Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Strawberry Overload

It's official....I am sick of strawberries. I put up 15 pints of strawberry jam, froze 2 quarts of berries for margaritas in January, and have eaten my fill of strawberry shortcake. My final strawberry act this season was to make strawberry liqueur. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I made raspberry liqueur for holiday gifts, and it went over so well I am going to make lots more fruit liqueurs this summer. This recipe is adapted from Cordials from Your Kitchen by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling.

Strawberry Liqueur
2 quarts, or about 3 wine bottles

6 cups fresh hulled
3 cups sugar
4 cups of the cheapest vodka you can find
2 cups water
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of one lemon

Crush berries and sugar in a bowl and let them macerate for about an hour. In a gallon sized container that has a lid (I have a big glass jar that I make picked eggs in that has a cork lid that I use for this) add berries and remaining ingredients. Cover and let stand in a cook, dark place, for 2 days, shaking the container at least once a day. Use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the solids and discard them. Rinse out your gallon container and put the liqueur back in it and let it stand for a week. Then you have to filter the liqueur, read this post I found for a veritable epistle on all the ways you can filter liqueurs. I rack filtered mine, which is fancy talk for using a hose like you would use to drain an aquarium to clean it. Put the final product in some pretty wine bottles, or whatever other bottles you might have like canning jars, liquor bottles, whatever catches your eye. I used old wine corks to close my bottles - I closed them lightly in case there was any gasses that might be generated, but there didn't seem to be any. Let it age in the bottle for at least a month.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Canning demo at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market

If you are new to my blog because I just met you yesterday at the AAFM, welcome! The recipe is linked below, and also check out my other canning posts by clicking here. I teach home canning classes for Ann Arbor Rec and Ed. - we'll be making salsa in August. Want to learn how to can before August? I am available to teach you and a group of your friends how to preserve food at your own house with your own stuff. It's like a Tupperware party, but instead of buying products, you'll learn how to can for yourself and get to keep the food you made. It's lots of fun! Send me an email at momskitchen at comcast dot net if you are interested in getting on my mailing list. Also, If you are interested in the "Yes. We Can" apron I was wearing, you can find it at the Pittsfield Grange's Preserving Traditions group. They also teach canning classes.

On Friday night, we had a terrific storm. We went over to our neighbor's house and drank beer and watched it from their screen porch by candlelight. I was hoping the rain would stop because yesterday, I did a canning demo at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. On my way to the market, Newport Road was closed because of fallen trees. (I was wrong...it was a giant hole in the road!)On my way home from church yesterday, parts of Joy Road were washed out from erosion and there was a huge pond in one spot that almost drowned my engine. Wonder what happens when you drive a hybrid electric vehicle through deep water?

It stopped raining right as my market demo was starting, and it was really fun to see so many people interested in canning! I prepared (or should I say tried to prepare - we had electric problems so I was unable to actually finish my canning project there) Natural Strawberry Jam. An interesting note is that the berries I was using yesterday took a long time to firm up - at least a 1/2 hour per batch. I think the wet and cool season we've had thus far in Michigan has resulted in no pectin in the berries. So if you are one of the people I met yesterday at the market, keep that in mind when you try the recipe. These berries took longer than expected to pass "the wrinkle test".


I'm noticing a few trends lately. First, there's the "green living" folks - the people that want to reduce their food miles by getting their food locally. It's the people that read the Michael Pollan books, or "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. Most of the people I talked to yesterday were in this segment. I noticed that when I asked the people "of a certain age" if they had canned jam before, most replied "a long time ago". But it's great that they are thinking of firing up the canner again! There's a real interest in eating local food.

There's also another segment of folks interested in canning - for lack of a better word, I am going to call the group the "preparedness" folks. These are the people that are preparing for an apocalypse of some kind. One guy told me yesterday he was worried that our power grid was going to collapse and wanted to have a plan for some food when it did. Given that our power goes out in the summer time about once a month, maybe I should start thinking a little more this way. There's always people that think the world is going to end soon, and that we should have a plan. Their reasons are many - impending war, world economic collapse, the book of Revelations, etc. People like this are the reason that read the "Left Behind" books are so popular. They watch "Mad Max" over and over again for reasons other than how hot Mel Gibson was in the 1970s (only reason why I watched that movie more than once) Perhaps they actually enjoyed the movie "Waterworld"? It reminds me of Y2K fears, which is another time when people got really interested in home canning.

I kept seeing references online about Mormons and home canning, and it got me curious about that. Evidently, self reliance is a core teaching of the LDS, and canning is a big part of that. It's a great idea. There's a Reskilling Fair coming up in Ann Arbor, whose supporters are hoping to teach people how to grow a squarefoot garden, build a hoop house or a cob oven, make herbal tinctures, sing rounds, can, dry and preserve those local fruits and veggies or cook up a local feast for your friends. The concept of reskilling is about re-connecting with basic lifeskills related to what we eat, wear, use and live in. Reskilling means learning to provide for ourselves and our communities by growing, preserving, creating, building, and teaching. Sounds like Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts for adults!

