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How the Local Government Forced Me To Be An Artist

So I wanted to share a bit of the process that I went through to come up with my designs.

I love Mason jars with every fiber of my being. I was really trying to sell my canned jams, jellies, pickles etc. However after about two months of investigating I found out that the local government was interested in charging me approximately $900-$1200 in application fees, inspection fees, that fee and this fee. Then I would need to rent commercial kitchen space by the hour, and not only do all my prep work and processing there, but purchase separate equipment (knife, cutting board, canner, etc) to keep there….which requires storage fees. This would run upwards of $300 a month. And I haven’t even purchased jars, fruit, sugar, and pectin yet. As a side business it was not feasible financially. The alternative? Give my recipes to a processor and pay them to make my stuff. Uh, no. Making it is 2/3 of the fun.

Needless to say I was pretty disappointed. A bunch of nanny government rules and fees preventing me from doing something so simple. Unfortunately the cottage food law here only covers cakes, cookies, and breads and doesn’t allow for jams and pickles like Texas’ does.

But I’m an idea man. And I’ve never let a little thing like bureaucracy stop me. So I decided I’d try my hand at selling mason jar related things. My community has several farmers markets and a monthly art walk downtown. My thought was maybe I can get a table and sell mason jar soap dispensers and “sippy cups.” But that wasnt really enough, and certainly wouldn’t suffice for an art walk.

I’ve never fancied myself a very artistic person, and generally anything that I draw turns out looking like an eight-year-old did it. So I thought maybe I could buy really cool mason jar art in Etsy (there’s a ton of amazing water colors!) and resell it. But the art walk folks don’t just want art whole sellers, they want artists. And, a lot of the printed stuff is of the 4 public domain jar designs floating around. Boring. So I had to think some more.

Now, I remembered carving in linoleum blocks way back in junior high school, and enjoying that very much. I thought if revisit that. I grabbed a lino block kit from Hobby Lobby and brought it home. After my family went to bed (I work shift work, they don’t) I grabbed a beer, a mason jar, my block and a pencil. I sat at the table and willed the jar on to the block. I’d sketch and erase, sketch and erase, over and over. Until finally I came up with this:

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Hmm, not horrible, I guess. So I grabbed the carving knife, and another beer, and 3 hours later I wound up with this:

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20130109-204101.jpgNot too shabby. I posted pics on Facebook and Instagram and got some decent feedback. So I thought I’d try some more.

The 2nd night I sketched out jars had stuff in them. I clicked around online for inspiration since shading and reflection are important, and yet confusing when you’re cutting in negative. I wound up with this (pencil in the left, Sharpie on the right):

20130109-204337.jpgThis took longer to carve out, since there was more detail. But eventually I got this:

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20130109-204522.jpg I like this one because no one, not even I, know what’s in the jar. I’ve heard people say “I love the olives.” Or “those cherries look good” Who knows? Maybe they’re just marbles.

But together the two stamps gave me hope that maybe I’m not destined for failure.

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Now, my goal was to make one a night for as long as I could. The third night I grabbed more beer, more music, and I sat down to another blank canvas. This time I wanted a larger quart jar, as realistic as I could get it. So I sketched, and erased, and sketched some more. I wound up here:

20130109-205020.jpgI’m pretty proud of that one. For a guy that can’t draw, paint, or take good photographs I was feeling pretty good. Due to the number if letters and fine detail this took me two days to draw and cut. But eventually the block and stamp were done.

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While I spent my night whittling away on blocks, I spent my day’s learning how to screenprint. I read a bunch of blogs online, talked to some friends with experience, and even borrowed a simple set up from a friend of mine. I also started setting up an Etsy store. I basically got everything on the website established except for items to sell, and did not make the store go live yet.

Over the next two days I printed my stamps on paper, scanned the image, printed it on a transparency, added one of my favorite canning phrases, and burned my own screens. Then I started printing.

I made towels:

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Bags and backpacks:

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And some shirts:

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I took some of my towels and bags down to a local antique store where I took pictures of them with a more appropriate setting. And with that I “opened my store.”

It’s the American dream, right? I think the best part for me is that I’m not dependent on the income. In fact, I’m likely to spend any money I make on more jars, more fruit, more sugar and pectin, and more things to screen print. That’s an important part for me. This has to stay fun. I don’t want to get to the point where I feel like this is something I have to do but rather something I want to do. So, we’ll see how it goes. I’ve had decent success so far and have filled a handful of orders.

