Tag Archives: preserving 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

Getting Into Fall Around the House

My experiments with tomato tarts are over.  Tomatoes are officially finished for the year.  At the Saturday Market Denison Farm had a basket of mostly unripe pale ghosts of what I recognize as tomatoes.  It’s over.  As much as I love tomatoes I am not sad.  Everything has its season and I’m so happy that the temperatures have dropped.  My house got down to 55° this week.  My  mom usually can’t take such low temps in the house but she must be getting used to it because I offered to turn the heat on (we haven’t done so this season yet) and she said she was fine.  Keeping the heat down will be important in budgeting now that we’re back to paying our mortgage and hoping to keep the house.  I can’t even remember if I mentioned here that we got approved for a trial period with the HAMP loan.  People can be refused it even after paying their mortgage perfectly on time for the whole trial period, so nothing is certain.  But what’s new?  Nothing has been certain for a long time for us.

Big splurge in my house was buying a bunch more wire bail hermetically sealing glass storage jars for my pantry and cleaning my whole pantry out.  We had a major pest infestation and I had to throw a bunch of grains and old stuff out as well as wipe down all the shelves and clean out jars.  Doing this always feels so good!  We are buying more and more in bulk so it’s important to have a good way to store it all.  We do have food-grade plastic buckets for the huge quantities of legumes we have in the garage.  I hate using any plastic but I can’t see a better way yet for those.  But here in the cupboard the air-tight glass jars are the only way to go for us.  Because I can’t afford to have ALL things stored in them I do have a number of screw-top jars in use.

My Elephant Heart plum tree lost a huge branch.  we have yet to prune it and deal with it.  It makes me so sad.  However, I’m hoping that with a great pruning we can encourage it to survive this setback.

I finally finished canning.  I did.  I finished this past Tuesday with making quince “cheese”.  The project is a bit dubious, I have no idea if it turned out.  I have to wait a few weeks before opening my jars and trying it.  The recipe was actually British and called for using glycerin to coat the inside of the jars so that the quince can be removed more easily and sealing them with wax.  I am inexperienced in this and didn’t have paraffin on hand so I processed them in a canner which made coating in glycerin a waste.  If I like the taste of the quince cheese then I will go the traditional route next year and use wax and glycerin.

I was done with my canning.  I really was.  The grape syrup was a bust.  It gelled but not completely so I re-boiled it and it was ruined.  It lost all grape flavor and became boiled fruit flavor.  Not my favorite.  I tossed it.  Ah well, these things happen.  It’s part of the preserving learning curve.  The apple sauce, at least, was simple and I canned quite a few pints of it.  I don’t even eat much of it but I do love it on savory pancakes with sour cream (latkes or zucchini fritters) so it’s nice to have some on hand.

I was done with preserving and cooking in serious bulk until yesterday when my friend Andre had a bag of tomatilloes he couldn’t do anything with and gave them to me.  Suddenly I have tomatillo salsa to make.  I’m not crying.  Not really.  I love tomatillo salsa.  So I’ll be making that this week.

Food budgeting is beginning.  My first trick is to not shop during the week.  Unless it’s something specifically for Max.  I will not indulge in the habit I have of suddenly wanting to make something I don’t have the ingredients for and running out to buy them.  I am shopping on Saturday for the week and will simply have to make food with what I buy.  No spontaneous purchases.  Next I will work at limiting some of the expensive things I buy like cheese.  Coffee too.  If we run out mid week, no buying another bag.  I’ve got lots of tea to drink in it’s place.  I’m not depressed this time (the year before last was super hard and really depressing).  We have plenty to eat.  Max’s food is the biggest concern because of his picky eating, but cooking on a budget for the adults is not going to be difficult if I get creative.  We have tons of bulk and after this very busy preserving season I have stuffed the shelves with jars of home canned goods and the freezer with good things.  We are already very fortunate and rich with good things to eat.

I also have a great huge stash of walnuts from a dear friend of mine and this makes me feel secure like a squirrel with a full tree trunk.  I look forward to cracking them.  My OCD makes this kind of work extremely satisfying and then I’ll freeze the nuts so that no bugs or bug eggs can survive.  Sounds distressing, I know.  However, I know from experience that these things linger in all real food and sometimes freezing is the best way to deal with them.  I’m going to have so many walnuts to use!

Today I’m going to make chocolate zucchini bread from Clotilde Dusoulier’s book of the same name.  I’ve never tried it before but I’m hoping the kid might enjoy it.  (It’s actually “cake” but has less sugar in it than most zucchini bread recipes do).  To that end I must dash off and get dressed and clean the kitchen.  What could be better than baking on a rainy stormy day?

I hope you are all enjoying your Sunday and keeping warm inside.

Pantry Shelves: how to clean, store, and organize your kitchen shelves

This Week’s Garden Harvest

This is what I harvested from the garden this week: some cayenne peppers (many more are almost ripe, but not quite there yet), rose hips from my French wild rose, and a handful of snow peas.

I halved the hips and gutted them.  They are now drying.  I tried getting all the hairy bits off but with no success.  That stuff can, apparently, irritate your throat if ingested.  I guess I just have to make sure to use muslin bags for making tea with them.

I haven’t had a lot of time to play in the kitchen and I still have those same pesky preserving projects hanging over my head.  I would truly like to get them finished this weekend.  I need to move on with my writing.  I’m also going to have to clean my house pretty seriously because in a month there are going to be a lot of people in it.  I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Preserving left to do:

sugar up the grape juice to make syrup, and can it

Apple sauce, can it

Quince in vanilla sugar syrup, canned

Shred all the giant zucchinis and freeze them

I have heard from some of my friends that they’re winding their own preserving projects up but are having trouble, like me, getting it all done between work and other responsibilities.  We do it because it’s important but there’s no question that doing a lot of preserving takes time.  What I’m tired of is having jars everywhere, on every surface, and all my equipment out.  I’m ready to put it all away.  But it would be silly to do it before I’m done.

I’m going to go get dressed, go to the Saturday farmer’s market, and then I’m going to get some of this done.  Plus cook a farewell dinner for really good friends who are moving back to Utah.  Boooooo!  We are devastated.  We must feed them so well they will immediately plan they’re first vacation to visit us.

What are you all working on this weekend?  Is your canner finally back on the shelf?  Are you wrapping things up or still in the thick of it?

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.

Jam:

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.

Drying:

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”.