Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Canning We Will Go - Making and Remaking Jellies

So Pizza Sauce was the earlier part of the week, finally finished and canned yesterday.

And these watermelons have been sitting on the counter, mocking me. As were the jars of Dandelion Jelly that never actually jelled.  So, time to get to it.

The day actually cooperated with me, so when I finally motivated, it had gone from a hot sunny day to nice cool cloud cover. And a decent breeze running through the house - prefect canning weather. Of course, anyone who has canned before KNOWS this is very much an exception to the rule - many a hot summer day is spent in the kitchen.

Making watermelon jelly is one of the messiest things ever - the truly messy part is cutting up and pulverizing the watermelon.  Juice was everywhere.  Now, I got the recipe from Food In Jars (that link will take you right to it), but before I started, I read all the comments.   So I upped the amount of pectin to a package and a half - or 9 tablespoons.

One of the challenges facing people who can at high altitudes is that you rarely reach the temperature suggested on the recipe.  None of mine would get past 200 degrees, and 220 is what it should be at. This is where the chilled saucer trick comes in handy.

What's the chilled saucer trick?  Put a saucer or shallow small bowl in the freezer.  When you think your jelly is getting ready to be canned, put about a teaspoon full on the saucer.  Stick it in the fridge.  If it is ready, it will not run when you tilt the saucer, it will get a skin on it, and it will stay separated when cut with a knife.
Or, if you are impatient like me, chill the saucer, put the jelly on it, and let sit for a few minutes on the counter. Then tilt the saucer, if it barely moves, and has that skin on it, and you can feel it's getting jelled when you run your finger through it, can that jelly up. (Don't forget to lick your finger after this test, quality assurance testing, after all!)  However, if it runs, either method, you need to cook more of the liquid out of it.

This method is really important with fruit jellies - the amount of moisture in the fruit can vary from batch to batch.  My standard rule of thumb is bring it to a boil, keep it boiling until it reaches at least 200, and turn it down just a touch so it's still boiling but not as hard - and cook for 10 minutes. Then test.  After each test, wash off your saucer, dry it, pop it back in the freezer.

The watermelon jelly does smell a bit odd when first cooking, but as it cools it gets a good flavor.  I ended up with 18 half pints, and one not quite full.  It comes out with a deep red color.  It is the middle stack with the funky jars.

So since the weather was cooperating and everything was out - time to remake the Dandelion Jelly.  I found the recipe in this book - "Preserving Wild Foods: A Modern Forager's Recipes for Curing, Canning, Smoking, and Pickling " by Matthew Weingarten and Raquel Pelzel.   A nice neighbor let me pick all the dandelions I wanted out of his yard, I spent another hour plucking the petals and so forth - a long process jelly that never jelled.  Arg.

So I got all the jars, opened them and dumped the contents into the pan, and started processing it all over again.  I added two more cups of sugar, 6 tablespoons of lemon juice, and another 6 tablespoons of pectin.

And I cooked it, and I cooked it, and I cooked it.  About two hours of cooking, just to get it to the jell point.  The book shows it as a light golden jelly - well, because of all the cooking time, it came out darker. And a LOT less than the original batch. nine half pints, four quarter pints, and a bit extra.  They're in the far left of the picture.

So far this year, that make the spicy red pepper jelly, a test batch of pear butter, the pizza sauce, watermelon jelly, and dandelion jelly.  I was hoping to do strawberry this next week, but due to the massive hailstorm the plains had, no strawberries to pick.  I will hit the farmer's market and wholesale warehouse to see what I can come up with.

Future canning - Palisade peaches, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, strawberry jam. If I can find a non flimsy looking pressure canner, the canning realm is wide open - corn, mixed veggies, even soups.  I'd rather have home made canned soup on my shelves than the stuff prepackaged anymore, and it will make life easier on us all.

A Canning We Will Go... Part One, Pizza Sauce

That's the haul posted above - originally eight half pint jars of Pizza Sauce (we ate one before it was canned), 18 half pint jars of Watermelon Jelly - plus a not quite full jar - and reprocessed the Dandelion Jelly and came up with nine half pints, four quarter pints and a quarter pint not quite full.

The Pizza Sauce I started days ago.  A year or so back, I froze a bunch of Roma  tomatoes, and they went nowhere.  Recently, I remembered that we'd made pizza sauce from Roma tomatoes in 2000. The house we were living in had a garden space, and several plants had volunteered over - leaving us with a ton of  lovely Roma tomatoes.  They just grew; I didn't do a thing to stop them, but I did pull a few of the bigger weeds.  For all I know, those plants are still growing there for the newest owners of that house.  Anyway, it was good stuff - so I got the tomatoes out.