Last night I took a break from screenprinting everything and picked up another block and pencil. I’ve already done three different types of jars and I wanted to mix it up. So I decided to add some still life around the jar. After a couple hours of sketching and cutting, I came up with this:

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I haven’t burned this image into a screen yet, and haven’t decided whether or not I will. Although a couple of my friends say that they really enjoy this one. I think cutting the woodblocks is at least half of the entertainment for me. Really it comes down to having 2 to 3 hours at night where I can just relax and wind down, knock back a couple beers, listen to some light music, and cut chunks out of blocks. And right now, that works for me.

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If you’re interested in anything here, the link to my shop is etsy.com/shop/MasonJarsMixingBowls

If you have any ideas for wood block cuts I’d love to hear them. And if you have anything to share, positive or negative, about the ones I’ve already done I’d love to hear that too.

Happy canning.

About these ads

I’ve entered the screenprinting business. Here’s a link to my Mason Jar related Etsy Store MasonJarsMixingBowls

I’ve entered the screenprinting business. Here’s a link to my Mason Jar related Etsy Store MasonJarsMixingBowls

I promise my followers that I’m not going to spam you guys with a bunch of Etsy links from here on out.  But I’m kind of excited.  I decided to sketch some mason jar designs on linoleum blocks, carve them out, make stamps, turn those stamps in to silk screens, and then print some towels, shirts, bags, and things.  So, if you’re in to canning, pickling, mason jars, and cooking (which you are if you’re reading my blog) why not swing by to see if you see something you like.  Everything is crafted with the same amount of care that I put in to my canning.   I’m mason jar obsessed and this is just another part of the adventure.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

As the wife left for the gym she told me to make dinner, using the whole chicken that was in the fridge. As I pulled the chicken from the refrigerator I opened up the vegetable drawer to figure out what else we might have with it. I found a parsnip, three beets, a bag of carrots, some fennel and a bag of potatoes. Seemed like it was going to be chicken and root vegetables for dinner. I decided to throw together a recipe based loosely on portions of the recipe that I use for my Thanksgiving turkey, recipes that I had previously used for roast chicken, as well as some recipes that my wife uses for side dishes. It was very successful so I thought I would share it.

Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables
1 Whole Chicken
1 Parsnip
3 Beets
5 Carrots
1 Head Fennel
5-10 small potatoes
Rosemary
Garlic
Thyme
Olive Oil
Salt And Pepper

I go from the chicken to seasonings to vegetables and back throughout this recipe. I also washed my hands about 12 times. Remember not to cross contaminate.

Oven to 475.

Rinse the chicken, remove the neck and gibblets, and pat dry with a paper towel.

Salt and pepper the cavity. Crush 4 cloves of garlic with the edge of your knife. Throw the garlic in the cavity along with 2-3 sprigs of thyme and rosemary. I found myself short of fresh thyme, so I used dried but in the future I’d use fresh.

Drizzle olive oil on the bird and rub to coat. Like a little chicken back rub. Season the exterior liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. And I do mean liberally. My bird looked as sparkly as a Liberace costume when I was done.

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Now we’re going to get all trussed up with no where to go. Have you ever trussed a chicken? It’s not difficult if you can tie shoes.

Put the chicken breast side up, legs pointed toward you. Grab a length of butcher’s twine. I usually go for about 2-3 feet so I don’t end up short. Hold the ends up to find the halfway point. Put the center of the twine under what I would call the shoulders of the bird and run it up on top of the wings.

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Bring the twine over the legs against the rib cage. Under the end of the rib cage cross the twine and cinch it up. (taking this picture was not easy)

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Move the legs in tight, cross the twine again, and wrap it around the legs just behind the knuckles. I pull the twine tight, cross it, and wrap the legs again. Tie a bow, tuck the wing tips under the body, and you’re done.

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Set the chicken aside and get ready to prep vegetables. I do it in this order because it gives the chicken more time to get to room temperature, which provides for more even cooking.

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I peeled the parsnip and beets, but everything else was just washed. Chopping vegetables is easy. My end goal was just to have approximately 1″ pieces. Put all the vegetables in a baking dish. Drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper and then toss by hand.
The beet stains on the parsnips reminded me a bit of bananas in strawberry syrup.

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Place the chicken right on top of the vegetables.

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Throw it in the oven and set a timer for 25 minutes. This makes the skin fabulously crispy. Then drop the heat to 400 and set the time for another 45 minutes. The deepest part of the thigh should be 160 degrees.

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Cut and remove the twine before serving.

Just a note. The beets either steamed or leeched into the bird, causing the fluid in the cavity to look exactly like blood. It freaked me out. The chicken appeared done, the temp was right, and the fluids coming from the joints were clear. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened.

