Archive Page 2

Cowboy Candy; Or How To Make Weapons Grade Pepper Spray At Home

When your passion is putting food in jars people tend to find out. Most of my friends know that I spend many weekends canning in the kitchen. They also know that I hate seeing food wasted and generally will try to find some way to preserve anything anyone drops off on my doorstep. This has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the nicer points is that generally I get volumes of free produce. The drawback however is dealing with my wife when she comes home to find approximately 300 pounds of lemons on the countertop.

This weekend I returned from a short trip back east to a message from a friend who told me that he had lemons and jalapenos waiting for me. Lemons are easy. Limoncello and preserved lemons, as well as candy lemons are an annual thing for me. But jalapeños I haven’t done yet. So I started thinking of creative ways that I could use my hot little friends.

After the success of Dilly Beans I decided its time for me to go back to canning roots and try some of the tried and true local gems that people have been making for ages. Forget innovation. Forget variation. Some things are good for a reason.

So here we go. Another recipe I’ve heard about for a while but had never tried is Cowboy Candy. Cowboy Candy is candied jalapeño peppers. Just like with the beans, people rave about these things. They talk about the stuff like it’s crack. Like once you start you’re gonna be fiending in your bedroom crying for another jar. Every recipe I’ve come across comes with the same warning. “Make more than you expect. You’ll go through faster than you think. Your friends will take your entire inventory.” If everyone is this wild about them they must be onto something.

They’re supposed to be amazing on burgers, with cheese and/or crackers, on top of meat as a glaze, as a condiment or straight out of the jar with a fork.

20121212-021224.jpgThe following recipe is found all over the Internet. I don’t even know who to give credit to at this point. Maybe it’s public domain by now? I found it the recipe I followed on a Facebook canning group. But you can find it, word for word, on several sites.

Cowboy Candy
3lbs Jalapeños
2 C Apple Cider Vinegar
6 Cups Sugar
1/2 t Turmeric
1/2 t Celery Seed
3 t Minced Garlic
1 t Cayenne Pepper

The peppers that my friend brought over were red and bit small. So I decided to pick up some larger green ones from the grocery store. Together I felt they made a nice mix, added some variety, and looked appropriate for the holiday season. I used 2 pounds of green and 1 pound of red peppers.

20121212-021606.jpg I’ve made many recipes with many hot peppers in them before and generally don’t wear gloves. However this time you’re going to be slicing at least 3 pounds of jalapeno peppers over the course of probably 20 minutes. It is well worth your time to wear a pair of latex or rubber gloves during this process. You will appreciate this when you need to rub your eye, scratch your nose, or God forbid, use the restroom.

Start by slicing off the very top of the pepper to remove the stem. Then slice the pepper into little 1/4 inch rounds.

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20121212-022325.jpgWhen you are finished set the peppers aside. In a large pot combine the apple cider vinegar, sugar, and spices. This is the one point where I deviated from the recipe. I read online that many people found this recipe to be very sweet and they reduced the sugar. I reduced the sugar by one cup. However, I doubled the recipe for the brine.

20121212-022404.jpg Bring the brine to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for five minutes. Then add the pepper slices and simmer for four minutes. You don’t want to be standing right over the pot while the stuff is boiling. The combination of vinegar and peppers coming up into your eyes and lungs is quite overwhelming. I had the fan on over the stove throughout. Use a slotted spoon to remove the peppers and place them into clean jars. Leave 1/4 inch headspace.

20121212-022628.jpgReturn the remaining brine to the heat. Boil it hard for six minutes. Then use a ladle to pour the brine over your peppers in the jars, again leaving headspace. Use a clean paper towel and a dab of white vinegar to clean the rims of the jars.
Process half pints for 10 minutes and pints for 15.

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It was suggested that the leftover brine makes an excellent marinade, addition to sauces, or a condiment in and of itself. I went ahead and jarred up what I had left and processed it alongside the peppers.

As with everything pickled these bad boys need to sit for a little while. The suggested time is three weeks. We’ll see how long these last in my pantry before the wife finds them.

I also plan on adding these to my repertoire of easy to make Christmas gifts. Although slicing the jalapenos took a little bit of time the actual process for cooking and preparing the cowboy candy was very easy.

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Do you have a favorite family recipe for pickled or candied produce?

Happy canning.

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The Holy Trinity Of Bloody Mary Toppers

Update: This recipe won a 1st place Blue Ribbon at the 2013 Arizona State Fair in the Pickles, Relishes, and Spiced Fruits category.

After I made my Dilly Beans I got some feedback. “Put them in a Bloody Mary” they said. “The spicier the better” they said. “And add some pickled asparagus and pickled Brussels sprouts too!”

I thought this would make a wonderful idea to bring to a holiday party. Some mixer, vodka, and a variety of pickled vegetables and olives as toppers. But the idea of toting several quart jars around with me in December wasn’t appealing. Then it hit me. Why not do them in the same jar?

I started reading the NCHFP’s directions on pickling each of the individual vegetables. The real difference was that asparagus and brussels sprouts are processed for 10 minutes whereas the beans are only processed for 5. So I did some asking around and found someone who said that they processed their dilly beans for 10 minutes and they still come out crunchy. And with that was born the idea for the holy trinity of Bloody Mary toppers. But the idea of those three things hanging out in a jar together seemed awfully green to me. So while I was at the store I picked up those miniature red, orange, and yellow peppers as well as purple pearl onions.

