Recently in Preserving Category

Thoughts on Fitting Food Preserving into a Busy Life

organic apple 2.jpgI have been doing a lot of preserving in the past month.  It has been my intention for weeks to hang up the jar tongs and get back to seriously writing the second draft of my book.  I have this goal that I will have the second draft finished by January 1, 2011.  Instead of writing I've been making batches of pesto (I'm up to a little over 20 batches in the freezer), canning stewed tomatoes (17 quarts this weekend), making quadruple batches of enchilada sauce to freeze, and yesterday I made an enormous batch of soup using the last of the summer vegetables (corn, green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, new potatoes, and fresh basil).

The elderberries are winding down now.  I've got 11.25 cups of elderberries getting sauced in 2,250 ml of 100 proof vodka in the pantry.  I have at least another 6 pounds of foraged elderberries in the freezer.

I could be done now.   I could throw the towel down and leave the ring.  But if I did that I wouldn't have any dill pickles.  There weren't enough pickling cucumbers for me to make cucumber pickles but right now there are these giant locally grown cauliflowers and cabbages that I can pickle the same way I do the cucumbers.  I made the cauliflower last year and it was an enormous success- not only between myself and my husband but all of our friends who tried them loved them also.   

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I have another nagging ambition: I want to make a green tomato salsa.  I want to do it just like the tomatillo salsa I made a couple of years ago.  Tomatilloes, like tomatoes, had a rough year and I didn't manage to get any through u-pick.  But I have a Mexican cookbook that mentions that green enchilada sauce can be made with either tomatillos or green tomatoes.

I want to try it!

There's more.  I saw a recipe for dill pickled green tomatoes that I think I'll regret not trying all year if I don't make them.

And what about the eggplants?  They're 4 for a dollar at Bernard's and I wanted to grill a huge bucket of them for the freezer...

I keep telling myself to stop, but the truth is that doing these preserving activities makes me feel good.  It makes me feel more hopeful and excited about the coming months during which time anything good or bad might happen but one thing's for sure: I'll be eating home pickles and making soups from tomatoes that have no pesticides on them.  When I'm feeling low I can make a pasta with grilled eggplant and pesto. 

So the book takes a little longer to write.  I've been thinking a lot about my characters as I preserve, thinking about how important these same activities are to them.  More so since they can't just buy things from a grocery store the way we can today.  The inspiration for the story originally came from doing urban homesteading activities and asking "What if oil didn't completely run out but became so limited and so costly that the average person couldn't drive a car because they couldn't get oil and what if they couldn't buy anything plastic?  What if no one could afford to buy imported foods except on rare and special occasions?  What would you have to know how to do in order to survive being more isolated in the community you're in?

These are the things I think about while processing 50 pounds of tomatoes. 

What I've realized is that preserving as much food every year as I can, at least in the fall, isn't just a silly little project I enjoy doing, it's a big project that I feel a deep need to participate in.  I need to know how to preserve food I have now so I can eat it later.  Because I already mostly eat seasonally my choices in produce are about to become much more limited.  I buy a few things out of season, but not much.  No green beans, no corn, no out of season fruit (except for Max), no summer squash, no tomatoes, no eggplant, no asparagus, no peas, and no fresh herbs I can't still get out of my garden.

It isn't a fancy rich person's hobby.

I'm not rich and I'm not fancy.

It isn't an indulgence as I've been telling myself it is just because I know I have other things to do.  It's one of the most important things I do for myself and my family every year.

So I'm reminding myself, and anyone else who needs a similar nudge, that preserving your own food (no matter how much or how little you do) is using the kind of knowledge that allowed humans to cross the ocean.  Practicing this knowledge is what allowed humans to settle down in one place.  Unfortunately it's also what allowed armies to march far enough to conquer and oppress other countries.  Food preserving is responsible for so many huge changes in human history.

It's something I look forward to every year.

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Marinated Summer Vegetables: a canning recipe

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closer marinated veg 2.jpg l love marinated three bean salad, so when I found a canning recipe for it I was really excited to try it.  The only problem was it called for green peppers which I don't care for, and which aren't traditionally found in a three bean salad.  I've noticed that a lot of canning recipes call for green peppers where I wouldn't normally suspect them and I'm sure this is because everyone grows them and then doesn't know what to do with them.  Toss them in the pickle!  Toss them in the sauce!  Put them in the piccalilli!. 