The end result was chicken skin so deliciously salty and crispy that I would have eaten it like a bag of chips given the opportunity, meat that was moist and flavorful, and a variety of vegetables that were cooked perfectly and paired great with the chicken. I served it with Odessa’s Cranberry Sauce that you can find in its own post from last year. And the whole meal was fantastic.

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I wanted to put a joke about a fun guy in the title.

Once again I was lured in by the siren song of cheap prices. While picking up some strawberries for strawberry black pepper jam (recipe to follow in another post) I found mushrooms for $.10 a package. The 8 ounce packages that I think are usually around $1.99 each were on clearance for $.10 apiece. I looked the packages over, and while they definitely had some brown spots on them I did not see any mold or anything that looked so horrific that they were unusable. Unable to contain my excitement I quickly grabbed two flats and stacked 30 packages on them.

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Arriving at home the first thing I did was to fill my sink with water and a little bit of ice to cool it down. I cut the packages open and dropped the mushrooms into the sink. Then I used my hands to bump them up and down in the water. That got most of the dirt off of them. I used the sprayer function on my faucet nozzle to rinse them off.

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Then I took the mushrooms out one at a time. I cut off the bottom quarter inch of the stem as well as any brown spots that did not look good. All in all I think I only threw out 15 mushrooms. Most of them were good to go. Some of them had soft slimy spots that I sliced off. It turns out that 15 pounds of mushrooms will fill two 16 quart stock pots.

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At this point my wife made the mistake of walking into the kitchen. I quickly put her to task on this next part. We took each mushroom and sliced it. The smaller mushrooms with only 3 to 4 slices each. The larger would be 6 or more. I tried not to make the slices too thin knowing very well that they would cook down quite a bit.

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The mushrooms need to cook in water. I filled the pot with mushrooms and then added water. The problem is the mushrooms float and it was hard to keep them below the surface. I heated the water to boil, then reduce the heat and cook them for five minutes. After five minutes the color had darkened and they had turned slightly translucent.

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I filled the jars with the mushrooms. This is the part that blew my mind. Such great volume of sliced mushrooms reduced down and down and down in size. By the time I was done I only filled nine pint jars. Is next part was a little tricky if you have sensitive fingers. I swear mine don’t feel heat anymore. I drained the liquid that they had been cooking in out of the jars. Then I added fresh clean boiled water up to the 1 inch headspace. I placed a ring and lid on each and was prepared to process them.

This is when the closest thing to catastrophe struck my kitchen. The weighted regulator for my pressure cooker was missing. I searched high and low in every spot that I would put it, everyplace my wife would put it, and any place I thought my kids might have hidden it. But it was to no avail. About 30 minutes later I conceded that I would not be processing the mushrooms tonight. I placed the jars in the fridge so that they wouldn’t be a complete waste and went to bed. The next day I ran to a hardware store bright and early and bought a new regulator.

Reprocessing food is not the end of the world it’s just labor-intensive. First off all the lids on the jars were trash now as the sealing compound had already softened on the hot jars yesterday. The contents of the jars was emptied back into a pot and slowly brought up to boil. I let it simmer for a couple minutes to make sure that everything was heated through. And then I refilled clean jars. If you ever processed something and the lids don’t seal right, this is the correct method for reprocessing the food. Same thing happens if you have an emergency come up and you can’t get things into a processor before you have to walk away from them. Throw them in the refrigerator to store them safely and then repeat them the next opportunity that you get.

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The jars replaced in a pressure canner and heated at 11 pounds for 45 minutes. If you aren’t familiar with the process, you put 2 to 4 inches of water in the canner, put the jars inside, and put the lid on. Turn the heat on with the weighted regulator off. When steam starts purging through the regulator vent set the timer for 10 minutes. That little event should look like an old-fashioned locomotive pouring steam out. This ensures that all the cold air is purged out of the pressure cooker and the entire content is filled with water and steam. After 10 minutes put your weighted regulator on and watch the pressure rise. When it gets to the desired pounds reduce your heat to find that magic spot that keeps it at the number that you need. For me an exact medium keeps it at 11 pounds. That is the time that you start your processing timer. At sea level for mushrooms in pints it was 45 minutes. After 45 minutes turn the heat off on the burner and do nothing else. Moving the canner could cause the temperature to drop to rapidly and a rapid drop in temperature will cause your jars to purge. That will result in a pressure cooker full of glass jars and horrible mushroom soup.