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Bloody Mary Pickle Mix
Asparagus
Green Beans
Brussels Sprouts
Mini Sweet Peppers
Pearl Onions
Garlic
White Vinegar
Pickling Salt
Water
Dill
Black Peppercorns
Mustard Seed
Dried Red Chiles
Red Pepper Flake

I decided to go with the same brine and seasonings as my Dilly Bean recipe, except that I also add mustard seed to the jars.

Let’s start with the Brussels sprouts. First off, did you know they grow like this?

20121201-214458.jpg I never really thought about or imagined what Brussel sprouts look like as they grow, but I guess I thought it was more like tiny cabbages coming out of the ground. Turns out they grow on gigantic stalks that look like DNA. My wife picked up two of these stalks to use for Thanksgiving. It turns out that was twice as much as we needed so we had one left for this project. She told me ahead of time that she’d started by cutting the little sprouts off of the stalk. However she quickly discovered that simply snapping them off was much quicker and more efficient. So if you buy your sprouts like this, simply start at the bottom and snap them off, working your way around to the top.

20121201-214745.jpg These bad boys are going to be cut, blanched, boiled in brine, and then sitting in a jar for who knows how long. So you want healthy, tight, clean little sprouts. I started by trimming the stem just a little bit and then pulling off any leaves that weren’t firmly wrapped around the sprout or had blemishes. Then I sorted them into two piles, big and small. I cut all the big ones in half so that their total size were about equal.

20121201-215040.jpg Get a pot of water boiling and drop your sprouts in. Set a timer for four minutes. Blanching helps start the cooking process to make them tender, improves the color, and can help kill harmful bacteria. After four minutes immediately remove them and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

20121201-215203.jpg For directions on how to blanch the pearl onions see my entry on pickled beets.

Get an assembly line going for your jars. Put the dill, garlic, black peppercorns, mustard seed, red pepper flakes, and dried red chili in each jar. Then start working on your Tetris skills. Each jar needs asparagus, green beans, brussels sprouts, mini sweet peppers, and pearl onions.

20121201-215610.jpg I found it easiest to stack the very vertical beans and asparagus against one side of the jar and then fill up the remaining space with the oddly shaped items. The onions and garlic fill the little recesses left over. Try to get a fairly even mix of vegetables in there so that the last person to the jar isn’t stuck with four green beans and a half of a brussels sprout.

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20121201-215813.jpg Follow the directions from the dilly bean recipe to make your brine. Pour your hot brine over the vegetables. Add your clean lid, clean ring, finger tighten it, and place into a water-bath canner.

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Process for 10 minutes. Once the time is up remove the jars carefully and set them on a tea towel or cutting board where they can have a chance to cool slowly and undisturbed.

20121201-220102.jpg And there you have it. First off, these are some of the coolest looking jars that I’ve ever made. Second I think they’ll do well as gifts or as favors to the host or hostess of a holiday party that you are attending. Since they are pickles remember to make them three weeks ahead of the date that you need them so they have time to brine. Also my peppers are desperately trying to float to the top. I found out afterward that to avoid this you can take a small knife and cut one or two slits and each pepper. This will allow the air to escape and the pepper will suspend in the liquid.

Set this jar out with some picks and a bowl of olives and your guests have their choice of what to place on their Bloody Mary. Alternatively this would also make a good accompaniment to a cheese or antipasto platter.

Do you have a different combination of pickled vegetables you enjoy? What are your favorite Bloody Mary toppers? Let me know.

Happy canning.

Of Cranberries and Apples

I waited and waited for cranberries to drop below $1 a bag. And my favorite low cost produce store sold out without ever reaching that price. So I finally folded and bought 15 bags at $1.50 a piece. I think this is the cheapest I’ll find them.

I had an initial game plan. Half would be Odessa’s, to make Odessa’s Cranberry Sauce. The other half was to be mine to make a sort of apple cranberry chutney I’ve been wanting to try.

Unfortunately (fortunately?) the Internet is an amazing pool of awesome information and ideas, and I stumbled across something I couldn’t resist. Pickled Cranberries.

And with those ideas stirring in my head I went in to the kitchen. 9 bags of cranberries for Odessa, two to pickle, and four for chutney. Or so I thought.

I should mention that this post won’t be very picture heavy, cause I was cooking my ass off tonight. Felt like everything on every burner needed my constant attention. And I was interrupted by two mishaps. One by my kid, and one my own doing.

Odessa started with her recipe first. It’s still my favorite cranberry sauce. And I could have two jars a month and be happy.

Cranberry Apple Chutney

24oz cranberries
20 apples, cored and rough chopped
9 cups sugar
4 lemons, zested and juiced
4 cups water.

This is a recipe that I found through Instagram, and then modified. The original recipe, as it was provided to me called for 8 cups of apples, 4 cups of cranberries, 6 cups of sugar, and one lemon. I based my math off of the amount of cranberries that I had left. But that was nearly 16 cups and I didn’t have it in me to add 24 cups of sugar to something.

I chose to go with Granny Smith and Fuji apples to stick with the red and green holiday theme.

20121128-014819.jpgFor what it’s worth, Fuji apples do not hold up to cooking, a little key point that I forgot. Opt for Lady Pink, Braeburn, Honey Crisp or other firm apple instead, if given the choice.

I used my handy dandy apple corer/slicer and cut the apples into 6 slices. Then I rough chopped the slices into pieces.

