Tag Archives: canning notes

Chipmunk Disorder Flareup (collecting food for the winter in full swing)

These are olives my friend Sharon and I foraged from someone’s yard.  Don’t worry – we asked permission and were granted it by the really nice ladies who lived there.  They even supplied us with a step ladder to get at some of the higher branches.  When we walked up their steps and rang their bell I thought they’d probably think we were trying to bring them some religion and worried they might be hostile.  Or maybe they’d think we were on to some make-up scam and be hostile.  I’m glad we took the chance and I’m equally glad that they were so agreeable.

There are more olive pictures at the bottom of this post.  I’ve been meaning to share this disturbing picture with you: this is what happens when you think you’re being all thrifty and freeze “tomato water” for use in soups.  What I don’t want to know is why is the water part all yellowy?  Such a nasty surprise to find in my freezer.

I also wanted to chronicle how much you have to cook tomato sauce down to get a nice thick sauce.  This is the pre-cooked picture.  See how full that big pot is?  Do you know how much work it took to clean, score, core and blanch then peel, squeeze, and dice that big pot of tomatoes?  If you’ve done this before then you DO know.

The steam didn’t cooperate with my camera but you can see through it that the tomato level has dropped dramatically.

This is my 22 pound French heirloom squash that the produce stand people called “Peanut Squash” – it was difficult to find anything definitive on the subject but I’m completely sure that this squash is actually called Galeux d’Eysines.  It’s fairly pumpkin-like in flavor but is less watery than pumpkin.  This mean-ass squash caused me to cut myself.  When wrestling such enormous cucurbitas – I recommend being particularly aware of the location of all your fingers in relation to your knife.

Olives are one of my favorite foods.  The only kind of olive I’m not fond of are the black canned Mission olives ubiquitous on pizzas from chain restaurants.  I don’t hate them but I would never voluntarily add them to food.  But give me any kind of green olive or black olive that is salty, or salty and vinegary, or salty and herby – yeah, big fan here.  Years ago I read a whole book about olives because my Grandfather was interested in them.  He told me stories about the olive orchard he bought in Italy when he was still a young-ish man.  It was supposedly one of the locations written about in Homer’s Odyssey.  My grandmother eventually forced him to sell the orchard and I got the feeling he still wasn’t over it in his 80’s.  Big clue as to how come they got divorced eventually.

The book I read was “Olives” by Mort Rosenblum.  It was informative and whet my appetite for curing olives on my own.  It also irritated me – Mort is something of a pompous windbag – though he may not be like that in real life at all.  It’s just the tone of the book and honestly, I read it so long ago now I’m not sure I’d have the same opinion the second time around.  The point is that for over 12 years I’ve had the ambition to cure my own olives but back then it didn’t occur to me that I might be able to forage some and I certainly didn’t have any access to fresh olives for sale.

Since that time I have become a pretty good forager of walnuts, nettles, elderberries, blackberries, rose hips, and plantain – but until moving back to California there were no olives to forage for.  But now I am seeing them everywhere.  The biggest problem is that a lot of the ones I’m seeing are too small to bother with curing them.  Sharon and I definitely got enough to play with and in just a few minutes I’m going to introduce my haul to a lye bath*.

What I really want to do today is drive all over town looking for more olives to forage.

I am in full chipmunk mode now.  I’m taking the dog for a walk to see if the walnuts have started falling in the neighborhood.  Sometimes I wish I could forage and preserve food all the time – without other obligations like working or writing books (not really an obligation since I am unpublished and completely unknown – let’s just call it an obligation to myself) or running errands.  I want to spend all my time cooking and experimenting with food preserving.  And foraging.

I must go get dressed and made up – the olives are waiting for me and I need lipstick today.  I should also probably check on my fermenting pickles, shouldn’t I?  You might be curious how they’re doing about now.  I’m a little scared to look.  Drat – I also need to clean my work table.

And all I want to do is go collect nuts and fruits in my cheeks to store in my tree trunk.

*In case you’re curious – I’m using this recipe for curing olives with lye from Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Preserving Notes for Fall 2011

I would like to say that canning season is truly done for me as of today.  Instead, I can say with confidence that canning season is kind of winding down but who knows when it will truly end because I still have quince on my tree and a friend has said her concords are in.  I dearly want to make concord grape soda and/or grape syrup for Italian grape sodas.  Or even just juice.  It’s the only home canned thing my son enjoys that I make.  It’s the only thing he asks for.  Here are my notes from this year’s canning adventures so far.


My jams almost always taste fantastic.  It’s hard to go wrong with jam flavor so I can’t claim it’s because of my great mastery or kitchen brilliance.  Jam consistency is a whole different story.  Most years I have more trouble getting my jam to set than making them set too hard.  What I find frustrating and weird is that the only jam I used pectin in didn’t set well at all, but the other two jams which I made without pectin set more firmly than I wanted.  Again and again.  I made three batches of blackberry jam.  I adjusted the boiling time to shorter and shorter periods with each batch until the last one I did I was absolutely SURE it would end up being too soft.  It was not.  It was just as firm as all the other batches.