Around here, recipes often go out of the window.  We modify and modify until it's right for us, not what the original chef intended it to be, mainly because so many recipes are just plain bland.  For example, the pizza sauce recipe.  It was a nice start, but I changed it.  So basically, there really is no recipe for the pizza sauce!

I started with the tomatoes - and tip for the day - frozen tomatoes are so easy to remove the skins from!  Anyone who has ever made a sauce or canned fresh tomatoes knows what I'm talking about.  Even dipping the tomatoes in boiling water and then into ice water doesn't always make that skin easy to get off.  But once you thaw the frozen tomatoes, the skin pretty much just slides off.  Yes, the tomatoes are mushy, but frozen ones should only be used for sauces anyway- they just will not retain any firmness.

So once the tomatoes were skinned and squished apart (easier to squish them in your hand than cut them - but beware any small cuts you didn't know you had!)  I brought the pot in, added a small amount of sugar, some salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, onions and garlic.  LOTS of garlic.  We even added more garlic later. And some more pepper.

And then cooking.  Cooking tomatoes down takes forever, and you want to do it over a medium heat so it doesn't burn.  After the first day of cooking, I put it in the fridge overnight, and then next day, ran it through a blender to chop up any of the stubborn bits and to help thoroughly mix the flavors.  This was pretty thin - almost right for a spaghetti sauce, but nowhere close to right for a pizza sauce.  So more cooking.  And then into the fridge overnight again.

Next day, back on the stove, and a few hours more cooking. And taste testing, mainly by others in the house, because I was having a bad reaction to the smoke from the fires in the state, and my nose? Plugged, messing with my tastebuds.  I finally considered it thick enough, but instead of canning it right away, we did the obvious thing to quality check - made pizza!

And consensus is - got it right.  Next step was to put it in jars.

Out of over 5 pounds of tomatoes, I ended up with seven half pints of pizza sauce. They're on the right hand side of that picture above.  Plus what was used on the pizza.  A lot of work for a small amount, but we'll appreciate it over the next year.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A View of a Summer Morning

The morning starts with a dog.  A pretty black dog with a low pitched whine, next to my ear.  So I get up and let the dog out, realizing the air is cool outside, but not as cool as the last several days.

Inside the house it is cold - the product of windows left open all night and very good insulation, but it makes the day hard to start.  And start some point it must.  A quick jaunt online brings the news that a bill you thought was due I'd already paid in advance without realizing it.

But today is trash day, so time to gather and get it outside.  Carrying the trash to the end of the drive, the day starts to wake me up.  Already the heat of the day is coming; the sun is beating down, making me realize that a change of clothes will be needed for any time spent outside today.

The air is sweet today - the scent of pine pollen is in the air, different than the scent of warm pine sap, different than the smell of a freshly cut tree.  The evidence of it is everywhere - cars red, blue and today, gold.  The smell of sage is everywhere as well, blending with the scents of the trees and the pollen and air washed clean by the past few days of rainstorms.   Buttercups glow a brilliant yellow in the middle of the yard.

A couple acres away is the song of the announcing chicken; amazing how clearly I can hear this girl telling of f a new egg, or how someone bugged her in the nesting box, or just the cry of pat attention to me.  I know my girls can hear it too; when the neighbor chickens announce, mine are all silent.  I wonder if it works the other way around?

I pass the pot of garlic, noting it is growing rapidly and check my tomato plants with their teeny tiny tomatoes.  It reminds me to check the level of the holding tank for the well and get the bags of frozen tomatoes out of the freezer.  Today is pizza sauce and jelly making day. So out on the table the tomatoes are thawing in the sun, the dogs are barking at every little noise, since it is one of those clear quiet days where all noises echo.

A large pot of white chicken chili has been removed from the fridge, waiting for me to put it in bags for the freezer so that I can use my large pot for the doings of the day.  A stack of towels await hemming.  The clean dishes seem to want to be put away. Sorting of household goods needs doing;p my son will marry soon and things of ours will be passed to their household.

But for the moment, I will enjoy the day.  In a few short weeks, I will be back to my job, and these moments of just sitting still will be few and far between for several months.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Things from the Past

This week, we went through a number of things belonging to my mother.  As some of you may know, she passed away at the end of 2010.  My father is making some changes in his life, and part of that is clearing out a lot of things.

Some of the interesting things found:

My very first piece of jewelry ever - this bakelite pin.  Once upon a time it was much more colorful, but time and age and, well, me wore it off.  I got it when I was so young, it took up a place in my mother's jewelry box and stayed there until this week.