20121128-014748.jpgPut the water in a large pot, heat, and add the cranberries. I gave the berries about a five minute head start over the apples. As the cranberries start popping add your apples to the pot. Once the cranberries and apples start to cook and release more liquid add your sugar as well and stir thoroughly mix. Cook for approximately 10 to 15 minutes until the cranberries and apples begin to cook down. Then add your lemon zest and juice.

20121128-015454.jpg I tasted the chutney after originally having only added 6 cups of sugar. That still seemed a bit too tart. I added another 3 cups of sugar, bringing the total to nine, simmered, and taste it again. That seemed like a good amount.

Continue to cook for approximately 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture thickens.

20121128-015541.jpg Pour your cranberry chutney into clean mason jars, apply your lid and ring.

20121128-015644.jpg Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes for pints.

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20121128-020016.jpg This ended up making 14 pints.

As I was looking around the web for cranberry recipes I came across an idea for pickled cranberries. Pickling is my most recent obsession. The author suggested adding a spoonful of pickled cranberries to club soda and gin, or tossing them in olive oil and topping a goat cheese and arugula salad with them. This sounded way too delicious to pass up.

Pickled Cranberries
24oz Cranberries
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon juniper berries (I didn’t have these, and didn’t want to run out to the store. I’ll add them next time)

Place the allspice, clove, peppercorns, and juniper berries in cheesecloth and tie off.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and spice bundle in a pot and heat to a boil. Add the cranberries and cook for 5-10 minutes until the cranberries have popped. Bring the mixture back to a full boil.

Remove the spice bundle and cinnamon sticks and set aside. Ladle the cranberries into jars, and then add brine to the 1/2″ headspace. Cut the cinnamon sticks in half and add a piece to each jar.

Lids, rings, and 10 minutes in a water bath. As these are pickles, let them sit for a while before opening and enjoying.

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**Update**
The wife cracked a jar of the pickled cranberries today and made herself a cocktail of tonic water, gin, and some cranberries. Not long thereafter she texted “OMG these things are awesome.” I asked her to take a picture, and classy it up a bit so I could post it here. Ladies and gentlemen, my wife’s classy picture of her cocktail:

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Cranberry Pickled Apple Slices
It was at this point that I thought I was done. But I noticed that I had this gorgeous red tinted, cranberry scented brine left in the pot. I couldn’t bring myself to toss it out. I decided to be adventurous. I took two Fuji apples a d two Granny Smith apples and cored and sliced them. I returned the spice bundle to the brine and added the apple slices. My intent was just to cook them to the point of being soft. However at this very moment my three-year-old walked into the kitchen and told me that he had broken some glass. When I went to investigate I found that he had made his way into my canning pantry and was playing “how high can I build a tower of jelly jars.” Turns out the answer is seven. The tower had fallen and a jar if Strawberry Citrus Jam met its demise. In the time it took me to deal with and clean that, my apple over cooked. But, oh well, not the end of the world.

The apples were added to jars and covered with brine. Then processed for 10 minutes. I’ll probably warm them and use them to top vanilla ice cream. Or serve them as a side to pork chops.

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So there’s 4 things you can do with cranberries and apples. I’m definitely considering those pickled cranberries as Christmas gift idea #2. Show up to a holiday party with a couple jars of those bad boys, some vodka, gin, and mixers? You’ll be the hot of the party.

As I said earlier, I’m on a huge pickling kick right now. If you have a great recipe, or know of a must have pickling book, please share.

Happy canning.

Pork Loin Stuffed With Apples And Blackberries

This is one of those recipes that was born because I was hungry and I didn’t want to run to the grocery store before dinner. You know those days, where you take turns opening the refrigerator, the pantry, and the cupboards, in turn hoping that you’ll find something that you didn’t see the previous five times.

I had a beautiful pork loin in the refrigerator. But the question was what to do with it. Rotisserie, slice it in to chops, cool it down into pulled pork, or roast it. I ended up grabbing a handful of other ingredients and coming up with this.

Pork Loin Stuffed With Apples and Blackberries
20121115-165849.jpg1 pork loin
2 apples
1 onion
1/4 cup blackberries (or raisins)
1/4 cup whiskey
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons blue cheese (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh
Butter
Salt and pepper to taste

400 degree oven

Dice the apples and onion. I used 1 Granny Smith and 1 Honeycrisp. Salt and cook the onion in butter over medium low heat to give them a head start on caramelizing. Then add the apples and continue to cook until translucent and soft.

20121115-170640.jpgAdd the blackberries (or raisins, which was my original thought but I was out), the thyme, and the whiskey and cook to reduce.

20121115-170824.jpgSprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top just to absorb the excess moisture. I’m estimating that I used 1/2 cup. Then sprinkle the blue cheese. Next time I’ll skip the blue cheese. It wasn’t bad…but it didn’t really add anything either. No need to over complicate things, right?

20121115-171046.jpgFold the stuffing to combine and heat through.

Grab the pork loin and the longest thinnest knife you own. Insert the knife in one end and carefully drive it through to the other end with out penetrating the other side. Then CAREFULLY sweep the sharp side of the blade toward that side of the loin as you draw it out. Reinsert with the blade facing the other direction and repeat. The goal is to cut a nice hollow pocket in the center of your pork loin without having the blade penetrate through any of the sites. This pocket will hold all of your stuffing without allowing it to seep out while it cooks. I wanted to take pictures of this process for you guys but it is so difficult to handle meat and use the camera at the same time without constant handwashing and/or cross-contamination. But I hope you get the idea.