If you ask your local extension service about substitutions in canning recipes you are almost guaranteed to be told: NEVER MAKE SUBSTITUTIONS! and then they'll fall into a dead faint.  They take this subject very seriously, and rightly so.  The danger of making substitutions in a canning recipe is that you  might alter the acidity level of the food which may possibly make it unsafe to can. 

I chose to call my local extension office for advice and I ended up having to talk to the head master canner because the other ones were too scared to answer my question: can I safely replace the bell peppers in this recipe with more of some of the other items such as the green beans?  She looked into it and came back with the answer that it was safe.  She went on to explain that there was no reason other vegetables couldn't be used in this recipe in place of what's already in it, that the kidney beans and the chick peas were the lowest acidity items in the recipe and as long as I don't skip the over night marinating step, I can make substitutions in this recipe.

Why is marinating this recipe for at least twelve hours important?  Because you need to allow the beans, which have the lowest acidity level of all the vegetables in this recipe to become well saturated with the marinating liquid which ensures that the beans are at the proper acidity level.

I'm offering two versions here: Marinated Summer Vegetables and Marinated 3 Bean Salad.  What I love about these recipes is that when it's the middle of winter and there isn't a lot to put on a salad I can drain a jar of these and add half a cup to a bed of lettuce and enjoy summer vegetables in winter. 

marinated veg in pot.jpg
Marinated Summer Vegetables
yield approximately 6 half pints

5 cups equal parts corn, green bean, and summer squash
1/2 onion, quartered and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp pickling salt
2 tsp dried oregano


Wash the vegetables and cut so that the pieces are all between one and two inches.  For example: I cut my zucchini in half lengthwise and then into 1/2" thick slices except for the really small ones which I sliced into 1/2" thick rounds.  Add the celery and onion and mix them all together.

In a big nonreactive pot mix the water, vinegar, and lemon juice and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.  Add the oil, salt, and oregano and mix well.  Add all the vegetables to the solution and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and let it cool down before adding it to the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours.  I let mine marinate for almost 24 hours because that's when I could get back into the kitchen to process them.

Once the vegetables have marinated, bring them back to a boil and fill clean hot jars with the vegetables, topping each jar up with marinating liquid, leaving 1/2" head-space.  Adjust the lids and process for 15 minutes in a water bath canner.


Marinated 3 Bean Salad

yield approximately 6 half pints


2 cups green beans, cut into 1-2" pieces
1 1/2 cups red kidney beans, cooked and drained
1 1/2 cups chick peas, cooked and drained
1/2 onion, quartered and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp pickling salt
2 tsp dried oregano

Method:  Follow the same instructions for the Marinated Summer Vegetables (given above).

Recipe notes:  If you are one of those people with lots of green peppers to use up, reduce the green bean quantity by 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup thinly sliced peppers if you're making the 3 Bean, or you can add them in equal parts to the other summer vegetables in the Marinated Summer Vegetables recipe.  Another safe variation is to do all green beans for the vegetables. 

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Preserving Notes: 9/5/10

pesto freeze 2.jpgI have 13 batches of pesto in the freezer.  That's 13 up from last year.  There were many bone-damp cold winter evenings when I would have given a lot to defrost some pesto to put on hot pasta.  Something so green and fresh tasting never fails to bring warmth to the cold.  I never buy pre-made pesto any more.  It is always such a disappointment compared to my own.  I would like to get 9 more batches in the freezer before basil disappears from the market.

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This is a terrible year for tomatoes in the Willamette Valley.  All the farmers are saying so.  I managed to pick (maybe) close to 80 lbs this weekend.  It was difficult finding that many ripe ones in the upick fields where I go.  The guy working at the farm stand yesterday said their tomatoes are 7.5 weeks behind from last year.  We don't generally get hot enough weather to ripen tomatoes reaching into September.  So this is it.

I didn't put up any tomatoes last year.  All winter I was bummed to have to buy canned tomatoes from the store.  I'll have to do it again this year.  I have 5 precious quarts of tomato sauce I made yesterday which I will save for the darkest gloomiest days of winter.  I have 40 pounds still waiting for processing in the garage that I picked yesterday and haven't yet processed and I'm having to ask myself what the best use for them is. 