Some fairly rare dolls - the tiny one is a china doll, as is the one on the far right. The middle doll is early plastic.  Alas, as I was wrapping the dolls up, the elastic on the far right one gave up, causing the arms to fall off.  At least it is easily repairable.  Not sure what to do for the plastic dollie - the connector is clearly broken off inside the doll.  For now, we shall leave it armless.

A lot of ribbons and embroidery thread and fabric.  My sister took the fabric this time, I took the ribbon. I love this dotted swiss from the 1940s-1950s.

A tin play teacup.  When I was little, we used to play with these at my grandparent's house; this is part of a set that originally belonged to my mother in the late 1940s.

An assortment of medallions and pins that belonged to my great aunt, my grandmother and my mother.  The Greek key is my great aunt's from her sorority, the 4H pin was my mother's.

Two rather unique pieces - the top is a seal that belonged to my great aunt. what makes it unique is the chain which is made out of woven grass.  The bottom necklace is made of seeds - the last whole one of a larger collection when I was younger.  Large beans, some red seed, and apple seeds.  Both of these are over 60 years old!

More dolls!  Some have felted or paper heads, the one missing a foot has the other foot made out of lead.  Those with hair have human hair on their heads.

A pincushion from my great grandmother, made of felt.  Likely from the 1920s or 30s.

A turn of the century costume jewelry ring.  The glass s a bit worse for wear, chipped and a few scratches, but still interesting.

These used to be bracelets of coins - the clasps taken off long ago.  Both my sister and I had a gypsy costume; these coins were pinned to a headscarf and draped over our foreheads. The other was attached at our waists.  We're not sure if they are real coins or not; daughter has claimed them and is looking them up.  My sister has taken the other.

Two enameled pins - not sure of their age.  All I know of them is that I've always thought they looked like doll house serving platters.

Two handmade sequin and felt pins, probably from the 1930s.  Likely made by my grandmother or great grandmother.

This box alone is interesting. I really like the old plastics; effort was made to make them look nice.

This necklace is singularly unattractive and very heavy, but was kept because of what was inside:

Now to find out who this was - and when.

The worry dolls! When I was little, I LOVED the worry dolls. Even though I was not supposed to, I often snuck in my parent's room and played with them.  Over the years, several were broken and/or lost, leaving only these few.  I know my mother had then for a very long time - the quality of the box and the detail on the dolls shows it.  Modern worry dolls are much different, and a cheaper box.

Other things were found - photos, including my great grandmother on my grandma's side, my uncle as a baby, standard family photos with droll commentary written by my uncle on the back, all the way through school photos of my sister and I in the 70s - ack.  A collection of letters from my uncle to my mother when she was a little girl and he was in the military.  But we'll save all of that for another day.  No need to blind anyone.

Follow up on "It Came From the Shed"

It was grape jelly, well past any salvation.  But now I have jars!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"It Came From The Shed"

A few weeks ago, rummaging around, I found some rather old boxes of canning jars in the shed. The roof had leaked on them, the boxes were nasty, so I stole away about 9 half pints that were empty, took them in and washed them.  But that left several jars with some unnamed crud in them - labels gone, rings rusty and I waiting until today to go after those jars - I want to make some dandelion apple jelly!

So I posted on our Facebook page (do feel free to join it if you haven't already, BTW!) that I was going after the jars as soon as the clouds cleared. I jokingly asked if people wanted pictures, and actually got some yeses!  So while the clouds never did clear, I went out after these jars - and here's the pics.

Tools gathered - bucket with soapy bleach water, trash,. can opener.

The boxes in the garage:

Yep, that's dried mold. Yep, I wore gloves.

The mystery jars.

What was in the mystery jars - it was purplish-brown, runny, and had this residue in the bottom.  The jars were still fully sealed, the rings were tight but rusted, so I threw out the rings as well.  As I emptied each jar into the trash, it went straight in the bucket of soapy bleach water.

No mold, no odd spores, so I took the chance and smelled one.  Now I know what it was - these jars date from 1999!  Let's see if you can guess - I'll reveal it later.

So the jars got washed in the yard, and are now in the sink doing another soak.  I regained 12 quarter pints, and 7 half pints.

Amber - of my longer time friends and a follower on Facebook, told me this:   

"Don't do it!!!!!! I watched a horror movie as a kid in the early 70's that had jars with an unknown substance in them. As the jars were opened things happened to the people!!!! I remember this movie to this day! I could not been more than 5 at the time!"

Well, that led to this:

Don't worry, that's not sludge from the jar, that's meat marinade - closest we could find in color... the first jar is a jar of pear butter I made a couple weeks ago.

My daughter is a good sport, even if she couldn't stop laughing when I was trying to take the picture.

So, what do you think the stuff from the shed was?