Stand the roast on the end that does not have the hole in it. This next step works best with an assistant. I held the hole in the roast open while my wife used to spoon to put the stuffing inside. I would then pack it in with my fingers. It was hot but not unbearable. Be sure to work the stuffing all the way down so that it’s distributed evenly throughout. Then use butchers twine to seal up the only end with a hole in it.

20121115-171611.jpg Put the roast in a pan and into your oven.

20121115-171830.jpg It took about 40 to 45 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 145. Remove it from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.

20121115-173153.jpgIf you use a very sharp knife and support both ends of the pork loin while you slice it the stuffing should stay in until you serve it.

20121115-173259.jpg Carefully remove one slice at a time and place it on a plate to serve. I chose previously home canned German style sweet and sour pickled red cabbage and home canned ranch style barbecue beans to serve on the side. (see picture above)

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Tomatillo Salsa Verde

I’m going start focusing on holiday gift ideas. Hopefully one post a week until the New Year. I already covered two ideas, Guinness Stout Beer Jelly and Curry Pickled Cauliflower, last year. That beer jelly is a huge hit with everyone that tries it. So if you need a quick and easy gift idea, start there.

But in the mean time I plan on trying some other easy gift ideas for you to use. This week will be Tomatillo Salsa Verde. This is great stuff. And versatile too. A half pint in the stocking is destined to be enjoyed with a bowl of chips and a cold beer. A pint for the hostess of your holiday party will be used as a green enchilada sauce. And that quart you give to your friend can be combined with a couple pounds of chicken and slow cooked to a great green chile chicken for burritos, tacos, or whatever.

Not only that, but this is a one pot dish that gets blended. So no precise chopping or huge mess afterward.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

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Tomatillos
Onions
Jalapeños
Cilantro
Lemon juice
Garlic
Cumin
Salt/Pepper

We’ll talk ratios further down the line.

Tomatillos. What the hell are they? They are a fruit if the Nightshade family and fall under the category of “Who decided it was a good idea to eat this?” plants. Tomatillos are generally green, but you can also find yellow, red, and purple ones (though I haven’t). The fruit resembles a green tomato. But it’s very firm and covered in a thin husk that reminds me if a Japanese paper lantern. As the fruit grown is fills the husk and eventually breaks through. Tomatillos are sold in all stages of this process.

20121115-020923.jpgSometimes the fruit fills the husk, other times it doesn’t. And both are fine.

20121115-021009.jpgSometimes you will find a sticky coating between the fruit and the husk, similar in feel to partially dried hair spray. Don’t worry, it washes off easily.

Which brings me to the next step. The husks are not edible and must be removed. I like to kill two birds with one stone and remove the husk while washing the fruit. The running water helps separate the husk from the fruit and with a quick run the sticky residue is gone too. Invert the husk over the stem, twist, and remove.

20121115-021541.jpgThe inside looks like this.

20121115-021609.jpgFill a pot with water and drop your tomatillos in.

20121115-022020.jpgBring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes. In the mean time prep the rest of your ingredients. Cut the stems off your jalapeños and split lengthwise.

20121115-022125.jpgUse a paring knife and cut the veins and seeds out. Here’s my theory on jalapeños and heat. If you want mild sauce remove all the veins and seeds. For hot, leave them all in. For a solid medium leave half. I cut them all out and then add about half back in.

20121115-022315.jpgChop your onion, cilantro and garlic as well. Again, we are puréeing this later, so precision is not a factor.

20121115-022810.jpgYour tomatillos will darken in color and become soft.

20121115-022459.jpgRemove and drain them. But reserve a cup or two of the boiling liquid.

I cook, can, bake, and process so much stuff that I don’t get burns on my fingers very easily anymore. If your fingers are more….sensitive, use tongs for this next step. Cut the tomatillos into quarters. This is what the inside if a tomatillo looks like.

20121115-023020.jpgToss the tomatillos in the pot with the onion, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeños. Add some of the boiling liquid to the pot. How much is up to you. Just enough to prevent anything from burning and sticking to the bottom.

20121115-023314.jpgAdd salt, pepper, cumin and lemon juice. Then turn the heat on. Bring the salsa to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Your salsa should liquefy, the onions become translucent and generally look like this.

20121115-023502.jpgUse an immersion blender, food processor, or blender and *carefully* blend until smooth.

20121115-023559.jpgFill your clean jars to the 1″ head space. Apply a clean lid and band, and hand tighten.

Process in a water bath canned for 20 minutes. And you’re done.

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20121115-024404.jpgRatios:
3lbs of tomatillos is approximately 6 cups. 1 lb of chopped onion is approximately 3 cups.

Every batch is 6 cups of tomatillos, 3 cups of onion, 3 jalapeños, 1/2 cup cilantro, 6 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. I made three times this much in one batch. This recipe is a bit heavy on the cumin, but I love the heat and flavor that it adds. Other options are a mix of lemon juice and vinegar for a sour bite, adding some lime juice, and adding or removing garlic. A single batch yields about 2-3 quarts.

This recipe involves little prep work, is prepared and processed in under one hour, and only involved a cutting board and large pot.