I don't buy fresh tomatoes once they disappear from the farmer's markets.  Two things I've learned to make this year that call for fresh tomatoes but which I've had to use canned for are Mexican style rice and red enchilada sauce.  So my plan today is to make enchilada sauce and make the tomato/onion/pepper puree that goes into Mexican style rice, portion it out, and freeze them. 

To have one quart of tomatoes a week I would need to put up close to 300 pounds of tomatoes.  The most I've ever done were 36 quarts (200 pounds).  I didn't buy a single fresh tomato or a single can of tomatoes from the store for an entire year.  But I was very careful how I used my tomatoes and realized that I use tomatoes so much in my cooking that I would have done better with a quart a week.

I put up 9 pints of marinated vegetables yesterday and have just as much ready to process today. 

I've got one box of peaches for which I must use half to make a peach chutney.  I'm not even sure I like chutney and since I don't eat meat of any kind I'm unclear on the best use for it in my cooking- BUT - this is a labor of love for my mother who loves chutney.  The rest of the peaches will be jarred with a light sugar syrup.  If I'm lucky and there are some more peaches in at the farm stand next week I'll put up another box in syrup. 

I also have about ten pounds of summer squash for making into relish and chutney.

There I should stop.  I don't have time to do all the preserving I wish to do.  I'm squeezing all of this between work and parenting.  I haven't worked on my book now for a month and I'm getting anxious about it.

I'm squeezing it in because last year I barely did any preserving and I regretted it all year.  Preserving food is generally fairly simple but terribly time consuming.  Why do it?  I love doing it.  I LOVE it.  The truly frantic preserving season is September for most people and this is the turning of the season as well. 

When I'm canning I feel as though my internal clock is being calibrated.  I become very present to the changes of weather which are influencing what's available to preserve, I become connected to my own nourishment in such a primal way that I often find myself thinking about the history of humans as I peel blanched tomatoes, get sticky up to my elbows in sugar syrup, and think about the evolution of pickling as I fill jars with dill and spices for pickles. 

Whether you preserve your own food or buy commercially canned food this is still the only reason human beings can live in one place all year and get fat in winter instead of thin and feed more babies than you could feed if you still had to hunt and forage all year.  Agriculture and food preserving are the reason we can settle, fight wars, play golf, and mess ourselves up with junk food like Twinkies. 

I like to preserve as much of my own food as I can because it feels good.  It feels essential and keeps me from taking my food for granted.  The raisins I dried myself that I'm about to use in the peach chutney took time (though little effort) to make and came from a friend's vines.  That's a lot of interconnectedness with the local earth, friends, labor, and I've used very few of them because I didn't have a lot to begin with and now it's going to be used to nourish my own mother.

Preserving is a great labor of love. 

Preserving food is life-affirming. 

It makes my hands feel worthy of the life they've been given.

I've got a lot of work to do today and I couldn't be happier.

I'll be thinking of all the rest of you out there today putting up jams and sauces, fruits and vegetables.

Happy canning!

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Concord Grape Juice: How To Make Grape Juice

concord 2

Making grape juice isn't difficult but if you're doing it without a press (as I must) then it does take some time because the straining process is slow.  You can use any grape varieties you like but if you want the classic grape flavor (like Welch's makes) the concord variety is the only grape to use.  They are a deep bluish purple color when they're ripe and the flesh slips out of the skin easily and has two sizable seeds in each one.

This is how you make grape juice but it isn't a recipe with specific amounts.  Use whatever quantity of grapes you have on hand and if you want to know exactly how many jars you'll need to heat in your canner you can measure the amount of juice you have before you reheat it to process it in the jars.  You won't know exactly how much you'll end up with until you've finished straining the pulp out of the liquid.