After the pressure drops to zero remove the regulator to make sure no steam remains inside and slowly and carefully remove the lid. Allow the jars to remain in the processor just a little bit longer so they continue to cool slowly. If you have the time and don’t need the processor for anything else just leave them out overnight and return to them the next day when they are cool. Be aware that pressure process jars stay hot for an extremely long time. Jar lifters will still be needed to move them.

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Allow the jars to sit undisturbed for 24 hours so the lids sealed correctly. You now have shelfstable mushrooms for the next two years. As I said my 15 pounds of mushrooms turned into less than 9 pint jars by the time everything was said and done. That’s approximately 2 pounds of mushrooms per jar. I ended up with one failure due to a lid not sealing correctly but those aren’t bad dogs for all of the processing that I do. If you have one jar that doesn’t seal and you do not want to reprocess it just put it in the refrigerator and use it within next week or two.

These cooked mushrooms would make a great addition to any marinara or other pasta sauce, as well as for use in casseroles or chicken dishes.

I decided to make the family chicken Marsala that night because that recipe is always much easier than I remember.

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This was one of the more labor intensive and frustrating projects that I’ve done since getting into canning. I still insisted at $.20 a pound it was probably worth it long-term. However I would make sure to grant myself the time to get this done.

Speed Jamming

So after realizing what an amazing deal the pineapples were and how easy they were to can, I returned to Superstition Ranch Market to pick up some more for $.69. I called ahead to make sure they were on sale. By the time I got there they had 14 left. That’s it. I grabbed 10 of them and threw them in a box. They were very soft, for a pineapple, and a little wet on the outside. But I knew I was using them tonight. I also grabbed another flat of strawberries for $.33 a pound, knowing that this might be the last time I do strawberries this year. Walking through, I saw blackberries at $.50 per 6oz, which isn’t the greatest deal I’ve seen, but is still an excellent price. I grabbed another flat.

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I’m finally getting the hang of formulating a game plan before I start. I came home and decided what jam I was making tonight, as well as what I was going to can. First thing I did was get all of my jars ready. The jars were opened, lids and rings stacked separately, and jars aligned to the left hand side of my stove.

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Then I prepped all my fruit. I cut the tops and bottoms off the pineapple, peeled it, removed the core, and chopped them into chunks. I simmered the pineapple in the simple syrup as I prepped the berries. I cut the hulls off of the strawberries and threw them in a bowl.

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That’s when I realized I was out of pectin. I put the quarts of pineapple in the processor, set the timer, and ran to the grocery store. When I came back the pineapple was removed and I set in on the jam.

I ran the strawberries through a food processor. Recently I have found this is faster than smooshing them down with a potato masher. I run about a quart and a half of strawberries each batch. I pulsed the food processor in quarter to half second bursts. You do not want to liquefy the strawberries, just break them down in size. If you need to, err on the size of too big rather than too small. As the strawberries will break down further as they cook.

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I also use the potato masher on the fruit from approximately 1 1/2 to 2 pineapples to make the “crushed pineapple” for the jam.

First up, Strawberry Pineapple Jam.
2 C Pineapple
2 C Strawberries
1 Package Pectin
4 C Sugar

I’m not going to give instructions on every recipe that I post on here for jam. Jam is jam. The ingredient list is what changes, the process stays consistent from time to time. If this is your first time making jam and you need to find out how, browse back until you find my strawberry lemon jam recipe which gives you explicit step-by-step directions.

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I managed to score a sous chef tonight. While I was working on my first batch of strawberry pineapple jam, my son was busy mushing up blackberries with the kitchen aid food mill. This is hands down his favorite job to do in the kitchen. I swear he gets more joy about shoving little blackberries to their death and he does doing anything else. And I really appreciated having the extra set of hands tonight.

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So this is the part with my time-saving process. I have all my fruit ready to go, pectin and sugar sitting on the countertop, jars are open and ready to go, waterbath processor boiling at a full, and another pot ready to be filled with fruit.

I start with the first batch. Fruit and pectin in, bring it to a boil, add the sugar, bring it to a boil, and fill the jars. The dirty pot, ladle, funnel, and whisk immediately go into the sink and get filled with the hottest water my sink can muster. As that is happening I return to the full jars, put a lid and ring on each, and place them in the water bath. Now I have just 10 minutes to get my next batch done.

I wash the pot and accessories and return it to the stove that is still hot. I measure out four more cups of fruit, and four more cups of sugar. Fruit and pectin go in the pot and are heated to a boil, then the sugar is added and it is brought to a boil again. This is right about the 6 to 7 minute mark. After boiling for a full minute I remove it from the heat and start filling the jars. Usually the timer on the first batch goes off as I’m filling the first couple jars of the second batch. I take a timeout from filling the jars and remove the first batch from the water, placing them to the right of my stove on a dishtowel. As soon as the jars of the second batch are full the pot and accessories go back in the sink full of hot water, rings and lids are placed on the second batch and they are placed in the water bath processor. And then I move onto my third batch.