I added a quart of this to a crock pot with a couple pounds of chicken breasts. 6 hours later I had green chile chicken. I shredded the chicken with two forks. Then I rolled the chicken in several tortilla shells and placed them in a glass casserole dish. I topped it all off with more tomatillo salsa and shredded cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes then broil to crisp the cheese. Boom, easy peasy green enchiladas.

Happy canning.

Canning Pumpkin and Winter Squash

One of the great things about holidays with specific foods is that they go on sale as soon as the holiday is over. That’s prime purchasing time for canners. With Halloween over and Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, retailers are desperate to unload their inventory of pumpkins. I even saw a post on line of a grocer that was giving then away to avoid filling their dumpsters.

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Canning Pumpkin or Winter Squash
Pumpkins or Squash
Water

I started by placing my pumpkin on its side and then smacking the stem causing it to break off at the base. Using a large knife, and keeping your fingers out of the way, slice the pumpkin in half along the stem.

20121114-103609.jpgUse a spoon and scrape out the seeds and membrane from inside.

20121114-103701.jpgCut each half in half again.

Pumpkin in a low acid vegetable and can not be water bath processed. It’s not possible. Don’t try it. It has to be processed in a pressure canner. And, you can not purée it like you buy in the store. It has to be cubed. Puréed pumpkin is too dense for the heat of a home canner to penetrate as deep as it needs to. So the bad news is you’ll need to have or buy a pressure canner bathe good news that pressure cookers are awesome and useful in many ways. Since you need a pressure cooker I’m going to include my method of peeling which includes a pressure cooker. There are other ways to do this (peeling, roasting, steaming) but I’m sticking to one method because it was so easy.

Place your grate/rack in the bottom of your pressure cooker. Add water to just barely touch the grate. Start layering your pumpkin quarters in the pot. I was able to fit 4 pie pumpkins (16 quarters) in my Presto 23qt at a time. Put your lid on and lock it. But don’t cap the vent. Turn your heat on high. As soon as steam comes out of the vent put your weight on. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Keep an eye in the pressure, but mine never crossed 12. After ten minutes remove the pot from the heat. (*NEVER DO THIS IF YOU ARE PROCESSING JARS*) Put your canner in the sink and slowly start running water over it. As it starts to cool you can j crease the water. This rapidly cools the pot and makes the pressure drop. Please be familiar with your pressure canner and how it works. Don’t deviate from the manufacturer’s guidelines. After the pressure drop to zero carefully remove the weight. If its done venting entirely, carefully remove the lid. Steam will escape. Be cautious.

Inside you will find perfectly cooked pumpkin.

20121114-105432.jpgI shouldn’t even have to say this, but the pumpkin is hot. Really hot. Really really hot. So use spatulas, tongs, spoons, and or pot holders to remove the segments. When you do, you’ll find that the skin sloughs right off the flesh.

20121114-105719.jpgThe flesh should be softened, but firm enough to hold its shape. The first batch I made I let go slightly long because I was nervous. The flesh got a bit over done and was very soft. Again, you don’t want purée, you want cubes. A bit under done is better than a bit over since you’ll be cooking it another 75 minutes shortly.

Using a large knife cut the pumpkin in to approximate 1″ cubes. I used a large knife to avoid having to hold the hot pumpkin with my other hand.

20121114-110240.jpgUse you ladle and funnel and fill your jars to the 1″ headspace. Then top with boiling water. A tea pot is great here, or just a large pot if boiling water.

20121114-110455.jpgYou can see which jar had the softer pumpkin and which had the firmer. As long as it doesn’t purée you’re fine. The water will carry the heat between the cubes.

20121114-110613.jpgClean lids, band, finger tight. Rinse out your pressure canned and add the required amount if water. Usually only a few inches. Add your jars and process according to the guidelines below:

20121114-111210.jpgAfter the proper time turn off the heat and walk away. Do not move, cool, or attempt to open the canner. Once the pressure drops to zero, remove the weight. Once the inside is ventilated remove the lid. Allow the jars to sit for another 5 minutes or so to acclimate to the cooler temp. This entire process removes the risk of syphoning.

Remove the jars and place on a towel or wood cutting board. I love pressure canned items because they continue to boil well after removal. You can see the bubbles here.

20121114-111553.jpgyour finished product will be slightly darker and more on the brown end of the burnt orange spectrum.

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20121114-111708.jpgsubstitute this pumpkin for any fresh or canned pumpkin recipes. I haven’t tried using it in pumpkin bread that calls for greatest fresh pumpkin yet, but I plan to. The first time I used it I found it holds a lot of water. Next time I’ll drain it in a colander before using.

Now you can enjoy pumpkin pie or cookies, bread or purée in March or any other time you feel like it.

Happy canning.

Dilly Beans. Because Eventually We All Have To.

Update: This recipe won a 1st place Blue Ribbon at the 2013 Arizona State Fair in the Pickles, Relishes, and Spiced Fruits category.

I’d heard about Dilly Beans when I first got into canning. But having had canned green beans, I couldn’t imagine the joy in eating soft, soggy, pickle flavored beans. And since I was teaching myself to can simply by reading as much as I could, I didn’t have the opportunity to ask things like “How do they stay crunchy?”

But being over 2 years in and head over heels for canning, I decided to go back and give them another shot. Instagram had a lot to do with it, because the canners I follow speak so highly of them. Especially in the context of being very spicy and in a Bloody Mary.

So I made a smaller batch last month. 2 quarts and 3 pints. Just something different to try out. The nicest part was how easy they were to make. Of course the downfall of pickling is that you really need to wait at least two to three weeks to taste the product. So I waited and waited. Last night the wife and I were enjoying some beers after dinner when I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I cracked a jar and tried one.

