Archive for the ‘Jellies, Jams, Canning, and Preserving’ Category

Asparagus Refrigerator Pickles

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I know I’ve mentioned this before on these pages, but it bears repeating at this wonderful time of year:
I could eat asparagus every single day of my life!
It’s my favorite vegetable—pretty, crunchy, sweet, and versatile. I’m always trying to think up new ways to use it.
I love dill refrigerator pickles made with cucumber so a few days ago I decided to try something similar with a bunch of fresh asparagus I found at a farm stand.
My mother, whose tastes become sweeter and sweeter as she grows older, found my pickles a little tart. I thought they were refreshing.
My only complaint was that they could have been crisper. They had more or less the consistency of cooked asparagus—cooked al dente, but cooked nevertheless.
Next time I’ll probably try just pouring warm brine over them instead of pre-cooking them. (I’ll let you know how this turns out!)
Meanwhile, I recommend them as they are. After a few days the vinegar turns the asparagus buds a gentle and pleasing pink.

The Pickles
1 pound fresh, local asparagus spears
1 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pinch sugar
2 cloves garlic
1 generous branch dill
a few whole peppercorns
Clean and sterilize a pint jar. (A wide-mouth jar is best as it is easiest to stuff.)
Snap the asparagus spears where they break naturally. Discard the part of the spear that has fallen below the break.
Combine the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan and bring them to a boil. Set the mixture aside to cool completely.
Wash the spears, and trim them so that they will fit into your jar. Save the extra bits of asparagus for salad, pasta, or stir-fry dishes.
Immerse the spears in boiling water. Return the water to a full boil and boil for1 minute. Rinse immediately and completely in very cold water to stop the spears from cooking further and drain them.
When the vinegar mixture is cool place the garlic, dill, pepper, and asparagus spears in the sterilized jar. Pour the vinegar mixture over them.
You should have about the right amount of liquid. If you need a little more, pour a little tap water into the jar to fill it to the top; then cover and gently shake the mixture.
If you don’t need to add water, just cover the jar. Refrigerate the pickles for 3 to 4 days before eating. Makes 1 pint.

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Canning Camp

Thursday, September 24th, 2009
Canning jars web
My neighbor Mary Kay Hoffman likes to organize a “canning camp” in the late summer for her children and grandchildren. Putting food by with her offspring helps her manage the output of her vast garden and store food for the coming winter. It also enables her to pass along useful skills.
A few years ago it seemed as though the art of home food preservation was dying. With most fruits and vegetables available year round in grocery stores (albeit not in super-fresh form) not everyone saw the need to can, freeze, dry, or prepare a root cellar at this time of year. As a result, fewer and fewer people had the basic skills needed to put food by.
Now two factors are reversing this trend. First, Americans’ increasing interest in living sustainably makes growing (or locally buying) one’s own food more appealing. This is particularly true here in New England. In Florida, Texas, or California local produce is available year round. Here we know the snow drifts will cover gardens and farms within a few months.
Second, the poor economy has helped drive up the sales of canning jars and other home-preserving paraphernalia. Since labor is donated home preserved food is often more affordable than its store-bought competition. It is also given a boost by the fact that one knows exactly what ingredients went into it–and that it is generally made with love.
Not everyone knows how to put food by, of course, even in the country where I live. One organization here in the hilltowns of western Massachusetts recently took it upon itself to help local cooks gain preserving skills by running a public canning camp.
Share the Warmth is an Ashfield group that grew out of last year’s oil crisis. Through it town residents have helped their neighbors stay warm in a number of ways. They have aided individuals in performing basic home weatherization. Last year members rounded up winter coats for those who needed them–and organized a shelter during the ice storm that devastated much of New England in December.
Share the Warmth has also created a woodpile for people who run out of wood, and its members are planning a community garden for next year. Its most recent project was led by Mary Link, a notable canner. Mary has now organized two canning workshops to help her neighbors share summer’s sunshine all year round.
She taught neighbors to make strawberry jam in early July. Her second canning camp, which helped participants put up dilly beans, took place in early September.
Dilly bean ingredients await canning. Dilly bean ingredients await canning.
Mary Link has many skills in addition to canning. She works as an administrator in the Greenfield school system and also teaches textile arts in the high school there. “I’m involved with the Ashfield Community Theater, I sing in Greenfield Harmony, I keep track of my wonderful 13-year-old daughter, and I swim across the lake,” she told me.
Clearly, canning is an important part of that busy life. I watched Mary set up for the dilly-bean workshop and was impressed with her cheerfulness and competent demeanor. When it was over I asked her how she felt about both workshops.
She replied happily that she had run into a number of participants from the first workshop who boasted of their newfound success in home canning. “It’s one of those things you feel more comfortable about if you see it done than reading about it in a book,” she explained. She hopes the program will expand next year.
Meanwhile, she has shared her recipe with my readers. Mary went into great detail about the process of sterilizing and processing jars. For that information, I refer readers to a couple of great web sites. The United States Department of Agriculture offers a PDF version of its home-canning guide. The University of Georgia also offers helpful facts and publications for the home canner.
Happy canning………
Mary Link gets ready to make dilly beans.

