Sunday, June 26, 2011

Since you asked...

I never get any letters in the mail anymore, but I do get blog comments and they are just as good!  This summer I've got a bumper crop of canning questions questions that need we go!

I stumbled across your blog by accident, and this cranberry mustard was so delicious! I tend to like spicy mustard though. Do you have a suggestion for how to make this spicier? Prepared horseradish? Do you have a quantity suggestion? Thanks! And I can't wait to try some of your other recipes!

Thank you for the kind words about my blog.   To make this recipe spicier, try experimenting with what kind of mustard you use in it. (don't increase the amount, because you don't want to alter the pH of the final products) I buy all my spices at Penzeys, and they sell an Oriental mustard powder that is hot.   They also sell a horseradish powder you might add in place of some of the mustard.  I had also considered that wasabi powder might be a substitution that would work, but after reading the clever write up about it on Penzey's website, it's best to just try the horseradish powder instead.   I don't have a Penzey's store nearby, so I order my spices from them by mail.  Each order is handpacked and signed by the employee that boxes it up.   Plus, they always tuck in a few extra bottles of things just for a treat.   Their homespun catalog is fun to read, too....kind of like the way "Taste of Home" used to be before it sold out and became what it is today. 

If I don't process Major Grey's chutney and just put it in the fridge, how long will it keep?

The chutney lasts indefinitely in the fridge....however, I'd make a smaller quantity since this recipe makes a lot of chutney.  It made enough for my family for years when I made it last! 

I have a question, do you HAVE to use pectin? I want to make blackberry jam, i am using stevia, and i don't want to buy the Pomona brand, although Akins carry's it, i am frugal to the bone!! **big smile** But my question is, may i use unflavored gelatin to make it set? and will that work or does it alter the taste? This will be my first time making a jam... LOL

You could use gelatin to make a jam kept in the refrigerator.   Here's a great publication from the University of Nebraska extension that has a recipe, plus lots of other information about jam and jelly making.

Hi Mother's Kitchen Can I ask why you are concerned with zucchini in jam? Even taking away my family's history with making zucchini jam, the Classic Zucchini Cookbook among other canning recipe books have a version of this jam in it pg 290, so I wonder why what it is about it that you would consider unsafe to can? Please don't get me wrong, I totally understand you putting a warning on something if you don't consider it safe, hope you don't mind me asking?

That's a great question....while I don't have the cookbook you mentioned available for me to review, many cookbooks include recipes that aren't canning safe.  To be boiling water bath canning safe, a recipe must have a pH of 4.5 or less. The one you posted on your blog had me concerned because of it's potential pH.   The pH of the 8 cups of zucchini is very high - it can be as high as 6.1.   The acidic ingredients in your recipe are the 2 cups apple juice, which could be as high as 4.0.  and the rhubarb, which can be as high as 3.4.  In order to develop a new canning recipe, I always start from a known safe recipe and tweak from there.

A good resource for a canning safe zucchini jam recipe is Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves which has a recipe for marrow jam  (marrow is the British word for zucchini) that I trust to be canning safe, because I know that Linda only publishes proven canning safe recipes.   You will note that Linda's recipe uses 2 1/2 lbs of zucchini and 1/4 cup lemon juice, which has a pH of only 2.6. So reading though it all, it could be that the apple juice and rhubarb might provide enough acidification for your jam, but I wasn't comfortable saying it was because the National Center for Home Food Preservation (USDA) does not recommend canning zucchini at all except pickled.   So, that's why I suggested refrigerating it.   Hope that helps explain my logic. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge: Basil

July's challenge is basil - fresh, dried, however you have it, use it!     Please post your recipe on your blog anytime from July 9 - July 15.   Check back here for the roundup on July 20.  I look forward to your recipes.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Note to Self and Upcoming Canning Demo

Notes to self:

Recipe I want to try:  Lemon Parsley Fish Cakes
Book I want to get out of the library: Cooking for Geeks
A better no knead bread recipe but first I have to replace the plastic knob on my dutch oven because I'd be sad if it melted.

