Tag Archives: preserving

Grainews: First We Eat: Patience, and Please Pass the Marmalade

Grainews

My eldest son and I were out for lunch with my elderly mother yesterday, all of us slurping pho at my son’s favourite noodle joint. Mom is recently widowed. “Your father’s mind was like a laser,” she said, “and mine is set on real-time motion.” I glanced at my son with a sudden flash of insight: he and I are both quick-witted, and notoriously impatient with people whose mental functions take a second longer to hit send. Dad had been frustrated with most people all his life: was this revelation of his mind-set part of the reason behind that frustration?

My dad was an electrician-turned-farmer who should have spent his life designing airplanes and bridges: late in life he designed and stitched together multi-dimensional containers and holders of all sorts from fabric – saddlebags, knife kits, tool wraps – and seemed most himself while drafting and building prototypes for some new idea. I wondered about my paternal grandfather, Bill. He had designed tapestries for LaFrance Textiles, combining mathematics with an artist’s aesthetic. I hadn’t known him: had he too been quick-witted and short-tempered? No, my mom responded – my grandfather had been a quiet, soft-spoken man, long on thinking and short on words, but invariably patient.

We spent the rest of the afternoon completing Mom’s city errands with her, and my son was careful and attentive, shortening his long stride to match Mom’s hesitant walk, giving her his arm for support.

Three decades ago, my friend Phyllis gave me a sampler she had embroidered. It shows a cannon blasting one word – “NOW” – below the line, “Please grant me patience”. How well she knew me! That sampler has adorned my office all these years, and poems have been written about my shortage of this particular attribute.

But I can tell you that although I have learned patience, my innate nature is still to get ‘er done quick-like. Like my son, I have learned to adapt my pace when I am in companionship with someone else whose life is wired at a different speed. But I can still hear that cannon ball explode in my head: “NOW!”

Cooking, quilting and childrearing do teach a human being patience. All three involve transformation that takes place over time.  At this time of year, making marmalade is a classic example of that transformation and the varying degrees of patience it requires.

Purists will choose bumpy bitter Seville oranges from Spain to make into marmalade, but grocery stores in the small city I live close to mostly don’t stock Seville oranges when citrus season rolls around, so I have learned to make marmalade from other citrus, solo or as blends – although I always add lemon juice and zest to help set the natural pectin present in citrus.

Purists may also peel the fruit, separate the segments from the membranes that divide them, and squeeze out all the juices from the membranes before wrapping them in cheesecloth with any pits. The pits and membrane will go into the pot with the chopped peel and segments, but get fished out for discard near the end; the resulting marmalade will be sparkling-clear. I have done this from time to time, but  if you want, you can skip a couple steps, as I mostly do, and simply cut up the oranges and cook them. Like me, you will end up with marmalade that is not clear but cloudy. The good news is that it tastes just as good no matter how long or short on patience you are. As for Mom, neither she nor my eldest son make or eat marmalade. (Whenever I made it in the past it was strictly for me and Dad.) So first we eat, and then we can debate the merits of clarity versus obfuscation. Oh yeah, and patience too.

Marmalade

Mix up the types of citrus depending on availability, your palate and preferences.  I am partial to grapefruit in the mix.

This makes 8-10 half pint (8 oz.) jars

2 lb. oranges (Seville, blood, navel, tangerines)

1 lemon, zest and juice

6 cups water

4 lb. white sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, paste scraped out and reserved

Slice the oranges thinly, then quarter them. Combine the oranges, lemon juice and zest, water and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then add the halved vanilla bean and paste. Cook the mixture over medium high heat until it reaches 223 F on a candy thermometer. Alternatively, check for set by placing several small saucers in the freezer: spoon a bit of marmalade onto one plate and wait to see if it congeals. If it stays loose and runny, keep cooking the marmalade. Once the marmalade is thickened, ladle it into sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath.

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Grainews: First We Eat: Preserves

Whenever one of my sons visits, he invariably rummages through the fridge, hunting for a jar of beet pickles or dills. When he finds it, he devours half of its contents. It’s been that way for years: I am the Condiment Queen. My pantry – and my sons’ – are full of preserves, mostly homemade. They are made with personalized flavours, from ingredients I can trust, and I know they are carefully made and safe to eat. And delicious.

