August 29, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Why preserve? Because you can

Anyone can do it, experts say, though they do encourage novices to start with something simple.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

This is the time of year gardeners and local foods enthusiasts have a lot of extra fruits and vegetables on their hands, and no idea what to do with it all.

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“One of the easiest and most popular recipes for first-time canners are jams,” says Jessica Piper, a home canning expert with Jarden Home Brands.

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Ball’s Home Canning Discovery Kit costs less than $10 and can be found at Shaw’s and Hannaford.

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RECIPES

MAPLE-VANILLA-PEACH JAM

(Excerpted from "Preserving with Pomona's Pectin" by Allison Carroll Duffy)

If I were to eat any jam by the spoonful (which I admit to doing, on occasion), this would be the one. I also love a big dollop of it on top of vanilla ice cream. It's great in baked goods, too -- as a filling for cookie bars, or even turnovers. The deep intensity of maple and vanilla, combined with the lusciousness of fresh peaches, is just heavenly.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN:

Prepare calcium water. To do this, combine 1/2 teaspoon calcium powder (in the small packet in your box of Pomona's pectin) with 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with a lid. Shake well. Extra calcium water may be stored in the refrigerator for future use.

Yield: 4 to 5 half-pint (8-ounce) jars

31/4 pounds fully ripe peaches (See tip below.)

1 vanilla bean

1/4 cup lemon juice

4 teaspoons calcium water

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

3 teaspoons Pomona's pectin powder

1. Wash your jars, lids and bands. Place jars in canner, fill canner 2/3 full with water, bring canner to a rolling boil and boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize. (Add 1 extra minute of sterilizing time for every 1000 feet above sea level.) Reduce heat and allow jars to remain in hot water until ready to use. Place lids in water in a small sauce pan, heat to a low simmer, and hold until ready to use.

2. Peel and remove pits from peaches, and then mash the peaches in a large bowl. (See tip below.)

3. Measure 4 cups of the mashed peaches (saving any extra for another use), and pour the measured amount into a saucepan. Using a paring knife, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds and the bean pod itself to the fruit, along with the lemon juice and calcium water. Mix well.

4. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup and pectin powder. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

5. Bring fruit to a full boil over high heat. Slowly add pectin--maple syrup mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once the jam returns to a full boil, remove it from the heat. Using tongs, carefully remove the vanilla bean pod from the jam and discard.

6. Can your jam: Remove jars from canner and ladle jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Remove trapped air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth, put on lids and screw bands and tighten to fingertip tight. Lower filled jars into canner, ensuring jars are not touching each other and are covered with at least 1 to 2 inches of water. Place lid on canner, return to a rolling boil, and process for 10 minutes. (Add 1 extra minute of processing time for every 1000 feet above sea level.) Turn off heat and allow canner to sit untouched for 5 minutes, then remove jars and allow to cool undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Confirm that jars have sealed, then store properly.

TIPS FOR PERFECT PEACHES:

• This recipe requires mashed peaches, so be sure that your peaches are fully ripe and soft enough to mash. If they're not, however, simply place peeled, pitted, chopped peaches in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Simmer for 5 minutes to soften them, and then mash. (There is no need to drain the water after cooking -- simply mash the peach mixture as is.)

• How to skin a peach: If you are dealing with a small quantity of fruit, slice off peach (or nectarine) skins with a paring knife (pitting and quartering the fruit first). However, if you're doubling the recipe and are working with a lot of fruit, you may want to blanch them to remove the skins instead. Simply drop peaches or nectarines one at a time into boiling water for about 30 to 60 seconds, then remove and immediately dunk in cold water. You should then be able to slip the skins right off.

BLUBARB JAM

(Excerpted from "Preserving with Pomona's Pectin" by Allison Carroll Duffy)

The combination of blueberries and rhubarb is less common than the typical strawberry-rhubarb pairing, but it really shouldn't be -- this lovely, deep blue jam is a delicious, tangy treat. This recipe was adapted from one by jam-maker Kirsten Jennings, who first tried it at a local restaurant and liked it so much that she figured out how to make it at home herself.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN:

Prepare calcium water. To do this, combine 1/2 teaspoon calcium powder (in the small packet in your box of Pomona's pectin) with 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with a lid. Shake well. Extra calcium water may be stored in the refrigerator for future use.

Yield: 4 to 5 half-pint jars

1 pound blueberries

1 pound trimmed rhubarb stalks

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons calcium water

11/4 cups sugar

21/2 teaspoons Pomona's pectin powder

1. Wash your jars, lids, and bands. Place jars in canner, fill canner 2/3 full with water, bring canner to a rolling boil and boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize them. (Add 1 extra minute of sterilizing time for every 1000 feet above sea level.) Reduce heat and allow jars to remain in hot canner water until ready to use. Place lids in water in a small sauce pan, heat to a low simmer and hold until ready to use.