I am demonstrating how to make strawberry jam at the Chelsea Farmer's Market.  Here's the details....stop by!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge June Roundup: Mint

artic garden studio
Wow!  Nicole's rhubarb mojitos sure look fetching!  Make sure to drink them before they fade.

dog hill kitchen
Mint and melon might even be a better combination than mint and chocolate, Maggie. Glad you have a "Minty" T shirt

a million grandmas
Mary makes a lovely mint pesto for her Middle Eastern dish this month.

propsect: the panty
I'm glad someone did the pea and mint soup, as I wanted to do it but no peas here in Michigan yet.

round here at ches hates
Raspberry mint cooler sounds like a great drink for summer.

tales from a house on the corner
Even though it's winter down under, wings with mint and honey sound wonderful.  Sorry our herb is out of season for you.

thinking out loud
Woodman waxes philosphic about mint tea while on vacation, via phone, which reminds us that sometimes, the best recipes are the simplest.

tracy's living cookbook
Someone's gotta do the classic mojito, Tracy.  And I am glad it was you!

una buona forchetta
If not mojito, gin smash, I say!  Glad to see you back in the spice rack game.

If life gives you beans, make minted bean salad, I say!

just another day on the farm
Pretty in Pink Jam looks pretty, but I can't vouch that it's food safe for canning with all that zucchini in it.  I'd skip the canning and store it in the fridge instead.  This jam reminds me of a song, of course....

oh briggsy
Somebody had do do the chocolate mint thing....I am so glad it's fresh mint chocolate chunk ice cream.

Tune in Friday for July's me when I say it will be very summery.

Spice Rack Challenge: Minted Bean Salad

Mint is supposed to be invasive.   I can remember as a kid having one whole corner of our backyard covered in mint, and we'd make mint tea by putting some sprigs of mint and tea bags in a gallon jar and leaving it out in the sun for the day.    However, as a grown up I have tried and failed to grow mint many times.   I love mojitos, and so I have planted mint in the yard with the hopes of cocktails to come, but to no avail.     I have had some luck with growing mint in a container, however.    It does tend to return every year, which is nice.    Right now, I have about 5 healthy looking sprigs growing in my patio garden container, along with lots of parsley, so I decided to make a bean salad.   I really like making bean salads on the weekend for lunch during the work week.  A couple weeks  ago, I cooked up a big pot of dried Michigan Great Northern beans and froze them in sandwich sized bags.   Put up this way, they have much less sodium than canned beans, and a pound of dried beans cost $1.69, which is 4-5 cups cooked beans.   It's a great recipe - cheap, good for you and filling!

Minted Bean Salad
For the salad
2 cups cooked white beans, such as Great Northern
1/2 chopped red pepper

For the dressing
Juice of one lemon
1/4 c olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs mint, minced
1/2 c parsley, minced
1/4 c. snipped chives
2 t. kosher salt

Stir together beans and pepper, set aside.  In a jar with a lid, add dressing ingredients and shake.  Pour over top salad.   Tastes better the next day!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Preserving Strawberry Jam

Today marks my 3rd strawberry jam making demo at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.  This year, the market is piloting a Wednesday evening market, which is wonderful for people like me that work during the day.   I am looking forward to canning outdoors this evening with my friend Martha.  I've written lots about canning strawberry jam on this blog...if you want to check it out - zip over to the search box on the right and look up  "strawberry jam" to see how my thoughts have evolved on the subject.    Over the years, I have optimized my approach.  No more boxed pectin, no more "wrinkle test".    Measuring gel temp is where it's at!  This is how I demonstrating the jam last night.

Strawberry Jam with Homemade Pectin
Makes 9 half pint jars

Homemade pectin

6 tart apples,blossom and stem ends removed, chopped up, core and seeds and all
2 lemon chopped up, peel and seeds included.

Cook this down until soft, and put through a food mill.  Set aside.

Note to self for the fall.....