First step:

Put your grapes in a big enough pot that it won't boil over.  If you have more than will fit in one pot you can use as many as you need that will fit on your stove.  Don't add any water.  Before turning the heat on, crush some grapes with a potato masher or the back of a spoon.  This will keep the grapes from burning at the bottom before the juice is boiled out of the grapes.

bubbling hot 2

Second Step:

Bring your pot of grapes to a boil.  Boil the grapes for as long as it takes for the grape flesh to reduce to juice leaving mostly grape skins as pulp.  Look at the first picture in this post to see how they start out looking and then look at the picture below to see how your pot of grapes should look when they're ready to strain:

 grape mash 2

Observe how the slotted spoon brings up only skin and seeds.  There are no more globes of grapes left.  Also notice how the skins look more red than purple now as the pigmentation has been cooked out of them into the juice.

 grape juice drain 2

Third Step:

You need a large bowl or pot to strain your juice into, a strainer, and either double layer cheese cloth or butter muslin.  Place your strainer over the top of the bowl or pot and place your straining cloth over it, be sure to push it into the bowl of the strainer before ladling your juice into it.  Now you can fill the strainer to the top with juice and pulp you just cooked.  Let it drip until most of the juice has drained out.

 grape squeeze 2

Fourth Step:

Now gather up your cloth and squeeze all the extra juice you can out of the pulp.  You will be surprised how much you can get out of it- so don't skip this step for the best yield.  When you've gotten all you can out of the pulp, put it in your compost bin, rinse the cloth out well, and set it back into the strainer.  Rinsing the cloth each time is important because if you don't do it the fine sediment will make the next batch you ladle into the cloth drain even more slowly because it clogs up the cloth.

This is the part that can take a long time.  Just keep straining until all of it is done.  At this point you may wish to restrain it, this time through one extra layer of cloth to strain out even more fine sediment before canning it.  This is up to you.  Once you can your juice and let it sit for a week on a shelf you will see all the sediment sink in a layer at the bottom of your jars.  You can carefully pour your juice out of the jars, when you're ready to use it, leaving the sediment in the jar, or you can restrain it at that point.  One think I can tell you for sure is that the sediment is not pleasant to drink and kids especially don't appreciate it.

To Process the Juice:

1.  Heat up the strained juice to boiling point and then turn off the heat.

2.  Ladle the juice into hot pint or quart jars leaving 1/4" head space.  Adjust the two piece caps.

3.  Process pints or quarts for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner making sure to cover the tops of the jars with at least an inch and a half of water.

Special notes: Depending on the sweetness of the grapes and according to personal taste, you may need to add sugar to your juice.  Some years the grapes are sweeter than others.  There is no specific amount for me to recommend.  Taste the juice and add sugar a half a cup at a time to your entire batch, tasting after the sugar has completely dissolved into the juice.  I prefer my juice to be tart but my son has a sweet tooth so I add sugar to mine until it's sweet enough for him to enjoy, but only just.

You can also freeze juice.  If you freeze it in jars you need to leave a lot more head space for the expansion of the freezing of the juice- leave about two inches room.  You can also freeze in plastic containers.  Juice freezes exceptionally well so this is a good option for people who have room in their freezers.

Sugar Syrup For Canning

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sugar syrup 2 Sugar syrup is used primarily in canning fruits.  It's easy and fast to make.  I will list the different strengths of syrup you may want to make for different projects and the approximate yield.  Deciding how much you need for a given recipe is (I've found) a guessing game.  There are a lot of variables such as how much fruit you put in each jar, whether the fruit is diced or in large chunks, and how many jars you end up filling which depends on the same variables.  When I am going to can a big batch of peaches or pears I start off making a triple batch of syrup because I nearly always need at least that much.  If you run out in the middle of your project it is very easy to make more.  So don't let yourself get too worried.  If you make too much you can store the extra syrup in the fridge indefinitely or if you prefer you can put the extra in a jar and can it to use later. I have never used a heavy syrup for my peaches and pears.  I usually use either a light or an extra light syrup.  The sugar syrup helps to maintain the fruit quality and color as it sits in your pantry.  You can also use fruit juice or plain water, but I prefer the more traditional sugar syrup.  It is all a matter for your personal preference. General instructions: 1.  Choose a pot that will acomodate the quantity of syrup you are going to make. 2.  Measure the sugar into the pot. 3.  Measure the corresponding amount of water into the pot and stir really well. 4.  Put it on the stove on high heat and bring it to a boil while stirring it. 5.  By the time it comes to a boil the sugar should be well dissolved, it is ready for use. List of syrup types and the ratio of water to sugar for each one: Type of syrup:     % of sugar     Sugar                    Water                         Yield of syrup Extra-Light            20                   1 1/4 cups            5 1/2 cups               6 cups Light                          30                   2 1/4 cups            5 1/4 cups              6 1/2 cups Medium                    40                   3 1/4 cups            5 cups                      7 cups Heavy                        50                   4 1/4 cups            4 1/4 cups              7 cups

Tomatoes: Skinning And Seeding

No matter what you plan to do with your glut of tomatoes, you will need to process them first.  There are many ways of preparing them and Stitch and Boots will work to compile a number of different methods.  This one is a classic and is called for in many canning preparations such as making sauces, juice, and salsas.