Oh. My. God. Why haven’t I made these before? Crisp, crunchy, spicy, and packed with all the best parts if dill pickle flavor. I’m not even ashamed to admit that we consumed the pint jar in less than 20 minutes. Fine. We’re making more.

I found myself at my favorite produce store with green beans on sale. I ended up leaving with a bushel. Which, is just over 29 pounds of green beans.

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Dilly Beans
Green Beans
Fresh Dill
Garlic
Dry Chilis, Chili Flake, or Cayenne pepper
Pepper Corns
Vinegar
Water
Pickling Salt

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Lets talk about ratios. As you know, if you keep up with me, I don’t work in small quantities. When I can stuff I make cases at a time. Now I’m guessing you guys may not be up for making a bushel if green beans. So here’s your ratios. Every part of salt gets 10 parts water and 10 parts vinegar. For instance 2 1/2 cups water, 2 1/2 cups vinegar, 1/4 cup salt. Or, in my case, two batches of 10 cups each of vinegar and water and one cup salt.

When it comes to the seasoning I added the following to each quart jar:
One sprig dill, 2 garlic cloves, two dried chilies, 10-20 peppercorns. For the pints I added half as much. For this particular batch I went heavy on the chilis, adding up to six to each quart and substituting 1/4 t of Santa Fe Chili Powder to the pints. I expect those to by spicy. Very spicy.

But this is what’s great about recipes like this. Up the dill, reduce the garlic, omit the pepper your choice. Add more or less cayenne or pepper flake for a mild, medium, hot, or atomic bean. You can also use dill seed or dry dill if you choose. Though I love fresh dill for all my pickling. Mix the flavors up and enjoy the variety.

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Clean and prep your green beans. I cut a 1/4 inch of both ends. Because I had 30 pounds the entire family cut 1/4 inch of each end.

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I read a lot of recipes where people cut each bean the exact same length to perfectly fit the required headspace in a pint jar. And that’s pretty cool…for them. I might try that for my state fair entry next year. But I have 30lbs of beans to process. If you’re making pints be sure that none of your beans are too long. If you’re making quarts you needn’t worry.

I grab a handful of beans and try to get them all facing the same direction. Then I gentry drop them straight down into the jar.

20121114-004758.jpgThen I try to fit a 2nd handful next to the 1st. After that you grab beans one by one and try to jam them in there. I’ve read of people using chop sticks to move the beans in the jar around to fit more. Again, time vs payoff. I tried to fit as many beans in one jar as I could.

20121114-005007.jpgHeat your vinegar, water, and salt to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the pickling solution to each jar of beans leaving headspace. I like to use the very bottom of the threads as a guideline. Lid, ring, finger tight.

Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. That’s not much time. That also means this is one time your jars must be sterilized prior to processing. I use a steamer basket insert to steam my jars on a separate burner prior to use. When you put the jars on the water to process, remember that time doesn’t start until the water starts to boil again. After 5 minutes remove and set on a towel, cutting board, etc.

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And now the hard part. Let them sit in your pantry for at least 21 days before opening. Let the flavors mellow. It’s totally worth it.

Dilly Beans are amazing out of the jar. They also rock in a Bloody Mary. I’d serve them with burgers or steak. Or on an antipasto platter at a dinner party. They’ve got great crunch, a good bite, and fantastic acidic flavor. Of you haven’t tried making them yet you should give it a chance.

Happy canning!

Pumpkin Everything!

Is there any doubt that this is the best time if the year for flavors? Every part of the last 3 months is fantastic. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, pumpkin, pecans, peppermint, yams, caramel, cranberries, pears, apples, and raisins.

I even decided to spend a couple bucks on supplies and throw together an autumn wreath for our door, a first for me.

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Back to the matter at hand. As a result of cooking up two and canning six pumpkin I had a huge bowl of pumpkin guts and seeds. I knew I wanted to keep the seeds. But the idea of spending an hour picking those slimy buggers out was not appealing. As I started taking the seeds out I tossed then in a bowl if water to rinse them off. That’s when I noticed that the seeds all floated.

So I filled a stock pot half way with water. I grabbed a large handful of pumpkin guts, held them under water loosely, and vigorously moved my hand. Similar to the agitation of a washing machine. And sure enough, all the seeds popped to the top.

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You can see that some of the pumpkin is floating as well. But those chunks were easy to grab and pull out. Most of the really stringy stuff sent to the bottom. Then I just used a slotted spoon to skim the very surface to grab the seeds out.

I’m sure I’m not the first person in history to figure this out. But it was a first time for me. And it definitely made things much easier. I was able to remove the seeds from eight pumpkins in less than 10 minutes.

I decided to make four varieties if roasted pumpkin seeds.

The procedure for each is the same.

Rinse the seeds off to remove all of the pumpkin.

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Place the seeds in a bowl and drizzle with approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Use a spoon to gently toss the seeds to coat them with oil. Then sprinkle on whatever topping you’re using as you continue to stir.

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Spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast at 350° for 30 minutes. Use a spatula to move the seeds around once or twice during roasting to ensure that they are all evenly cooked. Cool and enjoy.