I don’t have the timing down perfect yet. It seems that about the fourth batch I’m running just a little bit late. Right after I pour the sugar in my fruit, the batch in the water is ready to be removed. I find myself stirring hot jam with my left hand while removing jars from the water bath with my right. It’s precarious, and I’ll admit I have my fair share of scars on my wrists, but I wear them with pride.

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If I prep my fruit for each batch of jam as I go along it is taking me approximately 25 to 35 minutes per batch. That is still a pretty good time. If I take 20 to 30 minutes to prep all of my fruit ahead of time I can now do one batch every 10 minutes…I guess 11 to be perfectly honest about it. That to me is a satisfying time.

As I finished up the strawberry pineapple jam, my son was done with the blackberries. The third batch turned into blackberry jam.

Blackberry Jam
5 C Blackberries (through a foodmill, not whole)
1 Package Pectin
7 C Sugar

On the fourth batch I found myself short of strawberries, short of pineapple, and short of blackberries. This is where I love making jam. Because so many fruits just naturally go together. The last batch was a near even mixture of strawberries and blackberries.

Strawberry Blackberry Jam
3 C Blackberries
2 C Strawberries
1 Package Pectin
6 C Sugar

The last of the pineapple was wrapped up to be put in yogurt the rest of the week.

Just over three hours later I have 6 quarts and 3 pints of canned pineapple, 18 half pints of strawberry pineapple jam, ten half pints of blackberry jam, 2 pints and 6 half pints of strawberry blackberry jam. Adding this together with Tuesday’s production I managed to make 90 half pints of jam and 3 gallons of canned pineapple in about 7 hours. I’m pretty happy with that.

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I definitely think that prepping your fruit ahead of time is the way to go. Make sure that you have enough jars and pectin to supply what you want to make, and get everything laid out on the countertop. If you are organized and dedicated you can really go through six batches of jam in an hour. If each batch yields 8 to 12 jars, that’s can you keep you well-suited for a while.

Now I need to find time to get to those 8 pounds of pears that are mocking me from the refrigerator….

Easy As Pineapple

This week I canned my first batch of pineapple. It was pretty much the easiest thing ever. But I thought I would make a post in case you are like me, and love step-by-step directions with pictures attached.

I found myself at Superstition Ranch Market again this week and they had pineapples on sale for $.69 apiece. I picked up four of them.

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Start by cutting off the top and the bottom of the pineapple and then slicing the peel off from top to bottom.

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Cut the pineapple into quarters.

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Now it’s a breeze to slice the tough core out of the pineapple. Simply cut along the top of each quarter removing the hard woody material that made up the core.

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I sliced each quarter in half lengthwise and then chopped the pieces into almost cubes about 2 to 3 cm in width.

Pineapple has to be preserved in fruit juice or syrup. I did not have any pineapple juice or grape juice on hand, and I did not want to go through the process of trying to juice the small amount of core and peel that I had sliced off. Since the pineapple was already very sweet I decided to go with a very light syrup. 2 cups of sugar for 7 cups of water.

Combine the sugar and water in a large pan and apply heat.

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As the syrup heats up the sugar will disappear and the liquid will turn clear. Heat until boiling, then add your pineapple. Pineapple is better preserved using a hot pack method over a cold pack method. The fruit is also less likely to float in the syrup if you hot pack it.

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Allow the fruit to simmer in the syrup for approximately 10 minutes. You’ll notice the pineapple appears slightly more translucent and floats in the pot.

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After that it’s business as usual. Place your fruit into clean jars, packing the fruit down slightly. If you need to add some of the syrup from the pot to leave one 1/2 half inch headspace. Put on your lids and bands and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for courts.

Four pineapples filled 6 pints and one quart, or 1 gallon of process pineapple. Visually it is very consistent with store-bought pineapple. It does not seem to have broken down any more than the fruit that you purchase and I can.

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I have not priced out canned pineapple recently but at $.69 each, already having the jars at home, adding the trivial cost for sugar, this seems very cost-effective. Basically a gallon of pineapple for just over three dollars. I don’t think that can be beat at the grocery store. The more I think about it the more I’m considering heading back to buy ten more.

On a side note, this is the first post that I’m making with the WordPress iPhone app. I’d appreciate any feedback anyone has on whether the format is different, or if I’ve overlooked anything due to my speech to text posting.