Peeling and seeding your tomatoes is ideal if you're going to make sauce, salsa, or can diced tomatoes.  I didn't use to think it was necessary to peel or seed my tomatoes (thinking it was a colossal waste of time...) until I made my very first batch of tomato  sauce without doing either.  The seeds are juicy and covered in a gelatinous membrane that doesn't reduce when being cooked so that a sauce that's full of them doesn't ever get that pleasing thick consistency that is the ideal.  I know this because I've done it!  Similarly, if you you don't peel your diced tomatoes you will end up with curls of peel floating in your soup or your casserole which, while not the end of the world, will prevent your food from reaching a state of excellence.

Peeling and seeding your tomatoes does take some time, but is not at all difficult to do.  You're going to need:

1.  A large pot of water.

2.  A slotted spoon to place and remove tomatoes from the boiling water.

3.  Paring knife.

4.  Lots of ice to put in a big bowl. 

5.  (And a big bowl.)

 cross cutting 2

  • I never buy sprayed tomatoes so I don't wash them first.  They are going to be boiled and skinned so a little dirt isn't a concern.  However, if your tomatoes are especially dirty, muddy, or coated in pesticides, you will want to wash them first.
  • Before you set your water to bowl or put the ice out you will want to score the blossom ends of all your tomatoes.  Simply use your paring knife to cut an "x" in the skin.  This will help you slide the skins off easily after blanching the fruits.

coring 2

  • Then you want to core them all.  Some roma tomatoes barely have a core and in this case you may just want to slice the very end off.  If the tomatoes are a little tough further down, definitely core them.  I usually core and score each tomato but you can do all the scoring first and then all the coring- whichever way seems the most streamlined to you.
  • When you get 3/4 of your tomatoes cored and scored, put the pot of water on to boil.  Then fill a bowl with ice and some cold water.
  • When the water is boiling and your tomatoes are all prepared, put a few tomatoes in the pot at a time.  If you are processing slicing tomatoes only put 2 or 3 in the pot at a time, if you are processing romas, put about 6 of them in the pot at a time.  If you put too many in the pot at once it will bring the temperature of the water down so far that it will not start boiling again for longer than you want your tomatoes in the hot water.  When you see the water recover to a boil you let the tomatoes blanch for 30-60*  seconds.  It is good to gently stir them with your spoon to make sure all the skin surface of the tomatoes has been submerged.

icing toms 2

  • Remove each batch from the boiling water straight into the ice bath.  Let them cool down while you put more tomatoes in the pot.  Then remove the cooler ones and put on your counter or in another large bowl.  I like to get all of them blanched before working on slipping the skins off and seeding.

loose skin 2

  • Once all your tomatoes are blanched, slip their skins off.  Now put the tomato in the palm of your hand, over the sink or a compost bucket and gently squeeze until most of the seeds have come out.  This can be messy so wearing an apron is recommended.  Don't worry about getting all of the seeds out.  Just concentrate on getting the bulk of them out.
seeds pressed 2

  • When you have squeezed the seeds out your tomatoes will be a little flat.  This makes them easy to chop.  Now you're done.  You can either chop them for salsa, sauce, or freezing for later, or you can leave them whole.
It takes some time to process tomatoes but you will find that there are circumstances where you will be well rewarded by your efforts!

*An exact time isn't important.  If you do a search for information on how to peel tomatoes, you will find all different times being recommended.  15 seconds may not be enough to loosen the skins, and you definitely don't want your tomatoes boiling for more than 60 seconds or they will really start cooking and breaking down.  Start off timing yourself for about 30 seconds.  Once you have a feel for it, don't worry too much.