Pumpkin Pie Seeds
1 1/2 c pumpkin seeds
2t olive oil
2T sugar
1t cinnamon
1/2t nutmeg
1/2t allspice
1/4t ginger

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Old Bay Pumpkin Seeds
1 1/2 c pumpkin seeds
2t olive oil
1T Old Bay Seasoning

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Cocoa Cayenne Pumpkin Seeds
1 1/2 c pumpkin seeds
2t olive oil
2T sugar
2t cocoa powder
1/2t cayenne pepper

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Spicy Curry Pumpkin Seeds
1 1/2 c pumpkin seeds
2t olive oil
1t curry powder
1t kosher salt

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Pumpkins stuffed with sausage

My wife has got to be the biggest fan of squash in the world. We’ve always got at least 3 varieties on the counter and she eats it twice a week. When the little pie/baking pumpkins came out she started looking for a savory way to serve them.

Stuffed Pumpkins with Sausage

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2 pie pumpkins
6 Italian sausages
1 leek
2 medium apples
1 jar canned mushrooms (or 2 lbs fresh)
2 cups roughly chopped kale
1/4 C sherry
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, marjoram

Drop your sausages in a pan of water and boil to cook through.

Clean your pumpkins. Then cut a hole around them, the same way you would if you were going to carve it. The use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and punkin’ guts. But be sure to save them for roasting later.

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Drop 1/4t marjoram and salt and 1/8t pepper and garlic powder in to the cavity.

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Put the lid back on and shake to distribute. Photos now include real shaking action!

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Set the pumpkins aside. Chop your apple and leek in to 1/2″ pieces.

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Sautéed the apple and leek in some olive oil until they begin to become translucent. If you are using fresh mushrooms add them at the beginning to cook down. If you are using home or commercially canned add then after to prevent over cooking.

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Add sherry to the pan and cook until the liquid reduces. Chop your sausages in to pieces and toss it in the mix. Cook everything until its heated throughout and the flavors have mingled. Salt and pepper to taste (most sausages are already pretty salty).

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Open your pumpkins and stuff with the filling. Or, fill with the stuffing. Your choice.

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Put those bad boys in a roasting pan and spray with olive oil. Or, if you need to, just drizzle and rub them all over. Pop em in the oven for one hour.

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After an hour the skin is nice and dark.

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Carefully (they’re hot) remove the top and add 1 cup of kale to the pumpkin. Replace the lid and let it sit for 5 minutes. This is a great time to set the table. By the time you’re ready to eat the kale should be perfectly steamed.

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To serve we removed the lid, and then cut the pumpkin into 6 pieces. We tossed the stuffing together to mix in the kale. Then served one slice of pumpkin with stuffing on it.

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I found the pumpkin to be slightly under seasoned so I upped the salt in this recipe. My only complaint was that it didn’t feel like a whole meal (despite containing meat, veggies, and starch). Next time I’d serve it as a side to roast chicken with Brussels sprouts or something in the side. The flavors, however, were fantastic. Definitely a fall side dish to make again.

Back to Basics; Blackberries and Pears

Sometimes I feel like it get too wrapped up in coming up with great new flavors and combinations that I forget the simple joys of canning. I’m definitely guilty of making pear, plum, and ginger jam. I’ve thrown some black pepper in with strawberries. And I’ve made jelly out of things that don’t want to be jelly, like Guinness beer and apple cider.

So occasionally I need to step back and remember some of the simple reasons that I can in the first place. Like saving money, eating ingredients that I’m aware of, and spending time in the kitchen making things for my family.

This is one of those posts that goes out to the people who say “I’m brand new to canning, what should I do the first time?” I usually point people in the direction of jam, but simply canning fruit can be rewarding and very simple.

I’m also going to touch on siphoning and thermal fractures, because both of them happened to me tonight.

While I was out today I found pints of blackberries for $.25 apiece. I picked up three flats. Bartlett pears were on sale for $.69 a pound and while I haven’t paid to close attention to the price of pears, that did seem well below average. So I grabbed a huge bag of them as well.

Canning Blackberries

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Go through your blackberries, rinse them off, and pick out any that even have the slightest hint of mold. For most berries I use a cold pack method. Hot pack involves heating the food to cook it through before placing it into jars. Cold pack is just like it sounds, you place the raw food directly in the jar. Blackberries stand up to the heat fairly well, but no point in overcooking them since I don’t want them to turn into mush.

Place the berries in your jar leaving enough headspace.

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All fruit needs some kind of liquid to sit in. People use plain water (rarely), fruit juice, or syrup. I did not want to add commercial juice to my fruit so I opted to go with syrup as I usually do. You can make several different types of syrup from very light to heavy, all depending on what ratio of water to sugar you use. I make a light syrup which is approximately 2 cups of sugar in 7 cups of water.

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When you first add the sugar to the water it will be very visible in the bottom of the pan. Heat it over medium-high heat and begin to stir. As the water heats up the sugar will disappear. Continue to heat until bubble start to form. However do not bring it to a full roaring boil.

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Ladle the syrup over your fruit leaving 1 inch of headspace. You can see that the hot liquid is already beginning to leech some of the color out of the berries below the surface.

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Place a new lid and clean ring on top of your clean jars. I read recently on the county extension website that the USDA is no longer requiring sterilization before every batch. As long as the jars are cleaned and processed for the correct amount of time sterilization prior to filling them is not necessary. I have stopped boiling my jars for anything that I waterbath process. For the pressure cooker items were botulism is still a concern I think I’m paranoid enough that placing the jars in an inch of water and letting them steam for 20 minutes before I fill them gives me a bit of reassurance.