Happy Canning.

Odessa’s Cranberry Sauce

My wife makes a killer cranberry sauce. The recipe is an amalgam of various recipes that she’s tried or read over the last couple years. We’ve served this the last two Thanksgivings, and it’s a complete hit.

After the Thanksgiving and Christmas season cranberries start going on sale as vendors just want to offload what they have left. Dess found them on sale for $1.49 a bag (half of what they were the week before Thanksgiving) and grabbed 7 of them.

Odessa’s Cranberry Sauce:
Multiplied x 7 for this recipe

1 – 12oz bag of Cranberries
3/4 C Red Wine (Cabernet)
1/4 C Triple Sec
1 C Brown Sugar
1/2 t Ground Ginger
1/2 t Ground Cinnamon
1/4 t Allspice Berries
2 T Candied Ginger (chopped)
1 T Orange Zest
1 Cinnamon Stick

Combine the wine, Triple Sec, and brown sugar. Heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries.

Place the Cinnamon stick and the Allspice Berries in cheesecloth and tie it off.

Add the spice bundle to the cranberries and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the cranberries pop and the liquid thickens. Sometimes we’re left with a couple dozen unpopped cranberries floating on top, and that’s fine.

Remove the spice bundle, stir in the crystalized ginger, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and the orange zest.

Let the mixture simmer another 2-3 minutes and then ladle in to jars.

Lets talk about jars for a seconds. A friend asked me to touch on preparing jars, reusing jars, cleaning jars, etc. When I open the case I take the jars out and remove the lids and rings. The jars get washed, by hand or in a dishwasher. the rings get set aside. Then, before I start my recipe, I fill my canning pot/pressure cooker with water and place the jars in there. As the water heats to boil, the jars heat with it. I let the jars boil until I’m ready to start filling them. I also throw my ladle and funnel in the mix too.

When I’m ready I pull the jars out (slowly and carefully, since they are full of boiling water) and gently tip out the water back in to the pot. I place the lids in a bowl and use the water from the 1st jar I remove to cover the lids with now, just under boiling temp water. This warms the adhesive compound on the lids and gets a better seal going.

Fill the jars with the sauce and leave 1/2″ head space. Put the lids and rings on and finger tighten the rings. Remember, air needs to escape from the jar to form the eventual vacuum seal needed for preservation.

Place the filled jars in your water bath canner, making sure that the jars have at least 2 inches of water covering them. Process for 15 minutes for pints.

Using 7 bags of cranberries this made 11 pints of sauce. And now we can enjoy cranberry sauce year round.

Let’s can some tomatoes.

Update: This recipe won a 1st place Blue Ribbon at the 2013 Arizona State Fair in the Canned Vegetable; Tomatoes category.

As you know, I have great love for Superstition Ranch Market. When we went there last week they had Roma Tomatoes on sale for $0.25 a pound. In my experience, that’s pretty much unheard of. We talked about it, and decided to buy two cases, 50lbs, for $12.50. An amazing deal. Rather than make spaghetti sauce like last time, we chose just to can the tomatoes. Especially since the transition from stewed tomatoes is easy. Plus stewed tomatoes are more versatile, and easier to prepare.

Canned Stewed Tomatoes

Start off by filling a large pot with water and bringing it to boil, filling your sink with ice and water, and laying out a cutting board and knife for prep work. Henry Ford was on to something….it’s much easier if you have an assembly line.

Look through your tomatoes. I found a couple that started going rotten in the 2 days it took me to get the this project together. Just toss them. If you have any with a dark spot or whatnot, we can work around that.

Drop the tomatoes int he boiling water, using tongs, and let them boil for 2-3 minutes. You’ll notice that the skins start to split. As that happens, remove the tomatoes and drop them in the ice water. this process makes the skins really easy to remove.

Let them chill for a while in the ice bath. If you try to soon, you’ll burn your fingers as the insides can remain hot for a couple of minutes.

As you remove the tomatoes from the ice water, start where the skin split, and remove the skin. On most of them it was super easy. The tomatoes fell out of their skin. On a couple I had to do a bit of peeling.

Remove the stem area and any black spots from the tomatoes. Then cut them in to quarters. As usual, only work with clean, sterile, prepared canning jars. Drop 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in to each pint jar, or 2 tablespoons into each quart. I like to use quarts for what will eventually become spaghetti sauce, and pints for what will be used in recipes. However, we had so many tomatoes that i was scrambling just to find enough jars. If you run out of lemon juice (like I did) you can also use powdered citric acid, red wine, or vinegar for the acid. We did about 1/2 dozen with balsamic vinegar.