The pectin puree could be made in the fall when apples are in season, and instead of lemons, save lemon rinds and seeds in the freezer after they've been juiced for other things.    The rinds and seeds are where all the pectin is in the lemon.   The puree can be canned in pint jars like apple sauce - i.e. process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes with 1/2 inch headspace.  Come spring, the pectin will be ready to go to make jam. 
For the jam
3 quarts strawberries, halved and hulled
6 cups sugar
Homemade pectin

I like to use a digital meat thermometer to measure the temperature of my jam.  I have one I bought years ago for $50, but the prices have really come down and there's a great selection now.  This one is recommended by Cooks Illustrated and it's only around $20. 
To make the jam, put all ingredients in a tall pan or stockpot and stir.  Boil gently until mixture reaches 220 F (for <1000 ft below sea level).   this is the jelling temp - it's 8 degrees above the boiling point of water.    Note that this will take a long time - it sometimes takes up to an hour.  It might sit at 217 F for a long time.  Don't worry!  It all depends on how much water is in the berries and how much pectin is already in them, and that varies from crop to crop.  Don't even think about giving up when it's at 219 F, thinking it's boiled long enough.  It hasn't - trust me!  Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


This year, much of my garden is in containers.   We finally got rid of the wooden deck in back and replaced it with brick, which is so much easier to care for.  I now have lots more room for plants.  I have had great luck with "Earthbox" style planters - which are just a form of hydroponics where there is a water reservoir underneath the growing medium.  About half of my patio garden plants are planted in that type of container.  The rest of my garden is planted in other style containers, including some of my hypertufa that I made myself. 

What is hypertufa?  It's a simulated rock used to make planters.  Evidently it was made popular by alpine gardeners, who used to use antique animal watering troughs for a rustic look, but they became rare and expensive.  Historically, it's been used since the 1800s in England to make the troughs.    They are light and easy to move around.

The recipe for hypertufa is simple:

3 parts peat moss
3 parts perlite
2 parts Portland cement

Mix these 3 together, and then add enough water to make it look like cottage cheese.   Wear rubber gloves!  Portland cement is very caustic.   Use another planter as a mold - I had good luck using plastic planters or buckets. The cement stuck to a wood barrel I tried to use as a mold.  I think plastic works well, because it keeps the outer surface wet enough to get it out of the mold easily, and it is flexible so you can give it a gentle tap to help get it out.    Square containers were easier to get out of the mold than round ones.  Spray the inside of the container liberally with cooking spray (like Pam) to act as a mold releasing agent.   Apply the hypertufa to the inside of the container about 2 inches thick.  Make sure the thickness is uniform - watch out for thin spots.  Add a drainage hole by pushing your finger down in the center of the bottom.   Let it dry in the mold for 48 hours, or until it feels dry when you touch it.  Don't go longer than 48 hours or it will be hard to get out of the mold.  Carefully unmold it by turning the put upside down and tapping it gently.  Sometimes, I had to use a butter knife to ease it out around the top edges.  The hypertufa will be very fragile at this time, so don't touch it once it is unmolded.  The inside of it is dry and the outside of it will be very wet, so it's prone to breaking.  Don't try to move it.   Let it cure for a couple of weeks in this position.   I leave them upside down in the garage to cure, so they don't get rained on. 

It took me many trials to get the hang of hypertufa.  I probably broke half the ones I made at first.    It's important not to make the container too big or too thin.   I wouldn't recommend anything bigger than 1 ft in any dimension (width, height or base) otherwise it needs reinforcement of some kind.   I read online that polymer fibers can be used to reinforce bigger containers, but haven't been able to find any at craft stores or hardware stores.    Concrete dyes can be added to make colored ones, but I like the rustic stone look best.  Hypertufa is a great garden project for March or April, when all gardeners have spring fever and it's too early to plant.   It felt good to actually be doing something to prepare for the season.   I am looking forward to making more next spring.

Heirloom Seed Trial Update:

I planted what I had left of 'Grand Rapids' lettuce and and the picking cukes in one of my hypertufa planter molds on June 1.   I also threw in some watercress seeds I had that aren't part of the seed trial Looks like I've got something growing today, June 5!

I also planted the 'Kentucky Wonder' pole beans again - my first batch was planted in a hypertufa planter that fractured when I tried to move it.  It was too big and too thin.   Today, there's nothing showing yet...

The 'Sangiovese Ameliore' lettuce and 'Cincinnati Market' radishes are splendid..... are the dwarf gray sugar peas.   It is alleged that they don't need a trellis, but I am unconvinced at this point.   Wait and see!  Happy gardening this week....