Homemade Ricotta



This is the finished batch of ricotta.

thermometer 2

This is the thermometer I use.  You can use any model that allows you to clip it to the side of your pot so that the gauge is in the milk at all times.
the set up

Like this.

curds and whey

This is how your milk should look when it has set for ten minutes.

Making your own ricotta is very easy, doesn't require expensive equipment, tastes better than store bought, and as though that weren't enough- it's possible to make it for half the price of store bought ricotta.  The cost is highly dependent on the milk you buy.  I don't buy organic milk because I can't afford it but I do buy locally made milk that doesn't have any hormones or other undesirable additives in it.  I look for deals on gallons which I take advantage of whenever I can.  I can find my milk for $2.00 per gallon quite often.  If I buy a 16oz tub of ricotta it costs between $4.00 and $6.00.  (I actually almost always seem to pay $4.69)  This may not be the case if you can't find good deals where you are.

The milk you choose is not vital.  You can make ricotta from raw milk, ( if you're lucky enough to have a source for it), organic, or non-organic.  The one kind of milk you cannot make ricotta from is "ultra pasteurized".    You can use low fat, whole fat, or non fat but keep in mind that the lower the fat the less yield you will get*.   One gallon of milk produces about 15 to 16 ounces of ricotta.  You can use the resulting whey for other food preparations if you like.

What you need:

stock pot

gallon of milk

1/2 tsp citric acid

1/4 cup cool water

strainer or collander

cheese cloth or butter muslin



Dissolve the citric acid in the water.

Pour the milk in the pot, gently stir in the water/citric acid, put your thermometer in place,  and put the stove on high heat.

You want to bring the milk to a temperature between 185 and 195.  While the milk is heating up be sure to stir it often to keep it from sticking to the bottom of your pot.   If any milk sticks to the bottom and browns it could impart a bitter or off flavor to your ricotta.

Never let the milk boil.  It shouldn't do so if you remove it just before it reaches 195 degrees.

When it reaches the necessary temperature, immediately remove it from the heat and let it set for 10 minutes.

Lay your cheese cloth (double layer) or butter muslin (single layer) in the collander and ladle the solid curds into it.

Let the liquid drain off for a few minutes.

Your ricotta is now ready to season as you like it and use!

Project notes: The whole process takes about a half an hour.  I always salt my ricotta after it's made.  If you let it drain too long it will become dry.  If you want your ricotta to have a creamy consistency, you can add a little milk or cream back into it.  Citric acid is not always easy to find but if you have a wine making store near you they will carry it.  There are places you can order it online. 

*I usually make low fat ricotta and I haven't really noticed a huge difference in the yield but I have read that the yield an be affected by fat content so I just want to make sure you know it may happen.

Tomatillo Salsa: A Canning Recipe

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husk 2

I find the husks on tomatillos charming.  I can't resist taking photos of them.

studyingreen 2

It takes a lot of chopping and dicing to make this salsa, but it's worth it!

tomatillo salsa jarred 2

5 1/2 cups husked, cored, and chopped tomatillos
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped jalapenos
1/2 cup white vinegar
4 tbsp lime juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt

  • Prepare canner, jars, and lids.
  • In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
  • Ladle hot salsa into jars, leaving 1/2" head-space. Remove air bubbles and adjust head-space if necessary by adding more hot salsa. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
  • Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered by at least 1" of water. Bring to a boil and process both 8 ounce and pint jars for 15 minutes.
You should know that the amounts I've given are for one batch, which is ridiculously small. I made 5 batches all at once. If you're like me and would like to make a lot at once multiply all of the ingredients by five. It's nice to know you can do smaller batches, though, because if you have a lot of these ingredients in your garden you may only be able to make a little at a time as things ripen.

You can use other types of hot chili peppers, according to your tastes. I only have eyes for jalapenos because they don't repeat on me as much as other peppers. I like serranos too but they tend to be too hot for me. If you used a cup of serranos per recipe I think you'd be breathing fire and then you might die (mostly just kidding).  So if you like things hotter, try a blend. Just be sure that the total amount of peppers you use remains the same.

You can also use a little more garlic if you like.

This salsa is quite soupy. Mr. W  wanted to know if it can be made thicker. I'm not sure about that yet. I have to do a little canning research before I know how much I can safely adjust the liquid content. (If I was just making it for fresh eating, instead of for canning, I would just cook it down til it was as thick as I liked). Until I find out, or some other experienced canner gives us the answer, don't mess with it. It's amazing just as it is.