Start stuffing your jars. Drop the quarters in and when they reach the neck tap the jar on the counter to get them to settle. I also used my fingers to force them down. Once they look full take a ladle full of boiling water and dribble enough in the jar cover the tomatoes, but leave head space. Honestly, with the juices that came out, this was only a couple of tablespoons of water in each jar. Remember that air doesn’t heat the same way water does, and that’s why the liquid is important. Use your non-metal tool to run around the edge of the jar to release any air bubbles. All the real estate int he jar needs to be tomato or liquid (except for the head space).

Hopefully you put your lids in a small pan of water and heated them (not to a boil). So wipe the rims of the jars, put a lid on each one, and close with a band. Remember, hand tighten. That’s it. Finger tighten even. People have ruined batches of foods by overtightening the bands. Air needs to escape from under the lid.

You can water bath process tomatoes with the added acidity. But it takes 45 minutes for quarts. I chose to pressure can because I can fit more cans in at a time. Fill your canner with jars (remembering to off set the 2nd layer or use a metal grate to build your 2nd layer). For my location I did 12PSI for 15 minutes. (Follow your canner’s manufacture’s manual). After 12 minutes I just shut off the heat and walked away. When all the hissing stops, and all the steam has escaped, I took of the lid and lest the jars rest for another 10-15 minutes. This prevents shock, which can result in breaking jars, which can result in tomatoes and juice the temperature and consistency of napalm exploding on your body. After they’ve had time to rest use your jar lifter to remove them from the pot and place them on the counter where they should be able to sit, undisturbed for the next 12-24 hours.

If you bought as many tomatoes as I did you’ll need to repeat the process 3 times.

Remember, home canning eliminates unwanted added sugars or salts, exposure to chemicals (BPA is leached from the tin can lining in commercially canned tomatoes), and exposure to preservatives. This recipe requires only 3 ingredients; tomatoes, something acidic, and water. If you are on a low salt diet, don’t add any. If you don’t care for lemon juice, add powdered citric acid. For a more Italian flavor add balsamic vinegar or red wine. I also tried to make “Italian Seasoned Tomatoes” this time around. To 6 jars I added a 1/2 pinch of Oregano, Thyme, and Basil. Dried herbs offer a great deal of flavor, especially when canned, so go easy. You could also peel the tomatoes and leave them whole, cut them in half, or dice them; depending on how you wanted to use them.

Here’s the wife photo-bombing my victory shot:

50 pounds of tomatoes with about 10 spoiled tomatoes ended up being 23 pints and 11 quarts of quartered tomatoes. For $12.50 (plus the new jars I had to buy). I wont find commercially canned tomatoes that cheap. And I probably won’t find tomatoes that cheap again this year.

The fruit tends to float while the liquid sinks immediately after canning. So on the 2nd day I rotate all the jars back and forth, like I’m mixing paint, and that gets it’s all homogenized again.

Hot Curry Pickled Cauliflower and Stout Beer Jelly; Two Quick and Easy Gift Ideas.

Last Christmas’ gift giving was Jammathon 2010. I made about a dozen different fruit jams and handed them out to anyone that was on our Christmas list. This year I wanted to mix it up a bit. After spending some time on http://www.reddit.com/r/canning/ I found some simple recipes that peaked my interest. Both appeared to be relatively quick and easy, unique, and a bit on the exotic side.

First I tried Hot Curry Pickled Cauliflower; which I found at http://www.handjobsforthehome.com/2011/12/curry-pickled-cauliflower. I modified the recipe slightly by quantity. I’ve made the recipe twice now. The 1st time I had a head and half of cauliflower. The 2nd time I had 2 smaller heads.

Hot Curry Pickled Cauliflower

3 C White vinegar
1 C Water
½ C Brown sugar
1 T Curry powder
1 T Salt
1 Cauliflower
1 Red bell pepper
1 Onion

Start by cutting the Cauliflower into florets. Try to keep them approximately the same size, try to keep them bite sized, and remember that they need to fit neatly into your jar. I cut the larger florets into smaller parts. Dice the onion and the red pepper.

In a large pot combine the vinegar, water, brown sugar, curry and salt. On a side note, don’t brown sugar measurements seem somewhat arbitrary? It seems that as long as you keep applying pressure, you can keep packing more sugar into that measuring cup. Anyway, stir all that together over high heat and bring it to a boil. After the liquid boils, add the vegetables, stir, and boil again.