Canning invokes more science than most people realize. Here’s what you need to know.

Preservatives:

Salt: If you reduce salt, the salt in the cucumber migrates into the not-quite-salty-enough brine, causing soft pickles. (I warned you about the science…) AND reduced salt can lead to spoilage due to micro-organisms. So do not adjust the recipe’s salt content.

Sugar plays a role in preventing spoilage too. Do not alter it.

Use pickling or apple cider vinegar with an acidity of 5% to eliminate any risk of botulism. In fermented pickles (see below), too brief a brining time makes vinegar cloudy as liquid seeps out of the vegetables.

Get the freshest vegetables and process them promptly.

Processes:

* Old-fashioned processed pickles (sauerkraut, dills and kimchi) are made by a slow process of brine fermentation, whereby the bacteria in the vegetables reduce the sugars present. This takes 3-5 weeks in a large crock.

* Fresh-packed pickles are made by covering raw or cooked vegetables with hot brine or syrup, then pasteurizing in a boiling water bath to kill bacteria.

* Refrigerated pickles are made by placing raw vegetables in a flavoured brine and refrigerating them. Even unopened jars must be kept refrigerated.

* Relishes are made from chopped fruits and vegetables, seasoned and simmered in sweet or tart brine. Chutneys are fruit-based relishes, simultaneously sweet, tart and hot.

Of course you can buy Pickling Spice, but self-made means better flavours. Use whole spices. For about 1 cup, mix 1 T. each allspice berries, black peppercorns, green cardamom (optional), celery seeds, cloves, coriander seeds and mustard seeds. Add 30 crumbled bay leaves, 4 broken cinnamon sticks, and 10-15 crumbled red chilies. Mix together and store in an airtight jar.

Use a boiling water bath to preserve your canned goods, and a pressure canner for low-acid vegetables and proteins to prevent botulism.

Sterilize jars, tongs, rings. Simmer flip lids for 5 minutes to soften the sealing compound on the inner edge.

Use canning jars, wide-mouth canning tongs, wide-mouthed funnel; a chopstick to position foods and remove air pockets.

“Headroom” refers to the space in the jar that is left unfilled. Overfilled jars do not seal; underfilled jars take too long to force out all the air left inside. Rule of thumb: 1/4″ for 8-ounce jars, 1/2″ for everything larger.

Use a clean damp cloth to wipe the rim after you fill the jar. Tighten ring to fingertight.

Return full jars to water at least 1” deeper than the jars in a single layer on a metal rack for processing. Cover the pot and start timing when the water boils. Average processing times at sea level: 15 minutes for half-pint jars; 25 minutes for pint jars; 30 minutes for quart. Add ten minutes for altitudes above 3,000 feet.

Cool jars on a cloth away from drafts. Check for a seal: the top of the lid should not move, should be slightly concave, and should ring clearly when you tap it. As the jars cool there will be an audible ping as each lid seals.

I told you there’d be a lot of science. There is more to discuss, but first we eat.

 

Chili Cha Cha

The recipe for this chili sauce is at least four generations old, handed down from the Southern Ontario branch of my family tree. For concentrated, clear flavours, put the pickling spice directly into the mix, but warn people to beware of crunchy peppercorns and cloves!

Yield: 8-10 pints

24 c. quartered Roma tomatoes

6 c. finely diced celery

6 c. finely minced onions

1/2 c. pickling salt

4 c. white sugar

2 c. apple cider vinegar

½ c. pickling spice

3 red bell peppers, seeded and finely diced

Combine the tomatoes, celery, onions and pickling salt in a large stainless or glass bowl. Let the mixture stand on the counter all day. In the evening, transfer the vegetables into a large colander or strainer with a bowl beneath it to catch the drips. Cover and drain overnight. Next day, discard the liquid.

Dump the vegetables into a shallow heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer to sauce-like in consistency, about 20-35 minutes. Stir regularly. Ladle into jars and process.

 

 

 

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Grainews: First We Eat: The Lake

Grainews

Dave is mourning the passing of the lake that almost surrounded our house for seven years. It covered fifteen acres at its peak, in fact a large slough, but ‘lake’ dignified what was a difficult situation. And now he mourns its loss.