For me, home canning is an extension of my love of cooking local foods and I like saving money. I only can things that I can make at home cheaper. I am a thrifty environmentalist. I also like preserving food because when we eat it later, I can always remember what it was like on the day I put it up. Come February, on the morning I open a jar of the jam I made yesterday, I'll remember the big storm and the Farmer's Market and how hot and muggy the kitchen was and have wishful thoughts for strawberry season again.

Storm Report

....okay, it was more than a tree down....it was a giant hole in the road!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Canning strawberry jam without pectin

When I was first married and we moved out to the "the sticks" (west of Ann Arbor) from "the city" (that would be Detroit), I was eager to try canning strawberry jam. My mother-in-law put up strawberry jam, and everyone raved about it. She always referred to it as "gel", as in "I made some gel this weekend", referring to the cases of strawberry jam that she preserved every year. So I bought myself a Ball Blue Book and a boiling water canner (fancy canning word for a big pot) to make my own gel. Instead, I made 24 jars of strawberry syrup. It made me swear off trying canning again for years. I think if I dug deep in my laundry room pantry, I think I might find a 17 year old jar of strawberry syrup with an inch of dust on it way in the back.

Where did I go wrong? Strawberry jam was supposed to be easy, but truth be told, it isn't easy. First off, I made a quadruple batch, and jams and jellies don't take kindly to doubling. Make one batch at a time. Also, strawberries have notoriously unpredictable amounts of pectin in them. To be generous, sometimes they are called "low pectin" fruit, but consider them to be a "no pectin' fruit. Like life and a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get when it comes to making strawberry jam. Don't leave it to chance!

So I tried making jam with powdered or liquid pectin, and it always came out sweeter and more stiff than I wanted. What to do? I found a great technique in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving which is the one canning book I recommend you have in your kitchen library. To make strawberry jam with natural fruit pectin and less sugar, use apples and citrus. Even though it has apples in it, you won't be able to taste them. Plus, the apples extends the volume of strawberries. This year has been a tough year on strawberries in Michigan, so prices are higher than usual. Plus, this year has been tough on Michigan pocketbooks, so the apples make this strawberry jam even more affordable. Consider apples your own personal "jam stimulus package".

Check out Martha Stewart's lovely jam labels

Natural Strawberry Jam
(makes about 8 8z. jars)

5 tart apples, stems and blossom ends removed and chopped coarsely, cores intact
1 lemons or limes, unpeeled and chopped fine

Boil apples and citrus in enough water to prevent sticking for 20 minutes until soft. Force through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon to make 2 cups puree, or use a food mill if you have one. Now don't go out and buy a food mill - they are expensive and I have never found one worth the money. I snagged the 2 I have at garage sales. A sieve and a spoon works just as well.

Now it's time to add:

8 cups halved and hulled strawberries
5 1/2 cups sugar

to the strained apple/citrus puree in a deep pot. When I say deep pot - I'm not kidding you, because this mixture will tend to foam up pretty high. The last thing you want is a strawberry volcano erupting on your stove top. I'm telling you this because I learned it the hard way! Bring it to a boil and stir frequently over medium heat. Boil for 20 minutes until mixture thickens and mounds up in a spoon. When I tried this recipe with raspberries last year, I stopped boiling it after about 20 minutes. I wasn't sure that I went far enough with the boiling, but I didn't want to overdo it. I didn't see any "mounding up" on the spoon, but the raspberries seemed somewhat set when I ran my finger across the back of the spoon. Earlier in the summer, I boiled a no pectin jam that ended up as tough as fruit leather. But my raspberry jam turned out perfectly.

Recently, I read the book Preserving the Taste by Edon Waycott. Edon makes jams and jellies for restaurants in southern California, including the famous La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. She descibed making jams and jellies that weren't too sweet and less firm than store bought, which is how I like mine. In her book, she describes the "wrinkle test" Place a spoonful of the jam on a saucer in the freezer for a 5 minutes to cool. Run a finger through the jam: if the surface wrinkles, it's ready. If not, it needs to boil some more. Also, you can measure the temp of the jam - if it is 8 degrees higher than the boiling point of water (at sea level to 1000 ft, that temp is 212 + 8 = 220 F) and that is the "jel point".

Ladle the hot jam into hot jars; leaving 1/4 inch headspace. (that's fancy canning talk for filling the jar 1/4 inch from the top). Wipe off the rim, place a lid on the jar and screw a band on it to finger tight. No need to torque it with all your might. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. (more fancy canning talk - this means to boil the jars in a rack or set upon some canning rings in a pot with the water 1 inch deeper than the top of the jars) Shut off heat on canner and remove lid, and let the jars sit 5 minutes in the water before you take them out. This neat trick prevents the jars from spewing juice out of the lids before they seal like they sometimes do. Remove the jars and let them cool. Make sure the top is sealed by checking to see if you can press down on the top of it. If you can, store that jar in the fridge and not in the pantry.

Looking for a sugar free strawberry preserve?  Check out my recipe for strawberry spoon fruit.   Want to read more about jam making?  Take a look at...

Which fruit jams need added pectin?
Everything you wanted to know about pectin (but were afraid to ask)
Other fruit jams can you make with natural pectin
Other jam making info
All my canning posts can be found here

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