In my desire to savor the flavors of the summer season all year long, I've recently taken up canning -- just add it to my ongoing list of random kitchen projects. Actually, this is something I've been wanting to do for awhile. I like the idea of one, never buying canned goods or jam again, and two, preserving some of my favorite seasonal foods for year long enjoyment.
I started with two easy "starter" projects -- pickles and strawberry jam. The pickles were really easy, fairly quick, and delicious! I made bread and butter pickles at my roommate's request (they're my favorite, too), and honestly, I'm not sure they'll last the summer, anyway -- kind of defeats the purpose, but its all good (I can always make more, now that I realize how simple it is). I used a fusion of the bread and butter pickle recipe in the plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook -- my standby -- and the quick pickle recipe in the most recent issue of Everyday Food magazine. The result was super yummy!
The part of canning/preserving that intimidated me the most was the actual process -- water bath, etc. But I soon discovered that as long as I followed the directions step by step, it was pretty straightforward. I don't have the proper rack for my pot, so I just place the jars in a large stockpot and keep on eye on it -- works like a charm (although I do want the proper pot eventually).
Next came the strawberries. I have learned that if one hits up the farmers' market within an hour before they close, there are great deals to be had. So I bought a flat of strawberries (enough for a dozen half pint jars) for seven bucks -- not bad, eh?
I actually did the strawberries in two batches, and ended up being pleased that I did. For the first half, I used a pectin-free recipe...well, surprise, surprise, it did not work. So now I have "strawberry topping" -- that's what I was going for anyway, right? It's good on angel food cake, shortcakes, ice cream...so it certainly won't go to waste.
After a rather huge ordeal at the local Safeway, I finally found the pectin and tried again. Success! Super delicious strawberry jam that is just the right consistency. I'm quite pleased.
So now I am out of jars and need to get some more (not counting the antique ones my grandparents gave me). According to the guy that runs my favorite cherry stand at the market, this weekend or the next is the last for cherries, so I need to stock up. I might just freeze some for future use, but maybe I'll get creative with my new found canning skills. I do really want to try and make canned peaches (I looooove canned peaches) so that might be next on the list -- that and more pickles!
Update: Last weekend I managed to squeeze in some time to make canned peaches. I only made three jars, but I'm still pleased. I hope they taste good! (haven't tried them yet, because I want to save 'em until peaches aren't in season anymore). Who else out these HATES peeling peaches as much as I do? It never goes as smoothly as the books promise unless the peaches are at the exactly right moment of ripeness. What a pain!
Also, a tip -- I've been having a hard time finding canning supplies (jars, lids, pectin, etc.) at the local grocery stores. The Bed Bath and Beyond up the street does carry some things, although they're kind of overpriced unless you have a coupon. In all honestly, the best place for supplies is...Wal-Mart. I know, I know. But what can you do? Even Target had dismal options. Wal-Mart had tons of stuff, all really affordable, plus the Better Homes and Gardens line had some really cute lids.
Tomato, eggplant, zucchini, jalapeño, romaine lettuce, tarragon, sage, two kinds of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, potatoes, and lavender.
I recently harvested the lavender blossoms and have some drying. The rest I used to make lavender scented sugar cookies. Thankfully I froze half the dough, because my wonderful dog and his canine roommate helper decided to help themselves to the two dozen freshly baked cookies. Ah, the joys of pets...
I currently have a green tomato and a baby jalapeno growing out there, which I'm pretty psyched about. I've been known to have somewhat of a "black thumb" when it comes to gardening, but so far o good -- it probably doesn't hurt that the weather out here is so ideal.