Place the filled jars in your waterbath canner and process for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

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Blackberries hold up fairly well to the canning process. My wife makes herself a fruit smoothie nearly daily. Instead of trying to keep fresh berries on hand all the time she’ll simply open a pint, spoon out what she wants for that day, and then place the rest in the refrigerator. They are also good as ice cream toppings. Additionally, you can take the contents of a quart jar add some flour and sugar and pour it directly into a pie tin to make yourself a fresh blackberry pie.

Canning Pears

When I made pear butter a couple of months ago I used Bartlet pears. I was so impressed with the flavor of those pears I wanted to preserve some. However I let the box sit around for too long and they became too soft to can on their own. When I found them on sale again I picked up a large bag so that I could save some for later.

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Start by peeling your pears and adding them to a large pot or bowl that contains water and either citric acid or lemon juice.

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Take each pear, cut the top off to remove the stem, and then slice in half lengthwise. Use either a teaspoon or a melon baller to remove the core.

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The next step is up to you. You could can half pears if you had widemouth quart jars handy. I preferred slices to fit more in each jar. I sliced each half into four quarters.

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As you slice the fruit return it to the same pot or a different one that has acidified water to preserve the color.

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Again you’ll want to decide what kind of syrup or juice to place your fruit into. I use the same light syrup. The USDA currently has no recipes that call for cold packing pears. This time we bring the simple syrup up to a boil and then place the fruit in the syrup and boil it for five minutes.

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Using your funnel and ladle fill the jars with pears and then fill with the syrup liquid that you boiled them in, up to a 1 inch headspace. Put on new lids and clean rings and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

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The pears came out fantastic. I think they held their color really well. The important part here is that I will be enjoying blackberries and pears when everyone else is paying four dollars a pint and $2.99 a pound for them.

People can for so many different reasons. Nutrition, tradition, preparedness, necessity, taste, and cost savings. As much as I enjoy making extravagant jams and jellies to give away as gifts I enjoy the simple pleasure obtained from preserving low-cost produce to be enjoyed a later date.

A Word On Syphoning and Thermal Fractures.

There are several things that can happen to canners to interrupt their enjoyable evening. One of them is siphoning and abother is breakage.

What is siphoning? Simply put it’s the contents of the jar leaving the inside and going to the outside very quickly. It is due to a rapid change in temperature or pressure. I’m not sure why but I noticed that almost all of my jars of blackberries suffered from siphoning. As the timer went off I would remove them from the water bath and set them on the counter. Almost immediately dark purple and red liquid seeped from under the lid and spilled all over the counter. Siphoning is bad for many reasons.

First off I’ve had it occur previously during a pressure canner session when I returned to find 4 quarts filled with vegetables but no liquid. That’s bad folks. That time it was a result of me removing the pressure canner from the stove and trying to cool it rapidly with the use of water. I was very very new back then. But unfortunately the food was wasted anyway.

The other problem is that the escaping liquid can prevent a good seal on the lid. You guys all know that you have to listen for the pop and check the seal of the lid on the jar when it’s finished, right? If you do suffer from siphoning, but it is only a small amount of liquid, and your lid sets and seals you do not have to worry. Your biggest concern at that point will be washing off the exterior of the jar to prevent any mold growth on the outside.

So, how do you prevent siphoning? If you are using a pressure canner when the time is up simply turn off the burner and walk away. Don’t attempt to move the canner off of the stove to a cool burner or countertop. And definitely do not place it in the sink and run cold water over it the way you can to remove cooked foods quicker. Just let the temperature drop on its own.

If you are using a water bath canner when the time is up turn off the burner and wait two to four minutes. Allow the water to slowly stop boiling and the jars to acclimate to the lower temperature before removing them. Place the jars on a folded up kitchen towel rather than directly on the cold countertop. Allowing slower transitions between temperatures should prevent siphoning.

Speaking of rapid temperature changes have you ever seen thermal fractures? Jars break for one of two reasons. Thermal fractures or impact fractures. The first is caused by rapid temperature changes. Usually something too cold getting too hot too quickly. The second is caused by jars knocking into each other, implements knocking into jars, jars falling over, et cetera. Luckily they are easily distinguished and identified.

Impact fractures will run vertically up the side of the jar either in a straight line or lightning bolt pattern. Thermal fractures will run horizontally around the jar, and in my experience only at the very base. The fracture is extremely straight and clean almost leaving no sharp edges.

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Thermal fractures are caused by your jar heating up to rapidly. You started with cold jars and placed hot food inside of them, or your jars had hot food inside of them and you place them in a pot that was too hot, or you placed the jars directly onto the surface of the bottom of the pot without having any kind of insert to gain elevation. If you are sterilizing your jars before each batch this is generally not an issue. However if you are not, be sure to heat your jars up in the dishwasher or by using hot water before filling them. Always keep your jars off the bottom of the pot.

Luckily for me I found this one almost immediately after it happened because I took the lid off of the pot to check on the contents. I was able to salvage the ingredients, find a new jar, and continue on. Do notice that this is a Golden Harvest jar and not a Ball or Kerr brand. I believe Golden Harvest was Walmarts house brand there for a while. I’m not sure where this one came from as it was my only one. But I do trade my goods with other people and pick up jars at thrift stores and garage sales as I see them. I recommend sticking to the two major name brands to know that you’re getting quality jars.

Happy canning.



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