I made two batches of Damson jam.  (Incidentally, I did jell testes for every single jam batch, in case anyone cares to know).  Each batch is more stiff than I’d like it to be.  For me the perfect jam consistency is sticky and thick but soft enough to spoon onto a scone without having to violently shake it from the spoon.  I think I know the trick now at last.  The jell test instructions say to put a teaspoon of jam onto a little chilled plate then put in the freezer for one minute.  This is not enough time to really tell.  That’s my opinion.  I think next year I will bring my jams to a boil for just a few short minutes and then take it off the burner, do the jell test, and let it cool at room temperature for a half an hour or so.  The little plate I did my jell test on last night that indicated my damson jam was not yet ready sat on the counter over night and this morning it was the perfect consistency.  But I boiled it longer last night because it didn’t seem set enough.  So what I learned is that to do it properly, I must take my time with the test.  Why should I be in a hurry anyway?

Rose Hip Syrup:

Gross.  I hate the flavor I got.  I have had dried rose hips in tea many times in my life and very much enjoyed the flavor and the slight tartness of them.  I thought the flavor of rose hip syrup would be similar.  Not so.  It was sweet, kind of soft and floral, and though that may sound good to some people it was awful to me.  So that was a total waste of time.  I can’t give up on rose hips, though, because they are so nutritious and full of vitamin C.  My plan is to do the tedious and cut them, gut them, and dry them.

Asian* Plum Sauce:

I tried a recipe from the book “Preserved” by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler. This is not at all what I want in a plum sauce.  I didn’t use the spices they used because I dislike cinnamon in most savory food (except some North African dishes) and I really dislike star anise.  They have you cook the sauce for two hours (to let the spices I didn’t use infuse the sauce) and I did cook it down for quite some time because after adding so much vinegar, water, and soy sauce it was much too thin.  The sauce I ended up with has a very muddled dark taste.  Maybe the soy sauce had something to do with that.  Maybe just cooking it for so long.  I’ll tell you what, though, the spices that were called for would not have improved it one bit.

What I wanted is  the kind of plum sauce you get when you order Mushu vegetables in a Chinese restaurant.  The authors of this book claim that that’s what this is supposed to be like.  It’s not.  It’s been a while since I’ve had plum sauce in a Chinese restaurant but I haven’t forgotten that taste.  What I loved about that sauce was its bright, tangy, and very plummy flavor.  I’ll do better to make up my own version next time.  The plum sauce I made last year using yellow plums, ginger, garlic, sugar, and jalapeno was fantastic for dipping spring rolls into.  That’s more like what I want, except with dark plums.   What a waste of Damsons that turned out to be.

Dill Pickles:

There weren’t many pickling cucumbers to be had and the ones we got were too big and had much too developed seeds inside which means they will be mushier than usual on the interior.  I gutted many of them that were seriously sub-par and I have no idea how those will turn out.  The idea is that I will chop those up for potato and egg salads.  The seeds were enormous and gelatinous because they were too mature.  We were a little desperate, so we made do.

There are several quarts of mixed vegetable pickles (with green beans from the garden included) and I think those will be very nice.  They look super pretty as well.

Peach Chutney:

Second year making it.  Last year I cooked it a little too long and it got very dark.  We liked it, it was good.  The adjustments we made this year were to lower the sugar (it was too sweet) and to lower the amount of raisins.  I may have not cooked it quite long enough this time.  The color is prettier (lighter orange) but it may be softer than intended.  I think over all it will be an improvement.

Jalapeno peppers:

They’re very good.  Really wish they were more evenly sized (my mom is untame-able in this way) but they taste great and I’m happy we have so many of them.

Lots of freezing:

Lots of pesto.  That always turns out great.  I did some in jars (my preference) but since the freezer is actually running out of space this year I had to revert back to using plastic vacuum seal bags.  Also have 6 quarts of corn chowder in there, 3 quarts of pinto bean chili, at least 10 quarts of plain blanched corn, 3 pints of sauteed onion with hot peppers and corn.  A couple bags of slow roasted tomatoes which I don’t think turned out well but I can’t say how something that’s so simple and which I’ve made well so many times before could be unsatisfactory- yet it’s so.  I have several jars of strawberry syrup and ginger syrup in there as well.


My mom has been doing a lot of this work.  Several quarts of dried nettles and a quart of dried kale.  Varying amounts of: thyme, stevia, calendula, cayenne peppers (there are still quite a few ripening), and arnica.  I’m considering drying a giant zucchini to experiment with how it is reconstituted in winter soups.  Anyone else tried this and have an opinion?

Theoretically I’ll be done with fall preserving when I’ve gotten and processed the concords and picked and processed the quince (Philip has requested quince jelly).  So where are all of you in your food processing – are you done?  Almost done?  Or just getting started?

*The original recipe was called “Oriental Plum Sauce”.  When referring to people or things from the Asian continent it is considered (according to my Asian friends and my personal opinion combined) to be better form to use the word “Asian” instead of the word “Oriental”.