2. Rinse blueberries, remove stems and mash in a large bowl. Set aside.

3. Rinse rhubarb, slice stalks lengthwise into thin strips and then dice. Combine diced rhubarb in a saucepan with the 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and then simmer, covered, for 5 minutes, or until rhubarb is soft, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and mash rhubarb.

4. Measure out 2 cups of the mashed blueberries and 2 cups of the mashed rhubarb (saving any extra for another use) and combine the measured quantities in a saucepan. Add lemon juice and the calcium water and mix well.

5. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and pectin powder. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

6. Bring fruit mixture to a full boil over high heat. Slowly add pectin sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once the jam returns to a full boil, remove it from the heat.

7. Can your jam: Remove jars from canner and ladle jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Remove trapped air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth, put on lids and screw bands and tighten to fingertip tight. Lower filled jars into canner, ensuring jars are not touching each other and are covered with at least 1 to 2 inches of water. Place lid on canner, return to a rolling boil and process for 10 minutes. (Add 1 extra minute of processing time for every 1000 feet above sea level.) Turn off heat and allow canner to sit untouched for 5 minutes, then remove jars and allow to cool undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Confirm that jars have sealed, then store properly.

You can substitute frozen berries for the fresh, and if you don't have a lot of time, this is a good option. Simply defrost the berries and then mash them as the recipe calls for. After defrosting, the berries will be in a lot of juice, but don't drain them -- simply incorporate all of the juice into the mashed berries.

RESOURCES

• University of Maine Cooperative Extension publishes extensive materials on food preservation and offers lots classes throughout the year. For written materials, a link to how-to videos, recipes and an extensive list of upcoming food-preservation classes, go to extension.umaine.edu/food-health/food-preservation.

• FreshPreserving.com -- This is Ball's website, and it contains a searchable recipe bank.

• canningcraft.com -- This is Allison Caroll Duffy's website.

• "Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving" by Judi Kingri and Lauren Devine-Hager (Robert Rose, $22.95).

• "Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving" (2009 revision) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (BN Publishing, $12.99). This book is re-issued every few years. Be sure to use a recent version so you have all of the latest recommendations for food safety.

– Compiled by Meredith Goad

One option, of course, is canning some of it, but if you've never done that before and don't have any of the equipment, it can seem like a daunting task -- and a little scary, because if you don't know what you're doing, there could be food safety issues.

I asked some canning experts for their advice for beginners. First of all, everyone agreed that if it's your first time, start with something simple, like a jam or a salsa.

"One of the easiest and most popular recipes for first-time canners are jams," said Jessica Piper, a home canning expert with Jarden Home Brands, the maker of Ball mason jars and other canning equipment. "Jams are simple because they utilize the best seasonal fruits to make a delicious, fresh recipe, without many steps, that can last all year. Pickles are also extremely popular. You can pickle a number of vegetables, not just cucumbers."

Jams and salsas are also considered easier because they are canned using the boiling water bath method, which is the most accessible way to start.

Boiling water bath canning is for high acid foods (most fruits, pickles, salsa, relish, dilly beans), and it uses inexpensive equipment, some of which you may already have around the house.

Pressure canning is used to preserve low-acid vegetables -- typically vegetables you are preserving on their own, without any added acid like vinegar or lemon juice (anything not pickled) -- and foods containing meat and dairy. A pressure canner can run $80 to $100.

"If you were just canning green beans by themselves, they would definitely have to go into a pressure canner," said Allison Carroll Duffy of Brunswick, a master food preserver and author of "Preserving with Pomona's Pectin" (Fair Winds Press, $21.99). "If you're making dilly beans, which has a lot of vinegar in it, they're considered high-acid and can be canned in a boiling water bath canner. So that's a key distinction, and it's a pretty important one for safety reasons, primarily because of the risk of botulism."

Start with fruits and vegetables that are in season, the experts say, and use a trusted recipe.

"Certain fruits you do need to add acid to, to make sure they are high enough acid, and also to make sure they gel properly," Duffy said. "So it is important to use a tested recipe, particularly when you're first starting out."

Kate McCarty, a master food preserver who teaches classes in food preservation for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, agrees. She said people who take her classes are often surprised to learn that federal guidelines recommend adding bottled lemon juice to tomatoes to ensure they are safe for canning.

"Grandma's recipe is fine for a pie or something," McCarty said, "but when we're talking about food safety and the potentially lethal growth of bacteria, it's kind of a different game."

So what equipment do you need if you're making jam or salsa?

BOILING WATER BATH CANNER: This is the biggest piece of equipment you'll need. You can buy one cheap, or you can use a large stockpot you already have in the kitchen, as long as you have a rack to go into the bottom of it.

"If you have a lobster or a corn steamer, those can be re-purposed as a canner because they already have a rack in the bottom, and they're usually nice and deep," McCarty said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Allison Carroll Duffy, author of “Preserving with “Pomona’s Pectin.”

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