Tag Archives: home preserving

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”.

Strawberry Jammy Sauce or Saucy Jam?

For the first time in my gardening life I had enough fruit from my own yard to make jam.  For anyone who has dreams of living off the fruit of the land, this is a beautiful and triumphant moment.  Although, I suppose it’s a little less triumphant when I report that the bed of everbearing strawberries, from which this incredible bounty grew from, did not produce consistently good tasting berries the way my June bearing patches did.  We couldn’t stop eating the ones that came from the June bearing patch but these ones… eh.  So making jam was less about using up the crazy excesses of my bountiful yard as it was about finding a way to make them taste better.

I will take this moment to dispel an insidious myth that everything you grow yourself tastes better.  Not true.  This deserves an entire post on it’s own.  I’ve grown carrots that were, indeed, better than any carrot I’ve ever bought.  I’ve also grown carrots that were woody, bitter, and stupid.  In that order.  There are so many factors that go into what makes a vegetable good: variety planted, soil quality, frequency of watering, heat available to plant, etc.  It’s really annoying when everyone out there claims that everything home grown is better.  It annoys me, but apparently not everyone else.  It also may indicate that they have magic soil and mine is just ordinary.

Back to the jammy strawberry sauce.  Or saucy strawberry jam.  Whatever.

You are always going to get the best preserves from using the freshest and best tasting fruit.  Truly.  But the magical thing about jam is that if you have a somewhat watery flavored fruit, cooking it down a little with a lot of sugar can result in a more intensified flavor so that a mediocre strawberry will make a good flavored jam (and an ambrosial flavored strawberry will make something you want to describe in some stupid poetical way that will make everyone around you want to hit you).   I chose to use a recipe from Hilaire Walden’s book “Perfect Preserves” which is full of dreamy recipes for what promise, right on the cover, to be perfect preserves.

I think if you’re not me making perfect strawberry jam might be a cinch.  But I AM me.  I am an excellent food preserver.  My pickles are renowned (and not just limited to my close small family circle either, at least two friends have raved as well!), my blackberry jam has given much pleasure, my pickled cauliflower is shiny, my canned peaches coveted.  I’m not bragging, I’ve just practiced a lot.  Except with pectin.  Pectin and I have yet to come to an understanding.

I’ve used several varieties and several recipes and sometimes it works out well and I can’t understand how come people make such a big fuss about it (mostly me), and then other times I follow the exact same instructions and it doesn’t set.  I used timers and everything.  I am not a sloppy preserver.  You already know the end to this story because I gave it away in the title of this post.

My strawberry “jam” didn’t set much.  It’s definitely thicker than sauce, but likewise it’s thinner than what I like to experience in a jam.  It’s not Hilaire’s fault.  I know the fault must lie in my own methods, or in the natural pectin levels of the fruit I was using being perhaps unusually absent.

It doesn’t actually matter because it tastes SO good!  No watery flavor at all, nice and rich and exactly what my idea of perfect strawberry jam tastes like.  There is a quality some strawberry jams can get that’s almost – I’m not even sure if this would be the right word- metallic.  This doesn’t have that unhappy quality.  It’s sweet without shriveling your teeth up.

So I’m happy.

Which I better be because I took 6 1/2 pounds of berries and turned it into 15 half pint jars of strawberry jam.  I’m not done with pectin yet.  I think we’re going to come to an understanding soon.