Mary Link gets ready to make dilly beans.

Mary’s Dilly Beans
Mary Link is the expert here so I’m simply reprinting the recipe she handed to participants at her workshop (and very kindly shared with me).
The “I” here is therefore not Tinky but Mary. I appreciate her thoroughness in including equipment as well as ingredients in her list of necessities for canning.
I made a batch of these myself, and I can’t wait to try them in a few weeks!
for the brine:
6 cups water
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1/6 cup non-iodized salt (Morton’s calls it plain; pickling or Kosher salt may also be used)
for the beans:
2 to 3 pounds fresh string beans
1 full bunch dill (or more–I like the leaves best, but umbels in flower or seed can be used, too)
2 to 3 heads garlic (I put in about 2 to 3 cloves garlic per jar, depending on how big the cloves are. If you love garlic, you may want to put in more. The pickled cloves are delicious.)
1 cup mustard seeds
slices of hot pepper or other vegetable (optional)
Materials and Equipment:
7 to 8 pint canning jars and lids (I use the wide mouth–easier to get beans into and out of). They come with lids if you buy them new. A canner can hold 7 jars.
paper towels or dishtowels for setting the sterilized jars on; a cookie sheet may also be helpful
a canner for sterilizing the jars and canning bath
1 6-to-8-quart pot (stainless steel or enamel–not aluminum) for cooking the brine
a colander to wash the beans
bowls, cutting board, and knives for de-stemming the beans and skinning and cutting the garlic
long-handled spoon to stir brine
canning-jar tongs
Sterilize the jars. While they are boiling, mix and start heating the brine ingredients in their pot. Do not boil for long to avoid water loss.
Prepare the beans. (You can do this while you’re sterilizing the jars!) Wash the beans, and cut off the stem ends. Cut them to a length that leaves about a 3/4-inch space above them in the jar when standing on end. Save the shorter beans and pieces to fill in with at the end. (If you are entering them into a fair, you will want to cut them all perfectly evenly and pack the jars so they all line up and look perfect.)
Prepare the garlic (also while waiting for the water to boil, or you can do it ahead). Remove the skins from 14 to 20 cloves of garlic. Cut the cloves in half or in three so you have big chunks.
Prepare the dill. Rinse and separate the dill sprigs, remove any bad bits.
Pack the jars. Once the jars are sterilized, first pour mustard seeds in so that they barely cover the bottom of the jar (there will be more on the sides and less or none in the center as it is higher). Then throw in about 4 to 5 pieces of the garlic; then a sprig or two of the fresh dill (dividing the total among the 7 jars).
Add any other vegetables you are using. Then start filling the jar with the beans. It helps to tilt the jar to the side.
Pack the beans in as tightly as you can easily, using the longer beans first and filling in the spaces at the top with shorter pieces at the end. I like to add another sprig of dill on the top at the end, pressed down into the beans so that it will get covered by the brine. Pack all the jars before adding the brine.
Pour boiling brine over the beans in the jars. I use a measuring cup to make the pouring easy. Fill to about 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. Leaving the air space at the top is necessary for the canning process.
Cover the jars with the two-piece jar lids as you go along. Screw the bands tightly (finger tight). Place the jars on the elevated rack in the canner. Lower the rack into the canner. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if needed.
Cover the pot. Bring the water just to a boil. This will take a while because the raw beans will have reduced the temperature of the boiled brine. Once the water boils, turn it off. You do not want the beans to cook. Remove the jars from the hot water and place them upright on a towel to cool completely.
As the jars cool the lids should make a satisfying “pop” sound, indicating that they have sealed. When sealed, the “button” in the middle of the lid should be indented. After the jars cool you can check the seals by pressing the middle of the lids with a finger. (If the lid springs back, it is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
It is best to let the jars stand at room temperature 24 hours before moving them.
Then –this is the hardest part–you need to let the beans pickle for about 6 weeks before eating. I put a note on my calendar and by the beans to remind me when they will be ready. Store unopened jars in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate opened jars– if there are any beans left once you open them. In my house they get gobbled up fast!
Joanne Ostrowski and Sue Craft at the dilly-bean workshop (courtesy of Mary Link)

Joanne Ostrowski and Sue Craft at the dilly-bean workshop (courtesy of Mary Link)

Liquid Rubies/Liquid Gold

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
Truffle's new do makes her feel a little cold (but never nippy!) as September arrives.

Truffle's new "do" makes her feel a little cold (but never nippy!) in September.