Our lake arrived suddenly and unannounced in April 2011 with the flood that inundated much of the province of Saskatchewan. We’d been in residence at what we’d named Dogpatch for less than a year, and we didn’t yet have a sense of the strategies that any resident of an old house in a rural setting can tell you are de rigueur.

We went from dryland to nearly drowned within a week, as the winter’s large snowmelt met an unexpectedly high water table, gift of a very wet summer and fall. Water over a meter deep in places covered the low-lying driveway, swamped the fields south, west and east of the yard, drowned the contents of the pole barn, and knocked at the house, lapping twenty feet from the front door.

Fortuitously, our cars were parked at the outside edge of our long driveway – that half-kilometer now an impassable stretch of water – so we did have wheels once we reached the road. But getting in and out was interesting. Our good neighbours, Ken and Sharon, did us the biggest in a long list of helping hands over the years, and gave us the use of an ATV.

For almost a year, as we awaited the rebuilding of our flooded road, we splashed through the adjacent field on board the ATV, hauling in groceries, computer parts and paper, dog food, kitty litter, wine, beer. On a dark, cold or rainy night, surrounded by mosquitoes, there was nothing pleasurable about that trip except for its end – and the carolling of the coyotes a few hundred meters away.

Eventually, in an amazing feat of winter engineering, the driveway was built up into a causeway, with front-end loaders breaking through meter-thick ice to build the foundation. A berm went up around the house as well, burying the well-tended garden beneath its protective shoulders.

But outweighing all these challenges was the sheer beauty of the new ecology that engulfed our land. Shore birds, water birds, boreal tree frogs, cattails, bullrushes, black snails, muskrats, dragonflies – we were suddenly in a birder’s paradise. On my daily walks, I learned to identify a dozen species of water fowl, among them grebes, coots, canvasbacks, teals, pintails, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, and mergansers; and shore birds that included avocets and killdeer by the dozen. Occasionally a blue heron or pelican showed up, and Canada geese by the multitude.

We were forewarned. Within weeks of the lake’s arrival, I’d called Trevor Herriot, a Saskatchewan naturalist. “Lakes come and go on the prairie,” he said. “In eight or ten years, it’ll be gone again.”

Sure enough, it’s gone. But the raised beds we built after the garden drowned have borne a wondrous crop. And for that, and for the memory of all those birds, we are grateful. So before embarking on our annual autumn yard cleanup, first we eat – new-crop vegetables made into pickles as addictive as any dessert.

Shon’s Jardineria

The best pickles ever, from my Eastend friend Shon Profit’s prodigious kitchen. Hot-packing and stuffing the full jars into the fridge without processing makes a crisp pickle with a dense bite. Processing softens the end result somewhat. Yield: 2 x 2 L + 8 pints

Brine:

5 c. white vinegar

5 c. rice wine vinegar

10 c. water

¾ c. salt

1 c. white sugar

¾ t. ground turmeric

Dry spice:

for 2 L jar:                                                       for 1 pint jar:

1 T coriander                                                   ½ t. coriander

1 T mustard seed                                             ½ t. mustard seed

1 T cumin seed                                                ½ t. cumin seed

1 t. fennel seed                                                1/8 t. fennel seed

1 T. peppercorns                                              ½ t. peppercorns

½ t. hot chilli flakes                                        a pinch hot chilli flakes

Seasonings [in each 2 L jar; reduce amount to taste for pints]:

1 lime, rind in strips, flesh in 1/8s

1-2 whole hot peppers

6 peeled garlic cloves

6 batons ginger root cut in narrow strips 3” long

Your choice of raw vegetables [cut in batons to length]:

carrots in several colours

zucchini in 2 colours

beans in several colours

cauliflower florets

white/yellow & purple onion wedges

Bring brine to boil & keep hot. Measure spices into hot sterile jars. Drop in seasonings. Pack in vegetables, softest textures first, packing with a pair of chopsticks for a tidy vertical look. Add carrots last to line outside and fill gaps. Either refrigerate for 4-6 weeks before eating or process in canner.

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