem excited to have straw in the coop for the first time.  We’ve always used dead leaves or pine shavings in their coop, but the “fall” part of the season has yet to happen here and we wanted to coop cleaned up for the tour.  We were hoping for some wood chips to spread over the ground before the tour too, but it looks like we’ll have to go with out.  Despite that, the chicken area looks nice.

The extra straw, not for the coop, will be used to mulch the garlic that we ordered and saved for seed.  I ordered two varieties this year and saved ten bulbs from a third.  We hope to plant around 125 cloves after the first frost hits.  That should yield us enough garlic for the year next year, including some to save for seed in 2012.

A couple of weekends ago, Rick and H put up my clothesline for me.  I was so excited to get the line that Rick’s mom had promised me.  But once we got it home, we actually couldn’t manage to get it into working order.  After fighting with it for a couple of weeks, we ended up buying a new one, and I love it!  I’ve used it everyday, but I’ve realized I need more clothes pins.  The line holds a lot, and C’s diapers (and inserts and wipes) take up all the pins I have.

  

We harvested our concord grapes – one whole bunch!  There would have been two bunches, but I accidentally knocked off the second bunch early on in the summer  when I was trying to get the vine on the trellis.  Not too bad for it being the vine’s first real season – we just planted the cutting last spring.  We hope to use this vine to make a few more cuttings when the pergola is done.

Speaking of the pergola, Rick’s uncle brought us down our first pieces from the mountains.  The posts are here!  We will be setting them on poured concrete footers this fall and we’ll begin laying the patio in the spring.  This was the goal of the tree removal project.  I had hoped to have it done all in one summer, but it really was a huge undertaking to manage on our own.  Not to mention having a baby this summer too.  (There’s that old excuse again!).  ;)

There is a huge amount of beetle-kill pine in our forests here right now (a heart-breaking 4 million acres in Colorado and Wyoming), so we plan to build the whole pergola out of salvaged logs.  Once it’s constructed, we will plant and train grape vines over it.  I am very excited about it, but it’s been slow going.

Fall is also the time when we start filling the freezer back up with meat.  We actually got a good look at the forests this year as we did some prep work for hunting season.  Rick sighted in his rifles at the range up on Highway 40, and we did a little grouse hunting and some fishing.  We were skunked on the grouse, but Henry did catch his first fish!  He let it go so it could grow up a bit.  Nothing was added to the freezer yet, but the trip was great fun anyway, and we’ve ready for big game in a couple of weeks.

So that’s what we’ve been up to lately – I’m hoping the tour participants will give us grace on the yard still being half done.  Oh well, they’re coming to see the coop, right?  ;)

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, DIY, Garden | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Jam Fever!

Last weekend, we went to Palisade for our annual trip to Bracken Orchard to pick peaches.  We drive 240 miles over the mountains, each way, so we want to make sure we make the trip worth it.  This year, we came home with 368 pounds of peaches (slightly less, since about half a box was Fuji apples).

   

We had 15 pounds for my sister and 40 pounds for some friends, but the rest we’ve been working on getting put up for the year.  Most of them are sliced and frozen in quart-size bags, and many get made into various jams for our use during the year and for gifts.  We canned some a few years ago, but we feel like the frozen ones are more versatile and last us longer.  Plus they are easier to put up and take up less space.

True to form, I decided to defrost 40 pounds of the plums that were given to us last year at peach time.  We didn’t have time then to process them properly, so of course I thought we’d have time this year!  What is wrong with me?!? I spent the whole week making plum jam while Rick sliced and froze the peaches.  I didn’t get all the plums done before some started to smell “off,” but I got most of them taken care of.  Smarter people would have just defrosted a little at a time.  Then I moved onto the peach jams.

This has been the most fun I’ve ever had jamming though.  My friend Kristen has been a godsend, coming over twice to make jams.  We got a little crazy the second time, trying new recipes.  I spent a good portion of my grocery budget last week on organic Madagascar vanilla beans, green cardamom pods and various liquors for our jam.  Some combos we tried:  Peach with Honey, Vanilla Bean and Brandy (wow – the smell!), Plum Lavender (AMAZING!!), Peach-Plum Ginger, Plum Noir (ooh lala!), and a couple of original creations, Kristen’s Honey Peach Cobbler jam, and my Jalapeno-Honey Plum.  We’ve had a ball.

I’ve even ordered special jars.  I hope they arrive by this weekend (I plan to make Peach, Blueberry and Grand Marnier jam and my favorite traditional peach preserves), but if they don’t make it, I’ll use them next year. I found most of these recipes on the Punk Domestics site, by the way.  If you put up – you should definitely check it out!

So what are your favorite ways to use peaches?  Plums?  Any awesome jam recipes?

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Community, Recipes, Recommended Reading | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Jalapeño-Honey Plum Jam

What do you do when you’ve got 40 pounds of last year’s plums left in the freezer and you need to make room for this year’s peaches?  You put your grandma’s apron on over your mei tai and start making jam!

Last year, my brother-in law picked us nearly 70 pounds of plums from his parents’ place.  But he brought them just when we were elbows deep in peach and grape processing.  So I stuck them all in the freezer with the intention of making them into jam later, when it wasn’t so hot and we weren’t so swamped with other fruit.

Well, here it is, September again, and we are once again swamped with fruit.  And I’ve still not touched those plums.  So I started defrosting them, and went at it with the jam making.  But as there are still 40 pounds, I wanted to get creative.  I went searching for a little jam inspiration and I found it on Canarella.  Sweet and spicy – my favorite combination!

Since my plums were previously frozen, they turn all mushy when defrosted.  No good for straight up canning, but perfect for jam.  Here’s what I came up with!

Jalapeño-Honey Plum Jam

2 pounds plums, pitted and chopped
1½ cups honey
1½ tsp jalapeño powder*
2 T lemon juice

In a large sauce pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.  Cook until jam gets to the gelling point (use the saucer method or one of these methods).

Ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, wipe rims of jars, add lids and bands and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (10 minutes in Denver or similar altitude).

Makes 4 half pints.

*I make homemade jalapeño powder by slicing and dehydrating jalapeños, then grinding in a food processor.  This powder is delish on buttered popcorn!

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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