September has arrived.
A little nip has arrived in the air here in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. My dog Truffle got her hair cut last week so she burrows under the covers at night. And I’ve just stopped swimming, although I hope my being landlocked is only temporary. Surely we’ll have a warm spell before fall arrives officially!
The chilly evenings have reminded me, a bit belatedly, that I’d better get to work preserving at least some of summer’s flavors. Somehow I never manage to put up as many pickles and jams as I’d like to these days.
I refuse to feel guilty about this. I just do what I can when I can.
So I’m happy that I’ve started … with a little vinegar.
I’ll describe what I’ve done below in paragraph form rather than as a recipe because (as you’ll see) the process is very loose.
purple basil web
My Ruby Vinegar (Cold Method)
A couple of weeks ago I harvested some purple basil to make what my friends at Stockbridge Herb Farm call “ruby red vinegar.” On their advice I went the traditional route with this batch.
I gently washed 1 handful of purple basil and 1 of green. I let them dry on paper towels. Then I placed them in a clean glass jar with a plastic top and covered them with distilled white vinegar. (I used about a pint of vinegar; feel free to use more leaves and more vinegar if you like.)
I left the jar to steep in a warm but dark part of the kitchen, shaking it gently a couple of times a day.
The purple basil started lending color to the vinegar almost immediately. Yesterday the vinegar was a lovely reddish purple and tasted of fresh basil. (One has to monitor the basil; this process can take from 1 to 4 weeks.) So I strained it through cheesecloth and put it in a fresh bottle. It will lend the taste of fresh basil to salads throughout the winter.

lemon basil web

My Golden Vinegar (Hot Method) 

Yesterday I went out to the herb garden and grabbed some lemon basil. This variety of basil really does smell of citrus.
As you can see from the picture above, I have let it go to seed a bit–in part because I’m lazy and keep forgetting to nip off the flowers as they form, in part because I love to add the basil flowers to a small bouquet. They lend a lovely fragrance to their surroundings.
I put a few flowers in today’s vinegar infusion but tried to rely mostly on stalks of basil that hadn’t yet flowered; their flavor is better. For this concoction I used golden cider vinegar from a local apple producer, Apex Orchards.
I took a shortcut with this batch of basil by heating my vinegar almost to the boiling point before pouring it over the cleaned and dried leaves.
(Before I added the basil I poured hot tap water into the bottle and left it there for a minute or two so that the bottle wasn’t shocked and perhaps broken by the warm vinegar.)
As with the non-heated vinegar I used a bottle with a plastic top so the lid wouldn’t react to the vinegar.
I will shake this bottle twice a day for three days. The warm vinegar works faster than vinegar at room temperature so my lemon basil batch should be ready to strain by the time the three days have elapsed.
Note: If you’re trying this method, be sure NOT to shake the bottle right after you add the hot liquid; vinegar will spurt out and make a mess!
If you don’t have purple or lemon basil, you may use either of these methods with regular basil or indeed with almost any herb. And think about planting more varieties of basil next year.
I’m looking forward to using either of my vinegars in panzanella very soon.
red vinegarweb

Harvest Time: Pepper Jelly

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

            Yesterday I made my annual batch (actually, batches!) of pepper jelly.

            When I first got out of graduate school in the 1990s, I canned on and off all summer. In fact, I sold jams, jellies, and vinegars in my mother’s antique shop in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

            In recent years, however, my canning has gone downhill. I still make jam here and there as I can, but I don’t generally process it since processing takes time—something of which I seem to have less and less as the months and years flow by.

Generally, my jam gets stored in the refrigerator in large jars until I need it for family use. Sometimes it’s not even in jars: when I got ready to make the pepper jelly yesterday, I discovered that my large Dutch oven was in the downstairs refrigerator, filled with half-made strawberry jam from early July. I had to finish cooking the batch of jam before I could move on to my jelly.

Despite my retreat from canning, I still process pepper jelly every September. I have friends who would be hugely disappointed if they didn’t receive annual jars filled with this colorful, zesty concoction. And I enjoy the rhythm of my once-a-year jelly-making day.

            Yesterday was no exception. I sang along with the radio as my mother and I chopped peppers. I was extra careful with the jalapeños and didn’t even burn myself! Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Mercer kept us company and kept us chopping.

            The actual jelly-making doesn’t take long, but as long as I’m processing the jars I like to do it right, making sure that they’re sterilized, filling them with care, and gently boiling them after I fill them.

            (Readers who would like to know more about home canning should read the USDA publications on this topic, available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at

            The end result of yesterday’s process is the flavor of early fall in a jar. Every year I think I’m going to use the pepper jelly in some new way, but generally I restrict myself to dabbing it over a schmear of cream cheese on a cracker. I never tire of this simple appetizer.

                                                                      —  Tinky


Tinky’s Pepper Jelly


3 medium bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped (I prefer red, but any color will do.)

2 2-inch jalapeño or cayenne peppers, seeded and chopped (more if you’re adventurous!)

1-1/2 cups distilled vinegar

6-1/2 cups sugar

1 dab sweet butter

6 ounces (2 pouches) liquid pectin

            Blend the peppers with 1 cup of the vinegar in a blender or food processor. Pour the blended mixture into a large non-aluminum pot, and add all the remaining ingredients except the pectin. Bring the mixture to a full, rolling boil; then stir in the pectin.

            Boil the jelly for 1 minute, stirring constantly, and remove it from the heat. Stir the mixture for 5 minutes as it begins to cool to distribute the chopped peppers evenly; then ladle it into sterilized jars. Place the jars in a boiling-water bath, and process them for 5 minutes. Makes at least 5 to 6 cups.

            From Tinky’s Pudding Hollow Cookbook. Copyright 2004, Merry Lion Press. For more recipes and information, visit Tinky’s web site,

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