Garlic Dill Pickles

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Fresh from the canner, these pickle slices are still turning from bright green to dark green.

raw cucumbers

You can use small, medium, or large cucumbers, but the larger they are (of course) the fewer you can fit in one jar.

 filling jars

You can also do some sliced.  I have found that they are a little softer in texture than the ones I can whole but I like these for sandwiches and it doesn't bother me.


My friend Lisa E. (pictured above) and I learned to pickle dills together.  The first recipe we tried called for pickling spices,  so we cooked up a batch of the vinegar with spices and Lisa, smelling the odor coming from the pot, mentioned that she wasn't enjoying the smell of the spices and was reluctant to use them, wasting a bunch of cucumbers.  Although I hadn't thought about it, I didn't like the idea of my pickles tasting of allspice and Cinnamon either.  We looked furiously for a dill pickle recipe that would have a clean garlicky dill flavor.   We found only one that came close to our idea of how a pickle should be and it came from the Sonoma County Extension office.  We tweaked it just a little bit until it was perfect.  My sister, who is a dill pickle connoisseur called it one of the best pickles she's ever had!  So here's the recipe for you to try!


4lbs (2 quarts) freshly picked small to medium sized cucumbers

2 tbsp canning salt

4 cups vinegar

4 cups water

1 fresh head of dill weed per jar

1/2 tsp mustard seeds per jar

1 clove garlic per jar

6 peppercorns per jar


1.  Wash cucumbers thoroughly.

2.  For whole cucumbers, small sizes up to 4 inches are preferred.  Larger cucumbers should be sliced, quartered, or halved lengthwise.

3.  Combine salt, vinegar, and water in a pot.   Heat to boiling.

4.  Pack cucumbers into hot clean jars.  For each quart jar add: 1 head of dill, 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, and six peppercorns.  Fill with hot pickling liquid to 1/2 inch of  the top for quart jars, and 1/4 inch for pints.

5.  Process pint or quart jars of whole cucumbers in hot water bath for 10 minutes, jars of slices or halves for five minutes. 6.  Let the pickles cure for 4-6 weeks before opening to taste.

Recipe notes:
I have updated this recipe to start off with a larger batch of brine.  Because of the irregularity of cucumber size and shape it is an inexact science to figure out how many jars of pickles you'll get out of 4 lbs of cucumbers.  Sometimes you can only fit three in a jar, sometimes you can fit six.  So be prepared to whip up another batch of brine.  It's truly fast and easy to do.  And remember that if you have leftover brine you can save it in the fridge for more pickling projects.

Cherry Liqueur Recipe


The color is gorgeous.  I especially love using Morello cherries.


They are hard to find so you may have to plant your own tree!

inebriated cherries

Cherry Liqueur Recipe


1.5 pounds sour red cherries, cut in half with the pit left in one side

1.5 cups granulated sugar

2.5 cups 100 proof vodka

small piece of cinnamon

Method: You put a third of the cherries in a half gallon sized jar, then pour a third of the sugar in. Do the next third of the cherries and the next third of the sugar. Then do the last third of both. So it is layered in the jar. If you want to use the cinnamon add it now. Then pour the vodka in. I guess the layering is just for fun because then you stir it all up. Every recipe I've read always calls for layering the ingredients in the jar first. Stir it up, cap it, and then put it in a cool, dry, dark place.

For the first two weeks shake the jar up at least once every day. This makes sure that the sugar completely dissolves. After that let it age for 3 months.

Strain out the cherries and pour the liqueur into bottles.

Recipe Notes: I have made many attempts at cherry liqueur and all of them were unsatisfactory until the last batch I made which was perfect!  I confidently recommend that you only make it using a pie (sour) cherry.  It doesn't matter what kind as long as it has red skin to contribute color.  Definitely leave the pits in, they add a very subtle almond flavor to the drink which makes the flavor more complex.
I also highly recommend that you use 100 proof vodka (or everclear).  If you are using 80 proof I would lower the sugar content or it will be more like cough syrup than a fruity enjoyable beverage.  The next time I make this it will be without the cinnamon.  Although I enjoyed the slight spiciness it added to the flavor, I want a clearer cherry flavor.

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