After the liquid returns to a boil, allow it to simmer for 3-5 minutes. You want the vegetables to soften, but remember that they will cook an additional 10 minutes in the canner. Fill your clean and sterilized canning jars with the vegetables and brine, remembering to leave your head space.

Process in a water bath for 10 minutes for pints. I upped the time to 20 minutes for quarts. I made the pints to give away, and the quarts to keep. My wife loves spicy stuff like hot pepper mixes, spicy pickled vegetables, etc.

Next I tried my hand at Stout Beer Jelly that I found over at http://growitcookitcanit.com/2011/03/17/stout-beer-jelly/.

Stout Beer Jelly

2 – 12oz bottles of Guinness Extra Stout
1 Box of pectin
3 1/2 C Sugar

First off, a warning. Seriously. Use the biggest pot you own. You’ll think to yourself “24 oz of beer? How much could it make.” You’re wrong. When you grab your medium stock pot, put it back, and grab the biggest damn pot you own! The original recipe said “It will be very frothy, that’s normal.” This is an understatement. It’s like saying that Jolt Cola “May cause some excitement in children.” The reaction that occurs when you combine beer, pectin and heat creates what I thought was a movie prop from Ghostbusters. You have been warned.

Add your 2 bottles of beer, and your box of pectin together and heat to a boil, stirring briskly. Allow it to boil, and continue boiling for 1 minute. Then add the sugar, all at once. Bring it back to a boil. And watch in terror as the volume creeps to the top of your pot as you stir with such vigor that your arm starts to cramp.

Boil for 2 more minutes as you artfully dodge volcano like explosions of your hot alcoholic sugary concoction. If you did not heed my warning you are now cursing your poor decision as it boil all over your stove. FYI, if that happens, it will create a horrid smell. Just use the large pot for god’s sake.

Remove the pot from the heat. This will quell the foam monster. Ladle the jelly in to your clean sterilized jars. I suggested spooning one ladle full in each of 5 jars, and then returning and topping off each jar again, as they tend to lose volume as the bubbles cool.

What I do love though is how the jars look like little pints of Guinness. Even after they are processed and cool.

Process the jars for 10 minutes in a water bath. The original recipe suggests using this to glaze lamb, or on a fancy grilled cheese. I’m also going to try it on a rotisserie pork roast, or a cheeseburgern with sauteed onion and caramelized onions.

I love making my own foods. I love canning. And I love sharing my creations with others. I think these little 20-30 minute projects are fantastic. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with my ambitions (like right now, as I have 50 pounds of Roma tomatoes staring at me from the corner). But a quick canning project makes me feel accomplished. Not to mention that people, in my experience, are far more impressed with a hand made, home created gift, than they are a gift card. So make something in your kitchen to give out at the office party this year.

And if you have a canning recipe that you consider quick and easy, please let me know in the comments. I’m always up for trying something new.

Italian Green Beans

I love canned green beans. I’ve always loved them. Even the store bought ones. The first time I made my own my mind was blown. They taste exactly like store bought green beans, but with only 3 ingredients, and no chemicals.

Home canning green beans is more labor intensive than other canning endeavors, but is one of the simplest recipes ever. As with all low acid foods, you need a pressure canner to safely process the green beans for preservation.
Superstition Ranch Market had fresh green beans on sale for $0.69 a pound so I grabbed 5 pounds while we were out today. I brought them home, rinsed them off and started preparing them. I grab a small handful at a time, lay them on the cutting board, and cut a 1/8 of an inch of each end. You only need to cut the stem end, but I slice off both ends because I can clean them quicker by avoiding aligning all the beans the same direction. The I cut the beans in to 1-2″ segments.

Clean, sterilized and prepare you jars. I use the pint sized, and prefer wide mouth for green beans. Fill each jar with green beans. Now you have options. You can go with just water if you need a low sodium diet. You can add a pinch of salt to the beans for a little flavor. Or, my favorite is a pinch of salt, and half a pinch of Thyme and Oregano in each jar. The dried herbs add just a hint of flavor to the beans.

Green beans, salt, thyme, oregano.

Then you simply use your canning funnel to add boiling water to each jar. Remember to leave your head space. Hand tighten the bands over the lids and process in a pressure canner at 10 lbs for 25 minutes. It’s fine to double stack in a pressure canner. But either offset the cans so they aren’t directly on each other, or use a piece of sheet metal with holes in it to create a 2nd layer.

Let the canner cool, and presto, 10 pints of green beans.

My favorite part of canning is still knowing what’s going in to the jar, what’s not, and knowing what my kids are eating. And speaking of, green beans are the one vegetable my kids gobble up without question, every time.



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